Inio Asano’s Solanin is a masterpiece. It is a manga of poise and character that echoes the sentiments of millions of millennials in rich countries around the world. When beginning my journey I was skeptical about whether or not I could relate to the life of a Japanese female office worker in Tokyo, and I put this manga off for months. Man, was I wrong. Solanin follows the lives of Meiko Inoue and her boyfriend’s band mates, a bunch of twenty-somethings who live in Tokyo in a state of limbo after graduating college.
The manga gives off a certain weight. I don’t know if it’s from the art style, or the theme, or the story, but while reading this seemingly mundane story, I knew it was something worth reading. I won’t ruin the story and I won’t say it directly applies to me. But I feel I could connect with Meiko and the other characters on a personal level, something I never before experienced in a manga. I was there, and I saw what they saw. Solanin is whole-heartedly depressing, inspiring, and defeatist all at the same time. The art style is simple, powerful. The background are gorgeous. Each feels like it was painted. There are so many words to describe Solanin. All I can say is read it. I immediately picked up another of Asano’s works, and it is clear this man is a genius. Everyone who has went through, is going through, or will go through adulthood should read this. It is truly transformative in a way that no other manga is.
Score: Read it now. - Inspiring Inoue, Absolutely Asano
Kosuke's Gangsta. (ギャングスタ) is a superb dark action manga that is my favorite new series. Living in a quarantined city called Ergastulum, Nicolas and Worick work as “Benriya,” assassins and contract workers. They take in a prostitute, Alex Benedetto, my favorite character, off the streets after rescuing her from her captor, who haunts her memories. She then becomes their receptionist, with a war brewing in Ergastulum between the humans and the Twilights, a group of chemically altered super-powered people. The art is amazing, the perfect mix of dark and fluid motion, and the characters seem like real human beings. The Twilight world is ugly, but real, and the minor characters and side stories are well fleshed-out. I personally thought Alex’s dynamic with Nicolas and Worick was the most compelling part of the manga. I am so glad that Viz picked up this series, which has a March 2014 release. I have nothing but praise to say about this well thought-out and fascinating series. Read it!
Score: I Loved It! - Boisterous, Battling Benriya
I know there has been a lack of reviews lately, but in August I hope to remedy that by reading more manga and watching more anime. So in the coming weeks expect some reviews as I am finishing up some pretty great series that I’m excited to talk about. Stay tuned!
Shinonu Kaitani’s One Outs is a manga with an interesting premise and a fantastic main character. Having previously read and adored his other work Liar Game, I was excited to learn that Kaitani had another long and successful series about baseball of all things, which is by far my favorite sport. The story revolves around a crazy gambling pitcher named Toua Tokuchi and his involvement with the Lycaons, a Japanese professional baseball team which has been last in its division for many years. The Lycaons’ prime player, Kojima, forced him to come to pro baseball after he won a bet against Toua in a match of One Outs, a baseball variant where one pitch is thrown and as long as the batter hits the ball out of the infield, the batter wins. Toua is a ruthless competitor and, similarly to Akiyama in Liar Game, is always outsmarting his opponents and watching them. While Toua is a gifted pitcher and the baseball is interesting, his attitude and carefree personality are what make this manga a worthwhile read. He is unmistakably evil and only desires money, but because of that he helps his team pry away from its controlling and greedy owner. The art style is undoubtably Kaitani’s, which is very realistic, and the art in the games is clearly well researched and is very realistic. Kaitani successfully shows his mental expertise again, and overall puts out a great manga, which I am excited to finish.
Score: 8.5/10 - Terrific, Terrifying Toua
As a day one adopter of the 3DS, I’ve had over two years with my beloved system. And while it started off slowly, there is no doubt that the Nintendo 3DS is my favorite handheld to date. Handheld games have always been my favorite, ever since my first introduction to video games as a little kid…
To all my followers, here’s an essay of mine about the 3DS.
