13 of 13 episodes seen
I think the problem with Hyakko is that its underlying concept is not original. Having a bunch of disparate personalities come together as friends within the school environment has been done countless times (although none come close to the brilliance of Azumanga Daioh). Even the class full of dysfunctional (or maybe just odd, in this case) has been beaten to death in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei.
That said, it doesn’t start badly. Our four protagonists – the timid and shy Ayumi; haughty and abrasive Tatsuki; impulsive Torako and the quiet Suzume actually form a pretty decent team. Then again, it’s the kind of pairing (or quadrupling if you like) that’s been seen in everything from Manabi Straight to Hidamari Sketch to Sketchbook and so forth. It’s a formula that works, so it gets trundled out again and for the first four episodes it works well and there are some genuinely funny moments, most of which involve Tatsuki having to deal with the human typhoon that is Torako. Foremost amongst these has to be and the antics of the openly bi and predatory class president – who has her eye on the student council presidency, as well as Torako. Suzume’s complete unawareness of the havoc her performing an Y-balance pose (with one leg in the air) would cause on her co-ed art class is also worth a mention.
Sadly, the class president doesn’t get the screen time, or the development, her character needed to add some serious comedy to the whole affair. Likewise, the long-suffering homeroom teacher, Sengoku-sensei, has a couple of classic on-screen moments, usually involving Torako but these are, sadly, too few and far between. However, his portrayal of a world-weary teacher, who’s just realised his karma has caught up with him in the form of this flaxen-haired demon, is nicely done.
After the first four episodes, however, it all starts to fall apart. We are introduced to more of the oddball classmates, which is all well and fine, if you left them to do oddball things. The problem is, they all have issues, which Torako & Co try to resolve. It’s a bit like Clannad’s “introduce-a-broken-chick-and-then-fix-her” motif, but at least Clannad has the decency to put some flesh on the character’s bones, so we know who they are and what makes them tick, before breaking them. In Hyakko, the viewer just isn’t made to care enough about the superficial characters to introduce that kind of drama and make it work. It gets even worse, when additional characters are suddenly out of the blue, in order to resolve Torako’s arc. It ends up messy and feeling very contrived.
The soundtrack is also forgettable with a poor OP and an even worse ED. Aya Hirano, who I like as a seiyuu and who voices Ayumi, would appear have a pretty good deal, as she sings at least one song on whatever series she’s in. The problem is she obviously can’t choose what she sings and they tend to be generally bad and not at all suited for her voice. Maybe she should just stick to voice acting.
On the whole, Hyakko was a disappointment. It never really set out to do anything that hadn’t been done before. It suffers from what I call “not knowing what to do” syndrome – if it wanted to be a comedy, then it shouldn’t have introduced drama and if it wanted to be a drama then it needed to flesh out the characters far more than they were. There are far better comedies in this genre out there and you won’t really have missed anything if you don’t watch Hyakko. read more
12 of 13 episodes seen
I call it delightful for two reasons, firstly it is seriously funny and secondly, it’s as cute as hell (and I’m such a sucker for cute). Don’t let yourself be put off by the moe though, as a comedy, K-On stands head and shoulders above anything else in the genre this season. It’s not all laugh-a-minute stuff, but there’s been plenty of punchlines that have had me laughing out loud – and that doesn’t happen often. Being the product of a 4koma seinen manga means that the underlying comedy isn’t wildly silly, nor does it rely on cheap fanservice for laughs. Ok… the one exception might be Ritsu and Yui’s reaction to Mio’s *ahem* somewhat better development in the chest area, shown during the obligatory beach episode.
What K-On also does well, besides immediately introducing us to a cast of immensely likeable characters, is break with the usual plot device. It’s not about somebody lacking talent trying to break into the music club, but rather the members of the music club wanting to keep the talentless one around, in order to keep the club going. This is done with copious amounts of tea and cake… something the club spends more time eating than actual practising. Hence the band’s name – “After School Teatime.”
