By Akira Amano
to be released by VIZ Media
It's not so much that Reborn's ridiculous high concept hurts the manga, but that the work continually distances itself from the reader rather than gelling. Reborn has done well enough in Japan that it must have fans, but the first volume demonstrates that Akira Amano is missing an essential degree of knowledge concerning how to handle introduced elements. Though it uses a Shonen Jump structure, many aspects of the manga are very cartoonish. That level of goofy explosive violence certainly could be effective in the context of a Shonen Jump work, but here the implementation lacks that artistry that would separate a classic Warner Bros. cartoon from a follow-up imitator. Potentially potent gags like a dynamite flinging mad-bomber/officious lackey are crunched under the weight of hammering exposition and panels that are either too small or busy. The manga relies on excess, but lacks all comfort with the concept.
Reborn is a hit-toddler, a mafia assassin with a baby's body hired to groom Japanese schoolboy Tsuna to be a the head of an Italian crime family. Yet, besides the improbable branch in his family tree, Tsuna doesn't have much going for him. He's the typical weak willed underachiever. Living up to his gimmick, Reborn's methods for motivating Tsuna are a bit unusual. He shoots Tsuna with secret technique bullets, such as the "Deathsperation Shot". As Reborn puts it "Anyone shot in the head with this bullet faces his own death and is flooded with desperate regrets about what he's failed to accomplish. Deathsperation causes you to come back to life with the power to achieve your dying wish." And, it turns Tsuna in a blazing oni-like force.
The impulse to eliminate the unpursued opportunities that would later be regretted could offer the mix of action and teen angst redress that would succeed in a shonen manga, but Deathsperation fits just seem unpleasant for all those involved. When Tsuna confesses his feelings to the girl he admires (whose face is a bit more monkey-ish than cute) she is more shaken than moved.
Though the manga focuses on Tsuna's progression, it is designed to rely on Reborn, and this fails to carry its concept. Despite some mannerisms, such as opening introductions with Japanese-Italian greeting-concatenation "ciao-su" he's more of a device than a character. Rather than a strong personality to offset the weak Tsuna, he's a chirpy vehicle for exposition. Far too much time is spent too early in this manga explaining the effects of various magical bullets.
Reborn's design is similarly problematically conceived in that it defies ocular focus. A gun totting mini-person, with a huge head, framed by tuffs of hair and spiral curled bangs, wearing, a suit, a fedora, a lizard on the fedora and a hanging pacifier is too much. There's nothing to focus on when looking at the character, except maybe the huge, dead-black eyes.
Anime Spotlight: Zipang
Volume 1 - Future Shock
Released by Geneon
Kaiji Kawaguchi, creator of the original Zipang manga has made a career of controversially engaging the juncture point of morality and politics. Embraced and criticized by both ends of the political spectrum, his always compellingly dramatic works are tailored to invoke a reaction. By forcing characters to confront significant topics and make difficult choices, the reader or viewer is forced to apply their own thinking to the issues. Kawaguchi's works are many things, detailed, thrilling, sometimes infuriating, but, they are always mentally captivating. It's impossible not to form an opinion on the situations he constructs.
Zipang addresses the moral questions still hanging over the second World War. An early scene features three Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force officers and former classmates taking turns speaking to a classroom. As each speaks, the other two stand at the back of the room and evaluate the performance of the current speaker between each other. Their perspectives here, and through their actions in this volume could be used to divide the lenses through which the series examines itself: nationalism, rationality and a military morality. The voice of military morality, in this case the most critical of other two, is that of the series protagonist.
We see the character as a child. Traveling to a remote island and beholding the wrecks of World War II ships he questions which side were the good guys. A question his father greets with ambivalence. As an adult, this character is still contemplating the military’s duty to follow orders and kill. Duty, applied to a national policy that is cost lives leaves little room for clear answer, and as these three perspectives are forced to confront decisive action, no clear moral map is apparent.
The series, which relies on being fact based, builds its premise on an unexplained, and potentially unexplainable plot conceit. It sends the 21st century state of the art Yukinami-class Aegis escort ship Mirai along with her crew into a time slip to June 4th, 1942 at the Battle of Midway. Though the Mirai initial attempts not to change history through its presence, cascading event force their hands. Ideas for returning to their home time prove fruitless. Finding a downed Japanese sea-plane, ethical compulsions lead to the rescue of the officer it carried as a passenger. Finally, evasion of a sub attack alerts the US navy to the existence of a vessel with unheard-of capabilities.
We know that the results of World War II will shape Japan to this day. When debate over interpretations of the post war constitution effects the discussion of current events like conflicts and Iraq and the negotiations with North Korea, the war does not fade into the history books. World War II shaped the rest of the world as well, more than it does in a country like America, the war lingers in the society's consciousness, and how to interpret the war is less of a settled matter. (Which is to say, in America you can introduce the Naked and the Dead, Slaughter House 5 and Catch 22 into the mix, but as social unit, where comfortable sticking with the Stephen Ambrose view of the war.)
The speculative introduction of the Mirai, making this point of history fluid introduces an immense degree of uncertainty. The flexibility sits ominously over the work, with the viewer knowing the stakes, but not given a sense of where the work will go or what the exact consequences may be.
The first volume of Zipang incessantly pulls the tension. Long before the four episodes complete, and the Mirai's fate to become involved with the war had been sealed, Zipang had become a taunt military thriller. On a scale smaller that the large political implications, but more essential to its characters, they are being injured, they don't have the provisions to travel and fight indefinitely, and there is no logical answer to how they got into there current predicament or how they will return home. The anime inflicts this fear and uncertainty on the characters and gages their reactions resulting in powerful situations.
