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Ahmad Khandaqji

Manga Talk  - 
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James Alexander

Manga Talk  - 
 
Manga Sharing: Gunnm (Battle Angel Alita)
Gunnm, or as its better known, Battle Angel Alita, is a gritty cyberpunk classic, exploring themes well-known to the genre while taking some to new heights.

Manga Title: Gunnm (Battle Angel Alita)
Mangaka: Yukito Kishiro
Genres: Cyberpunk, science-fiction, action
Demographic: Seinen
Status: Completed (9 volumes in the first series and 19 in the second)

Synopsis:
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting. Ido Daisuke is an inhabitant on the surface of Earth, living in a city called the Scrapyard - an area used to dump waste products by the dwellers of the mysterious Tiphares, a floating city that towers above. People living on the surface have to scrape a living together somehow, and most of them have cybernetically altered bodies to cope with the harsh life.

Ido is a cyberphysician, but also hunts cyborg criminals for their bounties to make a living. One day he comes across the dismembered head and midriff of a young cyborg girl who’s been discarded in the scrapyard for unknown reasons.

Ido takes her home and begins the process of rebuilding her, using parts that he purchases with money from his bounties. Naming her Alita, Ido gradually assembles her robotic body – her brain still being intact - and she has regains full consciousness, except that she has no recollection of her former life. She decides she wants to aid Ido in his bounty hunting work.

The work is extremely dangerous, with Ido encountering powerful cyborgs such as Makaku, a deadly being with the bizarre habit of eating brains that acts as a kind of painkiller for him. Despite Ido’s admonishments, Alita joins him, encountering other bizarre denizens of the city along the way. During her interactions with them we find that while her body is almost completely robot, her heart and feelings are still very much those of a young girl.

The city of Tiphares looms overhead constantly, a source of great desire and dreams, as well as persistent mystery. Especially in Alita’s case, she was found in junkyard of materials from Tiphares, hinting at an unknown history she may have and a link to the enigmatic place.

Characters:
Ido acts as Alita’s guardian, essentially a father figure for her, and considers her to be his main source of happiness. He dotes on her a lot and initially tries to keep her from the bounty hunting business, wanting her to stay the ‘angel’ that he envisions her to be. Alita however has her own opinions about what she wants to do. Although grateful and protective of Ido, she also is very opinionated and forges her own path, meeting other individuals and forming friendships along the way.

For Alita, she has no memory of her former life, and is essentially bodiless, making her constantly question who she is. Ironically she’s able to get flashes of memory when she’s engaged in combat, making her want to train herself even harder to discover her identity. Her growth is well developed, starting from her initial naivety about the world, to a much greater understanding of its harshness and grim truths. Despite this she remains cheerful, showing us her youthful, feminine side whilst being a badass cyborg killer. The name ‘Battle Angel’ couldn’t be more apt to describe her.

She reveals herself to be compassionate, considerate and even falls in love with another boy character, Hugo, who appears in the second volume. One thing she seems unable to shake though, is the cruel life thrust upon her and all the dwellers on the surface, who continually live in the shadow of the city Tiphares.

In the first two volumes, minor side characters appear, notably Hugo. He grew up on the surface and had painful family experiences. He eventually resorts to a life of crime in order to obtain money and earn his way into Tiphares. He becomes a romantic interest for Alita, who loves his dreamy visions of escaping the junk-filled life they have and starting a new one on the city above.

Overall:
Among the more prominent titles of cyberpunk I’ve comes across in manga, like Ghost in the Shell and Blame! (review of Blame! here: https://plus.google.com/112119619242057103551/posts/esXB7cVodQY) - Gunnm’s characters stand out as having more color and emotion. Even the cyborgs encountered by Alita in her battles are mean characters, with foul attitudes to boot.

The style of Gunnm is pretty much hard sci-fi in many ways; most of the gadgets presented in the manga get specific footnotes explaining their operation. Despite not being as dark as the above mentioned titles Gunnm is brutal and has its share of gore. Even though it was first published in 1990, there is such attention to detail that Gunnm looks cool even by today’s standards.

I’d easily call Gunnm a cyberpunk epic, with mind-blowing art, innovative ideas for the time it was created, a varied cast of cyborg and human characters and not to mention the intriguing question of Alita’s origins and how she’ll trace her way to finding her true self.

Doodles:
Battle Angel Alita is one of the first real anime titles I saw. Back when the distributor Manga Entertainment was still producing titles a friend bought copies of Alita, Akira and Vampire Hunter D, which I loved on first watch. It’s great to return to this series that was one of the first that started me down the road into anime/manga land!
 

image: http://www.pixiv.net/member_illust.php?mode=medium&illust_id=21226401
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James Alexander

Manga Talk  - 
 
Manga Sharing: Honey and Clover
While a lot of manga titles are set in high school, Honey and Clover takes a look at college/university life and the growth its characters experience there.

Manga Title:Hachimitsu to Clover (Honey and Clover)
Mangaka:Chica Umino
Genres: Comedy-drama, romance, slice-of-life
Demographic: Josei
Status: Completed (10 volumes)

Synopsis:
Yuta Takemoto is an architectural student at a university in Tokyo, living in the same apartment complex as two of his fellow students and friends: Takumi Mayama and Shinobu Morita. Each of them are happily going about their student lives when they are introduced to a freshman girl called Hagumi Hanamoto (Hagu) who is related to their art professor Shuji Hanamoto.

Yuta and Shinobu fall in love with her at first sight. Shinobu is infatuated by her cute appearance, constantly taking photos of her and even creating a webpage of his pictures. His approach doesn’t endear him much to Hagu, who reacts to him mostly with aversion.
Yuta on the other hand befriends her, initially unaware of his own love for her. He gradually gains her trust and discovers that she has a sweet, childish temperament. 

As the two are friendly with Shuji, Hagu slowly starts to draw closer to them through their interactions, although romance seems to be the last thing on her mind.

Later another member of their group is introduced, the so called ‘Iron Lady’ Ayumi Yamada, who warms to Hagu quickly. Ayumi is physically very strong, hence her title, and is in love with Takumi. The love is unrequited however, because Takumi has feelings for another woman despite caring a lot for Ayumi.

Honey and Clover focuses on the interactions between these five characters (and their professor) as they grow closer, sharing the experiences of their lives all the way.

Characters:
Honey and Clover has a character driven plot, going from the group’s minglings with one another to their own backgrounds. The main lead is Yuta, a meticulous, unassuming young man who’s more sensitive to other people than the rest of the characters. He often doesn’t say what he really feels, which is especially how he is towards Hagu. That being the case he still has an admirable ability to find the good qualities in those he meets, making him a likeable protagonist.

Next is Takumi, a fourth year art student; brooding and somewhat self-absorbed, Takumi nonetheless is always there for his friends, joining in their get togethers and romps enthusiastically. Takumi’s love life is complicated by his affection for another woman, Rika, whilst knowing that Ayumi loves him. Even though he cares for Ayumi, he’s doesn’t return her love and tells her to forget about him.

Ayumi is usually self-assured and fiery tempered, often depicted giving Taekwondo kicks to anyone that pisses her off. She loves attention and compliments, soaking it up whenever someone says a good word about her. She states her affections for Takumi early on, and though rejected by him continues trying to win his heart, despite his not returning her feelings.

Of the group Shinobu is by far the most carefree and derpy. From the onset we see him sleeping late and missing classes, doing odd jobs and returning days later, and making genius pieces of art effortlessly. He’s a seventh year student, having been held back for tardiness in his projects. His love for Hagu begins immediately in a bizarre way; he seems to view her more as a doll than a person. Due to this she avoids him, but through the party’s activities they spend more time together.

Although she’s eighteen, Hagu has a temperament similar to a small girl’s. Also an art prodigy, she’s shown to ‘absorb’ the things she wants to paint and then reproduces them later on canvas, creating beautiful sculptures too. Having been almost brought up by Professor Hanamoto, they have a close relationship, staying with each other all the time. Hagu seems oblivious to both Shinobu and Yuta’s advances – happily getting along with both of them whilst the two men’s love for her deepens.

Lastly is Professor Hanamoto, at once a helpful guardian and friend to the group, he’s very devoted and protective over Hagu – ready to jump on the guys if they try anything. Hanamoto’s past is also connected to the love triangle between Ayumi, Makumi and Rika, a connection that unfolds as the story progresses.

Overall:
Honey and Clover doesn’t attempt to express any profound messages or philosophy. It details the lives of friends on their journey through university and life. The difficulties they face, happiness they share, love that grows and bitterness they go through all blend into a sweet, touching story.

