Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Big Move

I've decided to start hosting my blog on Wordpress. This was a big decision, and not made lightly. The new web address is

If you do not update your blog roll, then You Will Stop Receiving Updates From My Blog. Please update your blog rolls as soon as possible!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

“Reflection Of Me” – The One I Love (manga) – 9/10 Snowballs

There is no remedy for love but to love more. ~Henry David Thoreau

Mangaka: CLAMP

Genre: Romance

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: Formerly licensed by Tokyopop.

Art: The stories were all authored be each of the members, 3 to a member, which means that the ones drawn by the same mangaka will look the same while the ones between members all look quite different. Some of their work will look quite familiar to readers of their other series, some will look quite a bit different. This is an older manga, so the clothing and hair is noticeably dated, but otherwise looks very good.

Summary: Combining CLAMP’s legendary storytelling, color artwork and elegant prose, The One I Love provides insight into the creators’ intimate lives and passions. This unique and romantic 12-story anthology dives into the heard of the matter of the insecurity and honesty, marriage and independence, and, of course, the single subject CLAMP seems to know best: Love. (back cover)

Review: This is one of the more memorable manga I know that speaks on the myriad of things that goes on when a girl’s in love. Jealousy, anxiety about marriage, age differences… all make an appearance here. It’s astounding how true to life these stories are, touching on things that I know I have felt, and even making the jump from anxieties women feel to ones that both genders do. With each story is a short story from the mangaka that drew it, telling the story that inspired the tale.

With 12 different stories in a very slim volume, there’s no character development or deep insight into what’s going on- it’s not that kind of manga. It’s one that every girl and woman that’s ever been in love can read and immediately step into the shoes of the characters. These are common experiences, and the relatability and how true they all ring make this something special. The stories that are inspiration are both funny and often insightful, which makes everything come alive in a way that exceeds how it was before.

Overall, this is for anyone who likes a little romance.

Recommended: All ages. There’s really nothing that objectionable in here.

Other titles you might enjoy:
NG Life (manga)
NANA (anime and manga)
Emma: A Victorian Romance (anime and manga)

“Dreaming Of The Stars” – Gunbuster (anime) – 9/10 Snowballs

No one, it has been said, will ever look at the Moon in the same way again. More significantly can one say that no one will ever look at the earth in the same way. Man had to free himself from earth to perceive both its diminutive place in a solar system and its inestimable value as a life -fostering planet. As earthmen, we may have taken another step into adulthood. We can see our planet earth with detachment, with tenderness, with some shame and pity, but at last also with love. ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Genre: Sci-fi/Action/Mecha/Shounen

Review Status: Complete (6 Episodes/6 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US.

Art/Animation: Both are excellent. The animation has stood up to the test of time, and this title was the pioneer in many animation techniques that are still widely-used today. The art, while slightly dated and showing its age in terms of clothing design and the technology on earth, is still very good. A lot of fuss will be made that during the last episode, it was done almost entirely in black and white because the budget had been used up. Even without color, the animation and art is just as good as the rest of the series, and I felt that it was used to good, dramatic effect, since it made everything feel off and made me anticipate the final battle even more.

Dub Vs. Sub: I only watched the dub, but couldn’t find any issues with it. All the characters and their voices fit terrifically.

Summary: In the very near future, a race of huge, insect like aliens is discovered traveling the galaxy. These aliens seem dedicated to the eradication of the human species as it takes its first steps away from the solar system, and they are getting closer and closer to Earth. Humanity has responded by developing spacegoing battleships and giant fighting robots. These robots are piloted by the best and brightest of Earth`s youth, picked from training schools around the world.

The story begins in the year 2023, not long after the first battles with the aliens, and centers on young Noriko Takaya. Although Noriko`s father was a famous Captain in the space fleet who was killed during one of the first battles of the war, her own talents as a pilot are questionable. Nonetheless, she has entered a training school. Through the series Noriko, joined by the beautiful and talented Kazumi Amano, will fight to overcome the trauma of war, the doubts of her peers, and her own lack of confidence. (AniDB)

This is a landmark title for all the right reasons. This is a compelling story of a girl who needs to fight her own weaknesses in order to go into the military, like her father did, and by doing so discovers her own inner strength and determination. While this does have some of the anime clichés, such as calling out attack names, hidden ‘inner abilities’ that are only apparent to a mentor, etc, this still manages to use them in a way that really doesn’t detract from the story. It’s also one of the few anime to keep the realities of science in mind, using theories and facts that are still well-known and believed today in order to move the story in interesting directions.

Noriko is an oddity- a female lead in a shounen anime. She seems to be a more fleshed-out character for it, with an inner strength that you would normally find in shounen stories, while the writers also have her navigating the issues that come with being a girl. They manage to do this remarkably well! There was a scene in the baths where the girls were sitting around and talking, and it sounded just like other conversations my friends and I have had. I was both startled and pleased by how real it sounded- something that is usually lacking in this sort of thing. Her friends are as well-rounded and interesting as Noriko is, with ambitions and fears of their own. While their growth is shown in moderate doses, and not in the same amount or depth as Noriko’s, it really shows the passage of time and makes them characters you can sympathize with.

These great characters are given an equally great plot. Not much is known about the alien invaders, and various troops are being gathered around the world, undergoing specialized training and only the best of the best being taken into space. More about them is revealed as the story goes on, as various encounters and clues appear. Alongside this, there is the struggle Noriko has, trying to consolidate the feelings about her father with what’s happening now, and gathering the courage to fight like she needs to. While the death that sends her into a downward spiral feels like a contrived plot device, her emotional downfall and climb back out of it feel real and had me rooting for Noriko the whole time.

Set to a soundtrack that sounded a little like a Star Wars rip-off, the battles and choices Noriko makes are touching, moving, and exciting through and through. Once small measures are no longer enough against the enemy, she makes a decision that is bittersweet for everyone involved- her companions, her peers, her friends on earth. I couldn’t help but tear up slightly at the sacrifice that was made and the implications of the ending. It still managed to be hopeful, and that was the best part.

Overall, this is a classic and something every sci-fi fan should see.

Recommended: 16+. There’s pretty much no language, violence is kept to explosions and offscreen death. What will concern people is how much boobage is shown. This brought about mixed feelings, since actually showing breasts can be considered fanservice, but the scenes where it happened didn’t feel exploitive or dirty at all- they were scenes that for the most part happen in real life. The bathing scene, for instance, brought about memories of the high school locker room, changing during slumber parties, and discussions that my friends and I have had about our own bodies. Which is a good thing, since those scenes were never meant to be fanservice anyway.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Diebuster (anime-sequel to Gunbuster)
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (anime)
Neon Genesis Evangelion (anime)
Heroic Age (anime)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

“The Dance Of A Lifetime” – Swan (manga) – 9/10 Snowballs

Ballet is a dance executed by the human soul. ~Alexander Pushkin

Mangaka: Kyoko Ariyoshi

Genre: Drama/Romance/Shoujo

Review Status: Incomplete (8 Volumes/21 Volumes) *Note- CMX only published 15 of the 21 volumes before folding, and there are no scanlations of the series.

Licensed: Formerly licensed by CMX manga.

Art: While this does have some strange holdovers of styles from the 70’s, this is classic shoujo art that manages to be straight-up beautiful most of the time. The usual sparkles-and-flowers that fill the pages of a lot of modern shoujo have never worked better than in this manga about ballet, where such things are a part of the stage and scenery. The mangaka also has a wonderful sense of motion and movement in her art that makes the scenes easy to visualize, which is especially important when creating a story where that’s so central to the plot. The realistic character designs convey the look of dancers on the stage beautifully.

Summary: Swan is the story of Masumi, a young girl from a rural Japanese town, who dreams of becoming a prima ballerina. She is picked to take part in a national ballet competition but realizes that although she has the passion and talent to be a great dancer, her training lags behind that of her peers. During the competition and the subsequent professional lessons, she fights to improve her abilities and achieve her dreams. (

Review: Manga is something that is often subject to the changing styles and interests of the times. The art people like to look at changes, the things that society views as important changes, what people enjoy changes. What’s wonderful about this manga is that it manages to make a story that can withstand most of these things and create a story that’s still moving and engaging, much like Tezuka’s work still manages to be relevant and- above all- good.

This does show its age. The girls head out to a disco one night. They train in the USSR-named countries (though in the post-Cold War translation keeps the Cold War names of cities), 70’s fashions abound, but those aren’t intrusive or detrimental to the story at all.

