Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents: Blackhawk Volume 1

Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents: Blackhawk Volume 1 art by Dick Dillin and Charles Cuidero

In September 1939, Poland was invaded by Germany and the Soviet Union.  The valiant Polish people battled bravely against the two-pronged attack, but it was to no avail.  One aviator was shot down, as it happens, near his family’s farm, only to watch as it was blown to bits by a Nazi bomb.  He discovered his siblings inside the ruined farmhouse, dead or dying.  The aviator vowed vengeance against the Nazis, and particularly the pilot of the plane that had murdered his family, Captain von Tepp of the Butcher Squadron.

Showcase Presents: Blackhawk Volume 1

Months later in England, the aviator stewed in frustration.  The RAF did not trust the Polish airmen who’d fled to their shores, thinking that because they’d lost, the Poles were inferior pilots.  Unable to get in the air through the regular channels, the aviator found a small group of other pilots who were refugees (plus one American volunteer) and likewise unable to get into the fight.  They pooled their resources and secretly purchased several Grumman XF5F Skyrockets, as well as supplies for them and a secret island base.

The aviator had discarded his civilian name and now went only by Blackhawk.  His men were the Blackhawk Squadron, or just the Blackhawks.  They operated on behalf of the Allies, but independently of any military command, striking wherever the need was greatest.  After a few missions never detailed, Blackhawk and his men were able to track down von Tepp and Blackhawk took his revenge.  His personal business complete, the Blackhawks were free to fly anywhere at any time to fight the Axis.

The Blackhawks first appeared in Military Comics #1 in 1941, under the Quality Comics label, and got their own title, Blackhawk, in 1944.  They were very popular, at one point selling just below Superman.  In 1952, they even got a film serial, starring Kirk Alyn, who’d previously played Superman in the movies.

But by 1957, sales were waning, and Quality first leased, then sold, its trademarked characters and titles to DC.  Blackhawk was one of only a handful of titles to continue (the other notable one was G.I. Combat.)  It kept its art team, but had an assortment of now-anonymous writers.

This volume reprints the DC run, starting with #108.  At this point, the team had long been stabilized at seven members.  Blackhawk (Polish/American/Polish-American) was the leader.  Hendrickson (Dutch/German) was the team sharpshooter and the oldest member.  Stanislaus (Polish) was generally the second-in-command–at this point he was said to have been a aerialist before the war and was quite acrobatic.  Andre (French) was a mechanical engineer and a bit of a ladies’ man.  Olaf (Swedish) was large and exceptionally strong.  Chuck (American) was a radio specialist.  And Chop-Chop (Chinese) was the team cook.  We’ll get back to him.

Since the Korean War was over and Vietnam was not yet hot, the Blackhawks (now flying Lockheed XF-90 C jets) primarily fought spies, saboteurs and mechanized gangs.  In the first couple of issues, their primary opponents are International Communism, the agents of whom are mostly pure evil (except the one woman who is won over by Blackhawk’s chivalrous behavior and moral rectitude.)

At a guess, these stories were left over from previous writers, as after that contemporary politics vanishes altogether, and much more time is spent on borderline to full science fiction plots.  Lost civilizations, time travel, aliens, and lots and lots of robots and awesome vehicles.  The team also acquired a pet between issues, a black hawk named Blackie who was of human intelligence (even able to tap out complex messages in Morse Code!)

The Blackhawks also ran into supervillains, most often a high-tech pirate calling himself Killer Shark or his marine-life themed minions.  They even fought the first Mr. Freeze DC had.

The plots tended to be simple, as the stories were quite short and mostly meant for kids.  There’s relatively little characterization, with each of the Blackhawks having just a few well-worn quirks.

And then there’s Chop-Chop (who did not even get a proper name until the 1980s!)  It’s worth pointing out that even when he first appeared in the 1940s, Chop-Chop was exceptionally competent and good in a fight.  But he was also clearly a comic relief character, short, round, and with facial features that look pretty darn racist towards Chinese people.