Obviously, the story revolves around the initial four band members. Heading up the pack is Yui Hirasawa. Our introduction to Yui involves her slipping and landing on her backside and the viewer pretty much gets the picture that she’s spent most of her young life falling, or sitting, on said backside. She’s sort of drifted through life, with no direction and only ends up joining the club, because her level-headed friend, Nodaka, half-jokingly suggests that people who don’t join clubs become NEETs later in life. Luckily, it turns out she’s a bit of an idiot savant (as a friend described her) when it comes to the guitar, which although a very convenient plot device, is played for laughs, as she tends to forget things the minute she’s learnt something new. She’s also oblivious to things like tuning the guitar or playing vibrato… these things just happen naturally to her. As Mio describes her, “She’s the kind of person who plays games without reading the manual.”
The other band members comprise Ritsu Tainaka, the drummer, club leader and impetuous hothead, and Mio Akiyama, her long time friend, who plays the bass and generally tries to be the cool, calm and collected one amongst the general mayhem. The only problem is, she’s as flaky as the rest of them – she’s terribly shy (and goes to pieces at the mere thought of having to sing lead vocals, but manages to overcome this and step up to the plate… er… mike when required), cowers in terror at the mere hint of scary stuff (especially barnacles for some reason) and worries that she isn’t “cute.” The interplay between these two, with Ritsu often sporting an impressive array of head lumps, as she tests Mio’s patience once too often, provides the comic links between scenes.
Making up the quartet is the keyboard player, Tsumugi Kotobuki (she of the incredible eyebrows). Sadly, her character doesn’t quite get the same treatment it does in the manga, and more often than not, she sort of fades into the background. You see, young Mugi-chan is a rich little princess, who seems to have lived a sheltered life (although she has had piano lessons since age 4, which makes her a natural for the club). Little things like trying to earn some spare cash to buy Yui’s guitar (the fact that her family owns the music store in question greatly simplifies matters) and eating at McDonald’s are all wonderful new adventures for her. However, whilst the anime portrays her as being uncomfortable about her wealth around her friends, the manga portrays her in a slightly different light. Here, she knows she’s the boss’ daughter and isn’t afraid to use that knowledge on cowering staff. After all, nobody said “cute” has to be “nice,” right? The manga also hints that Mugi-chan is slightly confused when it comes to relationships.
K-On also does something odd in adding a new central character two-thirds of the way through. This is the intense little junior, Azusa, who signs up in their second year. Unlike Yui, Azusa knows her way around a guitar, but joins up thinking Yui is a genius, based on her performance at the opening ceremony. Despite soon learning the truth, and being horrified at the club’s “tea-and-cake” method of practising, she becomes the fifth member, deferring the role of lead guitar to Yui, to whom she still looks up, despite being a musical klutz. Although the story probably could have carried on without her, her addition does make the double-edged point that there’s more to club life than just practising, whilst reminding the others that there is a time and place for everything.
Surrounding them is a small, but equally likeable, cast of side characters, headed up by Yui’s younger sister, Ui, who deserves a paragraph of her own. Now anime generally makes younger sisters adorable – just think of Clannad’s Mei-chan and Hidamari’s Chika-chan – but Ui-chan takes it to a whole new level. She plays the unwitting straight man to her flaky onee-chan, to great comic effect. It basically boils down to the fact that she hero-worships her older sister, can see only good in all Yui’s quirks (which hasn’t exactly motivated Yui to change) and will do anything for her (to the point of impersonating her at one stage)… something Yui takes full advantage of, probably without realising she is taking advantage. Strangely, given her lovely nature, the kanji for her name – 憂 – translates as “sorrow” or “unhappy” (then again, Yui’s – 唯 – translates as “only” or “solely”, so maybe her parents weren’t too thrilled when child number two popped out. Of course, given her lot in life and constant slaving after Yui, it’s quite possible Ui kicks little anime puppies around the garden when not on camera).
