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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Ongoing Investigations: Case #199

With Bleach and Naruto in their final arcs a lot of people are wondering what in Shonen Jump is going to take their place in terms of an internationally popular series that rakes in tons of money. If you were super curious I don’t think One-Punch Man is going to fill that void. But that said I think it is a fairly fun series that is worth checking out from the one chapter I have seen.

I was amused that the whole first chapter was essentially a shaggy dog story building up to a single joke. But anyone who knows me in real life will know that I delight in a convoluted build up to a punchline. So when this uberpowered villain who looks suspiciously like Piccolo goes on this long rampage to show exactly how overpowered he is with his various high level powers the conclusion to the chapter is fairly predictable but still amusing.

I have heard a decent amount of buzz about this series. I knew this series had a bit of a fan following so it was distinctly on my radar. So it seems like a good series that easily could become popular. It has one major strike against it. It is a comedy. And Shonen Jump comedies have historically never done as well as their action based siblings. And despite the fighting that makes up the core of the storyline the soul of this series is comedy. And that so far has condemned any Shonen Jump in America to a second tier status.

But I wonder if the new digital format has the ability to change that. I’m not thinking it will do so on any major level but I do wonder if it might give an action/comedy combination show like this a little boost it would not normally have gotten. I am curious to see how this series does in the future. Either way it seems a refreshing addition to Shonen Jump’s weekly English line up.

The weekly English version of Shonen Jump has now come day-and-date with Japan. The online magazine also premiered a new series One-Punch Man (ch. 1).

The story is about a superhero named One-Punch Man, his power should be obvious. He is a hero just for fun and he looks out of place when he goes to take down a menace terrorizing the city. The humor in this manga extends all the way to combining two art styles on its pages; One-Punch Man is simply drawn in a way you might see in gag manga, while everything else is drawn with the detailed and gritty look one might expect of an action series.

I really enjoyed when the big monster got upset that One-Punch Man didn’t have a back story for being a hero.

This first bite gives you everything you’ll probably need to know for the continuation of the series. I for one am looking forward to more.

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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Ongoing Investigations: Case #190

I’m pretty excited that we are finally getting Initial D 5th Stage! As always the opening set the right tone. I liked the manga-styled beginning complete with sound effects that transformed into the CG cars we are now accustomed to.

Eps. 1-2 throw you right in so don’t expect much of a refresher course. We are given brief glimpses of Project D’s next rivals in Kanagawa which they say is the final part in a grand plan, Ryosuke appears to be going in a little blind but he seems to be keeping things under his hat as usual. The AE86 has been getting an upgrade plus Takumi seems determined to learn to steer with one hand. On other fronts, Takumi’s new love interest appears only to rip into him thanks to a misunderstanding.

The imposters of Takumi and Keisuke swaggering around was a fun and light way to start the season. Of course I was very excited as Keisuke’s first appearance is him calling those dudes out! Though it makes for little actual racing in the first episode.

But the uphill battle in the second installment started off nicely with Keisuke taking on another EVO. His opponent is on edge, just waiting for Keisuke to do something crazy, but as time winds by you can see how tightly wound the guy waiting is. Too bad we have to wait a few weeks to find out how this plays out.

I enjoyed it ending with Ryosuke saying a “street specialist” has to be a little bit reckless. Keisuke is nothing if not reckless.

I recently talked about Cross Manage and I mentioned it very much feels like a Shonen Sunday manga in Jump. Not to be outdone Nanatsu no Taizai, the new Sunday manga feels very much like it taken out of Jump. It does make one wonder what is exactly going on there. Are both magazines playing with courting their rivals’ demographic? Is it just Sunday reacting to Jump? Or is it mere coincidence?

Nanatsu no Taizai takes place in a medieval setting. Seven overpowered warriors called the Seven Deadly Sins knights tried to overthrow the kingdom but were stopped by the Holy Knights. The Sins were reportedly killed but rumors are abound that they are still alive. Recently the Holy Knight themselves have overthrown the King are putting the Kingdom under their thumb. The King’s only daughter goes out to find the Seven Deadly Sins in hopes that they can free her father. A seemingly humble bar owner that saves her and turns out to be one of the Sins. Together can they find the remaining Seven Deadly Sins and tear down this new corrupt regime?

Overall it is fairly standard but enjoyable stuff. It is just standard but enjoyable stuff you would expect to see in Jump. Elizabeth, the princess is cute and determined but not very capable. Sunday usually prides itself on its strong heroines but she seems mostly like a tag along Jump girl. There is a bit more of the ecchi humor you expect to see in Jump. Not that Sunday is above ecchi humor but it is not the type of humor the magazine usually uses. Also so far the plot have a very Jump structure. There is just something about their journey to collect the other knights that feels very Jump in its execution. Both magazines use the battle manga formula but in distinctly different fashions.

The other thing worth noting is all the fighters start off INSANELY overpowered. Meliodas is shattering the earth with broken swords and playing cross county catch with lances thrown like ICBM missiles. There seems to be no shonen power creep. Everyone starts out as a god. If they have places to go from here they might start making Jojo’s blush. It would be neat if the characters were mostly already at their peak and most of the battles were about wits more than learning new techniques also like Jojo’s.

I am very curious to see how this recent break from form does for both magazines. Do either magazines have robust enough readership to support something outside their normal wheelhouse or will these titles be dropped as quickly as they came?

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.

Continue reading