Tag Archives: Japanese

Oh! My Useless Goddess! (Light Novel)

Author: Natsume Akatsuki/Translator: Kevin Steinbach

Illustrator: Kurone Mishima

Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

When Kazuma Sato’s sad, shut-in life in modern-day Japan ends abruptly–the one time he actually goes out!–he finds himself presented with a most unusual offer. Proceed to the afterlife or life out the rest of his life in a fantasy-like world with the intention of defeating the Demon King who is plaguing the people of that world. Bonus: he gets to request any one special item to bring along. But rather than choosing a normal item, Kazuma picks Aqua, the goddess who is offering him this choice–surely a goddess has some pretty handy stuff when dealing with monsters and such, right? But rather than the glamorous life of fighting monsters with beautiful girls at his side, Kazuma finds himself working odd jobs in the lowest level starter town, fighting animated cabbages, and looking after three relatively useless (although admittedly pretty) girls. Not exactly what he had in mind.

Oh! My Useless Goddess! was an amusing and funny light novel that I quite enjoyed. It falls into the somewhat ecchi shounen genre, but it kind of parodies a lot of the stuff you typically see in that genre. Instead of a protagonist with a lot of drive who keeps getting better, you get a protagonist who’s lazy and average (but manages to be an engaging character in spite of that, surprisingly, perhaps because he’s relatable). Instead of big, glamorous fights, you get slimy frogs, cabbages . . . and the occasional flashy “Explosion” from Megumin. Instead of your typical shounen “harem,” you get a quirky, weird set of girls who are basically hopeless despite having the best possible qualifications and being from impressive classes–okay, maybe that’s not too different from the typical stories in this genre, but still. Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness do have distinctive (read almost stereotypical) traits, but they manage to be interesting characters in spite of that. The plot is funny, largely due to the character interactions and the impossibility of Kazuma’s task in this new world. Plus it was interesting that, while the basic plot device of having a modern-day teen dumped in a fantasy/video game world, this story used a novel method for getting him there. A couple of things I found interesting on a side note: 1) The author mentions that this originally started as a webnovel, which I thought was pretty neat. It’s cool to see web-based stories get picked up by publishers and turned into physical novels. 2) The chapters in this light novel are weird. Meaning that there are only 4 official chapter divisions in the entire book; however, each chapter is divided multiple times into smaller chapter segments. So it works out as though there were several chapters, it just doesn’t look like it at the start. Weird. Well, this light novel is weird in general, but in a fun sort of way. Recommended for those who enjoy the genre in general, mostly.

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Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale (Video Game)

By EasyGameStation & Carpe Fulgur

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Ditzy and warm-hearted Recette finds herself left with her father’s enormous debt and no way to pay it off. But in the interests of protecting their investment, the creditors contract the straitlaced fairy Tear to help Recette pull her act together and open an items shop in order to pay off her debts. A shop with Recette immediately names “Recettear,” a combination of their names, with a huge grin on her face. Excited to face this new adventure, Recette begins the process of acquiring items, building relationships with customers, and honing her haggling skills. Poor Tear’s got an uphill battle to make this thing work!

If I had to boil Recettear down to one word, “cute” would definitely be it. The anime-like art style, the character designs, the music, it’s all basically adorable. The premise draws on the concept from your typical RPG of the ubiquitous items shop. But while in most games, these shops are pretty generic, this story takes it from the shop owners’ perspective, selling to adventurers and townsfolk alike. It definitely plays like an RPG, but the majority of the focus is on resource management in the shop. Not that you can’t go dungeon crawling if you want to–and sometimes the variety is nice. While the whole buying and selling thing can be a bit repetitive, you are faced with time-management challenges and an increasingly complex market as time goes by. Plus, there are some fun character interactions mixed in, especially between Recette and Tear. I think the adorable relationship between these two–and the stark contrast in their personalities–is what truly makes this game. It’s certainly what I enjoyed the most. As for sound, the music is simple but cute. There is some minimal character voicing, mostly just set phrases, which is all in Japanese but is quite well done; the timing and quality of the actors really does add to the overall flavor of the game, although none of the actual words will make sense unless you have at least a basic understanding of Japanese. All the written text has been translated to English, though, so it’s completely playable–also, the translation is actually quite good. So yeah, it you’re looking for cute RPG that’s a bit different from the norm, I think Recettear is a fun option to try.

Note: You can find Recettear on Steam at http://store.steampowered.com/app/70400/Recettear_An_Item_Shops_Tale/.

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The House of Small Cubes (2008 Anime Short)

Robot Communications

My rating: 5 of 5

An elderly man lives alone in a single room above an ever-rising sea, smoking his pipe and reflecting quietly. One day, he accidentally drops his pipe through a hatch in the floor, prompting an unusual purchase–a diving suit! And once the man has begun his descent through the flooded levels of his home, he finds himself remembering, reliving his life in reverse from times with his grandchildren to his daughter’s growing up to early memories of his wife. It’s no wonder he chooses to stay in a place so rich with memory, even if he must fight the floodwaters to do so.

Wow, speaking of floodwaters . . . I cried buckets in the short time it took to watch this anime short film. I cried at least as much on the second viewing, possibly more. It’s just that sort of story. The sepia-toned, granulated illustration style carries an immediately nostalgic feel. And the music is just perfect–beautiful and enchanting, reflective without being depressing. I loved that the entire short was completely without dialogue; no translation needed for the universal impact of the story. I also loved the way the story challenged my perceptions–I started out feeling sorry for a lonely old man and ended up nostalgically happy knowing that he had a good life, people who loved him however crotchety he may have been. Incidentally, I also liked the way the illustrations reminded me of Shaun Tan’s illustrations; it’s quite a nice and unusual style. Seriously, The House of Small Cubes is less that 15 minutes long, so there’s no reason to not at least give it a try. Highly recommended.

Written by Kenya Hirata/Directed by Kunio Katō/Produced by Masanori Kusakabe & Yuko Hata/Music by Kenji Kondo

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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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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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Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon (manga)

Mangaka: Naoko Takeuchisailor-moon

Translator: William Flanagan

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Usagi Tsukino is an average middle-school girl–cute, cheerful, and prone to oversleeping. She’s also the reincarnation of an ancient Moon Princess–a Sailor Guardian wielding the power of the Legendary Silver Crystal to protect the world she loves. As she awakens to her powers, Usagi discovers other Sailor Guardians, friends from her past life who join her in the battles she faces. And they will definitely face numerous enemies in battle as those drawn to the power of the Legendary Silver Crystal for their own greedy reasons seek to take it from her.

First off, I must recognize that Sailor Moon has a certain appeal that uniquely comes from growing up with it; I have any number of friends who absolutely adore the story–all of whom first watched it on TV back in middle school. So I have to preface my review by saying that I only just read this manga recently, so I’m coming at the story from a different perspective, acknowledging that there are aspects of it that I’m just not going to appreciate in the same way. Please don’t be offended if you are one of those people who love this manga dearly. I can certainly acknowledge that is a classic–one that anyone who enjoys manga should read at least once–and that it has been highly influential not only on readers but on other mangaka over the years. I found Sailor Moon to be quite a unique story. The genre blend is something I’ve never seen before, at least not in this particular mix. While being essentially a shoujo story (with a strong mahou shojou flair, complete with the instantaneous costume changes and frou frou styles), there is a strong shounen vibe to the story as well. I found this particularly notable in the battles, both with the named attacks in the midst of the battles and with the sequence of each defeated enemy being followed by a stronger enemy. Personally, I found the enemies and their motives to be a bit bland and unoriginal. Although the character designs and the specifics changed, they were all essentially interchangeable otherwise, at least for the most part. On the other hand, the characters of the Sailor Guardians were charming, distinct, and interesting. I think the reason I enjoyed the series as much as I did was that I enjoyed the characters. As for the plot . . . the overarching plot of reincarnation, destined love, everlasting friendship, and all that goes into that was actually quite good. I enjoyed the time-travel plot elements that were thrown in as well. But the repeated fights just weren’t that enjoyable for me. Still, I think Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon is a solid classic manga that is well worth reading at least once, both for the characters and story themselves and to understand the innumerable references to it that pop up elsewhere.

 

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