Sunday, October 31, 2010

Manga Review: Love Vibes

Sakurazawa Erica's Love Vibes should interest people because of its pedigree (Sakurazawa is a famous, incredibly prolific josei mangaka), because it's an uncommon example of a yuri manga that has gotten a live-action movie adaptation (the other ones that I can think of are Love My Life and Sakura no Sono- and if you count light novels, Maria-sama ga Miteru), and simply because it's incredibly good.

Mako is a fairly introverted (but not wallflowery) college student who is dating a classmate named Shouji. She breaks things off with him after realizing that their relationship isn't really going anywhere. While sampling a CD in a music store, she meets the extroverted, hyper-confident Mika.

They hit it off as friends, even though Mika obviously wants to be Mako's girlfriend. Mika is so straightforward and lighthearted when mentioning her feelings that Mako doesn't get how serious Mika really is about her for a while. (Naturally, this causes some frustration on Mika's part.)

They have a fight after Mako gets back together with Shouji, and Mika starts (sort of) going out with a woman named Shouko (one of the more...erm...unique fictional love interests I've encountered in manga). Neither relationship works out, and Mako and Mika start dating.

More snags pop up involving both Mako and Mika's exes and an invitation from one of Mako's friends for her to attend a Christmas Eve mixer. But in the end, Mako and Mika wind up happily together.

Love Vibes' hook isn't tantalizing/frustrating its readers with a slow, methodical build-up to a confession. (Even given that it takes place within one volume.) Things move along at a brisk clip and the characters are refreshingly matter-of-fact. They are still very human- they screw up, they overcome hurdles, and they evoke sympathy (and the occasional "squee!" moment)- and their lives are involving, even upon re-reading. The ending is definitely happy, but with a nod to the uncertain future that most couples face that early in a relationship. This story is also noteworthy for featuring two yuri protagonists who are on different but not completely opposite sides of the Kinsey scale, and acknowledging it- not something you see much. My one real quibble is that I would have liked to see the ending (particularly the resolution to Mako and Mika's separation) fleshed out more. But the story achieves a lot for a single volume.

Sakurazawa's art is very stylish and pretty- like most josei, it's fairly loose and minimalistic, but it adroitly conveys its characters' emotions and gives everything a light, breezy look.

If you enjoy mature romantic drama that isn't heavy-handed, Love Vibes should be right up your alley.

Story: B+
Art: B+
Overall: A-

The edition I'm reviewing is the re-print that came out around when the movie ("Kakera") was released. This volume includes Sakurazawa's Between the Sheets, which is also yuri but sucks pretty badly. For yuri by Sakurazawa, Love Vibes is the way to go.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Manga Review: Cutey Honey volumes 1-2

My reaction to finishing Nagai Go's classic Cutey Honey:
o_o ... o__O

The real review-

Cutey Honey is about Kisaragi Honey, an android created by Dr. Kisaragi to be his daughter.

After transferring to a yuri acid trip of a girls' school, charming her entire class,

and quickly making friends with amorous classmate/roommate Aki Natsuko,

Honey hears Dr. Kisaragi calling for help via a transceiver in her earring and immediately goes to his lab, which is being ransacked by members of the international crime organization Panther Claw.

After finding out she's an android, killing the burglars,

and seeing Dr. Kisaragi die, Honey learns from a recording of Dr. Kisaragi's voice that she has special technology inside of her that can "create matter out of air" and which allows her to transform into the redheaded super-crime fighter Cutey Honey when she presses the heart on her choker and yells "Honey Flash!"

Panther Claw, naturally, wants that technology and Honey wants revenge. At the lab, she also meets a doofus-y reporter named Hayami Seiji, who she befriends. (And later, Seiji's clingy little brother Junpei and pervy father  Danbei who I wanted to spray with insect repellent to make them go away.)

Other players include Honey's rather hideous homeroom teacher Alfone-sensei (who has the hots for Honey and is in a relationship with principal Pochi), sadistic dorm mistress Histora (who Honey has to evade when sneaking into and out of her dorm at night), the freakiest all-girl gang ever to grace the pages of a manga, and the mutants in Panther Claw, the most important of whom after their reclusive leader, Panther Zora, is the head of their Japanese branch, Sister Jill.

After luring Honey out with another burglary, Panther Claw captures Seiji, disguises one of their own as him, and manages to find out where Honey's school is. This does not bode well.

