Manga Review: Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon

Manga Review: Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon by Shigeru Mizuki

Quick recap:  Kitaro is the last surviving member of the Ghost Tribe, a once populous group of yokai (Japanese spirits/monsters.)  His father lives on in the form of an eyeball and advises the young fellow.  Together with his untrustworthy friend Nezumi-Otoko (“Rat-Man”) and sometimes other friendly monsters, Kitaro acts as a mediator between humans and yokai.  (This being a comic book, often this mediation involves deadly combat.)

Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon

This is the second volume of Drawn & Quarterly’s collection of stories from Shigeru Mizuki’s classic GeGeGe no Kitaro series of children’s horror manga.  It has a continuation of the history of the manga, and a handy guide to the yokai appearing in this volume in the back.

The lead story is also the one that titles this volume.  Traditionally, the nurarihyon is a humanoid creature that shows up at your house and acts as if he’s an invited guest.  As long as he’s there, he demands the best in food, luxuries and entertainment.  Only when the nurarihyon has finished abusing your hospitality and departs do you suddenly realize you never actually invited him in or even know who he was.

But this particular Nurarihyon is actively evil.  He hates humans and commits acts of terrorism while appearing to be a harmless old man.   Nurarihyon despises yokai that want to be friends with humans, and especially Kitaro.  He runs into Nezumi-Otoko one day at the pachinko parlor, and pretends to befriend the greedy rat-man in order to lure Kitaro into a trap.

After several twists and turns, Kitaro manages to trick Nurarihyon and his accomplice Jakotsu Baba (Snake Bone Granny) into a time machine and strands them in prehistory.   (In the anime, Nurarihyon manages to return more than once, acting as the Big Bad for a couple of larger stories.)

A kappa (water goblin) is the antagonist in “Sara Kozo”, though his motive is a bit more sympathetic.  The sara kozo’s secret song was stolen by rock musicians who used it to become famous, but paid no royalties.  Knowing that he has no standing in the human court system, the sara kozo decided not to sue, but instead just kidnap the thieves.  Kitaro has to get them back.

The two stories that end this volume are connected.  In “Odoro Odoro”, a mad scientist attempts to find a cure for baldness, but turns himself into a malevolent hairball that thirsts for the blood of children.  Mind you, not all their blood, but since he can’t afford to have them reveal what’s going on, the Odoro Odoro has been stuffing them into the Spirit World for safekeeping.  Kitaro apparently vanquishes the monster at the end of the story.

But in “Odoro Odoro Versus Vampire”, it turns out the creature survived.  It steals Kitaro’s soul and makes him its slave.  While Kitaro is away, Nezumi Otoko becomes the mostly willing servant of Dracula IV, descendant of the famous Dracula and himself a vampire.  Eventually, the two monsters meet and engage in fierce battle.   Medama Oyaji (Eyeball Dad) plays a larger role than usual, as Kitaro is out of action for most of the story.

The art ranges from cartoony to detailed, displaying the artist’s range.  This volume is suitable for horror-loving readers from fourth grade on up.  (Some sensitive parents might find it too scary.)

And just for contrast, a show where Nurarihyon is the good guy:

Manga Review: Hunter X Hunter Volume 1

Manga Review: Hunter X Hunter Volume 1 by Yoshihiro Togashi

On a world a little bit like Earth, Gon Freecs has been raised on an isolated island by his Aunt Mito.  Although she told him his parents were both dead, Gon learned a while back that his father Ging Freecs was in fact still alive, and a powerful Hunter.  The Hunter Guild is a professional adventuring organization that seeks out new lands, animals, treasures or anything else that takes a member’s fancy.

Hunter X Hunter Volume 1

Having reached the age of twelve, Gon now qualifies to take the Hunter Exam and earn his license.  He corners his aunt into allowing him to try the deadly test (each year a sizable fraction of applicants die.)  Mind you, first Gon must survive the journey and find the location of the test, since finding the Exam site is part of the competition!

This fantasy adventure series is by the creator of YuYu Hakusho and Level E.  It was partially inspired by Togashi’s love of collecting things and seeing other people’s collections.  It’s still ongoing, but the creator’s health issues have caused several long hiatuses between parts of the story.

