Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Yuri Manga: 12 Days (English)

June Kim's 12 Days is so *different* from most yuri manga that, despite the morbid subject matter (or perhaps because of it?), it’s a refreshing title to read that feels, in many ways, more like a novel translated into comic form than a “typical manga” created to squeeze dollars out of manga fans. Even though I’ve read several good reviews of it, I was (and I’m sure other people still are) reluctant to read it for a while because the story sounds…rather depressing. But I’m glad I read it.

12 Days is about Jackie, a young woman living in New York City whose girlfriend Noah recently died in a car accident. Noah died on the way home from her honeymoon after marrying a man in order to satisfy her conservative father. In the present, Jackie is trying to cope with her grief by drinking a portion of Noah’s ashes (which Noah’s half-brother Nick secretly brings to her) in a smoothie each day for twelve days. At the end of those twelve days, she hopes to be rid of her grief.

12 Days is very good. Anybody who wants to read a yuri manga available in English that depicts a fairly realistic adult same-sex relationship sans gender-switching sci-fi weirdness, wacky sword duels (as much as I enjoy sword duels in my yuri…you all know which series I’m talking about ^_^), all-girls’ schools, or miko rape should give this series a look.

Rather than a story set up with a clear beginning, middle, and end for the reader, 12 Days feels like a brief glimpse into the lives of a group of people whose stories continue beyond the limit of the pages, especially as the events of the present frequently melt into memories of the past, for better or worse, for the different characters. However, as impossible as it is not to sympathize with Jackie and Noah, after I finished reading this, I wasn't left with much of a lasting impression of the characters. They’re nearly all likeable and they do serve as vehicles for a very viscerally affecting story, but they mostly remain just that- vehicles.

The art is extremely good. Drawn by June Kim, a Korean-born OEL manga artist who lives in New York, the art is largely colored in stark blacks and whites, with little gray, and done in a realistic-ish style that looks josei-influenced. Backgrounds are excellent and detailed in their depiction of the characters’ surroundings (especially in New York), and I appreciated Kim’s frequent yet unobtrusive punctuations of (often black) humor throughout the story. The quality of the volume itself is excellent, with the elaborate cover illustration outlined with silver etchings, and an interesting author's bibliography in the back of the book that illustrate the influences that went into making 12 Days.

Art: A-
Story: B+
Overall: B+

With this, I’ve covered nearly all of Tokypop’s yuri releases, with 12 Days currently being unquestionably the best one. As much as I love Hayate x Blade and am thrilled that it seems to be doing well- at least well enough for Seven Seas to continue printing new volumes- , I would love to see a U.S. publisher take a chance with a new series like Sasameki Koto, which I could see appealing to more casual manga fans who don't normally follow yuri than titles like First Love Sisters, The Last Uniform, or Strawberry Panic. I’m still holding out hope that Hayate x Blade will pave the way for yuri fan favorite Strawberry Shake Sweet to be released here. (It’s only 2 volumes long!!! ;_; Come on, manga companies!!) But I digress.

For anybody who's still on the fence regarding this title, Tokypop's website actually has the first three chapters up online.

Monday, June 29, 2009

K-On! Special Episode (Episode 13)

Remember how I said (err, wrote) that one of the things I like about K-On! is how it has a little more focus than most slice-of-life school series? Episode 13, “Winter Day”, chucks that aspect of the show out the window. I still like it, especially Ritsu’s storyline (primarily for reasons that are relevant to this blog), but it wasn’t K-On! at its best. Nonetheless, it was a cute episode and I still liked it, even if I probably would have had less patience with it if it were the school year right now. (See my vicious shredding of episode 1 of Saki for evidence.)

The episode begins with Mio writing the lyrics for a new song for After School Tea Time on what looks like a MacBook. (Yay, Macs! ^^)

The next day in the school club room, Yui tries playing her pet guitar with gloves on since it’s cold because of the winter, and after giving up, she decides to make a hotpot with her sister Ui at their house on Saturday.

She invites the other club members over for hotpot, but Ritsu has to take her kid brother to the movies, Mio needs to spend some time alone to write her song lyrics, Azusa has to cat-sit for a friend (last time I checked, cats were okay being left alone for several hours), and Mugi has some unspecified thing to do. (Sketchy…) More importantly, Ritsu is behaving different than usual because she received an anonymous love letter in her mailbox, unbeknownst to her friends.

Come Saturday, Yui and Ui are out shopping for hotpot ingredients and Yui thinks about which freakish creation she can concoct. (Chocolate curry hotpot?? o_o;;;) Mio takes the train to the beach for a peaceful place to write music, but finds that it’s just as hard to do when she isn’t around hyperactive Ritsu and Yui. After Ritsu takes her brother to the movies, he leaves to spend the day with a friend, and she has the rest of Saturday to kill. And Mugi’s top-secret activity is a new part-time job as a server at a fast food restaurant.

She seems to be having the time of her life (I have never seen fast food servers in either Japan or the U.S. who seemed that happy with their jobs), until she accidentally spills some soda on one of her co-workers and freaks out about it. Finally, Azusa begins freaking out when it looks like the cat she’s looking after is sick.

