Slam Dunk

I don’t read much sports manga. You know this. I don’t care for sports. So years ago, I picked up “Slam Dunk”, not in an effort to mix up my reading selection, but because I liked the theme of the anime. My brother mocked me forever after about that.

Slam Dunk. It’s amazing. I didn’t like it back then, but now I can appreciate it for what it is: A romp of sports, romance, and drama. Plus, the first chapter is in color! That’s neat! I like that!

Plot: Hanamichi is a scary-looking guy, but all he wants is a girlfriend! After 50 rejections in junior high, a cute girl, Haruko, takes an interest in him. Although he doesn’t realize that she only likes him for his body… 6″2, perfect for basketball, Haruko’s favorite sport. In a blind attempt to gain her love, Hanamichi tries to join the basketball team, but makes a poor impression on the captain. Will he be able to join?

Hanamichi is probably the best lead role the author could have chosen. He’s tall, but horribly inexperienced. This means we start the basketball aspect from the ground up. On top of that, it’s plausible for Hanamichi to be chosen, as opposed to a typical modern-day male lead loser, who would be bad at sports and short. It’s thought-out.

The manga is no slouch in the humor department. I cracked up at Hanamichi’s fantasy about what would happen if everything went his way. It’s a manga that likes to have fun with itself, and there’s no shame in that.

Except for the pants-pulling scene.

Yeah, Hanamichi and the captain of the team get into a game, and Hanamichi accidentally pulls his trunks down, exposing his butt. Neat. Hey, Slam Dunk, repeat that scene as many times as you can! It never gets old!

I like how the first manga doesn’t focus solely on the basketball aspect. Otherwise, I might have been turned off. In fact, the first volume ends with Hanamichi quitting the team, and… well, I’m just guessing here, but I assume that next volume has him back on the squad. Just a guess. Probably wrong.

After reading this manga, I don’t really have much appreciation for basketball, but I do for the manga itself. Hanamichi is a great lead, and some of the side characters can be very entertaining. Haruko is kind of disappointing, since she just kind of nests into her role as nice girl, but her basketball fixation and crush on Rukawa, Hanamichi’s rival, makes her more appealing than she could have been.

I recommend this manga. It’s a great travelling companion, specifically for a buddy-movie. Starring Zach Galifinikasnankak. As the straight man, oddly enough.

I guess you could say that Slam Dunk… is a home run!

Note to self, if I ever want to plagiarize Slam Dunk, make it about baseball and call it Home Run. 100 million copies right there, guys.

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Doubt!!

So I read Doubt!!…

Let me start from the beginning.

Qwaser of Stigmata. How many times have I mentioned that manga since I reviewed it? An annoyingly large amount. Why? Because it sunk the bar so low for me as far as manga goes. Unfortunately, not much has been done to raise it, although plenty of manga I’ve read tip it up a bit. However, I have the opposite problem as well. Nothing makes the bar sink.

QoS made the bar so low that it’s practically ground-level. Oh sure, World War Blue was amazingly low. Bomber Girl? Get outta town. And I despise plenty of other manga. But I never got worked up as much as I did with Qwaser. As a result, reading bad manga is no longer “fun”. By “fun”, I mean “tolerable”. We’ve had fun here, with the aforementioned titles and scanlations like Battle Royale II: Blitz Royale. God, that was bad.

But I miss the excitement of a truly wretched find.

So I looked. I looked. I looked. The Complete Guide to Manga (incomplete for years, mind you). No luck. Ranking websites. Little luck. It was hopeless.

Then I recalled…

Viz Media put out a preview book, and my brother had Volume 5. I learned about Midori Days and Happy Hustle High from it. Both I thought were bad, but when I read them, I gained newfound respect.

There was one preview I hated.

Hated with my whole being.

Doubt!!.

So, what’s Doubt!!?

Plot: Ai is SUCH A LOSER. Not only doesn’t she have a boyfriend. but she wears underwear with cartoon characters on them! When her classmates find out, it destroys her! HA HA HA HA! So, as any destroyed person would do, she decides, “No more Miss Nice Gal!” and in high school, becomes totally self-absorbed and popular with guys. Truly, a testament of our society.

“I CAN’T LOSE!” I shrieked with joy. “IT’S AS BAD AS I REMEMBER!” Yes, the unlikability of the characters is what cancelled Allen Gregory, so naturally, I would hate this too.

