Monday, January 31, 2011

Take the B Studio Complete, review

I've liked Akihiro Itou for a long time. But there's so little information on him. Even the Japanese wiki is nothing more than a list of some of his works, and the English wiki is nothing more than a translation of the Japanese page. Unfortunately, apparently some time between March and May, he fell ill, and both "Wilderness" and "Geobreeders" stopped running. There's no indication that he's ready to go back to a regular schedule anytime soon. I checked monthly Sunday GX, and "Wilderness" isn't in the latest issue.

Anyway. Back when I first started getting interested in anime, after seeing Akira in 1990, I came across a collector that was selling some back issues of Lemon People magazine. I had no idea what it was at the time, so I bought the remaining 3 issues he had left. That's when I first encountered BREN303. The magazines included one "road trip" story of a woman hitchhiking across New Mexico and Arizona, and the first and last of the three "Trouble is My Business" chapters. What set BREN303 apart from the rest of the "adult comics" artists in the magazine, was that he had actual storylines in with all of the nude scenes, he could actually draw, and he was already demonstrating the ability to do high-tension gun battles and chase sequences. The character designs were fairly crude compared to his later works, but they still showed serious talent. The problem was that I'd never been able to find the issue with the missing middle chapter.

Eventually, Akihiro Itou hit the shelves with Geobreeders, and I knew it was the same person, but there was never anything in the magazines linking the two names together. He's been kind of hit-or-miss. Blue Gale is an ignorable attempt at a giant robot story, and Lawman never got past the first volume. But I love the story and artwork in Belle Starr, which was based on an actual outlaw. I really wish it'd be commercially translated for the U.S. market. Of course there's Geobreeders which has been translated a little bit. And then there's Wilderness which I consider woefully under-appreciated by Japanese fans as well as American ones. Everyone seems to like Black Lagoon better, even though Rei Hiroe was just following in Akihiro's footsteps.

Anyway(x2). YK Comics decided to release "Take the B Studio Complete" in Dec., 2010 (571 yen). This is a partial collection of Akihiro's earlier works, collecting some of his BREN303 titles which have been out of print since the 1990's. Including "Trouble is My Business". So now I can finally find out why Lydia was face-to-muzzle with the RAW. None of the stories are all that earth-shattering. But if you like Black Lagoon and Geobreeders, it's worth getting Take the B Studio Complete to see how Itou first started out.

Take the B Studio Complete, by Akihiro Itou - Grade : A-

Stories in this collection include:

(The Insect; AKA: R.A.W.)

Trouble is My Business. 81 pages. Lydia Owens is a female sergeant with the LAPD. During a botched jewelry heist, she's shot by both the ring leader and the fellow officer trying to protect her. After a month in the hospital, she's checking out. A friend and fellow cop is visiting her, trying to talk her out of leaving the force. There's a call about another jewelry heist and the friend leaves, only to be taken hostage by a group of felons that have taken over the hospital. The bad guys are there to spring their leader, who had also been recuperating at the same hospital before being transferred to prison. The police send in R.A.W. - Riot and Attacked Warm (a mechanized anti-gang robot also called "the insect"). R.A.W. goes after the villains, but a bug in the software puts it into riot mode - anyone left standing with a weapon will be killed. Lydia tries to get out of the hospital, but finds herself trapped between the criminals and the insect. She rescues her friend, but the ring leader shoots the hostage in the back anyway. In trying to get help for her friend, Lydia races to an exit, only to be pinned in the hallway when R.A.W. takes over the building's security system and brings the gates down. She succeeds in using a downed SWAT officer's armored gear to destroy R.A.W., but the baddies planted explosives throughout the hospital, and the timer picks this moment to detonate them. Lydia slips into the riot armor and survives the collapse. Later, she visits her friend, who is now the one in a cast in the bed, and her friend also considers leaving the force.

The last page says "Based on the novel 1985, 10 あおりんご『空白の構図』より" (possibly this is "Vacuum Composition", by Aoringo, Oct., 1985). Aoringo would be a pen name, but there's no hits coming up for this title or author on the net.