After Yui sends her friends a text message asking which nasty hotpot they would rather eat, she goes to Azusa’s house and tells her that the cat was just coughing up a hairball. I find it a little baffling that Azusa can play a guitar like a pro and be trusted to care for someone’s cat, but not know about hairballs. Azusa and Yui meet up with Ritsu and Mio at the restaurant where Mugi works and Mio asks Ritsu if she got the lyrics that Mio left in her mailbox before.

Ritsu has a “!!??” moment and realizes that her “love letter”, which described a person fitting Ritsu’s description, were song lyrics by Mio. Once again the answer to exactly why the lyrics are like that is left vague for the (yuri) fandom. I can see doujinshi and fanfiction being written as I type this now about how Mio struggled to indirectly convey her feelings for Ritsu through her lyrics, or how she received another text message from somebody in the group that she cribbed for her song. The possibilities are endless with yuri goggles. Lol

Besides Ritsu’s storyline, this episode overall was kind of so-so, but it was still a pleasant way to pass twenty-something minutes.

Art: B
Story: C
Overall: C+

Speaking of Saki, now that I’m 12 episodes through the series, I like it. ^^ A midpoint series review will come later this week after I watch episode 13.

And I just realized, what happened to Sawako-sensei in this episode? I missed her crazy mood swings.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Sasameki Koto Seiyuu and New Character Designs!

I'm sure that many rabid fans of Sasameki Koto have noticed by now, but Sumi and Ushio's seiyuu have finally been announced on the website! ^^

Sumi is being voiced by Ayahi Takagaki, a VA who I don't recognize, although she has played characters from Baccano, Skip Beat, and (yay!!) season 4 of Maria-sama ga Miteru. ^^ I don't have any pre-concieved "image" of how her voice is supposed to sound, so I'm interested in how she'll sound as Sumi.

Ushio's seiyuu is Megumi Takamoto, who many fans know as Chao Lingshen in Negima!?, but who I only know as Winry Rockbell in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. (Btw, the seiyuu who voiced Winry in the original FMA series is Megumi Toyoguchi, a.k.a. Sei Satou from Maria-sama ga Miteru. I just thought that was a funny coincidence. ^^)

Plus, the character designs for Sumi and Ushio's right-hand woman Kiyori and Sumi's unrequited admirer Masaki are up on the website now.

I really want to see Tomoe, Miyako, and Aoi's character designs soon! (Especially Aoi, in her yuri fan-geek glory.) I'm looking forward to Lotte's character design mainly so that I can see all of the fanatic moe fans who haven't read the manga be dreadfully disappointed at how utterly un-cute she is when she shows up in the show. *evil laugh*

Plus, if you go to the main page of the website, the image of Ushio and Sumi there now includes Kiyori and Masaki standing next to them, which is pretty cute. ^^ A trailer would be nice~ *hint hint, studio AIC*, but it probably won't be up for a while. I'm sooo happy to have something great to look forward to this fall! XD

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

K-On! Anime Review

When I watched the first episode of K-On!, I thought "Ah, another slice-of-life show about a group of moe girls in high school. It'll probably get attention from yuri fans simply because it's about a large group of girls, and besides Saki (and blegh, Queen's Blade), there isn't anything else yuri-ish this season." I was partly right. It is a slice-of-life moe school show, but in a micro-niche subgenre that has already become overcrowded with banal crap like Hyakko, with a high standard set by the now-classic Azumanga Daioh, K-On! turned out to be a surprisingly funny, endearing show.

K-On! is about Yui Hirasawa, a girl starting her first year of high school. She's your typical ditzy, cheerful, yet unmotivated protagonist who doesn't have any specific passion or interest. Ritsu ("Ricchan") Tanaka and Mio Akiyama are best friends and first-year students, but while Mio wants to join the literature club, Ritsu convinces/coerces her into reviving their school's old Light Music Club, which is defunct because all of the members graduated the previous year. They find a third member, Tsumugi ("Mugi") Kotobuki, a rich girl with a mellow (but amusingly eccentric) personality, and finally decide to make Yui join join their club because they need four members and they think Yui can play the guitar- when the only instrument she ever played prior to high school was a pair of castanets when she was little. The series follows the Light Music ("kei ongaku") Club as they practice (and eat lots of tea and sweets that Mugi brings to the club room each day) to become a better band, with Yui on electric guitar, Ritsu on drums, Mio on bass, and Tsumugi on keyboard.

The primary charming thing K-On! has going for it is its characters. They do fit archetypes to an extent, but even while going through the same events that have been done in numerous other anime series (school festivals, holidays, the beach, etc), they play off of each other well enough that they just work together. The mundane events of daily life receive a little bit of a fresh twist in how they tie into the music club- the trip to the beach is for the band's training camp, the school festival is where they get to put their training into practice, and shopping trips and part-time jobs are primarily for the sake of the band (like buying Yui her first guitar, or instrument maintenance). The "music club aims to play at the Budoukan" plotline isn't earthshaking, but it gives a little more focus and structure to K-On! than most high school slice-of-life series, which I like. Plus, while Yui is still a goofy ditz by the end, seeing how she discovers her passion for music and all of the light music club members find something to work toward is nice to see. Again, K-On! isn't trying to be brilliant, but it's fun light viewing, provided that one doesn't mind moe.

