Saturday, January 14, 2023

Citrus + Volume 4 (Citrus Plus vol. 4, Manga review)

Two teen girls out shopping
    Citrus + (Citrus Plus) volume 4 continues the sequel story to the Citrus Manga. Short-take: it doesn't have the deep plot and high stakes as the original series (maybe a negative?) but also doesn't have as much salaciousness as the original series (a plus for me). Volume 4 feels a bit adrift, almost like a fan fiction or a low-key fanservice just to give us more time with the couple. That's neither good nor bad, just know that it's mostly just low-key slice of life/romance that is neither particularly well done, nor particularly bad or problematic.
    Of course, being Citrus, it has plenty of busty teen girls and lots of horny camera operator framing of their bodies. But unlike the original series, the actual sex is toned way down. With different art, this would just be a run-of-the-mill yuri romance at this point. I read it because I like the original series even with it's many faults and I want more time with Mei and Yuzu.
    Volume 4 of Citrus + is focused on Mei's attempt to buy a birthday gift to Yuzu as well as their ongoing preparation for entrance exams. Matsuri pokes her head into a few places, but unlike in the original series, she seems to be less intent on stirring the pot and actually is supporting Mei and Yuzu's relationship. The upsetting subplot with her from the original series doesn't seem to play into Citrus + at all leading us to believe that the resolution of it in the original series has stuck. 
    If the art wasn't so intent on putting breasts into our faces at every turn, I would really like it. So basically, I do like it and I just ignore the unnecessary fan-service aspects. From the writing standpoint, I found the characterization of Mei occasionally weak here but it could also be that since this volume skips around in time that there are things going on in between that would contextualize some of her more.
    Basically, it isn't the strongest series, and I wouldn't recommend it unless you like the original Citrus for the romance (and not the sleaze). Volume 4 feels the weakest yet in Citrus + as if it just is spinning it's wheels a bit, but at least we get some Mei and Yuzu cuddling.

🚺

Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

All comments are moderated by a real person who only checks them once a day. Therefore, comments may take a while before they show up. Thanks for understanding. It's how we keep this a community of lovingkindness.

Monday, January 2, 2023

Even Though We're Adults volume 5 (Manga Review)

A woman with shoulder length dark hair stands sideways looking out at the world over her right shoulder in 3/4 profile
    I'm still not sure what to make of the series "Even Though We're Adults" by Takako Shimura, and the same goes for volume 5. 
    Disclaimer: I love both her series "Sweet Blue Flowers" and "Wandering Son" even though many would call her writing uneven and a bit problematic in ways, and maybe even raise concerns about her legitimacy as a writer not knowing for sure what her personal sexual/gender identity is and whether she has any business writing about LGBTQ characters. I frankly don't care if she is a cis-woman (and I'm not saying Shimura-sensei is, just that it wouldn't matter to me if she was or was not) because I find so much connection with those two series and they are so personally meaningful to me as a trans-lesbian. As I mentioned to an acquaintance once, I like her writing because her characters and stories are messy. They aren't "perfect" LGBTQ spokespeople, their lives don't neatly fit into media and agenda friendly boxes. To me, that's what makes them more real and the complexities of their experiences resonate. 
    But I can't quite figure out if "Even Though We're Adults" rises quite to the heights of those earlier series. 
    As you may know, this focuses on a married young woman who develops a relationship with a single young woman and then needs to decide what on earth to do with that. In the early volumes (light spoilers), Ayano eventually tells her husband about Akari and the three even meet up. This didn't strike me as the way anyone in this situation would handle things. But eventually Ayano does ask her husband for a divorce. 
    However, in volume 5, she still has not told her family exactly what is going on with her husband. They think they're just fighting and that's why Ayano is living with her parents. So, her parents continue to invite her husband over for dinner, again and again, and even forcing things a bit further. Wataru, the husband, even pushes things himself with Ayano in one of the most painful moments I've read in a Shimura-sensei work (I won't give it away). That was a moment that hinted at Shimura-sensei's powers as a writer. That scene felt true to me on many many levels. 
    We also see that despite their attempts at creating space, Ayano and Akari can't stay away from each other. But we don't get much of them together in this volume.
    Interestingly, Volume 5 also spends some time with Eri, Wataru (the husband's) sister, and her emotional/social struggles as well as relationship with her mom. I find that the mom is well written, particularly in this volume, as a real and whole person, not a stereotype. And while some of Eri's hikikomori-type ("shut-in") tendencies have been depicted decently throughout the series, the turn her arc takes in volume 5 felt a bit abrupt. However, in that abruptness, Shimura-sensei again creates messiness, which has it's own value yet again. Maybe the abruptness was only a factor of the medium and not wanting to prolong getting to this particular plot point? Maybe it will feel less abrupt if I were to read volumes 1-5 in succession rapidly to catch little changes in Eri that I just didn't remember when reading volume 5?
    Thinking about how I sometimes struggle to fully appreciate manga series when months go by between volumes, only to find more cohesion when I re-read the series all at once, I bet that will emerge with this series too. Even then, I'm not sure it will have the profound effect on me of her earlier two series, but I'm starting to see the messiness I like in her stories/characters. 
    And maybe "Even Though We're Adults" doesn't have to be profound, complex, or genre defining? Maybe Shimura-sensei is just writing a "simple" (for her) story with engaging/messy characters, and that's enough? I'll definitely keep reading because even in it's potential lack of greatness it is still much better than most of the middling shoujo and yuri manga I end up reading (not for lack of trying to find better stuff, trust me, and suggestions always welcome).

