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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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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.
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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.

Delinquint Soul Part 2

24 May

(Continued from part 1)


Beezlebub

Beezlebub is a delinquent manga with a twist. Oga, the brutishly strong student of a high school is one day trapped into making a contract with Beel. Beel being a baby demon, and the son of the King of Demons. Oga now has to look after Beel, and keep him safe until he grows up. At which point he will destroy the world.

Quite the twist isnt it?

However despite the apparently morbid tone of affairs this manga is nothing but a laugh riot. From chapter one it is clear that this is a comedy manga. And boy does it deliver. I found myself giggling nearly constantly as I read through chapter after chapter in my quest to find out for myself, what happened next to Oga on his adventures. The characters are not too deep, but then depth is not something you would want out this manga. They sure as hell are funny, newer stronger challenges are introduced to Oga who grows of course at typical shonen pace. Ranging from tough delinquents who wish to take a swipe at Oga’s growing reputation, to Demons come out from hell wishing to take down the Baby Beel before he can fully mature.

All through Oga protects his ward and finds out that there might be benefits to allying himself with the prince of demons after all. Drawing on Beel’s powers Oga can amplify his strength to even greater levels allowing him to wreak havoc and destruction to any foolish or unfortunate enough to get in his way.

A laugh riot with a magical twist. Delinquents and demons and a baby for good measure. This one is a must grab.

Further reading

Cromartie High School, a manga that essentially is a gag manga on Delinquency. It makes fun of the concept with an intensity that is hard to match. The protagonist an honor student forced to enroll in a high school famous for its delinquents adapts to life around him in a series of hilarious adventures.

Kyou Kara Ore Wa!

The title of the manga translates to “From today on, its my turn”. And that’s exactly what the manga is. Two students moving into a new town and a new school, greatly impressed by manga and stories of Banchos and Delinquents decide to become the greatest delinquents ever in their lives. From today onwards of course. Hoping to get an image that matches their heart’s desires they both head to a barber to get some badass hairstyles. And that is how the saga of Itou and Mitsuhashi of Nan High begins. They meet at the barber shop, then again at school in class. And from there their wild adventures takes them off to dizzying heights. For despite the fact that neither of them knew a thing about being delinquents they were both naturally strong fighters. So when push actually comes to shove, they find out that on teaming up they are nigh unbeatable.

An uneasy friendship develops between the honorable Itou and the devilishly evil Mitsuhashi. And the two of them carve out a reputation for themselves in the entire town. Of course not before they have their fair share of pain, heartbreaks and challenges. When I found Beezlebub I was greatly amused and thought it would be hard for a comedy manga to top this. But Kyou Kara Ore Wa! Is exactly that. A manga so good at its core that it will have you hooked from the first chapter. It is a laughter bonanza. You will be laughing so hard that your stomach will hurt. With Mitsuhashi, the Devil contributing to most of the laughs. The characterization in this manga is surprisingly rich with an elegant balance between the comedy and the drama. Of course at its heart it is a comedy manga and that should not be forgotten. The art might turn off a few people but trust me on this, the art is not this series high point. Its the story and the never-ending laughs. This is a not a manga you ought to miss.

Or Lord Mitsuhashi is gonna get you.

Further reading

Angel Densetsu, the tragic tale of Seichirou Kitano born with the scariest face imaginable but a golden heart. A comedy manga that traces Kitano’s attempts at becoming recognized by his fellow students as an equal and the hilarious ways in which they get freaked out by his every effort to approach them.

So as you can see, there is a lot of manga to be read. A lot of stories to be heard, a lot of art to be seen. So what are you still doing here?

Time’s a wasting.

Delinquent Soul Part 1

16 May


It is from our subconscious habit of grouping manga into categories that we have arrived at the various genres we know of. However, to categorize something as diverse in itself as manga is a catch 22 situation, a situation that resulted in genres with weird names and descriptions, such as Slice of life etc. One such oft ignored and little read genre is the Delinquent Manga genre.

Delinquency is a huge problem in the Asian education system. We have entire generations of kids disillusioned by the prospect of rote study techniques and overtly competitive entrances exams for higher studies turning their backs on society as a whole. Forming into groups, gangs and syndicates from middle school onwards. Bōsōzoku (literal translation, ‘Violent running tribe’) evolved as an entire subculture of biker gangs in Japan. And as with all things Japanese they evolved completely differently than their western counterparts.

Keeping pace with real life, manga also evolved in the only direction possible. Manga dealing with High School Delinquents and Banchos (Leaders) became increasingly popular. Now allow me to be clear, these arent the type of manga a typical fan of the comic art form reads. The art is not always top notch, even amateurish at times. But the story is always top notch. These artists though their comics have spun grand tales of violence, crime and redemption. Drawing upon real life as an inspiration and sometimes even glorifying the idea of gang honor, and honor among the fallen.

These manga take their protagonist and make it clear that he cannot stand within the bounds of society, they show him as an outlaw outcast. Yet he is shown to be an honorable man, a person who sticks to his convictions no matter the personal cost.

A Bancho. In the truest sense of the word.

I took a shine to these comics a while back and had the good fortune of getting hands of copies of the real masterworks in the genre. But then Ive always had a liking for the crime genre. Hell two of my favorite movies off the bat are The Godfather and Goodfellas. And Im sure there are a lot of other people around like me. So this review is for all you people, who like me get caught up in semi romantic and pseudo idealistic fancies of honorable Banchos and gang loyalty, of hierarchies and generations and the tight world of crime that operates on the twin principals of respect and fear.

Allow me to present, the best of the Delinquents.



Crows.


Suzuran is the school of rejects. The most violent of all the region’s schools. The school meant for outcasts of the education system. Those deemed unfit for education anywhere else are sent to Suzuran. They call it the school of Crows. But there is another side to this story. To the students themselves, Suzuran is a shrine of the strong. The only school in the region which has never been dominated by a single person. The school of Crows which stands casting a lofty shadow on all the other schools in the reigon as the strongest, despite being divided in itself. To the students of Suzuran, it is better to be a free Crow than to be a bird of paradise trapped within a gilded cage. And free they truly are.

An epic story full of deep and surprisingly rich characters that details the rise of Harumachi Bouya, a newcomer to Suzuran. The story will sweep you off your feet, be it with the emotional and brilliant storyline or be it with the hilarious comedy it is interspersed with. Hiroshi Takahashi’s first manga, Crows became a massive hit in Japan and Korea. And with good reason. There are many many dynamics in the city of Crows. Including rival schools who would love to take Suzuran down a notch, a gang of badass bikers who will stomp down anyone who dares stand up to them, and delinquents from neighboring regions vying to see who is truly strongest. As Bouya’s reputation continues to soar, the list of Suzuran’s enemies continues to grow. The roller coaster ride will take you up and not let up for even a second.

Read this comic book and I assure you, your blood will be burning from start to finish. I wont be too surprised if you feel like punching someone and go “HORRRRAAAA!” by the end of it.

Further reading

Hiroshi Sensei is pretty much on top when it comes to the Delinquent genre. Crows was just the beginning for him. After Crows and the Gaidens, he wrote another brilliant series called QP. And after that he came out with Worst, another manga based in Suzuran serving as a spiritual sequel to Crows. Read them all without fail.


Also not be missed the movies Crows Zero 1 and 2, set in the Suzuran universe before the events of the comic. The movies are an epic telling of the sagas that unfold in the school of crows.

Epic being the keyword.


(To be concluded)