Swan keeps is focus on one place only- the story of Masumi, a burgeoning ballet dancer who wants nothing more than to dance with the greats. With nothing but raw talent, she manages to make her way into some of the toughest ballet competitions in the world. Nothing is as easy as it appears, though. Her talent isn’t enough to win. She must train and study and work for hours on end, sacrificing time with friends and learning about herself and the characters she must portray on stage. It shows some of the most brutal things that ballet dancers go through. Becoming one is hard work and can destroy anyone who isn’t going to commit themselves 100%.

Masumi struggles with it herself. She doesn’t always win, she falls to competitive pressure, and it hits her hard when her friends find themselves in situations. Watching her grow as a character is fun and often touching. Her own growth is set off by and aided by a large and varied cast of characters that are as complex characters as Masumi herself. Things aren’t beds of roses for them, but they manage to pull through situations all the better for it. The nice thing is that these characters aren’t used as mere plot devices, to be seen once and never again. Often they are recurring characters that Masumi meets time and again, who grow and change themselves.

While this can get a little melodramatic, it doesn’t always detract from the manga. It’s about ballet, something that’s often seen as something that is melodramatic in and of itself. Swan keeps the struggles and issues of the characters pretty realistic to what real dancers go through. And the actual ballets can be gorgeously depicted. This has a charm and a strong story that manages to overcome any issues that come with being almost 40 years old.

Overall, this is one of the best shoujo manga around, and definitely worth a read if you like Princess Tutu or a good story.

Recommended: 11 and up. The ballet world isn’t always a nice one- there’s fierce competition, and when one dancer is injured in a way that might end her career permanently, she attempts suicide.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Glass Mask (anime and manga)
Cat Street (manga)
Princess Tutu (anime)

“Where Hope Begins” – My Last Day (anime) – 2/10 Snowballs

Going to church no more makes you a Christian than standing in a garage makes you a car. ~Garrison Keillor

Genre: Drama/Historical/Christian/Spiritual

Review Status: Complete (1 Episode/1 Episode)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed in the US. It can be viewed legally on Youtube and other sites.

Art: This looks really good, with a great color palate and very lovely animation. Too bad it’s wasted on this.

Summary: The story of Jesus’ last day, as told through the eyes of one of the men he was crucified with.

Review: As I can tell you from my previous experience with the anime Steamboy, great visuals cannot translate into a good story. This anime is similarly troubled, with good visuals and a short runtime working for it, but everything else working strongly against it.

The biggest issue is that this adds absolutely nothing to the story. If you’re familiar with it, then there’s nothing in here that will give you insight or add a new dimension to Jesus’ death. Jesus is tortured, criminals and Jesus are crucified, Jesus and criminal go to heaven. The only way this might touch you is if you are familiar with the entire story that’s behind what’s happening, why this is such a big deal and what the implications of the storm and the cross and the burdens are- which are most definitely not told in this short.

So who exactly is this anime for? People who don’t know about Christianity? If the aim is conversion, then this is going to miss the mark completely, with the message “Believe in Jesus, because He is life insurance”. The only reason you should become a Christian is to go to heaven. Period. The only thing one should do to be Christian is to believe in Jesus. There’s nothing more to it, which, considering how big the Bible is with stuff that is not about Jesus’ death, seems to be missing the bigger point about being Christian- that you should also try to live like Jesus.

Part of the reason it suffers from such a shallow message is the way it chooses to tell the story. It chooses to dwell on Jesus’ suffering, all the blood and bruises and whatnot that He went through when He was tortured. It does not go into the ‘why’ of it at any point. When there is nothing meaningful to supplement the sight of people being whipped, beaten, and stabbed, then I call it as I see it- torture porn. If I wanted to watch torture porn, I would watch Hostel, where the violence is just as meaningless as presented here. Or even Passion of the Christ, which is just as soulless with the same material.

Having a non-traditional view of Christ’s death is an interesting, fresh idea that’s completely wasted. The only thing that comes from it is that you see what the criminal was convicted of in flashback. There’s no insight as to why he chooses to believe in Jesus or is moved by His suffering, nothing that would give theological meat to this bare-bones story. It almost hurts to know how much potential this had beyond the obvious message at the end.

Overall, this fails on every level to be a good representation of Christianity and is one of the worst choices in Christian entertainment you could make.

Recommended: Not unless you’re a Jesus completionist and must read and see everything about his life ever made. Other than that, 16+ due to the violence.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Blankets (graphic novel)
Jesus (movie- live action)
Jesus Christ: Superstar (movie- live action)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

“Over 9000” – Excel Saga – 4/10 Pumpkin Pies

Humor is a reminder that no matter how high the throne one sits on, one sits on one's bottom. ~Taki

Genre: Action/Comedy/Sci-Fi/Parody

Review Status: Incomplete (3 Episodes/26 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US

Art/Animation: Pretty good, still looks nice for when it was made.

Dub Vs. Sub: I only listened to the dub. I found Excel’s voice to be loud, annoying, and screechy 90% of the time. The rest of the V.A.s were pretty good and fit into their roles well.

Summary: Hyperactive Excel does anything and everything to try to please her lord, Ilpalazzo, who wants to take over the planet. Excel's misadventures take her and her partner, the ever-dying Hyatt, all over the world, meeting several strange people as they go. Everything is bizarre and goofy, as any kind of anime or entertainment genre gets mocked and spoofed. (ANN)

Review: Humor is a very subjective thing, so I really hope I’m not going to get hate mail over this. Excel Saga is a mile-a-minute joke, parody, and tale of a woman who merely wants to please her master in taking over the world. With all that coming at you every moment of the runtime, this will either overload you with laughter or give you a headache.

Unfortunately, for me, it’s the later. I did find some things funny (those darn aliens! And the whole creator-death thing), but overall I found this to be strange, obnoxious, and irritating. The one thing that brought this up a notch was one, single character- the dog. I found Menchi to be cute, tragically funny, and the ending’s parody of Animal Crossing (K.K. Slider, anyone?) really got me going! I could have watched that dog all day long. Alas, this had to focus on somebody I didn’t find at all amusing.

Overall, while this has its moments, I would avoid it hard.

Recommended: 18+. This has some suggestive scenes and dark comedy, along with a little language and violence (mostly offscreen, but Excel’s partner has “OMG They Killed Kenny!” syndrome, though not on an episode-long basis).

Other titles you might enjoy:

Arakawa Under the Bridge (anime and manga)
Saint Young Men (manga)
Slayers (anime)

“White World Around Us” – Shirahime-Syo (manga) – 6/10 Pumpkin Pies

Advice is like snow - the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper in sinks into the mind. ~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Genre: Drama/Fantasy/Historical

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: No, this manga was formerly licensed by Tokyopop.

Art: This is pretty early CLAMP, with a familiar art style, but this looks like it was done all in ink paintings, which is very fitting for the setting of the story and adds an elegance to it that is quite enchanting.

Summary: Legends say that when it snows, it is because the snow princess is crying. From CLAMP, creators of Chobits and Cardcaptor Sakura, comes a collection of five tragic tales, all connected by the bond of snow. (back cover)

Review: This is where CLAMP decides to depart from their usual stories, and delves into a tribute to Japanese legends, giving them the traditional look and feel of folk tales you would hear growing up. The description is slightly misleading. There aren’t five tales- there are three, which are bookended by one story that isn’t really a story- it’s just some exposition and a moral. The exposition is nice, giving the introduction into tales of the Snow Princess and those who live in her domain.

The three tales start off with the weakest and end with the strongest. The first story- about a girl who sets out for revenge against a wolf- has some good atmosphere and character development, but fails to be that gripping or sorrowful. There is only a tenuous connection to the Snow Princess, which gives the last line a very out-of-place feeling that does nothing for the mood that it had built until then. The second, telling of two lovers who meet thirty years later- is definitely stronger and more tragic. A promise to never change is taken to quite an extreme, and makes it more poignant. The connection of the Snow Princess flows far better in this one. The third and best story of the three is where a man witnesses great love and is the instigator of great tragedy. This one does far better in connecting with the Snow Princess than the other two, and it’s downright tragic and beautiful. It’s unfortunate that the moralizing statement at the end of it has no bearing on what was happening in those stories and ruins the mood of the last tale.

With such a fuss made over the snow and the Snow Princess, I had expected more of this to be about her- instead, she acts as a side character in less than half of the volume. Even with that, the tales are still decent and have some deeply moving parts. When taken as it is, it’s a decent anthology of short stories.

Overall, while this would not be worth buying just to read it, this made a slightly better-than-average tragedy.