The club’s advisor, Sawako-sensei’s presence is a little jarring at times, what with her cosplay fetish and somewhat dodgy interest in the girls’ breasts. I know all anime teachers are supposed to be insane, but she’s just a little too over the top for my liking, given the general tone of the comedy. That said, her exposure, as the demon metal queen of a past keion, was fun. Nodaka-chan, Yui’s childhood friend and student council rep, pops up now and again, normally to play another straight man, or to provide some background on Yui, or to terrorise Ritsu, because of some or other form she hasn’t filled in.
If there’s one real jarring note to the whole series, it comes in the penultimate episode, when – for reasons known only to the writers – they try to inject some drama into the storyline. The problem is, as with most comedies, the characters aren’t developed enough for this to work and you’re left thinking, “Where the hell did that come from?” It’s even more out of place when you consider that K-On pokes deliberate fun at the “evil student council trying to close down the club” dramatic plot device early on.
Luckily, this aberration soon passes and we end not only on a comedic high note, but also with the knowledge that flighty, air-headed Yui is probably going to be ok. As she says to herself, “To the me back then, you don’t need to worry. You’ll soon find something you can do, something you can set your heart on…” Actually, her development is illustrated nicely towards the end, when we see her about to slip again, in almost identical circumstances to the opening scenes, but this time she stays on her feet.
The animation is well done, with surprising attention to little things. We see the scrape marks on wooden floors where doors open; the girls sweat (or should that be “glow”?) when performing; Yui struggles to climb on stage with a guitar bag swinging on her back. Probably most importantly, they aren’t static while playing – fingers move on fretboards, cymbals to the cymbal thing, Mugi plays chords on her keyboard, etc, etc.; so it’s heartening to see that the animators didn’t try and cut costs there. They didn’t skimp on product placement either. Mugi has a Korg synthesiser, Ritsu plays a Yamaha drum kit and Yui’s axe is a Gibson Les Paul… which she bought, not because it’s a Les Paul, but because it was “cute” (yes, that’s how Yui’s mind works).
Even musically, the show isn’t bad… which is a good thing, seeing as music forms the backdrop of the whole story. Made-for-anime music can sometimes be dreadful, but K-On’s actually isn’t bad and that goes for the OP and ED (both of which were Top 5 hits on the Japanese charts, according to ANN) as well as the insert songs. It also helps that, as with most seiyuu, Aki Toyosaki and Youko Hikasa (who voice Yui and Mio respectively) can sing… although Aki does sound a little like a chipmunk on helium. You might need to ignore the lyrics which are decidedly cheesy (courtesy of Mio, who comes up with song titles such as “Curry after rice,” “My love is a stapler” and “Fluffy fluffy time”) but musically they’re not bad. Be warned – the OP, like a lot of anime music, is insanely addictive.
K-On would appear to be one the surprise hits of the current season, but given its characters, humour and music (not to mention the most prodigious use of giant sweat drops and head lumps I’ve seen in ages!), it’s hardly surprising. I somehow doubt this is going to be licensed, because of the musical content and royalty fees (God forbid they dub the songs!), so try and track it own online. Oh, and track down the manga too – you won’t be sorry. read more
18 of 18 chapters read
I’ve also been struggling to describe in words a story that is essentially about … well… nothing much really. The closest I can come is by comparing this to Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou… er… without the apocalypse… or the robots… or scooters. In fact, it also doesn’t even focus on "mono no aware", but rather "ikigai" - which translates nicely as “joy and a sense of well-being from being alive.”
That is a concept that this manga portrays beautifully - it is simply about enjoying life - taking time out from the hurly-burly of everyday life and taking the time to observe the little things around you. There’s a sense of calm that radiates from each page that must have been manna to the soul of tired salarymen on their way home. (That sense of serenity might have overcome the mangaka too, seeing as it took him 8 years to produce 18 relatively short chapters.)