The Zipang anime features a distinctive look for several reasons. Character designer Yoshihiko Umakoshi has worked off manga to produce some every series specific looks in titles including Air Master, Berserk, Boys Over Flowers, Mushishi, and the Street Fighter Alpha anime. Kawaguchi assembles faces a bit oddly. They don't seem to operate with some set scale. Certain aspects: ears, nose, or the chin or example, are larger than might makes sense in proportion to the rest of the face. This lends a semi-caricaturized look to the characters, which emphasizes their individuality. Umakoshi carries this into the anime.
Secondly, the series does not attempt to reconcile the diverging priorities between the 3D models (ships, objects like torpedoes, effects like water and exhaust) and the 2D characters. The two threads, even when sharing the screen remain distinct. In some sense, this visual divide might have been needed to do both well, in another, it's jarring.
In terms of mirroring reality, accuracy is often superseded by detail in Kawaguchi's works. If a work is loose with its technical explanations, leaving clear holes, one doesn't have to know much about the topic to pick out flaws. When something like Zipang starts listing hard-fact capabilities, and detailed historical figures, such as the ships present at an engagement, and non-expert will accept what they are seeing and hearing as accurate (and this review is written by someone who isn't a military or World War II expert). Yet, because the starting a speed of ship is named, and because torpedo launches are animated with great attention to detail, doesn't mean that every depiction is correct. Kawaguchi's Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President demonstrated how dinners, legislating bill writing and TV coverage shaped Washington's games of power. Yet for those who follow American politics, the mechanics and procedures didn't match those seen on a real political campaign.
The net result is that a military buff will probably notice glaring errors in Zipang, that criticism has always dogged Kawaguchi's work. Yet, the intent isn't to instruct a viewer on the flanking speed of a modern Japanese battle ship or list who was escorting the Yamato to Midway. The intent is to be compelling and thought provoking, and stay true to the spirit of the reality. When considering the implication of split second action on military policy, the precise turning radius of ship isn't going to matter to most viewers, especially if what is depicted not only falls well within the boundary of suspension of disbelief, but looks well researched. That series is generally accurate and gives a person with some idea of how physics works and what happened in history a sense what that they are seeing following the guidelines of reality is enough of a foundation for the more significant character dynamic and moral questions to operate.
The English language dub presents something of a problem when showing the work to fans of military history who aren't necessarily fans of anime. The series features many distinctive voices. Several characters like the officer rescued in 1942 are handled withe subtly, Most aren't. While the over-emphasis matches the character design, it does the work no favors. Neither does some tortured lip movement matching.
Anime Spotlight: Gad Guard - Complete Box Set
Released by Geneon
Characters and style receive the dominant attention in Gad Guard over what is typically considered thrilling within its genre. The anime doesn't much offer in the way of closed look stories or punchy episodes. It doesn't build to big bold confrontations. What is has is decisive characters who, through trial and error, figure out what is important to them. It has set design that puts human vitality into grungy cities and frozen industrial zones. It has shot composition that makes the focus on the moving jaw of a talking character interesting. You might be surprised to find that Gonzo put out a work that marvelously controls tone and intelligently maintains structure over the course of a 26 episode anime.
The buzz on Gad Guard wasn't terribly positive, and perhaps that perspective wasn't fully unjustified. Especially given that is ostensibly a large robot (you wouldn't exactly call them giant) series, that didn't build like a typical shonen series and didn't feature punchy, staccato episodes could easily make the series one that could be seen as feature specific deficits. However, maybe the block viewing perspective offer with the collected series changed the reception of the work, because watching the 26 episodes in close proximity shapes the series as a beautifully constructed piece of character driven anime.
That a collection of teens went into the city, wearing domino masks and battling with controlled robots in a jazzy, pulp conflict was an aspect of story, didn't mean Gad Guard was really either a traditional fighting anime or even deconstructing fighting anime. The battle for who was strongest was an element, but not the encapsulation of how a set of characters came to terms with their pasts and futures, shaping who they will become in their lives. Though told in a serial story, the dynamic of the work itself more resembled meandering character cinema (ie independent movies) than conventional anime.
The series' characters find themselves living or spending time in the economically depressed "Night Town" section of the geographical partition "Unit Blue". Night Town is so called because, as the poor section of town, resources are conserved by cutting off its electricity in the middle of the night. Various criminal factions operate out of the area, trafficking in black market batteries, as well as gambling, and crime related to the use of military industrial robots called heavy metals. Hajiki lives with his widowed, constantly working mother and younger sister, but spends most of time his cutting school, working for a some what shady courier in hopes of obtaining enough money to buy back his former home in "Day Town". Hajiki finds a strange metallic rock called a "gad", which after activating consumes the metal around itself to form a metal man called a technode. Several other teens around the city have similarly found technodes: Katana, a dangerously ambitious young criminal entrepreneur, Aiko Marie Harmony, the daughter of one of Day Town's richest industrialists, Takumi, a boy who lives along who has set himself up as a champion of justice, and Arashi, a classmate of Hajiki who left home to get away from her overbearing father.
Whether Katana's plan to decapitate the city’s powers and instill himself and whether Hajiki will beat Katana is less significant than how the accumulation of actions and experience takes the the characters to a point where they understand their own desires. Because there is complexity and contradiction in the composition of these character and because the series treats the personalities as people, the mix of personalities who known far less about what they want than they think they do, but are none the less given to action, makes for a compelling dynamic. If a character runs away from a situation, the action doesn't register as a plot extension ploy, but instead, it's a development in the character. What motivated it. What the character hopes to achieve through the action, and how the action will be resolved become the launch points for the next phase of the story.
