Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Big Move

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

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

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

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

Mangaka: CLAMP

Genre: Romance

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: Formerly licensed by Tokyopop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genre: Sci-fi/Action/Mecha/Shounen

Review Status: Complete (6 Episodes/6 Episodes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 3, 2011

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

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

Mangaka: Kyoko Ariyoshi

Genre: Drama/Romance/Shoujo

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

Licensed: Formerly licensed by CMX manga.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genre: Drama/Historical/Christian/Spiritual

Review Status: Complete (1 Episode/1 Episode)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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