Only Fools Look: Bloody Monday 1

A manga that I wouldn’t have discovered if it weren’t for the public library. Now I want more, and unfortunately, it seems as if the library only ordered volume 1. Does Kodansha still provide reviewer’s copies? I’ll be happy to review future volumes of this series!

Bloody Monday starts off big: conspiracy, Russian espionage, a viral outbreak. Now, if this were a Hollywood movie, we’d be seeing the likes of Jason Bourne or James Bond rushing to contain the damage. But, since this is a Japanese manga, we have as our hero a teenage hacker.

Fujimaru TAKAGI, a 2nd year and a staff member at the school newspaper, has a secret life as the famous hacker “Falcon.” He was out of commission for a while, but an incident involving a lecherous teacher pulled him back into action. Fujimaru’s father, Ryunosuke, is a deputy chief at the Third Division of the Public Security Intelligence Agency (which is Japan’s version of the CIA, I’m guessing), also known as “Third-I”. The father is involved in a lot of high-level intelligence stuff, and while he prohibits Fujimaru from hacking, he knows that the kid is pretty smart so he gives him a chip with encrypted data that he wants Fujimaru to crack.

(This is why I love manga: the setup could be so highly implausible  but I would ignore it anyway since the story is so compelling. It’s especially true with manga that’s billed as a thriller like this one.)

So, when Fujimaru’s father is set up for the murder of the Third-I’s division head, it’s up to Fujimaru (and his fellow school paper compatriots) to figure out how everything fits together and what “Bloody Monday” is all about.

If it wasn’t for Lori Henderson’s wishlist post, I wouldn’t have realized that the author of Bloody Monday, Ryu Ryumon, is the same person responsible for Get Backers!, Kindaichi Case Files, and Drops of God. I mean, I know (from Bakuman) that some manga authors use pseudonyms whenever they start on a different work, generally with the idea to differentiate it from a previous one. But for marketing to the American manga audience, I think it would really help if people could make the connection a lot quicker. I really enjoy this author’s work so if I knew that a new series was going to be available, then I’d actually seek it out and buy it.

Otherwise, I really like this manga. I like the art style and character designs. And even the panty shots and fanservice bits don’t bother me so much because it seems like it’s kept in check and within the context of the story. When Maya, the new biology teacher, is seen in nothing but her bra and panties, she’s at home, talking on the phone and feeding her piranhas (?). That makes sense — she’s within the privacy of her home so sure, she can be walking around in her underwear.  I also appreciate that while it’s a darker story, but the artist doesn’t feel to have everything covered in darkness. I actually want to see the art, so thank you!

One last note about the Kodansha Comics edition: there are two types of liner notes, a glossary of terms and their usual translation notes in the back. The glossary of terms must’ve appeared in the Japanese editions too, because the explanations seem sort of goofy. Do some people really not know what virus or outbreak mean? The actual translator notes, on the other hand, continue to be excellent. I love that they mentioned WinNY, which is a word that I haven’t seen in a long time…

A Meiji-Era Bodice Ripper: Stepping on Roses 1-3

I was planning to write this yesterday, but I got hooked on tsuritama (HA!) so that’s why I’m only finding the time to write this today.

I think it’s fair to warn you that I haven’t met an Rinko UEDA manga that I didn’t like. For me, she’s the quintessential Margaret manga-ka, down to the big old-fashioned hair styles and the dewy eyes. I think I also like that her series are known for their historical settings, however flimsy. I enjoy it when manga artists choose to have a specialty, of sorts. If somebody can be the manga specialist on seinen space sci-fi, or on shoujo sports high-school drama, then maybe Rinko UEDA is the master of the historical-based shoujo romance.

Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome?

The setup of Stepping on Roses is textbook paperback romance: Sumi is a poor girl with the unfortunate luck of having the most irresponsible lout for a brother. He doesn’t just leave the family in debt, but he also brings home wayward children he finds on the street and has Sumi take care of them. One day, with the debt collectors at her door, the children screaming for food, and her brother nowhere to be found, Sumi marches to the red-light district, with the intention of selling herself to the highest bidder. Soichiro ASHIDA, a tall, dark-haired businessman takes her up on her offer. He’ll provide her with the money that she needs if she agrees to enter into a loveless marriage with him.

