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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Moving -- New Hosting Website


With this post, I depart from Blogger and its cruel, cruel indifference. Writing this blog since 2010 and not gaining a single follower, and the other day I realized how scarce blogs from Blogger are, plus the new rule about adult blogs and, even though I am 89% clean, I am rebelling against it.

With more options, I am now posting over at https://themangaconnoisseur.wordpress.com/ which contains every post to date. There's a new one as of this writing about "Jaco The Galactic Patrolman," Akira Toriyama's latest work. Hope to see you there.

Take it easy,

The Manga Connoisseur

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Destiny's Hand

YO HO HO! SHAMBER ME TIVERS AND A BUNDLE O' ROM! HAVE ME GOT A MANGA FOR YE LAND-LOVERS! CLIMB ABOARD AN' SAIL ME SEVEN SEAS MANGA CORPORATION FOR A TALE I CALL...


ATTACK OF THE DEVIL'S HAND!

Or just "Destiny's Hand." The crew of the titular ship searches for the treasure known as the Devil's Eyes. I have confused the two more than one.

After years of lies, Seven Seas finally released a manga about sailing upon them. Except for Captain Nemo, that is. The third volume of this manga was created post-cancellation, so good news! We'll be doing the omnibus!

Olivia is being forced to marry a man overseas. When her ship gets spotted by pirates, her father pretends to surrender, but attacks the pirates instead. Captain Blaine, a gentleman pirate (he never kills and has high morals), attacks the ship and lets the blaggards live if they give him their cargo. The cargo is, technically, Olivia, whose parents denounce her. Years later, Olivia is a pirate, fighting among the male-dominated crew. When Captain Blaine is gravely wounded, he has five of his crew members work together to search for the Devil's Eye, a legendary and dangerous treasure. Will Olivia be able to prove her worth as a captain in Blaine's absence?

I didn't like this manga. I mean, it wasn't unbearable. Just... weak.

First, female pirates existed in real life. Olivia and the others are firm on the contrary, so it's all, "Well, why can't a woman be a pirate?" They can. And they have. Although I assume this manga is in an alternate world, since they never state the name of the countries.

The feminist aspect is way overblown, and shatters any chance for Olivia to be more than a two-dimensional feminist. She's tough, but she's not a lesbian! She's aggressive and hot-headed, but emotional and sentimental! Reduce Reuse Recycle.

Weirdly, it's not feminism she has a constant knee-jerk about, but racism. Her bodyguard is a giant but softspoken (so original) Native Vaguemerican, and she hates when anyone calls him a savage or servant, with sharp glares. Even he can't say it. This is what I hate about period pieces. All these people in the past with modern morals, yet we're still on their moralistic wavelength?

Mainly, I find Olivia to be a Mary Sue. Female pirate? Rejects family's wealth? Two guys in love with her? The captain makes her in charge when he passes? No one abuses her in all that time, even with the guard? And the guy who hates her comes around? Yeah, she's just one of the guys.

The rest of the crew!

The Smithers: Navigator, organizer, former pirate. Kind of a different look.

The Hotheaded Chauvinist: Diego's not a fan of Olivia, and he's headstrong. There's suspicion of a mole. Gee, is it him? Obviously not, since they immediately suspect him, followed by a subsequent knock-out and abandoning him.

The Lookout: A kid who loafs around and spies on conversations. Hmm. He also lies about events. But he couldn't possibly be a mole. He's a boy! It's him.

The Author: Writing about Captain Blaine's adventures. Comic relief.

The Son: Captain Blaine and the figurehead's son. His foster father hates pirates, but he's sought out because he can read dead languages.

The Figurehead: The woman statue at the front of the ship. Blaine had a lover who was magic. She put a piece of her soul in the front of the ship. The magic guards the ship. She talks to no one but her son. Oh, and Olivia, the Mary Sue. Yay.

Other characters!

The Fiance: Remember how Olivia was to be engaged? That's him. And they're in love. Paging Mr. Frost! Mr. Robert Frost! Her parents disappear after the first two chapters, mind you.

The Evil Pirates: See, Captain Blaine never kills, but they would. He'd protect his crew, but their captain makes one of them sink. And that's about it. Extremely one-note.

Governors: They hate pirates. The end.

At the very least, the manga has an extensive cast, with everyone used properly. That said, they've all been done before, so it's difficult to become immersed in their universe. All of the twists are obvious. Wow, they went to the Smithers' mentor's home, but he doesn't have his piece of the map? Could he be hiding it? Captain Blaine was stabbed, but he'll survive? WHAAAA? He's actually going to die? Whoda thunk?

