September 18, 2012

New September Manga!

Our new manga selections this month are:

Naruto volume 58, by Masashi Kishimoto
Kabuto tightens his hold on the Immortal Corps in an effort to stave off losing power over its stronger members, while Naruto finds he may have to face off against Itachi--for the last time.

Karakuridoji Ultimo volume 5, by Hiroyuki Takei
Yamato has returned from his time traveling to the day just before the Hundred Machine Funeral, but his new knowledge of Iruma doesn't seem to help--and when Yamato and Maruyama are injured, Vice seizes his chance.

Loveless volume 9, by Yun Kouga
Ritsuka has a fragmented memory, an unsafe home, and a beloved brother who was brutally murdered--or who faked his death. When he joined forces with Soubi, his brother's partner in battle, to learn the truth, he found himself plunged into a world where words were literal weapons. Now Ritsuka and Soubi must defeat a team who use psychological warfare on their enemies if they want to learn more about Seimei...and if they want to save Soubi's friend Kio.


August 14, 2012

New August Manga!

Rachel's been filling out some of the series we don't have as many volumes of this month, or completing others! For your reading pleasure this August, we offer:

Nightschool: the Weirn Books volume 3, by Svetlana Chmkova.

Karakuridoji Ultimo volume 4, by Hiroyuki Takei (based on the idea by Stan Lee).

Arisa volume 2, by Natsumi Ando.

Ghost Hunt volume 2, by Shiho Inada and Fuyumi Ono.

And finally (a pun!), Death Note volume 13, a.k.a. the "How to Read" book or the guide to the series, complete with profiles, mangaka interviews, 4koma previously not published in English, and the original pilot chapter Ohba and Obata used to shop the series.


August 10, 2012

Eden of the East, by Kenji Kamiyama

While we're on the subject of otaku, let's dip into a discussion of their also-oft-denigrated cousins, the NEETs.

"NEET" is a Japanese acronym for "Not in Education, Employment, or Training" (yep, it's Japanese, even though it's in English), and is basically a way of saying someone is a jobless bum. It is not a kind term. It's also not particularly embraced by those who fall under the category, the way 'otaku' can be--however, there are exceptions, and Eden of the East is one of them.

Eden of the East is a mystery/thriller with a dash of romance and several handfuls of comedy thrown in, set in a slightly futuristic (everything happens in 2011, though it was created in 2009) Tokyo. Saki Morimi visited Washington D.C. with a group of friends to celebrate graduating college. When she tried to throw a stone into the White House fountain to make a wish, she got noticed by the Secret Service--but they promptly forgot about her five seconds later when a stark naked Japanese guy started waving around a gun. Saki later lends him her coat, then has to chase him down to retrieve her passport in the pocket, and comes to find that the guy had erased his memory and consequently has no idea why he was on the street, or naked, or had a gun. All he knows is his name, Akira Takizawa--picked off of one of the many passports he discovered in his apartment--and that he has an insanely high-tech phone that can contact a woman named Juiz. The phone is also tied to a bank account with over 8 billion yen on it (remember, it's ¥100 to $1, so Akira has the equivalent of $800 billion+ on there), and Juiz calls herself his concierge and is capable of arranging literally anything Akira wants. "Within reason" not necessary.

Akira takes this in pretty impressive stride.

The explanation for all this is that Akira is a Seleção, one of 12 people selected by "Mr. Outside" to play a game: they were all given one of these phones, each with a total of 10 billion yen on it (and therefore all the power that wealth can buy), and told to spend it all in the quest of becoming the 'savior of Japan.' Because Akira erased his memory, he has to learn not only the details of the game from other Seleçãos that he meets, he also has to determine what it was he did before--because going through his walk to try and recover his memories, it looks like he disappeared 20,000 NEETs. Not the greatest thing to ever learn about yourself!

But on the other hand, he wasn't the Seleção who ordered a missile strike on Japan three times in a row, so at least he's got that going for him.

The basic plot follows Akira as he struggles to unravel everything behind the game and his past role in it, aided by Saki and her friends, and then tries to prevent the third missile strike against the country using some very impressive crowd-sourcing. The plot never quite fills you in on all the details--fitting, considering most of what we're seeing is from Akira's POV, and he never does regain his memories; he just works with what he's told or what the data of his past actions imply. But it does make things a little more complicated to understand.

Eden of the East ran for 11 episodes in 2009, and was licensed for English by Funimation. There are also two movie sequels, The King of Eden and Paradise Lost, which came out in 2009 and 2010 respectively and were both also licensed by Funmation. The animation of the series is gorgeous, which is no surprise, because it was produced by Production I.G.--those brilliant folks behind other equally stunning series like the Ghost in the Shell series, The Sky Crawlers, CLAMP's xxxHolic and Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles, and Ghost Hound.

