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)

“Proof Positive” – Nevermore (Visual Novel) – 6/10 Black Cats

Genre: Mystery/Horror

Type: Kinetic Novel

Review Status: Complete (Kinetic Novel- Single Storyline)

Licensed: It’s licensed and free for download at

Art/Animation: This has some very good art in it. It looks pretty professional, with good designs and deep, vibrant colors. The shading and coloring is also wonderful. There really isn’t much animation to speak of, but the transitions are used well and in the right places.

Voice Acting: Unfortunately, it’s a bit stiff and lifeless. I think that going without would have been the better way to go, because no matter how bad things seem in the story, the main narrator just can’t really get any emotion into his voice. His mother’s voice is better, and I’m indifferent to everyone else.

Summary: Strange nightmares are taking over his life, and the days and nights are melding together. Why?

Review: This has some surprisingly fantastic atmosphere. Real life and dreams come together with some startlingly dark imagery- crows, and the lines of ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allen Poe. You flash back and forth between dreams and reality as they meld together. Flashes of the truth of what’s happening blend with the dark flashes of night.

Quite frankly, it’s an excellent setup for a supernatural mystery. What is affecting him? Who is that woman? What is the importance of ‘The Raven’?

What it all is, is a huge letdown. I was beyond disappointed in the reveal and the abruptness of the ending. I hope that there will be some sort of continuation, because it’s an excellent prologue. Left as it is… not so much.

Overall, while there was a lot of promise, there is a lot lacking.

Recommended: 8+. There is some weird, surreal imagery that might not be for the youngest players.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Hollow Fields (manga)
Bizenghast (manga)
Perfect Blue (anime)

Friday, October 28, 2011

“Conventions of Love” – DramaCon (OEL) – 7/10 Black Cats

Love at first sight is often cured by a second look.
Love is sweet when it’s new, but sweeter when it’s true.
Love is like a butterfly, it settles upon you when you least expect it.
Love is the hardest habit to break, and the most difficult to satisfy.
~Drew Marrymore

Genre: Romance/Comedy/Drama

Review Status:
Complete (3 Volumes/3 Volumes)

Licensed: No. It was currently licensed by Tokoypop, but it isn’t any longer.

Art: Very good! All the characters are easily recongizeable, and very cute! The panels flow well, and the backgrounds are excellent.

Summary: When amateur writer Christie settles in the artist alley of her first ever anime convention, she sees it as an opportunity to promote the manga she had started with her artist boyfried. But when she unexpectedly falls for a mysterious cosplayer, things become complicated. What do you do when you love someone who is going to be miles away from you in just a couple of days?! (Back cover of the 1st volume)

This manga has earned a special place in my heart. An OEL manga about being an OEL mangaka gives a unique perspective on being a first time con goer (and all the interesting complications, drama, and surprises that come with it!), and the difficulties of making an OEL manga in the first place.

This covers all its bases very well and realistically. There were quite a few things that I enjoyed, from the mention of the men in skirts that don’t shave their legs, to how hard it is to break into the hardcore fans because it isn’t really ‘manga’ (which the author obviously has an opinion on, and I do have to sympathize with). This treats them with intelligence and humor, and I felt that in many ways these were the best parts of the manga.

The characters having to deal with all that on top of romance and family troubles is definitely something to behold! It’s hard not to love them, each one being such an individual. All of them are fully realized, and it’s wonderful to see their personalities bounce off of each other and create both chaos and chemistry.

However, the plot doesn’t quite live up to the brilliance that I expected from the hilarious first page. Most of it is quite good, really, from having to deal with security and other congers, getting recognized in the industry, the rough choice between going for your dreams with or without the support of a family that just doesn’t understand. Unfortunately, there’s two things that really bothered me. One was the choice of using attempted rape. Rape should never be used lightly, and that’s exactly how it comes across, both from the circumstances that precipitate it and in the aftermath of what happens to her and the boyfriend. The other is another obvious plot device to get one of the main characters and her mother closer together, used in a thousand dramas before this one.

These bring down what otherwise is a good story about the issues about romance that can happen at a convention. It really is good at tackling why it can be complicated- the distance that people live from each other, how it can be scary to actually take the step to keep in touch, the things that can happen between cons. Of course, a love triangle does happen- where Matt ends up getting together with another girl because… Well. Actually, that’s really never made clear, because it’s obvious that he really liked Christie and wasn’t really that into the other girl. This makes for a really awkward and heartbreaking situation for the other girl. She’s understandable jealous and hurt by how she’s just forgotten when it comes down to it.

All this means that some things are handled more smoothly than others, but in the end is a very decent story. Plot issues aside the romance was sweet (and sometimes bittersweet), while the situations are something that every con-goer (both those that aren’t in artists’ alley and those that are) are familiar with. It’s relatable, and accessible, for anyone who enjoys their conventions!

Overall, this was an interesting manga about the fandom and a touching manga about romance.

Recommended: 16+. There is attempted rape, almost-sex (thankfully no more than some kissing happens, though in one part they’re clearly nekked beneath the sheets). There is mention that Christine has had sex with her first boyfriend- and both she and her boyfriend are about 16 in the first volume). It’s also brought up between Matt’s ex and Christie. There’s also language- everything except the f-bomb makes an appearance about twice a volume.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Bakuman (anime and manga)
Genshiken (manga)
Fall in Love like a Comic! (manga)
Comic Party! (anime)
Doujin Work (manga)

“The Trials of Love” – The Color of Earth/Water/Heaven (manhwa) – 9/10 Black Cats

Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many. ~Author Unknown

Mangaka: Dong Hwa Kim

Genre: Slice-of-Life/Drama/Romance/Historical

Review Status
: Complete (3 Volumes/3 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US

Art: The art might not be considered ‘pretty’- it’s really very plain, but it makes wonderful use of space in emphasizing things and making the story more expressive. Some of the panels are starkly beautiful. This uses a policy of ‘show, not tell’ to tell the story, and creates some of the most amazing scenes that convey a thousand things with a simple motion or expression. There is discretion and visual metaphor used when depicting openly sexual scenes. Whatever else it’s failings, the sheer skill it takes to do that is astounding and more than makes up for it.

: The Color of Earth tells of the daily lives and about the world of two generations of Korean women. Sometime in the past, in a quiet rural village of Namwon, Ehwa lives with her mother, a widowed tavern keeper. They are best friends and tell each other many secrets. As each spring passes she learns about her changing body and begins to learn about life. As Ehwa grows, her mother, left alone at young age, rediscovers love. As Ehwa grows, she also discovers love and must face a trial in order to be with him.

Review: “The Color of…” is a unique manga in a thousand ways. It is the only manga I have ever seen to deal with love and sex, and do it in a way that is both mature and sensitive. Using lyrical language that is full of similar and metaphor, each book tackles the different stages of growing up and maturing in a rural village in the late 19th Century/early 20th Century, and what it means to find love.

Each book separates Ehwa’s growth and maturation into sections, not defined by age so much as what happens at those ages. “The Color of Earth” begins with Ehwa discovering the differences between men and women, innocence leading to more than one misunderstanding (thinking that she’s deformed), and the men that frequent her mother’s inn casting her into confusion about the propriety between men and women. And as she discovers her first love, so her mother rediscovers love. This has a few rough edges concerning the story, but is fairly funny. The discussions she and her mother have are honest, and her mother introduces her to the simile and metaphor she herself uses to often speak of love (and other things, when Ehwa isn’t around). Ehwa discovers that there are some she cannot and should not love for various reasons, and learns of heatbreak.

The second book flows far better. Conversations flows far more smoothly, with much joking and teasing, which makes this a delight to read. It also becomes more in-depth when it comes to the body and sex. There’s a marked difference between the Ehwa of a few years ago, who crushed on the boys in her village, and the one who now longs for a man who will truly love her- she doesn’t waste her thoughts on guys who are only looking for a quick lay or are only messing around. This leads to a fateful meeting with a man that is serious about her- and in turn must leave her.

