Faust Anthology #1, Doraemon, witches, and hikikomori, OH MY!

Light Novels might not be as popular as manga in the U.S. but the manga companies keep trying to license them which is fine by me. The latest attempt is one of the more intriguing affairs. Del Rey has decided to try localizing Kodansha’s literary magazine Faust. This is a collection of short stories by famous young authors including light novel authors and visual novel authors. There is also short manga by famous manga-ka and some equally short essays. The American release of Faust takes selected stories from the Japanese version and adds some new articles for an American audience. It’s an unexpected but welcome choice from Del Rey.

xxxHOLiC: AnotherHOLiC

This is just a chapter from the novel. It is a stand alone story about Watanuki’s attempt to help a woman who seems to be sabotaging her own life and free her from the supernatural entity that is haunting her. It was an interesting variation on the standard xxxHOLiC formula while sticking true to the general themes and style of the original. I can easily see why they adapted it into a story for the anime. This was very clearly from the author of Zaregoto but I did not feel the need to punch everyone in the story squarely in the face which is a plus. I assume that CLAMP otaku already have the hardcover on pre-order but it proved itself entertaining enough that non-CLAMP fans can enjoy it.

This story was a relief after my reading Zaregoto. I don’t think NISIOISIN shines as much here as he does in Death Note: Another Note, but it is still a good read for the most part. He still has these odds times of awkward dialogue mixed with repetition that really don’t feel purposeful but that seems to tapper off as the story starts moving. I found the woman they are trying to help very fascinating. She was so extreme but her initially thinking is very relatable. The story takes some twists and turns which lead to a conclusion about humans in general. I am not familiar with HOLiC but I still enjoyed this story. Though it does seem to hinge a bit on knowing the prior relationship between Watanuki and Yuko.

Outlandos d’Amour

Outlandos d’Amour had me intrigued if for nothing else it is named after a Police album. That already gives it points. The story follows a man who works for a shadowy organization where he researches situations for them using his strange powers. At the same time he is trying to deal with his marriage to an equally unusual woman. The story seemed like a pilot for a longer series. It does not end on a cliff hanger but the author merely touches upon many aspects of the world he creates. The story made me very interested in Setsuko Amamiya despite the fact that she hardly appears in the story. If this were a longer series I am sure we would see more of her. With my general love of the Boogiepop series and my enjoyment of this story I am looking forward to Del Rey’s release of The Case of the Dragon Slayer.

This story has an off kilter feeling that kept me interested in what was happening all around. The way it weaves in our own world and the world that these characters live in is done with matter-of-factness. Kunio’s strange ability is certainly not common but at the same time the way he comes to terms with it makes it seem like any other affliction. I also found it interesting that there wasn’t a struggle between good and evil within him. He was really struggling with being idle or not. It certainly seems like it could spread out and become a longer story, but at the same time it had a emotional conclusion.

Drill a Hole in My Brain

From the moment this story started I felt like it was trying really hard to shock me. This kind of approach does nothing except annoy me greatly. The sexual imagery was so overwhelming that if there was an underlying meaning to it all it was completely obliterated. Some of the more interesting aspects, like the love story (which it the back of the book boasts as the main plot line) and the tower that looks surprisingly like the missing piece of Hide’s head are not fully explored.

Many of the reviews I read of the Faust anthology seem really impressed with Drill a Hole in My Brain which could not be further from my opinion of the story. I wasn’t disturbed by the imagery but the in-your-face prose did not make me want to think about the story. I am not so much of a prude that I can’t take a little dirty talk in my literature but I don’t like adult material for the sake of just being adult. I know some people consider something like taking a cross and submerging it in urine as high art. I support people trying art like that but it does not mean I personally enjoy it.

F-Sensei’s Pocket

I was completely captivated by the beginning description of Kozue Matsuda’s porch that gathered all kind of things because wind was so strong on the hill. The friendship that grows as this story goes along is quiet well done. With the added fun of all these wild inventions just falling into you lap, it was certainly the most light-hearted story of the bunch. I didn’t find the Doraemon references distracting or hindering to the story. In fact, considering how popular Doraemon is the need to explain who she is talking about at the on set of the story was rather odd.

