Tag Archives: Japan

The Invisible Museum (Manga)

Mangaka: Kore Yamazaki

Status: Complete (Oneshot)

My rating: 4 of 5

She’s the daughter who was left, unwanted, with her drunken mother after the divorce while her father took her brother with him. Sometimes she just wants to escape, to disappear. One day, she finds herself in front of a building she’s never seen before, and curious, she enters to find herself in what appears to be a museum, complete with display cases . . . only the cases are completely empty.

The Invisible Museum is a thought-provoking oneshot by the author of the popular The Ancient Magus’ Bride. It’s a strange tale, almost reminiscent in a way to CLAMP’s xxxHOLiC with its strange building that’s not visible to everyone, its enigmatic proprietor, and its strange, mystical creatures. I like it. It deals with a challenging emotional situation in a way that raises good questions without claiming to have all the answers. (Fair warning that it sort-of deals with the topic of suicide/suicidal ideations, but in a generalized, non-graphic sort of way.) I love the back and forth between the girl and the proprietor–even in this short oneshot, their personalities shine through. I could totally see this story being developed into an actual series, and I would be thrilled if it ever came to pass. The art is classic Kore Yamazaki, but in a sense only parts of it (like the butterfly) seem like it at first glance–because it’s really strange to see Yamazaki’s work set in contemporary Japan as opposed to somewhere in Europe, in a highly fantasy-like setting. I really enjoyed The Invisible Museum and would recommend to anyone who likes a solid, slightly fantastic manga.

Note: I read this as an omake in the first volume of Frau Faust. I’m not sure if it’s available anywhere else or not.

 

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Captive Hearts (manga)

Mangaka: Matsuri Hino/Translator: Andria Cheng

Status: Complete (5 volumes)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Megumi Kuroishi has been living the unconcerned life of a rich boy in the mansion bequeathed to his father when the masters of the house, the Kogami family, disappeared somewhere in China when Megumi was just a little boy. But his life is turned upside down when it is discovered that the young heiress Suzuki, the Kogamis’ daughter, survived and has been found–and is returning to the house in Japan. Because there’s something Megumi’s father has neglected to mention to him . . . the entire Kuroishi family has been cursed ages ago by the Dragon God to always serve the Kogami family. Let’s just say that he finds out most awkwardly, finding himself strangely drawn to Suzuka and going into weird, protective “manservant fits” if he looks into her eyes too long. Awkward for everyone concerned, especially since Suzuka is not the “young mistress” sort, having lived as a commoner in China for most of her life. As the two spend more time together, however, they are drawn to ask–is there something more than an ancient curse going on between the two of them? Because it sure seems like they’re falling in love.

Here in Captive Hearts we have the very first serialized manga by the author of the esteemed Vampire Knight. And yeah, it’s pretty obvious that this is a first manga. It’s relatively unplanned feeling, and the art goes through some pretty massive changes (improvements) over the course of the series. Having said that, it’s also pretty obviously the work of Hino-sensei, and if you like her work, there really is a lot to appreciate here. The art, while still developing, is still her distinctive style, and by the end of the series, it’s actually quite pretty. She does a great job of playing with themes in the chapter covers and manages to craft a style for the panels themselves that fits the shoujo yet goofy style of the story. And that’s where this story is so unique and likely to produce either a love or a hate reaction in its readers. Because it’s distinctly a shoujo romance story–fate, forbidden love, master/servant relationship, unlikely heroine, the whole gamut. But at the same time, even the mangaka acknowledges that it’s a silly story. It was really intended as a one-shot to begin with, so the whole premise is pretty absurd. And while you do get some solid character and plot development (including some nice flashbacks to the whole Dragon God story), the unlikeliness and silliness do continue firmly throughout the story. But it’s a comedic romance, so it kind of works. I enjoy the story, in any case. I would mostly recommend Captive Hearts to those who enjoy comedy/romance shoujo stories or Hino-sensei’s works in particular. (Although again, in some ways this is pretty different from Vampire Knight. More similar to Meru Puri, although even that has a lot more maturity to the writing.)

Note: It’s notable that the Shojo Beat physical copies of this manga also include several interesting one-shots of Hino’s, mostly, again, cute romance stories.

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The Betrayal Knows My Name (manga)

Mangaka: Hotaru Odagiri/Translator: Melissa Tanaka

Status: Ongoing (7 volumes, although the first 5 are 2-volume omnibus editions, so really more like 12 volumes)

My rating: 5 of 5

Growing up in an orphanage, believing his parents didn’t want him, Yuki struggles to find meaning in his existence. Yet even in the midst of his pain, he brings kindness and healing to those around him, perhaps even more so as he begins to develop the ability to see a person’s emotions and past when he comes into physical contact with them . . . although not everyone takes his kind intentions well. But as Yuki’s strange ability grows stronger and other odd things being to happen around him, he encounters a beautiful, silver-eyed man calling himself Zess who seems oddly familiar. Then another beautiful man comes to the orphanage claiming to be Yuki’s long-lost older brother. Not only that, but Yuki actually has a large extended family, all of whom are delighted to meet him, and Zess is somehow connected to them all as well. But all is not well for this family as they find themselves trapped in a centuries long war against dark and evil forces, being endlessly reincarnated to fight over and over again. And Yuki himself is a pivotal figure in this was, the reincarnation of their princess, bringing healing and hope to them all . . . if only he could figure out why he doesn’t remember anything about his previous lives. All he wants to do is bring an end to this war and to the hurt felt by these people he has quickly come to love.

Love this manga soooo much! If you can imagine a mashup of Fruits Basket and Black Butler, you probably have a pretty good idea of what The Betrayal Knows My Name is like. You’ve got the gorgeous art (and people), demon contracts, and mystery/fight aspects that you find in Kuroshitsuji. Then you’ve got the super air-headed and kind MC, the oversized cast, the reincarnation aspect, and the dark family history themes that you find in Furuba. Not necessarily an expected combination, but it works. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and mysterious–but there’s a nice mix of cutesy slice-of-life segments filled with sweetness and humor as well. The cast is huuuuge, so it is admittedly hard to keep track of everyone at first, but as you get to know the characters, they become not only unmistakable but beloved. It’s rare for me to find a story in which I love so many of the characters so very much, which is one of the primary reasons that I give this a full five-star rating. As for the plot, there’s currently a lot of mystery and unknowns that could go in a lot of directions, so I’m curious to see whether it ends up some huge shounen-style fight or a hug-it-out shoujo conclusion or something else altogether. (I’m hankering for a very sappily sweet shoujo ending myself, but I’ll be thrilled just to see this story finished, whatever the conclusion. It’s been on hiatus for 4 years, and I had given up hope that it would every be continued. Soooo . . . happy dance that the mangaka has picked this series up again!) Fair warning that the mangaka is fairly well known for writing yaoi stories, but also firm clarification that this particular manga is not yaoi at all–it sits on the verge between shoujo and josei with aspects of shounen and a mild shounen ai flavor, but it never goes beyond that. So honestly, The Betrayal Knows My Name is generally appropriate–and highly recommended–for any T+ audience. Love it and looking forward to reading the rest!

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My Neighbor Totoro (1988 Movie)

Studio Ghibli

My rating: 5 of 5

Satsuki, her father,  and her little sister Mei move to an old, slightly decrepit house in the country to be closer to the hospital where their mother is being treated. It’s a big change, but it’s also an adventure, and both girls are delighted, especially when they find the house is inhabited by soot sprites–tiny spirits that the adults can’t even see. Even better, Mei encounters a large, friendly spirit calling himself “Totoro” during her explorations while Satsuki is at school. (Satsuki’s a tiny bit jealous about that.) But one rainy evening when the girls go out to meet their father’s bus, Satsuki gets to meet Totoro as well! It seems that not only are their new neighbors glad to welcome the family to the area; the forest spirits are as well. Good thing, too, because it will take everyone’s help when Mei goes missing.

