Category: impressions

Welcome to the NHK (Novel)

In his mostly autobiographical comic Disappearance Diary, Azuma Hideo notes that in order to maintain an optimistic outlook on life, he’d removed as much realism as possible from his book. Azuma’s dry humour and cartoony art style make what should be a depressing story about a man running away from his responsibilities and living homeless seem rather light-hearted and funny.

Author Takimoto Tatsuhiko, in the afterword to his novel Welcome to the NHK, notes that his book also has a fair amount of autobiography. NHK also has a depressing subject, a twenty-two year old college drop out living as a shut-in (Japanese: hikikimori). Like Disappearance Diary, there’s a dry sense of humour, but here it serves to sharpen, rather than dull, the story’s edge, and though well-written, that edge makes it a sometimes difficult book to read.…

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Oh, My Goddess! Vol. 41 – Kinda Sucks

Okay, “sucks” may be a bit strong, but Fujishima Kosuke’s Oh, My Goddess! volume 41… it’s still not very good. Neither were the last couple volumes.

I hate saying that, too, because I’ve really loved this franchise since I started reading in 2009. Nowhere near its 1994 American debut, but still longer than any other comic I follow (a couple webcomics excepted). The series’ basic premise, a young man living with a beautiful goddess, is pretty blatant wish-fulfillment fiction, but the characters are likable enough that I can forgive it that. There have been some slow points in the over twenty years and forty volumes of publication, of course, but coming in late to the party has allowed me to just rush through those rough patches quickly, and dwell more on the highlights.

I think that’s the key to why this current “Hell takeover” story arc beats me down so much. Most of it bores me, but I can’t just skim through it, and with a few months between releases I’ve had to just stew in it, hoping Fujishima wraps it up in the next volume and moves on to a style of storytelling he’s good at.…

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Akira Club Art Book Review

While browsing around Amazon the other day, I saw a recommendation for Akira Club, which I hadn’t heard of before. Since I like the Akira film and loved the comic, though, I figured I’d check it out.

The book collects Otomo Katsuhiro’s preliminary sketches, promotional art, title pages, and other odds and ends from the Akira comic, along with a couple things for the film adaptation, with many short comments from Otomo. Kodansha originally plublished this in Japan in 1995, and Dark Horse released it in the United States in 2007.…

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Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion

Code Geass took me a while to get through, partly because Crunchyroll has the first season but not the second, but I finished it. This turned out to be one of those shows that I should’ve watched sooner, because, despite a few problems, it had a lot of things I enjoy – a grand scale, a battle of wits, moral ambiguity, a mix of angst and humour, pizza, and a little sister character, among other things.…

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7 Billion Needles

Tadano Nobuaki’s 7 Billion Needles starts off right, with an extremely introverted girl walking by the sea and noticing what at first looks like a shooting star, but which then turns towards her and incinerates her.

Awesome.

She gets better, though, and also gets drafted into helping to hunt down an extraterrestrial menace which threatens all life on Earth.…

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Gate 7 – Volume 1

Lately, I’ve been wanting to re-read some of my old CLAMP comics, and coincidentally while shopping around this weekend I came across their latest work, Gate 7.

I have mixed feelings so far. The first volume has a lot of talking, but I never felt like it was progressing very much. The protagonist, Chikahito, is a high school student (of course!) who loves history and Kyoto, can cook well, is a bit awkward and loud at times, and – actually, he’s basically Watanuki from xxxHolic, also by CLAMP. It’s only the first volume, but the more I think about it, yeah, it’s the same character. I like Watanuki just fine, but he’s not so great that he merits creating a clone here. Here’s hoping he at least develops along different lines later on.

Not that the other characters are much better, so far. Again, it’s only the first volume, but nobody really stands out yet. As for the story, Chikahito visits (and soon moves to) Kyoto, where he’s dragged into getting involved with a group of people fighting supernatural something-or-others – it’s not really clear yet who or what, exactly – in a power struggle that goes back to the Warring States period. I have enough confidence in CLAMP to trust that this will make more sense later on, and I’m just interested enough to give it another volume, but so far it’s mostly alternated between exposition and action scenes that look neat but where neither protagonist nor audience is sure what’s going on.

Translator William Flanagan, who’s also done most of xxxHolic, seems to have done his usual good work, and there’s also several pages of helpful end notes, which I always appreciate.

