Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Boys Over Flowers

Overall Rating: A+
Summary: A drama/romantic comedy shojo series created by Kamio Yoko. The TV series is a Korean adaptation of the Japanese manga. The story revolves around Geum Jan Di, a high school girl who works in her family's dry cleaning shop and a fast-food restaurant. The story begins when Jan Di delivers some dry cleaning to the ridiculously posh and exclusive Shinhwa High School. Only the richest and most talented kids are granted admission to Shinwa, and they don't even have to go to class if they don't feel like it. When Jan Di gets there she discovers that the young man whose clothes she's delivering is about to commit suicide. Apparently, he has been getting bullied because the F4 (or Four Flowers) decided they didn't like him.

Jan Di saves the boy before he can commit suicide, and her actions soon become public knowledge, and expose the bullying. The public demands changes at the school, Jan Di becomes known as "Wonder Woman". In order to appease the public, Jan Di is offered a chance to go to Shinwa on a swimming scholarship. Jan Di declines, but her family agrees for her, so our adventure begins!

On the first day of school, Jan Di meets the infamous Four Flowers. They are the most beautiful, popular, rich and powerful boys in the school - Goo Jun Pyo (the leader), Yoon Ji Hoo (the sweet one who plays violin), So Yi Jung (one of the playboys), and Song Woo Bin (another playboy). All of the other students clearly worship the Four Flowers, and try to give them presents and treats. Jan Di is enraged by the boys' behavior, and fantasizes about confronting Jun Pyo.

She finally gets up the courage to do it after he bullies her friend Oh Min Ji after she accidentally slips and drops some ice cream on her shoe. Jun Pyo demands she licks it off, and when Jan Di confronts him he offers to let her take Min Ji's place. Instead she pushes Jun Pyo over.

Jun Pyo declares war on Jan Di, and gets the school to bully her. Jan Di refuses to give in, despite the bullying and the rest of the Four Flowers begin to think she's "interesting". Ji Hoo is totally sweet and offers her a handkerchief when she's covered in flour, and protects her from some boys trying to hurt her. Is it love?

In the meantime, no one has ever stood up to Jun Pyo before. He interprets her actions as a demonstration of love, and begins to develop feelings for her as well.

Who will Jan Di end up with?

The beginning of "Boys Over Flowers" drags a little bit, but once things get going it's a lot of fun. I love stories where A) the main character is a woman, B) the woman stands up for herself, and C) there are pretty boys. I like all of the characters (even the mean girls), and I think they're do a really good job of developing the relationships (Jun Pyo and Jan Di are particularly hilarious). My only complaint is that I wish there were more female characters and that the women interacted more. Regardless, the series is proving to be a lot of fun, and if you like your high school romance/drama with a healthy side of comedy then I think you'll enjoy this one a lot.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What US Media Can Learn About Dynamic Female Characters From Manga

Last week I came across this article on Jezebel titled "Memo To The Media: In 2010, Add More Dynamic Female Characters" buy Latoya Peterson, and I wanted to spend some time discussing it. The main concept of the article is that while manga has it's fair share of sexism and follows plenty of stereotypes it also has a lot more content for women and by women than you can easily find in mainstream US media.

I loved the article, and was really pleased to see that many of the manga the Latoya recommends are titles I haven't read yet. The one title I had read, Nana, is one of my absolute favorites. Does it portray women in romantic relationships with men? Yes, definitely. The main difference for me between Nana and US-based media representations of women is that it treats them like real people. They also pass the Bechdel test because the two main characters are women, they talk to each other, and they often talk about things other than men. A+

There are plenty of issues with manga and anime and their portrayal of gender (fan service being a prime example), but there is such an amazing variety of options it's easy to find titles that are women-centric, and deal with issues of gender in mature ways. I agree with Latoya's premise and wish that the US would create more material that is for women and by women that presents women as more than accessories, are from different walks of life, and don't have to be made-over to be beautiful.

Friday, December 4, 2009


Overall Rating: A+
Summary: A psychological/horror/detective seinen series created by Naoki Urasawa, which follows Dr. Kenzo Tenma. An incredibly skilled brain surgeon from Japan, Tenma seems to have it all. He is working at the Eisler Memorial Hospital in Düsseldorf, is up for a promotion, and is engaged to the director of the hospital's daughter, Eva. Unfortunately, the Director, Heinemann, consistently gives priority to high-profile patients at the cost of the lives of less important people. Tenma becomes increasingly unhappy with this arrangement, believing that his role should be to help those in the most need.