Once Upon a Time in the West - 銃弾の日 (Bullet Day). 40 pages. First, we get an "Overture", where a young girl, Sarita, talks about being taught how to use a gun by her father's killer, Johnny Ringo. Several years later, in 1875 in Colorado, she's working as a bounty hunter chasing after the Outlaw Carol. She teams up with another woman to take down the sheriff that's actually been using Carol's name to commit a series of stage coach robberies. Sex is involved. The girls win. Later, they take the money the sheriff had amassed and introduce themselves - Sarita Cisneros and Candy Carol. After a bit of hostile arguing, Sarita decides to go after Jesse James first, then capture Carol afterwards.

Once Upon a Time in the West - The Desert Look. 11 pages. A man rides into town and sees three thugs trying to abduct a blonde woman by force. He rescues her and teaches her how to use a gun. Later, the thugs jump them and kill the guy. With his dying breath, he gives her his pistol and she gets her revenge. In 1883 in New Mexico, a Pinkerton agent is escorting the same woman out to the remnants of an old house. In front of the house is a grave marker with the words "Sarita Cisneros, 1859-1881, May she rest in pieces". The woman asks the agent if he's seen the newspaper, and he says "no". She throws the paper on the ground, and he reads an obituary reporting that Johnny Ringo was found dead with a rifle and two Colt revolvers. Missing was his girlfriend. The agent suddenly notices that the handcuffed woman has a pistol and he yells "Carol" as she shoots him. The story ends with the narrator saying that Johnny Ringo was killed by Wyatt Erp.

The Dancing Bear. 30 pages. This is a weaker, rambling story set in what appears to be a medieval fantasy world. A female knight rescues a girl from her captors and takes the girl home. At the wood cabin, the older sister talks to the heroine, saying that their father had been killed in the wars, and the villain is a magic-using queen that's trying to take over the land. The heroine identifies herself as "Dancing Bear". For some reason, the younger sister escapes the house during the night and tells the queen where Dancing Bear is. A magic user is sent out to attack DB with an enchanted set of armor, and during the fight DB's blade goes sailing through the air and hits a secret panel where a sword is hidden. The enchanter is killed and DB goes out to fight the queen and her army. When the soldiers are slain, the younger sister attacks DB with a dagger, but the queen throws a sword out, hitting the girl in the back and killing her. The queen wants the war to continue, and rushes DB to fight one-on-one as knights, but DB pulls out a crossbow and shoots her in the throat and chest. DB says "Knights? That kind of talk belongs in the past", and she leaves. The sword hidden in the house goes unused, and the older daughter is not seen again.

The High Window. 18 pages. A sexdroid starts questioning its purpose on the planet, and asks to have a window installed in the room so it can at least look outside. One day, as a customer enters the room, the droid runs out, and finds itself trapped on the roof of a skyscraper, surrounded by dirty metal and glass. Security arrives and shoots it. One of the maintenance people says that the droid had developed a bug, and the company's owner dismisses the thought. Another droid is placed in the room, and life goes on.

Night Search. 14 pages. This is an oddball compared to the other stories. First, it's in English, with Japanese subtext. Second, it reads from left to right and page 1 starts at the back of the book, with the numbering going from R1 to R14. A veteran cop is seeing a shrink following the death of his wife/partner. The two of them had been chasing after a killer, and ended up standing on opposites sides of him. The cop's bullet shattered on hitting the killer, and a part of it continued on, hitting and killing the partner/wife, and their unborn child. A year later, following the psyche session, the guy goes outside where a young woman tells him that she's his new partner. They argue, with the new partner convincing him to follow her down into the subway. She's on one side of the platform, he's on the other. As a train comes in on the tracks, someone descends the stairs on the woman's side of the platform. The cop yells out "I don't even know your name", and the woman replies with "I like names that start with "B"". He says "Betsy?", and she responds with "thanks, Dad!" The guy on the stairs is the killer who'd escaped before, and the cop opens fire on him, killing him. When the train has passed, the woman has vanished. A few days later, the cop tells his story to the shrink, gets himself cleaned up, and visits the grave of his wife, and daughter -now named Betsy.

Summary: Akihiro Itou has come a long way from his Lemon People days, and the difference in art quality is pretty obvious. But if you like action-driven manga, Take the B Studio Complete is highly recommended.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Garo 78

Garo #78, July, '70. Cover by Sampei Shirato. 234 pages.

(no name) ((no name))

By Maki Sasaki (佐々木マキ). 1 page.
Just a single-panel nonsense image.

