Tag Archives: episodic

Natsume’s Book of Friends (Manga)

Mangaka: Yuki Midorikawa

Status: Ongoing (currently 22 volumes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

For his entire life, Takashi Natsume has been able to see yokai, and it’s brought him little but trouble–especially since his parents’ death. He’s been shipped between relatives who don’t really want him, who find him odd at best or a liar more often than not. It’s been a life that has led him to be withdrawn, to hide who he really is and what he sees. But when he moves in with an older couple of distant relatives who legitimately seem to want him, things begin to change. Natsume starts making friends at school. What’s more, he inherits an old book from his grandmother, Reiko Natsume, who he finds was also able to see yokai. In fact, possession of this book brings him into contact with even more yokai than before, including one that has gotten itself stuck in the form of a maneki neko who sticks around . . . to protect him and the book (and to raid free food from him). As time goes on, Natsume finds himself building true connections to those around him, both human and yokai, as well as to the memories of his grandmother Reiko.

Natsume’s Book of Friends is such a delightfully different manga that it’s difficult to truly explain. It’s shoujo, even though the main character is a boy, and that combination sets the story up to be very different than it would be if it were shounen (more action-y) or if the main character were female (where it would likely be more of a romance). As it is, it’s perfect, going more into Natsume’s sense of isolation at first and into his growing connections as time goes on. He grows in his understanding of Reiko as well, seeing memories of her through the Book of Friends. It’s also really neat to see him growing in confidence and conviction as the story progresses. I guess just in general there’s a lot of character growth developed in this manga, which I really love. Plus, Natsume just has an interesting personality, kind of blunt, actually–but it works and is enjoyable to read without being too overpowering for the story. The general atmosphere of this story is gentle, tranquil, even in the places where there’s action or peril. Plus, the softness of the illustrations helps to draw out this quality in the manga even more. It makes for a pretty relaxing read. One thing I didn’t care for quite so much in the earlier volumes is that it is extremely episodic–to the point of repeating the whole entry sequence for each chapter and having the chapters not connect at all. I get that this was intentional based on how the manga was originally published, but it’s a bit annoying to read. But this reduces significantly as you get further into the story, to the point that you have multiple-chapter story arcs and such–much more engaging to read at that point. Honestly though, even that episodic nature is a minor distraction to how generally enjoyable and peaceful this story is on the whole, and I would highly recommend this series.

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Handa-kun (Manga)

Mangaka: Satsuki Yoshino

Status: Complete (7 volumes)

My rating: 4 of 5

Misunderstandings abound as Sei Handa weathers through his high school days. You see, Handa-kun (with a little help from his best friend Kawafuji) has managed to convince himself that all the other students at his school hate him–to the point that he misinterprets innocuous, or even positive, interactions in a negative light. Not that he interacts much with anyone at school, since he’s even told Kawafuji not to talk to him, for fear that the hatred will spread to him too! Not that there actually is any hatred at all. Rather, Handa is the most popular student at the school. His reputation as an up and coming calligrapher, combined with his good looks and mysterious aura, have gained him a following of admirers that grows until it extends even to other schools in the area! Not that poor Handa-kun has a clue. And of course, no one dares to actually approach to speak with him and break his misapprehensions.

Handa-kun is a delightfully amusing spinoff of the charming series Barakamon by the same creator. There are some things–like the lovely art style–that carry over from this series. But this is a 6-years-earlier spinoff, and Yoshino makes a strong distinction between the two, so don’t expect Barakamon 2.0 here. Rather, Handa-kun is a lighthearted gag manga, full of tropes, puns, and goofiness of all sorts. It’s charming, but in its own unique way. It’s a slice-of-life school story, with a more shounen style rather than the seinen feel of Barakamon. And it’s really just so completely over-the-top improbable; a lot of the humor actually comes directly from that fact. So yes, it is an interesting look into Sei Handa’s backstory, but it’s kind of fantastic too. Charming and funny, though. I would recommend Handa-kun if you’re interested in comedic school stories, whether you’ve read Barakamon or not.

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Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid: Kanna’s Daily Life (Manga)

Mangaka: Mitsuhiro Kimura

Spinoff of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid by coolkyosinnjya

Status: Ongoing (currently 3 volumes)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Kanna originally left her homeworld for the human world to follow after Tohru, her dragon senpai. Finding Tohru happily settled in with the human Kobayashi-san, working as her maid, Kanna moved in with them–the more the merrier, right? Now Kanna is living disguised as an (adorable) human elementary-school student, going to school, making friends (especially Saikawa, who has a huuuuuge crush on her), dealing with bullies, and generally experiencing human life . . . all without revealing her true identity as a dragon herself.

