Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Double Review ~ Delicious in Dungeon #1 and Nekogahara #2

Check it out Here!


This is the strangest thing you'll read all year.

Adventurer Laios and his party venture into a dungeon and get wiped out by the dragon at the bottom. His sister is swallowed by the beast, but not before casting a spell to send Laios and the res of the party back to the surface. Despite her sacrifice, she still lives, but there's a time limit until she is digested. Now without money and supplies, Laios and his companions have to make it back through the dungeon in order to save his sister.

So far so good you might be saying. What's weird about this?

Well, in order to save on supplies, Laios comes up with a scheme to cook the monsters. You see, he's been absolutely fascinated with what monsters taste like for years. Now he has an excuse to cook everything in sight.

And he does.

As can be guessed, Delicious in Dungeon is a comedy and parody of Dungeons & Dragons. Laios is the leader who leads with his stomach before his head, Marcille is the wizard elf who finds monsters repulsive, Chilchuck is a halfling thief that has a thing about teamplay and goes along to get along, and Senshi is the new recruit Dwarf who has lived off of cooking monsters for years. It's this foursome that fight and puzzle their way through the dungeon while dealing with some bizarre situations and sources of food.

Normally I'm not such a fan of Dungeons & Dragons inspired stories for many reasons, but Delicious in Dungeon manages to pull off a sense of dark humor without malice and goofy characterizations without being grating. It's a unique series not like anything out there. Where else are you going to read about the intricacies of cooking living armor or find out the right place to stab and kill a slime? I was a bit skeptical when I picked it up, but those fears quickly melted away by the end of the second chapter.

It's lighthearted and charming, despite the subject of the humor, with great characters that don't grate on you. There's a tendency for a lot of modern parodies with dark humor to turn the characters into obnoxious hateful jerks who constantly point out how detestable the source material is. Here each character has a skill set and a personality that meshes well with every character that never bothers to berate the source material. The set up is played straight and the story is all the better for it. It's refreshing to read something dark without it being nihilistic.

And, to be fair, it's not entirely dark. The world is a just and moral place, not painted as pointless or drab, and none of the characters have ill intent. It's the situations and reactions that arise from it that can edge toward being dark, and that's how it should be.

As a whole, however, this is a great fantasy manga. It's never not entertaining. If you've been looking for a fun fantasy comedy then this is for you.

Recommended.




Check it out Here!


Nekogahara: Stray Cat Samurai volume 2 is a step up from the first volume, which I also enjoyed a good deal.

Volume 1 was a lot of set up showing how Norachiyo was not a hero and was closer to being a villain. He encountered many situations where it looked as if he had the upper hand only to rub it in as crassly as possible. It was funny, but it would get old eventually. Did the second volume continue in this direction?

Thankfully, no.

Volume 2 continues showing that he is not to be looked up to, however it goes beyond that. Most of this volume is centered around two separate events occurring at the same time. One of them is incredibly intense with a conclusion that really hits the mark. This volume also fleshes out the other characters that tried to kill Norachiyo in volume 1 and how they might need to put aside their grudges to fight a deadlier enemy. Basically, everything here is about pushing the story forward and making sure it doesn't fall into a very easy rut. And it was close to perfect.

Not beating around the bush, this volume was excellent. It was hilarious with a particularly funny naked gag, the action was even more detailed with some phenomenal double pages, the characters are more well rounded, the art is even better than volume 1, and the old school pulp comic feel survives unscathed. Everything here is a step up.

Norachiyo's struggle is revealed to be one of guilt and failure. The parallels in volume 1 of his relationship with his master to being like a father, or God, is carried over. Humans are treated as possible divine creatures, and despite him having killed one, it doesn't erase the pain of how he lost his own and cannot live without him. Norachiyo is disgusting, but following the more hedonistic take in volume 1, his behavior is treated as self-destructive and a dead end for him. In fact, the volume ends with an encounter that has him tilting between self-awareness and growing madness.