The name of the manga and the boat is "Destiny's Hand," so the cap'n ties hands into the manga. He makes five crew members represent a finger, such as Olivia being the ring finger (represents commitment) and the bodyguard being the thumb (strength). My favorite? Diego, the hothead, is the middle finger. That cracked me up.

For a manga about pirates, this crew only travels between two countries. It's odd, and crowded, and no fun. I want more of the last few chapters. Those have skeletons and magic. There's fun drama to be had throughout, but not nearly the adventure I wanted to feel.

The world they live in is somewhat vague. They have magic, they have neighboring nations. They do not have history, they do not have expressive culture. I can't tell the difference between the two nations, so how can I care who's right or tell them apart?

Honestly, they're probably the worst pirates ever. Blaine steals Olivia, Olivia finds an orb that kills people and destroys it. No booty to plunder. Yet the crew stays with the gentlemen captain. I mean, they discuss how there's the evil pirate way and the ban-the-pirates way, but Olivia suggests the gentleman pirate way of no killing and honesty. Also NO TREASURE. Would you? The killing's supposed to be half the fun. I don't know. If you're not killing or cheating, why even bother robbing? Just work at the docks.

No one aspect of "Destiny's Hand" fails; the little details make a mild collapse of enjoyment. Pirates are fun, but these don't do anything, dissolving my need to read. I could see myself turning back to "Destiny's Hand," as the characters, while basic, do play well. Not to mention that Olivia isn't the sole focus, so her Social Justice Pirating isn't the theme of the series.

I still feel that they could have balanced Olivia to be more like a flawed human, maybe have a bit more angst about assuming Diego was guilty, but she certainly couldn't ruin it for me. She gets what she wants, and she also gets what she didn't want. Still cracks me up, fate. This manga isn't my personal style, but I understand the value.

SO PICK UP A COPY AN' PREP YOUR MIND! FOR A FLOPPIER MANGA YE NEVER SHALL FIND!
-Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Anomal

Back in August of 2010, I reviewed High School Girls, a raunchy yet not off-putting manga about the lives of six high school girls. I gave it a near-perfect rating. Thing is, if I still did the rating system, I'd factor in the translation company. Comics One, later DrMaster, was notorious for sloppy translation. Two characters had their dialogue switched, another didn't have any text in her speech bubble. I think that was one chapter alone. But Comics One and DrMaster are gone, with more professionalism in the translation of manga.


I am grateful for GEN. Don't get me wrong. But it wouldn't be a lie to call them the spiritual successor to Comics One. I only reviewed one manga from them, Vs. Aliens, which I had initially been excited for, but the review says what went to the wayside.

GEN collects underground manga and publishes them here in volumes, then collects each series into its own volume. They're usually one-shots, but they do have multi-volume. Like, two volumes for one series.

I disliked "Anomal," however, not for its translation alone, which was awful.



That text isn't supposed to be tiny. Even if she was whispering, which she isn't, the readers are supposed to be able to read it. "That's why I'm going to do it for you," she says, and in response, the guy she's talking to says "For me?" LOOK AT ALL THAT SPACE.


And this asterisk leading to a translation note? Not there. Not anywhere. All the others are, but this one had to take his kid to a soccer game. This is not GEN's only manga to mess up translation.

Fun fact, there's no translation information in Anomal. There's the Cover and Interior Design and "Nukuharu," the author's credit. So they knew it's lousy and wanted to protect guilty parties?

So the manga itself is a little more ambitious than it really deserves to be. We'll (I'll) do (have done before you read this) a story-by-story analysis to determine "Anomal's" overall merit (same thing but instead of "merit" replace "flaws").

First and foremost, there's no contents page. Navigation for an anthology is much more important than for any other genre, because without a single set of characters, there's no event within the story to retain the location of a certain moment; i.e., it's easier to remember Bulma's shower scene in Dragon Ball is after Yamcha's fight than it is to remember where a certain cutaway gag is in a Family Guy episode.

Kaeshi: A blind boy is greeted by a yokai with one hundred eyes, offering him a set. The boy, honorable, wishes to repay him, so he waits for the yokai to ask for a favor. The boy befriends a younger boy who is a sparrow painting yokai, maybe. The sparrokai runs off, and the eyokai asks the human boy to find the sparrokai so he can permanently turn him into a painting. Not willing to betray his friend, the boy returns his eyes. Then he and the sparrokai leave together, with the sparrokai as his seeing guide.