What I liked most about Honey and Clover are the moments of comedy scattered throughout and poignant reflections on life that come in controlled bursts. The humor is often generic, dealing with tropes frequently encountered in manga – but every now and there are some genuinely comic moments. Due to this the poignant parts seem all the more deep and heart-tugging, being placed amidst the humor they seem to stand out even more.

Honey and Clover won’t make you sob, though tears may escape from your eyes – it won’t make you roll on the floor laughing, though it may make you let out a real, hearty chuckle. Genuine and visceral, I found myself smiling and feeling warm inside after putting it down.
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James Alexander

Manga Talk  - 
 
Manga Sharing: Vinland Saga
It's not often that I've come across historical fiction manga pieces - and European ones at that! Vinland Saga portrays a compelling and visceral tale that takes place just after the first millennium.

Manga Title: Vinland Saga
Mangaka: Makoto Yukimura
Genre: Historical fiction, action
Demographics: Seinen, shounen
Status: Ongoing (14 volumes)

Synopsis:
Vinland Saga opens on a battle taking place at a Frankish fortress. The attacking army is attempting to capture the fortress, however their attacks are repelled by archers and they are unable to break through the fortress’s impenetrable defenses.

Here our hero Thorfinn steps in; sent by an independent band of Viking fighters, he acts as a messenger to the raiding force. Thorfinn informs them that the Vikings will aid them in their battle but in return for half the spoils. Reluctantly agreeing to the deal, the Vikings are given the go-ahead to storm the fortress in a unique, daring fashion.

Later we discover that our band of warriors hails from Denmark, where they are allowed to stay in a certain coastal village for a share of their war treasures. It's revealed that the leader of the Vikings, Askeladd, slew Thorfinn's father prior to the beginning of the series, therefore Thorfinn joined his crew with the sole intention of exacting revenge for his father in a duel.

Thorfinn used to live in Iceland, where his father had moved sometime before. Thorfinn's father, Thors, was an upright, dignified man who believed in honor and freedom - having lived a warrior’s life before. Thors shows this sentiment when he cares for an escaped slave from a neighboring community.

The first volume ends at this point, however taking a quick glance at future volumes I can see that there is first a bit of history on Thorfinn, his father Thors and their involvement with Vikings - before the main plot continues with Askeladd’s group becoming part of a force that invades England.

Characters:
Vinland Saga has a set of characters that convincingly fit their setting. Thorfinn is a teenage boy with a sad past, his father having been murdered years before. Having a frigid, impenetrable exterior similar to his prowess with a blade, Thorfinn proves his skills in the opening battle against the Franks. His inner misery reveals itself later though, and we see him giving in to his emotions, the only warmth lighting his way being the fiery desire for vengeance inside of him.

Another notable character is Askeladd - leader of the small Viking army and object of Thorfinn's revenge. Askeladd is at once jovial, and able to take on a sinister, commanding air that his troops respond to immediately. Seemingly lacking in morality and motivated mainly by personal gain, Askeladd makes for a smart, ruthless antagonist whose ulterior motives can only be guessed at.

Starting in the third chapter, Vinland Saga begins to touch on Thorfinn's childhood, taking us back to when he still lived in Iceland with his family. There we meet his gentle but sickly mother, an opinionated and daring older sister, and of course his noble, idealistic father.

The characters struck me to be exactly how I'd imagine people of the times to act. Yukimura Makoto also adds in sprinkles of humor carefully to season what is already an engaging read.

Overall:
Vinland Saga has opened new doors for me regarding subjects I've seen dealt with in manga. Being used to titles in a common genre and typical settings, it puts a whole new angle on what's possible for the medium - in a sense bringing it closer to its western ‘comics' neighbor.

Though I'm sure other mangaka have done it in the past, Yukimura’s work puts you into the story with ease and creates a feeling of authenticity, whilst still retaining some tropes beloved to manga. On top of that, the action is graphic, realistically rendered and with a cast of believable characters.

Image: トルフィン | ルーシー [pixiv] http://www.pixiv.net/member_illust.php?mode=medium&illust_id=19475563
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+Stb Hernández Yeah, there's plenty of titles like that, it's a pity really. Wish the mangaka would just finish up and start something new.
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James Alexander

Manga Talk  - 
 
Manga Sharing - Bakuman
There's a huge amount of manga out there but once in a while one comes along that changes you. For me that manga is Bakuman.

Title: Bakuman
Author/artist: Tsugumi Ohba/ Takeshi Obata
Genres: Slice-of-life, comedy/drama, romance
Demographic: Shounen

I was beginning to get into reading more manga when I came across Bakuman in a nearby bookstore. I started to read it and I just couldn't stop turning the pages - my hands and heart had been set on fire by Tsugumi Ohba's writing and Takeshi Obata's art (the duo also behind Death Note https://plus.google.com/112119619242057103551/posts/EN1bj1nJWyz ).
 
Synopsis:
The main characters Moritaka Mashiro and Akito Takagi, who are classmates, decide to form an artist/ writer duo after Takagi sees some of Mashiro's art and likes it. Mashiro is hesitant at first; although a lover of manga, his uncle was a mangaka (manga artist and usually author too) who "worked himself to death", therefore Mashiro initially ignores Takagi. Eventually Takagi convinces him in a dramatic way.
 
They visit the house of Mashiro's childhood sweetheart, Miho Azuki, who dreams of becoming a seiyu (voice actress) one day. Takagi declares that they are collaborating on a manga; caught up in the moment, Mashiro asks Miho to marry him once their manga is adapted into an anime and she is the seiyu for it. Miho accepts, revealing her feelings for Mashiro, which she has held for him since elementary school. And so begins an intense and energetic journey into the world of the manga industry and into the heart of realizing dreams.
 
The pair starts from scratch, with Takagi writing and drawing rough sketches for Mashiro while he works on visualizing and drawing the art. They make their first submission to the famous Shueisha and meet with their future editor who sees their talent and encourages them to publish it in a one-shot for Weekly Shonen Jump. Takagi and Mashiro think up a pen name that combines their names and Miho's…Ashirogi Muto. They work excruciatingly hard to attain serialization in Shonen Jump and eventually succeed with their first series, interacting with many manga artists along the way.
 
Characters:
Mashiro and Takagi share a similar enthusiasm and raw energy often seen in shounen protagonists. They both have a ‘genius is 99% perspiration' mentality that's extremely catching. Mashiro is a straightforward, down-to-earth type of young man who is ruthlessly earnest whether in drawing or romance. Though initially reluctant to do manga, after making his promise with Miho he goes into it full of gusto - and is even quite willing to learn from his fellow manga artists who share a healthy competitive spirit.
 
Being conservative and traditional in many ways, Mashiro has a bashful approach to his relationship with Miho - even the slightest communication can have him blushing and feeling over the moon. Bakuman focuses mainly on Mashiro out of the Ashirogi Muto trio as he attempts to break through the unspoken curse left by his uncle and carve a path towards his dreams - while at the same time maintaining his artistic and personal integrity.
 
Takagi is far more of tactical and logical than Mashiro. Although as much of a fighting dreamer as him, Takagi is pretty methodical in his approach to writing manga and acts to balance out Mashiro's fiery enthusiasm with logic, even though he's often carried along with it anyway. He's the script writer and does most of the original concepts for their manga pieces, which are often praised for their innovative and dark undertones. Despite their differences, Takagi shares the same passion as Mashiro and the two build a deep understanding and bond of friendship over time.
 
If anything the character that receives too little attention in Bakuman is Miho. Due to her and Mashiro's decision to not be together until they fulfill their ambitions, they're separate most of the time, the focus being mostly on Mashiro and Takagi. Occasional peeks into Miho's life and her progress along the path of a seiyu reveal her to be an incredibly faithful girlfriend. Traditional and shy to a fault, Miho strictly adheres not only to her agreement with Mashiro, but is also truly devoted to him . The pure love between the couple is not without its difficulties, and the two of them both suffer from the loneliness and uncertainty that comes with their type of relationship.
 
Takagi's love interest - Kaya Miyoshi is optimistic with a fiery temper. She often brings Takagi back to reality and teaches him some basic wisdom. Miho's best friend and a constant companion to Takagi and Mashiro, Kana lends positive support to the mangaka pair and is there to celebrate their joys with them and go through the difficulties.
 
A large supporting cast of fellow manga artists fills the panels of Bakuman. Notable among them is the eccentric Nizuma Eiji; also a winner of the Tezuka prize for manga when he was only 15. He becomes a long standing rival and thus a motivating force for our pair. Mangaka of the famous Crow series already being published, Eiji is considered a prodigy not only in his art, but in his unique way of creating drafts for his titles.
 
