oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
I feel a bit stupid introducing this series. Anyway.

When Gol D. Roger, King of the Pirates, was executed, it ended a golden age of piracy. Many years later, Monkey D. Luffy (Oda says in a note that "Monkey" is the surname) wants to grow up to be King of the Pirates, but he swallows a Devil Fruit called the Gum-Gum, making him sink in water, as well as giving him rubbery limbs. Undaunted, he decides to put together his own crew, traverse the Grand Line (a sea route with good piracy), and become King of the Pirates!

So far, volumes 1 through 8 are about Luffy acquiring his core crew, as well as their backstories. Volume 8 finishes the Restaurant Baratie arc and begins the arc with Arlong and the fish men. As with much manga, especially shounen, the first few volumes are more one-offs with short arcs, and although I like Roronoa Zolo, I was bored by the Usopp arc and annoyed by the requisite damsel in distress in it. I also have a difficult time following Oda's artwork. Much of it is my general inability to read action sequences, but I think some of it is because everything is so exaggerated and over-the-top that there's no resting place for the eyes yet. I suspect this is one of the things that will get better over time, and at least Oda's panels aren't as horrifically crowded as early volumes in other series are. The first 5 volumes or so were a bit tough going, since it was a lot of shounen tropes and fight scenes, and while I didn't enjoy the first half of the Restaurant Baratie storyline, the second half got me excited.

Snarky blond guys smoking cigarettes seem to do that to me, even if they aren't gun-toting priests.

Spoilers )

Reads a bit young so far, but the plot arcs have been getting larger and better.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
It's been so long since I've read these that my memory is extremely hazy.

...why did I think it was a good idea to try and catch up on at least some of my review backlog?

Anyway. I first read vols. 4 and 5 in Chinese and had no idea what was going on. I suppose robots and mass murderers and worldwide plots is too much for my Chinese. These volumes continue Urasawa's trademark ever-expanding plots; just as soon as we get one answer, three more questions pop up.

Spoilers )

I'm curious to see how Urasawa will wrap this up in two volumes; my current impression is that he could probably keep going with the story for at least ten more. Although I think this series starts off better than Monster or 20th Century Boys, its length may be its strength and its weakness. It's short enough to not be daunting or confusing, but it also means we spend less time with the characters and therefore feel less strongly about them.
oyceter: (bleach sting like a bee)
Several people reading this is making me want to catch up too!

I figure the cut-tag text is not spoilery if you are reading shounen...

Spoilers face even bigger bads! )
oyceter: Ed Elric looking at a grave (fma)
Wow, the plot has really started to speed up! And Arakawa's beginning to draw back on previous one-off characters or happenings and tying everything together. I'm guessing the manga is definitely in the final stretch now. Again, her characters don't break my heart the same way they do in the anime, but I still love them, and wow, the plot is great.

Spoilers are ordered not to die )

In conclusion: plot!
oyceter: (fma - hands hold fast)
I had caught up on this back in 2007, but lately [livejournal.com profile] rilina's been saying there is much awesomeness going on, so I went back and reread the entire series. I had watched the anime back in 2006; a year after that provided some distance when I read the manga, but not enough. I remember being almost hurt by some of the changes in the manga, even though the manga is the original.

Fast forward 2 years, and it's been so long since I've seen the anime that I'm finally able to read the manga as its own entity.

So far, my impressions from 2007 largely hold: the manga doesn't make me as worried for all the characters that the anime does, the manga has much better women, and the manga has much, much better worldbuilding. I love the anime, but really, it's not that hard to beat the anime for worldbuilding that makes sense. The alchemy in the manga series feels more forgiving, and I do actually think Al will end up with his body back (I'm hoping, on the other hand, that Ed stays with his automail).

However, even though I don't feel the same sense of danger for the characters, the larger-scale plot is much more threatening than that of the anime. And that's where I think Arakawa excels. She actually looks at issues of war and genocide and weapons of mass destruction, and although her treatment isn't always as radical as I want it to be, it's still refreshing to see manga in which non-Japanese POC exist and which talk about imperialism and colonialism.

Giant spoilers for both the manga and anime )
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
This is not a very flashy series, and although it isn't extremely memorable, I like it.

Volumes 2 and 3 get a little more into Randel's secret past, but not as much as I was afraid of. Don't get me wrong; I very much want to know what happened to him to make him a scary killing machine (metaphorically), but I also want to get to know the unit more. I get so tired of how single heroes' angst always ends up overtaking things. While the class issues are still not great, we at least get to see some more of it. It's still from the POV of the Pumpkin Scissors team, but I like that the situation is getting more complicated.