My Neighbor Totoro is one of those movies that never gets old and that has something for everyone. My two-year-old niece adores it, and my dad does too. It’s a wonderful story for many diverse reasons. Just as a start, the animation and the music are wonderful. Joe Hisaishi has some of the most interesting and beautiful film scores out there, and the score for this movie is no exception. And yes, the art isn’t always as detailed in some scenes as the modern CG stuff that’s created today, but the form, the details that the artists choose to capture, and the overall flavor of the place and time that is evoked is absolutely stunning. The characterizations of the children–everything from the art to the scripts to all the tiny details–is incredibly captivating and believable. Satsuki is the quintessential big sister trying to hold it all together and mother her little sister while still being just a kid and worried about her mom’s health herself. And Mei is so full of whimsy and imagination and childish impulses and mannerisms. I love the way in which the culture and community of a rice-farming community in late 1950’s Japan is presented, too, with all sorts of details. And the way in which the wonders of the spirits and traditional beliefs and fantasy are all woven in is just lovely and charming. In short, My Neighbor Totoro is a sweet, lovely animated movie that I would highly recommend to basically anyone of any age.

Note: I watched the 2005 English dub for this movie. It’s excellent.

Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki/Produced by Toru Hara/Music by Joe Hisaishi/Starring Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Lea Salonga, & Frank Welker

 

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Heart of the Dragon

Author: Keith R. A. DeCandidoheart-of-the-dragon

Supernatural books, vol. 4

My rating: 4 of 5

SPOILER ALERT: The events in this book take place after season 5, episode 8, so there are likely to be spoilers for any episodes prior to that. Plus, knowledge of events leading up to that point will be very helpful in knowing what’s going on in this book.

In 1859, an honorable ronin, known as “Heart of the Dragon” for his brave feats, is defeated by a far-sighted demon and turned into a vengeful spirit, one that may one day be of great use to the forces of darkness during the apocalypse. Years later, a young descendant of this ronin discovers how to bring this spirit back and bend its will to his own petty vengeances. The rash of mysterious (and obviously supernatural) deaths that follow become a plague to three generations of Campbells and Winchesters as the spirit returns once every 20 years.

My experience with media tie-in novels has been extremely patchy, with some being little better than poorly-researched fanfiction (minus the fandom) and others actually being great stories in their own right. I thing Heart of the Dragon is a surprisingly good story . . . if you love the TV series and know what’s going on. And I do have to say, watching the show up to season 5, episode 8, is basically essential to really get much out of this book. But within that context, I was actually really impressed and enjoyed this book quite a lot. I felt like DeCandido got a much better feel for who the characters are than he did in his previous novel Nevermore (which didn’t really impress me). The characters don’t just have a few phrases or stereotypical elements that typify them; they act and talk more like I expect Sam and Dean and the rest to act and talk on-screen. Plus, I thought the plot was interesting. I’ve heard people complaining that there’s just too much going on or that only a small portion of the story actually focused on Sam and Dean. True on both counts, but I enjoyed having a story that spanned from Mary and her parents to John and Bobby to Sam, Dean, and Castiel. Plus, the author did a great job of bringing in authentic period detail in relatively subtle ways to help keep the time jumps distinct. My biggest complaints are probably just me being snobby, honestly; for instance, the author uses “Cass” instead of “Cas” for Castiel’s nickname–he claim’s it’s what’s officially in the scripts, but I’ve never seen that actually used anywhere. Why would you even? But truly, I really enjoyed Heart of the Dragon for both its great characterizations and its interesting plot . . . but mostly for the characters.

 

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Popular Hits of the Showa Era

Author: Ryū Murakami/Translator: Ralph McCarthypopular-hits-of-the-showa-era

My rating: 3.5 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE (21+)

A random act of violence ignites a war between two previously laconic and loosely organized groups of individuals.  On the one hand, a group of young men who gather together for no particular reason and whose highest aspirations are to peep on the neighbor through the window and sing karaoke on the beach. On the other, a collection  of somewhat older women–“aunties” if you will–united by nothing more than a common personal name. But as hatred of the other group sparks, both the young men and the aunties suddenly find themselves united against each other, motivated and inspired in ways they’ve never known before. And the heat of that fervor drives them to find more and more creative ways to rain destruction on the opposing party.

I initially found Popular Hits of the Showa Era through a review by Arria Cross@Fujinsei–which you should go read right away, because it’s excellent and informative and also fun. One of the things Arria mentions about this book is the dark humor of it, and I can totally see that it is written to appeal to a dark sense of humor. Personally, I didn’t find it funny (sorry), but I can very much appreciate that there are people to whom this book would be absolutely hilarious in a disturbing sort of way. But even though I didn’t find it humorous myself, I still found this book enjoyable in other senses. For one, it’s an intriguing commentary and satire on contemporary Japanese society, and just the flavor of the culture is interesting. Even more so, I found the psychological exploration of the book to be fascinating–the way in which the characters were just drifting through life and also the way in which this conflict affected them, making them feel alive and purposeful. I kind of think the author’s telling us something dangerous and terrifying but also important about humanity here. And I have to warn, this is NOT a book for everyone, and I would advise to approach it with caution. Because it is very, very violent. Bloody and gory and explicit and violent. There’s purpose for that in the story; it isn’t violent just for the sake of being violent. But it’s still there, very much in your face for the entirety of the story. Finally, I did want to comment on the title: Popular Hits of the Showa Era. Each chapter title  is the name of a song that was popular during the Showa Era, and that song flavors and flows throughout the chapter in one way or another–not that it has a huge effect on the story itself, but it’s a nice touch.

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Ouroboros (2015 TV Series)

TBSouroboros

Status: Completed, 10 episodes

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Growing up together in the orphanage of Mahoroba, Danno Tatsuya and Ryuzaki Ikuo found love, inspiration, and strength in their caregiver, Yuiko-sensei. . . . That is, until one night when she is murdered and the case is covered up by a police man wearing a gold watch. Young Tatsuya and Ikuo vow to find Yuiko’s murder and exact their own justice. Twenty years later, Tatsuya is a leader in the yakuza and Ikuo is rising through the ranks of the police, working together to ferret out any clues as to Yuiko’s killer. But will they be able to handle the truths they find?

Ouroboros is probably the best J-drama I’ve seen to date. Of course, part of that is the fact that it stars both Shun Oguri and Toma Ikuta, two of my favorite actors. They have a really great dynamic when they work together, and their part in this show was definitely a huge plus for me. But I think that even for those unfamiliar with these two, the show has a lot to offer. It’s a cops and yakuza story, with lots of interconnecting plots, tragic backstory, and a nice balance of drama and action. There are some nicely choreographed fight scenes, even. And an adorable but tragic love story (more than one, depending on how you look at it). Of course, being a J-drama, there’s a certain amount of just plain goofiness, especially at the beginning (then again, can you put Toma in a show without some goofiness?). But again, it balances out, and by the end of the show, it’s just plain heartbreaking. This is a tear-jerker, to be sure, but I think the writers did a great job of making the story fall the way it needs to, not the way you necessarily want it to. . . . It feels like hitsuzen when you get down to it, I guess. Also just have to mention that the character development is remarkably well done–especially for this sort of show–and even the relatively minor characters are interesting. And one last point of note: the casting for the childhood versions of Tatsuya and Ikuo are fabulous. So often, kids seem just picked at random, but the kids chosen for the roles here are perfect, both in appearance and in how they act. Ouroboros is high on my list of recommendations, both for those who enjoy J-dramas and for those who like detective stories in general.

Note: At this point, I don’t know of an official English version of this show, but there are some quite decent fan-subs available.

Based on the manga by Kanzaki Yuya/Directed by Yasuharu Ishii/Music by Kimura Hideakira/Starring Toma Ikuta, Shun Oguri, & Juri Ueno

 

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