(You mean I haven't talked about Ghost in the Shell yet? I'll have to rectify this!)

July 24, 2012

Genshiken, by Shimoku Kio

So if Lucky Star is in the upper echelons of Japanese culture-based manga and requires leveling up to fully enjoy, Genshiken would be the final boss battle.

Genshiken is a comedy-with-some-romance series set in early 2000s Tokyo. It's the story of a college club composed of otaku. (The word "otaku" is mainly used by U.S. speakers to refer to anime/manga fans, for obvious reasons; but in Japan it's more of a catch-all for anyone really really into something, and it has more of a negative tone--like calling someone who's really big into history and does reenactments of the Civil War a nerd. For Genshiken, the club members are otaku of multiple things: manga, anime, cosplay, doujinshi, and computer and video games. It's a plot point, in fact: "Genshiken" is an abbreviation of the club's full name, Gendai Shikaku Bunka Kenkyūkai, a.k.a. [in English]: The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture. This sort of well-rounded geekery makes them outcasts even among the other clubs that have a more 'nerdy' bent, like the Manga or the Anime clubs. Okay, this parenthesis has taken over the paragraph.)

Genshiken follows the lives of its club members over the course of four years, using the arrival and graduation of the main character, Kanji Sasahara, as the jumping off and ending point, and delving into the friendships, enemy-ships, relationships, and unrequited-love-ships [I'll stop, I'll stop] that develop between the individual members over the course of those years. This summary really doesn't do it justice, though: Genshiken is incredibly enjoyable if you're a big geek of any part of Japanese visual culture, whether you like anime or Japanese video games or cosplay, because it's clear that Shimoku Kio is too. This isn't moe jokes like Lucky Star--this is a slow-developing, deeply compelling story that's full of love for its source material: all the good and bad that the otaku world contains.

And it's often hilarious, to boot.

Genshiken is complete in 9 volumes, which were published from 2002-2006 and translated into English by Del Ray. There's also a new series, Genshiken II, which began in 2010 and is currently ongoing; but so far no one's officially translating it. There's also--of course--an anime: two seasons at 12 episodes each, and a 3 episode OVA, which ran intermittently from 2004 to 2007 and all of which were licensed for English by AnimeWorks. There's also--if this post hasn't been meta enough for you yet--an OVA, 12 episode anime series, and two volume manga for Kujibiki Unbalance, a (once-)fictional manga and anime series within Genshiken. Kio-sensei, creator of this fictional series, created a fictional series within it and then brought that series out into the real world.


When you read Genshiken, never doubt that you're holding something of great metatextual power in your hands.

July 10, 2012

Lucky Star, by Kagami Yoshimizu

Lucky Star is another 4koma--4-panel comic strip--slice-of-life series revolving around the lives of a group of contemporary Japanese high school girls. (When Japan hits on a theme that sells, it stays the course.) It's also one of those series that plays heavily to its moe aspects, though not to the level of Strike Witches (as that would be impossible). Lucky Star's approach to moe is more meta, partly because it contains characters--otaku, a doujinshi artist--who recognize their own types and those around them, and who discuss them in a pretty fourth-wall bending manner.

(If that last sentence was incomprehensible to you, just wait until I get to Genshiken. All will [hopefully] be clearer then!)

If I were ranking manga on a scale of approachability, I'd definitely put Lucky Star in the upper echelons. It's based very heavily in certain subsets of Japanese culture, and has a definite current events feel to it. If you're just getting into this whole "backwards Japanese comic books" thing, you may want to level up some more before looking into it. (In the meantime, if you want to give the 4koma format or slice-of-life genre a try, I highly recommend Azumanga Daioh, Sunshine Sketch, or Yotsuba&! respectively! We've got the first and the last of these available here at the Mooresville Public Library.)

Lucky Star has been running since 2004, and has 9 volumes so far, 8 of which are available in English. There's also a 24 episode anime from 2007 that was licensed for English by Madmen Entertainment (the people who dubbed Noir and El Cazador de la Bruja! Their praises, let me sing them), as well as an OVA from 2008 that, so far as I know, has not been dubbed in English.

July 03, 2012

Le Portrait de Petit Cossette

I think the main flaw of Le Portrait de Petit Cossette is that it was trying to be like Evangelion. The problem with this is that there can only be one Evangelion, as evidenced by the fact that I'm using Eva as an example of what Petit Cossette tried to do. But that aside!

