Manga Review: Platinum End 1

Manga Review: Platinum End 1 Story by Tsugumi Ohba, Art by Takeshi Obata

Have you ever looked at the world around you and thought, “Wow, God’s not doing a very good job.”?  Perhaps you have even succumbed to hubris and thought you could do a better job if you, personally, had God’s power.  As it turns out, God’s retiring and has assigned thirteen angels to seek out candidates for the open position.  Each will be able to give their candidate special powers, and there will be a 999-day competition period, at the end of which the new God will be chosen.  Special rank angel Nasse already has someone in mind.

Platinum End 1

Which brings us to our protagonist, Mirai Kakehashi.  He’s introduced to us by tossing himself off a building on the day he graduates from middle school.  Seems that Mirai is an orphan whose life has been made utterly miserable by his abusive relatives (yes, shades of Harry Potter) and now that he’s past mandatory school age, aunt and uncle want him to get a job and sign over the paycheck in return for their “generosity.”  Nasse catches Mirai before he hits the pavement.

The angel explains that she has been keeping an eye on Mirai for a while as his “guardian angel” and she is at last able to intervene to make him happy.  Nasse grants him three nifty powers; wings to fly, red arrows that will make people love him, and white arrows that kill painlessly.  Mirai isn’t too sure about this, especially as Nasse suggests using these powers in ways that seem…unethical to the boy.  He does, however, wind up using the red arrows to resolve the issue of his abusive relatives.

Now that Mirai has a future again, he works hard to get into the same school as his crush, Saki.  While that’s going on, Nasse explains more about the “replace God” contest, and they become aware of a God candidate who is most definitely abusing his powers.  This story doesn’t really intersect with theirs, as he’s quickly taken out by a third candidate, who has decided to murder his way to victory.

“Metropoliman” uses his powers to appear to be a superhero so that he can  openly hunt for the other candidates with the public on his side.  This makes Mirai worried, but the murderous “hero” isn’t his top priority when a fourth candidate turns out to be going to the same high school.  A candidate who’s gotten the drop on him!

This monthly manga is by the creators of Death Note and Bakuman, and was much anticipated.   The art is certainly excellent!  But large chunks of the premise seem to have been lifted from the Future Diary series, and several of the characters in these early chapters are kind of blah.  In particular, Ohba seems to struggle with the right balance of competence and initiative for female characters.  I am hoping that future chapters will improve this.

That said, Nasse has a lot of potential as an angelic creature that doesn’t quite grok human morality.  Her design which makes it difficult to tell whether she’s wearing clothes or just has an unusual body is also nifty.

Content issues:  In addition to frequent mentions of suicide (and one on-camera attempt) and child abuse, there’s rape and female nudity in a sexual context.  While the series is aimed at high schoolers in Japan, it gets a “Mature Readers” tag in the U.S.

Primarily recommended to fans of the creators’ previous series.  Consider getting the physical edition–there are some neat effects on the cover that don’t come across in a scan.

Comic Book Review: Blue Monday, Vol. 2: Absolute Beginners

Comic Book Review: Blue Monday, Vol. 2: Absolute Beginners by Chynna Clugston Flores

Disclaimer:  I received this volume through a Goodreads giveaway for the purpose of writing this review.  No other compensation was offered or requested.


Bleu L. Finnegan isn’t precisely your normal high school girl growing up in 1990s Northern California.  For one thing, there’s the blue hair, which she’s had since at least elementary school (though it’s not clear if it’s natural.)  She’s also way more into then-contemporary musicians than the average person, and most of the people she hangs out with are equally excited about such things.

Bleu is also very typical of teenage girls, simultaneously interested in and disgusted by teenage boys, and with a schoolgirl crush on handsome Jefferson High teacher Mr. Bishop.  Oh, and for some reason a pooka named Seamus has taken an interest in her.  Maybe not so typical after all.

This was Chynna Clugston Flores’ first series, created when she was barely older than the characters she was writing.  It had a manga-esque art style back when that was uncommon and innovative.  It also had musical cues for which songs should be playing at any point in the story–I think that will be most evocative for Nineties kids, as some of the references have faded in the past twenty years.