13+. This deals with themes of suicide and death. A few animals are shot, but there is only blood and no gore. Other than that, this is clean.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Watashitachi no Shiawase na Jikan (manga)
Nobody Can Hear Me But You (manga)
Solanin (manga)

“May God Protect You” – Kamichama Karin (manga) – 7/10 Pumpkin Pies

The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too. ~Teresa of Avila

Mangaka: Koge-Donbo

Genre: Action/Comedy/Romance/Supernatural/Mahou Shoujo/Shoujo

Review Status: Complete (7 Volumes/7 Volumes)

Licensed: No. It was formerly licensed by Tokyopop.

Art: This has a very distinct chibi-like style for everyone. They’re all amazingly adorable. It’s also great that all the characters are very distinct. It’s very shoujo with almost no backgrounds and lots of toning in the backgrounds.

Summary: Karin is an average girl… at best. She’s not good at sports and gets terrible grades. On top of all that, her parents are dead and her beloved cat Shi-chan just died, too. She is miserable… but everything is about to change. Little does Karin know that her mother’s ring has the power to make her a goddess! (back cover of 1st volume)

Meet Karin, your typical shoujo protagonist. She’s clumsy, she’s rather dumb, and she discovers that she has powers that she never dreamed of. Then things get good. The group of friends she falls in with- and ends up living with and fighting against- are unique in their humor and personalities, from the somewhat sexist, afraid-of-bugs buy Kazune, to the sweet bug-loving Himeka, and the not-really-evil Kirika. The way they interact and the hijinks they get into feel fresh and interesting, so different from the humor you usually find in these series.

Of course, life is not all roses and one-liners. Karin and her friends are fighting against a group that wants nothing more than to destroy them and get at Himeka. Their powers are that of the Greek Gods, borrowed from the Divine so that they can protect those that they love. The fights are simple and don’t last long, though the effects linger into their normal lives. Things ramp up around volume 5, where the stakes are raised and secrets are revealed.

This would have been a fine series if it had followed their daily lives and the occasional fights, because those moments are always hilarious. There are an incredible number of lines that set me off laughing out loud, and situations that were just as funny. They made the series shine. It was when everything tried to tie up that it started to fall apart into some poorly-done clichés and other things that didn’t seem to fit. Characters were forgotten about, plot threads were left dangling, and the status quo was maintained for characters and romances.

The first half of the series was definitely worth reading. It’s one of the best Mahou Shoujo series I’ve read and seen in that regard, and I could not be more thrilled with it. The second half... not so much. Definitely read it if you’re a completist, otherwise just drop it.

Overall, this is a hilarious, adorable series that deserved a better ending than it got.

Recommended: 8+. There’s no language, the humor is spot-on and clean, there’s no fanservice (though at one point, Karin accidentally ends up in the guy’s bath- towels are on!), and there is some suggestive humor in one of the extra stories. Comedic violence, nothing you wouldn’t see in a Looney Tunes cartoon or in a Disney movie.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Sailor Moon (anime and manga)
Pita-Ten (anime and manga)
Card Captor Sakura (anime)
Shugo Chara (anime and manga)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

“Is There A Doctor In The House?” – Black Jack (manga) – 9/10 Pumpkin Pies

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending. ~Maria Robinson

Mangaka: Osamu Tezuka

Genre: Action/Drama/Medical/Shounen

Review Status: Incomplete (9 Volumes/17 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US.

Art: This is Tezuka- very cartoonish, with round faces and exaggerated expressions. He will throw in visual gags with the panels or in faces, or even in background items. It’s easy to read and follow. The actual medical art is fairly detailed and anatomically accurate.

Summary: Black Jack is an "unregistered" doctor with a clouded, mysterious past. He works with his little assistant Pinoko (who has a massive crush on the doctor), dealing with medical cases not very well known, which can be strange, dangerous, or not known at all. But he is a genius, and can save almost any of his patients' lives (as long as they have the money for it, that is), and is known to many around the world, especially to those of medicine and science. He's a man of science himself, and does not believe much until he has seen it, yet it is many times he is surprised by love and nature often overpowering the science he bases his life in. (

Review: Black Jack- a man both sunned and reviled for his apparent unrivaled greed and lack of a license, yet admired for his God-like prowess with surgical tools, saving lives like nobody’s business, holding to a moral compass that’s nigh inscrutable and dealing out justice where he deems fit. He is part cowboy and vigilante in his dealings. Yet even with his skills, he cannot save everyone, either because it simply is their time or his patients have no desire to keep going, or even unfortunate accidents that prevent his cases from surviving. Each loss hurts him deeply, and fuels his need to be the best and keep working and to keep people alive.

This manga is more of an anthology of Black Jack’s cases. There is no particular running storyline, with Pinoko, the young teratoma-cum-girl the only thing that gives it any sense of time. Each volume seems to have a theme to it, one containing stories that mostly deal with how Black Jack is shunned by society, another that has various stories dealing with the will to live, and the thematic elements give it something interesting since Tezuka manages to deal with them in so many different ways.

Not only are the stories wonderfully created, with Tezuka dealing with morality and even the occasional theological question in captivating stories, but the characters manage to pull it off well. I admit to having no fondness for Pinoko, the often-annoying comedic relief, but Black Jack himself a man with many sides to him. His greed is tempered by his kindness, often receiving his ‘payment’ in forms that allow his poorer patients to breathe a sigh of relief. Those who are corrupt or evil will often find themselves at the mercy of some trickery or deception that leaves them in unfortunate predicaments.

Even when the stories focus on those he treats, there is often something compelling to their stories and their desperation. It’s easy to see why they are acting the way they do, and how Black Jack comes off to them- why he has the heartless reputation he does.

The only thing that irks me the slightest bit is how Black Jack is supposedly an unknown doctor except to the richest and most desperate. In virtually every story, though, somebody knows who he is, which flies in the face of that.

Overall, this is a fascinating medical drama that manages to show all the nuances of life, even in the face of death.

13+. There’s about one d-word per volume, and in the nine volumes I read, only three instances of any other language. No f-bombs. Patients do die, from old men to children. This deals with death in all its forms, from execution to suicide to congenital defects and diseases. The manga also holds a lot of medical information and procedures. Surgery of all sorts is performed, but is no more gruesome than a medical textbook. There is violence occasionally, with people being shot, crushed underneath beams, bitten by animals… if it can hurt you, it will appear in here.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Ode to Kirihito (manga)
Team Medical Dragon (manga)
Monster (anime and manga)

“Isn’t She a Doll?” – Dolls (manga) – 6/10 Pumpkin Pies

Yet for better or worse we love things that bear the marks of grime, soot, and weather, and we love the colors and the sheen that call to mind the past that made them. ~Junichiro Tanizaki

Mangaka: Yumiko Kawahara

Genre: Drama/Fantasy/Psychological/Shoujo

Review Status: Complete (4 Volumes/4 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US.

Art: This has some lovely art, with lots of details and frills. It’s very shoujo in appearance, with lots of toning and shading.

Summary: Dolls are living plant life forms that look like beautiful women which can be purchased at a special shop for the right price. But be careful what you wish for. Set in an upside-down world combining a murky mix of science fiction, reality and moral ambiguity, Yumiko Kawahara's short stories examine the ineffable disparities that exist between the lover and the loved one. (Viz)

Review: Dolls choose who they belong to, and while the owners are charged incredibly large fees, they find themselves drawn- and sometimes repulsed- by the plants that behave as if they are alive. There are a number of different scenarios that occur, from discovering what happens when a Doll ages, to attempting to find a replacement for a dead child, to a Doll becoming the last will of a yakuza boss.

What this tries to do is get inside the minds of those people who are affected by them, the scenarios that occur when the Dolls are brought into their lives. However, most of the time the stories are completely unmemorable. They are too short to really get into any psychological fears or darkness, not only in number of pages but all the stories are stand-alone. There were a few that seemed to just start doing some wonderful things but were cut short due to time.

That’s not to say they were bad, just boring. A few of these did manage to stand above the crowd, though, such as that of the girl who told fortunes, and the man who was thought to be turning into a tree. Unfortunately, it was only when the story mainly focused on human characters and had the Dolls as a plot device that they were intriguing. Most of the ones that focused on the Dolls themselves fell short of being anything above average.

Overall, while this does present an interesting scenario, Petshop of Horrors did the psychological aspect far better.

Recommended: 12+. There’s virtually no language, no nudity, and no violence that I can recall. This does deal with some darker themes, such as the loss of loved ones.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Petshop of Horrors (manga)
Rozen Maiden (manga)

Friday, November 18, 2011

“In A Kingdom Far Away” – Twelve Kingdoms (anime) – 9/10 Pumpkin Pies

I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be. ~Douglas Adams

Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy

Review Status: Complete (45 Episodes/45 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US.

