Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Anime and Manga With Monsters and Spookiness and Yuri

The title speaks for itself! I decided to review some titles that are spooky and/or feature monsters while having yuri, because I like horror and non-horror things that play off horror elements, and Halloween.

Devilman Lady (26 episodes):
Devilman Lady, released on Region 1 DVD as The Devil Lady, is very loosely adapted from a really awful manga series I never finished the first volume of by Go Nagai. I'm saying that as someone who enjoyed Nagai's Cutey Honey manga (reviewed here), which was fun-bad.

Anyway, the Devilman Lady anime is about Fudo Jun, a quiet fashion model who learns that the next step in human evolution is for some people to mutate into demon-like creatures called Devilbeasts. Jun is one of the few Devilbeasts who is able to retain human consciousness and return to a normal state. Under the eye of a government agent named Asuka, Jun transforms into a Devilbeast when needed to kill Devilbeasts that are too far gone, while trying to retain her own humanity. The biggest plus for this series is Jun, who is a great lead and grows a lot over the course of the story. The yuri comes in with Jun falling in love with another model named Kazumi, who loves her back, Asuka's not entirely benign interest in Jun, and a couple Devilbeast-of-the-week characters who are dysfunctionally interested in Jun. The romance between Jun and Kazumi is sweet, SPOILER but not immune to their being in a horror story. Jun survives, but Kazumi doesn't. END SPOILER 

Needless to say, this series fits this post. Some of its horror elements are campy, but a good amount are genuinely creepy, its ending has the bombast one would expect from a Nagai series (Jun faces off with another Devilbeast who wants to become God), and it's a really good series overall. This series fares better than most monster-of-the-week shows in terms of quality consistency, largely because it advances its plot and Jun's character development throughout. Also, I love its highly cinematic opening theme.

This series' DVDs are out of print, but the individual volumes are still easy to find at not-horrible to really cheap prices on Amazon.

Vampire Princess Miyu TV series episode 19, from R1 DVD volume 6 (26 episodes total):
Vampire Princess Miyu, in its manga and anime incarnations, is about a vampire named Miyu who vanquishes other demons, called Shinma, who stray into the human world. The Miyu OVA focuses on Miyu's relationship with a psychic who tracks her as she wanders Japan hunting Shinma. But in the Miyu TV series, as in the manga, Miyu lives in one place, attending a junior high school. Physically, she's fourteen. The story mostly follows a Shinma-of-the-week format, and there are several recurring characters besides Miyu- Miyu's school friends, a Western Shinma named Larva who acts as Miyu's right hand man, and a snow woman named Reiha who doesn't think Miyu is fit to hunt Shinma and has no compunction about killing innocent people in the process of hunting them.

In episode 19, Miyu's classmates bring her to an exhibition showcasing dolls by Kasumi, a famous dollmaker. The focus shifts to Kasumi, who hires a maid named Yuki.

Kasumi is in love with one of her dolls, and starts getting touchy about Yuki being around that doll. Yuki becomes obsessed with the doll also. Their obsession is caused by the doll being a Shinma. Needless to say Miyu vanquishes him, and Yuki and Kasumi happily wind up a couple, with Yuki now making dolls. And Miyu, being Miyu, is like, "Feh, humans and their weak emotions like love."

Yuki and Kasumi get a remarkably happy ending for this series. lol More typically, Miyu's Shinma-vanquishing results in the people she saves not being much or any better off than they would be if left to the Shinma. In several episodes, Miyu puts someone she saved into an eternal sleep while drinking their blood, causing them to dream of the life they want rather than mourn who or what they lost. (In one case, Miyu decides against the eternal sleep to let someone she saved grieve normally, though.) Some of the people she helps die or are unable to reverse the effects of their encounters with Shinma.

Like Devilman Lady, Miyu is a 90's series that looks good for its time. Not as good-looking as the Miyu OVA, but that's to be expected given their formats and when they were made. (I say when they were made because noticeable differences between TV and OVA art and animation quality aren't really a thing anymore.) Unlike the Miyu OVA, the Miyu TV series has some campiness, mostly thanks to some of the Shinma character designs. The Shinma-of-the-week episodes vary in quality, but that's to be expected also, and it's an entertaining series with a good amount of creepiness overall. If you like Hell Girl's storytelling format and old Japanese horror influences, you'll probably like Miyu as its forebear.

I am also a fan of Miyu's opening theme, which is very classic Japanese horror and recaps the gist of this series for any viewers trying it beyond episode 1.

The Miyu OVA and TV series are both out of print, but can easily be found at good prices on Amazon.