仰げば尊し (Look up to Nobility)

By Yuu Takita (滝田ゆう). 33 pages.
Another of the Terajima stories. This time, Kiyoshi and a friend are in class, where they're supposed to be practicing their kanji writing skills. The two start pushing each other around, messing up their writing sheets, so the teacher punishes them by drawing spirals on their foreheads with black ink. The two boys head home, while making up with each other again, and singing songs ridiculing the teacher. They stop at a water fountain and wash the ink off, but Kiyoshi's not sure if he got it all. They see the teacher going into a bar, and escape unseen. At home, Kiyoshi's mother is complaining about the flavor of the cooked rice, and suspects that Tama, the cat, had used the cooker as a litter box again. His mother catches him as he's going up the stairs, so he explains what had happened at school, but when he gets to his sister's room, he notices in her mirror that the ink is all gone and he kicks himself for whistling on himself unnecessarily. Back outside, Kiyoshi sees the teacher walking the streets, and the man almost acts like he doesn't know who the boy is. Kiyoshi continues on to play battle tops with his friends, and then spends the night practicing kanji writing on some old newspaper pages.

どぶ街 (Ditch Road, Final Part)

By Tadao Tsuge (つげ忠男). 38 pages. This is a featured manga on Nihon-go Hunter this week.
The artist from the previous chapter is out walking around the village, and meets up with some of his old companions. He eventually makes his way back to the house of his friend's girlfriend and moves in with her (since the friend is going to be in jail for a while). Simultaneously, there's a typhoon coming, and two of the guys working at a factory debate quitting and finding new work. In the end, the older of the two workers goes home after the typhoon has ended, and steals some money from his wife to go play pachinko.

ひとつ目 (One Eye)

By Tsuguo Kougo (向後つぐお). 20 pages.
An old man has a dream that he's hunting a horse with one eye, and shoots it, killing it through the other eye. He wakes up in a sweat, he himself missing his right eye. A relative arrives to beg money from him, and he happily hands over some cash, just asking that the relative listen to his story about how his son had died in the war and how he'd lost his eye. A few nights later, he wakes up in the middle of the night to interrupt a burglar trying to ransack his safe. The old man gets angry and attacks the boy after being insulted over missing an eye. The two settle down and the old man says he'd be more than willing to give his money away, since he doesn't need it. Suddenly, the boy comments that he'd had a dream about the old man, including a horse with one eye. He gets disgusted and leaves with the money. The next day, the relative is back to ask for more cash, but there's nothing to give him this time. The relative leaves, commenting on how stupid the old man's dream sounds, and he appears to be about to fall asleep at the wheel. The old man sees the one-eyed horse from his dream outside his window. He runs after it, and then collapses in the middle of the street. While there's no direct connection between the relative getting sleepy and the old man dying in the street, it's possible that it was a hit and run. In any event, the old man lies dead, smiling peacefully, both of his eyes gone.

ほのお (Flame)

By Hiroyuki Ohtani (大谷弘行). 12 pages.
A black guy with an afro and a vest with no shirt underneath breaks into a security room and takes a key. He goes to a specific apartment and hides. Meanwhile, a man and his girlfriend are driving around, and the man drops the woman off at her building. He's about to light up a cigarette when he notices that he has her lighter. Rather than chase after her, he waits to return it the next day. In the apartment, the black guy is waiting and he attempts to rape the woman. Instead she bites off her tongue and bleeds to death. A detective finds the girl's boyfriend and comments on how the woman has been killed. The guy stands in shock, wondering why he hadn't tried returning the lighter right away.

勝又進作品集 (Katsumata's Creation Collection) #50

By Susumu Katsumata (勝又進). 5 pages.
More 3- and 4-panel gags.

呼び出し小鉄から血に飢えた虎徹へ (A Thirst for Blood from the Call of Kotetsu)
By Koshi Ueno (上野昂志). 2 pages.

新-日本書紀 (The New Old Chronicles) #17

By Mamoru Sasaki & Satsuko Okamoto (佐々木 守 & 岡本 颯子). 5 pages.

勝利者 (Victor)

By Miki Ibara (いばら美喜). 20 pages.
A middle-aged Japanese salaryman is carrying on a running monologue with himself about the survival of the fittest - how he's managed to outdo his competitors to become president of his own small company, how he's sleeping with the female owner of a bar, etc. When the bar owner comes home drunk, he has sex with her as she's passed out. There's a symbolic race of millions of tiny versions of himself all running to see which one will reach the symbolic version of the woman, but there can really only be one winner. However, a couple months later and the woman isn't pregnant. Rather than get depressed over being sterile, the guy rationalizes that he's really managed to defeat his own self at being the one survivor.