Other fellow artists are Shinta Fukuda, mangaka of a popular motorcycle manga, Ko Aoki, a young woman penning a fantasy title and another unique but lazy genius Kazuya Hiramaru - who draws a title called Otters 11.
 
Overall:
The thing that hooked me about the series is mainly one thing: its energy. The raw power, enthusiasm and unstoppable determination that Ashirogi Muto show throughout each chapter as they hurtle headlong towards their dreams is really something to read. They start pursuing their aspirations whilst still in junior high. There are priceless moments in their high school where they talk about manga in the sick room, dream up stories and art during lessons and still go home to work all night to meet the deadlines for their submissions.
 
Another energetic element of the story is the strong rivalry that often comes close to camaraderie shared by manga artists. They constantly try and outdo each other, whilst secretly rooting for one another, and being able to pick up the strong points of their adversaries and learn from them. To add to the story's charm is the fairytale like love between Mashiro and Miho, who decided to not meet and only occasionally send brief emails of encouragement to one another until their dreams are fulfilled. The deep seated love they have, but complete stubbornness of not seeing each other is as heart rending as it is sweet.
 
Lastly, a fascinating aspect for me was learning of how the manga world works and watching the process of creation that Ashirogi Muto go through. Starting from the basics of rough sketches, to submissions and reviews by the board at Shueisha, they climb the ladder to serialization and once they reach it, they have to maintain their integrity and the quality of their stories throughout in an industry where it's so easy to just start churning out uninspired and repetitious work in order to keep the cash coming in.
 
Ultimately Bakuman made me feel that it really is possible - if you have the dreams and vision, stick to your integrity throughout and never sell yourself out, dreams really do come true. The old cliché that we've all seen thousands of times before turns out to be a solid reality. After only reading halfway through the manga I was inspired to pick up my pen (or keyboard) and start writing again after not doing so for years. The power of this story is it can make you start saying ridiculous things like, "I'm gonna become a mangaka!" And…why not?
 
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James Alexander

Manga Talk  - 
 
Manga Sharing – Knights of Sidonia

From his raw beginnings with the cyberpunk classic Blame! we can see how much Tsutomu Nihei's work has changed and grown in his more recent title - Knights of Sidonia.

Manga Title: Knights of Sidonia (Sidonia no Kishi)
Mangaka: Tsutomu Nihei
Genres: Science-fiction, space opera, mecha, romance
Demographic: Seinen

Synopsis:
Taking place in the distant future, the space colony called Sidonia sails through space. Centuries prior to the start of the manga, humanity encountered an alien race known as the Gauna. Sometime after, a war between the huge aliens and humanity broke out, forcing people to flee earth aboard ‘seed ships’. Sidonia is one such ship, a wondrous, self- sustaining community that has made many advances not only in technology but also in genetic engineering.

Here we meet Nagate Tanikaze, a young man who dwells in the vast underground of Sidonia with his grandfather. Shortly after his grandfather passes away, Nagate embarks on a journey to the upper levels in search of food, finding himself in an unfamiliar world in the process.

The dwellers on the surface of Sidonia have discovered how to ‘photosynthesize’ thus reducing their need to digest real food to about once a week. Nagate is immediately seen as strange for not being able to photosynthesize and having a ravenous appetite. After being apprehended for stealing rice, he’s taken to the authorities who then inexplicably escort him to meet Sidonia’s captain – the mysterious Kobayashi.

Kobayashi asks him to become a trainee guardian pilot – pilots who fly mechs (or frames) known as guardians to defend Sidonia against the Gauna. Nagate accepts and begins his training, meeting many other members of Sidonia’s guardian force.

The Gauna are a bizarre race, being able to traverse space and having grotesque, squid-like forms. Their bodies are constructed of something called ‘placenta’ – a substance the Gauna secrete to cover their true body, known as the ‘core’. The core is impervious to all weaponry, except for specially crafted lances called ‘Kabizashi’. Only by directly piercing the core of a Gauna with a Kabizashi is one able to destroy it.

Nagate is given the privilege of piloting the legendary guardian named Tsugumori, a frame which was used previously by a hero in mankind’s wars against the Gauna. This gains Nagate the disdain of one of his fellow pilots, Norio Kunato, who comes from an influential family and hopes for fame and glory. After his first sortie in which Nagate encounters a Gauna and helps repel it in the Tsugumori, he gains some status for being able to actually fight back against the powerful enemies.

Our hero, once called ‘the mole man’ for living underground, becomes an object of fascination for many. Nagate is befriended by the amiable Izana, one of a new sex who are capable of procreating with males or females thereby making them asexual. Izana Shinatose takes a liking to the clumsy and rather incapable Nagate, becoming somewhat of a partner for him. Another pilot he befriends is Shizuka Hoshijiro, a young woman who attempts to rescue Nagate when they encounter the Gauna on a mining mission. To the jealousy of Izana, Nagate becomes fond of Hoshijiro and the two quickly form a close bond.

Before the end of volume one it’s announced that the Gauna repelled earlier has returned, and a task force consisting 

of four well-known warriors will be going out to engage it. Whether or not they will be able to defeat the seemingly invincible Gauna or not remains to be seen...

Characters:
Aside from overall story structure, pacing and plot differences, another major distinction between Sidonia no Kishi and Blame! is the amount of character development. All of the main characters have a significant amount of interaction and details about their backgrounds are introduced.

Making an unlikely protagonist with his clumsy and naïve mannerisms, Nagate is nonetheless a literal powerhouse once he gets into the cockpit. Being unaware of the history as well as the politics on Sidonia, Nagate innocently follows the commands of Captain Kobayashi to battle the Gauna. While Izana and Hoshijiro are protecting him mostly when on Sidonia, in space he’s capable of protecting them and becomes a clearheaded, resourceful pilot. At times his obliviousness can get a bit much, but it’s made up for with his earnest attitude and caring towards the inhabitants of Sidonia and his friends.

Being an asexual, Izana has boyish features that might be described as ‘bishounen’, his/her mannerisms though, from way of walking to caring for Nagate are quite feminine. Izana is a composed person, and this togetherness acts as a good foil for Nagate. There are some comic and awkward moments between the two of them that make me wonder where their relationship might be headed in future.

Hoshijiro is a similarly sturdy and mature person. She’s equally considerate towards Nagate, whether on Sidonia or the battlefield. While neither of them have expressed any feelings for each other in volume one, there’s an obvious chemistry between them right from the start.

Another character worthy of mentioning is Kunato. His first ppearance in the manga is when he knocks Nagate unconscious for stealing rice. Kunato is galled at Nagate’s being chosen to pilot Tsugumori as well as at his popularity thereafter. Coming from the wealthy family behind Kunato industries, who develop the guardians for Sidonia, he’s arrogant and two-faced.

Overall:
Knights of Sidonia combines what are elements I already enjoyed in Nihei’s previous work, with additional depth in storytelling and somewhat more fleshed-out characterization. Despite being a lot more up-beat, it still retains a brooding atmosphere, with the threat of the Gauna being ever present and the persisting secrets about their origins nagging.

Its hard science-fiction themes are well thought out and explained, while at the same time using a more show and less tell approach that leaves out just enough details to keep you guessing. In this regard it has everything the sci-fi lover could ask for: mecha, aliens, space opera and big spaceships.

Nihei's art is as usual - stunning. The backgrounds, architecture and mecha in Knights of Sidonia are detailed and eye-catching, mixing elements of modern Japan with a dystopian, futuristic feel. Despite the comparatively simple character designs, they have a style and charm that could only be delivered by Nihei.
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James Alexander

Manga Talk  - 
 
Manga Sharing - Solanin
A manga that reads like listening to a good song.

Manga Title: Solanin
Mangaka: Asano Inio
Genres: Slice of life, romance, music
Demographic: Seinen
Status: Completed (2 volumes)

Synopsis:
The first volume of Solanin focuses mainly on introducing the main character Meiko, her boyfriend Taneda, their friends and members of Taneda's band Kato, Ai and Jiro (Billy).

Meiko is a young woman who's just entered the working world after graduating from university but hasn't found her calling. After taking an honest look at her job situation - an over demanding pervert boss and unexciting work - she decides to quit. The paradox is that even after quitting she still finds herself bored and perplexed, wondering what will become of her and Taneda in the future.

Meiko spends most of her time slacking off and living on her savings, however she encourages Taneda to pursue his dream of making it successful in his band.

Taneda comes across as more cautious than Meiko; he initially holds onto his part time job and continues band practice, however the worries of life soon begin encroaching on the couple when Meiko’s finances dwindle. Taneda puts on a brave face while being inwardly worried about how to support himself and Meiko. Eventually he comes to a crossroads where he needs to make a decision – the band and his dreams, or a secure future at the cost of his aspirations.