The third book is about Ehwa having discovered love, but dealing with the wait and heartbreak that comes with needing to wait for someone to return from a long journey. Because this takes place in an old time period, the wait seems long and is fraught with waiting and thoughts on what's happening. There is a change in Ehwa and her mother's relationship as she's is nearly a grown woman and her mother is aging. Ehwa does finally marry, and her mother's observations on watching her daughter leave hit home- beautiful thoughts that capture the essence of the loss of someone so dear. All the things that happened in the former books come together in a way that is just like real life- the culmination of experience and learning. And it's done in a way that is satisfying and beautiful.

Overall, even with a little bit of a rough start, this is a fantastic manhwa that tells a beautiful story.

Recommended: 18+. This is a story that deals with sex and sexuality- while the only genitalia overtly shown are those of young boys (briefly) and breasts on occasion, but there are suggestive gestures, blantantly sexual themes, and sex is shown (though it isn’t obscene in the context of the story. It actually comes across as something special and loving).

Other titles you might enjoy:
Usagi Drop

Friday, October 21, 2011

“The Tears Of An Angel” – Wish (manga) – 9/10 Black Cats

When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers. ~Oscar Wilde

Mangaka: CLAMP

Genre: Comedy/Romance/Fantasy/Shoujo

Review Status: Complete (4 Volumes/4 Volumes)

Licensed: No. This was formerly licensed by Tokyopop but has not been picked up again.

Art: Very typical CLAMP. Enlongated limbs, men that also look pretty feminine (along with men that look like men, but are just handsome), Long, flowing robes, etc. This particular title can throw some off with the art for the angels- since they are depicted as neither male nor female, they decided that the easiest way to depict this was via hairstyle- half being more ‘masculine (like where half of Kohaku’s hair is cut boyishly short) and half more ‘feminine’ (the other half of Kohaku’s hair is longish and makes him look more female). Some hairstyles come across better than others, but they all end up ambiguously sexual because of it.

Summary: One moonlit night Shuichiro saved an angel stuck in a tree. The angel granted him a wish to repay his generosity. Shuichiro said, “I need no wish, I can get what I want on my own.” But they’d both soon learn that some wishes can’t be fulfilled alone.

Review: CLAMP varies from hack-and-slash titles to so-cute-it-should-be-illegal. This falls into the latter category. Kohaku needs to be saved by a overly zealous cat, and Shuichiro saves him. Thus their story is set into motion, with Kohaku determined to grant Shuichiro a wish. At the same time, he must also find his missing senpai, who has inexplicably disappeared from heaven.

With only 4 volumes, it doesn’t take long for what happened to get out. There’s forbidden love all around, as well as Kohaku learning what it means to really love someone. Even if that means defying God. Yep, that’s right! God “makes an appearance” indirectly through his messenger that looks like an adorable stuffed rabbit, sending messages back and forth to His angels. There are subplots involving Heaven, Hell, and the conflict between them, but because of the length of the story aren’t explored very deeply.

Things do take a turn for the tragic. It turns out that God does have his reasons for everything, but to try and not spoil things too much, I will only say that there is a happy ending to this. I couldn’t have been happier, because I had really come to like the characters and wanted the best for them. Even the most mischievous was adorable. Kohaku is the most developed character of all, wonderfully realized as a person. The others are too but to a lesser degree. And I adored the side comments by the birds and other creatures- they made nice asides.

There isn’t much else I could ask for in this It’s well-paced, it’s sweet, it has a happy ending… I think the only thing that I felt was off was the sexual innuendos (nothing blatant or obscene is ever said) that seemed at odds with the general innocence of the series.

Overall, this was a lovely story about true love.

Recommended: 16+. There are 3 minor swears in the whole series- I’m pretty sure all of them came from the demon that torments Kohaku. Other than that, what drives the rating up is the sexual implication (both stated directly- where Kokuyo states that he and Hisui made love, and Kouryuu makes the comment that he and Kokuyo have been intimate before- and indirectly- such as when Kouryuu pulls his two servants into bed with him. Nothing is seen but the covers for one panel before moving on, where it’s clear nothing happened but a suggestive comment is made). Some people label this as shounen-ai, but since the angels and demons are neither gender, this doesn’t really apply.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Pita-Ten (anime)
Ah! My Goddess (anime and manga)
Kobato (anime and manga)

“Everything You Wanted” – Petshop of Horrors (manga) – 9/10 Black Cats

Somewhere between chance and mystery lies imagination, the only thing that protects our freedom, despite the fact that people keep trying to reduce it or kill it off altogether. ~Luis Buñuel

Mangaka: Matsuri Akino

Genre: Comedy/Supernatural/Fantasy/Horror

Review Status: Complete (10 Volumes/10 Volumes)

Licensed: Formerly licensed by Tokyopop, currently unlicensed.

Art: It has a 90’s feel to it, but has aged better than its contemporaries. It overall has a rough feel to it, but isn’t too shabby.

Summary: A smoke-filled alley in Chinatown harbors Count D's Pet Shop. The pets sold here aren't your everyday variety and the Count prides himself on selling Love and Dreams in the form of magical creatures that come with an exclusive contract. But buyers beware. If the contract is broken the Count cannot be held accountable for whatever may happen. A fascinating and macabre look into the very soul of human nature. (Source: Tokyopop)

Review: The saying is ‘be careful what you wish for, you just might get it’. Count D’s shop is all about fulfilling wishes and dreams- at a price. Whether it’s the promise of cake or something to be gathered later, “D” gives warning to those who buy his pets that things can happen if they don’t follow his instructions- so humans ignore his instructions at their own risk, and often pay the ultimate price.

There’s a policeman onto D – the name he gives himself since he’s not actually the count, just his grandson- and Leon Orcott, member of the NYPD, isn’t going to give an inch! The reader gets to see him as he investigates the strange deaths that are connected with the shop, and is either thrown off the trail or left with nothing to book D on. That interplay is always hilarious. Hardened cop vs sugar-addict prettyboy! D is as wily as Leon is thick, and they make quite a duo as they argue and deal with one another, eventually becoming friends. Chris, a character that’s introduced a little into the series, makes an interesting in-between. Able to see the truth of the shop, but too young and unassuming to really make much of it, he can be as baffled as his older brother when it comes to what is going on.

The cases themselves range from creepy to hilarious. From the mermaid that is the spitting image of a dead bride, to trying to hatch a dragon, all manner of amazing creatures of myth and legend are contained within these pages. Often I was grateful for the pages in the back that explained the origin and tales of them, as they were from Eastern folklore that isn’t heard of much in the West. These stories manages to bring in character development and strengthen the bond between the three as Leon becomes less suspicious of the Count, knowing that there were odd creatures and things happening, but later unable to believe D really has much to do with them.

It’s a great manga up until the last volume. There was a definite environmental message that popped up from time to time, but it was never really overbearing or preachy- not until the last two volumes or so. That was where things got really odd and eye-rolling. Cloning, spiritual memory inheritance, and someone threatening to destroy all humankind because of the damage they were doing were involved.

Thankfully, D’s escape from the FBI holds up to the rest story, and the last few pages really made me smile.

Overall, while the ending didn’t quite hold up to the promise of the rest of the manga, this is definitely worth the read.

Recommended: 18+. The F-bomb is dropped a few times per volume, as well as a variety of other swears. It’s not every line, and since most of it comes from Leon and thugs, it feels as offensive as the average cop movie. There are occasional glimpses of boobs- Leon’s room happens to be decorated with half-nude posters of women, and you see it once or twice. What appears to be Count D about to have sex with a man turns out to be him attempting to lure a mythological creature (in disguise) to join his pet shop. He states that another man is bisexual, but not gay.

