My Neighbor Totoro: The Novel

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Today we’ll be dancing to a different medium. It’s not a manga, nor could one claim it to have attributes of comics at all. “My Neighbor Totoro: The Novel” came out in 2013, but I’d always preferred to ride the slow horse. Now to contextualize, it’s based off of the film, not vice-versa. Also, it’s Totoro. Lots of us folks ’round these here parts grew up lovin’ our buddy Torororororotorotorotorotorotoro.

This novel… eh…

The book is ten chapters, with about 20 pages in a chapter. Written by Tsugiko Kubo, this novelization of the classic anime family film falls short for one reason specifically:

TOTORO’S BARELY IN IT!

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…I mean, it’s kinda the same thing as the film, but worse. All of the beats are off.

So here’s where we see Totoro in the film:

  1. Mei meets him in his home
  2. FAMOUS UMBRELLA DISCOVERY
  3. Fly~iiing through the sk~yyy and plant~iiing seeds
  4. Satsuki needs him to find Mei
  5. Waves goodbye forever, I think?

And in the novel:

  1. We only hear Mei’s description of him in the fourth (of ten) chapter.
  2. FAMOUS UMBRELLA DISCOVERY
  3. Only plant~iiing seeds
  4. Satsuki needs him to find Mei
  5. Teases future encounters

Yeah, so only two of the meetups occur from the film. Lame-o, just as lame-o as when people tack on “-o” to things they dislike. So what does happen in the novel if Totoro barely appears?

Character interaction. UGH. I WANT MY TOTORO, THOUGH. AND I WANT MY PLAY-DOH, PLEASE. AND LEGGO MY EGGO. KIDS HAVE THINGS SO ROUGH.

I like that there’s more reveals in the mindsets of the cast, which makes Mei somewhat more enjoyable. And Satsuki seems more like a child, which does benefit her. Downside is the futility of some factors. Why is there an entire chapter where they’re back in the city? It might be trying to show city kids versus country kids, along with how the farm made them change, but it’s not like they were so reserved to begin with. It’s interesting, but not complimentary to the structure of the novel.

There are way too many pages that talks about heating up baths. I guess it’s more for the original Japanese audience, but what age range is that? I was bored with it all, man. The book’s subtitle should’ve been “Padding Makes It Sell Anyway.”

But negativity is overrated in this goddamn world. The padding does benefit when it came to side characters. The teacher was of particular interest to me, a very minor character in the film given a tinge of human flaw. Characterization in general might be considered better than the film, with the father feeling overwhelmed at times, Granny showing her wisdom (particularly in dealing with children); that’s something that just fits in better with the medium of book than film.

A downside of this is certain subtleties being lost. One of my favorite interactions throughout the film is between Satsuki and Kanta. They’re still kids, but they’re getting to the age of interest in the opposite gender. So throughout the film, they’re hot and cold to each other without knowing why, typical of an interaction of this caliber. But in the novel, it’s too tongue-in-cheek, too… okay, check out these passages.

I wonder what Kanta’s up to? For some reason, she thought of Kanta.”
“Kanta felt oddly disappointed after [the Kusakabe family] left.”

There’s a quiet part of human emotional development being devilishly overshipped here. Like, c’mon. Don’t hammer it into us.

The most infuriating factor is the perspective. Satsuki is the lead, so that’s why we don’t see Mei with Totoro. Yet we do have multiple scenes of Kanta not interacting with Satsuki, nor is she even in proximity. Shipper on deck. Ugh.

There’s like, an illustration from THE Hayao Miyazaki each chapter, but it’s not really too helpful. They’re not really stunning. Maybe soothing, but not much more than the sisters in various locations. Sometimes they make a page blank on the opposite side, but not always. Why? Printing is weird.

If your kid’s a Totoro fanatic, I do recommend it, but… maybe not if he’s a fanatic for the specific character, rather than the film. Oh, and who else isn’t there long enough? CATBUS. Yeah, they only use the bus to find Mei, not to take Satsuki TO Mei. No, instead they find her, then bring Satsuki back to lead the villagers to her. Tease: The Novel is more like it. I will say, however, that what the novel lacks in excitement, it makes up in on-point writing and in-depth characterization.

