Ongoing Investigations: Case #237

hisui_icon_4040 If any one remembers a little while back Kate looked at the first volume of Knights of Sidonia. She definitely had mixed feelings on the series but I was still intrigued to see what the series was like. We don’t get that much legitimate mecha manga in English so I figured I should seek it out when I could. I read the first four volumes myself to see if I had a different opinion. After diving pretty deep into the series I agree with Kate’s overall assessment but I found what threw me off about the series was very different from the things that bothered her.

The premise is fairly interesting. After Earth is destroyed during a horrific first contact scenario the remnants of humanity have been forced to live on colony ships. While fighting the relentless creatures bent on wiping out humanity it seems that the survivors have modified themselves to use photosynthesis, cloning, third genders, and other forms of genetic engineering to survive the greatly reduced resources on their ships. Nagate Tanikaze was an unmodified human who was living outside the system in the bowls of one of the ships until he was caught trying to steal food. When he is forced to fly a fighter which puts him in contact with many of the great secrets of the battle with the Gauna.

Kate really did not like the characters. I understand that feeling. They all seem so inhuman. And that makes sense. It is very clear that the crew of the Sidonia have been so heavily modified that while they are still technically human they are so removed from a modern person that they are practically aliens. The problem is the characters don’t feel uniquely alien. They don’t seem like fulled fleshed out others with distinctly aliens mindsets and personalities. They feel less like creatures apart from humanity and more characters without humanity. But even Nagate who is mostly human feels this way.

That was not a deal breaker for me. On the other hand it did not help my main problem with the series. The death blow for me was the narrative structure. Everything read like “this happened, then this happened, then this happened.” It is easy from that description to assume that Knights of Sidonia is extremely exposition heavy with lots of talking heads and walls of text. But overall the series is fairly light on blatant info dumps and long speeches. In fact you can read through any given book of Sidonia fairly quickly. It is more that Nagate just drifts from plot point to plot point. I never felt any weight or tension to his actions. If he is hanging out with his fellow pilots, fighting for his life in battle, adrift and space on the verge of death, or learning dark and terrible secrets it all was has the same feel to it. If I were a bit more well versed in the language and mechanics of manga I might be able to put my finger on what is off about the story. I do know it is deeply mechanical. It is not just the overall narrative. It is something as systemic as the flow from panel to panel.

But that is the manga in a nutshell. It has a lot of strong elements that should make it a series that Kate and I loved. But in the end it is an interesting dance performed by someone who is constantly not in synch with the music. They are off just enough that it does not look wrong but it never feels right. You want to like what they are doing but you can’t ever enjoy yourself even though you feel you should.

I do wonder if this is actually a series that could be saved by the upcoming anime. Theoretically a talented director could take what is good about the series and bring it to the forefront while minimizing or even removing what keeps the series from congealing. Also robot battles always just look better animated. I’m not saying that is guaranteed to happen. But I feel if anything could save the series it would be a well produced anime. Since Netflix picked up the series it will be a while before Kate and I will be able to watch it legitimately. But considering how cool we were on the manga this is hardly the hardest wait for us.

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narutaki_icon_4040 Last month I was excited for The Heroic Legend of Arslan manga by Yoshiki Tanaka and Hiromu Arakawa to be licensed, imagine my surprise when it was promptly added to Crunchyroll Manga! So I sped through the first volume over the weekend.

Prince Arslan’s strained relationship with his parents is apparent from the start. His father is a warrior king while Arslan isn’t too bad with a sword (no matter what his attendants have him believe), he is more of a thinker. The people surrounding him are going to be of the utmost importance as we watch him grow from boy to ruler.

Ms. Arakawa has done a great job creating the sweeping epic feel of this fantasy series as a major battle embroils the kingdom in the last couple chapters of vol. 1. Her farming experience (manga and otherwise) is sure to be helping her draw all the calvary! The intensity of the battle, or perhaps massacre is a better word, feels horrific so it should come as no surprise that this series has a high body count.

This story has been adapted into anime and manga before but this may prove to be the best incarnation yet.

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.

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hisui_icon_4040 I was originally pretty excited to watch Robot Girls Z. It seemed like it had potential to be a pretty fun little show. The opening is really catchy. And then I finally watched the first episode. It was OK. Not really anywhere as good as I hoped. I certainly liked it more than the people I watched it with but I was still a little let down. But overall the series was only three episodes so I decided to finish it in hopes that win me over. 

Yes, yes. Technically it is nine episodes but it is more three episodes with three small stories in each bundle.

Robot Girls Z is sort of a cute girls doing cute things show if some of the girls are sadistic robots. But in a way the fact that the Z team is sadistic monsters is not that far off from a real Go Nagai work. The thing is there are little bits and pieces of fan service but when they go on the fishing boat it starts to get a bit skeevy.

Then there is the Minerva X episode. The less said about it the better. It never gets worse that the Minerva X episode but at the same time it is a pretty steep dip into darkness.

