Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"Where The Heart Is” – Hanasaku Iroha (anime) – 7/10 Notebooks

The light is what guides you home, the warmth is what keeps you there. ~Ellie Rodriguez

Genre: Slice-of-life/Comedy/Drama/Romance/Seinen

Review Status: Complete (26 Episodes/26 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed for streaming on Crunchyroll.

PA works does a fabulous job. The colors are bright and light with more pastel-oriented colors. The animation is smooth and fluid and looks superb, especially during the opening song, which looks fabulous!

Dub Vs. Sub: There is no dub for this anime. The subs are a little inconsistent on spellings for names.

Summary: Hanasaku Iroha centers around 16-year-old Ohana Matsumae who moves from Tokyo to out in the country to live with her grandmother at an onsen ryokan named Kissuisō. While restarting her life there initially seems daunting, Ohana begins working at the inn, makes friends with the other employees and watches her life take an unexpected twist. (Crunchyroll official description)

Review: Ohana is in a tough spot. Her mom has decided to run off with a man, leaving her with no place to live and nothing to fall back on. While her mom’s thoughtlessness is nothing new, this time it’s above and beyond what she’s had to deal with. She sets out to a distant town, to a grandmother that she never knew about, to stay in the onsen. Little does she know that family ties have been severed, and she’s going to have to earn her keep and fest it up herself!

You get a good feel for the characters right off the bat, which is excellent- this is a show that depends on its characters to move the story forward. Ohana is a bit stubborn but kind, and genuinely wants to do a good job. Her friends seem typical stereotypes, with one a bit of a wilting flower (yay! Breaks out of the mold and has genuine love and talents for stuff!) and the other a tsundere. The rest of the cast are just as lively and interesting, though they exist mostly in the background. Over them looms thesadow of Madame Manager, Ohana’s grandmother, who started Kissuiso with her late husband.

Things start steamrolling from there. Ohana learns what it’s like to really work, making mistakes but discovering that there can be fun to be found helping people enjoy themselves. She makes friends with the granddaughter of a fellow onsen manager. Bits and pieces of family history fall into place about why she’s there and what the tension between Madame Manager and her son Enishin are. A confession of love from her friend Ko weighs on Ohana’s mind, as she tries to figure out whether she likes him back and whether a relationship can happen between them.

Up to episode 12, this had everything going for it. There was a solid cast, some beautiful episodes with learning to do duties, making friends, finding joy in work, and a suspenseful romance brewing in the background. About this episode, it hits a mid-series drag. Plotlines are conveniently forgotten about for some pointless filler, and the episodes just aren’t very interesting. Minchi goes from being slightly frustrating to downright obnoxious and annoying a number of times, and other characters that could have used the development don’t get it.

Thankfully, about episode 21, things pick up again. A romance that had been hinted at between Enishin and the woman he hired to improve Kisuissho’s image comes into full bloom, and the plotlines are picked back up to be resolved. Tension that’s been building between Minchi and Ohana, over a perceived crush that Tohru has on Ohana, comes to a boil. Ohana makes a decision concerning Ko. And Madame Manager comes to a decision concerning the future of the onsen that changes things for everyone.

Unfortunately, the epilogue could have been really good, but falls just on this side of average because of moments that were added simply to make the series more melodramatic. Everyone comes to decide that Ohana is taking Madame Manager’s side when she never clearly did any such thing. After a halfhearted speech by Enishin, everyone suddenly becomes just hunky-dory with letting the Ryokan go. One of the big plotlines, Ohana’s relationship with Ko, ends up being very badly handled all around.

I am pleased with the majority of the anime. It has wonderful moments, between the girls, between the staff, between family members, between the staff and the onsen itself. The characters are overall very likeable and fun to watch, and the things they have to deal with hit close to home (though some might be slightly exaggerated for anime’s sake). I would definitely watch it again sometime.

Overall, this is far from the worst title out there, and definitely has some wonderful moments in it!

Recommended: 16+. There’s no language that I can remember at all, no violence except for a brief tussle that Ohana and Minchi have (no punches are thrown, just a little wrestling- standing up). There is some slight "fanservice" in how the woman who tried to increase the onsens' popularity makes the girls wear somewhat skimpy dresses in one episode, while in another the girls go shopping for some clothes and one of the girls is a little... bustier than they thought (as someone who has dealt with that in real life, I actually sympathized and found the situation hilarious).

What drives the rating up is that one of the residents, a writer, writes…. Sketchy material. Unfortunately, this ends up with a lesbian scene between the three girls (purely imagined) that doesn’t go beyond innuendo and a scene in the baths where nothing shows but the shoulders, and Ohana helping him figure out how to tie some S&M knots (fully clothed, since she’s the one who gets tied up!). There are also a few scenes in the baths. The water covers everything, and the rest of the time the shots hide everything else- except in one scene where you see a little butt.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Ano Hana (anime)
Emma: A Victorian Romance (anime and manga)
Kobato (anime and manga)
Only Yesterday (anime)
Spirited Away (anime)
Ikoku Meiro no Croisée (anime)

“It’s All In The Numbers” – No. 6 (anime) – 6/10 Notebooks

Perhaps the greatest utopia would be if we could all realize that no utopia is possible; no place to run, no place to hide, just take care of business here and now. ~Jack Carroll

Genre: Sci-fi/Shounen-ai/Action/Josei

Review Status: Complete (11 Episodes/11 Epsiodes)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed for streaming on Crunchyroll.com

Art/Animation: Overall average. The colors are nice and bright, the character designs decently memorable. The animation suffers a bit in the slice-of-life segments where nothing much happens. The action scenes, especially at the end of the series, have wonderfully fluid fights that are a great watch.

Dub Vs. Sub: There is no dub for this title.

Summary: Sion is a bright teenager living a comfortable and promising life inside No. 6, one of this six remaining city-states created by The Babylon Treaty after the last great war devastated the world. On the rainy evening of his twelfth birthday, he meets a savvy adolescent who calls himself "Nezumi" (Rat) and is desperately trying to runaway from the authorities. For helping a fugitive of the state, Sion is stripped of all his privileges. Four years later, they meet once again. For better or for worse, Sion is about to unravel the secrets guarded deep inside No. 6. (ANN decription)

Review: No. 6- a utopia for those who love their city and never question it. A place of exile and terror for those who dare speak a word against it. Created to be a haven after the wars destroyed most of the world, those in power grew too hungry for power, and try to harness the power of a forest to try and revive the world.

This anime has some good ideas, but suffers for its length and attempt to balance character development with plot development. There is great build-up for the first 4 or 5 episodes, with the meeting of Nezumi and Sion, the clues that not everything is as it seems in the city, the way Sion sees life for those around him outside the place and his determination to save the people in the city. Unfortunately, the relationship with Sion and Nezumi gets rushed because they have to move the plot along, and the plot suffers because they spent time on the relationship.

Nezumi, you come to understand, has a deep-seated grudge against the people of No. 6. His family killed off and captured to be experimented on, he wants nothing more than to see the city destroyed. Sion has lived a charmed life within the city… until he helps a boy who has escaped from it. His perceived betrayal of the city casts him into the lowest of jobs and responsibilities, and his questioning of the city when people start dying in suspicious ways. In the peripheral is Safu, a childhood friend of Sion’s, who has a deep crush on him and becomes a key player late in the series. Things that connect her and Sion clue them in that things are very wrong in the city. The first half is where you really get into their characters and their motivations, and they become genuinely likeable people.

The great build up in the beginning all goes to waste in the second half. Unanswered questions and plot holes about. It’s easy to tell that they had expected a second season, and ended up struggling to give a good ending to the season. That still leaves the questions of who or what Elyusia is (and a giant bee? Really?). How was it determined that nothing of Safu remained? After all, there seemed to be enough of her consciousness at the end. Why would anyone program all the computers to destroy themselves if the main computer was gone (by far the dumbest programming mistake ever)?

