ZOMG! Hyped over this announcement! Monsutā Musume no Iru Nichijō (Everyday Life with Monster Girls) anime coming soon.

1st manga cover of Monsutā Musume no Iru Nichijō

Even though it does epitomises everything that I can’t stand about Japanese media -in terms of hypersexualisation, harem comedies & the enforcement of gender roles- I can’t helped but adore he manga Monsutā Musume no Iru Nichijō because it takes such clichéd tropes & subverts them by making all the female characters into cute monsters, vying for the affection of a constantly put upon nice guy, in the form of Kimihito.

The manga is surprisingly sweet & funny, despite all the nudity & adult situations (you can tell that the mangaka Okayado started off making porn -monster girl porn!), so was stoked to find out today that there will be an anime adaptation coming in July.

Here’s the PV of it:

It might just be the worst anime ever, more so with all the fan service & hypersexualisation, but I’m already a fan, so am looking forward to seeing what they do with it (& to see how they’ll censor it as well).

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As we to are consumed. . . – Anime Critique: Tokyo Ghoul √A

tumblr_nhvkj43FWj1rzlvy0o1_500Title: Tokyo Ghoul √A (Tokyo Ghoul Root A)
Format: TV anime
Genre: horror, psychological, action
Series Creator: Sui Ishida
Series Director: Shuhei Morita
Studio:
Series length: 12
Original Airing dates: January 8, 2015 – March 26, 2015
Reviewed format:


Synopsis:

Kaneki has been broken by Jason’s torture, reverting to a feral mentality before devouring large parts of Jason. After rescuing the friends sent to rescue him, Kaneki leaves Anteiku (Antique) to join with the enemy, Aogiri Tree. Why has Kaneki suddenly abandoned his friends, both human & ghoul alike? Why did he join with those who conspired to have him tortured & killed? Did Aogiri Tree’s torture kill the person Kaneki once was or does he have his own motivations for joining with them?


Critique:

Just going to get this out of the way first by talking about the last (episode & series’ critique): Tokyo Ghoul has a terrible problem with endings. It either ends in the wrong spot or just doesn’t end properly. Case in point being, that the first episode of this series should’ve actually have been the last episode of the 1st series & the last episode of this series gives zero resolution what-so-ever to the events of TG√A.

Now, one reason for this is that the franchise has become a huge money spinner, with several manga & Light Novels out now & a sequel manga currently in print, so they are trying to milk it all for what it’s worth. Unfortunately this means there is a cop out with the ending which throws us (unknowingly) into a Time Skip in the coda.

The other issue, off the bat, is that the series doesn’t actually go anywhere & is fairly muddled in it’s arc & motivations.

It doesn’t know where it wants to go or what questions it wants to answer, so it sets up all these threads without heading towards any resolution. This is especially true as to Kaneki’s motivations for joining Aogiri, the other half ghouls who appear & are never mentioned again & the motivations of the One Eyed Owls.
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This in & of itself isn’t a terrible thing, because everything that made the last series great still remains, but if you made the mistake of reading the manga, you’re going to be very very disappointed with the direction the anime went.

The two media forms are different during the first few mini-arcs that comprised the first series but they are nothing alike once Kaneki is captured by Aogiri Tree. This at least means that you get value in watching one & reading the other but it also means that they insert characters & ideas into the anime that they have no intention of resolving -primary to this is the notion of the half ghouls & their creation.

Yet, despite the muddled & unresolved nature of TG√A, I genuinely enjoyed it as a whole.

This is because it still resolves around the idea of what makes a human.

Is it simple biology or is it something deeper within the soul -like grief, compassion & love?

If that is true, than many of the Anti-Ghoul Investigators are no longer human because of how they revel in killing ghouls. Whilst many ghouls are more human because, despite their predatory natures, bond with each other & do everything to protect those whom they perceive as family.

At this intersection stands Kaneki. Who has been transformed -physically & psychologically since the last series.
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After being shown the horrors capable by those who possess power (both on the ghoul & CCG sides), he knows that he needs greater strength in order to protect those whom he cares about but staying by their side will result in them all getting hurt by those who seek to use him for their own ends.

This goes some way as to why he joined with Aogiri Tree, despite all Anteiku ghouls risked to rescue him. That is because Aogiri Tree are the means for him to get stronger as he devours other ghouls (a taboo in ghoul culture as well as being basically disgusting due to the taste of ghoul flesh to a ghoul) but because if he sides with them, Aogiri tree no longer have a reason (at least in his mind) to battle Anteiku.

Yet, muddled motivations are the order of the day, as Aogiri Tree go out of their way to send their grunt members to die in useless attacks against CCG facilities, such as the ghoul super-prison, but once that’s done, the ghouls whom they release are pretty much never mentioned or seen again. Same as the spectre of Rize -the ghoul whose organs inhabit Kaneki’s body. So many ghouls smell her on him & are driven into a frenzy to kill Kaneki but you’re never told or shown why Rize is so hated/lusted after by so many different ghouls all over Tokyo.
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At least what is made clear is the development & motivations of some of the other characters, who had kinda been shunted off to the background for a bit in the last series.