Ariyoshi Kyouko's "Bruges" one-shot in her Bruges collection:
"Bruges" is one of my favorite one-shots- technically a prequel to Ariyoshi Kyouko, the creator's of Swan's, excellent classic six volume yuri series Applause. "Bruges" shows us how Applause's leads, Shara and Shunack, started to have feelings for each other at their school's annual spring break get together, where they participated in a murder mystery game meant to solve the death of a real student named Sheryl that happened fifteen years prior.

This story manages to be effectively romantic, creepy, and sad (they do find out what happened to Sheryl, whose spirit plays a role)- in short, it juggles its very different goals well. I like the old school shoujo-ness of it, also. I originally reviewed Bruges here.

Bruges and Applause are both unlicensed and will probably get licensed when hell freezes over. You can buy them in the form of their Japanese releases, though. To search for Applause's volumes, which are easiest to find in their four volume re-print- say on Amazon JP, Honto, or YesAsia- you'll want to search for アプローズ―喝采. For the Bruges collection, you should search for ブルージュ―アプローズ

Franken Fran chapter 22, tankoubon 3, by Katsuhisa Kigitsu (8 volumes total):
Franken Fran is the only not-horrible thing to have run in Champion Red, the magazine best known for Seikon no Qwaser. Its covers make it look like hentai, but it is a horror series. Franken Fran is what would happen if Dr. Frankenstein's monster were a teenaged girl named Fran- a doctor herself who earnestly tries to help people with their medical problems in present day Japan. Emphasis on "tries" because she competently does what people ask her to do, but the results embody the phrase "be careful what you wish for." I never finished this series. Franken Fran's author's effective use of black comedy and creative uses of this series' formula kept it entertaining for a few volumes, but the repetition of that formula eventually wore on me and I dropped it.

I think Franken Fran is worth trying if you're a manga fan who likes horror and doesn't mind gore. For the purposes of this list, chapter 22 of this series features a yuri twist on one of Fran's medical cases. It isn't really happy- or worth reading for the yuri- but its outcome is more earnest and less bleakly ironic than usual for this series.

This series is unlicensed. You can buy its Japanese release by searching フランケン・ふらん

Natsuneko's "Nightmare Syndrome" one-shot, which was published in the March 2008 issue of Comic Yuri Hime:
Less horror than action, about a young woman named Elysia who has spent months in the castle of a vampire named Vega, trying to avenge her father's death. Elysia is mad at herself for being attracted to Vega, who never makes any move to harm her and provides her with meals and access to whatever she needs in the castle. Vega loves Elysia herself. Elysia learns from a vampire hunter that her father wasn't the innocent victim she thought he was and saves Vega, allowing them to be together.

Natsuneko, the author of one of my favorite Yuri Hime collections, Butterfly 69 (reviewed here), sadly stopped drawing manga (no idea why) before producing a second full tankoubon's worth of stories, so the only way to own this is to track down the issue of Yuri Hime that published it, pictured above. It's fun, though, and worth reading for a light, stylishly drawn vampire story.

If you decide to track down this issue of Yuri Hime, search コミック百合姫 2008年 03月号 on Amazon JP, where you can find it used on the Marketplace. You might also find this issue as part of a bundle of Yuri Hime issues by searching コミック百合姫 on Yahoo Japan Auctions. Either way, if you live outside Japan, you'll need a proxy. Rinkya is one I have used satisfactorily.

Tokimeki Mononoke Jogakuen by Nangoku Banana (2 volumes):
A weird and sweet comedy that ran in Yuri Hime, about a high school girl named Arare who accidentally winds up in the youkai world and passes as a youkai at an all-girls' school there. Naturally she falls in love with a youkai, Kiri- one of the two students who learns she's a human almost immediately. Because of a dumb plot point, Arare and Kiri don't think they can be together, but things turn out happily. This series is packed with all manner of Japanese monsters and gags based on their characteristics, so it definitely belongs on this list. My reviews of this series' individual volumes can be found here and here.

This series is unlicensed, so the only way to buy it is by getting the original Japanese release. To find this series, you should search for ときめき☆もののけ女学園

Tanaka Minoru's "Vampire Girl" one-shot, which was published in the May 2011 issue of Comic Yuri Hime:
"Vampire Girl" is unusual nowadays because it portrays vampires more as monsters than love interests or sex objects, which I like. They still get some humanity, but don't lose their edge of real danger and animalism. "Vampire Girl" is about Manami, a high school girl who loves reading about spooky things like vampires. A beautiful woman named Shishido-sensei becomes a substitute teacher for Manami's class. Manami becomes enthralled with Shishido-sensei, who teases her about her fascination with vampires, joking about being one herself. I don't want to spoil the ending for this story, but it remains more horror than romance, while still being bittersweet. Recommended if you want a vampire yuri story that is unsettling.

