Ongoing Investigations: Case #185

Although readers love number scores in turn reviewers can grow to hate them mostly because they lack any amount of nuance. It is far more important why you gave something a 7 out of 10 than the mere fact that you did. But with some reviews a number score would be utterly meaningless. What is appealing and unappealing, what works and what goes astray, and what attracts and repels people are so subtle that only a full review can give you a good appreciation of the product. Forest really is a visual novel that personifies that fact. It is a game that I would say could easily be a 9 out of 10 for one of my friends but a 4 out of 10 for another and for the same reasons.

The thing is love it or hate it you have to give it to Forest for really trying to push the boundaries of the types of stories you can tell with the medium. When I first looked at the game I had to wonder how much of the complex narrative was a pretentious attempt at playing like the big boys of art and how much was legitimate higher story telling. In the end it is all fairly well executed attempts at creating a layered story with a good deal of symbolism and threaded stories tied together with a dash of gorgeous surrealism. The story takes the western children’s stories and creates a fantasy realm inside Shinjuku that tests a group of very broken people.

The clearest example of the style of story telling comes with the story selection. In each chapter there are usually 3 or four stories you need to read to progress. They are presented as leaves of a tree with dates on them. The leaves come in three different colors. The gray dead leaves are set entirely in the real world. There is never anything magical going on and they contain the most conventional pieces of storytelling. Then there are green leaves that talk about the world of the Forest. Here things are a mixture of the mundane and mystical. What is real, what is imaginary, and what is magical can be tricky to discern as all three realms can interact seamlessly. There are also red leaves that deal with the Game of the Forest. Everything here is totally metaphorical. There are no traces of the real world and everything is shrouded in symbolism and mystery.

You might be asking yourself at this point why did I make such a big fuss at the beginning if this game is so complex and layered. The thing is as many things as there are to enjoy about the game there are to hate about it. Heck most of them are the same things. All that layered story telling can be just as off-putting as it is fascinating. Thankfully near the end there are some major revelations are thrown on the table in a rather concrete manner so it is not all guess-work and symbolism. But that does not really happen until three-quarters of the way through. Until then you are left to swim through some very tough reading with the mere promise that things will be explained later on. This is not James Joyce’s Ulysses but it is hardly something you can read while doing something else at the same time. If you called it pretentious I would disagree with you but I would not say that you wrong either.

Also there is a lot of sex. And most of it is rather unnerving. It is never gory or bizarre. It is just that it all involves very emotionally damaged people having sex with the oddly uncomfortable sensation that comes with it. Sometimes the scenes are there to give a greater insight into the characters and story and sometimes they are there for mostly fetishistic reasons.  This is far more than just a “put it in”  game but with the amount of sex involved you would not be a fault to assume that at first.

In the end it all comes down to how much you wish to climb that mountain. There is a definite reward at the end but it is hardly an easy climb to the top. If you are a hardcore story driven visual novel fans this is worth checking out just to how you complex a story you can tell if that is your goal. No one will ever praise or accuse Tokimeki Memorial of being art house but you could legitimately but that label on Forest. But for anyone else there are far better titles to start with. Sometimes you don’t need to scale Everest for some entertainment.

ParaNorman was one of the animated films I was looking forward to most this year and it didn’t disappoint. If anything, it exceeded everything in its trailer.

It is the story of Norman an 11-year-old boy in the town of Blithe Hollow a place obsessed with its 300-year-old witch execution. Norman has the power to see ghosts so it is no surprise that when the witch’s curse threatens the town, he is the only one capable of stopping it.

The animation and graphic stylings are a knock-out in this movie. From the deep shadows to the bright highlights, ParaNorman paints it macabre world in a fun way. The little details really make it feel thoughtful, like Norman’s room or the threads on the clothing. And be sure to watch through to the end of the credits to see a little time lapse video of an artist creating the Norman puppet.

ParaNorman’s humor and the topics it explores give it a lot of punch. There are bright moments of slap-stick and morbid chuckles throughout. The Puritan zombies being terrified of modern American culture was a fantastic jab. Norman’s problems of being bullied and his alienation from those around him are depicted with sensitivity and heartbreak that felt like it could only come from those who have been there. Similarly, bullied Neil who befriends Norman feels like so much like someone you know.

It is a really special movie, my favorite animated of the year so far, and I can’t wait to watch it again!

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching and reading outside of our main posts on the blog. We each pick three things that we were interested in a week and talk a bit about them. There is often not much rhyme or reason to what we pick. They are just the most interesting things we saw since the last Ongoing Investigation.

And for something that has a far more traditional story structure but possibly just as much awkward sex I read the first volume of Queen and Country. It is a modern-day spy comic from Oni Press with a team of English MI6 agents. This is a fairly realistic comic so the missions are all plausible and all the technology is realistic. So there is no fighting against Cobra Commander or Ernst Stavro Blofeld and no one uses laser watches or holographic camouflage. Just terrorist and drug cartels with sniper rifles and keyhole satellites.

The story centers around the “minders” who work for the Special Operations Section. The protagonist is one of their top agents Tara Chace but overall it is very much an ensemble piece with the focus being on Tara. They will just as often focus on the dealings of one of her superiors or coworkers. It is just that all the threads of interaction will eventually tie back into her story. In that way it is very much scripted like a TV series. Apparently it was even optioned to be a movie but it has been stuck in development hell.