You really get to see the lives & histories of some of the CCG members & why many of them have such incredible hatred of ghouls (usually involving friends & family being murdered by them). Amon’s background gets fleshed out, when it’s revealed that he was an orphan in a Catholic orphanage but instead of being molested by the head priest, the head priest was actually a ghoul who ate the other orphaned children but spared Amon for some unknown reason. This gives background to why Amon is so fixated on destroying ghouls who kill parents, wilfully ignoring that he’s destroyed entire ghoul families himself -which then creates ghouls who are more vicious towards humans for having their parents murdered by the CCG.
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The twisted little stitched up freak Juzo gets a lot more development; being shown as once being an orphan who was adopted by a female ghoul who used to torture him so he’d kill humans for her as part of the gourmet rituals (that we saw in the first series with Kaneki being a potential victim). He was broken over & over again but was eventually rescued by the CCG, who saw the potential in his talent for murder. He ultimately seeks a parental figure, whom he finds in Shinohara, who treats the fucked up boy with genuine affection despite him being so mentally unbalanced.

We’re also introduced to some new characters this season. Such as Mado’s daughter, Akira, who is every bit as efficient & driven as her father but not as twisted in obsession. Yet she’s lacking in any true emotion, instead preferring to act like a machine & keep her co-workers at a distance. Naturally, this means Amon, who feels responsible for her because he was her father’s last partner, tries to get close to her but she still blames him for her father’s death, so their relationship exists in a form of impasse where they don’t know how & what they really feel for & about each other.

This exploration of character & motivation is great, even if some of it doesn’t go anyway, but what is ultimately rewarding is seeing the original nature of some of the characters whom you thought that you knew.

My favourite being the Anteiku ghouls Enji & Irimi.

Enji is often seen as a useless braggart, claiming that he was once referred to as “the Demon Ape” but is often fobbed off by his colleagues as being an idiot. In the final arc of the series, it’s shown that all he said was true & he more than lived up to his reputation for brutality.

Same with the older sister figure of Irimi, who is often seen as a mentor to the younger female ghouls but was once the most brutal & cold hearted ghoul leader, Black Dober (as in Doberman but is more of an Egyptian jackal in mask shape).

The contrast between these two periods of being is held together by the extreme contrasts in the personal history of their manager & leader, Yoshimura, from whom almost the entirety of events within both series first came.

You also get introduced to other random ghouls & CCG characters, many of whom work amazingly well on screen despite having such a short time upon it. This just shows the power of the writing & performances as well trying to give each character a sense of action & presence upon the screen.

The visuals remain amazing & vibrant but the broadcast version still has the heavy darkening censorship to obscure the scenes of extreme violence. Despite that, the series does well with its visual allegories to bring contrast & juxtaposition of states of being for the characters as well as the under currents of their mental states. He action is also crisp & sharp, never leaving you wondering what’s going on -even when intentionally obscured. This is proved in the final all out battle of the last few episodes, where the screen is cluttered with action but is never as muddled as the plot.

Again, this is a brilliant & well rendered series that still suffers some annoying faults in terms of motivations & narrative but it’s still worth watching. The lack of closure & direct implication of there being a series (which will be called Tokyo Ghoul :re after the Time Skip manga). The juxtaposition of the anime with the manga is still fitting & they are rushing both out for official Western release, so you have no excuses to avoid either -unless, of course, you’re being eaten by a ghoul or something.

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Tweaks, Changes & Updates (plus possible begging for donation)

tamayay

Since am reaching the end of my Masters work & our other contributors are busy, I thought it was time to add a few tweaks to the blog as well as add a new category for reviews & articles.

The latest section is on Trading Card Games (TCG) -which are also referred to as Collectable Card Games.

I’m doing this because I recently got back into playing Magic: The Gathering & Yu-Gi-Oh as well as starting slightly more obscure games like Weiβ Schwarz (Weiss Schwarz -German for White & Black). Soon I’ll be moving into Pokemon TCG & other series like Cardfight!! Vanguard & Future Card BuddyFight because there are enough people were I live who play it regularly. Also want to get WIXOSS cards but they’re still only available in Japanese (but seem to be popular over there).

This will move into reviews of the various TGC, their various flavours/decks/series as well as talking about the different decks & play styles out there. This will lead into recording How To Play guides with other players as well as filming the different types of matches.

For that I was considering setting up either a Patron or other similar donation system so I can afford to buy new cards/decks/booster packs as well as improve software & equipment to record things. I set up a PayPal donation button on the side widget if you care to donate either $1 of $5 USD to me. Every little helps really (since am living hand-to-mouth being a post-grad student & all).

I was also thinking of using this donation system to shift the blog from the free version to the full paid subscription model so can host videos & other things as well as have a customised domain name.

Also: if you have any old TCG stuff lying around that you’re happy to get rid of, please let us know & we’ll arrange compensation & postage stuff.

If any of my readers are interested in helping with this, please leave a comment below.

