Sunday, December 6, 2009

MW: Scattered Thoughts (That May Form an Article)

As mentioned in a previous post, I've been trying to get myself to read more of the established "classics" of manga. I now own volume one of Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira (although Kodansha's decision to publish it in left-to-right has me awfully puzzled), Yoshihiro Tatsumi's "A Drifting Life", and a whole mess of Tezuka's catalog.

While Frederik Schodt has spoken extremely high praise of Astro Boy, I decided to start with a different title. When RightStuf had a huge sale, I picked up a few of Tezuka's giganto-manga. Apollo's Song, Ode to Kirihito, and MW are all door-stops of manga, weighing in at 500+ pages each.

Of those three, the title that sticks out most in my mind is MW, which the dust jacket labels as Tezuka's darkest work. I can see that, easily. The amount of dismemberment, sexual depravity, and misogyny is tremendous. Compared to the more wholesome image of Astro Boy, MW seems like it came from a very different man with the same name.

The main characters struggle with serious moral dilemmas. Actually, on second thought, only one of them does. Michio Yuki, arguably the "villain" of the story, has been exposed to a chemical weapon which has robbed him of a moral compass. His friend, a priest named Garai, hears all of Yuki's confessions and serves as the one who pardons him.

What keeps Garai from turning Yuki in is the fact that they have consummated a homosexual relationship. Garai, while physically attracted to Yuki, is always repulsed by Yuki's actions, which involve blackmailing, kidnapping, rape, and murder.

Several scenes with Yuki left me feeling completely disgusted, sometimes to the point of putting the book down and walking away. Even so, I remained intrigued by Yuki's character and wanted to see if he was capable of reform.

Tezuka's portrayal of homosexuality is surprisingly non-stereotypical, considering the time at which it was written. While their relationship is far from "loving", Tezuka does not use it insult Garai's integrity. Instead, it is used by Yuki to manipulate Garai and mess with his feelings and thoughts. The idea of being in love with Yuki throws all of Garai's judgments into disarray, which is an idea normally portrayed by a heterosexual relationship in the manga I'm used to reading. To see it presented in a different fashion works well.

As Yuki's crimes become more and more disturbing, it becomes painfully clear that the man is beyond any possible redemption. Despite the eternal optimism of Garai (who thinks "if I help him one more time, he might see the light), even his patience is worn away as Yuki continues to destroy the lives of everyone around him.

The ending is gimmicky and predictable. Along the way, though, the sense of tragedy never fades. Yuki may be the most evil person in the manga, but the entire time you can't help but notice how Garai--and Tezuka--place the blame on the military forces which created the chemical weapons. It's a super-thinly-veiled anti-war message that pervades so much of Japanese culture following the atomic bombing of their country.

MW is best read when spaced out over a longer stretch of time. Each chapter takes some time to digest (and, sometimes, the hope that you might forget a certain scene or two), and the overall sinister tone can become overbearing if read in huge chunks.

I'll offer up a few more Tezuka reviews as time passes. MW provides a very different (and very messed up) tale from the most famous name in manga history.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


I spent the second half of November writing for National Novel Writing Month. I'm just shy of the 25k mark today (the goal is to churn out 50k in 30 days). This (along with doing reviews for MR) has taken up a ton of my extra time after work.

The other big thing is that I've burned out on anime, which takes away from many things I could be writing for this blog. The new season of anime is abysmal and I haven't felt like catching up on anything I've missed.

Manga, though, that isn't a problem. I still love the stuff. I've been on a big Tezuka kick. Maybe I can find some time to do a write up on MW, Buddha, Ode to Kirihito, Apollo's Song, and a few other Tezuka titles I've perused recently.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Not Dead

Simply re-adjusting to a change in work habits. Things should go back to more regular updates in the next week or so.

I've been writing, just not for this blog. There will be new posts soon.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

MR: Yotsuba&!

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to review volumes 1 - 6 of Yen Press' versions of Yotsuba&! Check out my review, as it is, so far, the only title I've deemed to be A+ material.

Monday, August 24, 2009

New Minis!

Check out my write-ups on Volume 30 of Case Closed and Volume 5 of Psycho Busters here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Two New MR Features!

I suffered an allergic reaction to Cat Paradise's first volume and had a frightfully good time reading volume six of Bizenghast.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

RE: Getting Our Geek On

Part One: Conflict and Experience

A few weeks ago, manga blogger and fellow reviewer Melinda Beasi posted a fantastic feature write-up on outwardly expressing fandom (shirts, jewelry, license plates, etc), yet feeling awkward or out of place when asked by non-fans to explain the significance of such objects. (Link is here)

I've been letting a response article (okay, so it's more of a tangent response) brew in my brain for a little while, because she touched on an aspect of fandom that I feel most of us deal with on a semi-regular basis ("us" referring to geeks and gamers of all varieties). If you haven't read it already, it's a highly recommended read before you proceed further.

There is, in my experience, a prevailing sense of being put on the defensive when my anime/manga fandom is brought up in conversation. There are a few front-runner reasons that pop into my mind. The first is that I think everyone I know expected me to "outgrow" both hobbies long before I graduated from high school. Still, I stuck with it through college and came to the realization that it was something that would always keep my interest. I'm lucky enough that my room-mate for most of college was one of my best friends from childhood. He never made any protest over my Trigun posters, anime desktops, or stacks of manga.

As a teacher, I have found a little more support for my hobby, as many counties are turning to graphic novels to inject new life into reading curriculum. I was very happy to hear a handful of my colleagues discussing how they had registered for a summer course in teaching graphic novels. One of them even told me that she felt graphic novels were going to be a big part of education in the near future. That was a cool moment.

The Otakon nalgene I used to carry everywhere drew some very curious glances and comments. It led to discussions with all sorts of people, but most of the time these conversations started with "Why not read real books instead?" or "Aren't those for kids?" In many cases, it was clear from the onset that I was going to have to put up a counter-argument. Occasionally I would get someone who was simply genuinely curious as to why I like manga, and that is always a real treat. (Thank you!)

The funniest (saddest?) part is that most of the time, these conversations are all based on the person's preconceived notions of graphic novels. And what really gets to me is the complete and utter revulsion many people exhibit when I even suggest picking one up and giving it a try. People very close to me, who have seen me reading manga for years, very rarely take some initiative and read one. Yes, we'll trade book and movie recommendations all the time, but graphic novel (or anime) recommendations almost always fall on deaf ears. This is why when last week a friend of mine told me he decided to read Watchmen, I was ecstatic. The best part? Not only did he love it, but afterward, he referred to it as a complex piece of literature.