This was my favorite story in the anthology. Two girls who are both outsiders in their class inadvertently bond over being ignored by their classmates. One day fantastic objects from the Doraemon manga start appearing on Matsuda’s porch. The rest of the story is how these two misfits use their newly gained powers. It’s a cute story of two girls and how they react to dreams coming true. I’m sure thousands of children (and not too few adults) have always dreamed what they would do if they had access to the fantastic toys of Doraemon. It then takes that dream and speculates on how it would “realistically” turn out. But besides the wish fulfillment aspect of the story I like the girls and I found their relationship oddly realistic and slightly complex for such a seemingly simple story. It was a story that filled me with a warm happy feeling.

The Garden of Sinners: A View From Above

I am going to state upfront that I am going to be a prejudiced reviewer here. I really love Type-Moon’s work so anything they do will probably get a higher score than normal just because they are the people who created Saber. Also seeing the Garden of Sinners movie helped a good deal in filling in holes for me. This story involves Mikiya Kokuto investigating a series of bizarre suicides where seemingly unrelated girls have been jumping to their deaths. I enjoyed the story but it was short and quick to jump from plot point to plot point. Shiki’s abilities are not as fleshed out or as interestingly presented as in the movie. In the interview in the back Nasu begs people not to read the original short version and read the longer version in the later edition. I wonder if we got the original shorter version. Well I am surely going to buy novel when it comes out so I will compare them when I get it.

This story was a little lack luster. It went much too fast with plot and ideas just blowing by. There were a lot of supernatural and mysterious elements that I wanted to get deeper into and have more of a overall explanation; instead they seemed ready to give me the ending. I was also really looking forward to Takeuchi’s illustrations but all we got was the small shot shown above. Hardly anything to cheer about especially along side the other stories that had atleast one full page of art.

Essays

I always like little insights of what do Japanese people think about Japanese social phenomenons and what do Japanese otaku think about otaku matters. The theme of these essays seems to be hikikomori. I feel that it’s a fascinating topic that’s a hot topic in the otaku community. I am curious if later volumes will continue to have essays with a shared theme or will we get a greater variety from one volume to the next. I was super happy to see the interview with Kinoko Nasu and Takashi Takeuchi. It was like the tailor picked the interview to appeal to me which I know is surely not the case but I appreciate it none the less. I hope they will interview other authors in later editions.

For the most part the essay’s really didn’t resonate with me. I felt there were some distinctly Japanese issues being addressed that I am not fully understanding of. I know about hikikomoris but truly seeing why they have become prevalent in Japanese society is a littler harder to explain and probably too large of an issue for me to grasp in such a short format. The interview with Nasu and Takeuchi was contrastly better than the actual story seen here. I did find the bonus essay about importing comics made elsewhere in world into Japan interesting because of all the problems in the past.

Manga

The manga section was quite a highlight. It is wonderful to witness the blurring lines of illustration and sequential art with fine art. Each piece had a little bit of magic and wonder in it. I equally loved take’s sweet “one day only” love story and the whimsy of VOFAN’s dance with light. Though take’s style in this piece threw me a bit since it doesn’t echo his Zaregoto art nor the cover of Faust which is his, too. However, I was glad of it. While I wouldn’t say buy this book for the illustrations they are certainly a wonderful bonus.

These manga are to normal manga what short stories are to full novels. They are quick little shorts that would mostly not be fit for full stories. But they are strikingly visual and tell a interesting story in the amount of time they have. It’s a great little section for manga artists to be experimental so I look forward to see who contributes in future volumes. It’s a good chance to see a different side of established manga-ka as well as a good place to take a chance on less known artists. I myself wonder if the manga written by NISIOISIN is somehow related to the Zaregoto series. I feel like it could be prequel or it might just have similar themes.

Okay, what is up with these footnotes? Most of the time they did not do their job. If I don’t know a reference in an essay, the footnote should help me understand its meaning in the context. Instead, many went like this: a famous person is mentioned in the essay, the footnote says famous Japanese musician. I think it would have made things a lot clearer to say more to why this is significant to the point at hand. Tell me what music the musician was famous for or why they are so famous for it. Other than that I felt the anthology had an overall even feel with a seemingly common theme of doing things that are taboo or being out of the ordinary. As with anything like this, one will always find something to like and dislike, but I found more to enjoy than to complain about. Certainly a brighter spot on the Del Rey light novel line.