By 1957, this had been toned down considerably.  His face was still stereotypical, but not really more so than say Olaf’s.  He’d ditched the queue and lost weight, but still only came up to chest height on the other men and dressed in a “coolie” outfit that had been outdated even back in 1941.

The other Blackhawks treated Chop-Chop as an equal, and he remained good in a fight.  But he also didn’t have his own plane (usually acting as navigator for Blackhawk) and sometimes gets left out of Blackhawks group activities.  He’s also the sole Blackhawk to admit feeling fear, having the catchphrase “Wobbly woes!”  In his one spotlight story, he’s held hostage for a time.

This was a relatively good depiction for a Chinese character in the comics of 1957-58, but sets the teeth on edge for modern readers.

Certain plot elements do get reused.  There are no less than four times the Blackhawks fight counterpart teams!  The first is the all-female Tigress Squadron.  They don’t have a Chop-Chop or Blackie equivalent.  At first Blackhawk tries to pitch that crimefighting is man’s work, but after they prove their competence, Blackhawk simply switches to criticizing their plan to execute a criminal mastermind instead of turning him over to the police.  (In fairness to the Tigress Squadron, they’re entirely composed of the widows that criminal murdered after he escaped from the prison the Blackhawks delivered him to multiple times.  They have good reason for wanting to make sure this time.)

Next up is the all-villain Crimson Vultures.  They do have a Chop-Chop equivalent (who never does anything) as well as a crimson vulture named Crimson to fight Blackie.)  Unfortunately for them, Crimson is not as smart as Blackie, and that costs them the battle.

And two entirely separate miniature robot versions of the team created by mad inventors!  (Both have a Chop-Chop but not a Blackie.)

Coordination between writers was plainly not a priority.  In one story, a humanoid robot intelligent enough to infiltrate a criminal gang for months is brought back after several issues of being missing, and the Blackhawks take it back to their island.  In the next issue, Blackhawk needs a humanoid robot for something, and builds one from scratch, without even mentioning the previous robot, who also does not appear again in this volume.

That said, there are some tremendous machines in this series, and the War Wheel is always a joy to see in action.

Primarily recommended to older fans who fondly remember the Blackhawks from their childhood like me.  Others should take advantage of interlibrary loan.

And now, here’s a trailer for the Blackhawk serial!  Hawk-aa!

 

Manga Review: Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt 1

Manga Review: Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt 1 by Yasuo Ohtagaki

The time is Universal Century year 0079.  The place is Thunderbolt Sector, formerly the orbital space colony Side 4 before it was destroyed in a battle between the Principality of Zeon and the Earth Federation.  Now this sector is heavily littered with debris, and afflicted with random electromagnetic discharges that gave it its name.  It’s a key point in the supply lines for Zeon, and as such is guarded by the deadly snipers of the LIving Dead division.  Their top sniper is Chief Petty Officer Darryl Lorentz.

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt 1

Assigned the task of clearing out the snipers and cutting the supply lines is the Moore Brotherhood, survivors of Side 4.  It’s clear to everyone aboard their mothership that the Federation considers them expendable, but this sector used to be their home.  Their ace is Ensign Io Fleming, an eccentric young man who used to belong to Side 4’s nobility.  This battlefield will come down to the clash of these two men.

The Mobile Suit Gundam franchise was the progenitor of what’s called “real robot” mecha stories.  It aimed for greater plausibility than previous giant robot stories by introducing weapons that ran out of ammunition and engines that used fuel.  It also had the giant robots being devised initially as powered spacesuits for space colony construction, and evolving from there, only to be repurposed as military weapons.  And to explain why these huge targets weren’t just hit with missiles from miles away, the original creators came up with “Minovsky Particles” that temporarily block radio and radar signals in war zones, requiring the mecha to get up close in order to hit opponents.

In addition, the Gundam series of series depicts the futility and waste of war; sympathetic characters die, the “good guys” don’t always win, and sometimes it can be tough to tell which side of a conflict are the good guys anyway.

