Friday, July 30, 2010

Manga Review: Oniisama E volume 1

If most manga titles are like gazpacho (maybe delicious, maybe not, but not terribly substantive), Oniisama E is a chunky stew, crammed with savory nuggets of meat and a variety of veggies.

The Oniisama E anime is a pretty close adaptation of the original manga. The plot is largely the same for both. Misonoo Nanako starts her first year at Seiran with her best friend Arikura Tomoko, meets clingy rich girl Shinobu Mariko, gets drafted into the Sorority, and finds herself caught among the three most influential students at Seiran: Sorority head Ichinomiya Fukiko ("Miya-sama"; when I showed the first episode of the anime to a friend, when Fukiko appeared, she said, "She's a high school student? She looks like the principal."), cool pill-popping delinquent Asaka Rei ("Hana no Saint Juste"), and basketball star/unofficial school referee Orihara Kaoru ("Kaoru-no-Kimi"; I find Kaoru's nickname ironic because while Genji is a heavily romanticized literary figure, like Kaoru among the student body, he was a pretty terrible person, if you think about it ^^;). The story is framed through the perspective of Nanako writing letters to her "Oniisama", a university student named Henmi Takehiko who, unbeknownst to her, has ties to Kaoru, Fukiko, and Nanako's own parents.

While Oniisama E was originally published in three tankoubon, it has been re-printed in two volumes. This book is dense. Not physically dense; it packs in the same amount of story that was used in approximately 13 animated episodes, but it doesn't feel rushed. Ikeda Riyoko is a master of her medium. Where a lesser writer might have been bogged down by balancing and fleshing out multiple characters and storylines, Ikeda juggles them here with ease.

The two most prominent plotlines in this volume involve Nanako adjusting to life after joining the Sorority (and the obstacles to her remaining in it, even though Fukiko is trying her utmost to keep Nanako in, for her own reasons) and Mariko growing from a petty, hyper-clingy stereotypical rich girl to a three dimensional person who uses her mask of droll frivolity and worldliness to cover up her loneliness and anger triggered by the strife within her own family and her alienation from her classmates. Her character development over time is very rewarding.

The complex relationship between Fukiko and Rei also starts being unraveled in this volume (this is complicated for Nanako by the fact that she is attracted to Rei while being socially beholden to Fukiko, who sees Nanako as an obstacle to her own love interest- hehehe, I love the soap opera quality of it all) and while Kaoru tries to be the voice of reason among her peers, she is quietly dealing with the worst problem out of all of them. Much of her maturity is an outgrowth of how she's able to put the everyday agitations of life in perspective against her illness. (When you might have a few years to live, something like the Sorority doesn't seem terribly important. To many of the students at Seiran, being chosen for the Sorority almost literally is life and death.) And while Takehiko's connection to Nanako's parents is revealed early on, the full story behind it won't unfold until the next volume.

Last but not least, the artwork. The anime already has beautiful, consistent art (especially good for a series from the early 90's), but Ikeda's original art still trumps it. It's not only lovely, classic 1970's shoujo, it has the advantage of being able to include elements that wouldn't work as well animated. Ikeda intersperses the drama with some humorous SD bits (my favorite being Rei's search for Kaoru's painkillers; also, in the scene where Kaoru carries Mariko to the infirmary, watch out for a great comment from one of the students), and sparkles and flowers crop up gloriously. (I imagine Ikeda as an imposing, Miya-sama like figure, crisply telling her assistants, "Sparkles. We need more sparkles!!!" while gesturing theatrically.) Ikeda throws enough sparkly, Takarazuka-like, girly visual goodness in to be entertaining, but she has enough restraint to avoid making her story look like Baby, The Stars Shine Bright threw up on it. (And of course, 70's fashion. During Rei's first musical performance, causing the Seiran girls to swoon over how cool she is, all that I could think was, "Heehee, bell-bottoms...." ^^;)

Art: A-
Overall: A story that invites thinking, without attempting to be deep. A-

This Sunday, I'm leaving on another trip. (To Cape Cod.) I won't write  any more posts or reply to comments from Sunday through Thursday. My next review will cover the second volume of this series.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Manga Review: Shibuya-ku Maruyama-chou

 Shibuya-ku Maruyama-chou: Houkago ("Shibuya District, Maruyama Neighborhood: After School"), by Okazaki Mari, is one of my personal favorite short manga stories.