Speaking of which, even as somebody who isn't a fan of moe, there isn't any question to me that Kyoto Animation has perfected the animation of "cuteness" to a science. The characters have cavity-inducingly cute body language and facial expressions, and I actually don't mind because they are effectively cute without being annoying (aside from Mio in a few instances) or used for fan service (aside from a few light, dumb cosplay gags). The cuteness doesn't go overboard for me because the characters are offbeat enough to be likeable, my two favorites being the laid-back ojousama Mugi and in-your-face, Tomo-like Ritsu.

There isn't much yuri, but enough to warrant this review. lol Obviously, there are several female characters who spend a lot of time together, which will cause fans to inevitably pair them. ^^;; Some "couples" are more viable than others, like Mio and Ritsu or Yui and Azusa (the first-year student who joins the club when Yui, Ritsu, Mio, and Mugi become second-years) by the end of the series. The only "real" yuri I saw was Mugi's brief crush on Sawako-sensei, the mood-swinging teacher and former member of the original Light Music Club who becomes the girls' club adviser. When Mio is struggling to write lyrics for the club's performance at the school cultural festival, she receives a text from Mugi saying that her heart has been thumping since Sawako-sensei became their adviser, and Mio uses the message as the first line of her song, which the other club members later take to be a love song. ^^ And Mugi stares at Sawako-sensei with googly eyes until Ritsu asks her if she likes their adviser, and while Mugi seems to give a vague, denial-ish answer, she ends with "I don't think there's anything wrong if both sides express interest..." Take that as you will. :) So, the yuri is small but cute. Plus, the cosplay causes some rather gay reactions from a few of the characters (including Mugi).

Anyway, it was a cute series, and it reminded me of some of the fun things about being in high school. There isn't much more to say. ^^;;

Art: B (It's moe, but improves when animated by Kyoto Animation's..."Kyoto Animation"-ness?)
Story: B
Overall: B

This review covers the 12 episode series. There is supposed to be a "special" episode coming later, but I probably won't review it unless it has anything more of yuri interest.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Aoi Hana Animated Trailers! ^^ Finally!!

This is my third post today... ^^;; But this is a good day for yuri news!

There are finally animated trailers up on the Aoi Hana website! Not just one, but two featuring scenes from the anime! And a third showing some of the production behind the show!

Now there's only 1 more week until it airs! ^^

Yay! ^^ A Guide to "Strawberry Panic!" On Afterellen

Wow! o__o When I visited Afterellen a several minutes ago, I was incredibly surprised to see A Guide to "Strawberry Panic!" on the front page!

Erica Friedman, the well-known founder of Yuricon and writer of Okazu, wrote a great guide to the StoPani anime, manga, and light novels, although it primarily focuses on the anime. (Which works for me, since the anime is my favorite incarnation of the SP franchise.) If you haven't read it and you're a fan of Strawberry Panic!, you should definitely check it out. I love seeing yuri getting mentioned any time on Afterellen, so it's really cool to see a Strawberry Panic! guide there! ^^

Sasameki Koto Website Manga

So cute!! ^^ The Sasameki Koto webpage posted a chibi 4-koma webcomic to celebrate the webpage's opening!
Panel 1-
Ushio: "Sumi-chan, Sumi-chan! They're making us into an anime!!"
("Sumi-chan Sumi-chan! Watashi-tachi ga anime narun desutte!!")

Panels 2 & 3- Silence.

Panel 4-
Ushio: "A television manga!"
("Terebi manga!")
Sumi: "Oh!"

Adorable. ^^

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Gorgeous New Marimite Drama CD Cover Art!

*gapes* I love the cover art for the new Maria-sama ga Miteru Drama CD that's coming out this July!! o__o

July 24, to be exact, according to the Marimite website. Noriko looks a little different from how she normally does, but overall, I think it's a gorgeous picture. I'm sure that this Drama CD, "Drops of the Rosary/Yellow Storm Warning" will cover the arc when Shimako is forced to "choose" between Noriko and the Yamayurikai, and the arc when Yoshino joins the kendo club. That means this is the last Drama CD before "Rainy Blue"! ^^ Yay~! Honestly, I love watching every story arc in Marimite, but Rainy Blue is probably going to be the most difficult one to listen to. If you've seen or read it, you understand. ^^;; Still, "Drops of the Rosary/Yellow Storm Warning" will be fun for anybody looking for more Shimako/Noriko and Rei/Yoshino goodness!

I'm really looking forward to the Drama CD covering "Vacation of the Lambs" for more Yumi/Sachiko. ^^

Friday, June 19, 2009

Aoi Hana Interviews!

*squeals* ^^ The Aoi Hana website has just been updated today with interview questions for the seiyuu cast!! There is a photo the four main seiyuu (seen above), along with four questions for the seiyuu to answer. So far, only answers by Fumi's seiyuu, Ai Takabe, and Akira's seiyuu, Yuko Gibu, have been posted. I'm sure that the answers by Yasuko's seiyuu, Chiemi Ishimatsu, and Kyouko's seiyuu, Yui Horie, will be posted later, seeing as they're in the photo on the interview website also.

The questions are:

1) You probably have an impression of the work "Aoi Hana"?

2) Which part of you resembles the character you are playing?

