Saturday, June 30, 2018

My Manga: Update on second draft

Finally, after more than 3 1/2 years of writing, I've finished the second draft of the scripts for my own original manga series which will be called "In The Morning, I'll Say Hello." It's a yuri manga (of course) about a sweet, brilliant, high-school girl who can't speak and a mysterious, angry, delinquent girl who transfers into her class with no memories before a week prior. Something in their shared past is driving them together, but will they find out, and will their connection survive the answer?

The scripts for the series are about 1,100 pages in total (approx. 240,000 words if you're counting) which equates to about 82 chapters in drawn form (don't ask me how I figured this out...). I'm going to take the next couple months and go through it from the beginning for a final formatting, clean up any author voice changes that might (definitely) have occurred over  the years, and edit before figuring out what the heck to do with it. The sad part is that a) I don't speak Japanese and b) I can't draw. This means that effectively, I have no real way to do much with this.

The traditional methods of doing doujinshi until you get discovered or submitting one-shots to magazines or contests in Japan are out for me and given the sheer number of talented people working as mangakas, I can't blame anyone for that. It's also not really the content that makes sense to try and publish as a traditional American graphic novel (even if I could find an artist). I've explored hiring artists but the costs are astronomical, it would be thousands of dollars per chapter and even with crowd sourcing, I doubt I could raise much for an unknown OEL manga. I'm also looking into putting it on some original manga fiction forums for free just to get it out there. I just don't want it to live forever on my computer after putting so much work into it.

But I love manga too much not to want to add my own back into the world, hopefully to add some joy to others' lives the way their manga have added so much joy to my life. I've always had a desire to add more of the good things back into the world (whether that was in my prior career in the music industry, or as a writer). If nothing, else, it's been amazing to see something of this scope through to the end. I hope to have the final version done by the end of summer. I'll keep you posted, but I'm also all ears for any suggestions you might have!


Friday, June 29, 2018

Voice your opposition to Ohio bill HB658 which requires schools to out transgender and gender non-conforming children

Sorry, we're going to get away from cuteness for a moment and talk about something MUCH more important.

I was appalled to learn today that a representative of the Ohio legislature has put forth a bill that requires government workers including teachers and those who work in state hospitals to "out" a child displaying signs of gender dysphoria to their parents. The sponsor, Thomas E. Brinkman, Jr. has even said that it's up to the parents to decide what is right for their child. This is a disgusting denial of basic humanity.

Further, the bill gets a lot wrong about gender dysphoria and even goes so far as to categorize it merely as any mismatch between physical gender traits and gender expression such as clothing choices. We're not even talking medical dysphoria here where there is acute and chronic distress about the mismatch between physical characteristics and gender identity. He's proposing that any child who displays any sign of not conforming to rigid puritanical definitions of masculinity and femininity be outed to their family. He makes clear in his statements and the reasons for the bill (such as a prior court case considering a parents refusal to support HRT when determining custody) that he seeks to help families repress their child's true gender identity and supports families that refuse to acknowledge or support their child's true self.

As our society moves forward towards a time when people can express their true gender identity openly we will hopefully move towards a time that limits external forces which make dysphoria worse, this bill does the opposite. It also puts trans and gender non-conforming youth at risk if their families are not supportive and will increase the depression, suicide and homelessness of LGBTQ+ youth. It is a hostile act towards all of humanity. This is about basic personhood and human rights. Please voice your opposition to the legislators. You can directly contact Thomas E. Brinkman Jr. here which I have already done!

Here's an article about the bill (not well written, but you'll get the point). Sorry for the downer, but this is too important to ignore.


ANIME REVIEW: Ojisan and Marshmallow

Ojisan and Marshmallow is a series of short 2-3 minute clips  about two office workers, a tall overweight man who loves  marshmallows and the woman who loves him. It's cute and sweet
as she uses all sorts of marshmallow tactics to show him her feelings and get him to reciprocate while fending off any other suiters. She's quite aggressive and assertive, but in a playful way, however (SPOILER) he mistakes this for her teasing him because "how could someone like her ever like someone like him" (awwwwwwww heart heart so cute!).

It's basically a gag show, but a cute one, and one about adults which also makes it refreshing. It's pretty endearing and I like that it also presents someone overweight as lovable. If only we could get a show where instead of an overweight man being lovable (which we've seen in several US sitcoms) we would get a skinny man and an overweight woman in the leads further diversifying the body type representation in media.

That being said, no one show can solve all the social justice ills, and this is a pretty cute little show. Watching all the episodes back to back on crunchyroll only took about 40 minutes total, so it's not a big commitment, but worth your time. I give this show a 7/10 "Recommended" rating. Now when will they make a show about someone obsessed with gummy bears?


Thursday, June 28, 2018

Reporting Counterfeit Anime to Amazon

So I'm checking out anime on amazon (still looking for some deals on out-of-print used anime I'm missing - but that I watched legally on licensed streaming sites FYI) and what do I find but more Malaysian bootleg/counterfeit DVD releases. We know these are counterfeit because that country does not have the rights to release a region 1 DVD in the US for those films - they simply aren't the right's holder for a US release. Specifically I found the DVD for "A Silent Voice" (Koe No Katachi) which has yet to have a U.S. dvd/blu-ray release date set.

What really pissed me off about the bootleg (aside from robbing the creators of the income and the
publishers the income to justify continued releases of original material) was that it was marked as an "Amazon's Choice" meaning that it got Amazon's seal of approval and even said its fulfillment was by Amazon directly! Needless to say I reported it right away. Below is the transcript from my online chat with an Amazon rep:

Me: I found a counterfeit item for sale on Amazon and it's marked as an "Amazon's Choice" item on top of that.
You are now connected to Miheer from
Miheer: Hello, my name is Miheer. I'm here to help you today.
I'm really sorry that counterfeit item is for sale on Amazon and it has been marked as an "Amazon's Choice".
May I have the link for the item so that I could report it further?
It is a Malaysian bootleg of a movie not yet released in the US by the legal owner
Miheer: Thanks much!
Let me check the same for you.
I see.
I'm reporting this item to the Inventory team we have in our company , so that they could report it to the leadership team and get it removed at earliest.
Me: Thank you
Miheer: Thanks so much for letting us know. Could you please show us any article or something like that, which could prove that this is yet to be released?
Me: sure give me a second
Miheer: Thanks.
and I'll send another
Miheer: Thanks Jason. Let me check it.
you can scroll down on this one to see the dvd and blu-ray releases and it is only in the UK
Miheer: Okay.
Let me check,
Miheer: Thanks so much for all the articles.
I have escalated the issue to the Leadership team for the further actions and have attached all these articles to the report.
Me: thank you
Miheer: They would review all the cases and the articles you have provided and get it removed from the site upon confirmation.
Me: thank you 

So there you have it, I wonder how long (if) it will take to be removed? Please help creators by reporting these bootlegs/counterfeit products to Amazon and getting them removed. The only way there will be justification to release titles in the US is if people stop buying bootlegs so there will be real financial demand for the legal version of the products. 


