Manga Review: Weekly Shonen Jump (USA)

Manga Review: Weekly Shonen Jump (USA)

It’s the first anniversary of my blog!  To celebrate, I thought it would be nice to update the very first review that appeared here.  http://www.skjam.com/2012/12/09/manga-review-shonen-jump-alpha/

Shonen Jump

Shounen Jump is still Japan’s number one best-selling manga anthology title.  Although the primary market is still middle-school through high school boys, people of all ages and body shapes enjoy these tales of friendship, struggle and victory.  Weekly Shonen Jump is the English language edition, which now has many of the series available online the same day they’re legally for sale in Japan.  (Due to a persistent piracy problem, scans of the Japanese version appear online a week early.)

Because of the change to same-day release, the name of the ezine was changed from Shonen Jump Alpha to Weekly Shonen Jump.  Those of you who live outside the U.S.A. will be happy to hear that  Viz (the publishers) have arranged for it to be legally available in most English-speaking countries, and they’re working on the rest of the world.

Now, let’s take a look at what’s currently running.

Weekly

One Piece:  Still Shonen Jump’s flagship title.  Young Luffy D. Monkey lives on a world that’s mostly water.  He decides he’s going to be the Pirate King, and sets out on a voyage to find the mysterious One Piece treasure.  Along the way he gathers a wacky crew and battles evil pirates and the dictatorial World Government.    Having captured the main baddie on Punk Hazard, the Straw Hat Pirates sail to Dressrosa (which looks like a cross between Spain and Toyland) to negotiate with his boss.  Unfortunately, Dressrosa turns out to be a lot more sinister than it looks, and while Luffy is distracted by a gladiatorial contest, the rest of the crew learns dark secrets.

Naruto:   Young Naruto Uzumaki, an outcast in his hidden ninja village, decides that he will one day become the Hokage, leader of the village.  A year later, and we are still on the final battle of the Ninja World War–I don’t think even a full day has gone by yet.  It does look like the fight may be winding down within the next year, as all the major players are in one place.

Bleach:  Ichigo Kurosaki, a young man who can see ghosts, finds himself embroiled in the affairs of the otherworldly Soul Reapers who help dead people reach the afterlife.  This one is officially on its final plot arc, with the creator having taken a hiatus to plot out the intricacies of the Vandenreich’s attempt to destroy the Soul Society.  Perhaps by this time next year a full day will have passed.

Toriko:  Toriko is a Food Hunter in a world where the more dangerous it is to acquire the food substance, the more delicious it is.  The attack by the evil food organization, along with the emergence of a new even more evil organization, has resulted in a disruption of the ecosystem, leading to mass starvation.  The other heroes have a plan to restore the world that used to be known as Earth, but  they’ll need Toriko to help, and he’s kind of out of it.

Nisekoi:  False love is the name of the game, as Raku and Chitoge have to pretend to be dating to end a feud between their respective clans.  Meanwhile, Raku made a childhood promise to a girl whose name and face he cannot remember, and there are several girls it could be, including Chitoge.  This very formula romantic comedy continues to play the variations on its central theme.  The main plot development has been the introduction of one character’s little sister, who thinks Raku is an enemy of all women, especially her older sister, and doesn’t realize Raku’s also the mysterious protector she has a crush on.

World Trigger:  Earth is being invaded by creatures called Neighbors from an adjacent dimension.  The secretive agency Border has been formed to fight them.  Osamu Mikumo, a wimpy but goodhearted Border trainee, finds out that new classmate Kuga Yuuma is himself a Neighbor who is on Earth illegally to fulfill the wishes of his late father.  It turns out the Neighbor world political situation is far more complicated than most Earthlings knew.  Currently, our two young men and Chika, a girl whose brother went missing in the Neighbor world, are trying to become full-fledged Border agents.  This series started off very weak, but has greatly improved as it found a direction.

Dragonball Z:  Yes, the one about the mighty Son Goku finding out he’s actually an alien and having to battle against increasingly strong threats to humanity.  This is a rerun, but has been colorized and spiffed up a bit for new readers.  I actually preferred the first half of the Dragonball series, but for those who grew up on Z, this is a nostalgia blast.

Monthly

Seraph of the End:   A mysterious “virus” kills 90% of the adults on Earth.   Many of the children are abducted underground by vampires to protect/feed on them.  On the surface, the remaining humans are hunted by monsters, and the Demon Army has to use dangerous possessed weapons to battle them.   Our protagonist was a bitter orphan even before the series began, only bonding with the rest of the orphanage kids moments before the caretakers died of disease, and then the rest of the orphans were murdered in an attempt to escape the vampires.  So he’s understandably skeptical of the need for friendship to become a functional member of the Demon Army.  He’s kind of a prick, honestly.

Blue Exorcist:  Young delinquent Rin Okumura discovers that he is in fact the son of Satan and thus half-demon.   Rebellious by nature, he refuses to join his father’s forces and instead enrolls in a school for exorcists to battle the forces of evil.   Currently, one of the exorcism students has been kidnapped with the assistance of another student who it appears was a spy for the Illuminati all along.  Time for a rescue mission!

Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal:  Yuma Tsukumo is, in theory, a huge fan of the card game Duel Monsters, despite not knowing anything about the rules or customs of it.  He acquires a not-so-imaginary friend nicknamed Astral who has lost its memories but helps Yuma win duels.  Right now in the manga, it turns out that destroying the Astral World will destroy the human world as well, turning the villains into omnicidal maniacs.  Worse, Astral’s original purpose in coming to Earth was to destroy the human world to protect the Astral one….

One Punch Man:  Saitama, an unemployed salaryman, was bored with his life, and decided to become a superhero.  After training so fanatically that his hair fell out, Saitama became a powerful superhero who can defeat any enemy with one punch.   Which again leaves him feeling kind of empty, since there’s no challenge in that.   Now he searches for meaning in his life, while monsters and villains need punching.  This superhero parody is surprisingly deep for its simple premise, and has had some of the best action scenes in manga.  Currently, Saitama’s best buddy, cyborg Genos, is invited to a meeting of the top heroes and Saitama tags along.

If you like shounen action manga, Shonen Jump Weekly is good value for money.

 

Anime Review: Servant X Service

Anime Review: Servant X Service

Like America, Japan has had its economic woes in the last few years, with unemployment a serious problem for many people.  One of the jobs considered “safe” and steady if not spectacular work, is being a civil servant.  So it is that a certain city Health and Welfare Office comes to have three new employees starting on the same day.The competent slacker Hasebe, the shy but brutally honest Miyoshi and Yamagami, a young woman on a mission.

Servant X Service

It seems that years ago, Yamagami’s parents couldn’t decide what to name her, so wrote down all the suggestions and passed the list to a civil servant–who approved the entire name as was!   (In Japan, there are name laws that are supposed to protect kids from unfortunate monikers and ones that won’t work properly with the record keeping.)  Lucy (abbr.) Yamagami is determined to track down that civil servant and give them a good talking to.

But  of course, there’s work to be done, and citizens coming in to demand their paperwork be handled swiftly and without error.  So the employees go ahead and do their jobs…mostly.  Other characters expand the cast and add to the sitcom flavor.  Servant X Service is a 13 episode anime series based on a manga by Karino Takatsu.

It’s nice to see an anime that’s about adults in the working world, even if most of them are very young adults.    That said, by episode four, it’s clear that this show was animated for a reason, and people get away with things they never would in a real office.   See if you can spot all the human resources issues in the first episode alone!

I found the series mildly funny to quite funny, especially when Hasebe’s old “friend” Tanaka shows up.  On the other hand, Yamagami’s large breasts are a frequent point of attention, and one episode’s subplot is that her bra clasps have snapped from overwork.  If you find that sort of (fully clothed) fanservice annoying, you may want to give this a miss.

It’s light comedy with romantic overtones, and college-age people will probably get the most out of it.

Anime Review: Mushibugyo

Anime Review: Mushibugyo

It has been about a century since Japan was invaded by giant mushi (“insect” or “bug”, it’s a loose category) that rampage about, eating people and destroying buildings.  In Edo, the capital, the shogunate government has established the office of the Mushibugyo (“Insect Magistrate”) to protect the city and its people.  A new member has been requested for the field team, a fearsome samurai swordsman, Tsukishima.   But he’s unable to travel at the moment, having lost a leg.  So the team gets his son Jinbei Tsukishima instead.  Can the young and rash samurai help the Mushibugyo office prevail against ever more deadly bugs?

Mushibugyo

Mushibugyo is a 26 episode anime series, based on a shounen manga by Hiroshi Fukuda.  I watched it on the Crundhyroll website, where it is still available as of this writing.

The good:  This is a series that has lots of giant insects for our brave (mostly) heroes to fight in over the top battles.  The characters are mostly enjoyable, and the power of friendship and never giving up wins the day.