Each of the self-contained chapters simply revolves around our protagonist setting out to wander around his neighbourhood. Nothing dramatic happens, although on occasion he does help a child rescue a model plane from a tree and even sneaks into the public pool for a late night skinny-dip. Other than that, it’s simply about appreciating the things around you; acknowledging other people (one lovely chapter sums this up brilliantly - without using a single line of dialogue) and basking in the simple joy of being alive.
In a moment of weakness, I once described this as “tranquillity on a page” and yet, I can’t think of any other words that describe the message and feel of this unique little manga. read more
18 of 38 chapters read
I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I tend to be an impatient reader, especially when it comes to allowing a story to draw me in, and “Hour of the Mice” more than satisfied me in this regard. Not that it’s a frantically paced story, mind you. In fact, it’s anything but. However, Tōme manages to create a feeling of suspense from the outset. She manages to combine our introduction to the characters, with a growing sense of unease – as we start to realise that perhaps things aren’t quite as idyllic at they might appear to the story’s protagonists.
The strength of the tale really lies in its protagonists, as well as the carefully scripted plot. Tōme not only introduces us to all the significant players within the first few chapters, but also throws about abundant hints that things are not all well with them. Maki, the unofficial leader of the 4 friends, is colour-blind; Ryo suffers from migraines; gentle Mei is severely anaemic which results in her often spending time in the infirmary; and the bookish Natsume completes the group. As the story opens, the latter, having given in to curiosity, has been punished by being “confined” for 3 days, for attempting to leave the premises. This also gives us an insight of how apt the title is – not only are the children “mice” in the same sense as a lab rat, but they are also timid little mice, having become accustomed to the oppressive conditions they have lived under since infancy.
The entry of Kiriko to the story, turns up the heat on what I can only describe as a pressure-cooker atmosphere. Even before she arrives, Tōme has begun to increase the tension and sense of unease, whilst making sure she keeps a tight lid on proceedings. The children are certainly not super heroes, about to wreck havoc as they escape. Instead, they are intelligently and carefully portrayed as what they are – frightened, confused children, trying to come to terms with a real world they know nothing about, as everything they thought was real comes crashing down around them. Add in the ongoing machinations of the powers running the academy and you end up with a well written, beautifully drawn (again, Tōme fans will recognise her style from a hundred paces) and superbly paced slice-of-life thriller that is well worth the read. read more
8 of 8 chapters read
I'm going to start off with a warning - this manga will shock you. Nothing can prepare you for the premise underlying this tale. Yet he doesn't do it purely for the shock value. As with so many good story-tellers, it is merely the axle around which the story revolves... and it is an immensely compelling story that unfolds as you turn the pages.
Again, as with all good story-tellers, it's the characters that make this story fizz. Despite some scenes of graphic violence (I thought I was pretty thick-skinned, but this made me cringe more than once) - which, to his credit, he doesn't dwell on; they happen, the story moves on - it is the characters that draw us into the tale, thanks to some skilful writing and wonderful characterisation.
Although the story initially focusses on the girls themselves, showing us their hopes, dreams and aspirations, as well as adding in the subtle dynamics within the orphanage itself (what would you do to make sure you were the next girl to be "adopted" into a life of bliss?), we are eventually introduced to characters from both sides of the... er... fence. Even here, everybody is portrayed as being human, with feelings and emotions and reactions to what is happening. One chapter in particular hammers home the wrongness of what is happening, in a karmic what-goes-around-comes-around way.
In essence, this is where the power (and dare I say brilliance) of this manga lies - the sheer raw emotion it evokes within you. The fact that we know who those girls are, what they think and what they dream about and long for is, makes the fact that you know the terrible fate awaiting them all the more devastating.
The violence aside, this is not an easy manga to read - purely because of the emotional strain it puts you under. And because of that - the fact that in a few short chapters of the story, the mangaka has already awoken such strong emotions inside me, that I have to say this is easily one of the best manga I have read in a long time. Certainly, not since Battle Royale have I read one that's hit me so emotionally between the eyes.