He gets his chance to stand up to his future father-in-law when twins Johan and Anna come to the hospital. Johan is suffering from a gunshot wound to the head, and Anna is clearly in shock only talking about "killing". Their parents are dead, and Tenma decides to operate on Johan even after the mayor of Düsseldorf is brougt in and he is ordered to work on him instead. Tenma saves the child, but the politician dies despite the efforts of other doctors. As a result, Tenma loses everything. He is no longer favored by Heinemann and Eva leaves him.

He confesses his frustration to the young boy, Johan, and soon thereafter, everyone in his way dies of poisoning. Johan and his sister have vanished, and Tenma is the primary suspect. Thus the 18 volume story of how a humanitarian act can cause a rash of serial murders, and Doctor Tenma's journey to find the killer begins.

I became a fan of Naoki Urasawa when I started reading "20th Century Boys", and have enjoyed his take on Osamu Tezuka's "Astro Boy", "Pluto". Now, I'm addicted to "Monster". I'm only three volumes in, but I can't wait to read more. I highly recommend this one.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Nabari No Ou

Overall Rating: B+
Summary: An action/comedy/drama/supernatural shōnen series (or superdramactedy for short), based on the manga written and illustrated by Yuhki Kamatani. The story follows Miharu Rokujou, an introverted kid with a devilish side, but who otherwise seems pretty normal. Out of the blue, his classmate Koichi Aizawa approaches him to join a Nindō club, which Miharu refuses.

However, the situation changes when Miharu is attacked by ninjas and is defended by Koichi. During the fight, Koichi defends Miharu and explains to him that there is a secret ninja world called Nabari, and that he is destined to be king. Miharu has the secret art Shinra Bansho written in his blood, and as a result he cannot return to his normal life.

Miharu learns that Koichi is a part of the Nabari world, as is one of his teachers (and advisor for the Nindō club), Tobari Durandal Kumohira. The other ninja of Nabari will stop at nothing to learn the Shinra Bansho, and so in order to survive Miharu must learn to use the power himself or get it out of him. Unfortunately, Miharu doesn't want to become a ninja and getting the Shinra Bansho out of him could kill him.

The set-up may sound kind of crazy (and it is at times), but this show plays the different elements of superdramactedy (yes, I made that word up, so what?) off each other well. The plot is interesting and the characters work well together. Throw in a dash of comedy to lighten things up a little and some good old fashioned ninja action and magic, and you have a winning combination.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Overall Rating: A+

Summary: A romance/drama/music shōjo series created by Ai Yazawa, and focuses on the lives of young women who are both named Nana. To top it off, they meet on a train when they are both moving to Tokyo and they're the same age (20)! That's where the similarities end. Nana Osaki is a singer in a punk band called Black Stones (or Blast) and is moving to Tokyo to become a star. Nana Komatsu is from a small town and is following her friends and boyfriend to Tokyo, but doesn't know what she wants to do with her life.

As the story progresses, we learn more about each Nana's past, and then their stories merge again when they both want to rent the same apartment and decide to move in together. Nana Osaki gives Nana Komatsu the nickname "Hachi" (after Hachikō), because her behavior is similar to a dog's, and it helps tell them apart (thanks!). Hachi also becomes good friends with the members of Nana's band, Nobuo, Yasu and the very young, and very promiscuous, Shin.

As the series progresses, Blast gains more and more popularity, but the romantic entanglements become more and more complicated. Nana O's ex-boyfriend (who left her to join the band Trapnest in Tokyo) returns, and the two bands become intertwined. Hachi's inclination to fall in love at first site gets her in trouble, and all the other characters have relationships that progress throughout the series.

I absolutely adore Nana. The anime is based on the manga and so far it has been completely faithful to the original series. The addition of the music really adds to the story, since in the manga you have to imagine it. Although it is typically categorized as shōjo, Nana has josei themes. For example, the relationships in Nana are not idealized (a common feature in shōjo), but are instead very realistic, which is one of the reasons I love the series. It's very easy to relate to all of the characters and get drawn in (though that can also be frustrating since they can make dumb decisions!). That said, it retains a lot of the comedy of shōjo-style manga, which helps offset the heavy emphasis on romance and drama. In short, it's one of my all-time favorite series, and I can't recommend the manga and anime enough. Be forewarned, there is minor nudity in the manga series (I haven't seen any in the anime yet), but nothing serious.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Genshiken 2