Not as good:  This series is very shounen.  The hero’s a bit of an idiot, most of the other characters are kind of cliche as well, and there is seldom any real feeling of danger in the battles.  Sure, lots of unnamed extras die horribly, but no one we actually care about.  As well, the fanservice gets kind of obnoxious–do we really need to see/hear about the tsundere kunoichi’s  (mood-swinging female ninja) loincloth quite so often?  The clip show episode features all the female characters at the public bath, plus an extra one-shot character for more fanservice.

There’s also several characters who are prominent in the opening titles but get only cameos in the show itself; presumably they got more development in the manga.  Likewise, some of the backstory for some characters (the Insect Hunters, most notably) seems to have been cut for time.

Still, if this is the sort of thing you like, you should like it very much.  If you want a grittier look at humanity fighting giant monters, with a lot more plausible character fatalities, see Attack on Titan instead.

Book Review: Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific January 1942-April 1943

Book Review: Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific January 1942-April 1943 by Bruce Gamble

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

Fortress Rabaul

This is the second of three books about the Southwest Pacific campaign during World War Two.  The first book covered the fate of Lark Force, an Australian army unit stationed on New Britain when the Japanese invaded.  The first few chapters of this book recap much the same events, but from the perspective of the air battles.

Rabaul was a small town on New Britain (north of Australia) which had an excellent harbor, but with pretty much constant volcanic activity keeping the local population from getting too comfortable.    Its position made it the best place for the Japanese to build airfields and harbor ships to dominate the Southwest Pacific and prepare for their invasion of Australia.

This is a book dense with information, with detailed reports on many of the air battles in the area.   There are a few black and white photos, but extensive endnotes.  There is a bibliography, and an index which has separate categories for ships, planes and military units

The repeated air battle reports get a bit tedious, enlivened once in a while with a particularly poignant moment.   It was somewhat startling to see just how ill-prepared Australia was for the air war, and how little the initial American forces were able to do.  So many airmen dead, so many vanished, their fate unknown.

The volume ends with the mission that shot down Admiral Yamamoto in 1943, and the definitive turnaround in the course of the war.  The rest will be told in the final book.

This book will be best appreciated by military history buffs, World War Two buffs, wargamers, and those whose relatives fought in the long campaign.

ETA:  Here’s a Japanese propaganda song of the era, with footage of Japanese planes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oaEa5O3B-KI

Do you like videos with book reviews?  If so, comment.

 

 

Comic Book Review: 47 Ronin

Comic Book Review: 47 Ronin by Mike Richardson and Stan Sakai

The tale of the forty-seven ronin is one of the classics of Japanese culture.  It’s based on actual events that occurred in 1701-2.  Lord Asano was provoked into an offense that caused him to be sentenced to ritual suicide, his lands were confiscated, and his samurai warriors were made ronin (masterless) and forbidden from seeking revenge against Lord Kira, who was responsible for Asano’s downfall.

47 Ronin

Forty-seven of these men  decided to disobey that order, but their leader Oishi realized that Lord Kira would be expecting them to do that, and in fact had gotten extra bodyguards from a powerful relative because of this.  So the ronin began a year-long plan to lull Kira into complacency before their attack….

This version is ably illustrated by Stan Sakai, creator of Usagi Yojimbo, but without the more cartoony touches of that series.  His research into the period gives the comic weight.  The author of the series consulted with Kazuo Koike, creator of Lone Wolf and Cub, to make sure that the story stayed faithful to its roots.

There’s a considerable amount of violence, especially in the big battle scene at the end, but the depiction is relatively tasteful.  Oishi spends time in a red-light district as part of the plan.  And just in case you didn’t notice the mention before, this story could be triggery for suicide.  With this last, it’s important to remember that Shogunate era Japan had a culture very different from ours, and ritual suicide was viewed as a way of preserving one’s honor.

The series has just ended, but a collected volume will be out soon.  Highly recommended!

For those of you who prefer prose, here’s a review of The 47 Ronin, a book with that and other tales of Old Japan.  http://www.skjam.com/2013/07/02/book-review-the-47-ronin/

A movie called “The 47 Ronin” starring Keanu Reeves as a half-British 48th ronin and having about zero to do with the original story, will be out soon.

Manga Review: Voice Over! Seiyu Academy #1

Manga Review: Voice Over! Seiyu Academy #1 by Maki Minami

Hime Kino isn’t much like her name would imply (“Hime” means “Princess.”)  She’s clumsy and tomboyish, and none too bright.  Plus, she’s got a voice like a gravel pit, that only gets worse when she tries to sound cute.  But she’s a huge fan of the Lovely Blazers magical girl anime series of series (basically a thinly veiled Pretty Cure) and especially the first star of the show, Sakura Aoyama.  Seems that Ms. Aoyama helped Hime out of a jam when she was little, quoting the show.  So Hime’s dream is to become a seiyuu (voice actor) and star as a magical girl on Lovely Blazers.

Voice Over! Seiyu Academy

So it is that Hime has come to Holly Academy High School, which has the nation’s top voice acting program.   Because of her odd voice and lack of proper training, Hime is placed in the “Stragglers” group with a ragtag bunch of misfits.  Plus Hime becomes very irritated with Senri, a naturally talented voice student who is Sakura Aoyama’s son, not that he seems to appreciate it.  Senri is moody, and seems to blow hot and cold towards Hime…when he can remember who she is!

Of course, this not being a grim and gritty manga, Hime discovers that she does have the potential to become a talented voice actor–in male roles!  How is she ever going to get that cute magical girl role on Lovely Blazers?

As I have mentioned before, one of the neat things manga does that American comics don’t do as well is series about people pursuing a career.    Readers can learn all about what it takes to be a firefighter, or an anesthesiologist, or in this case a voice actor.  (The manga creator was inspired to do this after her previous series, S*A, got animated and she met the voice-over people.)  For this series, the author has chosen the “enthusiastic rookie who doesn’t have the skills yet” version of the plot line.

Hime is specifically a little dim, which justifies the mistakes she makes and the need to give her info dumps every so often.   And irritable, so she’ll clash with the guy who is the obviously set up love interest.  This makes her seem pretty generic shoujo manga heroine, except for her voice, which the reader will have to imagine.  The Stragglers are pretty likable, but seem to have two character traits each, and it’s unclear if they’ll get more depth.

As opposed to Senri, who as the rival/love interest, is shown to have multiple facets and a backstory we will be learning about over the course of the series.  This “boy who the girl can’t get along with, but will eventually warm up to her” subplot also feels pretty generic.  But other bits feel fresher, such as the idol duo with one member who is unreasonably jealous of his partner’s attention.

The art is decent, and if the school uniforms seem overly busy, that’s deliberate and editorially mandated.

The primary audience for this series is teen-aged girls, but anyone with an interest in voice acting or voice actors should be able to enjoy it.

Anime Review: [C] The Money of Soul and Possibility

Anime Review: [C] The Money of Soul and Possibility

[C]

Kimimaro Yoga is an impoverished college student, bitter about the suicide of his father, which he sees as abandonment, and working hard to make sure he has a financially stable future.  One day he is approached by a being called Masakaki and offered a deal.  If Kimimaro accepts a loan from the Midas Bank with his “future” as collateral, he can become an Entrepreneur, with access to the Financial District.  There he can engage in battle with other Entres, using Assets, personifications of their futures.  Kimimaro distrusts easy money, but is tricked into accepting anyway.

Then he finds out that when they said his future was the collateral, they weren’t being metaphorical….,

This is an eleven episode anime series and a bit of a mind screw,  The rules are never fully explained, several characters’ motives remain murky, and the ending is going to take some sitting down and thinking to puzzle out.  It’s also not about economics in the way Spice and Wolf was, so when people sling around financial terms, they’re not explained and often have little to do with their real world applications.

However, there’s a lot of allegorical economics going on, and students of such matters will be able to tell which theories the writers side with by the end.  Several of the characters, including Kimimaro, and his mentor/opposite number Mikuni are morally ambiguous.  Would you sacrifice the long term to protect what is precious to you now, or sacrifice the present to preserve the future?

It’s also very pretty, though those new to anime might find some of the color combinations overly garish.

There’s a fair amount of violence, though most of the “blood” is money, and it could be triggery for suicide, as this happens more than once.  Because of this and the need to understand basic economic principles to grasp the underpinnings, I’d recommend this for older teens and up.

Anime Review: Shiki

Anime Review: Shiki

Megumi, post vamping

Megumi Shimizu hates living in an isolated mountain town in the middle of nowhere.  She wants to move to the big city with its bright lights and fashion centers.  So she dresses like a fashion model and yearns for the hot big city boy who moved in last year.  She feels unappreciated by the hicks in her village, and wonders if she can get in good with the posh-looking people who just moved into the European-style mansion on the hill.

Yuuki Natsuno hates living in a hick town too.  Ever since his hippie wannabe parents moved the family here, he’s been looking forward to getting back out.  He’s trying to ignore the crazy stalker girl in the silly outfits, but she’s not taking the hint.  At first, he denies that the strange things going on in Sotoba are any of his business.