Characters:
The characters in Solanin are easy to relate to and have issues that I’ve come across a lot myself. They question whether what they're doing is worthwhile, and have to deal with the frustrations of not having achieved anything notable whilst still trying to pursue their dreams.

Each character is faced with the reality of daily life and at the same time they all begin appreciating small moments of happiness that can occur at any time and when doing the simplest things. I loved these parts and they have made Solanin an interesting read. Thoughtful moments at the zoo, sudden realizations when watching a balloon and an old man trying to mail a letter to his long passed wife through a frog statue were just some.

Even though this volume follows the larger plot of Meiko, Taneda and friends in their search for fulfillment, a lot of its chapters stand quite well as single, poignant stories. They might not get your blood boiling, but they’ll definitely give you something to think about and are at times quite touching.

Overall:
Overall it’s a slice of life manga that brings up fundamental questions that we all face while at the same time not being preachy. I related to the characters and enjoyed the meaningful anecdotes spread throughout the first part.
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James Alexander

Manga Talk  - 
 
Manga Sharing - Blame!

The mangaka behind Knights of Sidonia’s popular work Blame! is unlike any other manga I’ve ever seen. I say ‘seen’ as very little dialogue appears in the first volume and the story is told by following the gritty, industrial-style artwork panel by panel.

Manga Title: Blame!
Mangaka: Tsutomu Nihei
Genres: Cyberpunk, horror, action
Demographic: Seinen
Synopsis:

The tale begins in the setting of ‘The City’; little is known about it at first except for that it is a vast construction with innumerable levels going upwards and downwards for thousands of floors. Our protagonist, going simply by ‘Killy’, travels through this massive place searching for Net Terminal Genes, which remain a mystery except that they seem to be present in certain people and allow access to what Killy's refers to as the 'Net'.

His quest takes him deep into the twisted, nightmarish passages and caverns of The City, where he encounters its various denizens upon the way.

Of particular note is the weapon that Killy uses in his quest, a handgun which is called a ‘Gravitational Beam Emitter'. This handgun has incredible destructive power, being able to kill almost all the creatures Killy encounters while at the same time devastating buildings in its range of fire.

Characters
The main character Killy is the only one to receive much attention, but information about him is scarce except for his purpose and the extraordinary weapon he has. His personality comes across as somewhat psychotic at times; in one part he deliberately incites the cyborgs he meets and acts with what appears to be a disregard for his own life.

He reacts amiably towards humans when he does encounter them, and even gets angered when he sees how some of the beings in The City are being mistreated.

Another character to appear at a later stage is a woman called ‘Cibo’ who helps Killy in his hunt to find the Net Terminal Genes.
Killy seldom remains with characters long enough for any development to take place, and the story focuses mostly on Killy’s journey with Cibo through the cavernous innards of The City, battling his way through its denizens to reach his goal.

Overall Impression
Blame! is definitely not intended to be read in the way one might be used to with manga. Reading it is a jarring, dizzy experience like an epileptic roller-coaster ride. The pictures tell the story, and the art is technological and gloomy – giving the impression of being after a catastrophic event. That being said, the art itself is something I am in awe of. The architecture of The City is immense in its scope, and drawn in detail by Nihei with wires, pipes, cables and organic life forms festering from the walls and stretching out into the distance above. It’s easy to see how much Nihei labored over his creation.

The action is nail-biting and graphic. Gory battles smear across the pages in between the mechanized, apocalyptic backgrounds. Human, half human and inhuman inhabitants of the city emerge from nooks and crannies, all making this a manga that’s not for the fainthearted. In all I was glued to the pages for the first volume; my eyes were burnt into the macabre scenery and I couldn’t help but follow Killy’s bloody path as he makes his way toward an almost impossible goal.
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James Alexander's profile photo
 
+Stb Hernández Not as far as I know, the mangaka is different. The suits they're wearing look pretty similar though.
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James Alexander

Manga Talk  - 
 
Manga Sharing - Aku no Hana
“The things we loathed become the things we love.” – Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs Du Mal

Manga Title: Aku no Hana (The Flowers of Evil)
Mangaka: Shuzo Oshimi
Genres: Psychological thriller, drama, bildungsroman
Demographic: Shounen
Status: Completed

<Minor Spoilers>
Summary:
Living in a small town where all the metal seems to be rusting and nothing much ever happens, the teenager Takao Kasuga trudges to  school each day. Kasuga considers himself different from others; being a reader of less known books (to his classmates anyway) such as Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs Du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) and not taking much interest in his friends' mundane activities. He’s in a delusional world of his own - one that is crushed by just one decision.

Forgetting his copy of The Flowers of Evil in his desk, Kasuga returns to an empty classroom to get it and spots a bag of worn gym clothes that have been left behind. The bag belongs to Kasuga’s crush, Nanako Saeki, and against his own better judgment he grabs them, pulling them out. Hearing a sound behind him, he quickly conceals the fact that he is holding them and makes a getaway, still hanging onto the gym clothes.

Unknown to him, he was seen with the gym bag by Sawa Nakamura, a girl who sits directly behind him in class. Nakamura is considered strange by her classmates, who all avoid her. Later that day she comes across Kasuga when he’s riding his bike and tells him she saw him take the clothes. Already guilt-stricken after running off with a girl's sportswear, Kasuga falls into a panic at hearing this. Nakamura threatens that if he doesn’t take her on a ride over a nearby hill she’ll rat him out.

Later Nakamura insists that Kasuga form a ‘contract’ with her in return for her silence. They start meeting daily and Nakamura slowly begins to reveal her less than wholesome motivations for threatening Kasuga, intentions that don't only involve him but Saeki as well.

Characters:
Kasuga seems idealistic at first, being somewhat more knowledgeable than his peers; he looks down on them and believes no one in the backwater town he lives could ever understand him.

Nakamura is forceful and controlling, literally pushing Kasuga into difficult situations. She presents herself as being the opposite of Kasuga – who mainly has delusions of grandeur from reading – and is only interested in action, in the release that can be found in expressing her inner turmoil outwardly.

At first it seems that Saeki, a talented honors student, is a victim in the whole situation. While projecting a perfect image to the outside world, we come to learn that she's being unwillingly groomed by her parents into a role she doesn't truly want - which is silently eating away at her.

Overall Impression
Aku no Hana is a brooding tale about the angst of not just growing up, but of existence itself. The three main characters find themselves entangled in a triangle that involves their deepest inhibitions, fears and desires, whilst all about them – the flowers of evil are blossoming.

image http://www.zerochan.net/1593811
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About this community

A community dedicated to Manga (Japanese comics), Manhwa (Korean Comics) and Manhua (Chinese's) - All in one place. _

James Alexander

Manga Talk  - 
 
Manga Sharing: Inside Mari
The most recent work by Shuzo Oshimi, the mangaka behind The Flowers of Evil, is another psychologically delving title that takes us deep into the thoughts of its main character – Mari.

Manga Title: Inside Mari (Boku wa Mari no Naka)
Mangaka: Shuzo Oshimi
Genres: Psychological, drama, gender bender, mystery
Demographic: Seinen
Status: Ongoing

Synopsis:
Isao Komori, a college student who’s become a reclusive hikikomori, spends day after day playing away his time with games, erotic manga and visiting a local convenience store every night to get a glimpse of his ‘angel’. His angel is none other than Mari Yoshizaki, a teenage high school girl – someone who looks for all intents and purposes like a model, moral student.

Usually Isao follows her every night for a short while before returning home, however one night she inexplicably turns around, staring him right in the eyes. The next morning Isao wakes up to find that he’s inside Mari – he’s taken over her body.

Spending an embarrassing day at school as Mari, he finds it difficult to keep up the pretense that he is a girl, whilst also trying not to do anything perverse to his angel despite being in her body. After searching for and finding his male self, he discovers that he is completely unaware of any change, going about life as usual.

Left with no other option, Isao temporarily has to be Mari, beginning a life whose social, physical and mental situations are completely unknown to him.

Characters:
Two main characters take up most of the stage, Mari (with Isao inside her) and Mari’s close but undisclosed friend Yori Kakiguchi. Isao is straightforwardly perverted, thus he’s immediately challenged to keep his hands to himself being inside Mari. Aside from that, not being a particularly social person in the first place, he’s constantly embarrassed and at a loss for what to do being surrounded by Mari’s peer group.