🚺

Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

All comments are moderated by a real person who only checks them once a day. Therefore, comments may take a while before they show up. Thanks for understanding. It's how we keep this a community of lovingkindness.

Friday, December 30, 2022

A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow (Manga series review)

Two smiling high school girls in uniforms, one holds a rolled up diploma
    I did it. For you dear readers. And maybe a little bit for my own to make sure I wasn't completely full of shit. But I did it. I reread all 9 volumes of "A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow." If you read my quick hits post a few posts back, I touched on volume 9. But basically, the volumes came out with such time between them that I couldn't always feel the emotional flow of the story and by volume 9 was just confused. So having re-read all 9 in quick succession, I can definitively say that this series was another disappointment for me.
    Quick synopsis: Konatsu Amano moves in with her aunt in a small seaside town when her dad goes overseas to work (we get hints that the mom has passed away). On her first day at school she meets Koyuki Honami, a senior, and sole member of the school's aquarium club. They connect and start a deep friendship.
    SPOILER WARNING: I will be talking about the overall emotional arc and "ending(?)" to this series. So if you don't want spoilers, don't read any further.
    Last chance? Okay, still reading?
    Here's what I hate in recent "yuri" (I hesitate to call this series yuri, but whatever, that's for another rant): I hate when a story is too weak kneed to commit to what it's trying to say, what it wants it's characters to mean when they say or feel things, and what it actually wants the central relationship to be. Life isn't as obtuse and faux-literary as these writers seem to make it. People either are or are not friends, they either have romantic feelings for someone or they don't, and no one soliloquizes in oblique terms the way the dialogue and internal monologues are written. 
    Long story short, I have NO idea whether Konatsu and Koyuki either a) have feelings for each other, or one for the other, but not reciprocal, b) are just friends, c) are more than friends in actuality, d) know what the fuck is going on in their own story. I think (surmise?) after re-reading it, that the author wanted to appeal to a broad range of folks, folks who like friendship stories, folks who want actual gay representation (yes, it feels queer bait-y to me), boys who want to look at cute girls in a "slice of life" story, and women looking for deep emotional stories regardless of the themes. But in it's attempt to cover all those bases, it covers none with any value.
    People will disagree with me, they'll say that the parallel between the salamander and frog story ("The Salamander" by Ibuse Masuji - frequently and openly paralleled throughout) and the two girls perfectly captures this time of pubescent transience, where people are starting to figure out who they are, where relationships are both powerful and fleeting, and where relationships are about how they change you and now how they last. "The Salamander" also explores how powerful feelings can also cover over the limits that a relationship imposes on a person's growth. Sure. Fine. Make that argument that "A Tropical Fish" really gets at what Masuji was addressing. It's valid. But the mangaka still wrote this manga like crap. The ambiguity is not profound here. It's not enlightening. It's not thought provoking. It doesn't add to, expand on, or even really get at the heart of Masuji's points. This manga is just intentionally non-committal writing to pander to a wide audience without actually adding anything of literary value. 
Two high school girls sitting next to each other behind one music stand, one plays the flute, the other the oboe
    Let's examine two vastly superior examples of where ambiguity can work if written well and contrast those with this middling series. The first, an anime movie in my top 5, is "Liz and the Blue Bird." I have watched it many times. I liked it at first, but honestly had some of the same reservations as I did with "A Tropical Fish." However, after many re-watchings, I realized that it had a very strong character development arc that I missed at first (It turns out it's actually a film about Nozomi's growth more than anything, and her realization at the end is powerful - it also does a better job at reflecting on the story of "The Salamandar" than "A Tropical Fish" does, even though that story isn't in it). It also did very well with using a parable story to reflect on the main narrative (I wonder if the made-up parable here was actually a rewrite of "The Salamander" hmmm). And, while it never makes clear whether Nozomi and Mizore are dating, it works equally well as a story of two close friends as well as one of two dating teens. So although their relationship is ambiguous (especially without watching "Sound! Euphonium") the ambiguity doesn't sabotage anything. Read their relationship either way and the emotional and character development arc works equally well. It also has depth that continues to reveal itself with each viewing, something that I did not find in my re-reading of "A Tropical Fish"
