Sunday, June 26, 2022

Not only what we have lost, but what we still have left to lose after the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade

Dear family and friends,

They are coming for me. On Friday, 6/24/22, in a concurrence, the supreme court said they want to take away the right of gay marriage and they want to recriminalize gay sex. And after that they will take away discrimination protections for me in voting, health care, and employment. 

If you continue to vote republican behind the defense of being a “fiscal conservative” then you are directly injuring me. Every time you vote republican you are personally striking at me, personally taking my rights away, personally advocating for hate and discrimination. 

You cannot turn a blind eye anymore. If you think I am hysterical, remember that as recently as in my parent’s generation these things were illegal, I was illegal. Please, it is not too late. If you love me. If you love anyone at all. Please.

Your daughter, your niece, your sister, your cousin, your mother, your friend,
Yuristargirl

🚺

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, June 18, 2022

Metal Lords (movie review)

Two teen boys and one teen girl in a classroom, one teen boy has death metal stage makeup on, the teen girl has a cello
    Random movie review: "Metal Lords." I was bored, it was on Netflix, so I watched it. And, it was actually pretty decent. How to describe it? It's a light teen comedy/drama movie about metal and friendship and growing up. It definitely doesn't have the realism of something like "We Are the Best" and it doesn't have the quite the emotional depth of "Edge of Seventeen" (2016 - god I love that movie). But it's also not as funny nor as sweet as "School of Rock." But despite some uneven parts and some unnecessary gross-out moments, there were enough genuine laughs and bright spots to be worth watching for anyone who likes light teen movies and likes music. 
    The basic premise is that there are two high-school best friend outcasts, one who is domineering (but deeply hurting inside) who loves metal and plays the guitar, and the more emotionally centered kid he had previously befriended (and who is the fulcrum, so to speak, for the movie) who plays drums. They form a "band" if you could call it that. The guitarist is determined to enter the school's battle of the bands to show everyone that they are "somebodies" and become stars like a prior metal band that came out of the school.
    But can they do it as a duo? And therein lies some of the best moments of the movie. Our drummer watches as a girl in the marching band goes ape-shit crazy on a teacher and then stumbles on her later playing cello - and she's good. Couldn't she join the band? Not if the guitarist has anything to say about it. 
    So we get a burgeoning teen love (drummer and cellist) that conflicts with an old friendship (guitarist and drummer) and that conflict propels some emotional growth in all three. But oh, the conflict between the guitarist and cellist reaches a peak in one of the best scenes in the movie (I won't spoil it).
    There's also healing family wounds, coming out of your shell, and romance. Unfortunately, for all the good, there are a few uneven moments, and the film as a whole has a less-than-believable overall tone. But that's not to say it doesn't work, it's just light, fun, fare - and that's okay.
    All three leads are wonderfully cast. There are some funny cameos from actual metal musicians and there's a great twist with a psychiatrist. There are also some interesting moments with the "rival" band - showing how as douchey as their music is, they're actually decent people. It's nice to see a teen movie where there is a mix of personalities, not just the good ones and the bad ones. But a whole bunch of average people being somewhat decent.
    Interestingly, there is also the regular appearance of a side character with Down Syndrome, played by an actor who has Down Syndrome. I'm a bit torn about this character, and I would be interested in hearing from some folks with even greater knowledge of disabilities than I do as to whether it is positive representation. My hunch is that, it is. The scenes with that character and the guitarist have a gentleness and humanity that I liked, it didn't feel forced to me, it didn't feel exploitative, and I think visibility is great. But, I also might be missing things that might have bothered others about that role (or maybe not, maybe it was good representation?). At the very least they tried and that's something too.
    Other kvetches: it didn't pass the Bechdel Test. There was only one female lead. She did not interact with any other female. There was another girl thrown in just to tempt the drummer. There was no interaction between any female characters at all. 
    And on another note, there was one gay joke. It started really badly with the guitarist calling having the girl in the band "gay." But then the other two look around at posters in the guitarist's room and the sight gag of all those singers with makeup, tight pants, and crotches packed with socks poked fun at the machismo of metal mixed with the innate queerness of many metal bands - and their infatuation with dicks. It was a funny turnaround to be sure. But that's still an uneven commentary on using "gay" as a pejorative. While they did manage to turn it back on the person who said it, it didn't quite resolve in a way that makes being gay okay. All it basically said is that all metal is gay, not that it's not okay to call things "gay" to demean them. On the whole, I wish they didn't make that joke, but there's been worse. 
    So on the whole, the movie was nice, it was sweet, but it isn't one I'm likely to watch again. There really were some laugh-out-loud moments, and the cellist's explosive temper is so well done by the actress. The overall tone was a bit mixed - veering more towards light teen comedy than anything really meaningful - but uneven at times too. And yet, there was some growth in several characters. So as imperfect as it is, if you're bored, like music, and like teen comedies, it might be worth watching.
    
🚺

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, June 11, 2022

Adachi and Shimamura volume 3 (Manga review)

Manga cover. Two Japanese teens sit on a train, one holds the others hand, the girl whose hand is being held is shyly freaking out. They have scarves on due to the cold.
    
I think I am going to stop reading the "Adachi and Shimamura" manga. So this review of volume 3 will probably be my last stop with this series (however, that does mean that I can pick up a new series to start - gotta respect the 'ole budget after all).
    In Volume 3, Adachi and Shimamura exchange chocolates for valentines day. I mean seriously, that's about the only thing that happens all volume, and although it introduces a new character (an old friend of Shimamura's who is likely to cause trouble/confusion somewhere down the line) there's basically nothing go on.
    And it's not the good kind of nothing either. I'm fine with those slice-of-life, no real plot sort of stories if they are well done. However, this series is becoming the worst form of yuri (well, 2nd worst after the male-oriented, hentai-light type). It's the type of yuri that is neither a deep and meaningful exploration of the complexities and depths of female friendship, nor an actual romantic coupling (or even better, an actual lesbian couple - the distinction I'm making is better left for a later date). 
    No, this is the super bland, queer baiting, non-committal, meaningless dreck kind of yuri. The kind of yuri where the actions, feelings, inner-monologues, and everything else feels fake, contrived, and confusingly vacant all at the same time. Nothing they say in their inner monologues makes sense. Nothing they do in their interactions makes sense. The actual writing has horrid pacing, abrupt jumps and transitions, and is just generally really poor. 
    I think the closest current series that I can think of to compare it with is something like "A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow" and yet I think (9 volumes in to that series so far) that that series might actually turn romantic (god I hope so). But that series too suffers from some of these same non-committal, confusingly non-realistic depictions of teenage girls' minds and hearts. However, at least "A Tropical Fish" is slightly more interesting, with characters that have some actual depth to them. "Adachi and Shimamura" just doesn't know how to create that. It's so poorly written. And it's queer-baiting with no real sense that there will be a legit romantic and/or LGBTQ+ payoff that makes it's frustratingly vapid storytelling worth it.
    I thankfully am at the point in life now, and with the increasing availability of LGBTQ+ media to consume (I doubted you "Heartstopper" - but 5 episodes in you are very very adorable), that I don't need to waste my time or my money on such a less-than-mediocre "yuri" (maybe it's not even queer-baiting, maybe it's just yuri-baiting) manga like Adachi and Shimamura. Volume 3 is likely to be my last for this series. 

🚺

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, May 28, 2022

Daytime Shooting Star volume 10 (manga review)

A young teacher and his female student stand side by side, she pulls down the corner of her eye and sticks her tongue out.
    Been a slow month for new releases in the series I'm currently reading, and I'm on a bit of a tight budget at the moment so I haven't been starting any new series. Soooo, that means it's time to review another volume of "Daytime Shooting Star" which I've been slowly catching up on.
    This will be a short review, so be prepared for SPOILERS throughout (as there ain't much else to talk about): In volume 10, Suzume very cutely asks Mamura to be her boyfriend for real. He is cutely blushing throughout the entire chapter. And THEN...and then, just when you thought we were past this...G**D*** Shishio-sensei decides to act like a spoiled brat/total creep and gets Suzume alone in a classroom, and hugs her tightly, and when she asks him to let go, he says "no." 
    Let's remind everyone (for the millionth time) - Shishio is her adult teacher. She is about 16 years old. THIS IS NEVER OKAY. But, on the plus side for this series, she does reject him and commits herself to Mamura. So hopefully my internet friends who told me the series resolves in a healthy way are right and we're on a good path with Mamura. 
    But still, why can't we have a series with someone as cutely oblivious as Suzume and someone as cutely sensitive/devoted as Mamura WITHOUT the whole teacher and student thing? Is it too hard to ask for good shoujo with same-age protagonists ("Ao Haru Ride" FTW)? Also, is it too hard to get a good shoujo romance with same-age protagonists, that is actually interesting? (I'm looking at you "Shortcake Cake" - you started so good and got so bland, dropping all your high-drama stakes along the way and making your female lead take the backseat and erasing her personality - for shame!)
    So with volume 10 of "Daytime Shooting Star," we formally get our couple. Suzume continues to be a nicely uniquely characterized shoujo heroine, Mamura is likable with some of the characteristics of a modern shoujo male lead (kind, sensitive, devoted - not cold and cool like the late 90s, early 2000s shoujo males - ughhhh "Peach Girl" why did you have to give those two assholes your attention?). We're putting to rest (I think, finally) the teacher/student relationship in this series (and not a moment too soon), and so here's hoping that the series gives us some fun volumes of Suzume and Mamura getting to know each other and deepening their relationship as it finishes up.

🚺

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.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Star Trek The Motion Picture 4k UHD Director's cut Remastered(Movie Review)

    Today was one of only two days to see Star Trek The Motion Picture in 4k, completely remastered, UHD, director's cut IN THEATERS! So naturally I was there! I won't bore you with too many details, but basically, they went back to the original footage in three different formats that it was shot in, cleaned it up, used the previous director's cut edit, and truly color-graded it for the first time. I have always liked this movie, far more than most people, but I also was well aware of its weaknesses. So I was definitely looking forward to seeing what they did with it. Let's do a quick good vs. bad to get things rolling:

The faces of the characters from Star Trek look out over the movies title with a rainbow color filter over them.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Kageki Shojo!! volume 5 (manga review)

 
Two teen girls in school uniforms promenading. One has a military coat overtop flaring out behind her like a cape.
   
Meh. That's what I think of Kageki Shojo volume 5 (and pretty much all the volumes other than the prequel/introductory volume "The Curtain Rises). I'm so sorry to keep subjecting you all to my reviews of manga that I just don't feel very drawn to (is that a pun?!). In general, I just find so much shoujo and yuri to be middling. And don't get me started on how little true josei is published in the US. My big question to all of you: is there no fantastically well written yuri, shoujo, and josei out there any more? Has the industry just become dominated by trite, superficial storytelling and bland art that can't decide if it's moe or realistic? Or is what gets translated to the US market so limited, that they pick lowest common denominator titles to publish even though there are a lot of higher quality ones in Japan going untranslated? (And yes, I feel meh about anime the last few seasons as well).
    But, let's talk Kageki Shojo Volume 5 while we're here. In this volume, the girls begin the process of rehearsing for, and then auditioning for, their brief Romeo and Juliet scene that they will perform with the main troupes at the school's cultural festival. Mostly, this volume focuses on Sarasa trying to figure out which character she will portray and how to develop her own style for that character. In this way, it reflects back on the earlier volumes where she was both magnificent at acting, but her acting was also a direct copy of another famous performer's style. Fascinating, is when Ai gives her some advice and then remembers where she learned that from (her famous actress mother...).

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Our Teachers are Dating Volume 4 (manga review)

Two adult women teachers holding hands, one has her other arm around the other, in front of a school on a clear day with flower petals floating in the air around them
    Somewhat unexpectedly, Our Teachers are Dating Volume 4 (Seven Seas) came shrink wrapped. I just assumed it was some weird Amazon warehouse thing. Well, for what is mostly a sweet, simple comedy/romance, it turns out the final chapter of this final volume was about as steamy as it gets. I was surprised there wasn't an explicit content warning on it actually, but the shrink wrap now makes sense. More on that to come.
    Our Teachers are Dating is a very light rom-com about two women teachers at a school who fall in love, date, and in this final volume, get married. It's a simple story. There is really no drama, no character growth, it's just meant as a feel-good story, I guess. I would honestly say that it's below average. Nice but nothing special.
    This final volume had the two women telling their families that they were planning on marrying which at least provided some interesting dynamics, especially when one family does not take it well to start. But honestly, there isn't much to say about this volume or series. Do you want to read a simple rom-com about two lesbians teachers falling in love? Do you not want to have to think while you read it because there is no depth? Then you're in luck.

Eclair Bleue, Eclair Rouge, and Eclair Orange (manga reviews)

Two teen manga girls sharing a bike
    During the period where I took a hiatus from blogging, I also had to decrease my manga purchases, and so as a result after reading the first two volumes of the Eclair series (Elcair and Eclair Blanc) I didn't purchase the final three (Rouge, Bleue, and Orange) [published by Yen Press]. I'm finally beginning to chip away at my backlog and given the nature of these volumes, it made sense to just talk about all three at once. And frankly, there isn't much to say.
    Do you like middling, repetitious, and tropy yuri stories that are way too brief, relatively simplistic, and often have an unresolved tone to the ending? Well then you're in luck, cause that's about all you get with these three. And BTW, if it wasn't clear, I'm not a super huge fan of this series.
    Let's start with the format. Each story is very short, shorter than your average chapter of a serialized manga. It's interesting to me, because while I don't enjoy reading short stories (literary fiction short stories), I have found that I do enjoy writing them. So with that growing understanding of what I like about my own writing of short stories, it has made me even more suspect of the one-off stories in manga. And frankly, these don't have much to say. A great short-story provides amazing depth on the characters, time, and setting without ever spending any time on it. The writing hints, implies, or at least provides fertilizer for the mind to imagine all that came before and all that will follow. You'll find very little writing on that level here. Further, a great short story manages to either really give meaningful insight into a character, situation, or event or actually transform (even if minutely) the character in the space of the short story. Again, you'll find very little of that in these stories.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Even Though We're Adults Volume 4 (manga review)

A young adult woman with shoulder length medium brown hair, stares at the reader by looking over her left shoulder while her body faces to the left.
    I'm going to say it...so far I like "Even Though We're Adults" by Takako Shimura. I'll get to why in a moment. But Volume 4 continues the series about a married female school teacher who (emotionally) falls for another woman she meets, and is forced to confront new feelings as well as old problems in her marriage to a man.
    For a quick summary of volume 4, keep reading. If you don't want SPOILERS, then proceed to the wrap-up/discussion below. 

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Daytime Shooting Star volume 9 (manga review)

A high school girl and boy look uncomfortable standing net to each other, but make sideways glances at the other indicating that they are actually romantically interested in each other
     This will be a short and sweet one. "Daytime Shooting Star" volume 9 (Shojo Beat) finally turns the tide from uncomfortable (immoral perhaps) almost relationship between a male teacher and a high-school student to being a more typical high-school romance between two high schoolers. 
    See my past reviews of this series to see why I was so skeeved out by it, but I had heard from others that the series would resolve in a much better way than it started. And at approximately the 2/3rds point, I see the light at the end of the tunnel.
    SPOILERS AHEAD:
    Summary, Suzume moves to live with her uncle, bumps into a cute guy who turns out to be her homeroom teacher and her uncle's friend. They fall for each other, and the ADULT just barely avoids starting an actual romantic relationship with her. Gross. Anyway, along the way, Suzume meets Mamura, a high-school boy who confesses to her, but while she's drawn to him as a friend, she is so stuck on her teacher, that she turns Mamura down. In volume 9, following on the promise of volume 8, Suzume and Mamura actually takes some steps forward as a potential couple, while Suzume continues trying to move on from her teacher. 
    END SPOILERS
    So thankfully, this series seems to be turning the corner and heading into more acceptable high-school romance territory. I'm going to stick it out to the end and I'll let you know. 
    As for the art, it really is above average. While it isn't quite up to the level of my favorites (I'm a sucker for 90s shoujo style, think Hana Kimi, Ouran High School Host Club, Clover by Clamp, etc... as well as mangaka's such as Io Sakisaka and Natsuki Takaya amongst others) it is certainly better than most of what's out there now which tends to have too cartoony and cutesy a style and less realistic. The art here bends towards realism without quite embracing the overly lanky and exaggerated shoujo style of the past that I love. I do love that the style of the faces is unique to this mangaka and I am quite drawn (pun?) to that face style. Even if the overall art isn't quite as beautiful as Io Sakisaka's art, it still is a plus for the series. (also, it does make pretty good use of screen tones which so many modern shoujo series seem to skimp on! >_<  And I LOVE screentones!!!!!)
    Should you read it? If you haven't started the series, maybe wait until I finish it to see if it's worth it. But if you have started and were as bothered by the initial adult/student relationship dynamic as I was, then things are going in a better direction and so it's probably worth seeing through to the end.

🚺

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, April 2, 2022

My Wandering Warrior Existence (Manga review)

    
This is an impossibly hard review to write. What is the proper balance between writing an honest personal review of a work of art, respecting both the person and the effort they took at creating the work, and any attempt to critique a work that is also a memoir and not pure fiction? Those are easy questions to answer when the reviewer unequivocally enjoys the work. However, it can feel icky when the reviewer doesn't enjoy the memoir as much. I don't ever want to judge another person. But should I comment on the craft behind telling the story? 
    Today, the memoir in question is "My Wandering Warrior Existence" by Nagata Kabi (Seven Seas), the fifth memoir manga in her series that began with her seminal, brilliant, heart-breaking, affecting manga "My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness."
    Essentially, "My Wandering Warrior Existence" suffers in relation to the extraordinary "My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness." In fact, I've felt that each volume since that first one has been one of diminishing returns. That doesn't mean they haven't been good, or powerful, but with each one maybe a little bit less so. Maybe it's that the freshness and uniqueness of "My Lesbian Experience" simply couldn't be recreated now that it was in the world - after all it was so unlike anything before it, but all her works after invariably must contain reflections of it. Or maybe it really is that the subsequent volumes simply aren't quite as excellent. But for whatever reason, "My Wandering Warrior Existence" feels like the slightest of the five volumes so far. 
    It is, of course, quite good actually. Her rough art has amazing charms. And her writing about herself is brutally honest. But on the whole, "My Wandering Warrior Existence" isn't necessarily as memorable or profound as the prior works. And yet of course, every reader is bound to connect with different things differently, so maybe for some, this will be your favorite so far. However, it began to feel less important to me as her story shifts from some of the more desperate, dark, and harrowing places in the previous volumes. This volume mostly focuses on Kabi's attempts to begin dating, or thinks about beginning to date, and for the most part doesn't mine the levels of desperation, illness, and pain of the prior volumes that gave them their gravitas and import as literature. 
    That being said, there is one very complex and personal thing that Kabi brings up in this volume. I won't spoil it, but it could also be quite tough for some readers and she does provide a trigger warning and the page numbers to skip through. Purely as a reader, I felt it quite difficult how Kabi reveals this truly horrific and major personal information but then also moves on from it very quickly and never returns to it. This is her truth and her life and her processing laid bare before us, so maybe this is really what it felt like to her and she was able to just move on. But at the same time, I wished she had either explored the implications of this in her life more thoroughly and what the healing process was like (or wasn't like)...or maybe hadn't brought it up at all. In some ways, this event could be seen as making everything in the prior four volumes make sense. And Kabi starts to talk about it with that level of significance but just as suddenly as this revelation is made, she moves on saying maybe it really isn't the cause of all her challenges after all. Huh? 
    I certainly don't expect anyone to expose themselves so openly and personally if they don't want to, but then why bring it up at all just to deny that it has any role in the larger life story she's telling through this manga series? I suspect because it does have a bigger role than she is ready to explore publicly right now (or maybe even admit to herself). 
    As a reader though it left me feeling badly. An analog for the feelings that this approach evoked in me might be similar to when your partner says they cheated on you years ago but felt horrible keeping the secret - they unburden themselves at your expense (BTW this has never actually happened to me, my [very few] ex's are all good people). Like, what are you supposed to do with this information now? You were happy a minute ago, thinking everything is fine. But after sharing, they get to feel better (no more guilt) and now you feel worse. I know that that is not at all a fair comparison to make. Kabi has no need to justify how much or what she does with anything she reveals in her work. But it was my honest emotional reaction to how this event is handled so briefly in this work, for better or worse. It left me feeling burdened with its enormity with no recourse.
    Other than this brief section, which occurs roughly halfway through the volume over the course of a couple pages, there are episodes about wedding photos, dating apps, grandchildren, and a lot of research about relationships. These are fine, occasionally humorous, sometimes a bit didactic, but often feeling more like filler. Which makes the volume feel like filler, i.e. just not up to par with some of the prior volumes. But let's say hypothetically there were to be a few more stunning volumes after this one, then if one were to read all of them together, the stories here might work in that larger arc. But as a self-contained volume about her thoughts on dating, it just didn't quite come together as cohesively (or as importantly) as the prior volumes.
    Is it good? Should you buy it? Did you like her other stuff and want to keep supporting her as a creator? It was okay and I will certainly keep buying new volumes from her as they come out. As I said in the beginning, I feel very icky trying to write a review of a memoir, because that is that person's life. And who am I to judge another person's life? But as a reviewer, I can look at the art of putting that story on the page, and in this case, "My Wandering Warrior Existence" didn't work as well for me as her prior volumes. The explosive freshness of "My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness" may simply not be a fair comparison for any other works by her. Yet it exists and can't be ignored. 

🚺

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.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Daytime Shooting Star volumes 7 and 8 (manga review)

    I think the last time I wrote about "Daytime Shooting Star," I swore off finishing the series even though people told me that it ended better than it began. Well, I'm a completist and it was killing me to only have part of the series on my bookshelf, so I'm back to reading it. In this quick review, I touch on volumes 7 and 8.

Two manga covers, each depicting the faces of two teens

    Quick synopsis: Suzume moves from the country to Tokyo to live with her uncle when her parents go overseas (or something that parents seem to do in manga a lot). In Tokyo she meets a friend of her uncle's who just happens to be a teacher in her school. She falls for him. The question is whether he will fall for her, and whether anything will happen.
    And so if you've been reading this blog for any length of time you know that it is that premise which really really pisses me off. Adults should not have anything to do romantically with children ever. Especially educators. And the frequent depiction of "May/December" relationships between adults and high-schoolers in manga is deeply upsetting to me because it appears to normalize something that shouldn't be normalized. 
    Adults should, if they become aware of some infatuation from a child, either 1) ignore it, 2) make clear that nothing can happen ever, 3) stop all interactions with the child, or 4) some combination of all three. That's where "After the Rain," although it starts by veering into not good territory, actually handles those three points quite well and we see how the adult guides the teen back to a better place and away from the adult. 
    Thankfully, although it isn't done with the elegance of "After the Rain", volume 7 of "Daytime Shooting Star" does finally show the teacher taking some responsibility for the path he is going on and perhaps trying to make it right. I don't want to give anything away, so I won't go into details, but it's a start to maybe some repair work in this series. 
    Volume 8 goes a bit further as it reintroduces the teen boy character, Mamura as a potential love interest of Suzume. What somewhat bothered me is how the author conveniently has Suzume's friend Yuyuka fall for someone else after she seemingly had her eyes only on Mamura. While this clears the path for Suzume and Mamura to eventually get together (which of course would be healthier for her), it felt too convenient and easy to just brush aside Yuyuka and her story arc. 
    I think back to one of my favorite series, "Ao Haru Ride," and how Futaba and Yuri must work through their mutual crush on the same boy and how it affects their relationship. That was so well written. I am doubting we'll get that level of depth of writing in "Daytime Shooting Star." But at least maybe we can see Suzume realize she's better off with a fellow teen her age. 
    What I'm a bit worried about is that the teacher still admits to the uncle that he loves Suzume. So although he appears to end things in Volume 7, why isn't he questioning himself as to why he got so emotionally (and almost romantically) involved with a child? Sounds like he needs some serious therapy. I doubt we'll get that level of depth in the writing either.
    On the art side, I really do like the overall style. It's somewhere between the older shoujo style I love, and the newer more cartoony style. The facial expressions are great, and when it wants to, the art can be really well done. It's on the "plus" side for art quality.
    Should you keep reading this? Who knows. I will because I want to see where it goes and because I hate having partial series on my shelf. That being said, although maybe it has taken a turn for the better, I don't see it handling the rest of the story with any more depth, nuance, or maturity than it handled the first half. So I still think this will end up as a so-so series.

🚺

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.

Gender Queer is a phenomenal graphic novel (quick review)

Book cover for Gender Queer which depicts a young adult looking at their reflection in a lake of themselves as a child.
    Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe, is a phenomenal, touching, and elegantly written graphic novel about a gender non-conforming/non-binary person who is also asexual. It is rare enough to get solid representation of and by someone in the non-binary community, but perhaps even more important is the exploration of asexuality and the intertwining dysphoria that accompanies both aspects of the author's experience.
    It covers roughly the first 25 or so years of the author's life, as E [note: E uses Spivak Pronouns] goes from a carefree early life to increasing pressure by the outside world to conform to (and confirm Eir) social gender norms. In addition, the treatment of menstruation, gynecological visits, body dysphoria, and so much more is laid bare for non-binary/asexual readers looking for an image of themselves in media, and for those looking to better understand non-binary and/or asexual experiences.
    One of the things about this graphic novel that was most impactful to me was the somewhat dispassionate (and I mean that as a compliment) style of both the writing and art. There is nothing performative, nothing trying to make some grand point, nothing overly emotional in the presentation. This is almost a journalistic memoir in it's clear, simple retelling of various experiences in Eir life. Rather than undermine the value and insight of the memoir, that style serves to make the actual insight more profound because it is not presented through any intense layers of emotion that might distract or detract for some readers. I found it to be incredibly moving, insightful, and beautiful and the style of both art and writing served it extremely well.
    Many of you may have heard or come across Gender Queer in that conservative media has been bashing it as pornography. It is not. There are some moments where sexual acts are depicted, but they serve as points for unpacking internal experiences, sensations, feelings, and understandings of self. They most definitely are not depicted pornographically or for any eroticism or titillation . Like I said in the paragraph before, the whole thing has a slightly dispassionate, journalistic quality, further emphasizing that this is not porn. 
    Worryingly, even the New York State Education Department came out against this book recently in a disappointing way when the pulled a twitter post from the state librarian championing this book and its personal meaning to her and her child. [Tweet posted below this review for posterity because it has been removed from twitter]. Lauren Moore is the head of all libraries in the state, not just school libraries, but public libraries, research libraries, state university libraries, and was absolutely correct to give this graphic novel a personal shoutout because it is most definitely appropriate to adult, teen, and maybe even some younger readers. It is so disappointing that the government can't even respect freedom from censorship and the LGBTQ+ community in what is supposed to be a liberal state. (And for those who know me, I am risking my job over this post because NYSED was not pleased with me when I wrote to them directly with my concern over their response and statement, but that's a story for another day).
    So although this review is coming out well after the graphic novel was published, I wanted to respond to the March 2022 dust up with New York State and give this graphic novel another bit of positive press. It is a truly beautifully written, drawn, and observed memoir about two underrepresented and frequently misunderstood aspects of the LGBTQ+ continuum. I highly recommend it.
Tweet from Lauren Moore stateing "I chose "Gender Queer: a Memoir" by Maia Kobabe. I'm grateful for books that let my kid know they're not alone."
What a beautiful statement that should have been entirely non-controversial.

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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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Saturday, March 5, 2022

Kageki Shojo volume 4 (manga review)

Two high school girls with feathers falling around them
    I want to love this series, but "Kageki Shojo" volume 4 (by Kumiko Saiki, published by Seven Seas) just spins it's wheels and keeps us at arm's length from our lead character.
    "Kageki Shojo" is the story of an all-girls performing arts school where the goal is to enter the adult all-female performance troupes upon graduation. Watanabe Sarasa is the tall, goofy, high-energy, raw talented, odd-ball who is also positioned, maybe destined, to be a great and unique talent. Should be an amazing series, right? Sadly, this volume doesn't do anything meaningful and in four volumes, I'm not getting a good feeling for this series living up to it's early promise.
    Volume 4 focuses on a once-a-decade school sports festival where the main competitors are the adults from the performance troupes. It is set up as a type of fan service to the fans of the performance troupes. By various circumstances, Watanabe Sarasa has to fill in for one of the adult performers. Of course, her elevation to this position should be a source of great drama amongst the other students, but by and large, that just doesn't come to fruition. While some grumbling is hinted at, four volumes in, everyone seems to have more or less accepted our odd-ball with the high-ceiling untapped talent. Which makes it pretty drama free. 
    In addition to there being no real inter-personal conflict, there is no intra-personal conflict either. Yes, you might say that the whole end of volume 3 (she must find who she is as an actress instead of perfectly mirroring other's great performances) has it's fulfillment in this volume. But it wasn't enough. There is no interiority which how Watanabe is written. We don't really know what she's thinking or feeling or struggling with, not in any depth. (If you read this with any regularity, you know I like my characters with angst) The story is told too much from a third person perspective without enough internal insight. And with little meaningful plot or inter-personal conflict instead, there just isn't much actually happening. Hence my "spinning it's wheels" comment earlier. 
    What continues to be most sad for me as I read this series, is that the prequel volume "Kageki Shojo: The Curtain Rises" focused on Watanabe's roommate, Narata Ai, who is much more interesting and is given much more internal conflict. She's beautiful, somewhat famous already, but an outcast in many ways, with complex internal emotions, she holds others at a distance, and her outcome and destiny are not as clearly fixed as Watanabe's. 
    In fact, I always read Narata's arc with the potential to be very open ended and potentially sad. She was a teen idol in an idol group, who was the outcast of that group. Her move to the Kouka school almost has the feel of going into exile, almost like Maria in "Sound of Music" going back to the nunnery. So what will this hold for her? Will she continue on to join Kouka's troupe? Will that make her happy? Does she long for something else? Is that something else in entertainment, or is it something totally different? There's so much to explore with her character. I so wish that we got more of Narata in the main series. I really wish she was the main character in the main series. She is simply more interesting.
    So "Kageki Shojo" volume 4 is fine. The art is somewhat simple, but still engaging. What little conflict there is is fairly superficial, the plot itself isn't that interesting, and we don't really get any insight into the lead character. I just don't know where this series is going, or what it's trying to say or be. Or maybe, I do, and it's too simple an outcome and I'm looking for something more that will never be there. (shrug). Ah well, it's not bad, I'll keep reading it, but it isn't great either. It's just sort of fluff.

BTW, this is the 300th post on this blog!

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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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Love at Fourteen volume 11 (manga review)

This manga cover shows a teen boy and girl in a field
    
If you've read any of my prior reviews of "Love at Fourteen" volumes, this one will sound awfully familiar. Unfortunately "Love at Fourteen" volume 11 (by Fuka Mizutani, published by Yen Press) exhibits the same juxtaposition of a truly wonderful main couple with absolutely morally and ethically fraught romantic relationships between adults and children. In short, if you aren't already committed to seeing this series through (and I've toyed with stopping multiple times, but I'm a "completist") then don't bother starting now.
    Kazuki and Kanata are nearing the end of their middle school life together with Kazuki set to move away soon. This volume focuses mostly around a class ski trip. What is beautiful about this volume is the clear eyed, sweet, and very well written relationship growth between Kazuki and Kanata. Although this volume, like many before it, keeps minimizing our time with the main couple in favor of the side couples, what it did offer with Kazuki and Kanata is some of my favorite writing in the series. I don't want to spoil anything, because it comes late in the volume, and it's just a really unique thing to see in a manga, or most stories about middle-schoolers.
    But that hardly makes up for this volume's faults (which mirror the series' faults). And that is we have two adults who are in seriously flirtatious situations with middle school students. These are children. And under no condition should adults even take a first step in that direction with children. This series does nothing to comment critically on that, and instead, seems to try and find beauty in these burgeoning relationships. I'm not okay with that at all. And I keep seriously thinking about stopping the series. I'm not proud of myself that I haven't. I keep thinking each volume might be the last. It's not a good excuse. I shouldn't give this author any more of my money, no matter how good the main couple's story and writing is.
    In addition to the two side couples that are an adult and 14-year-old, there is a third adult, the school nurse who has an interesting dynamic with another teen. There is a truly, and uncharacteristically, aggressive scene in this that left me quite uncomfortable. It's played off as a type of defensiveness but it reads as manipulative and emotionally unstable by the adult. Yuck. It then also positions the child to try and be this adult's "savior." Double yuck.
    There just seems to be so many manga series about May/December (to use an awful euphemism for predatory) adult/child relationships. I think "Love at Fourteen" is one of the most dangerous because the whole series is supposed to have this gentle, wistful tone which tends to minimize the issue here. An issue which the series NEVER critically comments on. This isn't a series that warns against the dangers of this type of relationship. It's not even a series that presents any hint of danger for anyone involved in these types of relationships. It's like it is normalizing it. 
    The only time I have ever read a manga about a teen/adult relationship that was remotely appropriate in how it was handled and commented on was "After the Rain" in which the adult recognized what was going on, set clear boundaries, and made it his responsibility to push her back towards being a teen and living the life she was supposed to lead. He actually helped her heal the issues that drove her to crush on him. He acted like a responsible adult. While that series is certainly not criticism free, it was a really solid attempt at exploring a young woman with a crush on an older man and how the man could actually be a decent human being and help the child stay a child.
    In "Love at Fourteen" we have two, and maybe three, predatory adult women who are actively flirting with 14 year-olds. And it's not even a game to them or something darker or more malevolent. They are clearly depicted as being romantically interested in these children. NOT OKAY EVER!
    So basically, while the mangaka has some clear writing skill, she is using it for some not good storylines. If this series would just stick solely to the main couple, Kanata and Kazuki (both teens), it would be a brilliant, beautiful series. But volume 11 typifies and advances all the problems in this series. 

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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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Saturday, February 26, 2022

Wolf Girl and Black Prince (re-watched the anime - Review)

Wolf Girl and Black Prince
    
I hadn't seen "Wolf Girl and Black Prince" in many years. And I didn't particularly remember anything about it, either good or bad. Usually I at least have some vague feelings about a show that I've watched in the past but haven't re-watched for some reason, usually lukewarm feelings. And then there are the couple of shows so upsetting that I either didn't finish them or vowed never to watch again. But I honestly couldn't remember anything about "Wolf Girl and Black Prince" so when I needed a romance show to kill some time, I decided to rewatch it.
    Long story short, it really sends the wrong message to girls/women. I don't know if I didn't see it at the time, or just forgot, but this show is made up of two of the most terrible tropes in shoujo/romance anime/manga: 1) that rude hot guys secretly have hearts of gold and 2) that a spunky, plucky girl can heal their wounds and change them for the better. Ughhhhh. And that is literally the entire premise of this series.
    The good: it's got an amazing opening theme song (posted at the end of this). And Erika, our heroine, becomes a bit more likeable as the show goes on, but not by much.
    The bad: Kyoya, our boy, is just so consistently awful to her. He manipulates her, he's mean to her, he says unforgivable things (which she forgives him for). He's emotionally closed off. He's really verbally and emotionally abusive to her through the entire show and she just keeps coming back for more and excusing him and forgiving him, and it's just awful to watch. We're supposed to excuse him because we know he's secretly a good guy (and the occasional gesture in that direction is supposedly enough to excuse all his awful behavior). 
    There are also at least two disturbing homophobic/transphobic jokes in the series that serve absolutely no narrative purpose (It's like rewatching "Friends" and forgetting how many gay jokes they made). In one scene, the joke is that parents would be upset if their slightly effeminate son (read: emotionally kind, soft-spoken, nice) might turn out to like men (heaven forbid!). In the other, Erika mistakenly thinks a transwoman is Kyoya's mom. Of course the transwoman (or possibly a drag performer, not sure how they want us to read this character) is presented in the most stereotypical way possible: huge muscular chest and arms, slinky dress, 7 feet tall, overbearing. I don't know about you, but this transgirl (gestures to self) weighs all of 130 lbs and there is a lot more diversity in the trans community than the stereotype presented here which only reinforces the terrible and wrong views on transwomen (I'm looking at you Texas governor!). Either way, these moments are played for comedy at the expense of LGBTQ people and it's not okay. It is, though, sadly typical of a lot of anime/manga from this time-period. It seems to slowly be getting better, but not by much.
    In some ways, this show reminded me of when I tried to re-read "Peach Girl" recently (considered a classic shoujo series) and realized that the two main boys are just so horrible to the girl from the very get-go. It was so disturbing to read, and the boy's terrible temperaments and treatments of her were so normalized, that I couldn't get past the first few volumes of my re-read. How did I ever make it through that series years ago? Did I not realize how truly awful it was back then? It's disturbing to think that I might not have recognized it or been as disturbed by it before. "Wolf Girl" is not much better. Although I did force myself to watch all the way through just in case I was missing something (I wasn't).
    Should you watch this series? No. There is nothing in it that is really redeeming. This show follows a long line of cruel, cold-hearted men in shoujo manga who are "redeemed" by the loving girl (I'm looking at you "Bokura ga Ita" - consistently ranked as a great shoujo manga, and the classic "Kare Kano" which is quite disturbing to read now - including how the heroine sacrifices all her goals and future for the shitty closed-hearted boy). This is some of the most dangerous messages we could be sending. To promote a message like this is setting up girls/women to tolerate abuse. It is never okay for men to treat women like this, no matter what happened to them in their past, we should never be holding up a man like that as an object of pursuit, and we should certainly not be teaching girls/women to put up with anything in the belief they can change a hurtful person if they just love them harder.
    Do yourself a favor and watch or read all the amazing series out there instead. If you must engage in the "hurt boy is healed by the stubbornly persistent girl" trope, then at least do do with "Blue Spring Ride" (Ao Haru Ride) which has bits of this type of storyline, but explores it in a much more nuanced, sensitive, and acceptable way. There are even bits of it in "Chihayafuru" but again, done better without the outright abuse that Erika takes in this series. And of course, there are so many wonderful romance and romantic-comedy shoujo series out that that don't use this set-up at all. Find yourself a series with a nice boy who treats the girl nicely ("Kimi ni Todoke" comes quickly to mind). Because that's what we should be holding up as the expectation.

Here's the amazing opening theme though by Special Thanks (I've had it on my phone so long, I didn't even realize it came from this series):

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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.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Kase-san and Yamada volume 2 - Manga Review

   OMG OMG OMG, it's finally here. After initially ordering it sometime last year and then having my order canceled since the publishing was apparently delayed, the second volume of the sequel series/ 7th volume of the series (both are on the cover, somewhat thankfully actually), I finally have "Kase-san and Yamada vol. 2" in my hands! But after two volumes of this new series, I am a bit...worried? Somehow it is...different? No, that's not quite right. But I'm beginning to think that maybe Hiromi Takashima-sensei is drifting from what made the original 5 volumes so good...or is she? (dun dun DUNNNNN)
    Because it's been so long, I think two things are in order: 1) a quick summary of the series, and 2) a quick summary of how much I adore this series. 
    So 1) The first five books tell the story of high-schooler Yamada Yui, the cute, somewhat shy, flower loving girl that Kase Tomoka, the beautiful, athletic, princely high-school girl, reciprocally and adorably falls in love with. (Okay, so I know that my sentences are inordinately long and complex, that's what I get for taking a while off blogging/it's just what I do).  The first five "Kase-san and..." books tell the story of their meet-cute, new friendship, and eventual shy/adorable/but-not-chaste (good, they are actually high-schoolers, and high-schoolers are not chaste. I am really okay with shoujo/yuri manga actually depicting that teens have hormones. Although I do love the stolen glances, blushing, will-they-won't-they purity of other series...I digress) romance. With "Kase-san and Yamanda" volume 1, we see the two head off to their respective colleges and (flips through quickly because it was literally published in 2020) Kase gets jealous of Yamada going out with a new friend to a group-date, and Yamada begins getting jealous of Kase's new roommate. Basically, we get some of their cute flirtateousness, some princeliness, some cuteness, and some of both of them coming down from their emotional peaks to confess just how truly, maddeningly, in-love they are with each other. But that's not all we get in that volume (more to come).
    And 2) I love the first five "Kase-san and..." books. They are light, but emotional, the characters have some varied dimensions to them for such a light romantic comedy of a series - especially Kase who tries to project this princely quality but is actually hopelessly in love, a bit more girly than we'd expect, not really put together, and quite a softy. They are earnest books, they spend time with the two characters together, being cute and earnest together. It's just so...nice (and I mean that in a very good way).
    And therein lies the problem that started in "Kase-san and Yamada" vol. 1 and seems to continue with "Kase-san and Yamada" vol. 2. Volume 2 has much the same feel as volume 1. The characters spend little time actually together, less time communicating effectively, more time feeling jealous, and the general feeling of light niceness of the first series (5 volumes) isn't quite there anymore.
    In volume 2, Kase is roped into working at Inoue's family's summer beach-front hangout. By various means, all the series' characters end up staying in the same inn. What this volume continues are the hints that maybe Kase-san's roommate will become a central character, and perhaps even romantic competition for Kase's affections [although, a) we know Kase is oblivious to everything and b) Kase is hopeless for Yamada, so I'm not actually worried]. But with that and a few other things, Yamada spends a fair amount of time sulking rather than talking to Kase. Kase also continues to be quite busy and I get the sense that she's not really prioritizing time with Yamada, her girl-friend. We learn their universities are about 50 minutes apart by train, and even though Yamada has a job, she always makes time for Kase. But Kase has regular practice, track meets, travel, and now takes this summer job away from Yamada. Dummy.
    Before I get to any analysis, I would be remiss without mentioning that this volume also has some definite lovey-dovey moments between the two. My favorite is a small moment in the first chapter, at the fireworks festival, where Kase notices the nape of Yamada's neck in her yukata. It's such a slight small thing, a single panel, nothing spoken, no follow-up, but it's moments like that that crystalize the various parts of Kase's character and remind us of just how in love (and in lust) she is for Yamada. That's important. It's important that we always see this as a reciprocal relationship amongst equals. On it's surface, it would be easy to read this series as the homely but cute, shy and unassuming, shoujo heroine (Yamada) in a one-sided love with the out of her league, gorgeous, sporty Kase. But that's not it at all. Because Kase is just a dork, who is sort of a mess, and who is just as desperately in love with Yamada as Yamada is. These are two very nice, very kind, young women who genuinely like each other. And that's what made the first five volumes so good.
    That's also what is troubling me about these next two. They're almost fighting and misunderstanding each other, and not even spending that much time together, and there's this room-mate who is hinting at intruding on the Kase/Yamada thing, and there's tension in the series where there wasn't before.
    And then it hit me. They aren't high-school girls anymore. Life is changing. It's more complex when you don't live in the same town and go to the same school. Where you are working on figuring out your adult life, and rationing your time, and trying to make new, adult friends (nearly impossible for me, so I feel it when Yamada talks about that in volume 1), while still maintaining your old ones, including your girl friend. Their worlds are getting bigger. And bigger means change.
    And then it hit me even more. It connected me to a mistake I made last year. I'm over 40 now (ughhhh, that is so awful to say). But I've only been out as my true self, publicly as a woman for 2 years, most of which has been spent in the pandemic, and most of which has been spent divorced. When my ex-wife and I started the coming out process nearly 5 years ago, I talked about how I felt like a toddler then (specifically the image of Tinkerbell when she is first born in the first Tinkerbell movie, wearing that pretty white dress is what resonated with me). Sure on the outside I was this 40 year old, who was a parent, who had a career and a wife, etc... but I felt very young. I hadn't lived as a woman openly, I hadn't learned the things girls learn as they grow up with their moms, and aunts, and cousins, and siblings, and friends. I hadn't experienced life as a girl, young woman, and now adult woman. I was feeling new feelings in new ways for the first time every day. And two years on, reading this volume, I still feel so very very young. Maybe like a middle-schooler now.
    And I thought back to that mistake I made last year. I had only been out publicly a little over a year, I had been separated and on the way to divorce for about 8 months. And I met someone. I met someone who not only checked every box on paper, but who is absolutely a lovely and wonderful real person. I very quickly fell for. Fell hard. It was my first time loving someone as me, openly, as a girl/woman. I felt things in ways I hadn't felt before. But also, I was feeling things in ways I hadn't since I was a teen. It was like being an adult but having all that intensity of emotion that only teens can feel. Beautiful, exuberant, intense, uncontrollable, unfiltered, unself-conscious. And then it was over in two short months.
    I got the "it's not you, it's me" speech. But what I didn't understand at the time, and what took a full year of therapy later to really understand, was that it was me. It was me, not understanding what she needed, where she was at in her own journey, how what I was experiencing was putting enormous emotional pressure on her so early in our relationship. I felt jealous about things I had no need to and no business being jealous about. And I told her my feelings, thinking that was a good thing, since I had kept them hidden inside for decades with my ex. And I asked her questions about the future, and I worried that if we didn't have certain conversations early, that I would somehow hurt her or be hurt by her, and so I rushed those parts too. We only knew each other for 2 short months, 7 dates in total I think. But my mind and feelings were racing years ahead, sprinting, heart bounding, but it also brought out new and ugly feelings and worries and anxieties that put so much pressure on her.
    And this volume made me think about that. Where I was a teen in a woman's body, feeling things that weren't necessarily becoming of an adult and weren't what she needed at this point in her life and with all that she was still working through, she had your own needs and thoughts and rhythms and I wasn't there for her. I wasn't adding good things to her life, I was only applying pressure (however unwittingly). But maybe those types and intensities of feelings are exactly right then for Kase and Yamada? They are newly in college, newly experiencing all that rapid growth of freedom at that age, still learning about themselves and each other. Maybe what they are going through in these first two volumes of the sequel series is exactly right. They should be having ugly new feelings, they should be struggling to communicate, they should be unsure of how to handle their complex thoughts (passionate one moment, jealous the next, insecure, and overwhelming). Because they are 18 and 19 and it is messy to figure this stuff out. 
    I might want this story to stay the "little story that could" (to paraphrase another blogger) forever. But part of what made the series so wonderful was the humanity in these characters. They weren't stock. They had fully fleshed out reality behind them. They were people. So I connected to them, and I loved through them. And now, because they are so real, they have to grow and change and have new experiences and feelings. And those will be different than the ones they had in high-school, and so this series, about them now, in college, must also be different. 
    So while "Kase-san and Yamada" volume 2 has many wonderful traits from the original series, it also is exploring new things as the characters grow up. That's uncomfortable but also important and real and asking them to stay the same would be a disservice to them, to their creator, and to what they might become in the future. So here's hoping Kase-san and Yamada keep growing up and growing together and that we get to follow that journey for many many more years to come.

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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.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Cocoon Entwined volume 4 (manga review)

Cocoon Entwined volume 4 cover
It takes freaking forever between releases of "Cocoon Entwined" volumes. Volume 4 finally came out and I have to admit, just like with each prior volume, I could not remember almost anything of what happened before. Add to that that the overall writing style is so oblique and obfuscated that it is nearly impossible to know what's really going on. That's also not helped by art that is quite variable in quality from panel to panel and that has trouble distinguishing certain characters (I must note that I clinically struggle with remembering faces, so this is double tough for me).

All that sounds like a resounding dislike of this series, which is actually not true at all. I am fascinated by it because it is quite a dark take on the "class s" sub-genre of yuri. Long-story short, there is an all-girls school where the girls never cut their hair, and as they graduate it is cut and then turned into the uniforms for the incoming students (creepy!). Mix that with a troubled and mysterious girl who Hana is in love with, and the more typical moral-center/shoujo-herioine/average girl Youko who is in love with Hana, and we have the recipe for an interesting yuri. 

The biggest thing is I can't keep track of the other character's stories. The art is also so ambiguous (or poorly drawn?) at times that I can't tell exactly what is going on (was that a kiss on the neck or did we just introduce vampires? I think it was just a kiss). However, despite the inconsistency with anatomy and indistinctness of some panels, the overall art is unique and sometimes really arresting.

The story itself though, while having great promise on the surface, has taken so long to move forward (or maybe not because it's only 4 volumes - it's just taken forever for them to come out that maybe it feels slow) that it doesn't have the momentum I would like. We also don't have much actual depth on the characters. They pretty much exist in the here and now, and when we do get their inner voices, they are so abstractly written as to not reveal much. It's hard to have real sympathies and connectedness with the way the characters are handled. From the art, to the writing, to the overall creepy vibes, the series feels like it's holding us at arms length. It's not really letting us into their hearts. 

As for volume 4, why we are here, there are long portions without Hana or Youko that are unclear to me as to what is actually going on. But the portions with Hana and Youko are definitely the best, and most grounded, parts of the volume. Just like the prior volumes, the art is inconsistent. I mentioned before that the anatomy is often wildly wrong with awkwardness or musculature/structural issues that show a lack of advanced draftsmanship (draft-person-ship?). That takes me out of the story a bit. However, giving credit where credit is due, at least it's daring art. Lots of black, lots of contrast, lots of textures and movement and flow. At least it's not boring (see my prior review of the art in "If I Could Reach You" volume 6).

I'm going to keep reading it, and honestly, when it's all done, I will re-read it all to see if it improves without the loooooooong wait time between volumes. I bet it will. 

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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.

If I Could Reach You Volume 6 (Manga Review)

If I Could Reach You volume 6 cover

There has been so much time between volumes of "If I Could Reach You" but I was glad to get this next one. What made me most excited was that this volume focused almost exclusively on Kaoru's present, past, inner-life, etc... It fleshed her out in a way that is likely to create greater plausibility and acceptability for what will come next in the series. But I am jumping ahead.

"If I Could Reach You" is a story about Uta, a high-school girl whose older brother dated and now married a woman named Kaoru. They dated all through high-school and she was like an older sister to Uta. But Uta comes to realize that her feelings for Kaoru aren't sisterly, they are romantic love. As the series has gone through it's first five volumes, it because clear to Uta that she can't keep living with her brother and Kaoru any longer (I can't remember where the parents are - like most shoujo manga they are either overseas working or dead, doesn't really matter for this purpose though). By the end of Volume 5, Uta has moved out into a small student apartment to be away from Kaoru and reclaim her life.

And that is why volume 6 is so refreshing. We actually get to learn about Kaoru. No longer is she just the stock character our main character has feelings for, but she has an inner life, she has complexities, and there are plenty of hints dropped that reveal more substance (and thus more potential) that maybe something could actually happen between her and Uta. I don't want to give spoilers, but it was refreshing for a series like this to actually flesh out the love interest.

That being said, here is my normal disclaimer that I am opposed to adults dating high-schoolers and I have no idea if this series will ever bring that relationship to consummation in any way, or if this will be more the melancholy longing and ultimate growing up and growing apart (which was done so masterfully in series like After the Rain). So I'm sticking with this series so far because it hasn't crossed any lines or made any overtly icky situations. That said, these things can turn on a dime, so just be aware that it's about a high school student with feelings for an adult. Let's hope the adults act like adults.

However, I can't deny that one of the things I love in manga (and god, I can't believe I'm admitting this publicly), is the step-siblings who fall in love with each other (see Citrus or Love Me Love Me Not or literally like half of all shoujo). And so while not step-siblings here (actually siblings-in-law), there is that forbidden love thing here too (I just wish it wasn't child/adult, but as I said, so far it's just feelings in Uta's head, which isn't necessarily abnormal for a high-schooler to have a crush on someone a bit older, I guess).

The art continues to be okay. It's in that slightly comic-booky/modern shoujo manga lightness that is only okay to me, but in no way memorable. If you've been reading this blog, you know I love 90's and early 2000's shoujo manga with the super disproportionately long limbs, sharp angles, and lots and lots of screentones. This has none of that. It's fine, but it's just not anything special. Even among contemporary manga, it's nothing like the art of Io Sakisaka who blends the best of contemporary figure proportions with exceptional draftsmanship, detail, and yes...screentones! tMnR, the mangaka behind this, is competent as an artist, just not memorable. Compare:

comparison between the artwork of Clamp, Io Sakisaka, and tMnR
See the dynamic blacks, and long angular lines in Clamp's work, and the complex screen tones, and rich textures in Io Sakisaka's work, then look at the simplicity in "If I Could Reach You" by tMnR. You're mileage may vary as to your preferred style. (Right click and open to view larger)

Anyway, volume 6 is one of the better ones in the series because it fleshes out Kaoru's character. We do lose some momentum, but I think that is worth it for having a more fully realized person, not just a stock love interest. We also get hints that this series could resolve any number of ways, which makes me want to keep reading. The art is just average for modern shoujo/yuri manga, which is to say, nothing special at all, sort of perfunctory. But the writing is a bit above average and I'm interested to see where it goes and how it handles the complexity. So I'll keep reading and let you know what I think.

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Bloom into You Anthology Volume 2 (Manga Review)

Bloom Into You Anthology Volume 2
Bloom Into You was one of those manga series that got better each time I've reread it (finding more nuance) and each time I've rewatched the anime (which only covers about 1/2 the story, but still ends in a satisfying place, FYI). So of course I bought the first anthology volume which was a collection of short side-stories written and drawn by colleagues of the original creator, Nakatani Nio. It was light fluff. Doesn't mean it was bad, but basically, it was a way to get just a little more time with our two main characters. So, knowing full well what volume 2 of the anthology would be like, I happily purchased it.

Bloom Into You anthology volume 2 is more of the same, 13 more very short short side stories with our favorite characters. One nice touch is a side story by Nakatani Nio herself. As a collection, anthology volume 2 is mixed, which was no surprise. Some of the mangaka really seemed to try to emulate Nio-sensei's style (or just naturally had styles close to hers) while others reinterpreted the characters in their own style, while still having enough in common to be recognizable. Sometimes the different art styles works (it was fun to see Canno) but sometimes it doesn't (see SheepD). 

The stories themselves are mostly insubstantial. A few of them, however, feel like they didn't quite get the essence of the original character's personalities. Other stories seem pretty on-the-nose. There is at least some romance, although most of this is just light humor. We get a little bit of a glimpse into some side characters. But on the whole, nothing is really added, which makes sense as this is probably considered non-cannon, but at the same time, there is nothing in it that really is significant enough to disturb the cannon either.

Hard to say much more. Did you really like Bloom into You? Do you want more time with those characters? Do you not mind if it's a bit uneven and insubstantial? Then you've probably already bought this volume. If you were just a casual reader of Bloom Into You, then just know this is fun fluff and nothing more. I wasn't disappointed because I knew exactly what it would be, and I DID just want more time with Yuu and Touko. 

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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.