On the ship to the first destination, Gon meets the androgynous Kurapika, last survivor of the Kurta Clan.  That person’s people were slaughtered for their beautiful eyes, and Kurapika wants to become a Hunter to track down their killers and retrieve the eyes.   (Kurapika’s gender was a mystery for years until it was finally revealed in a sourcebook.)  They also encounter Leorio Paradinight, who grew up in poverty.  His best friend died from a disease that could have been cured if he’d had the money to pay for treatment.  Thus Leorio wants to get enough cash to get a medical degree and license, and then treat the poor for free.

There’s a certain amount of friction at first, but the three soon become friends.  They support each other through the journey to find the Exam.

At the exam site, the trio meet Tonpa, an experienced examinee who’s failed the test multiple times.  While he seems friendly, Tonpa is actually a “rookie crusher” who is less concerned with passing the Exam than in destroying other applicants’ hopes.   We also learn of Hisoka, who looks like a clownish magician but is in fact a ruthless killer with a cruel streak.

On the brighter side, Gon meets Killua Zoldyck, who has run away from his family of assassins to take the exam.  Despite being one of the deadliest people alive, Killua becomes a good friend of Gon’s.

The first two stages of the exam are already making people drop out (or drop dead) but then Hisoka decides he wants to have a little fun….

As is often the case in shounen manga, protagonist Gon is one of the least interesting characters.  His “find my father” motivation moves the plot at first, but it’s more of an excuse than anything else–we won’t see any movement on it for a long time.  And Gon’s mother is a non-entity, while Aunt Mito vanishes after the first chapter.

The three companions are much more interesting, with contrasting personalities.  My favorite is Leorio, who is a bit older than the others and much more of an “average joe” who barely keeps up.  The contrast between his greedy outer persona and his actual motivations makes him more complex.

There are a bunch of interesting looking minor characters, most of whom soon vanish; and the monster designs range from cool to creepy.

It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Gon passes the Exam and becomes a Hunter, at which point the really interesting plots begin.  Be prepared for characters and subplots to vanish for long periods of time, and at some point you will hit the most recent volume and then have to wait ages for the next installment.

Still, this is very good shounen battle manga, and well worth looking into.

There have also been some anime adaptations, here’s the opening from one:

Manga Review: Black Jack 2

Manga Review: Black Jack 2 by Osamu Tezuka

Before Osamu Tezuka became a full-time manga creator, he was  a medical doctor.  He drew upon this training and experiences with Japan’s medical establishment for his work on Black Jack starting in the 1970s.

Black Jack 2

Black Jack (birth name Kuro’o Hazama) is a brilliant physician and surgeon who is unlicensed (reasons differing between continuities) and therefore operates outside the law and the established medical system.   For reasons that are not revealed until late in the manga, Black Jack requires large sums of money and will often charge outrageous fees.  On the other hand, he will also often treat a patient for free or a nominal payment if the whim strikes him.

The stories are mostly episodic, and the order of presentation is not necessarily the order they occur.  Most of them features valuable lessons about life, usually for the patient or another civilian, but sometimes for doctors or Black Jack himself.

In most of the stories, Black Jack is accompanied by Pinoko, a cyborg he created from a parasitic twin that had never fully developed.  Her artificial body makes her look like a small child, and she usually acts like one, but Pinoko considers herself a grown woman and Black Jack’s wife.  This can get pretty disturbing, but Tezuka never takes it in a sexual direction.

The first story in this volume is “Needle”, a thriller which begins with Black Jack successfully completing a tough operation.  But an earthquake causes the tip of an IV needle to break off and travel down the blood vessel.  Now Black Jack and his surgical team must try to locate the foreign object and remove it, before the heart is reached.   Truly, the human body should not be underestimated!

“Where Art Thou, Friend?” is a flashback story that explains Black Jack’s mismatched skin tone.  As a child, Kuro’o was in a horrific accident, and needed a large skin graft immediately.   The only donor available (because the other classmates either chickened out or were forbidden by their parents) was a mixed-race child named Takashi.

Decades later, medical techniques have advanced, and Black Jack could get matching skin and have his facial scars ameliorated, but feels he would be dishonoring his friend by rejecting the lifesaving gift.  This becomes his permanent attitude when Black Jack learns that Takashi died fighting for the environment in Algiers.