Art/Animation: The art seems a little dated, but considering the setting and the story it tells, fits really well. This isn’t a happy-go-lucky series, so the more mature character designs are very appreciated, with an incredible amount of unique and recognizable people that emphasize how expansive the world and the story is. The budget for the animation was a little lacking, and it does show in a few scenes, but overall is perfectly fine for the year it aired. The colors are a normal color palate and very vibrant, which helps bring this series to life.

Dub Vs. Sub: The dub starts out really weak, with some of the main’s voices sounding stilted and awkward, or just not fitting the character. I’m not sure Yoko’s ever really fits. I did not listen to the sub.

Summary: Nakajima Yoko is your average somewhat timid high school student. One day, a strange man named Keiki appears before her, swearing allegiance. Before she could properly register what was happening, demon-like creatures attack Yoko and her friends, after which they are pulled into a different world. A world unlike what she has ever known. Separated from Keiki, Yoko and her friends must do whatever they can if they wish to survive in this new world. (

Review: To be honest, the synopsis sounds like a really bad fanfiction. This might be why a lot of people would approach this with trepidation- who wants a bad fanfiction with Mary-Sues and over the top romances? Thankfully, this is nothing like what it sounds like. This is about a girl finding herself and coming to terms with her destiny… both the good and the bad.

This presents great takes on fantasy tropes. Yoko understands the language of the nation, but her friends do not. Her fate, which is thrust upon her, is constantly questioned by herself and others. She isn’t perfect, coming to terms with very real inner struggles and striving to be a better person… whoever that person may be. All the characters that are brought to the forefront of the storyline are fully realized people with desires, flaws, issues, and make this a story that is as much about the people as it is about the rulers and the events that happen within the kingdom.

This is a very deliberately paced. There will be bursts of action and flurries of exposition, each with its purpose in moving the story forward. Statecraft is taken into account, teaching both Yoko and the viewers about the nation and its customs as well as providing insight into what is happening and why. The stories of the nations are entwined, as much as politics in real life are. That doesn’t mean this is a snoozefest- there’s double-dealing, shifting alliances, rebellion and war that make up the meat of the story and provide fascinating stories.

It also deals with themes of racism, isolation, abandonment and betrayal, which are told in arcs that again manage to provide a look at the world Yoko has been brought into. I love that this doesn’t focus on one place or time. People and events from all places manage to be the foundations of this anime, some mentioned only briefly or seen in a moment’s scene, but brought back later so that the stories entwine and bring about a full picture of what’s happening. The world-building is superb, and I could get lost in this land of magic time and again.

My only issue was with the last five episodes. Those seemed to drag more than the others- while the story was quite good, it could have been told in fewer episodes, and the moral was a little more heavy-handed than usual. I still enjoyed the show on the whole, though.

Overall, this is a fantastic and vastly under-appreciated fantasy series.
Recommended: 14+. There is some death, most of it discreet or very brief. Very little language- I actually cannot remember any. The two girls are almost sold to a brothel. No nudity, no sexual situations.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Seirei no Moribito (anime)
Twelve Kingdoms (light novels)
Fushigi Yuugi: The Mysterious Play
Escaflowne (tv series, not movie)
The Story of Saiunkoku (anime)
Magic Knight Rayearth (anime and manga)

“Calling Out To You” – Voices of a Distant Star (manga) - 6/10 Pumpkin Pies

Absence diminishes small loves and increases great ones, as the wind blows out the candle and blows up the bonfire. ~Francois de la Rouchefoucauld

Mangaka: Makoto Shinkai and Sumomo Yumeka

Genre: Romance/Sci-fi/Drama/Mecha

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volumes)

Licensed: No. this manga is not licensed in the US currently, but it was formerly licensed by Tokyopop.

Art: Light and sketch-like. There really isn’t solid shading, it’s mostly in shades of gray and done lightly. The character designs and layout are pretty solid and true to the anime.

Summary: To what distance would you go for your one true love? In the midst of an alien invasion, Mikako joins the resistance, leaving behind the one young man she loves. As she goes deeper into space, Mikako's only connection with her boyfriend is through cell-phone text messages. The war rages on and years pass, but Mikako barely ages in the timelessness of space while Noboru grows old. How can the love of two people, torn apart by war, survive? (Tokyopop)

Review: There are a few things that make a manga. One is the art and whether you can stand to look at it. The other two are the story and the characters, which combine to make something enjoyable. This manga mixed them in a way that leaves me with confused feelings.

On one hand, the characters and sentimentality this manga evokes are strong and moving. This manages to capture the longing for a loved one, impossibly far away, in a way that really speaks to anyone who has had to be far away from their own family and loved ones. Being away from them is hard in the first place- being away from them for years at a time, rarely in contact, and not knowing when you’ll ever see or speak to them is something else.

What mars that wonderful feeling of longing that is so exquisite in its presentation is the whole premise. People are randomly selected to be pilots of very large, expensive machines. The idea that any government, no matter how desperate, would throw people at random into these machines and then send them into a war zone is completely unbelievable. There’s no sign that there is some sort of shortage of people who are over the age of 18 and are smart, intelligent, and able to be pressed into service if it’s that desperately needed- one need only take a look at how Israel manages its army to see that it can and is done. However, it’s just taken as a matter of course for this lottery to exist.

Unfortunately, this means a lot of the feelings and sorrow I had were constantly interrupted by the thought that no government would ever do such a thing and made the whole storyline stupid and ridiculous.

Overall, suspension of disbelief is necessary to create a world that the reader can get lost in, and that failed hard in that respect, which ruined the emotion that the manga had.

Recommended: 10+. There are brief mentions of death- there is a war going on- but there is no language, no fanservice, and the worst there is in terms of gore are the burn scars on a victim of the attacks.

Other titles you might enjoy:
5 Centimeters Per Second (anime)
The Place Promised In Our Early Days (anime)
Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below (anime)
Saikano (anime)
Ef- A Tale Of Memories/A Tale of Melodies (anime)
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (anime)

“The World Keeps Turning” – Hetalia: Axis Powers Season 1 (anime) – 8/10 Pumpkin Pies

The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is at all comprehensible. ~Albert Einstein

Genre: Comedy/History

Review Status: Complete (26 Episodes/26 Episodes)

Yes, this anime is licensed in the US.

Art/Animation: It looks pretty good, with some very nice animation, bright colors, and very distinct character designs- immensely necessary with so many countries.

Dub Vs. Sub: The dub has all the great accents, some done well, some not so much, but the voice acting is good regardless. The sub is quite good with the stereotypical voices for the countries, but also has good voice acting.

Summary: Forget everything you learned in history class, and imagine all the nations of the world as cute guys hanging out on a wildly inappropriate reality show. Now, toss in every stereotype ever and prepare to pledge allegiance to your favorite superpower in Hetalia Axis Powers!

Maybe you’ll surrender to Italy’s charms. He’s a sweetie who’s always got a noodle in his mouth and he’s BFF with blue-eyed Germany and shy Japan. Sounds nice, right? Of course, their friendship sort of causes World War II, but is that really such a big deal? Not if it means those adorable allies France, America, and England will be stormin’ the beach! No matter who comes out on top, victory is yours! Now ditch your textbooks and try to keep up, because history happens fast in Hetalia Axis Powers! (Funimation)

Review: How is one supposed to take the idea of anthropomorphized nations interacting with each other in ways that are vaguely similar to historical events? If you’re looking for pure comedy, you’ll be getting a dose of history. If you’re looking for history, you’ll be getting a good dose of comedy. While it’s not the show to watch if you really want surefire historical accuracy, this manages to relate history with pizzazz and hilarity, with little shout-outs that will thrill the historians out there.

Each episode jumps around in the timeline, some taking place at the World Conference, where all of them get together to talk about… stuff… while some take place at America’s house, and even more take place during World War II, where Italy, Japan, and Germany get together and camp out on the beach, having training sessions and cookouts, while the Allies make various attempts to sabotage them.

The five-minute segments and disjointed presentation make this great for viewing when you don’t have the time for longer series, but could be frustrating for some that want their episodes in chronological order. Some people might be annoyed by the lighthearted presentation of events that were really very serious in real life. But this isn’t to be taken as a serious show- it’s about having fun with world history, and this manages to do that, from the Roman Empire returning while the Allies storm the beach once… twice… and fail each time, to Canada being overlooked for pretty much everything. Stereotypes stereotypical characteristics abound, making each country a distinct personality that most people will find both somewhat accurate and great parodies- knowing how to laugh at yourself and how your country is seen by others is key.

