Archive for the ‘manga’ Category

Manga review: I, Otaku

Status: read first issue

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Synopsis
iotaku_cover.jpg There’s nothing wrong with Sota Enatsu, right? He’s a popular 18 year old who’s good in school and has lot of friends. Even a cute girlfriend. But the secret he keeps from them all is that he is a closet otaku!

Sato regularly sneaks off to Akihabara to buy everything he can find with super-moe character Papico on it. But as the manga begins, Sota makes a choice that will change his life forever – he enters “Otakudo Headquarters” a shop run by Tencho, self-proclaimed president of the Closet Otaku Extermination Committee. Soon, everyone in Sato’s life will know he is an otaku, but will he find the freedom of expression promised by Tencho, or lose his friends and slip into an hikikomori life?

Reactions
I, Otaku is unabashedly manga for the manga fan. It is so full of anime and manga references that most of the humor and allusions might be lost on the casual reader. In fact, it comes uncomfortably close to being too niche for an already niche market.

But that aside, I had a great time reading I, Otaku. It doesn’t have the kinds of characters you fall in love with like Genshiken, but it does a similar job of both celebrating and deriding the otaku lifestyle. There’s a scene early on in the manga, after Sato arrives in Akihabara, where he smiles deeply and sighs “The atmosphere… it just soothes the soul.” Disturbing as that may sound to some, I can totally relate.

And much like how Yakitate!! Japan turns breadmaking into a life or death affair, I love how I, Otaku applies the almost stereotypical high-powered, action-driven, shounen manga style to toy collecting.

Recommended for all out and closeted otaku. The hardcore kind.

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Manga review: The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service

Status: read 3 issues

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Synopsis
A graduating group of students at a Buddhist University – do those even exist? – have few job opportunities. Turns out there’s not that much demand for monks and funeral home assistants. So they decide because of their special abilities to go into business for themselves.

By special abilities, I don’t mean praying and chanting. As picture above: Makato Numata can find the dead by dowsing; Keiko Makino is a master embalmer; Yuji Yata’s hand puppet channels an alien; Kuro Karatsu can hear the thoughts of the dead; and Ao Sasaki is a master researcher and hacker.

The business they form is euphemistically called a “Corpse Delivery Service”. What they really do is investigate the deaths of their clients – dead people they find – and try to earn some money setting their matters straight. Along the way they run into a lot of supernatural intrigue and skulduggery. Kinda like Scooby Doo meets The X-Files.

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kurosagi_cover.gif This manga has a killer concept but it’s the execution that doesn’t quite make it come alive for me.

My biggest gripe with Kurosagi is the artwork. I find it too loose and amateurish – it has a very 80s indie comic look. Except for the occasional close up, faces tend to look unbalanced. However, it seems to be this illustrator’s style and not inexperience, so it’s just not my taste.

The stories themselves are page turners with freaky and very original plots. But they lack depth. They rarely reveal anything about the main characters, and in a long series, that’s what you need to tie all the stories together.

Despite all that, Kurosagi is definitely a fun read, and by book three, the stories are moving at a great pace and becoming more intricate. So I’ll probably continue for at least another issue, but if something big isn’t revealed soon – like who the hell is that stitched up ghost lady that appears behind Karatsu? – then it’s off to the morgue with this one.

Anime/Manga review: Genshiken

Status: switched to manga – read 8 – after anime series “ended”

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Synopsis
Kanji Sasahara is a college freshman and a closet otaku. In an attempt to make new friends and come to terms with his secret obsession, he decides to join a school club. He eventually ends up at Genshiken: The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture – which is an extremely otaku way of saying a bunch of guys who watch anime, read manga, play video games, build toys and cosplay.

And as far as major plot devices, that’s pretty much it. The rest of the story involves the relationships between the club’s members as well as their various otaku obsessions, including episodes devoted to yaoi, cosplay and Comiket – along with the group’s desire to publish their own dōjinshi. This is a slice of life story, where the focus shifts from character to character as we learn more about each and their relationships become more complex. The full story stretches over a number of years and even though characters graduate from school, they still manage to spend plenty of time at the Genshiken club room.

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Want to know the number one reason I love Genshiken? This panel:

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This is Sasahara-san’s turning point, when he realizes that he is, in fact, an otaku and that it’s ok. Not only was this moment very affirming for me, but it also made me feel good that Japanese otaku are coming to terms with their sub-culture.

And there are so many other reasons I love this manga. It is brilliantly self-referential. The characters all feel like people I would love to be friends with – hanging out at Genshiken would be awesome! I’ve actually learned a thing or two about anime/video games/model kits. It is funny and moving. And it makes me feel a little more normal.

As mentioned, I started this series by watching the anime. But after 12 episodes the show went on a hiatus, so I switched to the manga. And even though the manga is more detailed, very, very well drawn and wonderfully paced, the anime is remarkably similar. I quite happily go back and forth between the two.

Highly recommended for all closet and out otaku.

Anime/Manga review: Death Note

Status: watched first 10 anime episodes – switched to manga (completed series)
Death Note

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Synopsis
Light Yagami is a brilliant and bored Japanese high school student. Ryuk is a simple-minded and bored Japanese Shinigami (death god). One day, Ryuk drops his Death Note – he uses it to kill people – into the human world to see what’ll happen. Light picks it up and at first doesn’t believe the instructions on the inside cover: write someone’s name and 40 seconds later, they will die. But out of curiosity Light tries it. And it works.

Then comes a major turning point in the story: Light’s choice. He could destroy the book as the evil thing it is or he could use it for his own advancement. He does neither. Instead, Light decides he is going to use the Death Note like the rain that will wash all the scum off the streets – he’ll kill off all the murderers, turn the world into a paradise for the righteous, and become that world’s god.

But Light’s actions soon interest the police, led by master investigator “L”, a slightly odd and eccentric teenager himself. The story then follows the chess game that develops between L and Light Yagami as they try to find and destroy each other.

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Reactions
Death Note is one of the most hyped series of the last few years, so after hearing so much praise, I decided to check it out. Being the stingy bastard I am, instead of buying the manga, I went with the free fansubs of the anime. I was hooked immediately. At first, the show seemed to be a social commentary, but then it morphed into an intense thriller. Then it stopped altogether: the series was licensed in the US and so the fansubbers stopped putting out episodes. By this point, however, I needed my fix, so I shelled out the cash for the manga.

A book is always better than its movie adaptation and that’s no different when it comes to manga and anime. Don’t get me wrong, the anime was spectacular, with great animation, pacing and voice acting. But the life you bring to a page with your own imagination cannot be surpassed. Plus, I was really impressed with the visual style of the manga: the highly detailed and sharp animation, and the pacing that sometimes made me forget I was reading static pages of black ink.

I used chess as a metaphor for Death Note and I’m going to take that a bit further. My only criticism – and why I didn’t give it a full 5 out of 5 – is that reading Death Note is kind of like watching two chess masters do battle without understanding all the rules of the game. You can appreciate their brilliance but you don’t always understand why they are doing what they are doing, even when they explain it to you.

However, putting aside the rather complicated strategies Light and his would-be captors employ, the story is gripping and original. The ending is thoroughly satisfying, although somewhat convoluted and hinting at more to come. And the characters are fully brought to life – hell, you even feel for Light, before coming to hate every fiber of his being. Highly recommended.