Everyone dies. Honey disguises Natsuko as a rock to save her from Panther Claw but doesn't have enough energy to disguise herself. When Panther Claw comes very close to where Honey's hiding, Natsuko bursts out of her disguise and pretends to be Honey running away. Dragon Claw burns her to a crisp, which pisses off Sister Jill, because the entire point was to capture Honey for her technology, not to destroy her. Sister Jill kills Dragon Claw and, convinced that Honey's dead, the Panther Claw members leave.

At Panther Claw's next planned burglary of a gold Buddhist statue, Honey makes herself look like the statue and takes its place before Panther Claw steals it (which isn't all that hard considering what the police in this story are like)

so she can infiltrate their hide-out. There, she fights Sister Jill

(after Jill's kind of hilarious reaction to Honey trying to transform) and kills her. Honey walks out of Panther Claw's castle, which Panther Zora blows up while crowing, "You'll fight me next, Honey!" And Honey swears to keep fighting until Panther Claw is completely destroyed- serving as a good segue for the two Cutey Honey TV anime series (one shounen, one shoujo, both more tame than the manga), OVAs (both seinen), a live-action TV series, a live-action movie, and numerous manga reboots in which Honey, once again, faces off against Panther Claw.

Honey is one of Nagai Go's most perennially popular creations. He is responsible for introducing some of the most ubiquitous tropes found in anime and manga (like mechs controlled by pilots in Mazinger Z), and his work is known for being loaded with nudity and violence. (His work even got him in trouble with PTAs back in the day, especially his series Harenchi Gakuen, which was the first "ecchi school" series.) However you feel about Nagai's oeuvre, you have to credit the man for knowing what sells.

While the first magical girl series was Mahou Tsukai Sally in 1966, Cutey Honey, which ran in Shounen Champion in 1973-1974 (the anime aired concurrently), introduced a major characteristic of the genre- a heroine who uses an accessory to transform and fight against baddies. Sailor Moon went further in introducing the concept to shoujo (hence, removing the seedy T & A- Honey's transformation is called "Honey Flash!" for a reason; correction on 11/02: Sailor Moon was just barely preceded by Sailor V, a short, relatively obscure transforming-magical-girl-fighting-baddies shoujo title by the same creator, but it did everything else I've credited it with here), adding in a sentai team element (a group of color-coordinated fighters/best friends transforming and defeating the bad guys), and becoming wildly popular around the world- and spawning more mahou shoujo series that follow a similar pattern, like PreCure. So Cutey Honey's pretty significant even if it is incredibly trashy. (And as far as I know, Natsuko's the earliest ancestor of Tomoyo/Tamao/Kuroko/every-yuri-character-with-a-comical-crush-on-her-best-friend.)

So, if you can tolerate the service and gross-out humor (hur hur, the detective has a hemorrhoid- hur hur, now his ass is being karate-chopped), derive entertainment from the trippy moments (like Honey being inhaled by a giant panther and fighting several mutants in an alternate reality where she needs to quickly change forms- from a European knight to an animal tamer to Tarzan), and appreciate Honey's place as a benchmark manga and anime heroine (she has a likeable, strong-willed enough personality that it's easy to see how she has appealed to people in multiple demographics over the decades, with her story tweaked appropriately for its different variations), it's a title worth checking out.

Story: The story's a piece of crap (more for the execution than the underlying premise)... C
Art: C+
Overall: ...but it's a weird, historically valuable piece of crap. (Especially, for example, for someone whose gateway anime and manga was Sailor Moon.) B

Update: Re-posted on scans_daily.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Manga Review: Strawberry Panic Omnibus

English-speaking Strawberry Panic fans have really lucked out. We have the anime on DVD, the light novel omnibus coming up, and the manga, with the two extra chapters that didn't come with the original two manga volumes included in this omnibus. 

Strawberry Panic's premise is already familiar to yuri fans. Naïve, cheerful Aoi Nagisa transfers to St. Miator Girls' Academy, where she catches the eye of the coolest, most popular (and most fickle) Onee-sama (I giggled while typing that, just so you know) Hanazono Shizuma.

Nagisa's roommate Tamao and underclassman Chiyo also carry a torch for Nagisa. Shizuma wants Nagisa to compete with her in the Ètoile competition, which is essentially a contest among Miator, St. Spica Girls' Institute, and St. Lulim Girls' School, all located on Astraea Hill, for the best couple. (With one girl in each couple called the "aȋnée" and the other the "cadette.")

Their stiffest competition comes from Spica's "Prince" Otori Amane and her cadette, shy transfer student Konohana Hikari- whose hyper-aggressive roommate Yaya is in love with her.

The manga follows the light novel, as far as I've read, more closely than the anime adaptation. The competing couples get through the first round of the competition, which involves placing the cadettes in a tower where they wait to be rescued by their aȋnée/Onee-sama/tachi/seme riding on horseback, and the first couple that reaches the finish line wins. Of course, since you have a large crowd of girls squeezed onto a high platform with no railing, one of them (Nagisa) falls off and is left clinging to the side hoping that her Onee-sama will save her on time.

Nagisa also finds out that Kaori, the girl Shizuma originally competed with for Ètoile the previous year, died from a terminal illness after Shizuma fell in love with her, so she isn't sure how sincere Shizuma's feelings for her now are. (At least that issue's resolved before this series wraps up.) In the two bonus chapters, a new student, Kusanagi Makoto, arrives back at Spica after studying abroad in Russia, after being summoned by Lulim's Student Council President Chikaru to upset the competition.

The two bonus chapters don't provide any resolution to the competition, but they were still pleasant to read as extra material. I would probably complain more about the unfinished ending if the story weren't resolved in the anime and light novels. As it is, it's an amusing, light-as-air little series with loads of yuri and some nice wink-wink-nudge-nudge references to other yuri titles for hardcore yuri fans. It moves more quickly than the anime, and it has some cute SD humor. It's really pretty stupid, but it's so cheerfully soap-y and over-the-top (and the characters so familiar) that it made me smile several times while reading it. As someone who first encountered SP via the anime, the manga is a nice way to re-visit the same setting with the characters and events tweaked up a bit. (Tweaked a lot, in the case of Kaname and Spica's student council.)

Extras include an "Astraea Directory" with profiles on all of the characters, a cute "Astraea Hill Tri-School Relationship Chart", a map of Astraea Hill, and a guide to the honorifics (which are all left intact- yay!!) and series terminology. And finally in the back, there's a preview for the first Hayate x Blade omnibus.

Story: "Onee-sama!! *blush*"
Art: B-
Overall: B for me.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Top 5 Coming Out Yuri Manga Titles

In honor of National Coming Out Day, I'm listing my top 5 coming out yuri manga titles. They aren't listed in the order of my favorite to least favorite- just the order of when they popped into my head.

1. Hanjuku Joshi by Morishima Akiko (Coming Out to a Friend):
Because seeing Yae work up the courage to come out to her friend/former crush Youko before they go on a double date gives me the warm fuzzies like few other manga scenes.

2. Aoi Hana by Shimura Takako (Coming Out to One's Best Friend):
Shimura Takako can do no wrong. Fumi's coming out scene with Ah-chan is eerily close to my own coming out to my best friend. Sugimoto coming out to her family is also a highlight. (Although she didn't have to drag poor Fumi into it. ^^;)

3. Love My Life by Yamaji Ebine (Coming Out to Family/Mutual Outing):
Ichiko comes out to her dad, and her dad reveals that he's gay too- and so was her dead mom. How could anyone forget this scene?

4. Honey & Honey by Takeuchi Sachiko (Multiple Types):
When you're reading an autobiographical yuri manga by an out author, you're going to get some realistic coming out scenes. lol Takeuchi makes it funny, though, and she covers the coming out process for different sexual/gender minorities, which is something you don't see much. (*straining to think of more examples* ...) I have a soft spot for the Sachiko-Mai interaction because my bff is straight- and in manga starring yuri protagonists, "best friend" is virtually always synonymous with "love interest."

Above: Julia-san, expressing her desire to kiss her kouhai Ran before realizing that she has a crush on her. Julia's manager Saeki, not realizing that this is the beginning of a pattern.

5. Strawberry Shake Sweet by Hayashiya Shizuru (Outed by Stupidity- Multiple Times):
Because we need more funny coming out scenes featuring characters who are too dense to know that everybody can tell- and then don't care after they know that other people know. (Yes, I know I'm stretching it with this example.)

