Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Manga Shorts: Two Flowers for the Dragon

Quick note, meant to post this with Sunday's post, but even thought today is the last day of November regular updates will not resume until next week. Why? Because I'm working on two huge final projects for my photo projects, I have just a week and a half to do what will amount to about 15 hours of work on each plus I have a video to edit together by Tuesday as well. So I need a few extra days to get some rough reviews written up and to make some real headway on these projects, I will be so glad when this semester is over. @_@

So, onto the actual manga, I'd heard about this one for a few years, mainly that due to CMX's collaspe that the final volume would never be published, but it wasn't until I saw this House of 1000 Manga column that I became interested and at the same time the All About Manga blog was giving away a few duplicate volumes she had and I said I was kinda interested in the TFftD one. I got it, started reading the scanlations online, since it was volume five, and was immedately hooked and had to run out and buy the sixth volume before the prices on it went any higher. 

Two Flowers for the Dragon by Nari Kusakawa

A shoujo series in a vaguely Chinese, desert setting (going by the clothing style and what Shakuya’s dragon form looks like), Shakuya is in line to be the next ruler of the oasis and has been engaged since she was very young to the son of one of the local nobles as per tradition. However five years ago her fiancée, Lucien, vanished and she was betrothed to a new man, Kuwan, whom she loves very dearly despite their age difference. Trouble arises however when Lucien reappears and has only hazy memories of his life before he vanished but it’s clear that he is Shakuya’s original suitor. Shakuya’s mother decides to solve this problem by taking advantage of the fact that Shakuya’s engagement tattoos, a flower on each hand representing Lucien and Kuwan’s families, have sprouted flowers and whichever flower has the most buds at the end of the year shows which man she loves the best and who she will marry. Originally this sounded like a really contrived reason for a love triangle so I avoided the series but it really does work and Shakuya’s mother’s idea actually seems rather logical. But I really feel in love with the series because of Shakuya, she’s half dragon giving her control over water (the whole reason her family is in charge of the oasis) and can actually shape shift into a dragon and she’s never ashamed of these qualities or worries about the boys disliking her for it, it’s so refreshing and natural feeling to have a main character who’s that confident about herself. There was also a surprising amount of action in the series, I was really surprised at just how many people get major injuries, and there is a well-written plot going on in the background to tie together all the events. My biggest problem with the series though is that the last volume was never released in English and it’s near impossible to find out what happens in the very end. Scanlations stop midway through volume five, I own five and six, and I do know which guy she ends up with in final volume but I don’t know how exactly it happened. I have a guess or two how it happened but I really want to read or see it for myself, give me the last volume in any language and I will figure out how to translate it just to give myself some peace of mind, I think it shows just how much I enjoy this series if I’m willing to go to that much trouble to track down the ending to it.  

And that's the end of the manga shorts month guys! I actually enjoyed writing about all of these series quite a bit and if I do NaNo again next year I'll probably do something similar again. Until then however I have a whole slew of OOP manga I need to track down, I can hear my wallet protesting already.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Anime Review: Emma A Victorian Romance

Nozomi/The Right Stuf has been streaming a lot of this shows recently on youtube, most episodes are only up for two weeks but provided you keep up with them that's plenty of time, and this is one of their titles I've wanted to try out for years. I've read all of the main storyline of the manga and a few of the spin-off volumes (almost all of which sadly are super expensive since CMX went out of business two years ago) but I had held off from purchasing the anime since I wasn't so sure how much I would like this version.

Emma: A Victorian Romance

Summary: Set in Victorian England, Emma is a maid to the retired tutor Mrs. Stowner and lives a quiet yet content life serving her mistress. But one day Mrs. Stowner’s old student William comes to visit and it’s love at first site for the two of them. The problem is that William is the son of a wealthy merchant who hopes to marry his son into nobility to raise their class and no one, except William’s friend the eccentric, Indian prince Hakim, believes their love can ever succeed.

The Good: The original manga had a meticulously researched setting which makes this one of the most realistic depictions of Victorian England in anime and it's always nice to have a well thought out setting. The characters are clearly a product of their time and the ways they think and act are clearly influenced by the world they live in, except for Hakim who seems a bit too eccentric for his background and it's possible that's why he fades from a main character to a minor character as the season goes on. All of the main characters get enough screen time to flesh them out so that their motivations (and this is more of a slice of life story so the setting and character motivations drive everything) become very clear and understandable and that makes the whole story feel more realistic.