(This is probably the most overused question asked of seiyuu, but I still like knowing their answers. ^^;;)

3) I didn't really get this one at all. Something about why they like playing the role...? -_-;;

4) The message to the fans who enjoy this work.

Sorry, my translation is abysmally rough. I don't even want to get into deciphering the answers. Ai Takabe said something about girls' friendships and romances and girls' schools in response to question 1 (with a heart symbol at the end). And Yuko Gibu said something about being open and carefree...? Very useful, I know. ^^;; What I wouldn't give for a proper translation... *__*

Additionally, I just noticed, there is a new "Special Talk" page dedicated to interviewing other people involved in Aoi Hana. Takako Shimura and...the other person's picture has the name "Chica Umino" under it with the kanji for "feather" in front of her name. So...Chica Umino? o_o;; I wasn't aware that she was involved. But the paragraph next to the name of the other person being interviewed (not Takako Shimura) describes her as the head of J.C. Staff (the studio animating Aoi Hana) who has worked on Honey and Clover and Nodame Cantabile. I hope I don't start some false rumor through my tenuous translations. ^^;;

But for any Aoi Hana fans who can read Japanese fluently enough, these interviews should be great reads. ^^

Plus, the Staff Room page has some neat photos showing materials used to promote the anime and there's a new wallpaper out! It's already on my desktop. ^^

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Blog Updates, More on the Industry, and La Maison en Petits Cubes

I added a new feature to this blog last night! ^^ Along the left side, there are three lists of yuri blog links, one for English yuri blogs, one for Spanish yuri blogs, and one massive list of Japanese yuri blogs. I've included every yuri blog that I can think of- feel free to suggest more, as long as your suggestions are yuri-focused, regularly updated, and work-safe. I'm especially interested in finding more non-English or Japanese yuri blogs- in Spanish, German, Italian, Polish, Mandarin, Korean, etc, etc.

For anybody who's interested in the mechanics of the anime industry, here's another informative article from The Japan Times Online. Although it was published on March 4, it's still a relevant and interesting read that contains more information about the anime industry that I wasn't aware of, although I already had some knowledge of the situation there. The one assertion I disagree with is that people prefer to watch hand-drawn animated productions much more than digitally-drawn animation. While hand drawn animation has its unique appeal, I (and most people, I think) care more about the story and writing than how the animation frames were put together. That point also ignores the popularity of computer-animated movies in Japan, like Pixar's productions.

Speaking of which, Anime News Network just posted Oricon's list of Top-Selling Animation/Manga DVDs in Japan in the 1st Half of 2009. There aren't any yuri titles on the list, but there is pieces of love Vol. 1 "Tsumiki no Ie" ( "La Maison en Petits Cubes"). ^^ La Maison en Petits Cubes is an excellent short film by director Kunio Katō that won Best Animated Short Film at the Oscars this past year. If you want to see animated art that pushes the traditional boundaries of what anime can be, watch this film if at all possible. I really can't recommend it enough, and I'm both happy and extremely surprised that this beautiful little art film sold so well.

An image from La Maison en Petits Cubes.

Edit on 06/22:
I really want to include links to as many blogs as I can on this site, but I want to emphasize that I will not accept nsfw suggestions, and will remove any blogs that cross that line at my discretion. No offense meant to the authors of those blogs.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kunihiko Ikuhara Directs A New Anime OP, and Summer 2009 Anime

Be still, my beating heart!!
Kunihiko Ikuhara is going to direct the opening animation for an (as of now) unnamed anime series that will air in two weeks! For those unaware, Ikuhara directed a little series that you may be aware of...
*wipes drool from face*
He also later directed what is arguably the finest season of Sailor Moon.

I may be setting myself up for disappointment, but the first thing that I thought of after reading the title of the article was "ZOMG AOI HANA!!!!111!1!!!!" In fact, if I had to bet on which title it would be, I would place money on Aoi Hana.

Especially after seeing these photos of the rough sketches of the OP that Ikuhara's working on:
Notice how the two sleeves in the third photo (I love how it reminds me of the end of the Utena opening ^^) resemble Fumi and Ah-chan's uniforms in Aoi Hana.
Case closed.

Plus, Ikuhara especially likes working on yuri anime, so I can't imagine that he would pass up Aoi Hana if he had an opportunity to be involved with it. I really hope I'm not wrong and that an OP by Ikuhara will serve as the icing on the delectable cake that the Aoi Hana anime will probably be.

Otherwise, the other summer 2009 anime series that I'm chiefly looking forward to are Umineko no Naku Koro ni
and Umi Monogatari
I'm interested in Umineko no Naku Koro ni because I enjoyed/got freaked out by Higurashi (especially Higurashi Kai), and I'm looking forward to another absorbing horror-mystery yarn. My only major issue with Higurashi was the lolicon "humor" that reared its ugly head for a few moments during both seasons. It was not funny, and every time that doctor whatshisname popped up to provide his unique brand of "humor", I felt homicidal. Otherwise, Higurashi was a very good, well-written horror-mystery suspense series. Umineko no Naku Koro ni looks like it has an all-around older cast, so that one problem will hopefully be gone.