Petit Cossette is a sort of time-traveling contemporary occult horror story with a dash of romance (or more, depending on your definition of the word) thrown in. Eiri is an artist working in his uncle's antique store when one day, while handling a Venetian glass, he begins to see visions of a young woman through it. As the visions increase, Eiri withdraws further and further from his friends, until one midnight the girl, Cossette, finally makes contact with him. As his friends grow more concerned about his heath and sanity, Cossette lures Eiri into a nasty world of revenge against her murderer--a man who, she claims, has been reborn in Eiri.

Le Portrait de Petit Cossette is a 3 episode OVA that came out in 2004. It was licensed by Sentai Filmworks, who released the English dub in that same year. There was also a 2 volume manga from 2004 that was translated by Tokyopop; but I haven't read it, so I can't say whether it's similar or not!

June 26, 2012

Gunslinger Girl

Gunslinger Girl is a scifi series set in a near-future Italy, though it makes use of a lot of political issues that occurred in the country in the last decade (so really, it's more like a past-future Italy). It focuses on Section 2, the Social Welfare division, the real meat of which is composed of a group of cybernetic girls, their handlers, and a handful of support staff. Social Welfare ostensibly does what its name implies--and to a certain extent it does, to keep up appearances--but it's really a covert agency designed to take out terrorists and other people who oppose the government. The two anime series, Gunslinger Girl and GG: Il Teatrino, are adapted from the first five volumes of the manga; and there's a very big difference between the two.

Gunslinger Girl focuses primarily on a newcomer to Section 2, Henrietta, and her handler Jose, though the later episodes start to expand on the other girls in the group. The episodes in this series are more standalone than anything, aside from the last 5. It focuses heavily on the girls and their relationships (or lack thereof) with each other and their handlers; to be honest, the first season's pace has more of a slice-of-life feel to it than any other genre--and while I'm not opposed to that (given my fondness for K-On! and Hidamari Sketch), there were times while watching that I was thinking "For a series about cyborg assassins in Italy, this is really slow."

Il Teatrino does not suffer from this problem. While the first episode is something of a refresher on the world and the Social Welfare Division, from 2 onward there's an underlying plot arc to all the individual episodes. This was the season I was referring to when I mentioned the use of political issues earlier (they never actually name the Prime Minister, but it's pretty obviously Berlusconi. It's a little odd to see him in anime-style animation, honestly): the plot is driven by the political dissention between the northern, industrial half of Italy and the poorer, but more tourist-friendly, southern half. There's a lot going on in the background, but the main plot is on Section 2's efforts to thwart a northern faction-affiliated group of terrorists who've hired a pair of bombers to blow up a southern bridge in response to a northern separatist supporter going on trial for tax evasion.

Unlike Gunslinger Girl, Il Teatrino makes a serious effort to invest you in characters on all sides of the issue, both the northerners, southerners, and the government sections, while also showing the damage caused to them all by the cycle of revenge they're caught up in. Episode seven, especially, does this; and since this kind of nuanced, no-easy-answers storyline is why I'm so fond of anime in the first place, that's why I'm pretty much singing Il Teatrino's praises here. That it also fleshes out the other girls in Section 2, has improved writing to the point that there are some truly unsettling moments (almost the entirety of episode four has a Pulp Fiction feel to it, where a sense of completely bland normality wars with the fact that these two men who're talking about their family and girlfriend and lack of vacation time are doing so while acting as body removers for a northern gang, or that when a little girl who just got out of the hospital and is feeling kind of down about being slow asks for a favor from her friend, what she asks is "Will you let me kill one of the bad guys tomorrow?" That one in particular was a salkdfh;lsk moment for me. Unsettling!). And the fact that it also has (what I personally think, I admit) a much more appropriate opening song doesn't hurt!

The manga for Gunslinger Girl started in 2002 and is still going; it's being translated into English by Seven Seas Entertainment and, previously, ADV. The first of the anime series ran from 2003-2004, and the second in 2008. Both have been licensed for English by Funimation (they're everywhere), as has the 2 episode OVA. I haven't read the manga yet, so I don't know if the difference between the two is based on a change in the manga or the fact that a different animation studio and producer created the second one. The change in animation style does take a bit to get used to--and the OVA has a much more different style than either of the anime, which is really odd to adjust to, visually. We don't have the anime here, but both series are available just down the road in Plainfield!

June 12, 2012


Another post that exists due to talking with our teen librarian Rachel! She mentioned that she'd watched "This show that starts with a B, and it's got immortals," to which I replied ". . . Starts with B, immortals...and it's not Black Butler? Huh. I don't think I know omg do you mean Baccano?" "Yeah, that one." "See, if you'd said 'starts with a B and has a train, I'd've known exactly which you meant!" "Oh, yeah, I guess there's a train, too." "...So you're not very far in." "Well, no, the first episode was kind of weird...."

