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Ta-Ta Tuesday: Popotan (anime series) First Impressions



Popotan
Written by: ??? No one is claiming it!
Based on the visual novel adult game by: Petit Ferrit
Directed by: Shinichiro Kimura
Produced: Shaft/Sentai Filmsorks
Release Date: July 17, 2003--October 2, 2003


I found Popotan on Amazon Prime this month and decided to watch the first episode during some down-time a few weeks ago. I debated doing a review of it because it isn't very remarkable, but finally decided that for several (paired) reasons this would be a perfect post for Ta-Ta Tuesday and we haven't had one of those in a while. 

Apparently Popotan the anime is just the latest in a series of games, novels, manga and drama cds of the same name. There are a lot of variations in stories between these different mediums and retellings, but a few things stay the same. There is a moving house (that's cool), and three sisters named Ai, Mai, and Mii of various ages and degrees of weirdness. There is a stoic, perhaps roboty, maid named Mea (because those names aren't confusing enough). And there is a lot of nudity and sexual innuendo that has been heavily criticized as stereotypical, or obviously blatant appeals to male audiences who are more interested in the characters' physical appearances than their development. I have to say that on first watch...I can't see much need for the kind of nudity that is displayed. But, I don't see much need for this anime as a whole either. I found it hyperactive, confusing, and wondered (while watching) when the first episode would be over. To be fair, I feel like I should give this series a chance, but...uuuuurrrrrrggggggghhhh. I just don't care. 

Here are my first impressions: 
1. That is a lot of boob exposure for a show whose first episode featured middle-schoolers. Like seriously a lot of boob. I don't know that I'm comfortable with that level of boob being used in that way. I mean, yeah, it's just boobs, but...something is unsettling here. Do we really need a "whoops, someone was bathing" scene? I'm siding with the critics on this whole nudity thing...it's pointless, and gratuitous. On a side-note (about side-boob), the breasts in this series come in all shapes and sizes from "those enormous breasts should not be that perky...are they defying gravity?" to "I'm not sure of the age of this character, but I feel like we both need a adult." So...ewh. 

OOH! BOOBS! (Censor bar by Dr. M)
Let's watch this badly written, confusing anime
because the need for cartoon boobs overrides any need for sense,
good writing or plot.  (That was sarcasm.)

2. Weird and perverted magical sisters who live in an eternal Christmas-house powered by dandelions that transport it through time and space! Okay, why not? It's not the dumbest thing I've ever watched/read (See: Prince of Ramen for that distinction). Of course none of it made sense in the first episode, but I'm going to assume more is revealed later about why/how this magic transporting Christmas-house works and who these strange, seemingly unrelated, boob-tacular sisters are. I am guessing time-travelling Christmas-witches. 

3. The title is clever. Popotan is an inversion of the Japanese word for dandelion: Tampopo. Speaking of Tampopo, Tampopo is a favorite film in my house (it is a really good film). Popotan, sadly, will not achieve that distinction...no matter how clever the title. The world of Popotan is an alternate universe, and there's something magical going on (what? I don't know). So speaking backwards seems very appropriate in a winder-shins kind of way. Magic! WOO! 

It is cute, I'll give it that.

4. It is colorful and cute, when it isn't being pervy and weird. That may be 99% of the problem with this anime...it has an identity crisis!! This seems like an anime for kids in terms of art, plot, goofiness, EXCEPT for the nudity and perviness. It's like it is confused about its audience. Either go full-perv (which means I'll avoid it) or full-kid-show (which would make the most sense). This in-between thing is off-putting and creepy...like being flashed by Barney the dinosaur, or learning that Oscar the Grouch is into bondage. I don't like it. 

Conclusion: Not for me, thanks. The whole things is a mess...there are some very strange choices that have been made, and I honestly cannot figure out who the audience is supposed to be. 


Bee and Puppycat: OH MAN IT'S GOODER THAN HELL

I have been putting off watching Bee and Puppycat for roughly two months now. I heard nothing but good things about it, so of course I was extremely wary. I resisted for so long, and now I've seen it, and the infection that is the adorable B&P is now consuming my soul.

I really don't want to say anything specific, because it would spoil what precious little there is of it. At the moment, there is a part 1 and a part 2, and no apparent plans for more. I can't even warn you enough, you will get to the end of part 2 and scream at the gods for making such an unjust world that would not offer forth a third installment. But I can say that the art style is super-cute and well-done, the animation is pretty great, and the writing is A+.

Without belaboring this point anymore, go watch it and make your own decisions. And then come back and tell me when you love it.

Bee and Puppycat Part 1


WataMote (Anime Series)



WataMote
Written by: Takao Yoshioka
Based on the manga series by: Nico Tanigawa (Yen Press)
Directed by: Shin Onuma
Produced: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: Began July 8, 2013--ongoing 

Welcome, Dear Readers, to a GUSHING review of a strange little, heartbreaking, anime with a long name. The title of this slice-of-life, teen-angst, anime series: Watashi ga Motenai no wa do Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui! , better known by the shortened title Watamoto, translates to No Matter How I look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular! and, in short (or long...considering the length of that title) that's exactly what this anime is about. 

Lead character Tomoko Kuroki is a fifteen year old girl with crippling social anxiety and self-esteem problems...a fact that makes her high-school life and her desire for popularity awkward to the point of painfulness for both viewer and character. So, why would I not only want to watch something that is painful to watch, but encourage others to watch it as well? That's a good question I don't really have an straight answer to. 

One thing I want to make clear though, is that I am in no way watching this to ridicule or make fun of this character. Although I have never had to face the depths of social awkwardness that Tomoko faces on a daily basis, I cannot help but feel a sort of horrific empathy with her as she moves throughout her day: panicking at each small social interaction; swinging wildly between utter disdain for her fellow students and her desire to be more like them; misjudging and misinterpreting social cues, actions, and reactions; feeling isolated and trapped in that isolation without any direction to turn; and trying madly to find some IN to a world of friends, popularity, and social ease that she seems to be excluded from. To call Tomoko simply anti-social or neurotic is to sell her short...she is a strangely compelling character, who invokes joy, sorrow, and pity in me
I promise you that she's not as scary as all that...most of the time.
And although she is the loner-type, she's not going to snap and go through with any violent actions towards others.
She does however sink into some fairly depraved, and self-indulgent fantasies involving sex and violence.