“Assembly Line Care” and “The Blind Acupuncturist” both have Black Jack clash with other doctors.  In the first, a hospital director is keeping  costs low by running operations like an assembly line, which is efficient, but gives an impression of impersonality.  In the second, the title alternative practitioner donates his services freely, and dislikes Black Jack’s onerous fee structure.  But he’s a little too hasty to volunteer, and makes a needle-phobic patient’s condition worse.

This volume also contains a “sealed chapter” (one that was excluded from the standard collections), “The One That Remains.”  Sextuplets are born in Germany, one hideously deformed.  The doctor in charge calls in Dr. Kiriko, a specialist in painless euthanasia.  On the plane, Kiriko encounters Black Jack who violently objects to allowing patients to die.

Black Jack gets Dr. Kiriko detained by the police, and shows up in his place.  While the sixth infant is deformed to the point of never being able to have a normal life, it’s also the most likely to survive, as the other five sextuplets are sickly.  Indeed, one has just died!  Black Jack suggests an audacious plan.  He’ll use the organs of the dead sibling to fix some of the mutant’s deformities.

In the end, all the normal-looking babies die, but the sixth sibling is now no longer deformed and will survive.  The public (who had not been told about the deformity thing) cheers, and Dr. Kiriko (finally released from custody) no longer has a patient.

The disturbing images and morbid subject matter caused the story to be pulled from compilations aimed at the original audience of young boys.

Although Tezuka felt no compunctions about just making up diseases for a good story, his anatomy is excellent and the operation scenes look realistic.  This may be difficult for more sensitive readers.

Some physical depictions of other races are done in the then considered okay in Japan burlesque style that is now seen as highly racist.   This translation has left this in place rather than have them redrawn.

Recommended for fans of medical drama.

Here’s the opening for one of several animated adaptations:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQUEZ4kGwMU

Manga Review: Infini-T Force 01

Manga Review: Infini-T Force 01 Story by Ukyou Kodachi, Art by Tatsuma Ejiri

Emi Kaido is not your normal high school girl.  For starters, her father is always away on business (currently in Los Angeles) and her mother passed away, so Emi lives alone in a huge apartment.  But perhaps more important is her love of tinkering with mechanical objects, taking them apart to learn how they work and usually being able to put them together again better.  As part of this, Emi has learned how to draw, and is pretty good at it, if not professional level.

Infini-T Force 01

Emi’s a little surprised when a creepy-looking delivery guy brings a brightly-colored package to her door.  It’s not her birthday or any other special day, but no time to think, as she’s late for school!  At lunch, she realizes she brought the package instead of lunch.  Inside is an oversized, childish-looking pencil.  It’s labeled as a “Possibility Pencil” able to grant her every desire.   Which sounds pretty unlikely, but when Emi draws a picture of her missing lunch, it shows up underneath her desk!

After school, and Emi communicating with her father to learn he wasn’t the anonymous sender, Emi finds herself in a dangerous situation with a drug-crazed criminal.  Emi doesn’t have any defense training or weapons, and there’s no police in sight.   She needs a hero!  He’s got to be sure, and he’s got to be soon, and he’s got to be larger than life…anyhow, her hand takes over and sketches out four heroic figures on the floor with the pencil.  There are three flashes of light, and a strange man in a gaudy costume comes in the door.

The man rescues Emi, and turns out to be Ken Washio, “Eagle Ken” of the Science Ninja Team Gatchaman!  He’s a bit puzzled as to why he’s here, as the last thing he remembers is fighting along his comrades against the forces of Galactor.  Emi doesn’t know how to send him back, but it soon becomes clear that her Earth is faced with other threats, which will need the intervention of not just Gatchaman, but Tekkaman, Casshan and Polimar as well.

This series is a love letter to the Tatsunoko Productions superhero shows of the 1970s.  American readers may be vaguely familiar with some of them, in particular Gatchaman, which was heavily edited to become more suitable for U.S. children as Battle of the Planets.  Fortunately, their stories are recapped here for people who might not have seen the originals.    The somewhat silly magic pencil plot device makes this feel like many a crossover fanfic I’ve read over the years.