Thunderbolt takes place in the “Universal Century” timeline established in the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime, and is a side story happening at approximately the same time.  Numerous orbital colonies have been built, as well as other colonies further from the Earth, and some of them have prospered to the point they’d like to be independent.  Also, humans have been born in space with ill-defined psychic powers that better suit them for life in outer space; these are often referred to as “Newtypes.”

The Principality of Zeon, a militaristic colony, has decided to go beyond independence and conquer Mother Earth, as it is their destiny to rule over all space.  They have a lot of Germanic influence, and their government is basically Space Nazis.

But that doesn’t mean individual people working for Zeon are evil.  Daryl’s family were apparently merchants who worked for Zeon in another country before the war, but weren’t actually Zeon citizens.  So when Zeon and its collaborators were kicked out of there, the Lorentz family found themselves trapped in a refugee camp.  Zeon had a “service guarantees citizenship (would you like to learn more?)” program, so Daryl joined the military.

Daryl got his legs blown off in combat, and as a reward, his family was moved out of the camp and into an apartment, and his sickly father is finally being treated in a hospital.  But full citizenship only comes with completing military service, so Daryl was fitted with prosthetic legs and reassigned to the Living Dead division, snipers who have all lost body parts and been fitted with prostheses.  They’re all well aware that they’re being used as test beds for experimental upgrades (and aesthetics are not a big concern to the Zeon brass), but that’s life in the military, and at least scientist Karla Mitchum seems to care about them as human beings.

Daryl loves cheesy J-pop music and deals with phantom pain.

Io Fleming, by contrast, loves free jazz and practices drumming in his cockpit when not in combat.  He was uncomfortable as a young noble on Side 4, preferring the freedom of piloting small planes.  Io’s uncomfortable with the idea that he must seek revenge for his destroyed homeland, even if he does have some lingering resentment about that.  He’s rude, bucks rules whenever he thinks he can get away with it, and makes a point of taunting Daryl about his prostheses.

But he is much nicer to his sole male friend Cornelius, and Acting Captain Claudia (who used to be his girlfriend before her promotion made that impossible.)  Despite his disdain for his own social class, Io is despised by Executive Officer Graham, who blames the nobility of Side 4 for its destruction.  And there are hints that there’s more to Io’s issues than we see in this volume.

The art is detailed and when we see faces, it’s easy to tell people apart.  However, the very busy debris fields and multiple giant robots can make for confusing layouts, especially since the black and white art doesn’t have the color cues that would make the machines more distinguishable.

This volume is primarily set-up of the main conflict and the various characters’ subplots, interspersed with exciting giant robot combat.

This manga was originally published in a seinen (young men’s) magazine, though the only strong indicator of that in this volume is a flash of one character’s pornography in an unguarded moment. There’s also the standard violence associated with war stories.  Viz rates this as “Older Teen.”

This story relies heavily on the reader’s presumed familiarity with the background established in the original Gundam series, so I would recommend it only to those fans.  It would not be the best first introduction to the world.

There’s an anime adaptation, of course, and here’s the trailer for that.

Manga Review: Bokurano (Ours)

Manga Review: Bokurano (Ours) by Mohiro Kitoh

Fifteen middle-schoolers are at summer camp when they discover a seaside cave and decide to investigate.  Inside, they find a man called Kokopelli, who is surrounded by electronic gear.  He claims to be developing a new game where you pilot a giant robot to defend the Earth against alien invaders.  He asks the children to help him test it, and they agree to become mecha pilots (but one boy prevents his little sister from participating.)

Bokurano

That night, the children find themselves transported to the cockpit of a giant robot (which will become known as Zearth) and watch as Kokopelli demonstrates how it works and defeats an enemy robot.  He then tells them it’s up to them now, and teleports them back to the beach, with a robot creature called Koyemshi as their guide.

Each of the children must now take their turn as pilot of Zearth, defending the blue planet of their birth.  But they soon learn that Kokopelli concealed important information from them, and the “game” is far crueler than they could have imagined.

Despite the age of the protagonists, this manga was aimed at the seinen (young men) demographic, and is not at all kid-friendly.  I’d rate it for senior high schoolers and up.