In many ways, this is like a naughtier version of the classic Archie Comics formula; romantic hijinks, comedy and a touch of the supernatural.  The kids are rather more open about the sexual nature of their attractions, use more foul language than I am comfortable with (and yet sometimes use comic-book symbol swearing instead), and consume alcohol.  On the other hand, the teenagers are not actually sexually active (as of this volume), and the nudity tends to be peek-a-boo.

In this volume, a fancy-dress party is ruined by too much booze, which leads to a couple of the boys taking a video of Bleu bathing.  The fallout of this leads to continued embarrassment for our protagonist, as the contents of the video are vastly exaggerated by gossip.  One of the boys, Alan Jackson, finally admits he’s interested in Bleu and tries to ask her out on a date, despite the girls thrashing him in soccer.

That date turns into a disaster, largely because their friends are pulling a series of pranks on the couple.  Teenagers are mean!

It seems that whatever town Jefferson High is in, it has a high Irish-American population, though only Clover Connelly’s family appears to be directly from the Emerald Isle.  And then there’s “Monkeyboy” whose hairstyle hides his eyes at all times.

The art has been recolored by Jordie Bellaire, who did a very good job except for one obvious goof–or perhaps that happened in post-production.

This will, I think, most appeal to Nineties kids who enjoyed the series when it first appeared, but should be suitable for older teenagers on up who enjoy romantic comedy.

 

 

Anime Review: One-Punch Man

Anime Review: One-Punch Man

Saitama used to be an unemployed salaryman (white-collar worker) whose life was going nowhere.  When a (relatively weak) monster attacked, Saitama remembered his boyhood dream of becoming a hero who could defeat any opponent with a single punch.  He trained really hard, and became that hero…but if you can defeat any opponent in a single punch, your victories become hollow.

One-Punch Man

There is now an anime series based on the manga I have reviewed before, streaming on Hulu as of this writing.  In twelve fast-paced episodes, it covers all the way up to the Boros Saga.

It’s a comedic series that parodies superhero comic book conventions, but also touches upon deeper themes.  The best example of this is the Sea King Saga, which asks (and partially answers) the question of what it truly means to be a hero.  (The Boros Saga is more about how the world’s most powerful hero group, the S-Class heroes, haven’t grasped this concept yet–they’re a collection of loners, many with dubious motives, not a team.)

Good animation and some excellent voice work make this series a good adaptation of the manga.  Also appreciated is some expansion of minor character roles, foreshadowing of things in future plotlines and cameos of characters from previous storylines, letting us know how they’re getting on.

Content issues:  There’s quite a lot of violence, some of it gory–these heroes and villains mostly use physical attacks to deal with their problems.  The Mosquito Woman is, as one viewer described it “proof that ‘Sexy Halloween Costumes’ have gone too far”, but there’s quite a bit more male nudity.  Speaking of which, one hero, Puripuri Prisoner, does all his fights in the nude…and he’s a gay stereotype that may make some viewers very uncomfortable.  I’d recommend parents of younger viewers skip this one.

The season finale provides lots of sequel hooks, to the point that it raises more questions than it answers.

A fun view for grown-up superhero fans.

Comic Book Review: Child of the Sun

Comic Book Review: Child of the Sun written by Michael Van Cleve, art by Mervyn McCoy

Disclaimer:  I was provided with free downloads of this comic book for the purposes of review.  No other compensation was offered or requested.

Child of the Sun

It is 1300 B.C.E., and the people of Israel have fallen into wickedness.  Thus they are unprepared when the People of the Sea invade and conquer their land.  But all is not lost, it seems, for a divine messenger tells of a baby soon to be born.  A baby that will be named Samson.

This is an independently published comic book series loosely based on the Biblical story of Samson.  How loosely?  One of the supporting characters is Heracles of Zorah, who may or may not be the Heracles of Greek myth.   I have to hand the first two issues.

After a nearly silent prelude showing the advent of the People of the Sea and the annunciation of Samson’s impending birth, the comic skips ahead to introduce us to Heracles, who then meets the now-teenage Samson after a drunken celebration (as Samson does not drink alcohol, he is the clear-headed one here.)  Heracles takes Samson to Timnath, and introduces him  to Adriana, a priest of Astarte, goddess of love and sex.

