Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Kyoukai no Rinne: “So you say Shinigami are the ‘in’ thing now?” says Rumiko Takahashi

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009 Manga Reviews

The cover of the first chapter

The cover of the first chapter

As some of you may know, I am a rabid Inu-Yasha fangirl, which led me by extension to become a general fan of its author, Rumiko Takahashi. As such, when I found out Takahashi was starting a new series, there was no question about whether I would read it. The subject this time: wacky hijinks involving shinigami and a high-school girl with the power to see spirits.

The main character (a girl by the name of Mamiya Sakura) has been able to see spirits ever since an incident that occurred when she was a little girl. This becomes of interest when she meets Rokudo Rinne, a red-headed transfer student who, oh yeah, she first sees while no one else can. This is because Rinne is a shinigami (“death deity”), in possession of a haori that allows him to take spirit form and allows spirits to take solid form. Rinne is also totally, destitutely, broke-ass poor due to various circumstances involving a wacky and flippant grandmother and something about a mackerel. Sakura, due to her ability to see spirits and apparent inability to keep her nose to herself, ends up helping Rinne in his shinigami duties. These apparently include squatting in abandoned buildings, fleecing students for bread money and chasing off giant undead Chihuahuas.

(more…)

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Manga Review: The One I Love

Friday, February 13th, 2009 Manga Reviews, Reviews

The One I Love

Author: CLAMP, 1995

Volume: 1, 12 Stories

The One I Love is one of CLAMP’s most obscure works published in English. And there are a multitude of reasons for that: it’s no sprawling epic like X or Tsubasa; it connects to no other CLAMP worlds; it has never been made into an anime; it is only 1 volume. However, its still well worth a look, and the small size just makes it a quicker read.watashi_cover

The One I Love is a series of short stories in which a female main character has some sort of reflection on or encounter with love, or the person she is in love with. The stories’ topics range from getting married, to a long-distance relationship, to looking cute for your boyfriend. These beautiful vignettes are short and sweet, and it is surprisingly relaxing to read one or two in the midst of a hectic day. If you’re looking for action or tragedy, go elsewhere. Otherwise, most will probably enjoy these stories.

Shonen-ai Note: None.

Continuity Note: Doesn’t connect to anything.

Anime Adaptation: None.

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Movie Review: Detective Conan: Full Score of Fear

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008 Movie Reviews
I’ve been a fairly ardent Detective Conan follower ever since the first movie came out some 11 years ago. I was actually younger than Mouri Ran back then. But now, I’m much older. I am proud to say that I have experienced almost all 12 Detective Conan movies in one way or another—either by watching it in the theaters, watching it on home video, or reading the cine-manga.
As the movie’s subtitle suggests, the theme of this latest installment is classical music. Compared to past Conan themes (e.g., skyscrapers, amusement parks, virtual reality devices), I find the classical-music theme to be a little underwhelming. I suspect they’re just reacting to Japan’s Nodame Cantabile-inspired classical-music boom.

The movie starts out with a bang (literally) when two students die and a third is injured in a bombing at a prestigious music academy. This sets the ball rolling on a series of murders, all revolving around students of the school. When Conan is invited to a concert starring a singer with perfect pitch from that very academy, it falls to him to protect her and catch the killer, before the concert can become a stage for tragedy.

What I liked:

  1. The soprano, Akiba Reiko, is an energetic supporting character. The brilliant voice-acting by veteran voice actress Kuwashima Houko almost had me thinking that it was Hirano Aya voicing the character. Reiko is a rare movie-only supporting character in that she basically drives the plot forward. She’s always going around doing something and getting involved with Conan & co. At first she felt like someone very repulsive and I thought she might fall into the typical category of “supporting characters who die because they’re assholes.” But I was wrong – it seems that she is just not very good at expressing herself. Instead, she chooses to shut herself off from others. After repeated pestering from Conan, they had some very good interaction throughout the course of the movie. It almost felt that they shared a special connection, a role that’s usually reserved for Ran. Perhaps the good point of this movie is also a bad point too because Reiko has essentially stolen the main female character spotlight from Ran.
  2. Lots of nice, very technical details on classical music, e.g. grand organ performances. If you’re a fan of classical music and loved Nodame Cantabile, then you’ll appreciate all the performance scenes. Oh yeah, lots of “Amazing Grace” in this movie.