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Ghost Hunt (The Best Ghost-Hunting Manga You Will Read)

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I do not take this recommendation lightly: Ghost Hunt is, in my experience, the best ghost-hunting manga out there. The thing is, I recommend it based on innovation, rather than entertainment value. Make no mistake: If you expect pages upon pages of creepy ghosts, exorcists rattling off incantations and an encyclopedia of spirits, that’s not in here. I mean, in volume 1, which is the only volume I read. Maybe they play with those later. This series is drama-driven, focusing on characters instead of monsters and mayhem. Though I expect, as is the case with series that have more than ten volumes, there tends to be meaningful character-building, and probably real ghosts.

Innovation can stem from plot, but this one stems from approach. The plot is typical drivel manga would give you. One character is in debt, so another gives them a way out that isn’t a simple loan. This time, Mai injures Kazuya the paranormal investigator’s assistant and camera, so she pays him back by assisting until she pays him back.

Is this an erotic fantasy in Japan? The essential slave owner? Like, one manga I read has a dollmaker curse a girl just because he wants her to be his assistant. Even good manga use this plot. xxxHolic. The Ghibli film “Spirited Away” as well. Not played for sexiness of course, but you know. Name American films that use the debt plot anymore.

BDSM = Buy, Dominate, Sell, Marry.

Ghost Hunt swiftly introduces new ghost hunters, which mostly serves to show every angle in the first volume. It also says something about the superstitious principal, who didn’t let Kazuya complete the hunt. And boy, Kazuya really lets superstition have it.

The first volume focuses on a single plot–a convention rare in multi-volume manga, but highly appreciated–about Mai’s school trying to knock down an old building on campus, but ghost stuff predates the truth. Suicides and murders, the whole legacy from the building scaring off progress. Kazuya has no patience for fools or fears, and proceeds to explain how each one is a coincidence.

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The series does have otherworldly elements, but they’re sort of bland and coincidental. Less “I was supposed to be on that flight during 9/11,” more “I was supposed to be on that bus that broke down for six hours.” For example, Mai and everyone else calls Kazuya “Naru-Chan,” based on Mai thinking he’s a narcissist. But it is his nickname, which Mai didn’t know. From this, it’s deduced that Mai has a bit of psychic energy. It’s usually psychic stuff.

The other ghost hunters are a young priest, a spotlight-grabbing miko (whatever that is), an unconventional monk, and a psychic medium. They’re hit-or-miss.

I do like how there’s otherworldly elements, I hate how really out-there conclusions are accepted over conventional endings, replacing “ghost” with “psychic.” You read it, you make your own conclusion.

Oh, and I had been saying before that there’s so much slavery imagery in manga, and as a result, the slave suffers most of the time. But I like Mai. She fights back quickly when Kazuya won’t explain every little thing she asks.

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The gal’s a peach.

Alice on Deadlines

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Bodyswap manga is all too common. There’s girly girl in boyly boy, boyly girl in girly boy, girly girl in boyly girl, nerdy boy in tough guy, and brother in sister (both figuratively and literally, ick).

How about a shinigami in a girl’s body and the girl gets trapped in a skeleton?

Enter “Alice on Deadlines.” In a confusing series of events, Lapan, while trying to take over a skeleton, takes over sweet Catholic schoolgirl Alice’s bod. If you couldn’t tell, she’s the porn embodiment.

Lapan’s normal humanoid form is dull, so there’s no harm nor foul by trapping him in Alice. There’s not much a harm or foul skipping this manga either.

Ghost hunting! Never seen that one before! It’s extraordinarily dull, with the twist of who the ghost is being predictable. Hint: Is there one character no one could suspect? A man in a respectable position? Then it’s him. And the only other ghost hunting is in the subsequent chapter. It’s a singing eyeball. Ugho mugho.

Fortunately, there’s chapter three, where a guy who likes Alice dates her/him on a date. Alice has Lapan go for her while she’s still stuck in a skeleton’s body, and she trails the date. What follows is not only genuinely funny, but astoundingly sweet. Potentially, this may be where the series picks up.

Chapter four has a gay god go to the world because of his crush on Lapan. Alice and Lapan constantly call him a crossdresser, never mind that a female body is the form he holds on Earth. Okay, the series isn’t great.

The otherworld is brief and boring. We see flashes of Lapan’s company, but nothing of substance stems from it. But this is not a manga of substance. This is a manga of a cute girl in the body of a skeleton. That’s the draw, guys and gulls.

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One neat running theme is the various methods Alice gets around in public. Heavy clothing, pretending to be a donated skeleton for science class, walking around in public. I do love me some Alice.

Lapan though… generic lusty guy in a cute girl’s body. Icky icky icky P’tang Zuboing. I guess he works as a counterpart to Alice, though.