Um. Did anything really happen? It felt really short. Like, it's a short story, yes, but it didn't feel like it had staying power. It was, not is. Not much happened, anyway. "Here's my eyes, I insist on repaying you." "Will you catch my sparrow?" "Here's my eyes. Bye!" I learned nothing for the experience. It tries to set itself up for a warm ambiance, but it has neither the artistic skill nor patience to pull it off. C.

Keiken Sosa: Two detectives try to figure out why someone died from mysterious causes, many claiming the cause to be yokai. One detective is shy, but takes on the personality of the victim of his cases to get into their psyche. The other is the Watson. The former gets too sexually agressive with the latter, apparently in an attempt to figure out the victim's motives. The Watson pushes the other detective's head down, revealing a spring that lodged itself into the victim's brain and sank back down into the bed.

Oddly, the manga seems to be taking a yokai-theme, but with this, it breaks it off, for the most part. The main detective shy, could be interesting if more fleshed out. However, there are too many cooks in the manga personality soup, and I don't mean trying to think like the victim. His default is shy, specifically around those he doesn't know. Kind of falls into the neurotic role, like Death the Kid's symmetrical obsession, among others. Also, sexually aggressive, even if it was for show. I don't know; stick to one thing. The detective's motivation for sexual aggressiveness is more clever than the actual cause of death, and the Watson has no presence. Probably the best of the bunch. A-.

Ayakashi No Kotodama: A young man has the power to use Kotodama, the soul of words. He had become an outcast at a young age, scaring his mother and driving out his father. He is friends with a female man-eating yokai who loves his Kotodama, and the man as well, who fed her his words when she wanted to eat him. He returns home to his mother, who kills him. Before he dies, however, the yokai fulfills his wish to send him back to the beginning of his life, enabling him to start over. He retains his memories, however, and changes his life to the point that his father stays. He also has many friends and a little sister. He meets the yokai, who doesn't know him, but he feeds her his Kotodama and she falls in love.

I like this one the most, but in terms of quality, I see some faults. The idea of Kotodama is never made clear, especially why anyone would fear the soul of words. The only indication for a Kotodama is an outline. I think the relationship between the man and yokai is pretty sweet, but a bit odd when the man is reborn, still a kid. I'm huge on the rebirth. The mother was awful enough to kill her own child, the father enough to abandon them both, yet the story gives the impression of the whole thing being his fault, since he was special. That's exactly what it is, but it's a muddled message, since his Kotodama saved him and found him love. Also, the excessive happy ending is saccharine. B+.

The Jizo's Mouth: An agency specializes in exorcism. A woman asks for help, believing her late child to be haunting her. Realizing she's experiencing latent trauma, they show her, with the help of a Jizo's mouth, that her child is truly gone.

I'm going to feel like garbage for saying this, but "Nightmares For Sale" did it better, and they didn't even do it well. Utterly forgettable, "The Jizo's Mouth" does not entice, nor does it give a fleshed-out taste of characters or world. So the woman thought her child was haunting her, but she wasn't being haunted. So what? Shaped like itself, this story fails to entertain or surprise. D.

Ayakashi-Nushi: A girl has an obsession with hugging yokai, thinking they're cute. Noticed by two humans, they allow her to become a candidate for the position of Ayakashi-Nushi, which would allow her to control yokai. The younger one uses a demon than lives in his blood, but since he's anemic, he can't use the demon too long. The older one dislikes humans (other humans?), so he tries to kill the girl. But she lends the anemic one her blood, allowing him to fight back. So she's on her way to become an Ayakashi-Nushi.

Part Two: The girl meets a yokai with a ball. She tries to hug him, but he eats her. Then the boy saves her. The girl has a few visions that show the yokai began hating humans when one promised to come back and play, but never did. He lost an eye in the war and didn't want the yokai to see him like that. The girl tells the yokai what happened, and he fades, leaving the ball (which belonged to the human) behind. She gives the ball to the human's grandson.

