Archive for the ‘Ongoing Investigations’ Category

h1

Ongoing Investigations: Case #241

September 1, 2014

narutaki_icon_4040 Raqiya (vols. 1-2) by Masao Yajima and Boichi is like a yakuza manga if all the yazuka were part of obscure subsects of Christianity. The series combines intense violence, conspiracy theories, priests, destruction, demons, cults, virgins, and the impending apocalypse.

Boichi’s hyper realistic artwork is astounding. His attention to detail goes from the makes and models of guns and cars to the wrinkles on a person’s face and clothing, nothing is left unattended. Every moment of action, of which there are many, gets the same treatment. You could easily lose yourself in Boichi’s line work.

The story revolves around Luna, a young woman who, after her family dies in a horrible accident, is visited by Abraxas, a demon with the body of a woman and some strange headdress. Luna is revealed to be a “descendent of Norea” and will play an important role in the destruction of the world. A group fronted by the Nitobe corporation is kidnapping virgin women looking for “the goddess” and end up coming after Luna.

The real main character, as I like to call him, Toshiya doesn’t actually show up until chapter 4. He is the good-looking, priest-in-training, who is basically a badass and a genius. He has his best friend Isa who provides the comic relief and, of course, the super hot Luna who he must protect but can never have.

Honestly, at the beginning I kept looking names and references up on the internet. At points, the series just glosses over things as if we are all knee-deep in obscure Christian lore. But then at other times does a decent enough job of telling you what you need to know without going into full-blown exposition. I realized after a while that the series would reveal itself in due time and to just go along for the ride. I’m sure you’d get a lot out of it if you know this stuff or read Wikipedia alongside it, but that doesn’t sound enjoyable to me and shouldn’t be, and isn’t, necessary to enjoy the series.

Raqiya has the super-seinan quality that we don’t get too much of here in the U.S. One Peace Books is a very small publisher so I hope it reaches the manga audience, they need to know about this series. I can imagine this also doing well if you put it into the hands of comic readers.

hisui_icon_4040 If you read manga long enough you being to see little trademarks and tells that other people might not pick up on. You might be able to tell just by a few pages which magazine a title ran in or which manga-ka worked as an assistant for another.  After reading a chapter or two of Raqiya my first thought was, “I think this is a Korean Manhwa” just from the art alone. It turns out I was partially correct. After I read the first two volumes I went online to see if I was right about the origin of the material. At first it seemed like my comic senses were off. Raqiya ran in Kodansha’s Morning magazine. But then I remember that Morning has been making an effort to hire artists from outside of Japan. That is how we got titles like Peepo Choo. While the author Masao Yajima is Japanese the artist Boichi is South Korean.

I just wanted to pat myself on the back for figuring that out before I did any research. I was mostly able to tell because while the men and peripheral women all have a hard seinen manga feeling the heroines and important female characters have this softer ethereal vibe you usually only get from korean comics. It is closer to the way women are depicted in josei or shojo manga but it is not the same. Also the rapid shifts into super deformed even during super serious scenes was another other hint. I’m not saying that all Korean manhwa look like that. While any detailed examination of a country’s comics will show a multitude of styles there tends to be a stereotypical style that most people know that country for. Japan tends to be known for that Shonen Jump style art whereas the US is usually associated with the Marvel and DC super hero comics flavor. In that way I usually think of this style of art when I think of manhwa.

That said the art is great. In fact Boichi’s Sun-Ken Rock is currently available from Crunchyroll manga. I just thought it was worth mentioning.

I will admit that unlike Kate I read Raqiya on the train and followed most of the weird terms without the Internet but that is because I am an old school table top role player. The number one secret you learn as table top role player is your three best and cheapest sources of game supplements are history books, mythology books, and religious texts. They have everything you need for a life time of campaigns, monsters, and organizations.  The thing is the more esoteric and heretical the religious text the better it is. Everyone around your table probably knows the story of Noah and the flood but now many people are well versed in who Abraxas is (unless they are Kunihiko Ikuhara.)  So I admit while I am generally familiar with gnostic references and Vatican assassin conspiracy theories I’m going to guess that is not the case for most people.

That said they seem fairly well researched. Being that most of the Christian mythos here is based on heretical and apocryphal texts it is really hard to call any of it wrong. There is no real King James Version of Gnosticism or Hermeticism. So there is not that much you can get “wrong” but everything I have read so far seems “right.” You are not getting any One-pound Gospel misunderstandings of Christianity. The story is centered around real fringe groups and crazy offshoots and it does that well.