There's very little on Miki Ibara in either Japanese or English. She is an established shojo horror artist, and lists quite a few of her titles (unfortunately, I can't get the URL to print out here). There does seem to be a decent fan page for her, with some bio information, but no wiki pages.

災難 (Misfortune)

By Kuniko Tsurita (つりた くにこ). 16 pages. This is a featured manga on Nihon-go Hunter this week.
A young man is imprisoned with a number of killers, but he remains optimistic because he didn't do anything wrong. His cheerfulness seems to be unappreciated and he is locked up in solitary confinement. Some months later, his jailer is back, this time to take him to the gallows to hang. He repeats that he's innocent, and the hangsmen all repeat that everyone says that. The man tries to escape but is captured again. When he says that he's just one man, and that they should let him go, the jailer repeats that everyone executed up to this point was "just one man".

ちちくり長屋 (Chichikuri Tenements)

By Yoshiko Naka (仲佳子). 12 pages.
A peeping tom tries to spy on the couple in the next room, but keeps getting foiled. He goes outside, where a different couple has fallen out of a boat in a lake and is shouting for help. The male half of the couple shouts "help, help", but the peeping tom doesn't understand English and while he's looking in his translation dictionary, the foreigner drowns. Instead, the peeping tom gets a fishing rod and tries to reel in the woman, but he only succeeds in pulling off her dress. She too drowns, and the peeping tom watches as her naked spirit ascends to heaven.

少年と少女 (Boy and Girl)

By Yukiko Kitagawa (北川由紀子). 12 pages.
A village girl is patiently waiting for her childhood boyfriend to return from university in Tokyo. She gets nervous over the idea of competing against all the pretty women she's heard of that live in the big city, so she tries to dress herself up and put on heavy makeup like the Tokyo women do. When the boyfriend does arrive, he looks at the girl and thinks that she's changed too much from what he remembers. Finally he goes back to Tokyo to complete his studies, and to the waiting arms of his Tokyo girlfriend.

No real information on Yukiko Kitagawa. She does seem to have at least one or two books available used, but all long out of print and there's no cover images for them.

紫の伝説 二の章 (Purple Legend, 2 Chapters)

By Masuzou Furukawa (古川益三). 28 pages.
A young man dressed as a pilgrim walking the dirt roads of old Japan has an argument with God over whether he should try to kill the driver of the truck that had killed his girlfriend. This particular God is fairly nihilistic, and says that life is pain, and all pain comes as part of his plan. After a while, a monk walking down the road chases off the God, who turns out to actually just be a minor demon out for some fresh air. The pilgrim then continues the argument with the monk, who seems to be more pragmatic. In the end, the monk disappears in a cloud of smoke and the pilgrim finds himself outside of a train station in the countryside.

赤色エレジー (Red-Colored Elegy)

By Seiichi Hayashi (林静一). 21 pages.
The boy and the girl have a fight. The boy runs away.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Evangelion-themed Pachinko Parlor

Evangelion is one of the most popular subjects for Pachinko machine makers. The machines themselves have little TV screens that show various kinds of action as you play the game. At some point, an anime sequence is played to show how well you did in "clearing" (or not clearing) a specific stage of the action.

Don Quixote is a chain of shops and pachinko parlors that can be found throughout Tokyo. However, their name is generally shortened to the first two syllables - Donkey. This particular Donkey building is in Akihabara. The Evangelion theme extends to the coin lockers and employee entrances.

BTW, I don't play pachinko (too expensive when you lose) so I can't comment on the quality of the anime or machines.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Winter, 2011 TV anime reviews

We're now fairly well into the new Winter season, and it's becoming easier to decide which shows I really want to watch. In effect, there are 50-60 shows on per week, many of the that have been running for a long time (Bleach, Dragon Ball Kai, Naruto) and others that are in long-run reruns (Gaeru, Touch, Inuyasha). Most of them I don't feel like watching. I've been following the ones that are new this season just because there's always a chance that one could be a surprise break-out. But, at 25 minutes per show, and roughly 30 hours of anime per week, there's bound to be some pruning. As it is, there are 10 shows that I'm still taping, and a few more than may be taken off the record schedule eventually.


