Manga Review: Futaba-kun Change! Vol. 1

Manga Review: Futaba-kun Change! Vol. 1 by Hiroshi Aro

Futaba Shimeru is a junior high school student whose voice has recently changed, and has started noticing girls, especially his pretty classmate Misaki.  One day, a wrestling club teammate gives Futaba a girlie magazine, and the young fellow retreats to the boys’ room to read it.  The revelation of what girls look like under their clothes is exciting, and Futaba realizes this would apply to Misaki as well, and he becomes so excited he passes out.

Futaba-Kun Change Vol. 1
Actually the Studio Ironcat cover for the sixth story, depicting both Futaba forms at the same time.

When Futaba wakes up, he is startled to discover that he himself is now possessed of female anatomy, and partially undresses to check that yes, it’s for real.  It’s at this point Futaba’s wrestling teammates burst  in looking for him and find a half-naked girl instead.  Some scary moments and the discovery that the transformation is not permanent later, Futaba arrives home and discovers that (unbeknownst to him) his entire family switches sex on a regular basis!

This 1990s shounen manga series was a fairly blatant “follow the leader” of Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma 1/2, but soon goes off in its own direction.  Most notably, while Ranma’s female form was treated more or less as a flesh disguise for the very male Ranma, Futaba’s two forms are both natural to his/her biology and over the course of time he/she is able to switch mental gears as quickly as the physical changes occur.  There’s also more attention to what those physical changes involve, which leads to some body function humor over the course of the story.

The series ran eight volumes with an abrupt genre change in the last volume; the author had to wrap it up because of falling sales.  It was originally brought to the U.S. by Studio Ironcat but has long been out of print.  This new version is only available on Kindle.  Nipples have been erased, and there are a couple of instances where the junior high school is referred to as “university.”

Most of the characters have over the top personalities for the sake of humor; for example, Misaki is very superstitious, while her friend Negiri is a money-grubber.  This is less pleasant in the case of Futaba’s older sister Futana, who is very lecherous (even hitting on Futaba!) and Mr. Sabuyama, a teacher who lusts after teenage boys.  The humor also relies heavily on selective obliviousness; not only has Futaba somehow failed to notice his entire family changing sex, but the very distinctive school principal runs around in a superhero costume every so often and his own daughter fails to make the connection.

There’s a lot of male-oriented fanservice, with the occasional pretty boy tossed in.  There’s also quite a bit of slapstick violence–especially in the battle tournament in later volumes.  The sexual harassment humor has not aged well.

Recommended (with reservations) for gender-bender comedy fans, and those who like Nineties manga.

Anime Review: Battle Athletes: On Your Mark

Anime Review: Battle Athletes: On Your Mark

In the far future year of 2015, World War Three is interrupted when Earth’s magnetic poles shift drastically, causing global disaster.  The silver lining is that the survivors united to form a peaceful culture that then rapidly advanced.  However, by the 31st Century, humanity was again at war, against aliens this time.  After several centuries of stalemate, a contest of champions was proposed, a series of athletic competitions.  Despite the aliens being physically superior to Terrans on average, Earth’s exceptional champion succeeded in ending the war in Earth’s favor.

Battle Athletes: On Your Mark

As a result, humanity has become obsessed with physical culture and athletic competition.  Female athletes compete at the University Satellite to gain the title “Cosmic Beauty.”   The year is 4999, and Akari Kanzaki, daughter of former Cosmic Beauty Tomoe Midou, has come to the University Satellite to train and then compete for her own shot at the title.

There were two anime continuities for this series; I’m looking at the original OAV version of six episodes in this first DVD volume-but the television remake Battle Athletes Victory lasted 26 episodes.   The TV series drastically altered several characters’ personalities and plot arcs, as well as adding more characters in general.

The first episode, “Chronicle Beginning”, sketches in the backstory, then introduces our heroine, who is running (literally) late for the rocket from Earth to her new school.  We are then introduced to her buddies from training camp; Tanya, who has animalistic qualities that are never really explained and a blonde girl whose name I didn’t catch and quickly becomes irrelevant.

The girls are assigned to random roommates who will be their team for the upcoming year; Tanya wanders off to find food first, while Akari checks out the training facilities.  She soon finds out the students here train at a completely different level, and spends so much time bonding with senior students that the information kiosk that would have told her where her new dorm room is has closed.

