Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Comedy spin-offs of popular franchises are a dime-a-dozen in Japan but we very rarely get them Stateside.  If this book is any indication, though, there's more than a few good reasons why we don't see them published very often.

FULL METAL PANIC! OVERLOAD (Ikkinari! Furumetaru Panikku!), based on the light novel series by Shouji Garou with story and art by Tomohiro Nagai and character designs by Shikidouji. First published in 2001 and first published in North America in 2005.


Kaname Chidori and Sosuke Sagara are back, and this time there are no serious plot elements to hamper them!  Yep, here you'll get nothing but wacky hijinks inside and outside of the classroom as Sosuke's military instincts turn even the most ordinary situation into an explosive one, leaving Kaname to try and keep the peace.


So, you do remember all the silly comedy bits from the original Full Metal Panic!?  Well, imagine if someone stretched those moments to fill out an entire manga volume and then halved the quality.  If you can picture that in your mind, then you have some notion of what reading Full Metal Panic! Overload is like.  There's really no point in describing the cast because it's composed almost entirely of Kaname and Sosuke, and if you have any familiarity with the franchise then you know precisely what you're going to get.  Kaname acts like a classic tsundere, Sosuke is deadpan and oblivious, repeat ad naseaum.  Hell, you don't even really need to be all that familiar with the Full Metal Panic! canon as the characters and set-up are briefly summed up in the beginning.  The chapters themselves are fairly formulaic, and everything seems to end with Sosuke breaking out a gun, a grenade, or even a landmine all in the name of protecting Kaname.  He's so dedicated to his cause that not even a brief bout of amnesia can't stop him from his duties. 

The only thing that breaks up the monotony are the occasional bits of fourth-wall humor.  The characters might mess with the captions labeling them or comment on how all this ridiculousness is 'like being in a manga or a light novel!'  Sadly, these moments are the only times that the jokes come anywhere near inspired.  The reason that the comedy bits in the original series work so well is that they come before or in between extended bouts of serious business.  The lightheartedness lets the reader come down a little from the main storyline before diving back into the next big plot turn, and most adaptations know how to get the most from the simple set-up.  This manga, on the other hand, does not.  It just cranks the comedy to 11 and never stops going, and the end result feels both watered-down and tedious.


It took me at least two tries to actually get through this manga because of the character designs.  I don't know who this Shikidouji guy is, but I'm pretty sure no one really needed his particular take on this cast.  They're not quite normal and they're not quite super-deformed, but they're bizarre and over the top and not appealing in the least.  Plus now there's a lot of awkward panty shots to go with it all!  I don't know why this series demanded a separate character designer, but neither he nor Nagai add all that much visually.  It's all just a bunch of heavily stylized nonsense presented as plainly as possible.


Not even Full Metal Panic! fans would get that much out of this version.  All it does is rehash old jokes in an ugly, goony artstyle.  In a world where we have Full Metal Panic! Fummofu, this manga is absolutely unnecessary.

This series was licensed by ADV.  This series is complete in Japan with 5 volumes available.  All 5 were published and all are currently out of print.

Friday, July 17, 2015


I've seen all sorts of manga spinoffs in my day, but today's review has to be beyond a doubt one of the weirdest of them all.  It's not a sequel, prequel, or parody of any given series, but the manga adaptation of the anime show that the characters watch within their respective series.  It's one of the most meta manga I've come across, but this series proves that sometimes a joke really does need context to make any sort of sense.

KUJIBIKI UNBALANCE (Kujibiki Anbaransu), written by Kio Shimoku & art by Koume Keito.  First published in 2006, and first published in North America in 2008.


Rikkyoin High School where everything from the student council position to the most mundane things are decided by lotteries.  Amongst the incoming class of freshmen is Chihiro a chronically unlucky boy, and his happy-go-lucky friend Tohiko.  The two end up getting chosen to fill two positions on the student council along with mad scientist Renko, her perpetual guinea pig Kaoruko, and the shy but powerful Koyuki.  Now they have to shadow the current council before they can take over, but what happens when the student council president turns out to be Chihiro and Tohiko's childhood friend?


