oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
In 1908 Vienna, opera singer Dmitri [I can't figure out how to transliterate his last name レヴァンドフスキ] is a bit in love with his best friend Theo's fiance, the angelically beautiful Agnieska. Unfortunately, he gets run over by a carriage and unknowingly turned into a vampire. One hundred years later, Kikukawa Azusa is a teacher being romanced by her student (why, manga, why?!)...

I am not entirely sure how much plot to give away, since the first volume and a half or so feel like set up. However, what I thought was going to eventually be the plot (Alice living with four vampires in fun domestic bliss) is... not quite the plot. Or at least, it's less of a set piece than I thought, and much more dark, which suits the tone of the set up much more.

Also, leave it to Mizushiro to come up with a very new take on the vampire mythology. In this, vampires are called 吸血樹 (pronounced the same, but with the final kanji changed to the kanji for "tree" instead of "ghost/monster"). So I am not sure if I should call them "vampire trees"? I hope this gets licensed just so I can see how the translator and adaptor figure that out! The vampires' bodies are shells for the tree/plant-like-organism, even though they retain memories and etc. I am not exactly sure how becoming a tree affects the person's psyche; so far, it doesn't seem to much. However, the tree lives off of human blood and dead flesh, so really, it is kind of a vampire/zombie hybrid tree. Also, these vampires don't have fangs—instead, they house a variety of insects, including giant tarantulas, inside of themselves. When they feed, the insects climb out of their mouths to feed for them, then return. Tarantulas are best for providing nutrients and energy, but the vampires can also heal and enspell people with assorted other bugs.

And yes, Mizushiro draws the bugs—especially the tarantulas—in extreme detail, which I found disturbing, to say the least. Reading about spiders crawling from a romance heroine's mouth? Fun! Actually seeing it drawn in great detail? Gross!

That said, no matter how bizarre the worldbuilding sounds, Mizushiro makes it extremely compelling and not at all hilarious (except when I read "vampire tree," I still laugh to myself). Her vampires are driven by the need to reproduce and plant their seed in someone, but just like many insects, they die as soon as the deed is done. Thankfully, this is played out in the manga as extremely disturbing, which is how I managed to make it through several scenes that were very non-consensual. Mizushiro still comes closer to excusing it than me, but I'm glad that the overall tone of the manga is creepy and disturbing. Her vampires are very much not sexy and hot, and no matter how good they look, you're reminded of that pretty much anytime bugs crawl out of their mouths.

Spoilers! )

In conclusion: well worth reading, very compelling and disturbing, and much like After School Nightmare, I can see how this can go terribly wrong, but I also have no idea if it will. If After School Nightmare serves as an example, I hope Mizushiro will continue to surprise and not do the expected.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
(original title: 失恋チョコラティエ)

Souta has been in love with his sempai Saeko ever since he laid eyes on her in tenth grade, but she's forever interested in cooler men than him. After a five-year stint in Paris, Souta has now returned to Japan to open his own chocolate boutique in order to win chocolate-loving Saeko's heart.

The characters consist of Souta, who is a bit idealistic and frequently makes me want to whap him; the flighty Saeko, who reminds me of Komatsu Nana, but without Nana's generosity or kindness; Souta's friend Olivier from France, who always seems optimistic and teasing; Souta's sister Matsuri, whom we only get glimpses of so far; and Souta's old co-worker Kaoruko, who is gruff, practical, and brusque in order to hide her emotions. (I, of course, love Kaoruko best so far.)

The premise of this sounds very much like a more flighty work of shoujo, but so far, the series actually reminds me most of Nana or Honey and Clover in tone. First, there's the mix of two stories: Souta and his store's rise in the small world of chocolatiers comprises one, while the other focuses on the lives and loves of Souta and his fellow chocolate store workers. But what really makes me draw the comparison is the way Mizushiro sensitively depicts everyone's love lives. Almost every character in the series has an unrequited crush on someone, and it's interesting to see how different characters use that emotion. Some choose to use it as inspiration or motivation to change themselves, while others choose to ignore it, to work to win over someone else's heart, or to simply enjoy being in love, even if it is unrequited.

The manga is full of small moments and significant glances, emotional subtext and things left unsaid. Some of the characters behave in ways the reader probably won't condone, but like Yazawa and Umino, Mizushiro has a great deal of sympathy for her characters and their frequently misguided hearts without necessarily agreeing with their actions.