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to chime in with your favorite examples. :-)

Edit: I copied this post over to scans_daily, adding some extra explanation of yuri/the titles listed for the folks who aren't familiar with them- just in case anyone here wants to check it out.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Manga Review: Ebisu-san to Hotei-san

Ebisu-san to Hotei-san, which fits the "hate ---> respect/like ---> love" romantic comedy pattern to a T, isn't mindblowing, but it's an okay, good-natured re-tread of well-worn territory.

Hotei works at the backwater branch of a large, famous company. A new worker transfers in from the main office, the über-cool, competent Ebisu Mayo (who Hotei secretly nicknames "Ebi Mayo", or "Shrimp Mayo") who does her work more efficiently than anybody else but never works overtime, prompting the women at the office to act like bratty, bullying middle school kids. (Dumping coffee on her work when she's at a meeting, telling her that another meeting is scheduled a week later than it actually is, ignoring her at lunch, etc.) One day Ebisu follows Mayo and sees her picking up her niece Hana from daycare. She suddenly feels bad about being such a jackass and starts helping Ebisu take care of Hana. Of course, the little munchkin brings them closer together and Hotei eventually realizes that she loves her Shrimp Mayo. Hana's deadbeat mother (Ebisu's older sister) comes back and we learn the utterly stupid reason why she seduced all of Ebisu's past boyfriends, which is what first caused the rift between them.

Hotei more or less repairs their relationship and realizes that Ebisu returns her feelings when Ebisu asks her to ignore her sister if she comes onto Hotei. Hotei asks if she can move in with Ebisu and Ebisu agrees. Frustratingly, Ebisu and Hotei don't actually say "I love you" or anything to that effect. In a bonus chapter taking place a few years later, Hana invites a classmate to her home and explains that she has three moms- her mother, her aunt, and her aunt's "friend." This ending reminded me of something in real life- I have an older, closeted relative (who doesn't know that I know that she's closeted...I think) who lived with another woman for a long time before that woman died (when I was a kid), without anyone in the family acknowledging her as more than my relative's "friend." The "my aunt and her friend" bit reminded me of that, which gave it kind of a depressing tinge for me. (I know, not the series' fault, but there you go.) The joke at the end about Hana and her aunt liking similar types of people was cute, anyway.

The manga's afterword reveals that much of the ambiguity in this series can be attributed to Kizuki Akira and Satou Nanki receiving advice from a crappy editor on what a good yuri story should be like. If I were their editor, my Yuri 101 tutorial for them would be "It's romance between two women or girls," and I would give them a short list of recommended yuri mangaka/titles to check out.

Ebisu-san to Hotei-san has some cute moments, but there are meatier titles out there covering similar ground.

Story: C+
Art: C+
Overall: C+

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Manga Review: Tokimeki Mononoke Jougakuen volume 2

This title is an extra-fun read now that it's Halloween season. (Halloween decorations downtown + dorm movie night viewing of Sleepy Hollow and...Monty Python and the Holy Grail = festive mood) Anyway....

Continuing from where the first volume left off, Arare knows how she feels about Kiri (and surprisingly, didn't spend much time processing it before confessing) and Kiri reciprocates, but they have one big, silly obstacle in the way before they can, uh, do as they please. A hasty decision on Arare's part leaves Kiri heartbroken and Arare and Pero accidentally wind up in the human world. But young youkai can't survive long there (human air rots their lungs, see), so Kiri crosses over to the human world to bring back Pero. And Arare...?

This is a Yuri Hime comedy, so it's obvious that Kiri and Arare will get a happy ending. How that ending comes about isn't as obvious, which is pretty nice. Even though the story in this volume is more continuous and drama-heavy than the first volume's very funny scattershot, slice-of-life approach, it still brings regular doses of the pop culture and youkai lore-infused humor that has always made the series enjoyable. Arare and Kiri make a cute couple and the supporting characters are still suitably weird.

Most of the story hinges on a really, really dumb, pulp fiction-friendly plot point, but everything ties up satisfactorily. And for once, the source of angst isn't "holy crap, you're a girl too"- it's "holy crap, you're a youkai and the rules governing your world are completely arbitrary." For a silly yuri story that combines offbeat humor with a bodice-ripper sensibility, Tokimeki Mononoke Jougakuen is a solid read.

Story: B
Art: B+
Overall: B

I'm looking forward to Nangoku Banana's next yuri series- especially to seeing how her sense of humor translates into a story without youkai.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Another new favorite: K-ON!!

This is going to be a really, really cheesy review.