Part of what makes the characters compelling is the uncertainty with which the series handles them, especially in how they differ from the expected templates. For example, Arashi is a character who is a traditional martial artist. She is shown to physically govern her space a bit with her skills. However, she isn't the typical martial artist character. Her skills are more an aspect of her upbringing than a tool for fight scenes or a cheat within the action. Because the fights in the series are generally a function of how the characters position themselves and what they chose to do, because her outlook isn't one where she sees herself fighting, her robot is the least combat oriented, and she participates least in the series action.
Director Hiroshi Nishikiori (Azumanga Daioh) approaches the animation as if he was filming people on location. Context and character perform are treated as essential element in composition, meaning, there is also a place where the moment occurs. Whether its tracking shots, entrances prefaces before a scene or wider views, Nishikiori is cognoscente of establishing that event aren't occurring with a locational vacuum. Within that space, both allows the characters the freedom to perform, explaining themselves in their body language and uses the angle of view takes a command roles in establishing the moment, zooming in to a proximity that the characters themselves would want.
A reason that this attention to location works so well in the series is its mix of stylization and concrete reference. The robots themselves represent the edge of the stylization. They are is bit industrial, with rivets, exhaust stacks and a sense of mechanism, and at the same time there's a find of Tezuka school cartooned soulfulness to them. Appropriate to the story, the appearance of these constructs is at work with itself: solid and metallic, but also rounded and flexible; emblematic of extraordinary ability and freedom but also silent and solemn.
Initiated by the jazz bookend themes from PE'Z, the tone of series and its city features a retro-urban motif. Osamu Kobayashi (praised in the last column for his work on Paradise Kiss) seems to carry much of the responsibility for the look of the series. Kobayashi managed set design, key animation, closing. His illustration on the box of the Geneon's set release captures the flavor he put into the series: sort of the antithesis of a planned city, old tangled and organic. It's cluttered architecture, graffiti and mix of bad ideas, would-be good idea and clashing attention grabbers mixes old world, urban run down, and attempts to spruce all that up. Koyashi's contribution is something that consistently makes the series fun to watch.
Format: Art Book
Yoshitoshi ABe Lain Illustrations ab# rebuild an omnipresence in wired
Released by Digital Manga Publishing
Yoshitoshi ABe's illustration is impressive in its technical skill and creativity. His focus his people, and he approaches the subject from a fresh and holistic angle. He constructs forms and attire with a detail that suggests something that could be put into the real world, but skewed in such a way as to be jarring While captivating, Yoshitoshi ABe's design is nearly always unsettling. Familiarity with the Serial Experiments Lain anime isn't a perquisite for viewing this art book, but willingness to go with some mood evocative work is.
Serial Experiments Lain stands as a testimony to the pre-2000 space within the North America anime market for an odd title to be found and embraced. Post Matrix and pre-Matrix Reloaded it offered another fresh and chilling look at technology altered perception. Dense with the infusion with real techie references, revelations and red herrings it was enthralling as it was baffling.
One of the qualities that marked Serial Experiments Lain as different than other anime was Yoshitosh ABe's design. ABe, a geek who transformed his name into a reference to an esoteric operating system, came out of the doujinshi fan comic scene. As have many other anime/commercial manga producers including such hugely marketable names as CLAMP an Masamune Shirow. ABe's design lent the late night anime a look that didn't seem pre-packaged. The form and attire of his characters had a sense of real shapes and design, but skewed to a slight degree with jarring results. Elements like Lain's trademark bear hooded pajamas gave the notation of what should have been cute, but there was something unwisely excessive about it that made the clothing emotionless folly (various bits of bear attire get captured in this art book, but for whatever reason, the famous PJ's don't).
Lain's thin, anatomical body and staring, generally either dead or overwhelmed eyes that gave the title character a decidedly haunted look. Surrounded by PCs and PDAs she stood as an accusation about the modern embrace of technology and atrophy of social connection at the most fundamental levels. ABe's Lain artbook invokes this discomforting mood. Oversized pages of the hollowed eyed girl in washed often colors, with hints of blood leave a distributing impression.
Yoshitoshi ABe is an artist whose work does not does not fall within the lolita complex (loli-con) sphere. There's less objectionable on that front in the content and subtext than in many moe or even non-moe anime works. But there is something disturbingly intimate present. There's something frightening about a very human looking drained / dehumanized teenish girl at work in his illustrations
The collection features large reproductions of the art work used for the covers of various Serial Experiments Lain releases, along with uncolored versions of the same, the short, color manga "The Nightmare of Fabrication", works from ancillary material, such as the Lain game and posters, images with weird disembodied copy, an rougher design work.
Digital Manga Publishing does outstanding work with what must have been a difficult task and localizing the volume. Translated text is artfully integrated into the page without detracting from any of the illustration. DMP manages everything that could be asked for the publication of an art book like this.
A sample can be seen on DMP's site here
written by Kazuo Koike
illustrated by Ryoichi Ikegami
Released by Dark Horse Manga
If "mature" and "juvenile" were polar opposites, Kazuo Koike's works like Crying Freeman bend that line into a circle. Akin to what Ghost World described as " so bad it's gone past good and back to bad again" the two bounce off each other like a pair of parallel mirrors. It's not just juvenile work with naked breasts and blood. It's absurdity, played so straight and factually, rendered in such a unstylized true to life fashion by Ikegami that a matured mind is needed not to throw or burn what seems to either be a work of alien resynthesized media or action tall tale made to offend every sensibility.