The Garden of Words (言の葉の庭) is a short, gorgeous, and heartwarming movie that demonstrates director Makoto Shinkai’s genius. Having previously never fully watched any Shinkai movies, I decided to begin with his most recent work, and man was I impressed! To start with, the animation and character designs are some of the most gorgeous I have ever seen, rivaling Studio Ghibli. Every detail is perfect from the perfect raindrops to the character’s faces. The story centers around a high school student who is an aspiring shoemaker and a woman in her late twenties who is depressed. The chance of their meeting is improbable, and Shinkai shows his genius by showing the progression of the characters’ attitude and moods, not just as they interact with each other, but individually too. Rain is the catalyst of the moods for both main characters, as they only meet during rainy mornings. While this is partly to show off how well his team can beautifully animate rain, it also works as an important symbol for the work. The ending is both satisfying and tear-jerking, and when it was over I felt a mix of emotions and all I could say was “wow” and clap. No time was wasted in this movie, with every moment feeling necessary and important. The Garden of Words is a fantastic short film that hits all of the points an animated feature should have: a message, fantastic animation, style, interesting characters, and that something special, and does them in the perfect amount of time to watch without a break and take the movie in. Everyone should watch this film and be amazed. (I took the screencap!)
Score: 9.5/10 - Golden Garden
The Borrower Arrietty (借りぐらしのアリエッティ), directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, is a wonderful and beautiful film. As the first non-Hayao Miyazaki Studio Ghibli film since Tales of Earthsea, I was a little apprehensive about this movie before I watched it, but I decided to give it a fair chance, and it totally paid off. The plot centers around a young miniature Borrower, named Arrietty, who lives in the walls of an old house in the countryside with her parents. A sickly young boy, Sho, discovers her, befriends her, and helps her throughout the film. The plot isn’t anything special, but the animation and feeling the Arrietty gives off is something new, as unlike many Studio Ghibli films the ending is not entirely positive and foretells tragedies in the future. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Arrietty grow as a character as she undergoes hardships and proceeds to help save her family. Faced with the extinction of her family, Arrietty quickly has to become emotionally mature and escape being discovered by the humans. The backgrounds and environment are incredibly beautiful, just like any Ghibli film, with the relatively super-sized plant life coming alive throughout the movie. The characters are simple, but serve their purposes very well and make the overall experience enjoyable. The main theme by Cécile Corbel is fantastic, as well as the whole soundtrack, and the American dub is decent as well. While this may not be Studio Ghibli at its best, it is a fantastic experience that every animation fan should enjoy.
Score: 8.5/10 - Bountiful Borrowers
Reviewed by Clain
Little Witch Academia (リトルウィッチアカデミア) is a magical girl OAV created by Trigger and directed Yoh Yoshinari. Animated by a relatively unknown studio, Trigger, this is a beautiful and heartwarming short full of witty humor and great characters. The story follows Akko Kagari, a young witch student who is a rabid fan of a magic performer, Shiny Chariot, who most think is a fraud. After getting lost in labyrinth, a snotty girl, Diana, releases a legendary, magic-eating dragon which Akko and her friends, Lotte and Sucy, have to fight before it destroys their magic academy. It is really charming how Akko fails to fly her broom, and this plot device is not just a gimmick, as it is used throughout the short as effective comic relief. Since it’s short I won’t elaborate more on the plot, but for a relatively short film, the plot is both coherent and well executed. More importantly, however, the animation quality is unbelievable, with both the characters’ motions and the battle scenes having superb visual moments. There was every cliché from a tsundere to a happy-go-lucky and hapless female protagonist, but somehow it works delightfully and is perfect for such a magically charged short. It’s not profound or thought provoking, nor is it particularly new, but it is eye candy and a joy to watch. Plus it can be easily be found officially on YouTube with English subtitles! If you’re looking for a fantastic time killer, Little Witch Academia is there: free, entertaining, and charming.