However, once again I have to say that it's not an easy read and certainly not for the squeamish. By the end of Chapter 1 you'll either be hooked, or repulsed - I don't think there is a middle ground with this. I, however, eagerly awaited the final chapters... not too sure what that says about me... read more
15 of ? chapters read
The story revolves around said Punpun, who (along with his family) is depicted as a small, caricatured bird within an otherwise normal human world, and his interactions with his elementary school classmates and the world around him. The story weaves seamlessly between normal everyday life and out and out fantasy, starting with his heartbreak as his first unrequited love (who also appears to be the vicious school bully) transfers out, to be replaced by the new love of his life… a relationship that this time seems to be heading somewhere. The problem is that the “somewhere” would appear to be a pretty scary place.
As I mentioned, it wouldn’t be Asano if doses of painful reality weren’t occasionally driven into the story, ranging from domestic violence, to Punpun having to deal with the unintentional effects of seeing his first gravure, to a disturbing interlude when the boys get together to watch their first adult video. It’s the extreme depictions of his over-active imagination, matched at every step by a cast of bizarre characters, ranging from an odd homeroom teacher, to a special guest appearance by God… and I’m not even going to mention the Doodoo-head aliens. Oh, I just did…nuts.
Asano swings the story effortlessly between reality and fantasy, funny and nightmarish, but he never fails to keep our attention firmly glued to the page, as the story unfolds. He’s built a complex world, filled with endearing, if odd, characters and it’s watching Punpun negotiate this minefield of life that makes this a page-turner.
If you’re familiar with his work, then you’ll pleased to know the attention to detail within his artwork is as sharp as ever, as is his (by now) trademark character design. There are panels depicting ordinary scenery within this manga, that one can easily spend minutes studying, taking in all the fine details.
Goodnight Punpun is a worthy successor to Asano’s small, but impressive, body of work and possibly the one that will appeal to wider audience, than say “What a Wonderful World,” or “Solanin.” If anything, he’s raised the crossbar yet again and I’m certainly looking forward to more releases from him. If you’re looking to read something that will have you laughing out loud one moment, and cringing the next, read this. You won’t be disappointed. read more
2 of 61 chapters read
Simply put, this little piece of nastiness is everything Chobits could have been, but mercifully wasn’t, thanks to the wonderful people at CLAMP having… well, a brain for starters.
Mizuki has taken (Stolen? Copied?) a similar concept (not to mention borrowing liberally from he is My Master too) and wrung every last ounce of humour, storyline, artwork and dare I say taste, out of it, leaving behind a withered husk of an excuse for a manga, that is neither funny, nor sexy, nor even remotely worth reading beyond the first few pages. Even within those, I found the main character’s obsession with dress-up dolls went beyond creepy. If it’s even vaguely autobiographical, then we’re dealing with a very strange individual here…
Avoid. As if your life depends on it. read more
41 of 41 chapters read
However, this particular arc plays only a small part of the overall story, as what could have been a simple tale of vengeance is fleshed out with a complex plot, multi-layered characters, style and substance to become one of the better and more engrossing action stories I’ve come across in a while. It’s one of those stories where no individual is truly good or evil and it’s watching the central characters deal with their inner demons that makes this well worth reading. As much as the hunter and hunted are both cold and ruthless in the execution of their objectives, it’s when the author delves into their motivations, especially where Kilico’s past is concerned, that you realise what a skilfully crafted story this is.