I'm looking forward to Umi Monogatari because it looks like a pretty, relaxing series, and what I've seen of it through promos reminds me of Air, another series I've enjoyed. Plus Junichi Sato, who directed Aria, Princess Tutu, and Kaliedo Star, is directing it.

I haven't watched Spice and Wolf yet -_-;;, although I'm planning to since I've heard nothing but good things about it. For fans of Spice and Wolf, however, the second season this summer should be a godsend.

And I wish that I could be excited about the third season of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. I thought the first season was great, but when I tried to watch the second season, I couldn't really get into it. Most Zetsubou Sensei fans who watched the second season enjoyed it, so if you liked the second season also, dig in. I'm interested in checking out studio SHAFT's other summer offering, Bakemonogatari. The plot sounds pretty average, but it might be good. I love SHAFT's animation style, but they need to write a good story to prop it up, which they haven't always done in the past.
Anyway, it looks like this summer will be another good season for anime fans, with something for just about everyone! ^^

Friday, June 12, 2009

Yuri Manga: Kannazuki no Miko volume 2 (English)

Kannazuki no Miko feels like a cross between a mindless summer blockbuster (Explosions!! Gut-crunching action!! Cute girls screaming as things explode!!) and one of the strange, sexually-charged legends from the Nihon Shoki or Kojiki. That is to say: this series isn't intelligent by any means or remotely politically correct, but it makes for a strangely compelling read. ^^;; Considering how many elements it packs in that I despise, that's saying something.

Volume 2 begins with the aftermath of Chikane's rape of Himeko (one of the few times I've wished an English manga publisher hadn't reproduced the color pages in color; I support faithful reproductions of Japanese tankoubon, but...bleh...). Himeko wakes up, believing that the rape was only a dream- or was it? When she sees Chikane, she seems pretty normal, but at school she ominously tells Himeko that she wasn't dreaming. (I felt terrible for Himeko, but I also wanted to smack her upside the head for the idiotic reason she came up with for "Chikane-chan" raping her.)

We learn that Chikane raped her because, like all religions that boast antediluvian views of women, the sects (?) of Ame no Murakumo and Orochi demand that women must be virgins to remain of holy value to the gods. Specifically, in order for the evil god Orochi to be revived, the life/virgin blood of either the sun or moon priestess is needed, so Himeko can't be sacrificed now because she is "impure."

Chikane, who is in cahoots with the Orochi followers, tells them that Himeko is disqualified for the sacrifice, and so Girochi goes to Earth to attack Souma, who he thinks is responsible. Himeko spends most of this volume playing "Hide the Rapist", while everyone (except Chikane, of course) wonders who did it. Chikane kills the rest of the Orochi necks (besides Tsubasa and Souma), and long story short, Himeko and Souma fly in Souma's mecha to the moon where Chikane is waiting for them. Chikane does some more evil, twisted sh*t, like killing Souma in front of Himeko and molesting Himeko yet again. Himeko, being the Kaishaku heroine that she is (and clearly suffering from Stockholm syndrome), still forgives Chikane, actively saves her from suicide, and tells her that she loves her and wants to be with her forever. (That part was pretty funny, actually: "Let me die, damn it!! What does it take for you to freaking hate me!!??" *smashes Souma* "Nooooo!! Soumaaaaa!!!! But I still love you Chikane-chan!! Let me make you happy!!" "Damn iiiit!!" I'm not exactly quoting the characters verbatim, but that's pretty much how it played out. -_-;;)

Himeko gets to choose how the world will be re-made, from eight conveniently pre-determined choices. She chooses- wait for it- to create a world without either her or Chikane in it, so they can do whatever on the moon for eternity. Inexplicably, however, in the epilogue the two shrine maidens are reincarnated as twin sisters who are still in love with one another. Happily ever after...I guess...

As illustrated in my summary, this is definitely not p.c. Himeko is a disturbingly spineless heroine who makes Tohru Honda look like Utena Tenjou (maybe not *quite* that bad...). Chikane makes a very effective villain, but a f*cked up love interest, and Souma's just there. My opinion on the other Orochi acolytes varies- I like Sister Miyako, the manga author (I forget her name), and the idol (ditto), don't like the nurse cat girl or Girochi, and think Tsubasa's okay. Nevertheless, as unlikeable/unremarkable as the core cast is, watching them scheme and back-stab one another to change their perceived pre-determined fate made for some compelling light reading. The story never fulfills its ambitions of being a great fantasy epic- as in the anime, there are several plot holes like "Why did these specific people become followers of Orochi? Where did the field of flowers suddenly come from? How can they breathe on the moon? And how were Himeko and Chikane reborn again? And why twins!?" And Kaishaku can't resist throwing in unnecessary otaku-pandering elements (cat girl nurse, sexy nun, clumsy moe heroine, etc; that kind of thing is their shtick). But despite those negatives, they keep the story paced quickly, moving briskly from event to event until the strange, strange ending. Kaishaku can't write a truly good story to save their lives, but by god, they know how to wrap it up quickly.