Tanaka Minoru is currently serializing Rock It Girl!!, which I've bought the first tankoubon of, and has released another Yuri Hime collection, Mette Sarete Kya, which I don't have. This one-shot wasn't published in Mette Sarete Kya, but I expect it to appear in a tankoubon at some point since Tanaka is still with Yuri Hime. If you want to track down this issue of Yuri Hime, search コミック百合姫 2011年 05月号 on Amazon JP, where you can find it used and "collectible" on the Marketplace. And of course, you can find it as part of a Yuri Hime bundle on Yahoo Japan Auctions.

And, that's it!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Manga Review: Zenryaku, Yuri no Sono Yori volumes 1 and 2

Suga Atsushi's Zenryaku, Yuri no Sono Yori is one of the series that ran in the now defunct Tsubomi yuri magazine and wrapped up online. I like this series, but not as much as a lot of people do. It's cute, but I never found myself excitedly talking about it with someone, which I think is a pretty good yardstick for how much of a favorite something I'm reading is. This is a cute series. It just didn't particularly light my fire even though I can see why other people like it more.

Our protagonist is named Yuri. Because one of her grandparents is white, Yuri has blonde hair like her mom but otherwise looks Japanese. Other kids bullied her for it when she was little, so between dealing with that and standing up for another bullied girl named Shinobu, she developed a hard-edged persona that people find intimidating. Now in high school, her only friend is Shinobu. After school everyday, Yuri and Shinobu create BL manga. Shinobu writes it and Yuri draws it.

Yuri's love interest is Misono, a rich girl who is top student at their school and admired by everyone. Talented though she is, Misono knows most of that admiration is driven by how wealthy and powerful her family is. Although she is perfectly polite and helpful to her classmates, she's pretty snarky. That side comes out when she finds the notebook of Shinobu's writing Yuri accidentally left in her desk after leaving school one day.

After Misono helps Yuri get out of trouble with a teacher, Yuri begrudgingly allows Misono to read the notebook. The story in the notebook is about a rich young man and his butler, and they are similar enough, respectively, to Misono and Yuri, that Misono assumes Yuri wrote it as a gender-flipped version of her fantasies. She thus tries to tease Yuri by reading the story aloud.

By the end of Yuri and Misono's portion of volume 1, Misono makes it clear that she doesn't just like teasing Yuri for the sake of teasing- they're friends, with a whiff of something more. Their portion of volume 1 is pretty much set-up.

I say their portion because a chunk of volume 1 is taken up by a side story focusing on an unrelated couple- Yuki, a quiet girl with no friends who thinks the love letter she received from another girl is just a prank, since she has gotten a lot of prank love letters from asshole classmates, and Akane, the chipper, outgoing girl who sent the love letter.

I liked the extra focusing on Shinobu, in which we find out that she was once in love with Yuri but is over it and now has a girlfriend named Azusa who she is happy with.

Volume 2 is when the meat of Yuri and Misono's story happens. Misono helps her classmates see that they misjudged Yuri, and Yuri starts making other friends. Doing so, she realizes that her classmates find Misono intimidating because of her family, and wonder if she, with her middle class background, is good enough to be close to Misono.

Yuri's insecurity causes Misono to feel she's losing Yuri as the only person who doesn't care about her status, and she cuts her off. Yuri figures things out and makes it clear to Misono that she doesn't care. They end the portion of volume 2 that was serialized online both obviously having feelings for each other and closer to coupledom than they were before, but not quite there. Shinobu, who serves as the Greek chorus for this story, starts writing a yuri manga based on Yuri and Misono.

As a bonus, we see Shinobu help Azusa study and plan a post-exam trip with her.

Suga made great use of the remaining volume 2 extras by including how Yuri and Misono pretty much got together, Yuri and Shinobu introducing their girlfriends to each other (this was the funniest of the extras and my second favorite), and my favorite extra, a look at Misono as a college student and Yuri as a professional manga artist working from home, before Misono comes home to Yuri. You will be shocked to know that the extras are my favorite part of this volume.

Yuki and Akane's story is cute but forgettable. Based on what we see of them in volume 1 alone, I would say the same about Yuri and Misono's story, but it developed some meat and became good in volume 2. A lot of people have noted that, unusually for yuri couples, Yuri and Misono both have short hair. (And similar hairstyles to boot.) Given her discovery of Yuri's secret, Misono could have easily become a gender-flipped version of the rich asshole male love interest common in shoujo and BL (like I guess the rich character in Shinobu's manga), but she wasn't. She and Yuri are both likeable and complement each other well, although Misono is my favorite for her zippy comebacks, I think.