Level E : A-
Now, this one's off the wall. Level E is based on a manga that ran in the 1990's, from the artist of Yu Yu Hakusho and HunterxHunter. The original was only 16 chapters long. The new anime series has completely new character designs that don't look anything like Yu Yu Hakuso. A high school baseball player moves to the countryside to start at a new school, in an apartment of his own. Only to discover that an alien has decided to share the room with him. Over time, the school student starts realizing that this handsome-looking man really is a hideous alien monster in disguise, and that he's not the only such one on the planet. The artwork's good, the story is weird, and the character designs are almost on the "pretty boy" shojo level. Worth monitoring to see where the story goes.

Oniichan no Koto Nanka Zenzen Suki ja Nai n da kara ne!! : C
If you want soft-core hentai, here's your show. Junior high school girl has a mjor crush on her older brother and manipulates him in a tsundere fashion. One day, she goes through his room and finds a family photo album. She's not in any of the photos, and it turns out that she's adopted... The character designs are cartoony and stylistic, the joke setups are predictable and obvious. Mostly seems to be just a school sitcom.

Dragon Crisis : B+
Dragon Crisis, like about half of the anime this season, is based on "a series of light novels". Light novels are typically short novellas (40,000-50,000 words) aimed at the 13- to 17-year-old range (similar to the target audience for Shonen Jump). So, you know the stories aren't going to get very deep or earth-shattering. Having said that, Dragon Crisis starts out pretty well. Ryuuji is a normal school student who has a couple of friends, plus one female classmate that is too shy to tell him that she has a crush on him. One day, Ryuuji's second cousin, Erika, pulls him out of school to pull a heist on a black market gang in order to obtain a jewel called Most Precious. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the case they grab includes a small blonde-haired girl they name Rose, who is attached to the jewel. A red pattern on her left hand gives her away as a Red Dragon. Rose starts out as having a one-word vocabulary - "Ryuuji", but she does start picking up other words fast after watching TV. Then the scientists and military get involved as expected and the other Dragons start showing up. A fairly light-hearted romp that starts out promisingly.


Rio Rainbow Gate : C-
I've seen pachinko machines that have been based on anime (Urusei Yatsura, Lupin III, Fist of the North Star) but this is the first time I've heard of the other way around. Rio is a "goddess of victory", a dealer at a casino. Her presence brings good luck to the other gamblers. It's a T&A series that features over-the-top head-to-head gambling matches with a fair amount of silly magic effects thrown in. Rio is kind of a super woman, with mad martial arts skills along with big breasts and a cute face. Unfortunately, the story isn't interesting enough to justify watching this.

Freezing : C-
Freezing is based Japanese manga written and drawn by two Korean manwha artists (manwha is the term for Korean comics). I've never been a fan of manwha, which has always struck me as testosterone-driven and having stiff character poses. If I don't know it's manwha, I do have a tendency to be more tolerant of artwork that I consider "un-manga-like", but not if I know that it's not Japanese in origin. Anyway, Earth is invaded by aliens, probably leftovers from Level E, and genetically-altered big-breasted women, called "Pandoras" and their big-muscled male partners, called "Limiters", fight back. The series is based at an academy for training the Earthling fighters, and is mostly just an uninspired school-girl rivalry storyline. Got to wonder why the women's battle costumes feature flimsy clothing and dresses that show the panties underneath during combat... The production qualities are good, but the catfight cliches making Freezing not worth watching for me.

Jidou Sports : C-
Simplified-design animals compete in various sports events for slapstick effect. Only worth watching if you like mixes of SD Gundam and Wacky Races.

Kore wa Zombie Desu ka? : B+
I translate this as "Is this a zombie?", but the
wiki page uses "Are you a zombie?" This is another light novel, that has been given 3 different manga adaptations. What we have here is a high school harem comedy involving a zombie, a necromancer, a cosplaying witch and a vampire ninja. Ayumu was the victim of a serial killer, and was brought back to life by Eucliwood Hellsythe. He's currently trying to find out who his killer was, and surviving the murderous onslaughts of the women that start gathering around him. The story is a little slow in taking off, but it is funny often enough to justify continued monitoring.


No unique comments.