Dr. Toshio Ozaki doesn’t mind living in Sotoba, but he did back when he was a teenager.  Right now, he’s got other things on his mind.  Suddenly, a number of villagers are falling ill, suffering from a form of anemia that is invariably fatal.  It doesn’t seem to be caused by any known infectious agent, but if it’s not a disease, what is it?

Shiki is a horror anime (based on manga) about a small town that is rapidly being taken over by vampires (or “shiki” as they come to be called.)  And when I say “horror”, I don’t mean just the genre, I mean that it is genuinely horrific.  Both the shiki, who are not all bloodthirsty monsters at heart, and the humans, some of whom are bloodthirsty monsters at heart, find themselves doing anything they must to survive.  There’s a lot of blood onscreen, particularly in the second half once the existence of the shiki becomes more generally known.

There are a number of very good bits–the shiki are smart enough to only officially move into the neighborhood after the anemia cases start, to throw off the timeline for anyone who might guess the truth, and quickly replace the government officials who might alert the outside world.  Also, there are different types of shiki with slightly different rules, which hides some of the obvious patterns.  Dr. Ozaki, in turn, proves to be far more resourceful than he first appears.

On the other hand, many of the character designs are silly-looking, particularly some people’s hair.  Megumi has the excuse of being a wannabe fashionista, but some of the others–wow.  One of the female vampires dresses in fanservice outfits almost exclusively, although that may be overcompensation on her part.  Some vampire fans may be frustrated by the relatively slow opening; it takes several episodes before the action parts of the plotline kick in.

If you liked Salem’s Lot or are a vampire story fan in general, I can recommend this as a good example of the genre.  The gory bits, however, mean that this is not suitable viewing for small children or the sensitive.

Anime Review: Muromi-san

Anime Review: Muromi-san

Muromi

Takurou “Takkun” Mukoujima is a quiet lad who enjoys fishing off a lonely pier.  (Apparently the fishing is normally terrible, since we never see any other fishermen there.)  One day he catches a green-haired mermaid named Muromi.  She quickly takes a liking to Takkun, though he’s not as impressed with her, and soon she and her wacky friends are hanging around the pier too.

Namiuchigiwa no Muromi-san (“Muromi of the Seashore”) is a thirteen-episode animated series based on a gag manga by Keiji Najima.  Much of the humor derives from Muromi not quite thinking the way humans do.  Her fish side is very strong within her, and she’s functionally immortal, so she will often say or do things that humans wouldn’t.  Even when Muromi is acting human, she’s what the Japanese call “wagamama”, self-indulgent and capricious, and everyone else just has to put up with that.

This mostly leads to funny moments, such as Muromi being helpless in the face of penguins one-tenth her size because she’s a fish.  But there’s also some pretty tasteless fanservice jokes dealing with fellow mermaid Fuji’s large breasts, including a protracted breast-mauling sequence from the jealous Muromi.  Also, Muromi and the other mermaids have some odd turn-ons.

Despite what might look at first like kid-friendly character designs, this one is for older teens and up.  The episodes are only twelve minutes long, so you won’t waste too much time sampling an episode to see if you like it.  Currently available on Crunchyroll.

Manga Review: Triage X

Manga Review: Triage X by Shouji Sato

Triage X

This is an entry in the ever popular “vigilante justice” sub-genre.  Mochizuki General Hospital is the secret headquarters of Black Label, a small group of assassins that target “seats of disease” that spread the cancer of crime.  All but one of the field agents are well-endowed young women, with a token high school boy.  (The head of the group is an old, terminally ill man.)

As is traditional in vigilante fiction, the police are either useless (having been bought off by wealthy criminals) or stupid (so they don’t figure things out as fast as the vigilantes do.)  The main police character, Detective Tatara, is more in the latter category, though he might get something done if he weren’t constantly on the same investigations Black Label is.

The violence levels are about what you’d expect for a vigilante series (TRIGGER WARNINGS: torture, attempted rape), but the fanservice is overdone.  The naked shower scene is excusable as a plot point to reveal the male lead Arashi’s horrifically scarred body (and that he, unlike his female teammates, does not have nipples.)   But frequent and intrusive shots of underwear, cleavage and suspiciously clingy clothing leave no doubt that the primary audience is horny young men.

Aside from the medical terminology and some use of chemicals, it’s a fairly standard vigilante plotline with villains who are cardboard cut-out evil and nothing creative in the way of plans.  If this is your first vigilante series, and you likes you some gratuitous fanservice, it’s not bad, but it’s nothing to write home about either.  (This does not preclude better villains in future volumes.)

There has been an animated adaptation, which I have not watched.

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