The Legend of the Legendary Heroes: The Complete Series

Legend of the Legendary HeroesThe countries on the continent of Minaris are plagued by strife and instability. Greedy nobles wage war on neighboring countries with no concern for its effects on the common people. Children are orphaned by war and then raised to become soldiers.

At a military training academy in the country of Roland, Sion Astal meets Ryner Lute. The bastard son of a noble and a commoner, Sion aspires to become king and bring peace to his country, while Ryner just wants to nap. However, Sion knows his secret: Ryner is an Alpha Stigma, a person born with the ability to decipher and use any spell cast in his presence. This makes him a powerful weapon in battle, but it comes at a price. Ryner could lose control and destroy everyone around him—and when a nighttime ambush kills Sion’s followers, he does just that. In the aftermath, Ryner is willingly imprisoned and Sion is left to realize his ambitions alone. Two years later, Sion has taken his rightful place as king and releases Ryner, who has written a thesis on magical objects called Hero Relics. As Sion struggles to bring peace and prosperity to Roland, Ryner embarks on a mission to find the powerful relics, accompanied by Ferris Eris, a swordswoman obsessed with dango (dumplings).

I’ve long wondered whether the series’ redundant name, The Legend of the Legendary Heroes, meant that it was a stupid story, a silly comedy, or the victim of a translation quirk. I now suspect the latter, as the story is neither stupid nor silly, though it does have its share of comedy. Rather, it’s a story of the human condition, one that questions when a person’s crimes turn them from man to monster and contemplates whether causing war and bloodshed can be pardoned if one’s motives are pure. Many of the characters in Legendary Heroes seek the same thing: a peaceful world free from strife. But as they work towards their goal, they are often forced to use the same methods as those who care nothing for peace. This creates a complex story in which bad guys may not be so bad and good guys can cause as much harm as the evil they fight—a story in which villains can be heroes and heroes can be villains. It does not follow a conventional path, and in fact, the last few episodes were so contrary to my expectations that I had to watch the series again to find the clues I had missed.

There were a few aspects of the story that could have used further explanation or clarification. For instance, the importance of certain characters seemed to be overemphasized, even with repeated viewings (e.g. Milk Callaud, the captain of the Taboo-Breaker Squad). The story involves a number of countries and people with unusual names that sound similar, and unless one is paying close attention, it’s easy to get them confused. In addition, I wish the writers had spent more time delving into the “legends of the legendary heroes” and their affect on Ryner’s early life, as well as his relationship with Sion. These parts of the story are only briefly presented towards the end of the series, only to wrap up with a “tomorrow is another day” conclusion. Given its various loose ends, this anime would have benefited from another season to unpack all the details of its rich story.

The voice acting in Legendary Heroes is phenomenal. Having heard Ian Sinclair in Hetalia and Black Butler, I already knew the man had great talent, but this is the first time I’ve heard him in a leading role. As Ryner Lute, Sinclair delivers a character who is filled with pain and love, but is frank and offbeat enough that he doesn’t become maudlin. As the dango-loving Ferris Eris, Luci Christian employs an endearing robotic undertone to convey a character who is strong yet vulnerable with capacious emotions. Eric Vale masters his role as the dignified Sion Astal, as does J. Michael Tatum as the enigmatic Miran Froaude. Finally, Jerry Jewel delivers one of his best performances as the unnerving, deadly, and strangely tender Lucile Eris.

The Legend of the Legendary Heroes is best suited for older tweens, teens, and adults. While it’s not particularly detailed in its portrayal of gore, it does not shy away from severed heads or familiar characters getting sliced in two. Those who enjoy anime series like Fullmetal Alchemist, Scrapped Princess, and Utawarerumono will especially appreciate this selection; it’s a good choice for an anime club and most library collections.

The Legend of the Legendary Heroes: The Complete Series
FUNimation, 2013
Directed by Itsuro Kawasaki
625 minutes, Number of Discs: 8, DVD/Blu-ray Combo Set
Company Age Rating: TV-14
Related to: Legend of the Legendary Heroes by Takaya Kagami

Monkeywanger: The Crimes of Oscar Dirlewanger

MonkeywangerIt’s important to note that, if a graphic novel has the note “Warning – Nudity and Extreme Violence Depicted” on its cover, it’s a good idea to take that warning to heart. Even with the warning, Peeler Watt’s Monkeywanger: The Crimes of Oscar Dirlewanger’s unflinching look at this historical horror show can be shocking in its violence and depravity.