Spoilers )

As a side note, although Del Rey's notes in the back tend to be good, the ones for this series are trite and boring. I can't remember, since I read these a while ago, but they either state the obvious or, at one point, make ambiguities clear in case the reader misses it. I was particularly annoyed with the latter.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
I really needed cheering up, so I went through a reread of Yotsuba&! 1-4, along with basically staying up all night catching up, aided by [livejournal.com profile] lnhammer's extremely excellent chapter-by-chapter write ups. He notices a ton of details that I didn't, from the way the Koiwais' living room gradually changes to the drawings on the side of the Yotsubox.

As he notes, Yotsuba's characterization gradually changes, and by volume five, you no longer wonder if she's human or possibly alien, and she's a fairly normal (she's still Yotsuba, after all!) five-year-old girl who runs out of energy, has tantrums, loves cake, and figures out the world the way five-year-olds do. As such, there aren't moments quite as hilarious as Yotsuba clinging to a telephone pole pretending to be a cicada, but the humor flows more organically from the action.

These volumes cover Yotsuba's obsession with milk, acorns, cake, puddles, and bikes, and oh, it makes me smile just thinking back on them.

I'm not sure you can actually spoil the series, given that everything lies in the execution, but here's a cut anyway:

Spoilers )
oyceter: (midori happy)
Five-year-old Koiwai Yotsuba and her dad move next door to the Ayase family (one mom, one largely absent dad, and three sisters).

There is pretty much no other plot. We don't know where Yotsuba is from or why she has green hair; her dad adopted her after finding her alone in some country. The manga basically just goes from day to day, as Yotsuba explores life and frequently gets her dad and her neighbors into weird situations. This is the epitome of a slice-of-life manga, and while it has the same calm happiness that all my favorite slice-of-life manga possess, this series is exuberantly joyful as well.

My favorite bit so far is Yotsuba a few feet off the ground, hugging a telephone pole and Fuka (the middle, practical Ayase sister) walks by.

"What are you doing?" Fuka asks, since one does not normally see five-year-olds clinging like koalas to telephone poles.

"Miiin! Miiiin! Miiin! I'm a cicada!" says Yotsuba. Obviously!

The entire series is just like this: Yotsuba discovers cicadas, or fireflies, or swings, or air conditioning. She is frustrating, like all five-year-olds are, and yet, she is utterly adorable, and she makes me so happy.

Since I am currently in grad school, I am not buying new series, but I will make an exception for this one. Even now, when I am stressed out of my mind, it's making me laugh out loud just remembering little bits of it, and oh, I cannot even tell you how much that is worth.

Go read! It is so happy-making and fun, and it's probably going to be one of my favorite series of the year.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Um, yes, my inherent privileging of narrative over pretty much everything else has won over my flailing and pathetic attempts to get enough sleep. I fear this is the story of the life.

But, continuity! Story structure! Reveals! I have to say, Yagi's worldbuilding is pretty good... I now have to reread to see what's been set up and what hasn't.

Spoilers have no pithy remarks )
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Whoo! The continuing excitement from volume 11 continues! And I get my favorite manga storytelling devices—flashbacks, flashforwards, and individual character stories!

Spoilers are impatient )

Am dying to read more to get to spoiler spoiler spoiler scene which I have heard a great deal about on LJ.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
This is so sad. It hasn't been very long at all since I last read vols. 1-8, and I've already forgotten who half the Claymores are, what they do, and what's going on.

Sadly, volume 9 picks up from a dungeon arc; i.e. Clare and other people are in some cave or something somewhere duking it out with giant yoma. Although there is some payoff at the end of it that leads back to the larger plot, I got a little bored with the hack-and-slash "how to best kill yoma" sections. But the end of volume 11 promises a very cool plot development indeed, and I am hoping the next few will have much more about the Claymores and less yoma-fighting strategizing.

Spoilers )

I also want to formulate some sort of thesis about monstrous bodies and strength in shounen: how strength is directly tied to monstrosity, particularly in the villains, but how even heroic strength is frequently tied in with bodily abuse or breaking down your body to build it up again (an extended metaphor of how we build muscle?). It's particularly interesting in Claymore, because the division between the monsters and the heroes is very thin indeed, and because I feel female characters rarely get this sort of monstrous strength. More often than not, if women's bodies are changed, it's to exaggerate them sexually and to create femme fatales with vagina dentata, but in Claymore, even though the Claymores' bodies are monstrous, they're monstrous in a way that is much more in line with shounen tropes in terms of how they push the limits of what their bodies can do and frequently draw on non-physical attributes to help with the physical (ex. ninja jutsu, shinigami strength/bankai, channeling yoma energy). The trope of the Claymores struggling with how much yoma energy to use and how far they should push their bodies is one that I rarely get to see with women.

