Ongoing Investigations: Case #076

We got a copy of Foiled from First Second Books last week, I was rather excited because it was penned by Jane Yolen! Her imagination and description would surely lend itself to being made into a comic. Just as I hoped, Mike Cavallaro achieved it wonderfully. The art style is this wonderful hybrid between comics and American cartoons. Aleria isn’t a typical teen-aged girl with her kind of rye look at the world, but she is quite relateable in her semi-awkwardness, slightly odd parents, and geeky slant but no real place to fit in. In fact, all of these make her more alive than some exaggerated contemporaries, nothing is totally normal but nothing is too off the wall in her life. But what sets her apart (even more?), besides her attitude, is that she is a fencer and a very good one at that. And of course that is where the story really begins and ends as her latest fencing sword (or as she would yell WEAPON!) was a thrift store find with a weird jewel on the hilt. Throw in a new boy at school, some table top role-playing, and the appearance of a world that rests on top of NYC chockful of mystical creatures and you have a wonderful, fun, and magically little book. The magical world is such a strong element, but it doesn’t really come to the forefront till more than half way through. This was really my only complaint, yes it is important to establish Aleria’s (what she would call) mundane, every day life but with only one book you really want to have the fun of the other world sooner. So this should be remedied by making a sequel!

The first thing that popped into my mind when I read Foiled was Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (and I loved Neverwhere). Not that the average but slightly extraordinary person who learns that there is magical world underneath the mundane world is a utterly unused storyline but the allure is one that makes it an evergreen concept. Jane Yolen takes this old framework and writes an excellent story for young girls as well as a good fantasy story in general. Aliera is a great protagonist who is a strong female character but vulnerable and awkward enough to be easily identifiable. Her passion for fencing and the way it integrates into the story on both a storyline level and a symbolic level give it a smart feeling while also giving it a cool energy. I especially liked how each of the chapter titles used a fencing term with accompanying art that set the tone for the chapter. I will agree with Narutaki that for a single book story they could have picked up the pace in introducing us to the magical world. It’s not that the beginning should be cut short but I too would have liked to see the fantasy elements pop-up earlier. If nothing else it proves that the story is begging to be turned into something longer.

I received the first book of My Darling! Miss Bancho from CMX this week. The story revolves around the ridiculous (which the manga-ka freely admits) reverse harem that occurs when Souka transfers into a tech school filled with nothing but male delinquents. On one of her first days she accidentally takes down the bancho (boss/gang leader) of the school and by their rules that now makes her the new bancho. Cue wacky antics. The story so far is a fairly amusing series of sillyness mixed with some shojo cliches. I felt he pacing was a little off, especially getting the whole ball rolling, maybe it’s just personal taste but it would probably serve the story, and the humor better, to have her take out the school’s bancho right in the first few pages. Just about every guy in her class is enamored with her (and the entire school is pretty much bowing down to her and hoping for her favor) so she gains a couple of minions who act equal parts crazy and devoted. The main love interest is the leader of the sophomores, Katou, who is sort of a mother hen to the rest of the guys and vows to protect Souka. Souka is kind of a middle-ground heroine so she isn’t too engaging unfortunately. Despite the fact that she takes out the previous bancho, she isn’t particularly tough or feisty, if she were this story might be pushed to more funny heights. So really, while amusing and having its good moments, My Darling! Miss Bancho doesn’t really push its silly premise far enough to make it a rip-roaring good time.

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The Speakeasy: A Reverse Thieves Podcast – Drink #002

Anime 3000 presents: The Speakeasy

The Speakeasy is an ongoing conversation between the two of us about themes, trends, and concepts present in anime and manga and along side that sometimes there will be a critical analysis of fandom. If you were ever curious about our conversations that are the genesis of our posts then this will be utterly enlightening. If you never wondered about that, hopefully you will still enjoy the show!

Drink #002: Heart of Fire, Go Nagai VS. Gurren Lagann
This is THE match-up of manly madness made for men who marvel at mechanical monsters. The battle for the hearts and minds for those who love robot designs. A grudge match started in the land of the rising sun but ends in the home of the stars and stripes. In the red corner we have the dreamer from Wajima and the father of the Super robot, Go Nagai and Mazinger Z. In the white corner we have and the kings of boob bounce that are ready to pounce, Gainax and Gurren Lagann.
Actually this is an examination of why  Gurren Lagann is so popular with anime fans in the U.S. and Shin Mazinger only really has a fandom among Go Nagai fans despite seeming like shows that have almost identical appeal. What are the key factors that earn one show such a broad audience but keep people out of the other even though both show are awesome.
(Listen) (Show Notes)

And now your helpful bartenders at The Speakeasy present your drink:

Heart of Fire
* 1 to 2 measures Whiskey
* Tabasco sauce to taste 

Serve whiskey of choice in a shot glass, add a few drops of Tabasco sauce, and down in one swallow. Speedy intoxication may be the intended result for this fiery cocktail, but go easy with it, as not only the whiskey but also the capsaicin in the peppers in the Tabasco sauce can have adverse side effects if taken to excess.