Monkeywanger tells of the story of Obersturmfuhrer Oscar Direlwanger, the commanding officer of the SS Penal Batallion Oranienburg. Even when compared to the acts of the SS, an organization known for its cruelty and violence, Direlwanger and his men, criminals who manipulated the wartime climate to continue their antisocial and violent behavior, stand out for their atrocities against the Jews and the resistance fighters of Poland. Watt tells his story through the observations of Untersturmfuher Otto Voge, a fictional character who is a Russian spy within the SS and has been assigned to Direlwanger’s unit through a clerical error. While he is certainly not a hero, or even a good man, Voge is appalled by Direlwanger’s crimes and seeks to undermine the Colonel’s commands as best he can.

Monkeywanger is a hard book to read. Watt’s press release described the book as “a terrifying insight into the madness of conflict and its historical accuracy is of educational value to schools and individuals alike,” but the visual nature of the work and the extreme levels of violence depicted make Monkeywanger an unlikely candidate for classroom use or even school library inclusion, which is unfortunate since Watt’s work does attempt to educate the public on a brutal Nazi villain, one whose crimes have perhaps been forgotten by the world. That said, the horror story never stops, nor is it ever lessened; there is no hero in this story and no hope of redemption. Monkeywanger is dark and disturbing from cover to endpage.

Monkeywanger depicts all manner of graphic, potentially triggering violence, including execution-style killings and the dehumanizing cruelty of Jewish bodies being tossed into a cart for disposal. Sexual assault was among the crimes common to Direlwanger and his subordinates, and this tendency toward the abuse of women is repeatedly used throughout Monkeywanger. Jewish women are seen being forced to dance and play musical instruments nude before crowds of Nazi officers, other women are seen having their breasts and genitals groped by soldiers allegedly searching for contraband, and a row of nude male and female bodies is shown after Direlwanger had people poisoned.

MIND’s art is truly stunning: brilliant grayscale portraits bring each character to vivid life with careful individuality. Most of the book is in stark monochrome, though chapters are separated by solid black pages with Nazi-red text. Occasional pops of color appear and are used to highlight words and add impact to a page. Indeed, the exquisite art adds to the disturbing nature of the work, as the attention to detail makes the horrors of the acts even more realistic.

It’s hard to determine who the intended audience for Monkeywanger is. Certainly, it is most appropriate for mature readers, those familiar with the atrocities of the Second World War and the Nazi’s actions against the Jews. Amateur historians and war aficionados might find that this book adopts a new approach to understanding the depravity of that era’s crimes against humanity, but it seems unlikely that general graphic novel readers would find Monkeywanger approachable or enjoyable.

Monkeywanger: The Crimes of Oscar Dirlewanger
by Peeler Watt
Art by MIND
ISBN: 9781479282302
Self-published, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl: TV Episodes 1-40

Yawara 1-40Yawara just wants to be an ordinary girl: hang with friends, wear pretty clothes, fall in love, go to college. But “ordinary” is not the future her crazy grandfather Jigoro, a legendary judo champion, has in mind for her.

Determined to see Yawara win gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics (the first year women’s judo was a medal event) and earn Japan’s National Merit Award, Jigoro has been rigorously training her since she was five. He believes friends, modern fashion, and boys are nothing but insidious distractions. Yawara may be a judo wunderkind, but all the pressure – from her grandfather, from the media, and from the judo-loving public – makes her resent the sport. Convincing her to tune out all the noise, enjoy judo for herself, and discover her own ambition may prove a greater challenge than winning Olympic gold.

Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl aired simultaneously in Japan with its sister show Ranma 1/2 (which it consistently beat in the ratings), yet only the latter saw a U.S. release at the time. What a shame! Based on an unlicensed 29-volume manga series by Naoki Urasawa (creator of the popular psychological thriller Monster), Yawara! presents a more realistic and substantial, though still plenty funny, story than its screwball-fantasy sibling. But without the opportunity to be appreciated in English when originally broadcast from 1989-90, the series is showing its age and may have a harder time winning over new fans. The character designs are understandably old school — though it’s fascinating to see Urasawa’s stylistic influence in such a light-hearted story — and frames can be unsteady, with cell edges occasionally jumping into view at the bottom of the screen. Nevertheless, the characters are visually appealing and the animation fluid for its era, with a welcome focus on realism, particularly in the carefully depicted judo scenes.

With the exception of selfish Jigoro, whose constant harping and one-track mind quickly become more a source of viewer vexation than amusement, the characters are fun and dynamic. There’s kind, fumbling Matsuda, the intrepid young reporter whose devoted interest in Yawara becomes more than strictly business; arrogant, ambitious Sayaka, Yawara’s highly motivated rival in judo and love; handsome Kazamatsuri, Sayaka’s womanizing coach and Yawara’s crush; plus a colorful assortment of classmates, media folk, and international competitors.

As she goes through high school and begins her first year of college, Yawara bonds with and supports her down-and-out judo club, makes new friends, faces fired-up challengers, falls for two very different men, stands up a little to her grandfather, and tries to find her own way. The story occasionally bogs down with padded plotlines, but it has enough depth, drama, laughs, and action to overcome its slower moments and keep the viewer rooting for the heroine and wondering what happens next.

And there, unfortunately, is the downside. This thoughtfully-produced, long-overdue, sub-only box-set has already gone out of print after just four years. It also comprises only the first 40 of the series’s 124 episodes, the rest of which (along with two feature-length sequels) have never been licensed. So, viewers longing to know with whom Yawara ends up, how she comes to love judo, and how she fares in Barcelona will have to resort to research or a monumental license-rescue campaign. Otherwise, they’ll have to console themselves with the increasingly scarce set’s extras, including bonus features (character bios, an interactive map, screen shots, and eye catches) and a surprisingly detailed guidebook with creator and series background information, episode-by-episode cultural notes, and an introduction to judo terms and scoring.

Yawara’s strong, independently-minded personality and her struggle to reconcile her own desires with other responsibilities and expectations will obviously draw female viewers, but males will have plenty to identify with, too. The mostly mild fanservice is similarly balanced between audiences, with a few panty shots and boob jokes on the one hand and shameless Kazamatsuri periodically flaunting his fine physique on the other. Teen and adult viewers who don’t mind the fanservice and who are willing to embrace the series’ datedness (80s fashion! rotary phones!) will find a lot to enjoy here, including more complexity and smarter storytelling than the deceptively simple visual style would lead them to expect.

Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl: TV Episodes 1-40
AnimEigo, 2008
directed by Hiroko Tokita
1000 minutes, Number of Discs: 6, Box set
Company Age Rating: 13
Related to: Yawara! by Naoki Urasawa

Bring it Back! Dramacon, vol. 1

Not one hour into her first convention and the excitement has already started to wear off for Christie. An aspiring manga writer, Christie hoped a weekend vacation at the local anime and manga convention would prove to be a lot of fun and help to bring her and her artist boyfriend Derek closer as they sell the comic they made together. But running an Artist Alley booth proves to require a lot more work than Christie thought! And she winds up doing most of it as their friends disappear to explore the convention and Derek flirts shamelessly with every girl with big boobs in a cosplay costume.

The one bright side to the first day is Matt – a sensitive cosplayer at the booth next to theirs, who wears sunglasses all the time and proves to be the shoulder to lean on that the shy Christie needs to survive. Can Christie find the confidence to pursue her dreams of Manga stardom? Can she separate herself from the artist/boyfriend she never saw herself apart from? And is it possible to love someone who you might never see again after tomorrow?

The premiere manga of Nightschool creator Svetlana Chmakova, the first volume of Dramacon lends itself well to recommendation on several levels. On the surface, the book is a simple romantic comedy, yet it shifts suddenly and naturally into a more serious romantic story later on. And more than anything else I’ve ever read on the subject, Dramacon perfectly captures the essence of what attending a convention is like. Indeed, I believe the book can serve as something of an educational guide for those who would like to attend an anime and manga convention, but want to know a little more about what it is like first. It also shows the reality of many a professional artist and what their lives at conventions are like.