The Bad: Between the fact that I remembered more of the earlier parts of the series and I like the later parts of the series better (season two) it took a while for this show to get going for me. Since Emma is such a quiet (and many times passive) character I sometimes find her to be the most boring character in the story and William often wasn't any better for me, I'm never fond of characters who think of almost nothing but their crush when they're in love. I did come to like all the characters more but in the very early episodes I was worried that maybe I didn't like this story as much as I remembered and was going to be terribly disappointed as it went on.

The Audio: Emma elects to go for wordless opening and closing themes and instead have upbeat, almost folksy sounding, instrumental pieces instead which work quite nicely. The voice actor work is also quite nice, no dub exists for the series but the Japanese voices manage to sound completely natural regardless. It might help that I was less familiar with these voice actors (so I never had the odd moment when I recognized them from another role) but they all had very natural and down to Earth voices, especially Emma’s and if a series didn’t a dub that the setting really needed (part of the reason I haven’t watched this show before is because it is so odd to see a series set in England without an English vocal track) at least it had an excellent Japanese dub.

The Visuals: Kaouru Mori’s original manga contained a lot of fine detail, some of which I thought was lost in the anime but I seem to be in the minority here. I feel like the facial designs don’t translate as nicely (although they are very expressive) and at times the art seemed just a bit too bright. The backgrounds however are wonderfully detailed and provide the series with the same sense of authenticity that the manga had. The art did grow on me after a while but after reading the manga which was entirely pen and ink shaded it was a bit of a shock to see so many bright colors (although it's true that the Victorians did have brightly colored outfits so that would be historically accurate). 

It seems like I choose a very good time to follow this series since TRSI is offering a nice bundle pack of both limited edition sets of the series (which come loaded with extras) and I think I will try to grab those this holiday season. They've started streaming the second season as well so I've gotten back into the rhythm of the story and if I can't buy all the manga volumes then I might as well try to buy all of this version instead. 


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Manga Shorts: Soul Eater and Soul Eater Not!

I haven't actually been following either of these series for a few months now, I'll probably continue with Not! though when the volumes start being released in the US, but I still wanted to talk about these series anyway. I really did like Soul Eater for a while so I do want to talk about why I liked it and why I ended up dropping it.

Soul Eater by Atsushi Ohkubo
At the DWMA (Death Weapon Meister Academy, Shibusen in Japanese) students from all over the world gather to study fighting as they split off into pairs of Weapons (people who can literally transform into a weapon, such as a scythe or guns) and Meisters (the people who wield them and are able to sycronize their soul wavelengths to become even more effective fighters). Soul and Maka are the main weapon-meister pair whose goal is to collect 99 human souls (all from Death's list of bad people) and one witch soul (who are supposed to be always chaotic evil) to turn Soul into a deathscythe, a weapon used by Lord Death himself, although they've been having some trouble with that. Also in the background there are growing concerns about what some of the most powerful witches are doing which the adult characters are investigating which brings me to why I enjoyed this series so much, there were adult characters who did things and were very competent at doing them. Soul Eater actually has a large cast and in the early bits of the story (lasting the first 15 or 16 volumes) you had no trouble remembering this, they were all amazing! But, as the story went on, it feel into one of the classic shonen tropes of "because you're the main character(s) you are now the most powerful ones in the story, which doesn't make much sense and we're going to make everyone else suddenly much dumber/less powerful to highlight this even more." I just had to give up after Ohkubo built up several side characters, gave them extra panel time, and then they were useless in the end, it was just too frustrating to continue. For the moment I've stopped collecting the series but I think now I'll pick it back up and continue to about the end of the Rescue Kidd arc since thinking about this series reminds me that I really did like the early parts and maybe it will be that great again later on, I can hope so anyway.

Soul Eater Not! by Atsushi Ohkubo
 A lighthearted spin-off from the main Soul Eater story, Soul Eater Not! is set sometime before Soul Eater starts and follows weapon Tsugumi, a new student to the school, and her fellow classmates (primarily the meisters Anya and Meme) as they adjust to school life and explores the backstories of some of the characters from the main series such as Kim and Jaquelin (who are my favorites so yay). I honestly wasn't expecting to like this story much at all but it's so fun and fills in a lot of the setting. I haven't been keeping up with this since Yen Press licensed it and I probably won't buy a subscription to their magazine to read it every month* but I do plan on buying the volumes as they come out.

Got one more series to talk about next Wednesday and then November is over and Manga Shorts are done! Seems like November went by really fast this year and I enjoyed doing these posts so I'll probably do this again next year, who knows what I'll have found by then.

