Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dulalala!! x4

Something of a soft reboot for the series after the initial trilogy and the year of Baccano! novels, Dulalala 4 is a massive return to form.
Headless biker Celtie is surprised by a TV crew on the corner one night; they demand to no why she has no lights or license plate. Assuming they'll never be able to broadcast it, she explains that her bike is actually a horse, and it transforms...on live television. Oops. Before she knows it, there's a ten million yen bounty on her head, and every biker gang in the area is chasing after her...while she's got a dead body in her sidecar.
Meanwhile, a Russian hitman and a serial killer disguised as monster are fighting in a park when they accidentally piss off a man dressed as a bartender, who immediately hits them with a bench. The people that stop to help them recover from their wounds send ripples out through the plot, which covers the same time frame from four different points of view, all ending in the same car chase as Celtie's.
Particularly astounding is the introduction of evil strategist Izaya's deranged twin sisters, who proceed to deal with the bullies at their new school by weaponizing thumbtacks, stealing bras, and starting fires in bookbags, before going back to loudly reading porn magazines aloud in class.
Man, the anime version can't air soon enough.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bakemonogatari In-character Commentary

So the first BluRay disc for Bakemonogatari came out this week, and the two episodes on it feature a running commentary by Hitagi and Tsubasa, in character, apparently scripted by Nisioisin.
This is easily the greatest extra I've ever heard of.
Thanks to the favored store, I have now listened to both tracks, and they are everything you could possibly have dreamed of. Hitagi privately making a list of things to discuss with Araragi later, Tsubasa insisting that Araragi actually was helping her plan for the school festival, and both of them pointing out ways in which Araragi has carefully taken advantage of the blocking in a scene to make it look like he's taller than Hitagi. Hitagi also describes the opening fifteen minutes of the second episode in terms of this friend of hers who certainly isn't named Senjogahara Hitagi, and who certainly would not have behaved anything like that if she had been aware it would later be broadcast on national television. She's also convinced the footage of her in junior high was taken by a stalker. They also mercilessly mock Shaft's more surreal moments. "And look, the school was actually a portal to another dimension."

Isao Takahata directing Taketori Monogatari

The absurdly late hours I'm keeping have their benefits, as I managed to browse past a few news sites reporting that Studio Ghibli's better half, Isao Takahata, is finally making another film. Every bit as brilliant a director as Miyazaki, Takahata hasn't made a film since the criminally great My Neighbors the Yamadas ten years ago.
Taketori Monogatari/The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is one of the more famous Japanese legends -- it's sort of hard to watch much anime without tripping over the thing. After all, they have a god damn holiday about it.
A baby found in the woods who turns out to be a princess from the moon sounds like exactly the sort of material Studio Ghibli excels at.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Katanagatari trailer

I wound up being ultimately really disappointed in the novels, but I have a sneaking suspicion they'll work much better animated. Production values look better than expected, and I dig that they've stuck so closely to take's art style.

Bakemonogatari 12

As expect, the TV broadcast ends by completely ditching the arc started last episode in favor of wrapping up the romance angle extremely awesomely.

The car ride in particular brought back the Utena touch, with shots of the car moving, of Hitagi's hand on his leg, of her lips whispering in his ear, and of the back of her Dad's head studiously ignoring them, all set to klezmer music.
Beautifully handled all the way through. This was probably the most memorable section of the second Bakemonogatari volume, so they really needed to nail it, and they went above and beyond.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Homunculus 10 would be hard to translate

After what seems like nigh on a year of release date changes (even more than usual) Homunculus 10 finally comes out, wrapping up the Guppy storyline.
This volume in particularly really hinges on some uber language specific things; not only the main character sliding back into a Northern accent, but the other character (I totally failed to pick up their names this volume, having forgotten them in the delay) slowly adjusts his language as he gets drunker and drunker, until he is using entirely women's language.
Hilariously, they're claiming the next volume will be out in December. I predict it has more chance of coming out in December 2010...but perhaps they are one step ahead of me, seeing as they fail to specify a year.
Homunculus is a triumph of decompression, and clearly the work of a notorious perfectionist, so I've pretty much adopted a policy of assuming the first solicitation of a volume will inevitably be canceled.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Catching up on Soul Eater

I couldn't work out how I'd managed to get three volumes behind on a book I like as much as Soul Eater. When I actually sat down with the pile, intent on catching up, I realized I had managed to stop just before the climax of the Arachnae plot...which is still going strong. Apparently we've got another volume...or two, you never know. But I think we're just down to the Maka and Soul side of things, so probably only one.
With a big battle centric arc, we certainly see Soul Eater at it's most conventional...and get to enjoy how breezily he overcomes that. Few other artists are as willing (or even capable) of employing as varied a range of art styles as Okubo. Actually, I'd go so far as accusing him of having assistants draw certain sections on their own because he thought their art style would make for a neat effect.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

