Saturday, January 30, 2010

Scanlation Get: Cesare


The new Scanlation Get! is Cesare, which is a title that aptly calls its self “Serious Historical Fiction”. (This title is serious business!) Mangaka Fuyumi Souryo (Eternal Sabbath) did research with a Dante scholar to bring the life of Cesare Borgia to the manga page.

The story is from the view of the character Angelo da Canossa who has recently arrived at a cloistered school for the children of nobles, or the rich and powerful. Smart, but naive in the world of political intrigue Angelo is left at a disadvantage when the different students associations begin to play for power within the school. Through a series of events Angelo is saved by Cesare. Angelo is immediately captivated by him. Cesare is charismatic, smart, and outwardly kind. Though he lives in a harsh world of hidden darkness where even the smallest slight can cause immense political danger. Cesare has keen political sense he wields with surgical precision in all this darkness. It is through Angelo we learn more about Cesare, allowing us to see both the light and darkness of this character. There is a lot of maneuvering, and manipulation of power with the various associations within the school.  This leads to a lot of political intrigue in the title.

The art in this is marvelous, there is a huge attention to detail in every page. The clothing is period appropriate which means lots of ruffles and darting, all of which is drawn in detail. Each association has very distinct clothing also, which is very helpful in a title with a number of characters and sides to take. Cesare features many framing panels, to help define the setting, which are drawn in such detail it is astounding. Every character has a simple but unique face, and the detail in some of the hair is just insane. Over all an outstandingly well drawn title.

Ceasare reminds me a lot of Rose of Versailles (only more male) which had a similar story telling device with Oscar and Marie Antoinette. What makes Rose of Versailles and Cesare interesting was the wheeling and dealings of the nobles at court (or in the case of Cesare the students at the school). I will admit Cesare maybe to dry for a lot of people as most of the “action” is in fact political maneuvering and intrigue which leads to people talking...a lot. The “action” is in the “words” (Shakes fist). Though for anyone that likes “Serious Historical Fiction” I would highly recommend it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Review: Tokyo Zombie

Now, it is time for the last review for my first batch of manga winnings from the 365 Days of Manga contest. This is a title I already owned called Tokyo Zombie. Since I already own this, you can take that as a good indicator that I like it, and I do! Out of titles I have reviewed so far from the contest I think by far this is the strangest of them. Tokyo Zombie is a single volume story by Yusaku Hanakuma, that is both wacky and oddly thought provoking.

The plot is very much molded after classic zombie movie tropes. This isn't really a bad thing, you never really get the unexpected, but what you do get though is very fulfilling. What sets this title apart from other zombie stories is the basic premise. The source of the zombies in this tale is a mountain of trash known as “Dark Fuji”. At first people are just dumping old trash can't get rid of else where (Japan has some pretty strict rules on how, when, and what kinds of trash can be thrown out.) Eventually, corpses start to get dumped here. Sometimes people even get buried alive. In a rather funny and disturbing scene a young couple bury the husband's nagging mother alive. Only for the wife to kick the decrepit woman's still complaining head off like a soccer ball. Dark Fuji is like scab covering a festering wound before it pops. Once popped, the dead rise from Dark Fuji and run rampant in Japan.

I can't really say much about what goes on in this manga in context without spoiling it. So, I'll give you some of out of context ridiculousness; zombie fellatio; street punks punked by an old man; random casual sex; jujitsu; a supremely gaudy big rig; a dog; zombie cage fight; a pig named Sayaka; pig surfing; and a pig revolt.

This is a really over the top title, it knows it, and just rolls with it. I've watched and read a decent amount of Zombie movies and comics, so I can' help but see some parallels from other titles. What is interesting though is Tokyo Zombie is originally from 1999, which predates the two movies I would strongly compare it to. It is a zombie comedy like Shaun of the Dead, and has elements seen in Land of the Dead, but Tokyo Zombie came before both of those titles! So, I have to give credit there is a lot of creativity in this title.

Also, like any good zombie movie Tokyo Zombie is more then what it seems. It contains a lot of social commentary within. Such as burying people in Dark Fuji like old trash that is in the way. In the first chapter there are several scenes that present problems going on in modern Japanese society. In one street punks are accosting an old man. In another there is a very odd presentation of a group having casual sex, where several men have sex with a school girl laying limp like a blow up doll. There is also a part where some cruel guards are “pig surfing” which could be representative of people living well of the backs of the lower classes...at least I think so. One of the last lines in the book is “It probably ain't just Japan that's got a Dark Fuji” a really obvious statement that every society and culture has problems. Over all this title is really oddly symbolic about the ills of modern society. It does all these undertones well and is never in your face about it.