The naive Samson falls in love with Adriana, but her life has made her cynical about such things, and her job is, after all, to give sexual pleasure.  While Samson’s Nazirite vows don’t prevent him from having sex, they do cause some friction between the couple, and he strongly objects to Adriana having sex with people who are not him.  She seems to be warming up to him when Samson punches out a man who wanted to rape her.

And cue a flashback to Samson’s childhood and him pulling the head off an oversized cobra.

The third issue concerns “Samson’s riddle”, one of those Bible stories where no one comes off well.  At the beginning of the feast celebrating his wedding to Adriana, Samson sets a riddle that cannot be answered without knowing an experience only he had.  The guests are not well pleased, and cheat in an ugly way, causing the marriage to collapse almost immediately.

This comic is “suggested for mature readers” due to violence, sex , lots of nudity and a rape scene.   I really can’t recommend it to more conservative Christian readers.

The art is pretty good–primarily in black and white, with color for important or emotionally relevant pages by Jonathan Hunt.   The depiction of women is heavy on the “sexy”; mostly excused in these issues by the majority of women in question being in the entertainment industry, but Samson’s mother is in a distractingly iffy pose during the annunciation.

It’s not quite clear where the plot is going, as the scenes flit back and forth in time.  This series is set for seven issues, so presumably the fourth issue will be clearer as to the direction the author intends.

It’s difficult to judge a mini-series by only the beginning–the creators may pull everything together nicely, or it could fall flat.   If it sounds like it may be your sort of thing, please consider buying the individual issues to support the creators and increase the chances they’ll be able to finish and release a collected edition.

Anime Review: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

Anime Review: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

Jotaro Kujo is a bit of a juvenile delinquent, sassing his mother, wearing his school uniform out of regulation style, and getting into fights.  But when he notices that there’s now a strange being that only he can see and does things for him, like bring comics he wants but can’t afford, that’s a bit too much for our young hero.  He decides that he’s become demonically possessed and insists on being locked in jail.

Our main cast.

He’s surprised when his grandfather Joseph Joestar shows up to bail him out, with a mysterious Middle Eastern man in tow.  It turns out that what Jotaro has is not a demon, but a psychic projection known as a Stand.  Some people, like the Egyptian fortuneteller Avdol and his fiery Stand Magician’s Red, are born with these powers.  The Joestar family, however, only recently gained these Stands, including Joseph’s clairvoyant Hermit Purple and Jotaro’s martial arts-oriented Star Platinum –and the reason is unsettling.

The vampire Dio, who had been decapitated and trapped in a chest at the bottom of the sea, was released a few months ago, and attached his head to the body of Joseph’s grandfather Jonathan Joestar.   Somehow.  This also for reasons not fully explained in this plotline caused Stands to awaken in everyone blood-related to Jonathan.   This includes Joseph’s daughter and Jotaro’s mother Holly.  Unfortunately, she is for insufficiently explained reasons unable to fully manifest her Stand, which instead is slowly killing her.   DIO (as he is now called) needs killing anyway, but this puts a time limit on it, and our small band must make their way from Japan to Egypt and destroy the overpowered vampire before Holly dies.

This is the third storyline of the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure series based on the manga by Hirohiko Araki.  I reviewed the adaptation of parts one and two, Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency, earlier.  This part takes place in the 1980s (when it was written)  and replaces the martial arts vs. vampires and super-vampires battles with bizarre psychic abilities that take a physical form.  This provides many chances for tactical innovation as the characters must try to use their specialized powers to overcome the strange abilities of their opponents.

DIO has gathered a motley crew of mostly evil Stand users, though the handsome Kakyoin (wielder of the liquid Hierophant Green) and the comical Polnareff (master of the fencing Stand Silver Chariot) were mind-controlled and join the heroes once freed.  One of the running gags of the series is that the main characters cannot keep a vehicle for more than a day or two before it gets destroyed or made inoperable.  This slows their journey across Asia considerably.

In addition to everyone being named after musicians or music, the Stands are patterned after the Major Arcana of the Tarot  until the arrival in Egypt, at which point most of the enemies have Stands patterned after Egyptian gods.  This is probably because Araki was told to stretch out the manga while its ratings were high.   Also in Egypt, the team picks up a sixth member, Iggy the Fool, a very unpleasant dog.