Each story is general self-contained. While there is distinct character growth and continue between stories they can generally be read as stand alone stories. If there is some major plot line that connects all the stories I have yet to notice it. If you were to say pick up book 2 you could probably settle in without reading the first book fairly quickly but you are rewarded to reading the first book.

And the general reward is seeing Tara Chace deal with the fact that her job puts her in the very dark side of morally gray. While she is theoretically working for the good of the country her job makes her do things that hardly give her the warm fuzzy feeling of charity work. You can see the slow grinding away of the mind and the soul that comes with being very good at a job that is anything but. Even if there is an ends justify the means rationalization.

Sort of like the Sandman series there is one main writer for the series but every arc has a new artist. So Greg Rucka makes sure that the writing is constantly uniform but the art is always done by a different Oni Press employee. So Leandro Fernández will be the artist on one story and then Bryan Lee O’Malley on another. I can’t say anyone’s style stood out to me as particularly suited for one story over another but I did not have a problem with Steve Rolston’s more cartoon-like style in the first arc.

If you told me this was a comic adaptation of a popular cable TV series I would not even doubt you for a second (other than maybe the fact that the stories seem a bit stronger than the average TV to comic adaptation.) So if you’re looking for an American comic series that feels a bit less stereotypically comicy but still has action and mature content then this is a good book to pick up. Plus if it ever does get turned into a TV series you can brag up how you were into the series before it was mainstream.

Hipster.

Read Kekkaishi vol. 33, I can’t believe only two more installments to go!

All the final pieces are in a place by the end of these chapters. Characters motivations seem clear. Everyone has their missions for this final arc though I thoroughly expect a few surprises to still crop up.

Masamori is featured prominently in this volume as he tries to gather people to save the organization. He is so integral to the plan created with some surprising faces, and it pleases him so, that I can’t help but be a little afraid he has signed up for more than he realizes.

I was glad to see Tokine back in action and carrying off a significant task. But not before she and Yoshimori got to talk and it was a lovely few pages!

Silver Spoon is not the manga adaption of the 80s sitcom with Ricky Schroder. It is the latest manga by Hiromu Arakawa who is far more well-known for her work as the artist behind Fullmetal Alchemist. But as Rudyard Kipling wrote East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet. Although  they are written by the same author it would be hard for be two of them to be more dissimilar. If you hear the name Nobuyuki Fukumotoyou know you are going to get a crazy gambling manga. But Silver Spoon proves you can’t make that sort of assumption with Hiromu Arakawa.

Silver Spoon is set at an agricultural college in Hokkaido. It revolves around, Yugo Hachiken, a city slicker trying to make his way though school surrounded by farmer’s kids. While it seems like he came to the school to he could be the top of his class he obviously has other reasons for coming to a place where he is such a fish out of water. Yugo has to deal with everything from chasing chickens to creating a pizza party while trying to discover what he actually wants to do with his future.

On a certain level the art alone tells you that this is a Hiromu Arakawa manga. Thankfully only character who is a one to one copy is the gym teacher who look exactly like Armstrong (which is not something you could say with her design work for Hero Tales). But beyond that the story telling is much different. This is all very much informed by her life growing up on a dairy farm. That means also it is all very slice of life. No action and no grand adventure. Unless you consider almost being bitten by a pig an adventure. This is far more character and mood based. Thankfully there are no constant short jokes or some such similar running gag. When you are much more quiet humor based such repetitive jokes would stand out even more.

But the biggest difference is probably the reaction between the US and Japan. Fullmetal Alchemist was a hit in the US and Japan. It was the “it” show for quite awhile. On the other hand while Silver Spoon has been doing gangbusters in Japan there is a good reason no one is rushing to put in out in English. This is not the sort of series that does well here even if you throw on a sticker about how this is from the same artist who gave you the alchemy series you loved.

This is really the sort of series that is going to appeal to someone who likes slower shows with a dash of humor. If you are an Aria fan or maybe And Yet The Town Moves sort of reader than this might appeal to you. It does have a bit of pep to it and Hiromu Arakawa is always good at making goofy but loveable characters. But if you are looking for a more hot blooded experience you will be sadly disappointed.

I picked up the first Lizzie Newton manhwa from Seven Seas as it promised me Victorian mysteries!

Lizzie is an author who is gaining a fan following for her sleuthing stories and an aristocrat. She is eccentric and fearless if somewhat annoying at times. Her mystery solving style is a bit Sherlockian though her steward Edwin is the one more familiar with using scientific tests as evidence.

The mystery is this volume involves a presumed suicide of a gentleman who had recently returned from war to find his sweetheart married to someone else. I was glad they gave the entire book to one mystery. Besides thinking that Lizzie was way to quick to call it murder, it plays out fairly well. Some of the vital facts to figuring out the case are really subtle but they are there though I missed them. However, we don’t ever come face to face with the criminal either which definitely made it hard to figure out.

The police detective has so much internal monologue about how amazing Lizzie and Edwin are it became laughable and then annoying.

In the end, I’m feeling middle of the road about this title so will probably pick up another to see how it plays out as it goes on.

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