The art is pretty good. The character designs are appealing when they aren't mired in fan service or cheesy mecha battles (Souma's eyes literally beam light when he's firing up his mecha in one panel), and backgrounds are done surprisingly well. Tokyopop's reproduction is very well done. I noticed, maybe, two pages in which some of the lines were a little faded. Otherwise, the ink was clean and crisp. Those damnable color pages begin the book, and after the story, there are several black and white pages of bonus art of Himeko and Chikane. The translation is excellent. The dialogue flows smoothly, the honorifics as well as the Japanese names for the gods and Orochi mecha are all preserved faithfully, and each character comes across as having a distinctive "voice." If only every Tokyopop release received this treatment. (Especially if they decide to license a really good yuri manga. :) )

Story: C+
Art: B
Translation: A
Overall: C+

Ironically, while KnM itself is a miasma of suffering for Himeko and (to a much lesser degree) Chikane, when they appear as side characters in other Kaishaku series (all three volumes of Kyoshiro to Towa no Sora and UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie volume 7) they make a surprisingly cute, functional couple. What gives, Kaishaku?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Aoi Hana Airing Date Announced and Website Revamped!!

Whoohoo! ^_^ Aoi Hana's airing on Wednesday July 1st!!! Only 3 days after my b-day! ^.^ I'm glad it's airing a.s.a.p.!

I found the date on the Aoi Hana anime website, which has been completely renovated with more anime character design images throughout the site. If you wait a minute after arriving at the main page, the flash images will end with a cute picture of Fumi, Yasuko, Akira, and Kyouko on a path together, with Fumi blushing at Yasuko. ^^ One of the links even leads to a super-cute relationship chart!

There is also a page where it looks like there are going to be a lot of Aoi Hana wallpapers posted, although there's only one so far of Fumi and Akira. (Which is currently on my desktop. :) ) Even with all of the updated material on the site, there's a lot more "Coming soon."

According to another page on the site, Aoi Hana's opening theme is going to be "Aoi Hana" (how appropriate ^^;;) by Kukikodan and the ending theme is going to be "Senteforia" by Ceui.

I'm dyyyying to see this show!!! It's so close, yet so far away...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Yuri Manga: Sasameki Koto volume 1

Seasoned yuri fans tend to be extremely savvy about the "names" to follow for yuri: Milk Morinaga, Shizuru Hayashiya, Akiko Morishima, Yuri Hime, etc. Ikeda Takashi's Sasameki Koto is a delightful surprise that began serialization in 2007 (although I only began reading it in the second half of 2008), and at four volumes strong, it is easily one of the best yuri titles being released today.

Sasameki Koto is about two best friends in high school, Sumika Murasame and Ushio Kazama. Sumika is deeply in love with Ushio, but Ushio only likes super-cute girly girls, and unfortunately for Sumi, she isn't cute at all. In fact, while Ushio herself is cute and girly, Sumika is tomboyish, (externally) cool, and highly competent at both athletics and academics; since she grew up in a family that runs a karate dojo, she's also a highly-skilled black belt martial artist. (Despite the fact that she quit karate in middle school because it "isn't cute" enough for Ushio.) Volume 1 follows the two friends as Sumi painfully watches Ushio have her heart broken by a sempai who superficially seems like her "type", Sumi and Ushio get cajoled into joining an unofficial club for "girls who love girls" by a lesbian couple in their class, Tomoe and Miyako, who saw them "practice" kissing through a wrestling mask, Ushio crushes on a cute model who Sumika discovers is a boy in their class who likes Sumi and only began cross-dressing to attract her attention (this doesn't come across as being as weird as it sounds ^^;;), and Ushio reconciles with the sempai who broke her heart. All the while, Sumika is willing to wait for her. ^^;; (I shouldn't be happy writing that sentence but... it's so adorable!!! o___o;;; Darn it, Ushio!!!)

I'll be up front: this is one of my favorite series, and I await the anime adaptation this fall with enormous anticipation. By virtue of being a yuri title, it likely won't receive remotely as much attention as it deserves, well done though it is. This places among the miniscule proportion of self-described comedy manga I have read that are truly, consistently funny, and in a sweet, good-natured, goofy way most of the time to boot. A healthy amount of well-executed drama balances out the comedy and gives it some necessary depth; while Sumi's attempts to win over Ushio (and several other characters' attempts to win over the people they love) are funny, the candor of their feelings should strike a chord for anybody who has been on the wrong end of an unrequited crush or love.

In this volume, however, the wheels are only getting greased, setting the stage for the character relationships that will grow ever more complex and amusing/poignant as the volumes go by. This volume has several stand-out moments on its own: Ushio and Sumi's amusing pseudo-first kiss, Sumi's truncated first attempt at confessing to Ushio, and Ushio inadvertently getting poor Sumi's hopes up in Chapter 6 before crushing them. ^^;; As sympathetic as I feel for Sumi by the end of this volume, I have to say that she partially dug her own grave in the beginning of the book by making some disparaging comments about Ushio's preferences and pretending not to share them at all. Not that I can blame her too much, in her circumstances. (True story: In the 8th grade, a girl classmate who I was super close friends with- and quite frankly, stuck to like glue- innocuously commented at lunch one day that if we were a lesbian couple, I would be the "girl" and she would be the "guy." I flipped out and blurted "What?! No way. Eww! I'm not like that." I felt bad about saying it almost immediately afterward, and she never brought the subject up again. Point is, I can kind of understand Sumi's screw up. -_-;;) The other characters are enjoyable as well: after reading further on in the series, it's especially fun (and strange) to see how much Miyako changes from a seemingly mild-mannered dojikko ("dojikko"=cute, clumsy girl) to the snarky cynic she reveals herself as, while still being strangely likeable; Tomoe (Miyako's more cool-headed girlfriend) and Kiyori (Sumi and Ushio's mellow, cheerful friend who is constantly snacking) are likeable also, and the members of Sumi's household provide their own amusement. :) (I'm really curious about Ushio's family circumstances- hopefully Ikeda will explore that later on.)