Score: 8/10 - Wispy Witches
Reviewed by Clain
Umi no Misaki (海の御先) is a heartwarming, yet very sexual, harem and ecchi manga drawn by Kou Fumizuki that is unique in the fact that it seems to forget that it is an ecchi and instead has a coherent and enticing story. The plot follows a young man, Goto Nagi, who comes to live on a rural island and quickly discovers that he is the “dragon god” and must eventually choose one of three beautiful maidens (Shizuku, Soyogi, and Karin) as his bride. From the description this manga sounds horrible, and I thought so too at first, but after I randomly gave it a try, I was surprised how much it took the maidens’ and Nagi’s feelings into account to create a story that focuses as much on the ridiculousness of their situation as on its core romantic subject matter. There is a serious aspect relating to the duties of being a shrine maiden and in the girls’ belief in Nagi and the religion of which he is at the forefront. There is some pretty graphic sex later in the manga (which I tend to gloss over), but this progression is not immediate and took many chapters to happen, giving it a natural feel of love, unlike most manga of its kind. The maidens are all different, each having interesting and complex backstories, and by the end of the first couple of chapters everyone should have a clear favorite they are rooting for. The art style is interesting and cute, and allows for the emotions of the characters to easily be transferred from manga to reader with surprising ease. This is by no means a masterpiece or a great manga, but it has its endearing qualities, and if a little sex can be looked over, then it is a great way to pass the time.
Score: 8/10 - Undeniable, Undulating Umi
Reviewed by Clain
Gekijōban Hagane no Renkinjutsushi: Shanbara o Yuku Mono (劇場版 鋼の錬金術師 シャンバラを征く者), also known as Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa, is an animated Japanese film written by Sho Aikawa that acts as a continuation of the Fullmetal Alchemist anime series. Torn from his home world, Edward Elric has been living for the past two years in a Germany where the Nazi party is attempting to come into power. In the world that he has left behind, his brother Alphonse has not given up hope, and is determined to find and reunite with his brother.
Edward’s new world is similar to his last, featuring a number of people who are familiar both to him and to the audience, but are ultimately complete strangers, and although magic and certain mind-related abilities seem possible, alchemy is defined by the scientific community as an impossibility. Not that it stops Ed from getting into trouble, kicking butt, and taking names.
Conqueror of Shamballa is a bit slow to start, and unless you go in knowing that you will see some strangely familiar faces, seeing Alphonse-not-Al right off may be a bit confusing. However, once the movie gets started, it is quick to draw you in and hard to stop. The story is enthralling, the occasional switch between languages — Japanese and German — is easy to follow and is subbed for the convenience of viewers, and the new (and not-so-new) characters are realistic and easy to both love and hate. And a bonus — most, if not all, of the German history used seems to be realistic and taken from the history books.
Score: 9/10 - Super Shamballa
Reviewed by Nepenthe
Here at Animanga Reviews we have a new reviewer! Her username will be Nepenthe and the posts will be signed with the username if she is the one writing them. My username is Clain, and everything up until this point has been mine, but now I will distinguish. This new partnership is exciting, and new reviews can be expected more often. Welcome to Animanga Reviews!
Aku no Hana (惡の華), also known as The Flowers of Evil, is a grossly disturbing and creepy manga drawn by Shuzo Oshimi. The story follows a middle schooler named Takao Kasuga and his misadventures with a psychopathic girl who he is irresistibly drawn to, Sawa Nakamura. Nakamura blackmails Takao over his love for a beautiful girl, Nonoko Saeki. The themes of perversion and corruption are often explored here, all centering somehow on Takao’s favorite book, Les Fleurs du mal by Charles Baudelaire. Nakamura slowly draws Takao into the darkness of her messed up world, trying to reach “the other side” with him. While it is never clear what “the other side” is, Takao desperately wants to please Nakamura by taking her there. The ending of the first part is fantastic, both climactic and characteristically depressing. Unhealthy relationships are what drive this manga, and make it a truly worthwhile read. Takao and Nakamura’s desire to descend into insanity and “perversion” is also featured quite heavily. Obsession is also religiously explored here, especially with grief and Saeki and Takao’s so-called love. Unless one is repulsed by gruesome details and extremely foul language, this is a truly enthralling and dark manga that will make the reader think about what life is truly about.