Jotaro is on the surface a very different protagonist from Joseph, a stoic, quiet young man who prefers to let his fists do the talking.  As the series progresses, however, we learn that he shares some of his grandfather’s goofball sense of humor.   Joseph himself remains the trickster hero, his new powers requiring subtlety and clever tactics to defeat enemies.  Avdol is the dignified one, though quick to anger, and Kakyoin is a bit more intellectual than the others.  Polnareff is, while competent, very much the comic relief, and gets stuck with repeated potty humor gags.

DIO spends most of the series in shadows, barely interacting with his minions, but once he becomes active, takes center stage.  He’s learned not to underestimate the Joestar clan, and his new power The World is seemingly unbeatable.  He’s considered one of manga’s most iconic villains for a reason.

In addition to the violence you’d expect from a shounen fighter series, there’s a fair bit of nudity, some of it very creepy.

This part of the series has been animated before, but the new adaptation is much more faithful and as of this writing is available on Crunchyroll.  (Note: due to trademark issues, some of the names are changed in the subtitles.  So you will hear the characters saying “Vanilla Ice”, the  name of a villain, but the subtitles will read “Cool Ice.”)

This series inspired a lot of later shounen battle series, but the clever fights, roadtrip plotline and fun characters are still some of the best in the business.

Manga Review: Ranma 1/2

Manga Review: Ranma 1/2 by Rumiko Takahashi

Soun Tendou, a widowed martial arts instructor in the Nerima suburb of Tokyo, has three daughters: gentle Kasumi, cunning Nabiki and fiery Akane.  They are surprised to learn one day that their father made an agreement with his old friend Genma Saotome to marry one of them to Genma’s son Ranma.   Akane is unimpressed with the old-fashioned idea of an arranged marriage, especially as it turns out Mr. Tendou has never actually seen Ranma and knows nothing about him.

Ranma 1/2 1-2

Imagine their surprise when a panda shows up at their door with a young girl in tow, who claims her name is Ranma Saotome!  Akane immediately takes to her fellow martial artist, who is endearingly shy.  However, when Akane walks in on Ranma in the bathtub, it turns out he’s male after all!   Also, the panda is actually Genma Saotome.  A  couple of months ago, the two of them fell into cursed pools in a training exercise gone horribly wrong.  As a result, they change forms when splashed with cold water, returning to normal when exposed to hot water.

Soun decides that the engagement is still on, so Kasumi and Nabiki immediately dump the arrangement on Akane.  Citing Akane’s difficulties with boys, Nabiki points out that Ranma is a girl some of the time.  Akane objects, and Ranma makes a rude remark that gets him hit with a table.

The engagement stands, and the quarrelsome couple must learn to deal with each other while coping with other transformees, wacky martial artists, a love dodecahedron  and the continuing fallout of Genma and Soun’s terrible life choices.

This romantic martial arts comedy manga ran in Shonen Sunday from 1987-1996, and spawned an anime series, several movies and OAVs, and relatively recently a live-action TV film.  It (particularly the anime) was a gateway series for many American fans in the early 1990s.

Much of the comedy in the series comes from the fact that Ranma is a very macho young man, who is exaggeratedly masculine and often trapped in a short, busty girl’s body.   Raised in relative isolation by his none-too-socially-ept father, Ranma has heroic instincts but is rude and uncultured, often setting off Akane with unthinking insults.  Over the course of the series, Ranma learns how to use his female form to his advantage, but never fully reconciles himself to it or the social role it’s supposed to play.

Akane also struggles with social roles.  She’s very attractive (though you will need to take the story’s word for it) which has caused her problems with boys and other perverts, and exacerbated her hair-trigger temper.  She’s amazingly bad at most traditional feminine domestic skills, and her best strong point, her martial arts ability, is routinely overshadowed by Ranma and his opponents.  Since both the main characters are stubborn and cantankerous, even as they slowly fall in love they can’t admit it.

It should be noted here that most of the people in this series are jerks to one degree or another.  Much of the nonsense that drives Ranma and Akane apart even as they draw closer together could have been avoided if someone hadn’t decided to be a jerk at the wrong moment.   Even normally adorable Kasumi has her off moments.

Overall, the series is a lot of fun, with enjoyable art, funny jokes and silly characters.  And once in a while some tense action.  Like many long-runners, it sags some in the middle (the “introduce new wacky character” gimmick only works so many times) and the ending doesn’t really resolve anything.  But hey, it’s a comedy.