Top 5 Anime Witches
5. Sheryl Nome (Macross Frontier) Sorry. My bad. Anime WITCHES.
5. Nanaka Nakatomi (Magic User’s Club)
4. Nodoka Miyazaki (Negima!: Magister Negi Magi)
3. Rin Tosaka (Fate/Stay Night)
2. Amelia Wil Tesla Seyruun (Slayers)
1. Yuko Ichihara (xxxHolic)

?? ??

Ongoing Investigations: Case #011

It’s not like I thought it wasn’t going to be, but it should be said. Ghost in the Shell SAC is so freaking good. It is engaging, smart, and quite complex. It is not something that I can actually try to figure out along side the characters. I just sit back and enjoy the ride. I am totally fascinated by it all! The Laughing Man intrigues me so! You can be sure I’ll make a wallpaper by next week’s end. Though disc 4 had no “complex” episodes and then disc 5 had three more, eight in a row of no Laughing Man case was starting to drive me a little nuts. But we are back on track and with only 5 episodes to go I’m getting anxious!

I also read NISIOISIN’s Zaregoto in an attempt to see what had perplexed Narutaki so. My summation of the book is best left to “Weird Al” Yankovic, Everything you know is wrong! Because that is the total summation of the ending of this book. Ii-chan solves the case and the survivors leave the island. Then in the epilogue we learn that everything that was answered was absolutely incorrect. It’s not Ii-chan who figures it out though. Some psycho detective pops up and gives us all the true answers in a clearly deus ex machina manner. I’m not sure if I like this book or not. It was definitely odd plus the storytelling and the characters are very, very strange. I think it supposed to be vaguely unsettling and disorienting. I can’t quite but my finger on whether it made the story uniquely enjoyable or just strange for the sake of being strange.

Watched Saint Seiya episodes 7-18, finished the first arc and have gotten just a couple of episodes into the next one. Here is what I have learned so far: no one dies, for any reason, unless they really want them to; they are fond of saying “Hell” or “I’ll send you to Hell!”; they love to punch people in the heart, like through the skin and into the heart (though people still don’t always die of this); they are not unaware of their female fan-base as proven by the Shun in the shower scene; and finally huge bad guys can still be scared away the police. Oh and I love it. This isn’t my first viewing of Saint Seiya, but I have never really sat down and watched consistently.

After reading Black Lagoon volume one I have to say I enjoy the anime slightly more than the manga but that is of no disservice to the manga. The manga is quite excellent. But seeing the awesomeness that is the Black Lagoon manga in it’s full color kinetic glory when it is animated is way better. I don’t mind buying them both but if asked to choose I would pick the anime hands down.

Mixed Vegetables was exactly what I needed to get me back on a romantic shojo comedy kick. It was refreshing to see our heroine both funny and capable and not head-over-heels in love with anyone…yet. Within one volume Hanayu realizes how much Hayato likes her and starts dating him. Everyone in the class is cheering them on, no mean girl’s threatening our heroine here, in very Love*Com style. And we see her going through a bit of guilt over not liking him as much as he likes her. It is rare to get to the relationship part so quickly and I am really excited about it. Fun, fast-paced, funny, sweet, and endearing. Can’t wait to pick up the next book!

I just got Fate/Tiger Colosseum Upper and it’s nothing special but it’s gosh darn fun. The game play is essentially Power Stone with Fate/Stay Night skins with some Tsukihime characters thrown in for good measure. No more and no less. Even thought I don’t speak or read any Japanese I still think that the game is very funny. They seem to have a good grasp of the Fate/Stay Night characters and play with them appropriately. Even the opening is a playful parody of other Fate game openings and scenes. The story mode makes my few words of Japanese step up to the plate as I try, somewhat successfully, to discern what is going on. This game made me realize why I like Type Moon in general. They’re willingness to totally cater and show they care about the fans in side projects. I feel if I was a creator, I would do the same for my fans. Plus any game with BER-SER-CAR and Saber in a suit is always full of awesome.