One Piece 55: Attack of the Okama

I swear, the middle chunk of this volume is One Piece gone Bruno. Bon Clay has always been a pretty outrageous dude; the okama stereotype writ extra large, he winds up looking like the straight man when he stumbles into the lair of Emporio Ivonkov, the Okama King. Ivonkov has a head five times too large for his body, dresses in full Rocky Horror drag -- with a FISHNET CAPE -- and has an ultimate move called the Death Wink. And his Devil Fruit powers revolve around controlling hormones -- shortly after he's introduced, he pokes a man with his fingernails, and turns the dude into a woman. He and his transsexual transgendered army of freedom are partying hard to prepare for the coming revolution.
The okama stereotype has gradually become a real problem for me -- I now take trotting that stereotype out wholesale as a sure sign of hack writing, and refuse to watch anything that uses that. The almost total lack of nuanced, realistic portrayals of alternative lifestyles is a big part of it (Arai Hideki and, oddly, Oku Hiroya are two of the few who have bothered) but I've gradually come to realize that it isn't just the cliche that bothers me -- like all stereotypes, it IS based on a character type from the real world -- but that the hack's portrayal of it fundamentally misunderstands why outrageously over the top okama WORK. Every flamboyant button-pushing exhibitionist I've known got a pass on their more inappropriate shticks because they were FUCKING FUNNY. Yet in most anime, the actual characters are disgusted, annoyed, or confused by the okama characters. If the other characters don't even like the fucker, why would I want to see them?
This is why One Piece, for all it's indulging and exploiting of the stereotype, fundamentally GETS IT. Bon Clay is considered HILARIOUS. Ivonkov's immensely dumb NOT jokes DESTROY his audience. We're given feedback from the start that these are likable, energetic people. And then they get to be really fucking heroic.
Glancing back, apparently I didn't talk about One Piece 54, or if I did, I didn't tag it. I was pretty thrown by volume 53's abrupt cast dispersal, but once I saw where he was headed with this, I knew once again that I should never doubt Oda for a second. This arc has been a real treat, both with old characters popping up again, and new characters. My personal favorite is Inazuma, who engages in furious battles while holding a glass of brandy in one hand.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Gun and Chocolate

After two misfires, I was a bit hesitant to wrap up the Mystery Land series. After all, Otsu Ichi is not a man known for novels -- in fact, I think this and the Jojo's Bizarre Adventure novel are the only two full length works he's done. It's a good thing I forged ahead, because this is the single best thing he's ever written, and one of the most riveting books I've ever been lucky enough to read.
This is, in theory, a children's novel. It has an annoying lack of kanji, which made several sentences into irritating puzzles, trying to figure out where the fucking verb began. It has a notorious phantom thief who steals famous treasures, and a great detective who all children idolize and who vows to catch the thief someday. Many -- possibly all -- characters are named after kinds of chocolate. (Some are pretty obscure; Royce is apparently a Japanese brand, but I'd never heard of them. On the other hand, the thief is named Godiva.)
But the main character is introduced shopping with his they are told to leave the shop because the shopkeeper doesn't serve their kind. They are visibly Not From Here. Racial hostility is a nigh constant factor in this kid's life. His father is so sick he drops the coins he's counting, and they are so poor they have to use a stick to pry loose the one caught between the cobblestones. His father buys a cheap used Bible, on the grounds he's going to need it soon. When the kid's father dies, he finds a map tucked in the Bible. A map drawn by the phantom thief.
With a world view this harshly grounded, adventure plotting has a way of going very sour. This is an incredibly cynical book, and the heart stopping way shit goes south in just about every conceivable way really makes it a relentless page turner. Otsu Ichi's absolute command of structure and blisteringly refined economy of prose are both on display here, with neither a wasted sentence nor a scene that does not in some way jar you away from what you expect from the genre. It essentially amounts to taking Edogawa Rampo's old Twenty Faces stories, yanking the rug out from under them with a great big helping of neo-realism, and then pacing the fucker like you wish thrillers were always paced.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Mysterious Girlfriend X 5

For the first half of this volume, I was somewhat confused. When did this become a bog standard romantic comedy? Admittedly, one where someone had done a find and replace on all normal romantic gestures, replacing them with people licking saliva off each other's fingers, but nonetheless, every single beat of it was bog standard old flame shows up to break up the lead couple stock plotting.
Right until Urabe bursts in on them...dressed as a cardboard robot. From that point on things become spectacularly frothy. By which I mean "lots of nudity."
If he wants to actually progress their relationship, he's got a few challenges to face; the more overtly sexual things become, the harder it will be to leave his bat shit crazy stamp on it. I can't help but feel like the bulk of this volume's plot boils down to Ueshiba Riichi trying to buy time while he figures out how to do that.
It's telling, then, that the single most memorable image in the book is Urabe eating instant ramen clad in a flannel shirt and underwear -- with scissors jammed into the underwear. Like I've said before, the real secret to this book's wonky appeal is the way it replaces the standard vocabulary of sexual imagery with the kind of intimate found moments that keep actual relationships thrilling.