The character dynamic is not what you might initially suspect. At first the story seems firmly centered on Luna. She is the key to either mankind’s salvation or doom. She is the one possessed by Abraxas. She is the one all the crazy cults are looking for. But overall she quickly seems more like a MacGuffin. While she is not totally just a plot device that moves along with the flow of the story she more often than not carried by other character’s choices more than her own. Isa then look like he might be the hero but he quickly seems to move into the side-kick position. It is clear that while Luna is the main character it is Toshiya who is going to be our hero. He is the best fighter, the most well read, and has the most character conflicts. They could surprise us if Luna gets more control over Abraxas’ power but I somehow doubt that will be the case.

The action is really the selling point of series. You get a lot of gun play, explosions, super natural powers, and assassins of all stripes. Also because the series deal with crazy cults and gnostic magic there is a whole lot of sex and nudity (although not usually of the consensual kind). I think Kate put it best when she said this was a real manime title. It distinctly scratches the itch of people who want the testosterone of Mad Bull 34 mixed with the conspiracy elements of The Da Vinci Code.  If that seems up your alley than you might want to check this out.

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching, reading, or playing outside of our main blog posts. We each pick three things without much rhyme or reason; they are just the most interesting things since the last OI.

Read the rest of this entry ?

h1

Ongoing Investigations: Case #240

August 13, 2014

narutaki_icon_4040 Android Angels by Kosuke Kabaya is the story of a future where androids in the home are normal. The accepted practice is for the androids memories to be wiped every four years and for their owners to change in order to prevent attachment.

Each story deals with different pairs of androids and owners looking at the inevitable connections human create with these “objects.” There is also a fetishistic nature to seeing them as non-human which is explored. And finally the fact that the memory wipes don’t seem to work 100% and whether they are ethical.

I found the last chapter strongest because it shed the premise of the android being a fantasy or sexual object and delved deeper into the human connection.

Android Angels is the type of story that gets me curious about the premise but then ends before really satisfying me fully. Perhaps there will be more stories in this series?

I really liked the oversized format of this book, it is nice to enjoy manga this way once in a while.

hisui_icon_4040 There was this obscure little title by a small group of ladies who usually like to write slash fic about Jojo’s characters and their tale of android-human relations. That title was Chobits from CLAMP. For me, at least, it is hard to talk about this series without bringing up that title. CLAMP is hardly the only manga artists to examine the nature of the relationships between man and machine. You have anime and manga like Time of Eve, DearS, Saber Marionette J, Key the Metal Idol, Mahoromatic, Ergo Proxy, Casshan, or even a classic like Astro Boy dealing with the topic in their own ways. Androids are great ways of examining technology, the nature of humanity, and how we interact with the other in equal measures. So they are very useful story telling devices in that respect so not every story about androids is just a Chobits clone. At the same time most of the stories in Android Angels deal with the androids in a romantic fashion and the artificial lifeforms are usually obviously non-human due to them having animal ear like accessories. At that point it comes down to what does Android Angels do to make itself feel distinct instead of just a collection of Chobits fan fictions.

The answer is that what Android Angels has is the added gimmick of the androids getting their memories wiped every four years. They will work for one human for four years and then when their job is over they have their memories wiped and then start a new job somewhere else. This radically changes the human/android dynamic. Usually the human is the organism with the limited lifespan and the android is the near immortal being. The machine is the one who is faster, strong, and more skilled. If they fall in love with a human they must helplessly watch them age and then pass away like a subservient god. If a human falls in love with them they must carry that love long after the person who loved them is gone. The memory wipe turns that on its head.

While the android is still functional after the memory wipe it like it becomes a new person. This makes the human the one who must remind behind with the memories of what once was. It does change the types of stories you can tell. The android can be more of a metaphor for a fleeting love, a dying person, or someone with a fading memory due to illness. Also since the android never really dies but just becomes a new person it is also an interesting way of tackling reincarnation. While it might be a gimmick it does change and expand the types of stories you can tell and what is said with them.

That said the execution in Android Angels is a bit hit or miss. It is an anthology story so it is mostly just a collection of vignettes so those are usually fairly broad in appeal. None of the stories were bad. They never were annoying or poorly told. They did err a little into creepy at times especially with Taisuke trying to force himself on his android at a point and Yoneno and the pomegranate scene. Nothing really horrible happens but it is worth noting those scenes are sort of conformable. At the same time I can’t think of any of the stories really exploring the premise as much as I would have liked. The last story was probably the strongest in my mind but it still fell short of truly hooking me.

I don’t want to come off as overly harsh on this book. If anything I might be just a bit more disappointed it did not fully reach the potential it could have had more than it failed to execute the idea properly. The twist of the normal sci-fi formula was an interesting one. It definitely played with the idea but left a good deal of it unexplored. It does seem like a world that Kosuke Kabaya or perhaps someone else could come back to and expand upon. That desire to see more is probably worth your time. It is far better to want more than close a book and never wish to revisit its world ever again.