I don't know why this manga exists. It's not that I don't know how this manga came to be -that's easy to explain.  First there was the Genshiken manga, in which Shimoku made up a show for the kids in Genshiken kids to obsess over without worrying over copyright (and having a little fun with anime tropes to boot).  Then that manga became a TV show, and they decided to turn that fake show into a funny little OVA.  Then someone got the bright idea to turn that OVA into a solo manga, and now not only have things come full circle but it has been entirely removed from its original context.  Without that context, though, Kujibiki Unbalance loses everything that made it satirical in the first place.  Now it's nothing but a pile of dumb anime tropes cranked to 11 that's played completely straight.

The biggest problem with the audience is never explicitly told that this is meant to be a satire of anime tropes.  We're meant to all of these one-note characters and their silly quirks and the whole ridiculous lottery idea as something that's totally unironic, if not in a completely serious manner.  Every joke is big, broad and dumb, every plot twist comes out of nowhere, and everything is delivered in the loudest, most obnoxious manner possible.  It's not even all that concerned with its own plot, as the whole lottery angle gets dropped midway through and it launches into all the usual high school set-ups.  It even manages to work in the equivalent of a beach episode, a hot springs episode, and a school festival episode.  The rest of the time it's trying to hype up the cheap emotional drama between Chihiro, Tohiko, and Renko the student council president in the hopes of turning it into an equally lame love triangle (or possibly more of a love pyramid, as Chihiro also has an overly possessive and hands-on sister so that the Imouto tickbox can be checked off as well).   All of this is over-the-top enough to potentially work as a joke, but there would have to be a lot more commentary to make it work.

This has to be one of the few manga out there that is completely and utterly unnecessary.  It's not funny, it's not entertaining, and were it not for a brief comic at the end where a couple of the Genshiken kids comment on the manga, it's completely disconnected from its far better source material.  It's just...there, being weird and dull for no reason at all other than as one big in-joke.


Again, the biggest problem here is that it's hard to tell whether Keito is playing things up as a joke or is being completely serious.  The artstyle certainly fits what is meant to be a silly moe romp, as the characters are all round and doll-like .  The problem is that they have weirdly flat faces, so when they turn into profile their eyes seem to almost float off their faces.  He also plays up the fanservice, as he takes every opportunity possible to show off panties or Tohiko's giant boobs in plenty of low, voyeuristic angles.  I will say that Keiko does have a good grasp of perspective and he knows how to fill up a panel with activity and 'jokes' without making it too chaotic.  It's certainly quite different from Shimoko's own artstyle, but it's not enough to draw a bunch of moe blobs, ogle their naughty bits, and call it a day.


Kujibiki Unbalance should not exist as a manga.  It should have just stayed as a silly little in-joke in a far better manga/show, because without it the whole things falls flat.

This series was published by Del-Ray.  This series is complete in Japan with 2 volumes available.  Both volumes were published and are currently out of print.

Monday, July 13, 2015


It's another summer season full of sequels on both the big and small screens, so now's as good as time as any to explore the many sequels, prequels, and spin-offs to some of the biggest titles in manga-dom, and one of the biggest in shoujo history was Fushigi Yugi.  Now I've already made my thoughts on that series known, but for the longest time I always heard that this prquel series was far superior to the original, a rare feat in any medium.  Were they right?  Let's find out.

FUSHIGI YUGI: GENBU KAIDEN (The Mysterious Play: The Legend of Genbu Unfolds), by Yuu Watase.  First published in 2003, and first published in North America in 2005.


Takako Okuda is a spunky, athletic young lady growing up in 1920s Japan who finds herself in constant conflict with her scholarly father over her mother's waning health.  During an argument with her father, Takako opens up her father's latest project, a translation of "The Universe of the Four Gods."  In an instant, she is transported to a remote mountaintop in an unfamiliar land.  There Takiko saves what she thinks is a young woman chained to a post, but instead turns out to be a wanted criminal who can change sex at will.  Takiko now finds herself caught up in the adventure of a lifetime as she must now gather seven warriors to help her fulfill her destiny as the Priestess of Genbu., even if that destiny might mean the end of the world.