It's a simple story, but it's executed very well. Itoi is a girl in high school who wants to think that her life is satisfying as it is. A few of her "friends" take advantage of her trust to engage in some not-terribly-subtle bullying, like throwing Itoi's notebook and mouthpiece in the garbage. Itoi makes friends with loner Ariyoshi, who doesn't give a crap that the other students avoid her.

Ariyoshi and Itoi start visiting Shibuya to buy cloth for the costumes needed at a class event. When Itoi admits that her life isn't as "peaceful" as she wants it to be, she and Ariyoshi stay in Shibuya after the last train leaves and sort out their lives while running away from home, more or less.

Okazaki's depiction of high school life isn't idyllic, like K-ON!, but it isn't wrenchingly melodramatic, like Life, either. She strikes a fine balance between showing what the less pleasant elements of high school can be like and avoiding sensationalizing it by having the characters quickly confront and learn from their problems. (There are also some humorous bits. Darn that vibrating mattress.) She nails the feeling of being in high school and not really knowing where your place is, while trying to figure out where to go- at times, as with Itoi and Ariyoshi, wanting to escape from it all, but ultimately making it out through the other side of the tunnel. This all sounds really abstract. lol

Plus, I loved Shibuya when I visited it a few years ago. (When I brought my dad to see it, I was like "Isn't this great!!!!" and he was like "Get me out of this crowd of teenagers!!!") As a hub of subcultures and niche trends, it is a perfect setting for this manga. Okazaki's side-notes recount how she went around the Maruyama neighborhood of Shibuya, taking photos for reference, which I appreciated more than the usual insipid observances that most mangaka seem to include in the page-margins of their work. ("My slippers are fuzzy!" "It's nice and sunny today." "Sometimes I feel like my rabbit is staring at me." Etc.)

And of course, there is yuri. It's a little brief, but very canon.

It's a two-part story, so it doesn't even take that long to read. (As with Moonlight Flowers and Cotton, this review only covers the yuri-relevant portion of this book. There are some other stories in it.)

Story: B+
Art: B
Overall: B+

Okazaki has done a few volumes of stories set in Shibuya. Even now, she has a Shibuya-themed story running in Cookie. (Although I don't know what it's about. I just saw it listed in a description of the August 2010 issue of Cookie.) I saw another Okazaki manga titled Shibuya-ku Maruyama-chou (with a different cover), that I had originally assumed was a re-printing of this volume. It isn't. -_-; Just a heads up.

BGM: "Uzu Maki" - Kotoko

Monday, July 26, 2010

Anime Review: Working!!

Working!! was a pleasant, but unremarkable series. Not good, not bad, not especially memorable- the unflavored yogurt of anime.

Working!! is a very sitcom-like slice-of-life show about a diner called Wagnaria and the people who work at it. It's based on a 4-koma, and it shows. Each episode follows a string of gags based on the characters' defining modes of behavior. Takanashi gushes over cute things, Popura is cute, Kyouko eats, Yachiyo fetches her food, Inami's scared of men, Satou stews over Yachiyo, Souma slacks off, etc. Two not terribly dramatic love triangles pop up, which remain unresolved.

Most of the humor is gentle and slapstick- again, it feels very much like a sitcom. (But don't expect the biting satire found in other work-themed comedies, like The Office. Working!! isn't all that interested in poking fun at the service industry.) Even the background music and ending theme, which reminded me a little of Happy Days, reinforce the sitcom-feel of the show. (The opening is a cute, generic pop number.) The art does its job, without standing out. The girls all have distinctive but not ridiculous looks, and the male character designs actually have some variety among them. (Takanashi is the only generic-looking one among the main cast.) Some prominent seiyuu were enlisted for this series- most noteably Fukuyama Jun as Takanashi.