The art is also good. It's stylized and clean, yet not overly simplistic. The character designs are charming and distinctive without being outlandish, and Ikeda does an excellent job at conveying different emotions. Several times throughout Sasameki Koto, Ikeda also makes effective use of different angles and light, as in the "mask-kissing" scene.

At 500 yen, the tankoubon is at a normal size for a Japanese tankoubon. (I've been getting spoiled by the super-sized, but more expensive, Yuri Hime and Aoi Hana takoubon volumes... ^^;;) As somebody who is still learning Japanese, but whose kanji skills suck (hence, my taking Japanese language classes this coming school year) I was pleasantly surprised to see that Sasameki Koto contains a lot of furigana. A lot. I was really surprised, actually, considering that it runs in a seinen manga magazine, Monthly Comic Alive. Girl Friends runs in a magazine targeting the same age demographic, but it has little to no furigana I can recall seeing, and Yuri Hime's series have little to no furigana either. I wonder why. Not like it matters much, although I'm curious.

Story: B+
Art: B+
Overall: B+

A strong beginning for a series that will continue to improve.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Yuri Manga: Otome Kikan Gretel volume 1

Otome Kikan Gretel ("Maiden Organization Gretel") by Kaoru Sudoo is like a bag of M&M's- completely devoid of substance, but easy to finish quickly and pretty tasty regardless. Ahem...strange similes aside, this is a fun, light yuri action-comedy from Yuri Hime S, Yuri Hime magazine's sister, err, brother (?) magazine publication aimed at a male demographic.

The protagonist is Yuu, a girl who transfers to the prestigious all-girls' Saint Millefeuille Academy that she expects to be a rarefied, very yuri-riffic Lillian-clone. She's half right. After being shown around the school and randomly kissed by a student named Nagi, Yuu finds that the school is being attacked by sugar-eating monsters called Forniks. The students who inhabit Yuu's school are witches who fight the Forniks with magical powers called "aube" and prevent them from depleting the world's sugar supply (*snort*) by fighting them with their powers. Yuu's aube is "Copy", the ability to wield the aube belonging to whoever she exchanges body fluids with (read: whoever she kisses). Cue the yuri-charged magical battles, as Yuu teams up with the constantly flirtatious Nagi (who uses "Gigantic Aube" that gives her super strength) and hot-headed, pudding-obsessed Mariya (who uses "Operator Flame Aube" that gives her the ability to summon and control fire) to become a competent and cohesive Fornik-fighting team.

Gretel feels like the love child of Mai Hime and Strawberry Panic- in other words, it sells itself on brainless action and yuri service galore. And surprisingly, it works. ^^ The premise is silly, but it isn't trying or pretending to be anything more than it is. The charm for me partially lies in the characters: Yuu seems like she's going to be the ingenuous babe in the woods "little sister" protagonist found in most girls' school yuri series, but after the pristine image of her new school blows to smithereens, she reveals herself as an unapologetically frank, down-to-earth character (well, especially next to Nagi and Mariya) who doesn't mind Nagi's (or any other girl's) attention one bit- heck, she enjoys it. Nagi is the obligatory busty service-character, but she knows it and enjoys good-naturedly flirting with others- unlike most fan service characters, she seems to be in control of her sexuality instead of a naive victim of it, which is kind of refreshing. And Mariya obviously provides a foil to Nagi- while she is a hothead, she is much more reticent when it comes to expressing her feelings for Yuu, which seem to be developing shortly before the end of the volume. (Nagi doesn't really seem to be in love with Yuu- she's just having fun. ^^;;) Maybe I'm over-analyzing it. The characters are still shallow, but whatever. lol

Gretel's second primary asset is that Sudoo paces it briskly, making it a read that one can easily finish in one sitting.

The art is good. Not superb, but it tells the story well, conveys the action scenes well, and generally works well for the series.

Again, I know that the premise is incredibly stupid, but it makes for some entertaining light reading. I can't wait to see how the war of the kick-butt all-girls' school versus the sugar monsters resolves. ^^ lol

Story: C
Art: B
Overall: B

If I weren't a yuri fan, I probably wouldn't enjoy this series nearly as much. -_-;; Thankfully, I can appreciate this fine B-movie story to its fullest. ^^

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ouran High School Host Club DVD Release: Part 01

I've mentioned the Ouran High School Host Club anime a couple of times on this blog for dedicating two episodes to skewering the yuri fandom and the ridiculous things that we do/like, especially when it comes to Takarazuka culture and girls' school shows like Maria-sama ga Miteru. (Otherwise, the show focuses on grilling yaoi/bishonen fans.)