I know people who actively hide their fandom, simply because they have met people who got "weirded-out" when they found out they were fans of manga. Frankly, I can't blame them. I'm sure you have seen it happen, too. Hell, I brought an entire table of co-workers to a halt once when I casually mentioned the fact that I was a fan of Japanese animation. There were no follow-up questions, just empty stares, and an abrupt change of topic.

The difficult part is addressing the reasons for why this happens. I had a good conversation about it this afternoon that needs some time to sink in before I start typing. Check back soon for further thoughts!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Manga Minis 7/27/09

Another week, another set of minis for you. Two "A" titles: Cirque du Freak vol.2 and InuBaka vol. 13


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Part II of My Otakon Report

Good things come to those who wait! Part II of my report is now available for your reading pleasure. What's that? You don't know who Fred Schodt is? Or why he is so awesome? Fear not! My article will enlighten you.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

I Killed the Click For More Text

It was getting really annoying, since it popped up at the end of every post. Until I find a more suitable blog spot, I'll be posting full-length articles.

Manga Recon: Otakon 2009 Part One

I spent July 17-19 in Baltimore, covering the east coast's largest anime convention. Part one of my write-up is now available on Manga Recon.


Manga Minis 7/20/09

Another week, two more minis from yours truly. I suffered through Astral Project and basked in the glow of Berserk.

You know you want to click my link!

Manga Recon: 2009 Midterm Report Card

As much as I hate typing the words "report card" during the summer, this one was about manga. Check out my 3 favorite manga titles from 2009.


Manga Recon: The Manga Kingdom

Fellow MR writer, Sam, had an idea for a fun roundtable discussion based around appointing the royalty of the manga world. It's a great read that may teach you a thing or two about mangaka you've never heard of.


Manga Minis 7/13/09

Two new minis! This time, it's *defnintely not* all about shojo titles, as InuBaka is a seinen manga and Rosario is shonen. Hahahahahahahahaha!


Manga Minis 7/6/09

Hey you! I've got 2 new mini reviews up on MR: D.Gray-Man and Gin Tama.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Two New Reviews Up!

I've got two new minis up on MR!

Top 5 Anime

kaiba title


I sat down at 4:30 on Sunday with the intention of watching the first episode of Kaiba. At 9:00, I had finished the series. What I found wasthe single most original, quirky, sweeping, science-fiction adventure-romance-epic I have ever witnessed. Looking back, it is easy to see how a title like this flew under my radar without being noticed for nearly a year. It's partially depressing, but at the same time, it gave me an extra year's worth of knowledge, experience, and exposure to other stories that truly allowed Kaiba to stand out.

Kaiba's world is what you would expect if Dr. Seuss was the major creative force behind a piece of animation. The various planets, creatures, vehicles, and weapons drip with originality. From a cyclops ostrich wearing an astronaut helmet to bug-eyed, puckered-lips flies, to something called a skonk (your imagination can run wild with this one), the richness and variety in character and concept design provides a universe of never-ending surprises for the traveling characters.


Time to drop some plot information before I go any further: Kaiba is the name of the amnesiac protagonist. He wakes up in what appears to be either a prison cell or a very sparsely furnished apartment, cradled the rubble of a window. He has a gaping hold in the center of his chest, a triangular stamp on his stomach, and a pendant around his neck, containing a blurry picture of a girl. What follows is the most wild, frenetic chase sequence in all of anime, as Kaiba is instantly forced to take off and run from a group of flying creatures that suck out people's brains. He is quickly aided by the cyclops ostrich mentioned above and winds up being catapulted into a waterfall with a village on the other side. It is confusing, mainly because the viewer, like Kaiba, has no conception of what the world should be or what those creatures are or what the hell is going on in the first place. It is a meaningless, blurry, rocky ride that quickly establishes the uniqueness that pervades the entire series.


Upon entering the waterfall village, Kaiba is (re)introduced to the other brilliant concept that drives the series. In this universe, people can pay to have their memories turned into physical data. (Yes, it is, in some ways, a lot like Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, but Kaiba beat Whedon to the punch by nearly a year). This ability lays the groundwork for establishing the big moral crises examined over the course of 12 episodes. What is a soul? What is a person? How can you define gender when bodies are expendable? What are the ethics involving memory manipulation? Is immortality such a great idea?

Probing the answers to these questions is always a difficult task. Kaiba succeeds by letting each bit of philosophy unfold as the characters travel from world to world.



While stowing away on a ship, Kaiba meets a fellow passenger hitching a ride by pretending to be cargo. When she is finally caught and fails to produce a ticket, the guard shoots her down, turning her into a splashing ball of goo. The guard is shocked to find that the girl's memory chip does not fall from her head--it turns out she never had enough money to pay to have the memory storage done. Instead, her life is cruelly erased. The weapon used illustrates the blatant loss of value of a body once memory can be stored. He fires without thinking, intent on being able to pick up her memory chip and file charges against her at a later time. What he does is completely eliminate a human life.

The issue stems further when it turns out that people can pay to have bad memories erased and good ones artificially added. Discarded memories take the form of little yellow pills, called roe (yes, the same as the word for fish eggs). While sailing through the universe, Kaiba occasionally catches a glimpse of a giant sea of memories, floating endlessly. It is a truly depressing sight, when you realize that each and every little pill is a memory that has been lost or discarded. At best, human life is a series of memories and human history is the passing down of memories from person to person. Without concrete memories, Kaiba's world has no past: its residents are forever stuck in the present by their own choosing.


One planet serves as a consumer utopia. New bodies are designed every day and people pay money all the time to make sure their body is the latest and most stylish. The planet is so incredibly rich that no one ever has to pay for food. This consumer culture, again, shows the uselessness of a human body. The richest man on the planet chooses to have the body of a baby, while others go with 4-armed bodies and horns. Despite being completely artificial, everyone seeks to own one of these bodies, ready to discard their current one with every changing hour. But what does a society do with all of the discarded bodies? That is a plot point I'll leave unspoiled.