High school girls in uniforms stand together on a brick path with trees in the background
    Looking now, with no surprise to my regular readers, at "Maria-Sama Ga Miteru" (Maria Watches Over Us, aka Marimite). For those unfamiliar (and really, why aren't you familiar with it if you're reading this blog, if you have any interest in yuri, this series is the epitome), it is the story of girls at an all girls catholic school in Japan with a system of formalized big sister/little sister mentor/friendship pairings. This series too is oozing with ambiguity. Are the various characters friends? Are they lovers? There is only one openly lesbian character. But the other relationships certainly could be read that way. Or they could be read in the way of deepest friendships, transcending even the Anne of Green Gables "Bosom Friends" concept. But again, that ambiguity doesn't matter. It doesn't diminish the emotional intensity of the interactions, it isn't necessary to understand them. Emotions are clear, they are talked about, they are expressed. Characters change (Yumi's arc is awesome. Touko!!! Don't even get me started on my appreciation for Touko's arc - totally team Touko over here). The plots are clear. The motivations are clear. The arcs are clear. 
    And that, my readers, is my biggest problem with "A Tropical Fish." It is just poorly written. It's as if someone tried to write something like those two vastly superior series and confused obtuse, non-committal writing, for nuance and thoughtfulness and actual character development. "A Tropical Fish" just isn't well written. If the relationship had been defined, then it would be a fine (but by no means good or great) series. If they were just friends then some of the more overly dramatic emotions probably wouldn't have come up, and maybe the author could have focused more on how their friendship spurred each on to better define what their next life steps would be (certainly an element to the "ending" of the story). Or, if they were actually in (or pursuing) a relationship with each other then some of the more overly dramatic parts could have been further clarified and thus would have made emotional sense. But because the relationship isn't defined, and the writing is so bland, the emotions somewhat implausible, and the "purpose" of the series so ill-defined, it just all seems superfluous. It's almost like what you would get if you asked an "AI" (scare quotes intended) algorithm to write a yuri manga series. It superficially resembles yuri in every way, but has no actual human insight or touch at it's core.
    Some final thoughts: 1) I put "ending" in quotes at the beginning because another problem with this series is that it doesn't have an ending. Yes, the characters go their separate ways...or do they? Just like it wouldn't commit to friends vs. romance, it doesn't commit to their separation either. It really feels like it was written for "shippers" rather than having any purpose itself. 2) The art is decent, I like the somewhat odd use of thick lines along with more precise work and a sketchy feel. It isn't great. But it is interesting. It also looks a little less formulaic than many have lately. I do wish for more screen tones, detailed backgrounds, atmosphere, etc... but for what it is, it's not bad.
    SPOILERS OVER.
    Should you read it? Only if you want a frustratingly purposeless, formless, mediocrely written story of two high school girls who have a variety of ill-expressed "feelings" about "things" and also train fish to swim through hoops. Mostly, it ended up being a waste of time. In some ways, despite my frustrations with the series "If I Could Reach You," at least that series ended with some semblance of character development even if it left many dangling threads (I really liked some of the side characters who got short shrift as the series went on). But "A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow" is just one bland, ill-defined, and yuri-by-committee feeling mess." Maybe don't spend your money on it?

🚺

Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

All comments are moderated by a real person who only checks them once a day. Therefore, comments may take a while before they show up. Thanks for understanding. It's how we keep this a community of lovingkindness.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

It's Lonely at the Centre of the Earth (Graphic Novel Review)