The heroes are introduced one by one in this first volume, showcasing their different personalities and philosophies of heroism.  (Perhaps a bit exaggerated to create more conflict.)   In particular, Gatchaman and Polimar clash over using lethal force on human opponents.  (All the heroes are A-okay with lethal force against monsters and robots.)

Besides nostalgic oldsters like me, this manga is clearly aimed at the shounen (boys’) market.   There are a couple of gratuitous fanservice shots of Emi, and she is generally useless outside of providing support for the male heroes.  Her magic pencil seems to have very limited power outside of summoning heroes or power-ups for heroes, and an attempt to open a gate back to Casshan’s world backfires badly.   This could in its way be a homage to the original shows, which tended to treat women as damsels in distress or the “heart” of any grouping.

It’s not clear if the villains are a team-up of past Tatsunoko enemies under a new leader, or if the new villains are just using familiar tactics.  In particular, the enemy leader is shrouded in mystery.

I’d like to see Emi’s school friend Sanae take a larger role in future chapters, just to amend the gender imbalance a bit.

Recommended to fans of Tatsunoko superhero shows, and tokusatsu (special effect show) fans in general.

Naturally, there’s an anime adaptation:

Manga Review: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 1: Phantom Blood Volume 02

Manga Review: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 1: Phantom Blood Volume 02 by Hirohiko Araki

Quick recap: In 19th Century England, orphan Dio Brando comes to live with the wealthy and noble Joestar family.  In retrospective, they probably should have asked more questions about how he became an orphan.  Dio planned to supplant the heir, Jonathan “Jojo” Joestar, then murder his adoptive father for the inheritance.  It didn’t quite work out that way, and Dio has been forced to resort to a stone mask with occult properties.  See my review of the previous volume.

Jojo's Bizarre Adventure Part 1: Phantom Blood Volume 02

As this volume opens, the police riddle Dio with bullets, and his presumed corpse falls out the window. Jojo has a touching farewell with his dying father, who now recognizes his fault in treating Jonathan poorly.  The police inspector gives a long speech about how he should have exiled Dio’s father Dario Brando to Australia with his family twenty years ago, but Lord Joestar had covered for the wicked man out of kindness.

Speedwagon suddenly notices that Dio’s body has disappeared, but too late.  Dio is now a powerful vampire, and slices the police inspector’s head off before draining the blood from another cop.  Being shot in the head doesn’t even slow Dio down, and the blood allows him to regenerate.

What follows is the first of the awesome battles that the Jojo franchise is famous for, resulting in a narrow victory for Jonathan at the cost of his home.  While Jonathan recovers in the hospital and is reunited with his childhood sweetheart Erina Pendleton, the Chinese shopkeeper returns to the site of the battle to dig up the stone mask.  As it turns out, Dio is not quite finished.

Dio is badly wounded, and starts recruiting minions to do his dirty work while he recovers, starting with Jack the Ripper.

Meanwhile, Jojo and Erina meet Baron Zeppeli, an eccentric Italian nobleman with a connection to the stone mask.  It seems that when Zeppeli was young, his father was an archaeologist who led an expedition to Mexico, where they found the mysterious artifact.  Zeppeli’s father tried it out on the ship home, and slaughtered the crew except Zeppeli before being struck by sunlight.  The stone mask vanished with the ship, and somehow wound up being purchased by Mrs. Joestar.

Baron Zeppeli has dedicated his life to tracking down the stone mask and destroying it, as well as the monsters it creates.  As part of this, he has learned the martial art “Hamon” which uses human breath to create ripples with the frequency of sunlight, deadly to vampires.  Zeppeli teaches hamon to Jonathan, who turns out to be a natural adept at the art.  (Unlike Speedwagon, who is nearly crippled by his one exposure.)

Erina is left behind as the three men pursue a vampire minion to Dio’s new lair, an isolated village he’s been draining dry.  They’re lured into a trap by a hypnotized young thief, and Dio not only demonstrates an array of new powers, but summons two infamous knights as undead servants to fight the heroes!

This is the good stuff!  With the main plot now fully engaged and battles aplenty, there’s plenty of nifty action with stellar art.  Zeppeli is a good addition to the main cast; his goofy mannerisms contrast his very serious personality.