No Oxygen, Not to be Mirrored

No Point, Not to be Read.
So Kadono Kouhei writes the Boogiepop series, and everything he writes is set in the same world -- even the things that aren't are linked in clever ways. The Boogiepop novels feature a sort of formless menace known as the Towa Kikou, or just The System. As the Boogiepop series entered double digits, the head of the Towa Kikou was revealed to be a soft spoken man with so little personality people frequently failed to notice him until he spoke -- and when he spoke, he spoke in riddles. His name was Oxygen, and he could see the strings of fate. But Oxygen was dying, and searching for his replacement. This was an immensely tedious subplot for several volumes -- only one time was it ever the focus, and that novel is the single worst book in the series -- and it had an annoying habit of showing up in Faust short stories, even providing a key driving force to Beat's Discipline.
Oxygen himself was, by nature, a cryptic cipher -- a man who spoke only in the half-baked, deliberately obfuscated philoso-shit Kadono previously had the sense to keep confined to the writings of a fictional author that other characters occasionally attempted to understand. Plots caused by him or involving him never seemed to add up to much, and the Boogiepop novels were noticeably better when Kadono stopped trickling in half-assed arc plots and wrapped that storyline up.
In this book. Written for a completely different publisher. For a completely different audience. And in a way that would make absolutely no fucking sense to anyone not already a huge fan.
I dunno, maybe it's just me, but given a shot at doing a big hardcover prestige volume that's also supposed to be a fucking children's novel, I'd probably try to do something with as little continuity as possible, with a big, meaty hook, and interesting characters. I'm not sure the book is actually all that continuity heavy -- Oxygen is just a crazy dude in the part, Teratsuki is just a dude that died and left secrets behind, the armed robbers may vaguely mention how they used to work for Diamonds but it doesn't matter if you don't get it...but Kaleidoscopes brief appearance is pretty inexplicable, and the epilogue -- where fucking Suema Kazuko takes over the god damn Towa Kikou -- is utterly baffling even though (or especially because?) he doesn't mention her name.
But even ignoring the continuity heavy shit, the novel is simply BAD.
The entire front half of the book is loaded with fucking endless baffling conversations with Oxygen, and even when there are armed robbers and treasure and halls filled with mirrors and shit later on, every fucking decision a character makes winds up flashing back to yet more fucking Oxygen prattle he mercifully failed to dole out the first time around. None of which adds up to anything worth a damn, because all the characters are completely uninteresting, something I didn't actually think could ever happen in a Kadono novel -- even the truly appalling Zankokugo Jiken had some decent character moments, where this has fucking none.
As if the relentlessly uninviting slog of a main text wasn't bad enough, he's randomly decided to preface each chapter with a bit of summary taken from a shitty tokusatsu TV show one of the characters once starred it. Not only is this clearly the most mind-bogglingly cliched piece of shit ever put to fucking film, not only do the brief plot excepts often fucking end on cliffhangers ("only to discover...") that are never resolved, but the fucking things don't even have the courtesy to provide some sort of meta-allegorical parallel to the actual events. I was literally unable to perceive any mother fucking reason for them to be there at all, except to prove that Kadono is capable of some of the worst prose ever turned out by mortal man.
I was really looking forward to digging into the three Mystery Land novels I bought years and years ago -- I wanted to read them all in a row, and I'd even planned on making a feature on the old wiki version of Eastern Standard. But after two of the worst books ever written by truly great writers, I don't know if I have the stomach to see if Otsu Ichi fucked his up this god damn hard too.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Bakemonogatari 11

Black Hanekawa!

No signs of any budget issues this week; possibly the best looking episode since the first. Totally nailed the flashback to the novel he hasn't written yet.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

These seriously need more readers

As my years as a fan wears on, I become more disillusioned with stories strictly limited to demographics. It's the most prominent reason for my declining interest in anime since 2008, where companies have had to pare down productions to their core audiences. Manga is thankfully more malleable, where even genre/demographic stories manage to remain free of conflicting visions of production committees.

Andrew brought up Kekkaishi as a fair comparison to Bleach some time ago, and it captures the two publishing approaches well. Unless one has a thorough, long-reaching plan and understanding of his story, characters and setting -- Eiirchiro Oda of One Piece being a popular example -- it's difficult to maneuver your series around the editorial policy of Weekly Shonen Jump while maintaining quality. Kubo Tite has admitted that he doesn't really think ahead, and explains why readers endure bloated arcs with endless amounts of fodder fighting. Yellow Tanabe, consciously or not, consistently grasps the appeal of Kekkaishi, and has never had an arc extend beyond two volumes. At eighteen volumes the reader knows little more about Kokuboro and the Shadow Organization than we did at nine, but it's all a MacGuffin for Tanabe to indulge in creative monster designs and characters that we quickly grow to care about. Volume seventeen might be my favorite of the series so far, effortlessly weaving these two threads -- Yoshimori's strained relationship with his brother, and a traitor of the Shadow Organization returning as an ayakashi, seeking immortality -- together.

