skygiants: C-ko the shadow girl from Revolutionary Girl Utena in prince drag (someday my prince will come)
So I've just read The Rose of Versailles, which is a.) one of the most influential manga of all time, having essentially formed the founding cornerstone of modern shojo and b.) basically the story of the French Revolution as filtered through TWENTY MILLION ROSES AND SPARKLING SHOJO TEARDROPS. It is amazing.

Cut for lots of images! AND SPARKLES )
skygiants: Kurai from Angel Sanctuary, giving the finger, with text 'are you there, God?  It's me, Kurai' (unprodigal)
Sooooo after several months of experiencing Attack on Titan secondhand on Tumblr, I finally decided to read the manga firsthand. I just wanted to get the jokes! I did not expect to get emotionally invested. THE MORE FOOL I.

For anyone who has escaped the phenomenon to date, Attack on Titan is a shonen manga, and, recently, anime series about a world in which humanity lives inside walls and is menaced by cheerful man-eating giants who make no biological sense. (The fact that they make no biological sense is a plot point.)



It is kind of ridiculous, and kind of nihilist (lots of chewed-up death) but I really like it! I have grown really terribly fond of all the asshole and/or idiot teenagers who mostly vibrate between being DEEPLY PERPLEXED and DEEPLY FULL OF RAGE at a universe that is terrible because a.) it makes no sense and they are likely to be eaten at any moment and b.) they are teenagers. Normally I get frustrated by stories full of stupid teenagers, but in this case it charms me, mostly because nobody is trying to pretend they are anything other than terrible. At one point late in the manga, one character attempts to curb her girlfriend's action suicide by shouting at her, "YOU'RE THE PERSON WITH THE WORST PERSONALITY IMAGINABLE! DON'T THROW YOUR LIFE AWAY!" This is completely accurate, except there are SO MANY CONTENDERS for "worst personality imaginable." I am deeply fond of all of them. Even the antagonists. ESPECIALLY the antagonists. spoiler ) (There are a few nice ones! Mostly they are developing into Machiavellian manipulation machines, though, so "nice" depends on how you look at it.)

The story also has a structure that -- I think is maybe common to shonen? This is the structure where you start out following one SHONEN PROTAGONIST with one fairly simple action goal in a secondary fantasy world of some sort that works by certain rules; then the focus starts pulling back, introducing more characters with more information, and it turns out that a.) there is some VERY LARGE AND SINISTER CONSPIRACY at work that means that the rules of the fantasy world are not what our protagonist or anyone else has hitherto believed and b.) our protagonist's fairly simple goal is not actually all that important at all in the grand scheme of things.

It turns out this is a structure I really like! It tends to feature large casts, puzzle-box worldbuilding, and universes that do not revolve around the protagonist, all of which I appreciate. It also applies to Fullmetal Alchemist and Claymore, which are the other two shonen that I've read all the way through -- but, I mean, I don't know a ton about common shonen structure, and I'm working off a very small sample size here. You guys who have more range, what would you say? Is this actually a common pattern with shonen, or did I just luck out?

(Non-shonen stories I would say follow this structure to a certain extent: the Steerswoman series, Gunnerkrigg Court. Now also taking recommendations for other stuff that fits this model!)
skygiants: Koizumi Kyoko from Twentieth Century Boys making her signature SHOCKED AND HORRIFIED face (wtf is this)
It turns out that while I have been steadily reading Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century Boys since 2009 (!!!) I haven't actually talked about it much on here since 2011, which clearly makes it time and long past - especially since a.) I just completed a high-speed reread of the whole thing and b.) it remains my favorite Urasawa manga and also one of my favorite mangas in general, HANDS DOWN.

So 20th Century Boys is about a group of plucky kids who come up with a plan to save the world from evil!

. . . well, except now it's thirty years later, and Our Hero Kenji is instead spending his time running a failing convenience store and taking care of his missing sister's baby, AND THAT'S FINE.

. . . except that a mysterious cult leader has started using the symbol that Kenji and his friends made up for their secret clubhouse evil-fighting league, and somebody seems to be doing their level best to transform the fantasy of WORLD-DESTROYING EVIL that Kenji & Co. came up into a reality. Which means that Kenji and his friends might be the only people who know what's going on with enough warning to stop it!

. . . except that that was MORE THAN THIRTY YEARS AGO and how much does anybody actually remember of the stuff that happened when they were eleven? NOT MUCH.

This is where the story begins; it goes many, many places from there, paying loving homage to all kinds of sci-fi and spaghetti western and shounen manga tropes along the way. (There is a whole extended sequence in the desert where half the cast is wearing ponchos and cowboy hats. Why? BECAUSE SERGIO LEONE, THAT'S WHY. At another point the bad guys all get in a huge generational fight about their world-destroying robot: the older guys want their evil robot to be remote-controlled a la Tetsujin 28, and the younger dudes want it to have a pilot like the Gundams do! Meanwhile, the actual robotics engineer they have kidnapped is just weeping into his hands in despair because ACTUAL ROBOTS DON'T WORK THAT WAY.)

All the trope-dipping is there for a reason: 20th Century Boys is, at its heart, a story about what shapes you as a kid, and the choices you make then, and how they do and don't define who you are as an adult. It's about memory and nostalgia, and the ways you can get stuck there. So of course Urasawa has to take a meandering path through his own nostalgia, in order to get there.