At the end of the day, it’s not about who’s going to win against who, but who has the strength to break free from the cycle of violence – even at the risk of self-sacrifice. This, combined with the feeling you are watching proceedings through a camera lens, makes for gripping read, worthy of it’s place within the action genre. As I mentioned, his artistic style takes a bit of getting used to and it’s probably not for the squeamish either, but if you can get past that, give “Kilico” a whirl. read more
25 of 25 chapters read
Personally, I like the use of the two opposing Kagome’s (that's their first names by the way) – Nishino who wants to see ghosts and can’t and Kasuga who can see them and really doesn’t want to, nor does she want to be a part of the club. That is until she lays eyes on Masami and sees him as a potential solution to her problem. You see - how does one say this politely – Kasuga’s ability so see spirits rests upon the fact (as with all good miko) that she’s still a maiden. Should she lose her maidenhood, then in theory, she’ll lose the ability too. Hence her *ahem* interest in Masami, who is of course, holding a flame for Nishino and thus isn’t quite as responsive as she’d like. The last thing Nishino wants, of course, is for Kasuga to lose her skills, as she’s the club’s only link to the spirit world, and this leads to an amusing interplay between the three protagonists during the tale.
As for the rest of the story, well it’s fairly typical stuff, as Masami finds himself first haunted by the disembodied head of his dead mother (Freud would have a field day with him, methinks), and the hunt for the source and solution to the mystery takes off at breakneck speed. It’s generally well done and covers the whole gamut from creaking cupboard doors, possession to long forgotten, creepy shrines and family secrets. The story becomes fairly involved, as more secrets are revealed surrounding Masami’s family, as well as the ties that bind the two Kagome’s together. It does, sadly, get a bit far-fetched as the story progresses, especially once Masami becomes aware of his own “powers,” but I guess that’s to be expected from a shounen-esque storyline, although Yui more than compensates with a refreshingly surprising ending.
Something else that surprised me – artistic philistine that I am – was how much I enjoyed his character design and artwork. The girls’ designs in particular convey a sense of spunkiness, exuberance and fun and I must confess (at the risk of sounding like a dirty old man) that that played a large part in me picking up and running with this particular manga. Yui’s also not afraid to switch repeatedly from ”normal” to “deformed” character styles, using it to great effect to enhance the comedic moments.
At the end of the day, if you’re looking for a fun little story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but manages to bring a little something new to a well-tried formula, Kagome Kagome is an enjoyable, and short, read. read more
10 of 10 chapters read
The ten stand-alone stories that make up the two volumes essentially focus on the particular character’s death, events leading up to it and the choice they make upon meeting Izuko. Seeing as they’re arriving at the Gate of Grudges, it’s hardly likely their passing was a happy one, even though they are at first unaware of what is going on and rely on Izuko to fill them in.
Unfortunately, even though Izuko is the only constant in the stories, we’re told nothing of her background or why she’s the Gate Keeper. She just is, deal with it. It’s a shame really, because that could have provided an interesting side-story and fleshed it out into a few more chapters. This doesn’t mean that the overall story is lacking – anything but. You’re mired knee-deep in just about every negative human emotion and action imaginable right from the start. Envy, Hatred, Depression, Murder, Greed are all mixed together and served up with a liberal dose of vengeance.
Given it’s gothic roots, Skyhigh’s artwork is dark and stark and yet finely detailed at the same time. The mangaka fills each panel with effective imagery, especially when it comes to conveying emotion. However, and maybe it’s because I’m getting old, I did find it a bit heavy-going on the eyes after a bit.
Is there a downside? Well, it’s a gothic horror, so brace yourself for copious amounts of blood, nudity and sex (tastefully done, of course), as well as some fairly interesting plots. In that regard, it doesn’t really pull any punches, nor does it apologise for not doing so. If dark and gory isn’t your thing, I’d say avoid this. If you liked works such as Goth or Alive, you’ll probably enjoy this too. It’s certainly not one to read if you’re looking for something that’s feel-good or uplifting.
However, you could easily argue that without those elements present, it would lose its gothic and slightly surreal edge and become another “Jigoku Shoujo” spin-off (or precursor), which it very much isn’t. The individual stories also make the flow of the overall tale a bit stop-start, which could have been overcome by expanding on Izuko’s character and thus providing a bit more continuity to the stories., but that’s just me.
Overall? It’s grim, graphic, gory, gothic… and pretty darn good too. read more