Fractale : B-
This is a weird fantasy mix of "Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind" and "Nadia, Secret of Blue Water". The character artwork is inconsistent, and the action at the beginning is implausible (such as when the search ship chases closely after the girl's hoverjet, and yet the search crew fails to see where she falls from just a few yards away). The coincidence between the hero finding an obscure SD card holding vital data on the "Fractale system", and the appearance of the girl is just way too contrived. The entire set-up reeks of an RPG game opening. Boy meets girl, girl disappears, boy spends entire series looking for girl. The show does have its moments, so I will keep monitoring it, but it is difficult to suspend disbelief for this series.

Hourou Musuko : B
Two kids with confused gender identities become friends. Not my kind of story.

Infinite Stratos : B+
As a harem anime, Infinite Stratos doesn't start out too badly. Ichika Orimura is the only male student at the otherwise all-female academy that teaches the usage of the Infinite Stratos exoskeleton combat suit. His homeroom teacher is his older sister, an IS user games champion, and one of his classmates is a girl that used to be in his kendo class 6 years earlier. Between the ones that know and want to crush him, and the rest of the girls that want to date him, Ichika may not make it past the first year alive.

Yume Kue Merry : A-
Dream Eater Merry starts out pretty good, but there's little on this series in English outside of what's starting to show up now that the series has begun on TV. Fujiwara is a school boy that has been able to see various auras around other people, when he puts his mind to it. Lately, he's been having nightly dreams about being chased by cats. One day, a girl in a goth-loli outfit falls on him and loses her hat. When Fujiwara picks it up, he finds himself back in the dream world, suddenly facing a Spawn-like masked figure with a red cape and cat ears, who talks about taking over Fujiwara's body to enter the real world. The goth-loli girl shows up in the dream, calling herself Merry, and fights the villain. It turns out to be a draw, and Merry revels herself to be someone with no knowledge of who they are.

Occult Academy : A
Reruns of the series that originally aired between July and Sept., 2010. Strong opening, lots of fun. Real Ghost Busters meets the Three Stooges.


Genesis of Aquarion : C
I don't do giant robots, and this weird mix of Evangelion and Gundam is too silly for me. Further, it's just reruns of the earlier 2005 series. I may continue sampling it over the next few weeks, but I doubt I'll watch it to the end. Great visuals, dumb jokes.

Gosick : B
Sherlock Holmes manifests as a Goth-loli. Gosick is a mystery series where, in 1924, a Japanese exchange student in the Alps around France discovers a mysterious girl in gothic clothing, who is consulted by her policeman brother to solve crimes. While Gosick comes across as a kiddies series, in terms of character designs and slapstick setups, it runs late at night as a more adult title. In any case, the background artwork is good, and the show does have its moments sometimes. Worth monitoring to see if it ever gets any better.

Magical Girl Madoka Magika : B
Madoka starts out as a regular 2nd year school girl, with 2 good parents and a baby brother, in a really nice house, and a comfortable life. Her primary attribute is that she's fairly timid, but that's compensated for by having two stronger friends. One night, she has a dream where a couragous girl is fighting monsters. The next day, the same girl shows up in school as a transfer student. This student is smart, athletic and rather threatening. Later, a strange white rabbit-like creature calls Madoka telepathically for help, drawing both Madoka and one of her friends into a nightmare, where the transfer student is trying to kill the rabbit. From this point, Madoka and her friends have the opportunity to become "magical girls". In a way, "Magika" is along the lines of Sailor Moon, but with much darker settings. The character designs have a tendency to look cartoonish and childish, but the backgrounds and fight settings are really good. And some of the mood music is also good. This show has potential.


Seems to be a badly-drawn sitcom featuring old, fat vampires.


Valkyria Chronicles : B-
Reruns of the series that ran from April to Sept., 2009. 26 episodes. Starts out weak, with the main female character acting like a power-mad airhead.

Mitsudomoe Zoryochu! : B+
Mitsudomoe Zoryochu! is the second season of the Mitsudomoe series, which is in turn based on the gag manga by Norio Sakurai. It revolves around the fantasies and school lives of the Marui triplet 6th graders, and occasionally includes Satoshi Yabe, their new teacher, plus the school nurse he falls in love with. The first episode is a parody of action team shows like Power Rangers. Very silly, but not something I want to watch all the time.