I’ll also be posting more retro reviews & hopefully finishing up my various manga/comic reviews as well. This is mainly so I can publish the half finish stuff that I have sitting around but also to flesh out the blogs content more.

As always, thanks for reading this tiny corner of the Net’s Geekdom & for your current & future support. Will try to get more regular updates from now on.

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A Delicate Balancing Act- Anime Critique: Akame ga Kiru!

Title: Akame ga Kiru! (Akame ga Kill! Akame Slashes!)
Format: TV anime
Genre: Shonen, fantasy, action, pseudo-harem, gore
Series Creators: Takahiro & Tetsuya Tashiro
Series Director: Kobayashi Tomoki
Studio: White Fox
Series length: 24 episodes
Original Airing dates: July 6, 2014 – December 14, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs

Manga cover
Manga cover

Synopsis:

Tatsumi is a fighter who, accompanied by his two childhood friends, sets off to the Capital in search of a way to make money to assist his poverty-stricken village. After being separated from his friends, Tatsumi not only fails to enlist in the army, but is swindled out of all his money. He is then taken in by a noble family who offer him help, but intend to torture and kill him, just like they did with his friends and dozens of other people. Tatsumi is rescued by a group of assassins known as Night Raid; who are also part of the revolutionary forces assembled to overthrow Prime Minister Honest, who manipulates the young emperor for his and his men’s personal gain, leading the rest of the nation to poverty and strife.


Critique:

In my view, Akame ga Kiru! is one of those rare series that takes established genre tropes and not only subverts to a degree but comfortable balances them with other common & uncommon elements -such as humour, emotion, fan service & extreme (& I do mean extreme) violence.

This delicate balancing act is the key strength to the series -but it is also its greatest weakness to a degree- as it takes many of the ideas of your typical Shonen narrative -such as ideas of justice, self-empowerment, overcoming more powerful opponents through strength of will & ignoring powerful female characters- and skews them into something basically other to the narrative norm.
Akame-ga-Kill
Primary to this is the central protagonist, Tatsumi, who seems like your typical Shonen manga hero. In that he is idealistic, naive & stubborn in his beliefs. The way that he is set up in the beginning, as a teenager coming to the capital to meet up with his two best friends so they can make enough money to save their village which lies along the farthest boards of the empire. Even though he is rejected for the army, swindled & exposed to the corruption of the capital, he maintains his naive idealism & is eventually taken in by a young noble woman who promises to help him find his friends and get into the army with her father’s connections. When the noble girl and her family are targeted by the assassins, Night Raid, Tatsumi does his upmost to protect the girl he believes to be his saviour -even going blade to blade against the titular Akame- but when it is revealed that the girl and her family tortured & killed his friends for their own sadistic pleasure, he shows no hesitation in being the one to kill her where she stands.

This juxtaposition of being naive morality and responding to the harshness of reality is what makes Tatsumi -& the series as a whole- interesting. Because even though he wishes to be moral, freeing the citizens of the empire from the corrupt tyranny of the manipulative Prime Minister -ironically named Honest- he is aware of the practicalities of achieving this. He accepts that he must become a murderer -even if the people killed are the worst humanity has to offer- but he does not let such darkness cloud that what he does is for an ultimate good. Yet a good that must always come at an exceptionally high price as people will suffer & die, even if you have the power to stop it.

The majority of the characters are also subversion of the standard genre tropes & cliches -for the most part that is.

They often fall into the typical archetypes that we come to expect -such as the unemotional one, the tsundere, the perv and the homo (how they refer to him in the series)- yet, for the most part, the characters are given context as to why they are like they are and are even given a change for develop, so that they have an arc to journey. What gives another good twisting to convention is that this development is also offered to the major antagonists of the series -the Jaegers- so that they aren’t just cardboard cutouts being bad for the sake of it (for the most part that is).

While Tatsumi is the naive idealist who grows to accept his roll as a killer, he is never shown  having the typical weakness of trying to spare his enemies or get them to see his point of view (such as Emiya in Fate/Stay Night). He grits his sense of mercy against having to do what is right in the situation, even if that means performing a brutal or underhanded act to win. He does gain more strength and power as the series progresses, as well as gathers a kind of harem around him, which are typical of the Shonen genre yet his development is never as clear cut as it would be in a more down the line (cliched) story like Bleach or One Piece. Since the manga is still continuing, the team behind the anime made an exceptionally brave way to resolve Tatsumi’s story arc, which was extremely unexpected & whilst a lot of people will be upset by it, I salute them for such a brave way of ending.