A young girl, seen from behind, dancing to music in her kitchen
    I have been eagerly awaiting the release of Zoe Thorogood's auto-biographical graphic novel "It's Lonely at the Centre of the Earth" for quite a while, ever since I stumbled on her art on Instagram. While waiting for it, I read her prior release, "The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott," and reviewed that in my prior post. I'm happy to say that "It's Lonely" was everything I had hoped from the promise of her earlier work and the art she's been posting.
    As longtime readers of mine will know, whenever reviewing something auto-biographical, I will not judge the actual "plot" as that isn't fair to a real person who lead a real life. I think it is incredibly brave when someone releases something as personal as "It's Lonely at the Centre of the Earth." So this is not meant to be the type of critical review I might otherwise write. That being said, I really was glad to have purchased it and it is a very well done and moving work.
    "It's Lonely at the Centre of the Earth" traces approximately 6 months in Zoe Thorogood's life as she prepares for a comic convention and a trip to the United States from her native UK. More than anything, it is a chronical of her life with major depressive disorder. In that, much like Allie Brosh's "Hyperbole and a Half" and Kabi Nagata's "My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness" there isn't a tight narrative arc or a firm resolution. Major Depressive Disorder doesn't work that way. Instead, it's about little realization and little victories, and in that light, "It's Lonely at the Center of the Earth" holds its own against those phenomenal works I just mentioned.
    As someone who has suffered from chronic major depression my entire life, Zoe Thorogood's depiction of depression hit the mark. The relentlessness of it, coloring over every experience, reducing life to a bland gray mixed with suicidal ideation. This isn't a book for those looking to be uplifted. In fact, Thorogood even mentions the empty platitudes people will hurl about trying to be helpful, and how unhelpful they actually are. 
    And I want to take a moment to expand on that thought. Too many people still think that major depressive disorder is somehow situational, that some "fix" will make it all better, that if only a few things were different, of if you count your blessings, that everything would be okay. But that's not how it works (for the most part, there are exceptions to everything). It's biological, it's neurochemical. So here is a young woman, age 23/24, who is (objectively speaking and not intending to objectify) incredibly beautiful, with insane artistic talent (and actually working in that field). It would be easy for people to say "she's got everything, what does she have to be sad about?" And that is what misses the point in the judgment that often surrounds depression. I frankly think that someone who superficially seems to have it all being so nakedly honest about how bad her depression is is exactly the type of counter narrative we need to continue moving the discussion of depression and mental health challenges out of the shadows and ending the stigma. So for that, upon many other reasons, I highly recommend and am thankful for this book.
    But before I even knew what it was about, it was her art on Instagram that hooked me. Where "Billie Scott" showed promise, "It's Lonely at the Centre of the Earth" makes good on that promise. The line work, the anatomy, the compositions in "Billie Scott" were uneven. Sometimes well executed, sometimes a bit unintentionally loose. But in "It's Lonely," Thorogood shows that she is reaching mastery of her craft. There is so much intentionality to her line work. It's tight and precise when she needs it to be, and lose and free when that's what the narrative demands. She appears in full control of her skill here and it's wonderful. She shows a level of drafts-person-ship that feels truly artistic in a way that lots of traditional comics don't (in their blandness) and that simply isn't usually the focus of the indie scene. She brings truly strong drafting to the indie space and it results in incredible art. Additionally, her compositions are varied and occasionally even collage-like. She mixes black and white with spot color with full color in exciting narrative ways. I recommend this for her art alone. She is truly the future of comics as so many in her own auto-bio like to say. 
    I do also want to talk for a moment about her writing. "Billie Scott" showed gumption, trying to tackle a pretty complex set of themes and people and settings. But like the art, it was uneven. In "It's Lonely" the story is loser in that it's her life mixed with existential and internal dialogues. That looseness lends itself to her visual storytelling chops. But there is still enough narrative and prose, even within the auto-bio context, to show that she has something to say and the burgeoning skill to say it well. I think the two works combined show that she will be a force with storytelling and not just art as she continues to grow in her career. If I'm not mistaken, she's working on another fiction piece, so it'll be fun to see the growth in storytelling from these prior two works.
    Basically, if you like great comic art, buy this book. If you want to read a strong depiction of major depressive disorder, buy this book. If you like deeply personal memoirs, buy this book. I definitely recommend it.

🚺

Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

All comments are moderated by a real person who only checks them once a day. Therefore, comments may take a while before they show up. Thanks for understanding. It's how we keep this a community of lovingkindness.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Short Takes - what I've been reading and watching since August

Hi all, can't believe it's already mid-November. My lack of posting hasn't been for a lack of reading and watching, simply a too-busy (but good-busy) life. Moved my daughter off to college, the start of the school year (I work in education) was simply bonkers, started taking drum lessons, and I've finally started dating (my new girlfriend is so awesome!).  So here are some quick thoughts on all the media I've been consuming. Enjoy:

Anime
Spy X Family

    I didn't have much hope for this. I was vaguely aware of the hype around it. I didn't know much of anything about it. I'm not sure why, but it didn't seem terribly interesting. Instead, it was probably the season's best anime by far. It was funny (actually laugh out loud funny), sweet (romantic and parental sweetness), and some good action (which isn't usually my thing in anime, but from time to time I don't mind). It is smartly written and varied enough from episode to episode to never feel the least formulaic. 
    If I had to quibble, our lead female character, Yor, is a mixed bag. First, I really like her character. She's cute, and sweet, and yet fierce and an assassin, but a good fake parent, and odd, and all sorts of quality characteristics. But at the same time, she's presented with some superficial meekness - the mid-twenties, office girl, shy, doesn't speak much, etc... that seems to go unquestioned in many a portrayal of women in anime/manga (or is the selling point - see "Komi Can't Communicate"). I don't think the writers of Spy X Family are trying to actively critique that "meek anime girl" stereotype when they also have Yor be an assassin. I think it's more like they are juxtaposing the two sides of her without any social commentary on the outdated depiction of women (or maybe even the outdated role of women in Japanese society). But, like I said, all that aside, I actually like her character a lot and the scenes of her coming home covered in blood as a teenager and then sitting down to help her brother with homework or whatever were really darkly funny. Basically, if you haven't watched this, you really are depriving yourself. 
    While not an all-time great show by any stretch, it is a supremely enjoyable watch and I can't wait for season two.


Kageki Shojo!!
    If you've been reading this blog, then maybe you've read some of my reviews of the Kageki Shojo!! manga. I've felt that it's been okay, but not great, and not quite what I thought when I first started reading it. That made watching the show an interesting venture. Compared to the manga, I actually enjoyed the show a bit more. I think it slightly streamlined and slightly altered the focus. Part of what confused me with the manga was the prologue volume "The Curtain Rises" which focuses on her roommate Ai. I really like Ai's character and was excited for her story. I also, and I need to re-read it, but I also for some reason thought there was potential for romantic feelings between Ai and Sarasa which never has gone anywhere in the main story. So I thought it was a yuri comic, but it really isn't. Knowing that, I could watch the anime without false hope. 
    So being a slightly more linear way of telling the story, with none of my emotional baggage dragging it down, I could focus on Sarasa and the general story. By that token, it's okay, still not great, but at least less disappointing for me. I don't think the animation is very good. Sort of a blandly normal color palette (more just a general laziness of colors, like they only had a basic water color set or something - the sky is random blue, the grass is random green) and simple but not in a stylish way. There's also some occasional anatomical awkwardness which is especially concerning with the dance (and boy howdy did I just get reamed out in the comment section of another review of mine when I critiqued the animation of another dance anime even though my F-ING SISTER is a professional ballet dancer and I've been watching dance my whole life - but noooooooo it's clearly not possible that I might feel that some dance pose wasn't well animated and how dare I note that! But I still posted that anonymous commenters frustrations at my review for the sake of discourse, anyway, I digress.) 
    So the story is okay, but I don't feel really emotionally invested. We're told right from the beginning that Sarasa is uniquely talented and going to do amazing things in the theater world. So if the end of this series is just her rising to the top of Kouka, then what's the point unless the journey is meaningful. So far, it really hasn't been. However, if it had been the backdrop of a yuri romance then I'd be all for that, or even if she had seemed more torn about leaving Kabuki behind, that would help. 
    What would be really awesome if it takes a turn and somehow she leaves Kouka to force her way back into Kabuki AND she and Ai start to develop feelings for each other! That would be interesting. But now, this feels more like a middle-school oriented story of a plucky and talented girl who everyone just can't help but rooting for sort of story. Which is fine, but meh. So the anime was a little better in some ways than the manga, but not sufficiently so. 

Manga
A Tropical Fish Years for Snow Volume 9

    What an infuriating series. I'm going to have to go back and re-read the whole thing to see if I missed the point or some crucial information along the way. Certainly the last few volumes have been confusing and nearly pointless. Volume 9 completes the story, but I'm not sure anymore what the story was? Was this about two friends whose lives briefly intersected? Was it two girls who realized they had romantic feelings for each other? I can't even figure out what caused their growing distance over the last few volumes. 
    At least for now, without re-reading it, it seems like a classic fake-yuri for the sake of capitalizing on the yuri genre, but not having anything really meaningful to say type of manga. So many are like this (at least of what gets translated to English). It's like they're afraid to either just tell a story about two female friends and make it clearly that. Or they're afraid to tell a story of actually gay teens. Or they're trying so hard for the unspoken subtext of a series like Maria Watches Over Us but not in the least bit understanding how meaningful subtext is created. And most infuriating to me is that it displays that awful manga convention of completely meaningless existential fake feelings with no moorings in any actual way real people think so that it seems meaningful but it's just pretentious nonsense writing. 
    Again, maybe I missed something. I wanted to re-read all nine volumes before writing this. But you know what? I had more fun things to spend my free time on. Maybe down the road I'll re-read it an like it more. But for now it honestly seems like it wasn't willing to commit to it's two teen girls having the least big of agency over their own feelings, ownership of their own feelings, or any ability to write a coherent and meaningful story in any way. What was the freakin point of this series?
    Stay tuned for my re-review of the entire series as I'm almost done rereading it all.