After being at school it becomes apparent that Mari truly is a hardworking student who is regarded highly by her peers. Trying to maintain the façade of being her increases in difficultly when going to the restroom, getting close to and even holding hands with other girls – Isao literally has a permanent blush on his face. 

Just when he thought it couldn’t get worse, Mari’s clandestine friend Yori enters. It appears they’d maintained a secret friendship as Yori isn’t in with Mari’s current group and she doesn’t want to spoil her social life.

Yori usually observes Mari quite closely, so she notices something is amiss, and confronts her about it. Backed into a corner, Isao reveals that he’s inside Mari – a situation that Yori is both creeped out by and concerned about. She’s desperate to make sure that until they recover the original Mari, Isao not even look at Mari’s (his) body while changing, let alone do anything to disrupt the flow of her daily life.

It’s revealed that Yori’s relationship with Mari, though secret, is extremely close and she is quite fixated with her.

Being the shut-in that he is, Isao blunderingly tries to maintain face, navigating his way through the complex storm that is a high school girl in Japan’s community life. He winds up discovering that the life of a girl is not quite the dream-life he may once have imagined.

Overall:
What I expected from Inside Mari was perhaps another gender bender drawing on the amusing and awkward idea of someone being put into a person of the opposite sex’s body. Inside Mari is that, but so much more. Without singing Shuzo Oshimi’s praises too much, I have to say that he’s done it again; I haven’t read through a manga as fast as this in a while. Shuzo’s skill at portraying the clumsy awkwardness of youth and relationships between the sexes, the mental turmoil of puberty, the purity as well as the darkness of the mind as it grows into maturity - is amazingly done.

Like in The Flowers of Evil (see post on it here: https://plus.google.com/112119619242057103551/posts/TmmcXXELPnN), he’s captured a tension and a need-to-know that hooked me right from the start. He’s also very honest in his portrayal, Inside Mari doesn’t gloss over the brooding, angst and pain that goes with coming of age and in peer groups, but displays it honestly. Once again he also shows the inner battle, confusion and occasional elation of his main character with ease.

Inside Mari is a journey into the psyche of sexuality, growing, and coming to terms with oneself and others. Family issues, interrelationship politics, and periods are just some of the difficulties that Isao has to face on his chaffing journey – inside Mari.
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maganamagana11's profile photo
 
100% agree, but boy you got to dig deep to develop that seed of Isao, to affect you're life. Either that the reason, or he's bannanas all day everyday. Some what how I see it.
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James Alexander

Manga Talk  - 
 
Manga Sharing: - Future Diary
Future Diary is a gem among survival game titles I’ve encountered, keeping up a thick tension all the way and with a host of atypical characters.

Manga Title: Mirai Nikki (Future Diary)
Mangaka: Sakae Esuno
Genres: Action, psychological thriller, supernatural
Demographic: Shounen
Status: Completed (12 volumes)

Synopsis:
14 year old Yukiteru (Yuki) Amano has a hobby that at first seems rather ordinary – keeping a diary on his cellphone – but turns out to be something extraordinary. Introverted and anti-social, Yuki spends his free time at school keeping his diary and comes home to enter an imaginary world he thinks is of his own making, ruled by a god named Deus Ex Machina.

One day Deus announces that Yuki will be taking part in a game to select the next god – a survival game – but the catch is that the game involves cell phones. Yuki’s cell phone (referred to as a diary) is now equipped with a certain special function - being able to predict with accuracy what will occur around him in the future, which appears as text on his phone’s screen. His diary doesn’t give any hints as to his own future though, thus it’s called the Random Diary.

Initially shocked by the cell’s accuracy in prediction, Yuki attempts to continue with his daily school life, meeting another diary holder in the process – Yuno Gasai. Yuno is Yuki’s classmate, however Yuki knows little about her other than she’s beautiful and got great grades.

Shortly after announcing that she knows about Yuki’s diary, she shows him her own, which she refers to as the Yukiteru Diary. Her diary displays all of Yuki’s actions over a ten-minute course of time. Yuno is at first forceful, then very affectionate towards Yuki, saying she has a strong desire to protect him in this deadly survival game. Terrified, Yuki barely has time to think before discovering that they too are being pursued by a tall, masked man who’s out to kill them.

The man is also a diary holder, the first of many Yuno and Yuki will encounter throughout the series. Yuki discovers there are nine in total, and that each of them is trying to kill off the other diary holders. Quite simply, if the other holder’s diary is destroyed they die at the same time, and Deus will proclaim the last survivor to be the new god.

The three assailants Yuki comes across in the first volume all have their own unique diaries too. They all just refer to each other by their numerical orders – Yuki being the first, Yuno the second. The third diary holder has a Murder Diary which can see the methods he uses to catch and kill his targets. Later on Yuki also encounters the ninth and the fourth as well.

While Yuki fights with his paranoia about Yuno, his fear of the other dairy holders and of dying in the fatal game, Yuno puts her life on the line to protect him again and again. She shows a disregard for her own safety and an addictive, protective love for Yuki verging on being psychotic.

The stakes are high and the clock is ticking; with enemies all around and unsure of who to trust, Yuki enters the survival game of the diary holders where the only person he can actually call an ally seems to be crazy herself.

Characters:
Mirai Nikki is unusual for turning around common hero/ heroine tropes. The ‘hero’ Yuki is anything but – he gives up quickly, whimpers a lot and lets Yuno fight most of his battles for him. Even though he’s aware of his own pitifulness, he still feels like he’s in a corner. In a sense he’s relatable, it’s far easier to assume that you’ll act bravely and protect everyone under difficult circumstances, but a more likely truth is most people would be scared and start panicking.

To his credit, Yuki does try to break through his fears again and again, though mostly when he’s pushed into near death situations.

I noticed a slight difference between the manga and the anime in that the manga has some inner monologue from Yuno’s perspective. This has the effect of making Yuno seem less sinister than she did in the anime. She’s really proactive, taking the reins to fight back against the other diary holders when Yuki goes weak at the knees. Aware of all his actions; Yuno stalks him, keeping a close watch over him and displaying an inexplicable love for him that remains one of the mysteries of the series to be explained later.

Yuno’s personality has been classified as ‘yandere’ in anime/manga jargon, the best suitable words I can find to describe her myself are ‘sadistically clingy’. The enigma of Yuno is a special one as her endearing qualities are almost on a par with her insane ones – thus creating a sort of ‘dark heroine’ quality about her that has endeared her to a lot of fans. Check out most image posts on Mirai Nikki and for sure you won’t be seeing Yuki.

Other diary holders are introduced in the first volume and of course more later on, but one thing is for sure – not one is ordinary and almost all have the intention of being god themselves.

The mascot of Mirai Nikki, Muru Muru, doesn’t appear a lot in the first volume but I wanted to mention her as well. She Deus’s servant, initially playing the role of an indifferent observer, however she takes a far more active role later on in the story. She provides a bit of comic relief in an otherwise pretty serious title.

Overall:
Quite a few titles involving cell phones used in survival games came out before and after Mirai Nikki, but among them I’d have to say it’s one of the best. The pacing is excellently done, setting up a tense, fast feeling that doesn’t stop each chapter.

Mirai Nikki’s characters all display manic emotions, from extreme anger and fear to literally psychotic meltdowns - all drawn amazingly by Sakae Esuno. Though not being particularly endearing, the characters are extremely interesting and convention challenging. Topped off with a creative spin on the powers of cell phones and the mysterious game set up by Deus ex Machina – Mirai Nikki is undeniably a gripping, inventive page turner.

If I have any beef at all about the manga it would be a few holes in the logic of cell phones’ usage, but as usual with such titles, a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required. The important thing is that I didn’t feel the amount required was significant enough to detract from the enjoyment of the series.

Doodles:
I decided to pick up the manga after reading +Albert Nakano’s post on the anime (check out his article on it here (https://plus.google.com/117819984822914128077/posts/J7PKBDhqheb). I saw the anime when it aired between 2011- 2012 and thoroughly enjoyed it; revisiting the manga now is no less enjoyable than when I watched it.

image: 未来日記大好きです!(トレース練習) | ♪Rin♪ [pixiv] http://www.pixiv.net/member_illust.php?mode=medium&illust_id=30597688
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James Alexander

Manga Talk  - 
 
Manga Sharing - Noragami
Due to the popular anime series Noragami needs no introduction, and whether you’re wanting to try the manga fresh or after having watched the anime, you won’t be disappointed.

Manga Title: Noragami
Mangaka: Adachi Toka
Genres: Supernatural, adventure, romance
Demographic: Shounen
Status: _Ongoing (11 volumes)

Synopsis:
The first thought that comes to my mind when thinking of Japanese gods is a temple, however that’s the one thing that our homeless god Yato lacks. Calling himself a delivery god (he's definitely faster than any earthly deliveryman), Yato has dreams of making it big in the god industry by raking in a horde of followers and erecting a massive temple.