Another heartbreaking story unfolds on a tiny planet where Kaiba, now using a stuffed animal body after his original body is captured, meets a girl named Chroniko, who sells something called shabo on the streets. Chroniko's interactions with Kaiba reveal the class disparities that exist in the universe. Since she is adopted, Chroniko has decided to sell her body (literally) because the elites desire young bodies that are not factory produced. She hopes that the money her family will get from her body will allow them to let their children grow up and become rich so they can buy her another body. When the day of her memory transfer arrives, Chroniko's handler simply empties her brain instead of storing her memories on a chip. Judging from her step-mother's reaction, this was planned from the very start. It is, once again, a tragic end for an innocent character who was caught up in a society that is only a utopia for the wealthy.

Kaiba winds up stealing Chroniko's body back and using it as a vessel for himself for several episodes. In order to keep moving onward in his journey to recover his memories, Kaiba catches the attention of a ship's guard and uses his new body's sex appeal to get a free ride. While not the most original plot device, it re-activates Kaiba's memory regarding romance and the picture of the girl in the locket around his neck. He then meets a woman whose memories have been implanted in a man's body. By talking to this man, Kaiba learns that if he stays in the body for too long, he may forget that he was ever a man in the first place, insinuating that gender is something humans adapt to--they are not born with it. Even stranger, the man seems to recognize Kaiba in this girl's body, and vice-versa.

Along the way, Kaiba comes into possession of a gun that opens up people's memories. The user can then, literally, step into that person's thoughts. Many times, a person's memory storage is depicted as a series of library shelves, but it varies from person to person. Some brains house portrait collections, others have painting supplies. It is a brilliant, terrifying concept. When memories can be accessed at will by others, it raises huge moral issues. Who has the right to access another person's inner-most thoughts and emotions?

Kaiba delivers so much more, in terms of story. The narrative covers religious cults, political deception, sibling rivalry, consumer greed, the destruction of nature, and the continuous devaluing of human life with every passing moment. The love story, which has echoes of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, does not fail to please. In fact, by the time all the pieces of the Kaiba's broken memory are reassembled, it is both satisfying and heartbreaking.

If you want an anime that is truly refreshing to experience, please pick up Kaiba. It truly is the best of the best.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Top 5 Anime

Texhnolyze, I am sorry. You were number one. You were the top of my list, until yesterday. Compared to other anime, your concept is original, your artwork is mindblowing, and your dystopian world paints a picture of humanity so bleak that recalling it makes me wince.

(By the way, it's pronounced TEK-NO-lies)

What took the throne? Find out tomorrow!

As with nearly everything Yoshitoshi ABe is involved with, Texhnolyze is a tour-de-force anime. Set in the underground city of Lux (Latin for 'light'), Texhnolyze follows multiple lead characters as they deal with the fact that their crumbling society is approaching end-times.

Ichise is a prize-fighter who winds up having sex with his promoter's girlfriend, freaks out when she sticks her fingernail into his eye (really, who wouldn't?), and as a result has one arm and one leg hacked off of his body. He's left to die in the streets but happens to be rescued by a Doctor who specializes in texhnolyzation: the merging of the human body with machine parts.

As expected, the residents of Lux have mixed views on texhnolyzation. The Organo is a group that promotes the process, the Union decries the desecration of a human body with artificial structures, the Racan are roaming texhnolyzed teen gangs, the Class is made up of the governing minds of Lux, and the residents of Gabe live on their own, following their clairvoyant prophet.

The texhnolyzation argument is not unlike our current generation's debate on stem-cell use. The followers of the Union are quick to rally to the idea that a texhnolyzed human has given up his humanity and is a disgrace to existence. And even though the Organo support the trade, they seem to be more interested in profit than helping the disabled and disfigured; the Organo operate along the same lines as the yakuza or the mafia. They also have to deal with the terrorist actions of the Union, who like to further their agenda by killing Organo members. Meanwhile, the Racan are out messing up the city, making it hard for anyone to want to support the texhnolyzation process.

The Racans are, perhaps, representative of the situations currently facing Japan's teenagers. Stuck in a society trying to find its true identity, they are jobless, aimless, and outcasts in the current political system.

The Class is completely detached from the horrors of daily life in Lux, sitting back in a sequestered part of the city. They are presumably in contact with those who live above ground, a place should be, symbolically, a paradise.

As characters from all of these factions come to meet each other, they are forced to face the fact their actions are all leading towards the destruction of Lux. The story progresses with a stellar case of bi-polarity: as Ichise learns to use his new body, the world around him falls apart; as one person struggles to become whole, everything else disintegrates.

While the plot may seem like it is full of lose threads at first, it all weaves together to form a satisfying conclusion--a rare feat for most anime.

I realize that this review is a little short, but I am so excited about writing my next piece that I will be sacrificing some details in order to move on.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Top 5: Anime

When it comes to creating stories based on internal conflict, few writers approach what Yoshitoshi ABe was able to do with Haibane Renmei.

Set in a purgatorial afterlife, the Haibane are reincarnated humans with a pair of vestigial wings and a molded halo. Upon arriving in a village called Glie, the Haibanes seek out menial jobs while keeping their dormitory (Old Home) from falling apart.

The majority of the story is told from the perspective of Rakka, the newest Haibane to arrive. Rakka struggles to adapt to her life, starting with the emergence of her wings. While many series feature characters with beautiful wings that sprout seamlessly from their backs, the Haibanes are granted no such respite. The first episode closes with Rakka's wings sprouting in a grotesque manner: her shoulder-blades swell and bubble, sharp wingtips poke through her skin, and with a scream her full wings burst out of her back in a shower of blood.

Each episode is slow and methodically paced, allowing the viewer to get to know each Haibane as a distinct person. Some are rule-followers, some are rebels, and each one has an experience Rakka can learn from.

What ABe captures most spectacularly, however, is the portrayal of death and its wide-reaching net. When Kuu, the most upbeat Haibane, moves on from life in Glie, it happens in a shower of light. Instead of being happy to see that her friend has been granted freedom from the town, Rakka cannot let go. She spends her time in Kuu's room, sweeping the floors, folding her sheets. It is a crushing moment, as anyone who has lost a loved one can attest to. That moment when you find yourself surrounded by their possessions, knowing that only hours ago a person cherished them--that is a feeling that hits hard. ABe pulls no punches, letting Rakka struggle with this knowledge that what once made a person happy still exists while that person no longer does. Just thinking about it puts a lump in my throat.

Haibane Renmei is, ultimately, a tale of personal growth and redemption. There are no villains, no heroes, and no threats against existence. What you will find are characters that learn and grow through conversation and the sharing of life experiences. It is a wonderful musing on mortality and making the most of the time we have.