I'm still not entirely sure where the story is going, but after tentatively endorsing volume 1 despite not being certain of Takei's direction, volume 2 is a lot easier to recommend. It continues with the themes that most resonated in the first, while dialing back the immoral elements or showing them for what they really are. For a bloody 1980s-style action comic, it shows a level of depth that most audiences don't associate with pulp. But it is well in line with what the pulps aspired to be with a strong moral core. It does aim for higher things in surprising ways.

Hiroyuki Takei was an assistant to Nobuhiro Watsuki, the creator of Rurouni Kenshin, and this is the first work he's made where you could see the connection. In fact, this is shaping up to be his best work to date.

If you're a fan of old manga and anime, you need to give this series a shot. You won't be disappointed. This series is a surprising treat.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Shonen Tribute ~ Why Anime Eventually Broke Overseas

"Mazinger Z" by Go Nagai

For a lot of people, anime has been a refuge from the collapse of the mainstream entertainment market over the last two decades. Since the 1980s, as mainstream books, television, and movies, slid into political correctness, obvious formulas, and post-modernism, a subculture of entertainment ballooned out from the underground and ended up nearly taking control of the world in the process. Anime in the '90s and early '00s filled a hole in many people's hearts as their local industry had begun to fall apart. It was truly big.

Not only was anime big, but it influenced everything at the time from French and American cartoons to comic book art styles to Joss Whedon shows. It was inescapable. Dragon Ball Z, Pokemon, and Yu-Gi-Oh! alone were everywhere from the TV to card games to video games to toys and even films. For a while it looked as if anime would rule the world. It was almost inevitable.

Almost.

Fast forward over a decade later, and anime is even more underground than it was in the 80s. It's already been posted time and time again how that happened, but that's not what this post is about. This is instead about how it appealed to so many the first time.

So, anime is not popular anymore. But there are series that still sell in high numbers and attract mainstream attention in both the anime and manga worlds and outsell remaining sellers in the declining US market. Dragon Ball, Naruto, One Piece, Fairy Tail, Speed Racer, Voltron, Rurouni Kenshin, Fullmetal Alchemist, Tokyo Ghoul, My Hero Academia, Attack On Titan and even underground hits like Fist of the North Star, Gintama, Space Adventure Cobra, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, and City Hunter, all have one thing in common.

They're all Shonen series.

"Ushio & Tora" by Kazuhiro Fujita

What is responsible for the overseas popularity anime and manga is credit that goes to the Shonen demographic and the artists that wrote for them. Boys Adventure is once again responsible for another movement. This means the reason you got Cowboy Bebop, Trigun (which started as Shonen), Record of Lodoss War, Planetes, and every other favorite you have brought over to your country is because of the success of Shonen. That is what opened the door.

Sure anime had underground hits in the 80s and early 90s (as "Japanimation"), but it wasn't until Shonen made its mark that anime hit critical mass.

The translation for Shonen Manga is read as Boy's Comics, and it is aimed at the 8-18 age demographic. It is essentially Japan's version of Boy's Own Adventure and teamed with light novels is almost entirely responsible for every Japan to US hit. There was a lot of crossover appeal at the time that still resonates now.

Manga had been around for centuries beforehand, but it was only brought into magazine form by the end of the 19th century and into the 20th. They weren't really aimed at any demographic in particular until the post-WWII era. The entertainment industry slowly began to change.

At the same time superhero comics were exploding in the US, Shonen Magazines were getting off the ground. They were seeing a lot of crossover influences in what made comics work: myths, legends, heroes and villains, and epic scope. From the beginning there was always a hope that both audiences and markets could co-exist.

The very first magazine was Shonen Sekai which ran from 1895-1914 but it wasn't until 1959 when Weekly Shonen Magazine by Kodansha, and Weekly Shonen Sunday by Shogakukan hit the scene and changed the game. They only started with a few series, but as they added more manga, they got more popular and sales only went up. This burgeoning popularity lead to 1968 when the current king of Shonen was finally released by Shueisha. This was the year Weekly Shonen Jump was released, and it is still Japan's top selling magazine to this day.

