So, I know artist spotlights aren’t something I usually post, but . . . this past weekend while I was (having a blast) at Ichibancon, I got to meet an intriguing original artist. Going by P-shinobi under the label Boomslank, this artist has a fascinating, beautiful style that pulls strongly from anime-style influences. His work is a neat blend of conceptual stuff, odd perspectives, and surrealism that, while clearly influenced by greats like Hayao Miyazaki, is also refreshingly original. The content is everything from mecha to slice-of-life to some really amazing surreal stuff like fish in the sky (which looks waaay cooler than it sounds). Plus, I love the color schemes used in these prints, especially the use of lots of neutral colors combined with splashes of brighter ones for contrast and accent. So yeah, if you like anime-style art and are interested in some more original stuff, you should check out Boomslank’s offerings.
Author/Illustrator: Doug TenNapel
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Living with a disease that numerous doctors have deemed “incurable,” Garth Hale is pretty sure he doesn’t have much longer in the land of the living. But he makes his entrance into the Afterlife sooner than expected when ghost hunter Frank Gallows accidentally sends him to Ghostopolis along with the stray Nightmare he was intending to catch. In Ghostopolis, Garth befriends said Nightmare as well as his own grandfather (!) Cecil–which is good because he also finds himself hunted down by the corrupt ruler of the land, Vaugner. Meanwhile, Frank teams up with his ghostly ex-girlfriend to make their own way to Ghostopolis and rescue Garth before it’s too late. Whatever that means.
I found Ghostopolis to be pretty much exactly what it claims to be–an adventurous, slightly eerie graphic novel intended for readers around middle-school. I think for that audience, it’s perfect, and although I had minor issues with it, I also found it enjoyable. For one thing, the art is distinctive and has a nice visual impact (and I think it’s pretty cool that is was done entirely in Manga Studio). I especially enjoyed the eerie color scheme and the unusual white-on-black silhouette scenes. The characters themselves were actually pretty well developed for a single-volume graphic novel–Garth himself being both classic pre-teen but also sufficiently individual for the story to be interesting. The main ideas of the plot were original and interesting, and the side-plots of Frank’s romance and Garth’s family problems were woven in nicely. The problems I have with the story: The mecha part at the end is weird (clearly this is where the graphic novel harks back to older comic books, but I don’t get the same feel here as in the earlier parts of the story). The weirdness with the space-time continuum at the end is weird (important to tie up story ends, but still weird). And the messianic dude Joe–I appreciate what he’s doing, but still. Weird. Overall though, at least for middle-school readers, I would say Ghostopolis is an above-average graphic novel, certainly worth checking out.
Author: Reki Kawahara
Accel World, vol. 2
Haruyuki has been a part of the accelerated world for several months now, serving under the legendary Black Lotus, Kuroyukihime. Initially, he improved rapidly, besting enemies with his avatar’s flying skills, but now he’s reached a plateau and can’t seem to win. . . . It’s pretty discouraging, especially when you really can’t regard the accelerated world as just a game. It’s kind of affecting Haruyuki’s mindset in the real too, even though otherwise his life is looking up–he’s friends (maybe more?) with Kuroyukihime, and the problems between him and his childhood friends Takumu and Chiyuri are pretty much resolved. Little could he know that his problems are just beginning when an adorable younger girl claiming to be his cousin crashes at his place for the night. . . . Is it possible that her presence is just a bit too suspicious?
As much as I enjoyed the first volume of Accel World, I think I liked The Red Storm Princess even better. I felt that it addressed and resolved some of the issues I had with Kuroyukihime’s Return. Notably, it seems more focused in real life. Sure, there are still huge sections that occur in the accelerated world–some very impressive and enjoyable fights, for instance. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the characters, Haruyuki and Kuroyukihime in particular, seem more content in the real world–not so much like they’re trying to bury themselves away in the video game. The introduction of Niko in this volume was fun; she’s an intriguing character, full of surprises. And of course, as mentioned before, there are some large-scale fights of the mind-blowing sort set in the video game–very intense. I also think the writing style has matured a bit from that of the first volume of this series; it’s always neat to see an author’s growth. I think The Red Storm Princess is an exciting and fun story, and I would definitely recommend it (just read Kuroyukihime’s Return first, or the whole Brain Burst thing won’t make much sense as not much time is spent in explanations in the second volume).
Author: Reki Kawahara
Accel World, vol. 1
Haruyuki has, like basically all kids his age, spent nearly his entire life connected–to the global net, the school net, etc. He spends a good bit of time in full virtual reality dive too; being a skillful VR gamer is certainly an improvement over being a fat, unpopular kid who’s bullied at school then goes home to an empty house. One day–to the shock of the entire school, especially Haruyuki–Kuroyukihime, one of the most beautiful and popular girls in school, asks Haruyuki to share a direct link with her during lunch period. Which is basically tantamount to saying they’re dating. Not that they’ve actually even spoken before. Actually, Kuroyukihime has noticed Haruyuki’s extreme speed in VR games and introduces him to a special program called “Brain Burst”–a program that overclocks the brain and allows the user to think so fast that just a few seconds stretches into a half-hour reprieve. Also, it allows users to duel in highly-realistic game settings. This seems right up Haruyuki’s alley, but what does Kuroyukihime really want from him?
I was thrilled to find another light novel by the author of Sword Art Online, and I must say Kuroyukihime’s Return delivered, although in a slightly different flavor. I’m pretty sure Accel World: Kuroyukihime’s Return is Kawahara’s first light novel, but it’s remarkably developed and easy to read for all that. I think he does a great job depicting lonely middle-school kids who just want to be known and accepted as themselves. Haruyuki and Kuroyukihime are great foils for each other in that regard; they’re absolutely opposite ends of the social spectrum, yet each is lonely and misunderstood. Together, they find a certain resolution, unusual as it is. I found it interesting that these two are so wrapped up in “Brain Burst,” to the point that they sometimes act and think as though it were a matter of life and death. A part of me thinks “this is addictive, almost drug-like. Scary.” But then, for kids who feel trapped by life, an escape where you can give it your all and feel like you’re accomplishing something really might be worth more than a lot of “real life” stuff–especially if it’s an escape that you share with someone special to you. I think the blend of drama/romance with sci-fi/tournament/pseudo-mecha/gaming ideas is nicely done, but I do think the story is most accessible to those with some exposure to networking and gaming already. Kuroyukihime’s Return was definitely an enjoyable and refreshing read that I would recommend; I’m looking forward to a second volume!