Fiercely independent by necessity, Tomoko TRIES (and fails) to be "normal"...something that may stick out in propriety-conscious Japan even more so than other countries. Countering that independence, though is a desperate need to fit in somewhere. Tomoko is so desperate that she negotiates every move she makes in an extensive inner-dialog that viewers are privy to...we see the misconceptions she is under, and the, at times, very sweet nature that motivates her. Of course we also see all those plans fall flat on their face, and we see a lot of her perverted and violent side as well (Tomoko is a well-rounded character). The end-goal to all her schemes is something most people take for granted...a handful of friends, a little bit of love and self-confidence, and a chance at the "normal life" those around her seem to find so easily. One issue keeping her from finding that "normal life," is that much of her understanding of what is normal and what makes a person popular is skewed as a result of her reliance on pop-culture artifacts that serve as a poor road-map; she reads countless manga and fan-magazines, plays Otome games (dating and relationship games targeted towards a mostly-female audience), and constructs elaborate fantasies. 

One of the things I find most fascinating about this anime is HOW we as an audience understand Tomoko. Tomoko's inner life is elaborate (it swings from highs to lows as she attempts to navigate the real world), and her outer life is withdrawn, awkward, and stilted (she can hardly speak to others, but when she does it involves some faux-pas, oddity, or social misstep). Somewhere in the middle is the real Tomoko...an interesting and strange girl who with a little more (or less, at points) self-confidence would be a "normal" high-school student (there are no "normal" high school students). Tomoko doesn't seem to realize that she's not completely alone...that each person is a little bag of neuroses and second-guessing just filling to burst. But, unlike many of us, Tomoko has no outlet for her very contradictory thoughts and impulses. 

She hates the popular kids, but she wants so desperately to be popular. Who is to blame? Tomoko herself? Yes, to a point, but who does she have to turn to? She's navigating this alone. Should we blame the popular kids for excluding her? Absolutely, but they're in some ways JUST like Tomoko, and perhaps fear letting her into their lives. She is, after all, an honestly odd person, who keeps others at well-beyond arm's length, and they most-likely have no idea how to approach her. 

Her attempt to escape a frantic situation in which she is stuck beneath a shelter in the rain with two cute boys. She tries to talk to them. It gets, as expected, a little weird. She tries to sneak off, and they ask "Where are you going? You'll get soaked."The sentence above was her impromptu answer.
My empathetic reaction was to scream "NOOOOO!" It took a while before I could laugh.

I love her oddity. I love the completely unaware and disastrous lapses in logic she has. I love that she tries so hard, and I feel sorrow when she fails. In some ways she's a cool kid...she has passionate interests (albeit perverted passionate interests at times); she's unique; she's imaginative--she's absolutely fascinating. She's the kind of kid we've all been at one point or the other (I hope, I'm not alone here in admitting that). She's the kind of person I'd befriend...a fellow outsider weirdo holding "normal life" at a distance while secretly desiring all of its pretty trappings. 

There's a tragedy to her failed attempts that's reminiscent (I'm about to get word-nerd here, so bear with me) of Hamlet. Now, I'm not saying this is Shakespearean exactly, but the inner struggle with identity and presenting our "self" to the world, the frustration of feeling bound by circumstance and expectation...those are HEAVY human concerns, and they are addressed in this anime. If Hamlet were minus one ghost-dad, and plus a comedy-of-errors feel, Tomoko would be hamletesque

I highly recommend this ongoing series. I have watched through episode six of Watamoto  so far, and am hooked. I will say that I don't recommend it for people who have a tendency to be overly-empathetic, or who get anxious when others are in awkward situations. There's a Michael Scott (from The Office) element to Tomoko...she means SO well, but she's so wrong at times, and misjudges so much in the world and about herself. It could be too much anxiety for some viewers, but if you can handle the elevated stress of watching this, it is well worth the risk. 

I'm going to leave you with a teaser....Watamoto has some of the best opening credits I've ever seen in an anime...hard heavy-metal, Japanese-style and some nice imagery reminiscent of Tomoko's inner struggles. I might actually go purchase this song, if I can find it...wow. 



All in all, I'm really loving this series...I'm loving it THROUGH the pain I sometimes feel watching it. My heart goes out to Tomoko, and I know that I'll be cheering through her victories...as soon as she manages to have one. 

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club (Anime Series)


Free! Iwatobi Swim Club
Written by: Masahiro Yokotani
Directed by: Hiroko Utsumi
Produced: Kyoto Animation
Release Date: Began July 4, 2013--ongoing


The story of the Iwatobi Swim Club centers around 17 year old Haruka, an introverted young man who seems to be uncomfortable everywhere except in the water. He lives alone (his parents conveniently absent in typical anime fashion...the excuse this time is that they moved for work), skips school on a regular basis, and seems to be disinterested in what's happening around him, at least on the surface. 

In the past Haruka was part of a swim team, swimming (as he repeatedly tells us, only "freestyle") in races and relays. He and his three friends, annoyingly chipper and bubbly Nagisa, responsible and encouraging Mako, and competitive and determined Rin, won their middle-school relays, and then parted ways. Rin went on to train in Australia to be an Olympic swimmer, and Nagisa followed his family to another school. Leaving only Mako to tend to Haruka's swimming-related OCDs.  Haru, never interested in the idea of the "race," quit when Rin left, and Mako followed, one by one the team fell apart, and a few years later the swim club itself closed. The story opens with Nagisa transferring into the high-school Haru and Mako attend. In a fit of nostalgia (and brandishing packets of salt to ward away ghosts), the trio decides to break into their old swim club and take a trip down memory lane. While there they run, coincidentally, into Rin, who has returned to attend an private school with an elite swim team, still working towards his Olympic goals. 

