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.

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Yen Plus Online Magazine, Where’s the manga?

hisuiconIn July of 2008 Yen Press put out their inaugural of a brand new manga anthology called Yen Plus. It was a unique combination of manga from Square Enix, Korean manhwa, and American comics. It was an interesting experiment that had some killer titles with distinct name power from all over the globe but as of July 2010 the magazine will no longer be in distributed in a paper format and instead it will be avaliable online. This week we will be looking at the change from a print to digital distribution. What is lost, what is gained, and do we feel that the new online Yen Plus is worth the subscription fee.

As we have all heard time and again digital distribution is the future of, well, just about everything. Print media has survived, and continues to thrive in a physical format better than most, but things like periodicals and magazines are feeling the squeeze. So it was with a heavy-heart the community took the inevitable news that Yen Plus just could not keep up. Bringing the magazine, format and all, to the online market is an intriguing move and adding a subscription fee, though small, is even more of a curiosity.

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REPOST: Brief looks at The Color Trilogy.

Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa strikes me as the Oscar-bait of manhwa; it is a prestige release. You release this to win awards and gain great praise from reviewers and comic experts but never get more than a handful of mainstream sales. It is a historical, slice-of-life comic about a young Korean girl named Ehwa and her journey towards womanhood. It depicts Ehwa discovering her first feelings for a boy which parallels her widowed mother finding a new love. It is quite frank about the physical development and emotional changes of growing up. Overall, I found in enjoyable if very sedate. The characters were engaging and I was slightly amused by their constant use of metaphor during conversation. It was a stark contrast to the very base matters that are often the point of discussion. The character designs are simple but effective and have a traditional ink drawing feel to them. The backgrounds alternate between being very ornate, especially with some of the full-page spreads, to totally nonexistent during conversations. Most people are going to be captivated immediately or quickly turned off by either the slice-of-life nature or the earthy tone of the book. Still it is a good read for people who want their comics to have the weight of more award-winning prose.

Color of Earth touts itself as a unique work and I would agree. It easily pushes itself with its matter-of-factness of learning about one’s sexuality but at the same time tends toward metaphor and innuendo in people’s conversations. As we follow Ehwa she often finds herself at a loss because of the way people phrase things. It goes to show that even though she has to learn these things, it can be hard to get people to give you a straight answer. And unfortunately that is what Ehwa really needs. But like everyone else in life, you learn about things eventually and get it all straight in your head, sort of. The mother and daughter relationship is at the forefront and the most interesting development in this book. As we go along they become more like confidants rather than parent and child. This seems to happen for a number of reasons, not the least of which is they don’t have any men in the house. The art is very classic feeling. It fits the time period of the book and makes it seem more like fine art than sequential at times. I’d say this series is worth checking out just based on having never read anything else like it. I can’t say it is a story I would normally read, but it is has a charm that requires me to finish reading it.

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