Ongoing Investigations: Case #116

Gunslinger Girl is such a big seller for Seven Seas that they are releasing omnibus editions, we got a look at the first one which contains vols. 1-3. I was very interested in this title just because it seems to garner some contradictory ideas and people. This series takes cute, little girls and turns them into cyborg assassins for a secret government organization. Despite their training and conditioning, they are still able to form connections though inevitably most are either disturbing or end poorly. The first two volumes, give or take, are somewhat vignette-like as we learn a little of the tragic story of each girl. It really stops being shocking however after the second or third time you’ve seen it. So once the series starts on a more robust story in volume three things get better. Though admittedly I’m more interested in the Section 2, the terrorist plot, “Pinocchio,” and various other story elements that are not these children. Once again it is a series that makes you feel a bit uncomfortable, but seems to be designed that way . . . maybe. I do have to wonder why there are no little boy assassins or why these girls are so cute, cute all the time even when they are just hanging out in their rooms or why every female in the series seems to be blushing nine times out of ten. I’m not quite sure what it is saying, if anything at all. There is plenty of action and political plots, though sometimes a bit talkie. One thing I noted from beginning to end was how much the art changes, it becomes much softer and uses a thinner line as it goes (below left side is the chapter 1, right side is chapter 17).

Gunslinger Girl has always been a series that has given me mixed feelings. On one hand I know people sing the praises of the story and its twisted but illuminating nature. On the other hand it seems to have a strong loli vibe even if there is no obvious fan service. I assumed the only way to see if which half of its legacy Gunslinger Girl lives up to is to read the manga myself. In the end I am not sure if I have any clearer feeling on the series now that I have read three books of the series. There is a story of politics and wet works as the government uses and abuses these little girls like objects to eliminate criminals and enemies of the state. All the stories have a heavy air of melancholy and tragedy that seems inescapable. On the other hand all the girls are portrayed as uber cute little sister characters whenever they are not killing people. Also all the girls and the obsessive big brother devotions that can be seen as catering to a bracket obsessed with little sisters. There are going to be three camps most fans fall into in the series. The first is those who see the girls as a tool for storytelling. By making them these ultra innocent little girls it heightens the darkness of their lives and how they are used as disposable weapons. The second group is going to see the book as a critique of otaku culture. You have a contrast of the insanely devoted moe little girls with their exploitation by those who supposedly are their noble guardians. You could also just see it as standard little girl fetishism with a coating of dark political thriller to make it more palatable. That said the service in never blatant but it is always present. The story with the kaleidoscope or Elsa de Sica clearly have romantic to sexual overtones. Since there are not constant panty shots and long bath scenes the interpretation of the stories will mainly come down to your predisposition. The reader will focus on the part of the story they gravitate to and trivialize what they don’t care for. The stories themselves are usually very slow going as far as to having some slice of life chapters but are broken up with pages of violence and personal horror. The omnibus is a good introduction to the series and a more than 400 pages it gives you a good sense of where on the spectrum your opinion of the series will be.

I watched the 12th Detective Conan movie, Full Score of Fear. This mystery features classic music, a famous pianist and singer, an incredible music hall, and a mad bomber. The movie beings with exploding a couple of music students then switches to Conan and gang getting a sneak preview of an upcoming performance by a famous pianist turned organist plus some violin students and a rare perfect-pitch singer. It becomes immediately clear there is tension among the performers and everyone is a bit suspicious. The film’s climax has more than 20 bombs slowly going off around the music hall as the audience sits inside unaware they are coming closer to death. And the actual ending is very intense as well as the way the bombs were planted. But I would say the highlight includes Conan and the perfect-pitch singer calling 911 not by dialing the number, because they can’t reach the phone, but by using her voice to simulate the tones. Another good film that I’ve come to expect from the franchise. The bonus OVA is not very exciting but it does tie into the film in a cool way at the end.

While at the library I also picked up the first two volumes of Deadman Wonderland which much like Toriko has the same hyper-violent old school shonen feel. Deadman Wonderland finds Ganta Igarashi in a fun house styled jail for a crime he didn’t commit fighting for his life in gladiatorial combat. It has many of the staples of you standard shonen fighting manga. It has a young protagonist with strange powers  who has to fight other more experienced fighters. The protagonist is super powerful but has to learn to use his abilities. There is a tournament system that can either further the plot or keep in it in standby as the pacing necessitates. A mysterious love interest who is both innocent and eccentric. But it has a decided gruesome body count every episode. People are ground into paste, ripped apart, burned, or maimed with a disturbing frequency. All the characters seem to be very sinister. The first person Ganta befriends is in cahoots with the warden and is trying to set him up while also trying to kill Shiro. And he is your otherwise standard sidekick character. It has a cynical and bloody worldview more in line with a seinen manga. Like Toriko is a good series for those who miss the old bloody and morally ambiguous days of shonen manga. I am curious to see where they go with this premise with the upcoming anime.

Picked up vol. 1 of The Stellar Six once I realized it was released in English (I found out purely by accident). I had been eying this in Japanese for a while now, but what I thought was about a family is actually about a circle of friends. This group, and their families and neighbors, all work and live in this big marketplace. Each chapter is a small adventure, usually involving the people of the market be it customers or workers, that enhances what we know about their relationships in a somewhat slice-of-life manner. However, there is clearly a love is in the midst for our two main characters. It is a cute series but not particularly well-written or paced which never made me feel or believe the pages unfortunately. On one hand it is about the twisted dirty deeds of girls who a drugged up, given cybernetic bodies, and conditioned into being assassins for a clandestine branch of the Italian government. Their lifespans are shortened, their memories are constantly perverted, and they are forced into protective relationships with their handlers due to a combination of drugs and brainwashing.

After seeing Erin’s unusual manga genres panel and her food manga panels I decided I should try at least one book of Oishinbo since it is another one of those ultra long running series. Since Oshibo is over 100 volumes and still going Viz released a 7 volumes from a completion collection of the series. Each volume is based around stories from the series with a similar theme. The book I found was about Izakaya: Pub Food. The story is chronological so you will see the main character Shiro go from single shlub, to active flirt, to married man, to proud father over the course of the series. It has a very basic healing manga format just in this instance the stories are based around food this time. In one story they will be teaching a pretty boy actor how to properly drink saki for a role by going to an old school Izakaya and another time they will try a create an innovative menu for a high-class Izakaya franchise. The stories were entertaining but I felt like not being a foodie I was missing out on a distinct level of enjoyment.

A bit past the date, but who cares!

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