But wait! There’s more!

You’d think that a faux marriage with a domineering man wasn’t bad enough, but Sumi unknowingly finds herself as a pawn in a nefarious ploy orchestrated by Soichiro against his best friend, Nozomu IJUIN. Soichiro apparently didn’t pick Sumi randomly from the bevy of desperate poor girls, he knew that she is exactly Nozomu’s type and that if Nozomu were to fall in love with her, he could then accuse his friend of stealing his wife and then gain the upper-hand in their business dealings.

(I love how even my descriptions for this manga are sounding more purple the longer I keep writing…)

So Soichiro comes into this story as a cold-hearted bastard and when his plan actually seems to work out — because Nozomu is super predictable and falls head over heels over the doll-like Sumi as expected — he then realizes that he may actually have feelings for Sumi.

A Beginner’s Guide to Raising a Lady

Sumi, in all this, remains seemingly ignorant of the bigger drama that’s unfolding around her. She is fully cognizant of possible problems in agreeing to the marriage, but is willing to hold up her end of the bargain by becoming an “acceptable” wife that Soichiro can show off to society. There are several funny scenes where Sumi is being tutored by Soichiro’s butler, Komai, on how to be a proper lady. She does it all: learning the correct tableware, walking with a book on top of her head, learning how to eat with the correct tableware with a book on top of her head… It’s all very My Fair Lady, without the cockney accent.

In the hands of another author, I would’ve thought Sumi to be an insufferable character. She has the naive, super-genki personality that I feel is a stereotype that’s overplayed in manga. Maybe I’m just more patient with this artist. After my experience with Tail of the Moon, I trust Ueda to create a character who may appear sweet and nice at first, but will later show their inner steel at the right time.  Sumi is tougher than she looks. If she can survive starvation and poverty, anything that these rich people throw at her would be a piece of cake.

Examining the Genre and Work within the Genre

This series is one of those works where I feel unsure whether I like it or not. How can I say that I enjoy the romance and the intrigue between Sumi and her paramours when this work is such a perfect example of female objectification? Am I not offended that Sumi is treated primarily as an object by her brother, by Soichiro, and by Nozomu. In these three volumes, they don’t seem to see Sumi as a person, by Sumi as a representation of their masculine desire, be it money, lust, or influence.

But how much of that is the author’s own creative bent, and how much of it is the pressure of the genre? Authorial intent is always shaky ground to tread on, but I believe that Ueda is aware that her work is marketed as a romance, so it may not be too unbelievable to think that she adjusts her narrative to fit in with the structure that romance readers have come to expect. Tropes are repeated precisely because they work to create an effective mood and tone. More importantly, tropes within a genre are the signposts that establish the work as a part of that genre.

I’m not trying to give Stepping on Roses a pass, or deny that I don’t feel queasy at some of the situations that Sumi finds herself entangled in. But I also cannot deny that I do like the story so far, and I continue find it compelling and readable despite all of its problems. It’s probably the author’s track record, but I have a feeling that Stepping on Roses isn’t going to disappoint me in the way that Honey Hunt didand if it does, then I’ll be more than happy to write up an updated review.

Are there actually any bodices ripped in this manga? Well, I wouldn’t use that phrase in the title if it weren’t true, would I?

The Art of the Ending

Mermaid (Pixiv:  がこ  ID: 3329406)

One of the goals that I set out to accomplish when I restarted this anime blog was to finish a bunch of the series that I’ve left “on-hold” for all these many years. Currently, my MAL list shows 61 series on-hold, and that’s after I’ve whittled down at least five series in the past two months. I don’t think I’ll ever get that number down to zero, to be honest, and I think for some of those shows I’ll just have to admit my defeat and leave the rest unwatched forever.

The three simulcast series that I watched through Crunchyroll are done. All three of them — Tari Tari, Moyashimon Returns, and Natsuyuki Rendezvous — had nice, pat endings. I really doubt they would announce a sequel for any of those series later; and even with Moyashimon‘s teaser, after this season’s cooler reception, I would be very surprised if they decide to make more.