Tatsumi isn’t the only one who undermines standard Shonen characterisation, because his friends & enemies -whilst being cliched or archetypes at time- tend to have fleshed out backgrounds to explain their personality & behaviour.
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The titular Akame seems to be the usual taciturn killer obsessed with food but because she was raised solely and brutally as an assassin she lacks social skills and she constantly needs to eat to fuel her incredible abilities; also: despite appearing utterly emotionless, she cares deeply for all of her comrades, even if Tatsumi can’t understand how she does this at first. The sniper Mine (pronounced like mine as in the game Minecraft) seems like your typical tsundere but her emotion and arrogance fuels the power of her Taiga (Relic/Imperial Arms) weapon, Pumpkin, which grows stronger the more trouble its wielder is in -as well as the fact she is a half-blood child, which meant she was ignored & bullied all of her life, so she uses her arrogance to hide her fragility. The lion-like Leone (see pun in name) seems like your typical morally dodgy hedonist, actually swindling Tatsumi out of all of his money when he arrived in the Capital, but she has an exceptionally deep sense of loyalty to her friends & believes in personally punishing those who commit the most wicked sins upon the innocent -acting both as Night Raid’s spy & powerhouse in a fight. She also has a softer side, caring for Night Raid, insisting that they all refer to her as “onee-san” (big sister), which Tatsumi dutifully does despite their 1st interaction. Lubbock is seen as your typical amoral pervert who’d do anything to see the female Night Raid members naked but he never lets himself fall for enemy tricks -especially those involving beautiful- because he will do absolutely anything for his beloved commander, Nijenda.

Unfortunately the two remaining characters, Bulat & Sheele don’t really get time to develop but do have interesting backstories.

Bulat at first is shown as the butch homo (the translator’s term for him) with flamboyant hair but he acts like an older brother and mentor to Tatsumi (who refers to him as “aneki”). Despite his pretty boy appearance, he is a powerful fighter who is trying to make amends for the slaughters he committed when he was a soldier in the imperial army. I would’ve liked to have seen him develop much more outside the tender tough guy/queer trope but, alas, media has no issue in killing off homosexuals or deviants.

Sheele isn’t deviant in the traditional sense but she also doesn’t get time to shine. She’s shown as clumsy, airheaded & a tad useless but one of the most brutal killers in the team when armed with her giant scissors (yes, scissors like you do Arts & Crafts with). She claims a neurological condition, a “twisting inside my brain”, makes her useless at everything life but fighting & killing. After saving her best friend from a brutal assault & near rape, she discovers her talent for murder, becoming an assassin before being recruited by Night Raid. Unfortunately she’s turned into a sacrifice to demonstrate the power & brutality of the series’ main antagonists, the Jaegers (German for Hunters even though Germany doesn’t exist within the series).

The Jaegers I find a really interesting set of characters, proving the axiom that for a series to work you must have deep, complex villains who are twisted reflections of the heroes. Each member of the Jaeger is given details on their backgrounds & time to develop on screen, with each not only mirroring Night Raid but also displaying the issues inherent within the corrupt Empire.
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The Jaeger’s leader is the insanely powerful & brutal General (Shogun) Esdeath, who’s motto is “the strong survive and the weak die”. She also wields one of the most powerful Taiga in the series, the power to manifest ice in any shape or amount from out of nowhere. Her utter brutality lies in stark contrast to how she cares for her subordinates, even if she believes that if any of them die it was because of their inherent weaknesses (also blaming herself for not helping them overcome their weakness). She also wants to know what it is to be in love, falling for an undercover Tatsumi when he won a tournament set up to find her to perfect mate. Her devotion towards him boarders on the Yandere but she is shown to have genuine affection for him, even though he keeps trying to escape her.

The other really interesting members of the Jaegers include the flamethrower using Bols, who hides his face behind a gasmask & comes across as intimidating because of his huge, scarred body. Whereas, in truth, he is a gentle soul who cares for his team members, is a skill cooked & likes being as helpful as he can. He also has a loving wife & daughter but is fully aware of the atrocities that he has committed in the name of bringing peace to the empire -including burning an entire village to ash so to stop the spread of a plague. He knows that he will one day be judged & punished for the crimes that he has committed but that doesn’t stop him from being open & caring for everyone around him -despite his painfully shy nature & dark self awareness.

The other interesting member of the Jaegers is Seryu Ubiquitous but for opposite reasons as Bol. She’s utterly obsessed with justice & with becoming a Hero of Justice like those whom she idealised. Unfortunately those whom she idealised were either murderously corrupted -such as the Capital Guard leader Orge- or dangerously insane like Dr Stylish. Her version of justice is twisted & absolute, with no room for subtlety or reason; so she responses with extreme violence. Often using her dog-like Taiga, Koro, to devour the so-called “evil doers”. Her mentality is further twisted when Sheele severs her limbs at the cost of her own life, making her believe that “good” (herself) will always triumph over the forces of evil (everyone else). Though when she is introduced she is shown as your typical, bumbling & airheaded “ally of justice” type because that is what she believes herself to be. Except her mind is so twisted that even her comrades don’t trust her -especially Wave.