"Hajime No Ippo / Fighting Spirit" by George Morikawa

The first issues of Shonen Jump were so focused on their demographic that they ran translated comics of Mandrake the Magician, Flash Gordon, and Secret Agent X-9 in their pages to fill up the issue. That's right! Shonen Jump, which is responsible for Dragon Ball, Fist of the North Star, and Rurouni Kenshin, ran pulp. They even ran Flash Gordon in its first issue. This ties Shonen to pulp and the audience Shonen is aimed at: lovers of adventure, action, and romance.

These magazines focused on action adventure stories. Sometimes they had comedy series, and sometimes they ran romance series, but it was always built around hooking the young male demographic. And they always sold the most of every other demographic for it. It was what the people wanted.

This is reflected in how rough most of the art styles for Shonen tend to be. While Shojo (for young girls) is typically drawn in a soft style with prettier characters, Shonen emphasizes intensity and impact and their characters can look like and be anything.

There is no real limit to what a Shonen story can be. It can be a mecha series like Mazinger Z, a fantasy series like Saint Seiya, a sci-fi adventure like Captain Harlock, a romance like Kimagure Orange Road, a mystery series like Detective Conan/Case Closed, a sports series like Ashita no Joe, a comedy like Ranma 1/2, or an all out mind trip like Space Adventure Cobra. All the story has to be, is fun.

It was post-World War II Japan where the formula was tempered and forged and eventually became what it is today. It is fairly odd that as the Western world began to throw away the pulp ethos and decry them as childish and unneeded, Japan was embracing it and being rewarded with what is easily Japan's #1 entertainment export next to video games and one of their most important industries to this day. Both the manga and light novel industries were built off the back of these pulp-like series. As book sales sank in the west, they increased in Japan, peaking in the 1990s with sales of Shonen Jump issues featuring Dragon Ball, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Slam Dunk selling over a million just as their anime were setting record ratings. Japan might be the only area in the world where their entertainment industry could consider the 1990s as their Golden Age.

"City Hunter" by Tsukasa Hojo

These same series that were selling gangbusters in Japan slowly made their way to the West during the late 80s and through the 90s, eventually cracking the market here by the tail end of the latter decade. What was there to compete with them? Cartoons had thrown away adventure series, and comedies were getting more base and less like Looney Tunes. Dragon Ball found a crack where adventure had been left hanging, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! hooked kids with simple action stories they had been denied, and Rurouni Kenshin, Bleach, and Naruto brought in more adults and teens than the US market had ever seen. Then there was the underground hit called Samurai Pizza Cats, and weekday afternoon cartoon controversy known as Ronin Warriors. Anime was everywhere. And they were all Shonen.

At the same time, non-Shonen series made their way over with Sailor Moon, Gundam (though Wing and G have considerable Shonen influence), Cowboy Bebop, Slayers, Escaflowne, Trigun, and the Toonami action block, all managed to hit when they were needed. It's easy to forget, but there were no Western equivalents to any of these shows when they met huge success. The last serious Western show was Gargoyles, and the DC animated universe run by Bruce Timm was the only non-comedy shows kids and teenagers could get their hands on at the time. Anime had a clear line to make their entry into the Western market, and they took it hard.

This was what lead to the manga industry finally booming, and even US shows like Teen Titans or Ben 10 began adapting an anime-influenced art style. It got to the point that the "anime" aesthetic was as hated as the poor use of flash animation. Anime and manga were unstoppable.

Until they weren't.

But, self-sabotage aside, Shonen was responsible for it all. This is why there is any anime market here at all. Boy's Adventure stories were what led to this invasion and why you see so many moe anime avatars on Twitter or JoJo's Bizarre Adventure references on Tumblr. This is why so many younger authors and artists have so many strange anime influences and style in their works that the old farts just don't get. While the West was sleeping, Japan came in, ate their lunch, and left their mark.


"Kimetsu no Yaiba: Blade of Demon Destruction" by Koyoharu Gotouge

And it still sells.

Weekly Shonen Jump is still the highest selling magazine in Japan, and the only US manga magazine left, and its series are still some of the most popular series in Japan, and overseas. They still outsell the fads, and they still get stocked in the brick and mortar stores.

