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Men of Strategy

31 Oct


Not often will you come across comics of this style. Even in manga, this particular type of manga is rare. I have encountered very few of its ilk, and have greedily sought out other works which I might consider similar. The reason for my vagueness shall be made clear, for this style of manga that I am talking of is not really an existing genre. The artwork is unique, in its duplication of the real world. Not a manga of handsome heroes then. Come on, take a walk down any street. How many movie star beautiful people will you see out there?

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Blame!Blame!Blame!

24 Oct

BLAME!

As in, the sound effect accompanied with the thought of a gun being fired off. Not blame. Today we go for an acknowledged classic. Tsutomu Nihei’s masterwork, Blame!. Although it ties into a whole lot of side stories and even a One shot or Two, I still like to consider the series itself as stand alone. Allows the story a lot of legroom, space to breathe. Leaves a whole lot of questions unanswered. And you know what? I kinda like it that way. Blame!, or Adventure seeker Killy in the Cyber Dungeon Quest if you prefer is a story told in stark monochromes. Not just in the color scheme. Which yes, indeed is monochrome.

The protagonist wakes up somewhere in an endless dungeon known only as ‘The City’. Endless or at least so massive, so as to seem endless. A focus is granted to the story by means of a search, a quest if you may. Killy as our hero is known, is searching for someone. He has been searching for so long that perhaps he has even forgotten what it is he searches for. Yet he continues. His search is for Net Terminal Genes, a possibly extinct genetic marker that will allow humans access to the Netsphere again. In a world where most humanity has regressed to neo tribal structure his search is almost hopeless.

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Manga Madness and the Big Cats.

3 Oct
Woah trippy. I hope this isnt yaoi.
Far away, across mists of time and space. Perhaps in a different world or simply in a different time there exists a land of golden Savannah. It is flanked by a dense forest, but its plains are vast and glow with the warmth of the sun. Proud are the lions who call this place their home. Humans and cats alike. Welcome to the Land of Lions, home to a proud warrior race. A lion is fierce and strong and defiant till the last, few can look a lion straight in the eye and hold its predator’s gaze. Fewer still can walk away to tell the tale.

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The death and life of Anime Con 2011

21 Sep
From CALF Short Films
The second animation convention organized by The Japan Foundation was held at Marwah Studios, in the heart of Film City, Noida. Of course, where this is anime aplenty and the promise of manga and much more, Comic Addicts were bound to be present in force. 
My initial taste of the Anime-Con felt bitter, for I was expecting a slightly better infrastructure to be in place. Events were even as I arrived getting delayed and pushed back. The events that were occurring seemed to be competing for an audience that was mostly disinterested. I suppose the venue being in Noida took away a chunk of the anime fans from far parts of Delhi and Gurgaon. Add to that the rainy weather and it is understandable if many of the diehards chose to stay in.


Not.


Why are they still calling themselves diehards? An anime con touches down in your city, and you miss out on it? Poor form Otaku-wannabes. Poor form indeed! Genshiken a recently founded anime appreciation club was present, nice to see. Although the much publicized Gaming Arena was a damp squib, with one console, one TV and a perpetual line coiled around it. The workshops were useful, however imparting knowledge at a festival has always put me off. I want anime and manga around me and I want it in the bucket loads. Where is the cosplay? Where are the comics? Where is everybody? My spirits by this time were sinking fast. They sunk further when the hyper expensive bento available at the Ai cafe proved to be another disappointment.


Relenting to the energy that seemed nearly palpable in the very air around us, I too was about to write off Anime Con as a badly mashed together festival sorely lacking in its target audience, all in all a poor excuse for me making the two hour trip from Gurgaon to Noida. However at that moment something caught my eye, a hoarding for the Anime Theater and an arrow pointing inwards. Without a second thought I made my way towards this ‘Theater’ expecting in my heart another disappointment. The theater was in an obscure corner right near the entrance. A door ajar led into the darkness. With the promise of sound and light and perhaps entertainment.