*for that I would rather have the JManga approach and just buy a cheaper subscription to read just that, although funny enough the reason I haven't tried out JManga is because I want a all-you-can-eat subscription like I have for Crunchyroll, boy am I picky.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Manga Shorts: Red-haired Snow White

Honestly I probably should have posted this review first, since I've only seen it listed under it's Japanese name everywhere else but I only started reading it at the end of October. A friend, who does a lot of quick manga reviews (most of which are cute but obscure shojo titles) had a rather fangirl-ish post about the series so I checked it out (I normally check out a chapter or two of everything she posts about) and fell in love with the series myself. 

Red-Haired Snow White (Akagami no Shirayukihime) by Akizuki Sorata
 Shirayuki, an aspiring pharmacist, lives a quiet life on the edge of town and endures stares whenever she goes into town because of her unusual red hair. Her hair draws the attention of a local prince who wants to take her a concubine, something which Shirayuki objects to, cuts off most of her hair, and then proceeds to flee the country through the nearby woods. There she runs into a young man named Zen who helps her escape the prince and turns out to be the second prince of the neighboring country. From there she gets caught up in some of the politics of the country all the while training to eventually become the Royal Pharmacist. Despite it's title there are very few references to the original Snow White tale, the only one I can think of is a poisoned apple from the first chapter, and with the over abundance of reworked fairy tales these days this is rather nice. This isn't the greatest shojo story ever but it's very solid, lots of likable characters, Shirayuki and Zen are always trying to develop into better characters, most of the cast gets some back story and the story itself progresses at a good pace. I've read all of part one of the story, some time in the past year it switched magazines (I think Hana to Yume split itself or something such as that) and the part one had a nice ending that worked well. I would like to see what else happens in part two but I haven't found any scanlations for it yet (the series is unlicensed although I wouldn't be surprised if Viz eventually picked it up for its Shojo Beat line), I'll be sure to keep following it once more appears.   

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Anime Review: Blue Exorcist

The final summer title and only two months after it finished! Note to self, don't watch so much anime in one season again, overall this summer was a pretty good season with a number of great shows, good shows and average shows. It also had a number of not-so-good shows but thankfully Blue Exorcist wasn't one of those, although it wasn't one of the great shows either.

Blue Exorcist (Ao no Exorcist)

 Summary: Rin only recently discovered that he’s the son of Satan and found out when Satan killed his foster father while protecting him. Rin has now sworn revenge on Satan and is studying to become an exorcist in order to defeat him while trying to master his own demonic heritage.

The Good: Blue Exorcist is a good example of solid and alright shonen, the fights don't take too long, the villains aren't too overpowered, the lead, who might not be the most interesting character, is likable enough and so is the rest of the cast. Rin, while hotheaded, at times seems a lot more street savvy than many shonen heroes which was a nice change and all of the (main cast) characters had their good points, their bad points and some character development. For the first half or two thirds of the show it was an enjoyable shonen series which, while predictable at a lot of points, I enjoyed watching.

The Bad: Due to a need to pad out the series the later half is different from the manga and one thing I didn't like is how the other characters reacted to the news that Rin is a demon. In the manga this was all handled quite well, some characters accepted him sooner than others and it felt natural. Here things got odd because of fillers so at first they were okay with it, then they weren't, and then they became okay with it again? While the story doesn't fall apart in the final arc, all filler, it just didn't make quite as much sense as the previous arcs and made it impossible to continue based on later manga material*. Honestly, as many fans of the series have already said, this anime was made just a bit too earlier since there just wasn't enough material for a two cour anime. Personally I really didn't like the last arc, it felt like a stupid conflict, like the characters suddenly stopped using part of their brains and yet like nothing was really happening.

The Audio: The background music for this series was solid and worked well but the opening and ending song were, strange. The first OP had both very active bits and very slow bits (which were reflected in the animation, it was a wide variety for only a minute and a half and felt jarring), the first ED was just strange (it was by the Korean band 2pm and, when I showed it to friends who were familiar with the band, they were also confused by it) and the second set were just average. I was a bit miffed that Aniplex was going to distribute the title themselves, were doing the subtitling themselves and were the Japanese license holders yet didn't bother to sub any of the songs.

The Visuals: Animated by A-1 (Aniplex’s studio which has gotten much bigger in the past few years) the series looked pretty nice overall, although whenever I would pause while watching in HD on crunchyroll I usually ended up with a very strange looking frame. Provided you didn’t pause the video however the art looked good, the animation seemed to move well, none of the many action scenes looked off and very rarely was a scene just shots of talking heads. It’s a shame that the series is only getting a DVD release in the US, I imagine it would look quite nice on Blu-Ray.