Maybe it’s just the Tari Tari aftermath speaking, but I feel somewhat nostalgic talking about the endings of these series — was it really only thirteen weeks ago that I was suffering through one of the hottest summers in New York City history? Now, the air is cooler and I feel I would have to start wearing scarves soon… And I no longer have these shows which kept me going through the summer to look forward too. I will have new shows to replace them, of course, but it feels so odd even thinking that. Were they just summer flings that we would forget once the sunshine and warmth have faded away?

Okay, melodramatic, but I’m sure a seasoned anime fan would know exactly what I mean.

To paraphrase a fellow Crunchyroll viewer, “I like it when a series ends and you don’t have to ‘go read the manga’ for a proper ending.” I absolutely agree with this sentiment. A story shouldn’t float indefinitely in limbo. Don’t just pan out and leave the characters standing there. Give it an ending, even if it diverges from the source material. I shouldn’t have to be forced to seek out other media to get my closure.

Though I guess you could argue that there are such things as unconventional endings that are meant to fuck up your head anyway. There are stories that just end abruptly, and nobody knows what happens next, not even the storyteller. Does this mean the story that came before it is bad? Does this mean that the story shouldn’t have been told in the first place?

I was educated in a Western mindset where I expect stories to end “happily ever after” or if not, then it was probably a moral tale advising me against certain bad behaviors. I expect all loose ends to be tied, and for every small detail to be accounted for. In watching anime (and Japanese films) over so many years, I’ve noticed that the concept of the fully-accounted happy ending isn’t a common practice. Some anime end with the hero dying, some end without addressing the main conflict brought up in the first episode, some don’t show you if anybody survives in the end. In instances such as these, I think a wise anime fan would adapt to these circumstances. Is the ending always the goal, the measure of success? Not really. As the cliche goes, it’s the journey that matters.

Of the three, I liked Tari Tari’s finale the most. I knew that the events were leading up to their eventual parting, so I felt that I just had to enjoy their time together, with them, as much as possible. I knew that the urgency to form the club, to participate in the festival, and to perform for the festival came from their collective desire to be together, to make their last few months special — even if this wasn’t their conscious decision at the beginning. When the ending came along, like them, I felt I was ready and I was happy to see what the future had in store.

With Natsuyuki Rendezvous, I actually thought that the ending was great. I had more of a problem with the middle. I felt that Hazuki and Rokka were just getting to know one another, so it took a great leap of faith for me to believe that Rokka was already in love with Hazuki when she realized that Atsushi had taken over his body for all that time. For Hazuki, I could accept how his feelings have been stewing for her even before they met formally, but I really wished that we had more of a chance to hear what Rokka was thinking and feeling. This is an example of an anime where there were numerous points where I wasn’t satisfied with the journey, so I just wanted to get to the final boss and ending as quickly as possible.

With all types of fiction, for every satisfied watcher, there will be the one (or many) who wasn’t okay with how things turned out. As a student, I always found that one of the most interesting aspects of discussing literature — we all watched or read the same work, why are our reactions to it so different? Many times, our reactions come out of better stories than the original pieces themselves. And for me, that’s a great reason to keep blogging
and writing; out of these animated stories that we all watch, our own stories come out as a result, ad infinitum.

Three-Episode Test: Full Moon

I realize that It sounds weird to do a three-episode test for a series that’s more than ten years old and which I’ve already watched. Well, I still wanted to write another Shojo Beat-related post, especially since I flaked out on both Thursday and Friday, so I figure, why not write about one of the SB anime series that Viz actually has available for free online.

Full Moon is a tricky series — it happened before the moe trend really got defined as a ‘thing,’ so while Mitsuki is a quintessential example of a heroine who would be perfect moe fodder now, I feel that she doesn’t have the affectations of the moe kyun characters from recent series. She’s actually pretty with it for a twelve-year old. Considering that she was just informed that she essentially has a year left to live, she’s actually acting extremely mature and composed. I’m a thirtysomething and I don’t think I would’ve reacted that calmly to hearing news like that.

What does annoy me in these first three episodes is the same thing that did annoy Takuto: so you, Mitsuki, claim that you want to be a singer…as part of a promise that you made with a boy? I agree that if she wanted to make it a singer, then great. But for a boy, and for one whom she hasn’t had any contact with in two years? That’s not really great motivation.