The main bad guys are Baron Ashura, Garada K7, and Doublas M2. They appear all the time. They introduce a bunch of other Mechanical Beast Girls but most of them almost never show up again after the general skit they are introduced in. They actually have the Team G and Team T show up more.

I wonder if I was a bigger Go Nagai scholar would it had gone over better. It might be the way that Carnival Phantasm can be fun if you are ignorant of Type-Moon but to really grok it you need to be at least a moderately well versed fan. Or maybe you just need to think that Doublas M2 having her hand puppets taken away from her and then beaten with them is very funny.

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narutaki_icon_4040  I finished up Y the Last Man by Brain K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra which I thoroughly enjoyed. I must say I was pleased and surprised by the end of the series. The world is by no means magically fixed when our story ends, in fact it seems unlikely that the world will ever become what it once was. In that way, Y the Last Man proves itself to be a story about people and not about heroes and I say that with praise.

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hisui_icon_4040 Since I have been playing Super Mario 3D Land quite a bit since I might as well talk about it. It is a game that pretty much fell into my hands. My brother gave me the game after he beat it and I subsequently lost it in my apartment because he did not have the original case. My roommate recently found the game and so I was finally able to play it. I will say it really seems to be a game that is very tailored to be on a portable system. It seems like something you could play on a console but it would not be as engaging. The levels and overall structure seem perfectly suited for something you play on a commute or while waiting as opposed to something you sit down and play for long stretches.

The return of the Tanooki suit was a nice trip down nostalgia lane. It was always one of the most iconic pieces of Super Mario Bros. 3 so its return was a pleasantly warm feeling. Its ability to let you glide and slap things with your tail did make what would otherwise be dreadful pieces of platforming bearable for an “old” man like myself. If you need to challenge yourself just play the game while beating all the levels without ever using the Tanooki suit. That is how the hardcore platformer fans do it. I am not that strong in the force. I used it whenever I could. I will say that of all the abilities the suit’s ability to turn into a statue is the one power I NEVER used. In fact it got me killed more than it ever helped me. It seems more like an odd quirk than something you are constantly using but maybe I’m missing its many varied uses.

Beyond that the Boomerang Flower was cool. It was never as useful as the Tanooki suit but it just felt powerful. The little propeller block just felt like cheating. At times felt like you could just zoom wherever you needed to on the map and call it a day. But it is only on a few stages which is probably for the best. Other than that you just have the standard power-ups that are a mainstay of the series. They also have to loser blocks if you die too many times in a row on a stage. I avoid using them at first but on 8th world of the 1st half of the game I found myself using them to get stars. This was all fine and dandy but when you get to the second half of the game they no longer give them to you. It really made me realize how much I had become to rely on the fall back in the short amount of time I had been using them. In a way I had to relearn how to play the game when I realized that the crutch was gone.

The second half of the game takes the levels from the first half of the game and remixes them to be a bit more challenging. This includes parts were you start the level with only 30 seconds and have to kill enemies to gain more time or where a shadow Mario chases after you. Sometimes they combine the two in the same stage. Not all of the stages were immensely harder but they were never easier. It was a good way of reusing assets although some levels seemed much newer than others.

Also when did touching the top of the flagpole at the end of the stage become a piece of the unlockables in Mario games? It always seemed like a little bonus and not a necessity. But to unlock the last level you have to beat every level with Mario and Luigi while also touching the top of the flagpole in every level as well. That seems a bit excessive.

The game had 3D. That is a fact. I turned it on from time to time just to see how it functioned but most of the time I was playing the game on my commute so I turned off the 3D just to save battery life. But I feel that is the curse of the 3D effect in general. It is a nice idea but most of the time your going to turn it off because the cost to benefit ratio makes it more effort than it is worth. At times I felt myself going, “I’m sure this stage would be cooler in 3D but … eh.”

It is a nice “I have less than an hour to kill” game. You can play it in longer stretches but the maximum fun comes from lots of short bursts of play. But that is probably the ideal when it comes to portable games in general.

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narutaki_icon_4040 This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki (they are cousins) about Rose and Windy, two adolescent girls who meet each summer at the small beach town their families vacation, swept me up and into my own memories.

Rose’s family is fractured, her parents quietly argue while Rose becomes more and more distant from her depressed mother. Rose’s closeness with her wise-cracking father only causes her to judge her mother even more harshly. 

Rose and Windy occupy themselves all summer with a crush (which they totally don’t have) on older teenaged guy at the local video store who lets them rent horror movies with no holds-barred. This part of the story was actually the most fascinating to me. As an adult you look at this boy they like and think “ugh this guy is horrible!,” but you remember that crush-state where you refusing to see the bad.  Rose and Windy’s addiction to horror flicks is also spot on for their age.

Jillian and Mariko write the young mind with such authority and authenticity.

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