Friday, June 19, 2009


My poor, neglected blog. I'm done grading papers for two months now. Time to focus on my own writing :-)

I think I have a top 5 countdown to complete...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

New MR Review

Top 5 Anime will resume tomorrow. For tonight, here's my latest feature review for Nabari No Ou.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Top 5: Anime

Today's Countdown entry is number 4 on the list: Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

If you have never seen Gankutsuou, you need to go take care of that. Now. I'll wait for you to watch it all.

Okay, good. Now what exactly was it that blew your mind?

The correct response should be: "everything."

Gankutsuou is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. Every single review of this series has talked about its stunning animation. I don't have much to add that hasn't been said before. You could put Gankutsuou on a television, kill the volume, and it would still be more fascinating to watch than 95% of the anime that is currently avaialable.

When characters dress up for the opera house (specifically Haydee's outfit and Eugenie's piano performance dress), the results are nothing short of spectacular. Also, bonus points must be awarded for having the protagonist, Albert, appear in a pirate costume for an episode.

The story takes Alexandre Dumas' original story and (despite all odds against it) creates an enveloping science-fiction-tinged adaptation. Events of the first episode take place on Luna (presumably the moon) before relocating back to France on Earth. Chateau d'If becomes a prison at the end of the universe and inter-planetary politics are briefly touched upon.

Perhaps what I enjoy the most is the way the series examines class-conflicts. Albert, a son of the wealthy elites, has everything handed to him : trips to Luna, an endless wardrobe--even his fiancee. He hangs out with his rich pals, who do whatever they want, whenever they want. When one of them befriends a soldier named Maximilien, it brings on a clash of values that can (of course!) only be settled by a sword fight. Maximilien is most put off at the way these young men treat their fiancees: they casually agree that marriage has nothing to do with affection, but more with creating alliances among the rich. When he duels with Albert, it is a bitter moment, as the viewer knows that even if Maximilien prevails in the duel, he cannot change the way the wealthy will act. Even better, however, is the way the series gives equal attention to the girls in these relationships. Albert and Eugenie have lengthy discussions on the subject of whether or not they're good for each other; Valentine de Villefort finally tells Maximilien that while the boys are busy fighting over her, not a single one of them actually cares to ask her how she feels about the matter. It's this level of character depth and attention to social realism that truly makes Gankutsuou stand out.

All of this, and I still haven't mentioned the titular character. The Count is a most fascinating enigma of a man--from his mismatched red and green eyes to his endless supply of money. Continuing with the examination of class-based behavior, the Count proves that having money in all the right places gets him access to any information he desires. And what he desires has nothing to do with wealth. He seeks revenge in what may be the most well-planned revenge tale of all time (I am referring to the NOVEL which served as the basis for the anime). The Count's charisma is impossible to deny, which makes it especially difficult for the viewer as the series progresses and his deeds become more and more sinister. (I must add that Joji Nakata's baritone voice lends a lot to the Count's character.)

Gankutsuou is a tale of people who use each other. While some do it for wealth, some for pleasure, and some because they can, every major character has a set of motivations that truly bring them to life. Even better, there is not a single character without a flaw--you will watch every character make a judgmental error so great it will make you cringe. Even worse, though, is the fact that you will completely understand why they chose the wrong path.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Top 5: Anime

I figured that if I was going to start doing lists, I could start with a nice, broad topic. The goal is to do one of these a day for the next five days. Hooray for attempted consistency.

Since blogspot has something against me placing an image after the text (yeah yeah, I could do my own HTML-ing, but that would require effort) it's no surprise that number 5 is Mushi-shi.

Mushi-shi is the anime equivalent of a steaming hot cup of tea at the end of a long day of work.

I have never found a more relaxing series to watch. The episodes are all stand-alones, which may throw some viewers off. Instead, I found it to be a nice touch--I never felt compelled to watch a marathon of Mushishi episodes in order to "finish the story." This allowed me to sit back and appreciate every episode an individual work of art. Granted, some of them are more profound than others, but the stories of Mushi-shi all have a unique way of highlighting different aspects of human nature.

Along the way, we are introduced to people who cannot let go of lost loved ones, religious leaders with a stranglehold on a community, a child whose mother is losing her memory, and an obsessive-compulsive rainbow chaser.

The series follows a formula in almost every episode: a person in a village starts acting strange, Ginko tries to figure out which type of mushi has caused this change in behavior, and he does what he can to help the victim.

Ginko's relationship with the mushi one of the show's big draws. He is not an exterminator. His life operates around a principle of respecting mushi as a lifeforms that only act according to natural instincts. While the mushi may be harmful to human hosts, he holds no grudge. He is not on a quest for revenge or to wipe out all mushi. Ginko simply pursues knowledge and experience; he finds a certain wonder in the wide variety of mushi and is utterly enraptured by their endless forms and varieties.

Masuda Toshio's zen-like soundtrack adds the final touch, adding a lush background of classical guitar, piano, koto, and electronic ambience.

Mushi-shi is currently streaming on Anime News Network's video player (although they only have the dubbed version for now...).

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Reviews Update

Wow, I fell behind on posting when my new reviews went up on Manga Recon. Following this link will take you to my profile.

You'll find reviews for some good (D. Gray Man, Rosario + Vampire), some not so good (Queen of Ragtonia, Zombie Loan), and some downright terrible (Tengu-Jin). The Tengu-Jin review might be my favorite out of everything I've written so far. That said, I think you'll find all of them are quality reviews.

Be sure to read some of the other mini-reviews, too. My colleagues are super-talented and I love seeing their opinions on everything.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Short and Simple

I love my job.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Spring 2009: The Losers

The 2009 spring anime to watch is (so far) a toss-up between Phantom and Eden of the East. (More on those later.)

What got left behind? Basquash and Fullmetal Alchemist 2.

I know that Basquash will find an audience, but most of it has driven me in the opposite direction. Between a character named Iceman Hottie, a girl who gets sexual pleasure from losing, and Dan's CONSTANT SHOUTING OF EVERYTHING, I'm out. Oh, Dan also sees a woman at the end of episode 3 and says that she has something called a "lunar bust." Lo and behold, the woman in question has breasts the size of beach balls and they bounce all over the place with every breath she takes. It all makes me wonder if there really is a key demographic that thrives on this.

It's a shame, too. Out of the two, Basquash boasted the best animation and the most lovingly-detailed world.