And, I mean, of course I love this story; it's about manga and how that can shape you, and music and how that can save you. Kenji is a frankly awful singer whose signature song is called "Bob Lennon" because it's ripped off from Bob Dylan and the Beatles in equal measure; his music helps save the world. At one point an army of hippies turns up and accidentally takes down an evil government outpost. My favorite character, Koizumi Kyoko, spends most of her time obsessing over a totally ridiculous visual kei band; she is, in fact, so obsessed that the evil cult completely fails at brainwashing her, which both saves her life and makes her a major player in the story.

. . . but it's also a story about an EVIL CULT that's trying to DESTROY THE WORLD based on a plan written by an eleven-year-old, so you know. Fair warning for some DEEPLY IMPLAUSIBLE STUFF.

Other fair warnings: there are a ton of awesome female characters who have independent relationships, but for the first few volumes it's pretty much a boy's club with the exception of one token badass lady (SORRY YUKIJI I love you Yukiji I just wish you weren't basically the only one in Volumes 1-4!); there are sympathetic trans characters but I could wish they were handled a lot better than they are; every so often Urasawa wanders off on a tangent and sort of has to yank himself back (seriously, we did not need to spend alll that pagetime on ANGSTY SHOGUN IN THAILAND); there are FIVE MILLION CHARACTERS. FIVE MILLION. One of these days I may do a primer to the ladies, because I love them, but most of the dudes are also great and for those y'all are on their own.

(Also, speaking of ladies: [personal profile] springgreen's story 20th Century Girls is also super worth checking out, for an awesome and much-needed take on the same themes from the perspective of girl groups and shoujo manga.)
skygiants: Himari, from Mawaru Penguin Drum, with stars in her hair and a faintly startled expression (gonna be a star)
When [personal profile] izilen visited this summer, she left me a bunch of digital scans of Cat Street, so that became my Kindle manga test case! (Conclusion: great for being able to devour a ton of manga at once, terrible when it freezes up my Kindle.)

Cat Street focuses on Aoyama Keito, a former child star who got All About Eve'd by another child star and froze up on stage. Fast-forward ten years and Keito is a recluse who refuses to attend school, has no hobbies, and dislikes everything and everyone (especially herself.)



Then she gets introduced to a School for Socially Awkward Weirdos, and, for lack of anything else to do with her time, she starts going. Eventually she becomes friends with three other "stray cats": Rei, a soccer prodigy who bombed out due to being an asshole to his teammates; Momiji, a gothic lolita who dreams of starting her own fashion line; and Kouichi, a genius computer programmer who is even less interested in people than Keito is.



So the plot begins with Keito re-entering the world and learning how to interact with people, and then it becomes about Keito finding herself again without basing her identity on other people, and finally it's about Keito and her friends re-building their relationships based on their growth as people.



Which is a character arc I very much appreciate; becoming a whole person is a long and complicated and ongoing process, and it's never too late to start. I love that.

(I also really like the stuff about Keito's career as an actress because I have a huge weakness for behind-the-scenes stories about performance and meta about acting, see also Skip Beat!)

I also like how the eventual romance goes, for a couple of reasons that could count as spoilers. )

So basically it's adorable, and my only complaint is that Momoko -- the one other girl in the group of four -- doesn't get anywhere near as much focus as the rest of the kids; her friendship with Keito is great, but there's clearly less time spent on its development than on Keito's relationships with the guys, and she doesn't get as much of a serious plot and character journey of her own, either.

(But I do really love the development of Keito's relationship with her former child-actress-bff-turned-life-ruiner-turned-sort-of-friend-again. SHE'S AWFUL AND I LOVE HER.)
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (mulan feminism)
I would like to make it clear that it is entirely [livejournal.com profile] izilen's fault that I faceplanted straight into Kaze Hikaru as soon as I finished classes.

Kaze Hikaru is a manga about a plucky crossdressing girl in nineteenth-century Japan! Whose family is all killed, so she does the logical thing: shaves off the top of her head and joins up with the troupe of warriors called the Shinsengumi so that she can seek her REVENGE.





Cut for picspam! )
skygiants: Azula from Avatar: the Last Airbender with her hands on Mai and Ty Lee's shoulders (team hardcore)
So here is the question: if you know the earth is basically about to be destroyed, and you're picking your team to rebuild humanity, who are you gonna call?

If your answer is 'a bunch of diverse and awesome ladies,' then you are not thinking like Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (yes, I am still bitter), but you are thinking like Yumi Tamura! SO LET'S TALK ABOUT SOME 7 SEEDS LADIES.

Click for PICSPAM OF AWESOME LADIES! )

And here's what I love about 7 Seeds, in the end: pop singers are awesome. Dancers are awesome. Action girls are awesome. Smart girls are awesome. Girls with social anxiety who love their cats are awesome. Maternal women are awesome. Women who never ever want kids are awesome.

And they all have something to contribute, to the world and to each other. AND IT'S GREAT.
skygiants: Nice from Baccano! in post-explosion ecstasy (maybe too excited . . .?)
SO FOUR DAYS LATER I have now read everything that is available to read in English of Seven Seeds, and all I have to say is that I feel like I've been punched in the gut forty times over and I keep happily walking into the fist. Yumi Tamura's brain, man. YUMI TAMURA'S BRAIN. I kind of want to spoil everything and gibber about it, but I'M NOT GOING TO.

I am, however, going to make a short list of things Yumi Tamura has done in her post-apocalyptic shojo manga that I never thought I would see in a post-apocalyptic shojo manga:

1. Two teenagers have sex for the first time; it's pretty uncomfortable, and they get halfway through and decide that they're not all that into it, and it's completely not a big deal.

