Ongoing Investigations: Case #241

narutaki_icon_4040 Raqiya (vols. 1-2) by Masao Yajima and Boichi is like a yakuza manga if all the yazuka were part of obscure subsects of Christianity. The series combines intense violence, conspiracy theories, priests, destruction, demons, cults, virgins, and the impending apocalypse.

Boichi’s hyper realistic artwork is astounding. His attention to detail goes from the makes and models of guns and cars to the wrinkles on a person’s face and clothing, nothing is left unattended. Every moment of action, of which there are many, gets the same treatment. You could easily lose yourself in Boichi’s line work.

The story revolves around Luna, a young woman who, after her family dies in a horrible accident, is visited by Abraxas, a demon with the body of a woman and some strange headdress. Luna is revealed to be a “descendent of Norea” and will play an important role in the destruction of the world. A group fronted by the Nitobe corporation is kidnapping virgin women looking for “the goddess” and end up coming after Luna.

The real main character, as I like to call him, Toshiya doesn’t actually show up until chapter 4. He is the good-looking, priest-in-training, who is basically a badass and a genius. He has his best friend Isa who provides the comic relief and, of course, the super hot Luna who he must protect but can never have.

Honestly, at the beginning I kept looking names and references up on the internet. At points, the series just glosses over things as if we are all knee-deep in obscure Christian lore. But then at other times does a decent enough job of telling you what you need to know without going into full-blown exposition. I realized after a while that the series would reveal itself in due time and to just go along for the ride. I’m sure you’d get a lot out of it if you know this stuff or read Wikipedia alongside it, but that doesn’t sound enjoyable to me and shouldn’t be, and isn’t, necessary to enjoy the series.

Raqiya has the super-seinan quality that we don’t get too much of here in the U.S. One Peace Books is a very small publisher so I hope it reaches the manga audience, they need to know about this series. I can imagine this also doing well if you put it into the hands of comic readers.

hisui_icon_4040 If you read manga long enough you being to see little trademarks and tells that other people might not pick up on. You might be able to tell just by a few pages which magazine a title ran in or which manga-ka worked as an assistant for another.  After reading a chapter or two of Raqiya my first thought was, “I think this is a Korean Manhwa” just from the art alone. It turns out I was partially correct. After I read the first two volumes I went online to see if I was right about the origin of the material. At first it seemed like my comic senses were off. Raqiya ran in Kodansha’s Morning magazine. But then I remember that Morning has been making an effort to hire artists from outside of Japan. That is how we got titles like Peepo Choo. While the author Masao Yajima is Japanese the artist Boichi is South Korean.

I just wanted to pat myself on the back for figuring that out before I did any research. I was mostly able to tell because while the men and peripheral women all have a hard seinen manga feeling the heroines and important female characters have this softer ethereal vibe you usually only get from korean comics. It is closer to the way women are depicted in josei or shojo manga but it is not the same. Also the rapid shifts into super deformed even during super serious scenes was another other hint. I’m not saying that all Korean manhwa look like that. While any detailed examination of a country’s comics will show a multitude of styles there tends to be a stereotypical style that most people know that country for. Japan tends to be known for that Shonen Jump style art whereas the US is usually associated with the Marvel and DC super hero comics flavor. In that way I usually think of this style of art when I think of manhwa.

That said the art is great. In fact Boichi’s Sun-Ken Rock is currently available from Crunchyroll manga. I just thought it was worth mentioning.

I will admit that unlike Kate I read Raqiya on the train and followed most of the weird terms without the Internet but that is because I am an old school table top role player. The number one secret you learn as table top role player is your three best and cheapest sources of game supplements are history books, mythology books, and religious texts. They have everything you need for a life time of campaigns, monsters, and organizations.  The thing is the more esoteric and heretical the religious text the better it is. Everyone around your table probably knows the story of Noah and the flood but now many people are well versed in who Abraxas is (unless they are Kunihiko Ikuhara.)  So I admit while I am generally familiar with gnostic references and Vatican assassin conspiracy theories I’m going to guess that is not the case for most people.

That said they seem fairly well researched. Being that most of the Christian mythos here is based on heretical and apocryphal texts it is really hard to call any of it wrong. There is no real King James Version of Gnosticism or Hermeticism. So there is not that much you can get “wrong” but everything I have read so far seems “right.” You are not getting any One-pound Gospel misunderstandings of Christianity. The story is centered around real fringe groups and crazy offshoots and it does that well.

The character dynamic is not what you might initially suspect. At first the story seems firmly centered on Luna. She is the key to either mankind’s salvation or doom. She is the one possessed by Abraxas. She is the one all the crazy cults are looking for. But overall she quickly seems more like a MacGuffin. While she is not totally just a plot device that moves along with the flow of the story she more often than not carried by other character’s choices more than her own. Isa then look like he might be the hero but he quickly seems to move into the side-kick position. It is clear that while Luna is the main character it is Toshiya who is going to be our hero. He is the best fighter, the most well read, and has the most character conflicts. They could surprise us if Luna gets more control over Abraxas’ power but I somehow doubt that will be the case.