It was in the darkness of the theatre that my eyes finally opened. I entered this place still every inch the cynic, I came here thinking about the same clichéd movies that are screened from time to time. I came here totally not expecting a revolution. But what was this? The movie in front of me whose title unfortunately I missed was a kaleidoscope of colors and music. As abstract art and designs melded on screen in a psychedelic extravaganza. Mesmerized I promptly found myself a niche and propped myself. My mind which had been stunned into submission by the film was regaining its voice. And once more I thought this was probably a short which would be followed by a Naruto movie or something. It was ten minutes into the short ‘Hand Soap‘ that changed all that. This is not your run of the mill anime appreciation festival. This is their best and brightest, this is the future of anime. Pure experimentation given life. Believe me when I say this to you, this is a whole new dimension in animated cinema. Leave behind the simple shackles that bind our reasoning, forget the Shonen playbook. This stuff, is art. The shorts I witnessed were the creation of Kei Ōyama. And they were each unforgettable.


My delight in the theater was marred only by the annoyance at the public around me. I dont blame them for not understanding, most of this stuff was abstract. I cant understand much out of it either, but its the imagery that counts and the impact it has on our mind. And impact both conscious and subconscious. What I do mind however is how they do not even attempt to understand. They shy away from the imagery and the rich sound. Hiding behind loud jokes and nervous laughter rather than admitting to themselves that this film for some inexplicable reason was making them uncomfortable. Look at it, not away from it. All around me were people who did not want to be here. Which made me question once more, where were the people who did want to be here.

The show was over soon. And the lights came on, much to the relief of the confused audience. I rose as if from a dream and walked on out. Mixed bag of feelings rattling in my head.

I had witnessed something extraordinary in animation. Something you do not usually see, and something any fan of anime would give and arm and a leg to see. Sad part was, I had witnessed it alone. Anime Con was indeed a badly mashed together festival sorely lacking in its target audience, the film screening however was a big fat diamond in its crown. A revolution in animation and cinema that has passed us by completely unnoticed.


Mon… Err.. Tuesday Manga Madness: The Bare Neccesities III

2 Aug
Lets talk about Akira.

It was once upon a time (quite a while ago) when I was going through the inexhaustible information that is the internet, that I came across a particular poster. It was not something out of this world. Looked like a standard Sci-fi poster to me. But something about it caught my eye. Perhaps it was the slick looking bike that instantly attracted my vision, or perhaps it was the mysterious Capsule logo on the back of the protagonists jacket. Or maybe was it the cracked road underneath hinting possibly at an apocalypse.

The iconic poster

Either way I did what any sensible anime fan would do upon encountering such a poster – devote my meager resources to hunting down and watching the movie. Needless to say, my mind was blown.
Akira the movie dealt with such a diverse degree of emotions and actions that I had never seen before in an anime. It was, and probably still is, one of the most complex and issue-laden movies out there. But surprisingly instead of answering all those questions that had popped into my head, the movie had raised a whole bunch of new ones.
How could this be? Was I missing something in the bigger picture? Was there something more? Was there some manner of material available on Akira that I had missed? INCONCEIVABLE!

Oh shi…

Turns out there was a whole library load of stuff on Akira that I had missed! I had missed the manga.

Katsuhiro Otomo’s masterwork was the pièce de résistance to the manga genre. This manga screams “EPIC” from page one and will continue to scream so in your head long after you have put it down. Oh what a manga.
What artwork, to be crafted with such finesse and infinite attention to detail that it brings the bleak world of Akira to life. What writing, to create such a story, truly worthy of remembrance long after all of us are dust.

