Ongoing Investigations: Case #230

narutaki_icon_4040 Helter Skelter by Kyoko Okazaki is as riveting as it is bizarre. Liliko a top model is as the height of her stardom which makes it a long way to fall as the physical abuse of her body begins to take its toll on her looks as well as her mind. She tries to escape her bitter loneliness with sex, drugs, degradation of her employees, revenge, and even more procedures which all lead her further and further down a spiral. Along side this is the morally depraved and unethical practices of the clinic she and others frequent as well as a commentary on our youth- and celebrity-obsessed culture.

Ms. Okazaki’s artwork hones in perfectly on the freakish extremes of beauty. Liliko looks unlike anyone else in the book, and all characters revere her beauty, but as a reader she looks so other worldly that it is often disturbing. This is double so when we meet her little sister who she has for the most part abandoned.

I hardly found Liliko sympathetic but she was fascinating, which very much felt like the point. Just as people get caught up in the rise and fall of celebrities, so too was I caught up with Liliko much like many of the characters in the book.  I simply had to know where it would all end.

I’m very much looking forward to Ms. Okazaki’s Pink coming out in English.

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hisui_icon_4040 Kaoru Mori: Anything and Something is a special little book if you a fan of Kaoru Mori. I remember asking about this book a while back on Twitter and Lazerhosen‎ said it was a fun book for established fans. That that is a great assessment of the book. It remind me a lot of the Hayate no Gotoku! no Mae book for Kenjiro Hata. Anything and Something is a collection of one-shots, failed pilots, extras, sketches, promotional materials, and anything else that would not make a full book on its own.  These types books are a bit of a hard sell but they are invaluable resources to anyone who wishes to see the development of one of their favorite artists. Since materials in these books come from all over the manga-ka’s history you really can see their style develop over the years.

Since it is a Kaoru Mori there are of course lots of maid stories. Some pieces are fairly early in the career like the Miss Claire’s stories, some maid tales are utterly goofy like Welcome to the Mansion, and there are also stories that seem much more in the vein on Emma like Maudlin Baker. All the comics in that niche have an obsessive attention to detail about the costuming and history of the time with some bending of the era for story purposes. But unlike Emma and Shirley most of the stories have a whimsical nature that make them more suited for one shots than a dramatic story that can sustain several volumes.

There is also a good deal more cheesecake than you might normally expect from Kaoru Mori. I distinctly remember sexy scenes from Emma but they were mostly little treats more than the standard fare. So it is not like her main work does not show that she can do this sort of work. But stories like the Burrow Gentleman’s club, the Fellows cover story, as well as some of the promo art shows that she can do straight up sensual quite well. But she does one to keep an air of class about her sexy material. She can do sensual, sexual, and provocative without having to cross the line into vulgar. When she adds nudity it feels like it is part of the overall seduction of the material and not just the end goal.

There are also some modern tales which show that she is not bound to working in historical settings. It is interesting to see her stories in a more contemporary setting. A historical setting adds an element of the exotic even to an otherwise mundane story. So if you wish to examine Kaoru Mori’s storytelling without a layer of the past in between you and the story than these would be the tales to focus on.

The story that stands out the most is probably Sumire’s Flowers. The fact that it was written by Satoshi Fukushima explains why it feels so different from her normal work. There is darkness and cynicism that you just don’t see in her normal work. But it does show how her working with an author sort of transforms her artistry into something else. The art is mostly the same but the tone of the story makes it take on a very different life. It is interesting to see her work exist outside its normal boundaries.

There is also just a little section on maids and Agatha Christie. So there is even something for Kate in here. But besides that there are a good deal of little asides and story notes which give you a little insight into the author herself and the research she does for her stories.  It also has a good deal of material that would normally only see if you had bought the original magazines that ran her work.

But as I said in the beginning this book can be a hard sell. It really feels like a fan book more than anything official. A somewhat scatterbrained scrapbook of the works of an artist more than a guided tour of their career. If you have enjoyed Kaoru Mori’s work in the past you can get a good deal out of this book.  If you have not it can be an interesting way to experience her but it won’t have that same hook.

But everyone should at least try Emma so there is that fundamental truth to understand before anything else. Emma and A Bride’s Story are not for everyone but they are something that everyone into historical manga should at least sample as part of their education. If you enjoy either it is worth going back to Anything and Something and seeing where it all started.

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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Ongoing Investigations: Case #055

Another Kara no Kyokai movie and other review. Movie number 6 is Oblivion Recorder which focuses on Mikiya’s sister Azaka Kokuto as she looks into students with missing memories with some help from Shiki. Apparently fairies under a mages control are stealing people’s memories. It is a flawed work without a doubt but I really enjoyed as I have all the other Garden of Sinner’s movies. This is really a movie all about Azaka co-staring Shiki. Azaka does most of the investigation and gets all the keys scenes. If there was any doubt that Azuka was the prototype for Akiha from Tsukihime they were dispelled by this movie. The animation stays fluid and while the action scenes with Azuka are very well done, Shiki’s action scene was quite brief and somewhat underwhelming. Satsuki Kurogiri hovers on the line between important and unimportant and his fate is ultimately left very vague. As I understand he has a much more expanded role in the original book which makes much more sense. In fact a post on Anime Diet goes into great detail on how the book and the movie are vastly different. I hope that Del Rey continues with their plan to translate the books so I can compare the two myself. Oh, the little omake scene at the beginning is all build up to one horrible pun. Of course I loved it.

I picked up a copy of My Japanese Coach for DS, I had been weighing whether or not to do this for quite a while because quite frankly I am just terrible at language. However, my fluctuating desire to know Japanese got the better of me. The program is broken into six stages of which I just completed the first one so it seemed like a good time to discuss how it is going. You are first given a multiple choice test to see what you might already know. Just from what I know from anime and the such I was able to skip 4 or 5 lessons. The game then does a quadruple duty of helping you learn vocabulary, sentence structure, verb conjugation, and kana through lessons taught by Haruka-sensei and games designed to help your memorization and writing skills. As you learn more, lessons unlock and new games appear. I haven’t gotten all of the games yet, but it is easy to see that some are much better structured than others. For example, Spelltastic would be much better suited (and helpful) to spelling in kana rather than romaji. The lessons themselves are set-up fairly well and for the most part don’t overwhelm you. Teachings that are long such as learning kana letters and verb conjugation are split up into many lessons with other things in between. This really helped me to learn what little was shown to me before heaping on more. It is also worth mentioning that after lesson 30, no more romaji is used in the lessons. By the end of the first 30 lessons I know all of my kana; I have started making sentences; my vocabulary is way up and I can catch more when watching anime; and most importantly, it seems to be sticking with me. I say that is progress indeed!

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