While I do mean to start buying the manga soon, I don't think I'll get the anime for this series anytime soon. It's a really expensive, sub only, DVD only set, two sets actually, and I just don't like the series enough for that. I also feel like Aniplex is hurting themselves by not dubbing it, I can see this working quite well on Cartoon Network and they've already put Durarara!! there, I feel like Aniplex is trying to rush this release as if they're worried that the fans will forget if the series isn't put out right now.

*funny enough, it's biggest twist might happen soon in the manga after all but even with that it would be hard to have a second season, they would have to rewrite the next arc very heavily.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Manga Shorts: Pokemon Adventures

I feel a little silly for talking about this title since it is a kids one but, well, I do follow this manga and follow it for fun so why not! Technically this would have been my first manga way back in the fourth or fifth grade, Viz released the first two arcs (Red/Green/Blue and Yellow) and then stopped translating them for a number of years, I think now they're just finishing up the third arc, Gold/Silver/Crystal. In Japan the manga has been running from over a decade and is currently progressing through the Black/White arc (which I think is considered it's own thing? I believe that technically the Heart Gold/Soul Silver arc was the last in the Adventure manga, which is actually called Pokemon Special in Japan) which Viz is also releasing in the US. And with that much explanation I think I should get along to the review!

Pokemon Adventures (Pokemon Special) by Hidenori Kuska, illustrated by Mato (volumes 1-9) and Satoshi Yamamoto (volumes 10 to present)
  Based off of the Pokemon video games, not the anime, each arc in this series follows the same basic formula set-up; you have three kids (modeled off of the male sprite, female sprite and the rival*) who are all 10 or 11 about to set off on an adventure, at least one of them ends up defeating all the gym leaders and everyone ends up fighting whatever threat there is in that region (and I do mean everyone, pokemon is a world of badass). That's the basics anyway, there's actually quite a bit of variety between the arcs, the Yellow and Emerald arcs are both a bit different since they use original characters instead of game characters (the plots are also a bit different, funny enough both of them are sequels to a story set in the Kanto region), sometimes all the kids are really big into battles and sometimes just one is, and the relationships between the main trio also vary quite a bit (from R/G/B and G/S/C where some of the characters really don't like the others to D/P/P where they all travel together from the beginning). One thing I do really like about the series is how there are different characters in each arc, there is some crossover but it avoids a big problem I had with the pokemon anime (and this was when I was still in elementary school too) with how Ash always had to start over in a new region. No constant reset buttons here, heck, the original characters even age, the original ones are around 18 by now, which I do like. And the plots are solid for kids shonen, battles rarely take more than a chapter, unless there are a number of legendary pokemon involved the characters never feel crazy overpowered, and I think that most of the main characters are really likable. But what I remember most as a kid was how much I liked that Blue (Green), the female character from the first arc, actually did things and, while she might not have been as powerful as the two boys, it didn't matter because she was so much clever than them. If Viz had kept publishing this series when I was a kid I would've kept reading them for a few more years, I probably would've gotten into manga even sooner instead of waiting five years to try out Fruits Basket. I thought it was cool then and I still think it's a fun series now, now, if only Viz would release my favorite arc from it, or if I could actually find scanlations for Heart Gold/Soul Silver. 
Honestly I feel like someday I should do a general overview of the whole series on my livejournal since I feel like I've barely talked about it at all but geeze, it would be so long, currently the series is at 37 volumes and bound to be longer since some of the arcs didn't have enough time to properly finish in the magazines.  

*apparently there were plans for their to be a male and a female main character in the original Red and Green (which was later revised and re-released as Blue) so Blue (called Green in the US) is in fact based off of those original designs. As a side note, I've always wondered if my parents got me Crystal instead of Silver because that was the first game with a female player in it, I still remember just how surprised I was that I got to choose my gender and feeling quite pleased about it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Manga Shorts: Pandora Hearts

Like many of the other manga mentioned so far, I started reading Pandora Hearts after I saw a summary of the show, pre-airing, and thought it looked interesting and I was hooked in pretty quickly. There weren't many chapters scanlated by the time the anime started which actually made it even more exciting, there were even scenes in the opening sequence that the scanlations hadn't gotten to yet and I remember that the scanlators were cranking out chapters at an amazing pace to stay ahead (these days the releases are often several days after other GFantasy stories have been released and it's also been licensed by Yen Press). So this review is going to cover up to where the scanlations are now (just vaugely, currently there are 15 or 16 volumes out in Japan and seven in the US) so, even though I don't plan on giving away any huge spoilers, just be careful if you're a spoilerphobe.

