Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Venus Versus Virus Volume 1

Overall Rating: A+
Summary: Sumire, a shy middle school student, can see ghosts. One day, she pricks her hand on a strange brooch and starts even stranger things. One of the things (which looks like an octopus with one eye) attacks her. Luckily, a "gothic lolita" clad woman names Lucia shoots it. She calls the thing a virus, which is apparently a type of demon that feeds on those with the "vision" (like Sumire), turning them into viruses as well. Lucia also runs a store called Venus Vanguard that sells gothic lolita clothing as a front for her virus hunting. Did I mention she wears an eye-patch and wields a gun? I'm thinking of cross-playing her.

I first heard about Venus Versus Virus a few months ago, and was eagerly awaiting its release. The series is by Atsushi Suzumi, and it began as a one-shot submitted for a contest the manga anthology Dengenki Dao was running with the theme gothic lolita. Unfortunately, when the first volume came out in the US two weeks ago, I couldn't find a copy. Then I went to Comic Con and went to the Seven Seas booth (they publish the book), got the manga, read it, and loved it as much as I hoped I would.

I absolutely adore Lucia, and Sumire quickly grew on me. She starts the series out being quite timid, but things start developing quickly after Lucia saves Sumire from the virus. Lucia gives Sumire a flyer for her store, and says she's charging her for the rescue. Of course, it turns out she will let Sumire work off the debt by acting as bait for more viruses (it seems like a lot of manga characters end up working off debts, and the jobs inevitably lead to hijinks and adventure. hrm...). It's during the next virus attack that we learn Sumire has virus hunting powers as well, and the pair begin to live and work together. They also seem to develop the hints of a relationship (nothing is explicit, but there seem to be Yuri undertones).

Volume 1 of the manga is out now, and volume 2 comes out in October. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ceres: Celestial Legend - Manga Review

Rating: D+

Synopsis: Aya and Aki Mikage are twins, and on their sixteenth birthday it is revealed to them by their family the secrets of the Mikage bloodline. The origin of the Mikage bloodline is the fisherman and the angel (from the fairy tale where the fisherman steals the angel's robe while she bathes and forces her to be his wife and bear his children until she recovers her robes so she can return to heaven).

Unfortunately, the twins are reincarnations of the angel (Aya) and fisherman (Aki), destined to fight. Once the family uses a mummified hand to determine this, they declare that they will kill Aya and protect Aki. Aya runs away, and finds out that the soul of Ceres (the heavenly maiden/angel) lives within her and will become a dominant personality if she ever sees her twin brother again - and will then try to kill him and everyone else in her family.

The heavenly maiden plot is interesting, with Aya and Ceres fighting for control. An unusual and welcome addition are the horror elements throughout the story (psychotic mother, bleeding walls, etc.) but unfortunately the story suffers from over-exposure to Aya's lovelife. Everyone seems to wax romantic about Aya, even her cousins. These romantic plots hinder the supernatural/horror plot, though I'm not sure if either could stand on their own.

Also, the character design is very similar for almost all of the characters, only hair color or slight differences are suppose to help us discern which guy is which (love interest #1? love interest #2? twin? cousin who wants to be love interest #3?).

Despite some interesting ideas, the design is very confusing, and I get more and more annoyed each time Aya's lovelife takes over for pages on end. I'm giving up on this series after just two books.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Rozen Maiden (Volumes 1 - 4) - Manga Review

Overall Rating: B+

Synopsis: Jun is a teenage boy whose parents have left Japan for business and left his sister, Nori, in charge. When we first encounter Jun, we discover that he has decided to stay in his room indefinitely, refusing to go to school despite his sister's pleading. He spends all of his time ordering items on the internet and returning them before their policy expires for a full refund.

One item, with only the choice "Will you wind? Or not wind?" and mysterious instructions produces a case with an incredibly life-like and haughty little girl doll named Shinku. When a strange attack forces them to bond, Jun begins to learn of the strange symbiotic relationship he has entered with his "Rozen Maiden" and once others begin to appear, the strange story behind their creation begins to unfold.

Rozen Maiden has a lot of elements that seem very strange at first, but slowly get explained over time. And the relationship between the main character, Jun, and his sister, Nori, is very endearing. The dolls are ridiculously cute in their lolita way, and each of them has a different personality.

As more dolls become part of the story, the reader learns more about the reason behind the dolls existence, how there are only seven of them, why they must battle each other to become 'Alice' - but even four books in, you still don't have all the details, and it keeps you hooked.

The character design for this book is great. The dolls are drawn lavishly, each with their own style of clothing. The only thing I occasionally have difficulty with is understanding is when the artist/creator resorts to an over-the-top stylization of the characters as a one-take reaction. For example, Nori and one of the dolls, Shinku, are discussing what type of doll Shinku is, and Nori takes a second and then screams that she's so cute. Instead of this being a full-sized panel, Nori and the doll will be shown in a much simplified style, almost stick figures with a few characteristics of each of them, shown in a very small panel.