Other titles you might enjoy:

xxxHolic (anime and manga)
The Tarot Café (manga)
Nightmare Inspector (manga)

“A Whole-Hearted Thanks” – The Cat Returns (anime) – 9/10 Black Cats

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving. ~Albert Einstein

Genre: Fantasy/Adventure/Comedy

Review Status: Complete (1 Movie/1 Movie)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US

Art/Animation: The lines look cleaner and the colors brighter than some of the earlier Ghibli films. However, the character designs still remain characteristic of Studio Ghibli.

Dub Vs. Sub: Both are just fantastic.

Summary: Haru, a schoolgirl bored by her ordinary routine, saves the life of an unusual cat, and suddenly her world is transformed beyond anything she ever imagined. The Cat King rewards her good deed with a flurry of presents, including a very shocking proposal of marriage to his son! Haru then embarks on an unexpected journey to the Kingdom of Cats, where her eyes are opened to a whole other world and her destiny is uncertain. To change her fate, she’ll need to learn to believe in herself and, in the process, she will learn to appreciate her everyday life. (back cover of DVD case)

Review: Generally considered a sequel to ‘Whisper of the Heart’, ‘The Cat Returns’ is the tale of a girl who discovers herself in a bit of trouble, and must turn to the Baron- the statue that is featured in ‘Whisper’- for help. From the start, this is an engaging tale. After setting the scene, the ordinary turns to the extraordinary in a single moment. Our heroine finds it easy to pass it off as a dream or imagination, as I imagine many in a similar situation would. However, it becomes inescapably obvious that it’s not.

This might confuse some viewers in why the cats are so grateful. The main idea behind how this all began is a Japanese concept of thanking people. When someone does something for you, you reciprocate with a gift. Gifts are given for everything- coming over to someone’s house, the neighbors you move in next to, coming back from vacation, birthdays, celebrations, holidays… There is hardly an occasion that gifts aren’t called for! To save someone’s life, especially of someone important to you, calls for a gift of the highest order. For the king, this means his son in marriage. Thankfully, the Baron knows that it’s not exactly a delight to be forced into marriage, and calls his band of friends in to help.

It’s a delight to watch the characters interact. They’re full of witty, memorable banter, and it feels like friendship of the deepest sort- the kind where you can insult each other but still love each other at the end of the day. They create quite a memorable cast. Especially the Baron! He steals the show, strangely debonair and easily as charming as any human. Haru notices, and is quite taken with him.

Of course, the whole story is about freeing Haru from her arranged marriage. There is adventure and hijinks galore in it, with the Baron using his wit and skill to get her out of a sticky situation. The things that they get into are definitely amusing, from a maze with moving walls to a daring escape through the halls of the castle.

Its lighthearted tone and innocent adventure make ths a delight to watch. At the same time, it highlights what Ghibli is- a studio that focuses on films that can delight both children and adults, and this is a film that is mostly for the children. It lacks the depth of emotions and themes and philosophy that mark a good deal of their previous films. It is the emotional precursor to Ponyo.

Overall, while it’s a wonderful film, it lacks a certain something that makes it really stand out like most other Ghibli films.

Recommended: 5+. This is a very family-friendly film.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Whisper of the Heart (anime)
Ponyo (anime)
Kiki’s Delivery Service (anime)
+Anima (manga)

Monday, October 17, 2011

“The Trials Of War “- Andromeda Stories (manga) – 5/10 Black Cats

On a large enough time line, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero. ~Chuck Palahniuk

Mangaka:Keiko Takemiya (art), Ryu Mitsuse (story)

Genre: Sci-fi/Action/Drama

Review Status: Complete (3 Volumes/3 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US

Art: The art and character designs are kind of girly (pretty boys and large, sparkly eyes), with lots of sparkles and flowing hair to be found. It’s not bad, though- all the characters are pretty distinct and easy to recognize. And this particular art is pretty distinctive to this mangaka.

Summary: Cosmoralia’s Prince Ithaca is about to wed Princess Lilia of Ayodoya and be crowned Astralta III. The apparently favorable celestial bearings mean he will be no mere monarch but holy king of a new ‘papacy’. Alas, the peaceful inhabitants of Planet Astria have no clue that they’re next in line for invasion by a ruthless machine force- a threat that seems to metaphorize the inherent perils of politics and desire in this multilayered saga. (back cover of V. 1)

Review: An overlooked omen turns out to not be an omen at all- it’s the actual ship of machines that spell doom for the world. Twins are born as the country is slowly taken over, that are separated and one sent away in hopes of keeping a fight over the inheritance of the throne from occurring between them. However, as they grow, darker forces bring them together again.

This has a solid start, building the love between the queen and king of Cosmoralia, and how grave it would be if there were twins vying for the throne. Characters that are important are introduced. The beginning of the end takes root in the kingdom. And one twin is discovered to be the bearer or a mark that could signal the fulfillment of a vague prophecy.

From the second volume onward, things get a little shaky. Some plot threads are forgotten about, such as the mark and prophecy of one of the twins, others are brought in (the computers that can resist the temptations of the program that’s ravaging the planet) which have nothing done with them. The general plot remains solid, with the machines that invaded taking over bit by bit. To put it simply, ‘resistance is futile’. For everything the rebels do, the machines follow close after, destroying quickly and relentlessly. Machines can be made on assembly lines- humans can’t.

All the while, we’re seeing how the people deal with the effects of the extermination and following the stories of those who have been told that they’re destined to save the world and lead the humans to victory. It’s hard not to like them. Affle, who’s had his true identity suppressed for his own safety, is distrustful of others and does not welcome his brother with open arms. Slowly but surely, bonds grow, and it turns to strong feelings. Jimsa is more open to the prospect of a long-lost sibling, and is intrigued by his brother from the beginning. Going out of his way to protect Affle, he’s even willing to sacrifice himself as his feelings of love grow. Both are tossed about by the desires and ambitions of others but manage to take a stand for themselves as doom encroaches on them.

So how to save the world? Well, that would be spoiling it. However, I’m not fond of how the story kind of jumped the shark at the end. It decides to take a route that could have worked in other circumstances, but given the plot threads that were dropped or ignored, feels more like a cop-out. It also doesn’t really make any sense, which is even more of a shame.

Overall, this was an interesting premise but a bit of a letdown in execution.

Recommended: 16+. There is virtually no gore outside of the occasional body and bloodspill. The only thing that might cause some to pause is the implication of sex, a panel glimpse of boobs (important to revealing something plot-wise), and there is incest.

Other titles you might enjoy:

To Terra… (manga and anime)
Bokurano (anime and manga)
Historie (manga)
Cesare (manga)

“Fight On” - Megaman NT Warrior – 7/10 Black Cats

Tell me what company thou keepst, and I'll tell thee what thou art. ~Miguel de Cervantes

Mangaka: Ryo Takamisaki

Genre: Action/Mecha/Sci-fi/Shounen/Kids

Review Status: Complete (13 Volumes/13 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US

Art: If you’re familiar with the Megaman franchise, then these will look very familiar. If you’re not, then there isn’t a lot that’s going to stand out. I’m vaguely familiar with it, and still managed to mix up characters on occasion.