What I disliked:

  1. Flat supporting characters (apart from Reiko), who have names but end up having no plot role. Rather, they become stock character who either just “die” or serve no particular purpose. Sometimes they’d say something or do something, and you’d think to yourself, “Oh here’s a sub-plot!” but the sub-plot ends up not materializing.
  2. The “trick” used by the murderer was extremely boring. Deaths are quickly skimmed past and treated as something of a newspaper report. In previous movies each murder would be carefully scrutinized by Conan, who would find some evidence. Eventually Conan would connect the dots and figure out the murderer’s true intent. That’s lacking in this movie. I feel this is one area that Conan movies are regressing considerably since movie 9 Strategy Above the Depths. This became more obvious in movie 10 The Private Eyes’ Requiem. (I have not seen Jolly Roger, so I cannot comment on that)
  3. Boring culprit/murderer. He lacks that “murderer” atmosphere – too “simple” to be a mass-murderer. This has also been happening for the past few movies too.
  4. There’s no big climax! I was very disappointed in this. Usually there’d be something like something blowing up, placing the lives of hundreds of people in jeopardy. Then it’s up to Conan to prevent a tragedy from happening. Not this time. I mean, people’s lives are in danger this time and there are buildings getting blown up, but the tension was lacking. There weren’t people screaming in horror and clambering for their lives. There’s no climax to display the strong bonds between Shinichi and Ran, which leads up to my next point…
  5. Shinichi and Ran’s “connection” felt EXTREMELY underwhelming in this movie. It felt like a throw in just because they had to do something about it every movie. Ran actually served NO purpose in this movie. It was only minimally related to the case and had no direct consequence to Conan solving the case or averting disaster.
I do not regret seeing this Conan movie because I like seeing Conan movies, but I seriously feel that the movie director and storywriters have lost their edge. Basically everything that has made me enjoy previous Conan movies so much is missing from this movie – contrived murder plot, big explosions, emotional climax. It ended up feeling rather hollow and underwhelming as a Detective Conan movie and it isn’t something in particular I would recommend to non-Conan fans. If you like Conan, then by all means you should watch it. Otherwise, perhaps it’s not quite worth your time. One exception is that people who loved Nodame Cantabile and/or classical music might want to check it out :p

Side note 1: The ending theme of this movie is Tsubasa wo Hirogete by ZARD, which has produced many Detective Conan OP, ED, and movie theme songs (OP4, OP15, OP21, OP22, ED17, ED24, Movie2, Movie9, Movie12). This song is actually the posthumous release of a previously unpublished recording Sakai Izumi made over 10 years ago. Sakai Izumi, ZARD’s vocalist, unfortunately passed away last year from a fall while getting treatment for cancer.

Side note 2: Did you know that Shinichi knows how to play the violin and has perfect pitch? Shinichi has this much to say about his new talents:

Clearly Shinichi learns everything in Hawaii.

Summary:
The good: strong supporting character in Akiba Reiko who steals screentime from Ran
The bad: lack of tense life-and-death moments
The ugly: emotional climax showcasing the connection between Shinichi and Ran non-existent

If you like Detective Conan, you might want to try:
For nice big explosions and exciting action scenes, see Movie 5 Countdown to Heaven
For a great emotional climax between Shinichi and Ran, see Movie 4 Captured in Her Eyes

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Manga Review: X|1999

Friday, November 7th, 2008 Manga Reviews

X|1999
Author: CLAMP, 1992 – 2003
Volumes: 18 (of a potential 21 if ever finished)

The year is 1999, and the millenium is coming to an end.

So is the world.

The seven Dragons of Heaven are the champions of humankind; while the seven Dragons of Earth fight for the planet, for the destruction of mankind to allow the Earth to live. Kamui is the key; he must choose between these two groups. But whatever he chooses, his own world will be torn apart…

X|1999 (X in Japan) is perhaps CLAMP’s most unrelentingly dark series (though Tsubasa’s giving it a run for its money). Most everything in this manga is top-notch – the fight scenes, the plotline and magic, and especially the characters. This entire series is fascinating, but it is not for the squeemish. There is more than a little gore and violence. Still, the art is beautiful; heavy and relentlessly detailed.

The manga isn’t finished, and isn’t likely to be, but it’s beautiful even in its incompletion, rather like cherry blossoms in bloom, but soon to fall.

Shonen-ai Note: Some shonen-ai is present (two pairings in particular) but even these tend towards unhealthy obsession (in the spirit of the manga) rather than actual romance.

Continuity Note: Sequel to Tokyo Babylon and CLAMP School Detectives. Careful, though, because CLAMP School Detectives is as light as X|1999 is dark. (Emotional whiplash, very much.)

Anime Adaptation: Though I’ve never seen them myself, I believe that there are two different anime adaptations: OVAs and a series. I’ve heard mixed reviews, most probably stemming from the fact that the animes had to write thier own endings for the series. Also, I’ve heard that the anime and the OVA have completely different endings. On the other hand, the art seems to have transferred well from the clips I’ve seen, and the action scenes are a bit more dramatic with motion.