What I'm still watching:
Level E
Dragon Crisis
Kore wa Zombie Desu Ka?
Yume Kue Merry
Occult Academy
Soul Eater
Only the World God Knows
Meitantei Conan

However, I'm wavering over whether to stop watching:
Meitantei Conan - the artwork and animation has gotten really bad, and the stories are more stupid than before.
Gosick - Just a little too silly. The artwork and story are good, but some of the characters are really dumb.
Fractale - This one doesn't seem to know what become; a fantasy adventure or a harem chase story.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Moyashimon, vol. 3 review

(Kawahama in his dugong suit. All copyrights reserved by their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Moyashimon vol. 3, by Masayuki Ishikawa - Grade: A+
The more I read this manga, the more fun it becomes. There's a lot of science involved, but there's also a fair amount of "how-to" if you want to try making certain foods by hand. Plus there's the sheer silliness of it all, with the microbes carrying on conversations with Tada, and with each other. I have it good - nine of the volumes are out already, and I can follow along with the story in Japanese. For those of you not so fortunate, start up a writing campaign to get Del Rey to start working on volume 3.

The only real complaint I have about this particular book is that the paperback cover is printed in a faint mustard yellow, making it really hard to read. It's fortunate that the front cover is just a picture of fermented Swedish fish, and therefore there's nothing to translate. The back cover, on the other hand, has a lot of talking microbes, and microbes use difficult kanji.

There are 4 major story arcs in this book. First, we have Mutou making natto in the lab. Natto is smelly, sticky and slimy. Plus, you can make it at home. Misato likes it because it's filled with microbes, but Kawahama hates it because his family is Mexican-Japanese, and he likes worms, and the microbes used to make natto are fatal to worms. Prof. Keizo talks Kawahama into trying it anyway, then says that for this month, the rule is that no one is allowed to eat natto.

This is followed by the wine-making arc. Keizo wants the lab to make its own wine, but Hasegawa is dismayed to see that the grape-stompers (Kawahama and Misato) are stained up to their butts (Kawahama tends to dive face-first into the juice). Keizo then shows the group the new facilities that he's putting into the formerly abandoned building, including a high-tech press, and a stainless steel pool for cleaning large items. When Hasegawa notices one side effect of the shiny surface, she makes the professor scour it until the polish is completely removed. On the other hand, Mutou is shocked to learn that she and Hazuki had consumed 3 of Keizo's four bottles of expensive French wine at the end of the Spring festival, and she puts on her cheerleader uniform to encourage the guys to make wine faster to try to replace what she'd drunk.

(Inside cover flaps. Ishikawa seems to like parodying Nodame Cantabile.)

A subplot involves the UFO club. They're unhappy that Mutou's been spending more time at the lab, and they want Hazuki and Tada to talk her into coming back. Hazuki tells them that Mutou has quit for good, and the club blames spies and rival clubs for this betrayal. One of the members comes in with dirt that he claims was obtained from a UFO landing site, and verified by a "returnee". Tada sees the microbes in the dirt breaking out of their disguises and exposing themselves as botulism toxin. This results in Tada needing to trick the group into letting him get the dirt and throwing it outside; a return of the hazmat team to fumigate the room, again; and Keizo's team being banned from the UFO club room.

A second subplot takes place in a bucket. After Mutou had cleaned up the lab in volume 2, she'd left the bucket and a dirty rag outside on the second floor landing. This allows several colonies of microbes to grow on the rag, and talk about their relationships with the humans, until Mutou returns and dumps the water out of the bucket.

This brings us to the digression. Prof. Keizo was inspired by the botulism incident to go out and get Botox injections. His skin becomes so shiny and soft that the team equates him to a big jiggly pudding and draws his wrinkles back on with a marker. This is followed by Kawahama's attempt to eat some rotten cheese, but Hazuki panics and sprays it with disinfectant. To prevent Kawahama from killing the girl, Keizo breaks out a can of Surstromming - a fermented fish made in Sweden, and brought back by Mutou. Oddly enough, it's Mutou's job to open the can.

With disastrous results.

Fortunately, the rest of the team set up a big feast including bread, veggies and other cheeses to accompany the Surstromming, and they eat it all in peace. Outside on the landing in the rain, where the smell won't infect the lab.

Haruka Hasegawa's date takes us to the third arc. Haruka gets glammed up in an evening dress, and is taken by limousine to a massive hotel in Tokyo. Turns out that she comes from a very wealthy family, and her father owns the hotel. She has to spend the meal talking to the man that her father has arranged for her to marry, and her father is upset that she won't hurry up and graduate. She reminds him that the wording of the promise is that she can have her freedom until she leaves school, and she will leave when she's ready for it. Both her father and her betrothed (a regular brown-noser) berate Prof. Keizo's works, and belittle the idea of her filling her head with silly little science things.