The finale delivered in terms of action, explosions, emotional punches, and destruction, which is why I'm still rating this over a 5. There are few things I’ve found more horrifying than what was inside the walls of the correction center. The action and fights were beautiful and fluid, and the emotional scenes during it didn’t feel out of place or forced. Unfortunately, it was marred by one of the most overdramatic, obvious, and downright stupid revival scenes I’ve ever seen. Even so, the ending brought back some of the goodwill that it lost during the second half.

Overall, the flaws in execution really bring my opinion down, but the good parts still manage to outweigh the bad- just barely.

Recommended: 16+. There is very little language, perhaps one or two swears but none stronger than the d-word or h-word. There are two kisses between Nezumi and Sion, neither of which last very long. Besides those scenes there really isn’t any sign that they’re more than friends, sometimes even behaving more like brothers. Safu, being a very direct character, admits that she likes Sion and asks him to have sex with her. It is very blunt, but not out of character, and never brought up again.

This does have some scenes that are horrifying- the town of No. 6 outcasts is razed by the military, and lots of people are killed. You do see bodies and blood spatter, though no gore per say. Later, they are dumped in a pit to die, that’s filled with the bodies of outcasts that were thrown there to be forgotten and die. Nezumi and Sion must climb to the top of the pile to escape. No gore, though the thought can be enough to turn some stomachs.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Ergo Proxy (anime)
King of Thorn (manga)
Wolf’s Rain (anime)
Tegami Bachi (manga)

Friday, September 23, 2011

“I, Android” – Karakuri Odette (manga) – 10/10 Notebooks

I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and the general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted. ~Alan Turing, 1937

Genre: Sci-fi/School/Drama/Romance

Review Status: Complete (6 Volumes/6 Volumes)

Licensed: Not currently. It was formerly licensed by Tokyopop.

Art: For a shoujo, the art is surprisingly plain. Backgrounds of any sort are minimal. The characters can look awkward and gangly at times.

Summary: Odette is an android created by the young talented scientist Dr. Yoshizawa. Wanting to find the ultimate difference between humans and his android, Odette decides to persuade Dr. Yoshizawa to enroll her in a local high school. Follow Odette's adventures as she ventures through high school, in search of the true meaning of being a human. (amazon.com)

Review: The idea of an android wanting to be recognized or wanting to be like humans is a common one in science fiction. Manga isn’t very different. This shoujo takes advantage of the idea to approach the subject from the emotional standpoint of the android.

After watching a tv show, she gets the idea that it would be interesting to go to her high school and study humans. She makes friends by obeying her first directive- never to hurt a human. Odette is unusual in that she picks up most social cues very easily, figuring out what friends are and being accepting of everyone. This lands her in interesting situations, such as being a best friend (and potential love interest) of the school delinquent, and befriending other androids that weren’t made with the best of intentions.

Some of the interesting things are comparing how Odette grows and changes through the series in comparison to her companion android Chris. He ends up disappearing for a volume or two, and they are in such contrast with each other that it’s hard to believe that she was like he was a short while ago, or how ingrained she has become with her human friends. Of course, her uniqueness isn’t unnoticed by others.

A protective human guy friend (and potential love interest- but those who are going in for just that might be a tad disappointed by the ambiguous ending), an android that wants to marry her and have their parts mended, a jealous love triangle, and a scientist that only wants and values the best all end up complicating her life. Even so, friendship and family win the day. I think this ended exactly where it should have- a good note.

Overall, this was a sweet story about an android slowly becoming human.

: 10+. There was one swear in the volumes I read, the d-word. Some of the robots are assassination robots, and in two chapters you see people disappear in a flash of light. Unless the idea of seeing robot parts scattered over the floor at other parts disturbs you, then this is a very safe read.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:
Time of Eve (OVA and Movie)
Chobits (manga)
Absolute Boyfriend (manga)
Lovers Doll (manga)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

“Turning Time On Its Head” – Steins;Gate (anime) – 10/10 Notebooks

Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will. ~Jawaharlal Nehru

Genre: Sci-fi/Romance/Thriller

Review Status: Complete (24 Episodes/24 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed and available for viewing on Crunchyroll

: Very nice. The colors are vibrant, taking on appropriately darker tones in the appropriate places, though the art and character designs fairly standard. The animation is quite nice and fluid.