Also pleasantly- there isn't any service. The writers deserve a big pat on the back for not making Takanashi into another Nishida Haruka, which they easily could have done. Even in the onsen episode, the girls just dip their feet into some water, which was refreshing.

The yuri comes from Yachiyo, an amiable, katana-wearing waitress, gushing over the assistant manager, Kyouko, who really doesn't deserve Yachiyo's affection. She isn't bad, just a a thickheaded schmuck who only cares about the next parfait. When Popura can't stop gushing over how great Takanashi looks when he unwillingly crossdresses (because as a girl, Takanashi looks the way Popura wishes she could be- tall and adult), Satou (who has a crush on Yachiyo) asks her if she likes women like Yachiyo does. That's pretty much it.

Story: C+
Art: C+
Overall: C

I've given C-range grades to some real stinkers (by Kaishaku), but this one deserves it. In Working!!'s case, "C" isn't a balance between elements that I personally liked and things that I really disliked. It means that my impression is pretty much neutral. Or rather, that I don't have any strong impression of Working!! at all.

Oh- and of course, I'm really happy that CANAAN was licensed!! ^___^ ♥ *squee* Blu-Ray and the dub treatment...although the English VAs will have a hard time holding a candle to the great seiyuu who originally voiced the characters.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Leaving On A Trip

I'm leaving on a 5 day trip today, so I won't be posting anything new (or replying to comments) from now through Monday. Just letting you know. I'm flying to New Orleans with my dad, since he's playing in the summer 2010 North American Bridge Championships. (Looking forward to some good sightseeing, myself. :3 )

Until Tuesday!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Anime Review: Shin Koihime Musou Otome Tairan

I actually liked Shin Koihime Musou: Otome Tairan more than the previous seasons. After laughing at the "wtf" moments in the first episode, I took the stick out of my ass and decided to enjoy it for what it is. (Since I was going to finish it, regardless.) It was the kind of show that worked best for me when I could watch it on a Friday evening after a long school week with a Coke and some hot, yummy take-out. (One of those fluffy, "let's not think for the next hour"-type shows.) Even after summer vacation started, it was something to watch.

As with the previous seasons, Otome Tairan was about Aisha and her friends traveling across ancient China- this time split into three groups to find the ingredients to make the antidote to the dreaded cat girl pill that Choujou, a power-hungry eunuch (how can she be a eunuch if she's a woman in this series??), force-fed General Kashin. Gien, a butchy girl with a giant double-sided metal club, leaves her teacher Gengan to join Ryuubi, Koumei, and Rinrin's group as they journey to Nanban. Sei and Bachou need to pick an herb at the top of a moutain and Aisha travels alone to Wu. (To me, "Wu" = "Jackpot!!!" in this show, for reasons that you can probably guess if you've seen it.)

The new characters are a mixed bag. I liked Gien and Gengan fine, but the leaders of Nanban were squeaky-voiced cat girls with stupid speech patterns, nya. They were pretty annoying, nya. Could you imagine an entire review written like this, nya? Ikki Tousen: Xtreme Xecutor's Nanban group would kick Koihime-Nanban's ass.

But the important question to the people watching Koihime Musou this far in is: Is there yuri?



WHOOHOO!! YESSSS!!!! *fist pump*

Sei and the Wei group didn't bring any yuri to this season, but Gien had a big, obvious crush on thickheaded Ryuubi and there were two surprisingly enjoyable episodes focusing on Ryoumou x Sonken and Sonsaku x Shuuyuu in the Wu group. (I especially liked the Sonsaku x Shuuyuu-focused ep. Such a cute married couple. :] Seeing them doting on each other at the very end of the series also warmed the cockles of my heart.)