I'm almost in shock from adding Alchemist to this list. Of all the anime debuting, it was the one I was looking forward to the most. Instead of a blistering, big-budget remake, it has gotten off to an incredibly shaky start.

The emotional punch that sucked me into both the anime and the manga has been dulled beyond belief. I am willing to admit that perhaps it is because I am seeing the story for a third time. Even so, all of the dramatic build-up involving the sacrifice of two boys attempting to revive their dead mother is missing.

The way they free the people of Lior from Cornello's cult of god was ruined, as well. Rose's constant pleading with Cornello to bring back her dead lover, her devotion to the church, and her unshakable beliefs in god are all brushed over. Instead, viewers got a 30 second sequence where Ed interrupts her prayer session.

The pacing is rushed, almost as if Studio BONES is intent on blowing past the stories they've already told. It's a shame, too, because the first 10 episodes are essential to laying the foundation of the story. Maybe they should have simply re-aired the original first season and then picked up where the original strayed from the manga's still-unfolding story.

The "new" comedic bits feel forced and break up what should be some very heavy, serious scenes. And episode 3's split-screen technique was used at least 4 times in a single, 20 minute period. Bad call.

At least I got to see Lust skewer Don Cornello's skull on her razor-sharp finger. That moment never gets any less awesome.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Update: Basquash

Official News: Basquash is crap. Shiny, pretty crap. But crap, nonetheless.

My main reason?

There's a character named...oh god, this is so terrible I can't believe it...

Iceman Hottie.

Where is your god now?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Review: Guin Saga Episode 1

For those of you who prefer epic fantasy, you'll find something to like about the first episode of Guin Saga.

Based on one of the longest running novel series in Japan (over 124 volumes have been published), Guin Saga has the distinction of being one of the key influences of Berserk (a personal favorite of mine). The similarities are obvious, as the main character has amazing strength, isn't very sociable, and kicks people's asses in ways you never would imagine.

The tale is set in motion when an enemy force storms a castle (the enemies are referred to as Monghols--insert your own South Park reference here), kill the King and Queen, and force the twin siblings (one male, one female) into exile. Someone attempts to defend the children while they escape, claiming he will "finally have his revenge." Six seconds later he takes an arrow in the chest and falls off a balcony. I laughed.

This otherwise generic story is helped out by the princess, Linda (Rinda?), who has to drag her pansy-ass brother along with her in the wild. A role reversal like this is not often seen in anime, which would traditionally require the prince to be brave and the princess to be bratty and frail. (To be honest, I was rooting for the Mongohls to kill Prince Lemus).

When the twins find themselves in enemy territory, Lemus' whining attracts a Mongohl horde, who move in to capture or kill the children. Linda accidentally awakens a behemoth of a man who has a leopard-head mask. The chaos that follows is nothing short of spectacular.

Guin smashes a Mongohl into the ground with a single strike, like a fatal, real-life whack-a-mole. The next guy gets hit so hard that when he careens into a tree, the friction from his helmet causes the trunk to burst into flames. I won't spoil the rest of it, as the fight becomes even more frantic once night settles in.

Review: Basquash Episode 1

What the hell is a Basquash?

That question (disappointingly) is not answered in this episode. Instead, viewers will find a show with some real fire to it. Energy practically explodes from this show in every scene, for better and worse.

Dan JD is a loud, obnoxious kid who likes attention and destroying public property. He's an odd protagonist, as he spends the opening scene being chased by giant police mechs (called Bigfoots) while destroying every television screen in town. He has a personal grudge against his world's top sport: Bigfoot Basketball, in which (surprise surprise!) people pilot their robots in a super-sized game of basketball.

Dan's world is bursting with more wonderful quirky details than you can imagine: rows of adorable ducks wander across crowded streets, police Bigfoots shoot handcuff-shaped missiles, pets shapeshift into masks and hats, and the ever-present (inhabited) moon lights up in gorgeous intertwining spirals of light at night.

While the rest of the town is enamored with Bigfoot Basketball, Dan is more into the kind played by people, spurred by his kid sister's abilities before she was paralyzed. By the end of the first episode, Dan pilots a Bigfoot of his own, crashes an official BFB game, and creates an wild and new style of play.

The show has its fair share of problems, though. Dan's constant enthusiasm/hatred starts to get annoying after the first half of the episode. His childhood pal, Miyuki, shows up in this episode, complete with a ridiculous rack. The animators seemed so proud of this that there is a 20-second sequence of her running that focuses entirely on her bouncing breasts. It's exactly the kind of thing that makes me embarrassed to be an anime fan.

Bigfoot Basketball turns out to be a really boring sport in real life that is jazzed up by tv crews. This, however, fails to explain why it is marketed as the most popular sport EVER. Perhaps the people living on the moon (the true home of BFB) are actually Americans of the future and the whole thing is just a marketing scheme. The fact that Dan is the first person to ever bring exciting moves (the announcer comments that the fact that he DRIBBLES the ball is spectacular) is ridiculous, too.

The biggest "god damn it, no" moment occurs at the end of BFB game, when Dan attempts a dunk (after taking the longest route possible to the hoop--seriously, it takes him a good 5 minutes to cross the court) and destroys the stadium. Post-dunk, the camera cuts to the female soft-drink vendor, who is sitting on her ass, crying tears of joy after his basketball moves gave her an orgasm.

I'll give you a moment to process that.

Personally, I threw up a little.

If you like your over-the-top anime with an extra heaping of ridiculousness, Basquash is for you. If not, you might want to look elsewhere.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Spring Season!

The new season of shows is starting up this month. Check back on Thursday for reviews of one or more of the following:

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood
Shangri La
Sengoku Basara
Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

I'm especially looking forward to watching Phantom. Any show that has one word repeated twice in its title has got to be good. I think that's one of Einstein's lesser known laws of the universe.

Monday, April 6, 2009

New Review on MR

You'll find a new 200-word review of Case Closed from yours truly, along with several other words from my fellow (highly-regarded) reviewers. Click on my note and check out the link at the end!

NOTE: For some odd reason, using the link tool at blogspot causes my links to'll have to use the ol' copy and paste method for now.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Check out my writing on TokyoMango!

I decided to try my luck by entering a writing contest. Turns out I won! The contest called for an Onion-style article that had something to do with Japan. I had a lot of fun writing it and I'm glad to see someone else enjoyed reading it. You can find my entry by following the link below.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Open Mouth. Insert Foot.