Dub Vs. Sub: There is no dub. However, since it has also been picked up for distribution by Funimation, one can be expected when it’s finally released.

Summary: Steins; Gate follows an eclectic group of individuals who have the ability to send text messages to the past. However throughout their experimentation process, an organization named SERN who has been doing their own research on time travel tracks them down. Now it’s a careful game of cat and mouse to not get caught and moreover, try to survive. (CrunchyRoll)

Review: This makes up for Chaos;Head in every way. C;H, infamous for being a terrible adaptation of a rather good VN, ended up being the benchmark for whether there could actually be a decent adaptation of a Nitro+ VN. S;G surpassed it in every expectation. Thankfully, you do not need to see or play Chaos;Head to enjoy everything about Steins;Gate.

Okabe Rintarou, Mad Scientist Extraordinaire, is attempting another one of his mad experiments- a microwave phone. Something just keeps going wrong, though. Things that they put into it turn into jelly-like approximations, chemically destabilized almost beyond recognition. He deems it a failure and goes on the trail of another crazy science experiment and conspiracy theory; Time travel. A shocking discovery, and an emergency cell phone call later, and Okabe feels the world change around him. Something is different, and he realizes that the girl that he had discovered dead is now alive. How? Why?

Recruiting her into his ragtag group of friends and their secret ‘lab’, Okabe discovers that time travel may not be as impossible as previously thought. It doesn’t quite work the way they thought it would though. By sending a message to people in the past, the present is changed. Only Okabe seems to remember the past, though, and each time the present is changed, he gets drawn deeper into the conspiracy that the organization STERN has planted around them. The eventual discovery of a horrific fate leads Okabe to try and return things to the way they were.

The one thing that you might want to look up on Wiki is “John Titor”. His explosion onto an internet board, with his claims of time travel and explanations of it, are somewhat important though not necessary to enjoy this anime. You do get the basics of it in the show. It provides the basis for how he is jumping timelines and changing fate.

This builds the story excellently. From who and what the STERN organization is, how and why people send the messages they do, to trying to escape the fate, to the knowledge of what the change will mean for Okabe and the girl he comes to love, there is really no wasted episode. It has some pretty good comedy and pretty heavy drama. The way it’s done, it doesn’t feel forced, and you come to like and care for the members of the group. The ending was very touching- and as much as I would love a follow-up episode, I think that this couldn’t be improved on.

Overall, for a solid sci-fi series that does what it does well, this is exactly what you’re looking for.

: 13+. There are a handful of swears, virtually all in the first half of the series. The worst it gets is one instance of the b-word. No fanservice except for one instance where Okabe accidentally walks in on Christina and Makise in the shows- you only see their backs. A guy who wishes he was born a girl sends a d-mail to his mom, and she’s born a girl in that timeline (the one instance where I was made truly angry by the science here. There is no way that eating vegetables or meat determines the sex of your child). There is a decent amount of violence, but the use of discretion shots is prevalent. You never actually see the wound being given- you see the aftermath, such as blood trickling down a face, or shadows and some blood, or a limp arm and a broken watch. The worse it gets is seeing the body fall after the wound, or in Okabe’s case, the knife in his gut and blood falling to the floor.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Real Drive (anime)
Steins;Gate movie (anime) (not yet released)
Higurashi: When They Cry (manga, anime season 1 and season 2, and VN)
Occult Academy (anime)
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (anime)
Future Diary (manga)
Time of Eve (anime)
Puella Magi Madoka Magica (anime)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

“Sweet Little Things” – Bunny Drop (anime) – 10/10 Notebooks

'Ohana' means family - no one gets left behind, and no one is ever forgotten. ~Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, Lilo & Stitch

Genre: Slice-of-life/Josei/Drama

Review Status: Complete (11 Episodes/11 Episodes)

Yes, this anime is licensed in the US, available for legal viewing on Crunchyroll

The art style stays true to the manga, with minimal detail and sketch-like art. That doesn’t detract from it at all! With vibrant colors and some beautifully fluid animation, this looks fantastic. The opening minute before the intro song is made to look like it’s done in watercolor, which adds a dream-like quality to it and really is pretty. Unfortunately, it goes back to standard coloring for the rest of the anime, but that’s not a bad thing.