Meanwhile, painfully shy new student Anna Respighi has become hopelessly lost and innocently interrupts senior student Mylandah’s visualization training.   Mylandah, who is obsessed with becoming number one, is slapping Anna around when Akari shows up.  Mylandah directs them through a deserted corridor to the new student dorm…without telling them that it’s got variable gravity.  She then bullies them some more.

The girls are rescued by their third roommate, Kris Christopher, who is from the Moon and is used to operating in variable gravity environments.  She in turn is bailed out by Headmaster Grant Oldman, the champion of Earth (and not so secretly the kind of guy who pervs on teenage girls.)

Kris is thrilled to meet her roomies, and tells them she wants to feel even closer to them…while removing her clothes!

In the second episode, “Oath Entrant”, Kris takes off her clothes (there’s Barbie doll anatomy,) and performs a skyclad ritual.  It turns out she belongs to a Lunarian cult called the Beginners, who are into spirit worship and casual nudity.   Anna is especially freaked out by the latter due to her strong nudity taboo (but that is something that comes up in Episode Three.)

The first sport the trio is entered into is Zero-G lacrosse; which they aren’t allowed to warm up for or learn the rules before being thrust into the first match…which just so happens to be against Mylandah and her anonymous teammates.   Lacking teamwork and basic information about how the sport works, Akari’s team is stomped.  Akari promptly has a crisis of confidence.

Akari consults a hologrammatic display of her mother when that person was a student at the Satellite, then sets up a robotic practice room.  Mylandah sabotages the practice by altering the settings to “lethal”, but this gives Anna and Kris the chance to rescue Akari and bond with her.  By the end of the lacrosse matches, Team Akari is able to win one.

This 1997 series came out before the current moe movement, but one can see the roots of that treatment here.  Akari is underconfident and emotionally vulnerable in a way designed to make male viewers protective of her, while Anna, Kris and Tanya appeal to specific fetish points.  While the focus on female athleticism is welcome, the young women with visible musculature are treated as less desirable by the camera framing and narrative flow.

Male-oriented fanservice is right up front, and Grant Oldman’s sexual interest in teenage girls is treated as a lovable foible rather than a concerning flaw in a teacher.

This isn’t as deep as Ender’s Game, but does have a similar feel at points.  Interestingly, Japanese culture seems to have survived just fine in the internationalist future.

Recommended for male fans of female athletes; there’s better anime of girls’ sports actually aimed at girls.

 

Manga Review: Akuma no Riddle Volume 1

Manga Review: Akuma no Riddle Volume 1 story by Yun Kouga, art by Sunao Minakata

Azuma Tokaku is the star student at  Private Academy 17, secretly a school for assassins.  As such, she’s being temporarily transferred to Myojo Private School, to participate in Class Black.  Supposedly, Class Black is a game disguised as an ordinary homeroom class–twelve assassins compete to see which one of them can  kill the thirteenth student.

Akuma no Riddle Volume 1

The target is Haru Ichinose, a bubbly girl who doesn’t seem to have a care in the world.  But we soon have hints that her past is dark indeed, and she’s much harder to kill than she appears.  Azuma begins to have second thoughts about her mission…perhaps she should be protecting Haru instead?

This manga (“Devil’s Riddle”) has been adapted into an anime series as well.  (I am told the anime compresses the series and cuts out several subplots.)  The author’s notes mention a “social game” but it’s not clear if this series was adapted from that or vice-versa.

In the tradition of dystopian YA, it is readily apparent that the teenage assassins have not been told the entire truth about what’s going on, and some of what the adults have led them to believe is completely false.   Azuma’s teacher at Private Academy 17 tells the reader as much, and looks forward to her figuring that out.  Most of the characters have very dark backstories, most only hinted at in this volume.  (Haru’s body is covered in nasty scars, and “Tokaku” means “rabbit’s horn”, aka “a thing that does not exist” like a jackalope.)

Most of the first volume is given over to brief introductions to the characters; there are thirteen girls in Class Black, a homeroom teacher who appears to be oblivious to what’s really going on, Azuma’s teacher, and the mysterious person who set up Class Black.  Azuma and Haru get the most characterization as “trying hard to be an emotionless professional” and “overly cute girl who refers to herself in the third person.”

The art is decent but relies heavily on hairstyles and uniforms to distinguish the characters.  There’s a couple of fanservicey scenes in aid of the plotline.