(Papa Hasegawa and Haruka's arranged-marriage future husband, Ryouta.)

Kawahama and Misato had tried to get part-time jobs in the hotel kitchen, but get fired quickly. Haruka announces that they can stay as her guests and eat in the restaurant with them. She also pleads with Kawahama to rescue her some how. The fat one calls Tada and explains his plan. Tada shows up at the hotel, and gives a can of Surstromming to the door guard to give to Kawahama inside the room. During the resulting havoc, Misato and Kawahama carry Hasegawa out to the elevator and they all run away. Hasegawa promises to treat them to a meal - they can have whatever they want, except alcohol. She doesn't remember the details, but she thinks she'd gotten too cuddly with Misato last time. Misato yells "what do you mean, "cuddly", you sadist?", risking the possibility that Hasegawa may revoke her offer.

(Haruka Hasegawa, age 14.)

The group goes to Aoi's bar, where Keizo is trying to get Aoi to give him free samples of the more expensive stuff on the shelves. Two guys sitting at a table nearby are hoping that Hasegawa will show up soon. Turns out that they're two of the "resistance" team that had helped Tada win the Spring Festival event, and they're dying for the chance to talk to Hasegawa. When she does arrive, in her evening dress, the resistance is so panicked that all they can do is sit there and sweat. Hasegawa asks Tada to walk her home, and everyone else follows them to make sure that Tada doesn't get lucky by accident.

(Yuu Kaneshiro)

In the final arc, summer has come, and everyone is dying from the heat. Kawahama and Misato take off for a part-time job at a resort. Keizo tells Hasegawa that they've got some lab work to do at the university facility in Okinawa, and because this is part of their official studies, Tada and Hazuki are allowed to come with. Hasegawa wants to know if Keizo was serious about that one sake being 200 years old, and he reveals that he'd been stretching the truth. Actually, the sake had been sitting in the ocean for 40 years. Under such conditions, sake ages 5 times faster, to be effectively 200 years old. In Okinawa, the group is met by Yuu Kaneshiro, a tanned young woman that looks like a ringer for Kei Yuuki. Yuu is a diver, and the dive shop they get their gear from is the one that Kawahama and Misato have their part-time job at.

(Grandpa Kaneshiro and Keizo.)

Yuu's grandfather is an old friend of Keizo's, and 40 years ago the two of them had put a crock of awamori (Okinawan sake) in the sea near a shipwreck. They've decided to bring it up to drink, and Kawahama objects - it's not 200 years old yet. He develops a plan, in which he dons a seal-like wetsuit and interferes with the recovery attempt. The two old men sitting on the boat in front of a TV monitor watching the dive just see a black streak rushing past the camera on Tada's helmet before it runs into the crock of sake. The two old men console themselves with the sake they have, but they know what's going on. Keizo lets the kids have the sake still sitting on the sea floor as his gift to them.

At the end of the Summer, the group returns to Tokyo, commenting on how Yuu so-closely resembled Kei. One of them mentions that across the globe, everyone has 3 people that look like them. Hazuki zips off on her scooter, leaving Tada to slog back in the heat, wishing that he had a scooter, too. As he walks past Hiyoshi's bar, he sees a strange goth-loli girl stepping out, holding a broom to sweep the sidewalk. The goth-loli looks just like Yuu. (A little earlier, Mutou had been in Hiyoshi's bar, trying to bum sake off Hiyoshi's grandson, when she saw the goth-loli coming up the stairs from the wine cellar. The grandson identified her as his little sister.)

(Hiyoshi's grandson.)

Kawahama explains his great swimming skills as having come from his time living near the shore in Mexico. As a child, his nickname was "the yellow dugong of the Caribbean".

Tada Sawaki receives a package from his grandfather. It contains "kouji miso" (rice malt). The microbes from it are so energetic that they form together to make a giant microbe, resulting in Tada's deciding that maybe he doesn't have to get a separate pet for himself after all. One of the boxes is labeled "Sawaki Moyashi" (Sawaki Beansprouts), indicating that this may be the name of the family business, if not at least one of their product names.

The "Ex-self-government resistance". These two students are in the same class as Misato and Kawahama. They don't have names yet. Their nickname is "make inu" (whipped dogs). They were two of the guys that had helped Tada win the Spring Festival event at the end.