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Of note, I updated my Anime list. I'm currently watching Higashi no Eden (East of Eden). The bizarre beginning aside, it's actually pretty good so far. (I'll probably have more to say about it once it ends) And of course, I'd recommend any show on my list I rated at least 8/10 or higher, and many of the 7's too.

Except Heroic Age, it's almost more of a guilty pleasure of an epic space opera than anything.
GunXSword is a series that I ended up really enjoying, much to my amazement.

As an anime, it's not incredibly original. Much like some other TV shows, the far-future ends up looking quite a bit like the Wild West, complete with cowboys, saloons, etc. (Trigun, Cowboy Bebop, Firefly) The world was originally an Australia-like penal colony of a world that's been abandoned by Earth and left to it's own devices, and has since reverted into a bunch of small towns that are mostly lawless but otherwise friendly.

Despite the general lack of technology, there are mechs. The main character Van is a skilled mecha pilot, and when not kicking ass, otherwise lives his life as a simple drifter, who has a habit of falling asleep on benches and weirding everyone out by eating food with lots of mustard and ketchup. It turns out that he's searching for the mysterious Claw man, a man with a prosthetic Claw hand, and joins up with a young girl, Wendy who is also looking for him. (The Claw man kidnapped her older brother.)

As it's revealed early on in flashback, the Claw man killed Van's bride-to-be on their wedding day. He wants to revenge her death. I don't want to spoil things too much, but things really develop onward from there.

Originally, I was watching just because it was entertaining in a slightly cheesy and overly dramatic way: the small touches and catchphrases, from the sash that can turn into a sword, Van flipping his hat from right to left when he becomes serious, and the way he says "Wake Up, Dann" followed by awesome mecha-tastic ass-kicking.

So when it went from cheesy, episodic fun to a thoughtful and dramatic conclusion, I was surprised.
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Overall, it ended up being a woefully under-appreciated anime. It started off a bit too generic, a bit too much filler, but once the main plot began developing, it ended up having quite a bit of depth and a fantastic conclusion. Which is more than I can say for many series out there. (If you're new to anime, I'd still recommend starting elsewhere with something more original, but otherwise GunXSword is an enjoyable show.)

Beyond the Beyond (vols. 1-4) review

(Published by Tokyopop 4+ volumes, still going.)
 
Generally, I can guess how good a manga will be from the synopsis and cover artwork, but every now and then one catches you by surprise- and then slogging through all the new titles is suddenly not so boring anymore. Beyond the Beyond is one of those hidden gems hiding in the back of the pile.

As far as plot or originality goes, Beyond the Beyond (BtB) is pretty ordinary. Kiara meets a young boy, Futaba, asks him if he is her master. He isn't but there are people after her, she escapes to her world taking Futaba with her in the process. He agrees to help her find her master (she's a sort of supernatural creature who's been summoned by a magician) and in exchange she'll help him get home to his world. But it's not so simple, she's the mysterious and coveted Amarathine that can grant wishes of her master. 

What I really enjoy about Beyond the Beyond is that it has a certain descriptive quality about it. It's hard to put a name or a finger to it, but I call it a sense of space. Good artwork is always a part of a good comic, but a sense of space goes beyond that. It's having your events being more than just a series of placed images on a page, it's a sense that the characters inhabit a space, that there exists an atmosphere charged with feeling, not just filling in the backgrounds so they don't look empty. Not just drawing chibis for cheap gags, or other shortcuts to common anime situations... But building a greater world through your artwork.

 I've always admired comics that can pull off this sort of expressive minimalism, convey feelings with a few well-placed lines, midtone, even the placement of the panels. Yumeka Sumomo (Same Cell Organism, The Day I Became a Butterfly) is a particular favorite of mine in this department. But Beyond the Beyond, while not half as well known as Yumeka Sumomo-sensei, is a worthy contender in this area. 
Sometimes the artwork is understandably rough (probably pushing those last minute deadlines, like any manga artist) but when it shines, it shines brilliantly. Yoshitomo Watanabe, the mangaka, has a real eye for movement, expression and feeling. Unfortunately, unlike Ms. Sumomo's polished works, it comes and goes in fits and starts. While sometimes the art can be gorgeously drawn in a light and delicate hand, normally it looks rough and a bit hurried. And while the mangaka gets it right when it matters, that sense of space is not always there.

But this roughness can be excused by the high quality of the characters and the writing. While the plots and characters are hardly original and could even seem like they were taken straight out of Erementer Gerad or Wolf's Rain, the way they are done is thoughtful and enjoyable. They are not uncommon characters, but they so expressively done- reacting to their environment, growing and learning, becoming friends and so on, that they are very likable despite their cliche origins. I particularly like Virid, a boy who starts out as a cruel amoral villain, but as soon as he sees the chance for a better life, he tries to become a different person and lives with hope.