I’ll be discussing spoilers below,  so for those who prefer to go into series with some secrets preserved, I will say that this is a well-presented story, with disturbing themes.  The artist’s style works well with the awkward middle-school anatomy.  There is also an animated series that softens the ending a teensy.

SPOILERS beyond this point!

In a neat narration trick, the narration of the first few chapters is by Takashi, the first pilot and typical shounen genre protagonist.  It’s done in the past tense, making it sound as though Takashi is remembering it years later.   And then, after Takashi’s battle, Jun accidentally knocks Takashi off the 500 meter tall Zearth’s shoulder, and the narration cuts off mid-sentence.

Shocking, but that was an accident, right?  Until the second pilot just up and dies after their battle.  Turns out Zearth works on life force, and each child will die from piloting the mecha.  Oh, and the “alien invaders”?  They’re actually from parallel Earths, no better or worse than “our” Earth.  The losing robot’s universe is destroyed, and there’s an infinite number of “games” going on.

Meanwhile, the children (and a handful of adults who are let in on the secret) must live their own lives, and we learn about each pilot’s backstory and issues.  Some of them have normalish kid issues, others are Afterschool Special-worthy, and one story is Law & Order: SVU territory and may be triggery.

The volume at hand is number 11, the final book in the series.  We are down to our final pilot, Jun.  He’s not exactly the person you would have picked as Earth’s last defense, having been a real jerk in the earlier volumes.  But he’s learned that most of the assumptions he made to justify his horrid behavior were false, and seen the sacrifice that others made for him and the Earth.  And Koyemshi is finally opening up a little now that all the secrets are out.

Jun prepares for battle, but the enemy’s plan will give him one more cruel set of choices to make.  There is no escape from the cycle of death.

Anime Review: Argevollen

Anime Review: Argevollen

When Tokimune Susumu’s sister Reika is killed in a mysterious “training accident”, the boy decides to join the Arandas military as a Trail Krieger (basically walking tanks) pilot to work his way up the ranks in hope of eventually having enough access to learn the truth about her death.  He’s still very green when he is assigned to the 8th Independent Unit under Captain Ukyo Saimonji.  The unit is swiftly mobilized when the neighboring country of Ingelmia mounts an invasion, breaking through a previously impenetrable fortress.

Shirogane no Ishi Argevollen

On the way to the front, the 8th stumbles across a convoy that was ambushed by Ingelmian forces.  Tokimune is ordered not to reveal himself, but charges into battle when he sees there is a survivor of the convoy.  For his troubles, his mecha is shot to bits.  The survivor, rookie engineer Jamie Hazaford, decides to have Tokimune use the convoy’s cargo, a prototype war machine codenamed Argevollen.  Despite Tokimune’s inexperience, Argevollen is so advanced over the enemy mecha that he is able to defeat them easily.

Due to the emergency field activation, Argevollen now requires both Jamie and Tokimune to operate, and the shadowy Kybernes Corporation instructs their employee to stay with the 8th so the unit can be tested without having to rip out all the activation hardware.  Tokimune must learn to work with his machine, Jamie and his fellow soldiers if Arandas is not to go down in defeat.  But dark secrets abound, and Argevollen may be more connected to its pilot than was the intention.

Shirogane no Ishi Argevollen is a 24-episode anime series by the Xebec studio, and as of this writing, can be watched on the Crunchyroll website.

This series tends to come across as very generic for the mecha subgenre, especially in the first few episodes.  There are some notable features, however.  The first is that the series takes place in a world where aircraft were never invented.  This is never explained in a satisfactory manner, but does justify some of the military tactics used.  (The first episode has Ingelmia unveil Trail Kriegers that can jump over walls, the first time this has ever been done in history.)

While Argevollen is a “wonder weapon” it is made clear that it’s not a total game-breaker.  It’s like having one 21st Century tank in a World War Two setting, really effective when it works, but where are you going to get spare parts and a mechanic who can fix it?  Worse, when the production model is developed, Kybernes Corporation withdraws their software support.