Given the premise, there’s quite a lot of nudity in the series; if your child is too young to be shown that girls have nipples, they’re too young to be reading this.  (One of the running jokes is that Ranma has no body modesty.)

More problematic is that “girls hitting boys that make them angry, even by accident, is hilarious” is driven into the ground in this series.  Akane is the worst offender, being the female lead, but most of the other girls are just as awful proportionate to their screen time.  Even by the 1990s, social attitudes were shifting, and by now it can make for some uncomfortable reading.  Also, some of the things Genma does to Ranma as “martial arts training” would get him arrested for child abuse, and the perverted old master Happosai is treated as an annoyance rather than a sexual offender.

The series does not so much deconstruct Japanese gender roles so much as poke them repeatedly with a sharp stick.

The anime is also good (and has a lot of nice music) but relies heavily on filler (episodes that are anime-only and often have continuity issues) and ends when Ranma’s long-lost mother shows up (about 2/3rds of the way through.)  Later season have poorer animation quality as production was moved to cheaper studios.

Viz originally brought Ranma 1/2 over using the flipped-artwork process to make it read left-to-right; between that and their then deliberately slow release of volumes, it took forever to come out in the U.S. (so the anime was a bigger influence on the fanfiction.)  It’s now being reprinted in the otaku-friendly right-to-left format, with each volume containing two of the Japanese volumes.

In Volume 1-2, the one to hand, the main characters are introduced.  Ranma is assigned to the same school as Akane, and we meet Dr. Tofuu (a practitioner of traditional Japanese medicine and Akane’s first crush) and Tatewaki Kunou, the belligerent and amorous upperclassman who’s done the most to cause Akane’s attitude towards boys.   Kunou starts a feud with male Ranma while falling in love with female Ranma (this does not stop him hitting on Akane, and Kunou never fully grasps that the two Ranmas are the same person.)

Just as it looks like Ranma and Akane’s relationship might be warming up, Ranma’s martial arts rival Ryouga appears.  Although he’s very strong, Ryouga has a terrible sense of direction, and is cursed to turn into a cute little piglet.  Ryouga blames Ranma for that last thing (for the wrong reasons)  and is bent on  revenge.  He also falls in love with Akane.  In this first story arc, Ryouga is a clear “heel” but eventually has the most positive character development of anyone in the series.

Ranma and Ryouga have reached something of a stalemate when a new challenger appears, Kodachi Kunou (sister of Tatewaki), who is a mistress of Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics and plays very dirty.   After she cripples the Fuurinkan High gymnastics team, Akane is called in to save their honor.  Too bad she doesn’t know anything about rhythmic gymnastics!  A teacher appears, but Kodachi is determined to end the match before it begins….

Highly recommended to fans of Inu-Yasha and those with an interest in poking fun at gender roles.

Book Review: The Art of the Dragon

Book Review: The Art of the Dragon edited by Patrick Wilshire & J. David Spurlock

One of the most enduring symbols of the fantasy genre is the dragon.  It evokes a primal response and is really fun to draw and paint, so it shows up all the time in fantasy art and sometimes manages to get into science fiction as well.  With so many dragons on the covers of books, it’s no surprise that an entire book can be filled with nothing but dragon paintings.

The Art of the Dragon

This book features works by over a dozen fine artists, most of them currently active in the field.  There are a couple that were recently deceased at the time the book was published, and the volume is dedicated to one of them, Jeffrey Catherine Jones.  Several of the artists are spotlighted, giving details of their careers and their different philosophies of creating dragon pictures.  I personally picked this book up for the Michael Whelan section (including his very influential White Dragon piece), but there is also excellent work by Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell among many others.

It’s coffee-table sized and as an art book, far heavier on pictures than words.  Concerned parents should be aware that the second most common element in these paintings is half-naked women (and a couple of fully naked ones.)  Mr. Vallejo in particular talks about how his depiction of women has changed over the years.

Several of the artists have worked for the companies that published Dungeons and Dragons game material over the year, so gamers may be especially interested in this volume.  Otherwise, this book is recommended for fantasy fans in general and dragon fans in particular.