There's a lesson somewhere in there about respect for your roots, and giving the audience what they want, that the dying Big 5 publishers, cable TV networks, Marvel Comics, and Hollywood, could learn. In the end, the audience gets what they want, or nobody does. Because otherwise there will be nothing left. The cynical side in me is suggesting that it might the point, but that is neither or here nor there. The point is that action and adventure is what the audience wants. It's what they've always wanted. Romance and intrigue. Heroes and villains. Good and evil. It's what they're always going to want.

So the next time you're watching your moe series about a pathetic turd attracted to his grade school mother, remember that those inferior pleb Shonen series you hate is what got them here in the first place. Then, wake up, turn that crap off, and put on an episode of My Hero Academia instead. It'll do you good.


"Kyo Kara Ore Wa! / Today it's My Turn!" by Hiroyuki Nishimori

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Angels Amidst Demons ~ A review of "Path of Angels" by Dawn Witzke

Check it out Here!

*Note: Ms. Witzke has aided me putting together the cover design to a previous book of mine. This has no bearing on the following review.*


I'm not a big reader of Young Adult fiction these days, despite writing my own, though it might not be for the reasons you would think.

The genre started properly with The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton when publishers created a category just for it and those that spun out from it. This was because the elite didn't want this filthy book written by a peasant teenage girl to rub shoulders with its adult masterpieces. After all, if people want to read it without being forced to, it can't be a good book. But over the years, many missed what made Hinton's works so good (aside from That Was Then, This Is Now which very much reads as a paint by numbers YA book) and worthy of so much attention.

Now YA is filled with the same junk that made people abandon standard fiction in the first place. Stories reveling in death, drugs, sex, and nihilism, are not appealing to the majority of people. But that's what they were given over and over.

The appeal of YA is about coming of age stories between childhood and becoming an adult. The catch is that becoming an adult has to be something the teenager should aspire to become. When you believe the world is meaningless and empty you cannot write a story in this genre. You will miss the point. Most YA today completely misses this point.

And this is why I dislike the genre.

I approached this book with a little trepidation. The Hunger Games being a weaker Battle Royale and carrying all the weaknesses of Twilight and, despite all this, still being considered the cornerstone of the genre sours me on this. All mainstream YA follows the same pattern nowadays.

But then I remembered this was an indie book and all those worries faded away. Path of Angels, not being bound by the fads of the genre, or the obnoxious tropes, is able to tell a story that both males and females can fine enjoyment in without having to hit those tiresome tropes publishers just love. That's not to say it's perfect, but it is good at what it does.

The story takes place in a society where the world has been cleansed of its warts and true utopia has been achieved. Pesky religion has been disposed of, and the state is able to take its place, controlling every aspect to make sure things don't go out of hand. Oh, did I say utopia? Maybe to some people this is one. For most anyone else, it's clearly a dystopia.

A member of the underground church, seventeen year old Aadi, embarks on a quest to deliver a holy relic to a far off town. She is joined by her friend, Mischa, who is secretly looking to leave town for his own reasons. Along the way the pair face an adventure of roving psychos, Red Guards, and the elements themselves, as they learn more about the society they live in, and each other. Path of Angels is an adventure tale which means it's fixated on the journey and how easy it is to lose your way.

The very first thing that hooked me in the story was that the very first chapter starts with an intense action sequence. It was so jarring for what I expected out of this sort of story that I had to check if I was reading the right book. This is a good thing. Modern YA takes so long to get off the ground that this was exactly what was needed to snap me out of my built-in cynicism for the genre. This isn't a full-on action story, but this explosion of chaos kept me on edge for the rest of the story that something similar could happen again.

Another aspect that got me was the theme of faith against hopelessness. There are many times in the book where things look bad for the characters, and there are times when things go very, very wrong for others. In most other books of this type, the author would revel in this type of attitude and emphasize how pointless it all is, but in this story, perseverance and luck are intertwined and highly valued almost as much as faith. There isn't much time for whining or moping when you could be executed at a moment's notice, and the characters know this. It's a hard trick to show hope in the face of hopelessness, but Dawn Witzke pulls it off.