Then I got past the part where the preview ended in the Preview Manga.

And…

And…

It was good.

Sigh.

Don’t get me wrong, the manga is as shallow as I expected, but it’s an inviting shallow, a warm shallow. It’s like a pool. You can go in the big open pool and beat the heat. Hey, everyone’s in the deep pool! It’s nice there!

Or you could go to the shallow Jacuzzi. Sure, it’s kind of cramped, but it’s warm and there’s a bottom to it all. You’re with friends, and you don’t run the risk of drowning.

It’s high school. High school is the most me-based lifestyle there is. It’s expected, and frankly, while I like manga like K-On, it’s much more realistic and not so shiny-happy-sparkle-time. Why don’t the girls of Afternoon Tea Time ever have boyfriends? Seriously, they’re all attractive and fun to be with. But every single one is single? How? Why?

Ai is self-absorbed, but it’s understandable, since she’d been hurt. She continues to hurt in high school, since her popularity with guys results in the reverse effect with women. Even then, it’s fixed by the end of the first chapter. The girl who hated her most becomes her best friend, and all the girls end up admiring her spunk. The guy Ai falls for? Surprisingly, he’s kind of a jerk, but that’s refreshing too. So-kun is the first one to come to Ai’s defense, but when everyone likes her, he’s the only one to knock her down. It’s kind of funny, to be honest.

Even when confronted with her past, it’s shielded from ever becoming too much. In chapter two, a guy tries to hit on her by sending her creepy letters about her past. After confronting her, she tells him that he’s dull and creepy. Hurtful? Maybe. Justified? Completely. When he threatens to tell everyone about her past, So-kun threatens right back. So… actual consequences avoided yet again.

Then we get to chapter three. Oh, boy. The girl who outted Ai as having granny panties shows up. Guess what? SHE ALSO THREATENS AI WITH HER PAST. This one plays out a different tune, however… before she can, Ai does it first. Here’s the funny part: THEY STILL LIKE HER FOR BEING HOT. “WHAT’S YOUR SECRET?” It sounds like I’m critiquing, but no! I like all this! For all the manga I like for being cute, this one takes no shame in its ugliness, even going so far as to have the girl from her past poke holes in a condom that she gave Ai. Mean-spirited, but realistic.

Ai never really learns, and I guess that’s what I like. She never learns. There is no learning. You have something to face? Don’t try, it’ll be handed to you. Ironically, to get people to like her, she had to try really hard to improve her beauty. So… there’s that.

Yeah, Doubt!! isn’t as bad as I’d hoped. In fact…

I might get the other five volumes.

Sigh.

Maybe something will reach Qwaser of Stigmata’s depths, but it just won’t be Doubt!!.

Free Collars Kingdom

See that cover, right on top? Look at the girl. Look at her ears. Don’t they look like dog ears? You know, all bent-down and what have you?

Well, they’re not. She’s a cat. No, not a catgirl. An actual cat. I know, right? Because that’s totally how my cat looks. This is “Free Collars Kingdom”.

Plot: Cyan is a cat abandoned by his previous owners! One day, he meets some alley cats who teach him the ways of being a stray cat and fighting for justice and the ownership of East Ikebukuro! Because cats don’t have literal ownership of anything, this seems pointless.

I’m not one of those guys who are like, “OH MY GAWWWWWD, A MANGA ABOUT CUP O’ NOODLE? THAT’S SOOOOO STUPID!” You know me better than that. In fact, Project X’s Cup o’ Noodle manga is one of my favorites. So is Neko Ramen. “HE’S A CAT THAT MAKES RAMEN?! THAT’S SOOOOOO LAME!” Or Starts With a Happy Ending. “WHY DO PEOPLE DIE AND COME BACK AS KITTENS?! THAT’S NOT WHAT JESUS SAID WHEN HE DIED ON THE CROSS!”

Well, let me tell you, Mary Beth Ellen James, Jesus was a well-known kitten. It’s just that all the artwork portrayed him as a human. After all, if you see yourself as something, it’s only fair that you want people to see you that way.

With that in mind, I don’t think it’s wrong for Free Collars Kingdom to use human designs for cats. It’s just confusing to me. They imagine themselves having fingers, right? Well, the main antagonist sees her paws, even though she also has hands. Those kinds of details make the manga lag for me, because I have to readjust my mind, thinking, “Yeah, they’re cats with human bodies. Oh wait, now they have paws. So what are they?”