Episode six of Dollhouse was awesome. Go watch it on Hulu. It's called "Man on the Street."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Perfection: Casshern SINS Episode 18

I just finished watching the most perfect character-development episode of anime I have ever seen.

The entire 22 minute episode takes place within a dream sequence from Lyuze's perspective. (For those who aren't in the know, she is the lead female character in the series. Lyuze has been following Casshern since the first episode and since then has revealed that he caused the death of her older sister.)

In a series of surreal scenes that alternate between Lyuze's childhood and adulthood, she is forced to confront all of the mental and physical conflicts that have plagued her since the ruination began.

Lyuze's sister constantly appears, as does Casshern, which forces Lyuze to pick between the two most influential people in her life. On one hand, her sister was an early role model and a reminder of what the world used to be, while Casshern represents the new world that she is forced to live in. The childhood flashbacks take place in flower fields, while the others place Lyuze in the ruins of the current world.

Her sister is often out of reach, obsessively repeating the fact that what Casshern did ruined everything for everyone. Still, Lyuze tries to rationalize his actions, repeating that he was unaware of his sins and even unaware of himself. At the end of nearly every dream sequence, mistaking Leeza for Casshern, Lyuze ends up shattering the image of her older sister.

While trying to figure out what it is she truly desires, Lyuze finds herself in a strange vision where a human pins her against a wall and tells her he can make her wish come true. At first, I considered this sequence to be the only weak point in the episode, but after having more time to think about it, it is far less disturbing than I originally found it. Moments after walking away with this stranger, we see her lying naked on a stone slab and a splash of blood fills the screen. When she stands, the faded outline of the man lies in a puddle of his own blood, and Lyuze walks away, realizing that what she wants has nothing to do with forming a sexual relationship.

In the understated climax of the episode, Lyuze crouches down, shaken by the realization that she cannot kill Casshern because she feels a deep connection with him. For the first time, a robot expresses a wish to be human, as Lyuze wonders if a human would be better able to comprehend what she is feeling. The moment is profoundly deep, as it takes a character who has been cold and conflicted and gives her a heart.

The longer the dream lasts, the less sway Leeza holds over Lyuze. Leeza's final appearance is to tell Lyuze that she needs to accept the tragedies that have occurred. Even with her death and the world falling to pieces, Leeza tells her younger sister that all of these events have allowed her to meet Casshern, which has resulted in her gaining an emotion that she has never felt before: Love.

Instead of shattering, Leeza fades into the distance, and Lyuze experiences a new sense of self-worth and direction. She casts aside her inevitable mortality due to Casshern's ruination of the world and instead finds herself satisfied with being able to be near him.

Lyuze has always been my favorite character in the series. While Casshern is a sympathetic character, Lyuze is perhaps even more so: Her one desire is to kill Casshern, which she knows she can never accomplish. Instead, she forces herself to follow him, waiting for a moment of weakness. What she finds is a man (robot) who has a conscience. He knows what he has done and he wants to find a way to set things right. This kills her desire to kill him, as he is no longer a one-dimensional villain. And while I suspected the revelation was a long time coming, she had never spoken of falling for Casshern the way so many female anime characters tend to do. The creators took a "show, don't tell approach" for so many episodes before finally confirming what everyone should have figured out.

Another factor that makes Lyuze's character so entrancing is her design. So many current female anime characters are male fantasies taken to the extreme, both in body and in mentality. Lyuze is not all perfect curves. in fact, her body is extremely angular--even more so than Casshern's. This makes the typical camera shots less focused on making her a sexual object and more about creating a unique artistic decision. Yes, there are shots that exclude her face and focus on her mid-section, but it does not seem to follow the usual association of the camera with the male point of view as it scrutinizes a female body. Instead, it is how she moves when she fights that lends a feminine grace that is missing from her anatomy. It is odd to see a character's sex best expressed while she brutally tears others to shreds, but it is oddly unique.

Lyuze has a dark stoicism that is so well executed I doubt I will ever see it in another character. She is not emotionless (a pitfall the girls in Claymore tend to encounter). Instead, she takes on an air of thoughtfulness, because every waking moment she has spent with Casshern is a contradiction of what she set out to do.

This dream episode is a wonderful exploration of Lyuze's psyche, which culminates in a moment of self-discovery that few anime characters are ever shown to experience. It is a masterpiece of animation, illustrating an unparalleled pinnacle of character development.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Best of the Best:: Casshern SINS

Every couple of years, I'll find a show that leaves me breathless.

Last year, it was Ghost Hound--the combination of a trio of mentally troubled friends and a sprinkling of psychological horror made it a show I HAD to watch every week. Even though the ending stuttered and stumbled, I still found a lot to like about it.

This time around, I've become completely enamored with Casshern SINS. The premise is simple: in a world populated by robots and (a lingering population of) humans, Casshern has killed a goddess and doomed his world to ruin.

Casshern takes to wandering his planet, trying to recover fragments of his broken memory. He knows that he has killed Luna, but he cannot remember why. As he travels, he encounters the struggling survivors who are left. Upon witnessing these robots and humans desperately clinging to any shred of hope they can find, Casshern begins to realize that even if he cannot remember his reasons, he is the cause of everyone's suffering.

As the survivors grow more and more desperate, a rumor for gaining eternal life spreads to every corner of the world. The method? Kill Casshern and eat him.

Casshern is completely consumed by guilt--every line he utters drips with it. He himself has become immortal, while everything around him decays and rusts. Friends are hard to come by, too, as everyone he encounters either blames him for the ruin or seeks to devour his flesh.

With a main character as emotionally tortured as Casshern and a world that has become a brittle shell of its former self, it would be easy for the show to become monotonous. Instead, Casshern SINS uses every other element to turn what might have been drab into something hauntingly beautiful.

The scenery--even the abandoned cities and the dying deserts--is gorgeous. Pale blue waves lap up against lone rocks on a coast that goes on forever, flowering plains have constant showers of petals, crystal hillsides shatter beneath footsteps, and crumbling towers lean against empty skies.

The love that went into designing this world shows in a way that is reminiscent of 5 cm per Second, but where that was a feature-film, Casshern SINS has 24 installments.

Fight scenes are never dull, either. The battles play out like ballet, as Casshern floats, spins, and adds an unprecedented beauty to acts of violence that should otherwise be disturbing. Every fight plays out in a unique fashion: animation sequences never repeat, the same move is never used twice, and there has yet to be a battle that did not surprise me with a new camera angle. Most fights end with a "wow" escaping from my lips.