Story: Starts pleasant but forgettable, becomes good.
Art: Does what it's supposed to, but really not this series' strong suit. C
Overall: C+ for volume 1, a solid B for volume 2, plus a sparkly star for that last extra.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Anime Review: Senki Zesshou Symphogear G

a.k.a. Season 2 of Symphogear, the first season of which I reviewed after it aired in winter 2012.

I have described season 2 of Symphogear as feeling like an extended Symphogear: The Movie. Art and animation-wise, it looks more polished and... well, animated than the first season, and its story still isn't good, but it sure is plottier.

It even kicks off in a very action movie way, with Hibiki and Chris saving a scientist (Dr. Ver, who you'll read about below) in a high speed train chase. This season builds off the results of the previous season's conflict.

While the first season's villain, Finé, failed to destroy the moon, she shot a hole in it. Being hit like that knocked the moon off course enough that it is going to collide with the Earth at some point. The governments of the world say that the moon will take centuries to reach that point, but it's more like ten years.

This season's villains are: a pop idol named Maria who is a Symphogear user and possibly the vessel for Finé's reincarnation; two younger Symphogear users named Kirika and Shirabe who look up to Maria and were once considered possible vessels for Finé's soul; Dr. Natassja, an engineer who knows how the Symphogear armor works, spending most of her time worrying about Maria, Kirika and Shirabe and coughing up blood; and our only real villain, Dr. Ver, a biochemist whose research focuses on Symphogear users. Dr. Ver manipulates Dr. Natassja, Maria, Kirika, and Shirabe to achieve his goal of destroying most of the world so he can rule what is left more easily.

While this season is better than season 1, Dr. Ver is a worse villain than Finé. I could buy Finé earning the trust of the people she worked with before betraying them, but I didn't have it in me to feel for Maria when Dr. Ver betrayed her... because it was obvious well before that you can't trust his stated intentions. And he's just generally more annoying than Finé.

The returning cast makes up for it, though. The main reason to watch this is to watch Hibiki, Tsubasa, Chris, and Miku do cool things to propel an intentionally ludicrous story forward. I appreciate that Miku gets to do something important and cool each season without any super-abilities.

This season, though, Miku also does stuff as a Symphogear-user. The relic Hibiki uses to transform is spreading through her body, meaning she can't transform without hastening it. Miku finds out that Hibiki will likely die because of it, and becomes a Symphogear-user, courtesy of Dr. Ver (who obviously doesn't have her best interests in mind), in the hopes of better being able to save Hibiki.

Also, Miku's fighting song is basically a love song about Hibiki. (The song starts at 0:43.) Here is a translation of the lyrics. I rate Miku's seiyuu, Iguchi Yuka's, singing ability above Hibiki and Chris's.

Maria's seiyuu, Hikasa Youko (a.k.a. Attack on Titan's Mikasa and K-ON!'s Mio) has a good singing voice, but aside from her duet with Tsubasa, her songs didn't leave much of an impression on me. Mizuki Nana still has the prettiest singing voice in the entire show, but she's Mizuki Nana.

Also, Kirika and Shirabe fight after Kirika switches sides, resulting in a really lesbian battle duet song. I don't have a clip I'm happy with (partly because I couldn't find a clip without the servicey henshin at the beginning, partly because it's harder to like the song itself when Shirabe's butt crack keeps flashing through her battle outfit- which is maybe a weird thing to specifically complain about given the rest of the service in this show, but as awkward as, say, fighting in a very cleavagey sentai suit like Chris's would be, I'd take it over the butt crack outfit- and I didn't care about these two as much as Hibiki and Miku anyway), but they do duel and scream that they love each other a bunch of times.

Now past her mourning over Kanade (although she still has some flashbacks about her), Tsubasa is mostly the cool sempai this season. Even though I liked seeing Tsubasa get past closing everyone off because of her grief, I was happy to see her get a love interest who is not dead this season. I was surprised it was Chris, but actually kind of wound up shipping them, and even Hibiki saw it.

Arguably the most surprising thing about this season was Genjuuro singing during the obligatory training scene. (Please do watch this season's training scene, actually. It's pretty great.) He gets to punch a flying boulder, and apparently Tsubasa's manager can run on water.

This season's final conflict itself was dumb, as expected, but it had Hibiki being no less active without her super-abilities (which, spoiler, she does get back), the aforementioned Tsubasa x Chris, Miku throwing a magic sword into a tear in space, and Hibiki reminding me of Ultimate Madoka with her speech in space about not being alone. And it's followed by a nice final scene for our four leads.

Story: This is trashy crap, but it is crap that I enjoyed and would watch a third season of.
Art: B
Overall: B-