I know this is a regular thing in manga, but it does happen a lot in Rozen Maiden so just be prepared for it.

I have also watched the first disc of the anime (which I will review later) but I feel like it presents the story of the dolls in a way that is much more easily understood.

I would definitely suggest picking up this manga, especially if you're into the lolita or goth lolita style. I'm excited to find out more of the story of the dolls, how Jun will learn to deal with his feelings of isolation from his class, and just get to see more awesomely designed dolls.

Rozen Maiden Book 6 comes out in the U.S. October 2007.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Shaman King

Overall Rating: C
Synopsis: is both an anime series and a manga series by Hiroyuki Takei. Apparently, the manga series ended at 32 volumes. The manga starts when Manta, a nerd, tries to take a shortcut through a cemetery. On the way through, Manta learns that he can see spirits and meets Yoh. Manta learns that Yoh is a shaman and that he can commune with ghosts. Yoh soon learns that he may be the Shaman King and that other shamans will challenge him for the title.

32 volumes is a lot of manga about Yoh, who teams up with ghosts and spirits to try to become the Shaman King. Apparently, the Shaman King is the one who will save the world, so all of the shamans fight each other to earn the honor...wait, what?

I am only 2 volumes into Shaman King, but I am already bored. Don't get me wrong, I love manga involving a spirit world and people fighting with their supernatural abilities. Unfortunately, Shaman King's plot doesn't seem to be coming together, and the character's don't seem very interesting. That may change a little further down the line (I can only assume that if it lasted 32 volumes that there's something decent about it), but so far, I can't recommend it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Afro Samurai (Based on one episode)

Overall Rating: F
Synopsis: Afro Samurai is a Japanese dōjinshi manga series, created by Takashi Okazaki, that was made into a five episode anime. The series follows Afro, a samurai who has achieved the Number Two headband. Only the number two samurai can challenge the person who wears the Number One headband, but anyone can challenge Number Two. Afro's father was Number One, but was killed by "Justice", the current Number One. Afro is seeking revenge on "Justice".

Despite the kind of weird plot premise, I had high hopes for a series voiced by Samuel L. Jackson and Ron Perlman, and featuring a soundtrack by the RZA. Unfortunately, I couldn't make it through one episode. The plot just didn't interest me, and no amount of hip-hop music combined with anime (which I LOVED in Samurai Champloo) could save it.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Azumanga Daioh - Anime Review

Rating: A+++

Synopsis: Six girls attend high school together in this hilarious and cute slice-of-life anime. The plots are all character-driven, maintaining a balance of mundane and wacky, despite the low-key ambitions of the series. We begin the series with the first day of High School and follow the girls through to their graduation.

Words fail me in describing Kiyohiko Azuma's Azumanga Daioh, but I will do my darndest. Even though this is a slice-of-life style anime, there's plenty to watch and like as we follow these six girls through sports days, culture fests, and summer vacations. The characters grow on you within the first couple of episodes, and from there you're hooked.

There is dramatic tension in the show, but it's caused by things like "Will Sakaki be able to pet the kitty?" Osaka's tendency to daydream or say strange non-sequitirs provides a great deal of surrealistic entertainment. Chiyo-chan's dilemma as a ten year-old high schooler gives the show tons of great scenes (such as the first time she ventures out at night to buy a new eraser, and runs from streetlight to streetlight in terror).

There is an entire episode dedicated to fan service, and instead of some sort of racy panty-shot laden episode, we get spoonfuls of cuteness as the class runs their Cute Cafe. With Chiyo-chan in her penguin suit, this episode will about kill you, as all you can manage to do is whisper "kawaii!"

    Main Character Guide (from left to right in image above):
  • (Yomi) Koyomi Mizuhara - Yomi is the voice of reason and most normal girl in the group. She wears glasses, is very athletic and smart, but is always concerned about her weight. She acts as the main restrainer on Tomo's schemes.

  • (Osaka) Ayumu Kasuga - A girl transferred to the high school from Osaka. She is given the nickname "Osaka" despite the fact that her dreamy, barely lucid style of thinking is very different from the stereotypical Osakan. A lot her daydreams and thoughts give the series its surrealness.

  • (Chiyo-chan) Chiyo Mihama - Chiyo's a prodigy advanced five grades to high school at 10. Ridiculously cute, Chiyo-chan attempts to fit in with her new older friends.

  • (Sakaki) Sakaki - Sakaki is a tall quiet girl who is good at school and sports without trying. Unfortunately, the one thing she desires most, a pet cat, is the one thing she can't seem to make happen (cats hate her, her mother is allergic). Her tallness and quietness give her a reputation for being "cool".

  • (Kagura) Kagura - Kagura is a very hard-working athlete who joins the girls in their second year. She spends a lot of time training, and though she sees Sakaki's innate athletic talent as competition, she usually ends up competing with Tomo.