To accomplish this he scrawls his number all over the place – even toilet walls – in the hopes of landing a case. His messages go unseen by most people except those in dire need or those with spiritual sight. He accepts jobs of all descriptions, from fixing faucets to solving complications with spirits, all for the price of five yen (apparently a common amount given when praying at shrines in Japan).

One day he and his helper, a woman going by the name Tomone, are called by a suicidal girl who needs their help, having been bullied and mistreated by her classmates. Yato points out that the girl’s problems, compounded with the general bad atmosphere created by the tension of taking exams, have summoned what he refers to as the Ayakashi (phantoms).

The Ayakashi are creatures from the other side that roam the spiritual realm and are still able to have an affect on humans. They are attracted to living beings emitting a similar dark energy, referred to as ‘gloom’, and can influence them. In some cases this can cause the affected people to behave strangely or even lead to their death.

Yato decides to take care of the Ayakashi with the assistance of Tomone, who turns into his regalia called a ‘shinki’ (a spiritual weapon), on command. Tomone can become a shinki shaped like a dagger and cut through the ghost-like flesh of the Ayakashi. Using Tomone, he slices the phantom up, obliterating it.

Tomone parts with Yato after resolving the girl’s case, refusing to be his shinki anymore. Yato once again wanders about, indulging in delusions of becoming powerful. He takes on another job to rescue a lost cat given to him by a child who is able to see his spiritual graffiti within a phone book. Whilst searching for the creature, Yato comes across a girl who will become an important part of his life - Hiyori Iki.

Hiyori is a high-school student from a wealthy family; she spots Yato as he carelessly crosses the road pursuing the cat and unwittingly runs in front of a bus. Attempting to save him, Hiyori leaps to push him out the way, only to be hit by the bus herself. Her bravery was hardly necessary as Yato has no real physical form so to speak, however she is injured by the accident and temporarily jolted from her body.

Unknown to her she has now become a borderline walker (called a hanyou) – one who can traverse between both sides of life and death, yet is fortunate enough to still have a physical body. Recovering consciousness in a hospital, she thinks it was all a dream until Yato comes to her, telling her what happened. She follows him, and discovers that far from only being able to leave her body, she is even able to tackle Ayakashi in the spiritual realm.

Hiyori begs Yato to return her to normal, which he takes as a formal request from her, but he claims he’s unable to start until he gains possession of a new shinki. Thinking to help Yato, Hiyori searches about for a lost soul to become Yato’s shinki. After a dangerous run-in with a malicious Ayakashi, Yato comes across a  recently deceased spirit and decides to turn it into his shinki.

The soul belongs to a teenage boy; Yato names him Yukine and in his regalia form his name is Sekki – a long, beautiful white blade. Yukine seems far from impressed with Yato, showing disdain for him straight away. Like it or not, all three of their fates become intertwined – for better or worse.

Characters:
Volume one of the manga is pretty short, only introducing Yato, Hiyori, Yukine and Yato’s previous shinki Tomone. True to the name Noragami, (nora meaning stray and gami – god) Yato is like a stray – homeless and sleeping on the streets or outside other gods’ shrines. His character is refreshingly different from gods in a lot of fantasy stories; although he has delusions of grandeur – dreaming of being doted on by female devotees - he’s down to Earth in dealing with his clients, and is responsible despite being a freeloader.

Hiyori is from a well-to-do family who treasure her (though it seems like they see her as a delicate object). She’s a wrestling fan, idolizing a famous wrestler which  makes her stand apart from her pop-idol loving friends. Immediately she shows herself to be self-sacrificing, bailing Yato out of trouble twice in one chapter (though he technically doesn’t need it). Sometimes naive, she’s bold and quickly adapts to her new, bizarre situation.

Making his appearance at the end of the volume, little is known about Yukine, except for his distaste for Yato and brattish temperament.

Not much is revealed about Tomone either, whose actual name is Mayu, apart from that she dislikes Yato - calling him dirty and useless. This doesn’t stop her from showing concern for Yato though, revealing that she still has a soft spot for him.

Overall:
After watching the anime (which I presume will cover the content of most of the first volumes), I still found myself enjoying the revisit to these characters and their universe. Whilst obviously lacking the atmospheric music and color palette of the anime, the manga makes up for it in extra details and art.

In my opinion the manga stands on its own as a strong story – it has enough originality and appealing characters to make me want to continue reading. Also, viewers of the show will be able to continue the unfinished tale they saw started in the animation.

Doodles:
Yato’s powers are something I found particularly interesting. When he uses a shinki, kanji characters appear, making the name of the particular regalia. I found this part fascinating as it’s a recurring theme in magical and spiritual practices I’ve encountered since living in the east.

A lot of talismans made for protection, good luck, exorcism and the like involve the use of characters which hold a power of their own. Even over new year, auspicious words and phrases adorn the walls of homes and public places.

Adachi Toka makes poetic use of the mysticism of Japanese kanji, incorporating it into the characters' names too. For example Yukine's name (雪音) combines the characters for 'snow' and ‘sound’ - Yato having heard Yukine's sound and he looked like a snowflake when he first appeared. Additionally Yukine's name as a regalia is 'Sekki' (雪器) which is a combination of the characters 'snow' and 'vessel' (or weapon in this case) which I thought was a nice touch.

image:http://www.zerochan.net/1684091
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James Alexander

Manga Talk  - 
 
Manga Sharing: Tonari no Kashiwagi-san

Manga Title: Tonari no Kashiwagi-san
Mangaka: Kinusa Shimotsuki
Genres: Comedy, romance, slice-of-life
Demographic: Seinen
Status: Ongoing

Synopsis:
High school student Sakuraba Yuto is a lover of anime and manga with a particular taste for moe art.

Although Yuto's a real otaku he's quite open about it, believing that if you like something you should just say it. In his spare time when not gaming, watching anime or reading manga, he browses an art sharing website. He takes a liking to one particular artist’s moe style, who goes only by the name Sayane.

At the start of the story we find that he’s landed his dream job – to become an attendant at a store that sells anime and manga merchandise. On his first day there he bumps into a student who sits next to him in class - Kashiwagi Kotone- a girl he thought hated everything otaku.

On recognizing Yuto, Kotone runs away, embarrassed and extremely concerned that he will reveal to their classmates that she’s a closet otaku herself. The next day she confronts him about it, explaining that she does love anime and manga, and begs Yuto not to tell anyone. We later discover her reasons behind this are that she saw some classmates insult another student for liking anime and manga, and she fears being ostracized.

Yuto agrees to keep her secret and after the suggestion of Kotone’s best friend Fukuda Sayaka, they decide to secretly meet and talk about their interests.

A budding friendship blooms between the two very similar main characters, spending their breaks discussing their mutual love of all things otaku.

One day Yuto brings up the artist Sayane, telling Kotone about her enthusiastically. Initially Kotone is nervous about revealing the fact that she is Sayane, merely keeping quiet and agreeing while Yuto praises her art.

As the story progresses Yuto’s feelings for Kotone blossom, as do those of two of their close friends. Still, even though Yuto sits right next to Kashiwagi-san, it seems that her heart couldn’t be further from his reach...or maybe not?

Characters:
Being a completely character-driven story, Kinusa Shimotsuki has made maximum usage of the characters’ facial expressions, body language, and often-inserted ‘chibi’ versions of them to bring out the comedy in their ongoing life stories.

While focusing mainly on the slowly developing love story between Yuto and Kotone, Tonari no Kashiwagi-san also branches off to into the romantic lives of their best friends Sayaka and Kazuki Kusano.

Yuto is breaking into the 3D world after having spent a considerable amount of time focused on 2D. For the first time in his life he finds himself attracted to a real girl and it's an experience he doesn't know what to make of. The combination of his lack of experience, over-thinking and somewhat shy nature make for some comic moments as he tries to win Kotone's heart.

Kotone is equally inexperienced and unaware about everything regarding love; she misses even the most absurdly direct hints that Yuto gives. Gradually she begins noticing Yuto's advances, yet is still indecisive about how to deal with them.

In keeping with the atmosphere of the manga, not much is revealed about the pasts of each character, maintaining its focus on their current relationships. This may be considered a weak point of the series, however it’s never bothered me, after all that’s not what the story's about.

