Category: impressions

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 cliché. 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:

20110929-085615 PM.jpg

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

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Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei (Comic)

I’m currently creating a fansite for Kumeta Koji’s comic, Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei. For now, it’ll be a fairly simple affair, with reviews and reference information about each volume. Since one can find most basic information about the series from Wikipedia and fanart on any of a number of fanart sites (e.g., Danbooru or Safebooru), I’ll focus on my own impressions of the series, and some more detailed information than what one finds on more general sites, like when different memes or characters are introduced, or how the different translators have dealt with the source material.

For now, here’s a draft of my overview of the series as a whole:

~~~~

So, introducing Kumeta Koji’s Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei. Though much of what I’ll present on this site is plain, factual information, perhaps I’ll say up-front that I adore Zetsubou-Sensei. With the sole exception of Yotsuba&! (its spritual opposite, I suppose), it’s my favourite comic series, and the anime adaptation is one of my top five. So, though it’s not my style to go over-the-top fanboy, almost everything about the series appeals to me so much that I can only write from the viewpoint of a fan.

With that disclaimer, I’ll start with a few words on the series as a whole. The title means “Good Bye, Mr. Despair,” possibly a reference to James Hilton’s Good-Bye, Mr. Chips. That is a literal translation, so why the North American publisher, Del Rey, decided to use the Japanese title here confuses me. The fansub I have of season one of the anime uses the title “So Long, Mr. Despair,” which has a decent ring to it, I think, better than the unwieldy (in English) “Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei,” and gets the meaning across just fine. At least the average anglophone can look at it and know right away what it means. That said, Del Rey did mostly redeem themselves by adding the subtitle “The Power of Negative Thinking.” The twist on Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s classic The Power of Positive Thinking fits the tone of the comic very well. I don’t know if they consulted Mr. Kumeta, but I imagine he would probably have approved the addition.

Regarding the comic itself, Kumeta uses a satirical tone throughout the series, and almost every chapter revolves around roasting some societal problem or personality quirk, like shut-ins (hikkikimori), perfectionists, stalkers, media hype of all kinds, comic conventions – there’s even a page on TV Tropes dedicated to listing the tropes Zetsubou-Sensei undermines!

As one would expect, Kumeta definitely favours a dark sense of humour. The protagonist’s rampant cynicism is the comic’s hallmark joke, which leads him to attempt suicide multiple times per volume. He even tells a student in chapter four that the true love is best expressed by double suicide.

Kumeta also keeps up a frenetic pace. Text fills some pages like wallpaper, and jokes come fast and often, not only in dialogue but in the background art and text lists on the sides of panels. Luckily, the minimalist art style prevents the panels from feeling too chaotic. There’s no unnecessary detail, and no colour. Literally, black and white dominate the palette – even shades of grey are kept to a minimum. The art does its job well, though – the characters are distinct, the action is clear, and overall I find it quite stylish and appealing.

The series does have the fault, though, of falling into a pattern after the first two or three volumes. Most chapters begin in the classroom, a topic is introduced,  Sensei declares that some aspect of that topic leaves him in despair, there’s some dialogue, then everyone goes into town and finds examples of that topic. Though the solid material usually holds up the unimaginative presentation, the series could use some more variety in its later volumes.

On a final note, I’ll mostly cover what’s available in English, and at least for now I’ll focus on the comic rather than the anime. Though both versions are excellent, the comic is currently more easily available, though once I get caught up with the comic I’ll probably look into adding a section for the anime, as well.…

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Oh, the Things I Watch

So, armed with my new subscription to Crunchyroll, because like the rest of my generation I’m impatient and can’t wait a week for new anime episodes, I’ve set to watching this season’s new shows as they come out. What do I settle on first?

Yeah, Cat God. I know it wasn’t that long ago I declared moe dead to me, but this show pushes too many of my buttons. I can’t resist catgirls. I love shows like Oh, My Goddess! and Spice and Wolf with goddess girlfriends/roommates/traveling partners/whatever. I love shows dealing with the supernatural in general, really.

The show’s pretty average, actually. Episode 1 was too chaotic, but episode 2 fixed that. The jokes aren’t too bad. The animation meets par, but won’t blow anyone away. Call it ‘Mostly harmless’, I guess.

I think I can redeem myself by also watching Gainax’s new show, The Mystic Archives of Dantalian, this time via Nico Nico’s streaming. All I really want from the show is Gosick but with better writing. Two episodes in, I have high hopes. I can tell I’m not the only one, since most of the discussion I’ve seen of it so far has been praise for not having the annoying habits of other shows, and Gosick in particular. Dantalian has, of all things, a competent protagonist, a girl with a sharp tongue but not unnecessarily bitchy, and mysteries that don’t require not just a suspension but outright termination of disbelief.