The other issue is that, while I really do like this show, it’s such a sausage fest. There are very few girls, and in very minor parts. Virtually no time is spent on them, which is a shame. It does allow for quite a bishie fest, however, so it’s a trade-off.

Overall, this is a cute anime with some fun twists!

Recommended: 16+. There are five swears in the sub- two of the F-word written out, the s-word twice (misused in some pretty bad Engrish, I might add), and one instance of the d-word. The sub is worse, and adds in some gay jokes that aren’t there in the sub. It’s implied that one of the male characters (the Holy Roman Empire) has a crush on Italy (a guy), but thinks that Italy is a girl. Implied slavery of some of the characters- representing historical happenings, not meant to be taken seriously.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Hetalia: Axis Powers (Season 2, manga)

“A Magical Adventure” - The Big Adventures of Majoko (manga) – 8/10 Pumpkin Pies

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. ~Gilbert K. Chesterton

Mangaka: Tomomi Mizuna

Genre: Comedy/Fantasy/Adventure/Supernatural/Mahou Shoujo/Kids

Review Status: Complete (5 Volumes/5 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US

Art: It has the shoujo/chibi-ish character designs, but doesn’t rely so much on shades and toning. The color pages are bright and colorful.

Summary: While cleaning her room, a young girl named Nana finds a mysterious diary. As soon as she opens it, out pops Majoko, a rambunctious wizard girl from the Land of Magic! Together, these two girls explore a fantastic world full of magic spells, wondrous creatures, and endless surprises. Every day is a big adventure when Majoko is around! (Udon)

Review: This story hits the ground running and never lets up. From the first page, where Nana is taken to the world of magic, to the last one, there is an adventure every chapter. It’s pretty episodic, with each chapter a different story, but with a few recurring characters. This sets up a great way to see the wonders of the world. It’s created like every child’s dream, from a land of snow and living snowmen, to an orchard that has apples that help you with better grades, to a place where you can buy and sell rainbows.

The various adventures that happen in these places are a mix of the obvious (being ripped off for the apples) to the humorous (having to rebuild a snowman’s face), to the fascinating (needing to borrow monsters for a haunted house). All the stories are pretty funny, and darn cute to boot!

They wouldn’t be half as amusing without the various personalities of the lead characters. Majoko is different from most shoujo leads- she’s the funny man to Nana’s straight one. With a hot temper, a strong mischievous streak, and a penchant for trouble, she really is a quirky and loveable lead. Nana takes a backseat in a lot of the adventures, but is definitely a more level-headed girl. She manages to be dragged along for the fun of it many times. The rest of the group falls more into clichés, such as the spoiled girl who is Majoko’s rival, to the smart guy, but they’re a fun bunch.

The story does fall apart at the end, though, with an unfinished storyline concerning the fate of the magical world. It’s a shame, since it was shaping up to be pretty interesting, and had been a consistent storyline for about a volume before the series ended. The extras almost make up for it, with even more funny moments in it.

Overall, while this did end up falling on a few too many tropes to get a 10, it was still a great adventure story!

6+. There was one chapter where they visited the land of monsters, and they might look a little frightening to younger children.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:
Happy Happy Clover (manga)
+Anima (manga)

Monday, November 14, 2011

“You Can’t Return To The Past” – Return to the Labyrinth (OEL) – 6/10 Pumpkin Pies

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path. ~Buddha

Mangaka: Jake T. Forbes

Genre: Adventure/Drama/Fantasy

Review Status: Complete (4 Volumes/4 Volumes)

Licensed: Unlicensed, formerly published by Tokyopop.

Art: This looks like a comic book rather than a manga. Occasionally the characters can look… off. Generally, it looks just fine, though.

Summary: 13 years after the events of the movie ‘Labyrinth’, Jareth is in need of a successor- and has chosen Toby! Stolen away to the Labyrinth, he must decide if he will take the crown, and Jared will once again try to win the woman he loves.

Review: I’m not sure whether my fondness for the movie makes me like this more, or makes me dislike it more. On one hand, all the characters that you loved are back! For brief cameos where they are utterly useless and might as well not exist. The romance between Jareth and Sarah? Almost non-existent. It is there, all right, but it’s a side story to what’s happening with Toby, and not really what fans are looking for.

I did like how this went more into the labyrinth, why it exists and the lands that surround it. There is no real depth to this, though, other than the small mentions of these lands, giving intriguing hints to how the labyrinth fits in. On the other hand, it disappoints in many ways, leaving questions unanswered as to why he left one woman and desired Sarah to begin with.

Many things rely on Deus Ex Machina in order to work, leaving character useless in the grand scheme of things, focusing on the person that we couldn’t care less about (he’s a bishie, but that’s all that’s in his favor), and plot threads go totally unanswered. One character and *major* plot thread all in one completely is forgotten about in the end so that some important moralizing can be tossed at the reader.

While it’s an interesting, more in-depth look at the world of the labyrinth, the story is completely lacking. As a Labyrinth fan, I am disappoint.

Overall, It was nice, but I’d suggest reading fanfiction instead if you’re looking for a romance fix.

Recommended: 10+. This could perhaps be lowered. If your kid is watching the movie, they can read this manga.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Alice in the Country of Hearts (manga)
Are You Alice? (manga)
Pandora Hearts (manga)
Karneval (manga)

“The Taste Of A Soul” – Soul Eater (anime) – 9/10 Pumpkin Pies

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. ~Winston Churchill

Genre: Action/Comedy/Fantasy/Supernatural/Shounen

Review Status:
Compelete (51 Episodes/51 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US

Art/Animation: This looks fantastic in all regards. The animation is beyond fluid, the character designs are great and easily recognized, and the colors are deep and vibrant, and often in the darker color palate which matches the mood and the world fabulously.

Dub Vs. Sub: The dub is fabulous. I love everyone in their roles, except I’m less fond of Soul’s VA. It’s a little too deep for his supposed age. I actually prefer the dub over the sub, because I feel the humor of several voices (most notable, Death’s) comes off better to American audiences… or to anyone who has English as their native language. I do prefer some voices in sub, such as Death The Kid’s, but the dub overall has won my heart.

Summary: Maka is a Meister and Soul is her Weapon. As students at the Grim Reaper’s Death Weapon Meister Academy, their study habits couldn’t be more different. But in battle against the supernatural forces of evil, they’re a freakin’ lethal team.
That’s when Soul transforms – literally – into a razor-sharp scythe, and every defeated wicked soul he sucks down makes him more deadly. That’s when Maka unleashes the merciless slayer within, wielding her partner and dropping monsters. Seriously. Monsters. Like the witches, werewolves, and zombies that lurk in the shadows and feed on the souls of the innocent. Every freakish ghoul Maka and Soul take out strengthens their bond, and fighting alongside their fellow Meister/Weapon classmates, Maka and Soul are the world’s last line of defense against evil.

: This is one of the top shounen anime for a reason. This has pretty much everything you could ask for- awesome opening and ending themes (my favorites have to be the first and last opening themes), great characters that don’t fall into stereotypes- the lead being a female, for once!- that have some of the more memorable traits that I’ve come across in characters, fantastic battle scenes… I cannot help but sing praise to this show. This avoids the pitfalls that would take so many other shows down.

The world itself will catch the attention of most viewers. From the people that have the ability to become meisters and weapons and witches, to the ever-expressive sun and bleeding-grin moon, the world is a treat to become engaged in. This doesn’t focus on the world all that much, though- it’s about the people in it.

This is where the show shines. The characters are fully-realized, with pasts and goals, people that you can easily get behind. You will recognize some stereotypes turned on their head, like BlackStar who is THE shounen protagonist, made a side character and not the one that eventually defeats the Big Bad. Maka, one of our mains, is the Chick. She would hit you for saying so, and it would leave a mark- there is nothing useless or weak about her. Her constant struggle with what it means to be a Meister drives much of the show, and the relationship between her and Soul is one of the best partnerships/friendships that can be seen in the medium.

This chooses to focus on a few of the students and teachers, but has tantalizing glimpses of the sheer amount of different weapons and abilities that are out there. The way these grow and change in the circumstances they are put under is astonishing. Chrona is the star of this, put into one of the most difficult positions possible. His mother, or his friends? Can he overcome his abuse and reach for a new future?