Nothing else really worth noting...except that the nudity-censorship was funny. Especially the small, dense clouds of steam that conveniently followed the characters' choice areas in the bath. I guess that the uncensored DVDs will sell that much more.

Story: Silly fluff- with yuri.
Art: B-
Overall: C+

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Manga Review: To Aru Kagaku no Railgun volumes 4-5

Volume 4 of Railgun is where the first non-animated storyline kicks off.

Someone has been leaving cash cards all over the 7th school district, causing people to comb through alleyways and back roads to find more. Mikoto learns that the cards were left by Nunotaba, a 17 year old prodigy researcher who left the cards around to make people more aware of areas that are normally ignored...where unethical human experiments are taking place.

When Mikoto gave Academy City a sample of her DNA several years ago for "medical research", it was used to create clones for a project to create the first level 6 esper. The current highest-ranked level 5 needs to fight and kill 20,000 "Railgun" clones (that many because they all turn out to have less power than Mikoto- which shouldn't have surprised anyone, since Mikoto wasn't originally a level 5) in order to become the first level 6. (Although- why use clones of Mikoto instead of the second-ranked level 5 esper? Because she's the protagonist, duh. And at the age that her DNA was taken, was she already a level 5? Argh, too many questions.)

Mikoto starts destroying the facilities involved in the level 6 project and encounters three body guards (including the fourth-ranked level 5) who were hired to protect a facility she has broken into.

Despite the light hand-waving (and one use of the word "genes" where "genotype" would have been a better fit :P), I really enjoyed these two volumes. The characters are still fun- aside from those who we are meant to hate-, the action is still exciting, the sprinkles of humor provide some needed levity (see: Kuroko's reaction to seeing Mikoto in a mellow, cheerful mood; Mikoto's interactions with a sharp-tongued clone), and the sad moments are suitably affecting (see: said clone's fate).

The content is darker than in earlier volumes. Where Kiyama had a good reason for doing what she did and a plan to undo the collateral damage, the villains in this arc are doing what they do because they can, ethics be damned. The people running Academy City who are involved in the experiment view their victims as guinea pigs. (Like Kiyama's students earlier.) The highest-ranked level 5 believes that serial murder is justified so long as it increases his power. (Granted, he doesn't consider it murder.) And the three body guards don't care who or why they fight as long as they are getting paid. There are also two surprisingly macabre scenes. (The damage isn't limited to bloodless electric shocks and teleport pin-downs this time.) It'll be interesting to see where the story will go next. (Die, highest-ranked level 5!!! >   < Since I never finished Index, I don't know how this story arc will end. Please don't share what happens. Thanks! ^^)

Kuroko is still the yuri in this series. She mostly appears in volume 4 (volume 5 is Mikoto destroying the facilities), and in the more yuri-heavy 4-koma bonus comics at the end of volume 5. (My favorite being the one where Uiharu discovers Kuroko's Google search history. She is, indeed, one of us. :) )

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

Looking forward to the next volume!

Unrelated, but I finally saw Imagine Me & You this past week, and was struck by how similar it is to Moonlight Flowers.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Live Action Movie Review: Topless

Yay, first live movie review here! ^^ Ever since I read this Tokyo Wrestling piece, I've been interested in seeing this movie. (Even though I was wary about that "modern youth" description. To me, it usually means, "This will be a boring 'message' story that talks down to you and doesn't capture your perspective in the slightest.")

Topless was...okay.... (See the TW article for the director's reason for choosing "Topless" as a title. It's surprisingly innocent.)

Natsuko is a university student renting an apartment in Tokyo with her roommate Koji, who is in love with her. She learns that her old girlfriend from high school, who she still loves (and who loves her back, even if she denies it), Tomomi, is getting married. Natsuko also runs into Kana, a high school student who traveled to Tokyo to search for her mom, who left her 12 years ago to live with her female lover.