Inspired by the past, Nagisa convinces Haru and Mako to join him in starting a swim club at their new high-school. and expected shirtless hi-jinx ensue as they gain an extra member in the form of neurotic, perfectionist (and poor swimmer) Rei. And with Rin's little sister as team manager the group tries their best to make a good showing at their first meet. 
Welcome to this week's episode of "catering to teen girls."
Clockwise from the top we have:
determined glasses dude, angry aggressive dude with a sensitive core, responsible big-brother-type,
cutey face bunny boy, and sullen haunted loner with secret feelings. 

This is a show I would continue. I am six episodes into the series, and in some ways this is a predictable male-harem type anime...there's a guy for every girl here. You like brooding dark and aggressive ..well, this anime has that covered. Stoic with a hidden tenderness...oh, yeah, we got that. Cute and flirty...sure. Awkward genius in glasses who happens to have an incredible body...yup. Responsible big brother type who wears his heart on his sleeve...not a problem. So, why watch it if it's so predictable? Well, hot-anime-shirtless-ridiculousness aside (I think the "swim club" choice was seriously influenced by the amount of skin the scenario offers), this is a very interesting character study. 

Haru, the main character, has an icy personalty that is a little off-putting, but his genuine passion for swimming at points borders on the metaphorical and philosophical. Despite his sometimes apathetic stance, there are hints that there are deep conflicting emotions at work in this character. Except when he is swimming (and is at his most joyous) he seems devastatingly sad. Most obviously this deep sorrow emerges in his relationship to Rin. Haru's unresolved, and contradictory, feelings of friendship, devotion, guilt, and loss become a major undercurrent to the series, at least so far. There's an interesting dynamic between Haru and Rin. The one-sided competition Rin feels keeps him motivated, but causes an widening rift between two people who seem to not only admire and respect one another, but care deeply for one another (in a heterosexual way; don't get excited yaoi-fans). Each of them clings to the friendship that they formed in the past, but each wants to move past that loss, or even through it...as both characters say in separate situations "I want to move on." Their past, and their competition with one another, is not allowing them to do that. 

If you can't swim, you should not join a swim team.
I don't care how many sparkles are surrounding you...sparkles don't float.
(Or do they? I can't ever remember.)
Each of the characters seems to have some sadness or loss that they are attempting to move past, and as a team they may be able to mend one another's broken bits. I'm looking forward to future episodes. I can already hear (this series just began in Japan less than two months ago) the sound of fan-girls squeeing over this series. I would expect that there are fan-sites, fiction, art, etc. popping up every hour. This is the kind of anime a teen-girl would like, but...and we need a but here, it does have more than just cute/sweet situations, shirtless boys, and awkward affection. There's a story here about loss and redemption, about individual goals and our desire for collective support, and about how passion and freedom are strange bedfellows (one ties us down while the other liberates us). It's surprisingly deep stuff for an anime with an average of ten shirtless minutes per 22 minute episode AND one of the worst closing credit sequences I have ever experienced (you were warned). Other than those closing credits, I think this one is worth a watch. At the very least you'll be on the popularity bus before this turns into the next Ouran High School Host Club

Tsukoyomi: Moon Phase (Anime Series) First Impressions

Tsukoyomi: Moonphase
Based on the Manga by Keitaro Arima (Wani Books)
Directed by: Akiyuki Shinbo
Produced: Shaft Studios
Release Date: 2004-2005


I will admit that I have biases, and one of those biases is against hyperactive, annoying, and almost borderline personality disorder female characters in anime and manga. There are just too many of them. Way too many. It's a trope, I know, and I should be forgiving, but I imagine that if there is an anime universe out there then 75% of female characters under middle age are frighteningly neurotic and should be placed under heavy medication and or psychiatric care. The precious-looking, Lolita, cat-girl, vampire with multiple personalities pictured to the left is annoying. Now, granted, I am only 2 episodes into the series, but already I am acutely irritated by the mix of bossy, aggressive and bratty I'm picking up in the character of Hazuki/Luna (multiple personalities, remember?). And I'm already a little skeptical of the nature of the series as a whole because there is a LOT going on--not plot-wise perse, but just in total. There is too much going on in Moon Phase, and not all of it makes sense so far...who knows, maybe it all works itself out later?

Episode One: "Big Brother, Be my Slave"

In this first creepily-titled episode viewers are introduced to Kouhei an awkward and forthright ghost-photographer (That's a job? I'd like that job!) whose job is to capture psychic photos for a popular Japanese occult magazine. He also has a total inability to see or be affected by spirits (which seems like a strange issue for a ghost-photographer to have). He is travelling in Germany with his cousin Seiji, who is a gifted psychic, and the magazine's chief writer.

Now at this point there are several things already noteworthy about this anime series: 1) it has the most annoying theme-song I have heard in a good long while, 2) the associated images with the theme-song are bizarre...I mean two rabbits trying to pound Hazuki/Luna into mochi in an attempt at "cute" bizarre. What's cute about attempted mochi-slaughter?, 3) the background art is dark and atmospheric and overall very scenic and beautiful, but the characters themselves seem to be done not only by a different animator, but in a different animation style...something doesn't mesh up between the scene and the people populating that scene, 4) there are some mighty MacGuffins up in here.
Right down in the mochi-smooshing-area (not the technical term) you can make out Hazuki/Luna's cat ears.
Those rabbits are SICK!

