141 of 141 chapters read
The simplest summation I can give of this manga is that it's a fantasy/RPG-style adventure which can't be entirely fit into serious or parody categories, as it does both so amazingly well.
Admittedly, this series takes a little while to establish it's characters in a way necessary to be really good at either serious scenes or parody scenes. The first 20 chapters take time to establish the main party. Over that period, the manga may feel a bit slow with it's plot and hit-or-miss with it's humor, along with a few too many nods to classic composers.
However, the party, once established, provides a collection of characters with both quirks that make for good comedy and coolness that makes for great action. The chemistry within the main party is reminiscent of something you would see in Hajime no Ippo or Dragon Voice - a group of people who work together and are there for each other when it counts, but aren't afraid to mess with each other at any other time. The series' impeccable style of humor is mainly a product of that setup plus a world none too kind to our heroes, which will casually toss man-eating sharks or gay old men their way.
Once the plot takes a serious turn, the humor is not at all tossed aside, but rather surprisingly enhanced by the contrast. The series has a way of putting straight out comedy in as a plot element; though the overall story is a serious one, numerous critical plot elements are factually explained in a wholly comedic context. It comes as a very welcome change from series that like to keep their comedy and drama in separate rooms, and feels very fresh and surprisingly genuine.
The actual drama is not significantly cheapened by this tendency, either, thanks primarily to the compelling core cast. After picking up at Sfortzando, the story progresses at a fairly linear, but well-paced rate, helped by the appearance of increasingly interesting and savvy villains. The later villains play on the trope of the party of destined teenage adventurers by constantly and consistently driving a wedge between their fragile comradeship. Granted, this theme gets recycled a bit, but the creator employs several narrative tricks to keep it fresh, some so smoothly executed they had to have been planned well in advance.
Though all who would be considered main characters have been introduced by chapter 30, and most subsequent plot revolves around them, the manga manages to produce a few excellent gag side characters. Without spoiling too much, one side character in particular stands out for a 100-chapter-long running gag plot (which caps in the most amazing way imaginable).
It's truly hard to pick out outstanding flaws in this manga once it gets going. It's an old-school rpg-style adventure that's genuinely funny while actually advancing a great plot at a reasonable pace, a combination previously unthinkable to me. I took a friend's advice to read it, and if I may quote him here; "READ READ READDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD READ IT ! " I can promise you'll be glad you did. read more
199 of ? chapters read
Amidst it all, trying to stop a 100% likely apocalyptic future, is a mentally-gifted but otherwise normal 20-year-old, Minamoto Kouichi. And seriously, if anyone deserves his perfect harem ending as a replacement for that bad future, it is this man. Literally his entire life is lived for the sake of helping his charges, the Children, grow up to be helpful, productive members of society. He endures all manner of hardship over the course of the manga, including but not limited to: 1) Getting taken for a pedophile because he was 2) being sexually harassed by a 10-year-old 3) when the same 10-year-old wasn't slamming him into a wall with her psychic powers (he actually works out several hours a week to build abs to withstand this) because she failed 4) throwing a full-blown temper-tantrum to get him to buy her a toy, all of which pales in comparison to the time when 5) he was possessed by a psychic fly and dunked headfirst into a toilet. He endures this, largely without complaint (even putting his career as a researcher on hold), and does an amazing parenting job, raising the Children the best he can. He doesn't fear them getting angry and will teach life lessons when needed, but he is very conscious of their emotions and avoids hurting them. He gives them a real chance to live like normal kids, which, ironically given their non-normal status, is something they very much needed. His methods come into sharp contrast with those of the Children's previous supervisor, Suma, who had shock collars on them and used them often. Not only that, the manga continues long enough that we do get to see the Children begin to understand what he went through and show their gratitude, in a few heartwarming scenes.
And then there is his nemesis, Hyobu Kyouske, who does something similar – bringing persecuted espers, especially children, into his pro-esper extremist faction (PANDRA) and giving them a home. Hyobu is Minamoto's opposite, something of a Fagin archetype – sure, he's a terrorist, but he's protecting the children of PANDRA from a society that has severely persecuted them. Plus, there are far worse alternatives for a child esper, demonstrated in-universe by Black Phantom, a criminal syndicate that takes traumatized young espers and turns them into killing machines. Some BABEL-side characters recognize this and respect him because of it (to the extent that they pass up some legitimate chances to kill him and end the conflict), and some recognize the good he does but also believe that he does still represent a menace to society and needs to be stopped nonetheless, but their enforcement methods are limited because acting too harshly in dealing with esper criminals might persuade friendly espers (especially the Children) to defect. It's all a very tenuous and tangled moral balance. And it is delicious.
