Battle Royale

I’d love to make a Hunger Games joke, but so far as I know, that series is about pie-eating contests. So acknowledging Hunger Games works just as well.

Sure, the concept of The Most Dangerous Game meets Lord of the Flies isn’t the most original, but when it works, I like to call it Battle Royale. It asks a question that many of us wonder during our day-to-day lives: What would happen if you sent a class on an island to kill each  other on television?

Plot: In alternate-reality Japan, a dystopian governmental country, Ninth-Graders are chosen to appear on “The Program”, which, as I described before, is The Lord of the Most Dangerous Flies. Shuuya and his best friend are among those on the current season. Will Shuuya survive? And what of Keith Giffen?

Seems Keith Giffen is like, really important or something. “ENGLISH ADAPTATION BY KEITH GIFFEN”. The back also calls him renowned. I mean… okay?

Let’s look at the negatives. First, you can tell who’s going to be killed. The manga isn’t subtle. Like, was anyone surprised that *SPOILER* Shuuya’s best friend dies? Or the girl who *SPOILER* thinks the usually cruel classmate who suddenly panics in the face of danger actually wants her as a friend? Or *SPOILER* the loner who wants friends and is usually bullied? See, even though reading it is obvious, I still have to put up spoiler tags. Hmm.

The host. Okay, I know the bad guy in a manga can be fun, or any medium of storytelling, but I think the host of The Program might exceed his evil-meter. He can be smarmy and vile and wonderful sometimes, but he’s got too much of it all at once. I understand that it’s a dictatorship and you need a villain to reflect that, but maybe there can be too much of him to process.

Now, what works? Pretty much everything else. The atmosphere is great. You can really feel the tension going with this one. Friends and enemies pitted against one another, lost love and lost sanity, the threat of death in the air. It all ties into a simple show made to… do something, I guess. Do people like watching this?

The gore is nice. Okay, obviously not, but it’s done well for what it is. I also like how The Program functions. They seem to figure out all angles, making sure only one contestant leaves the island. Finally, the drama. It’s well constructed, giving motivation for everyone regarding their actions.

There’s one scene that stuck with me throughout. In the first chapter, we see one of the winners returning home. SHE IS DESTROYED. God knows what happened to her during her stay. Although God is dead in this series.

Overall, a wonderful manga that spans… fifteen volumes. Huh. Well, I better start reading the next volume.

Gate Keepers

I tagged today’s manga review as both AWESOME and terrible. Because honestly, it is. “So is this the type of manga where everything seems poorly thought up, but you enjoyed it because it’s so charming?” Actually, it’s the opposite. When I first started reading, I was instantly charmed. But as the volume goes on, things take a turn for the standard.

Plot: Shun is such a… plucky guy? Hmm. I like his nose band-aid. Anyway, on the way to a new school, he comes across… did that robot cowboy just rise from nothing in the ground? WOW. Even in a manga, that’s a pretty cool effect. The robot fights a girl Shun’s age, Ruriko… huh. She’s actually pretty nice to him. Anyway, Shun accidentally summons a gate, which is a source of power. Hmm. I like elemental stories. Shun’s is wind, Ruriko’s is life, and the other girls on his team that he suddenly becomes captain of have their own powers. So now it’s up to Shun, Ruriko and the gang to save the world from an alien menace!

Gee whiz! Everything is aligned so well! The characters aren’t stuck up towards Shun, nor do they begrudge a newcomer as captain! In fact, they’re downright nice and pleasant! Even Serious-Face Commander works up a smile! Everything tells me this is gonna be a great manga!

Then we get past the second chapter.

The first problem is that the warmth between Shun and Ruriko (or as Shun calls her, Fury-ko) is gone. Pretty much all of their scenes consist of Shun being lazy and Ruriko getting mad because he has cleaning duty every day apparently. “How about the other girls?” Yeah. Them. They have a charming way about them. One is outgoing, one is emotionless (unless sadness is an emotion), and one is… anemic. Personality.

For the first two, we get a chapter devoted. But after each of their tales, they lose purpose in the manga. Outgoing McGee exists for tension and conflict in one story. Emotionless Tress exists for a very short chapter’s emotional drama. Anemic Phleemic does nothing.