Dub Vs. Sub:
There is no dub.

While attending his grandfather's funeral, thirty-year-old bachelor Daikichi is surprised to discover that his grandfather had an illegitimate child with an unknown mother! The rest of his family, fearing the obligation and embarrassment, want nothing to do with the silent little girl, Rin. Sensing her imminent abandonment and outraged by his complacent family members, Daikichi decides to adopt her himself! ...yet he may have underestimated the difficulty of balancing his work, family, and love life with his role as her guardian.

Review: It’s hard not to compare this to the manga when I’ve read it and loved it. I was very scared when the anime was announced since I had no clue whether they’d be able to properly adapt it, or which parts were going to be adapted. This is the entire pre-timeskip half of the manga, covering volumes 1-3. It didn’t fail to deliver on any level!

The thing about anime is that it’s a completely different media than manga, and allowances have to be made for that. They did adapt everything, but expanded the stories in ways that enriched them. When Daikichi first meets Rin, the whole family is there, and certain rituals must be observed. The things that went on are expanded upon, really bringing you into the family dynamics and getting to know them.

This builds up the details of how Rin and Daikichi get along so well, showing the little things that go on in their everyday lives, the care that they have for another. What’s also nice is that two characters that I wish I saw more of in the manga- Kouki and his mom- get brought in a lot more often, and have a closer relationship than depicted in the manga. Some of the sweetest scenes were when all four were together, enjoying each other’s company like a family.

Not everything is sunshine and rainbows, though. Rin’s mom is alternately sympathetic and obnoxious. Rin and Daikichi do have some hard times explaining their relationship. They see how hard some things are for those around them and how love and family affects that. All these issues are handled well, in very sensitive ways.

To speak on how amazing this anime is, I know a few people who are dead-set about not having kids. This anime is *almost* enough to make them rethink that.

Overall, it’s a sweet story about two people becoming a family, and I hope that they pick up a second season.

Recommended: 10+. There are three swears, two d-word and one a-word. A trickle of blood from both Kouki and Rin’s mouths when they lose their teeth. However, this is very family-friendly, even though somehow I don’t think that kids younger than 10 would appreciate the subject matter.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Bunny Drop (manga)
Yotsuba&! (manga)
Love So Life (manga)

Friday, September 16, 2011

“The Circle of Life” – Jisatsu Circle (manga) – 9/10 Notebooks

Genre: Horror

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: No, this manga is not licensed in the US.

Art: This is more on the realistic side of art, with characters that run anywhere from cute to ugly. This doesn’t hesitate to show more realistic and graphic pictures of violence and injury.

Summary: 54 girls commit suicide by jumping in front of a moving train. However, one girl survives (Saya Kota) and opens another Suicide Club, with other victims. Her best friend, Kyoko, fears for Saya's future and begins to search for the strange secrets surrounding the Suicide Club to try and save Saya and the other girls from committing such a tragedy again. (MAL.net)

Review: From the same mangaka as Music of Marie, this manga was originally supposed to be an adaptation of the live-action movie by the same name, this ended up with a completely original ending on the insistence of the director. Suffice it to say, it worked out well.

For something that seems to take on a very different subject, this has remarkable similarities to his other work. Every chapter builds onto the main storyline. Nothing is wasted or insignificant. It delves into the psyche of the characters and leaves one wondering where the psychological leaves off and the supernatural begins.
54 students. One survivor. Saya’s best friend Kyoko wonders what happened to her.