Wave is Tatsumi’s mirror. In that he is also naive & idealistic, believing that he must serve the Empire no matter how twisted it is. Because a righteous heart can heel any wound if they stick to their path. He isn’t entirely stupid, seeing the wrong doings enacted upon the populace -especially by other Jaegers (mainly Seryu)- but he still acts, along with Bol, as their anchor to normality & morality -especially for Kurome, Akame’s mentally-warped younger sister.
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Both Kurome & Akame share many similar traits, such as insatiable appetites & incredible, inhuman fighting skills. Yet whereas Akame feels the burden of all the lives that she has taken, Kurome feels their comfort. More considering that her Taiga, Yatsufusa, can turn anyone it slays into undead puppets. Her sense of being abandoned, stemming from being separated from her sister & experimented on, shows through in the use of her weapon to keep those whom she loved close to her -usually by mercifully ending their lives or murdering them when she thinks that they’ll leave her. Her character arc is minor yet interesting in how she develops outside seeing herself only in relation to her sister, especially when dealing with people as emotionally open & supportive as Wave.

There are heaps of other characters in the series too but in translated many from an on-going manga to a 24 episode series meant that they often appear, are introduced & then killed off without much fanfare.

In fact, there are several aspects & characters from the original manga that are removed or completely changed to fit with the new format but this doesn’t detract from it. I actually like how they were brave to give a solid ending to an continuing narrative rather than leave everything up in the air for a series that may never come (oh, how you betrayed me Horizon In the Middle of Nowhere!). Whilst some may quibble with the ending, I felt that it fitted for the most part but do be prepared to have your heart torn out a little if you’d grown attached to characters.

As well as playing with narratives & tropes, this series is also exceptionally violent. Surprisingly so in fact if you’ve never read the original manga. With blood spumes & dismemberment par for the course. Often shown in unflinching & uncensored fashion (unlike the TV broadcasts of Tokyo Ghoul or Gokukoku no Brynhildr). Yet the series does flinch away from the more sexually violent aspect, such as hints of rape & molestation. This is a positive in my view but it does mean that they cut out one of the best mini-arcs from the manga, where naive girls from the country are brought to the Capital, spoilt for a day before being assaulted & molested then addicted to drugs until they die a brutal death. This segment is important to show how vile the Empire has become & the lengths Night Raid go to in order to dispense their brand of justice.

Yet, as it shies away from aspects of sexual assault & molestation, it still has a lot of blatant Fan Service. Which is many cleavage on display but occasionally taut male muscle for the ladies. The Fan Service is never graphic or ogling, never really lingering or shoving your face in it but it can distract from the overall scene and series. This was also an issue in the manga but felt more satirical there, whereas the anime just has the jugs out on display (although covered up in some aspect).

TITTIES!!! Covered but still titties!
TITTIES!!! Covered but still titties!

The Fan Service and Sexualisation aren’t deal breakers or annoying but they do feel jarring out of place at time.

The fight scenes are often exceptionally well depicted, with fast paced brutal action always centred so you know what’s going on. Unfortunately, it still falls into many annoying Shonen tropes, such as taking time to explain “Special Moves” and attacks as well as every character having a hidden “trump” (turumpu) card ability that they always expound upon during battle. I personally find this trope to be overused & very annoying but the fights themselves are bloody & enjoyable (bloody enjoyable you might say, gauffered laugh).

The series is also beautifully animated, with interesting anachronistic designs that juxtapose our modern with classic fantasy -especially in regards to clothing design. With Tatsumi & Akame both wearing what look like school uniforms. It’s also vividly colourful, using lots of scenery, such cityscapes & nature, but it does look all the same after a while because they reuse the same backgrounds a lot (cash saving measure).

Overall, I thought that this was a brilliant series that translated many of the positive & transgressive aspects of the manga to the TV medium whilst still maintain a delicate balancing act of using & subverting standard tropes & cliches.

Whilst it might not be for everyone, I still found it immensely enjoyable -especially with its tender moments and quick fire humour. Some may not be able to get passed the extreme violence with it’s rivers & fountains of blood or forgive it for killing off characters whom you’ve come to love but stick through it all before casting your judgement -just like I’ve done.

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Possibly the Funniest Thing All Year – Anime Critique: Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun

Title: Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun (Gekkan Shoijo Nozaki-kun, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun)
Format: TV series
Genre: comedy, satire, romance, 4koma adaption
Series Creator: Izumi Tsubaki
Series Director: Mitsue Yamazaki
Studio: Dogakobo
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: July 6 – September 21, 2014
Reviewed format: high def with fan subs

manga cover featuring Nozaki
manga cover featuring Nozaki

Synopsis:

“High school student Chiyo Sakura has a crush on schoolmate Umetaro Nozaki, but when she confesses her love to him, he mistakes her for a fan and gives her an autograph. When she says that she always wants to be with him, he invites her to his house and has her help on some drawings. Chiyo discovers that Nozaki is actually a renowned shojo manga artist named Sakiko Yumeno. She then agrees to be his assistant in order to get closer to him. As they work on his manga Let’s Fall in Love (Koi Shiyo lit Let’s Have a Romance) they encounter other schoolmates who assist them or serve as inspirations for characters in the stories.”


Review:

Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun was a manga that I had heard of but hadn’t read because of the sudden, sad demise of mangatraders.com (scumbag hackers!) & unfortunately the anime almost passed me by due to lack of support from more well known fansubber groups (leaving us with groan Horridsubs & one unknown & undersupported subber group who dropped it half way through). But I’m really glad that I gave it a chance because it is one of the funniest anime I’ve seen in the last few seasons.