There’s a certain amount of biased history retelling regarding Queen Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots that might boggle some British folks, as well as a combination of Victorian and 80’s shounen manga sexism.  Araki doesn’t shy away from showing mutilated corpses and body pieces being flung around during violent sequences.  The Chinese shopkeeper is also very stereotypical Yellow Peril in appearance.

If you’re a fan of any of the Jojo anime series, you’ll enjoy this as well.

Manga Review: The Birth of Kitaro

Manga Review: The Birth of Kitaro by Shigeru Mizuki

Blood bank worker Mizuki (no relation) is sent to investigate a report of tainted blood provided by his business, which has turned a hospital patient into the living dead.  Narrowing down the possibilities, Mizuki is startled to learn that the blood donor put down his, Mizuki’s, address!  It turns out there are squatters in the abandoned temple out back of his house.

The Birth of Kitaro

These squatters are yokai, a married couple who are the last of the Ghost Tribe.  Once, the Ghost Tribe was numerous, and lived all over the country.  But as humans encroached on their territory, the Ghost Tribe was forced first into the wilderness, then underground.  Over the years, their numbers have dwindled, until these two and their unborn child are all that remain.  The wife sold her blood to buy medicine, as both of the yokai are ill.  Out of pity, Mizuki agrees to keep their secret until the baby is born.

Months later, Mizuki visits the temple to find both of the yokai dead, and buries them.  But their child, Kitaro, lives, and Mizuki adopts him, even though he is repulsed by the sight of the little monster.

GeGeGe no Kitaro is Shigeru Mizuki’s best known work, a horror manga for children.  According to the introduction, he took inspiration from Hakaba  Kitaro (Graveyard Kitaro), a kamishibai (paper theater) performance series that had been popular before World War Two.  Most of the records of the series were destroyed during the war, but Mizuki took what was known and refashioned it for 1960s children.  It was an enormous hit, and there have been numerous anime adaptations.

This volume collects “best of” stories from the Kitaro series, rather than have them in order of publication.  Thus, Kitaro’s character design is very different in the first chapter, before he’s learned to groom himself.  Eventually, Kitaro is kicked out of Mr. Mizuki’s house to fend for himself with the aid of Medama Oyaji (Eyeball Dad), the animated eyeball of his deceased father.

The remainder of the stories in this volume guest star Nezumi Otoko (Rat Man), a filthy, greedy fellow who constantly tries to find ways to profit from foolish humans and other yokai.  Often, he’s personally responsible for the peril that Kitaro must deal with, but other times Nezumi Otoko just finds a way to chisel some extra yen from the situation.

Another recurring character that makes an appearance is Neko Musume (Cat Daughter), a part-feline girl who is Nezumi Otoko’s natural enemy.  Kitaro uses her to convince the rat to give back all the money he’d swindled from a group of humans to grant them a form of immortality.  In this early story, Neko Musume is much less pretty than later adaptations make her.

In the early chapters, Kitaro isn’t too fond of humans due to being bullied for his hideous appearance and strange behavior; as he gains a heroic reputation the humans become friendlier and Kitaro reciprocates.  However, he knows that he can never be fully welcome in human society and wanders away at the end of most stories.

There’s a variety of yokai in this series, the most difficult to defeat is the gyuki (bullheaded crab), because anyone who kills the gyuki, becomes the gyuki!  Kids tend to be important in the stories, either as potential victims or the ones who call Kitaro in.

At the end of the volume are pocket descriptions of the yokai in this volume, and activities for kids like a maze and word search puzzle.

Keeping in mind that what the Japanese consider suitable for children varies from what many American parents will accept (there’s some rear male nudity, and people die), this would be a great gift for a horror-loving elementary school kid.

Open Thread: 2017 Wrap-Up

Open Thread: 2017 Wrap-Up

That was a rough year, but I read a lot of books and made many posts!  As usual with these annual wrap-ups, let’s start with the top tens!

Top Ten Posts of 2017

The Financial Expert

  1. Book Review: The Financial Expert
  2. Book Review: The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds
  3. Book Review: The Black Tulip
  4. TV Review: Mannix
  5. Manga Review: Inuyashiki #1-3
  6. Manga Review: Blade of the Immortal Omnibus 1
  7. Book Review: Our Man in Charleston
  8. Anime Review: The Kindaichi Case Files Return
  9. Book Review: Inferior
  10. TV Review: Thunderbolt Fantasy

The big surprise for the year is the sudden interest in Mannix.  Mike Connors, the star of that beloved detective show, passed away in January.