I especially love the show’s artwork and atmosphere.

I’m also using Crunchyroll to continue Hanasaku Iroha from last season, and for Fist of the North Star for some old-school action.…

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ToraDora Graphic Novel

I love the ToraDora anime. The show ranks as one of my all time favourites, and I also own the first novel of the original novel, albeit mostly as a reminder that I remain barely literate in Japanese. So, when I heard that Seven Seas would publish the comic adaptation I knew I had to grab it on day one.

I didn’t have much to say about the first volume. Zekkyo, the artist, did a respectable job adapting the story, the art was good, and overall the book was enjoyable, just not anything to write home about. However, Zekkyo used most of the early chapters setting up Taiga and Ryuuji’s relationship. The other two main characters, Minori and Kitamura, received hardly any attention.

However, I expected that to change with volume two. We do get to see a little more of Kitamura, and Zekkyo also introduces the fifth and final main character, Ami, in the last couple chapters. Once she appears, Ami receives a lot of attention right away, and becomes a focal point for the last two chapters. Minori, though, continues to stay mostly on the sidelines. In the anime version, she appears frequently and often steals the show, especially in the first half, but it seems Zekkyo wants to focus on Taiga and Ryuuji. That’s understandable, of course. They are the protagonists. However, one of the anime’s strengths is how every character, even those with only a handful of lines, feels like they have a life and story of their own outside of how they interact with Taiga and Ryuuji. I would love to see Zekkyo accomplish the same here, because ToraDora has such a likable cast of characters.ToraDora Scan

Even without comparison to the anime, though, I suspect that the graphic novels would still feel claustrophobic, as Lissa Pattillo described volume one over at ANN, partly because of how verbose it gets. Flipping through the book, several pages suffocate under a tangle of speech bubbles. All the dialogue and monologue feel all the more oppressive in part, I think, because of the often dull backgrounds. Now, to be fair, Zekkyo does a fine job drawing the characters themselves, and there’s often not much to work with as far as settings go. Most scenes take place in school corridors (as on the right), walking down city streets, or at a restaurant that reminds me of Denny’s.

A few final points. As I said above, the characters are still likable, and I like how expressively Zekkyo draws them.

I also like the perspectives and panel layout, though navigating the myriad speech bubbles becomes unnecessarily difficult in some of the talkier parts.

Page 97 seems to have a printing error, where the top tenth of the page is reduplicated over the second tenth or so. I didn’t notice any such problems in volume one or in Gunslinger Girl, the only other Seven Seas release I own, so I’m hoping this is just an isolated slip-up. Let’s not turn into ADV already, please!

 …

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More Sweet Zetsubou

Volume 9 of Kumeta Koji’s Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei just came out here in the US, and of course I bought it as soon as I could. It’s all standard SZS stuff, if you’ve read any of the last eight volumes you know what to expect. I love Mr. Kumeta’s fast-paced, satirical humour, and as a whole it’s one of the most quotable series I know.

I did notice that Kodansha has started publishing the series themselves, rather than licensing them through Del Rey. The layout’s almost identical to Del Rey’s; they just swapped out the logos on the spines.

The spines of zetsubou senseiGood for them; I’d have been irritated if they’d totally redesigned the thing and made them look weird on my bookshelf. There’s also a new translator, Joshua Weeks, taking over from David Ury, who himself took over from Joyce Aurino at (IIRC) volume five. Without reading the original I can’t vouch for accuracy, but Mr. Weeks seems to do a pretty good job keeping everything coherent for us anglophones, though I do have a couple nitpicks. Neither he nor Mr. Ury seem to use Zetsubou-Sensei’s standard formula ‘I’m in despair! (whatever) has left me in despair!’ as often as Ms. Aurino did, though Mr. Weeks uses it sometimes, which disappoints me a little. They use ‘hopeless’ or ‘I’ve lost all faith in (whatever)’ instead, which I’ll admit is just as technically accurate (AFAIK) and, perhaps more importantly, generally sounds more natural in most of these cases, but ‘despair’ is a stronger word. For what it’s worth, it’s also what fansubbers generally used in the TV show, so it’s what a lot of fans expect.

I’m also a little disappointed in the relative lack of translator’s notes. Ms. Aurino used a lot of them, Mr. Ury used fewer, though still more than most other series, and now there’s really just a few pages worth. Again, I don’t blame the translator (or editor or whoever decides these things). Most people probably don’t read them and, as the saying goes, ‘It’s not funny if I have to explain it’. Still, as someone interested in Japanese culture and translation, I always read the notes and usually find them interesting. That’s especially true of a series like Zetsubou-Sensei, which packs references so densely. I’d at least like to know the references in the chapter titles, most of which (again, AFAIK) refer to classic works of literature.…

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