The book’s primary weakness from my point of view is that it seems overly calculated.  Each of the young women is designed to fit into a particular “appeal category” (the big-breasted one, the one with glasses, the one that looks underage, etc.) and I would not be surprised if this was originally published in a magazine with a primarily male reader demographic.  Also, the premise kind of unsuspends my disbelief.  Yes, I can accept for the sake of the concept one small private school that trains assassins, but here we have twelve teenage girls who come from twelve different schools and are all trained assassins.  Plus we’re given to understand that Class Black has happened at least twice before without the outside world noticing.

I do not think I will be picking up a second volume, but if teenage female assassins are your thing, and the plausibility issues aren’t a dealbreaker for you, you might enjoy this.

Anime Review: The Kindaichi Case Files Return

Anime Review: The Kindaichi Case Files Return

Hajime Kindaichi is a high school junior who has a reputation for laziness and poor grades.  His childhood friend Miyuki Nanase alternates between being sweet on him and irritated by his antics.  What makes Kindaichi different from most teenage underachievers is that he’s the grandson of famous detective Kosuke Kindaichi, and learned mystery-solving at his grandfather’s knee.  Since the first time the lad got mixed up in a murder investigation, he’s been constantly stumbling into complex cases that baffle the police.

The Kindaichi Case Files Return

The Kindaichi Case Files manga originally ran from 1994-2001 and was enormously popular.  A second series began in 2004.  The earlier series was brought to America by Tokyopop, but with that company’s collapse, the volumes are out of print.  The series takes off from the written adventures of Kosuke Kindaichi by Seishi Yokomizo written from 1946-1980 (sadly only one volume, The Inugami Clan, has been published in English.)  The creator of the manga appears to have been under the impression that the earlier stories were in the public domain, and there were some legal issues when it turned out they weren’t at that time.

A new anime adaptation began in 2014 and is currently running a second season.  I watched the first season on the Crunchyroll website.

The stories are pretty formulaic; Hajime and Miyuki go somewhere or get invited to an event.  A gruesome and baffling murder takes place, often seeming to relate to a legend or monster (or the murderer takes on a cool nickname.)  Several more murders take place, but young Kindaichi, along with gruff police Inspector Kenmochi and smug Superintendent Akechi, spots the killer’s tricks.  Everyone is gathered together for a summation, as Kindaichi exposes how the murders were done, and then the murderer explains their motives.

In almost every case, the murderer’s motive turns out to be at least somewhat sympathetic, some of them being tearjerkers.  There are times when their motives are mistaken.  And then there’s the Puppeteer from Hell, the series’ recurring villain.  In his first appearance, he had the standard sympathetic motive, but at the end, he turned out to really enjoy coming up with elaborate murder puzzles.  Now the Puppeteer finds people who’ve been wronged, and manipulates them into using his plans.

There are a few episodes in the first season that break from the formula; one has recurring starlet Reika trying to get some time alone with Hajime, only to snare a murderer as well with her rigged contest.  Two others are flashbacks to when Hajime and Miyuki were in junior high–these episodes are high in the male-oriented fanservice, which I found off-putting.

While the individual stories (usually taking three or four episodes) are interesting puzzles with some comic relief, the formula makes them feel too similar to each other, and I recommend taking a break between arcs.  The continuing characters never grow or change beyond their second appearance, as the series is frozen in that junior year, so the romance never goes anywhere.  (And some of the stories require the characters to forget contradictory events in previous tales.)

For lovers of locked-room mysteries and teen detectives.

Anime Review: Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches

Anime Review: Yamada-Kun and the Seven Witches

Note:  This review will have SPOILERS for the manga, so if you’re wanting to take the manga slow, check out my review of that instead.

Delinquent high school student Ryu Yamada and honor student Urara Shiraishi accidentally discover that they can switch bodies by kissing.  Then it turns out that Yamada can also switch bodies with anyone else he kisses!  Hilarity ensues, and then it’s learned that there are other “witches” with kissing-related powers.  Can Yamada catch them all?

Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches
Yamada and Shiraishi

This twelve-episode comedy with romantic elements has many good points.  It’s funny, has a bit of fanservice, and the voice actors clearly had a ball imitating each other’s vocal inflections to indicate when bodies have been swapped.

Kissing is something of a metaphor for connecting with other people.  The initially isolated Yamada and Shiraishi must reach out to each other and their schoolmates to advance.  This is made manifest when things get more serious towards the end of the series–connections are broken, and Yamada must mend them to bring about a happy ending.