ACTUAL MANGA CRITIQUE SECTION!

Cyan is horrible. I’m sorry for those who think, “AHHHH, HE’S SO KEET! I WANT TO HAVE HIS BABIES!” Well, you can’t. He’s a cat. Not only that, but he’s a really annoying cat. You might think the fact that he’s the only one to actually behave like a cat would make him interesting, but no! He jumps to conclusions, which means that he starts drama that need not exist. Go ahead, assume that the old man you recently met is a pervert. Don’t get the full story, just believe what you want.

The others are more human-like, but they’re still not that great. Scottie, a female cat that still has owners, can fly! Or something. She has wings or birds or something. She wears clothes. Hmm.

Amesho has some eye-thing and a scar. He also wears clothes. Not just that, though! He’s also an otaku! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Cats don’t watch anime.

The Bailey School Kids in:
Cats Don’t Watch Anime
A lot of strange things happen at Bailey Elementary. But could the new teacher, Amesho-sama, be a cat?
“I’m telling you guys,” said Howie, “that new teacher is a cat! I saw him on all fours, eating a fish and sniffing catnip!”
“Impossible,” said Eddie. “He looks nothing like a cat.”
“I’ll tell you one thing: I’ve never seen a cat with a scar like that,” said Lisa.
“And everyone that cats don’t watch anime,” said Melody.

Or something like that.

The whole struggle seems pointless. They’re cats. THEY’RE CATS! Where are all the humans, anyway? We see Cyan’s first owners. Like, the son is dying, so the mother abandons his favorite thing in the world. Thanks, lady! Don’t be responsible or anything!

Plus, if there were humans around, how would they react? Cats playing guitars, cats sneaking into aquariums, cats having an all-out brawl in the park… in that sense, the manga missed an opportunity. By all means, show us the cats as humans! We can relate to them more! But you know what? It’s inconsequential. Show the cats as humans fighting, then show some cats just wrestling. Or the aquarium scenario. After they finish stealing fish, have the night watchmen find a tank with only three fish or something. What a crazy night for Shimotakatani-kun!

I suppose that for a story about throwing off the yoke of ownership, the manga does its job well. The characters could be fleshed out more in later volumes, but it isn’t done too badly here. I just feel that the subject matter could have been handled better, especially since it’s ripe for the picking.

Do I recommend it? Well… if you really like cat-earred characters, this is a nice play on the concept. Me personally, I don’t care to give it another look.

Vaizard


Plot: Soma is a Vaizard. A Vaizard is like, some kind of wizard or something. The Vaizards protects ancient tombs and what have you. Soma befriends a client, Asuka, so she tags along with him on his adventures. Also, I think that there’s a revenge plot or something.

Now normally I would have prefaced this with something like, “Can’t get enough wizard-based manga, huh Japan? Well, you painted yourself in a corner when you came up with ‘Vaizard’!”

But I’m not doing that. I don’t like this manga. I don’t like this manga at all. But the problem with that is Vaizard’s middle-ground badness. Vaizard is certainly bad, but it’s not fun in its atrocity. There’s nothing rage-inducing like Qwaser of Stigmata or morally wrong like Butterfly.

The art is ugly. Most because of close-up scenes of Soma’s gross face. He doesn’t normally look like his face was run over, but the author is like, “Hey, let’s gonk-up his face when he’s being stupid!” The rest of the art is nothing to write home about.

Plot-wise, what do you expect? Because it’s exactly what you expect. Travelling companions! BS magic! Soma is girl-crazy! I’ll leave my hopes and dreams at home, guys.

The manga is just… you know how things have set rules? Vaizard has some of those. The problem is I don’t care. “There was a war!” or “Vaizards strengthen seals!” is just things that they say, without much meaning. Ease me into the fact that there was a war. Why not show some of it? I don’t know, it would probably have better villains than the other villains that appear.

Yes, the villains! Those are rant-worthy, right? Okay, they… they… okay. The villains are just obvious. I like subtlety. Like, you know how Pokemon has villains who have cloaks or wear red and have spiky red hair and that they look like the evil team’s leader? Do the opposite of that. Don’t have women with lipstick and elf ears or short mustached bald guys. Who smoke, I might add. Because tobacco is wacko, apparently.