That's the thing about ZKC; the emotional depth is there, but only if you want to look for it. You don't need to look deep into the morals driving each character in order to enjoy the story or the comedy, but it enhances the serious aspect of the story significantly.
It is somewhat difficult to quantify the comedy of ZKC, but it will keep you laughing most of the time. There is certainly a lot of high quality material there, from the one time Minamoto got kidnapped and, ever the dutiful parent, gave his kidnapper a lifestyle makeover, to the other time where the guy with the animal possession ability gets forced into an extremely huggable baby seal body. The variety of character personalities plus the virtually limitless possibilities given by the various types of available superpowers plus an author not afraid to get creative makes for a nearly-flawless humorous repertiore, and this manga delivers. Brilliantly.
This manga is very, very enjoyable, and I recommend it to anyone who isn't totally turned off by lolis, because that might admittedly be it's one sticking point. Even if hate lolis, let this be your one series in that direction. There is fairly little loli fanservice, and there's a lot of fun to be had in reading this manga. Seriously, go read this manga for yourself. It's just crazy awesome both in terms of how hilarious it is and how much sense the characters make. read more
333 of 333 chapters read
The American Football played in Eyeshield 21 is an interesting and ultimately successful combination of the two formulas, mixing the group dynamics of a genuine team with lots of hard-on action.
I have a lot of praise for the way the sport being played is used in ES21. Football is a large sport, requiring 11 players on each side, each with a different distinct role. As a result, you always have characters other than just the mains in play, being far from useless. 22 players, though, are a bit much to focus on at one time, and this manga acknowledges that, focusing only on small portions of the playing field at any given time. We get lots of different individual, small group, and large group confrontations throughout any given game, which makes up for the fact that a game may go on for 20-30 chapters. This effectively splits up screentime among a truly massive cast in a way which neither weakens the mains nor benches the non-mains. The cast is, in addition to being in the triple-digits, extremely diverse backstory-wise, ranging from a kicker who quit his team to help his father's business to a tall reciever who's good and popular, but failing to catch up to the true genius superstar of his own team. Odds are most, if not all, people will be able to find at least one character whose background they sympathize with.
And there are mindgames. Dear me, the mindgames. Possibly the best part of this manga is how the player confrontations are set up by a diabolical mastermind of a man, Hiruma Youichi, a gun nut with dirt on half the world's population. This guy comes up with the most outlandish trick plays which are usually a surprise, totally outlandish, and always fun to watch. What's more, they often don't work, giving an added thrill of uncertainty to each play.
The basic plot of Eyeshield itself is standard fare; weak, bullied kid (Sena Kobayakawa) with hidden talent gets forced into a sport and ends up liking it. His team gets stronger with him in it and goes on to compete at high levels. Just how high is a minor spoiler. Two things here. Firstly, you can expect the Devilbats to lose quite a bit, and not just in the introductory chapters to their eternal rival. Secondly, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THE BASIC FORMULA. Just because it's common doesn't mean it's a weak one. Coming-of-age stories have been selling since forever for a reason, and the basic formula needs only to be applied correctly to produce a decent piece. High-schoolers passionately fighting tooth-and-nail over one inch of turf isn't going to get old anytime soon.
Not that Eyeshield is just decent - it's consistently hilarious, thrilling, and a whole lot of fun. I would recommend trying it out to just about anyone, including the people who aren't normally predisposed towards manga. It's a shining example of what sports shonen, and shonen in general, can be when it tries. read more
40 of ? chapters read
You see, the initial tale is that of a gageteer genius high school student named Haruhiko, who (due to the standard "accident") is imbued with the mystical toolmaking powers of a powerful Enchanter. This Enchanter is currently magically trapped inside of a soulgem, and happens to look exactly like him. However, the demon partner/lover (Eukanaria) of this Enchanter wants Haruhiko's soul extracted and destroyed so that she can put the rest of her lover's soul into Haruhiko's body. The conditions for extracting a soul happen include sex. Which funnier because she a) starts living with him, and b) looks like Haru's childhood crush, who he can't touch because she's a teacher at his school. Which means plenty of restrained sexual tension and deadpan jokes about virginity, especially in the early bits. Later on, the humor tends to focus more on just how bad the main characters are at keeping the various aspects of their situation secret, as the "in-crowd" gradually expands to double-digit numbers. The end result is a highly entertaining manga with well-integrated fanservice, something to write home about. I lol'ed quite a few times.