2. Heterosexual teenaged boy: "Aw, man, sex is off the menu if it means popping off kids."
*TWO MALE TEAM MEMBERS APPEAR, COVERED IN BISHIE SPARKLES*
Heterosexual teenaged boy: "Hmmm. . . ."

3. A character gets pregnant. There is a reasonable amount of page space devoted to her prenatal yoga lessons.

4. One female character has long flowing hair that she's really proud of. But, you know, it's the apocalypse, so she grumbles for a bit about not having conditioner and all her split ends, and then cuts it all off.

5. Girls have periods!

6. NO, I MEAN, SERIOUSLY, and not in a way that's a sketchy plot device! I got really excited about one quick scene where a character was washing out her sanitary napkins, because even that much is never acknowledged in fiction. But then I got to the next arc, which includes a part where a female character has to climb her way through an giant creepy abandoned shelter and single-handedly rescue her two male teammates, while coping with cramps. Her next step, after all this exertion and successful heroics: check out the creepy abandoned shelter bathroom so that she can change her pad. (Then they carry off all the toilet paper.)

I LOVE YOU, YUMI TAMURA.


I was going to add a separate section in which I was going to complain about one non-realistic thing I would want fixed, which is that despite a reasonable amount of subtext (seriously, the Team Winter OT3 is so close to canon it might as well be) and the nod to homosexual sex as an alternative to procreation, everyone at this point seems basically heteronormative. But as of the most recent chapter I am pretty sure we are getting indicators that Yumi Tamura is shipping two male characters for real, so . . . never mind! Carry on, Yumi Tamura!

(But if you wanted to throw in some lesbians, I mean, that would be nice. Those two badass morally ambiguous constantly bickering rival architect ladies are right there.)

PS. It's been pointed out to me that I should put in trigger warnings here! So . . . yeah. There is definitely triggery stuff in here, and if you want details I can provide.
skygiants: Koizumi Kyoko from Twentieth Century Boys making her signature SHOCKED AND HORRIFIED face (wtf is this)
I am reading manga online again! As we know this is a dangerous proposition and should probably have been saved for after final papers were due. BUT ANYWAY, I am now about four volumes into the sadly only-available-in-scanlations 7 Seeds, the currently-running manga by Yumi Tamura, the creator of Basara.

7 Seeds is not quite as precisely tailored to my tastes as Basara so far -- for one thing, there is no crossdressing -- but it does hit a secret button of mine from when I was a kid, which is 'plucky groups of teenagers survive the apocalypse and must rebuild society!' 7 Seeds is ALL ABOUT THIS. The basic premise is that government scientists, finding out that the world was quite possibly DOOMED, selected healthy teenagers and put them away in cold sleep storage in teams of seven kids (with one grown-up guide to explain things when they woke up) until some ambiguous time after the apocalypse was over and life was presumably sustainable again. What this means in actuality is groups of kids going to bed one night at home and waking up the next morning to find that everything they know is gone and they are in the middle of a DESERTED ISLAND FULL OF MUTANT INSECTS. I don't even have words for what a great plan this is.

There are apparently five teams, and so far we've mostly been following three of them:

1. TEAM SPRING, aka TEAM LADYFRIENDSHIP

Team Spring has one tomboy girl with survivalist training, one logical and scientifically-minded med student trainee girl, and one very ladylike traditional Japanese girl who's good at cooking and mending and taking care of small children, and a large part of the Team Spring arc is them bonding and being friends and figuring out each other's strengths! There are also some dudes. One of them is a twelve-year-old genius and another one is a concert pianist who is like "well, I clearly have the perfect skillset for this mission. THANKS, JAPANESE GOVERNMENT. >.<" They make him an ocarina out of a potato.

2. TEAM WINTER, aka TEAM BROS, aka TEAM THREESOME

The most prominent characters in Team Winter are two boys and a girl. The boys are teen-prodigy baseball players who have admired each other from afar and hoped to come up against each other in a match for years and are SO EXCITED to be in a survival team with each other that being stuck in a post-apocalyptic landscape doesn't even seem that bad. They can play catch! They'll keep in practice! The girl is a bossy dancer with an annoying laugh who says things like "oh, so if it's coming from a boy it's self-confidence and from a girl it's arrogance?" and "um, come on guys, we might be the last humans left alive in the world, I THINK YOU CAN GET OVER SEEING ME NAKED SOMETIMES, jeez," which pretty much guarantees she was destined to win my heart immediately. Their arc involves adorable puppies and spoilers )

3. TEAM SUMMER B, aka TEAM FAILBOAT

So when the government was choosing people for this project they made up four teams out of the most attractive, talented, socially well-adjusted kids they could find . . .

. . . and then someone in the project got genre-savvy and was like "wait, wait, hang on, guys. We've forgotten something important. What if all our perfect people aren't the ones who can save humanity? WHAT IF the only way to keep humanity alive is to create . . . a RAGTAG BAND OF MISFITS?!"

Cue Team Summer B, the most protagonist-y team of all, which includes the girl so shy she can't raise her voice even if she's trapped on an island and menaced by monsters; the drug-dealing delinquent asshole; the boy who once nearly killed a few of his classmates; the teen-girl runaway; the weird psychic girl; and the boy who never talks. They'll have fun! Fortunately their guide is an awesome lady police officer who appears to be the only competent adult involved in any part of this operation.