K-ON!! is a parcel of joy wrapped in a warm blanket of sweetness and goofy silliness. (I can expect a cutting, Mio-like remark from my best friend when she reads that opening. ^^;)

Where the first season follows Yui, Ritsu, Mugi, and Mio's first two years in high school in 13 episodes, this season details their senior year of high school in 26 episodes. These girls do pretty much everything- going on a field trip to Kyoto, camping out at a rock festival with Sawa-chan-sensei, screwing around at a home superstore (and everywhere else), trying different instruments (well, Ritsu does), holding a party with the Mio Fan Club, thinking about what they want to do in the future, entering a talent show, participating in their class's performance of "Romeo and Juliet" (directed by Mugi, starring Ritsu as Juliet, Mio as Romeo, and Yui as Tree G and a bush), doing their last music show at the school cultural festival, preparing for yearbook photos, racing for the last mochi, creating a promo video for their club, sweating over getting into their top choice of university (and getting in! their choices for where to go for college made me want to high five all of them- which would make sense to people who know what type of college I go to), etc.

I love how K-ON focuses on these characters just going through high school. Not "Romance romance romance, angst, oh look, we have graduation coming up also. Romance." or "Supernatural super-power hijinks, oh what, we have class?" There's nothing wrong with a good high school romance or fantasy series, but K-ON's take on the high school years is refreshing to me. It's silly, funny, frequently sweet, warm and low-key, finding enjoyment in time spent with good friends. These girls go together like the ingredients in a tasty recipe- it's impossible to imagine them, at this point, without each other.

Story: A
Art: B+
Overall: A

Looking forward to the upcoming movie!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Anime Review: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS

I knew that I would love Nanoha StrikerS, and, surprise, I did.

StrikerS takes place ten years after A's, with Nanoha, Fate, Hayate, and the Wolkenritter living in Mid-Childa (i.e. the magic users' world) after having worked their way up the ranks of the Time-Space Administration Bureau. Nanoha is training new mages as a wonderfully (and not unexpectedly) hard ass combat instructor in the HQ Forces, along with Fate and Vita. Hayate is working as a Lieutenant Colonel and, along with the Wolkenritter, still shaking off the stigma of being associated with the Book of Darkness incident. Hayate forms a new unit, the Sixth Mobile Division, including Nanoha, Fate, and their students Subaru, Teana, Caro, and Erio.

About halfway through the series they find a little girl named Vivio who, for various reasons, is the key for the grand master plan of this season's villain, mad scientist Jail Scaglietti. (A criminal Fate has been hunting for years who, ironically, helped Precia create the technology that created Fate.) Nanoha and Fate, who live together (and despite their presumably decent salaries and the spacious size of their apartment, are sharing one bed- just putting that out there), start taking care of Vivio and she starts calling them both "Mama." (The evidence is piling up, Watson.)

Scaglietti's underlings, the Numbers, attack a TSAB press conference, making a wreck out of the military and kidnapping Vivio and Subaru's sister Ginga. Nanoha and the rest of the Sixth Mobile Division need to stop Scaglietti's plan- involving unethical human experiments, reviving the technology of a lost civilization, etc, business as usual for Nanoha- and save Vivio and Ginga.

Of course they're successful and everybody gets their chance to shine in a heady culmination of fight sequences. I loved seeing Fate go into sonic-mode and the part where Nanoha located Quattro and Quattro was like, "Dear god, she's going to shoot through the ship!!" (If Nanoha wants to "befriend" you, she'll do it.) Tea was pretty awesome, taking on three Numbers at once. I'm also especially happy that the Wolkenritter got their share of battle glory- particularly Vita destroying the engine room and every single scene that Signum was in. lol The ending was great, giving us a peek into the characters' lives ahead yet again.

Along with everything that I've already written about, I adore Nanoha for having a strongly likeable protagonist who ages. And gets a job. That she likes. (Nanoha pretty much has it made.)  

Nanoha's ongoing themes of "how you were born (or who you were born to) isn't the end game for who you can be", that people deserve second chances, and that families form when people care about each other strongly enough, regardless of whether they're blood-related or not, also provide an appealing heart underneath all of the sci-fi/fantasy trappings and explosions.

Art: Quality ranges from C to B.
Story: B+ Conceptually, there is little that is original about Nanoha (like most shows), but through some kind of alchemy...
Overall: its elements coalesce into a winning formula. For me, at least. A