This adorable, fluffy manga is exactly what it sounds like: a spinoff of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, focusing on the daily activities of the little dragon girl, Kanna. While knowledge of the original manga is not required to enjoy this spinoff, it is referenced, and characters relationships and such will be easier to understand with at least a bit of prior knowledge of the original story. But this story really does hone in on Kanna specifically. There are a lot of chapters about her friendship with Saikawa (and yes, those have an innocent but distinctly present shoujo-ai flair, much like the interactions between Tomoyo and Sakura in Cardcaptor Sakura), which are really cute and sweet. There are also several family-centric chapters, with Tohru, Kobayashi, and Kanna just enjoying life together. And for those who love the extended cast, yes there are chapters including Fafnir, Ilulu, Shouta, and the lot. The actual stories are very cute slice-of-life episodes, each one focusing on a specific topic, much like in the original manga. An interesting distinction here, however, is that each chapter is divided into single-page 4-koma comics; a nice change-up, especially if you enjoy the 4-koma style (I do, personally). As for the art, it’s similar enough to coolkyosinnjya’s in the character designs and such that it’s hard to tell a difference, although the art here may be just a smidge neater–again, it’s all really cutesy. Recommended for fans of the original manga (although do be aware that it’s by a different author) and for those who just enjoy cute, slice-of-life manga.

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Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (Manga)

Mangaka: coolkyosinnjya

Status: Ongoing (currently 6 volumes)

My rating: 3 of 5

Warning: Although this is technically rated T (actually, I think the first volume may even be rated A) there’s definitely some ecchiness and partial nudity, so . . . fair warning

Kobayashi-san lived a fairly quiet, normal life as an average office worker and closet otaku. . . . That is, until one night in a moment of drunken unthinking, she invited a dragon to live with her. That’s right, a dragon–wings, scales, the works. The next morning, she finds a cute girl wearing a maid outfit and sporting horns and a tail staying in her home. Weird, but hey, Tohru certainly keeps life interesting, and her undying devotion and eagerness to help is kind of appealing. With Tohru’s presence, Kobayashi’s normal life has disappeared, but can she really find it in herself to truly regret it?

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is one of those cute, episodic seinen stories that just sort of meanders through life in its own charming way. Honestly, there are elements of it that kind of remind me of Yotsuba&!, even down to the way a lot of the chapters follow the formulaic “Tohru and this or that ordinary thing that she’s just now interacting with.” Because Tohru isn’t accustomed to the human world, you get some unique, quirky perspectives on things that seem everyday to us. There’s a lot of relationship building and re-evaluation going on throughout this story as well, so it’s kind of more of a dramedy of sorts, because the humorous element is definitely present throughout. I guess there are elements that could almost be shoujo-ai flavored, but it’s in a way that could be totally platonic as well, so take your pick there. Again, fair warning that there are parts that are a bit more ecchi; that just seems to be the mangaka’s default, although it’s not quite as much here as in, say, Mononoke Sharing. The art itself is cute and fits the story, again in a way that seems pretty typical of the mangaka’s usual slightly sloppy/loose sort of style. Recommended for those who like cute seinen slice-of-life stories but who are open to a bit more of a fantasy flair.

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Danny Phantom (2004-2007 Cartoon)

Billionfold Studios with Nickelodeon

Status: Complete (3 Seasons/53 Episodes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Fourteen-year-old Danny Fenton’s life gets a lot more interesting when an accident in his ghost-hunting parents’ lab transforms him into a half-ghost, a halfa as the other ghosts in Amity Park soon begin calling him. The change definitely comes with some cool powers–invisibility, intangibility, and the ability to sense when other ghosts are around, to name a few. But life isn’t all cool abilities and fun; Danny’s parents have built a portal into the Ghost Zone, the place where ghosts normally stay, and now the ghosts are spilling out and causing havoc all over town. And since his folks are well meaning but not exactly the most competent hunters ever, Danny finds himself in the position of being one of the only people who can do anything about Amity Park’s ghost problem. And with the help of his two best friends, techno-geek Tucker and goth-girl Sam, he sets out to do just that . . . which would be way easier if he didn’t have to also keep up with school, dodge bullies, and keep his ghost half a secret from his parents!

Danny Phantom is one of those cartoons that I kind of wish I had discovered as a kid because I’m pretty sure I would have loved it. As it is, watching this as an adult is still pretty cool. The show has a strong Nickelodeon vibe, which is something that I unfortunately can’t solidly define; it’s just something that you know when you see it. But seriously, while falling solidly into the cartoon category, Danny Phantom manages to be engaging and fun in a way that most cartoons just miss. The comic-inspired superhero storyline is a winner to start with–complete with “pow” splash panels in some of the action scenes, which I love. The concept itself is pretty interesting, and Danny makes a good protagonist; he’s powerful and responsible for the most part, but also learns and grows as he goes and has his fair share of failings. He’s remarkably human, despite the whole half-ghost thing. He has some fabulous friends as well; Tucker and Sam absolutely make the show, Sam and her badass good sense in particular. Fair warning for parents that this show does include a certain amount of disrespect for authority and authority figures being incompetent; it’s one of the few negative comments I have about the show, honestly. Still, for all their bumbling, the Fentons do have their moments, and they kind of grew on me over the course of the story. As for the story itself, it’s fairly episodic with each episode focusing on a particular conflict–many of them with Danny fighting ghosts, but some with school, friends, and other normal teenage life issues with ghosts being a background issue. I enjoyed the recurring cast of antagonists, especially the way many of them become almost frenemies–a force to be opposed, but with plenty of punning and a certain casualness to the whole endeavor. But despite its episodic nature, there’s a broader progressive storyline that develops over the course of the show, which I looooove. Visually, again, the cartoon is pretty Nickelodeon with a distinct angular sort of style. I really like the color scheme–lots of strong greens and purples. It’s one of those strange styles that just works and fits the story remarkably well. Also, the music is fabulous and fits the story amazingly! So yeah, I would recommend Danny Phantom for older kids and teenagers as well as a fun treat for adults.

Created by Butch Hartman/Developed by Steve Marmel/Music by Guy Moon/Starring David Kaufman, Grey DeLisle, Rickey D’Shon Collins, Colleen Villard, Rob Paulsen, Kath Soucie, & Martin Mull

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Giant Days, vol. 3 (Graphic Novel)

Author: John Allison/Illustrators: Lissa Treiman & Max Sarin/Colorist: Whitney Cogar/Lettering: Jim Campbell

My rating: 4.5 of 5

School politics and a mysterious individual who won’t show his (her?) face manipulating the players behind the scenes. Relationship drama on multiple fronts. Camping trips! Old friends stopping in to visit. The wonky world Susan’s brain enters after too many days with nearly no sleep. Find all that and more in the third volume of Giant Days!

As with the first two volumes, volume 3 of Giant Days delivers quite the charming, quirky slice-of-life drama as it looks into the daily lives of Susan, Daisy, Esther and their friends Ed and McGraw. It consistently follows the first two volumes in the delightfully odd look at college life, the relatable and fabulous characters, and the wonderful art that so characterize the series as a whole. I enjoyed especially that the first chapter is an Ed-centric one, giving us a closer look into his life, as well as McGraw’s. Also, although it was totally random, I loved the “Night World” visuals when Susan, and later Esther, get to that point where reality warps due to lack of sleep–the trippiness of the art there is really fantastic. And, while much of the story in this volume is pretty episodic, with the characters kind of scattered at points, the last chapter where the three girls go on a camping trip together loops us back to the beginning, to that wonderful connection and relationship that these three have. This volume managed to be relatable, full of feels, and also laugh-inducingly funny, sometimes within the same page. Recommended. (Warnings for a major cliffie at the end, though!)

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The Ogre Downstairs

Author: Diana Wynne Jonesthe ogre downstairs

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Johnny, Caspar, and Gwinny are pretty much convinced that their new step-father is the worst thing that could have happened to him; he’s grumpy, demands quiet all the time, doesn’t understand children at all, and gets angry at the slightest things. The three siblings actually call him “the Ogre” when he’s not around to hear. The Ogre’s two sons, Douglas and Malcolm are fairly high on their “worst things” list as well–stuck up prigs that they are. But there’s nothing like a good distraction to keep your mind off your troubles, and the Ogre inadvertently provides the best distraction possible: two chemistry sets (one each for Johnny and Malcolm) that have some most unusual effects. Giving the ability to fly, just for instance. . . . Soon all five children are way out of their depth, experimenting with all sorts of combinations to see what magical effects they can achieve–and trying to clean up the unexpected results!

With her classic good sense and amazing writing, Diana Wynne Jones produces another magical (in all the best senses of the word) tale in The Ogre Downstairs. Although this is an older story (copyright 1974), it’s full of the excellent characterizations, beautifully accessible writing, incredible observation of people, and neverending sense of wonder and adventure that mark, well, all of her works that I’ve ever read. I found it intriguing that, in this story, rather than the usual buildup to a huge finish toward the end, the pacing is more gradual with more seeming to happen right from the start. It actually reminds me of an Edith Nesbit story somewhat, what with the magic chemistry set providing the catalyst for all sorts of rather episodic adventures. Everything ties together beautifully though, which is something I’ve always admired about Jones’ writing. And the characters are wonderful–the kids avoid being stereotypes and are people you can relate to easily, yet each of the five has an individual personality that is kept quite distinct. Very artistically done. My sole complaint, and the one reason this isn’t a 5-star read in my opinion, is that some of the Ogre’s actions were construed, in my mind at least, as being outright abusive–as opposed to a bit ornery and unaccustomed to children but generally well meaning, which I think was the intent. Part of that is the children’s perspective, part is that this is a 70’s story and things were seen differently then, and part is that I work with kids and am trained to be unnaturally sensitive to that sort of thing; however, even with those explanations, the situation was enough to bother me, especially with the ending being what it was. Still, on the whole, even considering that issue, I found The Ogre Downstairs to be a very enjoyable children’s fantasy that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys Jones’ books (or Edith Nesbit’s or Edward Eager’s, for that matter).

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