So yeah, obviously I don’t like this. Soma fixes ruins. Why fix a ruin? It’s a ruin. Aside from that, I miss really bad manga. Like, really bad manga. Vaizard has no true redeeming qualities. It’s boring. It’s ugly. It’s lazy. But it’s nothing new.

With that in mind, let’s do some brainstorming here. What would make Vaizard… not good, but readable?

1. More likability for the characters. Asuka comes off as passive-aggressive, and Soma’s even more bland than she is. Just keep making those faces, honey. It won’t make you likable. Give them a real reason to hang around each other. Asuka also seems bored with her job, so BAM! She joins Soma. No thank you. Give them a real bond, please.

2. Less obvious villains. I guessed pretty quickly that the guy who joined Soma’s company only two months ago was a bad guy. For the others, they outright show their evilness, and it’s cartoon-like in nature.

3. Give Soma a pre-existing companion. Odd, but hear me out. Soma tries to ditch Asuka, which makes him come off as a loner. However, he’s too goofy to really fit the bill. I say give him something like a ferret or a monkey. It doesn’t even have to talk. Give him a non-human friend, so he can still play the loner card while being goofy.

But Vaizard doesn’t do these, so we’re left with this; a sub-par manga with no ambition. Skip it.

Franken Fran

FINALLY! An amazing horror manga! It’s got horror! It’s got spooks! It’s got humor! It’s got boos! It’s not got an American release. There’s the catch, folks. But it’s the best I’ve read (black comedy, that is), so here we go! Franken Fran!

Plot: Fran is a doctor with amazing abilities! She’s also a lab-made monster or something! People come to her asking for help, but OH NO WHAT HAVE YOU DONE, FRAN? You saved this girl by giving her a giant bug monster body! Now the girl is bonding with a boy she turned down! WOW! She went into a cocoon or something, and now has a human body! I misjudged you, Fran! You’re a pretty nice gal, y’know… um… are the boy and girl about to have sex?

Viewer’s discretion is advised. It’s also purty scary. But hey, it’s Halloween, so I’ll let it slide.

Well, it all goes downhill from there.Each story gets more and more horrifying.

There’s a story that precedes this one, but it’s… well, it’s no mantis-woman sex. Just a guy who got what he deserved. But in “Chrysalis”, the bug-lady story, the guy getting eaten was a nice guy, so did he deserve this? OF COURSE NOT. But that’s the best part. No one is safe from Fran. That’s probably why her creator never actually appears in the series. He’s, like, exploring or something, but I bet that’s an excuse to get away from Fran. Again, she’s very pleasant, but she doesn’t solve things the best way.

There’s Fran’s “sisters”, Veronica, who originally tries to kill Fran, but develops a crush on her, and Gavrill, who is generally terrifying. Veronica is… sympathetic, I’d say. She can never seem to make friends, as opposed to Fran, who makes friends despite her gaping scars and head bolts. If Veronica gets a friend, they die or lie. Gavrill, on the other hand, is not that likable. Yes, her scariness can be entertaining, but never endearing. She’s too “ugly” when it comes to her personality. I know that Gavrill eventually helps out (on occasion), but still.

There’s also Okita, a handsome human head on a cat body, and Adorea, who (get this) stores body parts in the zippers in her bodies. I admit, I wouldn’t have thought of that. How Fran’s creator made Adorea, who knows?

Speaking of which, I have one complaint. Fran’s abilities change depending on the story. Some stories she revives people who had been decapitated, but sometimes, she can’t! I demand continuity in my black comedy manga!

All in all, a wonderfully and genuinely frightening manga. Here’s some of my favorites (may include spoilers):

-The girl who was murdered by a stalker, and comes back to life as a walking head
-The time Fran terrorized the order of a school by doing any surgery anyone wants
-The time Fran terrorized the order of a school by accidentally introducing a class-system using blood types
-The guy who makes clones in order to live out his utmost desires
-The island of asexually-reproducing women and asexually-reproducing men meeting
-The guy who dies accidentally, gets revived as an unused mascot organism, saved a molested little girl from her step-father, the guy is revived into the step-father’s body, while the pedophile step-father gets the mascot body and… hangs out at a theme park. Thank you, Fran. Where would we as a civilization be without you?

Like Frankenstein’s monster, she’s not “Franken Fran”. “Franken Fran” is my father’s name. Just call me “Fran”.