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Manga Review: Legal Drug

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008 Manga Reviews

Legal Drug
Author: CLAMP, 2000 – on hiatus
Volumes: 3 (of 15)

If xxxHOLiC is a full-course Japanese meal and Cardcaptors is cake and ice cream, then Legal Drug is a tantalizing appetizer… for the right kind of reader.

Currently unfinished at three volumes, Legal Drug is predominantly episodic, with hints as to the back story of the two main characters. The story follows the Green Drugstore’s two employees, who bear a striking resemblance to the boys of xxxHOLiC. Kazahaya is essentially Watanuki with blond hair, and Rikuo is Domeki with moderately more expression. They tend to fight like cats and dogs (or rather, Kazahaya fights, while Domeki—er, Rikuo—winds him up). But there’s more to the story than meets the eye, and each of the boys has a special ability, which they use when their pre-cognative boss sends them out on “special errands.”

Despite the characters’ resemblance to those of xxxHOLiC, the story is well worth reading for its own merit. In particular, the reasons for the constant conflict between the two characters is different, and what slight information we have about the two’s back story is extremely interesting. Though it’s currently on hiatus until CLAMP finishes xxxHOLiC/Tsubasa, it may not be too long until more volumes become available.

Shonen-ai Note: Much more prevalent than in a lot of CLAMP’s other stuff. Kazahaya and Rikuo have more than a few “moments,” and the drugstore owner and his friend act like a married couple. Make sure you can handle shonen-ai before you read this manga.

Continuity Note: Legal Drug is in the same world as Suki (some of the characters are the same) and xxxHOLiC. At one point, Watanuki from xxxHOLiC enters the store to get a hangover cure. There’s another link, but it’s more fun to find out for yourself.

Anime Adaptation: None.

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OVA Review: Hellsing Ultimate, vol. 4

Thursday, September 25th, 2008 Anime Reviews

September 23, 2008 saw the release of the newest volume of Hellsing Ultimate on DVD, and this episode does not disappoint Hellsing fans. While volume 3 introduced the Millennium organization and the character of the Major, the viewer learns in volume 4 just why Millennium exists and just how insane the Major’s reasoning for attacking actually is.

If you know about the Hellsing Ultimate series, then you should know that this has nothing to do with the original anime post-Valentine brothers. So, no crappy overpowered Incognito villain to almost kill Alucard. Instead, the servant of the Hellsing Organization must battle against the Third Reich’s last battalion, a thousand-vampire army with the goal of creating war. And, indeed, war is what they get.

Instead of giving you, the reader, a long synopsis of the episode and giving away everything that happens in the fifty-minute OVA, I’ll just briefly summarize the important plot points. The OVA starts directly after Ultimate III, with Alucard having just recently killed Alhambra and learning about Millennium’s plans for full-scale war. While this is going on in Brazil, Enrico Maxwell and the Iscariot Organization learn about Millennium through an old priest who corroborated with them during the experimentation process to create a vampire army. The organizations (Hellsing and Iscariot) meet, and eventually, the Queen of England gives Hellsing the green light to wage war against Millennium. However, Millennium has already declared war on England and launched two squads to attack England. Most of the army is launched as a primary fighting battalion set to land in London, while a small group is launched to provoke an attack. Leading the second group is this volume’s main villain, First Lieutenant Rip van Winkle, the huntress.

Using her power to control a magic bullet to continuously weave through the enemy and rip through metal, Rip and a fraction of the Millennium vampires kill the crew of a British naval vessel and claim it as their own. Of course, England will not tolerate this attack and asks the Hellsing Organization to deal with this problem. After tons of one-sided fighting (i.e., Alucard ripping the nameless vampires to shreds), it is time for the climactic battle between Rip and Alucard. Unfortunately, this battle lacks the same amount of adrenaline-pumping action the previous three volumes had in their respective climactic battles. Alucard, though, does still revel in his “bad-assery” during the fight.

While the whole OVA is an enjoyable watch, Geneon saved the best for last. The very last scene of the OVA features the Major delivering his famous “I Love War” monologue to the Millennium battalion just before landing in England. As he continued to ramble on about why he loves war so much, I became enthralled by his passion and wanted to hear everything. This is definitely one of the highlights of the OVA. And, if you think just watching the speech is good, then you are in for a treat. The Limited Edition OVA set’s second special-feature disc holds, in my mind, the best extra to ever be put on an anime DVD: a six-minute version of the Major’s speech… karaoke style.