And although Souta is the central character, I don't feel like the weight is terribly tilted toward the male characters. I suspect Kaoruko and Matsuri in particular will get more as the story goes along, and even though the women are frequently the objects of men's affections (the story so far is very heterosexual and cisgendered), I haven't gotten the sense that the are objects in terms of the plot. Instead, it seems as though Mizushiro will be delving into everyone's psyches.

The art is also very lovely; I don't remember any particular panels as standing out, but the character designs are pleasant and easy to distinguish between, and I of course love any of the sketches with chocolate in them. I'm a little sad Mizushiro doesn't go into raptures over assorted specific chocolates in her author's notes, but that's probably just me.

Sympathetic and complicated characters with some self knowledge and a narrative about chocolate: what's not to like?

I really hope this gets licensed along with Mizushiro's Kuro Bara Alice; it's lovely and feels very adult.

(no subject)

Sun, Dec. 27th, 2009 09:25 am
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While wandering around in Kinokuniya today, I got my greedy hands on Ooku 4 (finally!) and Hoshi wa Utau 6 (both in Chinese). But! OMG! Mizushiro Setona has another new series out that is not Kuro Bara Alice? Baka-Updates says it is about a boy who tries to perfect his skills at making chocolate to get the girl he likes! Awesome. I think I will check to see if it's in Chinese before possibly getting volumes 1 and 2 in Japanese.

Also! There was the second volume of Hagio Moto's Sphinx! I have no idea what it is... anyone? Worth getting in Japanese? Or will the vocab be difficult?

So far, we have also eaten so much that we turned down extra bites of crab during lunch, and after the Kinokuniya trip, we watched the movie 十月圍城/Bodyguards and Assassins. It is about Empress Cixi sending a host of assassins to get to Sun Yat-Sen when he visits Hong Kong. I have doubts as to its historical accuracy, and it has terrible heart-string-tugging moments (symbolic dolls and pens and watches and fingers!), but was extremely enjoyable nonetheless. I am also extremely happy to learn that I will still be in Taiwan when 花木蘭/Mulan screens!

One trailer was also another historical Chinese war movie, only this time about... Confucius! Apparently they will send assassins after him too. The best bit was the name of the movie (Confucius) showing up with Dramatic Movie Music, which is really not the way I am used to thinking of him.

Still, I eat up this recent trend of Giant Chinese Epic Historical War Movies with a spoon. Historical costumes! Honor! Tactics! I love it so! I do wish there were more with women protagonists—fighting or not, I don't actually care. I find running households and embroidery and whatnot interesting too—but hopefully Mulan will satisfy that. And correct some of the really annoying things about Disney's version argh argh argh.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Ichihashi Nanao has just transferred into super preppy Mehabia Academy, where one of the strange traditions is having a student judiciary club pass judgment on cases brought before them. She ends up being roped into the club by the charismatic Hanegi Reika, who plays the judge.

The series is largely very mystery of the week, looking into cases like a student accusing a teacher of sexual harassment to a case of possible plagiarism. As with all mysteries, nothing is as straightforward as it seems, although the sexual harassment case was actually extremely typical and not surprising at all considering the percentage of sexual harassment cases in fiction that actually have someone culpable, as opposed to IRL.

There are bits and pieces of character development scattered throughout the cases, from Reika's Angsty Background to Nanao growing into herself as a member of the club, but overall, I wanted more of the club members and less of the mysteries. I also felt that the series often fell prey to the Ordinary Girl Amongst Gorgeous Guys trope (see: Fushigi Yuugi, Ouran, etc.), although thankfully, the gorgeousness of some of the other guys in the club isn't emphasized as much as Reika's, as Reika is the capricious judge with a tragic background who is so beautiful he's probably more gorgeous than most of the girls. There is, of course, cross-dressing and a maid cafe involved.

Overall, this is not bad, and the art is clearly morphing between Mizushiro's older style and her newer one in After School Nightmare; you can see faces and chins getting less round, hair getting slightly less poofy. But it's not overwhelmingly awesome, and I wish it had more of an arc.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
(100万ドルの女)

Natsumi's older brother borrowed giant sums of money from a rather shady business, and now that he can't repay the loan, the mob intends to take Natsumi to be their boss' son's woman. But it turns out that Natsumi is actually the son Hagane's sempai, and he's had a crush on her for a while.