The opening volumes (ten and eleven) of the Paris arc in Nodame Cantabile are rough, unable to sustain the satisfying urgency that came with Chiaki's key decisions regarding travel abroad and Nodame in volume nine. Amazingly, Tomoko Ninomiya seems to correct this with the near-exodus of the always entertaining Stresemann in volume twelve, moving at last past the first round of competition and exhibition of characters to focus solely on their troubles in the City of Lights. The two major draws of the series resurface stronger than ever: the blurred line between the shojo and josei demographics, and the romance supplanting the comedy rather than the drama. Even when Chiaki's insecurities of abandonment boil, the presentation is always low-key: a fight in volume thirteen between the main couple is staged at night in front of an curious crowd, tempers rising as Nodame drop kicks Chiaki after being insulted. Just as swiftly, the argument charmingly resolves itself a few pages later.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Kura no Kami / Zashiki-warashi

Four children go into a room to play a game. The game is based on a scary story about four travelers who devise a flawed plan to keep themselves awake all night -- they each take a corner, then one moves to the next corner, taps the person there, and that person moves to the next, round and round the room. But obviously, this would never actually work. When the fourth person reached the corner where the first person was standing, he would find it empty. But when the children try it, things turn out just like the story. When the lights go on, there are five children in the room. All of them remember there being four, but each of them remembers the other four being there all along.
A zashiki-warashi has joined in their game.
Before they can tell anyone, someone poisons their parents. All the children are visiting the house of a rich relative with no direct heirs -- one of their families stands to inherit a fortune, and someone is playing into some old legends about a curse on the family, trying to scare the parents away. Only the children, lacking both grown-up skepticism and grown-up greed, see what is really happening. So they -- and the zashiki-warashi -- set out to solve the mystery.
Written by Twelve Kingdom's Fuyumi Ono for the 2002 launch of Kodansha's Mystery Land line -- a line of old fashioned hard cover in slip cases that are ostensibly children's literature, but which also claim to be books for adults that remember how much better books for children used to be -- this is pretty much the last thing she wrote before dropping off the face of the god damn earth.
For most of the length, she carries off the throwback writing style and neat twist on a few central mystery novel conceits, and the book is a fairly enjoyable read...but towards the end I'm afraid it not only gets bogged down in excessively tedious conversations in which the children -- who barely have personalities -- attempt to use deductive reasoning to work out who could be behind this. These conversations usually pay off, and I understand that certain mystery fans are quite keen on this sort of exhaustive tediousness, but I've never been able to stay awake long enough to care. There's also an exasperating bit where two characters spend ten fucking pages discussing the god damn moral, suggesting she is aping entirely the wrong parts of old children's books.
I enjoyed the first two thirds of it a lot, so it's a shame that the last third winds up exposing a lot of the flaws in her central conceit, and ends up soft balling a few climactic revelations. Not that horrific illustration placement -- an issue throughout the god damn book -- doesn't spoil a few twists anyway. Seriously, I mean, the art is sort of shit so all the kids kinda look the same, but fucking putting a god damn green glowing mystical dot that isn't even in the actual story in front of the zashiki-warashi four fucking pages before they actually work out who the zashiki-warashi is? Fucking bullshit. Hunh. I think I started this review planning on recommending it despite a few late flaws, but I'm definitely coming down the other way now -- this is a book that had a lot of promise, but doesn't come through in the end. Shame.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Nisemonogatari 2: The Problem with Nisioisin