Pandora Hearts by Jun Mochizuki
 Oz Vessalius wasn't planning on having an exiting coming-of-age ceremony but it took a turn for the unexpected when a group of people called the Baskervilles, believed to be responsible for when the capital city Sablier vanished off the face of the planet a century earlier, intervene and cast Oz into the Abyss, a broken toybox of nightmares he didn't even believe was real. When there he comes across a chain, the monsters that inhabit the Abyss and who are forever trying to break out into the real world, who looks like a young girl named Alice and forms a contract with her to escape. Once back in the real world he discovers that apparently he, and Alice, are at the center of many people's attention because of their connection to the Tragedy of Sablier and set out to find Alice's missing memories and find out what really happened that day 100 years ago.
Whew, that's the basic set-up for the series, which takes about three or four chapters, and it's gotten slightly more complex since then, it turns out that two-thirds of the cast also has a connection to the tragedy and the characters now know exactly what happened that day, or so we thought until a recent chapter brought up a huge plot twist. I've seen the series compared, never in any great depth though, to Tsubasa: Resevior Chronicles for the number of twists in the story which isn't the most comforting comparison to make but I really do feel like the manga-ka knows what she's doing and has a solid ending for the series in mind. She's willing to kill off characters (there's been on major character death so far and I'm expecting more), the plot is advancing and the mysteries are being explained so, even though I feel like the story will continue for at least another two years, I'm not too worried about the ending yet. I wish the anime would continue but unfortuantly it ended in such a way that a continuation would be impossible*, although given some of the stupid decisions made about the DVDs** maybe that's all for the best.

*in both versions the characters went to Sablier to look for some answers, in the anime they ended up destroying the ruins, in the manga it was the first of the big answer revealing arcs so the city really needs to be around for that. 
**someone in Japan decided to add in grain to the DVD release to make it "more artsy," even though that would completely defeat the purpose of using film vs digital imaging, and then someone in the US decided to lighten up the images which made the grain even more visible and quite ugly.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Anime Review: The Mystic Archives of Dantalian

Only a couple more summer shows left to review, I think the number of summer shows I have reviewed speaks volumes about just how much free time I had this summer (or how I had time to read a 300+ page book each week to review). Like many other shows airing this summer, I checked out the manga before the show aired (the manga and the anime are both based on a series of light novels which may be finished) and funny enough the manga engrossed me more than the manga for Kamisama Dolls or Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth did yet out of those three series the anime version was my least favorite.

The Mystic Archives of Dantalian (Bibliotheca Mystica de Dantalian or Dantalian no Shoka)

 Summary: Hugh Anthony Disward (Huey) has returned from the battles of World War I to discover that his grandfather has passed away and that he has inherited his large estate and title and so returns home to check it out. Once there he finds his grandfather’s ward, a young girl named Dalian who isn’t quite whom she sees and has an interesting connection to the Mysterious Archives of Dantalian that Huey has spent years searching for.

The Good: Most of the time the lead character(s) in a show are the protagonists because they are the ones who do things and move the story along which is a good thing, it's a very boring story if you are simply watching things happen to characters. Huey and Dalian are more observers than doers however yet they don't feel like dull characters, they have interesting chemistry together and the plot of each episode still moves along well. Huey is also not the dumber-than-the-audience sidekick that often comes up in mystery(-esque) stories and it's refreshing to see a character be completely unfazed by whatever happens and be able to deal with it easily. 

The Bad: A show, no matter if it’s episodic or plot heavy, needs something to tie together all the individual stories and show just why these stories were the ones focused on. It seemed like Dantalian would do this based on the opening, there are several other bibloprincesses and their key-keepers shown so I thought they would help tie it together but nope, they showed up too late and their presence didn’t do anything for the story. There is no overarching theme or connection between the episodes, except for the first and the last ones they could probably be viewed in any order, and like Blood-C I only watched it every week with the hope that it was an anime with a slow start and that I would enjoy it more by the end which sadly did not happen. 

The Audio: It’s probably not the first time it’s been done but this is the first time I’ve heard an anime theme song in Latin which was interesting, partially because I didn’t even recognize it was Latin until I saw the title (I’ve studied Latin for three years but the singer just sounded so different from Church Latin songs). The ending song might have been a nice one but the imagery freaked me out enough, more on that below, that I just skipped through it to the preview most times. Nothing about the actors voices stood out to me, they worked but they just worked, I didn’t feel like they gave the show any extra emotion or such.