Posting still shots cannot do any justice. You have to see everything in motion and then you will understand. I'm planning on doing a follow-up article once the series has ended. If you haven't been watching Casshern SINS, you are missing out on one of the few pieces of anime that truly elevates the genre from a mere story-telling medium to full-fledged art.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Few Thoughts on FLCL

I have seen a lot of anime. I have seen very few, however, that rival FLCL in terms of timelessness and symbolism (Texhnolyze and Haibane take second and third place).

While many dismiss FLCL as random, there is a lot of symbolism to be found in the series that helps keep the narrative glued together.

When I was still in college, I wrote up a (very) brief set of notes on some of the major symbols that appear. From time to time I've gone back to tweak a few things, but here's what I've got so far:

Canti: Naota's reliance on Canti represents his reliance on his (now-absent) older brother. In many respects, Canti replaces Naota's brother, starting with simply being another person in the house. During combat, however, Naota does not rely on his own strength (at first), but the combined strength of himself and Canti. As the series progresses and Naota believes in himself more and more, his power evolves. In the final episode, he finally steps out of Canti's frame (his famous brother's shadow)and finds a strength even greater than his best when combined with Canti.

The Iron: Medical Mechanica's Iron represents adulthood. Whenever Naota finds himself in a sexual situation, the Iron produces steam and blankets the entire town (to Naota, it is his entire WORLD) in a confusing fog. Furthermore, it is noted that there are neither entrances nor exits to the Iron--one simply finds oneself inside of it. Amarao is terrified that the Iron might render the world flat and destroy an entire planet. Naota learns that he doesn't have to worry about being "run over" by adulthood at his age. He can let it lie still for a while. And maybe, just maybe, looming adulthood isn't as threatening as it seems.

Mamimi's Cigarettes: Imprinted with the slogan, "Never Knows Best." While more obvious than some of the other symbols, the cigarette slogan defines Mamimi's character. She means no harm, but her actions get out of control in the end. It starts with her physical interest in Naota, despite a very wide age-gap between them. With Naota's older brother gone (he left Mamimi when he left to play baseball), she shifts her sexual interests to the person who was most closely related to her ex-boyfriend. When Naota grows attached to Haruko, Mamimi tries to find another replacement, which ends up the Terminal Core. While she does let go of Naota's older brother by letting the Terminal Core devour her cell phone, she becomes wrapped up in the idea of revenge. Eventually the Terminal Core is beyond her control, due to the amount of electronics and vehicles she let it devour as part of her revenge. She is directly responsible for creating one of the beasts that is meant to grasp the Iron and level the town.

Baseball: Naota's older brother has a career as an athlete. Throughout the series, many references are made to baseball. The series opens with Mamimi instructing Naota how to properly swing a bat. Later on, Haruko and Canti join a baseball team. Haruko is the one who teaches Naota to swing his own bat. (Freudian? At times.) She teaches him that he can face a giant challenge on his own when she leaves him to swing at the giant satellite that is sent to crash into the town. While it is never stated outright, Haruko teaches Naota that wielding power isn't something he should be ashamed or afraid of. When the satellite turns out to be a little too much for Naota to handle on his own, Haruko steps up and helps him, letting him know that when a situation gets tough, he still has people who will back him up.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dollhouse, or "Fool Me Twice"

I would like to reference that old adage, "fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Because when I think about what I have seen of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, it is the predominant thought that comes to mind.

I love Firefly. That being said, I do NOT feel let down by Dollhouse because I was expecting another Firefly. I feel let down by Dollhouse because Whedon walked right back into the same nightmare scenario Fox had set for him previously.

Bad omens were evident from episode one. Fox asked Whedon to scrap his pilot. That's where the big, red "DANGER" light went off in my head. Then, in the new premiere, instead of focusing on an over-arching plot, the first episode spent more time on Echo's one-shot mission with one-shot characters. (For further thoughts on one-shot stories, keep an eye out for my upcoming review of Nightmare Inspector on Manga Recon.) To keep things simple: any character that only exists for a single episode is going to wind up being forgettable.

The second episode brought some hope, as there were flashbacks regarding Alpha and his murder-spree in the Dollhouse. These were, however, forced to take a backseat to a (one-shot) take on The Most Dangerous Game. This also updated the "villain of the week" roster to two creepy men (week one was a teacher kidnapping a little girl, this was a man who brings girls into the wild and hunts them).

And then there was last week's episode. It was a disaster. My room-mates and I were mortified by the cliche-fest that occurred. EVERY trope imaginable was woven into the episode: the singer who is desperate for attention, the creepy stalker (thus continuing with the trend of male predators. I wonder who will be next week's villain? A boss who sexually harrasses his secretaries? A pimp? A MySpace user? There are just so many possibilities...), someone using the line "I want to live!"...the list goes on. For every glimmer of hope there was in week 2's flashbacks to Alpha, this episode had an equally awful moment to counter with. I'm not even sure how the crew could have performed it...the writing was embarrassing.

These self-contained episodes are mind-numbingly awful. Hell, even the actors say that the show is a mere shell of itself until the sixth episode.

You've been fooled by Fox twice, Joss. I'm sorry.

Monday, March 2, 2009

New Roundtable Discussion on MR

Hey everyone! Guess what? I've got something new up on Manga Recon. It's not much, as I joined the conversation a little late, but we recently debated the ups and downs of manga appearing on the Kindle. Some of my friends seem to think it's a bunch of crotchety-sounding old people refusing to embrace the future, but remember that we're all book reviewers...

Read the Roundtable!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

All Quiet on the Eastern Front

Not much to report on the anime front. Another Katsucon has passed, which was time well-spent (even if I couldn't get my mind off of work without a beverage or two or three). I wish I had something important and anime related to report from it. Unfortunately, Katsu was pretty much a bust on all fronts this year, except for the part where I got to spend a weekend with my friends. No guests, no bands, no artists I wanted to see. I'm done with buying merch, too. The rampant capitalist fever that used to get me no longer works in the dealers' room. This year I found a big bag of strawberry-flavored Kit Kats from Japan and that was enough to satisfy my money-spending urges. Mmmmmm....Kit Kats.

New Review on MR!