The acting was good- especially Shimizu Mina as Natsuko, Sakamoto So as Koji, and Ōmasa Aya as Kana, but I didn't care much for the story. It's the sort of movie that I could see being screened at a college class on queer studies to spark discussion, but it isn't something that I would sit down to re-watch for leisurely entertainment.

Topless might portray self-identified lesbians in Japan in a way rarely found in media (at all, esp in live movies), but it unintentionally makes the odds of living a happy, fulfilled life as a lesbian look pretty freaking slim. (With the exception of Kana's briefly-seen mother towards the end.) It's frustrating because that wasn't the intention of this movie- it's almost hilarious how dreary and angst-ridden this story is (although it does make stabs at humor) when it's supposed to be inspirational. For example: the women in the lesbian circle at Natsuko's university are all humorless and pinchy-faced, and the circle starts dissolving by the end. What the hell was the point of including the circle in the movie? In the end, Tomomi winds up unwillingly married, with a kid, and Natsuko slouches away to write down their sad story as a novel. There was a funny part in that final scene, though, when Tomomi told her daughter that Natsuko was her "special friend." (Special, eh.... I have a terrible sense of humor, don't I?)

Every character's plot thread is resolved by the end, although Koji and Kana's final outcomes are described via Natsuko's voice-over narration instead of being shown. This made the movie feel like a bit of a rush job at the end. Kana's story also didn't feel very well-integrated with the other two (Tomomi and Koji's), although it was probably the most original. The ultimate feeling left by the movie was bittersweet- albeit more bitter than sweet as a whole.

Overall: C

Next review will be more positive....

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Anime Review: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha

I originally wanted to wait until finishing StrikerS to post any Nanoha reviews, but I changed my mind and decided to do a belated season 1 review.

It's impressive that Nanoha is as popular as it is in Japan, because the first few episodes of the first season are terrible- not funny-terrible, but boring. Almost as boring as Kokoro Library. I pushed through them because I heard that the series would become significantly better. (And of course, StrikerS. Kept my eye on the prize.)

The series begins with Takamachi Nanoha, a typical third grader who meets a ferret named Yuuno. Yuuno is a mage who took the form of a ferret because...I don't remember or care. The show needs a cute talking animal mascot, so.... He needs Nanoha to transform into a magical girl and help him collect twenty one ancient magical artifacts called Jewel Seeds, all located in Nanoha's area.

The show becomes slightly more interesting when another magical girl named Fate Testarossa appears with her familiar, a dog named Arf (who can change into a woman and acts as a protective surrogate-parent to Fate), and tries to harvest the Jewel Seeds for her own reasons. Fate's mother Precia once lost a daughter named Alicia, causing her to go insane and leave her job as a researcher to find a way to resurrect her daughter. She created Fate as a clone of her daughter and ordered her to gather the Jewel Seeds, which would allow Precia to enter Al Hazard, another dimension rumored to have "lost technology" that Precia hopes would help her revive Alicia.

Around halfway through the series, it sloughs off the boring, rote jewel-seed-of-the-day crap and becomes a surprisingly involving, tightly paced sci-fi action-adventure. After being recruited to help the Time Space Administration Bureau arrest Fate and Precia, Nanoha tries to reach out to Fate as a friend and Fate begins to struggle between Nanoha's friendly overtures and her desire to make her nasty, miserable, abusive mother happy. Even though Precia's back story and motivation paint her in some shades of gray, it was easy to cheer when she met her final...uhh...fate. Despite some genuinely heartwrenching moments in the later half, the series does have a happy, and really pretty sweet, end.

As for yuri- while watching this season I knew that Fate and Nanoha would, as adults in StrikerS, move in together and raise a kid who would call them both "mama." There is some cute Nanoha/Fate subtext at the end of this season, though- particularly on Fate's side.

Story: B- (A good grade for a show with such dull opening episodes.)
Art: C+ (Nanoha isn't renowned for its art. The special effects used in the spellcasting sequences were well-done, though.)
Overall: B-

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Manga Review: Girl Friends volume 4

Girl Friends volume 4 was a definite improvement for me over volume 3. No more kisses that don't go anywhere, or watching poor Mari angst while misunderstanding the nature of Akko's feelings.