As you may have guessed, Baccano involves a train. And some people who are immortal. And the first episode is definitely weird! But there is a very good reason for this. Like some of the other series I've described, the Baccano anime is just a small part of a larger fictional universe; it began as a light novel series. The story that the anime covers was lifted from one part of the novels, so the first episode is more like a box frame (i.e. that old English trope, like in Wuthering Heights where the story of Heathcliff and Cathy is couched within the story of Nelly telling their story to Lockwood) that sets up the rest of the tale, and it gets pretty highfalutin with philosophical arguments to do so. I wouldn't say you could skip the first episode, because the non-philosophy parts introduce a lot of the characters and settings; but if you power through it, like the first couple eps of Princess Tutu, the payoff is tremendous.

So let's set the first episode aside and move into the rest of the series. Baccano is an action/fantasy comedy, with three primary storylines and therefore three main locations. The first is, perhaps not surprisingly, on a train. The second is in 1930s Manhattan, and the third is on a ship in 1711. I'm going to try and break this down as much as is humanly possible without spoilers, but the storylines are so interwoven that even the episodes will jump between them.

Let's start with the ship in 1711, because it's from there that the rest of this tale spins out. A group of alchemists aboard the ship are seeking the secret of immortality, as alchemists are wont to do, and clasp on to the brilliant plan to summon a demon to give it to them. What can I say? It was the 1700s. The secret is granted in the form of an elixir, but it comes with a downside; the only way to end their immortality is by being "devoured" by another immortal, a process enacted by placing a hand on the other's head and thinking I want to devour, which transfers all the touched person's memories and knowledge to the touchee, and kills them in the process. One of the alchemists goes power-mad, pulls an Orochimaru, and starts murdering the others for their knowledge; the survivors manage to stop him long enough for the boat to reach port, but once they've realized the danger to themselves, they scatter across the globe and rarely come into contact with each other. As Highlander has taught us, with great immortality comes great paranoia.

Fast forward to Manhattan, circa Prohibition era. Because the formula of the immortality elixir was only given to one person, the one who summoned the demon (who was not the one that went on the murderous rampage), the latter alchemist has spent the last 300+ years trying to create it. Good Lord, this is starting to sound like a logic problem. I should probably be using names up in here, but I wanted to avoid that because 1) spoilers!, and 2) for serious, the Japanglish on this show is some of the most astounding I've ever seen. You'll have perfectly normally named people like Eve and Dallas and Isaac running alongside people with names like Jacuzzi or Czeslaw or Szilard. I had to rely on Wikipedia to spell those last ones. Anyway, in 1930 he finally recreates the elixir--but then it promptly gets stolen by one of his minions, and then moved across the city in a series of comedic errors and turf war battles involving two startlingly bad thieves and some warring mafia families. I'm not going to say who drinks the elixir in the end (that would require names), but I will say that the alchemist never gets it back.

A year after this, another turf war has escalated to the point that one of the families involved summons home their most infamous assassin. Here's where the train comes in. The transcontinental line he takes to travel from California to New York is also boarded by an original immortal (one from the 1711 ship), some more immortals, a reporter, a gang, the aforementioned terrible thieves, and a group of hijackers, who proceed to do what their name implies. There then follows an extensive battle between the hijackers and several of the above mentioned people; and then, like it wasn't bloody enough, the mythic "Rail Tracer"--a monster who reportedly eats railroad passengers--joins in. It's around this point that you think the old woman at the start of the series who pronounced that the train was cursed was definitely understating.

Writing all this out, I'm seeing where Rachel was coming from. If any of that sounds ridiculously complex, just think, this is me breaking down the storylines into their separate parts. In the anime, they're all smooshed together, and not necessarily in order timeline-wise, either. And I just discussed the plot! This completely leaves out all the amazing characters and their interactions and complicated relationships.

The tl;dr version of this post is that Baccano! is hilarious and awesome, but you might need a flowchart while you're watching. Or you could just rewatch it a few times! I did mention it's hilarious, right?

I touched a little on the series' expansive universe above, so I'll just do a drive-by description: in addition to the original light novel series (16 volumes since 2003 and still going) and the anime, there's an untranslated 2-volume manga, a couple drama CDs and a DS game which, alas, is also not translated. Basically the anime is the only part of the series available over here, unless you know Japanese (since, unlike DVD players, the DS is region-free, meaning you could play the Baccano game if you bought a copy from Japan). It comprises 16 episodes that ran in 2007, the last 3 of which are separate from the prior 13 and are more similar to an OVA, and was licensed for English by Funimation. The English voice acting is really good!

