Friday, May 30, 2008


Overall Rating: C
Summary: Set eleven years after an event called the "Great Catastrophe", which is basically when most of the world got destroyed and lots of people died. Really a pretty accurate name for such an event. It's not really made clear, but presumably the "Great Catastrophe" was caused by the "Shadow Angels", who are basically humans with wings, who are capturing humans and treating them like cattle. Apparently, Shadow Angels live off of the life force of humans. They use huge spaceships to collect the humans for harvesting, which are guarded by giant robots (of course).

The humans have found (excavated actually, but they don't explain that much) their own giant robots, but have also discovered that they can only be piloted by people that can harness the elements. These robots can then be merged into one super robot (this sounds VERY familiar). Also, apparently merging with the other robots is like sex for the pilots, which is made even weirder by a brother and sister being two of the pilots that "merge" in the first volume.

In the first volume, we meet Silvia and Sirius de Alisia (the brother and sister I mentioned) who are nobles, and Apollo the protagonist who is a street urchin and apparently the reincarnation of a Shadow Angel who betrayed the others for his love of a human (it's strongly implied that Silvia is the reincarnation of the human).

Supposedly, this is a homage to the giant robot shows of the 70's and 80's, but it comes across as simply derivative. Good space opera is hard to pull off in my opinion, and when you're essentially using the cliches of the genre to tell your story I think it hurts the plot. If you're a fan of giant robots, you may enjoy this one a lot, but I can't recommend it.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Linda Linda Linda

Warning: Video is slight spoiler, but it's also awesome!

Overall Rating: A+
Summary: Linda Linda Linda is the kind of teen coming of age movie that only the Japanese can make. The story focuses on four Japanese High School girls, who get together to form a band. Well, to be accurate, three of the girls, Kei, Kyoko, and Nozomi were already in a band with another guitarist and singer, but three days before the school festival, those girls quit over some drama. To be able to play at the festival, they recruit Korean exchange student Son (the first girl to walk by) to be their singer. Being an exchange student, Son is not fluent in Japanese which leads to some misunderstandings (there's a great scene where she wants to go sing karoake, but doesn't want to buy a drink), but she's enthusiastic which counts for a lot.

The band decides to do covers of the Blue Hearts (a famous Japanese punk band) songs, including "Linda Linda" (which is where the title comes from and what they're performing in the video). With only three days to learn all their parts, the girls get little sleep while they practice.

Although not manga or an anime, "Linda, Linda, Linda" definitely has a lot in common with shōjo, which made me inclined to like it from the beginning. On top of that, The characters are wonderful, and while the pacing can be a bit slow at times, the last third of it is so much fun, that I forgot all about any problems it might have had in the middle third. It made me wish I was a 14-year-old Japanese (or Korean) girl in a band, and I could rock out at a school festival. I bet you'll feel the same way.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Kujibiki Unbalance

Overall Rating: B
Summary: In order to understand this series at all, you need a little backgrund first. Kujibiki Unbalance began it's life as a manga and related anime series within the world of the manga and related anime series of Genshiken (Go check out this manga/anime, it's one of my favorites!). Confused yet? Essentially, the characters in Genshiken are obsessed with Kujubiki Unbalance. In the manga, we get notes on the series in between chapters and the characters refer to the show. However, in the anime version of Genshiken, they created three episodes of Kujubiki Unbalance as well, and put one episode on each disc, so that you could watch the episodes that the Genshiken characters were watching. It was all very meta.

Then, Genshiken got cancelled, but strangely Kujubiki Unbalance was approved for a 12-episode series, but each of the three discs would have one episode of Genshiken on it (flipping the former format). This review is for the first volume of this series.

The series serves as an homage to, and a parody of, many of the standard themes found in manga and anime, including the influential yet shadowy Student Council, brother-sister relationship weirdness, childhood friends growing apart and then meeting up years later, and more. One oddity of this series is that it is completely different from the series discussed and shown in Genshiken. The character designs are different and the plot differs as well.

I won't get into the previous plot, but both focus on Chihiro, a good-humored but somewhat nerdy looking boy who girls seem attracted to for no apparent reason. In this version, the Student Council is determined by lottery (in the old version there was a competition), and Chihiro is chosen to be president. Tokino, his somewhat-slow childhood friend, and potential romantic interest draws the position of Vice President, a young woman pretentious mad scientist named Renko is the Secretary, and elemantary student Koyuki is their Treasurer. Together, they must prove themselves worthy of being the Student Council for the giant and prestigious Rikkyouin Academy.

The tasks they are given to prove themselves worthy are all mundane so far, but inevitably result in robots, horny pandas, and general hilarity.