As for the art, it’s typical CLAMP fare. Fancy clothes, lanky characters, lots of detail – I love it, though those who don’t care for their style won’t be converted here. My one complaint is that there are a few pages that are clearly intended as colour illustrations, but are printed here in black and white, with mixed success. The frontispiece, for example, still looks good, but the illustration between the prologue and the first chapter just looks flat and dull.

Again, though, I’m still glad to see new work from CLAMP, and look forward to the next volume.…

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Gunslinger Girl (GN) Vols. 7-8

Fully four years after ADV published volume six of Gunslinger Girl, I finally hold in my hands volumes seven and eight in omnibus, thanks to Seven Seas. The mere fact that this series, one of my top-five all-time favourites, is actually available in a form I can understand makes me giddy. I’d tried to fill in the gap between releases by buying some of the Japanese volumes, but the technical jargon and lack of furigana mostly rendered the books a reminder of my lousy literacy. There’s also the excellent first season of the anime adaptation, on glorious blu-ray, no less, but even that’s soured by the second season, which had a first episode so badly animated that I couldn’t bring myself to watch the rest.

In any case, author Aida Yu didn’t disappoint me. These volumes focus almost entirely on Alessandro and Petrushka, who’d been introduced in volume six, with the older characters appearing only in a handful of scenes, though those scenes do add significantly to their characterisation. This does mark a noticeable shift in narrative structure. Most previous volumes were episodic, with story arcs no more than a few chapters long, and each focusing on a specific fratello.

The relationship between the girls and their handlers has always been the main draw of the series for me, but Sandro and Petrushka may be the most interesting yet, because she is older and more lightly conditioned than the other girls. As a result, she is less predictable – she’s occasionally moody, more conscious of the relationship between her and her handler, and at one point even fights her conditioning to tell him how she feels about him.

So, I’m more enthusiastic about this series than I’ve ever been. Though Gunslinger Girl has always been solid, introducing a character with more room to grow and focusing on her long enough to gradually develop her as a character is probably the best decision Aida’s made for his comic, and I can hardly wait to see the next volume.…

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ToraDora (GN) Vol. 3

Most of what I said here about the first two volumes of the ToraDora graphic novels applies to the recently released third volume, but there are some improvements. ToraDora still lays on the dialogue thick, but the talkiness feels less oppressive than previous volumes. Zekkyo’s varied panel layouts and ‘camera angles’ help. The art also changes occasionally, for example for a Fist of the North Star reference, though whether that was particular gag was entertaining or just awkward I can’t decide.

Most of this volume focuses on Ami, and I appreciate the break from almost-exclusive treatment of Taiga and Ryuuji, though Ryuuji still serves as our point-of-view character (he’s the only one to provide internal monologues, and is present for every scene).

The translation (by Adrienne Beck, with ‘adaptation’ by Bambi Eloriaga-Amago) sounds decent in English, and I appreciate that each character has their own mode of speech. My only complaint is when one character is referred to as ‘kaicho‘. As far as I know, ‘kaicho‘ simply means ‘president’ or ‘chairman’ (she’s president of the student council), so why not just call her that? If there’s some special meaning to ‘kaicho‘ that rendered it untranslatable, it’s not explained anywhere, not even on the one page with translator’s notes.

On a final note, not that I’m complaining, but is it just me or did everyone go up a bra size? That excludes Taiga but includes Ryuuji, as an imagined ‘Ryuuko’ gives ToraDora its best ‘WTF?’ moment so far.…

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The Mystic Archives of Dantalian

Damn it, Gainax.

That’s the three-word version of my review of The Mystic Archives of Dantalian. To expand a bit, I did actually enjoy the anime, though that makes the disappointment of the last episode worse. To start with the good, though, the art was well-done, the animation fluid (a few static scenes excepted), and the music was excellent. I really liked the opening and ending sequences. Others have described the show’s atmosphere as its strongest point, and I agree. Edgar Allan Poe would probably approve. Really, all I wanted going in was Gosick with a better plot, and that’s what the first episode or two seemed to promise. A similar atmosphere but with an adult, competent protagonist in Hugh Anthony Disward and a more tolerable tsundere (or whatever word you want to use) in Dalian. Add an interesting premise with the phantom books, and as long as the writers come up with a competent plot, we have an excellent series.