The plot structure turns out to be “the seven school mysteries”, a common bit of superstition in Japanese schools.  There are seven “mysteries” (urban legends) to learn or discover the truth behind, but if you know all seven, something (usually bad) will happen to you.

There’s a lot of kissing, including same-sex kissing, and some male-oriented fanservice, plus some slapstick violence.  It should be okay for junior high viewers on up–younger viewers probably will tune out because of the mushy stuff.

More of an issue for the purist is that in order to fit in all seven witches in twelve episodes, the plot has been streamlined considerably, and some of the relationships feel rushed as a result.  The ending has also been changed to make it definite, while the ongoing manga has continued with new plot arcs.

A short, enjoyable series for comedic romance fans.

Manga Review: Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches #1

Manga Review: Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches #1 by Miki Yoshikawa

Ryu Yamada is a delinquent.  His time at Suzaku High School is marked by poor attendance, bad grades and getting into fights.  His surly attitude is reflected by other students giving him a wide berth and teachers giving him hassle.  One day, after being reamed out by a teacher, Yamada spots honor student Urara Shiraishi going up some stairs.   He stomps up the steps to get ahead of her, to show her–well, just show her.  He’s so focused on getting ahead that when he pivots a couple of steps about Shiraishi, he loses his balance, and they fall down the stairs together.

Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches

When Yamada wakes up in the infirmary, he is shocked to discover that he is now somehow in Shiraishi’s body.  She’s already gone back to class in his body.  She seems remarkably calm about this incident, and doesn’t want to miss any more learning time, so suggests they switch back after the end of classes.

Yamada uses the opportunity to see what Shiraishi’s underwear looks like (in fairness, we learn that she also peeped at his goods), but also learns that Shiraishi is sexually harrassed by men and bullied by the other girls.  Yamada is at least able to impress the worst bully into cutting it out through complicated circumstances.  At the end of the day, the two try falling down the stairs together several times; it doesn’t get them back to their right bodies.

Then Shiraishi mentions that she remembers that just before she blacked out, Yamada’s lips brushed hers.  Yes, it’s kissing that makes them switch bodies!  This being a comedy, they soon need to switch bodies again and again, and eventually it’s learned that Yamada can switch bodies with anyone he kisses.

This is a shounen manga, and has a fairly high amount of male-oriented fanservice.  Yamada himself is remarkably chaste for a “bad boy” (we’ll eventually learn that he didn’t really want that role), but there’s quite a lot of kissing, including same-sex kissing.  As you might guess from the title, there turn out to be other people at the school with special abilities, but we don’t really see any of that in this first volume.  I know some spoilers because this has also been turned into an anime show.

Yamada’s social outcast status has made him woefully ignorant of much of what’s going on with the people around him.   This allows him to be blindsided multiple times by relationships he knows nothing about.  If the manga has a deeper theme, it’s learning how to connect to and understand other people–while Yamada’s fighting prowess is useful, most of the problems he faces require more than a punch or kick to solve.

Ms. Yoshikawa’s art is decent, and she works hard to show by facial expressions and body language who’s in which body.  There’s a certain amount of contrivance in some of the plot developments, but that’s standard for the comedy genre.

Recommended for those who like high school comedy with a fantasy twist.

Manga Review: UQ Holder! Vol. 1

Manga Review: UQ Holder! Vol. 1 by Ken Akamatsu

It is a couple of generations into the future, and both reasonably-priced space travel and  techno-magic have come into existence.   Large swaths of Earth’s population has gone to space, with the remaining people either enjoying life in small country villages or struggling in the remaining big cities.   Of course, just because your parents like living in a small town doesn’t mean you do, and five boys have made a compact to escape their podunk village and go to the top of the space elevator they can see in the distance.

UQ Holder! vol. 1

Their more or less leader is Touta Konoe, a physically adept fourteen-year-old who’s good with a sword.   The mayor has set a condition that in order to leave, the five boys must defeat Touta’s guardian and their homeroom teacher, Yukihime, in battle.  Since she’s an excellent combatant with years of experience and possibly knows how to use magic, that isn’t happening any time soon.