This one was really hard for me to review. I love Genshiken, and got the first disc primarily to see the episode of Genshiken on it, but was pleasantly surprised with the quality of Kujubiki Unbalance as well. I'm still not a fan overall, but Renko is hilarious, and I appreciate the parodying of classic manga/anime themes. However, I don't really care about any of the characters, and the plot is really uninteresting. I will be getting the second disc so I can watch the next episode of Genshiken (seriously, if you haven't read/watched this yet, go check it out!) and hopefully Kujibiki Unbalance will improve as well. As it is, I would have preferred the same format as before, with more Genshiken and a few episodes of Kujibiki.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Paradise Kiss Manga Volume 1

Overall Rating: A+
Summary: A fashion/drama/romance Josei series created by Ai Yazawa (who is also the creator of Nana), which follows Yukari "Caroline" Hayasaka. Yukari is an attractive high schooler, but her life consists of traveling from high school to cram school to home, and back again. The manga opens with Yukari running into Arashi (a punk) and Isabella (a transvestite), who are part of a group of fashion students that call their label "Paradise Kiss". Yukari thinks they are perverts (did I mention she's a bit naïve?), and faints.

When she wakes up, she's staring at a pink-haired woman named Miwako (the cute woman in lolita clothing on the cover), who explains the situation, and that they want her to be their model. She refuses, explaining that she's much too busy with school and doing important things, and that fashion students have it easy. This understandably pisses off Arashi (our spiky haired punk boy on the cover), who yells at her, and Yukari quickly leaves. Miwako runs after her and calls her "Caroline", because she doesn't know Yukari's name yet. As a result, Yukari is referred to as "Caroline" by the Paradise Kiss crew. Regardless, Caroline leaves, but drops her student id.

The next day a ridiculously attractive guy named George shows up, and tells Yukari Miwako has her id (he has it). George gets her to go with him, in theory to pick up her id, to the art school Yazagaku. He then takes her to a hair and makeup artist for a makeover (this mostly consists of giving her bangs). After this stop off, they go meet up with the Paradise Kiss crew, and they put Yukari in a dress they designed, give her back her id, and convince her to be their model.

I love Ai Yazawa. Nana is one of my favorite series, and I am now thoroughly addicted to "Paradise Kiss" after only one volume. I had already watched the anime, and finally got around to checking out the manga. Now I wish I had grabbed the first volume as soon as I finished the anime (or even while I was watching the anime). As with "Nana", "Paradise Kiss" has an excellent plot that really draws you in, interesting characters that develop in interesting ways (even in just the first volume), and is a lot of fun. The series is clearly intended for a slightly more mature audience (there are sex scenes, but they aren't explicit), but if you like Josei/Shōjo manga check this one out.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

MPD Psycho Volume 1

Overall Rating: B+
Summary: MPD Psycho is a psychological horror series written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Shou Tajima, which follows Yousuke Kobayashi a former police detective. The series opens with Kobayashi tracking down a serial killer who severs the limbs off his victims. Meanwhile, Kobayashi is suffering from strange dreams where he sees himself killing people. After seeing Kobayashi on tv, the serial killer kidnaps his girlfriend, and severs her limbs, but keeps her alive.

After Kobayashi tracks him down, the killer tells him that he sees something familiar in Kobayashi and that they are on the same side. At that point, another personality emerges, and Kobayashi becomes Shinji Nishizono. Shinji kills the serial killer and is sent to prison. It is implied that the dreams Kobayashi had been having were actually Shinji killing people.

Most of the above is revealed in flashbacks, and the bulk of the first volume is set after Kobayashi is released from prison. His primary personality is now Kazuhiko Amamiya, a brilliant criminologist, and he has been hired to work with a private consulting agency. The agency is headed up by Machi Isono, a criminologist that asked Kobayashi to consult on some cases while he was in prison. They work to track down and bring to justice serial killers, and tend to deal with the really weird and difficult cases the police have trouble solving themselves.

Eiji Otsuka also writes Kurosaki Corpse Delivery Service, which I love, so I was excited to read MPD Psycho. The two titles are very different, and MPD has little of the dark humor that makes Kurosaki great. However, it makes up for that with a great concept, some really intriguing plot, and interesting characters. The only slight negative is that sometimes it feels like they're trying too hard to shock the reader. MPD comes shrink-wrapped and with an 18+ warning for good reason, and I would definitely caution against reading it if you're squeamish. Otherwise, I'm looking forward to checking out volume 2.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Nightmare Inspector Volume 1

Overall Rating: F
Summary: An episodic manga featuring Hiruko, a Baku, a dream eater. Hiruko runs a tea house where people come for his help with their nightmares. After negotiating a price (so far it has always been their dream), Hiruko enters their dream and "fixes" things. Usually this means using common sense and being a stoic ass. After "fixing" things, Hiruko sends the client on their merry way (or not so merry since one ends up dying in real life), and then eats their dream. Mmmmm dreamalicious.

In case it's not already obvious, I really didn't like this manga. Every chapter involves different characters and their dreams with the only consistent aspect being Hiruko (who is boring and has the personality of carboard) and his assistant, whose name I can't even remember (I read this one in B&N last night, so I don't have it on hand for reference). There are a lot of manga with this sort of episodic supernatural theme, but this is one of the worst I've read. Do not bother with it, unless you enjoy being disappointed.