Summary: The year is 200X and everyone is now connected to the Cyber Network. People carry their own PET (Personal Terminal) and are paired up with an artificial intelligence program called a NetNavi (or NetNavigator). Computers have turned the world into a bright and shiny utopia but there's always trouble in paradise. While the invention of the PET and NetNavis has brought great benefits to the world, computer hacking, virus spreading and other high-tech crimes are becoming a major problem. A sinister organization by the name of World Three has appeared and they've vowed to destroy this technological wonderland. Enter our young hero, Lan Hikari, an intensely curious and cheerful fifth grader. Synchronized with his NetNavigator, MegaMan, he becomes a super-charged dynamo. In and out of the Net, Lan and MegaMan do their best to thwart World Three's never-ending quest to take over the world! ( summary)

Review: First off, I want to clarify that the score on top is scoring it as a children’s manga, and how good it is for that age bracket. I would give it a seven because it’s a very typical story, with characters that could be ripped from any storyline from the same age bracket. Lan and Megaman are both upbeat and determined, who fight for their friends and refuse to fight against them. They’re always willing to risk themselves from others. His friends aren’t any better off, nor are his opponents, except for Blaze, who is the sole character that shows actual depth, though it’s not explored since this is an action manga.

The story also doesn’t stand out too much from others like Digimon or the like. He encounters low-level thugs, gets stronger, finds out there’s high-level thugs that he needs to defeat to save the cyberworld, gets stronger and defeats them, and finally saves the world. It would be more effective and moving if there was actual characterization, but for a kid’s story, it’s pretty solid and I can’t make many complaints- except for one.

The major drawback is that this is so shallow that the two girls (Roll and her NaviOp) that get more than one appearance suffer from ‘Daphne syndrome’. They exist only to be saved/protected/be a general burden and distraction. This ends up being both confusing and frustrating when Roll is brought to an ‘ultimate level’ alongside other super-strong Navi’s, must be saved, and then is completely forgotten about plot-wise.

As an adult reading this manga, I have to score it a 5/10, possibly lower. There were some genuinely funny moments, rare as they were, and the story is somewhat solid, but this has flaws out the wazoo. I would never want to live in this world since the security of the network is so poor that in the space of a few days (once a volume for about 5 volumes straight) the appliances in houses explode and start fires. Apparently, the terrorists have nothing better to do than burn down a small city. Fighting online is illegal without a license, but PETs are sold with the ability instead of the stuff to block it that they put in Lan’s PET at one point in the manga. And of course, the ability to synchronize NetNavis with NetOps without any sort of machinery or technological link to facilitate it- which comes off as realistic as me being able to synch with my Pokemon game while holding a Nintendo DS. It just isn’t going to happen.

To top it off was, of course, the ever-present ‘Daphne syndrome’, which was old by the second volume. Please note that none of the major players were female in this story. I found it to be sexist and discriminatory and definitely brought down my rating a notch or two.

Overall, while it’s an okay children’s manga, it has a few too many issues to really be enjoyed by an adult.

Recommended: 5+. This has no language, no fanservice of any kind, cartoon violence (except for one scene where they show the hand of someone who had been crushed). If your kid can handle that, then they're good to go.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Dennou Coil (anime)
½ Prince (manga)
Real Drive (anime)
.hack//Sign (anime)
Digimon Adventure: War Game (anime)
Summer Wars (anime)
Angelic Layer (anime)
Yureka (manga)

Friday, October 14, 2011

“On To Adventure!” – One Piece (manga) – 9/10 Black Cats

A true friend freely, advises justly, assists readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably. ~William Penn

Mangaka: Eiichiro Oda

Genre: Action/Adventure/Shounen

Review Status: Incomplete (20 Volumes/? Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US

Art: It’s definitely more along the lines of traditional cartoon art than many of its counterparts. However, this allows for far more unique character designs than most manga. If you’ve read or seen Osamu Tezuka, then you’ll have no problem with this series.

Summary: Leffy has always wanted to be a pirate- and when he’s old enough, he takes the first chance he gets! Starting out with a barrel and some luck, his adventures take him to a few places where he gains crewmates and a ship. When he finally reaches the Grand Line, a sea that’s legendary because only the toughest of the pirates can survive on it, he becomes embroiled in the wars between the pirate lords, is chased by the navy, and has to deal with all the crazy things that can happen both on the ocean and the islands!

Review: This is me, writing about a manga that I said I’d never read but got out from the library since they have every volume published to date, and saying that it’s not the disaster I thought it would be. Actually, this is a really good shounen, and there’s a reason it’s one of the top anime and manga. There’s a distinct dearth of good pirate-related anything outside of Pirates of the Carribean, and One Piece manages to be successful where so manga have failed.

Memorable characters are a dime a dozen, from Buggy the Clown to Jango the hypnotist, and Nami the thief to Coby the budding Marine. With their own ambitions and dreams, strange powers, and fun abilities, they all make a mark. The main characters get more development than a number of the sides, but they’re the main characters. Some of the stories are downright tragic, but make the characters stand out with believable motivations and flesh them out into people you can get behind.

The setting is also an incredible test of the imagination. There is nothing too wacky to make an appearance- and seem totally normal in the world that Oda has created! There’s an unending amount of abilities and powers, which makes this fun as you see what is going to come up next. The varied cultures of each of the islands also gives this a lot of variety that you won’t see in a lot of anime or manga.

Does it have some issues? Yes- there was one instance where I could tell a power had been written in since it would have come in handy earlier (thankfully it was an enemy that will never be seen again), but in the grand scheme of it all, it really seems pretty minor- the same issue is avoided hard both before and after that incident. Luffy is a typical happy-go-lucky protagonist, oddly different from his counterparts simply because he wanted to go on an adventure and followed his dreams instead of having a sad or tragic past motivating him. And then there’s the attack names that are called out during battle.

It is a shounen, though, so I can’t say that I’m surprised. And even with those little things, One Piece still manages to be fun and exciting. I can’t wait for the next adventure!

Overall, this is a fun, exciting series that I’m definitely going to be keeping up with.

Recommended: 11+. There’s rarely death, or if there is, it’s implied. There’s violence- kicking, punching, some stabbing occasionally. Nothing terribly gory or violent, but it’s there. Some of it is comedic violence that you’d find on Cartoon Network. Language-wise, ‘crap’ is said quite a number of times. I can’t remember anything else. One time a villain uses his abilities to transform into Nami and opens her shirt to show the boys what’s underneath. He attempts the same tactic a second time but doesn’t get very far. There is no nudity actually on the page. Other than that, there’s nothing that wouldn’t be out of place on the beach or even in some cartoons.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Fairy Tale (anime and manga)
Toriko (anime and manga)
Groove Adventure Rave (manga)
Jing: King of Bandits (manga)

“Seas Of Destruction” – Nausicaä Valley of the of the Wind (anime) - 10/10 Black Cats

Brotherhood is the very price and condition of man's survival. ~Carlos P. Romulo

Genre: Sci-fi/Action

Review Status: Complete (1 Movie/1 Movie)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US

Art/Animation: It's Ghibli. Soft faces, large eyes, pretty girls and guys with mustaches.

Dub Vs. Sub: Both are wonderful. There might be a wince-worthy moment or two in the dub, when Nausicaa says her own name (and fails to pronounce it correctly), but nothing that should really be a deterrent.

Summary: A thousand years after a global war, a seaside kingdom known as the Valley of the Wind remains one of only a few areas still populated. Led by the courageous Princess Nausicaä, the people of the valley are engaged in a constant struggle with powerful insects called Ohmu, who guard a poisonous jungle that is spreading across the Earth. Nausicaä and her brave companions, together with the people of the Valley, strive to restore the bond between humanity and the Earth. (back of DVD cover)

Review: Nausicaä is right up there in Ghibli’s darkest films, second only to Grave of the Fireflies. This is a land almost overtaken by desolation- one where breathing the air for too long will send you to an early grave, as is happening with Nausicaä’s father, one where the hardest struggle may not guarantee your survival.

Even in the face of this, Nausicaä remains optimistic- that perhaps she can cure her father’s disease, and that they can live in peace with the creatures of the forest if humans take the time to understand them instead of simply fighting against them. Her fairly peaceful world is shattered when a warship carrying an important prisoner crashes in her valley with a weapon of devastating power left from the war that destroyed the world.