Saya has been morose for months, accused by classmates of having seduced their boyfriends, dealing with abuse from her father, and was abandoned by Kyoko in her time of need. She found solace in a girl, a leader of a group of wounded souls that dedicate their lives to their leader, and escape their pain. The need for a savior draws these people in, hoping for relief for their pain. But each time someone survives the attempts at death, and those that oppose the survivor end up in dire straits. Kyoko is drawn into what’s happening and why, unsure of what’s really taking over her friend- and is there any escape for her?

Overall, this is a surreal manga that explores what happens when people are in pain, and leaves the question of what drives them to the reader.

Recommended: 18+. This is heavy subject material- there are a few gory shots of bodies and the aftermath of death. Saya is abused by her father and forced to take naked pictures and prostitute herself. The nudity is shown in a fair amount of detail, though the sex isn’t. Two instances of shown genitalia are blurred or erased.

Other titles you might enjoy:
The Music of Marie (manga)
Ghost Hound (anime)
Monster (manga and anime)

Friday, September 9, 2011

An Offer I Couldn't Refuse

To regular readers of my blog- big news! I've become the newest member of the blogging team over at Organization Anti Social Genuises. My job? To write manga reviews every Friday. Am I abandoning this blog? No way! I still want to have more variety, and this provides it. It just means more regular updates on here, since I will be reposting the ones I do on there up here, just with minor changes to the format.

So since I still have a bunch of reviews I want to do across the board (anime, manga, manhua, manhwa, visual novels), then I'll be staying on this one for a long, long time.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

“The Music In Our Hearts” – The Music of Marie (manga) – 9/10 Apples

Genre: Fantasy/Drama/Romance/Seinen

Review Status: Full (2 Volumes/ 2 Volumes)

Licensed: This manga is unlicensed.

Art: It’s reminiscent of Miyazaki’s work in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind- somewhat sketch-like, with dramatic shading and exquisite detail. However, the character designs in Music of Marie are more on the realistic side.

Summary: In just two volumes, the author manages to create an incredibly rich and fascinating world that is full of wonders and enchanting beauties—a world in which men are watched over by the mechanical goddess Marie who at times appears on the sky. Marie’s music brings people happiness and harmony. Their life is free from advanced technology and the longing for progress. The main story centers around Kai, a young man who develops a deep affection for Marie. His quest for enlightenment leads him inside Marie’s mechanical body where he learns the unbelievable truth about her and his own world. (MAL.net)

Review: A world is split into many countries, each with their own specialties. Kai and Pipi live n the mechanized country of Pirit, which specializes in mechanics and mineral resources. Over all the islands floats the figure of Marie, a seemingly mechanical goddess that watches over and keeps the peace, and beneath her a forest that wanders mysteriously about. What’s nice is that as short as this manga is, the little details told about the world show how fully realized it is. None of the details that are told are entirely unrelated to the plot- marriage rituals relate to Pipi’s eventual 18th birthday courtship, to the tales of the history that are shared with the reader. The mangaka goes for the unusual and sometimes absurd, which fits in perfectly with the world that’s been built. It’s an absolute joy to see the care that has been put into this manga.

Music of Marie perhaps isn’t for the casual reader. It’s full of religious undertones that are reminiscent of Christianity, changed to fit a strange world, partly because this takes in a post-apocalyptic Earth that was remade by God. The minor quotes and stories that are taken from the religious books of this world punctuate and help the flow of the story. Kai was always a special boy, and Pipi turns out to be a special girl herself, that seem to have a spiritual connection to these beings and legends that are told. A mysterious priest occasionally appears, able to connect with Kai and understanding what’s going on with him and Marie.

It does cross paths with more adult material, though. Part of this story is a romance, which mixes easily with the other things that are happening within the story. Kai’s relationship with Marie may be distant, but there’s definitely a physical component to his feelings for the doll in the sky. Pipi, of course, is heartbroken since her feelings for Kai have been true since she first met him. She becomes almost obsessive of his love, wanting him as much as he wants Marie in turn.