But beyond the art and the many pitfalls and climaxes that follow a story, beyond the shackles of stereotypes that bind so many mangaka today, beyond even the hero’s journey – Akira is a tale of transcendence. A tale of humanity’s greatest triumph and its greatest tragedy. One that tells us that we have the greatness of God within us, yet none of the divine wisdom necessary to wield such awesome power. And this beautiful tale is told so truthfully and honestly, that the manga itself transcends the boundaries it sets down. This manga inspires hope.

A hope for a brighter future. A hope for wisdom.

Counting all the heroes and villains, there are so many characters in this manga that it is impossible to touch upon them all in this space and do them justice. I will however touch on Kaneda. The heroic leader of “The Capsules”. A streetwise gang of bikers who rampage through the streets of Neo Tokyo trashing anything they choose. Kaneda makes for a very fresh kind of hero – we never see him turn into a typical super-powered manga hero. The tropes are done away with for good. There will be no training montage chapter that will lead to the unlocking of great inner power. No miracle shall occur to rescue him in the face of great adversity. No, Kaneda survives one disaster after another not because he is a super, he survives because that is his way. He is good at it, a survivor born.

And because he has something to do before he kicks it: He bears the demonic Tetsuo a grudge he cannot let go.
A grudge that takes both of them spiraling down an all too familiar path. The cold shrouded path of death. And of death there is no shortage here. But death is not an ending, and there are greater things at stake here than simply dying. There is absolution. There is enlightenment.

But hey, dont you just take my word for it. Akira is a labyrinth of story and art dripping with awesomeness. Explore it on your own time, at your own pace. Find your own favorite characters and villains, find your own nuances. But for the love of all that is holy, read this story of human power and glory at least once…before it is forgotten.

I still dream of that bike.

Monday Manga Madness: The Bare Neccesities – II

25 Jul

All hail the Samurai, for his sword is swift and true. Countless tales have been written about the precision of the way of the sword. Countless romantic sagas, recording the brave deeds and the ideals of the Samurai. Tales abound of Bushido, the warrior’s way. The code of conduct and chivalry by which ancient Japanese swordsmen lived, and died. But they are all tales, stories, fables…untrue.

Pick up any one of them, give it a long hard stare with a questioning eye and you will see it as a story and little more. Fitting and perhaps even grand to read, but in no way possible in the realities of life. And then there is Shigurui. Literal meaning Death throes. This aptly titled manga is truly one of the most underrated works out there. Not many know of it, even amongst those who do know of it, not many have managed to finish it. It takes a strong stomach to read through this manga. Surely not for the faint of heart.

There is despair in this manga. Despair so thick, it will cloud your senses. Despair and honor and horror aplenty. Not the supernatural horror, no, but a purer psychological horror that can only be wrought by man, glorious in all his failings. For sure, it is the more terrifying horror of the two. How far will two men go to realize their obsessions? What is a Samurai, but a tool in the hands of his master? Just as a sword is a tool in the hands of the Samurai. To what lengths does devotion run? To what limits must a man obey his master’s wishes? The way of the warrior is narrow and the darkness that surrounds him is thick. When does he know he has strayed from the path?



These are the questions that are asked by this compelling manga by Takayuki Yamaguchi. Hard questions, and not all of them are answered. Visually this manga is a treat. The artwork is beautiful and almost Hellenistic in it’s attention to proportion and details. The homoerotic nudges notwithstanding, the artist shows a remarkable eye for the human body and for all the muscles that allow us our daily activities. The story is first rate with an ending that has the power to move you to tears, if you are the sort to be moved by such things.


Shigurui is second on my list of most wanted manga that you as an avid manga reader can absolutely not do without.


It is a true Samurai story, one you can easily imagine to have occurred in the era depicted. Truly if a society existed where the art of the warrior was given such paramount importance then it would have been thus, as presented in these pages. It made a believer out of me. There is a tragic beauty to this manga. I was smitten by a sense of loss and waste, for there is no hero and no villain. Hardly any rights, and few punishable wrongs. Besides, heroes and villains belong in the world of storybooks. And whatever this manga is, it is no storybook.