If I Could Reach You Volume 7
    This is the final volume in yet another infuriating series. However, I did re-read this final volume three times before writing this, and much like how when I was a teen I hated the ending of "Chasing Amy" but as an adult realized that although it wasn't the story book ending it was the actual correct ending, I think this volume improved with each read. 
    That being said, the overall story of this series sucked! There are two options for it as I see it. Option 1: actually have Uta and Kaoru get together and just go with the whole not-quite-incest thing. Or option 2: have Uta's feelings be one-sided and a school-girl crush and have Kaoru not even remotely lean into those feelings. But it sort of ends up in the middle. Closer to option 2, but not quite enough. I still think, that much like A Tropical Fish above, it thinks that ambiguity is a great way to be a great writer. Well it isn't. This isn't some experimental piece of literature. You're not writing a tone poem comic book. You're telling yet another fake yuri story but refusing to commit either way to writing people as real people. 
    Just like I love Takako Shumura's stories because everyone is messy and complicated and it doesn't work in the fantasy way we like but that's what makes it actually like real life, I dislike this story because they don't feel like they could be real people. That criticism having now been said, the volume and the story did improve with subsequent readings. I just wish it had owned some of the following things a bit more. Kaoru, as flawed as the writing is, is fascinating to me because I can very much see a young woman without much family falling very hard for a young man who is kind and family oriented and a protector.  It makes sense that Kaoru ends up with Uta's brother. And I think her coming to realize that what she wanted at 18 (parents) is different than she wants in her 20s (a partner). I think where it leaves off with Kaoru starting over at the end would actually make a very compelling start to a series I'd much rather read.  
    Turning to Uta's brother, I don't quite understand why he thinks he has to marry Kaoru just because of the "death bed promise" (sarcasm for a classic manga cliché plot device) he makes with her mother. That just doesn't feel real to me (and I know it doesn't have to be real - but we still want character motivations to make sense and be relatable or at least plausible). This isn't some fable from the 12th century where he's honor bound in that way. And it isn't some grade-school cartoon where plot, character, and sense don't matter. This is just a stupid, quick, lazy plot point to force the story into motion rather than an authentic reason why they married but shouldn't have. 
    Are authors just not putting in effort and just taking the easy way out for a high-school girl audience? Maybe I've just hit the nail on the head with this, and A Tropical Fish, and Kageki Shojo, and others I've read recently. Have I just reached the limits of what shoujo manga can give to me as a 42 year old? I don't think so. I hope not. But maybe it's the lowest common denominator stuff being translated. My hope is that there is a lot better shoujo out there just not getting translated into English. 

Daytime Shooting Start volume 12
    Yet another final volume in a series I've been reading/reviewing for a while now. And another disappointing series. Maybe mostly disappointing because I came to really like the art and really like Suzume. But Shisiho still is scum for being a teacher who is romantically interested in a minor student of his. But at least Suzume has really moved on and really is with Mamura and treating him well. 
    A commentor had told me to stick with this series because it really comes around, and while thankfully it doesn't consumate the relationship between Shishio and Suzume, it never condems it. The closest the series gets to that is with Suzume's uncle and Shishio's friendship suffering as a result. Again, this feels like how a middle school girl might think an adult man (Shishio) would experience this. 
    But honestly, an adult man who likes a minor child is NOT an object of worthwhile affection or swooning over. Yes, I know, there's a long tradition in manga and anime of may/december and especially with school girls and their teachers. And, and I don't know this for a fact, but maybe that even happens with some regularity and allowance in Japanese society, but it is still not okay and nothing in this series was a commentary on that in a way that obsolves the series. Substitute Shishio for a random boy in her class and the story is just another random shoujo romance. Waste of good art and a good lead heroine. 

Books

And Now Tomorrow by Rachel Field
    This is the second Rachel Field novel I have read. She's really not much known, but while this isn't nearly as good a novel as the prior one I read, Time out of Mind, it retained some of the unique aspects and social commentary of that better book. An Now Tomorrow takes place in a New England saw mill town. Emily's family has owned the mill for generations. But as the great depression looms, times are getting tougher, unions are forming, workers are agitating, and the writing is on the wall for the Nuevo Riche. This is set against her personal story of engagement, losing her hearing to illness, and her determination not to lose her fiancé because of it. 
    The romance storyline (and the ultimate pairing) are the stuff of romance novels and the story of her illness is draped with ableism and an admittedly fake treatment for deafness (and no mention of the Deaf community), the weaving in of the societal changes going on is fascinating. So if you can bear with some overwrought writing, the ableism, and a predictable (if not all together unlikable) romance, you have an interesting document of the times. That all being said, Time Out of Mind is better written and also has much of the social awareness. I found it worth reading for what it was, but your mileage may vary.

The Price of Salt (Carol) by Patricia Highsmith
Photo Credit Justine Larbalestier

    You may know this better by the title "Carol" which is the name given to the recent film based on the novel. At the time I read it, I actually didn't know it had anything to do with the movie (which I haven't seen, but now really need to). Basically, this turns out to be one of American literature's signature lesbian books. Patricia Highsmith has a whole personal history worth learning about. But this book holds up on its own as an incredibly moving, interesting, slow-burn, sub-text turned real, lesbian love story. Set in the 40s, it is the story of a young woman finding her place in life - balancing boyfriend, career aspirations, life in New York City - when she meets a woman in a store and is mesmerized. We're then treated to the growing friends to lovers story with an ending that was (and remains) all too rare in lesbian fiction. 
    It's language is beautiful (you know I'm a sucker for good writing), the characters interesting, the plot developments rewarding, and ultimately a very unique novel for the time that still holds up well today. The only things that don't are the excessive amount of smoking and an unfortunate use of the second worst "n-word." Not to say you should put any of that aside, because being put off by those things or at least pondering your own reactions to them is a worthwhile enterprise. But, other than that, the book is such a beautifully written, moving, lovely novel, that you really should read it.


The Good Neighbor (biography of Fred Rogers)
    The only way to talk about this biography is to break it into two parts: 
        1) Fred Rogers and his story, and 
        2) the quality of the authorship. 
Most importantly, Fred Rogers emerges from this both confirming the truth and reality of everything we saw in him on TV and hoped he was in real life and an actual honest-to-goodness real person. And blessedly, the real and complex person he was doesn't in the least undermine the mythic and nearly holy figure he was in our lives (at least mine). Mr. Rogers (I'll use Mr. when I'm talking about TV Fred) was a source of great comfort to me. I loved the pace, the tone, the look of the puppets, everything about it. And when you can say someone is your hero, you put them on a perch. And people on perches are sadly easy to knock off (or fall off themselves - I'm looking at you Neil deGrasse Tyson). 
    But it turns out that Fred Rogers truly lived his life the way he taught others to do on his show. That doesn't mean there weren't complexities. What emerges of the real-world Fred Rogers is someone who managed to be so deeply committed to his belief in what people could be and the importance of starting that with children who also was a very good and beloved person in real life.
     Yes, there were times he grew frustrated at his own children (what parent doesn't), there were times where his work schedule was nearly impossible for others in the company to keep pace with, but he was never unkind to people. He gave each and every human being he ever met (whether family, co-worker, friend, or stranger on the street) every ounce of his time, attention, and commitment. I was completely and totally fascinated by the thoughtfulness of how he created his TV show as well as the brilliance of the real man, a truly beautiful and true person. How exceptional to have one's childhood hero elevated by their real life, rather than destroyed by it. 
    On the other hand, the author of the book, while someone who knew and worked with Fred over many years, can hardly be called a writer. The chapters appear to be loosely chronological and thematic. There is a lot of going back and forth in time to meet with the themes. However, the expressed themes don't really always match with the digressive nature of the writing. The author will drift to random thoughts and stories and back again, will offer unfounded or unexplained statements and leave them dangling, and overall it's just a generally disorganized presentation. 
    Thankfully, none of it diminishes the information or the picture of Fred Rogers we come to understand. It just isn't a great read from the standpoint of "use of language." If I had one other potential reservation about the writing, is that there is a potential for bias in that the person writing about him clearly knew him well and could not be objective. They must have had a great relationship, because nothing in this suggests that Fred Rogers was even capable of really turning anyone off. And thankfully it doesn't beatify him, but seems to show just how beautifully real and consistent he was. However, one wonders what an objective biographer would have uncovered or chosen to use that was perhaps left out. I have no evidence of this, and frankly, don't really want any. I loved Mr. Rogers and found Fred Rogers just as, if not more, amazing. I am very thankful for that.

The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott (graphic novel) by Zoe Thorogood
    In anticipation of her newest graphic novel being released (It's Lonely at the Center of the Earth"), I decided to pick up an earlier work ("The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott"). I first encountered Zoe Thorogood on Instagram and immediately was taken with her line work, her visuals, her funky honest emotional drawings. Billie Scott has all of that, but also shows an artist earlier in their career than what she is producing now.  It centers on a young, poor, reclusive painter. Tragedy strikes and Billie Starts losing his vision. Who is a painter if they cannot see? The story is journey of the last few days of Billie's vision. That's a hell of a story to tackle your first time out!
    From a graphical perspective, there is a looseness of form that doesn't always appeal to me (but might not bother others) and in general is just isn't as crisply executed as her newest work (I'll review "It's Lonely" soon). The other thing, if I'm to find fault (and I don't mean it to sound like this, but I know it's coming out this way), is that the story, while ambitious in some ways, doesn't necessarily feel completely honest - there's a bit of glossing over (even amongst the griminess) and then an ending that feels a little too perfect. 
    I think it's overall a big work for a young artist that shows her potential and I hope to see her newest graphic novel grow from that potential. Fans of indie comics should check this out. But I think we'll look back in time and find it the weakest in her oeuvre. And that's totally okay.

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Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Sound Workshop Series 34 Console Manual - Complete Scan

Hi all, this post has nothing to do with my normal anime and manga reviews. I used to be in the music business and worked with an old Sound Workshop Series 34 console

When we mothballed the console, I kept a bunch of channel strips and over the years turned them into rack mount preamps and EQs

Another thing I kept was the full manual. This manual is almost impossible to find anywhere (I couldn't find a complete scan, just bits an pieces). However, I was missing a couple pages. But after much hunting, I was able to find the missing pages and complete an entire scan of the manual for those out there with the console or looking to use the channel strips you can get on ebay from time to time. 

So enjoy, I present you with the Sound Workshop Series 34 Console manual (and yes, the cover page is fake, designed by me, because I was missing the real one):

Sound Workshop Series 34 Console Manual cover page - clicking opens a link to the pdf scan


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Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

All comments are moderated by a real person who only checks them once a day. Therefore, comments may take a while before they show up. Thanks for understanding. It's how we keep this a community of lovingkindness.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Daytime Shooting Star volume 11 (Manga Review)

A teen girl in a cute outfit, has a surprised expression with her hands next to her mouth which is wide open. An adult is seen behind her looking down at her, with a teen boy on her other side looking at the adult.
    "Daytime Shooting Star" Vol. 11 (Viz) would be a lot worse if Suzume wasn't finally starting to really assert herself. In this volume we see her twice, TWICE, reject Shishio, and even take initiative to be upfront and direct with her boyfriend Mamura on top of that. 
    As you all probably know by now, if you've been reading this blog at all, I really like Suzume as a character and I like the overall art of the series. I also love a well done high-school romance shoujo manga. But this series has been all sorts of creepy because the main setup was that she falls for her uncle's friend, Shishio, who is a teacher at her school, and he starts by enabling her feelings, and then falls for her himself, AND then pursues her. And that is gross.
    I won't belabor this point, but I will say it, if you are a teacher/adult, you have no business confessing your feelings of romantic/sexual love for a teenager. Done, Period, End. So Shishio's infatuation and pursuit of Suzume was just wrong. 
    In an earlier volume, it looked like Suzume and Shishio wouldn't ever be really getting together and that Suzume chose the wonderful boy in her class Mamura instead. Suzume was starting to get her head into a good space. But at the end of Volume 10, Shishio goes and openly confesses his feelings for her! A high HIGHSCHOOL STUDENT!!!! Thankfully, this volume opens with her response to that as well as her response to a second attempt by him to tell her his feelings. 
    Sadly, not only is Mamura acutely aware of this going on in the background and naturally hurt by it, but Shishio continues to outright talk to Mamura about his intentions towards Suzume. So now we have an adult, who is pursuing a child for love, more or less teasing/goating/f-ing with another teen about it. If I were Mamura, I would have just reported the asshole and gotten him fired. 
    However, we do see Suzume growing and working hard on behalf of Mamura in this volume and asserting her own path in her life, rather than being at Shishio's whims. That makes this volume better than it could have been. I still wish the whole series was just more about Suzume and Mamura and maybe something they have to overcome (other than a gross adult) to be together (like the brilliant series "Ao Haru Ride" which is much more about their internal barriers and healing), because the whole thing with a lecherous adult is just icky. But I had been promised by other readers that the series would end in a good place, and it seems to be turning that corner. 
    As I said earlier, although the art is a bit simple in the depth of shading/backgrounds/ornamentation, I do like the figure drawing, there is at least some use of screen tones, and it has a good overall look. Couple that with a cute guy/girl combo and the sense that it will end in a good place, and I will keep reading to the end. Are you sticking with it as well? Or is Shishio just too much to put up with?

🚺

Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

All comments are moderated by a real person who only checks them once a day. Therefore, comments may take a while before they show up. Thanks for understanding. It's how we keep this a community of lovingkindness.