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Ongoing Investigations: Case #123

April 29, 2011

Let me be up front and tell you that while Level Up does touch on the topic of video games it is not nearly as much about the games as you might first suspect. Video games come up and they are used as a metaphor but they are one of several metaphors used in the book. It is really the story of how a boy grows up with the expectations of his parents while tying to balance it against his own desires to be happy. We see Dennis Ouyang go through his life oscillating between hiding himself in video games which he loves and beings quest to becoming a gastroenterologist despite the fact that he has no interest in the job. After his farther dies and he gets kicked out of college he is visited by four little angels that act as nagging guilty consciences that demand that he fulfill his destiny of becoming a doctor. So he whips himself back into shape and is slowly but surely is on his way to satiating the angels. He makes friends and even finds love but he is constantly plagued by the fact that he is going into a career he hates. Despite the addition of the angels it is an extremely relatable story. We have all expectations place on us by the people who raised us and know how they can conflict with our attempts live our own lives. The more the exceptions placed on you the more the book will speak to you. Dennis and his friends sell the story by being delightful characters that draw you in. The art simple and has a very independent comic vibe but it is expressive while maintaining a warm feeling. Level Up is a nice one book story with a fairly important lesson for anyone who is lacking direction their life or remembers what that feeling is like.

The first chapter where we see Dennis’s failed attempt to get a Nintendo for Christmas might be the most relatable scene of the book, you wanted him to get it but knew he wouldn’t. And it is just as easy to struggle with Dennis as he weighs his father’s desires against his own changing perspective. It said it all to me when Dennis’s mother told him “Love is for people. Not work.” Each generation in each culture deals with this difference in thinking, but the Asian American experience depicted here should be very familiar, I know it mirrors my friend’s stories. But I think what was refreshing about this story is the balance it strikes in the end proving you don’t have to cast off your family completely to be who you are. Though I have to say that parents might need this lesson more than kids. Gene Luen Yang brings these lessons in with video games, humor, and great pacing. Sparse words are needed as Thien Pham perfectly conveys everything you need to know visually. A perfect collaboration.

I started watching Maria Holic Alive as I enjoyed the first season reasonably well and it is streaming on the Anime Network. Overall I feel the new season does not really drop the ball in any major respect so far. The humor is still sharp if a bit mean-spirited sheen to it but it is never malicious enough to turn me off but that just might be my love of schadenfreude speaking. The direction still has that dynamic Akiyuki Shinbo and Shaft style that people have come to expect (and Narutaki tends to avoid). The giant robot style opening to the show was an unusual but delightful choice. This new season is not going to win over anyone who already hated the series but fans of the series will be happy to come back to a new season.

 Detective Conan movie 11 Jolly Roger in the Deep Azure involved, as you might imagine, pirates or to be more specific ancient pirate booty! In this adventure Conan and crew travel to a remote island where many treasure hunts have gathered. While the finding of the treasure is actually really fun, the murder mystery and everything else that is going is fairly straightforward. And while the climactic ending is spectacular, it might be even more far-fetched than usual. Not my favorite of the movies.

I sat down and watched the last two episodes of Mazinkaiser SKL when my Internet was being wonky recently. Mazinkaiser SKL is clearly the result of turning a heavy metal album cover into an anime. The last two episodes prove that the plot is mostly unimportant and anyone who though differently was sorely mistaken. All you have to know is that Ken and Ryo have to blow things up with extreme prejudice in order to save the world. In episode 2 they actually have to break a sweat during their battles and actually begin to lose for a few seconds. But in episode 3 the Mazinkaiser SKL goes back to being completely invincible and just trounce everything thrown at it. Tsubasa Yuki actually starts being useful by applying her technical skills and even killing some minor bad guys making her character a bit more in the Jun Hono mold than the Sayaka Yumi style character she first appears to be. All that said you come to Mazinkaiser SKL to see totally awesome robot fights. If you are looking for much else you will be sorely disappointed but the show never promises such things. It delivers in spades on its promise of manly metal Go Nagai action and that is all you can ask of the show.

 Batman Year One was a real treat. Watching two men, Batman and Jim Gordon, take their first steps in trying to clean up Gotham is gripping. It was certainly a gritty look at the city which is no surprise coming from Frank Miller, but it retained its humanity probably because it the beginning so there is hope. And David Mazzucchelli’s art is so graphic and bold making it feel old and new at the same time. This makes me doubly excited to see the animated feature coming out soon.

In the spirit of solidarity between maids (and becuase it is easy to find tasteful pictures of her):

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