I've read about up to where we finally encountered Team Fall, aka Team Mysterious Jerkfaces. We don't know much about them yet, but one of their dictates is totally hilarious to me: after learning that the project that stuck them in post-apocalyptic hell was intended to ensure the survival of humanity, and therefore no contraceptives were included in their survival kits, they placed a firm ban in their group on penetrative sex JUST TO SAY FUCK YOU TO THE (LONG-DEAD) MAN. No babies for anyone! HUMANITY IS DOOMED, SUCKERS.
skygiants: (wife of bath)
So did I ever mention I had finished Basara? I have finished Basara! It continues to be grade-A ridiculously dramatic crack all the way through.

There was a while there in the middle where I had a private theory that Basara and Angel Sanctuary must have been coming out at the same time; there were a few (hilarious) narrative choices that seemed directly designed to compete with Kaori Yuki's preferred incest-and-zombies plotting style. EXHIBITS A AND B are spoilers! )

But then I found out that Angel Sanctuary didn't start coming out until Basara was almost over so my pet theory was disproved. However, this does not make these scenes any less hilarious.

I also really approve of the profusion of different kinds of female characters in the second half. I especially approve of the fact that Yumi Tamura's way of getting the story out of severe narrative depression when both leads have plummeted into BSOD pits of despair is to throw in a SPUNKY TEENAGED GENIUS INVENTOR SPY ASSASSIN GIRL to be best friends with her heroine. Kikune, you make everything better! (I also really like Kikune's narrative arc towards the end, because how often do you see stories about ladies being torn between loyalty to a female mentor and a female best friend? NOT OFTEN.) I thoroughly enjoyed the whole Lady Purple storyline too. As for the White King . . . I was taking her tragedy seriously! I was! And then there was the side story in which, well . . .

WHITE KING: So I have lost everything I love, been horribly abused by my family, and am now partially paralyzed and psychologically scarred in twelve different ways, and as the icing on the cake my childhood boyfriend is directly to blame for it all!
CHILDHOOD BOYFRIEND: I know you will always hate me! I hate me too. I will dedicate my life to serving you and protecting you and allowing you to abuse me in an excess of unhealthy codependency!
WHITE KING: Oh well, the one upside to this situation is we can have lots of really hot hatesex, y/y? :D
CHILDHOOD BOYFRIEND: I am sorry I did not think to mention this when I applied for this unhealthy codependency situation, but . . . all of our shared trauma has left me impotent. :( Hatesex is unpossible.
WHITE KING: . . . . . WELL THIS IS JUST THE LAST STRAW, ISN'T IT.

And only then could I truly appreciate her tragedy as it was meant to be appreciated. (Never change, Yumi Tamura. NEVER CHANGE.)

The one thing that confused me about the ending was last spoiler-cut )

Is there other Yumi Tamura manga I should be reading? If her plot sensibilities are always as amazing as they are in Basara I will fall upon her other works like a whole pack of wolves!
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (ooooh)
I volunteer once a week at a nonprofit social-enterprise bookstore, which carries the simultaneous dangers and perks of being constantly surrounded by used books for which I have a 50% volunteer discount. Most of the time I stand strong - I live in the city! I have limited space and budget! I DON'T NEED MORE BOOKS no not even for super-cheap noooo don't tempt me - but a few weeks ago I was shelving in the graphic novels section and I realized that someone had donated the first ten volumes of Claymore, and that given the pricing and aforementioned volunteer discount I had an unprecedented opportunity to acquire all ten volumes for a total of twenty bucks.

And virtuous resistance is one thing, guys, but this was fate.

So now I have read the first ten volumes of Claymore! Claymore works on a fairly familiar premise - in a world where demons prey on humans, the only person who can fight them is a blonde girl who is part-demon herself, created for this purpose by a shady organization - except instead of just one girl there are about forty or fifty women, called Claymores because they use hella big swords and I guess it's as good a distinguishing factor as any. The inevitable fate of a Claymore is to go all-the-way demon, but most of them manage to get their friends to kill them before that happens. (At least such is the setup, I don't think it's a spoiler to say that it eventually gets more complicated.)

(I should also say that it was very weird reading this manga at around the same time I was watching Puella Magica Madoka Magi.)

Claire, our protagonist, is a fairly young, quiet, stoic Claymore with a suitabaly angsty backstory. The first few chapters pretty much follow the "lone gunman rides into town, cleans out evil, rides out" model; fairly rapidly she acquires a small-boy sidekick who follows her around and makes shiny eyes at her. The story starts getting interesting with the addition of other Claymores, all of whom have their own individual personalities and tragic backstories and SUPER SPECIAL ATTACK, and the whole almost-entirely-female cast is pretty awesome, I won't lie. It also gets more interesting once we get to the more powerful villains - the ordinary demons kind of flail around and monologue a lot ("You can never defeat me! - ACK, you chopped off my arm! Why did you do that? Gah, gah, gah!" is a fairly standardish line of demon dialogue) but the super-extra-hardcore demons are fascinating characters in and of themselves.

I keep trying to pick out who my favorite Claymore lady is and having a hard time! Is it Miria, the queen of long-term planning? Long-suffering Ilena, the ultimate in stoic mentorly hardcore? Undine, the hilariously shouty super-muscly one? Deneve the calm and snarky one, and her BFF Helen, the lulzy one?

(Helen keeps throwing me off because whenever she makes :O or :D-faces she looks unnervingly like Haruna from High School Debut. I mean, look at these twin shocked faces:



And now I want someone to write fic swapping them out. LET'S SEE HOW LONG IT TAKES ANYONE TO NOTICE. Does this make me a terrible person? PERHAPS. But you have to admit Haruna is too much of a shonen hero for her own shojo manga anyway! Let's loose her at some demons, it would be awesome.)