Red is their favorite color
No larger size image available


Monday Manga Madness: The Bare Neccesities – I

18 Jul

I have been talking about a wide variety of manga in this little writing space. We have ranged from swords to fantasy and onward to more diverse topics. Most of the recommendations have been generic and I am certain an avid manga reader would have managed to recognize more than a title or two. In addition I try and stay away from grading a manga on any scale, for simplicity’s sake. Considering how subjective the very idea of manga and it’s appreciation is, grading stuff would lead me down a sticky slope I am not very keen on sliding. However this one time I will be breaking from convention, no not by grading anything. But instead by recommending manga that should absolutely, most definitely, under no circumstances be missed by any fan of manga anywhere.

And yes, when I say anywhere I mean the realm of the Elder Gods too.

Right, so here it is. This isn’t my list of favorite manga mind you. I’m not sure I like them too much. I prefer my manga more light hearted and funny, and these are pretty serious in both content and delivery. But these manga, have surpassed the norms and cliches that hold down other more commercially viable manga out there. These works have transcended into a realm where they are now truly without exception masterpieces of fiction. Each series presented here is a hallmark blend of brilliant story writing and excellent artwork. They are surreal, and moving to such a degree that I assure you….go through this list of manga and you will not come away unmoved.

Let us begin.


Oh yeah, I went there.
Click on the image to view full size

20th Century Boys:

Man, what more can I say about this manga that has not already been said. A classic of the mystery/sci-fi genre. Naoki Urusawa’s magnum opus will draw you in from page 1, and it will not let you go until the story is done with you. This manga has a force to it, a power, a spell perhaps crafted delicately and elaborately. A spiraling story line hooks you not just once, but many times over. With many of the hooks coming in only later much later into the story line. So much so that you might get jittery by the sheer power of the cliffhangers that dot its storyscape. They are infrequent, they come when you least expect them and almost always they have something to do with that one character in the series upon whom you would pray and wish no harm befall. But there is harm, heaps of harm. And there is much much more.20th century boys, is one of those manga out there that openly defies constraints like genres and stereotypes. Tropes are used and discarded with unbelievable abandon, and nothing in this manga is what you expect. The title itself comes from the classic rock and roll track by T. Rex. The tale begins in distant past, proceeds into dizzying future and an unusual narrative allows for time skips and jumps that reveal the present. Mystery is the name of the game. For indeed the entire story is one big unraveled mystery, as the tale progresses our heroes unravel bits and pieces of the great mystery. However the answers bring with them more questions, hard questions. And not all questions want to be answered. Some are old questions, some are secrets. And secrets always protect themselves.

20th Century Boys
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It is a roller coaster ride across a fantastical Sci Fi background and one of the few manga that should probably me made mandatory reading at such level. Would do wonders to the education system. The writing has a very Stephen King feel to it, an otherworldly feeling of despair and unease will constantly creep into your thoughts as you read on. Which of course allows for great atmosphere for the manga. There are definitely things about this manga I dont like, for instance the pacing of the story over the course of many chapters becomes decidedly Shonen like. The climaxes and constant cliffhangers become almost repetitive. As cardinal a sin as it gets. This reminded me of JJ Abrams and his disaster in Lost, of the promising start and how hey bungled it up simply because they did not know when to stop. But thankfully the series ends before this can become a serious problem. Smart decision that, very smart decision.

A visual treat
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A problem with reviewing of manga series like this one is that I am unsure as to what elements of the story, if any should be revealed. And as such anybody expecting details of story from this review would be disappointed. In fact, this isn’t even a proper review. Consider this a very strongly worded recommendation. Read 20th century Boys, find it right now and read it. Just trust me else this distant disembodied cyberspace entity will haunt your dreams forever. Trust me and find this manga and read it. You will not be disappointed, you might not be elated with what you find… but what I do know for sure. Is that you wont come away from it unchanged.