Weird that this is a two-parter, but the author must have loved it. It's typical. There's tons of stories like it. Even the second half, which was sweet, was typical. Ever read Yokai Doctor? It's Yokai Doctor. And the anemic thing is from another one; I can't recall. Also, Pokemon. Also, Digimon. The hugging yokai thing isn't enough of a draw. Pokemon has done that. Pretty much any cliche in a "monster battler" series is in this two-parter. I can't be bothered to remember anyone's name in any of these, given the short length, but even the doubled length here didn't do enough to draw me in. It does do a good job replicating the genre, but I prefer something fresher and not a one-shot. C-.

Guy Who Likes To Be Hit In The Head To Come Up With Ideas And Meets An Alien Girl Who Wears Clothing That Disappears If The Device That Makes Them Is Improperly Removed Who Ran Away From Her Wedding And Fiance Who Followed Her To Earth To Take Her Back But The Guy Has The Alien Girl Who Hits Him Best Take Off Her Clothing Device But It Strips Her And He Makes A Swan Ship That Takes Care Of The Fiance But The Girl Needs A Place So She Stays With The Guy Until She Finds A Boyfriend: They forgot to translate the title.

I don't know if I can be kind. It's pandering, which is odd since it's the only one to do so. I like a good pandering now and then, but this is both out of place and extensive. The fiance is a cliched jerk fiance. The guy who likes to be hit? I mean, half of the protagonists in Anomal have a silly quirk. It means nothing at this point. They aren't even funny. And see what I mean about dropping the yokai pretense? Most had actual yokai involved in the plot, but none were actually yokai-like. You know, fierce, a threat, an umbrella. Too much of the fake-outs. Kind yokai, not actually yokai, and no yokai deaths at all. F.

So we have a letter grade across the board. My main issue is that all of these stories feel like they're trying to be longer or setting up for a full series. But they won't be. Because they're generic and deny actual human action.
"I'd like to give back the eyes I forced you to let me do a favor in return for. This sparrow is much more important."
"He has the ability to speak the souls of words! Our family is ruined!"
"She compulsively hugs yokai? Let's make her control them!"

I'm glad to have access to more underground manga, but not when they don't suitably entertain. Or translate.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Love At Fourteen

See, but like, it's cute and all, but it isn't by any means perfect. A four out of five star rating. If this were tennis, it would be one point short of Fifteen Love, nor is it "at" Fifteen Love. It's...


Thank you for indulging in my horrid pun. It's Valentine's Day on Saturday, which is always the 14th, so a mutually-sided romance using "Fourteen" and "Love" in the title is tres bien! Whatever that means, I know not; although the title refers to the two characters on the cover falling in love at age fourteen.

The catch? They're both smart, attractive, and mature in school, making them the apple of the student body's eye. But behind closed doors, they are...

Silly! Yes, they're silly, and no one can know that they're silly and in a relationship. Why? Uh... the plot wills it. I couldn't begin to guess the reason. Excuse me, I need to compare this manga to Kare Kano (His & Her Circumstances), a classic series. So the two lovers there start off as enemies, competing for tests and attention. Why is not important, but their competition evolves into love.

The reason for the stoic facade in Kare Kano is  because of how their real selves are, and the loss of respect directed at them. They feed off of it for individual reasons, but it's plausible why they can't show anyone their silly side. By the end of volume one (spoiler), they drop the act, displaying their goofy sides since they no longer care what people think. Of course, everyone is freaked out by the the smartest and respected students looking like idiots.

Which brings me to my issue with "Love at Fourteen." They constantly worry if anyone catches them, but they don't have an invested interest in what people think. I mean, they act silly in the hallway, they risk being caught in a classroom. They aren't taking any real precautions, so why the fear of being revealed? It comes off as self-imposed conflict, which would be fine if it was the main conflict.

But it isn't, as hormones is the real interest. Fourteen is an awkward age, THE awkward age. So our protagonists (she's Kanata, he's Kazuki), who had been childhood friends, start blushing and avoiding gaze, confused as to the reason why looking at one person that they've always known throws them off. While a lot of this is adorable and does wonders for the story's minute nuances, it does little for certain details. Like how in one of the "intermission" segments, one of the breaks from chapter to chapter, features the couple going to a water park, and Kazuki wants to go to the expensive one far away because he doesn't want any other guys but him looking at Kanata in her bathing suit.

So while the bits about "Her hair, I never noticed..." or "His neck, when did he get an Adam's Apple?" are cute, they're still cognizant of love, attraction, and sexuality. So it is a bit counterproductive. I mean, it makes sense when they blush for any reason. After all, love can jeopardize friendship, young love is naive, and romance does not belong in a fishbowl. But personally, they're a little too around the map.