Ongoing Investigations: Case #023

Has anyone played the original Higurashi sound novel? I am curious what the fan-service levels are in the games. I ask this because I don’t remember the Higurashi anime being the fan service bonanza that the manga or the art books are. They really like the semi to fully lesbian fan-service shots in the artbooks. It’s like they were drawn by male fujoshi. Despite the abundance of fan-service in the Higurashi manga it is a pretty faithful adaptation. Yen Press went all out with color pages in the front and middle. The manga has yet to even give me close to the chill that anime did but it is still enjoyable. However, I don’t think it’s going to win any new fans to the franchise.

So I sort of did the Gurren Lagann suggestion made by our friends in their review, which was to watch the last 7 episodes and not worry about the rest. Well, I had already watched the first 9 but I did skip the next 12 and watched the end. I was entertained by its ridiculousness and was also able to grow fond of a couple of characters in that short span at the end. It goes full-throttle giant robot as robots start hurling entire universes. As for why I decided to skip so much, that would be a major spoiler. However, I can say that there is a missing piece of the puzzle and the show for me was incomplete without it. My overall feeling was the show was good, whereas the first 8 episodes were great. It was hilarity to the max.

I enjoyed Gurren Lagann for what is was, an over the top giant robot show about believing in courage and guts. I enjoyed it more than Boxingoctopus and Lothos because that is all the expectations I went into the show with. Therefore I never felt let down. I for one enjoyed the middle part of the series although not as much as the beginning or the end. Certain parts of Gurren Lagann seem like Gainax’s response to Evangelion. Simon is like Shinji Ikari in both of them spiral into the abyss but Simon is able to rise out of it where as one of the major points of Evangelion is Shinji’s inability to connect to others and find a way out. I can’t say for sure if it’s partially reactionary to their older work or it is less intentional and more the natural comparison by viewers despite any active agenda. I also really liked the very Japanese concept of circular belief. Circular belief being the idea that there is someone who you believe in that believes in you when you can’t do that yourself. I suppose I have always wanted someone like that myself. I also think the fact that Simon and Nia grew on me helped a considerable bit. They would never ever be as cool as Kamina or Yoko but then again who could be that cool.

Read Nightmare Inspector volumes 2 and 3, I am glad to see this series establishing little bit of a running narrative along with giving Hiruko and Mizuki some backstory. Though I just makes me want to know more since we’ve only gotten crumbs. They have also introduced a humorous tenant who moves into one of the rooms on the upper floor of the tea house. He isn’t in it too much so the somber and melancholic feel of the series stays in tact but he does throw a little spice in the mix now and then. This manga-ka always puts in some funny bonus stuff including a song written by Hiruko about how much he loves soda.

I have been playing Chrono Trigger for the DS. It stands up well in retrospect. The game play is solid, the story is still fresh, the amount of little changes you can make on the plot are still well done. Playing this reminded me of a conversation with my brother about Final Fantasy 7. We were discussing how flat characters in RPGs are today but they were even flatter back in the day. You were more willing to fill in the blanks in your mind back then. I remember the characters of Chrono Trigger being much deeper than they actually are. They aren’t bad characters if they were I would have never remembered them so well. It’s just the amount I had to fill in from what was implied had become actual fact. Still it’s great to be able to go back and play this again now only it’s portable. If I had a PSP I would be sorely tempted to play an emulated Chrono Cross on it like David Riley is going to do. Even though the prevailing logic is Chrono Cross is the devil’s spawn by most fans.

Finished the xxxHOLiC novel AnotherHOLiC. I have to say putting the first story in FAUST was a good move, not only did it make me interested in the novel but it was also the better story of the three and it doesn’t require me to know about the manga. The second story seemed too similar to the first, but also easier to figure out. And since those stories were back to back it made me wonder where Watanuki’s brain was. As for the third and final story, since I haven’t read the manga it didn’t help establish anything about Watanuki for me. I didn’t really understand his reasoning. Oh and the other guy in the story was super annoying.

I assumed this story happens early in the xxxHOLiC storyline but I can’t say for sure. Although it is never outright stated, one of the reasons Watanuki works at the store is Yuko is training him either as a her student or her outright successor. So it seems like the part of the story where she is no longer by his side on jobs but he has still not learned enough that she has taken of his training wheels. I thought that the first two stories bookend each other well enough so that they made a point when the third story came along. I just hated hated hated the eye theory guy in the last story. NISIOISIN is talented at making original characters that are annoying jackasses. This is not a compliment. He a good writer but he has to start cutting back on shrill, nasty characters in his work.

I made an entry for the Anime News Network 2008 Holiday Logo Contest. This is my first year entering. I had some extra time before my vacation so I thought, why not?

The best way to cap off Reverse Thieves completion of Gurren Lagann is with a piece of Gurren Lagann fan art: