Ongoing Investigations: Case #240

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.

narutaki_icon_4040 One is Enough by love is a BL romance about Matsumoto awakening to his attraction to his sempai Mizushima. Mizushima seemingly has sex with Matsumoto and throws him away, but he is struggling with a past rejection of his own.

In typical fashion, all the other boys in the series have their eyes on Matsumoto which allows for random other hookups.

The dialogue is of particular note for its artificiality.

This story is one we’ve seen before, it isn’t particularly strong, and in the case of One is Enough isn’t done with enough flair to really engage me.

It is interesting to see love’s art get better over the course of the story, the last few scenes really shine in this respect at least.

 

hisui_icon_4040 I am generally not the target audience for BL manga. I will read it if asked to but it is nothing something to go out of my way to track down. But I hope I am at least open enough to good storytelling that even if I not into the topic I can judge if a manga is generally good or bad and why it succeeds or fails. That said if I say that a BL title is weak it can come off as somewhat suspect. I’m not a fan of the genre so you could wonder if I am being overly harsh on a title because I am not the target demographic. When Kate says a title is not up to snuff then I can feel a little safer delving into what is wrong with the work. The main problem with One is Enough is that it does not come off as its own story. It seems more like a copy of a story that the writer enjoyed.

Most people learn to draw by coping other people. If you have ever seen the fan art page for a manga you will see a wide variety of levels of skill with the submissions. You have the ones by little kids that barely resemble what they are trying to draw, you have some decent attempts at copying, and you even have some original art of  various degrees of quality. On occasion you also have someone who almost copied a scene or character with enough skills that it comes very close to looking like an exact duplicate but it has some technical flaws that prove it was not drawn by the original artist. The thing is the fan art is totally unoriginal. It is just the exact panel of the manga only not done quite as well. One is Enough is that last piece of fan art.

Nothing about One is Enough feels as if it has the voice of the author. It feels like a rote repetition of what has come before it. There is a shy boy who is attracted to a sexually aggressive bad boy with a troubled past who needs love (and loving) to be healed. There is an overly aggressive rival who merely stands as an obstacle and creature of menace. Eventually through hardship there is a breakthrough and a confession. All the notes seem very familiar and none of them well played. If your familiar with the genre you will have seen this tale done before but better several times already.

Worse yet Matsumoto and Mizushima don’t feel like real characters. I can’t tell you what either of them really likes beyond one another. Other than a few random acts of kindness I can’t tell you want brings them together other than physical attraction. They seem more ciphers and tropes than characters.

But this does not feel like someone sitting down hitting a checklist because they were forced to write a boys love story by their editor. The story does not feel totally devoid of passion. It feels more like someone wanting to write a story like other authors they admire but not yet quite having the skill to do anything but copy. This is the work of someone who can improve with time and perhaps a little guidance. Perhaps a more involved editor, a kind mentor, or just a greater amount of experience. The basic formula need not be throw out altogether. A little more internal examination of the two men in love beyond them just being in love, a bit more thought into why they fall in love, and perhaps a more complex story than just two young men in high school could all make the story feel more alive and original.

One is Enough feels like a story that the author looks back on with a mixture of embarrassment and whimsy. An rough earlier work that exposes a young artist who has not yet found themselves. I think with some work and maturity we could see better from this storyteller. They just have top reach beyond what they already know.

narutaki_icon_4040 Alive by Taguchi Hajime is an anthology of one-shot stories mostly dealing with relationships. The artwork has a very indie American feel which added a lot to the stories base nature.

One story, which as far as I could tell has no title, reminded me a little of a Twilight Zone episode as a girl gets a pair of special glasses that blur out things she hates. She eventually sees even her own reflection blurry. I liked the idea of not simply ignoring or blocking out the things that you don’t like in life.

The title story Alive has a nice relationship between two down on their luck people though has a kinda of random ending.

The one anomaly subject-wise is a story called I’ll Give You a Name in which a girl finds a talking frog. It is a short gag story about the girl trying to give the frog a name.

Many of the other stories have an odd or warped quality to them giving them their unique flavor but not one that I really warmed up to.

hisui_icon_4040 When people discuss American comics it is easy to only talk about Marvel and DC as if they were the only two publishers in all 50 states of the union. Especially with the big summer movies based on their properties they can easily dominate the conversation. But below them are smaller publishers like Image Comics producing more varied content that is just as polished as the big boys. But below them are they truly Indy comics. These are small print runs that don’t get much exposure or credit. They are rough and raw with all the benefits and weaknesses that brings. The Japanese manga industry also has these tiers as well. Alive is really all in the spirit of that undedog tier of publishing.

The stories feel very personal. Each chapter feels like a piece of Taguchi Hajime’s soul. A bit of him exposed in a way that you would normally only get out a slightly intoxicated person who has let their guard down. The stories here even when they end happily expose a darker emotion or impulse. They are unapologetically dirty stories. Not all of them have sexual content (although many of them do) but all of them are about messy ideas and tainted people. If your tired of extremely polished stories written to cater to a mass market audience then you might find something you really like here.

At the same time there is a reason those polished mass market stories sell more. Remember how I said that rough and raw stories have benefits and flaws. Well there are some drawbacks to this style as well. All the stories sort of ramble. While that drunk guy is open and honest in his stories he also tends to have no good sense of how to pace his tale. He often starts and stops as he feels without a real consideration to the listener. Also some of the stories seems to trail off more because the author stops talking more than because he chose to stop talking even if it is at the detriment of the theme.

Also the dirty parts of the story can go some uncomfortable places. That first story with the fish really just seems a pitch black tale that sets a dour tone for the book. I think that was its purpose but perhaps it does it a bit too well. As a person who tends to shy a way from extremely melancholy material I don’t think starting with that helped my enjoyment of the rest of the book. It did not have to start with the Frog naming story but something more like the girl living on the roof would have worked better for me.

Like a lot of American Indy comics I feel Alive really chooses its audience more than it audience chooses it. If you want something that does not feel like your standard shonen fighting anime, shojo school romance, or even a senin power fantasy this is very different from those.. Just remember it is niche for a reason.

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