Until one day another of the schoolteachers offers the boys an equalizer.  Naturally, he isn’t being entirely honest about his motives.  In the ensuing crisis, we learn that Yukihime is actually an immortal vampire, and to save Touta’s life, she must make him one as well.  With her identity exposed, Yukihime and  Touta must leave the village so that it is not attacked by vampire hunters.    And so they set out on the adventure of a long, long lifetime!

This manga turns out to be a distant sequel to Mr. Akamatsu’s previous series, Negima!  Yukihime is one of the supporting characters from that story under a different name.   One of the panels seems to indicate that Touta is the descendant of another character from that series, who is now dead.   However, flashback panels indicate that Yukihime has been lying to everyone about just how Touta’s parents died, so that character may show up later.

Touta’s a fairly standard shounen protagonist, a loud-mouthed, overenthusiastic messy-haired boy who is shockingly unaware of basic facts about the world.  Yukihime plays the cynical, jaded mentor, and provides most of the fanservice in the first volume.  (She may care less about this because her body is largely an illusion.)   More atypical is the new friend they make along the way, Kuroumaru Tokisaka, an extremely pretty boy (Touta keeps thinking he might actually be a girl) who also happens to be a vampire hunter.  As he can’t return home until he kills Yukihime, and she’s too many tiers above him for that to happen, he’s hanging around for the foreseeable future.

The apparent theme of the story is immortality, and how the various kinds of immortals cope with their long lives for better or worse.   Towards the end of the first volume, we learn that the series is titled after an organization of  immortals.  (“UQ” sounds like the Japanese word for “eternity”>)

Mr. Akamatsu is an experienced manga creator, and it shows in the well-constructed fight scenes (warning:  there’s some gory mangling!) and plot pacing.   This does, however, point up how pandering much of the fanservice is, clearly aimed at immature teenage boys.

If you liked Negima! or Love Hina you are likely to enjoy this series as well.  But be prepared to be infuriated if the backstory kills off or “ruins” your favorite character from those precursors.

Movie Review: Reet, Petite and Gone

Movie Review: Reet, Petite and Gone

Years ago, Schuyler Jarvis (Louis Jordan) was a young entertainer who fell in love with a woman named Lovey Lynn (Bea Griffith.)  She liked him plenty too, but her mother disapproved because Jarvis was a poor man, and forced Lovey to break off the affair.  Lovey was married to a wealthy gentleman and had a daughter named Honey Carter (also Bea Griffith) while Jarvis married some other woman and had a son named Louis Jarvis (also Louis Jordan.)

Reet, Petite, and Gone

Lovey passed some time back, and Schuyler, now quite wealthy in his own right, is on his deathbed.   He’s determined to marry his bandleader son to Honey, and sets up his will to ensure this by specifying the exact physical dimensions of the woman Louis must marry to inherit the dough.

Crooked lawyer Henry Talbot (Lorenzo Tucker) sees an opportunity to profit and alters the will to make it appear that the required woman matches the description of his secretary Rusty (Vanita Smythe.)  He also heads off Honey and her friend June (June Richmond) at the airport, attempting to get them to fly back to New Orleans.  (June is a savvy woman and keeps the bribe he gives them so the girls can use it as the first month’s rent on an apartment.)

Talbot initially gets away with it because Schuyler passes away before Louis can get back from the radio station he’s performing at.  He’s repulsed by Rusty and wonders if perhaps he can skip the inheritance.  His manager Sam Adams (Milton Woods) reminds him that they’re about to put on a Broadway show, and the money would sure come in handy.  Then the show biz men get an idea.   They’ll scout for another woman with the same dimensions as Rusty but more palatable by claiming it’s a beauty contest/audition for the show.

This doesn’t go so well, apparently Rusty is unique among women.  However, Honey hasn’t been able to find a job and winds up at the Jarvis mansion to audition.   She doesn’t match the altered criteria either, but she’s able to remind Louis of who she is, and the two hit it off well.

Talbot manages to get one of the show’s backers to bail out, now making it absolutely essential for Louis to inherit if he doesn’t want to close the show before opening and become box office poison.  Things are looking pretty dire, and Louis must make his marriage decision before midnight.  At the last moment, Dolph the aged butler (David Bethea) reveals that he’s been holding a trump card….

This is another “race” picture,  where the cast and crew are all black, designed to air in segregated theaters.    This gave actors who normally got stuck with roles as maids and comic relief the chance to shine.   It’s also a musical and as such a showcase for Mr. Jordan and his Tympani Five band.  As such, there are multiple swing numbers, three of them before the plotline even starts!

