Manga of the Month: Land of the Lustrous

Land of the Lustrous (宝石の国) by Haruko Ichikawa

hisui_icon_4040_round Back when Anime Strike was still a thing it was a bit of the kiss of death for discussion surrounding any series that was put on the service. With the need for subscription to both Amazon Prime and Anime Strike it made the service extremely unpopular. The double pay wall meant that all but the most dedicated (and well to do) fans used the service. Now the normal “alternative methods” of watching licensed shows still exist but shows that are not easily to stream tend to get left out of the general conversation of fandom. It takes a very special show to stand out in a way that a larger audience will spend the time and/or money to find a show that is not just dropped in their laps. Land of the Lustrous was one of those shows.

I was honestly surprised that people were talking about Land of the Lustrous despite being on Anime Strike. Now some shows on Anime Strike are just not very good so it makes sense they would disappear from discussions but even very good shows like The Great Passage did not stand a chance. So when Anime Strike finally died the few shows that people were still talking about before the lowering of the second pay wall stood out. One of the shows that I remember having lots of buzz was Land of the Lustrous. It was as impressive as I had heard and made me very curious to see what the manga was like. Haruko Ichikawa’s work on the manga opened my eyes even more.

The last time I did the Manga of the Month I mentioned the somewhat rare case where the manga and the anime but both very good but also have enough of a difference in execution to make both version worth experiencing. I’m happy to say that Land of the Lustrous falls into that same illustrious category. It gives the reader a very different experience than the anime but being just as good. That alone makes it worth talking about. The fact that the series is a unique mixture of philosophy, mystery, and action takes it from the realm of should talk about to must talk about.

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Fate/Stay Night Movie: Heaven’s Feel – I. Presage Flower

hisui_icon_4040_round Ufotable has set the bar for their anime based on Type-Moon proprieties pretty high. The Fate/Stay Night anime from Studio Deen is more of a punchline than anything else. It was not an utter train wreck but it is also a super simple task to pick apart all the places where it misstepped as an adaptation. You cannot even be that generous when it comes to the Tsukihime anime from J.C.Staff. It was such a bad version it has become a meme. The Kara no Kyoukai movies were a breath of fresh air that saved a fandom that was convinced that their favorite titles would never get a good anime. Fate/Zero and the Unlimited Blade Works TV series showed that Ufotable was able to replicate the miracle. The TV series was not fully OVA quality but considering Ufotable was putting out an episode a week it was close to miraculous. Also, it was a good conversion of the story to an animated medium. When Fate/Apocrypha was given to A-1 Pictures people were disappointed as the anime was nowhere near the quality they had come accustom to. It was far better than the bad adaptations but it was nowhere near the brilliant shine of anything by Ufotable.

So then Ufotable said their next big Fate project was going to be Heaven’s Feel. It was the last of the three paths of Fate/Stay Night and the only part what had never been animated. As the darkest path, there was always debate if anyone could animate the story without major cuts. It is the path where the sex is heavily integrated with the story and the violence is a bit more horrific. Now there is the Réalta Nua version for the PS2 that takes out all the adult content which could be used as a template but there is a segment of the fandom that considered that the neutered version.

So when Ufotable said they were going to make Heaven’s Feel three movies and not a full TV series the opinions were all over the map. There were the Ufotable faithful who felt they had enough successes under their belts that it was not worth worrying about. There was the once burned, twice shy gang who are always suspicious and the story being compressed into three movies got them very worried. Most other fans were a little surprised but cautiously optimistic. So began the wait to see who was right.

I had hoped that Anime NYC would get the premiere of the Heaven’s Feel movie but they had enough exclusive material that I understood that not being one of their jewels in their crown. I was lucky enough that living in NYC allowed me to see the movie in back in November. It was time to see if Ufotable could work its usual magic or if  Zouken’s 500 Years Dedication would strike the final path of Fate/Stay Night.
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Manga of the Month: Atelier of Witch Hat

Atelier of Witch Hat (とんがり帽子のアトリエ ) by Kamome Shirahama

hisui_icon_4040_round Magic can be a tricky element to add to any series. The main problem with magic is that it is a powerful spice that can easily ruin a dish if it added without careful thought. The easy way to ruin the story is to just throw a ton of magic into a series without any careful measurement.

If you just dump MAGIC into a story it can easily unbalance it. There are entertaining stories to be told about what people do with nearly unlimited power but they have to be carefully constructed. If you just add such power to a normal story it can make everything feel arbitrary. When there is no structure to the magic in a series it can feel that obstacles are overcome and conflicts are resolved in a willy-nilly fashion or by deus ex machina. Challenges only exist until the story feels like they need to be removed. It can feel that progress is never earned since the characters can do anything whenever they need to since there are no real well-defined constraints on their powers. Also, characters can feel wildly unbalanced. They might seem untouchable demigods at some points and then flimsy humans then next minute with their exact power merely dictated by whim.

Even series that are fairly strong about balancing magic can fall into this trap. Read any nitpicky review of a Harry Potter story and it will be filled with comments about why did character X not use spell Y at point Z. While most of the time a healthy amount of suspension of disbelief inherent in the genre will smooth things over it is not that hard to spend that goodwill in a more sloppily written story.

The way to overcome this problem is to add restraints to the magic in a story. If magic has boundaries and limits then the more standard story progression can take place. But the problem is that this can also kill the power of magic in a story if it is too harshly applied. I love highly detailed and well-defined magic systems. The problem is these can easily take the magic out of magic for many readers. It can make magic feel like science with an occult paint job. A rigidly defined magic system can avoid the inconsistent feeling of magic but destroy the very essence of its appeal.

The other major way to limit magic is to set things in a low magic world where only a handful of people can use magic and therefore you keep it out of the hands of anyone but secondary characters. Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones are prime examples of this. The major drawback is that it means you can’t have your protagonist be a magic user which can severely limit your options. Also, you still get Gandalf and the Eagles problems but they are at least contained to side characters.

But these are hardly the only ways of limiting magic for better storytelling. In fact, different solutions to this problem can be the seed for a story in of itself. Atelier of Witch Hat is a great example of this. In the world of the manga magic is the nearly limitless power but it is the witches who practice the craft who limit how it is used. All the constraints on magic are self-imposed by the practitioners. It combines several of the above methods into one which transforms the idea into its own device letting the manga tell a story around the concept.

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