The Ingelmian military are not the villains of the series, as such.  They’re mostly well-meaning soldiers obeying orders, told by their leader that they are “liberating” Arandas from its dictatorial king.  (“Just like they liberated my homeland,” notes one officer cynically.)  Even Richtofen, who becomes Tokimune’s self-appointed nemesis, is a pretty decent chap at first.  The real baddies are international arms dealers, a coalition of whom have been secretly exacerbating conflicts world-wide and convincing countries to start wars so they can sell weapons to both sides and test their latest creations.

Most of the characters are stock mecha anime types, for good or ill–this works least well with Jamie, who often comes across as much younger than she actually is, and best with Saimonji, whose stoic determination to spare the lives of his fellow soldiers leads him on a dark path, and an alliance of inconvenience.

The ending is rushed, with several plot threads brutally cut off, and a clear sequel hook; the series is selling poorly, I’m told, so we are unlikely to have that sequel.

Mecha fans are likely to find the show too generic for their tastes, with the fights somewhat downplayed.  Several episodes have little or no giant robot action at all!  But the more sober take and slower-paced episodes might appeal to viewers reluctant to watch more flashy mecha shows.  Parents should be advised that a couple of episodes have scenes where the characters are undressed (but tastefully blocked) and there is of course some bloody violence.  Probably not suitable below junior high.

Anime Review: Matchless Raijin-Oh

The fifth-dimensional Jaku Empire (literally, “the Evil Empire”) has decided to conquer the third dimension, starting with Earth.  Good thing Earth has a powerful guardian spirit named Eldoran.  Or perhaps we should say had a powerful guardian spirit, as Eldoran blocks the invaders’ one-shot superweapon at the cost of crippling himself to a near-death state.

Matchless Raijin-Oh

Eldoran has a back-up plan.  He bestows the remainder of his power, in the form of giant robots that combine into larger giant robots, on a class of fifth-graders who are in school on Saturday doing make-up work.  The military isn’t too thrilled with the fact that the world’s fate is in the hands of a bunch of pre-teens, but the Earth Defense Class is the only ones who can use the mighty Raijin-Oh against the weekly monster attacks.

Zettai Muteki Raijin-Oh was a 1991 anime series for children, the first of the “Eldoran Trilogy.”  It falls into the “super robot” subgenre of the mecha genre, which means that it generally ignores questions of practicality and treats the laws of physics as mild suggestions.  (As opposed to the “real robot” subgenre where they at least handwave explanations as to how the mecha work in realistic terms.)

There are eighteen kids in Class 5-3, nine boys and nine girls of varied size, shape, social status and personality, so it’s easy for most viewers to have a favorite.  And all of them are important.  Sure, some of them get much more screen time, but even if your job is just to pull the transformation lever, no one else can do that, so if you go missing, the team will lose.

The kids who get the most screentime are:

  • Jin, the pilot of Ken-Oh, a swordsman mecha, and lead pilot of Raijin-Oh when the robots combine.  He’s a typical boys’ anime lead, spiky-haired, hot-blooded and book-dumb.
  • Asuka, the pilot of Hou-Oh, a bird mecha.  He’s a handsome and diplomatic lad, and a hit with the girls.  Asuka likes being treated well because of his looks, but doesn’t really grok why being liked by women is a thing.
  • Kouji, the pilot of Juu-Oh, a lion mecha.  He’s a dreamer and UFO nut, who’s a bit timid, but is better at understanding people than his two buddies.
  • Maria, the class leader.  She’s an all-rounder who’s good but not the best at many skills, and coordinates the Command Center when monsters attack.  Her only flaw is a bit of a temper, mostly caused by Jin’s antics.  (The series is clearly setting Jin and Maria up for a romance in their teens.)
  • Tsutomu, the class nerd.  He’s the one who handles technical issues and discovering new powers for the robots.

While the adults are shut out of being able to save the day, Mr. Shinoda (the homeroom teacher), Miss Himeji (school nurse) and the Principal (who is skilled in kung fu) often are able to help the kids out with real-world problems.  Even the General eventually is a bit helpful, though he never completely warms up to the notion that military might is not the answer.