Overall Rating: A

Summary: Genshiken is a comedy/slice-of-life anime series based on the manga of the same name by Shimoku Kio. The story revolves around the lives of the members of Genshiken, a college club for otaku, and the adventures (and misadventures) associated with being otaku. The first volume of the anime (and the beginning of the manga) begins with the introduction of Kanji Sasahara, an introverted college freshman who is obsessed with anime and manga, but isn't comfortable with that aspect of his identity. On club day he decides to join Genshiken, a club that's only purpose is to enjoy the otaku lifestyle. He also meets Makoto Kousaka, a fellow freshman who is attractive, laid-back, and completely comfortable with his otakuness. The other club members are Harunobu Madarame, a hardcore otaku who spends all of his money on dōjinshi, Souichiro Tanaka, who is an expert cosplay designer and loves plastic models, and Mitsunori Kugayama, who is stuttering, overweight and an excellent artist. Soon after Sasahara's arrival, two female members join, Kanako Ohno, who loves cosplay and Saki Kusakabe who only joins because she's in love with Kousaka. However, over time Saki comes to be a true member of the club, and even tries cosplay. The first volume of the anime follows the group for roughly the first year of Sasahara's college life, and includes two new members joining a year later, Chika Ogiue, who is obsessed with yaoi and is embarressed about her otaku nature, and Manabu Kuchiki, who is loud and annoying and completely unashamed of his otakuness.

The series follows the group as they travel to Comifes, hang out in the club room, and even go to the beach. At the beginning of the second season, the club has recently been accepted to participate as one of the dōjinshi vendors at Comifes, and Sasahara has become president of the club. Now they just have to complete the dōjinshi and get everything ready, but it's a lot harder than anyone realized.

Genshiken is one of my favorite manga and anime. The anime series is incredibly faithful to the manga, and I'm so excited that they finally made a second season. The first season aired in 2004 and an OVA was made in 2006 and 2007, so it's been a long time in between everything. One of the reasons I love this series so much is that it gives a very realistic take on life as an otaku (or geek), and there just aren't enough of those. All of the characters are well-developed and I recognize a lot of the personalities of my friends in them. I can't wait for volume 2 of Genshiken 2 to come out, but unfortunately I have to wait until October 27th. I may have to reread the manga in the meantime.

If you're a geek, and if you're not I have no idea why you're reading this, check out Genshiken (both the anime and the manga) now! You'll thank me.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

X-Men: Misfits

Overall Rating: A+

Summary: A superhero/romance shōjo series written by Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman (both of whom used to be regulars on Girlamatic with their comics Smile and Astronaut Elementary), and Illustrated by Anzu, which follows Kitty Pryde, a young high school girl who has the ability to phase through solid objects. In her public school, she suffers from the ridicule of her classmates, and alienation because she is a mutant. However, at the beginning of the manga, Kitty is invited to attend Professor Xavier's School For Gifted Youngsters, a school for people like her, and her whole world changes.

For one thing, she is the only girl at the school. As you can guess in a high school full of boys this means she gets a lot of attention. They're also all mutants like her, so P.E. means practicing in the danger room, and science class discusses the differences in DNA between humans and mutants. As Kitty adjusts to life at Xavier's, she catches the eye of the Hellfire Club. Led by Angel, the club seems to have it all - money, looks, and they can get away with anything they want. Now, the Hellfire Club wants to add the only female student to their group as their mascot. It doesn't hurt that Kitty can't take her eyes off of Pyro, one of the club's hottest members, and he can't seem to take his eyes off of her either. Throw in cold-as-ice (pun intended) Bobby Drake, the intimidating but sweet Kurt Wagner, and the radical Scott Summers and you've got an exciting high school. Who will Kitty end up with? Is the Hellfire Club more dangerous than it appears? Just how adorable is Beast? You'll have to read the series to find out!

X-Men: Misfits is everything that is great about the X-men comics shōjo rolled into one manga series. I have been eagerly awaiting this one since it was announced more than a year ago, and it does not disappoint. I absolutely love the character designs for Beast and Colossus, Cyclops works perfectly as a vegan, and the Hellfire Club is essentially a host club like Ouran! Brilliant! Seriously though, if you enjoy either X-Men or shōjo (or both, like me) then do yourself a favor and pick this one up. I can't wait to pick up volume 2, but unfortunately there is no release date information yet. Now if you'll excuse me, I have an Angel costume to go work on.