After having first watched and adored the show in 2006, I bought the first thinpak set (containing the first 13 episodes) and settled down to watch it with a sarcastic friend. Even though the show is (self-knowingly) saturated in bubblegum pink, roses, and sparkles galore, both she and I really enjoyed it- which says a lot, considering that she is far less tolerant of shoujo visual flourishes than I am.

For anybody unaware, Ouran is about a lower-middle class student named Haruhi Fujioka who gets into the ultra-posh Ouran Academy on scholarship. Since she can't afford the uniform (uniforms in general tend to be expensive in Japan), she wears normal, grungy-looking clothes that make her look like a guy. (Aided by the fact that she cut her hair short.) She stumbles upon a room being used by the Host Club, a school club of bishonen students who use their, uh, marketable qualities to draw customers. When Haruhi accidentally breaks an expensive vase while trying to leave, she becomes indebted to them and becomes a host to pay off her debt, even remaining a host after they discover that she's a girl. And thus begin Haruhi's candy-coated adventures with her harem: the "king" (Tamaki), the "cool one" (Kyoya), the "yaoicest twins" (Hikaru and Kaoru, who aren't really attracted to each other), the "shouta" (Honey), and the "wild one" (Mori).

Nearly every single frame, every single line in this show was created to pander to fans. Yet, I enjoy it a lot. While the show itself, as far as the first thirteen episodes, has all of the substance of a piece of cotton candy (hello, back-to-back pool and beach episodes), the characters are likeable and amusingly self-aware of their excesses, without being irritating (although the friend who I viewed the show with wanted Honey to die a fiery death), the artistic quirks pleasantly remind one of Revolutionary Girl Utena (it could best be decribed as Utena on a sugar high), and the comedy is funny, even (or especially) to people who aren't fans of the numerous cliches/archetypes that Ouran parodies.

As for the yuri, there is some not-really yuri in how Haruhi's work as a host requires that she charm the female customers who visit the club. But the real deal comes in episode 9, when the Zuka Club from St. Lobelia Girls' Academy visits Ouran Academy for Ouran's annual culture festival. The Zuka Club (with their name derived from "Takarazuka") comes across as a strange hybrid between the Takarazuka Revue and the Yamayurikai from Lillian Academy in Maria-sama ga Miteru. The show uses the Zuka Club and St. Lobelia to mercilessly skewer both Takarazuka and Marimite, as well as the squealing yuri fandom. It isn't any sort of soul-satisfying romance, but it isn't remotely meant to be that. And while the Zuka Club really doesn't like men, that aspect doesn't really bother me as much as it does in Maria Holic or Moonlight Flowers because it's done, as with the rest of the show, in a good-natured "don't take this stuff seriously, please" way.

The translation in general is very good (yay, honorifics!), but some of the lgbt terms definitely should have been translated with more sensitivity by Funimation: "okama" should have been "cross-dresser" or "drag queen", but it was inaccurately translated as "tranny", which is a highly pejorative term for transgendered people (this is especially unfortunate considering that the character in question, Haruhi's father, is otherwise a well-written character); one word that I wasn't familiar with was translated as "queers" (if at all possible, the translator should have gone with something more p.c., like "gay"); and when the twins were called the "homo-homo supporting cast" by a little kid, well, while I normally wouldn't fault a translator for giving as literal a translation as possible, whoever translated that phrase missed the fact that while "homo" can be either non-pejorative or pejorative when used in Japanese, in English it is exclusively pejorative- "gay supporting cast" would preserve the meaning of the phrase in Japanese while sounding less abrasive in English, imo.

Setting aside those niggling translation issues (especially "tranny"), this is a solid, funny series worth any shoujo fan's time. My only caveats are that some people might find this show far too silly and shallow for their tastes, and Funi really needs to iron out their translation in certain areas.

Story: B+
Art: B+
Translation: B
Overall: B+

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Kannazuki no Miko Anime Re-Licensed

Good news for Kannazuki no Miko fans! ^^ Seriously, who saw this license coming? Apparently, Sentai Filmworks has acquired North American distribution rights for KnM from Geneon and a complete series collection will be released on August 25.

To me, Kannazuki no Miko isn't exactly a great series, but it's pretty entertaining and worth owning. Plus, it was the series that irrevocably converted me to yuri fandom, so I have a lot of sentimental value attached to it and hope it does at least decently. ^^;;

When KnM first came out in Japan and the U.S., yuri hadn't come into its own nearly as much as it has now, so I wonder how well this new release will do. (And I wonder how much Media Blasters' and Right Stuf's successful yuri releases affected the decision to re-license KnM.) I already bought the DVDs released by Geneon, so I don't think I'll double dip and purchase this new set, but hopefully other people will enjoy it.

Sasameki Koto Anime Air Date

According to the anime schedule list on Moon Phase, Sasameki Koto is going to air this coming fall. So...I'm guessing it will begin in October, since that's when basically all of the fall titles premiere each year.

I'm massively excited about having two consecutive seasons of anime adaptations of great yuri manga!! ^^ (Aoi Hana in the summer and Sasameki Koto in the fall.)

There hasn't been any indication as to how long either series will be. They could both easily run for 26 episodes, but perhaps one or both of them will get an approximately 13 episode season, and then receive a second season if the first one is popular enough, a la Marimite. We'll just have to wait and see.