ANIME REVIEW: "Slow Start" never should have

I like slice of life shows. Really I do. I think of "Flying Witch" or "K-on" or "Miname-Ke" or "A Place Further From the Universe" with fond memories and a desire to re-watch them all. So, why wouldn't I like a slice of life show about a girl starting high-school a year late?

So I started watching the first episode of "Slow Start" on Crunchyroll and about 5 seconds in, I knew I would hate this show, but I slogged through the whole first episode just in case, and confirmed that it may be the worst show I've tried to watch this year. (I thought "Urahara" would be it, with its weird eye lashes, but I was wrong)

Within the opening seconds, we are treated to the main character who I will call "bland anime girl 1" because I can't remember her name at all, if it was even mentioned. Bland anime girl 1 was making strange cooing sounds while sitting in her bedroom preparing for school. All I know is that high schoolers should not sound like they are having fake orgasms multiple times per minute. But that's the only thing that came to mind with those noises which she NEVER STOPS MAKING the whole episode. Then...then...then her older cousin (who she's living with despite having two seemingly nice parents for some reason I wasn't paying attention to) comes into her room. I should say she, and her two enormously impossible breasts, come into the room. For no reason at all this character apparently needed breasts that defy all logic, physics, and medical science. Thankgod this didn't actually carry over into any other characters in the show from what I can tell or I would have turned if off right there (Certainly there can be women with larger breasts in both the real world and anime so I'm not body shaming, but here it is quite different than the way it's presented say with Akari's character in "March Comes In Like A Lion" as a point of reference. In "Slow Start" it is a wholly inexplicable exploitative move). So yeah, that was the first 30 seconds of the show. It only got...worse? better? the same? I can't really tell, but I watched it anyway so you wouldn't have to.

Next we meet Kamuri who is very short and acts like an elementary student and who apparently no one thought should be checked over by doctors for either her short stature or infantile ways of speaking/connecting with people despite being probably about 15 years old. Then we meet "bland anime girl 2" who is so forgettable I can't be bothered to look up her name on wikipedia for you and "bland anime girl 3" who could also be called "the spunky one with the snaggle tooth" who is perhaps the only thing with a pulse in this show. The first half of the episode has them meeting and going through class on the first day of high-school. I have a 14 year old daughter and I promise you, this isn't want high-shcoolers act like, ever. As strange as the real ones are, this show manages to make highschoolers SO INCREDIBLY BORING!

It was originally published as a seinen manga, so I guess that's why the aunt has breasts because there is clearly NO WAY a guy would ever watch or read anything unless there were grossly disproportionate breasts attached to it (SARCASM).Other than that, there really wasn't much fan service which was good. So bland anime girl 1 talks with a cloyingly infantile voice, Kamuri (the short side character) talks with a cloying infantile voice...and they're all supposed to be cute and invoke the male-gaze since it's a seinen. You're ragging on it, but what about "Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl" the show that you're embarrassed to like, you say? Yup, that's a seinen show too, with an infantile high-school girl who talks in an infantile way AND there's fan service. How can you like that show, but rag on this one? Well, for all that show's many, many problems, feminist and non-femminist alike, at least every character is weird or funny, at least there are good jokes (have you ever seen a futon eat a whole pizza in one bite, and then think about what the cushions must look like inside?), and its also not pretending that it is anything OTHER than a seinen show with a beautiful, infantile, high-school girl who does weird things. At least it's honest with itself.

I'm not sure what "Slow Start" is nor what it's pretending to be, but it is not being honest. The show is I think supposed to be one of those "cute girls acting cutely" shows. I like those too, like "New Game!" which ended up being more enjoyable than I thought or the defining one of all time, never to be surpassed, "Sakura Trick" which is insanely cute, insanely funny, and actually sweet and romantic too. It's unclear if those shows are cute girls acting cutely for male viewers benefit or if they really are for any gender/gender-expression (I'd argue their designed for the male gaze, even though I love Sakura Trick). But that alone doesn't make them indefensible, even if they are fairly non-feminist in their objectification of women. At least both of those shows provide their characters with agency and purpose and value beyond their cuteness. New Game! has an all-female video game company where it shows them actually working on games, in actual divisions, and having deadlines, etc...Sakura Trick has amazing humor and sweetness despite its VERY VERY perverted camera operator.

But just like Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl (a show that will keep coming up in my reviews since it's an overtly seinen show I actually like - embarrassed...embarrassed...), those shows aren't pretending to be something they are not. But with "Slow Start" it's so unclear who the target audience is and what the message/purpose of the show is, that it doesn't work: It's not funny, it's not cute, it's not fanservicy, it's not thought provoking, it's not meditative, it's...incredibly annoying voice acting, bland animation, non-existent story, and there is no actual discernible cuteness.

It's also, as I said above, incredibly boring. Flying Witch and Minami-Ke are great shows in which nothing happens, so it's not that I need a plot, but somehow those are more about the mundane wonderfulness of everyday life, this show can't even get that right. There was one funny moment of Tamate (Bland Anime Girl 3 - the one with the snaggle tooth) trying to get everyone to call her "Tama" and the other characters teasing her with her full name. Unfortunately, the teasing drags on and on and goes into another character's name and the story behind it...blah blah blah...oh god, it's still going on, now we're on the third girl's name...checking my watch...when will it end...freaking 5 minutes of this...and that's the highlight of the show. A single joke that went on for 4.5 minutes longer than it needed to!