The art in Tokyo Zombie is pretty bizarre also. It looks like it was done in ball point pen (it may have in fact have been). It seems like something that would have been done by that strange guy everyone knew in high school who drew messed up crap while bored in class. There is a nice dichotomy between the art being rough and the panel layout being rather simplistic. In fact, many of the pages use the same handful of panel layouts over and over again. It works to make this rough art style be told more clearly. The art is both silly and gritty at the same time and it adds a strange, and odd discomfort to the title. To me this art style works much better, in the context of Tokyo Zombie, then any of the “normal” manga/anime styles. The more typical style would have seemed really out of place.

Over all Tokyo Zombie is a great fun title. If you are looking for an alternative manga I highly recommend this title. I think it is a great example of alternative comics and is far more approachable then many. On a similar note if you like zombie stories and are looking for something fun and wacky but still a great example of the genre this is a great read. I do think this title stands well on it's own and is worth a read by everyone, but I understand not everyone will like it.

Final Verdict: Kick-ass

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Review: Orochi Blood

My next entry of my 365 Days of Manga winnings is the manga Orochi: Blood. Which is special... Why, you ask? Because I honestly liked this one. This is an interesting little title, as far as I can tell it was Kazuo Umezu's first work to be published in English. Like some other Viz titles at the time though, only some of manga was ever publish. It works out well enough though, Blood is a self contained story, so the reader is not left hanging. Though after reading it I would really like to read the rest of the series.

Orochi: Blood is a horror story with some fantastical elements in it. It never goes to far though, it felt grounded, and had the right amount of creepy tension. The horror is mostly based around family issues and child abuse. Which makes it sound more like a Lifetime movie. Though this Lifetime movie has an immortal girl watching over the characters to just see what happens next. (Immortal Stalker Girls! Up Next on Lifetime.) This immortal girl is our titular character Orochi, who acts as both a character and seemingly omnipresent narrator. She sneaks in and around the dark mansion of a well-to-do family. Orochi watches as the Mother mentally and physically abuses her youngest daughter either for not living up to family standards, or her older sister. At first it seems the sisters have a wonderful relationship and that what is keeping them going, but as the story goes on the things they both do seem more suspicious. Part way though the story the plot curves and Orochi turns from being the narrator to a character with a role to play.

By the second half of the story the younger sister is forced move far away. At some point Orochi goes to check on her and during this time saves her life but at a price. It seems Orochi must take long bouts of sleep every hundred years to continue to be immortal and young. The shock from saving the younger sister forces her to sleep early. She wakes up to find herself in the body of a different young woman (I'd insert a Lost Highway joke if I had one) who as it happens to be just adopted into the same family she had been watching over previously. It is a cheap plot device but it works as it doesn't seem out of place in the context of the story. The sisters are much older now, the eldest is bed ridden with a heart problem, and the younger sister now runs the home. For a time everything seems peaches and cream, but that is soon crushed. The younger sister repeats the cycle of abuse and begins to put Orochi though all sorts of torture. Orochi and the older sister being to bond heavily but this leads to the downfall of everything. This is where we learn that Orochi really wasn't an omnipresent narrator, as one might have though. Leading the reader to believe they might have been missing part of the story the whole time.

This story really sent home the messages that abuse only begets more abuse, and that not everyone is what they seem to be. In the end it might all still sound a bit Lifetime-ish but the story really had a Twilight Zone feel to it. What helps to make this manga creepy though is the art.

The art in this is wonderfully creepy. If you have seen the works of Junji Ito, the art has very similar style. Though Umezu was probably writing horror long before Ito was even a spiral in his mummy's tummy. In fact it's pretty easy to see that Umezu had to have been a huge influence on Ito. Though the art in Orochi: Blood never reaches the grotesque level that some Ito comics reach.

In terms of the story telling, the art, is very effective. Much of the story takes place in a large western styled mansion but the art makes great use of chiaroscuro. Many of the scenes are done in such a way that only part of it is lighted. While, often large, amounts of it remain dark or blacked out. I could feel the claustrophobic feel of being trapped. Which magnificently reflected what was going on in the story very well. The comic felt very Baroque in style, I could differently see the influence.

The second half half the comic didn't seem as dark in terms of layout. The layouts do make significant change though. Early on in the story as we learn the young sisters plight there is never more then four panels to a page. Once certain events unfold you start to get pages with ten or even more panels. Giving the impression we are only seeing small parts of the whole picture. I really felt this title made great use of layout and panel as part of the story telling experience.

I really liked this manga, it has made me much more interested in reading Umezu's other works. I couldn't recommend Orochi to everyone. Though if you like the Japanese slow burn style of horror or the Twilight Zone it is very worth a read. Also if you are a fan of Junji Ito it should be a must read just to see the influences.

Final Verdict: Spiral Plus

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Review: Central City

Oh! boy, another review of my 365 Days of Manga winnings. Today is Central City by Saya (Yes, just Saya. I wouldn't want my real name attached to this steaming pile of crap either). Of note, as far as I can tell this “volume” is a single chapter of a multi-chapter single volume manga. It seems only two chapters came out and the second one seems neigh impossible to get. Though, at a $7.95, I can see why no one bought it, and if they did, why they didn't bother purchasing the second volume. I know Viz had done something similar with Eagle but at least with that you were getting something good and not expensive toilet paper.

Here is what I can make out of the story in this drivel. In the future, there area bunch of organizations made up of nonsense acronyms, like F.E.B. Which stands for Federal Earth Bureau, but what the fuck does that even mean? That means nothing to me the reader! At least give it a relatable title. (Argh, brain starting to bleed!) Apparently F.E.B. is some super computer that runs the world except for Central City The reason this computer runs the world is never really explained. (Why bother with the world building when it is this half assed?) This “bureau” employs “Disposers” who make all sorts of information and people disappear. I'm glad that part is at least clear (but can they make unwanted pet hair go away?). I think the writer played a little to much Snatcher at some point because this seems like the vile regurgitation of a better if still unoriginal work. What I have told you no less is just back ground information given on the first page! Did I mention most of this manga is told though some terrible jackass-ery of exposition? Seriously, almost nothing happens.

Our main character is Kaede happens to be a S.A. Disposer. S.A. for Special A class, apparently the most “bad ass” kind of Disposer. I think Super Asshole would be better title though. He is in Central City with his friend Karen (who does fuck all expect tell us more exposition) to find his missing mentor. Not much happens except for Kaeda burning someone into blacken catfish for seeing his pretty boy face and going to a bar to talk to some people who might know where his missing mentor is. Another acronym shows up the S.S.S., (which I can't remember what it stood for and can't be bother to look up) who have it out for all F.E.B. Disposers.  They are on the trail of Kaede.  Since the twit burnt a bunch of people to a crisp. You think you would want to be on the down low in the one city in the world that doesn't like Disposers.  Really, that is all that happens except for more slip-sod background exposition. Honestly, I don't hate exposition. This though is so in your face and terrible, I think my brain started to seep out of my ears. Someone should have punched the author (a lot) and been like “What the fuck are you doing? Stop it with this shit!”

After the mess that is the plot there is the very drab art. It would be just passable in a normal shoujo romance manga. Central City seems to be an action Sci-fi title though. So, the art doesn't really work. The designs are lackluster and forgettable. The line work would is average at best. There is also a distinct lack of backgrounds. The real issue is with the paneling more precisely the content of the panels. The content doesn't flow very well in any of the action scenes. Manga is supposed to flow like a piece of cinema. If Central City was a movie it would be full of terrible jump cuts of impossible to tell action. I would have to say the art isn't as bad as the writing but it does more to hinder then help.

Over all this title left a foul taste with me (maybe I puked up my brains?). Unlike, Baron Gong Battle which was terrible but still fun to read, Central City was just boring and painful. There is absolutely nothing distinct or enjoyable in this. I honestly wouldn't be able to suggest this title to anyone.

Final Verdict: Negative Snowman

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Review: Baron Gong Battle Volumes 1-3

So, I won some manga from the 365 Days of Manga contest over at Suduvu.com so I thought I would actually review them for my blog. Word of warning, I asked from the strangest/weirdest stuff that Jason Thompson had so a lot of it is pretty "special". I received three volumes of Baron Gong Battle, and volumes of Central City, Orochi Blood, and Tokyo Zombie (which I already own, lols).  If you post an image of yourself with the manga you can get five more.  So here I am with the manga I won.


My first review is of the first three volumes of Baron Gong Battle. Now, I prefer to review series as a whole, but this is all I have so it will have to do. Thiss series has nine volumes total which it seems only the first six came out in English and it's been in limbo since 2005 or 2006. Though after after reading the first part I highly doubt that this title will take any interesting surprises to invalidate my review.