I can think of NO BODY who should read this, as I have a BONE to pick with most of the direction of this manga. But I do like Alice a SKELE-TON, and I seem to have caught FEMUR Fever! The art looks like slug vomit.

The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko

Of the standards and practices that go into manga, my favorite has to be the series that use a one-shot story as a jumping-off point for a series. There are various “tells” to indicate what was only meant to be self-enclosed, but the easiest to detect: When the protagonist and their friend are separated in chapter two.

The friend serves as a detriment to the character’s growth. So if a character has, say, OCD about being in contact with germs, then he somewhat gets over it when he lets the girl he likes vomit into his shirt, she has to go. Her being there only speeds along his recovery from OCD. She can eventually come back, but only after some growth.

That’s not the polt of The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko, because it is the plot of Clean-Freak Fully Equipped and polt means “a hard knock,” not like plot which means “not polt.”

The plot of TSNLK is that Kanoko is a busy-body who spies on her classmates and writes down all of their secrets. Her newest interest is a love triangle between the No.1 girl and the No.1 and 2 guys in her school. In a completely original twist, the loner Kanoko makes friends with the most popular students! In an even more original and even twistier twist, the MVP of Girls in School is bullied by her gal classmates! Why? Can you handle the originality? They want the No.1 most cutest guy in school!

There’s the rub. I mean, not even a little, but at least Notes Lady Secret of Kanoko The displays off the bat that yes, the art shows no sign of growing due to a necessary level of cootie-poo-ness, and yes, serious subjects are treated poorly, but it has the decency to let you know: This is not an altogether original manga.

Which is definitely fine. Originality is overrated. This coming from the 29,807th manga blog created*. That’s a literal fact. The point is how you handle it.  Will you remake Psycho shot-for-shot? Will you change South Park up by adding episodic continuity? Just look at talk-show hosts.

*Not a literal fact.

It bears resemblance to Clean-Freak, where a loner gradually befriends others with problems. Kodansha manga have a wide selection from this genre. The main issue with Kanoko is caring.

Kanoko has one consistent friend from story to story. Why? Back to my opening statement, you can tell that the first story was a one-shot because Kanoko is switched to a new school. And removed from her friends, although each story has No.1 MVP Guy assist her. Seems her announcing that she knows everyone’s secrets over the PA system got her in trouble, enough that she’s constantly switching schools within ONE SCHOOL YEAR! Seems to be a minor infraction, if you ask me.

Also, she cut up her journal but made a new one in chapter two. Yeah, not meant to be ongoing. But I’m glad it was. Lady Kanoko deals with some surprising topics. Okay, I’m an American, so reading the pedophile teacher plot always shocks me (with such cute art to boot!) Chapter four is all about narcissism and how talk means nothing in the face of talent. It’s a weirdly compelling topic.

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Let’s talk about a chapter I skipped for structural sake, chapter three. It’s a “Little Mermaid Plot,” although I think it’s more like The Goose Girl. A girl who shifts blame and steals credit bumps into Kanoko and a classmate who hates the girl, as she stole her rightful place as Vice Chairman of the Student Body and the guy she gave notes to encourage him.

So Kanoko, her No.1 Hottie Tsubaki with a Tsubody pal, and the girl scheme. Pretty up the girl, reveal that the Vice Chairman is a credit-stealing jerk, win the Chairman’s heart, the end. And it works. You know, of course it was going to, because they explained it step by step. When have you ever seen an old-timey villain win? They always reveal their plain in one breath. So yes, the girl gets her man.

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Being the President, each one seems worse than the last because they had less work in front of them than their predecessors. So it just seems like swiping credit. Think of the President in the year 4535. “You don’t deserve that title! You don’t work hard in the position, when Dartspawn Lawnbuck the Third once picked up a pen to almost write something!”

Kanoko’s right, though; earned success is more meaningful than coasting. When the credit crook is in the exact scenario the new VChairman is, the Vicey Chairio stands up for her, willing to risk it all for truth. But naw, the guy still likes her and all is well, except for Kanoko who has to show emotion. Man, I know how much she hates talking to people and picking sides. Sure seems she picks sides an awful load.

By the way, I cried after I read it. Shut it, you’re crying.

So why do I think it’s more like The Goose Girl than The Little Mermaid or, as the VCharmander suggests, Cinderella? Mermaid has the “disguised beauty” thing going for it, plus, ironically, she didn’t earn it. Cinderella has Kanoko as the Godmother. Meh. But Goose Girl has a credit-stealing maid disguised as a princess and vice-versa. Plus, talking decapitated horse heads. Okay, not quite. I want a Goose Girl Disney flick.