The animation is bland. The characters' eyes are all dead. The character designs are not very interesting. The writing is boring. The opening song is bland. the ending song is bland too. Did I mention that the writing is bland and that nothing is actually cute? There's just not one thing to recommend this show...I'm giving it a 4/10 "Very problematic" rating (the only thing keeping it from a worse rating is that at least it doesn't appear overtly harmful to society). It was only the first episode, but still, I don't think I can waste another 20 minutes on this one.

Please let me know if you disagree in the comments, thoughtful counter-points are always welcome!


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Pancakes and LINKS for breakfast

I'm going out for brunch with a friend today, and I'm probably going to get bacon, but for you, you get...links of internet (no sausage here!) for breakfast.

Really cool story about the search for a missing literary nerd:

Fascinating article about dyslexia, in a writer!

Interesting website that lets you find similar sounding bands quickly:

Love me some NIN and this is a funny story about their best album:

LGBTQ and the limited happiness of those characters in traditional games:

Enjoy your internet.


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

MANGA: My Solo Exchange Diary Vol. 1 - review

"My Solo Exchange Diary Vol. 1" is the worthy sequel to the amazing manga "My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness" by Nagata Kabi. "My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness" is simply one of the greatest LQBTQ focused manga ever and transcends the manga genre as an autobiographical essay on depression (which is really its larger focus). "My Solo Exchange Diary Vol. 1" is the first volume of autobiography following her break-out success. The second volume is already available for pre-order on Amazon. Needless to say, I've pre-ordered volume 2 already!

"My Solo Exchange Diary Vol. 1" picks up the author's life just as "My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness" is getting ready for publication and the ensuing notoriety, feedback, and implications for her family (given the details of that time in her life) as it is finally published. Again we work with Nagata Kabi as she struggles to move her life forward through her ongoing depression. She takes baby steps, both forward and backward, but ultimately inching forward. There is some amazing stuff as she works through her relationship with her mother and we get some nice insight into her mom's character. I can't quite read her dad, whose comments we mostly get through her mother's lens. I get the sense that maybe he's more okay with things than we're led to believe. We also get hints that Kabi is starting to come out of her shell through massive effort on her part. She's just so endearing whether she is crying, with friends, on her mother's lap, moving between multiple apartments and her parent's home, etc...  You can't help but root for Kabi both in the manga and in real life.

As for the presentation and printing, the book is lovely. The black, white and pink color scheme is perfect for the mood (keeping some heavy subject matter from feeling too dark), the printing quality excellent, and her art continues to be both cute and painful in all the right ways. The translation is effortless and never feels like a translation at all. The feel and pacing of this book is subtlety different than "My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness" in that it's more episodic, like the diary it is, and maybe a little bit less raw than the original book. That is by no means a slight, and if "My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness" didn't exist for comparison, this would be a ground-breaking book in its own right. However, it doesn't quite rise up to the power, grace, humor, sadness, and humanity of the first volume, if only because it isn't breaking the same new ground.

I give this manga a strong 8/10 ("highly recommended") and consider it essential reading for anyone who suffers from depression, for anyone looking for a unique LGBTQ narrative, or for anyone that loves brilliant autobiography. It balances humor, depression, self-hatred, affection, kindness, family dynamics, character growth, etc... and being autobiographical it carries a weight and power that it might not have had otherwise. For those unfamiliar, it is certainly not the type of manga typically provided to the American market. I'm so thankful we're getting more diversity of style and voice being translated. This is a gem and highly worth your time. I can't wait for volume 2.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Chvrches - Love is Dead - third album's the charm!

My sister suggested I check out the band Chvrches last year because she felt like the lead singer looked like "a girl from the anime you watch." Well, I don't know about that, but the lead singer Lauren Mayberry really is cute and has a light, occasionally imperfect, and lovely accented (Scottish) voice. Their first two albums really only had one song that stuck out, but it blew me away: "Mother We Share." I have been obsessed with that song and while I liked the other songs okay, especially watching them live, they just didn't have the emotional impact I look for when listening to music. I can certainly imagine a large group of people who would like their music intently. It's a mix of electronic, euro, pop, dance...etc...and a bit dark. But me, I want songs that make my heart feel.

I was therefore eager to listen to "Love is Dead" their third album in the hopes that it would rise up to the potential of "Mother We Share" across a whole album. It almost does and it is certainly their strongest album to date. I made the awesome decision to order it on vinyl which came with free mp3s of the album. It's perfect, not only do I have the mp3s for my phone, but in an apocalypse I can make a hand-cranck gramophone and listen to music still! The album art is beautiful and perfect for the spirit of the music and the vinyl is the coolest transparent blue. I'm totally happy with the purchase.

Many people have described Chvrches music as being reminiscent of the 80s. I can certainly see that comparison but it never felt quite right to me. Then, listening to this album, several of the songs, particularly the best ones, really did feel like I was listening to hits from the 80s, so I went back and listened to hit songs that were actually from the 80s. You know what? Churches does it better! The 80s songs didn't hold up, they were a bit too slow, the production was weak, and although they had nostalgia, they didn't have much heart. On the contrary, my favorite songs on "Love is Dead" FELT like what I wanted 80s music to sound like but actually doesn't. This is a total win for Chvrches.

Chvrches is a threesome with the two gents handling most of the music load. However, they reached out for some support in the production of this album and it shows. On this album, I really like hearing a mix of real drums with the electronic and they have even been touring with a drummer expanding into a quartet. Even better, where their first two albums struggled with very weak melodies and dark production, here we get much more melodic lead vocals with stronger hooks. Many will disagree with me but I'm a fan of their poppier work and this album has at least four really standout songs that hit those marks well. Some songs however feel more like the first two albums which means they don't do much for me, but the best ones are endlessly re-listenable. I think I could play "Get Out" and "Never Say Die" on loop forever and be happy.

This is definitely my favorite Chvrches album. 4 standout songs, 2 pretty good songs and 6+1 other tracks. Overall a solid release. Definitely worth it for the 4 standouts and the blue vinyl with great cover art. Rating: 7/10 "recommended" as an album but "Get Out" and "Never Say Die" are 9/10s as singles and "Graffiti" and "Miracle" are both 8/10s.

Song by song analysis:

01 - Graffiti - good song
02 - Get Out - great hook, maybe my favorite song on the album.
03 - Deliverance - the verse melody and music is some of the most 80s-ish on the album, the hook doesn't totally take over though, so it doesn't quite arrive as a great song.
04 - My Enemy  - guest vocals by Matt Beninger - his voice just doesn't do anything for me, the beat behind it is pretty empty and sparse which doesn't do him any favors. The song overall doesn't get me hyped up the way some of the others do.
05 - Forever - the pre-chorus has a nice little break down feel to it, but the chorus it leads to is pretty bland. Too bad, because even though the verses are only okay and the pre-chorus is good, the chorus is a let down.
06 - Never Say Die - another standout song, one of the two best on the album. Her voice is just so beautifully hers on the verses: all the little imperfections we love about her singing. Great pre-chorus both melodically and production, really builds into the chorus, "never never never ever never ever ever." (God bless her for remembering that, even live!) One of the best on the album
07 - Miracle - another standout on the album, good melody, strong beat in the chorus, interesting to hear her through distorted vocals which is a production technique I love, but so different than the lightness of her normal delivery. Still not sure how I feel about it on her voice, but not in a bad way. Good song!
08 - Graves - this also has a distinctly 80s vibe with the production, the chorus melody is decidedly not awesome to me, many will probably like it and disagree, but it doesn't work for me. I like the bouncy feel of the verses even though its not a style I actually like in a song, so I probably won't listen to this much. I just can't get into this song like I think I should. It just missed the mark somehow.
09 -Heaven/Hell - the verse lyrics and melody and production do nothing for me. She doesn't even sound like herself on the pre-chorus, just generic sounding vocals - some sort of production on her voice as well as her delivery depersonalizes it. The chorus melody is okay, but the production doesn't get me pumping but it's' close to an okay song.
10 - God's Plan - a song where Martin(?) provides the main vocals - his voice would probably work fine in any number of indie bands, but it just doesn't do it for me in Chvrches. The lyrics and melodies are also not very inspiring on this. This is a song very much like those on the first two Chvrches albums in style and a lot less 80s and more synth-dance-trance-I don't know the genre names well...
11 - Really Gone - her opening "I" is one of the best sung single letters ever in the history of music. A simple slow opening verse, beautifully sung pre-chorus "I'm holding on" just perfectly imperfectly sung opening line to the pre-chorus, some of her best (meaning most emotionally resonant) singing on the whole album throughout this song, the song never really arrives anywhere though, so okay end of album track, but that's about it. Definitely not a single-type song. The production is mostly a pulsing single synth with some light accents of her melody on another synth.
12 - ii - creepy-ish instrumental piano tinkling with some talking in the background. It's not really a song at all. Just a 1 minute filler, don't' really know why it's on here.
13 - Wonderland - nice change in how she vocally goes from the verse to the pre-chorus linking the phrasing rather than making them two distinct sections. Big beat on the chorus - it's a slower song, so probably not single-worthy just from that, but probably the 5th strongest song on the album.

 What did you think? Let's hear it in the comments.


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Ranking Haruki Murakami's novels

I don't read a lot of contemporary authors, but one who I read regularly is Haruki Murakami. He has a singular writing style and authorial voice that comes through clear in the translations (most are translated by one of two translators so there is a lot of consistency there). His plots, stories, characters, and purpose are also pretty unique, particularly compared to American/European authors. He's someone I highly recommend. In honor of having just finished his 1982 novel "A Wild Sheep Chase" yesterday night, I figured I'd do a quick ranking of his novels which I've read.

Warning: I haven't read all his works, so this is a list only of those that I've actually read. I'll update it as I read more of his novels.

#1 - The Wind Up Bird Chronicle - 9/10 ("Essential") - His masterpiece, bar none. A combination of two timelines, an existential journey, amazing characters, incredible prose. Simply stunning. This is a book that should be considered part of the eternal pantheon of great novels that will transcend generations. See my favorite novels page for more.

#2 - Kafka on the Shore - 7/10 ("Recommended") - Similar to The Wind Up Bird Chronicle in that its two overlapping  stories, however, here they occur in the same time-frame. One of his most well-respected works.  Just not as transcendent as Wind Up Bird

#3 - Norwegian Wood - 7/10 ("Recommended") - A haunting story of love and loss and love. Another of his classics.  Might deserve a higher rating. I'll read it again sometime and reconsider.

#4 - IQ84 - 7/10 ("Recommended") - In some senses this is a real tour-de-force and the best of what he does, yet it doesn't quite have the depth of "The Wind Up Bird Chronicle." A time and dimension shifting story with a bad-ass female lead (about time already!) that starts with a staircase on the highway.It's hard not putting this higher.

#5 - A Wild Sheep Chase - 7/10 ("Recommended") - I was really surprised how much I liked this. It was a fast read, told in first person (which I like in his style) with a lead character you feel so comfortable with. It's a mystery and a journey and both more straightforward than many of his works while still retaining some of his trademark existentialism. The only thing keeping this from being an 8 is that I think I had a slightly cooler ending in mind as I was reading, not that his was bad, but I liked mine! :)

#6 - Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage - 6/10 ("Read with Reservations") - this was sort of forgettable in that I actually had to go back to the synopsis in wikipedia to remember it, even though I had the book in front of me and was trying to skim it to evoke remembrance. It's okay, it's his style, it's just not great is all. Certainly not a waste of time or anything and if you like his style, you won't go wrong, but you've got at least 5 better ones to start with if you're new to him.

#7 - Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World - 5/10 ("Maybe not worth your time") - This is another one I think I should reread. It's very different than many of the others above in that it's the least realistic with lots of fantastical elements. Unfortunately, it's also one that didn't stick in my mind real clearly, other than a few of the images, particularly the underground tunnels. Maybe 5 is too low, because its way better than most novels out there, but somehow it suffers in comparison to the rest of his oeuvre.

I'll update this list as I read more of his works! Let me know what you think in the comments.


Saturday, June 23, 2018

Eclair: A Girls' Love Anthology That Resonates in Your Heart/Eclair Anata Ni Hibiku Yuri Anthology

I took a flyer an ordered Eclair, a Yuri anthology published by Yen Press. Normally I only follow series or particular mangakas, but who couldn't use a little more Yuri in their life? This is a collection of 16 short one-offs. Mostly they are about falling in love. I would have liked to see more of the stories focus on events within an existing relationship. Somehow the girl-meets-girl thing just seems disposable when done as a one-off story, particularly when you're reading a bunch back to back. With stories that take place within an existing relationship, it affords the author the ability to hint at all that has come before and all that will come later making for a richer and more varied opportunity. But sadly, there's only a small bit of that in this volume. So without further ado, let's do a quick review of each story:

"Happiness in the Shape of a Scar" - the arts good, at first the pacing is okay with a nice little setup, but then it just moves so briskly in getting them together that we miss what could have been some more emotionally rich moments. Doesn't really feel emotionally true to me.

"Tears in the Clean Room" - one of the more interesting stories. My only real criticism is that the author likes to show a lot of spit and saliva in the kissing. I don't know about you, but I don't drool much while kissing, not even in high-school. I've just never gotten the desire to put that into art (it's also one of my pet peeves about Sakura Trick). But as for the story, I won't ruin it for you, but it's a nice ending that is different than most in this volume. That alone makes the story worth it.

"Human Emotion" - not a fan of the art and not a fan of the message.

"Intro" - Okay art and the pacing is okay. Another girl meets girl, falls in love, but it's not completely resolved and we do get some sense of the pursued girl's having had a life prior to this story which is good. Still, I don't know that I can advocate for the age difference, even though it's probably only a few years, one of them is still in high school.

"The Unemployed Woman and the High School Girl" - yuck, so many problems with this one, whether it is the issues with selling oneself or the age difference, it just isn't sincere. You can't make light of the issue of human sex trafficing.

"The Hairdressser" - I didn't particularly care for the art, mostly the faces bothered me. But at least it isn't a clear-cut girl-meets-girl, falls in love, mostly because there is no falling in love, it's more about a new friendship. Not great, but at least a bit different than the rest in the volume.

"Alice in the Miniature Garden" - manages to work in some hints at backstory for several characters which is appreciated. I hate to say it, but sometimes I like art when they have the littlest itty bittiest mouths and there are some little itty bitty mouths in this one. So the art is definitely on the cutsey side and not the realistic side. In fact, very little art in this volume feels like more traditional shoujo, hmmm....not sure I believe in the characters but I would probably read a few more chapters about this pair if there ever were to be more.

"Master for 1/365" - more cutesy art and our first story that hints that the girls are already in a relationship, yay! Maybe the sexiest kiss in the whole volume. Not a particularly great or eye opening story, but perfectly enjoyable for what it is.

"Two Years and 11 Months" - not sure how I feel about this one. I found the speech bubbles hard to follow at times (they rarely had the little pointy thingies and often it was the person listening who we saw surrounded by the other person's speech bubbles). The art was okay, but not great. The story however, not sure I like the dependency one character showed. It has promise in the middle but the ending sort of ruined it for me.

"Game Over" - the art reminded me a little of Maid-sama! in some of the angularness and some of the more chibi/deformed panels. I liked the idea of this story and it was also another one where the girls were already in a relationship. One of the bright spots in the anthology.

"My Cute Bitch" - I have complicated feelings about this one because it doesn't really ring emotionally true, but I sort of like how it ended anyway. Basically, two women move in together, both have boyfriends. One of them sleeps around a lot. But in the end, there's an important message about not basing a relationship on sex alone. I think I'm glad this was included if only for both the variety it provided and that it made me think a little, even if that was sometimes for uncomfortable reasons.

"A Tale of Weeds" - a friendship story in elementary school. Didn't love the art but didn't hate it either. The story was so-so, but an okay change of pace from the others stories.

"The Two of Us and Apples" - I did not like the art. But, the story itself was cute. And it featured who I think are two adult women, another nice bit of variety from the mostly middle and high-school girls that make up the genre and the anthology.

"Belle the Rabbit and the Wolf" - I'm not really into stories where the characters are mostly human but have actual ears and tails. Just not my thing. The art is okay if you're into it though. The story is more about friendship and pretty generic. Didn't do much for me.

"Your Jinx" - was one that was surprisingly entertaining. It was silly and mostly about friendship, probably, but again, the comedy in it made it worth it and a nice addition to the volume.

"My Idol" - didn't like the art. Stiff and some perspective problems (which never was a problem for me in other shoujo art, but doesn't work here because it's also not "beautiful" in the intentional way other shoujo art can be deformed - like super long legs, arms and necks, here things are foreshortened funny and the stiffness undercuts any interest in the characters). I also think the "plot" is muddy and I don't have any interest in the characters. One of the weakest in the volume.

So that's it. I'd give it a 6/10 which makes it "read with reservations." For $13, you might want to see if you can borrow it from a library, unless you're like me who wants to buy things because 1) I want to own books and 2) I want to ensure enough get sold so that more shoujo and yuri get translated.


Friday, June 22, 2018

Sweet Blue Flowers (Aoi Hana) Vol. 4 - Review and exploring Akira's asexuality

Finally, it arrived. Volume 4 of Sweet Blue Flowers (Aoi Hana). Not only is it one of my all-time favorite anime but it is also one of my all-time favorite mangas and so to finally have the story complete made my week. Let's start with a review of the volume before moving on to explore Akira's character a bit. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.

It is printed as a 2-in-1 omnibus which makes it a bit larger than the standard US tankobon format. The printing is lovely, the pages feel nice, the blacks are incredibly black and the screentones retain all their small detail and beautiful gradation in grays. The story, naturally, is wonderful, although I'll dig into that a bit more in a second.

However, I'm still not in love with the translation or art localization. The translator continues to not use honorifics, which in and of itself isn't the end of the world. However, Akira goes to a Catholic all-girls high-school so when the younger students call her an "onee-sama" in the original Japanese I want it to be translated as "onee-sama" and not "lady" dammit! Needless to say I'm the biggest fan ever (self-proclaimed) of Marimite and no one does "onee-sama" better than it does, but that only makes me hungry for more. So come on, don't take it away from me here. "Lady" is not only a mis-translation, but it doesn't make sense in English at all. For terms that have no real English equivalent I just prefer to keep them in their native language. He honors this in volume 3 when he leaves the play "Rokumeikan" in Japanese rather than translating it as "Deer-Cry Hall" but chooses to get rid of my beloved "onee-sama" - unforgivable! :)

The localization problems don't end there however. The translator has some strange choices of translation such as when one character says: "I'm abjectly sorry." Well, I'm abjectly sorry to say that no teenager on this or any other continent would ever say "abjectly." I don't speak a lick of Japanese, but I'm sure a better translation, to capture the intent, would have been something like "I'm really sorry" or "I'm so sorry." But seriously, "abjectly?" you've got to be kidding.

Sadly, despite the art being amazing, that isn't left alone in localization either. On the beach after graduation, the writing in the sand is redrawn in English in the most god-awful font that totally sticks out and doesn't look anything like something drawn in sand. It's clear that instead of hiring an artist, they just had some intern white out the Japanese characters in the sand and type the English translation over it in a fuzzy font to emulate the look of something drawn in sand. Well, it didn't work, not at all. Yuck.

But really, those are minor issues in an otherwise brilliant volume. So let's look at the actual plot of the volume. First things first, I LOVE Sweet Blue Flowers and Takako Shimura's work. That being said, I've always felt like the dialogue and pacing can get jerky or scattered at times, such that it can be somewhat hard to follow or feel confusing and this is particularly the case in this volume where so much time is condensed into a short story space. I would have loved to spend more time on Fumi and Akira's relationship, but alas, it wasn't to be. I also think back to the anime where the writers did an amazing job capturing the story but also smoothing out some of the jerkiness of the original source material. I'd love for an anime adaptation of the rest of the manga.

Sugimoto and Kawasaki -
just look at that body language!
So let's talk story a bit, this volume brings things to a satisfying conclusion that also feels perhaps a bit more realistic than it could have been in less skilled hands. There is nice foreshadowing from volume 2 onwards of how the primary crisis of this volume will unfold, but then time passes and characters grow and this volume ends the story on a satisfying note that resolves the conflict in a way that makes me smile.

I'm so impressed with the writing of Fumi's character. Fumi is written displaying strong sexual and sexual-identity agency which contrasts so sharply to the other more timid parts of her personality. I love that about her! She's complex, like an actual person! Her character feels so real because of that and I love that she's not wishy-washy with her sexuality. She acts like most teenagers would, with lust and dirty thoughts! There are so many wonderful moments of that in this volume.

In addition to Fumi and Akira's story, we get an itty bitty peak into Sugimoto's growth. I particularly like when Kyoko calls Sugimoto out for her ass-holery and weaponizing other people's affections as a defense mechanism. Kyoko herself grows a lot in this, but what is sad is that we get hints at what could be an entire manga series about Kyoko that makes me love her character more but I don't think we'll ever see her as the star of her own series. We also get a beautiful panel hinting that maybe there really is something more between Sugimoto and her roommate Kawasaki. I do truly ship them.

So to bring the review portion of this post to a close, I'd give the volume itself an 8/10 "highly recommended" and the 4 volume complete series a 9/10 "Essential." The only thing keeping the series from being a 10/10 "Classic" is the pacing and the flow which just are a bit scattershot. So hard not to find it a perfect series, because it's so close.

Moving beyond the review, as I reread the earlier volumes and then this one (all of them in rapid-fire over 2 days this week) I had a thought about Akira's sexuality. I really wonder if she is asexual or non-sexual. How amazing would it be for a Yuri manga to feature an asexual character?! I think the lens of asexuality brings clarity to Akira's character. It isn't that she's debating whether she likes boys or girls, whether she likes Fumi or someone else, but she's debating with herself why she can "like" someone but that "like" doesn't trigger the lust that her peers seem to experience. Let's look at a few panels from the last three volumes to make this case:

She's 17 and seems to be saying that she's just never been aroused passionately by anyone.

She seems to have romantic feelings but not sexual feelings.
She knows that Fumi has had sex and is interested in that type of intimacy, so while she knows she "likes" Fumi, she is struggling with why that doesn't translate to the same sexual desires Fumi feels.
For me, this is what convinced me, she's recognizing that there is a physiological disconnect between her brain and her body's reactions.
So I'm purely hypothesizing with this, but for me, seeing Akira as asexual makes the story make so much more sense and also helps it transcend the "I guess I'm a lesbian because I love you so much" thing that seems to be a bit too pervasive in high-school yuri. Just like how Fumi's sexual agency is so realistic compared to most high-school yuri, Akira's asexuality feels more real to me as well. I don't know if this was Takako Shimura's intent, but I have to believe given the sensitivity of all her works, that this was intentional. Either way, kudos for presenting two very different characters and they way they work through their sexual development rather than making this what could have been a typical (but still enjoyable) two friends fall in love story.


Monday, June 18, 2018

MOVIE REVIEW: The Incredibles 2...more like The Acceptibles 2

So I didn't love it and I didn't hate it, but The Incredibles 2 just didn't have any of the heart or magic that made the first one my number 2 Pixar film of all time. Also, the second half of this review will highlight some equity issues presented by this film. Hold on tight. LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD.

The movie was fine. There were only a few glaring plot holes (how can this business man assemble all the world leaders to write new legislation? For being "all the world leaders" why were there only like 10 of them in the room?) and the original cast are still amazing voices and the animation was also top-notch. That ocean just looked so good. Also, the baby. My wife turns and says: "The baby saved the film" not literally (perhaps unfortunately) but just because he's got a couple killer scenes.

But, the problem is that is all we get, just fine. The framing device: the world hates superheroes and deems them illegal, has been done TO DEATH. I mean, for almost 70 years in the X-men universe and more recently in the Avengers/Captain-America Civil War movies and like EVERY OTHER post-superhereo "gritty" graphic novel/movie/book/video game. But whatever, they don't really harp on it, and actually the movie didn't really need it.