A MacGuffin is a term used in film and fiction. MacGuffins are objects, goals or people desired protagonist...this desire for this MacGuffin (whatever it may be) moves the plot of a story along, but there is seldom any real motivation presented FOR the desire to viewers...it is merely fact, and is often left unexplored...as viewers we notice and accept it without much analysis of it. The classic example is from Alfred Hitchcock, who claimed that a MacGuffin in a spy story would always be the papers (what do the papers say? Who knows...that spy needs those papers.) or in a private-eye movie it could be a necklace (we need that loot, see! Why? Who cares...it's LOOT!). A MacGuffin motivates and spurs the plot, but it often becomes sort of incidental in some ways. So, say a protagonist like Hazuki/Luna desires freedom, but there's not really anything seemingly confining about her life...why does she want freedom? Well, because everyone does, right? Let's free her. Or what if her desire is to go to Japan? She lived there once (confusing spoiler), so Japan itself becomes the motivating factor...we better get her to Japan!

Save me, Big Brother...also let's make out. I only look 14, so it's okay.
(It's not okay...it's creepy.)
Okay, now that I've spoiled it for you already, I'll rewind a bit. Spiritual void Kouhei is taking pictures of a German Castle abandoned during the Black Plague, and as he is taking photos he notices a girl sitting on a parapet. The editor/writer and super-psychic Seiji get excited...they are going to that castle TONIGHT! Kouhei enters the castle alone (apparently there is some sort of psychic force-field around it that people who are not Kouhei cannot enter), and finds Hazuki/Luna who immediately tries to seduce him and starts calling him Big Brother (gross). This is when we discover that Hazuki/Luna is a) trapped by her father and his servant Vigo in the castle, and b) speaks Japanese because she lived in Japan for a while (when? the freaking castle is from the 1300s? This weird non-explanation annoys me to no end).  Kouhei is all, "sure, let's go!" but Vigo, the masked servant, stops them and gets all big-glowy, floaty-head, magic-face. Thankfully Seiji the psychic intervenes...

SPELL BATTLE COMMENCES!!!
Where would anime be without spell battles? 

So there are lots of sutras flying, and crazy vines attacking people, and sobbing writers, and huge declarations and in the midst of all of this chaos Hazuki has a personality switch into Luna, a more sophisticated and aggressive version of herself. She bites him...surprise. And his blood looks like kool-aid...actual, non-sarcastic, surprise. He is now under her spell and is his slave...

Episode 2 "Call me Mistress"

We've already established that Kouhei has all the spiritual sensitivity of a shoe-horn, so it's no surprise to us that Luna's bite was supposed to change Kouhei into a slave, but failed. He is simply immune to supernatural-type stuff. So, Luna does what any Japanese vampire trapped in a German castle for 700 years might do...she throws a temper tantrum.
No kidding! 
Eventually Kouhei (who is really dense), understands that he has to break a crystal to destroy the barrier keeping her in the castle. So he does. She disappears and the end...

DUN-DUN-DUN!

Nope, she magically reappears at his home in Japan and I am sure hijinx will ensue.

Now, I do love a good supernatural, anime, exorcism comedy, but I've decided not to continue on with this series as a result of the intense annoyance I feel towards Hazuki/Luna after only two episodes, but that doesn't mean this is an anime to write-off. The premise, despite plot holes and assumptions, is interesting. The background animation is awesome. There are plenty of modern-day, fish-out-of-water, moments that will come from Hazuki/Luna's new life in Japan. So, it could be good...it just isn't for me.




The Garden of Words: Kotonoha No Wiwa (Anime Film)



Written by: Makoto Shinkai
Produced: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: May 31, 2013

The Garden of Words is a sad film full of sad characters whose sadness has left them immobilized and isolated from others. The main character, Akizuki, is a 15-year old boy whose life is in shambles--his parents are divorcing, his older brother (the sole stable figure in his life) is moving out of their apartment to live with a new girlfriend, and he will soon be on his own. His dream is to design and make shoes, but as a student living alone he is struggling to make ends meet with a part time job, and is unsure of his future...the tuition and materials for the vocational school he wants to attend are beyond his means. The only respite from the constant worry he seems to feel are the walks in the park he takes on mornings when it's raining.

Right away what I notice about this film is the slowness of its pacing, and the beautiful animation. The story moves slow, and the juxtaposed scenery between the hustle and bustle of city live and the oasis of the city gardens seems to be a character in its own rights. The animation is remarkable, from the strange angles and perspective it uses to tell the story, to the fantastically minute details the animators choose to focus on. Thankfully, since this is a story whose plot begins to depend on rain, the illustrations of water and rainfall are stunningly gorgeous.

Hello indeed! This screen capture is beautiful, but it doesn't do credit to the water in motion in this film. 
Scenes inside of Akizuki's cramped apartment as he works by lamplight are equally gorgeous, and show his dedication to his goals. This is a very Japanese film in terms of its philosophy of work and dedication, and stoicism in the face of increasing goals. Akizuki is a very straightforward, practical, character, but his dedication to his pursuits leave him little time for much else. He speaks infrequently and considers his words.

Akizuki's drawings of shoes.
He is often seen stealing moments to draw and design. 
The only bit of time he does seem to take for himself are on those rainy mornings. As the film starts we are made aware of Akizuki's habits and love of the rain. We see him wandering through an otherwise empty garden under his umbrella...skipping his classes until it lets up. On his wanderings he runs into a young woman sitting beneath a shelter. The share the space in silence as the rain pours...together, yet isolated. As she leaves she recites a classical tanka "A faint clap of thunder/clouded skies/perhaps rain comes/If so, will you stay here with me?" These are the only words exchanged and they part ways.
The gazebo.

Silence is an overwhelming theme in this film. Both characters are introspective and speak infrequently. In fact, as their rainy-day habits becomes a routine during the rainy season (both meeting in the morning at the same gazebo) they never even exchange names. Amid the silence their actions and hesitation becomes important, and slowly each learns more about the other's life...including their strengths and weaknesses. Each feels the keenness of loneliness, isolated from others by desire and circumstance--each is hiding in the shadow of the rain and shaded shelter from their worries. In their day-to-day lives each of them is frozen in a way...unable to move forward because they fear failure, or that their obstacles are too big to overcome. The woman (Yukini...we know her name before Akizuki does) seems especially broken, although by what we do not know until the end.

Sunshower in Tokyo
During a stretch of sunny days their routine is broken and they drift apart feeling the pain of their separation. Although this is not, necessarily, a romance, there is something very sweet and tragic about the way these two characters are drawn to each other when they keep everyone else at arm's length. While they are apart he works and in his spare time begins to construct a pair of shoes to help her want to move ahead in her life. She stagnates. Both reflect on their futures and ambitions. Both fear failure.

Just wait another 10 years, I don't feel any smarter than when I was 9. 
When the school year begins again he runs into her in the school hallway--apparently she left school after unbiased rumors of a teacher-student affair were created by a few bad apples. She was sitting in the gazebo every day trying to find the courage to return to her place in the literature classroom. He had heard nothing of the rumors, but confronted the students who accused her to defend her honor.

Later he finds her crying at the gazebo, and she is shocked at what he's done. Thunder peals in the distance and he gives the answering Tanka to the one she recited when they first met: "A faint clap of thunder/even if rain comes not/ I'll stay here/ together with you."

Together they seem to find a happiness with one another, borne of the encouragement each provides. But each knows that the feelings of love and respect they have for one another are impossible. In order to move forward as individuals they must leave behind the one person who seems to give them strength. Although that person will forever be a silent motivation to them.


This is a sad story. 
All in all this story is a little precious and predictable at points, but it still feels genuine in its portrayal of two damaged, awkward and isolated souls trying to find something to keep them focused. I appreciate that there is no feel good ending to this story, that they each move on to fulfill the roles they must despite their relationship. I appreciate too that this doesn't feel inappropriate to me, despite their differences in age and their situation. Normally I get pretty nauseous at teacher-student relationships of any sort, but this is in no way a sexual relationship, nor is it necessarily a romantic one (despite what the characters themselves might think) this is about love, but the kind of love that moves us forward...a deep friendship, and sense of responsibility...the way our souls (yeah, yeah) are tied for a time to someone elses though we often don't know how: platonic, fraternal, parental...whatever it is.

Just be sure to keep watching until the credits are over. (hint hint)



Manage a 3 (by Giz and Dave Zero 1)

FINE!

Which reminds me, I never did a review of Desire. 

Panel from Giz and Dave Zero 1's ongoing webcomic: http://www.ma3comic.com/
Worth a read. Funny. Sexy. Weird. And ongoing since 2008.

Mr. Empty: A Manga That Makes You Fluffy and Happy -__-

I don't know that I've ever been fluffy.
Agh no NEVER I'M NOT FLUFFY, THIS IS AN OLD PICTURE














But if ever there was a manga that deserved this honor, it's definitely gotta be Yotsuba&!, which is so placidly cute it could potentially give you diabetes.
This is "cuteness you can't keep up with"



















The main character is a young girl, Yotsuba, I think she's supposed to be either 2 or 4 or 7, something like that. Basically I think she's a first grader. I don't know. In any event, she doesn't seem to attend school, so it doesn't matter.

YotsubaAmpersandExclamation is one of those manga that doesn't bother with storylines. Every chapter could generally stand on its own. There are some characters that join up, her neighbors, etc. but nothing complicated. There's really not even much to discuss about the series!

It's just so sweet and innocent. It's one of those things where you kind of think, "Maybe I could have a kid." even though for a large portion of your life you've despised the concept and interacting with actual children is obnoxious and cements the preconceptions you've held up to that point, but then you read this and Yotsuba is so adorable and interesting. There's this whole thing where they all joke about her being an alien, but it's so cute! It's all so damn cute.

Jesus save us from the cutes.



Mr. Empty: A Manga You'd Like to See More Of

Ahhh Zombiepowder! I really want Kubo to go back and do more volumes of Zombiepowder. But if you're following the mangathangathan, you know I've already talked about ZP and therefore I will pick another one.

I'm actually going to choose one that wasn't left in the dust, but was rather just achingly short. The manga for FLCL is just agony. Pure agony. It's only two volumes. Two! TWO! If you've ever watched the anime, which has reached cult favorite status, you know that this is some psychotic storytelling we're dealing with, a Japanese Hunter S. Thompson. That's a terrible analogy, but you get some idea of the madness coming down the pipes here.




















What is interesting, is the two volumes actually do a really excellent job of being an expositional aid to the anime. There's a notorious and pretty famous scene of animated manga pages in the anime, and they're interesting to see in their original form. You just want to see more, and more, and more, and you get to the end and just have to throw your arms in the air and flop on the floor like a wild fish because the lack of content has turned you into a trout.

You look exactly like this after reading it.
















The volumes don't work terribly well as manga by themselves, they're very discombobulated, which shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. They explore a bit of the relationships between the family, the classmates, and the other characters. I really wanted to see deeper exploration of the characters, the storyline, and the bizarre world. I just wanted more!

Mr. Empty: The Most Annoying Character

I'm trying to think of a manga character who really annoys me. I really don't have a lot, the main thing that irritates me in this world of manga and anime is a bad voice actor. Specifically, female voice actors with high-pitched, whiny voices who get cast as good characters and then wreck them. Luckily I try to pick up versions with subs and original audio when I can.

As far as someone who was actually annoying, the closest I can imagine is Father Anderson from Hellsing.  I don't know what it is, I'm not a big fan of regenerators that don't have adamantium claws, and his dogged Catholicism so flat. I think I always was annoyed that Alucard didn't just power up and shred him.

tiny text = annoying


The ending to the series actually involves Anderson, he uses a religious artifact to go berserk, so now you have a berserking regenerating catholic. Alucard never even fully releases until the final volume, so I felt like there was a bit of a waste when the big, balls-out battle turned out to be the little knife-boy from freaking volume two that should have gotten wasted on the spot.

Now, I wasn't unhappy with the way the series went, at all, I thought the final couple volumes were amazing, but I was unhappy with Anderson as a character and never wanted him to be such a big part of it.

And to add insult to injury, Hirano actually wrote a total, separate story arc about two OTHER Catholics from Anderson's same secret division, and they're totally freaking awesome. One of them is a gunner, the other is a split personality nun. How fun! But of course, they get put on "filler content" duty and only vaguely show up in the main storyline.


Oh, and his full name is Alexander Anderson. Alliterative, which is a literary pet peeve of mine, because if you were to believe fiction, 95% of the population would have alliterative names. They don't. They don't because it sounds weird and parents don't choose weird sounding names. Come on now. It's not that hard, you make up the names, just pick one that doesn't have the same letter at the beginning of both! 

Mr. Empty: A Manga That You Disliked Enough To Stop Reading

Okay. There is literally only one. Innocent W.
I fucking hate you.





















This is literally the worst garbage. One time, Dr. M made me read some nonsense about a guy who ate ramen and got married and it was really gay but then he went to another dimension. That wasn't good. This is actually offensively bad. This is so atrocious that I am literally offended.

The art is trash. As in, the laziest, late 80s, every single character looks exactly the freaking same and has the same hair and face. THERE IS NO DISTINCTION BETWEEN MALES AND FEMALES. Also, this is supposedly about witches. I don't know. The W in the title stands for witches. I'm sitting here, rubbing the skin between my eyebrows in a very tired manner because I don't even know anymore. I can't even express how useless this book is. I literally paid like maybe two dollars for it. I'm mad about that. I could have paid for two dirty hypodermic needles to jam into my tear ducts and give myself a home lobotomy, and I would literally have had more fun. Well, maybe not more fun, but I would definitely have been less unhappy.

This book has violence, and if you've read my other entries, you know I love violence. I really, really do. I think it's really entertaining, even if it's not done well. But this, this is just....bleh. BLEH. I was bored and repulsed at the same time. The characters are so bland, it has all the thrill of watching someone across the dinner table cutting a head of lettuce. Yes, it gets cut, no I'm not having a damn bit of fun watching you do it.

Last but certainly not least, the witches have no power. I don't know what the hell the point is, but they couldn't even defend themselves. They're like, hotline psychic type witches. Excuse me for a minute, I need to rub that bit of skin between my eyebrows in frustration for a few more minutes.

I would not waste another bit of money on this series. In fact, if someone offered them for free, I would not take them. If anyone wants this one for whatever, you can roll some blunts with the pages. Maybe in it's second life, this can bring less misery to the world. But you'll probably get ink poisoning and rot from within when you smoke it. I feel like I need to take it to Mordor or something.

Who's up for a fun trek? We can put it on a necklace and you can carry me and later I'll get a finger bitten off and everyone at CLAMP will cheer.

Mr. Empty: My Favorite Character

I think it's so hard to pick just one character....but if I had to tell who was high on the list, I would definitely say Kurogane from Tsubasa.

He's like, half-ninja, half-samurai. 





















Kurogane is an interesting character. He's a classic antihero, coming across tough at first but later showing a soft side.

He doesn't really get deserving of "favorite character" status until volume 13, however. That's the backstory volume. Excuse me while I choke back tears, remembering the one time I read it. Basically, young Kurogane is the son a legendary monster hunter who protects their town. But when a horde of monsters come after the town, aforementioned father doesn't hack it. Kurogane takes up his father's mantle in a fit of rage and rips apart all the monsters like the badass motherfucker tween he is! But then, after fixing all the bad things, he rolls back to his house, and his mom gets stabbed and dies in his arms.

Did I mention this is another classic CLAMP production? In which every male character loses, or has already lost, an eye? 


The thing that gets me about Kurogane is he has the focus of a missile. They're doing this massive adventure, spanning hundreds of worlds, and the whole time, Kurogane is literally just going, is this going to make me stronger and/or get me back to my town/princess? He doesn't care about the frills. He doesn't care about himself. 

He is a weapon.

Kyo Kara Maoh! -- Manga You'd Like to See More of

Dumb Bishounen Fun
OMG, Ya'll! I just love Kyo Kara Maoh! Even I admit that it is a little weird that I really love a silly male harem story about a boy who gets flushed down a toilet by bullies into a fantasy world where he is the king of the demons and has crazy super powers.

Or maybe it is not weird at all.

This manga and its accompanying anime utilize pretty much every male harem stereotype and theme in service to an adorable, fluffy tale with likable characters and adventures. This manga is chock full of dumb things and unnecessary semi-nude scenes that just kind of happen but are completely innocent, and I love it.

What's happening here? Oh, you know, just some friends chilling at the hot springs.
There is an admirable story line about homogeneity vs difference. You know, humans and demons, can they ever get along? Why are people so mean to people who are different? So, I guess some weighty topics like xenophobia and genocide are covered. But hey, who cares about that serious stuff because seriously, this comic has Bee Bears!!!! Those are bears that are also bees!

Oh, what are those? Bee Bears!
Bee Bears too light and fluffy? How about some angst?

Something sad is happening here.

There is plenty to go around. Demons live a long time, so they have all sorts of drama. Lifetimes. It's good stuff.

Anyway, the manga was licensed by TokyoPop, then TokyPop went under, and the manga did too. Oh, well. I don't know if it will get published in the future because it really is a lowest common denominator story, which can fair well or poorly depending on the times.

Dr. M: Day 30-- A manga that isn’t licensed but SHOULD be

It's the last day of the mangathon for me, Dear Readers, and the final prompt looks hopefully toward the future, asking what I think might need licensed and translated (I'm assuming) on the quick-fast. There are a lot of manga that come out serially in magazines in Japan, and only a fraction of those is picked up by the US market. Sometimes I wonder why certain things are selected over others, but far be it from me to discourage more hentai and demand more grown up characters...that's just me looking out for me and being a little biased. I mean...boobs sell.

Not everything is going to be translated, and that's fine, but a few things strike me as worth some attention.

First, there are some series unfinished by TokyoPop after their demise--there's an audience there that's hungry for those titles, and series to complete. Viz has picked up a few of those titles, but more are available. I hate when a story I love just fades away. Those fans need to be helped first.

Second, there are things written and illustrated by Fumi Yoshinaga that have not yet be licensed in the US.
They are as follows:

Kodomo no Taion (a story about a single father and a son who is himself a father-to-be)
Garden Dreams (about two travelling Arabic musicians)
Kino Nani Tabeta? (about eating...that is not surprising...this is rumored to have been licensed recently)
From Kino Nani Tabeta? 
which translates to What did you Eat Yesterday?
Yoshinaga likes food. 

Let's make these translations happen, world!

And finally, one of the things I honestly want licensed and translated into English before I die is the Mirage of Blaze light novels. There are a few fanslations out there in the universe, but only about 10 volumes of this series have been translated at all. No, it's not manga, but whatever...I want what I want.

Somebody, anybody...MAKE THIS HAPPEN!!!
Dr. M needs more of this crazy story about love and reincarnation!

Thank you, Dear Readers, for sticking through the mangathon with me. Stay tuned for more responses by Shakespeare and Mr. Empty.


Rage aka Reiji - Most Annoying Character

I am so ANNOYING!

I just hate yandere characters, and Reiji is firmly in this category! Reiji is a minor character in Gravitation or Gravitation EX. She's an American girl, and Head of XMR Records, the label Bad Luck is signed to. She falls violently in love with pop singer Shuichi Shindou when he comes to America for a short time after breaking up with heart throb romance novelist Eri Yuki.


There is no way I could possibly get any more ANNOYING!

Reiji carries a bazooka or other weapon. Most Americans in this comic do. If I remember, she also has a giant flying mecha panda. But I kind of blocked it out, because I hated Reiji's whole role in the comic so much. I think, Reiji was really the embodiment of what went wrong with the comic, when it ceased being fun and just started to be annoying. Thus, she became the target of my dislike. Please do not be mad at me when I say this: Gravitation should have ended volumes before Reiji was ever committed to paper.

I mean how many times can Suichi and Eri break up and get back together? How many times does Riuichi act like an idiot savant then put on a genius performance? How many creative crises can the characters collectively have, and how many overbearing, obnoxious, gun toting Americans can show up before the whole thing just falls apart?

I wonder if Maki Murikami can even draw me with my dumb mouth shut?



Reading Reiji is kind of like having to watch this video over and over again until you barf blood out of your ears:



Also, lesson learned from working on this post. Never do a Google keyword image search of "Gravitation Panda" without your safe search filters on. Seriously, you do not want to see it. Fun Fact: Maki Murikami did her own doujinshi of Gravitation, Gravitation Remix, which is super-duper-duper-duper-smutty, and many of its pages show up under that search.

Dr. M: Day 29--A manga you read that was just plain weird

Aren't all manga weird?

How about Bobobo-bo Bo bobo? 


Yes, let's interrupt your victory speech/gloating scene
with a paranoid pickle. Whynot?

Now weird can be good, but it isn't always, sometimes it's just weird. This is just weird.

Sure, that's a plot...fine. 
Bobobo-bo Bo bobo makes my head hurt.

This is actually Bobobo...our hero!
This manga is full of mayonnaise wars and afros full of small creatures on protest.
Oh, and he battles with his nose hairs. 
And it's also an anime...lucky us.


I need a nap after watching this sort of thing. Or seizure medication. Or a lobotomy.

Congrats, Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo you are weird. Bad weird.

Give me some good weird in the comments mangaphiles!

Death Note - A Manga You Disliked Enough To Stop Reading

Death Note Cover
Death Note. Yawn.

This is one of those dark, edgy, morally ambiguous comics that everyone just loves. In fact, it's something I should love. First of all. It's dark, edgy, and morally ambiguous. Second of all, there are detectives and shinigami. Third of all, it's a high school drama. I love high school dramas. But, I don't like this one.

To fill you in, if you have never been anywhere near a manga shop or ever heard the word anime, Death Note, is the wildly popular story of Light Yagama, a high school student who is not a fan of the evil. Who is, really? Light is super smart, and good looking, and a little distant. He has deep thoughts about bad things, why they happen, how to stop them, etc. He studies hard and tolerates his classmates, because one day, if he passes his exams, he will try his hand at ending crime and starting a utopia or something like that. Anyway, Light doesn't have to wait to graduate high school in order to make things right in the world because he finds a notebook that allows him to kill hell-of bad people from the comfort of his writing desk.

The book was dropped to earth by a bored shinigami, Ryuk, and he's not the cute kind of shinigami you're used to seeing in manga. He's no Bleach-y type reaper or adorable Descendents of Darkeness one either. He's big and freakish looking, not exactly the type of thing you want to see when you're making the final transition, if you know what I mean. Ryuk suffers from supernatural ennui, which, I guess, is why the death note book ends up on earth and in Light's hands to begin with. Ryuk was tired of the scene in his realm, and he felt like being entertained by human-types. He decided to stir up some sh*t on Earth and hang out to watch the show.


Ryuk


There are a number of rules involving how the book works but the basic premise is if write someone's name in it while envisioning their face, they will die.  You can choose how they die or just let them spontaneously keel over. Light uses the book to anonymously kill a bunch of people he sees as bad. Since there are a lot of bad people in the world, a lot of people die. This raises some suspicions and a detective known only as "L" enters the scene.

And...this is where I fade out. I have tried a few times to read the manga or watch the anime but never get past this part. And, I don't even have a compelling reason. I guess, I don't like Light. I can't connect with him, and I don't like Ryuk for the same reasons. As a reader, I also feel a sort of manipulated like there's this obvious "there are no good guys; there are no bad guys; it's deep" kind of thing going on. Light is killing people to make the world a better place, but Light is a mass murderer who needs to be stopped.