The Visuals: There were two things about the art in Dantalian that interested me. First there was the fact that Danlian’s character design was actually changed quite a bit (the image at the top of the page shows the anime designs, here are Danlian and Huey's manga designs which I believe are closer to the light novel's designs)which I’ll admit was a change I liked. The other interesting thing was how there were a lot of photographs with a filter over them (a bit of grain/noise, maybe a blur as well) used as backgrounds. Gainax is known for doing strange things and I could see this trick working really well for a horror series but in the end it felt out of place here. The ending sequence was really freaky however (live action almost Dali-esque imagery) but it had no connection to the series in the end so I was rather confused by it as well.

The show was a swing and a miss for me sadly and it sounds like a lot of the structure it was lacking (that I thought it needed) is a holdover from the original novels which also don't have a very structured central plot line. I would read more of the manga if I could find it (even if I think manga! Dalian is much less cute) but for the moment I think I'll spend my time reading and watching other shows. For those who do want to check it out however it can be found streaming on crunchyroll (originally it was streaming on NicoNico but if you don't have a subscription there you can only see the first episode).

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Manga Shorts: Letter Bee

Letter Bee is one of those series where the anime was pretty good, the original ending was even decent, but as soon as I read past the point where the anime and the manga diverged I was unhappy that the anime hadn't gone the same way. Again, the anime is hardly bad and I think above average, but the manga is just superior in terms of storytelling and tearjerker moments (thank you Viz for licensing it).

Letter Bee (Tegami Bachi) by Hiroyuki Asada
  In the land of Amberground, there is no sun and only the elite who live in the capital of Akatsuki get the full light of the artificial sun, for residents of the farthest regions the sun is never brighter than the full moon. And not only are people restricted from crossing between areas of Amberground but Gaichuu, giant metal bugs, attack anyone who dares to travel and eat their hearts which makes being a postal carrier (a Letter Bee) the most dangerous job in the country since they carry people's hearts in their letters. Lag Seeing has just become a bee after being inspired by Gauche Suede, a bee who delivered him when he was a child, and is crushed to discover that Gauche disappeared years ago and no one knows where he is or even why he vanished. Despite all of this the manga manages to be upbeat and heartwarming at many parts, even when more and more of the backstory comes to light, and, as strange as it sounds, I love how this manga almost makes me cry so often. By this point it's hard to tell who is going to live, who's on what side (never mind their motivation) so, even though I do believe the story will have a good ending, I have no clue how it's going to get there or what is going to be sacrificed for it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Manga Shorts: Kuragehime

Normally I go with the English name for a series but I don't like the English title as much (Princess Jellyfish, I think that The Jellyfish Princess flows better but clearly whoever decided on the localization thought otherwise) and I suspect that more people are going to recognize the Japanese title than the English one. I started reading the manga after I saw the anime version last fall, which I thought was a fun little series (even if it had a rushed ending), but now I think that the manga is the superior version of the story.

Kuragehime (Princess Jellyfisht) by Akiko Higashimura
  The first nine episodes of the anime follow the first bit of the manga pretty well, a group of female otaku (and by that I mean obsessive fans, of trains, jellyfish, old men, none of anime) called the nuns all live in an old boarding house and a essentially terrified at contact with the outside world. Tsukimi, the jellyfish otaku and main character, is one night freaking out over a mistreated jellyfish she finds at a pet store and with the help of a passing stylish lady she rescues it and takes it home, only to have the stylish lady crash at her house and turn out to actually be a man the next morning. Kuranosuke is actually the (illegitimate) son of a local politician and nephew to the PM, not that he cares about all of that, he just wants to cross dress and have fun. But it turns out that his father and brother are involved with a group that is buying up the neighborhood for redevelopment and the nuns have to fight them. The anime choose to take some of the idea from the manga and compress them into two episodes, here the manga chooses to have them throw a fashion show to get awareness and raise money to buy the boarding house for themselves which has introduced some new characters but more importantly brought some actual character development. In the anime I complained that Kuranosuke was the only character who seemed to actually grow, which I found ironic (even if he's the titular character),  but here Tsukimi has started to grow, Maya, Chieako have started to develop a bit and it looks like Jiji is going to have some character development soon as well. Shuu, Kuranosuke's brother, also has some character development in the manga which was nice, in the anime I couldn't understand why so many people shipped him and Tsukimi but after seeing them interact even more in the manga I can understand it now. I really hope the nuns get more character development soon (I believe the scanlations are close to where the Japanese manga is) especially with the new challenges they're facing. Currently the series is unlicensed, and since it's josei I doubt it ever will be here in the US, but I'm really enjoying the series now and hope it gets released here anyway.   