And now, a little segment I like to call: "Romance in Manga 101: Tips and Tricks for Writing Successful Shojo."

Today's lesson is on feet. It's not just for fetishists, but romantics as well. If you have a clear-cut manga that takes no swerves, such as she's a cyborg or he's a ghost, then this tip is for you! Injure someone's foot. Trust me, the more blood, the better. And show whatever's lodged in there. It's the love interest's job to remove that conch seashell!

Too squeamish to draw that? Not a problem! Have the female character injure her feet with uncomfortable shoes, so the male will massage them! It's intimacy without going into-she! If you don't want anyone hurt, then just make them lose their shoes! Not only does it it make one character reliant on another, giving the reader a deplorably sweet piggybacking scene, but it gives the reader the impression of a reckless, care-free youth. It's muy caliente!

You can use these methods more than once. No one will notice or care! Love Com used all of them over the span of 17 volumes! Love at Fourteen used them in the first volume! Plus, they bought each other ankle bracelets, so they're ahead of the game. The Foot: The Most Romantic Body Part!

Someone does catch the couple, a loner named Nagai, but he only informs Kazuki that he caught him making time with Kanata. So Nagai uses Kazuki as a slave. Wow! Conflict, and not just the warmhearted variety! Okay, so he'll be a prominent threat, yes?

Nagai constantly cuts music class, but a teacher finally corners him, locking the music room and throwing away the key... in her cleavage. This teacher cracks me up, but I feel less than impressed by this resolution. Doesn't sound like resolution? Afterwards, Kazuki tells Nagai "I saw that!" And they're even. HOW.

That is my ultimate complaint with "Love at Fourteen," as it doesn't seem to follow real cause and effect. Motivation, see, is often based on something. Nagai is motivated to torture Kazuki because of his inferiority complex. That's cause and effect. Nagai is forced to sing by the music teacher, and Kazuki catches him. Since neither one wants their secret out, it's a stalemate and all is hushed. But Nagai doesn't like people. And why would anyone care if the hilarious piano teacher was a bit rough on Nagai? Even if Kazuki told, since this manga does reward proper morals, it would reflect badly on him for slander. Also, if Kazuki did tell, maybe it would help Nagai. Hilarious to the reader, but the faculty might not look so kindly on the way a student was treated. Cause ≠ Effect.

Pick it up, though. For humor, cute naive foibles of love, polished artwork, and the silky-smooth cover only Yen Press can deliver, Love at Fourteen is a manga. A good, good manga.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

My Neighbor Seki


YES! I reviewed a manga only two weeks afters its initial American release! So when was the Japanese release?

Oh, 2010? Oh... okay...

Yokoi just wants to focus on her school work and graduate from high school, but one thing gets in the way of her academic pursuits... her seat neighbor, Seki! Seki is unable to focus on his studies, or simply chooses not to. You know, the ability but not the interest. Whatever. Whether it's creating games for himself to play using pre-existing game pieces (such as a giant chess piece from the others), bringing cats to school, or playing with an Ouija during lab (kind of counterproductive to the course on that one), Yokoi can't help but get involved in Seki's crazy distractions. Oh, and she's the one to get in trouble! Ha ha ha!

GETTHISMANGAGETTHISMANGAGETTHISMANGA. I adored it. Plus, I'm pleased as punch that there's more to be released. I mean, I thought this manga was just a one-shot  with a "1" mistakenly placed on the spine. Wouldn't be the first time. And it's a gag manga and in one chapter, Yokoi assumes she knows what will happen. He surprises her, but I'd wait to use that line in a second-volume at least.

One thing to call "My Neighbor Seki" is "creative." One thing not to call "My Neighbor Seki" is "deviating." While I love the humor and the bare-bones cast, the series begs for more substance. From what I understand, later volumes introduce a new character, but I know not how they are employed.

This volume does try to take advantage of other school settings towards the last few chapters. I appreciate this, because even if the author could come up with a new classroom gag, audiences would likely have tired of it.

Okay, I'm done. I mean, what else do I say? I don't want to spoil everything, so I won't go chapter-by-chapter. Um... Seki never talks, but he appears to be able to off screen. He's "the unexpressive". Yokoi constantly talks or thinks in her head, which means she probably has less focus than Seki, the guy who makes his desk reflective; the guy who knits in class. Bet he gets good grades regardless, amirite?