We don't have Baccano! here at the library, and it's not available in Evergreen Indiana, either (it can get pretty bloody, after all), but Hulu has all 16 episodes in the subtitled version, and Funimation has both the subtitled and the dubbed ones on its website!

June 05, 2012

Strike Witches

Strike Witches is a very...unique anime, not so much in its story as in the fact that it's so over-the-top moe that I was never quite sure if it was parody or serious. Whichever of the two, it's definitely an anime produced to cater to guys; but it was an enjoyable show, so into the blog it goes! (Plus, everyone needs to know about the awesomeness that is Major Sakamoto.)

Strike Witches is a military series, set on the coast of England in the WWII era, with one distinction--in this universe, just before the war began in earnest, an alien invasion arrived. The alien Neuroi reacted with hostility when the first exploration/attack was launched on them, and humanity banded together in response as the two sides began a long-running, if patternized, war: the Neuroi always attacked at certain intervals, like clockwork, though (of course) when we join the story everything's starting to change. So, military scifi, basically. Oh, and in the fight against the Neuroi, the military has begun using witches--and does so by creating individual flying units similar to boots that the girls can power with their magic.

I'm not going to lie, I watched this solely because it was recommended by a friend whose taste I consider good. I don't think anything else would have overcome my skepticism of the--well, everything I just listed above.

The main character is Miyafuji, a witch with healing powers whose father created the Striker units (the aforementioned boots), and who joined the 501st Joint Fighter Wing (the Strike Witches) despite her pretty ferocious initial pacifism in order to try and find him. She remains with the unit even after learning he was killed in a raid, though she never really lets go of the pacifism.

It's this pacifism that enables Miyafuji to interact with a lone Neuroi when it doesn't attack on sight. Her efforts to communicate with an enemy combatant, when discovered, predictably have negative consequences in a system consumed with a warfare mindset--especially because there've been efforts within the military to eliminate the strike witches and replace them with a more traditional fighter unit, and Miyafuji's actions gave them the 'legitimate' argument to do so. But the consequences don't stop there, and the last few episodes are really tense as the disbanded 501st races to protect Europe from the fallout of the military's mecha (Japan's go-to term for a mechanized robot) that was supposed to replace the witches and, well, spoilers. But you can make a guess how that played out.

The Strike Witches series is one of those expansive ones with a huge universe spanning several mediums, like Baccano! (another series I haven't covered yet! unbelievable) or Higurashi. There's the original light novel series that's still ongoing and then another that wrapped up in 2009, multiple manga series, and an OVA in addition to the two anime series and the film! Only the anime have been translated, though; both are 12 episodes long and were licensed for English by Funimation. The series I described was the first one, which is available on Netflix and on Hulu Plus (though some episodes can be watched on the free, regular Hulu).

May 30, 2012

Pani Poni Dash

Pani Poni Dash is a hard series to review, because a review requires you to string words together in a sensical order, and Pani Poni rejects any kind of sense whatsoever.

Half-Japanese/half-American M.I.T. graduate and all-around genius Rebecca Miyamoto returns to Japan to begin teaching at a local high school. Perhaps the most distinct part of this is that she's a child prodigy and 11 years old, making her younger than her students; and she's being watched by aliens as an unknowing sample in the study of the human race.

This isn't even the strangest part of this series. That would be Miss Ichijo.

The plot of Pani Poni, such as it is, relies heavily on parodying other anime and genre tropes, and Japanese culture in general, especially Internet forums. It doesn't have a specific plot arc and is mainly composed of standalone episodes driven by the characters; but if you suspend your sense of disbelief and reality, it is hilarious! Since it focuses on four first-year classes, homerooms 1-A through 1-D, with occasional outside characters (and the aliens, of course), there's too many people to really get into here--which is a shame, because there's no way to explain how rib-crackingly funny this series can get without laying out the characters. But even hearing about them isn't as good as seeing them! Luckily, we can help you with that.

The manga of Pani Poni is 17 volumes and ran from 2000-2011, and is unfortunately not translated into English. (The puns are probably the main hindrance, but you'd think if Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo could get translated, they could pull this off too.) The anime Pani Poni Dash is, however; it ran in 2005 for 26 episodes, and was licensed for English by--quelle surprise--Funimation. There's also an OVA that was released in 2009, but it--like the drama CDs (similar to an audiobook, only all the voice actors get together to voice their characters and there are generally sound effects, making it more like an audio production than the usual one-reader-audiobook) and the Internet radio shows--has not been translated to English either. The whole run of the anime is available in Evergreen Indiana, just down the road at Plainfield!