Battle of the eyes
Battle of the eyes

As I’ve previously written about, I’m a monstrous fan of 4koma/azumanga adaptation because of their punchy, quick-fire jokes & excellent character construction (because they have to build them strongly within such a limited on page space).  Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun really slams hard into the top tier of 4koma adaptations. Not above Acchi Kocchi or Azumanga Daioh but on the same level as the two seasons of Seitokai Yakuindomo & Working!.

What makes this series truly brilliant is the subversion of tropes, genres & roles. Upon the surface many of the characters do seem stock: the male lead ignorant of the female lead’s love, the devoted female lead, the pretty boy, the popular one, et cetera but it plays around with them so sweetly that I was in pain laughing at times.

Nozaki's OP animation frame
Nozaki’s OP animation frame

The male lead is Nozaki Umetaro, who is not only ignorant of Chiyo’s affections but of pretty much everything around him. He has a cold, stoic demeanour. Performing every action in a serious, deadpan fashion so lots of people are unable to understand what he truly means. What makes that so funny & subversive is that Nozaki is actually a shojo mangaka (a creator of romantic manga for girls) who is said by fans to know the true depth of the female heart, in all its anguish, passion & devotion. & the fact that he’s a mangaka isn’t kept a secret for the sake of the plot. He’s very open about but no one believes him because he’s so tall & scary looking, with a bad reputation of fighting (injuries actually caused by rushing to meet deadlines & such). The fact that he’s truly ignorant about all aspects of romance is what drives a lot of the humour around him, as he goes through complicated plans to come up with idea scenarios to illustrate -often at the expensive of the ever devoted Chiyo.

The various moods of Sakura Chiyo
The various moods of Sakura Chiyo

In many ways, Chiyo is very much the same as Nozaki yet fundamentally different. Where he is stoic & impassive, she is overly expressive -almost to make up for his lack of physical displays of emotion. She is at first confused at Nozaki’s strange behaviour but through spending time with him, so comes to be able to read his subtle shifts in mood. Yet she so often over reactions to situations -such as thinking he might finally be reciprocating her feelings or she’s totally oblivious to the negative traits of those around her -especially her close friend Seo. Despite always wanting to be around Nozaki & get him to understand her feelings, she’s far from clingy & annoying as a character. When failing to express what she truly means in her affection to the dense Nozaki, she goes to work for him -helping with the beta (no idea what it’s supposed to be but she does the inking for him mainly) on his manga. This is done so she can learn what he’s like & see if her feelings for him are genuine. She prone to near fetishising many of Nozaki’s traits & habits, such as getting people to pose like his drawing sitting position or praising another shojo mangaka for creating a character who’s exactly like Nozaki. But she does so in the sweetest possible way. She’s also marked by her petite figure (basically half the size of the towering Nozaki) & polka dot bowed ribbons in her hair, yet is never sexualised in any way.

Such a happy Chiyo face!
Such a happy Chiyo face!

Also by working with Nozaki, she becomes a little disillusioned on how he creates his manga & whom he bases his characters on.

Which brings us into the great subversion of the series, which was always the best for laughs.

the cast, figure out the names yourself, you lazy pricks!
the cast, figure out the names yourself, you lazy pricks!

As Chiyo spends more time with Nozaki, she gets to see how he comes up with his ideas & characters. Naturally, she thinks that he has some innate understand of romance & women but that becomes apparent that it’s far from the truth when he asks her to help out in enacting possibly scenarios for his manga. The best example is the romantic bike scene & how he tries to depict it in a romantic yet entirely legal fashion (you’ll get it once you see it). He drags Chiyo into it at first but then she comes to accept it as perfectly normal, wanting to continue it with him because she finds it fun after a fashion (even though it’s totally embarrassing). Similar with the situation with him making half a dozen bento to gauge people’s reactions to getting them, with Chiyo initially thinks makes her special until he sees him sharing them out with their other friends.

The friends are what make up the rest of the humour as well as some of the inspiration of Nozaki’s manga characters.

Chiyo is not pleased by this situation.
Chiyo is not pleased by this situation.

& surprisingly enough, he doesn’t try to model any of them on Chiyo.

In fact, all of Nozaki’s female characters are based upon his male friends for their strangely feminine traits.

Chiyo's reaction to Mokirin's self-inflicted embarrassment.
Chiyo’s reaction to Mikorin’s self-inflicted embarrassment.

This is especially true for Mimiko’s (Nozaki’s ordinary yet wilful heroine), who is modelled after the charming yet easily embarrassed pretty boy, Mikoto AKA Mikorin. Who is popular because he’s handsome & saying the right things to make girls lose their minds but he gets so embarrassed about saying them because most of his experience dealing with women comes from playing dating sims & his is incredibly shy by nature -using brashness to hide it. His embarrassed state serves as the basis for Mimiko’s flustered nature as well as his constant need for praise & attention.