No, what am I supposed to say? I love pre-internet manga reviewing or manwha discussion, since not every other schmo can pick up a copy and read and review. You're reading a special schmo review right here, guys. I'm not used to this "everyone else has trekked this land, son" stuff. This "What territory your have chosen to trod across is not our way, understand? You review old and more obscure works, child of the noodle cup," stuff isn't what I'm used to.

Um... okay, let's have a discussion of the essential elements of the two-person comedy. Yokoi is the straightman and Seki is the funnyman, right? This is because humor needs two roles: One to make jokes, the other to be surprised by them.

The reason something like Bobobo doesn't work for me with Bobobo and Beauty as the Funny and Straight is because of their world. Everyone is "The Funny," so no one can be too outlandish. So Beauty or the mook-of-the-week overreacting feels weak and falls apart.

By the same vein, there's Tori Koro, which has characters overreact for mundane things. "Wow, four people in one house??? That's insane!!!" Credibility is lost, as is reader investment.

So how do we counteract this issue? Well, My Neighbor Seki counteracts it quite efficiently. Since only Yokoi is privy to Seki's activities, the world appears normal only when the manga begins each chapter. The teacher teaches, Yokoi has a thought, it's our world. Then, perspective shift! Seki is fooling around! Progression of madness! Our universe fades in favor of a new one where anarchy reins! Then, perspective shift! Final page, the madness goes to bed in favor of reality, as the teacher berates the poor, oddly white-haired Yokoi. Then we're ready for our next adventure!

What kind of world works or does not? Too much madness with few detractors or too little madness with too many detractors don't work, but the flipside is a world with nothing but madness with a single visiting detractor. Maybe a cat, some playing cards, it's Alice and Wonderland. Also, kind of the Wizard of Oz, as Dorothy flows with the madness, so it resonates with readers. Alice and Dorothy are probably the best straight characters out there. While Dorothy never really asks about the world she's in, just enjoying the ride, Alice doesn't care for foolishness and wants to leave quickly. Yet she has fun commentary and watching her get teased is wonderlandful that it's hard to be annoyed by her.

Thing is, the straightman role, that's not what Yokoi is. Sure, she plays the role of pointing out apparent madness, but she often causes it. When she watches a battle with a tyrant character, she destroys the tyrant, much to Seki's violent inner rage. Or when Yokoi loses her conctration and patience when her Seki unintentionally challenges her superb knitting skill. Yokoi is not a bystander of madness, she's a cause of it. I appreciate this, since I don't believe making Yokoi one-note would have done the manga any favors.

As for the progression of humor, what would you expect to be the number one aspect of a gag manga? Original jokes, rephrasing old ones, getting one big laugh out there? Nah. It's knowing when your audience knows the gag, and you follow it up with a reversal. Each time we expect Seki to go a path, he changes gears. When your audience guesses  the punchline, you're in trouble. Sometimes the mundane can supply greater humor than going all out. Those who shift in and out of the extreme are wise, since the Afterlife is the limit.

Joke--Joke in a City--Joke in the White House--Joke in Multiple Foreign Countries--Joke in the Ocean--Joke in the Sky--Joke in Space--Joke in Time--Joke in Alternate Dimensions--Joke in the Afterlife

OOPS! Joke literally died because that's as big as they go! Granted, most series might put a Heaven episode or joke in like, Season Four, but it's hard to manage if your goal is "bigger and better." We all rot, Joke, it's just how long we can preserve it.

So I hope that compels you to buy My Neighbor Seki. Oh, and the series is free to watch on Crunchyroll, so go for it.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Firefighter! Daigo of Fire Company M


Ever since I've started reviewing manga, there's one I've been itching to read. Firefi--

Wait. Is this the fourth review this month? Does that mean I've broken the curse of twos and threes? Tesoro, Aishiteruze Baby COMPLETED!, Knockout Makers... YEAH! This is the fourth review this month! Wow, okay! Hey, how about another one, make it a nice five? But no time for that now.

"Firefighter! Daigo of Fire Company M" is a clunky and horrible manga title.
"Bro! Bro! They're releasing the new tankobon of Firefighter! Daigo of Fire Company M!"
"Oh, you mean FDoFCM? Yeah, I'm more into Hospital Assistant! Yomi of Health Corporation W."

My first discovery of this manga was during a little trip to North Carolina. Amazing manga selection and prices, but that was in 2010, and I've heard things have changed since. Anyway, I saw Daigo there, but I already had ten volumes of manga in my cart, so obviously I couldn't just buy the one more. Obviously. For four dollars.

I tried to buy online, but the prices were steep. Finally, I bought it half a year ago at BookOff for nine bucks. The end.

Oh. Right. Um, I didn't read it until this past Saturday because I wanted to make it taste all the sweeter when I gave into temptation. I guess temptation lasted until last week.

The plot and review. Right.

Daigo, having been saved from a fire at a young age, is inspired as a teenager to follow his passion. So he makes the grade and is transferred to Fire Company M. Thing is, there's barely any fires in town, for various reasons. I'd list them, but really, they're kind of... mundane. Citizens are aware of fire safety? Huh. Small town? Big deal. Preventative measures? Sheesh. And I listed them anyway. Also underwhelmed is Daigo, who can't stand the quiet lifestyle Company M upholds. Slackers! Loafers! Daigo, of course, reads them wrong, because that's how this sort of scenario always goes.

There are three missions in the first volume. The first is a gas leak. The second is a fire at Daigo's old school, where his favorite teacher works. The third is a supposed arsonist setting fires in one spot, with Daigo and his rival from another company fighting over a hydrant.

See, here's the thing. Once the pretense of the lazy firefighters is dropped, fires come out of the woodwork, maybe pun intended. Fires come out of the woodwork? Eh. So the whole "super-safe from fires town" scenario loses credibility. Granted, they address the sudden change in lifestyle. "Since you showed up, we're busy as Hell!" Also, only the second mission is both a fire and their jurisdiction. So at least in the first volume, the scenario functions. But twenty? I wonder when more fires take place in town.

Let's talk characters. There are four. Daigo isn't boring. High praise? Yes. He has impure intentions for becoming a firefighter, which is glory, but he won't admit that. Honestly, considering that he's both a rookie and fresh out of the academy, this is a magnificent trait. So what, it turns out that he has the skills of a smoke-smashing savant, right? No! He chokes up in his first two missions, literally and figuratively!

He stumbles, fumbles, mumbles and grumbles. But he's great at accidentally saving people. And it does align, as that's what made him want to become a firefighter to begin with. You know, being saved by a firefighter. And with his constant screw-ups and near-deaths, I bet he goes on to be saved by firefighters for a long, long time.

There are three more characters. I mean, according to Wikipedia. I guess they also only read the first volume. Captain Gomi is short and laid-back, and the only firefighter in Company M to be notable or have individual characteristics. And Daigo hates him!

"You're nothing like the kind of firefighter I believe in! My firefighter, the one who saved my live as a boy, was warm and gentle, laid-back and roughly your height, with similar facial features and a slightly higher voice! Why can't you be just like him, fascist?"

Then there's Daigo's teacher, Ms. Ochiai.

And finally, Daigo's rival from another company, Shiro. He's cool, suave, and looks dirty and handsomely rugged in that way only a firefighter in glasses could pull off. He and Daigo fight over the hydrant, which was an actual thing in New York. Thug groups would fight one another instead of the fires, with thousands of buildings burning to the ground.

You hear that, Daigo? Despite trying to appease your attractive teacher by escaping the rough exterior shell that only defines you to others as the nothing more than a callous thug, using your childhood ambitions to emulate a man whose occupation not only saved your life but gave you a driven purpose, you're still a thug.

I have a little soapbox. I found it in the hay. And when my thoughts are ready, I'll rant and rave all day.

Okay. You really don't see that many firefighters as the stars in media. Television? Name a show starring a firefighter. Now name twice as many cop or doctor shows.

Video games? You know, I can't name a firefighter game, but name a cop game either. Doctor is easy. Doctor Mario. That Wii game people like, Surgery something. And hey, the Pokemon anime has Officer Jenny and Nurse Joy, but like, one firefighter.

Movies? There must be, but all that pops in my head is a bajillion Police Academy films and one about a dinosaur cop. I can't think of any doctor films, at least about licensed doctors.

Bottom line, I think it's a shame. We need health and law, but no one thinks about firefighters unless they're being carried by one. Not to say that I think my only connection to firefighting media being Daigo is an issue; I like it. I love it, in fact, and the fact that Viz was once able to release a 20-volume series without giving up at any point is impressive.

It's just... I want more. I expect more. More firefighting, since it's pretty untapped in the media. That is, on a public-conscious level. The only film title of 66 on Wikipedia's "Firefighting film" page I recognized was "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," and that's disappointing. I didn't see the film, so I can't say if it disappointed me as well.