Score: 9/10 - Evil Effervescing
Me~teru no Kimochi (め～てるの気持ち), drawn by Hiroya Oku, author of Gantz, is a mediocre manga about one of Japan’s pressing issues, the increase of the number of parent-dependent shut-ins, called hikikomori. The main character is a thirty-year-old hikikomori of fifteen years, named Koizumi Shintarou, whose father suddenly dies and is left to live with his father’s young wife, Haruka. Haruka works to get Shintarou out of his room and live a productive life. Oku drew this in between phases of his magnum opus, Gantz, and clearly shows that he wanted a break of drawing aliens and action to draw a more realistic and sexual situation. Though the story and characters are nothing special, the manga is genuinely touching and Haruka actually cares for her much older “son” and wants to help him be able to live on his own. But the premise is mostly ridiculous. As a big fan of Gantz, I enjoyed the artwork, but it is definitely very sexual, usual for Oku. Haruka is a stock character: a nice, good-looking, and foolish girl, but at least Oku doesn’t try to claim she is anything different. While the ending was satisfying, I had mixed emotions about it as a whole, but in the end it was worth reading because of the awareness it brings to the pertinent issue of the hikikomori in Japan. But don’t let kids or people who don’t like sex in manga near this!
Score: 7.5/10 - Heartwarming Hikikomori
Summer Wars (サマーウォーズ), directed by Mamoru Hosoda, is a superb action film that all should enjoy. Being one of Japan’s most acclaimed anime directors, all of Mamoru Hosoda’s films are fantastic, and Summer Wars is no exception. In the near future there is a social network/gaming hub/global network that is constant in their lives, called OZ, where every person has their own fighter/avatar. Kenji, the main character, is a math genius and moderator of OZ, and is suddenly brought by a girl he knows, Natsuki, to her great-grandmother’s countryside manor under the ruse that he is her fiancé. There they have to fight a virus that is taking over OZ and crippling Japan. The plot is direct and simple, yet intelligent, and the characters are endearing and hilarious. Natsuki’s great-grandmother, Sakae, is the best character, heart-warming and loving, while at the same time questioning and strict. Natsuki and Kenji’s real and fake romance is touching and they grow as characters as the movie progresses and they have to confront even greater difficulties. The animation itself and its style is superb, with barely any 3D animation, which is usually used in these kind of action-packed and fantastical movies. The fight scenes in OZ are fantastic and the emotions from the characters in the real world are hilarious when things go right or wrong during them. I’m really excited to watch Hosoda’s other movies now! This movie definitely gets my blessing and is just a good time to watch, even though it doesn’t break any new ground.
Score: 8.5/10 - A Spectacular Summer and Outstanding OZ
Durarara!! (デュラララ!!), directed by Takahiro Omori and created by Ryohgo Narita, is a fantastic anime that follows a fantastically fleshed out and interesting story. Having previously read all the manga available in English, I already knew how fantastic the story and characters were before I embarked on this adventure. And what an adventure it was. Centering on ten or so main characters in the Tokyo neighborhood of Ikebukuro, Durarara!! Is a unique and mesmerizing story of adventure, love, and conflicting viewpoints and factions. The story also involves gangs, including the mysterious Dollars, an Internet gang who are invisible. Every single character is human and complex, with their own background explained sometime in the series. They all are necessary to the story, with even seemingly useless characters becoming important later on. It is impossible to not have a favorite character or two, mine being Celty, the headless Dullahan, and Anri Sonohara. The artwork is gorgeous. Both the characters and backgrounds are beautifully animated and each frame is special in its own way. A nice touch was making all of the background characters monochrome, making the main characters always stand out. The character relationships really make this project unique, and all their relationships become intertwined and eventually lead to a suspenseful and surprising end. This project has turned into my favorite mixed media of the year so far, and I thoroughly enjoyed reliving the story again. I would recommend this to anyone who loves thrills, love, and a fun time in one package.
Score: 9/10 - Devious, Delightful Durarara!!