The other character who serves as inspiration for Nozaki’s manga is Chiyo’s close friend, Seo, who is, frankly, a bit of a bitch. She’s not intentionally mean but she’s entirely tactless, oblivious to others, slovenly, greedy, ignorant of her emotional & physical surroundings & a bit of a bully. When Nozaki asks why Chiyo admires Seo so much, she reveals Seo’s amazing singing voice, which has earnt her the nickname ‘the Lorelei of the Glee Club”. Despite her amazing vocal talents, Nozaki finds her fairly insufferable to be around but finds inspiration in her taunting of his former basketball kohai Wakamatsu, whom Seo calls Waka after a basic misunderstanding of him trying to challenge her to stop traumatising him (which is her childish way of showing an interest in her). For his part, Wakamatsu, becomes inspiration for another female character because of his over worked nature & gentle temperament yet Nozaki hates himself for putting his kohai in situations with Seo just so he can get inspiration for his manga. Seo is also the cause of Wakamatsu’s insomnia as well as he’s cure, which makes more great comedy & inspiration for Nozaki, much to his personal regret.

How harems begin.
How harems begin.

The other great characters in the series are Hori and Kashima from the drama club. Hori illustrated the scenery & backgrounds for Nozaki because he lacks the talent to do so, in exchange for Nozaki writing original scripts for the club. Kashima is the mega-popular prince-like figure of the drama club, who is always surrounded in adoring female fans despite being a woman herself. No one really seems to care about her masculine appearance & attitude, except it she costs them the chance to get female attention for themselves. Kashima also often vies for Hori’s attention, admiring his amazing acting skill (while he stays off stage because of his short height), but everything that she does just serves to piss him off -so he usually hits her for it. I don’t like the physical violence against a female character aspect much but it’s not done out of vicious anger, just old slapstick style comedy. Kashima & Mikoto are also close friends, with Kashima calling him her fated rival, despite the fact that she smashes him in every aspect of their school & personal lives.

What I wish I could do to those fans who demand hypersexualised anime all of the time.
What I wish I could do to those fans who demand hypersexualised anime all of the time.

The other great thing about the series is the incredibly beauty animation. Rich, colourful & smooth designs -even for the most mundane background details are sweetly rendered. The character animations are also top notch. Great use of expression, cartoon conceits & action -reminding me of a lot of older style fast paced cartoons that I watched as a kid (Merry Melodies mainly). Great little visual gags & reaction shots -especially Chiyo’s confused & love struck faces.

The other sweet thing about it is that you feel the genuine affection that Chiyo has for Nozaki -especially in the last episode. The reveal as to how she came to love him & why she made her confession to him is left until the end. Which serves the story really well, because it’s hinted at but not dwelled upon. Love & affection is the core of this series, something which I felt more then in the genuine shojo romantic series Ao Haru Ride that’s also been screening this season (& will be reviewed later, once I finish watching it).

In the end, this is a series that I enjoyed immensely & will probably watch over & over again (though not as much as I have Acchi Kocchi -which EVERYONE must watch). The lack of sexualisation, the great characters & fast paced jokes has put it at the top of my list for the season’s selection. I highly recommend it if you want a good laugh, like a good satire or just want something unexpected & clever.

Plus it feels good to write a review that it’s 5 paragraphs bitching about hypersexualisation for bloody once (although will be doing that with another upcoming review, so having put that stick away yet).

Also keep an eye out for the running tanuki gag.

My expression when I realised that there wouldn't be any more episodes to watch.
My expression when I realised that there wouldn’t be any more episodes to watch.

Been There, Criticised That – Anime Review: Strike The Blood

Strike_the_Blood_Volume_1Title: Strike The Blood (Sutoraiku za Buraddo)
Format: TV anime
Genre: supernatural, ecchi, action, comedy, shonen
Series Creator: Mikumo Gakuto
Series Director: Yamamoto Hideyo
Studio: Silver Link, Connect
Series length: 24 episodes
Original Airing dates: October 4, 2013 – March 28, 2014
Reviewed format: censored TV downloads

 

 

Synopsis:

“The 4th progenitor—the world’s strongest vampire who should only exist in legends. Accompanied by twelve Familiars and spreading calamity, this phantom vampire appeared in Japan. For the observation and obliteration of the Fourth Progenitor, the government and Lion King Organization decided to dispatch an attack mage known as a Sword Shaman. However, for some reason, the one chosen for the observation was an apprentice Sword Shaman girl, Himeragi Yukina. Wielding the strongest anti-progenitor spirit spear, Yukina arrived at Demon District, Itogami City. What is the true identity of the Fourth Progenitor, Akatsuki Kojou, she encountered over there?!”

Review:

OK, girls & boys, cliche checklist time!

  • One male protagonist with hidden power? Check!
  • Also slightly perverted? Check!
  • Redeems himself by having a pure heart & protects his friends to the risk of his own life? Check!
  • Tsundere style violent love interest? Check!
  • Female characters as potential love rivals for the female protagonist? Check!
  • Secret supernatural powers? Check!
  • Plenty of useless fan-service? Check & motherfucking check!