The only other manga about... I guess fire investigation is close to fighting, maybe? Fire Investigator Nanase. It's just a detective story with a pretense of fire. I mean, compelling, keeps me guessing, enjoyed it. But for action, I only know Daigo.

If you can get Firefighter! Daigo of Fire Company M, bring at least a twenty. It's both fun and dramatic, the action is amazing, the lead is surprisingly engaging at times, unsurprisingly engaging at other times, and it doesn't waste time.

It does have some predictable story elements and I'm a bit incredulous that a town with a minuscule fire record would need Company M's sizable amount of firefighters on hand, but those can be easily overlooked. If you have got the inclination, give it a go.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Knockout Makers


After finishing volume one of "The Knockout Makers" years ago, I had dismissed it as glamorizing the external over what lies within. I, as I usually am, was wrong. Knockout Makers emphasizes loving your true essence, while applying your outward appearance to bring out the full glow.

Three hot babelicious dudes run a special salon that turns beauty-deprived ladies into dudelicious babes. The catch? Only one lucky gal can apply for the treatment. At midnight, applying is permitted on their website for ten minutes. I'm getting Hell Girl vibes for some reason. The trio of beauticians keep the women in an underground facility for some time to complete the process of boosting looks, love and life.

The main issue for me is that the manga doesn't follow its own rules. The KOM only accepts clients at midnight, but they receive a text at 11:23 AM for a client. Sometimes the subject of the chapter doesn't seem to know who the KOM are. Do they Makers cheat the system sometimes and take on a nearby distressed damsel? One does in one story, but most of the time, the girls are surprised.

One big draw is, as mentioned, the emphasis on loving yourself. This could mean dieting for yourself instead of your boyfriend or, like all of the stories, drawing benefits from the negative attributes. Not to be ignored is the cause of each story. They aren't all for the "I want a boyfriend" standard, although most are.

However, the trio of Knockout Makers succeed because they never face a real complication of artificial beauty. Fat? Diet. Bad skin? Oils. Weird bone structure? Cover with hair. What if the girl in question had braces, or creepy eyes, or weird mannerisms? Bet they couldn't fix that.


Alright, that's a gimme. That's another thing, though. Excluding the dieting story, it's always a simple fix. "Here's oils for your oily skin!" "Your hair looks like Bach's? We'll cut and form it!" "Here's a cute outfit!"

Yes, there's confidence and the drama and realization. But, like Sue/Eden, it's never an issue because they don't have any permanent damage. They look awkward, like teens are expected.  Eden Sher's Sue Heck, America Ferrera's Ugly Betty, Katy Perry's Kathy Beth Terry. They made a manga about the ending of 80's movies. It's a great manga, but I wouldn't have requested it.

Sometimes the art changes to accommodate a made-over client. A girl with small eyes has big eyes without explanation. For the most part, the art doesn't manipulate, as a flat girl is still flat.

Let's talk about the boys, the titular "Knockout Makers." They jes' fine. We have three boys, each with a specialty, maybe. I think the tall brunette, Nobuo, specializes in hair treatment. He restores a Bach-girl to hair extraordinaire. He also dyes a girl's hair to look like her teen idol, who, in a great and quiet twist, had her hair treated by him before she was famous. Also, huge flirt, because that's mandatory.

Toshi, short, 16 and fresh off the stove, works with the makeup and whatever paints may apply. He has an origin story, I guess, where he replaces the previous makeup specialist. Apparently, if you fall in love, you need to have a ready apprentice. He's unusually uninterested in women, his age or otherwise.

Finally, Ryouhei wheels and deals in skin and treatments such as baths and exercise. He's cold, but phases in and out, unlike Toshi. Anyway, they all seem to fit the three hottie dynamic necessary for a manga like this. Nobuo the Id, Ryouhei the Ego, and Toshi the Superego. What do you expect from a manga about love and the inner self? Freud's all over this.

I was disappointed to discover that I didn't hate The Knockout Makers like last time. Disappointed in myself, I mean. Maybe I was knee-jerking or just making an excuse, but I never gave it a proper chance. Definitely buy this one. It has a good balance of humor, heartbreak, and mascara. Heck, I think I might buy the other two.

Although there's one thing I can't understand. Why don't the KOM want the girls to tell anyone where they are? Hanging out with three hot single guys underground for days on end doesn't seem like a now I get it.