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 #232

narutaki_icon_4040 Mao no Kyoushitsu is a one-shot by Miki Yoshikawa done with her usual zany flair. This time she takes us to an elementary school class whose teacher just happens to be Satan.

The class is of course terrified at first, then they come to think it is all an act but is it!? Manami and her friends set out to find the truth, she being the only one who believes he must truly be Satan. I really enjoyed the repoire between all the kids from their over the top reactions to young cynicism. A wonderfully bizarre setup and fun romp that I wouldn’t mind reading more of.

Surely the best part is when The Devil commends Manami for attempting to burn him alive (it was an accident!).

hisui_icon_4040  It was nice to be able to track down a one shot story from Miki Yoshikawa in the form of Mao no Kyoushitsu. All too often we never get to see little stories like this from even well-known authors let alone lesser known artists like the author of Yankee-kun to Megane-chan. It can even be hard for the Japanese audience to read some of these stories let alone us Yanks.

Before I get into anything else I would like to mention that I thank goodness they translated chuunibyou as poser “nutjob-itis.” I feel like we are just getting out of the grips of small segment of people throwing around the term Chuunibyou all the time. So a somewhat silly English version fits with the scene were the kids are trying to figure out Mr. De Mon’s deal all the better. I don’t feel you have to translate every word into English for a good translation but here the adaptation of a complex word here adds a lot to the scene.

Other than that the strongest part of the story here is the characters. Manami is a great protagonist. Her desire for school to be more fun if Mr. De Mon’s story is true is really infectious. At times it makes her an unreliable narrator but that makes the story even more enjoyable.  You are sort of wondering if Mr. De Mon is really a hell spawn the whole time too. Also her reaction faces are great.

Mr. De Mon is equally fun. In a way he is the type of character that Miki Yoshikawa excels in. She knows when to play him for laughs really well but is not afraid to pull back for a little emotional softness when the time is right. The key is to go for the emotional moments at just the right time or they come off as lame. Also too much serous emotion makes the character overly dramatic and weighs down the comedy.

I also really like the delivery of the line, “”He likes pretty girls. Earth shattering.” A wonderful use of deadpan.

And the story ends nicely. You get the feeling there are more stories with Mr. De Mon but that is where the curtain closes. I feel that Miki Yoshikawa is a good enough author to continue the story of The Demon’s Classroom. She is really good at creating new avenues in a story that other authors would just use to tell variations on the same story. But at the same time this is a great place to end the story as a happy short story.

If you never read anything by Miki Yoshikawa this is a great place to get to know her as an artist with a minimum time commitment. It is a story that showcases some of her best features in a single story. If your already a fan I’m sure your hunting down this story as we speak.

Bonus: If are a fan of Miki Yoshikawa you will see an elementary school version of Hana Adachi in the last panel of page five.

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 #228

narutaki_icon_4040 The Legend of Korra from Nickelodeon Studios returns! I had been actively avoiding all the preview clips and such before the actual release of the show. The double-episode premier moved at a very quick pace (which I’m feeling currently neutral about) and we saw the gang head off to the South Pole.

I liked that the show carried over Korra and Tenzin’s rocky student-mentor relationship. There was growth for both of them but that doesn’t mean things are all peace after the first season. The same can be said of Korra’s feelings towards her father. It is very clear that Korra feels like rebelling and that is only compounded, quite understandably, after some secrets are revealed about the past. I have a feeling more and more secrets are going to be dropped this season.

Korra’s uncle is so transparently evil that I hope they surprise us with his story and training of Korra. I would like to find out that he truly does have a positive connection with the spirits but his zealous attitude has taken things too far. I don’t want to see Korra get used but at the same time her impatient attitude has to catch up with her if we’re too see major changes for her.

I’m really curious to see Kya’s story!

Needs more Asami. Needs more Naga.

hisui_icon_4040 While the end of the first season of the The Legend of Korra suffered a bit then it tried with breakneck speed to tie up any and all loose ends before it ended I enjoyed the experience greatly. So I looked forward to see what would happen with the 2 episode hour-long special of the second season entitled Spirits. The first season was an extremely self-contained story, as it was originally supposed to be the only season, so one of the main questions was where they would go from the previous conclusion.

In many way the new season starts with everyone rather settled into the calm after the defeat of Amon. Some people are doing well like Mako and Korra while others are struggling to stay aloft like Asami and Bolin. But none of them are really worried about major world events or dire problems. All their current projects are personal but not necessarily trivial.

Korra is the most lackadaisical of the cast. Having learned the basics of air bending and touching her spiritual side she seems to have adapted an attitude of, “I got this.” Tenzin wishes to continue deeper into the spiritual side of air bending but Korra is all out of cares in her caring pouch. But before Tenzin can take her on a tour of the Air temples for a journey of self discovery and spiritual awakening as a compromise they agree to go to a festival at the South Pole first.

It should be clear from the title of the season that while Korra has gotten a good feel of the physicality of being the Avatar now the she can use all four elements she has only really taken a single step on the path of the world outside the material. When she encounters hostile spirits she can throw a good deal of damage their way but the subtleties unique to dealing with the immaterial is a complete unknown to her.

At the same time she is also dealing with her father and uncle. Her father is a well-meaning guy but is clearly someone who has made several poor decisions in his life. It is interesting in the fact that the bad things that happened to him  were not just misfortunes beyond his control but disastrous decisions that either came from poor judgement or an overprotective nature. Tonraq is clearly not a bad guy but someone who clearly flawed while trying to do the right thing. Her uncle, Unalaq, on the other hand is a well-informed and spiritual man. He clearly understands the world of the unseen and the proper rituals to deal with it. At the same time he seems inflexible in his beliefs. He is definitely the type to burn a village in order to save it without a second thought.

I am slightly tempted to ask my RPG group to watch this season if for nothing else they just started a storyline in-game that is dealing with spirits so it seems extremely relevant.

The episode ends well with a strong hook for the season. It shows the direction ion which a majority of the plot is going to revolve around at least for the time being if not the rest of the season. I’m glad to see a storyline that could be as interesting as the Equalist storyline from last year. There is also a major emphasis on the original progenitor of the Avatar concept as well. I am curious to see how his origin will tie into the larger story.

So far I like how the first season is going.  The last season was almost exclusively set in Republic City. This season seems to be focusing on the North and South Pole with the distinct possibility of doing some globetrotting to the mundane and spirit world as well. We have already seen that the Water Tribes have advanced since we last saw them as well as the Air country has begun to reform if they don’t really have any benders beyond Tenzin’s family. That exploration of the world alone should make this season worth watching.

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.

Continue reading