Nausicaä is a powerful work of anti-war, pro-environmentalist themes that never is preachy or condescending or takes it to a level that would make people unconfortable. The story is strong enough that it feels as natural and obvious as anything- and not in a bad way. Even looking back, there are lessons that are true in it. Nausicaä brings the conflict home in her character- in a fit of rage, she ends up killing others, but hates herself for it and vows to never allow it to happen again. She also tries her hardest to protect others from death. Since she understands the motivations behind how the creatures of the forest act (and they are animals, acting on mostly natural instinct), Nausicaa teaches others how to respect them and shares her knowledge- they can live together on each other’s periphery if humans can learn to calm down.

There’s action, adventure, and the plot threads are tied together very nicely. It’s a wonderful film in its own right- no need to actually read the manga it’s based off of. (Side note: The manga and the anime are quite different. The movie is the adaptation of the first volume or so- the manga goes its own route after that).

Overall, this is one of the best of Ghibli’s films, and it shows.

Recommended: Yes! 13+, since the ideas of death are very prevalent. Nausicaä’s father is killed onscreen, a girl dies from injuries, there’s the implication of the Sea of Decay killing the inhabitants of a kingdom. The reminders that this is a deadly world are everywhere. No death is graphic or gory. No language is in the movie. There is a scene where Nausicaä unbuttons a girl’s shirt to see the extent of the injuries- you only see the shirt- the angle lets you see Nausicaä’s face before she buttons it back up.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Real Drive (anime)
+Anima (manga)
Princess Mononoke (anime)
Origin: Spirits of the Past (anime)
Erin (anime)
Earth Maiden Arjuna (anime)

“Trapped In Your Head” – Dragon Head (manga) – 10/10 Black Cats

All that is really necessary for survival of the fittest, it seems, is an interest in life, good, bad or peculiar. ~Grace Paley

Mangaka: Minetaro Mochizuki

Genre: Action/Mystery/Psychological/Drama/Horror

Review Status: Complete (10 Volumes/10 Volumes)

Licensed: No. It was formerly licensed by Tokyopop, but has not been relicensed.

Art: It’s a more realistic style than most, more like Satoshi Kon’s work than Studio Ghibli. In short- they look like people you could meet on the street.

: In the horror of witnessing so many classmates perish before his eyes in a violent train wreck, Teru discovers two survivors in the tunnel: Ako and Nobuo. But salvation from this bloody carnage is far from their grasp. As they try to dig out from the wreck in order to come up with a plan to stay alive, the lack of light and food, combined with the stench of death and decay, will lead one member of the group down a dark and demented path. And with sudden, violent earthquakes shaking the tunnel, escaping to the outside world may lead them to an even greater danger... (Tokyopop)

Review: When a disaster happens, sometimes what matters more is actually surviving instead of finding out what happened. In the aftermath of the crash, that’s the priority of the three survivors. However, trapped in a tunnel for days on end, they aren’t left with much to do except speculate and worry.

The first part of Dragon Head delves into the psychosis that can occur in extreme isolation, when people must face conditions not much different than sensory deprivation. Their fears become paranoia, that perhaps there’s something in the dark, or someone that survived but isn’t showing themselves. A monster eventually takes form in their minds, and between it and sudden changes that could spell their doom if they don’t think on their feet, two escape into a world that’s desperately changed and may never be the same.

Hard philosophical questions are asked, and none of the answers are easy and clear-cut. When is it okay to take a life? At what point do you stop helping others and start looking out for yourself? When do you stop searching for answers and accept the world around you?

The biggest challenge they have to face is the world outside. A disaster of unimaginable proportions has occurred that has flattened towns, raised huge ash clouds, and sunk the coasts into the sea. The disasters they face grow worse as they travel onward towards Tokyo. People have become crazed by the events, creating both allies and enemies to the pair.

When you think things can’t get worse for them, they can. They do. As Ako and Teru continue their journey to Tokyo, they deal with all the things the disaster can throw at them. Earthquakes, food and water shortages, flooding, death, and have to deal with it all when they’re still suffering from the psychological effects of being trapped underground and not knowing what had happened for two weeks. The not knowing becomes their drive- they need to know what happened to their families and what’s happening to Japan and gives them one of their reasons to survive. The other is their own fears that haunt them.

Overall, this is a moving, engaging story of two people trying to survive in an apocalyptic world. It may not be pretty, but it is pretty good.

18+. There are two brief instances of partial nudity on Ako’s part, one where she’s unconscious and being groped, another where she’s in a bath. You only see her breasts briefly. There is also the implication of her having been dry-humped, and two instances of attempted rape. This is very violent, with people committing suicide and murder. There are people shot, stabbed, and beaten. You only see one corpse more than once, but the wounds aren’t gruesome. For the rest of the story they’re usually covered in ash or mud.

Other titles you might enjoy
Drifting Classroom (manga)
Metro Survive (manga)
7Seeds (manga)
Akira (manga)
Jisatsu Circle (manga)
Doubt (manga)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

“The Place I Belong” – Whisper of the Heart (anime) – 10/10 Black Cats

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

Genre: Slice-of-Life/Romance

Review Status: Complete (1 Movie/1 Movie)

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

Art/Animation: Lovely. The animation is very smooth, background characters and objects move, and while the art is the typical Ghibli style, it remains as lovely and bright as anything.

Dub Vs. Sub: Both the dub and the sub are fantastic! You can’t go wrong with either.

Summary: During summer vacation, a schoolgirl named Shizuku, who longs to discover her true talents, observes and ordinary-looking cat riding by himself on the train. Intrigued, she decides to follow him. This cance encounter leads her to the mysterious Seiji, a boy who is determined to follow his dreams, and The Baron, a magical cat figurine who helps her listen to the whispers in her heart. Soon, Shizuku’s exciting adventures carry her far beyond the boundaries of her imagination. (back of DVD cover).

: This is by far and large the most down-to-earth of all Ghibli’s films to date (barring having seen On Top Of Poppy Hill, which may be the exception). Normally these are filled with magical worlds, wondrous creatures, and incredible adventures. This has an adventure and the magic of everyday life- the random chance encounters that can lead to happiness that we never even dreamed of.
Taking its cues from the country song “Country Roads” by John Denver, Shizuku discovers that taking a route that she’d never been on before leads her to an unusual antiques shop, with a strange doll that instantly captures her attention and imagination. A boy that had first gotten her attention simply by having his name on all the library cards is there, and their friendship and feelings grow for one another.

How it all happens feels so natural and believable- like whoever wrote this story knew someone that it happened to. It retains a vaguely fairytale-esque feel to it, with everything falling into place and finding a ‘prince’, though he rides a bike instead of a horse! It mirrors Shizuku’s determination to write a story herself, a fantasy story that has to do with the doll that got her attention in the first place. Nothing is truly out of place. The characters feel like they are actual people. The relationship between Shizuku and her parents, to Shizuku’s older (bossy and somewhat oblivious) sister, they feel like a real family. The old shopkeeper is entirely endearing. And the love that blossoms between her and Seiji seems genuine.

It manages to mix the love story thoroughly with the idea of following one’s dreams. Seiji has had dreams from the beginning, and knows exactly what he wants to do. He inspires and drives Shizuku to find her own. She becomes obsessed with it, to the frustration of her family, but with a little negotiation and true-to-life discussion, Shizuku is given the freedom to pursue her ambition. The one flaw I do find in the film is how they both decide to continue to high school after being decently successful with their respective endeavors- it seems like the natural course after this would be to continue on as they were. Even so, they have no plans for abandoning their dreams, but merely refining them until they’ve graduated. As her older sister says a few times during the movie, education is important!