Oh, and he fights demons with his powers too. Surprise...
...Is pretty much all I would have after finishing the first volume. But that's not all there is to this manga. You see, the author of this manga does a pretty mean plot. By which I mean an awesome one. My favorite arc uses the soul-stealing aspect of the overall story in a very clever way, by introducing a human who is also constantly struggling with a demon for control of her own body. The catch? She's also a total jerkass. Not only that, we meet the demon first, and she's kind, charitable, loving, and a former dead baby (in the most serious way possible). Honestly the more sympathetic of the two. Which brings about a phenomenal story arc pondering over his and her right to exist, examining the inherent moral contradictions in several "right" views held by different characters. And it doesn't take the easy way out, but stays morally ambiguous all the way through and forces the characters to commit themselves and confront the issue head on.
The story quality isn't just limited to that one arc either. Enchanter plays the moral contradiction card a lot, usually setting up characters and motivations in a relatively inoccuous early arc in preparation for intense moral struggles as many as 3 or 4 volumes later. The net effect is that, often as not, you don't see the moral dilemmas coming, but can still appreciate them once they come.
This series was one of the bigger surprises to hit me in the last year or so. If you have time, I seriously recommend checking it out. Buy the manga, peek at the scans, whatever, but do give it a chance. read more
80 of 96 chapters read
Story - A boy (with a dead mother) is inspired to follow his previously abandoned dreams after a fateful encounter with a group of people who have jobs that he wants. In the process, he meets the girl of his dreams (who also happens to be involved with what he dreams of doing).
...Yeah, I've never heard that one before either. Nevertheless, there are several particular innovations which the mangaka makes on this particular standard shonen theme that makes Dragon Voice stand out. Firstly, the story is about J-pop music singing (something normally reserved for shojo-themed stuff). Note that this is in no way yaoi of shonen ai. Secondly, the young boy in this manga spends a lot less time learning about winning against evil bad guy idols (who aren't even that evil, rather just competing for the same thing as the heroes) than he does learning about proper cooperation with his teammates. The focus on the relationships between the original group of five make up the bulk of the manga, and allows the truly strong point of this manga, the character dynamics, to trump over lame special-technique-to-beat-the-baddie scenes that some shonen devolve into.
Characters - The characters of Dragon Voice, and the five Beatmen in particular, are some of the strongest I've ever seen. But I don't mean strong in the traditional sense. Each of the main characters deals with a different serious flaw. These flaws aren't comedy, nor do they make it seem improbable that these five bozos ever got up the guts to get off of their asses to form an idol band. Examples: One of the main characters was raised in a strictly traditional Kabuki household, and hated being bound by the closed-mindedness of tradition. So he ran away from home and joined the Beatmen. Ironically, his experiences with his father's traditional style caused him to become equally closed minded towards older styles of dance, something which becomes a problem for him later on. Another Beatman adheres to a strict "performance for the audience's pleasure" philosophy, believing that idols, unlike athletes, can't show when they're feeling like crap (at all) because it ruins things for the audience. This philosophy isn't just an ideal, it's directly relevant to him - he's an asthmatic. It's quite something to watch him struggle against his own body's weakness, which shows up quite frequently thanks to all the fancy smoke effects used in the music industry.
But coping with trials also can be a great stepping stone into character growth, and Dragon Voice does this exceedingly well, turning the characters into stepping stones for one another. The real fun of the serious half of the story comes from seeing just how the Beatmen deal with their own flaws, but how they deal with each other's. Each of the Beatmen is a strong individual character, so, instead of being one big happy family under the leadership of the main character, they bounce off of each other. It's rather heartwarming to watch the guys work with each other in their own separate searches for another song and dance because you get to see in detail each of the five component parts which make up that final song and dance.
Enjoyment - Not to say that the Beatmen only bounce off of one another for plot purposes. There's a lot of friendly teasing (supposedly male bonding) and outright hilarity that ensues oftentimes over the course of this manga, with the quirky mains and secondaries tormenting and/or squabbling with each other over little day to day things.
Also, I must point out that the dance scenes themselves are very detailed, and the songs actually have full lyrics. This was the icing on the cake for the pop afficianado in me - the dancing was in stop-motion, but it sure didn't seem that way.
Art - Doesn't matter that much so long as it doesn't suck rat's ass. Realistically, art usually counts for about 2% of my normal rating. Moving on...