Unless you’re paying attention, this manga is going to throw you for a loop. This works on playing with first-person narrative- the narrator isn’t really the protagonist. If you pay attention at key points, then it becomes clear that things aren’t as they appear with Kai and Pipi. While Kai may be playing an important part, it isn’t all about him. In fact, it isn’t sure that Kai really exists at all. Who-or more accurately, what- Kai is, is left to be determined by the reader. A figment of Pipi’s imagination? That doesn’t explain why the lights go on by themselves. A being on another plane of existence? Possibly, since Kai really did exist, and does appear to have strange powers. A ghost? Perhaps, depending on the reader’s opinion of ghosts and what they are and what they can do.

Whether there was really a grand scheme for everything, if it all is the ravings of a crazed mind, while it can leave a bittersweet taste in the mouth it doesn’t seem to matter, since the sacrifice that seems to happen left the world in peace. What I wish had been addressed more closely was whether that peace was worth the sacrifice given to it- the story takes is in stride that Marie’s existence is natural and expected. The world can’t really function if she doesn’t. The conclusion that’s drawn at the end is that God is necessary, that limits on how far humans can and should go have to be in place or we will destroy ourselves. It’s presented in a very blunt but effective way, considering the overall length of the manga.

This does perhaps require being read once or twice. Statements that are made in the beginning when important events happen take on a new light and make more sense when seen in context of the whole story. And the ideas and questions that fill it take on a new light and can be picked up more easily on the second reading.

Overall, this is a great manga. The story is well-told, even if it’s blunt occasionally, and even if it does take on a message that not everyone will be able to agree with. The plot about a girl who can’t let go of her first love even if she can’t be with him makes up for a lot. However, that same bluntness and conclusion are what leave me unable to give it a 10/10.

Recommended: 18+. I’m only going this high because there is a scene where Kai is discovered masturbating. While his genitalia have been left invisible, what’s happening is unmistakable. When Kai finally “meets” Marie, instead of looking like a Barbie, you do see that she’s a shirtless woman-detail included. If that scene had been left out, I would label this at about 15+ because there is really no language and nothing particularly offensive.

Other titles you might like:
Ano Hana (anime)
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (anime and manga)
Omoide Emanon (manga)
5 Centimeters Per Second (anime)
No. 6 (anime)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

“Gone But Not Forgotten” – 12 Days (manga) – 7/10 Apples

Genre: Drama/Yuri

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: This was formerly licensed by Tokyopop, but has not been relicensed since they closed.

Art: Very sketch-like, more like a picture than a manga. The chibis feel out of place with the content of the manga, since the overall tone is very serious. Backgrounds are minimal, mostly blank or negative spaces. However, when they are drawn in, they have great detail in them and look very realistic.

Summary: When Jackie’s ex-lover Noah dies, she decides the best and quickest way to get over the love of her life is to hold a personal ritual with Noah’s askes. Jackie consumes the ashes in the form of smoothies for 12 days- hoping the pain will subside with her profound reaction to Noah’s death. (From the back cover)

Review: Grief is a very personal thing. Everyone deals with the loss of a loved one very differently, from crying, to locking themselves in a room, to more unusual rituals and rites that they feel help them move on and honor their loved ones. Jackie, heartbroken from the loss of the woman she loved, decides to consume her ashes and becomes a living urn for her lover, as in the tale of Queen Artemisia.

In somewhat abrupt and occasionally unclear jumps from the past to the present, the relationship between Jackie and Noah is revealed as the 12 days go by until the New Year. Each day Jackie drinks some more of the ashes. Nick, Noah’s brother, comes by and supports her as she performs her ritual- something that seems to comfort both of them in their time of loss.

Each day some more memories come flooding back- such as how when Noah’s church discovers that she’s a lesbian and she’s turned into an outcast. The disapproval of her family. The revelation of how their relationship might not have been the best- but they loved each other deeply regardless. Even so, Noah decided to leave Jackie for a man due to familial and social pressures… and ended up dead, which Jackie never wanted even if her heart had been broken.