The action is really the selling point of series. You get a lot of gun play, explosions, super natural powers, and assassins of all stripes. Also because the series deal with crazy cults and gnostic magic there is a whole lot of sex and nudity (although not usually of the consensual kind). I think Kate put it best when she said this was a real manime title. It distinctly scratches the itch of people who want the testosterone of Mad Bull 34 mixed with the conspiracy elements of The Da Vinci Code.  If that seems up your alley than you might want to check this out.

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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narutaki_icon_4040 I finally returned to watch Initial D Fifth Stage from SynergySP. Despite the hints that Ryosuke might return to the road, the series has so little momentum at the beginning. The races for Takumi and Keisuke are almost all dull as they lead up to the final confrontation Kanagawa to finish off Project D’s goals of besting racer’s on their hometurf. The problem lies in us learning very little about those they are racing against and the fact that so many of the racers are also circuit racers so they get beaten in basically the same way every time: they can no longer attain the recklessness and instinct needed for streetracing. But the true light in the series is learning about Ryosuke’s past and, yes, getting to see him take the wheel one last time.

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hisui_icon_4040 I think I mostly finished World Conquest Zvezda Plot from A-1 Pictures out of a sense of obligation to Type-Moon and Meteor Hoshizora more than any other reason. It was not a bad show. It just never really crossed the line into being a good show. It started off mediocre with a bit of promise, the it stayed mediocre with a bit of promise, and then it ended without really delivering on anything. About half way through it was fairly obvious that was going to be the case but I stuck with it mostly because it never angered me to continue watching.

It is not to say that there were not points at which things came up that might have been capitalized on. There is clearly an ancient civilization involved with the history of Zvezda but overall it does not amount too much. They investigate the lost civilization enough that is more than a merely convenient off-screen plot device but never enough for it to really count. Any revelations about itself legacy and how it feeds into Zvezda is basically a dead-end. It seems like there was a larger plot with promise hiding under the surface. The Udogawa Civilization, the odd dreams and prophecies, Kate’s back-story, and the flash forward all are sort of dropped as quickly as they are brought up. This is not Penguindrum were the elements are symbolic or allegoric of greater themes or if they were I was far to dense to pick up on that fact.

It was not even like a tantalizing look at the deeper mysteries to let the viewer debate their significance. They seem more like dropped threads than ambiguous storytelling. I know I was missing some of the show because it was pun dependent but that was more the humorous angle. As far as I can tell they shut off most of the jokes when they kick in the mythology. I think A was mostly A and B was mostly B and never shall the twain meet.

Other than that the actual main plot was just odd. It mainly seem to plod around and then eventually reveal it is all about Asuta’s daddy issues. But before that it sort of skips around with that it is doing. Sometimes it is about fighting White Light, other times it is about smoking, and occasionally it is about Tsubaki Shikabane. This is not Samurai Flamenco levels of gear shifting (little could be) but it does seem aimless. The final battle does just seem like they needed something to end on so they decided to go with fighting the Governor of Tokyo.

I sort of liked Renge’s story. She was distinctly the character with the strongest character arc and she was merely a secondary character. She actually has a conflict of character starting off as a dedicated member of White Light, wavering after her experiences with Dva, going on as a full renegade, and coming back as a reformer. If anything the end of her romantic subplot just seems more like random Kate worship rather than anything organic. And maybe it is just the fact that I liked her character more than the creepy fan service Kate.

Overall Forest made me eager to see what Meteo Hoshizora would do with the apparently still in limbo Girls’ Work. In turn Meteo Hoshizora’s work on this series gives me much greater trepidation about the game. Forest maybe have been a flawed work and downright creepy at times but it was ambitious, pushed boundaries, and showed the potential of visual novels even if it could have been done in a clearer manner. World Conquest Zvezda Plot gives me none of the same wonder. It just feels so rote. I’m not saying I hope that Girls’ Work does not come out now that I have seen this but I am possibly glad more work is being put into it.

(Watch it on Crunchyroll)

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narutaki_icon_4040 Like so many others in the country I really enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy from Marvel Studios. I think I was one of the few people who wasn’t impressed by the trailer, it really didn’t strike me at all, but after hearing so many people talking about the movie, I decided to see it anyway.

One thing that often comes up with comedies is them spoiling all the good jokes in the trailer, but smartly that was not the case for Guardians. It was able to catch me off guard quite a lot. Star Lord’s use of Earth innuendo, references, and colloquialisms is something we don’t really think about, but in a world populated with aliens they just don’t get him and this creates some truly hilarious scenarios.

Some were hailing this as the best of the Marvel movies yet, I am not in that camp, but I definitely had a great time!