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Anime Review: Croisee in a Foreign Labyrinth

Back during the summer round-up I said that I had seen the first episode of this series, thought it was cute, but was going to have to drop since there wasn't a legal stream for it. Lo and behold only a few days after I posted that one did appear, it had been licensed by Sentai/Section 23 and I quite happily watched a delayed stream of that all summer.

Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth (Ikoku Meiro No Croisee, Crossroads in a Foreign Labyrinth)

Summary: Claude is a young blacksmith in 1880s Paris who is trying to make a living in a mall made up of traditional stores while they lose more and more business to a new department store. So he’s obviously frustrated when his grandfather Oscar brings back Yune, a young girl, from Japan and suddenly has this new problem to deal with as well. But Yune really wants to learn about her new home and slowly Claude begins to open up to her as they both deal with culture shock.

The Good: With Tamayura~Hitose I complained that the show was trying too hard to be a sweet and “healing” show, it never felt like Croisée had to try to do either of those things but simply was a rather sweet show. From what I’ve heard the show expands a lot on the original manga but I wouldn’t have known otherwise, the story flowed well and, even though it’s an episodic show there is an overarching theme to it and it feels like the show both starts and ends at logical points. I was surprised at how much I liked Alice, a French girl who comes off as rather grating at first, by the end of the show. She gets more character development than I had expected and there were times when she sounded like an early feminist so I’d love to see how she grows up and who she grows into. Heck, I’d love to see more of all the characters, I feel like this was just Act One in their stories and there are still several more acts to go.

The Bad: That said, it sounds like there probably won’t be a sequel (sold badly, not a lot of manga material left since it comes out so slowly) which makes me rather sad. I’ve tried some of the manga but, much like Kamisama Dolls, there is something about the way the anime is directed that I find much more appealing than the source material. I also hope that Section 23 puts the extra episode (I believe it’s called 4.5) on their DVDs since it sounds like that added in some extra back story between Claude and Camille (Alice’s older sister), although I am curious why it wasn’t in the anime proper if it was as important as everyone has made it out to be. So while I do like the series quite a bit I feel that if it isn’t continued that it will feel a little weaker, it’s a good stopping point but obviously not the stopping point for the entire series.

The Audio: I was surprised at how well the opening and ending songs worked for the series. I didn’t think that a Japanese song in a French setting would work well but both of them managed to be cheerful songs without being overly bubbly and fit the show nicely (the opening music also sounded a little more European than normal which also helped). The voice acting was also good, Yune sounded sweet and young without that artificially cute voice you hear in so many places and everyone else's voices matched equally well. The first episode was a bit awkward (since you have to remember that every time Yune talks to Oscar they’re speaking Japanese but everyone else is speaking French) but after the first episode it’s no longer an issue, would be interesting to hear a French dub of the series but I don’t know if this series has even been licensed in France yet.

The Visuals: Appropriately enough Croisée had French animators working on parts of the show as well (you can see some of their work on the backgrounds here) and the backgrounds are beautifully detailed. All of the visual details seem to be era appropriate as well, from the props to the clothing, the color schemes worked well, and overall the series was just gorgeous to look at and I would love extras on the US DVD(/BR?) release that has a closer look at some of the work that went into making this.

I'm looking forward the US release for this series quite a bit, even if I do think that Sentai's sub-only, not many extras releases are priced a bit high. I suppose that's what sales and coupons are for, plus a release date hasn't been set yet so I have until at least next spring to save up which is also plenty of time for everyone else to check out the show streaming on TheAnimeNetwork (it's free to subscribers and it's free to sign up).


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Manga Shorts: Broken Blade

As I mentioned back in the review for the movies, I started reading this series back in the beginning of the year when it was given a passing mention in the end of the year round-up on AnimeNewsNetwork and discovered a few months later that the manga had been licensed at one point by CMX. Only three volumes were put out before their closure, and must not have been that popular since you can still find them online for very reasonable prices, but it's one of the few mecha series I really enjoy and the only story I currently follow, maybe because (despite the flashy battles), it's a bit more down to Earth than the rest of the genre.