In other notes, I would like to formally submit an apology to Hiromu Arakawa for ever having laughed about the number of severed limbs in her manga. I'M SORRY, ARAKAWA. FMA's wanton deployment of limb-loss-as-plot-point is a model of decorum and restraint by comparison with Claymore!
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (Default)
OKAY GUYS SO CAN WE TALK ABOUT BASARA?!

Seriously I don't even know what Yumi Tamura was on when she was writing this but whatever it is I WANT SOME. I spend every volume with my face caught halfway between :OOOOOOOO and *________*!!!. I am only halfway through and this is already ranking as some of the most AMAZINGLY EPIC CRACK I have ever read. I mean, okay, this is how Yumi Tamura's brain works:

THE TELEVISION: Oh hey, it's marathon week! Everyone cheer for the runners!
YUMI TAMURA: Oooh, marathon week is exciting! Hey, I should put a side arc about a MARATHON in this volume! A marathon . . . OF DOOM! There can be CROCODILES and a GIANT HOT-AIR BALLOON and COMRADES FORCED TO KILL EACH OTHER IN CRUEL GLADIATORIAL ENTERTAINMENT and -
YUMI TAMURA'S EDITOR: But wait wait wait, won't this distract from the main plot with the star-crossed love and the rebellion and the pirates and gaining allies -
YUMI TAMURA: No no it's cool, I'll just end this arc with the heroine being kidnapped by evil dudes, DRUGGED AND SACRIFICED TO A SEA MONSTER, saving herself by the power of SHEER DETERMINATION, and using that to lead the REBELLION!
YUMI TAMURA'S EDITOR: . . . . . . well I'm glad we've got that sorted then?
YUMI TAMURA: Also the hero is going to be completely bald for this whole arc just so everyone can make fun of him. LOL!

I am not making this up, guys, her author's notes indicate that this is exactly how her plotting goes. And this is just ONE VOLUME. This is just a SIDE ARC. I am sorry if this is a lot of allcaps but I can't convey the DRAMA of this manga any other way!

(And the thing is that reasonably often she manages to say something pretty interesting about war and nationalism and cycles of oppression, too! It is just that all the plot twists she uses to get there are on Dorothy Dunnett levels of AMAZING IDTASTIC CRACK. I eat it all up with a spoon and cannot wait for more.)

Spoilers through volume 13! )

. . . . wow this is a long entry. Um, I guess I have a lot of feelings? SHINBASHI IS ADORABLE, THE END.
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (Default)
Previously, on After School Nightmare:

MASHIRO: I'm a boy, except I'm actually female from the waist down, don't ask me how that works. But I'M A BOY I'M A BOY I'M A BOY AND I AM GOING TO BE MANLY DAMMIT.

SOU: I am a jerkface playboy, and I am into you, Mashiro, and therefore I say you are a GIRL. And I will force makeouts on you to PROVE IT. I also have some darkly hinted-at Issues In My Past, but it will take a lot of work to make me sympathetic.

KUREHA: My issues are all actually there right in the first volume! I was raped and abused as a child, so I put on a fake cheerful super-feminine face while being inwardly terrified and furious all the time. But Mashiro being half girl makes me feel safe, so I've decided I'm totally in love with him.

MASHIRO: And protecting Kureha makes me feel manly! It's a great basis for a relationship.

CREEPY SCHOOL NURSE: Okay, kids, time to join the extra once-weekly class that shoves you into surreal dreamscapes, in a shape that reflects your deepest psychological issues, and requires you to destroy each other to find the key to the super-ambiguous and not-at-all-sinister 'graduation!' Once you've succeeded you'll disappear from the school and everyone will forget about you, but in theory you'll have achieved at least some kind of emotional catharsis, so . . . that's exciting?

MASHIRO: Wait, why does everyone else get to be things like disembodied hands and anonymous faceless knights and giant paper giraffes, and I'm just myself-as-a-girl so everybody in the class knows my deepest psychological issues? UNFAIR.

CREEPY SCHOOL NURSE: Sorry, kid, but you're the protagonist, so life's just going to have to be harder for you.

And then we launch into ten volumes of psychological surrealism, intense character development, gender issues being interestingly sort-of-explored and yet sort-of-weirdly-not, Mashiro being frustrating, KUREHA BECOMING AWESOME, and interesting characters rotating in and getting flung out of the series faster than you can remember their names. This is where the coherent bit of this entry ends. The rest is spoilers! DO NOT CLICK IF YOU HAVE NOT READ. )
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (ooooh)
A story about reading High School Debut: impatient with the library's pace of delivering volumes, I went to the bookstore to sneakily read ahead a little. I sat down in one of the armchairs, volume in hand, next to a tough-looking middle-aged guy in a baseball cap, and glanced over automatically to see what he was reading . . . which turned out to be an earlier volume of High School Debut.

SO IT SEEMS this series has a pretty universal appeal!