Overall, this was a beautiful love story and a great film/

Recommended: 5+. There’s no language, the only nudity is a non-sexual scene where Shizuku’s older sister is taking off her top to put in the laundry, and the only violence is where, in a dream, Shizuku pulls a stone from the ground and it turns into a dead duckling.

Other titles you might enjoy:
The Cat Returns (anime)
Kimi ni Todoke (anime and manga)
Spirited Away (anime)
Ocean Waves (anime)
Emma: A Victorian Romance (manga and anime)
Only Yesterday (anime)
Kiki’s Delivery Service (anime)

“The Windy City” – Chicago (manga) – 4/10 Black Cats

Everything in the universe goes by indirection. There are no straight lines. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mangaka: Yumi Tamura

Genre: Action/Romance/Shoujo

Review Status: Complete (2 Volumes/2 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US

Art: This looks more like a rough sketch than a manga. Unfortunately, the messy artwork makes it hard to tell what’s going on, and in some places is downright unattractive. It also seems dated for when the manga ran.

Summary: Rescue workers Rei and her handsome partner Uozumi are looking for survivors after Tokyo’s worst earthquake of the 21st century. But their efforts uncover man-made violence- they are suddenly attacked and their entire squad murdered! Some secret plot is lurking in the ruins of Tokyo Bay District D, and to find it, Rei and Uozumi must join a privately funded hostage rescue organization run out of a Tokyo bar called Chicago. Now, Rei saves the lives of others while she searches for her own salvation. (back cover of 1st volume)

Review: I’d always wondered what a shoujo action title would be like. Now I know! It’s… not that impressive. Rei works in a recovery unit, to help find those who are injured or trapped in the aftermaths of disasters. The first thing she says about herself is that her hair is long because it helps her sense danger. This should give you a clue to the quality of the rest of the series.

Unrequited love, government cover-ups, and terrorist plots pervade these two volumes. Apparently rescue workers are common targets for mad killers, because Rei and Uozumi know how to handle their guns and can detect and dismantle bombs. Their escape from a massacre and the subsequent cover-up lead to their recruitment into a special agency that investigates these issues and deals with kidnappings and murders outside of the jurisdiction of the police.

Rei’s longing for the love of her partner comes to the forefront at the most inconvenient and annoying times. The ‘mysterious third partner’ that she starts being attracted to is the stereotypical tall, dark, and handsome that pervades these types of stories. He’s also flawless, able to assess a situation in a single glance, and find his partners with the barest of hints. The partner? Injured but trying.
The focus is all over the place, story-wise. Everything that occurs is connected in the story, but why they all have those connection is up in the air. Some of the plots bank on kidnappers being really dumb (not double-checking or triple-checking their victim’s identity, for instance, and only going off of one photograph). Apparently their methods of stalking are also incredibly lacking, as they don’t discover his identity over the days they watch him. Others bank on just being outright unbelievable, such as the utopia that was being built, and the people not leaving when the earthquake hit. To boot, they added in a super-dramatic past for Rei.

The end of this was abrupt and an utter letdown… even though the rest of the manga meant I wasn’t expecting much in that regard. There’s no resolution to the plot or the relationships between the characters. The only reason I’m not giving this a ‘3’ is because of one character that has perhaps two lines in the manga and an omake dedicated to him- the doctor. I found him to be utterly hilarious, though the omake will probably only appeal to those who have a darker sense of humor.

Overall, this barely works as an action title, and is barely a romance one. Go for something else.

Recommended: No. Well, if you’re into action and aren’t looking or care about a strong plot. 13+. There is some slight blood- people are shot, explosions happen- but almost no gore to speak of. One guy is outright killed on the page. No nudity, no language.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Yomigaeru Sora: Rescue Wings (anime)
Flag (anime)
Zipang (anime)
Taiyo no Mokushiroku: A Spirit of the Sun (anime)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

“Sibling Rivalry” – Ibitsu (manga) – 10/10 Black Cats

Having a sister is like having a best friend you can't get rid of. You know whatever you do, they'll still be there. ~Amy Li

Mangaka: Haruka Ryou

Genre: Horror, Seinen

Review Status: Complete (2 Volumes/2 Volumes)

Licensed: No, this manga isn’t licensed in the US

Art: Under normal circumstances they wouldn’t be that memorable- under these ones, you can’t forget them. The Lolita girl herself sticks in the mind long after the story has ended. It’s also very expressive.

Summary: A boy went to take his trash out late one night, and found a strange, creepy, lolita woman sitting amongst the garbage bags. She asked if he had a little sister, and he answered her, hurrying afterwards back to his apartment. When he looked out the window, she was gone. Who is the strange woman, and why does she give him such a bad feeling? (

Review: The reason Urban Legends survive so long is because deep down, there’s a little part of us that thinks that maybe, just maybe, it could be true. Too bad Kazuki hasn’t heard about this particular urban legend until he’s already encountered it- and by then, it’s already far too late. She’s looking for an older brother, and thinks she’s found it in Kazuki. Little Miss Lolita weasles her way into his life in the most horrifying ways possible. Cleaning his room, fooling the landlady, and eventually going after his own little sister, Kazuki discovers that she’s twisted to the core.

Both these characters end up being surprisingly memorable. Lolita Girl is one of the most psychotic creatures to grace the pages of manga. She isn’t afraid to kill anyone who gets in her way of a good sibling relationship, or even anyone who happens to be peripherally involved in her plans. Kazuki finds himself being drawn into the madness that another man she knew succumbed to.

While a few horror clichés grace these pages, this manages to be fresh and twisted, and horrifying for it. Madness and obsession mix in terrible ways.

A special note must be made for the side stories- both manage to be just as terrifying, even though one isn’t as unique or memorable as the other or the main story.

Overall, this is a manga that will leave you awake at night. Remember- don’t talk to strangers!

YES! 18+. While this has no language that I noted, there is a lot of violence. While nothing is ever done outright, you will see the outlines and some of the implications of what happened will be very clear. There is also a brief scene of almost-fanservice… that is, Kazuki’s little sister wets herself from fear (understandable), and Lolita Girl goes to ‘clean her up’ with an iron. You do see panties in about 4 panels. Kazuki’s friend does give him a porno dvd to watch, but he just throws it in the trash.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Higurashi (anime and manga)
Tomie (manga)
Bizenghast (manga)

“For Love Or…” – Kimi Ga Suki (manga) – 4/10 Black Cats

Love is friendship set on fire. ~Jeremy Taylor

Mangaka: Ayu Watanabe

Genre: Romance/School/Shoujo

Review Status:
Complete (3 Volumes/3 Volumes)

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

Art: Pretty typically shoujo. Big eyes, lots of toner. Little to no detail in the backgrounds. The character designs are unremarkable. The panels are uncluttered and flow well.

Summary: Aki and Mase have always played basketball together, and their feelings have blossomed into those of love. Before she can confess, Aki gets a confession from a boy from a rival school. An unfortunate accident throws a wrench into everything, as Aki finds herself riddled with guilt and needing to make up what happened somehow. Her feelings end up mixed up, and she can’t decide what to do.

Review: This is definitely one of the poorer romance manga I have read. When you have characters that are only recognizable for their hair, and can’t be remembered a few hours after reading the manga, there’s a problem. Why should I care about their romance when I can’t care about the characters themselves?

I can think of one reason: Aki pity-dates the guy who’s injured on their date and tries to convince herself that it’s love. That’s the crux of the relationship- she’s guilty, and forces herself into an unfulfilling relationship because of it. What makes this doubly terrible is that he really likes her! Aki lies repeatedly, to herself, to the guy, to her friend, to Mase about her feelings.

Mase isn’t much better, using another girl in order to get over Maki. Quite frankly, that’s not cool.