Crying Freeman himself was a highly regarded Japanese pottery artist, who after receiving evidence of a crime committed by the 108 Dragons Chinese crime clan, was kidnapped, chained naked to a nude statue and hypnotized through acupuncture. He became an assassin who wept after killing his targets and rose to the top of the syndicate. The irony in the construction of Crying Freeman, is that its hero weeps and rages subconsciously about his lot, but he's an object of complete envy for the reader. Not only is he a noble martyr, he's a globe trotting adventurer who's better off than Bond, Doc Savage, or just about anyone else, within the 108 Dragons he has immense resources, and loyalty to the death from friends/underling, his beautiful wife and his adopted family. Find a drudge who wouldn't gladly take a needle poke to trade places with Freeman.
The more you stop to think about the chain of events and its death match of criminal organization, the more apparent it because that Crying Freeman is real on its own terms. It's a through the looking glass world, and Koike is going to write it like it exists and Ikegami is going to illustrate it like it exists. Koikie's fascination with and invention of place and procedure, Ikegami's detailed depiction of people and places force you to accept it you get out of the way.
Seeing Crying Freeman supplex to death the man trying to bite him or, for real political incorrectness, an African terrorist/cult leader hunting naked women with a bizarely blade throwing knife, you have to accent it or you'll hate the work.
A sample of Freeman world, set in the Macau Canidrome, apparently a real greyhound racing venue. Here, throngs of men in the huge stadium cheer wildly. The oddest feature of this scene is the collection of t-shirst adorning these men, who apparently sport the corperate logos for Coca Cola, Life magazine, and Denny's. Freeman, attired in a Chinese tunic, walks through the crowd, looking intently at his betting stubs. A stoned faced but foxy woman accompanying a man in a white 80's period suit notices him. As she slips behind Freeman, he drops his stubs. Leaning over to up them up, he slips off his boot and the first thing to come up is a knife, held by his foot, which he slams into the "woman's" chest. As her wig falls off (no idea how the man in disguise had the hips), Freeman spins around and get "her" boss in the neck with a knife. The bodyguard turns his gun on his employer, explaining that Freeman cut the bodyguard in such as way that he would die on the spot, but the employer would live long enough to lead Freeman to their benefactor.
A noteworthy feature of the volume is that it introduces Bai Ya Shan, the Baby Huey granddaughter of the old Dragon couple that brought Freeman into the organization. This child of forbidden progeny (108 Dragon lineage is non-genetic) is obese, able to take multiple bullets, violent, and like many characters of both sexes (scratch that, all reoccurring characters), frequently naked. Koike fans probably aren't going to be surprised to find a scene of the character squatting on a beach urinating. Why include an obese child-woman urining in this man's adventure? Possibly because it falls into a Koike's bizarre notion of verisimilitude? He created this exotic character and decided to pursue what the character would to to this extent. Perhaps it is for the same reason the 108 travel in an ocean liner with a giant dragon masthead. It's just something you don't expect to see in life,
Ah! My Goddess
Last Dance (Vol. 6)
Released by Media Blaster's Anime Works
Volume six represents the final volume of the first season of the Ah! My Goddess anime.
While early in the Ah! My Goddess, the new anime adaptation of the popular manga seemed to offer original insights into the work's characters. It utilized the differences between animation and comics, especially precise reaction time to give familiar relationships an enhanced dynamic. As it progressed, it seemed become more content just offering well animated incarnations of the characters. This might be enough or might be thrilling for fans of the early, and still well regarded (and running) magical girlfriend work. The results were plenty of comfortable situation comedy stemming from the discomfort and ultimate contentment of a somewhat geeky and weak, but decent college student who wishes himself a literal goddess girlfriend, and ends up living with her, along with her problem causing younger and older sisters. As a franchise, Ah! My Goddess is noteworthy within the context of its genre in that it is monogamous, the principles love each other, and are not challenged in their relationship by every comely newcomer, and as a function of that, is rather sweet.
The first two episodes of the volume are the second half of mythos heavy Lord of Terror story, in which the characters engage in something of a big-anime-action adventure. Since Ah! My Goddess action is more about flourish and pronouncements than quick exchanges, there isn't really much choreography to its battle scenes. It's almost stage-showish in that what happens is mostly presentation, and the presentation is mostly choral music and lighting. Seeing the characters glow in the night sky above a city, the stark colors give the proceedings a theatrical charge. That many of the non-lighting elements are static, emphasizing the architecture and context around them, doesn't detract from what is built and presented to be big moments for the characters. That the results tend to bigger and brighter lights and occasionally props similarly works for the proceeding. What doesn't work is is A) the monster design, Fenrir is a giant rat faced shaggy dog, the Midguard Serpent looks like giant sperm B) the melodrama, which is indigestible even by Ah! My Goddess standards. Far too many proper nouns and exposition, far too much serial self sacrifice. One character putting themselves in the place of their loved one while in danger tired as a device in the series long before the story of this magnitude was introduced.
The final two episodes are thematically paired mirror episodes looking at the sister Goddesses. They were originally release straight to video after the series' TV run in Japan, which explains why this release of the series concludes with a detour, in which the principle characters take secondary positions. Even so, in a work that was largely fan service, not in the sense of gratuitous panty in bust shots, but in that it is presenting work designed to appeal to existing fans, these episodes deliver. There's an episode in which older, more sexually aggressive Urd is trapped in a child's body and engages in a puppy love romance, and one in which younger, tempestuously bratty Skuld find herself in an adult body for a day.
It's nothing extravagantly new, but design is such a strong selling point for the series that putting together some new character designs for the favorites is a wining strategy. If there is an affection for the characters, the circumstances are novel enough to be an intriguing prospect. The Skuld episode takes offers some iffy moments that are a bit contrary to what the series should be doing, even in a one-off. Going for whimsical day out, a near rape set-piece as a little too heavy for demonstrating the dangers of adulthood.
Skuld falling for Keiichi did work as a rejoinder to her frequently expressed opinion that he wasn't worthy of her sister, but it also a step towards a plague of this type of work, in which every girl falls for the formerly dateless hero.