I suppose I could mention that there is a love triangle, but it is not quite what you would think. Aadi's old boyfriend, Thad, is now a priest, and in many ways he represents her religious side. In contrast, Mischa is very much her childhood friend, and first crush, and represents her emotional side. Thad is replaced by God in their relationship, just as He has replaced Aadi in a way--they're still friends but everything has changed. She has to deal with these changes in order to grow up and face the world, but it is not so much about choosing between two hot guys like most YA novels are. There's actually a very clear answer, but not for the reasons you would think, and it involves a real moral choice. It takes a lot to get me invested in triangle style relationships, but it is pulled off well here.

There are a few personal complaints I could point out. Outside of the first action sequence, there weren't really many others quite as intense, and those that are there are pretty spread out, but this also isn't an action story so it is understandable. On the other hand, I would liked to have learned more about Thad, but he isn't in the story much. There was also a scene where Mischa should have beaten another man to a pulp for what he did, but just left the location with Aadi instead. Aadi's cousin's motivation for a certain thing she does to Aadi is unclear, especially since we never see her or her husband again. I could probably guess what it was, but it should have been spelled out in big bold letters.

This was a great YA story by Dawn Witzke and I look forward to seeing what she has coming next. If you once enjoyed YA, but were chased away by either the nihilism or the sex obsession, then this book is exactly for you. If not, well, this is definitely one of the better ones to come along in a while. This has the makings of an intriguing series.

Hopefully this is the start of something better for the genre. This isn't Salinger; and thank God for that!

Recommended.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Returns

Having just returned from my trip (it was great!) I thought I would mention a find. You see, I wasn't expecting to do so, but I stumbled upon a used book store far better than any around where I regrettably live. I ended up grabbing far too many books, but I regret nothing.

Don't judge me. You know you've done it, too. Sometimes you see so many great stories that you just can't help yourself. And I barely managed to contain myself.

My haul was as follows.

Deathlands: Neutron Solstice by James Axler
Swords Against Wizardry by Fritz Leiber
The Moon Pool by Abraham Merritt
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Classic Tales of Horror by Edgar Allen Poe
The Lovecraft Compendium by H.P. Lovecraft
Fallon by Louis L'Amour
Kilkenny by Louis L'Amour
Conagher by Louis L'Amour
Science Fiction Classics (Hardcover) by Edgar Rice Burroughs

  • Thuvia, Maid of Mars
  • The Chessmen of Mars
  • The Master Mind of Mars
  • Pellucidar
  • Tanar of Pellucidar


On top of it I also got two non-fiction books, one about Arthurian Legends and one on Celtic Saints.

Needless to say, I bought far more than I really should have, but with a haul like that, can you blame me? I could hardly turn down any of those finds.

There's a lot out there to dive into, both in the past and in newly released works that it is hard to keep up. My love of Action Adventure can hardly keep up, especially considering how strong its sub-genres of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror can be.

Why should I waste my time with modern dreary fiction when there is so much out there that aims to inspire and instill fantastical images instead? All the best genres of fiction are about different forms of action that it depends on what the reader feels like experiencing. Action Adventure is the genre of choice for those of us who want to travel to far off lands, discover strange inventions, mystical lands, and horrifying secrets-- sometimes all in the same story! Why read stories about a depressive staring into a cracked mirror when you can discover something truly wondrous instead?

Today is the best time to be a lover of the fantastical, the exciting, and the wondrous. While the modern world implodes, the regressives are silently (and some not so silently!) revisiting the past, connecting with it, and producing their own content on top of it. It is like a return to a timeline we were supposed to have abandoned long ago.

But nope, we haven't.

As I mentioned in this video on the Pulp Revolution, we are very much alive.

video

The past and future! Together again like so much chocolate and peanut-butter!

And as much as I would like to keep going on about it, I have my own work I need to get back to doing. I'm also craving some Reese's Pieces for some unfathomable reason. Anyway, back to the reading and the writing.

And I'm quite excited to be doing so!