Both need a firm slap over the heads, and they get them. They get broken up with so that they can be together. A happy ending that they went through a whole lot of shallow drama for.

Overall, this wasn’t worth my time to read. Pass!

No. 13+, though, since the scanlations did have two swears. One instance of the a-word, and the word for illegitimate child. No fanservice, no violence except for a scene where the guy gets hit with a car. This isn’t graphic or lingered on at all. The worst he gets is a broken leg.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Fruits Basket (manga)
NANA (manga and anime)
Moe Kare!! (manga)
Kimi ni Todoke (manga and anime)

Friday, October 7, 2011

“Running Out Of Time” - Chrono Crusade (manga) – 9/10 Black Cats

Clocks slay time... time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life. ~William Faulkner

: Daisuke Moriyama

: Action/Adventure/Historical/Romance/Supernatural/Shounen

Review Status: Complete (8 Volumes/8 Volumes)

Art: Nice, sleek lines. It seems like a cross between shoujo and shounen, with more
shoujo-ish eyes (big and shiny and expressive), but more shounen styles for everything else. The backgrounds tend to be surprisingly detailed. The color pages are vivid and well-done.

Summary: America in the Roaring 20s. On the surface, it's a positive, peaceful time after the violence of the Great War. But lurking in the shadows is a dark element ready to snatch that peace away. Sister Rosette Christopher, an exorcist working as a part of the Magdala Order, has a duty to fight the demons which appear and cause destruction. But along with her companion Chrono, she usually ends up causing more destruction than the demons themselves! On one particular mission, they meet a young girl with a beautiful voice named Azmaria, who is being targeted by her own stepfather. As Rosette and Chrno work to save her, more is revealed about the relationship between them. There is more to these two than meets the eye. (ADV)

Action, adventure, romance… This is a manga that has it all, and wraps it in a lovely coat of bittersweetness. The story seems pretty simple- a nun and her demon companion are fighting others that want to destroy the world. As you go along, the story becomes less straightforward. Her brother was overcome by evil long ago, and now seeks to destroy humanity. They must dredge up skeletons in the closet- hers, Chrono’s, and find the courage to defeat him before the world can end.

With great characters, this manga makes it all work. Rosette is almost impossible not to root for, with an indomitable spirit and loving heart. Chrono is far more level-headed, but fun and a genuinely nice guy that repents for what he’s done in the past. Their friends are awesome characters that you feel for when things happen. Things happen because they take charge and refuse to be defeated, though a fierce toll is taken in the battles they encounter.

There are a lot of elements that make this memorable, from Rosette’s slowly dwindling lifespan and the inevitability of her death, to the love between her and Chrono that seems impossible to be realized. The ending isn’t the joyful one that is expected in many of these stories. It is one that leaves you with mixed feelings, though- in the best way possible. Every ending should tug at the heartstrings like this one does.

Overall, this was a moving and memorable action manga, and definitely worth reading more than once.

Recommended: 14+. There is some fanservice here and there (less than I feared after I got through the first volume), no full-on nudity though. There is death, with some gore including bodies and parts of bodies. Nothing terribly graphic, but it is there. There are some mild curses throughout.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Black Cat (anime and manga)
Pandora Hearts (manga)
Seirei no Morinito (anime)

“Head in the Clouds” – Castle in the Sky (anime) – 8/10 Black Cats

Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore. ~Andre Gide quotes

Genre: Fantasy/Action/Adventure

Review Status: Complete (1 Movie/1 Movie)

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

Art/Animation: It’s Ghibli- always good. The character designs are typical for the

Dub Vs. Sub: The dub voices for the main leads are way too old for the characters. The characters are supposed to be about 10- the dub voices sound about 20. The sub is quite good.

Summary: This high-flying adventure begins when Pazu, an engineer's apprentice, finds a young girl, Sheeta, floating down from the sky wearing a glowing pendant. Together they discover both are searching for a legendary floating castle, Laputa, and vow to unravel the mystery of the luminous crystal around Sheeta's neck. Their quest won't be easy, however. There are greedy air pirates, secret government agents and astounding obstacles to keep them from the truth, and from each other. (Disney)

Review: For something that starts off with a rather fast-paced pirate attack, this anime is overall pretty slow-paced, with quick bursts of action throughout. From getting a look into Pazu’s life, to the walk through the mines, to being imprisoned within the army base, not much happens. Unfortunately, that means the story is also a bit hampered- the dialogue that occurs often adds nothing to the story, either in character relations or in the backstory of what’s going on.

That’s not to say that this is a poor film- it’s filled with humor and adventure, and some parts that can really warm your heart and get it pounding! While not my favorite Ghibli leads, Pazu and Sheeta are fascinating and fully realized characters. Their roles are turned around for this film, with Pazu being the energetic and sweet one while Sheeta is more serious and determined. Usually those descriptions are reversed for the guys and girls in the films. Sheeta remains a wonderful lead, having faced many hardships and having been tempered by them. There is still a spark of hope that things can get better that remains alive, protected by Pazu when all seems hopeless.

The side characters are as charming as ever, with the band of air pirates being loveable goofs that swoop in at the last minute to save things. Muska is perhaps the most identifiably evil villain that has ever come out of Ghibli. He’s thoroughly determined to take power for himself and is willing to do anything for it, including getting rid of Sheeta and Pazu-permanently.

When this story gets on its feet and really rolling, it’s brilliant. The action, the story, and the characters all come together to make this one heck of an adventure film! The danger seems palpable, while the world that’s built in Laputa truly seems magical. It may be a more typical children’s film in terms of plotline, but that doesn’t take away from how great it is.

Overall, this was a charming adventure that’s fit for the whole family.

Recommended: 5+. No language, no nudity, no blood, minimal violence (you do have the typical cartoon violence and some rather exciting arial battles, but except for a robot being destroyed there’s nothing objectionable there).

Other titles you might enjoy:

Spirited Away (anime)
Future Boy Conan (anime)
Howl’s Moving Castle (anime)
Escaflowne (anime)
Kiki’s Delivery Service (anime)

“Apples And Oranges” – Fruits Basket (manga) – 10/10 Black Cats

It's surprising how many persons go through life without ever recognizing that their feelings toward other people are largely determined by their feelings toward themselves, and if you're not comfortable within yourself, you can't be comfortable with others. ~Sydney J. Harris

Mangaka: Natsuki Takaya

Genre: Romance/Comedy/Drama/Supernatural/Shoujo

Review Status: Complete (23 Volumes/23 Volumes)

Licensed: Formerly licensed by Tokyopop, it has not been relicensed yet.

Art: Somewhat generic character designs, but then again that might be because a lot of shoujo now take after FruBa as the model. Uncluttered panels that are easy to follow, with occasional heavy and blunt uses of toning.

Summary: Tohru Honda was an orphan with no place to go, until the mysterious Sohma family offered her a place to call home. Now, her ordinary high school life is turned upside down, as she's introduced to the Sohma's world of magical curses and family secrets. ( description)

Review: This is a manga I avoided for the longest time simply because I wasn’t a fan of the anime. I deeply, deeply regret this now (and love my local library- yay for having the entire series at my fingertips!). There is a reason this is considered one of the best shoujo manga out there.

The first seven volumes consist of getting you introduced to the characters and the appearances of the Sohma family. This is what the anime covers. What comes after are the depths of the emotional instability and abuse that perpetuates within the household as the curse slowly unravels. At the heart of it is Akito and his relationship with his parents and the members of the Zodiac that keep him from venturing into the world and being true to himself.

Circling him are the members of the Zodiac, caught up in their forced love (and subsequent loathing) of their “God”. Akito manipulates and uses them to cure his own loneliness and self-hatred, while the parents of most of the Zodiac members fear and revile their children, leaving them with guilt and scars that they seek to heal in myriad ways. Tohru is caught up in it, with her love for Kyo and the others driving her to comfort them and befriend them, comforting them in any way she can.