Broken Blade (Break Blade) by Yunosuke Yoshinaga
In the future, presumably after a civilization destroying war, Japan looks very different from the way it does today and the people are a bit different as well. The landscape is sandy and barren and the people all have the ability to manipulate crystal quartz, some better than others, and all technology is built around this talent. This is a problem for Rygart however, he and his brother are "un-sorcerers" who live as farmers far away from anyone else. Rygart is friends with the king [of Krishna] and jumps at the chance to come to the capital and help them study an ancient mecha they recently unearthed that no one has been able to move. Surprise surprise, it requires someone who can't manipulate quartz to pilot it, Rygart falls into the cockpit and figures out how to manipulate it enough to prevent his friend the king from being killed by a former friend who is the son of that country's leader. This is the first strike in the war between Krishna and Athens, a war that is both bloody (no bloodless deaths here!) and one that has the characters constantly questioning their decisions. The anime covered about the first 50 chapters, after that the manga even has a subtitle added to it, and it's clear that manga-Rygart has had a harder time and it becoming a much colder character, something that doesn't usually happen in anime or manga (or if it happens then it's only in backstory, not in the main story). The manga also introduces a third faction, the Kingdom of Orlando who claim to be supplying help to Krishna but plan to invade them should they succeed in staving off Athens (who are invading because they need the resources). That also gives the war a bit of messiness that is present in all wars in real life but rarer in fiction and I like that. The story is also developing it's odd, broken love-triangle a bit more (I believe this is the first time I've seen a story set after the love-triangle was resolved and when all the characters are unhappy at the solution) and I just hope that sub-plot at least will have a happy ending.
In short, the story does a few things differently, from character development to setting, and I like it when stories do things differently so I'm hooked. The fight scenes also are drawn very nicely and it's only a full, multi-person battle that lasts more than a chapter, this is another monthly series that understands the pace it needs to keep to work. I would love it to get relicensed but, since that seems rather unlikely, I'll just have to see if it's being published in English in any other region.     

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Manga Shorts: Blue Exorcist

And here's the first in my little manga reviews for the month of November (which again will be a lot less formal than my regular reviews, think back to my webcomic reviews vs my regular manga reviews). Going alphabetically I'm starting with Blue Exorcist (I swear the anime review is coming, it's just the very last summer title) which is currently the only shonen title I follow. I've actually read a good deal of shonen, I've read about 400 chapters of Naruto and 300 of Bleach (I've long since dropped both), probably around 150 of both D. Gray Man (dropped after the author's huge hiatus) and Nurarihyon no Mago (which just stopped interesting me),  about five years ago I was caught up with the US release of HunterxHunter (which was either at the end or towards the end of the Greed Island arc, i'd like to read the rest someday), and 80 or so chapters of Soul Eater (dropped after the rescue Kid arc). I did read Psyren to the end (but I started when it was almost over and the ending had to be rushed or it was going to be cancled) and also read all of Fullmetal Alchemist but FMA is odd since it doesn't favor the tournament fighting style of plot that nearly every other shonen series I just listed does and so far Blue Exorcist doesn't either. It might be because Blue Exorcist is still much smaller than any of those titles (not even at 3o chapters yet) but as long as it avoids the tournament style fights I'll probably stick with it.

Blue Exorcist (Ao no Exorcist) by Katou Kazue
  That above statement pretty much sums up why I'm following Blue Exorcist right now, it's not the most original of premises but it works well, is entertaining, and understands what kind of pace it needs to succeed as a monthly manga (even if the chapters never seem like they're long enough). Rin is the son of Satan and has inherited many of powers but he's made it his goal to kill Satan in revenge for killing his foster father and for that reason he enters the True Cross Academy to train as an exorcist and hon his demonic powers. Having a good reason to hate your parents is hardly a new trope (best example I could find for it was Archnemesis Dad) and going to a magical school to train for revenge is also hardly new in any medium. But the fact that Rin isn't an emo teen whose whole life is structured around this revenge, he's actually a pretty friendly and likeable lead character, does make the story a little different and here it's all the characters that make the story interesting. About half of them have been fleshed out with backstory so far (and I'm sure the rest will be sooner rather than later) and it was refreshing to see how the characters didn't immediately accept Rin's demonic powers once they found out about them but instead were, rather realistically and like real people, unnerved and it took a while for them to come around again. That leads to the problem I had with the anime in the end, they didn't handle that part of the story nearly as well (partially because that's where the anime diverged) but that's a subject for a different review. But for now, Blue Exorcist is a fun series with interesting characters, nicely done fight scenes, has a good mix between enough action and enough non-action interesting things happening, and the actual background of the series (the magic and the demons) proved more interesting than I was initially expecting. I am following the scans for this series and haven't started buying the print copies yet (I'm always a little leery to start buying such long series when they're not even close to over and this is going to be a long one) but I do want to start buying some of the volumes soon and look forward to what's going to happen next.