Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Webcomic Time: Princess Princess

StrangelyKatie's Princess Princess webcomic is a parfait of delightful, topped with awesome and sprinkled with a liberal amount of squee. It is also complete at forty-two pages, so it's a great choice if you're looking for a webcomic that's not long, with a clear beginning, middle and end, as befitting a fairytale.

One day, cross-dressing Princess Amira, riding her trusty steed Celeste, hears someone screaming and comes across another princess locked in a tower. Princess Sadie was in fact trying to sing, not scream, and is like, "Oh meh, another prince here to save me?" Amira tells her that she is actually a princess, and she has a grappling hook. Sadie agrees to be rescued, but of course, things don't go as expected.

Turns out Sadie's older sister put her in the tower after their father died since she saw Sadie as a threat to her power as queen. Sadie kept sabotaging the princes who came to rescue her because she was afraid of what her sister might do if she got out. But she trusts Amira's promise to protect her and there's some chemistry between them, so off they go away from the tower. Sadie and Amira rescue a prince who becomes a friend and traveling companion of theirs and save a village from an ogre, once again using some unconventional methods.

Sadie's sister has Amira abducted to lure Sadie back so she can lock her away again. (You'd think she could have just abducted Sadie, but it's a handwave I forgive since it allows Sadie to do the rescuing, in a switch from her and Amira's roles at the beginning.) Of course, things turn out well. The story ends after a pretty great time skip, Amira and Sadie getting their Happily Ever After.

So yeah, I really enjoyed this webcomic. It's fun, the characters (save for Sadie's sister, naturally) are likeable, and Sadie and Amira make an adorable couple. And as I've mentioned about 20,000 times here, I have a weakness for fairytale tropes given a lesbian spin- in this case, a light, tongue-in-cheek take on the fairytale formula.

You can only read part of Princess Princess on its SmackJeeves site and its author's DeviantArt page, but the entire thing is here on the Tumblr its author set up for it. Reading it on Tumblr also allows you to see some cute bonus art of Amira and Sadie (like this Sailor Moon parody) and wallpapers, as well as some neat fan art made by other folks who like it.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A look at volume 1 of the Psycho-Pass manga, some Yayoi x Shion goodness, and some rambling on doujinshi

This post started as one thing and ended entirely another. I decided to add some fan art and a link to a good fanfic about Psycho-Pass's yuri couple below this review, and hey, an artist who does fan art I really like of said couple is releasing a doujinshi of them at GLFes (a yuri doujinshi event in Tokyo on May 26) and here's a translation of its preview pages, and here's some more info about GLFes.

The Psycho-Pass manga adaptation, re-titled Kanshikan Tsunemori Akane (Inspector Tsunemori Akane), is currently running in Jump Square, a magazine aimed at the oldest subset of the shounen demographic, late teens. As someone whose first exposure to Psycho-Pass was through the anime that premiered last fall, like most people who've tried at least one iteration of Psycho-Pass' story, it's hard for me not to compare Miyoshi Hikaru's manga adaptation to the anime.

As in the anime, the manga's story takes place in Tokyo in 2112. The government has implemented the Sibyl System, which monitors every citizen's psychological state (or psycho-pass) to deduce whether they will commit a crime. If one's psycho-pass becomes too "clouded", one is judged a latent criminal. In theory, latent criminals with low enough crime coefficients can be rehabilitated through therapy. In practice, they're fucked, and have next to no chance of returning to normal society.  The Sibyl System, unsurprisingly, has very flawed criteria for judging people. (Btw, I love the people who criticize this story on the grounds that a society enabling such an obviously flawed government institution is implausible enough to constitute a plot hole. Yup, that never happens.)

It's disappointing that the most extreme example of Sibyl screwing up isn't included here- Kagari Shuusei telling Psycho-Pass's protagonist Tsunemori Akane, a non-latent criminal, that he has been a latent criminal since Sibyl judged him one at five years old. That information not only illustrates how much the Sibyl System can mess with people's lives, it's Kagari's only background information and gives more context to his resentment of the amount of choice Akane has had.

At least in the manga we still get Karanomori Shion mentioning that she had a medical license before she became a latent criminal and Sibyl figured she'd be most useful as a physician/lab and data analyst for the Public Safety Bureau's Crime Investigation Division; see Kunizuka Yayoi reading a guitar magazine (which alludes to her past as a guitarist in a band, as the anime later shows in a flashback illustrating what Unit 1 of the PSBCID was like when she joined them); hear Masaoka Tomomi's explanation of his past as a detective who became too good at what he did; and see hints of what made Kougami Shinya into a latent criminal, which fuels his vendetta against the story's main villain.

Akane, just out of school, joins the PSBCID as an Inspector. Inspectors go after latent criminals and plain old criminals on Sibyl's behalf. They work with Enforcers, latent criminals Sibyl judged as having the aptitude to catch latent criminals and criminals. Enforcers aren't able to leave the PSBCID unaccompanied by an Inspector. The other Inspector in Akane's unit, Ginoza Nobuchika, sees latent criminals as subhuman while Akane wants to work with them as equals. This becomes a source of tension between them.

Chapter one covers Akane's first day on the job, in which she and her co-workers deal with a hostage situation that escalates- thankfully, not as badly as it would have if Akane weren't willing to make up her own mind rather than follow whatever Sibyl says.

Chapter two covers the anime's episode two, in which Akane deals with her guilt over having hurt Kougami to save the hostage's life. As in episode 2, she and Masaoka arrest a latent criminal at the mall. In a weird story change from the anime, Kou, who should be recovering his ability to move in a hospital bed, having been hit with a heavy duty stun gun, decides Akane and Masaoka arresting a run-of-the-mill latent criminal is enough reason to break out of the Public Safety Bureau (something he took elaborate measures to do in the anime, for a much more crucial reason) and run to the mall so he can help. This scene is supposed to make him look like a badass, but just makes him seem like kind of a drama queen. The low amount of danger Akane and Masaoka are in aside, the idea of instantly recovering from being temporarily disabled because of sheer willpower is stupid- that's not how being disabled works- but again, I guess the editor or someone thought it would seem cool.

Chapter three brings us halfway through the story covered by episode three, in which Akane and the other members of Unit One investigate a series of suspicious deaths at a drone factory. Not being able to connect to Sibyl or any outside communication within the factory puts them at a disadvantage.

I've only mentioned the changes I don't like. ^^; Better changes: seeing the day Akane found out what Sibyl considers her viable career options, and seeing her break the news of her choice to her parents, who weren't pleased but stopped opposing after she told them why she wanted it. (Her parents' opposition was only alluded to in the anime. Also, now I wonder what would happen if someone said they wanted to do a job outside the range of what Sibyl deemed appropriate for them. That was kind of sort of answered with Rina. She sang anyway and- assuming she isn't a special psycho-pass snowflake like Akane- I guess stayed free by dodging getting her hue measured by staying in the underground scene of a less regulated area of Tokyo?) We also briefly see Akane's training at the Academy and her meeting her boss before being sent to her first day on the job.

That said, time to bitch about another change! Yayoi and Shion, who are lovers in the anime? The first scene indicating that they're together in the anime is toned down here. So you better understand, here's a visual comparison.

I shouldn't need to explain the difference, but there are people who missed the point of that scene in the anime even though it was as clear as the sun is bright for most viewers. In the manga, Yayoi isn't putting the last touch on getting dressed while leaving Shion's office and Shion isn't lying on her office's couch while pulling her pantyhose back on. The fact that she's pulling on thigh highs instead of regular pantyhose also makes a difference, and it's impossible to contrast these scenes without sounding like a perv isn't it. Ah well. I've already translated the first part of a smutty doujinshi (that I'm buying) below, so I suppose I'm past the point of no return already.

Tl;dr, there are many good things about the anime and some of those good things are still here- but going from this volume, this is still the beta version. I didn't read this volume looking for a carbon copy of the anime. I wanted some changes, since I might as well re-watch the anime for the exact same take on P-P's story, but I wanted the changes to more consistently not make me go : \

But whatever, I still really like the anime. (Reader: "What the hell was the point of this review, Katherine?")

This review also gives me another excuse opportunity to post fan art, as well as a fanfic rec. I found a really good fic on how Yayoi and Shion got together, "In Darkest Red" by Jen.

And some of the fan art is nsfw-ish, so I'm placing it all under the cut below.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Morinaga Milk's newest: Gakuen Polizi volume 1

Morinaga Milk's current Comic High! series is pretty different from her previous Comic High! titles, the lovely Girl Friends and Kuchibiru Tameiki Sakurairo. Rather than a romantic drama, Gakuen Polizi (I'm going with Okazu's romanization of this series' title because I agree that it does sound kind of snazzy) is meant to be a romantic comedy. Unlike Morinaga's other romantic comedy, Himitsu no RecipeGakuen Polizi's leads are both likeable, so it's already ahead of Himitsu no Recipe even though its romance hasn't really started yet.

If you're familiar with Morinaga Milk's doujinshi output (*cough*), you'll know that she's a fan of the magical girl genre and police dramas. (I have never watched Odoru Daisousasen, but I love the doujinshi Morinaga drew slashing two police women from it. Between her fangirling over that show and one of its two directors having acted as Psycho-Pass's Chief Director- not to mention it being a mega-popular example of its genre- I really ought to watch it already. Ahem, anyway...) What a coincidence that Gakuen Polizi's protagonist, Aoba Sasami, opens this volume narrating that she loved magical girl shows, sentai shows, and police dramas growing up, so she wants to uphold justice herself.

In Gakuen Polizi, the police are rumored to send undercover officers to work as teachers and staff at schools. Sasami is one of the school police, but she's a student. She has just been assigned to Hanasaki Girls' School, where she is friends with two girls named Tokiwa and Minauchi (a.k.a. "Minmin.") There doesn't seem to be much to do, since Hanasaki is a peaceful school with no corruption, crime, or bullying.

One day, however, Sasami thinks she's caught someone stealing books from the school library. Not only is it a misunderstanding, the "culprit" is Sakuraba Midori, the other officer assigned to Hanasaki. Midori assumes Sasami can't be her new partner because Sasami screwed up so badly when she arrested her in the library, but nope. 

Midori tells Sasami that she'll be transferred to a new school soon enough when there's a vacancy at a place that needs school police. Midori will always stay at Hanasaki because of what happened at the school she was previously assigned to. It resulted in Midori's partner being injured badly, and she would have been kicked out of the police entirely if it weren't for her father being the Chief of Police. Instead, her father had her permanently assigned to a school where she would never have anything to do as an officer. 

When Sasami loses her badge (which is disguised as a notebook), she says that it means more to her than her life, causing Midori to tell her to never say that again. And when a dog seems to be attacking Midori, Sasami jumps in front of Midori and tells the dog to stay away: "Kanojo ha watashi no daiji na partner dakara!" ("Because she is my important partner!" or "Because she is my precious partner!") This painfully reminds Midori of how her previous partner once said "Midori ha itsumademo zutto zutto watashi no daiji na partner da yo." ("You will always, forever and ever, be my important/precious partner.") 

Sasami's friend Tokiwa is nearby during the dog incident, and she's a member of the Hanasaki newspaper club, camera always on hand, so she does a front page story on the dog incident, painting it as a dramatic love confession. The student body squeals over it, and Midori's like, "God damn it, we're supposed to keep a low profile here."

Midori and Sasami deal with a bunch of minor incidents, and Midori, as expected, starts warming up to Sasami and respecting her as an officer. There are a few little moments hinting at the more romantic turn we know Sasami and Midori's relationship is going to take.

Tokiwa tells Sasami and Midori about a groper who has been targeting high school girls without being identified, so they get to work catching the perp. The groper's in for a bit a surprise when he tries to resist. :-)

Minauchi catches a glimpse of Sasami's badge during the groper incident, so she goes to Sasami for help with her own problem.

Her sister's ex-boyfriend started stalking her after they stopped dating and the police have been shitty about dealing with it, as police often are in such cases. He gets to live his life as he pleases and she's still terrified. As Erica explained perfectly, this arc is a great commentary on the failings of how stalking cases are handled, and in a manga magazine aimed at an audience that could especially use that message, in addition to its general anti-creepines message. I also liked how the stalker was portrayed insofar as showing that there's no way to eliminate the possibility of someone being a stalker (or guilty of other creepiness/behavior that goes beyond creepiness) based solely on how they seem in their public day-to-day life. Victims' accusations are often trivialized (or outright dismissed as lies) at least in part because the person victimizing them is well-liked/is an upstanding student or employee/has a girlfriend/etc.

Needless to say, things turn out well. :-) And of course, this volume's ending dangles a new cliffhanger in front of us- a message Midori receives from her old partner.

I wouldn't normally write about the bonus illustrations in a tankoubon, but the one between chapters one and two of Gakuen Polizi is of a chibi Midori posing with a yo-yo weapon, clearly referencing Sukeban Deka, a long-running 70's-80's shoujo series about a teenaged girl who infiltrates different high schools as an undercover police officer to compensate for her past as a delinquent. All of the bonus illustrations are of chibi Sasami and Midori doing crime drama-esque poses, and I'm sure there are other visual references I missed. Speaking of references, a load of police dramas are name-dropped in this volume, and there's a Madoka Magica sight gag.