On the face of it the premise isn't something that would much interest me - athletic girl goes to high school, decides to dedicate all her energiesto getting a boyfriend, and asks a cool guy if he'll be her tutor in the ways of attracting dudely attention. The magic makeover plot often gives me hives, but I heard this recommended so many times that I picked it up anyway, and you all were right - the execution is kind of ridiculously charming. Haruha, the heroine, is SUPER STRONG AND DETERMINED AND ENTHUSIASTIC IN EVERYTHING; she takes shojo manga as her instruction manual (which leads to the story affectionately skewering most of the standard tropes) and gives ONE HUNDRED AND TEN PERCENT TO THE EFFORT OF BEING A GOOD GIRLFRIEND, so much so that instead of embodying romantic tropes, she ends up totally inverts them. She wants to protect her boyfriend! She'll beat up anyone who talks smack about him! Meanwhile, Yoh may be good-looking and sarcastic, but he's mostly cool by way of apathy; once he gets in a relationship, it turns out he's pretty much completely clueless (he too secretly starts to read shojo manga for the purposes of instruction!), which made him tremendously endearing to me.

After the first few volumes some of the plots get a bit more standard, but it's still awfully sweet and fun to read. However, I did end up with sort of a problem: in the first few chapters, I started noticing that Yoh's expression of perpetual apathy bore an unnerving resemblance to that of Shin from Gokusen, and then I couldn't unsee it. And Haruna is clearly an experiment to see what would happen if you cloned Yankumi in an attempt to duplicate her energy and freakish strength, and then had her raised by a nice normal suburban couple instead of BY THE YAKUZA.

So basically in my head High School Debut is now a Gokusen AU. Which is both good and bad, because on the one hand it's really not fair to compare the two - High School Debut is adorable, but Gokusen's setup is so much more inherently interesting to me, and the way Shin and Yankumi's relationship plays out due to the unusual age difference and the yakuza thing is also so much more interesting and subversive, that High School Debut can't really compete in my heart. On the other hand, IMAGINE HARUNA RAISED BY THE YAKUZA.
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (Default)
This is a brief chronicle of how Basara won my heart in four volumes.

BASARA VS. BECCA: ROUND ONE

SARASA: My twin brother is the Chosen Child of Destiny who is going to lead us against the family of evil tyrants ruling right now, and I've always been overlooked because I'm just a girl. But now he and half my village have been murdered by the Red King and his men, so I guess I'm going to have to impersonate my brother so the people do not lose hope! And also for REVENGE.
BECCA: Obviously cross-dressing is highly relevant to my interests! And Sarasa, you seem interesting. The art style is a bit difficult to follow though; I do not know if I am sold yet.

BASARA VS. BECCA: ROUND TWO

SARASA: In between leading my people for REVENGE I will take a nice dip in the hot springs.
SHURI: Hello! I am a playboy who loves hot springs, and I think you're cute. >:D
SARASA: I think you're kind of a perv, but I will admit it's nice to talk to someone who has no idea that I spend most of my time running around LEADING THE REVOLUTION. And you are sort of cute.
SHURI: And I will admit it's nice to talk to someone who does not know that I am actually THE RED KING and spend most of my time scheming to overthrow my evil-er brothers and take over all of Japan for the greater good, when I'm not trying to kill the leader of the revolution! Want to start up a long-distance relationship via messenger hawk?
SARASA: Sure! I'll write you!
BECCA: Relationships between enemies that are doomed because of OPPOSING IDEALS is one of my weak points . . . and I have to say the long-distance-relationship-via-messenger-hawk thing also really entertains me. But the art is still hard to follow!

BASARA VS. BECCA: ROUND THREE

AGEHA: I am a very pretty and extremely smug one-eyed desert nomad who passes his time alternately being witty, coming to Sarasa's rescue, and cross-dressing as a beautiful dancer while I jaunt around with my troupe of performing ladies. In a past life, I was probably Francis Crawford of Lymond.
SHIDO: I am the Red King's right-hand man, and Ageha used to be my dad's slave. I was really nice to him when we were growing up, and I thought we had a great relationship - seriously, I really like the guy - so I really don't get why he's helping the rebels and keeps saying he wants to be there to enjoy the view when I die!
AGEHA: Man, can we please have a discussion about privilege?
BECCA: I will admit, I'm pretty impressed by the emotional complexity of this relationship. In fact, all of the characters are starting to develop interesting complexity, and the story is picking up on all these themes of responsibility and ruthlessness and . . . dammit, Yumi Tamura, I'm not ready to fall straight into love with another manga again! Skip Beat is still fresh in my heart!

BASARA VS. BECCA: ROUND FOUR
CHACHA: I am a morally ambiguous, totally hot and badass lady pirate. I've captured you, and now I'm going to sell you off as a slave. What do you have to say about that?
SARASA: What I have to say is . . . . OH MY GOD AN AWESOME FEMALE ROLE MODEL! *___* Let's be BFF!
BECCA: . . . OKAY, FINE, BASARA. YOU WIN.
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (bring it)
I was going to say, 'so I started reading Skip Beat . . .'

But uh since I just chewed through volumes 4-8 yesterday at a terrifyingly rapid clip and am now currently SCOURING THE LIBRARY SYSTEM to see if I can get my next fix from any of the libraries within walking distance on my lunch break without having to wait for them to be sent to me, I, um, I guess 'started' is not the right term anymore?

Anyway: all of you who recommended me Skip Beat, you are clearly excellent and wise, because I am already in love with so many things about it. SO MANY THINGS.


Skip Beat is about Kyoko, a sweet and hardworking doormat who dropped out of school and ran away to Tokyo to support her childhood friend super-hot budding idol Sho - except in the first chapter it turns out that Sho has just been using her while he climbs to the top, and her whole life has revolved around someone who doesn't care anything about her.

So of course Kyoko promptly swears that she will become a super-famous idol just so she can STOMPLE SHO INTO THE GROUND.

Obviously it is not so easy, but on the other hand Kyoko is a ridiculously terrifying Determinator. She will work harder than ANYONE to rise up from the top and achieve her goal! She will stalk the managers and hover menacingly in their direction until they give in! She will wear hideous uniforms! She will dress like a giant chicken! If you tell her to clean up a spot on the floor, dammit, she will polish the WHOLE HALLWAY UNTIL IT SHINES! Everyone in the industry who meets her is like, "Dang, that girl has serious guts and talent! Shame that she's basically a seething ball of vengeance-driven demonic hatred."



(Kyoko does not actually look like a chicken most of the time. BUT SHE WILL WEAR THE CHICKEN SUIT ALL THE TIME IF THAT'S WHAT IT TAKES.)

The most hilarious thing about Skip Beat is that it's basically a shonen sports story . . . about ACTING. There are rivalries and challenges and ACTING BATTLES; multiple times, people are like "the show must go on! So I will act . . . THROUGH THE PAIN OF MY BROKEN LEG!" and "I will destroy you by being SO MUCH a better actor than you that you will have no choice but to react the way I want you to in this scene! OWNED!"

Also, with all the show-biz-leveling-up exercises, I keep having highly enjoyable flashbacks to all my summers of drama camp. (I was terrible at drama camp, for the record. BUT I LOVED IT ANYWAY.)

And meanwhile there is the heartwarming story of Kyoko realizing that she's starting to love acting and show business for herself, and not just because she wants REVENGE, and also going back to school, and also: MAKING FRIENDS FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER. Kyoko's ways of making friendships are unorthodox, and are mildly spoilery! )

But all this hilarity aside, the basic thing is that I just really really love stories about girls who have been living for other people figuring out how to live for themselves. (Kyoko and Yoko from Twelve Kingdoms should start a CLUB.)
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (twirly)
In Phase 1 of Project: Read All the Shojo Manga Ever, I am now seven volumes (and therefore halfway) through W Juliet!

This is the hero and heroine of W Juliet:



The one on the left with the short brown hair is the heroine, Ito Miura. She is a tomboy who plays the male lead in most of her school plays; she has hordes of female fans and a slew of overprotective brothers and wants to be an ACTION HEROINE when she grows up.

The one on the right with the long blonde hair and the pretty dress is the hero, Makoto Amano. He wants to be an actor, but his SUPER-STRICT FATHER, who wants him to inherit the FAMILY DOJO, has decreed that he will only be allowed to FOLLOW HIS DREAMS if he proves himself to have TRUE ACTING TALENT by spending his entire high school experience DISGUISED AS A GIRL without anyone finding out.

As, you know, you do.

Anyway, Ito figures out Makoto's secret in basically the first chapter and the rest of the story so far is them scrambling around trying to protect it, fending off various suitors of both sexes, and ~*~FOLLOWING THEIR DREAMS!~*~

Things I like and things I like less )

But all the same it is very cute and lighthearted and the library has it all, and I will be reading the rest!
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (pwnage: kyouya)
[livejournal.com profile] ojuzu asked me to list my top five shoujo manga.

Which, as with the top five Magical Girls question, is difficult because - while I've seen a fair amount of shoujo anime - I don't think I've actually read five shoujo series. You guys keep exposing my ignorance! I have been reading and loving lots more manga this year, but most of it has been shonen (FMA, Pumpkin Scissors), seinen (everything Urasawa and, weirdly, Emma and Yotsuba&!, both of which I thought might be shoujo but apparently not) or josei (Gokusen, apparently, which I would have thought was shonen or seinen. SHOWS WHAT I KNOW).

So you guys are going to get my top three shoujo series, which are also my only three shoujo series (discounting After School Nightmare, which I can't really judge yet on the basis of one volume).

Below the cut! )

SO, you know what is coming next: guys, rec me shoujo manga!

You probably have a pretty good idea of my tastes already, but for the record, some things I like: cross-dressing and more general gender-role subversion, awesome ladies who are recognized as awesome, cracktastic plots, general hilarity! Some things I do not like: jerktastic alpha male heroes, endless pointless love triangles, everyone dying in the end from cancer. (If everyone dies from a rain of flying angel fetuses I'm probably okay with that.)
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (wrapped up in books)
I have been reading a reasonable amount of manga and comics recently! (This year's list has already more than doubled last year's, which more than doubled 2008's. If this trend continues, by the time the year 2020 comes around I will be reading approximately enough volumes of graphic stuff that if it was piled up in a row it would reach the moon.)

20th Century Boys, Volume 11: Probably crypic spoilery comments! )

Ouran High School Host Club, Volumes 4-8: I think mostly what I have gotten out of these volumes - aside from a ton of enjoyment, obviously, because, I mean, it's Ouran - is that Kyouya was clearly the animator's favorite. They devoted whole extended episodes to Kyouya's Adventures In the Shopping Mall and Kyouya's Dramatic Backstory with Tamaki, both of which I was surprised to see did not actually get as much attention in the manga! I mean I am not really complaining about the animators' partiality, seeing as Kyouya is also totally my favorite. I did love the author's note where Bisco Hatori cheerfully explains that she and her assistants spend a lot of time imagining Kyouya in undignified situations to cheer themselves up. Kyouya trips and falls! HILARIOUS. Kyouya forgets his cell phone at home! THE FUNNIEST THING. I find this excellent and may adopt this method of entertaining myself in dull situations myself.