Unfortunately, the plot’s the problem.

Up to the last episode, Dantalian‘s main problem was simply that it didn’t really go anywhere. Gainax took an episodic approach, which is fine, and most episodes held my interest, though there were a couple serious missteps. In episode three, for example, there’s a half-episode story about a group of children exposed to the phantom book The Book of Wisdom, which turns them into a bunch of geniuses. Their teacher (who gave them the book originally) leads Hugh and Dalian to a shed where they’re all hanging out discussing philosophy and politics and such, and they tell our brave heroes that they plan… not to do anything. Because plotting to take over the world or whatever would be futile or pointless or something. So, they’ll just continue to hang out and keep to themselves.

I guess that episode did subvert my expectations, but it hardly makes for a satisfying story and is the most flagrant example of episodes that fail to progress anything. Again, though, most episodes are good enough to at least make Dantalian a B-level endeavour. That is, until the finale.

In episode eleven, we briefly meet the Red Biblioprincess Raziel and her keykeeper, who’s just called the Professor. In the twelfth and final episode, they plan to create a zombie army in London by using newspapers as phantom books to turn the readers into zombies. Several problems come to mind. First of all, the whole idea seems silly and rather clichĂ©. Second, they’re assuming everyone or almost everyone in London will read their newspaper. Third, what’s their motive? I don’t have a clue, and here’s where the episodic approach falls apart. This story arc really needed at least a couple episodes to develop.

Fourth problem, there’s a small flaw in the plan. As one NicoNico commenter sarcastically despaired, “If only newspaper could be easily destroyed by fire or liquid…” As it turns out, Hal and Flamberge, another keykeeper/biblioprincess duo, show up and do destroy the newspapers with fire. These two had an entire episode (ep. six) devoted to them, but that was all we’d seen of them so far, so their appearance (and quick disappearance) seems almost random. As for the Professor and Raziel, after seeing their newspapers burn they just give up and go home in about as bad an anticlimax as I’ve seen, on par with the genius kids from episode three.

We also get more of the Madokami look-alike, but honestly Gainax lost me if they ever explained what place she’s in, what relationship it has with the real world, or who she is. Hugh also gets to have an Evangelion moment (think Shinji sitting on a chair introspecting).

All that said, I’d still probably buy a Blu-Ray release, if it comes out in the US. It’s pretty enough to look at to justify that. I’d also be willing to try out the light novels the show’s based on. For now, though, it’s time to start on the new anime season (oh yeah, and I was one of the proud few who finished and enjoyed Cat God, but I doubt that’d be worth a separate review).

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A Certain Scientific Railgun (GN)

Got back from a week-long trip to London a few days ago, and I celebrated my return with a whole bunch of new comics.

I started off with volume two of A Certain Scientific Railgun, which has one of the most convoluted origins I’ve ever encountered. Railgun is illustrated by Fuyukawa Motoi, and is a spin-off of a light novel series, A Certain Magical Index, written by Kamachi Kazuma (Index also has its own, separate comic adaptation). Seven Seas publishes Railgun in North America, but not Index (comic or novel version). I’ve heard they released the spin-off first because they expected Funimation to have released the anime adaptation, but in typical Funi style they have the license but now, months later, still no actual release, but Seven Seas decided to just go ahead with their own Railgun release schedule anyway.

Fortunately, none of that seems to matter much to enjoying the graphic novel. I haven’t watched or read anything of Index/Railgun besides Seven Seas’ release, but I never feel lost reading it without any prior knowledge. Most of the basics of Academy City, psychics, and other stuff important to the plot are explained well enough through dialogue or brief infodumps between chapters. This may be a spin-off, but I never feel like I’m missing out on anything important.

As for the comic itself, it’s very well constructed. The art is detailed without feeling cluttered, panel layout flows smoothly, and the characters are all appealing and memorable. The story has more action than I expected, especially the second volume.

Railgun does come up weak on its humour, though. It relies too much on fan service, like girls grabbing each others’ boobs in the shower or a character doffing her pants in public after spilling coffee on them. I don’t mind fiction stretching what’s plausible for the sake of humour, but really, who does these things? Besides, this sort of fanservicey humour is so overused it’s just not funny anymore.

That said, I do like the series enough to pick this up while in London:

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Yep, it’s Uiharu. Because animu exactly why I went to Glorious Britannia.…

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