After having been kissed by Akko in a karaoke booth, Mari still doesn't think that Akko is really interested in her because of Akko's habit of randomly kissing her friends for fun. Akko thinks that they're going out, but when things stay the same as always, she wonders if Mari really rejected her, in her quiet, Mari-like way.

They go on a class trip where Akko tells Mari she loves her when they visit a shrine famous for having a heart-shaped stone that gives good luck to couples, and they clear up their misunderstanding. Breaking the usual pattern, the final chapter (which might have been tag-lined, "The worst student/teacher reunion ever") takes place from the p.o.v. of Sugi, who knows about the real nature of Mari and Akko's relationship- and fully supports it- even though they don't know that she knows. The extra short story in this volume is about the girls picking swimsuits to go to the beach.

This volume was very satisfying. :-) It sticks to the basic "A and B like each other, A and B misunderstand each other, A confesses to B" storyline without throwing in any surprises, but it's a strong example of how good writing and sympathetic characters (brought to life by Morinaga Milk's art, which is always pretty and well laid-out, no matter how often she recycles her character designs) can keep a simple story interesting. Mari and Akko's romance is told with heart and sincerity, and while it might feel a little precious at times, it's nice to read a straightforward manga story that isn't trying to be cleverly post-modern or glossed with "wink-wink-nudge-nudge" irony.

Even setting aside the sparks finally igniting between Mari and Akko, Sugi and Tamamin also have a really sweet little moment, implicitly showing how close they are as friends no matter what Sugi thinks of Tamamin's otaku hobbies.

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

Only two more chapters. TT__TT It'll be interesting to see what Morinaga-sensei does after this. I'm definitely looking forward to that drama CD.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Three in a row!!!!!! YEAH!!!!

Holy smokes, a third series that I really like has been licensed within the past two days?!? And it's the second series with substantial yuri content?? *throws flowers for Funimation* Ouch, I just pinched that arm again.... Banzai, banzai, banzai Funi!! \(^o^)/

RightStuf, will you marry me?

RightStuf re-licensed one of the best shows ever (EVER) in high-def?


*pinches left arm*


*happy dance to Rinbu Revolution*

Oh, and they threw in So-ra-no-Wo-to as a bonus. :-)

In another bit of news, for anyone who's still wondering about the case of the missing Shimako- in the live-action Marimite movie, she'll be played by...*drumroll* Takada Riho! *applause*

Riho is a 15 year old fashion model who has acted in two dramas (Koishite Akuma and Kamen Rider-000) and in the movie Aoi Tori. She'll be 16 on August 16. Hopefully she'll be a good Shimako. :-)
And for anyone who cares (which you kind of should, since he plays a pretty major role in the first Marimite story arc, which I'm guessing- only guessing, since it's a fairly self-contained story- is what the movie will cover), Kashiwagi will be played by Usui Masahiro.

He's 18 years old and a member of the acting group D-Boys. He has acted in two dramas (ChocoMimi and Engine Sentai Go-onger) and three amusingly-titled movies (Engine Sentai Go-onger: Boom Boom! Bang Bang! Gekijou Bang!, Engine Sentai Go-onger vs. Gekiranger, and Samurai Sentai Shinkenger vs. Go-onger: Ginmaku Bang!!). My big question for live-action Kashiwagi is- how much of his gayness will be maintained? (At least a tiny reference?)

So many things to look forward to! XD (Hopefully Utena will come out in early 2011. I love Utena to pieces.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Yay!! First the manga, now the anime! ^___^ (The first season, that is. Hopefully it will be a successful enough release to get season 2 licensed.)

Volume 1 of the K-ON! manga is also up for pre-order at Amazon, RightStuf, Barnes & Noble, etc, etc.

                                                                                                                               Edit: Unrelated, but- guess who turned 20 this past Monday.  ^__^