Comic Strip Review: Shutterbug Follies

Comic Strip Review: Shutterbug Follies by Jason Little

It is the 1990s, before the digital photography explosion.  Bee works in a one-hour photo shop as a finishing technician.  She enjoys her job, not least because she takes copies of the more…interesting pictures shot by the customers home for her own collection.  One day, Bee notices something odd about one of the photographs brought in by a new client.

Shutterbug Follies
Bee examines evidence.

As she investigates further, Bee finds herself enmeshed in deception and murder.  She’s in way over her head, and a killer is closing in!

This story was originally a webcomic by Jason Little, which then became a book, and recently was rerun in an edited edition on the GoComics website.  (Some nudity is pixelated on the internet, for the uncensored version, you’ll have to read the book.)

The good stuff:  This is a cinematic story, and you can easily imagine it being turned into a live-action thriller.  Bee is a brave, fit young woman but no action hero, and although she’s attractive, her character design isn’t a cookie-cutter comics heroine look.  This makes it easier to root for her as she struggles with some of the challenges she faces.

The supporting characters are also fine; I especially like the cabbie/aspiring musician.

Not so good:  Bee’s professional ethics are somewhat lacking–yes, without those lapses the plot wouldn’t happen, but you wouldn’t want your co-workers acting like that.  Also, her taste in men is a bit unsettling.  (To his credit, the man in question is unsettled.)

Be aware that as a thriller, there is some violence.  Trigger Warning for child abuse.

Apparently, the sequel, Motel Art Improvement Service has enough sex to make it unable to be run on GoComics even with pixelation; for that one you will indeed have to read the book.

I’d recommend this strip to thriller fans, and people looking for a slightly more realistic female lead in an action comic strip.

Anime Review: Elfen Lied

Anime Review: Elfen Lied

There is a secret laboratory off the coast of Kamakura, Japan.  There a naked woman wearing an eyeless helmet, codenamed “Lucy”, is undergoing experimentation.   When the helmet is damaged, allowing Lucy to see, she sets about freeing herself, slaughtering many of the lab’s personnel in the process.  Yes, even the adorably clumsy comic relief character.   One of the lab’s guards manages to get a shot in that breaks the helmet off and give Lucy a head wound.  As we see that the woman has horns, she falls into the surrounding ocean.

Elfen Lied

Not too long after, a young man named Kouta is walking on a Kamakura beach.  He’s recently moved to the city to attend college, and shares a house with his cousin Yuka, a native of the area.   Yuka has had a crush on Kouta since they met as children, but he suffered a long illness that has wiped out most of his childhood memories and doesn’t share her interest.  Kouta stumbled across a nude girl lying on the beach, who has horns.  She appears to be a complete amnesiac, who can only say the word “Nyu.”  Nicknaming the girl Nyu, Kouta takes her home for shelter.

Soon, other visitors begin accumulating at Kaede House, but not all of them are friendly.  For Lucy/Nyu is a diclonius, a mutant offshoot of the human race with deadly psychic powers.    The laboratory wants her back at any cost, because if allowed to run free, Lucy may doom all mankind.  Or at least that’s what most of them have been told.  Oh, and Kouta’s meeting with Nyu might not have been so coincidental after all.

Elfen Lied is based on a seinen (young men’s) manga by Lynn Okamoto.  It’s a peculiar blend of  horror and romantic comedy riffs.   The characters at Kaede House tend to fall into romantic “types” familiar to anyone who’s watched a lot of anime, but twisted by the horrific backstory.

There is quite a lot of gore and nudity; the powers of the diclonius lend themselves to people being ripped open or sliced apart.  Trigger Warnings as well for rape, sexual abuse, torture and child abuse.  This is not a series for the weak of stomach.  (Indeed, it had to be shown on late-night satellite TV.)

The peaceful seaside town of Kamakura (not far from the Enoshima setting of Tsuritama) contrasts with the often violent events.  The real-life location allows for a certain amount of resonance when we see particular sites in flashbacks as opposed to the modern day.  It also allows for a certain amount of clash in the backstory; the diclonius are described as wanting to destroy all humans, but all the ones we see have been horribly mistreated by humans in the first place.

It’s also worth noting that all the diclonius with powers we see in the series are female.  They are treated as property by many of the male characters, to be killed, experimented on or used as weapons at a whim.  This may have a deeper theme, or just be fanservice.