Just reviewed Emperor's Castle for MR. It was the first manhwa I've read and, man, was it a piece of work. Worst graphic novel I've ever read:


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Xam'd: Final Thoughts

There was only one show I picked up over the summer, and that was Bounen no Xamdou (Xam'd: Lost Memories). It recently came to a close and--despite my highest hopes--wound up relegating itself into the pile of series I have labeled "What the hell was that ending?"


For almost half a year I found myself smiling whenever the opening theme would begin. It was not until the final 5 episodes that everything fell apart. My gripes?

01. What was everyone fighting for?

Throughout the series, a war is raging between the South and the North. No reason (that I could discern) was ever given. There simply is a war. I figured that there would be an eventual explanation, but nothing ever surfaced.

02. Why was anyone following the Hiruken emperor? How was he giving orders?

The leader of one of the sides of the war (I have no idea which, really) was a stone face sealed in a test tube filled with bubbly water. He has no spoken lines, his name is rarely mentioned by ANYONE at all, and yet the final episodes focus on attempting to destroy him and bring an end to his rule? He was never ruling over anything. Ugh.

03. Why was it that in order to create more Xamd's, the albino children had to become suicide bombers?

No answer ever given. We just have to swallow it and move on.

04. If there were others creating Xamd's, why was it that only Akiyuki showed up at the end?

If you are trying to create creatures to fight off the impending apocalypse, it might help to have more than 4 in the entire series.

05. What process turned Midori into a monster?

This is a wildly unresolved plot point. She is hooked up to some tubes and a green stone and becomes a giant egg? Really? That's all the explanation you have?

06. Where did all of the religious fanatics come from?

The entire series, it seems like the only people who follow religion are shut away in a remote mountain village. Yet, at the end, thousands and thousands of brain-washed devotees make their way to a sanctuary so they can die. Where were they hiding the entire time?

07. What was up with Haru's mind-reading ability and hallucinations from earlier in the series?

Nothing is ever truly revealed. Especially regarding her ability to see the giant eyeball tower.

08. How is it that Nakiami was one of Lady Sannova's appointed, yet she clearly has red hair when EVERY OTHER SERVANT IS AN ALBINO?

A little continuity would have gone a long way.

09. After traveling forever and claiming she never wants to be lonely again, Nakiami seals herself in a state of suspended animation for 1000 years.

Her actions are not even heroic. Akiyuki had completely defused the situation. The whole idea of the Quickening Chamber is never explained. Was it just a place for people to commit suicide? We'll never know.

10. The complete lack of Akushiba after the postal ship crashes.

When you have a compelling side character, one of the biggest atrocities that can be committed is ignoring him. Akushiba was (to me) the most intriguing character aboard the ship. With that in mind, his influence on the story completely disappears during the second half.

Whew. That's all I have for now. I'm sure there are a lot more points I could raise up. If only I had written them down as they popped into my mind yesterday.

Bottom Line: I loved the first twenty episodes. The show has a very distinct charm to it, and for a while it reminded me of everything I like about anime. And then the last six episodes reminded me of everything I dislike about anime.

Next up on my review list: Casshern SINS

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

That 25 Things... chain spam that's going around facebook

Since I'm going to refuse to do so on Facebook, I figured at the very least I could put up five things here.

01. When creating a numbered list, I have to use "01" instead of "1" because once I reach 10, the numbers stay lined up.

02. I had a professor tell me that Times New Roman was a tired font. I agree.

03. Professor Michael Olmert at UMD was the single most influential teacher I had in college. He was curious about EVERYTHING and taught me more about being human than anyone else.

04. I have always wondered why so many people are jerks when it's so easy to be pleasant, instead.

05. Hummus is my favorite foodstuff. I could eat it with a spoon.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

My First MR Review!

Here's a link to my VERY FIRST OFFICIAL MANGA RECON REVIEW of Berserk Volume 1:

Leave me some comments!

Really Cool News!!!!

After getting a few write-ups published on Anime News Network this year, I'm SUPER excited to announce that I'm now part of the Manga Recon review team! I can't even begin to say how happy this makes me. Although, as a writer, I guess I should be able to say EXACTLY how happy it makes me. Let's just say it's the best thing that's happened to me so far this year.

I'll be putting up at least 4 reviews a month. Here's a link to the site:


Thursday, January 29, 2009

I Got a Really Cool E-Mail Today...

That inspired me to start posting. I'll have some more follow-up info in the next few days. It's pretty freakin' cool.

King of Thorn!

The science-fiction genre (like any other genre) has seen its share of endlessly recycled and rehashed plots over the past decade. Every so often, however, an author can take familiar elements and thread them together to create a story that is refreshing and captivating. Yuji Iwahara’s King of Thorn takes the tired idea of a human-race-threatening pandemic, the ever-out-of-reach concept of cryogenic freezing, and a pinch of Jurassic Park and spins a story that is both heart-wrenching and terrifying.

KoT opens with an image of a teenage girl named Kasumi realizing that she will have to be separated from her twin sister. In the wake of an incurable disease called “medusa” (it causes a hardening of the cells, organs, and skin), Kasumi is chosen as one of 160 infected humans to be cryogenically frozen until a cure is found. The separation of her from her twin is a cruel emotional twist: Kasumi continually asks herself why she was chosen to live, but her sister was not.

Upon awakening, Kasumi finds that thick growths of thorny vines have covered the inside of the lab and no one seems to be able to find who deactivated the cryogenic system. Without warning, a swarm of beasts that resemble mutated dinosaurs tear apart most of the humans who left their capsules.

Kasumi finds herself as part of a group of seven survivors determined to escape with their lives and figure out why no one is left in the lab to explain anything. All of them are condemned to die if they don’t act quickly: those who aren’t devoured also have the medusa disease slowly killing them from the inside.

King of Thorn packs in some incredibly tense escape scenes, as the nightmare creatures pop up time and again to hunt the survivors. The artwork is clean and consistent: characters are easy to distinguish from one another and the action sequences—while hectic and manic—never get to the point where they are impossible to follow.

The first volume contains a stunning series of illustrations when one of the characters suffers an emotional breakdown after stumbling upon an abandoned power station filled with human bodies. There are no speech bubbles for two full pages—Iwahara conveys all reactions through his masterful illustrations of eyes and facial expressions.

KoT’s break-neck pacing and constant sense of being hunted will leave you feeling just as breathless and confused as the cast of characters. The series is a scant 6 volumes, which means that answers come quickly in the following books. A number of twists complicate the relationships between all of the characters, but the biggest mystery is still the question of exactly how much time has passed between the deep freeze and the awakening.