Chapter Five is stupid. She revisits her old school to help Tsubaki with the school flabitty schwire or whatever. It shakes up the dynamic, but feels fairly squandered as none of the previous cast have developed. Heck, Kanoko’s unveloped at this point.

So yeah, do I recommend it? No? Look, why say it outright? If your intrigue is built by my words, then do whatever. My issues lie with the manga lacking necessary push. The premise would be better if her interactions with Tsubaki would last longer. What, I meant it objectively! I don’t literally know, okay?

5 Characters In Manga That Would Be Horrifying If They Existed In Real Life

Man, manga characters sure are cute or cool, huh? But it’s Halloween, so here’s Read The Title, Please.

Jelly Jiggler from Bobobo-Bo-Bo-Bobo

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Dude might be weak in Bobobs, but in real life, people would be scared of him for being made out of jelly. Plus, the constant instability.

Ogawa Ikue from High School Girls

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Sure, she’s cute in High School Girls, or, as it’s known in Japan, Girls Can Grow Up and Write Perverted Manga Too?!?, but don’t you think she’d look scary in real life? Dem eyes are huge. I guess most of the girls in manga do. Let Ogawa represent, son.

Happie from Stargazing Dog

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Okay, Happie the Near-Death Doggie would be cute in real life. But man, could you be near him knowing that he’d be narrating everything you do? I suppose that’s not too horrifying, but trust me–it could be.

Mami Honda from Gals!

mamiLike Ogawa, she has big eyes. But also Ogawa, she’s in black and white. Now that’d be a fright for sore eyes. Oh, and I guess every other character is too.

Shiro Yamaoka from Oishinbo

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Left: Yamaoka in the beginning of Oishinbo. Right: Yamaoka most of the series. Clearly, this foodie is a wizard. Keep him away from me.

Tokyo Ghoul

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Single man meeting nice normal ghoul.

Whatcha think? Good pun? Tokyo Ghoul is a horror manga that ran from Volume 1 until Volume 14. It has a lot of trite and basic monster-filled world elements.

Basically, Earth acknowledges the presence of ghouls, monsters that eat people. Ken goes on one wrong date with a real knockout ghoul and wakes up a half-ghoul. Ken now views himself unfit for the human life or the ghoul grind. Will Ken survive? I did say it’s 14 volumes.

My largest issue is the basic BS. Ghouls are whiny babies with the powers of gods.

“What does cake really taste like?” is one thing said because ghouls hate the taste of everything but flesh and coffee. Okay, food sucks, but you only need to eat once every month.

The “who’s the real monster” is in the air. I’m guessing the ghouls. Oh yeah, it is Columbus Day today. Fitting. But Parasyte this ain’t. What this is is vampire knockoffs. Super skin strength? Vampy. Unquenchable thirst for human parts? Vampy and Zombo. Brooding? All monsters throughout time. Not a fan of the basic bawling or brawling.

Art’s fine, if generic by modern standards.

I do like how Ken tries to find food he can eat, specifically through comparing himself to Metamorphosis’s Gregor Samsa. I’m a fan. Nice touch. Plus, at one point he curls up and looks like he wishes to die, only to realize there’s 13 more volumes and modern society is no longer satisfied with a work unless the creator has stated that he or she has agreed to tun it into a full-fledged franchise. Samsa curls up and dies in the end! It’s uncanny how similar these two are!

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There’s the sense that he’s not actually finding food just because he doesn’t want to eat human flesh, but more to the point that he’s searching for some humanity to cling onto, even if “humanity” is nothing more than coffee grinds.

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I like Ken enough that his angst never bothers me. Y’know, it’s justified. His friend who always has a hunch if something’s wrong to the point of trying to prevent Ken from seeing someone that Ken knows is a ghoul is kind of cool. How’s that for a run-on sentence? And the owner of the restaurant that serves as a hunting grounds for ghouls to dine is a swellow. Swell Fellow. He owns a freezer full of human flesh. I’ll have what she’ having, am I right? And then the professor who discusses the ghouls with a breadth of knowledge and with no kindness to his cohosts. He’s aight by me, dawgs.

I wish the manga focused more on characters than dumb boy fighting. But whatever. A good cast goes a long way. And a bad cast makes the movie Pixels.

Easy shot, come to think of it. May I try again? Buy the manga, guys.

“A good cast goes a long way. And a bad cast makes the complete works of Ed Wood.”

Yeah, much more proud of that one.