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching, reading, or playing outside of our main blog posts. We each pick three things without much rhyme or reason; they are just the most interesting things since the last OI.

Read the rest of this entry ?

h1

Ongoing Investigations: Case #239

May 26, 2014

hisui_icon_4040  A long time ago, we used to be canceled.

It was a fairly well publicized story. On May 22, 2007 the last episode of the Veronica Mars series was played on TV. While there were many dangling plot lines it seemed that the ending of season third would be all they officially wrote about the series. In 2013 a Kickstarter was launched to fund a movie that could finally give some closure to the series. It was wildly successful and the movie caused quite the hubbub. Kate and I loved the movie. You can hear our gushing praise on the Speakeasy. The movie did rather well on tying up all the loose ends from the TV series while showing that Veronica continues on to be her bad self. But the momentum of the Kickstarter seems unstoppable. The first major item from that continued energy is a Veronica Mars novel.

If you went into Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line with a healthy amount of trepidation no one could blame you. Fiction based on TV series can be wildly variable. If you have ever read things like Star Trek or Star Wars novels you will know that reading those books can be like playing Russian Roulette. Since writing novels like this is a work for hire affair you will get all stripes of writers looking for a pay check. Sometimes you get some amazing synergy when a good writer totally gets a series and has a great story for the characters to dig into. Most of the time you get some mediocre work. Maybe the author writes the characters a bit too much like their own characters as opposed to their established portrayal. Other times the characters are on point but the plotting is weak. Sometimes you just get shlock that makes you wonder why you did not just read something from fanfiction.com. Your never sure what you’re going to get.

Thankfully this first novel feels like a good Veronica Mars story. Not the best Veronica Mars story. But it feels like a good episode of the TV series. I think that is exactly what you want for a book like this. A radical examination of the character or an experimental work seems a bit too bold out of the gate. Unless you plan for this to be the only novel something that impactful would make everything after it feel limp. You want something that assures the audience that these novels will be enjoyable and exciting but not that they are GOING TO CHANGE EVERYTHING FOREVER.

At the same time the story feels like more than just a throw away story. Veronica and her father move forward after their somewhat strained relationship in the movie, Mac moves into a more predominant role, and there are one or to other changes that are spoilers I won’t go into. Enough happens that it feels like a real TV episode. If everything is static the novel feels like a filler arc from a shonen show. Too many changes and it feels like silly fan fiction.

Also all these changes are canon. So this won’t be pushed aside by a new movie or series.

The actually case moves quickly. I read the story in two days without even trying that hard to read it. But at the same time it does not feel rushed which is possible the greater crime for a novel to commit. The fast pace does help some of the later twists feel stronger. I read the novel in two days and I was hardly trying very hard. So I did not meditate too hard on the mystery and was more absorbed in it. It let me notice some of the clues so the solutions did not come out of nowhere but did not let me dwell on them too long so I figured out everything before it happened. If the story had moved a bit slower I probably would have meditated on it more.

Apparently the book already has a sequel lined up called Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss & Tell. Jennifer Graham and Rob Thomas are still writing this one so at least the writing will be consistent which means I can look forward to it with a minimum of trepidation. For such genre fiction that is a fairly strong endorsement.

narutaki_icon_4040 Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham was way too good for being a novel based on a media property.

The voice is what is most important in a venture like this. If the voice doesn’t come-off like Veronica then it is just a mystery novel. But Veronica sounds spot on in the way she verbalizes both in dialogue and internal thoughts. Kristen Bell made the character what she is, but from this book you can tell how well written the character has been and how well the writers understand her.

Biggest and best part of the book has to do with Veronica really sinking her teeth into being a for-realz P.I. Not that she doesn’t bust out some of her old tricks, but she is now an adult and professional and it changes the dynamics a a bit.

There is a lot of personal progress made in this book which left me very surprised mostly because if they make another movie I don’t know how they will reconcile it with the book(s?). But I won’t fret over that, instead I’ll look forward to the next story!

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching, reading, or playing outside of our main blog posts. We each pick three things without much rhyme or reason; they are just the most interesting things since the last OI.

Read the rest of this entry ?

h1

Ongoing Investigations: Case #238

May 5, 2014

narutaki_icon_4040 I started reading A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima, a series that apparently had a great reception prior to being put on CR Manga. I myself hadn’t heard of it, but I am much less aware of shonen romance titles. In any case, all the love that poured out from people when I mentioned reading it is well deserved.

Ishida is an ex-bully, who became bullied himself, and has given up on friends and life as he drifts through high school. Shoko is the girl Ishida and his classmates bullied due to her hearing impairment. Ishida seeks her out, all these years later, in order to apologize before ending his life. But suddenly, after years of isolation, he has made a human connection and that snowballs into another connection and another and another all which changes his course.