Overall - I fully recommend this manga to anyone who enjoys reading manga with excellent characters. It's moderate length (11 volumes), it keeps a good balance between comedy and drama, and you'll probably find at least one individual story you can sympathize with. A great read, I'm glad I picked it up. read more
20 of 20 episodes seen
Story: As one might infer from the title, this show is about gambling. Gambling and gamblers (called bainin in the show) who cheat at gambling for a living. The name of the game is Mahjong. For those of you who don't know what Mahjong is, look it up. The MAL Mahjong club has a section on Mahjong hands. The basic premise of the story is various "good" bainin (Tetsuya and pals) facing off against "bad" bainin in Mahjong matches where both sides blatantly cheat.
The interesting part of the story is the cleverness with which some of this cheating occours. Tetsuya runs up against several opponents, and they each practice a different method of cheating (hand switches, elevators, tile tossing, tile-holding rings, magic "x-ray vision", etc.) It's interesting, although the dialogue during the active cheating scenes sometimes seems a bit sluggishly shonen. The cheating is more of a sideshow, though, compared to what is arguably the main dynamic of the show - an almost classic yakuza-film-style way of portraying Mahjong conflicts, seeming like a more passioate underground odyssey. All is helped along by a rich cast (which I'll get to later).
Art: Really mostly normal. Some weird faces, but not so ugly as some other shows. The ugly mugs are pretty believable, actually, given the characters are supposed to be destitute gamblers. But not fun to look at. Moving on.
Sound: The instrumental OST sounds very old-school, with trumpets andwhat I think is a viola making up most of the sounds. I liked it, but I don't think too many will. The OP and ED are nice, traditional manly songs, sung by men with moderately low voices. Voice acting itself is nothing special, really. The highlight of the auditory ensemble is probably the insert song "All Last", which plays during many of the major arc endings and encapsulates the whole yakuza-film atmosphere.
Character: It's a man's world. Mostly, aside from 2 female players and 1 bar hostess. The main focus of the plot is the coming of age of a young cocky lad, name of Asada Tetsuya, as he acquires a sense of bainin ethics. The message Tetsuya sends varies from arc to arc, but the general theme is this: "It's a cold, hard, dirty world out there, and only the strong (a.k.a. cheaters) survive." It is a worldview that's been done before, but the setting of post-WWII Japan makes a lot of sense. there are many other notable characters, from an old man who teaches Tetsuya to survive bainin Mahjong to a partner with a pompadour who gets his own arc to a left-handed drug addict who challenges Tetsuya to a match in order to get drug money. Very developed ensemble, and their matches show as much.
Enjoyment: Tetsuya was fun to watch for me because of a number of factors, mostly the gritty realism mixed with some Mahjong (a very cool game) and badassed cheating and, some Mahjong situations I've never seen before - particularly a double open reach and a Dora 16 hand.
Overall: Tetsuya was great, fun viewing, but it didn't really connect with me in all the ways I expected it to. Definitely worth the 20 episodes, even in raw form. If anyone wants to better understand the finer aspects of cheating, this is your show. Good concept, great execution. read more
6 of 6 episodes seen
Story: The basic premise of PSME is the tragedy of seven reincarnated researchers. Originally members of a scientifically advanced civilization, they were tasked to observe the earth from a base on the moon. The specific focus of the plot is how the characters interact once the tragic events which lead to their deaths come to light. A very compelling plot follows, combining elements of classical tragedy and science fiction. I would note, however, the OVA doesn't end with a climax so much as with a somewhat vague outro. This is generally one of two things: a hasty way to wrap thing up, and a contribution to the atmosphere of the show. Personally, I don't see the story marred much by the lack of a "proper" ending.
Art: Detailed, but nothing really special, given the age it was drawn in. The only notable feature is that the visuals manage to be dark without being intense. Even when the scene is tragic, it has a mellow yet urgent feel to it.
Sound: The ending to this show, "Toki no Kioku", is, quite literally, my #1 song in all of anime. (Beating out Forever Young, Yuuzora no Kamihouki, and Love a Riddle) It's about 3 minutes long, and it could be a lullaby, dirge, or ballad, depending on your mood. It really encapsulates both the tragic and mellow components of the show. THe soundtrack itself is the same way, a mix of easy listening and orchestral which really puts the plot away.
Character: The seven scientists are well developed, and, the more you see, the deeper the bonds between them draw you in. Each character has complex emotions which play a clear role in their motives, and their visual designs fit their moods so well it's almost scary.
Enjoyment: This show made me cry, and it's one of two anime that has ever actually done that. It's sad enough to be believable, but not so sad that I can't relate. I watched it for the full three hours without even taking a bathroom break.