I don't really have any conclusions, just thoughts about female physicality and strength and how some of the strongest women I've seen so far in shounen are tied to monstrosity directly. I don't think this is necessarily negative, since many other shounen heroes' strength is also tied to monstrosity and/or bodies that go beyond nature, and because all strength in the Claymore universe seems to be monstrous. It'd be interesting to see Yagi write about human men and women and to see how that measure of strength changes (or doesn't).

In conclusion, maybe I should suggest a Shounen Bodies panel to accompany the one on shoujo bodies last year! Except the focus would still be on women, only in shounen manga, not shoujo.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
I think I actually flipped through volume one in a bookstore before and decided the series was too bloody to read; luckily, my public library has it, so I ended up mainlining it anyway.

In a medievaloid fantasy world, humans are often preyed on by yoma, demons who can assume anyone's form and who like eating human guts. In defense, a secret organization of men created half-yoma, half-human beings to fight the yoma. For some reason, only women survived this transformation, and the humans call them Claymores after the giant swords they all carry. The Claymores travel through villages, kill yoma, and let the black-clad men of the organization get the money.

Unfortunately, the more the Claymores fight, the more of their yoma power they have to use, and eventually, it consumes them. Then, they either become yoma themselves, or they send a black card out to a fellow Claymore so they can die while still human.

Clare is a Claymore, with a more unusual backstory than most. In volume one, she wanders into the boy Raki's village to kill the yoma that killed his parents. The first volume plays much like a western: the solitary village, the villain, the innocent boy whose gratitude she earns, the triumphant yet lonely walk away in the sunset. But Raki ends up following her, and Clare begrudgingly accepts his company.

Like several other people on my flist have said, I love that this manga is shounen and yet revolves around a host of female characters. Raki is our viewpoint character for volume one, but he's really a very minor character who's mostly there to be the kid in distress for Clare to rescue. While volume 1 stands alone, volume 2 gets into a more interesting yoma plot (less slash and bash, more strategy), and then we get to Clare's backstory, which as mentioned, is great.

Unfortunately, the series bogs down a little later with many fight scenes and assorted new fighting techniques; this will probably be fun and enjoyable for shounen trope fans (I, on the other hand, have a limited tolerance of power ups and fights). I am still bothered by the amount of violence, though I've discovered it's less because of the bloodshed and more because so much of it happens to be the chopping off of limbs and assorted decapitations and bisections. I'm not quite sure why this makes me more queasy than a simple sword thrust to the gut, but there you have it.

On the other hand, there's promise of getting more into the nature of the Claymores, the history of the organization, whatever shadowy secrets the organization is hiding—what organization with black-clad men isn't hiding secrets?—and more of Clare's main goal. I'm hoping there will be less limb-chopping, although the number of limbs flying seems to be increasing rather than decreasing. Ah well.

Also, this series may have the first decapitated head hugging scene that is actually tragic and not accidentally hilarious.

Please put any spoilers for vols. 1-8 in <span style="color:#333;background:#333">spoiler text</span>! And no spoilers for further volumes; I have them on hold at the library.
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)
Far in the future, humanity has trashed the earth and been forced to move to other planets. But in regret, they have dedicated themselves to restoring Terra by setting up a system in which children are raised by foster parents then put through a computer-aided "awakening" that takes away the first fourteen years of their memories and transforms them into citizens worthy of living on Terra again. The new adults are then shipped to Terra, where they act in socially desirable ways, which somehow prevents humanity from destroying the environment again.

Also! Thanks to the computer system that basically organizes all of human society, psychic kids called the Mu have started being born. They have psychic powers but are physically frail, and humans want to eradicate them. Jomy Marcus Shin starts life as a normal foster child on Ataraxia, but when he approaches his fourteenth birthday, he discovers that he's Mu.

And off we go on a huge story line that spans years and years and concerns the fate of a planet!

I wish I had enjoyed this more than I actually did; I've been dying to read more works by the 24 Year Group. The art didn't bother me, but I found myself a little bored by the storyline. It also didn't help that I had an impossible time keeping track of all the jumps in time and where all the characters were at various points, but I am not sure if that is because the series was confusing or just because I have a difficult time tracking these things.

All in all, the plot may have been interesting, but I simply didn't care enough about any of the characters to get emotionally involved. Also, it would have been nice if there had been more women.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
This is a complete collection of a lot of four-panel comic strips (yonkoma or 4-koma) on the lives of six girls through all three years of high school. I was a little skeptical at first as to how much character development could happen in four-panel strips, but then, I remembered just how much I loved Calvin and Hobbes and decided to give this a try.

It's slow going at first: lots of gags, lots of breast jokes (very disturbing coming from Yukari, one of the teachers), lots of repetition. But then, gradually, the characters grew more and more familiar. There's ten-year-old genius Chiyo-chan, adorable and rich and happy; solemn Sakaki, who adores cats but always get her hand chomped on by them; sporty Kagura, who is the one I am least clear about; bespectacled Yomi, perpetually annoyed by some of the gang; spacey Osaka, who totally reminds me of Orihime in Bleach; and bouncy Tomo, who makes up in energy and volume what she lacks in common sense and brains. And there are the teachers, Yukari and Nyamo, who seem a little like a grown-up version of the Tomo-Yomi friendship.

Sometimes the humor goes right over my head, or it's too zany, or I roll my eyes at the breast jokes (which thankfully become less common as the series goes on), but I was surprised to find how engrossed I became. Absolutely nothing big goes on, except possibly college entrance exams; even finals and midterms don't take up that much page-time. But the everyday is part of the charm, particularly when the girls start talking about completely stupid or trivial things. It really does remind me of hanging out in the breaks between classes. And while there's the ever-present sports day and the school festival, here it's less a cause for shoujo hijinks and more a part of the school year.

I particularly love that it ends with graduation, unlike Calvin and Hobbes, in which Calvin is perpetually in first grade. It makes the repetition of summer vacation, winter vacation, new semester, school festival, sports day, and etc. more meaningful, and it made me fondly reminisce about my own class trying to win our school's field day or coming up with increasingly inane ideas for the school festival. There's just a rhythm to the school year that Azuma captures.

It's interesting; this didn't impress me that much when I was reading, but it grows in my memory. I think this will end up being a particularly comforting reread.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Uehara Akira is a handsome but painfully shy high school student with a crush on the beautiful but crude Momoi Nanako. The girls don't pay attention to Uehara because he's too retiring, and the guys are all terrified of Momoi and her violent ways. But one day, Uehara walks in on one of Momoi's grandfather's wacky experiments, and they end up body switching. Now that their behavior matches social expectations of gender performance, both suddenly get much more popular.

We end up getting a lot of wacky hijinks as Uehara's (male) best friend Senbongi puts the moves on him-as-Momoi and as Momoi's (female) best friend Shiina gets a crush on Momoi-as-Uehara, especially when Momoi and Uehara can't switch back. Though Momoi seems to be perfectly all right with this—she's no longer punished for stepping out of the bounds of femininity and gets to enjoy a lot of male privilege—Uehara is less certain. For me, this echoed how USian society generally tends to be more okay with women acting as men or wanting to be men than with men acting as women or who want to be women; it's "natural" for women to want to climb up the ladder, so to speak, but "unnatural" or wrong or played for laughs if a man wants to take a step down. Morinaga also shows that Uehara is more prone to homophobia when it comes to himself, while Momoi doesn't seem very flustered by Shiina's attraction to her.

Though the gender issues are incredibly interesting, I keep feeling like Morinaga goes more for set pieces or laughs than for After School Nightmare levels of inner examination. Possibly this is because there are a lot of jokes about Uehara getting to see naked girls while changing for gym or looking at himself in the mirror and etc., complete with nosebleeds. The breast jokes in particular felt gratuitous, especially moments when Shiina touches Uehara's breasts. Let's just say I wasn't very surprised to find that the manga is originally published in a shounen magazine.

I'm also curious to see if the manga and the mangaka will end up challenging the gender binary or not; right now, she doesn't seem to be looking much at trans issues. Plus, if Uehara or Momoi were to decide that they were transgendered, it might end up validating the gender binary without a counterexample. Anyway, all this is speculation.

Not sure if I'll keep reading this; the ogling at the female body is rather off-putting, and I think I'd like it better if there was less zaniness and more conversation.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
The Empire and the Republic of Frost have been waging war for a long time, but the series actually begins when the two nations agree to a cease-fire. As a caption says, "There is no war, yet peace has not graced the land... This is the story about the stage in between..." Second Lieutenant Alice Malvin is the commanding field officer of Imperial Army State Section III, also known as Pumpkin Scissors (yeah, I have no idea either). Her unit is dedicated to peace building, though it's difficult given how much looting, corruption, and general lawlessness there is following the war. And then, they come across a mysterious, scarred stranger named Randel Oland, who is a veteran of the war, but not a particularly happy one.