Recipe for Gertrude
by Nari Kusakawa
Released by CMX Manga
Recipe for Gertrude utilizes shonen formula in a shoujo anthology, applying the shoujo character priorities and visual techniques of the latter to the structure of the former.
The manga's title refers to the object of its quest, literally the instructions of how to create a man-made-demon like Gertrude, a 78 year old teenage boy put together with parts harvested from other demons. After being chased to Japan by the demon Puppen and Mariotte, who were looking to retrieve their stolen ears, Gertrude finds help in the his quest from Japanese school girl Sahara.
The infernal magic of Recipe is played with an irreverent scene of the macabre. For example, Gertrude has the special ability to control matter, as long as he writes "Frailty - thy name his
Kusakawa's illustration is marked by a raw style, but it is implemented smartly enough that it becomes an effect that enhances the manga. The quick lines and what at first glance is an imprecise look give the manga's illustration the impression of speed. Shapes are often obscured by the freer forms of baggy clothes and shaggy hair, but when revealed, such as when a character's ear can be seen, the details are rather precise. At, he same time, attention is paid to the symmetricness of the characters' faces, especially their eyes, which keeps the manga's forms looking clean and cute. The faces offer plenty of expressiveness, almost all of which is governed by the shape and position of the characters' tiny, slip mouths. The use empty space in many backgrounds further draws attention to and amplifies these expressions.
Freed from required human features, the manga's demons and possessed objects look more abstract and almost deliberately like the sketches of creatures, which is an interesting effect. A tiny imp, in trousers, suspenders and necktie, is given a geometric head and face which lends him the looks of combination note-book draw and traditional ink work come to life.
Being unconventional, but not aesthetically jarring, the style opens the manga up to the reader and approaches with a friendly tone.
The series works because of its light, almost goofy and near comedic tone. As the work itself points out, Gertrude is smiling on the outside and crying on the inside. As with a series like Loveless, because it is following a shonen like structure without the shonen war drums beating, plot might seem absent along with the momentum. Where Loveless stews in angst, the results of the Gertrude's tone are potentially strong emotions without a overly dour weight.
Hotel Harbor View
written by Natsuo Sekikawa
illustrated by Jiroh Taniguchi
released by VIZ Media
Set in the noir world of killers, Hotel Harbor View inhabits an exhaustive state of tension waiting to kill or be killed. It's acrid game of death is as much about waiting for the clock's hand to tick as it is the gun shot, serving as compassionless , clinical examination that fails to blink during the dying sputters of self-identification.
The switch between this instance and the genre template is that the lies aren't the wake of titanic social movements and shifting ages. The city and the corruption of the moment aren't conspiring against shooter and target as they may in Chandler, Hammett or Spillane. Instead, the lies are in self-definition: what is remembered, what is forgotten, and how the self is presented to the world. By extension, they are the lies of storytelling, in how their art deviates from the objective. Harbor View Hotel serves to explore the corrupting of a glance, even if that glance is powerful enough to capture the currents of air flowing off a bullet
Anyone fascinated by manga's form owes it to themselves to track down a copy of Hotel Harbour View. Story and illustration deconstruct manga craft as much as the killer's track it is built around. Despite the clean, photorealistic precision of Taniguchi's illustration, the collection of two stories demonstrates an act of a medium mistrusting its own tenants akin to dissonant avante-guard music.
Manga is far more dominated by single creators (with assistants) than the creative teams of North American comics. The popular Death Notes' Tsugumi Ooba and Takeshi Obata is a contrary example. Lone Wolf and Cub's Kazuo Koike is a writer. As is Fist of the North Star's Buronson. Natsuo Sekikawa and Jiro Taniguchu leverage their partnership for contradictory effects.
Taniguchi's illustration focuses on cutting time. He takes manga, which is initially a sequence of still images and turns it into time slicing. Sekikawa's noir stories demonstrate how, from a human perspective, these context free moments are false. A bullet moving through space will kill its target regardless of the motivation of the person who pulled the trigger, but from a social concept of truth, the history behind the people that brought them to that moment is essential. Consequently, Taniguchi's illustration gives a false objective truth that at times Sekikawa's story perpetuates.
At the same time Taniguchi's illustration turns on the orchestration of the story. In contrast to literal dictates of noir, Taniguchi captures the moments in a glaring illuminance certain not to obscure anything. As characters go to great effort to construct a moment for effect, to define something in their lives, Taniguchi's sharp view cuts through it, depicting legs revealed in an erotic set up as banal as those traveling down as escalator.
The Push Man and Other Stories
By Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Released by Drawn and Quarterly Publications
The Push Man and Other Stories is Drawn and Quarterly Publications' first hard bound collection of the works of Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Tatsumi coined the term "gekiga" meaning "dramatic pictures" as an alternative to "manga" which means "irresponsible pictures". In the late '60's, this work, which aimed to speak to an older audience in a more experimental style than mainstream manga found a home in manga rental outlets.
Tatsumi's short stories represent a kind of crystallized reaction that rebels against the sanitized myths of modern life with a torrent of abortion, rape and sewage. Rather than merely being content that most wouldn't want younger audiences to see, Tatsumi's gekiga is aimed to connect to an experienced perception of the world. It probably a bad idea to consume too much before tasting your own limiting without the world. The reader has to if not accept, tolerate, a view of the social contracts between men and women, and men and their jobs that has turned poisonous, where little good is bound to from either misery or aspiration.
Most of the stories star every-men in menial jobs, feeling trapped by their work and their women. Then, when whatever fantasy or outlet of escape sours, things turn and they react violently. The episodes are almost crapped from classic tabloid reports of what might be called "inhuman acts". While the vileness is so condensed that it challenges notions of realism, and the plotting is perfunctory, like many noir works the intent is more significant than the plot.