Because the manga was still running when the anime was made, the show ends on an ambiguous note after thirteen episodes.  The manga has now finished, but is not yet legally available in English.

The music for the series is…interesting.  The opening theme is “Lilium”, a religious song in Latin that serves in-story as a bond between Kouta and Lucy.  The closing theme is “Be Your Girl” a peppy sounding pop song (which often clashes with the events just seen) which turns out to be about the pain of unrequited love.  The “Elf Song” referred to in the title is not used in the anime, but only sung in the manga by a character that was not in the anime either.

Overall?  This series is most assuredly not for everyone, or even most people.   You may enjoy it best if you are fond of R-rated horror movies with plenty of gore, but want a bit more character development than you’d normally get.

Movie Review: South Pacific

It is World War Two, somewhere in the South Pacific.  Marine Lieutenant Joe Cable (John Kerr) has been assigned to infiltrate a Japanese-held island and report on their military movements in preparation for an American offensive.  He wants to recruit French plantation owner Emile de Becque (Rossano Brazzi), who is very familiar with the island in question.

South Pacific

M. de Becque is not keen on this idea, as he is courting young and pretty nurse Nellie Forbush (Mitzi Gaynor).  His mission stalled for the time being, Lieutenant Cable accompanies rough Seabee NCO Luther Billis (Ray Walston) to the nearby island of Bali Hai.  There Cable starts a romance of his own with native girl Liat (France Nuyen) under the watchful eye of her mother Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall).

But there is a war on, and the Americans are not so free of prejudice as they would like to imagine.  Before the story is over, there will be heartbreak and loss.

South Pacific is a 1958 film based on the extremely popular 1949 musical by Rodgers & Hammerstein, itself based on stories by James Michener.  Outdoor locations were shot in Hawaii, standing in for the far away islands.

First off, the music is great.  Almost every song is a winner.  The dancing is good, and the acting is fairly high quality (some of the dialogue is a bit much.)  And Hawaii is very pretty.

The anti-racism message comes through loud and clear, despite the limitations imposed by the Hays Code (which was pretty strict about portrayals of miscegenation.)  Nellie in particular struggles with her prejudices.  She likes to think of herself as open-minded, as opposed to her mother back in Little Rock, Arkansas.  She’s okay with Emile being twice her age, and having killed a man once (as long as it was for a good reason.)  But him marrying a Polynesian woman and having children with her…that Nellie has a lot more trouble accepting.

I was also amused by something related to my current course in Economics–Bloody Mary is an entrepreneur.  The influx of American military personnel to the island has created a boom market for native handicrafts.  Bloody Mary has hired a bunch of her fellow islanders to make these items, at what are to American standards ridiculously low wages.  But they’re double the wages the French planters were paying for laborers and servants.  This has caused a labor shortage on the plantations.  But rather than raise the wages they pay, the planters complain to the U.S. military about the unfair competition!

The most glaring problem the movie has is the overuse of soft focus and “mood lighting” through the use of color filters.  During the first “Bali Hai” number it kind of works to convey the mystical nature of the island,   But it soon gets out of hand.  The director, Joshua Logan, actually apologized in public; he hadn’t realized how garish the color filters were going to look up on the big screen.

There’s also a pacing issue with the big lump of war movie that shows up in the second half of the film, which is jarring after the rest of the movie has been almost non-stop musical.

Speaking of which, the movie shows its stage play roots by having several minutes of black screen at the beginning while the overture plays, more of this as an intermission,  and at the end with the postlude.   If you are watching this with children who have never seen formal theater before, you may want to explain the idea to them.  Perhaps rig up a little curtain on your TV to be lifted to echo the experience.

As the story is set on a tropical island, there are a lot of shirtless men and some bathing costumes that are risque by 1940s standards.   There’s also brief long-shot backside nudity at the beginning of the movie, apparently allowed by the Code under some sort of National Geographic exemption.  Some viewers may find Bloody Mary’s matchmaking of her daughter to the lieutenant very uncomfortable.  I know I did, the fact that it makes sense in the local culture notwithstanding.

Overall, a flawed film, but well worth seeing for the music and the beautiful scenery (when it isn’t being obscured by the color filters), with a message that is still relevant today.

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