So what happens for the rest of the manga? Well, after only four chapters, we get a brand new character! She’s a typical (read: Japanese racist view) Chinese girl. In fact, she’s so “typical” that her gate is summoning a giant panda! OH. OKAY. GLAD WE CAN MAKE UP LOGIC NOW. Why is there a “panda gate” anyway? Oh, and the Chinese girl? Disappears. Yep. Maybe she’s in volume two or three, but really? I doubt she’ll do much then.

“You haven’t read the other volumes! How do you know this? And have you considered talking to someone about your split narrative personality syndrome?” Yes I have. He said it’s not real and that I should pay Joanne at the desk. As for how I know, the “NEXT TIME!” promo promises three new characters alone. Hmm. Ya know, maybe you should be working on the characters you have before bringing in new ones. Just sayin’.

I see why, though. Sure, this manga is based on a video game and only last for three volumes, but I can give a guess. The characters are too limited by their powers. Yup. Like the main characters in Dark Angel, who can’t fight anyone in his class of power, these characters can only summon one gate, which means their powers will be expected. You know Shun’s gonna bring wind and Chinese Girl brings a panda. I figure this is the only way they could spice up the battle scenes. Not a fan.

Is it awful? No. Is it awesome? Not technically. I’m disappointed that it went from plucky fun to standard drama, to NEW CHARACTER OF THE WEEK. So I say skip this one unless you want to wonder why you picked it up to begin with.

Natsume’s Book Of Friends

I’ve lived an alright life, seeing how I don’t recall being stuck with the check at any point. So for anyone who’s had a deceased relative with debts, you know better than I how Takashi feels.

Plot: When Takashi Natsume’s grandmother leaves behind a book of names that means she owns the yokai who signed their names, Takashi vows to return each name to its rightful owner so that they may be free. Can he pull it off?

I find myself liking the characters more than I normally would. Takashi isn’t interesting, but works surprisingly well as a self-insert, if the reader so chooses.

Actually, the manga has some surprisingly emotional scenes. The dying God, Takashi’s bond with a kindred spirit, the girl who used to be a bird… all things that make little sense out of context, but give me the warmed heart in context.

There’s also a cat yokai. Hmm. He’s alright. He makes a fairly decent contrast to Natsume’s generic nice guy vibe. Alone, he’s kind of a comic relief, but with Natsume, he’s a high-functioning comic relief.

There’s not many other aspects. It’s a melancholy manga, but never overbearing. It did make me think on more than one occasion. “What if I met a bird who turned into a human girl? Should I be nice to bird for that?” Although nothing profound.

I say pick it up if you want to calm down. The art is what I can best describe as wispy, and even the conflicts are only based on slight misunderstandings, which are quickly resolved. The yokai actually liked Natsume’s grandmother. Since she died, they only want to retrieved their freedom to prevent the book from falling in the wrong hands.

Not the best manga, but it made me smile more than once. Give it a try, like green beans.

Pick Of The Litter

The title loses me. “Pick of the litter” means that Riku was chosen out of everyone else. However, given his sickly background and the fact that he’s the youngest, it stands to reason that he’d be the Runt of the Litter instead. Volume One sure doesn’t lead anywhere to help the reader understand things better.

Plot: Riku is an orphan… or is he? Yes, because even though he meets his family, he doesn’t meet his parents, nor does he question their whereabouts. But he does get what I assume is a ton of half-brothers as well as a female cousin. I can’t say for sure what they are to him, since only one brother labels himself as a half-brother. Anyway, Riku goes into another world with yokai (although never referred to as such) and helps out with his family’s shop when not at school. And… that’s that, basically.

First, the whole familial thing. Riku’s “brothers” don’t look a thing like him, especially Futaba, who’s dark-skinned and rabbit-earred. Yeah, they have animal ears. Some cats, some rabbits. Some none. Riku has none of these, so I question the fact that he’s a family member. More like the Mason Family, amirite?

Most of what happens is what you expect. Quirky? Slightly. Not fun quirky, but a very stale, unwelcoming quirkiness. No one aside from Futaba really stands out, to the point that even though there’s a total of seven members in the family, it feels more like three.Those three being Riku, Satsuki (the eye-patch guy), and Futaba, who’s mute and adorable.