Overall: The presentation was artful, the sound fantastical, and it's short enough to fit into an afternoon. I'd recommend this to almost any anime fan. read more
55 of ? chapters read
Characters: You have Sasahara (freshman), the introverted guy who opens up as he gets to know the rest of the club members. Kohsaka (also a freshman), who is the hardest of the hardcore in otakudom, but who looks like a normal guy. Madarame, a guy who wears otaku pride on his sleeve, has trouble dealing with ordinary emotions when he feels them (personally, I see his story as the most heart-wrenching). Saki, a non-otaku, stuggles to realte to her otaku boyfriend. Ogiue, a disgruntled artist, deals with her conflicting emotions towards otakudom (is one, but hates others). Other cast members are well developed, making the group dynamic very believable.
Art: Fairly expressive, and very cute (in a non-moe way). The first reason why I loved this manga was the twist on the classic "blood vessel pop" that Shimoku uses especially with female characters.
Story: The plot tracks various members of the club through their four years of development as otaku and humans. The overall premises aren't spectacular, but are enough to carry the group dynamic along.
Overall: A very nice, relaxed, funny, and heartful manga. Definitely worth a look. read more
26 of 26 episodes seen
Story: Itoh Kaiji, a bum with 3 million yen worth of debt gets into a gambling cruise to pay off his debts. The game played on the cruise is Gentei Janken (Restricted Rock-Paper-Scissors), where the players get four cards of each type and battle it out. What's the catch? Several things; each card can only be used once, cards can be bought off of other players, con men abound, and losing forces one into the vaguely established but horrible "other room". Also, one must not only break even in the actual matches, but also earn enough through the buying and selling of "stars" (3 of which equate a trip off the ship) to pay off their debts. A simple premise which gets expounded on to a cleverly intense degree. That, mind you, is the first arc. The later arcs follow up with themes on society, and it gets philosophical in a gritty sort of way. But, unfortunately, the"ending" is not anything of the sort, devoid of climax. The last 4 episode arc feels a bit tacked on, and leaves season 2 wide open.
Art: I looked at the promo picture, and I thought one thing: Elves. These noses are big, and the faces look pretty weird at first. However, once one gets past the first five minutes, it really becomes apparent just how expressive these faces can be, as the characters go through one emotional crisis after another.
Sound: Nice intro, nice ending. Where the sound really shines, though, is the intense scenes. It's well integrated into the rest of the show's experience - so much so that I didn't notice it except after watching a second or third time. However, once I did look into the more dramatic half of the soundtrack, I found it a fairly nice score.
However, soundtrack isn't the best part of this show's auditory arsenal either. That honor goes to the best voice acting I've ever heard. It may sound silly, but I have never heard anyone cry as effectively as Yanaka Hiroshi's character. Ever. The voice acting really captures the gritty, dreamless atmosphere which the show exhudes. Also, an extremely dramatic narration often helps the story along, and helps the viewer make sense of sometimes subtle mindgames.
Character: Sheeit- there's just too much to say. Men (absolutely no women in this show) betting their lives can make for pretty deep plots, and this is perhaps one of the very best. Kaiji himself is a normally hopeless person whose survival instincts lead him to fight off the system intended to break him down, and he takes himself down a number of pegs to help people who have nothing to give him (and occasionally stab him in the back). The rest of the cast of characters is a bit less scrupulous, and Kaiji suffers three major betrayals by con men and friends alike in the first nine episodes. In the antecedent arcs 2-4, shit hits the fan for our hero, though he is never betrayed after arc 1. Plenty of manly tears make the whole process very entertaining.
A major part of Kaiji that I feel I shoud mention is it's haves vs. have-nots dynamic. Rich "haves" are constantly responsible for the suffering of impoverished "have-nots", and situation which naturally causes tearful frustration for the have-nots. At times the narrator's observations of both sides sound like Hobbesian logic.
Enjoyment: A couple of major highlights: fistfights, naked wrestling behind a one-way mirror, and a fat guy being kicked in the corpulence. The presentation is terrific, dramatic, and bold. Just be aware that, when the chips are down and everything is at stake, there's a very real possibility that Kaiji will lose...
Overall: Kaiji=Pwn+Max Drama-A Decent Ending. If you don't want to be dissappointed, stop watching at episode 22 and wait for season 2 before watching episodes 23-26. There's no reason to skip the first 22, though. If you have any free time, what are you doing still reading this review? Watch it now! read more