Similarly, the plots explore the world the mangaka has put the characters into. They ask themselves the difficult questions, they journey and meet interesting people and see strange things, all while looking for Kiara's master. They don't know how it will turn out, or even where they are going, but one thing's for sure- after everything is over, they'll all be the better for having it.

Score: B+

Hello, hello

Back on the reviewing track! (about time, i know.)

Coming up:

Yume Kira Dream Shoppe
Otaku USA 3rd issue
..and more!?

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Calling You: a super late review

Calling You by Otsuichi and art by Setsuri Tsuzuki (Broken Angels mangaka)
ISBN-13: 9781598169317
Publisher: Tokyopop



This was a real pain to review. The thing about it, it's better than average, which ought to be worth singing its praises, but it also has it's share of flaws that keeps me from giving it a wholeheartedly positive recommendation.

Calling You is a single volume divided up into two stories, the title story, and Kiz/Kids (a pun on Kids and Kizu, wounds). Calling You is about a girl who imagines she has a cellphone, like everyone else. But her imaginary cellphone really works, and she meets a boy who she begins to confide in. He encourages her to speak up and be herself. They arrange to meet each other, and then the author drops a twist ending. (The story is so short, why spoil the ending?)

Kiz/Kids is a story of two boys who come from broken families. They meet when the older boy, Keigo, who is doing poorly in school, is moved to the Special Ed class where he and the younger boy Asato become fast friends. The story takes a turn when he discovers that Asato has the ability to move people's wounds to himself, healing them and taking on their pain in the process. Meanwhile, Keigo is dealing with his conflicting feelings about his abusive father, and Asato who was unwanted by his family and has been going from one foster home to another. In the end, it is their friendship that saves them.

In Calling You, it really comes down to how you feel about the characters. And that's true for most stories, but in Calling You it's particularly true. If you sympathize with them and are willing to give them a chance, and you care what happens to them, then both stories are real page-turners. But if you don't like them at all, find them too whiny, too self-pitying, then everything just seems deliberately tragic and arbitrary.

If you're looking for a pretty good shoujo read, then Calling You fits the bill. But if you're looking for something with a little more depth to it, I would suggest Socrates in Love or Kamikaze Girls instead.

(Catching up on some late reviews here... thanks for waiting!)

Pop Travel Japan: Essential Otaku Guide by Makoto Nakajima
ISBN: 1569709424
Price: 9.95
Digital Manga Publishing

Warning: may cause extreme aggravation and headaches. If this occurs, return for refund as promptly as possible.












When I first heard of Pop Travel Japan: Essential Otaku Guide, I read the title and description and thought it sounded interesting, a sort of a combination travel guide and mini-manga. I'd like to visit Japan one day, and it seems like there's no time like the present to pick up some traveling advice. So when i happened across a copy of it, I was expecting well, an Essential Otaku Guide.

And I couldn't have been more wrong.

For starters this thin little book is almost completely manga, and by that I mean, it's the sorriest excuse for a manga I've ever seen. But first wouldn't you expect an Essential Otaku Guide to have well, advice, travel tips and things like that? What little information is covered in the actual story is extremely basic, and superficially introduces common stuff like cosplay, doujinshi, maid cafes and yaoi as brand new concepts. The articles, what few of them are actually there, include a primitive rail map showing a few major cities, and short paragraphs detailing such information like "The main currency of Japan is the yen," "Akihabara is a good place to go shopping for anime goods" and "Ohayo Gozaimasu means good morning." 

Yeah, i couldn't believe my eyes either. If I were going to Japan, and I had an "Otaku Guide" I'd expect practical advice of a normal Travel Guide, except maybe with an Otaku theme to it. I'd expect tips and tricks on getting the best deals, advice from other tourists, lists and lists of the local attractions, the best shops and directions how to get there, best places to eat, sleep and so on. Knowing things like "Vending machines are Everywhere" is not only decidedly useless, but also would be *really* obvious if I were visiting in the first place.

So what else is there other than the few pitiful articles? It's a manga. A very, very awful manga. The artwork is ok, nothing special, but it's the story that's downright painful to read. But I suffered through it, so that you- the reader, would be spared the agony. Ostensibly the story is about a bunch of tourists and their wacky japanese adventures, but the characters are all such painfully flat, walking stereotypes. For instance: the tour guide is a young and pretty Japanese woman who gets mistaken for a child when they first meet her. The main character is a loud and uncouth, afro-sporting black dude, who looks straight from the 70's complete with a "Love and Peace" sweatband and bad fashion. And it only goes downhill from there.

The plot is a ridiculous jumpy affair, it seems like every two pages is a new story arc. There's no rhyme or reason to any of the stuff that happens to them. Sure, it's supposed to be an over-the-top comedy, but tries so hard it only manages to falls flat on its face. The final storyline, about Anne and her estranged father is the only one that makes any impact on the reader, but it's not enough to redeem the whole book. Which was supposed to be an otaku guide anyway. (Travel tip kids! The real Yakuza are not very funny. You're welcome!)