Over on the villain side, the leader is Belzeb, who is literally heartless.  Instead, he has an evil fairy named Falzeb living in his rib cage.  He’s assisted by the bumbling Taida, a chubby, childish fellow who isn’t really cut out for the villain lifestyle.   The monsters start out as akudama (“evil balls”), round bits of darkness that are scattered around the landscape.  When activated by the word meiwaku (“troublesome”, “annoying” , “problematic”) then turn into a small monster that takes its theme from whatever was described with the code word.

Thus we have things like a pollution monster, a flu monster, a superhero monster (that one had some serious “which side am I on?” issues) and so forth.  At some point, Falzeb would energize the monster, turning it into a larger, more powerful version, and Raijin-Oh would need to fight it.

The plots do tend to be formulaic.  One of the children has a spotlight subplot, such as being afraid of dogs.  The monster may or may not relate to that subplot, but generally defeating the monster will also resolve the subplot.  There’s plenty of stock footage of the various uniform changes, robot launches and transformations and special attacks.  One episode about halfway through is a clip show, though it does answer a few pertinent questions.  (The robots combining to form Raijin-Oh takes less than three seconds real time, not the over a minute it looks like in the stock footage.)

Some of the spotlight episodes are more disappointing for fans of those individual characters, as Jin has his own secondary subplot, meaning that the character whose spotlight it is gets even less time.

The series is being brought to the U.S. by Anime Midstream, a small independent company formed for the purpose.  They’ve titled it Matchless Raijin-Oh and five volumes are currently available on DVD.  The disks have both subtitled and dubbed versions, with the dub being done mostly by enthusiastic amateurs.  (It’s okay, but not quite up to professional standards.)

The series is kid-friendly, but parents should be aware that Japan has different standards for how much nudity is acceptable for children (we see a couple of naked butts in a non-sexual context) and some old-fashioned ideas about physical discipline of children are on display.  (Jin’s  parents especially believe in the usefulness of a good smack to the head.)  The blooper reels are less kid-friendly; the worst words are bleeped out, but parental no-nos are still heard.

If your kids already enjoy loud exciting action cartoons, please consider supporting this small business.  Older anime fans may find it a bit childish, but there’s still plenty to love.

Comic Book Review: Kill All Monsters! Volume One: Ruins of Paris

Comic Book Review: Kill All Monsters!  Volume One: Ruins of Paris written by Michael May; illustrated by Jason Copland

The kaiju (giant monsters) subgenre is a pretty good fit for comic books.  With an unlimited “special effects budget”  they can pack monsters and mayhem into a story that would be prohibitively expensive to shoot on film.

Kill All Monsters, Vol. 1

This series takes advantage of that, but because printing costs are the limitation, the pages are in black and white.  The story (no relation to the Toho movie of the same title) begins in media res, with three giant robots battling monsters in a ruined Paris.  In short order we are introduced to the robot pilots,  Dressen of England, Akemi of Japan, and Spencer of America (who is missing his legs.)

Our protagonists manage to defeat the monsters, but damage to one of the machines means they have to stay in Paris while a mechanic is airlifted in from their home base in Africa.  We learn that the atomic tests of the 1950s apparently spawned these giant monsters, and mankind has been fighting a losing battle with them ever since.  Only the protagonists’ mysterious benefactor Rashad has been able to come up with machines that can fight the monsters on their own terms.

While ruined, the city of Paris still has inhabitants of a sort, and mysteries begin to unfold.  Meanwhile, a subplot advances concerning a self-aware robot named Archer, which is meant to assist…or replace? the human pilots.

There’s plenty of slam-bang action, a little hard to follow at first until we learn who the players are.  The robots are all distinctive, and it’s fairly easy to tell the cast from one another.

The series is marketed for young adults, although none of the focus characters seem to be in that age group.  If your kids enjoyed Pacific  Rim or the latest Godzilla movie, this should be safe and enjoyable for them.

The second volume is not yet out; if you prefer closure, you may want to wait for that one to be published.