So let's be blunt: Is Fushigi Yugi: Genbu Kaiden better than the manga that inspired it?  I can say with absolutely certainty that yes, it most absolutely is.  Watase's skills had improved greatly during the decade between the original manga and this series, and it's also clear that she took some of the criticism of the original to heart.  The end result of her effort is a far stronger story that's bolstered by a great leading lady and a greater focus on adventure than romantic indulgence.

Takako is as different from Miaka as night is different from day.  Takako is smart, athletic and even a little sassy.  It's safe to say that this girl does not want for backbone and is far less prone to strolling obliviously into danger.  She's also got a surprising amount of anger inside her, as her frustrations with her father have started to fester into a general hatred of men.  In all fairness, you can't blame for being frustrated her father can talk of nothing but his transcript until Takako is transported, and while it's clearly his way of dealing with his wife's condition it's also clearly tearing the family apart.  Watase has also finally learned how to write male characters that aren't just Tamahome knockoffs. Oh sure, Takako's Celestial Warriors might have a similar gimmick as Miaka's, with their combination of elemental powers and symbolic tattoos, but their personalities don't hew so closely to the usual sort of reverse harem types.  Limdo comes the closest to being the Tamahome expy, as he (she?) is blunt and self-serving, but he doesn't take it to such extremes and he comes off as more charming as a result.  The only other warrior we've met thus far is Chamka, but as he's both a worrywart and a mama's boy, he's there mostly for comic relief. 

The plot structure is admittedly a bit more similar to the original, although if we're being fair a LOT of manga ripped off the whole 'girl gets sucked into magic world, picks up a bunch of bishies, and becomes the Savior of the World' idea.  I do think that Genbu Kaiden makes it work better than most.  Takako takes on the cause not out of selfish desires, but out of a genuine heroic urge to protect others.  She also demonstrates that she's more than capable of doing just that and it feels like Takako is control of the plot instead of the plot being in control of her and her whims.  I sincerely hope it continues in this direction, because if so it could be the beginning of something that is truly epic in both a literal and figurative sense.

Fushigi Yugi: Genbu Kaiden is a prequel with the sensibility of a sequel.  It takes the basics from the story that inspired it and expands and transforms them into something better and (at least so far) more interesting.  It's stronger, more capable, and I'm far more interested in seein where this story goes.


The artwork hasn't advanced quite as far as Watase's storytelling and character-building has.  Her characters are a little more literally rounded and substantial than before, but she still has a hard time not turning every guy to Tamahome.  Still, at least she's using her bishonen more smartly, as Limdo's androgynous looks make his transformations a bit more believable.  She has gotten better at expanding the scale of her stories.  She frames her pages with lots of low angles to better capture the size and scale of the world around Takako, and some of the vistas are suitably grand.  Sadly, she gets a little lazy when things get a bit closer, as she tends to resort to the old shoujo sparkles and screentones in close-ups.  The changes to the art aren't revolutionary by any means, but the art of Genbu Kaiden has benefitted to some degree from the decade of experience that Watase picked up.


It doesn't matter if you didn't like or even never read Fushigi Yugi, because Fushigi Yugi: Genbu Kaiden works as both a prequel and as a stand-alone series.  It takes a lot of the good stuff from the original and improves upon it, and the faults are far less severe and juvenile then that of its predecessor.  It's a grand adventure that shoujo readers should check out for themselves.

This series is licensed by Viz.  This series is complete in Japan with 12 volumes available.  All 12 have been published and are currently in print.

Friday, July 3, 2015

A Tour of the Shelves & Manga Tag with Megan

It's a holiday weekend, and like so many people, I don't want to do any hard work.  So before I launch into this month's reviews I'm going to do something something special.  Before I get too far along, though, I should share what else I've been up to in the last few months.  Why, I've done everything from write revews on Black Rose Alice, Yukarism, and The Man of Tango to a review of the El Hazard franchise.  I've even done another podcast, this time talking with some of my fellow writers at Infinite Rainy Day about the dreadful series Vividred Operation.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to get a little personal by showing off my own manga for a change.  After all, I've been talking about it here for over three years, but what series do I actually read and collect?  You'll have to forgive the lighting and the photo quality - cell phone cameras can only do so much, and my manga shelves are in my somewhat dimly lit basement, making photography a tricky prospect.

What you see there is 62 separate series that I've gathered and gleaned in the five years I've been reading manga.  I'm rather proud of my collection, as there are more than a few in there that are very hard to get a hold of these days (and some of which had volumes that I paid rather dear prices for).  Even if all these books threaten to take over all the shelf space I have available, each and every volume makes me happy to own it.
I'm not just showing them off for the sake of bragging rights, though.  Thanks to YouTube anime reviewer  Professor Otaku, I discovered Manga Tag, a sort of chain-letter style challenge where video makers and bloggers answer the questions with examples from their own manga collections.  So I guess I'll take up his challenge and declare myself It by answering these questions.
1. What was your first manga?
Now the question doesn't specify whether this means the first manga I've ever read or the first manga I ever bought, so I'm including both here.  The first manga I ever read was Magic Knight Rayearth.  I had only been into anime for a short time when I got my hands on the first season of the series, and I was curious to check out the source material.  I got my hands on the first three books from the library and figured I could peruse them throughout the week.  I ended up devouring them in a single evening and picked up the second half the next day.  From that point I was hooked, and I have CLAMP to blame for that.  As for the first manga I ever bought, that would be Fruits Basket.  I had seen the show and liked it very much, and knowing that the manga covered so much more of the story, I was eager to check it out.  Luckily, I was already halfway through the series when Tokyopop shut down, so I didn't have too much trouble collecting the rest before it got too hard to find.
2.  What is your most expensive manga?
8.  What is your rarest manga?
I'm skipping ahead a little bit for this one because I can answer both of these with the same series: Challengers, a charming little shonen-ai series by Hinako Takanaga.  It was limited from the start, being not only a yaoi series but a yaoi series from the rather short-lived and obscure yaoi publisher DramaQueen, so you'll not find a lot of people who have the full run of this in English.  Weirdly enough, Volumes 2 - 4 are not all that hard to find and not all that expensive, but Volume 1 currently ranks as the most expensive volume of manga I own.  That book cost me $45, and the only reason I bought it then was that it was the first time I had seen it listed for under $60.
3.  What was your least expensive manga?
I tend to be rather thrifty when it comes to old manga and I've managed to get more than a few good deals by buying volumes used.  Still, nothing's more free than a gift from others, and I've gotten a few volumes as Christmas presents.  If I had to pick a representative from them, though, it would have to be that big, beautiful, hardbound Nausicaa collection Viz put out two years ago.  This was a gift from my fiancĂ©'s brother, and he had to reorder it almost at the last minute as the first copy he bought was dented, but I'm so very glad he did.
4.  What is the most boring manga you own?
This is a tricky question, as nobody honestly collects manga that they would themselves call 'boring'.  Still, if I had to determine what manga would be the most mundane, I would probably have to go with Fumi Yoshinaga's What Did You Eat Yesterday? I imagine a lot of younger manga readers would find this one weird, as it's all about adults doing their jobs, dealing with relationship stuff, and making lots and lots of food.  That's their loss then, because it's one of my favorites.
5.  What is your favorite manga series?
That one is easy to answer - xxxHolic, by CLAMP.  I've been a CLAMP fan since the beginning and have read just about every work of theirs that has been put out into English, but few have struck me in the same way that xxxHolic did.  Part of it the way it looks; Nekoi has yet to do better work than the sleek, elegant work she's done here.  I love it so much that I even hunted down the artbook, which was expensive but totally worth it.  Part of it is the somewhat spooky, somewhat mystical atmosphere that the whole series cultivates. Ultimately, though, it was the characters that kept me reading.  I love what they did with Watanuki as a character and in particular how they developed his relationships with Doumeki and Himawari, as well as the rather plot crucial one between him and Yuuko.  I'm even loving xxxHolic Rei, which is shaping up to finally bring the story full circle.  While I wouldn't call it CLAMP's absolute best work - that's what we have Cardcaptor Sakura for - but xxxHolic remains my favorite of theirs and my favorite of all time.
6. What is the most relatable manga series you own?
This is probably the trickiest question of them all to answer.  I tend to be drawn to the fantastical when it comes to manga, and as a grown woman there aren't a lot of manga out here that really speak to my own circumstances.  There are plenty that are sympathetic, but relatable is not quite so common.  That being said, I could settle on a few that seemed to fit best here.  Hiroyuki Azuma has always been able to capture everyday life in a way that's equal parts hilarious and endearing, so I had to include both Azumanga Daioh and Yotsuba.  I also had to include Barakamon.  While the circumstances are very, very different, as a country girl myself I could relate to some of the people and ideas that the protagonist encounters in his country village home, and the kids in that series are some of the very few that actually talk and feel like real little kids.  Finally, there What Did You Eat Yesterday? again.  I'm a pretty avid cook, so that series' focus on recipes and prep reminds me the most of my own everyday struggles to get dinner on the table.
7. What is one manga you own that is based off an anime (not the other way around)?
This one was hard for me to answer simply because I don't own a lot of manga adaptations of TV shows, mostly because the vast majority of them suck on toast.  The closest thing I do have is the full run of the Revolutionary Girl Utena manga, and even then that's a bit of a cheat as that was released in Japan just before the show aired.  Still, it's meant to be Saito's own interpretation of the show as it was being produced, and while it's nowhere near as brilliant and insightful as the series was, it's still an interesting take on the story.
9.  What is the most reprinted manga you own?
That would have to go to Magic Knight Rayearth.  It was first serialized in Mixx, then it was collected in flipped volumes under that name, then it was republished unflipped under Tokyopop in both singles and as an omnibus, and now we have the omnibus releases from Dark Horse.  That's five, not counting the box sets they put out of the singles from Tokyopop as well.
10.  What is the most popular manga you own?
While there might be some competition from Fruits Basket or Cardcaptor Sakura, I feel pretty safe declaring that Fullmetal Alchemist is probably the most popular manga of anything I have on my shelves.
11.  What is the most damaged manga you own?
I tend to keep my books in pretty good shape and even when buying used, I try to go for ones in good shape.  The only exceptions are my first two volumes of Antique Bakery, which are a bit frayed at the edges and a bit damaged on the spines.  Amazingly, the scratch and sniff spot on my Volume 3 still smells fruity after all these years.
12.  Which manga has the most amazing art?
Yeah, I think anyone who has been reading this blog for any significant amount of time knew that my answer would have to be Kaoru Mori's A Bride's Story.  The sheer amount of detail and historical accuracy she puts onto each page blows me away with each volume, and then you add on top of that her skill for subtle movement and expression.  She truly is one of the best manga artists working today.
13.  What is the oldest published manga that you own?
Again, this doesn't specify whether this means the oldest when it comes to being published in Japan or when it comes to being published in North America.  Again, I've decided to cover my bases by answering both.  The first goes to Heart of Thomas, which dates all the way back to 1974.  The latter was a bit of a surprise, but my volumes of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko's Joan was put out by ComicsOne back in 2000.  I doubt I'll ever pick up anything much older unless I find some of those other Moto Hagio works that Viz put out in the mid 1990s.
14.  What is the newest published manga you own?
I'm actually keeping up with a lot more current releases than I used to even a year or two ago, but the most recent of the lot would probably have to be Maria the Virgin Witch.  I enjoyed what little bit of Moyashimon we got back in the day, and while this series is VERY different from that one, it's still fascinating in its own right.
15.  What are some of the most recent manga you have purchased?
Luckily, I just so happened to take a trip to the local Barnes & Noble last week to pick up a couple of volumes - the latest collection of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood and the latest volume of Drug and Drop.  It's interesting to see how Araki's art evolves and how the histrionic tone of the story works surprisingly well with the era it's set.  As for Drug and Drop, I'm glad that CLAMP are not wasting time and getting to the heart of this story at long last as well as crossing it over with a rather unexpected part of the CLAMP multiverse.
Of course, it's not Tag unless you can tag someone else as It.  As such, I'm going to throw this one out to anyone else who reads this blog, but I'm also going to specifically tag two people: Ash of Experiments in Manga and Twitter user bunycartoon of the Anime Nostalgia Podcast.  If you participate, make sure to let me know by linking it in the comments!