And let’s talk about Eichi for a quick second — so Mitsuki is currently twelve at the beginning of the series, and he’s eighteen. So two years ago, she was ten years old and he would’ve been sixteen…and according to Mitsuki, he confessed that he liked her (and I’m presuming that she took it as a romantic confession, not just a friendly, “hey kid, I like you” way). DUDE, that’s creepy.*

I was reading elsewhere that Tanemura was quoted in saying that she doesn’t consider Full Moon a magical girl series, so if I even dared call this a magical girl series, I would be  strangled to death by Mitsuki’s curls! I’m curious if the author only considers works where there are girls fighting enemies with their magical powers as magical girl series. I think that, in this particular case, Mitsuki’s ability to change her appearance to an older version of herself with the help of a magical entity in the form of Takuto does put this squarely in the realm of the “magical girl.” I’m not discounting that Mitsuki’s voice and singing ability are her own talents, but if there was no supernatural intervention in her change of appearance, then Full Moon wouldn’t have been the same series at all, wouldn’t it?

I do have to say that, of any anime that I’ve watched, I really adore all of the songs that they created for this anime series. I could listen to “Eternal Snow” and “New Future” on repeat forever and ever. myco’s voice is perfection.

If this was my first time watching Full Moon, I would probably continue watching, if only for the songs and to find out if Mitsuki would actually make it.

* I do know what happens to Eichi, but remember, these opinions are based only from the first three episodes.

That Dog Don’t (Honey) Hunt

I really enjoyed reading this post/discussion about the various Shojo Beat titles and which ones these three ladies liked, didn’t like, etc. Like Anna, Lori, and Laura, I’ve read a lot of the titles in the imprint — some of them becoming my favorites, and some of them relegated to the “sell” or “thank goodness I only borrowed that from the library” pile.

Of the various SB releases, I had great expectations for Honey Hunt. Judge me all you want, but I unironically enjoyed Hot Gimmick and don’t think of it as the “Manga of Feminist Shame,” as some manga bloggers fondly refer to it. Yes, it’s a terrible work of fiction. Yes, the main love interest is emotionally and physically abusive. Yes, the heroine has the willpower of a dishrag. I admit that I will be one of those apologists who will have to insist that Hot Gimmick is a work of fiction; that’s it’s no better or worse than any midday US soap opera, or Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey. Maybe, as human females, there’s a small part of the brain that responds to badfic as entertainment, is that so bad?

In Honey Hunt, Aihara has managed to write a story where I found myself not caring about any of the characters. With Hot Gimmick, I still cared about whom Hatsumi ended up with, not so with Yura. All of Yura’s choices seemed equally awful to me, especially since none of them were really concerned about her as a person, but what she represented and what she could do for them.

I think that’s why I was disappointed in Honey Hunt — unlike Hot Gimmick, I actually had expectations for it. Yura seemed, on paper, to be an improvement on Hatsumi. Yura was a rebel! She wanted to leave the shadow of her parents’ fame and strike out on her own. She wasn’t pretty, but she had the makings of a good actress! She was going to prove to her mother that she could become famous too!

If only that’s what the story concentrated on. Alas. But this is an Aihara work, so of course the romance is the focus, which isn’t terrible per se, but it’s just so sad when the plot seemed to be going somewhere interesting and had to be waylaid in the name of an extremely complicated but cliche love triangle/polygon.

Because this is an Aihara work, it isn’t enough that Yura is liked by one boy, or two. Nope, three’s the charm. And why have just one teenage idol in love with this plain Jane when you can also have his twin brother, also a boyband idol btw, infatuated with her as well. Let’s not forget her manager! I mean, you have to include an older brother figure into the mix, right? It was seriously Hot Gimmick all over again. I know most manga creators essentially just retell the same story with variations, but this was silly.

So I’m not really surprised that this work is still on hiatus. Maybe even the artist found that she’d painted herself into a corner with this one and it wasn’t worth continuing. At least she gets points for the effort?

I wonder if her latest work Go-ji kara Ku-ji made (From Five to Nine) will ever appear in English? It’s a josei manga, so it seems that she’s thankfully moving away from her high school protagonists and focusing on characters that are a bit older. But Viz seems to be shying away from licensing series with mature content, or at least sexual content, so maybe wishing for this series in English will remain another pipe dream.