The opponents and situations are genuinely interesting, to boot. While Medusa’s schemes for why she wants the Big Bad out is still somewhat obscure, though her sister’s motivations seem to be pure insanity. The Big Bad himself is quite a character, and I highly enjoyed seeing how insane he could be. It seemed reminiscent of Johan, one of the best psychopaths that I have ever seen in any anime or manga, and that really excited me. While this is a typical save-the-world storyline, I still felt it was pulled off with enough panache and characterization that it is one of the most interesting shounen I have seen.

Something that does bother people that is worth a mention because it bothered me, too, is that one of the characters is ‘brought back’ in a way that seems fairly disproportionate to the terrible things that were going on. In short, it was far too easy. The ending also doesn’t live up to people’s expectations. I have to say that I’m not sure whether I liked it or not. It was somewhat typical but I felt that perhaps it had more to it than what other shounen do with similar moves. The jury is out, probably always will be on it, but it didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the rest of the series.

Overall, this was totally worth my time. Yes, even with that ending.

Recommended: 16+. This has Barbie-doll fanservice quite often in the first 6 or so eps, but cools down to nothing after that. There’s a good amount of blood, a fair amount for purely comical reasons. A few instances of the d-word, and one of the a-word, said very deliberately at a pretty appropriate time.

Other titles you might enjoy
Shaman King (anime or manga)
Ao no Excorcist (anime or manga)
Pandora Hearts (manga)
Claymore (anime or manga)
Occult Academy (anime)

“Otaku Inside Me” – Genshiken (manga) – 9/10 Pumpkin Pies

All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible. ~T. E. Lawrence

Mangaka: Kio Shimoku

Genre: Comedy/Romance/Parody/Slice-of-Life

Review Status:
Complete (9 Volumes/9 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US

Art: It looks quite nice and professional. The characters are easily recognizable, they look good, the panels are clean and easy to follow… no complaints from this quarter!

Summary: It's the spring of freshman year, and Kanji Sasahara is in a quandary. Should he fulfill his long-cherished dream of joining an otaku club? Saki Kasukabe also faces a dilemma. Can she ever turn her boyfriend, anime fanboy Kousaka, into a normal guy? Kanji triumphs where Saki fails, when both Kanji and Kousaka sign up for Genshiken: The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture.

Undeterred, Saki chases Kousaka through the various activities of the club, from costume-playing and comic conventions to video gaming and collecting anime figures--learning more than she ever wanted to about the humorous world of the Japanese fan . . . (Del Rey)

Review: Genshiken is a manga that both makes fun of otaku culture, at the same time it celebrates it. It’s as far from Lucky Star as you can get in tone and approach to it all, which will be great for some and not for others. The way it’s done enriches and deepens the story without making it cheesy or melodramatic- something that’s hard to do.

On the surface, this is about a bunch of guys that love anything ecchi and perverted, raiding the local comicfests for stuff that they can whack off to, while anime and manga references happen a few times a chapter (some I can pick up on, others are a little more obscure). What kept me reading was that as it went on, it got deeper, more complicated, and wonderfully realistic. A girlfriend joins to keep an eye on her brother, and the quirks and frustrations in her relationship with her boyfriend become great fodder for jokes and a great story that fits in with the rest of the club’s. More girls join, with diverse interests, from the cosplay fantatic, to the manga club reject, to the girl who’s just there to see if she can win the boyfriend.

This creates interesting dynamics in the club and between individual members. Relationships develop naturally, involving unrequited love and stubborn confessors. They find ways to work with each other to get projects and events done- something that requires work on their ends and sometimes isn’t the best. While they grow into working with each other, they also grow up. Members move on, get jobs, and disappear from the manga except for occasional mentions while others take their place. Each new ‘generation’ of Genshiken members brings something to the table, and the evolution from porn club to doujin-making club to cosplay club is both interesting and doesn’t seem forced. The club was a mishmash of things otaku to begin with, and so each evolution brings a new side of it to light.

The otaku side is never forgotten. There are comic-fests, the issues behind publishing a doujin, what it takes to cosplay… It’s hard to think of something that isn’t touched on. Something that was nice to see what how Americans were brought into the culture- Alice, a friend of one of the members from the States, is as much otaku as the rest of them, and is endearing and hilarious. Because of her interest, the issues of coming over and being an otaku are touched on. If that doesn’t say something about how many things are mentioned, then I don’t know what does.

Overall, this was a great slice-of-life that touched my otaku funny bone.

: 18+. This deals a lot with the sexual side of okatudom, with sexual doujins pretty much all the guys buy, along with porn games, hentai, and one guy is discovered to have a collection of real-life porn. The girls also get in on the action with yaoi titles for themselves, and one of them makes a yaoi doujin based off of two members of Genshiken. None of this is ever shown on the page- or in the extremely rare times it is, it is heavily censored so you can’t tell what’s in the picture. Sex is mentioned often, never graphically, but there are discussions of how many times, whether someone’s done it, and whether there is role playing. There is nudity when the girls go to the hot springs. They are clearly naked, but the page is so censored it’s Barbie-doll nudity, and non-sexual except for a joke made to get laughs.

There is very little language, perhaps two or three mentions of the d-word. There are a two or so instances of comedic violence.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Genshiken 2 (manga)
Genshiken (anime)
Lucky Star (anime or manga)
Welcome to the NHK (anime or manga)
Otaku no Video (anime)
Bakuman (anime or manga)
Kuragehime (anime or manga)

“One-Eyed Man Is King” – Land of the Blindfolded (Manga) – 9/10 Pumpkin Pies

Every closed eye is not sleeping, and every open eye is not seeing. ~Bill Cosby

Mangaka: Sakura Tsukuba

Genre: Romance/Drama/Supernatural/School

Review Status: Complete (9 Volumes/9 Volumes)

Licensed: This was formerly licensed by CMX manga. They have gone under.

Art: It’s shoujo. Very typical shoujo art.

Summary: Kanade believes that most people go through life seeing with blindfolds on- they cannot see what will happen in the future or the past. Occasionally, her blindfold slips, allowing her to see somebody’s future. One day, she meets someone who’s blindfold came off long ago, who sees the past. Can their love work out, or do they see too much?

You would think that seeing the future or the past would be a good thing, right? You could see what the answers to a test were, or what had happened at great battles… but this manga shows that it comes with a downside. Kanade is scolded for getting in people’s ways (trying to keep them from getting run over), Arou is shunned for knowing things there’s no way he could have… She manages to keep a happy outlook on life while his has been one of sadness and misery. But when they meet, they connect over their abilities, and life gets better for both of them.

This manages to keep from being too outrageous. There’s no flying from buildings, no feats of astonishing foresight, these characters only see things that really could happen, from torn-up plants from a jealous friend, to a dog dying because it has been abandoned. Throw a third member in the mix that can see the future better than Kanade, and things get interesting!

I really like that they avoid the stereotypical love triangle. The main couple is the main couple, and while their relationship grows and matures, so does their friendships and other relationships. The revelation of their secrets brings about several awkward moments and misunderstandings, brilliantly told in how it’s not immediately accepted, and how it can go wrong when someone knows.

It does happen to go off the deep end at the end, with Arou’s power becoming so powerful that his life and existence is put at risk. Aside from that particular qualm, this is a sweet, lovely story about people who are a little different, but just want to help.

Overall, this is a great romance title, and definitely a good read.

Recommended: 12+. There is one scene where Arou sees back to Kanade undressing (by accident!) but you see nothing but her back. There is some innuendo, with words that sidestep around sex but never mention it, in one section of a later chapter. It will probably go over the heads of younger readers. Perhaps one use of the d-word. Arou’s mother falls off a cliff with another boy, but they are uninjured. The pasts and futures that they see are sometimes violent, even deadly, but these are only talked about.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Fruits Basket (manga)

Friday, November 4, 2011

“Frozen In Time” – Frozen Essence (VN) – 8/10 Black Cats

People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates. ~Thomas Szasz

Genre: Mystery/Romance/Fantasy/Action/Supernatural

Review Status: Complete

Licensed: It’s licensed and free for download at

Art/Animation: Not too shabby! The art is clean, vibrant, and nice to look at. There’s a large variety of character designs and nice backgrounds. It’s not as professional-looking as it could be, but there’s very little to complain about. This being a VN, there’s really no animation to speak of, but the transitions are very nice. My only issue was with the ‘slap’ effect- it was far too often and in some inappropriate places for the story. I was quite annoyed by it by the end.

Voice Acting: There are no voices in this, just the dialogue and background music.