If you are a major fan of the Hellsing series, you’ve probably already seen the OVA, and are awaiting the next episode to be released. If you are a fan of the dub, one of the best because of the use of English (and now German-English) accents, then you will most likely purchase the OVA as well. However, if you are not yet a Hellsing fan and you like copious amounts of blood, gore, vampires and guns, then this is definitely the series for you.

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Manga Review: Cardcaptor Sakura

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008 Manga Reviews

Cardcaptor Sakura
Author: CLAMP, 1996 – 2000
Volumes: 12 (published in English by Tokyopop as Cardcaptor Sakura 1–6, and Cardcaptor Sakura: Master of the Clow 1–6)

The Clow cards have escaped from their binding, and Sakura must recover them with the advice of the card’s stuffed animal guardian Kero-chan and the technology and fashion of her best friend Tomoyo!

Yes, its magical girl, but it’s CLAMP magical girl, which makes all the difference. The artwork is gorgeous – cute, gentle and upbeat – and the plot line still seems new and interesting despite the proliferation of the magical girl genre. Refreshingly, Sakura doesn’t need to use her magic to boost her self-esteem. Her male counterpart knows about her powers, short-circuiting a lot of the irritating poor-communication/mistaken-identity plot lines.

Although an in-depth analysis of the relationships involved in this manga might disturb the reader, Cardcaptor Sakura is so cute, it doesn’t matter. It manages to be sweet without cloying. It has danger and emotional change without slipping into angst. The magic is well thought out, more or less consistent, and mostly makes sense. Well worth reading by both genders. (Real men read CLAMP!)

Shonen-ai/Shojo-ai Note: Except for one paring, all shonen-ai/shojo-ai inclinations are mild and one-sided. And while some are “You don’t want to think about this too much,” they’re easy to ignore. One pairing is reciprocated. Maybe. Possibly. Only CLAMP could have one guy say to another, “You are my most important person,” and still have that be a debated pairing. All but the most stubborn dissenters acknowledge that the two are a couple. (Though this raises the question, if they dislike slash so much, why are they reading CLAMP?) If there is a rating less than G, then Cardcaptors gets it. Also, yes, I was being annoyingly vague on purpose.

Continuity Note: Things from Cardcaptor Sakura appear in xxxHOLiC. Whether this means they’re in the same world is up for debate.

Anime Adaptation: I’ve seen only a few episodes of the anime. The art transferred surprisingly well, though simplified, and the tone of the series is consistent with the manga. Of course, there are more cards to capture in the anime, as well as additional characters. However, I’m not sure how well the larger plot lines survived. If you’ve got the time, watch it. Nice and heartwarming.

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Manga Review: Tokyo Babylon

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008 Manga Reviews

Tokyo Babylon
Author: CLAMP, 1990-1993
Volumes: 7

Tokyo Babylon is one of CLAMP’s most classic works. The prequel to X, it sets up the back story to two of the most fascinating secondary characters.

The manga starts out episodic, with the medium Subaru dealing with various ghosts, spirits, and supernatural phenomena. With him is his cheerful sister Hokuto and their friend Seishiro. For most of the beginning of the series, it stays optimistic, despite the often serious or depressing nature of Subaru’s cases. However, a dark current surfaces as the tales go on. It’s somehow connected to a certain folktale: that beneath every cherry tree is a corpse; its blood turning the tree’s white petals pink…

Tokyo Babylon is a classic, and for a good reason. Well-written and eerie, it makes for a very interesting read. It is also short enough to keep from being either a large time or money sink. The only problems people might have is with the art style or the clothing styles. Eventually, however, both these things become integral to the feel of the manga and the characters, making Subaru’s shift in clothing at the end that much more startling.

Shonen-ai note: The main pairing, with varying degrees of seriousness, is Subaru/Seishiro. However, nothing romantic happens past a kiss—if that. Definite G-rating in terms of slash.

Continuity note:
Tokyo Babylon exists in the same world as X, Clamp School Detectives, Clamp School Defenders, and Man of a Thousand Faces. Also, at one point in xxxHOLiC, Yuko mentions Subaru in passing, which would put Tokyo Babylon in the same world as Legal Drug; Suki; xxxHOLiC; and by extension, Tsubasa. However, Yuko is also known as the Dimension Witch, and it may not be the same world at all. The characters of Tokyo Babylon also show up in Tsubasa, radically changed.

Anime adaptation: Bad, very bad. Only the most hard-core CLAMP/Tokyo Babylon fans would get any enjoyment from the OVAs. Don’t watch it. Please don’t watch it.

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