Top Ten Posts of All Time

Urusei Yatsura

  1. Book Review: The Financial Expert
  2. Anime Review: Urusei Yatsura
  3. Manga Review: Shonen Jump Weekly (USA)
  4. Anime for Speculative Fiction Fans
  5. Book Review: The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds
  6. Manga Review: Vagabond Volume 1
  7. Book Review: Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right
  8. Comic Book Review: The Forgotten Man Graphic Edition
  9. Anime Review: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood/Battle Tendency
  10. Anime Review: Magi – Labyrinth of Magic

R.K. Narayan’s masterpiece is likely to sit at the top of this list for years to come.

Now, let’s break it down by category.

Top Ten Books 2017

The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds

  1. The Financial Expert
  2. The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds
  3. The Black Tulip
  4. Our Man in Charleston
  5. Inferior
  6. Uncle Tom’s Cabin
  7. The Sea-Wolf
  8. The Guns of Navarone
  9. Last Hope Island
  10. A Memory This Size and Other Stories: The Caine Prize for African Writing 2013

50% “classics”, 30% history, 20 % other.

Top Ten Manga 2017

Inuyashiki 1

  1. Inuyashiki #1-3
  2. Blade of the Immortal Omnibus 1
  3. Let’s Dance a Waltz
  4. Doraemon Vol. 1
  5. Futaba-kun Change! Vol. 1
  6. Cells at Work!
  7. Shonen Jump Weekly (2016)
  8. Weekly Shonen Jump (USA)
  9. Platinum End Volume 3
  10. Die Wergelder 1

Inuyashiki has an anime now, and Blade of the Immortal just had a live-action movie.

Top Ten Comics 2017

The Fix Volume One Where Beagles Dare

  1. The Fix, Volume 1: Where Beagles Dare
  2. Teen Titans Earth One Volume One
  3. The New Teen Titans Volume One
  4. Kill 6 Billion Demons 1
  5. Showcase Presents: The Trial of the Flash
  6. Showcase Presents: Weird War Tales Volume 1
  7. Jack Kirby’s The Demon
  8. Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 2
  9. Our Army at War
  10. Johnny Comet

Nice to see a non-superhero title get interest!

Top Ten Anime 2017

The Kindaichi Case Files Return

  1. The Kindaichi Case Files Return
  2. Urusei Yatsura
  3. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable
  4. Anime for Speculative Fiction Fans
  5. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood/Battle Tendency
  6. Matchless Raijin-Oh
  7. The Rose of Versailles
  8. Tonari no Seki-Kun
  9. Lupin the Third: The Italian Adventure
  10. Erased

People wanted to know about jigsaw puzzle murder mysteries this year, I guess.

And now, the Top Ten countries that looked at this blog in 2017!

The Penguin Guide to the United States Constitution

  1. United States of America
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Canada
  4. India
  5. Australia
  6. Phillipines
  7. Germany
  8. Japan
  9. France
  10. Indonesia

And one lonely visitor from Tunisia!  Please come back and bring a friend!

What were your favorite posts this year?  What would you like to see in 2018?

Manga Review: Skip-Beat! Volumes 4-5-6

Manga Review: Skip-Beat! Volumes 4-5-6 by Yoshiki Nakamura

Quick recap:  Kyoko Mogami dropped out of school and moved to Tokyo to support her beloved Sho as he tried to break into show business.  A couple of years later, the now rising star let slip that he has never liked Kyoko back, just using her as a free servant.   Enraged, Kyoko has vowed to get revenge by defeating Sho at the one thing he truly cares about, public popularity.

Skip-Beat! Volumes 4-5-6

Despite no training in the field or immediately obvious talent, Kyoko managed to get a internship at the LME talent agency, because she amused eccentric president Lory.   Kyoko and another young woman with difficulties due to attitude, Moko, have been assigned to the “Love Me” section where they do humiliating chores in an effort to get noticed.

At the beginning of this combined volume, Kyoko manages to pass an audition to acting school by flipping a schmaltzy script to let her acid tongue shine.  She doesn’t get the full scholarship, though, because Lory’s granddaughter Maria (whose home situation mirrored the script) interfered.  Maria and Kyoko bond, and Lory begins to get an idea of how bad Kyoko’s mother was.

Next up, a series of coincidences wind up placing Kyoko in a chicken suit on a TV variety show just as that show has Sho as the main guest.  When Kyoko hears Sho telling fibs to make himself sound more cool, she decides to use her anonymity to get revenge by making the heartbreaker look bad.  It doesn’t quite work out the way she planned, but does allow her to see a different side of her coworker Ren.

We also learn that Ren has deeper connections to Kyoko than she’s aware of, but keeping them a secret because of his work ethic.

The following story has Kyoko and Moko  trying out for a soft drink commercial, and we’re introduced to Moko’s self-appointed arch-nemesis Erika Koenji.  A spoiled rich girl, Erika has never forgiven Moko (real name Kanae, by the way) for getting the lead in a third-grade play over her, and has used her wealth and connections ever since to quash Moko’s acting aspirations.   This is at least partially responsible for Moko’s attitude problem and unwillingness to be friends with other girls.

Learning bits of this makes Kyoko, who has never had a female friend either, feel a connection to Moko, and their unique acting styles (plus some dumb luck) gets them the commercial spot.

The next big storyline has a cold going around the office, knocking out Ren’s manager, and since all the regular replacements are also sick, this leaves Kyoko with the job (while she’s also studying for a high school entrance exam–she really wants to complete her education.)  Kyoko isn’t very good at a talent manager’s main job duties, but her skillset comes in handy when Ren falls ill as well and needs a nurse.  Ship tease!

While Kyoko’s negative personality traits are still present, this collected volume allows her to show the positive ones as well.  The appearances of her (literal) “inner demons” are less frequent.   We also get some nice development for a few of the supporting characters, and hints of deeper backstory.  I like the balance of comedy and dramatic elements, and the romantic hints aren’t overwhelming the story.

The character art is good, but backgrounds are often sketchy or outright absent.

Kyoko’s absentee mother comes across as a real piece of work; parents of younger readers may want to discuss unreasonable expectations with their children.  Aside from that, this book is suitable for junior high kids (especially girls) on up.

Recommended to shoujo readers who like a little tartness in their heroines.

Manga Review: Rin-Ne Volume 25

Manga Review: Rin-Ne Volume 25 by Rumiko Takahashi

Quick recap:  Rinne Rokudo is a shinigami, a psychopomp who guides stray spirits to the afterlife for rebirth.  But he’s part-human, so he has to use (often expensive) tools to make up for his weak powers.  That, plus debts his deadbeat father Sabato saddled him with, and being seriously unlucky, keeps Rinne in dire poverty.

Rin-Ne Volume 25

Fortunately, Rinne has his black cat familiar Rokumon and Sakura Mamiya, a mostly normal schoolgirl who can see spirits and is blessed with common sense, to help him.  See previous reviews for more.

This volume opens in June, the rainy season in Japan.   There have been reports that a ghost in a bridal gown and veil has been haunting the neighborhood, looking for a wedding chapel.  Rinne and Sakura quickly discover that the old wedding chapel was turned into a cafe, but why the ghost bride was looking for it is a bit more complicated than it appears.

The final story concerns a summer fireworks display.  Each year for the last three years, one of the shells has burst into the form of a kanji (Chinese ideogram), a different one each year, though they look similar.  Behind this mystery is a tale of heartbreak and ineptitude.

In between, the major story is the discovery of forged shinigami gold licenses.  These licenses show the bearer to be an expert in sending spirits to the afterlife, and come with an increased salary and other perks.  (Rinne only has a silver license.)  To no one’s surprise, Rinne’s father Sabato is the man behind the forgeries.

What does cause surprise is that Sabato’s model for the forgeries is his own genuine gold license.   He’s always been a slacker who would rather come up with get rich quick schemes than work as a shinigami, so how did he get that–in high school, no less?  Time for Rinne to finally get some answers from the old man!

