Ongoing Investigations: Case #205

This week I decided to highlight some first chapters of series that were new to me.

xxxHOLiC Rei is obviously CLAMP realizing by getting rid of Yuuko Ichihara as a part of the ending of Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle might have made a serious mistake. So in xxxHOLiC Rei she is back. It is not entirely clear why she is back. It could be that this is an alternate time line, it could just be stories set before the end of the original, or it could just go unexplained. But I have a feeling that with a title like Return, and knowing that CLAMP is CLAMP, I have a feeling it is much more likely there is some more roundabout explanation that might tie into that xxxHOLiC: Rō episode. But that is only something that will be clear as the series goes on.

The story is pretty simple in that it mostly establishes that Yuuko is alive, Watanuki is her cooking servant and assistant, and Doumeki can enter the shop which was not always the case in the original series. Other than that it is a little comedy and mostly set up for the first costumer for the shop. If anything hints to something major going on its Watanuki’s strange headache which cannot be random especially considering the scene that immediately triggers it.

The series still has a vibrant mixture of sexiness, comedy, and mystery. I’m sort of hoping being freed from being linked to Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle that xxxHOLiC might be able to better spread its wings. It always seems a bit caged in when it was the sister story to Tsubasa. I want to see where it could go on its own. Plus it is always nice to have Yuuko back.

sep-comics

 I read issues 1-3 of Cyberforce (2012) a revamp of the 90s American comic series which was funded through Kickstarter. The story takes place in a future where an evil corporation, CDI, with machinations of altering the world for their own purposes has taken to experimenting with cyber implants. A rogue group of soliders from said experiments is attempting to take them down and exact revenge.

Things really begin when Carin daughter of the heads of CDI learns of a dangerous plan called Aphrodite Protocol and runs away to seek out the help of Morgan Stryker along off the grid soldier. I of course love that Carin has a dog named Ninja who is a cyber enhanced badass, but he was captured and being treated badly!

So far the book is high on laying out the world and plot rather than fleshing out the characters. But there are explosions! And crazy cyber people! Also no one wears shirts? Anyway, it has been an entertaining read so far.

I super love the cover of issue 3.

You can read Cyberforce for free on Comixology.

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 #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:

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)

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