So far, Gakuen Polizi is one part much-needed social commentary and one part love letter to a genre its author loves, with some romance seeds being planted. I'm looking forward to volume 2. ^_^

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

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Manga Review: Golondrina volume 1

est em became well-known known for her BL manga. She seems to have an affinity for stories set around the world, particularly Spain, so it follows that the series she has running in Ikki (the offbeat seinen magazine that ran Nakamura Ching's Gunjo and Onozucca Kahori's Aido), starring a lesbian lead, takes place in Seville. When I first heard about Golondrina, I wasn't sure how much I would like it since its protagonist aims to become a matador and bullfighting disgusts me, but I found it compelling and want to see what happens next.

Chica (a nickname, not her real name) decides to commit suicide after her girlfriend Maria dumps her in a horrible way. Maria breaks the news that she's pregnant, not even acknowledging how much she's hurting Chica by bringing it up it as if she were confiding in a friend. Chica was abandoned by her parents, so what Maria did, wretched as it is, isn't the only thing causing her major pain- it's the straw that broke the camel's back.

Chica can't bring herself to take a blade to her wrist in the bathroom, with her roommate Seche asking if she's okay outside it, so she decides to run into traffic. The car she runs in front of misses her, and its driver, an old man named Antonio, asks what the hell she's doing. When she tells him she's trying to die, he talks her out of at least using that method ("You'd make innocent people into murderers.") and drives her to his home. She wakes up there the next morning.

Antonio turns out to be a matador coach. When Chica learns that he considered making her into a matador until he realized she's female from changing her out of her rain-drenched clothes, she insists that he take her on as a pupil. Because pro bullfighting deaths still get publicity, Chica wants to die in the bullring, counting on Maria seeing the coverage of it.

Seche finds Chica and Antonio outside Seville's bullfighting stadium, worried sick over Chica. Naturally, he worries even more when he finds out what Chica wants to do and why.

Seche does some research on Antonio and finds out that the last matador Antonio coached, a star of bullfighting whose death rocked the country ten years ago when Chica was five, died because Antonio sent him back into the ring after a bull badly injured him.

We see that the matador, Francisco, begged to be allowed to finish the fight, and Antonio let him do so because he believes in "following the will of the matador." Even though Antonio says he doesn't regret letting Francisco make his fatal decision, he is clearly still haunted by it. Chica finds out the truth about Francisco, but would have been fine with Antonio being her coach regardless. (Antonio's professed feelings about what happened with Francisco aren't the only glaring example of self-deception in this volume. When Chica dated Maria, Maria scoffed at women who date men for being "fake" to impress them while imposing her own style onto Chica, who did/wore whatever she could to make Maria love her.)

Seche decides to become Chica's matador assistant so he can keep an eye on Antonio because he still doesn't trust him.

After months of training, Antonio takes Chica to a bull ranch, where she meets Vicente, the son of a famous matador who expects to be a bullfighting star himself. He doesn't endear himself much to Chica by assuming Seche is Antonio's new trainee instead of her. Chica faces off against her first bull, a smaller one than normal... and fails.

Like I said, this is a compelling series so far. Not only is its art top-notch, it's very well-written. I want to see how Chica and Antonio resolve their issues. (And crikey, I really want to give poor Chica a hug.) Chica herself is a spirited protagonist- as in her response to Antonio when he accuses her of being unable to stomach the sight of blood. (She sticks her hand down her pants, shows Antonio her bloody fingertips and is like, "I'm more than used to seeing blood, idiot.")

Like many a fictional trainee and coach, Chica and Antonio fall into the "hotheaded greenhorn/hard-assed instructor" dynamic, but are fleshed out beyond that enough to feel like people you might know.

Seche is realistic also- and I felt for him when Chica said she was sure he would threw her away at some point, even though they're like siblings. His approach to how Chica should resolve her issues (telling her she's selfish and should just forget Maria), while well-meaning, really misses the mark, but I got the impression that we aren't meant to see Chica's issues as something she can just snap out of through sheer strength of will- she isn't "weak", just in a lot of pain without seeing an end to it. (Fyi, Gar Gar Stegosaurus' Day wrote an excellent review of Sand Chronicles volume 1, better explaining the importance of suicidal feelings not being portrayed as a symptom of weakness.) If my impression is off the mark (I'm open to critique), or turns out to be, I am willing to revise it, of course.

In short, this series is worth reading for its characters, with est em's eye-popping artwork as icing on the cake. Golondrina certainly won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I'm looking forward to volume 2.

Story: Surprisingly excellent.
Art: A
Overall: A-

"Golondrina" is Spanish for "swallow", as in the bird. I'm not sure what its significance as this series' title is. I suppose est em may have just thought it rolls off the tongue nicely, but I like to think she put at least a little more thought into it than that.