Tatsumi's illustration handles the stories a punk aesthetic that rough and obvious, but effecting. It's not that Tatsumi lacks technical skills. Frames like a man walking into a bar constructed from the bow of ship or workers toiling on a log jam are complex, rendered with detail and perspective, but his people are rendered as crudely as they act. The collection's anti romantic treatment of crime presents an artful, if ugly by design, view on life that strips the mystique of human endeavors.
Sherlock Hound - Case File 1
Released by Geonon (labeled Pioneer)
You don't have to be a Hayao Miyzaki completists to enjoy the renowned director's work on Sherlock Hound, for which he was chief director and episode director for the third through fifth and ninth through eleventh entries. From the opening animation, the canine incarnation of Conan Doyle's famed detective (and after some legal wrangling in the works history, it is now allowed to proclaim the obvious connection), demonstrate his physically active inclination, pedaling, driving, and flying through the England's environs. This Sherlock is well able to demonstrate his genius for deduction, but more often spring with vitality. The work has young audiences in mind, and aims to keep them engaged with plenty of chases. Children and animation fans are afforded abundant opportunities to delight in the speed and fluidity of the motions. Scenes like a press machine stamping out coins, chugging, speeding up, and ultimately, spectacularly breaking down offer the kind of elaborate symphony of motion present in classic animation, but increasingly rare in the arts new epochs.
Miyazaki's early episodes offer Moriarty as a nemesis for Sherlock Hound. Here he's more of an inventor, kind of a dapper Big Bad Wolf meets evil Wallace. Like the more physical Sherlock, he's not adverse to chasing or fleeing the heroes down the street or through a cannel on some steam powered contraption. Wits are matched, but it is also cat and mouse. As one would expect from Miyzaki, the character is also humanized. Though thoroughly a heel most of time, Miyazaki puts together the right moments to demonstrate his skewed version of the evil mastermind's capacity for gentleness. A strange fact of these episodes are their almost anti-continuity. An episode dedicated to Moriarty hatching a plan to remove his nemesis proceeds one in which the pair are only aware of each other by reputation.
Some of Hound cribs a bit from Miyazaki's work on Castle of Cagliostro, but it offers some interesting spins on landmark scenes, with some unexpected role reversals: putting men where woman might have been, putting the hero at the forefront of the mobbed masses of police rather than running away. The irony of Sherlock as the polices' battering ram is too cute to miss for any fan of Miyazaki's Lupin work.
Older Sherlock fans might be disappointed to find that the cases and the mystery aspect of the work are not sophisticated. Even from a young audience standpoint, they tend to be entirely perfunctory, taking a back seat to both the action and characterizations.
The frequent use of darkness for mood doesn't do the anime any favors. Given that many of these scenes are still chances, the lack of bright contrasts hides forms, making the effort to distinguish the occurrences unnecessarily difficult.
If a perspective content-chooser for younger viewers objects to guns and peril, be away that this work has both. While not terribly violent, guns are brandished in earnest, and characters are given to chasing each other with axes and such.
Released by FUNimation
If you're going to pin the metal of social relevance on your work, its probably a good idea to back the notion with characters who resemble people rather than flat fictional construct, or at least offer an opinion more substantial than a dislike for the nebulous forces of corruption. Conversely, if you're going to put something together than that is salaciously sleazy, mere short hand and rare skin crawling moments aren't enough. The trouble with Speed Grapher is that it appears to be ambitiously conceived, it's the kind of work of an older audience fan wishes were good, but instead it ends up looking like an exercise in futility, sitting on the fence between critiquing fetishistic squalor and wallowing in it, while doing neither convincingly.
Speed Grapher does offer some memorable scenes and creations over the course of the second volumes' two, 2 episode stories. A woman who turns into diamonds is a nice special effect that's worth seeing in Gonzo's animation. This woman biting the diamond ring and accompanying figure off a pedestrian is the kind of stomach turning moment that the anime needs to sell its state of social pathology. As is a nightmare dental scene, whose build, sound and blood will freak even those who don't have problems with dentists.
But, for the most part, the anime relies on half measures, such as transvestite showgirls hurling bottles at attackers, and verbal instructions explaining how the viewer should regard the characters and situations. Apart from the above mentioned examples of sadism, the anime fails to be convincing.
If a girl is meant to be beaming with an intense expression of freedom, it might be appropriate to figure out some way of expressing it. Mentally going back through the anime, it is possible to reconstruct many of the intended connections. The character singing amazing grace is could signify her joy, but instead, the moment calls attention to the expression she's wearing on her face, which doesn't transcend flatness. The character is meant to be abused and sheltered, but this impression is connected to her fumbling with subway turnstyles, not failing to recognize that she's being inappropriately touched on the train. Director Kunihisa Sugishima fails to emphasize the moments in a way that illustrator the connection between ideas and significant evident. Character designer Masashi Ishihama offers forms with far too little human emotive range. Hurried, the designs fair poorly in quick animation. And writers Shin Yoshida and Yasuyuki Suzuki put together a script that offers gives characters little humanity to build off.
Why do all the good hearted outcasts love the protagonist photographer Saiga so much that they are willing to put their occupations, property and lives on the line for him? Because his war photography was so moving, so inspiring and life changing that his mission was worth their sacrifice. Does this anime fail to account for the media age its viewers live in? Sure, we're moved and shaped by powerful images from people who put themselves on the line, but in a mature anime, is the viewer supposed to believe that so many people would step in front of a gun to protect the person with that vision?
