Monday, May 23, 2016

Manga Monday: Art projects lead to life lessons

It's fall, and there's no better time to go camping in Yotsuba&! Volume 12.

Note: Yotsuba&! Volume 12 is part of an ongoing series. Check out the review of Volume 1 here, and Volume 11 here. Otherwise, read on!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Manga Monday: Food is important

Yotsuba finds out how udon is made, and Juralumin gets into trouble in Yotsuba&! Volume 11.

Note: Yotsuba&! Volume 11 is part of an ongoing series. Check out the review of Volume 1 here, and Volume 10 here. Otherwise, read on!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Manga Monday: Cute schoolgirls doing cute things

Trends in media tend to go through phases. At first, it's the hot, new, innovative thing. Later, copycat series spring up like mushrooms after a rain, and the quality of the entire genre suffers. Eventually, a writer decides to turn the trope on its head and create a satire.

The delinquent genre was satirized in Cromartie High School. The magical girl genre was absolutely subverted in Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Finally, Keiichi Arawi takes on the cute schoolgirl genre in nichijou Volume 1. 

We certainly have all the expected characters here. There's Yuuko, the energetic girl who's nevertheless too lazy to do her homework and constantly copies off of her friends. There's Mio, who has a secret crush on a male classmate, and is constantly struggling to hide her yaoi art and manuscripts from her friends.  Nano just wants everyone to believe she's a normal girl, although the windup key on her back tends to give away her robot nature, and Professor, the eight-year-old who created her. There's even Mai, who moved here recently, and is quiet with glasses.

With a group of girls like this, there's plenty of room for hijinks to ensue, and they certainly do. Whether Yuuko's daydreaming out the window lets her spy their principal wrestling a deer, or Nano's despair at Professor replacing her limbs with random items like Swiss roll cake, the gags are fast and furious.

There's plenty to love here, and plenty of room for the series to grow. From minor characters getting their time to shine to more explanation of Professor, hopefully Arawi can keep it fresh and interesting for years to come.

Highs: The manga never tries to take itself more seriously than it should, which is exactly the attitude a series like this should have.

Lows: There are hints at storylines that may continue throughout the series, but none of them get quite enough screentime for the reader to care one way or the other.

Verdict: nichijou Volume 1 is a fun, satirical look at the adorable schoolgirl genre.

Further Reading: Cromartie High School, My Neighbor Seki, Azumanga Daioh

Monday, March 21, 2016

Manga Monday: The return of Robot Family and Thief X

Seki comes closer and closer to discovery by the teacher in My Neighbor Seki Volume 7.

Note: My Neighbor Seki Volume 7 is part of an ongoing series. Check out the review for Volume 1 here, and Volume 6 here. Otherwise, read on!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Manga Monday: Does love have to be unplanned?

The truth behind Shiro-sensei's behavior finally becomes clear to even Hina in Suki: A Like Story Volume 3.

Note: Suki: A Like Story Volume 3 is the final volume in a series. For Volume 1 click here, and for Volume 2 click here. Otherwise, read on!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Manga Monday: Time for a field trip!

Even though it's usually not organized through a school club, field trips are an integral part of high school life, and the girls of Megurigaoka Academy Private High School are headed to the mall in School-Live! Volume 2.

Note: School-Live! Volume 2 is part of an ongoing series. Check out the review of Volume 1 here. Otherwise, read on!

Monday, February 29, 2016

Manga Monday: A pretty calico remembers her kittenhood

Now that Chi's Sweet Home has come to an end, there is a distressing absence of cat manga. Thankfully, Konami Kanata has one more surprise up her sleeve with FukuFuku: Kitten Tales.

Here, a doting elderly owner comes across the photos she took of her cat's first year with her, and brings them out to show Fuku Fuku.

What follows is an adorable look into the first year of a kitten's life. From discovering that human food might not be quite as tasty as her kibble to the amazing warmth that is a kotatsu on a cold day, Fuku Fuku has a lot to learn, and a lot to teach her well-meaning owner as well.

Unlike in Chi's Sweet Home, we're not privy to Fuku Fuku's thoughts being translated into English. Luckily, Kanata's clean, simple art style lets her expressions and thoughts come through nearly as well as if they were written out.

As a reader who never wanted Chi's Sweet Home to end (wouldn't Chi in a beret be adorable?), this is a welcome callback to the simple, lovely stories that made Chi so loveable.

Highs: Watching her owner delight in Fuku Fuku learning her name, and promptly learn what it is to be ignored by her cat, is a feeling universal to cat owners.

Lows: The odd 'Alice in Wonderland' dream sequence seems more out of place than it perhaps intended.