Conversely, Mori makes me laugh even more in the manga than he did in the anime. HE THOUGHT HE WAS THE MORAL ONE, GUYS. And when he's sleepy he gets bizarrely talkative! <3Mori<3 I also always forget how much I love the Kasanoda arc until I see it and then I start giggling all over again. I am pretty sure I was getting looks on the subway due to cackling.

I am almost halfway through the manga now! STRANGE TO THINK. And have covered I think just about everything that was animated, so it should be mostly new territory from here.

After School Nightmare, Volume 1: I grabbed this because I was in the library and running out of stuff to read on the subway for that day, and it was the first first-volume I saw that I remembered having vaguely heard of. I. Okay! So Mashiro is a boy from the waist up and a girl from the waist down, but NOBODY KNOWS and everyone thinks he's a boy, and he identifies as a boy and wants to be a boy except that now he's getting his period and everything's awkward. Then a mysterious teacher pulls him aside and tells him now he has to attend NIGHTMARE CLASS after school if he wants to graduate, in which everyone looks like their true (often-creepy; one's a pile of twisting hands, another a girl without a face or a heart) selves and compete against each other for self-knowledge, or something, which often involves painful dream-death. Kureha, one of the other girls in the class who's suffered lots of serious trauma, likes Mashiro because he's only half a boy and therefore doesn't trigger her issues; Mashiro is all "I WILL PROTECT YOU KUREHA," and they start dating. Except Sou, our resident playboy jerkface, has a creepy obsession with Mashiro and has therefore decided to make him be a girl by . . . making out with him? Mashiro DOES NOT APPROVE. (Neither Mashiro or Sou seem to consider the possibility that that just might make Sou or Mashiro dudes who make out with dudes, but this is I guess understandable as they are gender-confused Japanese teenagers.)

Basically I have no idea how I feel about any of this . . . but I may have to read more volumes to find out???

Bayou, Volume 1: Not actually manga! Also: GORGEOUS. Bayou (originally a webcomic) is the first volume of a story by Jeremy Love, set in Mississippi in 1933. Monsters live in the bayou, but only Lee, a sharecropper's daughter, knows it - and that's only because she's the one who had to go fish out Billy's body after he was lynched. But when Lee's white friend Lily gets taken by one of the monsters, and Lee's father is blamed, she has to venture into the bayou anyway to bring her back before it's too late.

The world of the bayou is incredibly rich and detailed and creepy, and, in the best tradition of Worlds Underground, most creepy of all in the way the dynamics below echo and grimly parody the dynamics above. But what really makes the story is fierce, determined, brave Lee; I'd follow her anywhere.
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (like batman and robin)
"So Becca, what did you do this weekend?"
"I read all fifteen volumes of Gokusen!"
"What else did you do this weekend?"
". . . reread some of my favorite bits of the fifteen volumes of Gokusen?"

There is a reason that I try to limit the amount of manga I read online. The reason is this: once I start, if it's good, I CAN'T STOP. And then all of a sudden there is no more, and I cry, and then inflict my enormous amounts of love on the internet in picspam form.

- okay that last doesn't always happen. BUT IT IS HAPPENING TODAY.

Basically if you had told me a week ago that my new obsession would be a Plucky Teacher Inspires Delinquents story, I would probably have been sort of dubious. But that is because I had not yet encountered the glory that is YAMAGUCHI KUMIKO.

People who have Kumiko burst unexpectedly into their lives often find themselves . . . kind of bemused.



Who is she?

JUST A PASSING HOMEROOM TEACHER.



MORE UNDER THE CUT )
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (EAT YOUR HEAD (with love!))
I don't know if I have anything much to say about volume 10 of 20th Century Boys except that I continue to love this series with a great and fiery passion. *____* It is kind of hard to believe that I'm less than halfway through the series; everything is already so epic! I love everybody, but Koizumi Kyoko is rapidly becoming one of my favorite characters of all time. Spoiler! )

In other news, it's been long enough since I rewatched Ouran High School Host Club that I can now actually read the manga without feeling like I'm going back over material I just saw. I'm now through volume 3, which means I've covered the intro, the Christmas party, Renge's introduction, the physical exams, Hikaru and Kaoru's fight, the pool, the beach, the Zuka Club's introduction, and a Halloween episode that I don't think was in the anime, and am in the middle of the club's visit to Haruhi's house.

A few miscellaneous notes:
- Tamaki comes across much more as a traditional high school jerkass playboy in the first chapter; it's a lot of fun seeing the character rapidly be reconceived as the overenthusiastic walking golden retriever that we all know and love.
- every time Mori has a line of dialogue, I laugh. Because it's SO RARE.
- Bisco Hatori clearly really, really enjoys herself drawing the characters in ridiculously overelaborate outfits. And who am I to complain?
- the translation is a bit odd sometimes, especially in the first volume - the weirdest is probably the decision to translate Haruhi's joke that she'll refer to herself as 'ore' (super-masculine pronoun) as "maybe I'll start calling myself *@#$*#*" without further explanation, giving the impression that she's about to start referring to herself as "shithead."
- in the cross-dressing episode of the show, Mori is the only one who doesn't crossdress; in the manga chapter, the twins and Honey are the only ones who do. I wonder if this is because Tamaki and Kyouya are being set up more as romantic leads? (I'm connecting this in my head to Disney's Mulan, in which Shang is also the only male character who doesn't cross-dress.)
- I kind of love the cheerfully casual treatment of Haruhi's dad's bisexuality so far
- the youngest member of the Zuka Club's last name is Tsuwabuki. Between this and the Ohtori family, there more than ever needs to be an Ouran/Utena crossover. The path before us has been prepared!

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