Overall:
Overall Tonari no Kashiwagi-san is a light hearted, cute, humorous and slow paced tale about two teenagers whose remarkable alikeness make them an unlikely match. Whilst observing the love of their friends grow around them they start to take baby steps out into the world of their own feelings. It’s no heartrending romance, but it’ll leave you feeling warm and fluffy after each chapter.
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James Alexander

Manga Talk  - 
 
Manga Sharing - Natsume's Book of Friends
"We all like hearts that seek something dear - and burn with life."

Manga Title: Natsume Yuujinchou
Mangaka: Yuki Midorikawa
Genres: Drama, Supernatural
Demographic: Shojo

Synopsis:
Natsume Takashi is a teenager who can see ghosts. His grandmother could also see ghosts and was notorious for beating them in competitions and making them subject to her will. After defeating any ghost, she'd write its name in her 'Book of Friends' so that she could call on them to do her bidding. If a ghost from the book was called, it would immediately have to do what Natsume's grandma, Reiko, wished.

After Reiko passed away, Natsume inherited the book. Not knowing what it was for, the book remained untouched for many years.

Natsume goes through a semblance of a normal life with his caregivers, trying to avoid giving his unique abilities away. One day he's chased by a ghost and runs across another spirit who's trapped inside a shrine. Accidentally freeing the spirit, which is shaped like a maneki neko (lucky cat), it informs him that the ghosts are chasing him as they hate Reiko and want to get their hands on the Book of Friends.

It turns out that the cat, called Madara at first (later to be named Nyanko-sensei by Natsume), also wants the book, but to use it for his own ends. Natsume strikes a deal with him, agreeing that he'll give Madara custody of the book should anything happen to him - on condition that Nyanko-sensei helps him with his dilemma.

Nyanko-sensei explains that many of the spirits wish to be released from their binding in the book and shows Natsume how to return the names to the ghosts. First visualizing them, the Book of Friends will then turn to the appropriate page with the spirit's name. After that, Natsume needs to place the paper with the name in his mouth and blow out. The spirits are then freed from their binding.

What follows is the tale of Natsume and Nyanko-sensei as they encounter the numerous spirits that Reiko wrote in her Book, gradually freeing them one by one, whilst drawing other entities to them. Many of the ghosts often aren't friendly, bearing grudges against Natsume's grandmother whom he resembles strongly.

In the process of clearing the Book of Friends Natsume comes across a variety of spirits. From small temple gods to the spirit of a passed bird, each is different, bearing their own unique tales.

Characters
The characters in Natsume's Book of Friends are a varied bunch. Natsume himself is initially a naive student who doesn't know anything about the spiritual world he's capable of seeing. After meeting the conniving Madara he starts to have more of an insight into them, and here's where the magic of Natsume's Book of Friends lies.

The spirits he meets are very human. Though their appearances have mostly gone beyond normal, they all still have hearts and needs that Natsume sympathizes with, and as we come to discover, his late grandma did too. When freeing some spirits, Natsume gets a peek into their existences when they were alive and sees that each soul had a poignant story to tell. He begins to like the spirits and to see their similarities to living people, in the same way Reiko did.

Nyanko-sensei acts as Natsume's character foil. Constantly reminding Natsume that he wants his book only, he appears to be happily waiting for Natsume to meet his demise. Nyanko-sensei inadvertently helps Natsume a lot to deal with the spirits he meets, suggesting that a friendship between the two is blooming unbeknownst to them.

Overall
Natsume's Book of Friends is a heartwarming tale that deals with a concept we're all too familiar with - however ends up quite different. His journey of discovery about the realm just beyond our vision is touching and thought-provoking. Who would have thought that the 'friends' Natsume always sought, would be those who are not of this world?

Image: http://www.zerochan.net/1064224#full
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James Alexander

Manga Talk  - 
 
Manga Sharing - Usagi Drop

Manga Title: Usagi (Bunny) Drop
Mangaka: Yumi Unita
Genres: Comedy, drama, slice-of-life
Demographic: Josei
Status - Completed (9 volumes)

Synopsis:
Usagi Drop begins when Daikichi, a thirty year old bachelor, is called to attend the funeral of his recently passed grandfather. There at the funeral, he meets the supposedly illegitimate child that his grandfather had with a domestic helper.

At first sight your heart can’t help but go out to the young 6 year old Rin. She’s unwanted by her family, and now without a caregiver since Daikichi’s grandfather died.

Amidst the squabbling of his family members, Daikichi decides to take Rin under his care. Daikichi’s complete lack of concern for pettiness and conviction to care for this young girl even if no one else would, made me like him instantly. This surprises the rest of his family, as he’s single and never had experience with children, but they don’t object either as no one is willing to take on the burden of sheltering Rin.

And thus, Rin and Daikichi begin their life together. It’s a touching, sometimes hilarious and always amusing look at the life of single parenting. The setting of metropolitan Japan also adds to the series uniqueness, as single male parents are few, and Daikichi often finds himself up the creek without a paddle.

Characters:
Daikichi is an easily irritated, yet responsible caregiver for Rin who struggles with various issues in the course of raising her. The first half of the manga deals mainly with Rin’s entry into Kindergarten, then elementary school, and the challenges this poses for Daikichi and his adaption to it.

His ‘free’ single lifestyle is immediately hampered and he has to make quite a few accommodations and adjustments to adapt. Daikichi battles with the idea of parenting as his own mother instilled into him that raising him and his sister was a big sacrifice on her part – a concept Daikichi could never understand before and now confronts when taking care of Rin.

From the offset it’s obvious that Rin is a really bright child, sometimes even more aware than Daikichi, and she takes the initiative often in the home. She’s independent and quite mature for her young age, whilst still being innocent and sweet . The contrast between her thoroughness and Daikichi’s slack bachelor habits create some hysterical moments.

Taking on the task of raising a child on his own isn’t easy for Daikichi, but he soon finds kindred spirits. He befriends the single mother of one of Rin’s classmates - Kouki. The two provide support for each other in difficult moments and try to spark off a romantic relationship.

Overall:
At each milestone Rin reaches, she and Daikichi face them together. Rin’s earnest sincerity and Daichiki’s resolution to give her a good upbringing regardless of the challenges all make Usagi Drop an unconventional, humorous and touching tale all the way through.
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+Stb Hernández Haha, no I'm just taking old reviews that I posted on my blog a few months ago, editing them a bit and reposting them. Wish I did have a tablet, I just use my laptop and phone :P How about you?
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James Alexander

Manga Talk  - 
 
Manga Sharing - Assassination Classroom

Manga Title: Assassination Classroom (Ansatsu Kyoshitsu)
Mangaka: Yusei Matsui
Genres: Comedy, slice of life, action supernatural
Demographic: Shounen

Synopisis:

I picked up this title as a few people were talking about it, and the slogan used on the advert I saw for it caught my attention. The way it was advertised made me think the first page would have crazy-eyed students blowing away their real life teacher. A few pages in and I realized that this wasn’t the case – it was something even more bizarre.

The story revolves around a multifarious alien ‘teacher’ who has come to destroy the Earth, and just to prove his point he’s already destroyed most of the moon by the time the manga begins. The teacher – known as Korosensei (unkillable teacher) - states that he will destroy the Earth within a year unless humanity is able to assassinate him.

After making an agreement with the government, Korosensei becomes the homeroom teacher of a class at Kunugigaoka junior high. They’re known as Class E, and he instructs them to attempt to kill him – whilst teaching them regular school subjects too. The government offers a reward of ten billion yen to anyone who can successfully exterminate him.

What follows is the ludicrous but entertaining chronicle of Class E’s endeavors to assassinate Korosensei. It should be an easy enough task for a whole class of students to bump off someone else, however Korosensei is no ordinary being. His face is like an oversized emoticon (complete with color changes for moods), his body is composed of a malleable material, he has octopus – like tentacles (the old favorite) and can travel at the speed of Mach 20.

Characters:
In volume one, we meet some of the more proactive members of Class E. Nagisa Shiota is a gentle-natured bishonen who is at first unable to try assassinating Korosensei, but is later encouraged to do just that by the sensei himself! Later Nagisa takes on the job of recording Korosensei’s weaknesses in order to make a more successful attempt on his life in future.

Karma Akabane is a student who was expelled for violence at school and returns after the first few chapters. His past experiences led him to lose confidence in his previous teacher, and he now has no qualms about murdering Korosensei. His ‘killing intent’ is far stronger than almost all the other students and he starts thinking up all sorts of methods to do their sensei in right away.

Two other adult teachers (who are actually just posing as teachers) are Karasuma Tadaomi and Irina Jelavic. The former tries to train the students and hone their assassination techniques, while the latter is a professional who turns on her womanly charms (one of Korosensei’s weaknesses) to get him to drop his guard and rub him out.