Ms. Griffith was apparently not a particularly good singer, so the film avoids her breaking into song as much as possible.  Instead, we’re treated to a couple of fine numbers by June Richmond.  (She’d actually have made a better female lead, I think, but was too heavy-set for Hollywood to give her that role.)

The fan service is heavy in this film–the showgirl costumes and bathing suits are at least plot-relevant, but there’s a scene of Ms. Griffith in her underwear when she didn’t need to be.  (Really obvious when Ms. Richmond is in the same scene, fully clothed.)  Mr. Jordan’s taste for fine-looking ladies is treated as being a lovable scamp.  But the next to last song in the movie is a misogynist screed “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman?”, that really jarred when the finale is “If It’s Love You Want, Baby, That;s Me.”

As such, if you are watching this with younger viewers, you might want to discuss the harmful effects of casual misogyny

The Mill Creek edition of this movie cuts off just before the resolution of the plot; the Internet Archive print is complete, but has much worse picture quality.

Anime Review: Invaders of the Rokujyoma!?

Anime Review: Invaders of the Rokujyoma!?

Satomi Kotaro’s father has gone abroad on business, but he’s staying in Japan to attend high school.  Their family is not well off, and to stretch his living allowance as far as possible, Satomi jumps on Room 106 at Corona House because it costs the equivalent of $50 a month.  Turns out the reason it’s so cheap is because the apartment is reputedly haunted, but Satomi doesn’t notice anything the first few nights.

Invaders of the Rokujyouma!?

Shortly after he takes a bad fall at an archaeological dig and has a vision of a goddess talking to him, Satomi is confronted by Sanae Higashihongan, the cute ghost girl who haunts Room 106.  Turns out he’s a very heavy sleeper and all her nocturnal hijinks failed to make any impression.  Sanae wants Satomi out, but he’s already paid his rent, thank you.  Just as they get really heated in their argument, a new girl comes up through a trapdoor.

She’s Kiriha Kurano, a priestess of the Underground People, and this room happens to be a sacred site of her culture.  She needs to rededicate it as a temple of power so that the Underground People can take over the surface world.  Neither Satomi nor Sanae likes that idea!  The new round of argument is interrupted by a glowing gate appearing in one of the walls.  Satomi tries to block it, but only gets a faceful of girl for his troubles.

Enter Theiamillis Gre Fortorthe,, an alien princess, and her faithful servant Ruth.  Seems that Theia must gain the loyalty of the primitive lifeforms at the “randomly selected” coordinates which happen to be Room 106 in order to be considered in the line of succession for her Empire.  Once again, everyone else objects.   And then yet another girl trips in through the window.

She claims to be Rainbow Yurika (aka Yurika Nijino), a magical girl here to protect a powerful magical energy in Room 106 from evil magical girls, and she’ll need everyone to clear out so she can do that.  Ghosts, mole people and aliens?  Fine.  But cutesy magical girls just break everyone’s suspension of disbelief, and Yurika is unanimously declared to be an overenthusiastic cosplayer (a fan who dresses up as a favorite character.)  She strongly objects to this characterization, and is about to show off her magic while the others quarrel–

When Kasagi, the young landlady appears, kicks all of their butts with her ki-powered martial arts, and forces them to sign a contract agreeing to abide by Corona House rules.   With violence no longer an option, the claimants on Room 106 must find a new way to resolve their property dispute.  Let the wacky hijinks begin!

This animated series is based on a series of light novels titled Rokujyouma no Shinryakusha!?  by  the team of Takehaya & Poco.  It’s in the “harem comedy” subgenre (the main feature of which is a young schlub who inexplicably has a bunch of hot women fall for him and maintains the suspense as to which if any he will hook up with going as long as possible; the reverse harem is an average woman getting hot guys.)

What makes this series a little different is that the women don’t in fact start out by all being interested in the same man, but in the apartment he happens to be living in.  And by the time the women do start warming to Satomi, it becomes evident that he’s romantically interested in yet another young woman, Harumi, who appears to have nothing to do with the Room 106 shenanigans.

It soon becomes evident that Satomi is anything but normal, and that everyone’s backstories are much more connected than they ever could have guessed.  However, the anime is only a “best hits” compilation of the light novels, so the full story is not yet legally available in English.