So moving on, what about the plot itself? Well, it's pretty much The Incredibles 1 with the gender reversed between the two parents. This time instead of Mr. Incredible going out alone and the mom and kids going to save him, it's Elasti-girl who goes out alone, then Mr. Incredible, then the kids go out to save them. At one point, about 1/3rd of the way through, I thought they were going to go somewhere interesting. The villain (at the time) starts giving a monologue about how people don't do anything anymore, they just stare at screens, they don't play games, they watch game-shows, they don't cook, they watch cooking shows, they don't travel, they watch travel shows. If this movie went in this direction it would have been so great on so many levels 1) actually an important thing to think about in our modern world, and 2) it's a movie (on a screen) telling us not to watch things on screens (so meta). But this was it, one monologue and then that whole potential big idea was absent the rest of the way and it turns into a avenge mommy and daddy movie.

Perhaps even more unforgivable than a predictable plot (of which most movies have) was the fact that the first 2/3rds of the movie were SO BORING. I don't mean that they needed more action, because there were plenty of action scenes. I mean that the action scenes were boring and predictable, the family scenes were bereft of the complex family nuances that drove the first film, and the various comedic set pieces were just so-so. The conclusion was at least interesting to watch, but also ultimately totally predictable in each of the points it hit. It just wasn't a very emotionally engaging movie, sort of hollow.

So fine, it was a well done, well acted predictable movie. More often than not, those are enjoyable, here though the boredom got to me and that was a problem for the filmmakers as it let me see two other things that ended up being distractions for me the rest of the way through, things I might have missed if I were invested in the story and characters.

The first, and which hit me early on watching the crowd in the background of a couple scenes, was the complete whiteness of this film. Yes, Frozone continues to be amazing (super powerful and always timely, but as a person was underused in this film) and there was a new black minor superpowered character in a couple scenes, but I'm talking bigger things. The crowds were white, the side characters were all mostly white.

And I'm not talking just a black/white divide (although that was definitely concerning here). Where are the Asians, the Indians, the Pakistanis, the middle easterners and Persians, where are the people of Hispanic or South American background, where are those of native dissent as well as black, African American (is this movie set in America?) and/or African individuals (along with the far greater world diversity than I can list in one sentence)? This was a very white film at a time when there is no excusing it. It didn't reflect the diversity in the suburban audience I saw it with, nor the diversity I encounter every day at work an in the community. And I don't live in a particularly diverse part of the country either. I'm not talking Manhattan here.

At first I wasn't sure I would bring this up, but then I realized, if I don't, who will? I see it as each of our jobs to highlight when we don't see media echo the world around us because we cannot let another generation fail to see themselves on screen. These kids need to know they are valued and unique and the same and special and...I just can't believe how we continue to be willing to cast aside other human beings, other unique individual people, just because they are not from north west Europe. What we continue to allow to happen in this country and around the world goes beyond a Human Rights violation. When we use the term Human Rights violation it again depersonalizes the individuals who make up the group and while it is critical to look at groups in the aggregate so we don't miss disproportionate treatment, it is also essential that we recognize that in each group are persons. Persons who dream, think, hope, love, hate, create, sleep, snore, and all the other small things that make them a person and not a number. It is too easy to depersonalize, and thus legislate against people, when we look only at aggregate numbers or aggregate labels. It is easier to be wrong to a label than to admit we are directly harming another human being. But there are very real individual stories in each and every person on this planet and we should never allow ourselves to turn from that. Yet, it is also critical we look at this in the aggregate so we don't include individuals without representing and valuing larger pieces of culture that go beyond skin tone. Both are critical facets of true inclusiveness and both are missing in this film. I work on this issue in a different way in my work, and I'm choosing to use this movie to highlight another place where it needs to be addressed and corrected.

Wow, that was intense. So here's the second thing that the boringness of this film let me concentrate on. When Helen Parr (Elasti-girl) is introduced to some mediocre wanna-be supers, are two or three of them meant to be LGBTQ? It was played both really subtly but also maybe really ham-fistedly. I just felt like during the introductions several of those characters had very stereotypically affected speech patterns and/or body movements. I'm going to assume this was no accident but, I'm presuming positive intentions here, an attempt to be more inclusive in a Disney film, maybe. Then here's my problem if it wasn't an accident: it was both so minor as to have nearly been missed, so what good does it do, and if we continue to only present LGBTQ characters as those with stereotypical affects, we continue to not really honor the breadth and depth of the lived reality of the 20% of people who identify as LGBTQ. On the other side, if this wasn't an intentional inclusive moment then it 1) either used those stereotypes for comedy (the sparky guy was way lame - look at his facial expressions) or 2) the movie just had zero LGBTQ representation at all. I don't know which is worse, no representation or stereotypical representation. But I do know, that much like a more racially/ethnically diverse movie that this should have been, is that there can be nods in the background as well as the foreground to LGBTQ lives. Where were the fathers pushing the stroller down the street in the background, two same-sex individuals making out in Violet's school, some gender noncomforming clothing choices, anything!?

So basically, you have a boring movie that caused me to focus on social justice issues. Not what Pixar/Disney had in mind I'm sure. But, that's what you're going to get from an adult and we're certainly going to talk about it with our kid so she doesn't perpetuate this when she gets to make choices as an adult.

My rating: 5/10 "Probably not worth your time/money" and almost creeping into the "actively dangerous" territory. Yikes, didn't see that coming when we bought our tickets.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sunday Kisses - my favorite anime and manga kisses

For years, I've been a total love nerd and have collected pictures of my favorite kisses from anime and manga. On a beautiful Sunday, here are my favorites in no particular order:

Futaba and Kuo from Blue Spring Ride (Ao Haru Ride)

Fujiwara and Miu from Secret of the Princess (I know, I know, it's not really a kiss, but come on, so cute!)

Fumi and Akira from Sweet Blue Flowers (Aoi Hana)

Yuu and Haruka from Sakura Trick

Nana and Hitomi from  Kisses Sighs and Cherry Blossom Pink

Another amazing Nana and Hitomi

Ashiya and Sano from Hana-Kimi (Hanazakari no Kimitachi e) 

More amazing Ashiya and Sano

Can't get enough of Ashiya and Sano

Yup, one more of Ashiya and Sano

Kase and Yamada from Kase-san

Another of Kase and Yamada from Kase-san

 Sawako and Kazehaya from Kimi Ni Todoke

More Sawako and Kazehaya (I love in this series how even though she seems naive, she really is a fully-realized teenager who actually makes out with her boyfriend!)

Futaba and Kou from Blue Spring Ride (Ao Haru Ride) - the manga this time.

Ryuuji and Taiga from Toradora!

Ryuuji and Taiga from Toradora! (it might be my favorite anime kiss of all time)

 Yup, Sailor Moon (Usagi) and Mamoru (Tuxedo Mask) from Sailor Moon Crystal (Yup, I like Crystal best)

Shiina and Chihiro from Twinkle Stars (Hoshi wa Utau)

Another Sawako and Kazehaya from Kimi Ni Todoke. (Ah, look at that tear streaking down her face!)

Tamako and Kanji from Pearl Pink (Tennen Pearl Pink)

Shizuku and Haru from My Little Monster

Ayuzawa and Usui from Maid-Sama!

That's just a taste of the best kisses out there. There are so many more! What are your favorite kisses from anime and manga?


Saturday, June 16, 2018

MOVIES: Pixar moving rankings

So in honor of Incredibles 2 (which we hope to see tomorrow), Vox ranked all 20 Pixar movies to date. You can find their list HERE. However, I strongly disagree with some of their rankings, so here are mine (minus the ones I haven't seen yet, sorry)

1) Toy Story - the animation may look a bit dated, but the story is so good, the voice acting amazing, the character designs incredible, the set pieces amazing, just on and on with its sheer awesomeness. This has to be the best.

2) The Incredibles - so close to being the best, as it is brilliantly animated, plotted, acted, etc... the voice casting is amazing all around, the plot winning and well structured, every character memorable but part of a cohesive story that blends action and truly real family dynamics. A classic.

3) Monster's Inc. - what's not to love about Mike, Sully and Boo? So inventive, cute, well acted, well animated, totally holds up to rewatching.

4) Brave - I might be in the minority for how much I enjoyed this, but it's totally re-watchable, the animation brilliant (I could stare at her hair all day - yes, yes, I know I have a thing for red-heads, but seriously, the physics of animating those curls! wow). The mother/daughter story is crucial, the real stakes that are at play. There is some great humor and strong set pieces. This is a complete movie even if it doesn't quite rank against the top three which are all perfect.

5) Finding Nemo - I really struggled with having this fifth and not fourth, but I thought about which one I would watch more often, and Brave won out on that. But the story is heartwarming, there is some great comedy, and some beautiful animation. Somehow though, it just didn't have the staying power for me.

6) Toy Story 2 - The traffic cone scene. Every time I think about whether I really liked or just kinda liked this one, that's what I think of.

7) Wall-E - Beautiful animation, creative story, wonderful choreography, but not really re-watchable in the same way as the top ones. I love EVE's design both physically and the sound design. There's a lot to like here and a lot to be technically impressed by, but somehow it doesn't really live for me.

8) A Bug's Life - A really underrated movie. It holds up to repeated viewings. Sadly, the colors are strangely washed-out, and the plot pretty simple, but there is something really winning about this movie, even if its only for the memories of watching it with some friends on a small TV in the dorm.

9) UP - The first half is brilliant, the second half sorta drags for me. Love the talking dogs, love the kid, love the old man, hate the bird.

10) Inside Out - Didn't like this nearly as much as you (or the rest of the world did). I thought it was mostly garishly animated, nonsensical psychobabble, and had a chance to do some really great things with the humans who were chronically neglected. If it had been just about the human characters, it would have been much more daring for an American animated movie - moving into her head, while on the surface seeming like it was a novel thing, actually ruined any chance of intimate emotional connection for me. In some ways, it also felt like a poor knock-off of Wreck-It Ralph. I know you're saying, "WHAT? are you nuts? They aren't anything alike." Not in plot certainly, but in set designs and animation, there are some surprising overlaps and this one didn't do it for me.

11) Cars - Can't argue with it's staying power or the uniqueness of its character designs the first time you saw it. Some great humor and a pretty important plot for the young ones. Really not a bad movie by any stretch.

12) Ratatouille - I'm one of those who really was underwhelmed by this movie. I also don't like thinking about rodents in commercial kitchens. Just didn't really like the character designs, the set pieces, the plot, etc...just meh.

13) Monster's University - I sort of wish I hadn't seen it since I loved Monster's Inc. so much. Not that it was bad, but it was missing everything that made the original special and tender.

14) Toy Story 3 - I HATED this movie no matter how many other people liked it. First, I acknowledge that they lost all the digital infrastructure from the original two and so had to completely recreate the character models, and while they did a decent job, it just felt off. The colors are harsh and super saturated throughout, the plot is dark and not redeeming, the humor mostly missing, the sweetness gone, just a tragic end to the series. The only reason I hope for a Toy Story 4 is to bring it back to the joys of playing with toys, not pathos and evil.

15) Cars 2 - I unfortunately saw this in 3D, one of the only movies I've ever seen in 3D and I'm not a fan (of 3D or this movie). The only reason it isn't last on my list is because The Good Dinosaur was such as a waste of money, time, and the resources devoted to creating it.

16) Good Dinosaur - how could this script have been green-lit? It's empty, hollow, and devoid of anything Pixar or Disney would ever do for a theatrically released feature film. If it had been a direct to DVD by some 3rd rate company it still would have been terrible, but that Pixar thought this should ever see the light of day is a direct insult to every Pixar staff person that worked on any of the other films. AND....AND DINOSAURS AND PEOPLE DID NOT COEXIST and even though they created an alternate universe to make the movie work any time we give biblical literalists and flat earthers anything in the media that even smacks of their beliefs the tiniest bit, it does more harm than good by reinforcing their unscientific world-view. Shame on you Pixar for this movie. For Shame!

Ones I haven't seen and so couldn't rate:
Incredibles 2 (hope to see this soon!)
Finding Dory
Cars 3 (really, they made this? I guess everyone's gotta eat...)

What's your list look like?