Tuesday, December 31, 2019

She-Ra Season 4 is tedious, mostly (LGBTQ Cartoon Review)

Catra surrounded by her team including Double Trouble
She-Ra Season 4 - 6/10

I didn't get into She-Ra and the Princesses of Power until it was too late to really review it on this blog. Too many others had written too many great reviews of the first season (and the following ones as well). So before I review season 4, here's a recap of what I would have said, had I reviewed the seasons at the time:

Season 1 - OMG this show is so...OMG!!!! The explicit and implicit queer representation, the body positivity, the racial diversity, the women leading things without needing to "be" men, the overall high ratio of women to men, the crispness of the writing, the art direction, the humor, the intense emotional insight...I could go on and on, I love this season so very much. I was blown away, as were so many other people.

Seasons 2 and 3 - Oh...oh no...it's sort of...boring? blandly written? rehashing the same stuff but not as insightfully? just sort of another action cartoon? confused about where it's going? stuck in too much of a season-long single story that's now at least three seasons long?

Friday, December 27, 2019

Our Dreams at Dusk volume 4 makes me wish it was a longer series (Manga Review)

two women in wedding dresses with other couples in the background
Our Dreams at Dusk vol. 4 - 8/10

I really, really wished I could give this final volume of Our Dreams at Dusk (Seven Seas) a higher rating. But unfortunately, it ends too quickly. So much is jammed into this volume, so much is left unresolved, and so many things happen so quickly that the emotional impact is somewhat diminished.

That being said, it's still a wonderful volume for an incredible series. Our Dreams at Dusk dared to be open and honest about a range of LGBTQ issues in an incredibly realistic fashion. Volume 4 certainly upholds this important value, but doesn't rise to the heights I wish it had simply due to how much happens so quickly.

Volume 4 picks up with the Triangle House near completion. It is decided that it will be inaugurated with the wedding of Saki and Haru. It is also Christmas time, and we get deep insight into Tchaiko's personal life. We meet his partner (who is dying int he hospital) and learn about his partner's son and the intentional distance Tchaiko keeps from him.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Ao Haru Ride volume 8 - Kou misses his chance (Manga Review)

An attractive high school boy in uniform is smiling slightly
Ao Haru Ride vol. 8 - 8/10

Ao Haru Ride volume 8 continues this excellent series with complex characters and meaningful changes without over-dramatic plot points.

In "Ao Haru Ride" vol. 8 (Shojo Beat/Viz), Futaba has asked Kou for a clear rejection and he delivers. However, it is clear that he really does want to be with her, but is blocked by both his depression and his allegiance to a female friend who has suffered a similar family trauma to Kou's. With's Kou's mistake, Kikuchi finally makes his own feelings known to Futaba. The question is, will Futaba reciprocate and leave Kou behind?

Like the other volumes in the series so far, volume 8 delicately balances real emotional depth, with just enough drama to keep it interesting, without ever descending into soap-opera territory. Kou's motivations, even if a bit overwrought, are clear and consistent. The way Futaba's friend Yui roots for her even though she too liked Kou, protects Futaba from Kikuchi, but also begins to reconsider whether Kikuchi might be a good match for Futaba, demonstrates the depth of character writing. Even the side characters in this series are complex and thoughtful.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

If I Could Reach You volume 2 mixes good emotional exploration with a problematic premise (Manga Review)

A young adult woman, in a dress and jacket, looking up out a window with billowing curtains from an aerial perspective
If I Could Reach You vol. 2 - a cautious 7/10

If I Could Reach You volume 2 (Kodansha Comics) continues the story of high-schooler Uta who is in love with her sister-in-law, Kaoru. We'll explore several problematic aspects of the series. But the volume itself has good emotional exploration of the main and side characters, and depending on how the entire series wraps up, will either be a very good volume or the prelude to significant problems with the entire series.

In this volume, Uta is trying her best to put her feelings for her sister-in-law, Kaoru, out of her mind. She ultimately decides to stay over at a friend's house for a few days, ostensibly to study during finals (but really to avoid being alone with Kaoru while her brother is out of town on business).

During her time at her friend Chloe's house, Uta ends up taking a job at a diner in the same building and meeting the diner owner's daughter, Miyabi, only to find out that Chloe and Miyabi are "dating." The volume wraps up with a big potential "reveal" about Uta's brother that could set further developments in motion.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Missed it Monday - Takane & Hana vol. 3 (Manga Review)

Highschool girl eats a tomato, young man in a suit is yelling int he background, in a field of tomatoes
Missed it Monday is the ongoing column where I review manga/anime that I didn't get to read/watch when they first came out.

Takane & Hana vol. 3 - 6.5/10

Look, "Takane & Hana" (Shojo Beat/Viz) is what it is. It's a not-very-deep, comedy about a young wealthy businessman and a high-school girl who are definitely NOT dating each other, spend most of their time picking on each other, and have some natural chemistry between them.

It's not emotionally sophisticated, it's not realistic, it's not even really okay morally/ehtically (the age difference at her young age). But it's also very chaste, kinda cute (because Takane really does like her, and while he's a dick, he isn't really a dick to her - he's actually sweet and caring in an idiotically incompetent and emotionally stunted way), and ultimately it's a fluffy read.

I'm not going to sit here and praise it as a series, but I'm not going to endlessly bash it for its various old-fashioned messages and themes either. By this point (three volumes in), either you roll with it for what it brings to your life in spite of its many problems, or you stay clear (and rightly so) because of its many problems. I still enjoy it, but want to acknowledge that its still basically upholding old social dynamics of the rich man who will take care of the young helpless girl who will become his housewife someday.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Blank Canvas volume 3 in which Akiko makes her debut (Manga Review)

A young adult woman in a white t-shirt, holding citrus fruit branches and wearing a bunny hat
Blank Canvas: My so-called artist's journey Volume 3 - 7.5/10

In Blank Canvas volume 3 (Seven Seas), our author and auto-biographer, finally bridges the gap between her schooling in painting and drawing and her work as a mangaka. However, the foreboding foreshadowing of the prior volumes (in which I think something bad eventually happens to her high-school drawing instructor) are mostly missing from this volume. Instead, it concentrates on her life after graduation and first steps towards getting published.

After graduation, Akiko is forced to move back with her parents and leave her boyfriend to finish his studies. While with her parents, she gets a job working in her sensei's art studio where she displays a natural talent for pushing the promising students even further along. The two make a formidable teaching pair, but ultimately it won't pay the bills and her family insists she get a "real" job. But somehow she manages to still go to sensei's studio and also finally submits her first manga one-shot.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Fruits Basket Another volume 3 is a fun conclusion to a fun side story (Manga Review)

A high-school boy in a school uniform stands proud and confident but warmly so
Fruits Basket Another vol. 3 - 7.5/10

Let's be clear, Fruits Basket Another is meant for fans of the original Fruits Basket manga. It certainly could stand on its own, but the depth that comes from unpacking the relationships between the characters and their parents, and who those parents are from the original Fruits Basket series, is at least half the fun.

With volume 3, Fruits Basket Another  (Yen Press) wraps up in a satisfying way. And the journey to do so is filled with all the pathos and internal suffering we'd expect from Natsuki Takaya. Thankfully, it also balances the kindness, humor, and fun of the early Fruits Basket chapters in this cute next-generation story.

Sowa Mitoma is the only daughter of a single mother who is frequently away for weeks-on-end with work and who is mercilessly (but usually passive aggressively) cruel to her daughter when she does come home. In this volume, we also find out why Sowa's elementary school friends rejected her, and it definitely connects some dots. Like most of Takaya-sensei's best work, this one concerns a lot of parental rejection of children. I can only wonder, imagine, and perhaps pray for Takaya-sensei. To write so much about parental rejection, I wonder what she may have been through in her own life and I hope her works are therapeutic for her.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Still Sick volume 1 is a welcome adult yuri/LGBTQ manga (Manga Review)

two adult women at work, one sitting, the other standing, papers fluttering around
Still Sick vol. 1 - 7/10

I'm really split on yuri manga as a genre. On one hand, I love the really great ones where there are deep, complex feelings between girls, where the gazes and blushes are filled with so much sub-text. The best of them speak to me on so many levels.

But on the other hand, some yuri is geared more towards a male gaze and audience (and is often just gross). And somewhere in the middle, is the yuri that just fails to commit itself to same-sex relationships at all, feeling more like queer-baiting than anything else. Add to that, a lot of yuri is focused on school girls and sometimes I just want actual adults in my manga. Overall it can get a bit hard to separate the wheat from the chaff in yuri.

So I'm always on the lookout for yuri involving adult women, and even more so for manga that might actually represent these women as lesbians, true LGBTQ+ representation. While not a perfect first volume by any stretch, Still Sick vol. 1 (Tokyopop), is promising enough in both regards to be well worth a read and with room to grow in authenticity as the story progresses.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Missed it Monday - Tales from Earthsea (Anime Review)

A young man opens his arms to a large dragon at sunrise
Missed it Monday is the ongoing column where I review anime/manga that I didn't watch/read when they first came out.

Tales from Earthsea (anime) - 5.5/10

I put off watching Tales from Earthsea (Studio Ghibli) for a looooooong time. I am a huge Studio Ghibli fan. And even though Hayao Miyazaki is undeniably a genius, my favorite Studio Ghibli movie is actually From Up On Poppy Hill which was directed by his son, Goro.

Goro also directed a Tales from Earthsea and the reviews at the time were not kind. Coupled with the fact that I have read and reread the original Earthsea trilogy (now 5 books) by Ursula Le Guin countless times, it just didn't seem like I should tarnish my thoughts of Earthsea by watching the movie.

Finally though, I felt I could watch it and not have it affect my love for the books. I'm sad to say that it isn't a very good Earthsea movie. It also isn't a telling of the stories from the novels. But more so, it isn't really a very good movie in its own right. That being said, it also isn't a bad movie, so long as one does not try and compare it to the books, and the world those books describe.