Verdict: FukuFuku: Kitten Tales is a must-read for fans of Chi's Sweet Home who have a manga-kitten-sized hole in their reading lives.

Further Reading: Chi's Sweet Home, Yotsuba&!, Milkyway Hitchhiking

Monday, February 22, 2016

Manga Monday: Has Yokoi completely lost her ability to focus?

It's possible that Yokoi's imagination has grown as large as Seki's in My Neighbor Seki Volume 6.

Note: My Neighbor Seki Volume 6 is part of an ongoing series. Check out the review for Volume 1 here, and Volume 5 here. Otherwise, read on!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Manga Monday: Short speculative fiction from the God of Manga

No one represents the beginnings of the manga art form quite the way Osamu Tezuka does, and his anthology Clockwork Apple gives the reader a taste of the suspenseful.

In 'Miraculous Conception' a scientist and his domestic android are working on Saturn's moon Titan. They've lived alone together for seven years, and slowly they've fallen in love. After holding a wedding ceremony for themselves, the scientist Hiroshi is killed by escaped convicts who have decided to use his science station as a hideout. A tragedy, to be sure, but what explains the increasing waistline of the android?

The titular story 'A Clockwork Apple' shows the reader a town under siege. The roads in and out of town have been closed indefinitely for repairs, and cars are turned back by force if they try to get out. Food could be an issue, but the main employer in the area has plenty of supplies for its cafeteria, and the stores have a large stockpile of rice. Everyone seems okay with the situation and doesn't question it, except for Shirakawa, whose wife serves bread instead of rice. Even the pharmacist, who took a sample of the rice to the next town over to run a few tests, hasn't been seen in days. Is Shirakawa descending into madness, or is there a conspiracy at work?

Readers of Tezuka's Black Jack will find 'Sack' eerily familiar. The narrator meets a wonderful woman named Rika. After a whirlwind romance, he travels to her home to ask her mother for Rika's hand in marriage. Strangely, her mother doesn't have a daughter named Rika. Her only daugher, Mari, is a perfect copy of Rika, though, even though she professes to have never met him before. At a later meeting, Rika begs him to prevent Mari's surgery on the 20th, but can't explain why. Is there something sinister going on?

These stories of the late 1960s and early 1970s give the reader a snapshot into the thoughts and fears of postwar Japan. Throughout the collection weaves a distrust of the government and authority, as well as an undying optimism for the future, even if there are many ways for it to be derailed.  Once again, Tezuka is able to mine the depths of the human psyche, and reveal more than a traditional author ever could.

Highs: Whether a statement about the follies of war or a creepy suspense story, all of Tezuka's works leave an indelible mark on the reader.

Lows: Even with the footnotes, it's hard to be familiar enough with the era in Japan to fully follow a few of the narratives.

Verdict: Best suited for a reader very familiar with manga in general, Clockwork Orange is a masterpiece.

Further Reading: Black Jack, A*tomcat, A Bride's Story

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A look at how childhood really is

Somehow, in the process of growing up and having responsibilities, adults forget what it's really like to be a child. They forget the leisure, of taking a book into a field in the morning and only wandering back home when hungry or it gets dark out. They forget what it's like to have people tell you what to do, with arbitrary reasons that you're not allowed to question. They forget the discomfort of knowing that a situation isn't okay, but not having enough experience to know why it's wrong, or the experience to know what to do about it.

Neil Gaiman never forgot. And by not forgetting, he's written the truest young characters in The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

The book starts out with the narrator coming back to where he grew up for a funeral. He's dressed in the proper clothes, says the proper things, and takes a certain comfort in knowing what he's supposed to do and say during a difficult time.

As he drives from the funeral to the cemetery, he has a bit of time to himself, and finds his car pointing towards where he once lives. The fields and small homes have been replaced with housing estates, the flint-strewn country lane with tarmac. His childhood home is long gone, and the home of his adolescence isn't what has brought him back here.

As he rolls his car along, the road regresses to the lane of his childhood, and eventually to a footpath. He gets out, and walks up to a house he hasn't thought of in too long, and slides sideways into memories of his seventh year.

As with most Gaiman tales, to lay out the story before reading it is to take away some of the magic. It's not an easy read, because childhood isn't easy. There's monsters, and some of them are the adults he's supposed to be able to trust. There's heroes, even if they wouldn't call themselves that. There's bravery and fear, sometimes at the same time, and there's sacrifice.

There's the magic that Gaiman brings to his tales, which transcends description.

Highs: No one combines childhood, fantasy and fear like Neil Gaiman

Lows: Sometimes being reminded of the hard parts of childhood isn't fun

Verdict: Yet another amazing tale from one of the greatest fantasy authors

Further Reading: Coraline, Trigger Warning