But mostly, I just find the comic boring. I guess I can't like everything.

If you have read this, and you do like it, I'd love to hear about it. Does it get better? Is it worth continuing?

Dr. M: Day 28--A manga you think is so brilliant it’s like literature

I treat most manga like literature. That "Dr." in front of my name isn't just super-fancy, it's legit. I have a doctorate in literature. Oh, man, I am a dork.

Shakespeare is a Lit. person too, she has multiple degrees in writing and communication. She works with publications every day.

Mr. Empty...he's just cool. He has some degree in something or other, which I should know off the top of my head, but I don't because I'm a bad teacher. Yes, Mr. Empty was actually my student at one point. Now, we're just pals and anime/manga nerds.

I would say that all of us treat at least 60% (if not more) of the manga we read like literature. So, in some ways this isn't a good question for me. It doesn't have to be brilliant to be like literature, in fact not all literature is brilliant. Maybe the question should be about GOOD literature? That's rarer. And that's a hard question.

I've already talked about the complex brilliance that is Loveless, and the a lot of manga are based on eastern literature, things like Saiyuki (very loosely based on Journey to the West) and historical sagas like Basilisk and Lone Wolf and Cub, and even to some extent Inuyasha. There are a lot of stories drawn from western literature as well from classics of Greek and Roman origin, to biblical literature, to more contemporary works.

Sure, a lot of manga are sort of fluffy little bits of distraction (nothing wrong with that) that don't add up to anything especially profound or complex in terms of literary structure or theme, but many more do pay attention to literary storytelling.

Now, if we were talking anime here, I would have an easy answer for you, because I freaking love Gurren Lagaan (the anime not the manga...the manga is less effective), or even the brutal heartbreak of Now and Then, Here and There. Both of those are like literature to me. Pretty much everything done by Studio Ghibli is also like literature (because so much of it draws from literature).

So, why can't I decide on a manga? To be honest, I don't know. Maybe the manga I read is too limited? Maybe I'm just a little burnt out by the mangathon at this point. Maybe I should just go with my gut reaction?

So, I'm going to suggest pretty much anything by Fumi Yoshinaga. Thus, perhaps, reinforcing the idea that Shakespeare and I should just start a Fumi Yoshinaga fanclub. Yoshinaga is an amazing writer. Her work has the kind of depth and characterization that I associate with good literature. Even her "fluffier" and less literary works like Sofelge  have a sort of artistry to the storytelling, but its her multi-dimensional, dynamic characters that really make me think of her work as literary.
Yoshinaga's Antique Bakery...YUM!
Also, great story!

The first work I read of hers was the fantastic Antique Bakery. The characters are adults at a sort of crossroads with their work and personal life. I'm smitten with the coming of age series Flower of Life. I even love the thematic discussion of devotion and sacrifice in her (yaoi) Lovers in the Night. One of the things that impresses me the most about this author is her research ability. I not only learn more about human nature in her manga, but I also learn about cooking and baking (seemingly her favorite topics), history, boxing, art, opera, manga, and about a dozen other topics. She takes time to learn about her character's lives and interests, and it shows in the work and in the characters' knowledge of their fields. She's pretty amazing.

A coming of age story worth a read.
So, I will change the prompt to not, "A manga I think is so brilliant it's like literature," to "a manga writer who writes so well that her work is like literature." Yoshinaga gets my vote.

And when I have time, I will read her whole catalog of works. She's that good.

Mizuki Ashiya - Hana-Kimi - Favorite Manga Character

For You In Full Bloom
Happy Lunar New Year! It's the Year of the Snake, of which I am one, which makes it a most awesome year indeed!

Dr. M posed the question, who is your favorite manga character? And, I thought about it for a  long time, weeks actually. I think, possibly, maybe, my favorite character is Mizuki Ashiya of the beloved manga Hana-Kimi aka For You in Full Bloom.

Hana-Kimi was one of my early favorite mangas for its sweet storyline and gender bending themes. Mizuki Ashiya is a Japanese girl who lives in the US. She is infatuated with a high school high jumping champion Izumo Sanyo who she saw on television. She decides she wants to get near to him and admire his high jump up close. Only a few things stand in her way.

1) Izumo lives in Japan.
2) Izumo goes to an all boys school.
3) Izumo was injured and doesn't high jump anymore.

For Mizuki Ashiya, these are but small obstacles. She convinces her parents to let her move to Japan to go to school. She cuts off her hair and pretends to be a boy. Then she enrolls in Osaka High School, where good fortune would make her Izumo Sanyo's dorm mate. Antics ensue.


Adorable Mizuki Ashiya


Mizuki Ashiya is very adorable, a total ditz, and has a never-give-up attitude that I just love. When I was first sentenced to a cubicle as a full-time adult, I kept a picture of her with her hand held up in the victory pose saying, "Do your best!" Why? Because she's inspiring! She's the kind of character that changes everyone she meets for the better. She's deep enough to have rough moments, and she's resilient enough to come out on the other side with a smile.

I'd love to tell the entire story, but I won't! I want you to read it...or see it! There is an equally adorable live action Taiwanese version of this, which I highly recommend. And apparently other live versions from Japan and Korea. But, this is the one I like:

Hanazakarino Kimitachihe


Dr. M: Day 27--A manga you would never buy

Demon Beast Invasion is the manga that introduced
"Tentacle Porn" to a reading audience. 

First, to each their own. If a person is aroused by the idea of human/cephalopod love, then more power to them, and congratulations on having an interest that is so widely (and graphically) depicted in manga, anime and the like. Personally, that's not my bag.

It's not that cephalopods aren't interesting and cool. I mean I like squids, I just don't like them like them. So, I would never buy a manga that focused on human/cephalopod love. Not even out of curiosity.

Because I don't want to disparage anyone's erotic interests, allow me to provide the video below, which focuses on hot cuttlefish on cuttlefish action.