I can see now why people compare this to Fullmetal Alchemist, although the first few pages looked like they were straight out of Gundam Wing. I love the premise of the series, especially since most series tend to focus on the war and winning the war, as opposed to the process of rebuilding, which I think is much more complex and interesting. So far, I'm not quite sure just how political this series will get, since it does feel like the focus will be on Randel's mysterious past, old war crimes, and conspiracies. On the other hand, even if it doesn't get into politicking, it'll still be interesting going around with the cast seeing the effects of the war.

I'm a bit leery of the class issues, particularly in the chapter focusing on Alice and her status as an aristocrat, which is largely on her guilty feelings and on her role being justified by other people, as opposed to actually concentrating on the lower class.

Still, this is a promising beginning, and I'll be looking for more.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Wow, it's been a while since I've written this up.

Spoilers are confused )

Please no spoilers for xxxHolic unless it's under <span style="color:#333;background-color:#333">spoiler code</span>.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
I read the first two volumes of this and watched the anime about two years ago.

I'm continually surprised by how this series manages to evade the sketchiness that seems inherent in the premise. Instead, the series continues to examines the tragedies and trauma of the fratello and the girls, along with pulling in a few more side characters for a side arc involving a non-Agency assassin who parallels the cyborg girls—his father figure trained him as an assassin starting from youth.

I had complained that the first two volumes were too one-offish for me; the next four aren't strongly arc-y, but the plot to capture the terrorists (thankfully NOT Middle Eastern or Muslim for once!) thickens. The series has also been layering in characterization; we gradually begin to see more and more of where the girls come from and what the fratello's backgrounds are.

I also like how it's so far avoided glamorizing violence. Plus, I keep reading the Agency as an extended analogy of the patriarchy: men determining the fate of girls, from their faces to their very bone structures, and then proceeding to brainwash them into acceptance of their role. I'm not sure how much of this is intended by Aida, but I'm glad that we're clearly supposed to read the Agency as dysfunctional, and not in a romanticized way.

On the other hand, I am a little worried about the newest cyborg assassin we're introduced to; she's older than most of them, and I really do not want the manga moving into sketchy sexual territory with her.

I think I'll end up wanting to own this. It's a little slow, but very dense, and it seems like it'll reward rereading, particularly with regard to bits of characterization that are slowly being revealed.

Definitely recommended, and I'm glad to see that the second season of the anime's coming out next year.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
(OT: May be (even more) out of touch than usual next week, as will be in Hong Kong and Shanghai, possibly without internet.)

This is Urasawa Naoki's remix of "The Greatest Robot on Earth" arc of Tezuka Osamu's Astro Boy. It's the future, and robots and humans live together, although robots are still constrained by the Three Laws of Robotics, and there's a growing anti-robot movement among humans. The POV character is a robot detective named Gesicht rather than Astro Boy.

There have been a series of murders, linked by each victim appearing with horns or antlers and each victim being one of the seven great robots or a human connected to robot politics. Much like Urasawa's other thriller series (Monster and 20th Century Boys), the pieces so far are very disconnected. Many of the chapters bring in more and more secondary characters and more and more pieces of the puzzle, and while it feels like we're not very far in solving the murders, Urasawa's presenting a lot of neat worldbuilding.

Many of the questions raised are about robot rights and if robots are human; Astro Boy, his sister Uran, and Gesicht can pass as human, which disturbs many people. There's a character who consistently confuses robot-detection machines, since he was heavily injured at one point and is now a cyborg. Robots can die, and one scene in the first volume has a robot grieving, and yet, people count robot deaths more lightly than human deaths.

I'm fairly sure many of these issues will be explored even more fully in later volumes; Urasawa's doing a lot of set-up so far, and if Pluto follows his other thriller series, pieces won't start falling in place until much later on. That said, the world he embellishes is so fascinating that I don't mind reading the worldbuilding, and as usual, I particularly love his secondary characters and how well he sketches them out in just a few pages or chapters. (My favorite was the piece on North 2, war, mass murders, and music.)

On the other hand, the parallels drawn between robot discrimination and other forms of discrimination—particularly racism, given that one robot hate group wears KKK-esque hoods—disturbs me. I'm tired of SF/F parallels to racism that create an entirely different group of beings to discriminate against, be they robots, clones, aliens, elves, or whatnot, when actual POC aren't included. Butler's Oankali series works because it explores fear of the other both in terms of aliens AND in terms of human cultures and races and gender; other series and works don't cut it because they pass off talk of overcoming differences without including actual diversity in their casts. I'm really hoping that Urasawa will include more non-Japanese POC later on in the series (amazingly, POC exist in Germany! I'm betting they still do in the future!).

Other than that, I'm enjoying the series a lot so far and looking forward to Urasawa pulling in more and more plot twists as it continues.

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