Of the characters, my heart goes out most to Yurika, who is clumsy, unlucky and generally treated like dirt in the early parts of the story.  Her heroics go unnoticed except by her enemies.  Harumi shows her good qualities by being the only person who’s kind to Yurika in the early episodes.

Things that are carried over from standard harem comedies:  a moderate amount of fanservice, although the first episode is the worst about this with breast jokes and underwear exposure.  Also, Satomi only has one male friend “MacKenzie”, who is also the only other maile character of any consequence in the series, and exists primarily to get Satomi in trouble.

This series should be fun for junior high viewers on up who enjoy harem comedies, though the backstory stuff not being available may annoy those who prefer everything spelled out.  The complete season of twelve episodes is available on Crunchyroll as of 2014.

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Aincrad

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Aincrad original story by Reki Kawahara, art by Tamako Nakamura

Disclaimer:  I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Aincrad

It is the year 2022, and commercially viable virtual reality equipment is now on the market.   Of course, one of the first applications that comes to mind is Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs), and the first one out the gate is Sword Art Online.  Kirito (his online handle, real name Kazuto Kirigaya) was one of the lucky beta testers, and is looking forward to the full launch of ten thousand players.

Except that shortly after the game begins, all the player characters are summoned back to the beginning town, remodeled to look like the players themselves, and unable to log out.  A figure who claims to be the game’s designer, Akihiko Kabaya, announces that they’re all trapped in the world of Aincrad, and won’t be able to log out until the 100th level of the game is beaten.  Oh, and the respawn feature has been disabled, so if you die in the game, you die in real life.

And in case you were hoping for rescue from the outside?  If anyone removes the VR gear or tampers with it, it will automatically kill the player, and this has been announced to the media.

Realizing that the area around the Town of Beginnings will rapidly become too overhunted for him to level up quickly, Kirito decides to go solo, as his beta tester knowledge allows him to punch above his weight, so he can go to the next town even at first level.  He does invite along a noob (new player) named Klein, but Klein won’t abandon his friends, and Kirito doesn’t think he can protect more than one ally.

The story picks up again about two years later.  with the Aincrad dungeon about three-quarters cleared, at the cost of four thousand deaths.  Kirito has been very successful as a solo player, but suffers stigma as a “beater” because his character level is so much higher than most people’s that he triggers monster encounters that are lethal to anyone near him.

It’s at this point that Kirito runs into a girl named Asuna, who is known as “the Flash” for her superior sword skills, is highly placed in the powerful Knights of the Blood guild, and happens to be one of the few skilled cooks in the game.  Oh, and she’s very pretty.   Asuna won’t leave Kirito alone, and they’re soon in a relationship.

However, the already lethal world of Aincrad is about to turn it up a notch, and there are secrets not even the beta testers know.

This manga is based on a light novel series, which has also been turned into an anime.   (One of three so far where the basic plotline is a person being unable to log out of a virtual reality game.)  It adapts the first storyline, the Aincrad world.

This version of the story trims out many minor characters, including most of the women (which makes the gender imbalance even more noticeable.)   It also has a tendency to make good characters good-looking and bad characters less so; the most prominent minor villain doesn’t even look human, and remember, that’s his real face.

The main villain is a real piece of work; in addition to what’s already been mentioned, it turns out he’s disabled another important player safety feature, but left it able to feel their pain.   (It’s likely he didn’t realize the full implications of this particular act, he’s very low-empathy.)

This volume is mostly aimed at teenage boys; the female characters are all defined by their relationships to Kirito, and there’s a sequence of Asuna in her underwear with no equivalent scene for any of the male characters.  (We also learn that it’s possible to alter the “moral code” setting to allow in game sex, but it’s not clear if the characters actually do this.)

Kirito is a loner with deep manpain through most of the story, though he lightens up a bit towards the end when he falls in love with Asuna.

The art is generally good, but many of the fight scenes are poorly choreographed, resulting in the manga equivalent of “shaky cam”.

If you are already a Sword Art Online fan, this is a perfectly good addition to your collection.  I’d also recommend it to teenage boys who like online gaming.  Other people might want to flip through it in the library to see if the art style takes their fancy.

Update:  The sequel to AincradAlfheim Online, is considered to be a severe step down from the first storyline, taking all the parts that were problematic and goosing them up, as well as managing to be much more sexist.  From the bits I have read, I strongly recommend stopping at the end of the Aincrad story and considering that the end of the series.

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