In eating Noah’s remains and reliving their memories, Jackie finds that she can move on, feeling that Noah is in her both literally and physically. She becomes Noah’s memorial.

Overall, this was a touching look at two women who loved each other, and how one came to terms with her grief.

Recommended: 18+. There is rare language, including one rude slur for a lesbian. There’s the implication that Noah got pregnant before she was married. Jackie asks Nick to get her pregnant – but is refused. Jackie and Noah both mention having slept with a third woman before they were together. There is a brief (but tasteful- nothing naughty is shown) sex scene around the 2/3 mark between Noah and Jackie.

Other titles you might enjoy:
http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifAno Hana (anime)
Wandering Son (anime and manga)
Heart of Thomas (manga)
A Cruel God Reigns (manga)

Friday, September 2, 2011

“The Good Life” – NG Life (manga) – 10/10 Apples

The past is our definition. We may strive, with good reason, to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it, but we will escape it only by adding something better to it. ~Wendell Berry

Genre: Comedy/Romance/Spiritual/Drama/School/Gender-bender

Review Status: Complete (9 Volumes/9 Volumes)

Licensed: Formerly licensed by Tokyopop- has yet to be relicensed

Art: Clean, distinctive, nicely detailed. Expressions are clear, as are actions, and the panel flow is very nice and easily followed.

Summary: Kedai Saeki is a high school student who remembers his past life in Pompeii, living as the Italian warrior Sirix… His friends around him are all also reincarnated- although they don’t quite remember things the way he does. Kedai’s wife from the past? She’s now a middle school boy- while his best male friend is now a cute girl?! Throw in a case of love at first sight, and you have a new look at romance- manga-style!

Review: The past affects us in more ways than we can ever realize. Sometimes we remember what it was that has changed us, sometimes we don’t. NG Life explores that theme in one of the most literal ways- by Kedai remembering his past life, while almost no one around him does. He clings to the memories where he had a wife who loved him, a friend that was the best, most loyal guy around, and where he abandoned those he loved the most to die as he did his duty to someone he deeply honored.

This is one of the funniest manga I’ve read in a while. There can’t be anything more awkward and uncomfortable than dealing with two genderswitched people that you adore! Sirix loved Serena back when she was a woman… but Kedai isn’t gay in the modern world! His mother used to be his younger sister, and his father was his most hated rival, which bugs him to no end. And though it’s rare, he isn’t the only one who retains his memories of the past.

NG Life isn’t only sunshine and awkward moments, though. Many of his friends don’t remember the past- and when another suddenly forgets her past memories, Kedai is desperate to know why. He carries deep guilt from the destruction of Pompeii. He had abandoned his wife for reasons that are slowly revealed through the story, and the circumstances are as tragic as they are unchangeable. The past weaves in and out of the present seamlessly, tying the people and incidents together in an incredible way.

This is a story about coming to terms with the past. Kedai must forgive himself for what happened, realize that he is no longer Sirix, and find peace with the life that he has. The way that this is told and brought about is slow, steady, unstoppable, and beautifully done. It’s one thing for others to forgive you- it’s another to forgive yourself. Nothing feels out of place, no strings left hanging. And that makes this a manga worth reading.

Overall, this is one of the most touching (and funny) manga I’ve ever read- check it out ASAP!

Recommended: 12+. I don’t remember any swearing. There’s no nudity, though when recalling the past-life of one of his friends one person only recalls big boobs (these are focused on perhaps twice, and no nudity in them). One guy is a bit of a playboy but is only shown flirting. There’s occasional cross-dressing (mostly to psych out Kedai).There is violence, which ranges from comedic exaggeration (a woman standing over Sirix with a whip) to the serious (his friend getting stabbed). Only the comedic is shown on the page. There is death.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Please Save My Earth (manga)
Yukari Zumu (manga)
Oyayubihime Infinity (manga)
Fruits Basket (manga)
Red River (manga)
½ Prince (manga)