So I don’t really want to go on about what the manga is like. I have no plan on ever reading it again. That’s the main issue I have: With a good or bad manga, you know where you stand. Something truly awful or stunningly wonderful drags me back to read it. This… doesn’t. I chuckled occasionally, but nothing says, “This is something to recommend to the Elders of Sacrelon!”

Instead, I’d rather focus my attention to Mizuno, who has a crush on Riku, and why she simply fails as a character.

Mizuno appears in the beginning of the manga and sprawled out to other places. But overall, not enough to leave an impact, at least on most people. Me, I was annoyed by her presence. Here you have a guy who belongs in the yokai realm. He spends most of the manga there, in fact. If Mizuno were to discover his secret, or meet more of his family other than his cousin, or get some focus on why she has feelings for him, or existed outside of the fact that she likes Riku, or turned out to also belong to the yokai realm, or try to confess her love but fail, or have a story with her reacting to the oddities that come with Riku’s family, then she might work.

But as of the first volume, she doesn’t. Instead we have an awkwardly placed love interest who Riku doesn’t love and has no interest in. So I ask “Why?”

Take The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy went to Oz alone in the first few books, but later, her aunt and uncle joined her. Why? So she wouldn’t have to go home at the end of each book. If Mizuno was brought to the yokai world, as she is the only person in the manga that he needs to be around the human world for, then I’d understand it. Heck, I’d applaud it! But as it stands, no one else does anything like Mizuno does. Mizuno herself only appears in two chapters in the first volume.

So basically, here’s a review about a manga I don’t like mostly focusing on a character I equally dislike. You get what you pay for. Comment below for your refund.

2001 Nights

Oh, I get it. 2001 Space Odyssey + 1001 Nights. Hmm. Well, it sure doesn’t have the qualities of 1001 Nights. There’s only seven stories in the first volume, with 19 chapters total for the whole series. But unlike 1001 Nights, it’s not just an excuse for Scheherazade to stall the Sultan of Swing from killing her sister. That’s always a plus.

2001 Nights does not, in fact, have a scene where an orchestra plays on a space station, but most manga don’t tend to. Instead, it has stories of Earth trying to break out of their solitary shell and join the legions of space. Personally, I find the first story to be the most compelling. It’s basically this but with only two world leaders. Still strong, though.

The other stories are about space. I mean… it’s space. “We need to raise beings on another planet!” “Space has planets!” “Perfect! We’ll have children grow there!”

Or how about, “I’m falling out of a spaceship!” “Spaceship? That’s in space!” “I hate my ex-wife!”

And let’s not forget the ever-classic “There are fish fossils on the moon!” “Fish? In space?” “Don’t that beat all!”

Okay, so it’s all more poignant (although really, it’s hard to make fossilized fish seem dignified, yet they pull it off). This manga was released in 1995 (at least in the states), which for me, was… not a happier time, but I fell like there was more variety. Sure, over the years there’s been some repeated ideas (Futaba-Kun No Change ring any bells?), but for me, this was past the ultra-depressing Tezuka time, but still before the Great Surplus of Harem and 4koma with Teenage Girls.

So yeah, for me, this manga is a gem. All except one story, the last one in the first volume…

“Lucifer Rising” rubs me the wrong way. I’m not  sure what they’re trying to say. First, what kind of universe has science advocated by the pope? Gay rights, sure. Mr. Francis is a pretty okay guy. But would he ever say that science and God go hand in hand? Doesn’t science tend to disprove God, what with the Big Bang Boing and Digivolution?

The church sends a priest into space to find the planet Lucifer, which is supposedly Satan’s domain or something. It only reaches our orbit once every… get ready… 666 years. You heard right. Lucifer. 666 years.

Oh, and Lucifer has three moons. This is fun. Brutus, Cassius, and… sigh… JUDAS. You know, Earth NAMED these things. “We need an evil planet! Let’s name it Lucifer!” “Planets? Those are in space!” “Let’s also name a moon after that narc who finked on Jesus.”

There’s also lesbians on the shuttle. Who are primarily twins. So… yeah.

I enjoyed this title, but that last story bugs me a bit. Still, if it’s not a billion dollars on Amazon, give it a try.