So I can basically sum this title up as simply terrible, I mean really terrible. Just about everything in it from the writing to the art is just a fucking travesty. Honestly, what this title has going for it is that it is so bad and so ridiculous. Did I mention the mangaka was the same guy who did the Battle Royale manga? (Yeah, that guy...) Honestly it's even hard to tell if the author knew it was so ludicrous. In some of the more comical moments it seems the author might have a clear understanding of the crazy exploitative crap that's being written and having fun with it. There are other moments that are told in such a deadpan manner, it is hard to imagine the author being anything but the utmost serious.

So, I am going to start with the art. The art is so offensive to the senses, that it would be the first thing anyone would notice about the title. Now I am pretty torn about the art so I need to talk about two different and distinct aspects of it, one the the drawing skill and two the character designs.

I cannot deny Taguchi can draw and draw pretty well at that. Everything has a lot of detail, in fact in some places it has a pretty absurd about of detail. Which I love, I really enjoy the sort of hyper realism you see in the works of Ryoichi Ikegami, who did the art for Crying Freeman, and Sanctuary. I can see some of that in Taguchi's work, high detail with screen tone done very effectively, a lot of cross hatching, and a fairly good design sense when it comes to panel placement. In fact if it wasn't for the fact everything collapses with the character design, I'd really like the art.

Ah, the character design... What a cluster fuck of terribleness. It's like Taguchi took everything in about terrible character design, and took it to heart as his style. I'm only going to talk the main character Baron Gong, otherwise this would never end.

It's like Taguchi thought "What could make this character as cool as possible? A scar! Well, if one is cool then five is totally bad ass. It would be even more cool if they were all on his face!"

The placements of the scars doesn't really make sense. They don't look like they were cause by fighting but placed on purpose. Which would mean that the Baron himself would have had to done it or at some point someone did it to him, either of those choices don't make any sense in the realm of the story. These scars are also never talked about either, they are just their for design effect. In this case the phrase less is more would have helped out a lot.

Then the hair, oh God the hair! Again this is an anime combo (to the max) of a whole bunch of things that might (keyword "might") be cool on their own and combining them into a travisty of a hairdo. Baron's hair looks like a cockroach who watched Dragon Ball Z hair and never left the 80's with a mullet. Taguchi, please pick just one! Don't combine them all into one ├╝ber hairstyle! It's not cool, really! In the end every character ends up being so over the top on anime design tropes they just end up being really fucking ugly but not in some endearing way but grotesque way that leaves you with an uncomfortable feeling.

This causes another problem the background art with its hyper realism and the characters with outrageous anime character design cause a time distortion of reality giving readers cerebral hemorrhaging. Okay, maybe it won't cause your brain to bleed but it comes damn close to doing so. They just don't work together.

The story its self is a mess of the most exploitative exploitation film, and the most inexplicable, trope filled sci-fi story in existence. Our hero the Baron (Is he a Baron or is Baron his first name? ARGH! Brain hemorrhaging...) is after ancient monsters known as Neo Humes. Why are they called Neo Humes, you ask? The Baron came up with it himself, it is short for New Humans. (Yep, that's right...moving on now...) A female Neo Hume have been recently re-found and experimented on. Her children now want to take over they world as they need to eat regular old humans so they can sustain their molecular structure or some crap. They also can't have children they melt into piles of goop shortly after birth, but that doesn't stop the Neo Humes from trying really hard (and I mean really hard).

Baron gets involved in all this because one of the Neo Humes killed his girlfriend. After which there is an awesomely absurd scene of Baron and the head of his somehow still living girlfriend having a conversion just before she passes away. This all leads to the fact pretty much nothing in this manga makes a drop of sense when it comes to logic. Each of the story arcs are basically monster of the week crap. Why are these Neo Humes attacking Baron one at a time though? The story states there are something like 50 or so of them, why don't they attack all at once? Why didn't they just attack some where else in the world all at once and take it over and move out from there? They are super powerful beings, that easily could. Of course! They after Baron's DNA, why you ask? After having his arm ripped off he replaces it with the arm of a Neo Hume he killed. (Really, I do that every Tuesday.) So, some how his DNA must be compatible with theirs any maybe they could make non-goo pile babies with him.

For the three volumes I read things pretty much goes on like that. A monster shows up, Baron kicks its ass in some over the top super macho way. I couldn't stop reading it though. I just had to see what was the next completely fucked up thing would happen next. Such as a chase scene that had Baron launch a Mini Copper into an elevator to make it to the top of a sky scraper. So as much as I hated a lot of what makes up this manga it's so weird and exploitative I really did enjoy it. I can't say most people would like it, but if you enjoy more of the insane exploitative manga titles like Wounded Man this is worth a look though.

Final Verdict: Brain Explosion