And that’s what we get with the Supernatural Shonen Ecchi comedy series Strike the Blood.

This series started at about the same time that KILL la KILL did & I didn’t really know anything when I first watched it. The first episode was decent but still riddled with cliches but what do you except? It’s very hard to produce entire new ideas & it does come from a fairly popular Light Novel series?

Anyway, the plot resolves around Akatsuki Kojou, a once human who was turned into the most powerful vampire known as the 4th Progenitor through mysterious means. This garners the attention of the Lion-King Organisation, who sends the powerful & obedient, but very naive, Himeragi Yukina act as his observer in case he goes out of control.

Due to this being a world where magic & monsters are known & have been given their own territory where they can freely interact with each other as well as normal humans, Yukina gets involved in a fight with vampires, causing Koujo to reveal his powers to her as he steps in between them. From there the general plot follows Yukina & Koujo coming to terms with not only the immense power that dwells with Koujo but also there feelings for each other.

I stuck with this series because the first half was very well constructed, with nice little story arcs that build upon the last & develop the various characters, main & side, in small ways. Unfortunately it falls apart a bit in the 2nd half (eps 14 or so onwards) because there isn’t really any developments to be made. Just more female characters added to stir up the fan service & harem angle as well as setting up plot threads that will go unanswered because is doubtful it will get another series.

StB Y&K

One of the major problems is that it is so cliched & spins up all the stupid ecchi, fan-service stuff. It plays out a lot like IS: Infinite Stratos in many ways. The ignorant male lead always being protected by those stronger than himself, so he fights to justify his masculine position even though he keeps getting his stupid arse kicked. Which means he struggles to control his power but also means that he stumbles into situations that make him look like a pervert & no one listens to him when he tries to explain, so he gets his arse kicked again.

& his stupid, stubborn need to protect everyone despite his own lack of skill seems to rev the motors of all the ladies around him, so they flock to have him drink their blood, which fuels his powers.

yukina_himeragi_0d

At least that’s a fairly interest an angle but having ecchi activated powers isn’t all that new in an anime. The whole slightly perverted protagonist who gets caught in compromising situations that get blown out of all proportions is one of the most common & annoying Shonen genre Light Novel tropes -usually it’s innocently picking up panties (again: see IS: Infinite Stratos). This plays into the whole idea that “a kiss is pure & innocent, only to be done with someone special” but “hey, here’s a whole heap of underage tits bouncing around. Enjoy & feel no hypocrisy in it!

650px-Strike_the_Blood_Trailer

Anyway, enough bagging, let’s get into more serious discourse. With some critical kicks from the side.

Basically, what does make the series good is the tightness of the first half. You get several small story arcs, usually 3 to 4 episodes per arc, that actually progress the story & character development while setting up future plot points & arcs. Like your typical Shonen work, each new challenge requires more power/strength to overcome &, while getting that power is often more Deus Ex Machina, it actually has some logic to it. What’s actually unlike typical Shonen stuff is that the female characters, whilst being hyper-sexualised, still have their own sense of action & agency. They aren’t sitting around waiting for Kojou to save them, though they are always happy when they do, but always performing actions that will either prevent disaster or protect those they love.

The best example of this is the character Aiba Asagi, the resident computer expert. In fact, she has a supernatural power over computer systems & is considered the Demon District expert on it all -to the point she was once kidnapped due to her talents. Whenever something bad happens -& it always does- she will do anything to see the Island & Kojou (her unrequited crush) protected, even if it means putting herself in danger.

More often than not, even though it is Kojou who defeats the BBEG of the arc, he wouldn’t be able to do so without the female characters. Who either save his stupid arse or provide him with the blood needed to activate his magic powers & thus destroy the ultimate enemy of the arc.

In the end, Strike the Blood isn’t anything new to anime as a whole. It is riddled with cliches & annoyances but does stand above many others of its ilk because of the focus of its stories & the characters within. Unfortunately, possibly due to its source material & translation, a lot left out in terms of background info & development & the 2nd half of the series doesn’t feel as good or refined as the 1st.

It’s not a bad thing to way really but nothing I’d say you should go out of your way for. The blu-ray will be uncensored if you are into that kind of thing. It’s pretty much for genre fans or those who like what I call annoying Fan-Service but it does have some merit in terms of Female Agency, which I’d like to see picked up more in other series (but minus the jiggle factor).

Taking requests for reviews or opinion pieces

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Need some head space & was wondering if people had any requests for things that would like to see reviewed or a topic they are interested in seeing discussed.

Things I will write about:

  • anime -recent & classic
  • manga -recent & classic
  • live action TV
  • classic literature
  • recent literatue
  • films
  • video games
  • tabletop games
  • poetry
  • anything generally related to geek or pop culture
  • music

So, if you have anything that tickles your fancy, drop us a line.

Am hoping to have a review of HBO’s True Detective up by the weekend, as well as some more anime reviews once I get a chance to finish them.