Ongoing Investigations: Case #008

So I finally got around to watching Lucky Star. It is the God emperor of slice of life shows for otaku. It’s like a super sugary snack for the the otaku pallet. It has almost no substance and negligible nutritional value but my goodness does it taste sweet. I enjoy it but I have two major criticisms. The first is that Lucky Star tends to drag at points. It’s never boring (to me at least) but it’s never fast paced and the speed of it’s motion can vary from scene to scene. The other critique is that where as SS Astro might pander to the audience at points. . . Lucky Star is pure pander. To it’s credit it never pretends to be anything but 100% crystallized pander. It’s made for otaku and you better want otaku friendly comedy or it’s going to be hell. In fact I could easily see why people would despise this show let alone not enjoy it. Oh and I can hardly tell when the director of Lucky Star changed. Some people make it out like the first 4 episodes are one show and the rest feel like another show. I noticed subtle differences but I wouldn’t have if the whole affair not been so publicized. I don’t think the episode 4 divide will ever win over haters or turn away fans of the first 4 episodes. They are basically two different brands of tofu. Some people will have a noticeable preference but not many.

Just finished reading New Avengers TP 7, it was in my queue of stuff to buy from Amazon and I finally placed that order. Bendis doesn’t disappoint in this lead up to the Secret Invasion (an arc I have yet to read since I wait for TP). I enjoy the witty dialogue along with the looming suspicions of our heroes (and our readers) about who is a Skrull and just how far they have infiltrated. As expected Tony Stark is weighing heavily on everyone’s minds though I am inclined to believe the worst in him. Civil War created some strange bedfellows but I have to say I haven’t enjoyed superhero comics this much in ages.

Your and My Secret 2 continues the trend of being a guilty pleasure. Good enough that I look forward to the next one but horrible enough that I don’t run around saying how much I love it. Nanako and Senbongi are monsters, the jokes can be downright lewd and crude, and the situation is absurd. But it comes together in a way to make it fun as long as you are not too uptight. We all know characters can be horrible human beings and still funny. In fact, sometimes it is better that way.

Birdy the Mighty continues to go along as its average pace though we do start to see the beginnings of a bond between Tsutomu and Birdy, which was what I have been waiting for. It still seems to be just riding the bar as far as goodness goes but it is entertaining if nothing else. Just came up that Birdy is getting a second season so others must be watching as well!

I keep getting this slightly retro anime feel from Birdy the Mighty which I totally dig. It’s certainly not old school but it has the I-was-a-fun-90s-OAV-only-on-TV-in-2008 thing going on. I like the characters but the plots are not super original however they are fun. The animation seems a little weak at times but it’s nothing too distracting. I have heard that episode 7 has really great animation compared to the first 6 but I did not notice that much of a difference. Episode 7 was much darker than others by far though. Birdy is just a fun show that you sit back, turn off your brain, and just enjoy. Japan seems to like it enough that they are giving it a second season but I wonder if it will catch on in the U.S. It seems 90s enough that new U.S. anime fans might not like it but it also seems too modern for old schoolers to automatically back it. Then again many it has just the right blend to draw fans from both demographics. Does anyone who reads this blog know what American fans generally think of Decode? BTW having the villain be named Shyamalan is genius. Take that M. Night.

Zaregoto, I really wanted to like you. I loved NISIOISIN’s Another Note. I like quirky or eccentric detectives just fine. But for me this book suffers from too many eccentric people that mostly make no sense. Ii-chan and Kungisa’s dynamic doesn’t work as well as it could (like in Gosick). It could be the stilted dialogue and internal thoughts of Ii-chan. The mystery itself was pretty good, is also has some classic misdirection and genre tropes such as a locked room mystery and a mansion on a deserted island. The dialogue was all over the place being incredibly philosophical and vague in some places and then being overly simple a-la Blue’s Clues in others. It really suffers from needing a better editor. I may pick up the next book just to see if the writing cleans up.

I feel that Blade of the Immortal episode 3 is the litmus test of if you can handle Blade of the Immortal. Sabato Kuroi is the person they are trying to kill in this episode and he is one freaky dude. I think he is freaky enough to turn some people right off the series. However, he very clearly sets the tone for the rest of the show. People are messed up in Blade of the Immortal so you better get used to it. Also, Sabato Kuroi is a Black Sabbath reference I did not catch that but I guess that is because I am not that metal.

//