Also in this volume are stories involving new recurring characters Annette Hitomi Anematsuri, a teacher who is descended from a French witch and thus has some magic powers she’s not that good with; and Ayame Sakaki, a miko (shrine maiden) who has a crush on inept exorcist Tsubasa Jumonji (who has a crush on Sakura, who has feelings for Rinne, who has feelings for Sakura but won’t do anything about them because of his poverty.)

The stories continue to be funny and the art is good, but none of them advances the main plot or introduces important characters, so you could probably skip this volume if you’re on a budget.

Manga Review: Fire Force Volume 01

Manga Review: Fire Force Volume 01 by Atsushi Ohkubo

On an alternate Earth, the majority of Japanese people have been converted (at least on the surface) to the religion of the Sun God.  This may or may not have anything to do with the fact that the biggest threat to human life is now spontaneous combustion.  The vast majority of people who burst into flames become rampaging monsters.

Fire Force Volume 01

However, a few become “second-generation” flame controllers who can manipulate fire but not create it, or “third-generation” flame emitters who can create fire and use it in various ways.  Those blessed or cursed with these powers often join the Fire Force, a subsection of the fire department that battles fire monsters.

One of these is Shinra Kusakabe, a third-generation who can ignite his feet to give himself superhuman running speed (technically gliding.)  His nickname is “the Devil” because of his bizarre habit of grinning widely whenever he’s nervous or upset; when he was a small child, he was found grinning over his mother’s charred corpse.  Shinra has a need to prove himself as a hero, and to find the person or thing really responsible for his mother’s death.

This shounen manga is the latest work of Atsushi Ohkubo, the creator of Soul Eater.  It’s done in his distinctive cartoony style, with some terrifying flame monsters.  Special Fire Force Company 8 is the usual assortment of quirky characters, and there’s considerable humor between the dramatic bits.  I also like the creative use of powers.

Before I get into the next bit, I need to talk about “Watsonian” and “Doylist” analysis.  The terms are named after the two writers of the Sherlock Holmes stories; John Watson, the in-story chronicler of his friend’s adventures, and Arthur Conan Doyle, the real world author.  This is used for the explanation of story elements.

A “Watsonian” explanation is “in-story.”  For example, Professor Plum murdered Mr. Boddy in the kitchen with a candlestick because he was being blackmailed over an affair he had with a student.  A “Doylist” explanation is “metatextual.”  Professor Plum murdered Mr. Boddy because this story is a murder mystery, so someone had to commit a murder.

Both approaches have their place, but have difficulties when crossed.   A Watsonian explanation may work perfectly fine in context of a particular story, but trying to assuage Doylist concerns with one doesn’t always work.  For example, if every one of an author’s stories has a damsel in distress being rescued by a handsome man, the explanations for this in each individual story may be quite plausible, but that doesn’t excuse the author from being criticized for not varying the formula.

So when we have a scene of two young women showering (seen from the back) in the introductory chapter, the Watsonian explanation is that they’ve gotten sweaty and dirty from fighting an infernal, of course they’re going to take a shower.  The Doylist explanation is that the writer wants to give fanservice to the primary audience of teenage boys.  (After all, we don’t see the male characters in their shower.)  The scene also serves the purpose of establishing some personality traits of the female characters (by failing the Bechdel test) and establishing that Sun God nuns, unlike Catholic ones, are not expected to stay celibate.

And fair enough, this is a manga for teenage boys, and I also appreciate the female form.  Plus it flows naturally within the story.  So far, so good.

But then we get to Chapter Five, where we meet a bunch of other rookie Fire Soldiers.  The male ones are wearing fairly sensible firefighting outfits that would protect them while fighting fires and monsters.  But the one woman, Tamaki Kotatsu, is wearing an open coat with a bikini.   More, she has a “condition” where she automatically moves in a way such that men around her are forced to cop a feel–and then she gets offended by that, especially by Shinra since he’s got that painful grin on his face.

Now, I am sure there is a perfectly reasonable Watsonian explanation involving the way Tamaki’s powers work that require this.  But from a Doylist perspective, it’s just fanservice, and shoddily done at that.  It isn’t funny, it calls attention to itself, and it’s degrading to the characters, both Tamaki and Shinra.  My interest in following this series crashed.

So, not recommending this one unless you are willing to forgive the crass fanservice.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...