So after all that, what's leftover? Just a blatant advertisement for the travel company's tours, I'm afraid. It seems to promise that if you take their tour, you too will have the memorable experiences just like the characters in the manga. If I were the more cynical type, I'd say DMP has "sold out" but honestly, their normal manga lineup continues at their high quality releases- that is, except this one. Save your money and buy something else.

Weekly manga fix #6

I keep meaning to go back and post up what i've been getting (and reading) lately, but the TBR (to be read) pile is climbing so high it's got it's own shelf ^^;;;

So let's skip the ol' backlog and just talk about this week:

Full Metal Alchemist v10-13 Yay! I have almost a full set (1-13) now, so i can finally start reading them without pesky waiting-for-the-next-volume-itis. I wish my copy of v12 wasn't damaged, but I guess thats the breaks.

Translucent v1 A novel rarity of a title- a shoujo manga out by Dark Horse, of all things! I've been really looking forward to reading this title, ever since i read the preview for it. It's about girls who catch a disease that slowly makes them turn invisible, as a metaphor for high school life, adolescence etc.

Shiki Tsukai v1 New del rey shounen title. I'm wondering if I will like it, reviews of it have been pretty mixed. One of my fellow mangacasters thinks it's a novel take on an old formula... and another review (animeondvd iirc) thought it was hard to follow and not that interesting. If nothing else, i like the idea of element/season based powers... ^^;

Truly Kindly by Fumi Yoshinaga
Flower of Life v1-2 by Fumi Yoshinaga What's that? A yaoi title with actual plot and believable characters? (ie. as opposed to yaoi manga where everyone is automatically a gay bishounen) Her witty dialogue is the highlight of her series, probably the best yaoi mangaka in english right now. That is... if you like that sort of thing. (*looks the other way*)

E's v1-3 I read a couple volumes of E's in scanlation years ago before it was licensed- the art and style are lovely, but the characters never really grew on me. I guess i'm going to give it another chance. Just holding the books though, I gotta say Broccoli may be a small publisher, but they don't fool around. This is a nice and solid release. And using the original cover art really makes it stand out on the shelf.

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Score!

After waiting for over a year, I finally snagged a copy of Mushishi 1 off one of my bookswapping sites! I'm so happy! I've been dying to read this one. I even considered paying full price for it at an actual bookstore. (Maybe i will buy the next volume new if i like it!)

I also got Full Metal Alchemist 3,5 and Claymore 6. I'm still waiting for a trade to come through, and then I'll have FMA 1-13 ^o^

/end fangirl mode

Not dead!

More updates coming soon! ^^;

late review: Dolis

Dolis: the ideal girl

Dolis starts off like any other romance story: Boy meets girl at his part-time job, falls in love, and gives her his phone number. They start going out, spending as much time as they can with each other... and thats where the similarity ends.

As the story continues, it becomes clearer and clearer that they are each other's worst match. They begin to bring out the worst qualities in each other, the girl Mitsu, becomes increasingly self-loathing and isolated, and the boy Kishi, becomes further and further obsessed with her. So obsessed he stops going to work, stops playing his guitar, stops living. Meanwhile Mitsu herself begins to despise him, but she can't bear to live without him.


by Maki Kusumoto
Tokyopop
Drama/Romance $14.99

The story is told very experimentally with mixed results- each chapter is so short, so varied, that they are more like character and mood pieces than a traditional plot-based story. It puts a twist on things, but it also makes the story sort of frustrating. Neither of the characters- both of which seem to have more negative qualities than positive- come off as sympathetic or likable at all. And the premise of the book, the ideal girl Dolis, is never fully explained- is she a supernatural creature that becomes whatever the beholder desires? Or is she simply just a lost girl without a sense of identity..?

The art is easily the most striking quality about this manga. The front cover, for instance, is a stark contrast between a blankly white image of Mitsu, her eyes closed, on a dark blue background. The use of minimalistic line art and careful use of empty space remind me a lot of Clamp's experimental manga Clover (also from tokyopop, though out of print). Every chapter in Dolis features two colors, which fill up the areas of the page very well. It leaves every page with a clear sense of design, often placing a close up of an expression, a pose, an outstretched hand on top of a field of color, to good effect.

In the end though, it's hard to recommend this to the average manga reader. The most interesting thing Dolis has going for it, is the unique use of a two-tone color palette in every chapter, and the artistic use of space in the panels' layouts. Those who would like to try something new and different might like it, but at the higher price point, its harder to suggest picking this up solely out of curiosity. And naturally, with the story as dark and unhappy as it is, shoujo readers looking for light and romantic reads should look elsewhere.

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