On the flip side of this altruism, the anime engages greed and corruption purely on a level of fictional contrivance. An evil organization feeds on the rich and depraved, that strip mines its influence, and kills those it fails, might work somewhat on a level of self-loathing, but doesn't seem logical when it stops short of lethal measures dealing with outsiders that cross it. Grotesquely exaggerated misguided obsession leading to strategy isn't multi-dimensional or sophisticated when it is a parade of threats who follow the trajectory
I'm a crazy person, and my hangup is X
I'm a crazy Y who is transformed of into some parody of my obsession
I attack the protagonist
My patron organizations come back, finishes me off for crossing them, and sells off by parts
If the anime has something more to offer beyond straight greed, altruism or cynicism by all means, it should have front loaded some of that so that viewers could find some intelligent encouragement in the first third of the work. Is it going to address why it puts its characters one end of the pole or another, either selfishness or selfless? Is there some reason? Biology? Original sin? It has yet to offer an observation that would at least wet an appetite.
Then, from the school of, "the meal was bad, and the portions were too small", the garbage quotient in Speed Grapher continued to be iffy beyond the noteworthy demonstrations of pure-meanness. Go Nagai it's not. Like the character direction, the action scenes features interesting idea, but they are crowded out by so much noise that you have to go back and pick up the few thing that were intriguing about using an explosion causing camera.
It's not that Speed Grapher didn't offer plenty of promise. A straight critical journalist attack dogging corruption is an intriguing concept for an anime, and so is a guy who blows things up with camera, reflecting his desire to destroy with his images. There is a scene in the anime where a scantily clad maverick cop gives a crime lab technician a huge box of undeveloped film, with a sort of "here!" pass off. And this is what the anime does. Here's a photographer who gets an errection looking at destruction through his camera lens. Thud. Here! The anime keeps saying "look! this is significant!" If the response is "why?" the anime's rejoinder seems to be "because it is".
Released by Media Blasters' Anime Works
Giant Robo, the operatic monument to the works of Mitsuteru Yokoyama, the creator of popular media's imagined, hulking steel embodiments of Japan's industrial prosperity, was released over the course of six years. While laboring on this opus, Yasuhiro Imagawa fill some spaces in the release schedule with 3 Ginrei specials (which are included in Media Blasters/Anime Works' priced so low that it's a mandatory purchase "Giant Robo - Economy Pack").
Giant Robo took a variant of Tetsujin 28 aka Gigantor, the riveted steel titan piloted by a boy via remote control, and set it in a post energy revolution world populated by a seamlessly integrated, but strange collection of Yokoyama's characters. As a result, Kenji Murasame, a former World War II army intelligence officer worked side by side with Taisou and Tetsugyu from the Chinese epic The Water Margin (All Men Are Brothers/Marsh Bandits/Suikoden). The comeliest denizen, and one of the few female characters was GinRei, a woman with dark green hair, frequently clad in a white Chinese dress who fought as one of the Experts of Justice, spectacularly introduced in the first episode as the world's woman super-spy.
The GinRei specials, at least the first two of the three, are the antithesis of Giant Robo, which was a often flamboyantly pulp, but never ironic. While fun, the anime took itself seriously, even when the subject was a man whose frighteningly dangerous power is the ability to split matter by snapping his fingers, who only splits things snapping his fingers (this actually sounds more reasonable in text than it was on the screen).
The Ginrei specials treat the whole foundation as fundamentally bunk. The Experts of Justice versus Big Fire, or as it renames the organization, Blue Flower, heroes versus villains business gets swapped out for people who rather than being exceptional are given to the same impulses as everyone else. Heroes are persuaded to trade sides for ego massages and benefits packages, at the same time both sides are presented to be equally lousy drunks.
Gratuitously constructed titillation shots take the brunt of most of the flack, and of course the anime delights in exhibiting the traits that it is lambasting. It's able to be smart about subverting these characteristic by building up absurdity, then popping it at the hyper-inflated moment. For example, Ginrei's show scene goes on too long, then it goes far to long, then the anime cuts to a very male Shockwave Alberto getting out of a shower. It's not that the ideas of parodying a catalogue of fan service constructs was novel even for its time, but the GinRei special demonstrate real irreverence to same material to which the creators had paid tremendous respect in Gian Robo. It's the masters of the straight form constructing what is like a gag reel to one of the great works of anime.
The final episode is more Giant Robo characters played straight in foreign genres than a comedy. The character humor present would not be out of place in the OVA itself, and one of the few decisive pointer that the events are part of the GinRei line rather than a side story of the Giant Robo is that the antagonists are Blue Flower rather than Big Fire. GinRei and Tetsugyu sans mecha quest through a combination spaghetti western / Indiana Jones style Pulp pastiche.
Star Trek: The Manga
Released by TOKYOPOP
What the Star Trek manga has going for it is Spock arm barring pre-borg (yes, the TOS crew meet creatures that are said to evolve into the Borg), Kirk and company finding a small reptile alien that turns into a Alien alien and finally a Cthuhlu style alien, and the Enterprise hull getting pierced by a robot mobile suit's sword. The formulaicly consistent presence of certain elements, such as the techno-babble and the action set pieces that are selected more from manga/anime than Star Trek give the stories a slight assembly line feel. They are peppered with some interesting sci-fi concepts (though nothing terribly inventive) and some illustration that goes beyond competent to become interesting, but the project never really justifies itself as unique or essential. To some degree, it does want one would want in a Star Trek manga, projecting the crew into situations manga could depict more effectively than TV/Movie live action, but more often, the manga is projecting recognizable traits from Star Trek onto generic sci-fi stories.