This sounds like it should be so much sketchier than it is, and although there are some awkward moments as Natsumi moves into Hagane's apartment (!!), Hagane overall refuses to have Natsumi pay back the loan via physical favors, thank goodness. It's a rather slight story, but I liked that Natsumi had a say in what happened to her, and I am still rather amazed at how not-sketchy it ended up being. Also, Hagane's butler/valet is sort of hilarious—afterward, he pines because Hagane no longer spends much time with him, even though he was the one pushing Hagane to go after Natsumi.

The other shorts after this were largely forgettable, although I remember that they were rather melancholy and slice-of-life-ish, and that I kept thinking that they would go one place when they went another.

The art is also much closer to Mizushiro's 1999nen than to the later After School Nightmare.

Not bad, but probably also not necessary unless you're a completist.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
My internet access has been really spotty of late, and I can't stay on the computer long anyway because of my eyes, so I may be concentrating more on posting and less on commenting and reading for a while.

More on topic: I am not even sure why I am bothering to write this up, since no one will read it for a couple of months anyway. Still!

Spoilers are spoilery )
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
So far, I've liked all the Mizushiro Setona manga that I've read, and this is no different. Mizushiro seems to be particularly good at focusing on the small and the everyday, on the moments that make you think your world is ending, even if it's just your skanky boyfriend breaking up with you and immediately going out with another girl. Because as Buffy illustrated so well, those are world-ending moments. It's just not the world most people think of.

Rika's just been through aforementioned breakup; worse, she's had an injury that's taken her off the track team. She used to be the best high jumper in the school, but now the same girl her ex is now going out with seems to be taking her place there as well. One day, she meets three other disaffected people in a chat room and flippantly suggests that they blow up the school.

What follows isn't a description of how they plan to blow up the school, but rather, how four broken and hurt people can come together and find comfort in each other. Much like After School Nightmare, there are several elements in here that I should find extremely squicky, but I don't because of the atmosphere Mizushiro invokes (ex. the teacher/student relationship). I particularly like Rika and Mr. Money and how the both of them hide their pain behind smiles.

Although I was a bit iffy on the portrayal of one of the women in the series, who's shown as preying on one of the teachers, I like Rika and Polaris. If only the older women wouldn't be so consistently sketchy!

It's really hard to put down why I liked this so much, since it's very dependent on the pacing, the attention to detail, the over-the-top premise coupled with the grounding in emotional reality, the use of space and wordless panels.

The art style's closer to 1999nen than it is to After School Nightmare, but it's still more stylized than 1999nen.

Also, the series ends with a short story about human cows that [livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija found incredibly disturbing and creepy and I did not, possibly because I've now read several manga in which the ultimate expression of love is the offer to let the beloved consume your own flesh! Oh manga. I love you.

Anyway, definitely recommended to people who liked the two other Mizushiro works I've read, and generally recommended to people who like slow, slightly creepy, but still quiet manga.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
This is possibly the oddest thing I've read all year, and I read Le Chevalier d'Eon this year.

Mashiro Ichijo has just been told that he needs to take a special after-school class in order to graduate. The classroom is in a basement that didn't previously exist, and instead of desks, the room is lined with canopy beds. It turns out that he will be entering a dream world and confronting his own worst nightmare. Several other classmates of his are in there as well, though they take different forms in the nightmare/dream world.

Mashiro's terrified that people will discover that his upper half is male, but his lower half is female, and things are further complicated when his male classmate Sou starts pursuing him romantically and when he's attracted to his female classmate Kureha as well.

As you might be able to tell from the premise, this series takes on questions of gender identity. I still can't tell if I like the politics or not; Mizushiro makes some assumptions that I keep wanting to question (why does liking Sou back mean identifying as female? what's so bad about being a woman? and I think the second is implied not only through Mashiro's fear of discovery, but also through the roles women have to play in the series so far and in the other Mizushiro series I've read). But the world is surreal and dreamy, edges bleeding together between the dream world and the real world, which seems less and less real as the series goes on.

Images that struck me: a girl so cut off that she shows up in the dream world as a body with a hole through her head and her chest instead of a face and a heart. Someone who manifests as long snaky arms, constantly grabbing and holding and winding around people. Empty desks and lockers at the school.

And the art is absolutely gorgeous; I mean to buy these just so I can have the color pages that GoComi includes.

Recommended for anyone who likes the strange and subtly creepy, particularly with a massive dose of gender identity issues.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
I've read so much manga this year that I'm separating it out from my 2006 books post. I'm still a little stunned by the fact that I read 217 volumes of manga this year, and that's after not logging some random scanlations due to user oversight.

Like the books list, this is a list of manga that I read this year, not manga published this year. My favorites are rather capricious and down at seven instead of ten. I'm not sure if it's because I'm feeling a little grumpy today, or if some of the series that I would have put on here ended up losing some of my interest as I started reading volumes as they came out, instead of in one big chunk (Bleach, Tramps Like Us). Other series ended up not being in the favorites group because I haven't read far enough in them to figure out if I do like them long term (Paradise Kiss, Oyayubihime Infinity, Her Majesty's Dog, Eternal Sabbath, Monster). The only reason Nana isn't on here at all is because all I did was reread vol. 1 this year; I mean to one day catch up on the 16 volumes out in Japanese (really!).

I'm not actually going to write up detailed summaries or plot synopses; I've blogged all these series before and will link the titles to the relevant entries and/or tags. Also, I'm way too lazy to link up the entire list of 217 volumes, but rest assured, they are all meticulously memories-ed and tagged because I am obsessive compulsive and should probably find a better hobby that doesn't involve alphabetization. Extreme librarianism! It's almost like a sport! ;)

Listed below are my seven favorite series from this year, in alphabetal order.

  1. Mizushiro Setona, 1999nen 7 no Tsuki Shanghai )


  2. Mori Kaoru, Emma )


  3. Nishi Keiko, Four Shojo Stories )


  4. Takaya Natsuki, Fruits Basket )


  5. Yuki Kaori, Godchild )


  6. Masashi Kishimoto, Naruto )


  7. Minekura Kazuya, Saiyuki Gaiden and Saiyuki Reload )


Total read: 217 (25 rereads)

Complete list of manga read in 2006 )
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Or: in which I continue to play catch-up with book write-ups.

The title is apparently a very old-fashioned way to say "July, 1999, Shanghai."

Unsurprisingly, the story starts in Shanghai during July, 1999. Actually, this may very well be a surprise, given the complete randomness of most manga titles.

[livejournal.com profile] coffeeandink has described this several times as "Romeo and Juliet set among Hong Kong gangsters right before the hand-over to China." I actually totally missed the part about Hong Kong and thought the whole thing was set in Shanghai, but that may be because I was attributing too much logic to the title ;).

But yes. It is angsty, star-crossed gang yaoi. Xiaoxue is the sniper for one gang while Dawu is the second-in-command to the boss of another. They meet, they have angsty sex, they fall in love, numerous complications come up, due to the aforementioned gang war, much angst is had, and there are some scenes that push my buttons so hard that I am not even rational about it (the one at the end of vol. 1? With the gun? And how it's repeated? $#%(*&@%!!!GUH).

It took a few pages to get used to the mangaka's style, which is disconcertingly like eighties shoujo. But it gradually gets bolder and less wispy, and the hairstyles thankfully start becoming more distinct. Also, thankfully, the cast of characters remains small, so I could finally figure out that even though Xiaoxue and Xianglong have black hair and names that start with "x," Xianglong has bangs in his eyes.

Facial identification takes me a very long time, particulary when the hairstyles aren't distinct.

My quibble with this series is how the sole female character is handled.

I also found myself falling for Lu of all people, but then, the unrequited yet non-emo love thing is such a button. Plus, Mizushiro takes time on the other characters, and she manages to plot convincingly, instead of letting the entire series become a long string of misunderstandings and feints. It's also good that the series is only 4 volumes long; I wasn't sure how long she could sustain the forbidden love thing, since sneaking around gets old fast, but she manages to put enough twists in there and make me care about enough of the other characters to make it work.

Also, the ending is perfect.

ETA: also, I forgot to nitpick the mangaka. The Chinese celebrate Qi Xi according to the lunar calendar, as opposed to Tanabata in Japan (solar calendar), even though it's basically the same holiday. Also, I was very happy that they met on Qi Xi, despite the date being wrong, because it is a holiday centered around lovers who are literally starcrossed! Hee!

Links:
- [livejournal.com profile] coffeeandink's review and write up in her 2006 favorite unlicensed manga post

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