Anime Review: Suisei no Gargantia

Anime Review: Suisei no Gargantia

Gargantia

In the future, Earth became uninhabitable due to extreme cold, so much of the human race took off to space.  Somehow the remainder survived through the freezing, and now Earth is a water world, where the word “land” is a legend.  The remnants of humanity live on interconnected fleets, the one we focus on being named Gargantia.  They sail the “galactic” currents, fishing and diving for salvage from the drowned cities.

The Gargantians have some minor problems with pirates, and have to avoid angering the territorial whalesquid, but mostly life is peaceful.

Until, that is, Ledo arrives.  He’s a soldier of the Galactic Alliance, the humans who went into space, only to find themselves locked in a war with implacable aliens known as the Hideauze.  A malfunctioning wormhole brought him and his intelligent combat robot Chamber to humanity’s home.  Ledo has never known anything but war, and he has difficulty dealing with the relatively peaceful culture of Gargantia.

Ledo starts bonding with Amy, a local delivery girl, and her sickly brother Bevel.  Perhaps this won’t be such an awful place to live?  But then new information surfaces, and it looks like Ledo’s not done with war at all….

This thirteen-episode anime series included in its writers Gen Urobuchi, most recently famous for Puella Magi Madoka Magica, a series about magical girls that took some very dark turns.  Gargantia isn’t nearly as shocking, though it does have some interesting plot twists.  Some of the character designs are kind of fanservicey–the designer used to do porn.

The main character arc is Ledo learning how to interact with other people outside of a hierarchical military mindset, and finding his place in his new world.  One of the themes of the story is that the skills and knowledge you acquired growing up don’t always apply to the real outside world, and you have to be able to adapt.  A good amount of time is also spent on Ledo’s relationship with Chamber, who has its own, more subtle character arc.  Chamber is one of the best artificial intelligence characters in years.

Less subtle is Pinion’s (a mechanic with a dark secret or two) character arc, which feels a little forced.

There’s a certain amount of violence, of course, with Episode 9 being the most disturbing about it (and for this reason  I do not recommend the series for preteens or sensitive tweens.)

Perhaps the weakest episode is #5, which is a bathing suit episode and is annoyingly hetero-normative (no thank you for the drag queen stereotypes) and can be skipped if fanservice irks you.  #6 features belly dancing and is also pretty fanservicey, but you’ll want to watch at least the last few minutes as the plot kicks back in.

All in all, a pretty good show that should appeal to mecha and SF fans.

Manga Review: HeroMan Volume 1

Manga Review: HeroMan Volume 1 by Tamon Ohta and BONES, from a concept by Stan Lee.

Joey Jones is a young orphan living with his grandmother in Center City, California.  He’s a sweet kid in a bad situation, who has to hold down a part-time job to help with the bills and can’t afford nice things.  When he finds the latest hot toy robot broken and discarded by a spoiled rich boy, Joey takes it home and fixes it up.

HeroMan

Much to everyone’s surprise, when danger threatens, the toy transforms into a powerful mecha named HeroMan.  Joey and HeroMan quickly become Earth’s only defense against attacking aliens.

So, Stan Lee has been around a long time. Over the years, he’s come up with a lot of ideas. Some were great, many were pretty good, some needed a bit more work to be viable, and a handful were truly awful.  So by now, Stan has a briefcase full of ideas of varying quality and every time he runs a bit short of lunch money, he opens up the briefcase and sells one of his spare ideas.

A couple of years back, Stan Lee sold a couple of ideas to the folks over in Japan. This is one of them.

HeroMan was an animated series, and this is a tie-in comic for fans of the show. Fans will quickly spot the usual Stan Lee touches: underdog teen hero, bullying jock, elderly relative who must be protected, Stan Lee cameo…plus the manga staples like an enormous robot controlled by a hot-blooded teenager, and a romantic interest who wears a tiny skirt even in the most inappropriate circumstances.

The combination works pretty well, but long-time fans will find much of the material very familiar. I’d recommend it mostly to junior high kids who will strongly identify with Joey and HeroMan.

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