Doubtlessly there is some truly interesting doujinishi floating around in Japan, and while the projects were conceived under complete different circumstances, its somewhat noteworthy that the Star Wars manga adaptations featured works by the likes of greatly underrated Shinichi Hiromoto (whose STONe TOKYOPOP published) and less underrated Kia Asamiya. In these cases the applied styles that aren't universally admired, but both offer a unique aesthetic variant on the familiar.
Ghost in the Shell| Stand Alone Complex : 2nd Gig
Released by Bandai Entertainment and Manga Entertainment
Production I.G's work on Stand Alone Complex never ceases to amaze. This trio of episodes blazes in mid-battle, politically and socially engaged, raring to take on Mamuro Oshii of all people.
After a brutal, body mangling, cyborg special ops one-on-one between the protagonists' heavy Batou and a former soldier turned terrorist and would be spiritual leader, the series takes an turn onto a path less informed by Oshii's Ghost in a Shell than his Patlabor.
Though inspired by the bird symbolism, his talking head scenes, his military mobilizations, his coup-via orchestrated escalating reactions and demonstrations of threats, 2nd Gig isn't just aping Oshii. Part of what is depicted seems a response updating Oshii's idea for a new World Is Flat age of information exchange, also informed by what has been seen in the actions and effectiveness of terrorism. Part of it seems to be a rebuke of Oshii's age-distanced respect for protest movements, suggesting that more that they are showy demonstrations are tool of the powerful in their social engineering workbench.
2nd Gig has the guts to stick its ideological neck out in these episodes. It makes a number of very bold and debatable statements, explicitly in the speeches of the characters, and implicitly in their actions. While the anime has the conviction of its ideas, and its willing to back its theories with demonstration, what's presented is far from gospel, and some its conjecture could use some scrutiny. Suggestions about American foreign policy might raise some hackles, but some of its suggestions about the origin of social myths seems very debatable.
Along with its headiness and brilliantly choreographed action, an aspect of the Stand Alone Complex that has continued to thrive in the work is the way in which it applies its idea of inspired action within itself. The notion is that ideas travel through media and get reenacted in life. Operating on a meta level, what is a bit like script sampling in the series construction applies itself as one of these reproducing concepts within the context of the series' events. For example, these episodes borrow a notion familiar to consumers of crime stories, The investigator knows who the killer is, but can't prove it, so they meet with the killer and bounce ideas of the suspect. The killer in turn half-answers the questions, teasing the investigator, trying to find out what they know. Stand Alone Complex reproduces this pattern in its events the same way it does Oshii's coup, and in previous episodes, heist capers and such.
Naoki Urasawa's Monster
Volumes 2 and 3
by Naoki Urasawa
Released by VIZ Media
There was some critical pull back after the first volume of Monster. Urasawa leveled a heavy blow with that initial volume long opened ended story. He introduced a moral conundrum in which a talented doctor sacrificed his promising career to save a child rather than an influential politician. Having done the noble deed and paid its price, fate twists back on the doctor, and the child he saves grows up to be a serial killer mastermind. Once the series hits the ground with volume 2, the formula becomes evident. Monster becomes reminiscent of The Fugitive, with Dr. Tenma fleeing the police on search for the killer, saving and changing lives along the way. And Urasawa is guilty of some felony level hammyness, such as a ward full of post-op infirm blocking the corridor as the police move in on Tenma. Yet, much of Urasawa's manga career has worked within formulas and his specialty has been finding humanity within the conceit.
Urasawa's ability to capture faces is such that he doesn't need to put together stories that are too sophisticated in order to invoke an emotional reaction strong enough to cause pause and consideration. While the stories do get complex, and the chase following the killer's trail is chilling in its intricacies and traps, simplicity also works. There is a short chapter in which Dr Tenma goes to a mercenary turned survival instructor, which is a nice touch for explaining how a doctor can become an action hero. He finds this hardened soldier is living with a silent girl from Myanmar who the soldier orphaned. Tenma touches their lives in a predictable fashion and Urasawa isn't breaking any new group putting the scene together, but the way he stages and illustrates it is amazing. The detail in the facial expressions and body language breathes life into what could easily have been strictly conventional. The way that the soldier and child sit at a dinner table with Tenma, unable to raise their eyes in fear of meeting the other's gaze is heartbreaking. The effect is that Urasawa makes these small role players matter.
In the larger context Monster, Urasawa continues to explore the ethics of prolonging and ending lives. The story is set in a society, with a complex history and a tangled present. No action occurs in a vacuum. Consequently, when dealing with life an death, every decision reverberates with shock waves. This isn't only true for Tenma. In a man is going to kill in response to a political vendetta, the effect is never limited to the perpetrator and victim. As much as a Monster is a work of a mystery thriller plot, it is a moral jigsaw puzzle.
Animation on iTunes, Smile
Many works of oscar nominated and independent animation are now available to be purchased on Apple iTunes (not to imply that Oscar nominated an independent are mutually exclusive categories).ÃŠ These can be found by browsing the "short films" section of the iTunes Music store.ÃŠ Many are made available through < a href="http://www.britshorts.com/">Shorts International.
Chris Mais' Smile is a beautiful piece of animated performance art. Mixing motion capture, film, 3D animation and orchestral accompaniment the short film is akin to a whimsical magic trick. While being enthralling by narrative, you can't help allowing the mind wander a bit in considering how it was put together, and how the seams in its construction were so well hidden.
Smile is a yellow bendy figures who is delighted when a child releases a helium balloon into the room in which Smile is housed. As the child leaves, both Smile and the scowling Pirate bendy try to coax the floating yellow balloon toward themselves. The pantomime micro-epic combines the joys of silent comedy and surprising inventiveness offered by animation. If this example of performance and technology complementing each other is representative of what's available on iTunes, the store should be a treasure trove.
New Manga From Gantz Creator
ComiPress reports Gantz's Hiroya Oku has started