  • (Tomo) Tomo Takono - Tomo is the school's self-proclaimed "wildcat", competitive and energetic. Tomo is incredibly impulsive and can be obnoxious at times, but her actions tend to be a catalyst for the show.

This is my favorite anime right now, and that is the highest recommendation I can possibly give. As soon as I sent back the Netflix discs, I made plans to buy my own. If you haven't seen any Azumanga Daioh, then get to it!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad Volumes 1-7

Overall Rating: A+
Synopsis: Beck is a manga by Harold Sakuishi that follows Koyuki, a junior high nerd. At the beginning of the series, Koyuki leads a boring life, with a pervert as his only friend. That all changes when he saves a strange looking dog named Beck, and meets the dog's owner, Ryuusuke. The two become friends, and Koyuki starts down the path to being cool.

Beck centers around a band formed by Ryuusuke, and its rise to fame, but that's not what the series is about. The manga primarily follows Koyuki, and focuses on his trouble with girls, trying to learn to play the guitar, getting extorted for money by a bully, and his failing grades. Oh, yeah, and his swimming lessons from Saitou-san. The series touches on Koyuki's struggles in a way that makes the fact that he is becoming famous (at least at his school and in underground clubs) for his singing.

As the story progresses, it focuses more and more on the fledgling band, and its rise in popularity. At the end of volume 7, there is even an interesting subplot based around Ryuusuke's guitar, Lucille. It's these little things, subplots that don't focus on the band itself, but on its members that make Beck one of the better manga out there. It makes the characters intriguing, and I identify with the geek in Koyuki. Maybe one day, I can be in a Japanese punk band...

Friday, July 6, 2007

People in Manga to Know About - Rumiko Takahashi

Rumiko Takahashi (also called "The Princess of Manga")
Born 1957, Manga Career Started 1978

Famous works include:
Ranma 1/2
Maison Ikkoku

Quick Bio:
Writer/artist Rumiko Takahashi didn't even become interested in manga until her late 20's. Now, Takahashi is the best selling female comics artist in history; with well over 100 million copies of her various works sold worldwide.

Rumiko's forte is the ability to write romance and mix it perfectly with another genre. She essentially started the "one man, multiple fiancees" theme with Ranma 1/2, which inspired several other manga like Tenchi Muyo and others. Her style is very straightforward and she uses a lot of thick black lines. Her character design is so good, a page could be filled with tons of characters, all distinctly different from each other.

Effect on Hobotaku:
In the 80's and 90's, most anime and manga fans started out with Rumiko Takahashi's Ranma 1/2.
Ranma 1/2 and Inuyasha's popularity and success in the U.S. has been one of the major catalysts for ushering in more manga and anime into the States.

In Conclusion:
Rumiko Takahashi, writer, penciller, inker, creates manga so awesome, that she's one of the major reasons we have manga and anime so quickly re-dubbed and made for the United States. Her successful management of her properties has made her one of the richest people in Japan, but she's still spends her time working on Inuyasha.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Fruits Basket Volumes 1 & 2

Overall Rating: A to the cute power
Synopsis: Fruits Basket is a shōjo manga series created by Natsuki Takaya that follows the life of Tohru Honda. When the series begins, Tohru is living in a tent in the woods after being recently orphaned when her mother died in a car accident. Somehow, Tohru is able to remain optimistic despite all the shit she has had to go through.

While wandering through the forest she's living in, she runs across the house of the Sohma family. As it happens, Tohru goes to school with Yuki Sohma, who is known as the Prince, because of how fucking hot he is. Yuki and his cousin Shigure take pity on Tohru and invite her to live with them in exchange for doing the cleaning and cooking for them. Soon, Tohru learns that the Sohmas are hiding a terrible secret...they turn into cute animal versions of the zodiac if they are hugged by a member of the opposite sex that isn't also a Sohma. Things just get crazier when she meets more of the family.

Fruits Basket is the best kind of romance series, the kind with lots of crushes, but nothing overt, and interesting relationships (not necessarily the romantic kind). Take, for instance, when Kyo Sohma shows up. As I mentioned in the summary, the Sohmas all turn into cute versions of the zodiac when hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Yuki is the rat, Shigure is the dog, and Kyo is the cat. You may be thinking that there is no cat in the zodiac, and you would be right. However, there is a legend that says the cat would have would have been in the zodiac, if it had not been tricked by the rat into missing the induction feast. As a result, Kyo hates Yuki, and constantly tries to fight him. Unfortunately, for Kyo, he can't even land a decent hit on Yuki, let alone beat him up.

It's easy to love this series. The back story on the various members of the Sohma family is interesting (why does Kyo hate Yuki so much?) and trying to figure out which member of the zodiac new characters are is lots of fun (I love the Dragon's zodiac form). If you're looking for something light and fun to read, Fruits Basket is a good choice. Beware though, the series is 23 volumes long!