The beginning of the series is actually an extended flashback, things don’t really shift into full gear until the second volume. It is an angering and painful few chapters which makes the changes later so much more earned.

Despite the serious nature of that premise, and by all means A Silent Voice is thoughtful in its seriousness, the series creates people who aren’t simply downtrodden. There is light and hope in the series in such unexpected ways. Everyone is fully realized and has layers, a character like Ishida being so sympathetic is testament to this. The people from Ishida’s past, and his mistakes and how he deals with them, are incredibly complex. It isn’t so easy to dismiss people or to rebuild one’ life, and it is doubly hard for a boy who doesn’t truly believe he deserves better.

This series is lovely and brilliant.

(Read it on Crunchyroll Manga)

sep-anime

hisui_icon_4040 If you have been following our Twitter feeds you will have seen the building we both live in has recently been having Internet problems. This means our normal anime viewing schedule was completely thrown out of whack. Being at the end of the season, with the massive Spring avalanche just around the corner, this is all sort of annoying. But we made due in the mean time. It has let us catch up on two series we had put on hold. We were watching Infinite Ryvius and Future Boy Conan as the result of our poll for our 200th Ongoing Investigation but we started to prioritize some of the newer shows and were saving Ryvius and Conan for the lean times. Exactly for times like this.

I’m really glad that we finally finished Infinite Ryvius from Bandai. I don’t regret watching the series. It definitely was a series that was right up our alley so when people thought we would like it was a good choice. That said I did not like ending of the series. There was some weird hiccups and odd choices in the middle but I was engaged until the ending. I was ready to give this series a thumbs up. But when the last episode ended I was just left with an unfulfilled feeling.

Now it would be easy to assume that the series had no idea what it was doing and just slapped on some random clumsy ending because they did not think the complete narrative arc out from the start. But I feel that the generally ending point seemed like the ending point they had from the start. I’m not really sure how the conflict between the crew of the Ryvius and government could have gone any other way without is just being a total downer ending. Anything else would have required total deus ex machina or some other equally underplayed power to get involved. Past that point the exact number of people who lived or died were distinctly in question. It was clear that the crew was a powder keg waiting to explode so a number of people could died either being killed by space forces as well as their fellow crew members.

I think the characters reactions to what happened seemed really … questionable. I did not need the survivors to be broken husks unable to function in society or ever forgive any transgression BUT certain characters get nothing more than a slight “those were some crazy times” attitudes for REPEATEDLY and PURPOSEFULLY trying to murder large parts of the crew whereas other people mainly either are forgotten or scorned for lesser crimes. At the same time while it is good to see most of Kouji Aiba storyline resolved (he is the main character after all) it did seem like some very important character arc just seemed completely dropped. But we get resolution on the fates of a lot of the really minor characters at the same time. I’m not saying they needed two more episodes of conclusion but a little more time devoted to the central cast and a little less time to finding out the fate and life path of the girl in the dinosaur costume might have been prudent.

Also the creepy stalker finally gets with the girl he was creeping on. And we are supposed to think this is cute. No no no no, Infinite Ryvius. You don’t get to do that.

Other than that I know the pace got to my roommate. He wanted things to go crazy much earlier on. Pretty much total Lord of the Flies ASAP without it being silly. I think the slow and meandering path to conflict was a little more realistic. The slow decent into insanity with several false starts and shifts in power seemed how things were likely to go down. There is a never a time when things become a complete anarchy. Part of this is just due to them constantly having a mutual enemy but also because anytime things slide towards anarchy someone would form some of structure to at least stem the tide for getting to the point of monstrous chaos. But it was not an appeal to some higher principle or ideal. It was just the natural tendency of nature to abhor a vacuum and fill in the empty place with anyone. That said I could see how it can feel like slog to get to the “good part” but I thought the slow decent was smarter.

I just feel there had to be something in between the ending we got and bleak unending nihilistic despair that could have finished the series in a satisfactory ending. Infinite Ryvius main problem is it brought up some fascinating scenarios and dilemmas but at the same time constantly resolved them in a manner that was usually one or two marks off of fulfilling. It never totally botched things but at the same time I was never happy with the way anything turned out. The ending was far too happy for the moral grayness that came before it but at the same time if was far too pleasant for a relentlessly dark ending. I could see how people rated this show very highly but at the same time it failed to win me over in the end. It was not a single poor or unsatisfactory turn that lost me but a thousand tiny paper cuts in the ending that turned me off.

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching, reading, or playing outside of our main blog posts. We each pick three things without much rhyme or reason; they are just the most interesting things since the last OI.

Read the rest of this entry ?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,657 other followers

%d bloggers like this: