I am not exactly sure what I was expecting with Amnesia Labyrinth 1 but I know it was not this. The story was by Nagaru Tanigawa who wrote the Haruhi Suzumiya books. Narutaki and I were interested because it was being sold like it was a creepy murder mystery. And the book does not lie about that. The fact of the matter is that it probably underplays how utterly messed up this book is. If you go in expecting the happy-go-lucky antics of Haruhi Suzumiya you will be in for a shock. The story has two faces. There is the mostly lighthearted investigation of Souji Kushiki and Sasai Yukako trying to discover who has been killing the most gifted students at school. While there is a dark undercurrent in this half of the story it is mostly upbeat. But the second half of the story resolves around Souji Kushiki and his family and that is always hyper sexual in the most disturbing way possible. All three of his sisters are clearly engaged in some form of sexual relationship with him. It is really odd in the fact that I am not sure how much these scene are played for the purposes of titillation and how much they are just supposed to be flat-out creepy. They are always seriously creepy. Whenever one of his sisters is flirting with him (or in one cases sleeping with him) there is a distinct feeling that everything going on is very unnatural and sick. But at the same time there is also an air of eroticism in these scenes. I don’t know if it is going for both at the same time or if I am selling short the nudity and sex for just being there for the sake of nudity and sex. But you have to be aware that this is present in the series before going in. There is an intriguing possibly supernatural mystery going on but some people are going to be turned away but the omnipresent twisted sexuality of the manga. The art is oddly variable. At times backgrounds are detailed and complex and other times they are utterly non-existent. Also for some reason the art remind me of a really professional done doujinshi in the character designs and page layout. Overall I can’t place my feelings on this manga. All I do know is that this is not Haruhi.
I had heard of Amnesia Labyrinth probably for the same reason as anyone else has, it is written by the Haruhi author. I also knew it was a mystery series so of course I was curious about it. The book starts with the death of a third top-of-the-class student who we learn later was a friend of Yukako who runs the The Intelligence Committee (which has exactly one member). Souji has just transferred back to the school and also is readjusting to home life and eventually gets swept up in Yukako’s desire to find the culprit. That sounds all well and good, but everything about this series is creepy and it makes you suspicious of everything and everyone involved; I know you wouldn’t think it from that top picture but it is true, in a certain way it is playing with your expectations. Though I won’t say the series doesn’t start out with a not-quite-right vibe, it only becomes more pronounced as the volume continues. Despite things like the clear harem aspects of the series, an enticing mystery is woven in the first volume that made me want to know the answers but kind of afraid to find out. Why did Souji leave previously? What’s with this crazy incest family? Who is that guy who looks like Souji? Why is Yukako so attached to Souji? Does Harumi have multiple personalities? Some of these are actual questions and some of these are my speculations, but I like a mystery that is this meaty. I won’t lie though, the sexual situations in this title made me very uncomfortable, but at least for the moment I’m giving Amnesia Labyrinth the benefit of the doubt because I think we are supposed to be uncomfortable. So turn those pages quickly! I really had to mull over my feelings on this book, but I came to the conclusion that at least for the moment I want to continue.
First the downsides of the ending of Heartcatch Precure!. The climax is clearly in episode 48 and 49 is mostly winding down. Secondly they entirely focus on what happens to the main cast and sadly the well-developed side cast is mostly ignored. That said everything else about Heartcatch Precure! was just amazing. The last fights were great and use a bit of comedy of Erika and Itsuki sneaking around to break up the serious drama in just the right proportion. The last fight would have been right at home in Gurren Lagann for sheer galactic power. In the end everything came together nicely and the ending was satisfying. Heartcatch Precure! just did everything that a magical girl show could do right with a nice twist that made it feel fresh. It is a great show for anyone who is new to magical girl shows while also be revitalizing for anyone who might be burnt out of the genre. If it has any major flaw it makes most other magical girl shows have an near impossibly high standard to live up to. Highly recommended.
Banner of the Stars II, which I will be calling Curse of Prison Planet, was a rollercoaster ride. The series starts off terrible, like really awful and dumb, as Jinto insists on helping this planet newly won by the Abh from The United Mankind; a planet full of criminals who are divided into factions and revolting. I realize that Jinto is a kind and compassionate soul, but from what I’ve seen the Abh aren’t. So I see no reason, none whatsoever, why they would go out-of-the-way to help these people instead of blowing the planet to smithereens and ending the pain the butt that they are. If you can suffer through the first half of the series, things start to get more interesting when a part of the United Mankind tries to cut across some of the recently acquired Abh territory. This battle is really good and I could actually follow it! Spoor has an amazing stint in this as well. But the main problem is getting past the reason for this battle occurring, and being such a danger to all the characters we’ve come to like, thanks to the stupid Prison Planet stuff! But I digress, the second half makes up for the first half, mostly.
I jumped into Toriko with with the first three books. It is a quirky Shonen Jump manga that looks and reads like an old school ultra manly fighting manga only it is supposedly based around gourmet cooking. I say supposedly because this is hardly a foodie manga like Oishinbo. This is a series about manly men built like mountains that fight super beasts that are the size of houses that shoot acid and tear through steel like it is tissue paper. They might off handily talk about the preparation of these fantastical beasts but that is all window dressing. To recycle and old joke of mine, Toriko is to real gourmet cooking as Naruto is to being a real ninja. Since it is about musclebound men fighting monsters and robots the character designs are surgically devoid of pretty. Even the one supposed pretty boy is delicate in his features in that way that Rei from Fist of the North Star is (aka not at all). Also being an ultra macho manga that means women are almost non-existent and mostly useless. They introduce a female character in the third book but she mostly seems destined to be the Shemp if she sticks around. Despite me busting this series ribs it is very entertaining throwback manga. The art, violence, and overall feel hearkens back to the wilder past of Shonen Jump. There is a manic energy to the fights and a very grandiose nature to the madness of the setting. Red shirted characters died on a regular basis with several gourmet hunter being eaten alive quite graphically in just one story. It is just the manga for anyone who long for the days when Go Nagai and Buronson wrote for the magazine.
I continued reading Karakuri Odette from the MMF. Volumes 2 and 3 are a departure from the first installment in that there are far less poignant moments of humanity and exploration in these chapters. Here we see the antics of a teenage girl robot in high school and some budding romantic escapades (and Asao wearing a furry coat, yay!). Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed these volumes, but they don’t carry the weight and promise of the first book but it is possible it will get back on track as the end nears.
I can’t think of a more appropriate picture to celebrate the conclusion of Heartcatch Precure!: