Saturday, June 16, 2018

Review: A CERTAIN SCIENTIFIC RAILGUN


You would think that the only thing I would dread more than a manga adaptation of a light novel is a manga adaptation of a light novel spinoff.  Yet this one actually turned to be kind of OK for once.

I guess there has to be an exception out there once in a while.

A CERTAIN SCIENTIFIC RAILGUN (Toaru Kagaku no Rerugan), based on the light novel by Kazumi Kamachi & art by Moto Fuyuawa.  First published in 2007 and first published in North America in 2011.



PLOT:  

In Academy City, young children with extraordinary powers are gathered together so they can control and hone their skills.  One of the most talented of the lot is Mikoto Misaka, a tomboy with such incredible electric powers that she’s been nicknamed ‘the Railgun.’  She finds herself caught up in the investigation of a rash of bombings around town, but the only mystery more compelling than the identity of the bomber is the identity of the weird guy who can block Misaka’s every attack.

STORY:  

A Certain Scientific Railgun has a lot of the usual elements one would associate with light novels: a magic high school, a guy who is seemingly weak but actually has a super-special power, a bunch of cute girls doing cute girl things, even a bit of yuri fanservice.  This all would have been intolerable if not for one thing: that the protagonist Mikoto is cool enough to rise above it all.

I was kind of surprised to discover how much I enjoyed Mikoto as a character.  It certainly helps that her powers are just plain cool and that she gets plenty of opportunity to show them off.  It also helps that her casual style and aloof attitude help to distinguish her from her more traditionally feminine (and more traditionally moe) friends.   She doesn’t have a hero complex, in spite of her powers.  She’s willing to help others when asked, but she’s not picking for a fight either.  If anything, she’s rather unwittingly swept up into the larger plot thanks to her teleporting friend Kuroko.  It’s nice that such a normal and down-to-earth kid can be found in this otherwise outrageous setting.  She’s an audience stand-in done right, for once.

It’s good that Mikoto is so cool because everyone else around her is various degrees of annoying.  First and foremost of that group is Kuroko.  She’s the biggest source of said yuri fanservice in this series, as when she’s not fighting delinquents she’s doing her best to molest Mikoto and steal a kiss.  Her obsessive crush on Mikoto is a gag that falls flat straight from the start and never gets any better in spite of its many, MANY repetitions.  At least Kuroko is relevant to the plot, though, which is more than one can say for their other friend Uiharu.  As far as I can tell, she’s there solely to be as moe as hell with her ever-present flower garland and her ability to…um….be mildly feverish at all times?   By the end I started to wonder if that wasn’t in fact her superpower.  Oh, and she also has a friend that serves no purpose beyond adding more yuri fanservice, just in case you missed it somehow. 

Then there’s Kajima.  His ability is the ability to negate any superpower, a fact that absolutely grinds Mikoto’s gears.  Strictly speaking, he’s a crossover character from this manga’s sister series, A Certain Magical Index, and his role here is fairly minor.  That’s a good thing as Kajima is pretty much the platonic ideal of a light novel hero.  He’s a hapless schmuck with a hero complex, a secret super-special power, and the story plays up his rivalry with Mikoto as a potential romance.  Considering that his presence starts to turn Mikoto into your standard tsundere, he’s pretty much the worst.

So what abot the plot itself?  It tend to vacililate between slice-of-life fluff and superhero-style crime fighting.  It’s only halfway through the volume that the bombing plot comes into play.  I will concede that the bomber’s plot and Kajima’s introduction actually dovetail into one another nicely.  Still, it’s prone to the occasional light-novel-style info drop, especially at the beginning.  I swear these kids can’t get anywhere near a classroom without it turning into one long screed of exposition, right down to the “As you all know.”  Weirdly enough, it never stops to explain the weirdness of this universe itself, such as why they need an entire city dedicated to this high school.  I can’t tell whether this is laziness on the writer’s part or just something that requires reading the other manga/light novels in the franchise to understand.

For all of my complaints, I would consider A Certain Scientific Railgun one of the better light novel to manga adaptations I've come across.  The superhero-style premise is one that’s a natural fit for a comic and Mikoto makes for a great, reliable heroine.  It’s nowhere near as extraordinary as the powers on display, but it’s decent enough to be entertaining.

ART:  

I’m not entirely sure if I like Fuyukawa’s artstyle or not, but it’s certainly lively enough to get a pass.  The girls do tend to look the same around the face and everyone tends to be a bit bobble-headed, but they’re all wildly expressive and lively, and the same is true for the fight scenes.  He does overuse the Dutch angles, but otherwise everything is easy to follow, even in mid-battle.  If anything, he could stand to give the story some scale and breathing room by expanding the panels and giving Academy City some greater visual identity.  As it is, it tends to be the same old shops, schoolrooms and interiors.  It’s not bad by any means, but it never quite distinguishes itself enough to become truly good.

PRESENTATION:  

Like a number of older Seven Seas titles, there’s a preview for another manga.  Sometimes the previews make sense, and sometimes they’re like this instance, where the preview is for Toradora.  Call me crazy, but you’d think that Seven Seas would use this spot to promote their own release of the Index manga.

RATING:  
A Certain Scientific Railgun has a neat concept , a great heroine, and some occasionally lively art which do go a long way towards making the more stereotypically light novel elements more tolerable.  It manages to stand on its own for the most part and it’s fun enough to be a diverting read. 

This series is published by Seven Seas.  This series is ongoing in Japan with 13 volumes available.  All 13 have been released and are currently in print.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Review: GTO: THE EARLY YEARS

With another summer full of blockbusters upon us, it's time to do what they do best and look at some manga sequels, prequels, and sequels.  We'll start with a series that was sold as a prequel to a popular series, but in reality it's more like the popular series is a sequel to it.

GTO: THE EARLY YEARS - SHONAN JUNAI GUMI, by Tohru Fujisawa.  First published in 1990 and first published in North America in 2006.



PLOT:

Eikichi and Ryuji are two of the baddest high-school hooligans in Hanagawa prefecture.  Together they are Oni-Baki, a yankii duo infamous for their ability to beat down any and all comers.  They're also a pair of doofy high-schoolers looking to lose their virginities and are willing to do ANYTHING to make it happen.  Their latest efforts to pop their cherries at a summer resort nearly work...until they discover that their dates are also their homeroom teachers.  Meanwhile, things get more complicated when a couple of girls set their eyes on the boys first out of revenge, then out of admiration.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Merry Month of Manga Review: DAYS OF COOL IDOLS!

Idols!  Lots of weebs love 'em!  I...don't really like them.

At all.

God knows that this manga isn't making much of an argument to convince me otherwise.

DAYS OF COOL IDOLS! (Seikou Gakuen Idol-gumi!), by Mizuki Watanabe.  First published in 2006 and first published in North America in 2009.




PLOT:

Tsubasa Nagumo hoped that switching to the prestigious Seikou school would help him get away from his dark past.  Before he has a moment to settle in, he's shanghaied into the school's Elite V class.  These students live in luxury in trade for working hard as idols, and Tsubasa is being brought in to serve as a stand-in for the agency's top performer Yui Hoshino.  Tsubasa has plenty of challenges before him: stalkers, jealous rivals, and his own crippling insecurities.  Thankfully, he's got an band of boy idols ready and willing to support him at every turn.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Merry Month of Manga Review: TABLEAU NUMERO 20


Now it's time to take a look at a brilliant stand-alone work from SuBLime as well as one of my favorite BL mangaka ever.

TABLEAU NUMERO 20 (Sakuhin Number 20), by est em.  First published in 2009 and first published in North America in 2013.



PLOT:  

An art conversator finds a lost masterpiece, a work previously only known to exist in the form of a sketch.  For years, the man obsessed over that sketch and the haunting eyes of the man in it.  Imagine his shock, then, when he brings the painting home to work on it and finds the subject standing naked on his balcony.  The man in question, Yves, turns out to be the key to the mystery of the artist’s works, and alongside the conservator Yves learns to let go of his lost love.  Alongside them are other stories, ones about frustrated flamenco dancers, of a couple separated by time and the loss of memory with age, and a man struggling with his unspoken love for an old friend.

Merry Month of Manga Review: DOMINION

Once upon a time, Masamune Shirow could be relied on to churn out all sorts of interesting one-shot sci-fi stories.  Most of them have been overshadowed by the massive success of Ghost in the Shell, and that's unfortunate.  They weren't always masterpieces of transhumanism, but they were interesting in their own right.

DOMINION, by Masamune Shirow.  First published in 1986 and first published in North America in 2000.



PLOT:

In the future, the skies are brimming with dangerous bacteria.  Humanity has done everything to protect itself from the air, be it the strange pod-like beings they live in or the filter masks they wear outside.  It's not enough to protect the people from everyday criminals like the thief Buaku and his catgirl henchwomen Annapuma and Unipuma.  The only force capable of stopping them is the Tank Police, a hardscrabble group of cops dedicated to stopping crime (if not so much toward stopping collateral damage or pleasing their superiors).