Summary: You play a girl that has been trapped for 1000 years, but is suddenly released from her prison of ice. When she wakes, she has no memory of what happened or who she is. With three guardians and an oracle that make it their business to protect her, she tries to discover who she is and what happened so long ago…

Review: This is a full-on VN, with many endings and an interesting storyline. The thing is that when you have more than one path to follow, you not only need to make the beginning interesting (and it is), you need to make each and every potential path have something to draw you in. This VN has them. With 14 different endings, you need them! There are so many choices that affect what is going to happen to you. There are certain things you need to do to get certain paths, and the variety of choices and events that happen based on them and when you choose them is astonishing!

Each path involves you getting close to another character. Each path has unique things revealed about the story, and you will learn about the pasts of those around you as you get their paths. Getting the paths in the first place can be an… interesting experience. Some are far easier than others. Some require some smart thinking for your choices. Sometimes it’s impossible to tell which path your choice will lead to. But regardless of the path you choose, you will discover more about the circumstances surrounding your identity.

Each person you choose for your path is well-developed. Some are great guys. Some… not so much. You can’t tell who is and isn’t until you’ve pursued their paths. It fleshes them out in terrific ways, and they’re all quite different and unique to each other. Their paths are as varied as the characters. Some of the good ends are downright gloomy, while the bad ends can get dark. There are some good ends that I wasn’t entirely fond of, to be honest, because they seemed as dark as the bad ones in their own way. That’s okay, and the variety of paths means that I am okay with that. There’s always another one to check out.

Overall, despite some of the issues with transitions, and the occasional repetitiveness of gameplay at certain points, this is one of the best free VNs out there- definitely worth playing.

13+. There is some mentions of being grabbed inappropriately and some rude comments, there is also the risk of death/imprisonment/etc for you and for other characters.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle (manga)
Hanasakeru Seishounen (anime)
Ouran Host Club (anime and manga)
Fuushigi Yugi (anime and manga)
Ayashi no Ceres (anime and manga)

“A Hop In Your Step” – Happy Happy Clover (Manga) – 10/10 Pumpkin Pies

We grow neither better nor worse as we get old, but more like ourselves. ~May Lamberton Becker

Mangaka: Sayuri Tatsuyama

Genre: Comedy/Fantasy/Kids/Shoujo

Review Status: Complete (5 Volumes/5 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US

There are no complaints from this quarter. The characters are all unique and easily recognizeable, while the panels are easy to follow. There might be average detail on the backgrounds and artwork, but that makes this easy for kids to follow and read.

Summary: Clover the bunny and her fluffy friends are always making mischief in Crescent Forest! Clover makes a new best friend, uncovers the secret of a haunted spring, gets chased by a hungry farmer, and fights a big bad fox! Go, Clover, Go! (back of 1st volume)

Review: If the American show Arthur had a Japanese equivalent, it would be this. It chronicles the adventures (and misadventures) of Clover and her friends as they learn about responsibility, reflect on friendship, and grow up in Crescent Forest.
The problem most children’s … anything… have is that there’s a tendency to be saccharine. This manages to be sweet, but not overpoweringly so.

There are a lot of lighthearted, fun moments, but there is a temperance with more serious themes and stories. Usually there’s no real danger or harm for the animals of the forest, but Rambler, a recurring character, shares that he lost his entire forest and everyone in it. He shares with Clover some of the hardship he goes through as he travels, and deals with survivor’s guilt. Since this is a children’s manga, it isn’t touched on too deeply but is dealt with in a gentle and sensitive way.

This is mainly a story about Clover and her friends, though. Clover’s dream is to join Rambler in his travels, and her growth and change is the lynchpin of many of the stories or is related to others. She and her classmates deal with bad grades, getting lost, forest fires, rumors of curses (usually the misinterpretation of natural phenomena), and more. It’s fun to watch them grow from rambunctious, irresponsible kids to… slightly less rambunctious, but more responsible teens/adults.

They mature emotionally as well as physically, finding love with each other. Some of the additions seem a little last-minute, but I can’t complain too much because of how well it’s all put together.

Overall, this is a wonderful children’s manga that can be enjoyed by all ages.

Recommended: Any. If your child is old enough to read Peter Rabbit or Briar Rabbit, then they can deal with the idea that humans occasionally kill or eat rabbits that’s brought up once. There is also the implication that everyone in Rambler’s forest was killed. Rambler is treated as though he’s cursed by one town, but it’s not done cruelly- they get him food but tell him to move on. Once or twice Clover’s life is ‘endangered’ (but since it’s a children’s manga, there is no actual danger and she’s quite safe). Some Looney-Tunes and other mild cartoon acts of violence occur. The kid’s own actions occasionally get them sick or mildly injured, serving as lessons.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Erin (anime)
Happy Happy Clover (anime)

“The Art of Life” – Gallery Fake (anime) – 9/10 Pumpkin Pies

Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures. ~Henry Ward Beecher

Genre: Mystery/Seinen

Review Status: Complete (37 Episodes/37 Episodes)
Licensed: No, this anime is not licensed in the US

Quite good. The color palette made me think that it was a little older than it is, but the animation is excellent, and the art can be breathtaking at times, especially when special attention is paid to the paintings that are featured.

Dub Vs. Sub: There is no dub.

Summary: Reiji Fujita is the proprietor of Gallery Fake, a gallery that specializes in fakes and fraudulent art. However, he’s no ordinary dealer and scalawag- he genuinely loves art, and will do what he can to get his art to those who will enjoy it. As a former worker at the Met, he knows his stuff, and shows it off. With a girl that’s in love with him and a rival curator that would like to shut him down, life is always exciting for him!

Review: Art class is dreaded by many- and I’m not talking about the ones where you actually get to paint and draw. How exciting can a class covering the history and importance of certain works be? This is the anime world’s response to this- very exciting. This manages to weave human drama with the artwork, giving them importance that would otherwise be overlooked and ignored, and mixes it with a touch of adventure and drama. It helps that this has one of the catchiest, classiest openings I've heard in a while- an immediate hook for me!

At first, Reiji comes off as a smooth operator. He has little compunction in holding a gun and shooting if necessary, and knows a dozen tips and tricks in order to get what he wants. When he’s going for a piece of art, he is at his finest, knowing exactly what he’s looking for and able to tell the best from the rest. The rest of the time… maaaybe not so much! He’s thrown off-guard and kept on his toes by his young assistant Sara, who also happens to be in love with him.

The further into the anime you get, the more of their relationship is revealed, and the more you root for them to get together. The recurring characters that show up are also interesting in their own right. There’s the jewel thief with a passion for unusual art, and the curator that both respects Fujita’s knowledge and skill but is frustrated by his dabble in illegal activities. Her respect and fondness for him grows over time into a good friendship.

These characters get into all sorts of trouble and events. There’s action, from having to restore a painting during a plane hijacking, a kidnapping of the descendent of a famous subject of a portrait, a race to prevent an art theft, and even the discovery of a lost city in the Amazon. There’s the human drama, from a painting that reveals the love of a father for his estranged and grieving daughter, to the restoration painter that desperately needs to save an inheritance, and even touches on Fujita’s family’s past. There are even episodes that are just fun, like the one about a mechanical crab.

All the while, little bits of information about paintings and painters are sprinkled in. It gives it a feeling of authenticity, and never feels truly boring. I think my own appreciation of art was deepened because it’s given in such a way that it’s hard not to find merit in the paintings and painters they present.

Overall, except for some blatant and terrible emotional manipulation in one episode, this is a fabulous anime.

Recommended: 15+. There only one f-bomb dropped during an episode that features Vietnam and the Vietnam war (due to how this is depicted, it might be wise to watch this away from any relatives with sensitivities to the war) with barely any minor swears during the rest of it. There is some violence- one man gets shot in the arm, a girl is kidnapped, and in the war episode, there are people depicted being attacked and some bodies are shown. Discretion is used in these shots, so no one is actually seen killed, but there are shots of people that are close to photographs taken during that period. Someone gets stabbed in the back, and you see his back covered in blood.

There is one shot of a woman in a bathtub- I didn’t realize what was happening until later in the episode, but apparently she is masturbating, Everything is covered, though, and it’s not obvious. In another episode, the same woman has sex with a boarder, and this is depicted briefly though not pornographically or blatantly. It also seems that she has some sort of S&M relationship with her butler, who’s in love with her. There is one scene of fanservice where Fujita looks at a woman’s bikini-clad behind, and the camera does zoom in on it. Two scenes depict couples in bed together, completely covered by the sheets.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Bartender (anime and manga)
Master Keaton (anime)
Detective Conan (anime and manga)

“Being Schooled” – CLAMP School Detectives (manga) – 6/10 Pumpkin Pies

You send your child to the schoolmaster, but 'tis the schoolboys who educate him. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mangaka: CLAMP

Genre: Comedy/Mystery/Scool/Shoujo/Kids

Review Status: Complete (3 Volumes/3 Volumes)

Licensed: No. It was formerly licensed by Tokyopop but has not been re-released.