I was so happy to see these characters in action again that I cheerily overlooked a few niggling problems in the first Nisemonogatari. The second volume beats you in the face with them till you simply can't ignore them, and start making mental lists of all Nisioisin's greatest failings as a writer, virtually all of which are on display here. The only thing he doesn't do is explain the deductive process exhaustively.
His absolute refusal to allow any of the characters to interact with each other is the main beef I have with him right now -- even Karen and Tsukihi, largely created for these two volumes. While great characters, they are both little more than foils for Araragi himself. Either he forgot to figure out how to make them interact with the rest of the cast, or he is blissfully unaware of how much we'd like to see that shit happen. I mean, seriously, the entire first half of this book revolves around a dangling carrot -- Araragi is going to introduce Karen to Suruga. A hundred and fifty pages build up to this...and it is over in less than a page. Araragi just fucks off to talk to Hachikuji, and leaves the two of them to get on with it offscreen. I was so god damn angry I stopped reading for two days.
He seems pathologically reluctant to actually show us shit. If Senjogahara has had a major personality change since we last saw her, how hard would it have been to actually show us this? Possibly with the extra carrot he dangles on the last page, where Araragi finally mentions her to one of his sisters? Instead, there's a hideously placed extended wall of exposition that begins by redundantly explaining her old personality in case someone started with this book, and then equally laboriously explaining the change before telling us she's not going to appear this time around! It goes well beyond boring to actively fucking insulting!
As much fun as Shinobu goes to Mister Doughnuts and some of the other random bits scattered throughout the volume are, they don't really make up for the number of obvious plot ideas we'd much rather be reading about.
Add into that an uncomfortably eroticized scene where he brushes his sister's teeth, a scene far too disturbing to feel at home in a frothy thing like this, and something he's already done successfully in a different series, and a climax that depends on the villain's position being morally superior to Araragi's, when viewed objectively and that utterly fails since no one in their right fucking mind would have the slightest sympathy for the reprehensible fucks, and we pretty much have the full compliment of failings.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Nuevo Mazinger! Zeta episodio vientitres

The first 19 minutes of this episode are atrocious. Nothing noteworthy to screencap. Much time is wasted developing Kouji and Sayaka's fledgling romance, only sparingly covered in previous episodes. For one, the romance should've been dropped, period. It saps momentum from the rest of the show. Also, the way it's been done is too damn jarring. Sporadic hints to hot tub declaration of love is too damn abrupt--
But I digress. The last minute is heart-stopping. Screw spoilers, just thinking about that final bit gets me so amped that I can't keep my mouth shut. Earlier in the episode, Kouji gets an invitation from Dr. Hell to have a duel with Baron Ashura and its fugly mechanical beast, Baron Ashura. The winner would then gain or maintain control of the Atami Photon Power-whatever. Kouji initially declines. But then has a change of heart. Because ultimate, he is a man, and men are not supposed to turn away from challenges, even if they know full well that they are about to walk into a trap. I promptly ran for three miles for the first time in months after finishing the episode, feeling that my man-ness had become inadequate.

Bakemonogatari 10: Sound Only

And we thought the budget problems were bad last week!
Jesus, this was some fucking Eva TV ending shit, with half the fucking climax made up of close ups of Araragi's eye for no particular reason, or cycling between the red, white, and black screen's they've overused throughout the season.
Kind of a horrifically unwatchable mess, really.
Maybe having the last few episodes as OAVs is actually just to buy themselves enough time to actually fucking finish them.


Frankly, I would've preferred the film to have had no dialog. The facial expressions in these little stitch-people were expressive enough that I feel the writers could've found a way around using talking. Indeed, the writing was somewhat cheesy and disjointed. Matters weren't helped by occasionally wooden delivery from the voice actors. However, oddly enough, the under-developed nature of the writing fit and worked in a certain sense, given the background of the stitch-people.
So I was a tad indifferent to the writing and plot, but I did find the post-apocalyptic Gothic steampunk visual look of the thing to be absolutely fantastic. There's some awesome imagery to behold. For the menacing, red-eyed design of the Machines, they clearly took a page from the Matrix. I'll go ahead and say that 9 is at least worth a watch for its eye candy. If you have the time, go see this thing. Not a must watch, though.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Del Rey lists... more Me and the Devil Blues?!

Um, okay. Just what the hell is this? It's listed here, too.

A search on Amazon Japan reveals that there is still only four volumes -- the same amount of material released in each of Del Rey's two-volume omnibus. Either this is a very disappointing error, or there is some exceptionally odd deal where North American audiences are receiving material not yet published nor collected in Japan.

Moonlight Act 3

I've mentioned Kazuhito Fujita a few times before. The creator of Ushio and Tora and Le Cirque de Karakuri, he is one of the few remaining true shonen greats who have yet to have a single work translated. I can only hope that Viz's new Shonen Sunday line will finally rectify that oversight by bringing over his insanely awesome new book, Moonlight Act.
The central idea is that once in a blue moon, all the fairy tales go INSANE. An ordinary human being is given the powers to turn them back. Not all fairy tale characters snap, but those that do tend to wreak havoc in their world and ours. I've regaled many here with the epic tale of the sole surviving member of the three little pigs making a heroic last stand against the big bad wolf armed only with a traffic cone, and was significantly more silent on the second volume, which revolved around Issun Boshi, a story I did not exactly grow up with.
Volume three involves Cinderella.

While initially introduced on a Utena car driven by one of the mice, slicing the Prince's men to ribbons with her deadly glass slippers, it is not long before her rampage takes us to our world...and into the fast and furious world of Tokyo Drifting.

She's using the more traditional Cinderella pumpkin coach on the grounds that it is more sporting.
Meanwhile, since the stories cease to exist if the central characters are absent for five days, the female lead winds up attempting to impersonate Cinderella...a feat complicated by her not knowing the story, and by similarities in the Japanese words for 'ball' and 'martial arts tournament.' Needless to say, the results are gleefully retarded.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


I did not walk into Gamer excepting to want to write about it here.
I have a lot of love for the gleeful excess in the two Crank films, and I basically went wanting more of that. And worried that they grittier tone would make it less fun.
But they seem to have stumbled backwards into something kind of great here. It is a chaotic mess of half-baked sci-fi and overwrought excess, and I'm damn sure there are all kinds of places where it wouldn't hold up to scrutiny if I were the sort of dick who went around poking holes in Doctor Who plots. My brain knows all that. But I walked out feeling like I'd just seen something every bit as good as District 9.
I really can't explain why, so I suspect I'm gonna have to go see it again.

Bakemonogatari 9: Other Art Styles

This episode was more than a bit of a mess, honestly. The weakest arc to begin with, I can't blame them for cutting it down to two episodes, but cutting it down really gutted Suruga's dialogue. This is the chapter where she really came into her own, and basically spent half the chapter trying to seduce Araragi hilariously. We basically wind up with one good burst of that, awesomely handled in manga panels drawn in the distinctive styles of old school manga artists.

The focal character of this arc, Nadeko, really made no impression on me at all until Nisemonogatari -- to the point where I literally forgot her. After Nisemonogatari, I wondered why, but from what we see of her this episode, it's because she's insanely boring, a character type I simply have zero time for. The progression from doormat to actually interesting in the later books is certainly a fascinating one to deconstruct, but doesn't really make up for gutting Suruga, particularly in favor of a really long Hanekawa bit that they farmed out to some shitty other studio, resulting in horrible shit like this:

No one on earth has ever fucking made this gesture. It's a shorthand invented by sloppy artists who couldn't fucking figure out how to make people look thoughtful. There's a bunch of these gestures all through that scene, and a bunch of weird choices that really don't work at all through the opening one, making two thirds of this episode downright terrible.
I gotta admit, I like Hanekawa in the novels, but partly because of the bland voice actress and partly the way they've done her character design...she's awfully boring in the anime. Previous scenes with her managed to disguise this with a bit of style, but there's no style at all to her scene here -- I'm really not kidding when I suggest Shaft just gave some other staff the bulk of this episode to help them keep on schedule, and the staff that did the bookstore shit didn't even have the grace to make an awkward stab at Shinjo's techniques like the people that did the shrine sequence did.

Friday, September 4, 2009

More Manga Catchup (Rookies and Homunculus)

Where did summer go? Why the hell did I only wait until two weeks before school to start catching up on my backlog? Anyway, finally got back to two series I last read two years ago, Rookies and Homunculus.

Rookies was first recommended to me way back by longtime AOD user Jarred, who touted it as a must-read. Indeed, it turned out to be pretty darn enjoyable. I highly recommend this, especially for any fan of sports manga who's looking for a more realistic depiction of a sport. At this point, as delightful as I've found Rookies, I still can't elevate it to my tier of absolute favorites just yet, despite its plausible coverage of baseball, its impeccable art, and appealing array of characters. At its heart, Rookies, in spite of a somewhat more "mature" art style, is still very much a shounen series. This isn't bad. I'm not saying anything shounen sucks, as I've eaten up my share of it. There's just certain tendencies that come with works directed at that audience demographic that I've grown less tolerant of. One of these tendencies is the emphasis on the power of dreams and belief. Some of you know may know that I am not a big fan of grand idealism. Well, Rookies is flooded to the brim with it. I do get that you need dreams, and they can be powerful shit. They motivate, empower. Masanori Morita very effectively demonstrates how Koshien dreams can transform lazy delinquents into driven ball players. My problem begins when these dreams can allow an undermanned, under-talented team to repeatedly defeat established powerhouse teams. In Rookies, Nikogaku does practice their asses off after they change their ways, but this comes after a long time in which even their elite players have done shit. Short term practice, no matter how intense, can only do so much. Besides, it's not like these elite teams are lacking in effort. Miracles do happen in real life. George Mason defeated a string of favored teams, culminating with UConn and advanced to the Final Four. But then they got crushed by Florida. I like Ping Pong as much as I do because, fuck, all-around talent does matter in addition to mere drive. Where are all the fictional Friday Night Lights? Nitpicky criticism aside, Rookies is as good as underdog sports stories come. And who knows, there's still a few volumes left, so maybe it'll surprise me.
Don't have much to say for Homunculus. For better or worse, continues to be one of those few things that's fairly distinct from everything else in its medium. I have no idea why the series is rated so abysmally low on Amazon Jp. Granted, the conclusion to the Manabu/Nakoshi arc in volume 9 was significantly less satisfying than the one with Nakoshi and the girl. However, things are still reflective and oddly fascinating. Yamamoto manages to temporarily alter your perception so that seeing a man and a crossdresser go to dinner together is a striking sight, instead of a naturally unsightly one. It's a pity Homunculus is released so inconsistently. Makes it hard to build any sort of flow.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Summer of the Ubume

Totally forgot this was out now. Anyone grab it?
A lot of us are big fans of the Moryo no Hako anime, for good reasons, and I can attest to the original novel being every bit as impressive. The novel was actually the second in a series, and The Summer of the Ubume is the first. It's a rougher, more imbalanced work than Moryo no Hako, but definitely worth a read.
Vertical's website mysteriously calls Natsuhiko Kyogoku the Neil Gaiman of Japanese mystery novels, which is hilariously wrong; he's the Neil Stephenson. He does a fuckton of research, and tends to put it all into the books, which can make them a bit dry at times, but nonetheless fascinating.

Z! episode 21: Longest Day at the Kurogane House part 3 (with an appreciation for Birdy the Mighty)

Hot damn this was an awesome episode. The dead return. Disguises are shed. Ultimate weapons are unveiled. Particular highlights of badassitude include the continuation of the Nishikiori/Pygman one-upping and the appearance of this universe's incarnation of the Big Bang Punch. There's about five seconds near the end that gets kinda cheesy with some crappy sentimental music, but other than that, the episode offers unrelenting excitement.

I'm also going to piggyback this post with some fanboying for Birdy the Mighty. Goddamn, this is the thing I most want to see get licensed in the States. And I can't really see anybody doing it (with the tiny possible exception of Dark Horse--shit Wally, stop dreaming). I slogged through the Japanese releases, and I understand shit. Completely lost in terms of the plot. But Masami Yuki's artwork (love it), at least allows me to infer some of the character stuff, especially the fact that Senkawa is a horny horny young fellow. There's an ever present, giggle-inducing current of eroticism that flows through this whole thing. The chapter (and tankouban) covers are frequently very scandalously dressed and posed pictures of Birdy that have little to do with the story at hand. There's these little abrupt frames here that are very "opportunistic," presumably depicting Senkawa sneaking some quick glances (even on his sister). Then there's the fantasizing and dreaming, which occurs with more and more frequency as the manga goes on and Senkawa's desperation to relieve himself grows. The persistent horniness adds a layer of spunk, energy, and relatability that do no small part in making this thing enjoyable. And it's entirely missing in the anime, which opts from some more innocent, less interesting "love" shit in both of its seasons. One of my favorite moments is actually when Senkawa lets his imagination run wild about Birdy getting it on with Gomez. Gave me one massive, uncomfortable belly laugh, which the manga fortunately provides in spades.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Testify to the Gospel of Hirohiko Araki

This is a plea to all 17 people who read this blog. Jojo Bizarre's Adventure has resumed release in the U.S. The price point has been raised from 7.99 to 9.99 from volumes 13 and on, and the earlier pre-10 volumes may get kinda hard to find at this point, but still, buy it. Buy it so then Viz may be at least slightly compelled to release this-
Had I written this yesterday, I would have had nothing to say except for words of praise. Unfortunately, having read some more today, I'm rather peeved to find that Araki has killed off two of my favorite characters. Additionally, one of those characters was made to be an antagonist for a twist. Granted, the shock and surprise factor was certainly there (you can't really call out Araki on predictability), but after the character's setup, the twist is somewhat inconsistent and unsatisfying.
Nonetheless, Steel Ball Run is still punch-to-the-nuts exciting. It's premise involves a race across the United States from San Diego to New York in the late 19th century called the Steel Ball Run The cast that is assembled at the outset is dazzling. The protagonists are Gyro Zeppelli, an Italian son of an executioner who makes a pair of spinning steel balls far more awesome and devastating than they should be, and Johnny Joestar, a paralyzed ex-jockey who gains the stand of nail-shooting. In addition, there's Sandman, an Indian who beats horses while running on his feet, genius British horse racer Dio Brando, the noble cowboy Mountain Tim, Pocoloco, the luckiest black guy in the world, among many others. Araki is damn good at creating personalities and situations that are larger than life.
It goes without saying that, like the rest of the Jojo series, Steel Ball Run is fucking homoerotic manly. I saw a picture of Araki. He's a quirky-looking, modest 49 year old guy, so to see him conjure up such manliness with ease is a bit unexpected. What trials he underwent in his youth that left him with such an understanding of testosterone is a mystery to me. But anyway, I really appreciate the message that this guy brings. There is the occasional power-up, but, as usual, the fights are never won by purely outpowering an opponent. Instead, it's all a very cerebral game that involves utilizing existing abilities according to the circumstances at hand. Any stand can win a battle if its advantages are maximized, despite how lame-ass it may seem initially. Araki gives the impression that any ability can win any battle.
In addition, SBR also works by reinforcing a living, organic universe that extends far beyond the pages of the various books. I had a film professor tell me that many of the best franchises succeed because they generate worlds, landscapes that can fill myriad other stories besides the specific ones that have been depicted, really getting the imagination juices of an audience working. Giant Robo, Baccano are two particular series that create very open, wide-ranging universes. SBR similarly succeeds. While each series focuses on the Joestars and their friends, it's easy to see many other potential protagonists and stand powers lurking in the Jojo-verse.
Hmm...I think I've already wrote and repeated myself too much. Basically, to reduce this post to one simple sentence, buy Jojo, support Araki, pray for Steel Ball Run.