Of course, Korosensei steals the show with his contradictory actions and amusing antics. Whilst encouraging the students to execute him and even teaching them how to do it, he also teaches them life lessons and encourages them. In only a short time, the students come to see him as a warm teacher who actually cares for them.

Overall Impression:
Though Assassination Classroom is pure comedy, it makes some meaningful points about teacher/student relationships. Another draw for me was the wordplay used throughout the series. Most of the jokes are Japanese puns (especially involving the word ‘koro’ – kill) playing on the meaning of the words used and their associations. Despite that the translation is well done and pretty close English substitutions are provided with explanations.
 
Overall Assassination Classroom has lots of gags, slice of life content that’s particularly centered around school themes, Japanese word play and assassination tactics all rolled into one manga. My main concern about this title is how long the mangaka can keep it fresh when Korosensei is almost invulnerable and the rest of the characters are trying to do pretty much the same thing in each chapter. That all depends on how the story is handled as it progresses, though.

Doodles:
Last but not least, Yusei Matsui's artwork captures the comic moments (and there are plenty), action scenes, and day to day life of the students with pleasing art that always holds a few surprises hidden in the frames. Particularly, the drawings Korosensei likes to leave in his students’ notebooks are worth a chapter all of their own!

Image http://www.zerochan.net/1425691
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+Stb Hernández Oops, I should have added that. No, it's still ongoing at 9 volumes and apparently an anime adaption is happening soon. Might have to wait a while for this one to finish up :D
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James Alexander

Manga Talk  - 
 
Manga Sharing – Death Note

Rather than being a ‘Whodunit’ murder mystery, Death Note immediately throws you into an intense psychological hotbox. The opponents facing each other in this hotbox are two characters who both believe that they represent the very definition of righteousness itself.

Manga Title: Death Note
Author/Artist: Tsugumi Ohba/Takeshi Obata
Genres: Psychological thriller, detective fiction, supernatural
Demographic: Shounen

Synopsis:
Raito ‘Light’ Yagami, an honors student ranked highly in Japan and son of a detective, comes across a notebook that’s been seemingly dropped by someone outside his senior high school. Opening the book, he’s surprised to read on the first page that the book is a Death Note – if someone’s name is written in the book while visualizing their face they’ll die shortly after.

At first thinking the notebook is nothing more than a prank, he takes it home and reads the following paragraphs, which describe the details of how the selected person’s death can be manipulated by writing them in the Death Note too. Still not thoroughly convinced Raito gives it a try, experimenting first on a felon, and next on a random biker who’s harassing a girl he comes across in the street. After they really do die ‘accidently’ – Raito’s doubts about the notebook are completely cleared.

Validating the notebook gives rise to schemes within Raito’s mind, plans about how he can go about rectifying what he considers to be an evil world and become a god in the process. Raito begins his purge by writing down the names of one hundred dangerous lawbreakers, many of whom are incarcerated, believing himself to be untraceable due to the mysterious method the victims suddenly die from if not otherwise specified: a heart attack.

Shortly after, the true owner of the notebook, a shinigami (a god of death or a reaper) known as Ryuuku (also spelled Ryuk) approaches him, telling him the book now belongs to Raito, and elaborating more on some of the rules regarding the Death Note. He adopts a neutral status about Raito and his mission, claiming he was bored with the life of a shinigami and hopes that this unique human is going to make it interesting for him.

In the meantime, Raito’s initial carelessness is actually what gives L, a famous private detective whose true name and identity are unknown, a major clue as to Raito’s whereabouts and methods of killing.

L is contracted by international officials to investigate the bizarre sudden deaths of the hundred convicts. L’s sense of justice is the converse of Raito’s – he believes in following the law to the letter and any murder, regardless of who is killed – is still a murder. Tracing an invisible thread in the mass of killings, L filters them down to Raito’s location in Japan and challenges Raito to try kill him.

Instead of running from the threat, the now zealous Raito decides to use L’s closing in on him as a chance to annihilate his opponent. A battle of wits between the two geniuses begins, a battle in which the hunter and the hunted becomes unclear. One thing is certain however, neither Raito nor L will give in until they see that their ‘justice’ is done!

Characters:
The story mainly follows the perspective of Raito Yagami, thus you’re enveloped early on in his mentality. Raito holds that everyone believes in justice yet no one’s willing to take the law into their own hands, therefore he sees coming across the Death Note as an opportunity to help the world. The main flaw in this plan is Raito himself; he not only wants to mete out justice, but also hopes to be revered as a god for it, which immediately highlights his delusional thinking.
 
When L issues his challenge over a television broadcast for Raito (who is dubbed ‘Kira’- a play on the English word killer) he takes a sort of relish in the idea of a cat and mouse game with L, confident that he’ll win. While Raito doesn’t show a scrap of sympathy for those he kills, he seems to be genuinely caring towards his sister and father – making him an ambiguous character.

Ironically L is not so different from Raito. Both possess a strong sense of justice and are ingenious, meticulous men who show little emotion. L has the habit of sitting cross-legged and even meditating when pondering the Kira case. He shrewdly smokes Raito out in the first volume and using his international contacts, including the F.B.I., draws closer and closer to Raito’s position.

Ryuuku, the shinigami whose Death Note Raito lays his hands on is arguable the truly ‘evil’ character in the story. Whilst doing hardly anything other than observing and explaining to Raito the Death Note’s rules, he openly states that he finds humans interesting due to their struggles and attempts to change things. He keeps a number of facts back from Raito to increase the enjoyment of the murder game he’s watching unfold – all to ease the boredom of his eternal existence.

Overall Impression:
The entire concept of a Death Note brings with it an immediate sense of suspense and of delving into the forbidden. Just like opening a grimoire or esoteric spell book, starting to read Death Note is the same as diving into that taboo world. Right off the bat, the tension begins – a tactic masterfully done by Tsugumi Ohba, drawing you into the psyche of Kira and the paranormal killings which he performs. The manga hits on a deeper level when you find yourself understanding both Raito’s motivations and L’s too, growing closer to both of them.
Takeshi Obata’s art, as any who are familiar with his works knows, flourishes on each page – strongly bringing out the atmosphere and emotions of the characters. The story doesn’t let up for one second, and I was biting my nails along with L, pondering what his next move and Raito’s would be, unable to stop poring over the pages of what I can honestly call a modern classic.
 
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+Sordatos Cáceres Cool idea! 
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James Alexander

Manhwa Talk  - 
 
Manga sharing:

Manga Title: Nineteen, Twenty-One
Author/ Artist: Yu, Han/ Kim, Hye-Jin
Genres: Romance, slice of life
Demographic: Josei, Shoujo

The Gist:
Flowers hang from the sides of houses and hug the walls in a strange harmony. Narrow streets sprawl throughout a bright, well-kept neighborhood, showing signs of meticulous care. In this place of tidy order, there are creatures that exist in the small unnoticed spaces and that slink along pathways, keeping out of sight. Stray cats.

It’s here that we find Yun-lee, a 21 year old student who’s just started her life again after recovering from an accident for over a year, coming out to meet these unwelcome, ragged beasts. Though too cautious to actually touch them, she brings them food and tends to them whenever she can, showing a compassion that’s very much like the flowers about her, spilling their fragrances freely onto the wind for all.

One day a stranger comes leaping, like a cat himself, into her private world. He’s Dong-hwi - also a lover of cats, and the exact age Yun-lee was before she lost two years of her life: 19. They start getting together, feeding their beloved cats and nurturing the seedlings of their own feelings at the same time.

Both characters are at important points in their lives, standing in front of the same line. Yun-lee is starting shakily again after losing two years, and Dong-hwi is hesitant about entering into the adult world, with all its hang-ups and responsibilities. Amidst all of this, their budding romance for one another, as well as for cats – takes place.

Yun-Lee and Dong-hwi start to take care of a group of stray cats together, but encounter some difficulties in the community that tests their resolve.

The challenge that faces them is something that's posed to us all at some time or another: if you could do something worthwhile even though it only makes a small difference – would you still want to try? And so they make the choice to do what they can for their small clan of cats, despite the opposition and trials their own lives present them with.

In a nutshell:
Every once in a while, you read a story that doesn’t get you psyched-up, but rather warms you up and leaves you feeling that way afterwards. Nineteen-twenty one is definitely that kind of story. The panels are big, with luxurious drawings of flowers, scenery, people, and of course - cats. The setting is within a small town, yet the art makes you feel like you’re inside a botanical garden.

Nineteen, Twenty-One is a journey into an exotic wilderness, full of sights that remain behind your eyelids after closing them at night and thoughts that will keep you pondering, ever so gently, along with them.
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