Art: This was done in the 90’s, and it shows in the hairstyles and clothing styles. Sometimes they’re downright ugly, and not even CLAMP’s wonderful art style can save it. It’s rarely that bad, though. For the most part, it just looks dated, but isn’t bad. The character designs for the main three guys are virtually identical.

Summary: Welcome to the CLAMP School, Japan’s most prestigious place of learning- home to prodigies, wunderkinds and young geniuses of every make and model. In a world where the average student is smarter than the teachers, how then can the top students challenge their intellects? Why, by creating a detective service, of course! Meet the CLAMP School Detectives: Nokoru Imonoyama, the world’s smartest kid, who can detect a woman in distress from two kilometers awat; Suoh Takamura, a martial arts master who’s cool as ice; Akira Ijyuin, detective by day, master theif by night. Wherever there’s a young lady in distress, they’ll be there. After all, when you’re as smart as they are, you don’t have to study. (Back cover of 1st volume)

Review: The best way to describe this is proto-Ouran. This takes three rich boys, puts them at the service of lovely young ladies, and has fun with it. They proceed to solve very shallow mysteries that highlight how frivolous both they and everyone in the school is. They find missing peacocks, discover the owner of a silk stocking, and the like. None of the mysteries end up being very interesting, or even really mysteries.

The characters aren’t really that interesting, either. They’re as one-dimensional as pancakes, with very few defining characteristics. Two of them I couldn’t tell apart except for one’s love of cooking! The virtually identical character designs don’t help. It almost seems pointless to have those traits in some situations, since at times they show that they have the same skills at the others. You never get any background on one of them, making him perhaps the least important or memorable of the three. This might have been better off as a story about one character rather than three, in order for him to make some impression on the reader.

However, uninteresting doesn’t mean bad. The situations and jokes can make you chuckle at times. They bring this from an average to a slightly above average manga, even if it utterly fails to be a memorable one.

Overall, this would be great for younger girls that aren’t ready for Ouran’s awesomeness and PG-13 rating, but if you’re older, you should just go straight to Ouran.

Recommended: Any. There’s no language, no nudity, no violence except for some things you’d find in Saturday morning cartoons…

Other titles you might enjoy:
Ouran Host Club (anime and manga)
Arisu (manga)
Detective Conan (anime and manga)
Detective Academy Q (anime and manga)
Sket Dance (anime and manga)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

“A Time Of Healing” – Haibane Renmei (anime) – 10/10 Black Cats

There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. ~Anaïs Nin

Genre: Slice-of-Life/Fantasy/Spiritual/Drama

Review Status: Complete (12 Episodes/12 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US. However, it is out of print.

Art/Animation: The art is absolutely lovely, with backgrounds that seem to be watercolor, with vibrant colors and easily recognizable characters. The animation is also very good- it can easily stand up to the shows made today in many ways.

Dub Vs. Sub: While overall I prefer the dub because I feel that Rakka’s voice it too high-pitched and breathy in the dub, the dub is very good overall.

Summary: In a long-forgotten walled town, humans coexist with the Haibane, angelic-like beings of unknown origin. Rakka becomes the newest Haibane, after she awakens from a strange dream and finds herself hatching from a massive cocoon. With no memories of her previous life, Rakka struggles to adjust to her new surroundings, however burning questions remain in the back of her mind. What is Haibane and what is their purpose? What lies beyond the huge, forbidden town walls? Thus, Rakka begins her wistful journey of self-discovery and wonderment. (back of dvd cover of 1st volume)

Haibane is a stand-out series in every way. This takes an imaginary town and fills it with enough wonders and mystery to have spawned a thousand different theories on what the place is and what is happening both inside and outside the walls.

This starts out as a show that is about Rakka learning about the ways of the Haibane. She is introduced into the strange rituals that mark their lives, and how they interact and live with the humans in town. As she lives each day Rakka grows closer to the rest of the Haibane, each making their way into her heart. However, an event that emotionally destroys Rakka brings to light the purpose of this place and the reason the Haibane are there.

It’s clear that wherever this place is, it’s someplace that certain people go to where they die- those that are born as Haibane, that is, while humans provide them with friendship and things the Haibane need to survive. Those born as Haibane have something to atone for or overcome from their other life, and by being born here and living their lives, they have a chance to overcome it… or be drowned in their emotions and past.

Rakka’s emotional distress links to her cocoon dream, and both she and a friend are brought to the brink of destruction in turn. There are dark themes and things that run through both stories, and Rakka must find a way to bring herself out of darkness- and then save her friend.

Overall, this was a beautiful story of friendship and overcoming grief, with many themes that flow through it.

Recommended: 10+. There is no language, no nudity, and no violence, but a type of self-mutilation does occur, and it’s clear that at least one Haibane committed suicide. When Rakka’s wings sprout, blood does spurt, but it’s not a lot and the growth isn’t graphic.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Kino’s Journey (anime)
NieA Under Seven (anime)
Colorful (anime – movie, not the terrible series)
Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou (manga)
Angel’s Egg (anime)
Mushishi (anime and manga)

“Dream A Little Dream Of Me” – After School Nightmare (manga) – 9/10 Black Cats

People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates. ~Thomas Szasz

Mangaka: Setona Mizushiro

Genre: Romance/Mystery/Drama/School/Supernatural/Psychological/Gender Bender/Fantasy

Review Status: Complete (10 Volumes/10 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US.

Art: Lovely. The art is reminiscent of CLAMP’s style, with elongated limbs and some gorgeous bishies. The panels are clean and easy to read (the flow is great, too). Some of the choices in

Summary: You have just awakened to find your darkest secret revealed to a group of people who would do anything to destroy you: your classmates! That’s what happens to Ichijo Mashiro, whose elite school education turns into the most horrifying experience of his life when he’s enlisted to participate in an after-hours class. The only way for Mashiro to graduate is to enter into a nightmare world where his body and soul will be at the mercy of his worst enemies. Can Mashiro keep the life-long secret that he is not truly a “he” nor entirely a “she” – or will he finally be “outted” in the most humiliating way possible?

Review: First impressions are everything in the world, and Ichijo does the best to keep his the way he wants it- as a guy. This is harder than it seems when his top half is definitely masculine, but his bottom half is most definitely not! However, when he’s entered into a class where nightmares become reality and he must face the inner selves of himself and his classmates. The thing is, his inner fear/self happens to be himself… but with a girl’s uniform on, making him instantly recognizable to those who cross his path.

His classmates take an immediate interest- a girl that’s been broken by her abusive father and a rapist, a playboy that thinks Ichijo is the prettiest thing that he’s laid his eyes on but has inextricable ties to his sister, others that would use him as they saw fit. They all have their own demons to fight. Others come and go as they ‘graduate’, disappearing from the hearts and minds of their classmates. Some are unable to overcome their issues and merely disappear.

Watching Ichijo desperately try to figure out the feelings he has about his own identity and the romantic struggles and drama that occur while it happens is interesting, if slightly obvious by the third or fourth volume. I think most people will be able to guess what’s going to happen, and while that disappointed me because of how one of the wheels gets shunted aside, the fact that they’re able to overcome that and still be good friends who care for each other is something unique and wonderful in this genre. It also plays into them finding themselves and their inner strength.

The meaning behind needing to discover themselves and their strengths, as well as what’s happening in the school, managed to be a wonderful surprise twist. The inner struggle Ichijo goes through takes on a far greater significance, with the two sides to him perhaps not being as philosophical as suspected, and the need to graduate being more than just graduation. It all snowballs into one of the best romance/mysteries that I’ve come across in quite a while.

Overall, this was a very interesting look at the psyche and had a great twist I hadn’t expected!

Recommended: 18+. There is incest (blatantly stated but the act is merely implied). Sex is mentioned (and occurs. Genitalia is not shown and the few sections it was in were *brief* and I didn't think it was happening until I read comments that happened later. Kissing and the leadup to sex does occur. There is violence- people get slashed with swords, torn apart, dug into- but there is no gore and it's not graphic, though blood is shown. There are also a handful of minor swears.

Other titles you might enjoy:

I.S. Intersexuality (manga)
Wandering Son (anime and manga)
Revolutionary Girl Utena (anime)
Hour of the Mice (manga)
Arisa (manga)