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hisui_icon_4040 One of the best feelings in the world is probably being proven conclusively and unequivocally right. Right after that is the feeling getting confirmation that you were right in your own head even if you can totally prove it. In a way I feel that is what has happened with The Legend of Korra by Nicklodeon. I previously predicted that one of major problems with the second season is they REALLY wanted to get to Harmonic Convergence part of the story and wanted to jump into the possibilities that it unlocked. In that respect it really felt like the writers were rushing through the distasteful vegetables on their plate so they could finally get to their delicious dessert. While that means that they had a strong end goal the unenthusiastic writing made the season a bit of a slog to get through. But the first seven episodes make it clear why they were so enthusiastic to get to the third part of the story. As Kate has pointed out that does not forgive the sins of the second season. The problem of Spirits are still there and still kill a lot of people’s enthusiasm for the series. I think it just helps to have a bit of insight into why those major flaws occurred even if it does not fix them.

That said it really seems that Book Three has shown that the show was still able to recover from previous missteps. It also showed that there was a good deal be to excited about. While the changes that occur from Harmonic Convergence were not forgive the mediocre storytelling in a lot of season two not that they are here you can see why the writers really wanted to get to this part. If anything there have been so many good changes even the series seems a little overwhelmed with the new story telling possibilities that have been dropped on their laps. Although I’m glad they picked one general storyline to focus on I do sort of wish they would focus a little more on the fact that the world of the spirits is so much closer. I don’t need spirits popping up every episode but they only really seem to come up a bunch in the first episode and then sometimes when there is a focus on Jinora. I like the two main plots of this season. They are both really strong. After the major shakeup with the spirit world I really expected its immediately obvious repercussions to be more of the focus than these secondary (but equally important) pieces of the fallout.

Also the most welcome change is the fact that the characters just seem more engaging. They also seem like more of a team which was always a selling point of the show. The first season was about the formation of the new Team Avatar. There was a bit of a rocky start at times but when the team finally came together there was some internal conflict but they seemed to get things done when things needed to get done. Most importantly they played off each other well. In the second season everyone seemed to be wandering around on their own and clashing just to make drama. The worst part was a lot of the clashing made the characters a bit harder to like. I know a lot of people felt Korra herself seemed to regress most of the arc and it was extremely frustrating. The rest of the characters seemed to spin their wheels and sometimes came off as more annoying that anything else. The spirit of the team was off and the show suffered.

This season has everyone working together well. There are still some internal conflicts but they make the characters richer when the occur rather than seem to exist purely to create drama. Also Korra seems to have actually started to progress as a character again. She seems to even be slightly ahead of where she was at the end of the first season but in a way that seems earned more than retconned.

Also I have to say that the villains in this part are great. Unalaq has a real potential to be multifaceted villain but he sadly tuned out to just be a spirit centered Bond villain in the end. This new quartet of antagonists really set themselves apart. They have some unique looks, some impressive abilities, and even a bit of charm. They are more ruthless extremists with twisted but noble intentions as opposed to just evil monsters who do bad things because the left-handed path is cool. After Unalaq and even Amon it is good to have some antagonists whose plans for centered around more than just POWER and GREED. They are characters who want to make the world a legitimately better place. It is just in the most horrible and anarchist way possible. They are a great way of having villains that feel like more than mustache twirling cardboard cutouts that need to be knocking over at the end. They are clearly the heroes of their own stories.

Also the ending of the season was a bit surprising. I don’t want to go too much into it but if felt like the first season ended too neatly than this is the season for you. It does not end on a crazy cliff hanger or a huge TO BE CONTINUED but the conclusion feels messy and complicated. There are not neat little bows or deus ex machinas to clean everything up. The next season will be its own story but still needs to resolve or deal with lots of the changes from this season.

I do really regret how Nickelodeon mismanaged the season. The first few episodes were leaked online which caused a panic at Nickelodeon. They quickly threw the episode on TV with no fanfare ahead of when they were originally supposed to launch with lots of commercials and a big San Diego Comic-Con premiere. This meant most people did not even realize the season has started until it was already underway. That caused the ratings to fall which made them loose more and more confidence in the show. In the end they pulled the show entirely off the air and just played the remaining episodes online. It was a complete mess in which one overreaction to a mistake lead to each further decision being an equally messy overreactions. In the end they should have taken the leak as an unwanted bit of publicity as opposed to a major crisis. Considering the tepid reaction to the second season some hype about the third season is just what they needed. Sadly they did not see it that way. If the final season were not already so into production I would be much more worried we would never see the end of this story.

I know a lot of people either stopped watching Legend of Korra during the second season or at least lost a lot of their enthusiasm for the series. I think the major changes in the series make it worth watching again if you had given up. I feel it has returned to what really made the first season so strong and really capitalized on what was good about the events that occurred in the second season.

(Watch it on Nick)

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