Random Addendum: Apparently, The Cove, that dolphin movie I wrote about earlier, was able to generate enough media attention in Japan to at least suspend dolphin killings for a day. For the time being, it's only a minor victory, the slaughtering should resume again fairly soon, but small or not, a win is a win.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Ancient Dogoo Girl

Odds are this ends up like Cutey Honey: The Live, amusing in theory but with a shoe string budget and frantic production pace that leaves it with so little pacing it can't weave the weirdness into anything actually awesome. But hey, her transformation sequence appears to involve her doll shrieking, "Docking!"

Edit: Hunh, Twitch seems to have fucked their embed code. Pushed through the Blogger error but it isn't showing up. Go here if it isn't for you.

ADV Films shutting down?

Just came across this news post on ANN:

ADV Films Shuts Down, Parent Transfers Assets to Other Companies (Updated)

posted on 2009-09-01 13:44 EDT
AEsir Holdings, SXION 23, Valkyrie Media Partners, Seraphim Studios acquire assets

A.D. Vision, the parent company of ADV Films, has announced that it is shutting down after transfering its assets to several other companies that will continue its operations. AEsir Holdings has acquired selected programming from ADV's film library along with other intellectual property. The SXION 23 (Section23 Films) home video distribution company will assume account servicing and distribution operations for AEsir's assets. Valkyrie Media Partners has acquired 100% of ADV's Anime Network television unit, while Seraphim Studios has acquired ADV's Amusement Park Media production unit.

Former ADV Films staffer Chris Oarr has notified ANN that several former staffers have been hired by SXION 23 and the other companies.

Update: All of the new companies are officially based in Houston, the home of A.D. Vision. SXION 23's business filing was dated on May 20, while AEsir Holdings, Valkyrie Media Partners, and Seraphim Studios were filed eight days later on May 28. SXION 23, Valkyrie Media Partners, and Seraphim Studios share the same address in western Houston, 8 miles (13 kilometers) from A.D. Vision. Sentai Filmworks, another business entity for which A.D. Vision and Amusement Park Media handled distribution and production, is also located in western Houston.

Note that A.D. Vision itself is still around, they're just shuttering ADV Films and a trio of other companies are picking up their titles, distribution and television project.

I really hope some more details come to light on this ASAP (such as which "select titles" have been acquired), as right now it sounds like some elaborate shell game.

Whatever is going on, I hope that come through it. ADV sure rocketed to the top, but then they plummeted down. Hate the big guy all you want, but the anime industry certainly benefits greatly from having a couple giants that can get into mass distribution channels and if ADV's done playing the game, then all we are left with on that scale is FUNimation. As much as I've loved them lately, it's never healthy to have the industry relying so heavily on one company.

Mayumi Kojima

Dear god I love this woman. For the past week, I've listened to nothing else besides her sensational discography, and she's quickly become one of my favorite musicians. I can't believe I let her stuff slip out of my radar after listening to the awesomesauce that is Poltergeist in the Ghost Hound OP over a year ago.

It's unfortunate that I've found next to no information about her through Google. Only bit of background info that I could find at some blog said that she grew up listening to American music from the earlier half of the 20th century and wanted to emulate the stuff from that period. She hearkens back to her American influences in a very obvious manner, throwing in cute melodic homages here and there, and does so consistently from album to album. But her "sound" is still very distinct. And it has everything to do with her insane voice. To start, it's got a very smooth and sultry tone. Timbre aside, there's a number of things she does that make her vocals one-of-a-kind. It's very "inconsistent." She drifts, wavers between airy whispers and resounding belts with rapidity and ease. She cracks her voice, goes off-key and discordant, hisses and moans in ways that are so aurally pleasing. Simply put, her voice makes the music. The instrumental composition is nice, but put in a different voice, and there's a good chance this stuff would become boring.

Admittedly, it's hard to tell her albums apart. Her style and sound is fairly constant. Without understanding the language and hearing any thematic differences, I couldn't tell that her songs were from different albums one time when I had accidentally set my music player on shuffle. But honestly, if it works, why change it for the sake of "experimentation"? What she lacks in drastic variation is made up by how consistently fun, playful, and satisfying her music is.

Mayumi Kojima's got a new album slated for release on October 21st. My bank account is empty, but my ears are willing.

Hebi Musume
Last Shot

Preorder her upcoming album here.