Her journey in this world of conflicting roles and dark histories brings its weight to bear on her. When she finds that sometimes, there is nothing she can do, it starts making her feel that she could break. She Tohru goes from Mary-Sue-esque character to believable, real person in a heartbeat in this manga, and all the characters around her are as damaged but loveable- even the worst of them becomes sympathetic as the story unfolds.

There may not be any huge fights or adventure to distant lands, but this is nevertheless an epic story about people- coming together, moving on, and earning their happy endings.

Overall, this is a beautiful manga that deserves all the praise it gets.

Recommended: 15+. The language is really heavy in the first three volumes (Kyo has a mouth on him!) but rarely does it get worse than the d-word. There’s implied sexual relations between several characters.

Other titles you might enjoy:
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Cat Street (manga)
Karakuri Odette (manga)

“In Memory Of” – Solanin (manga) – 9/10 Black Cats

There is a point in every young person's life when you realize that the youth that you've progressed through and graduate to some sort of adulthood is equally as messed up as where you're going. ~Jena Malone

Mangaka: Inio Asano

Genre: Slice-of-Life/Drama/Seinen

Review Status: Complete (2 Volumes/ 2 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US

Art: This has fairly simple art, but while the panels are clean, easy to read and easy to follow, there is a very nice amount of detail in the characters and backgrounds.

Summary: When people hit college, they realize that they’re at a turning point in their life. What will they do for the rest of their time on Earth? It’s a time where it’s easy to get lost, lose sight of your dreams, and fall into a general funk. Meiko realizes that she’s fallen into this, and decides to try and figure out what she’s going to do by taking a few months off of work and thinking about it. Her live-in boyfriend supports her decision, and eventually she comes to support him and his friends as they are reinvigorated to follow their own dreams.

Review: Solanin. The name of a love song, a breakup song, a song that was dedicated to Meiko and remains Naruo’s favorite song that he wrote- the one that he and his friends decide to peg their dreams on when they get back together one last time to try and follow their dreams of making it big. It marks the complicated feelings they have toward eachother, but yet they love and support one another nonetheless.

More than anything else, this is a look into these two people’s lives. The trouble they have coming to terms with ‘adulthood’, realizing that we never stop growing up, learning that life is full of twists and turns, and how we love and remember people is one of the most important things in the world.

There is very little to not like about it. The humor is spot-on, the dialogue witty and honest, and considering that there are a billion clichéd movies about this same thing, fails to fall into that territory at every turn. This is a realistic look into life at what, for many, is an awkward age. It will resonate more with some than with others, but this is definitely a fabulous manga that everyone at that stage of life should read.

Overall, this is a manga for all those who feel a little lost in their lives. You are not alone.

Recommended: A mature 16+. There are maybe two swears, a little drinking/drunkenness. You get some brief partial nudity and implied sex.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Oyasumi Punpun (manga)
Beck (manga and anime)
Nana (manga and anime)
Our Happy Time (manga)
Ciguatera (manga)
Pumpkin and Mayonnaise (manga)

“In The Eye Of The Beholder” – Ode to Kirihito (manga) – 10/10 Black Cats

Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides. ~Lao Tzu

Mangaka: Osamu Tszuka

Genre: Drama/Psychological/Thriller

Review Status: Complete (4 Volumes/4 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US

Art: Typical of Tezuka. The characters are far more cartoon-y than what you’ll find in most manga today, with some typical “older” touches to it- think those Mr. Magoo cartoons, and that’s what I’m talking about.

Summary: Kirihito Osanai is a young doctor who's just been introduced to the Monmow disease, which transforms humans into dog-like beasts and kills them within a month of the metamorphosis. While studying the pathology of the disease Kirihito himself becomes an unknowing guinea pig for his hospital's research into it. Under the auspices of research, Kirihito is sent to a remote village in the mountains, where he contracts the Monmow disease himself, and through a series of misfortunes, becomes estranged from his beautiful fiancée, Izumi Yoshinaga (the daughter of his hospital's Director and Chief Physician), and his close friend and rival, Urabe.

As the disease begins to transform Kirihito's body physically, the sudden metamorphosis impacts his character. Kirihito soon begins to doubt the medical world and after much resistance breaks down to accept his new role as a monster and spiritual figure in the quaint rural village he now lives in. Whether he is able to come to terms with his new life, however, it is certain that society will see him very differently. Quickly it becomes certain that Kirihito's life will be continuous strife dictated by the hospital that once employed him and is now looking to attain international acclaim by revealing the secrets (albiet incorrect) of Monmow's Disease.

It quickly becomes the secret mission of Urabe and Yoshinaga to find Kirihito and uncover the conspiracy and mystery behind this medical phenomenon, though Urabe seems to have motives of his own as pertains to the beautiful fiancée. Urabe, however, that is able to link the Monmow disease directly to water that runs from the mountain village where Kirihito is trapped, and the two doctors will independently discover the truth about Monmow. ( description)

Review: Sometimes it’s really hard to sum up thoughts on a work. Ode to Kirihito is one of those ones. Kirihito is an honest, driven man, determined to not shake the boat too much. However, his honesty is a two-edged sword: When he goes against the hospital director and feels that he has discovered the true origin of Monmow disease, he is put in the sites of a man that will stop at nothing to support his theory and gain power and prestige from it.

You can tell what era this was written in. Osamu doesn’t shy away from showing the injustices that were perpetrated on people back then. There’s blatant prejudice and racism. At one point a character is nearly killed because she’s white, and (paraphrase) whites couldn’t catch a disease that until then had only been recorded in colored communities. Women are incredibly disenfranchised, with rape occurring several times simply because the man committing them was in love with them and ‘couldn’t control himself’. Sexuality plays a big part, from being used to oppress others to showing that even those who have differences aren’t all bad, as the racism works to show plays of power on the international stage.

It’s against this background that Kirihito must try and find a way to reveal the origins of the disease. He fights against ignorance and misinformation, and sometimes against simple blind hatred towards those who are different. Along the way he deals with the struggle of being considered less than human and the humiliation that comes with it, the question of whether it’s worth trying to survive in such unforgiving conditions, and whether he can actually succeed in his mission to avenge the woman he loved and find a way to right the misinformation the hospital director is trying to pass off as truth.

These questions are asked under the darkest of circumstances, from being used as a sideshow freak for a rich man, to finding a baby dying in the middle of a desert, to one of his companions dying in the dangerous way she lived her life. These events don’t exactly have happy endings. He might find the strength to move on, but they forever weigh heavily on his mind. Kirihito may have a measure of success at the end, but it comes at great cost.

There are definitely good guys and bad guys. Kirihito and most of his friends are sympathetic, dealing with deep flaws but ultimately being good people. The bad guys are mainly flawed, with few redeeming qualities, or what qualities they have dissolving under the need for power or under the pressure they face. It doesn’t make their stories less compelling. Actually, I feel it makes it moreso, as they overcome some obstacles but fail in others. They feel human, and utterly relatable in many ways. They make this story what it is- a brilliant work that showcases the effects of power and prejudice.

Overall, this is a moving manga about differences and revenge, and is a fascinating read.

Recommended: Adults only! People are killed in pretty terrible ways, from bombs and being shot to one instance of being fried alive. There is some gore- you see the wounds, the limbs, the bodies and blood spatter. It isn’t shy about the human body- there are several instances of almost complete nudity. There is also a lot of sexual imagery going on, from scenes of rape, attempted rape, and sex, or forced fellatiato. Thankfully the scenes are never completely graphic and often brief, with blackouts and symbolic pictures instead of being pornographic.

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MW (manga)
Monster (anime and manga)