Despite this educational angle, what truly makes Dramacon stand out is its sympathetic characters. You really feel for Christie as she begins to realize just how much of a jerk her boyfriend is, but also understand her desire to try and put up with his lecherous ways for the sake of the book they created together. Matt too, is an interesting character that male readers may find themselves connecting with as we learn more about his troubled past.

Svetlana Chmakova is a skilled artist, who has a unique, dynamic style that shatters the more static conventions of traditional Japanese manga. Chmakova switches between the standard manga look and chibi style with ease, offering up several moments of humor where miniaturized versions of the main characters scream their thoughts over the conversations held by the more traditionally drawn characters. In the later sections of the book, the art becomes more thoughtful and looks like a more traditional shojo manga as the drama becomes more centralized.

Dramacon is a must have for any library’s young adult graphic novel collection. The series is rated T for Teen and rightly so, as the series contains a good bit of fan-service, a frank explanation as to just what Hentai anime entails, and various other adult situations as dealt with by teenagers.

Dramacon, vol. 1
by Svetlana Chmakova
ISBN: 9781598161298
TokyoPop, 2005
Publisher Age Rating: T (13 )

Paranoia Agent

41WEQNJJC4LFrom the creative and mind bending imagination of Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Paprika) comes this twisted thriller that dives deep into the psyche of troubled minds. Paranoia Agent is a series of episodes loosely connected by a plot about a mysterious boy nicknamed Lil’ Slugger who assaults seemingly innocent civilians with a golden baseball bat. For the most part, the episodes offer a deep look into those connected, directly or indirectly, to the bat wielding maniac including two police detectives, a stressed character designer, a desperate family man and young schoolboy who sees his popularity dwindling.

Paranoia Agent is a engrossing psychological thriller that will have you guessing the reality of the world these characters live in. The major theme of the series is how we are affected by reaching rock bottom, emotionally speaking. Despite their differences Although they have no relationship with one another other, the characters are connected by this emotion. It is hard to truly discuss the role fear plays in Paranoia Agent without spoiling the entire series, so I’ll stop there!

Each episode focuses on a character and the problems they face in life. Episodes run the emotional gauntlet of being haunting (“Double Lips”), comical (“The Holy Warrior”), and uproariously uncomfortable (“Happy Family Planning”). Paranoia Agent is geared towards a mature audience due to scenes of violence as well as adult-oriented issues such as suicide, split personality disorder, and incest, all of which are incredibly important to the plot. As uncomfortable as the content can be, Kon is never over the top nor does he try to find ways to disgust the viewer.

The DVD set contains both an English and Japanese track and I found the English track to be done quiet well, with the stable of actors and actresses doing a fine job with their roles. The music of the series is light and airy at times, which contradicts the dark subject matter. Paranoia Agent is an emotionally driven series that explores themes that are not so far removed from reality. That is what makes Kon’s work so fascinating. He is interested in telling stories about the human condition and how we deal with the stress in our lives. While most people are able to cope, it is far more compelling to watch those who succumb to it.

Paranoia Agent
Geneon, 2005
directed by Satoshi Kon
325 minutes, Number of Discs: 4

How to Draw Shojo Manga

The editorial staff of four Japanese manga magazines have compiled a guide for aspiring shojo (girls’) manga creators. They cover the basics of plot, art, supplies, layout, and submission, while using examples from popular shojo manga creators.

The biggest problem with this nonfiction, non-comic format guide is the title. It is not actually a “how to draw” book, so the title is extremely misleading. Rather the work focuses on how to assemble a manga story with the aim of submitting it to a Japanese manga publisher. The editors assume familiarity with shojo manga stories and art styles, art supplies used in the creation of manga, Japanese manga magazines, and, mostly importantly, how to draw. In other words, this is not a beginner guide.

However, that said, this is still a useful educational work. There are plenty of young artists who have the basics of drawing down, but who need help with plot and page layout and the other elements of comic creation. And for rabid fans who are particularly interested in creating manga in Japan, this can be a wonderful resource. The details on submitting to several different Japanese shojo manga magazines are included and there are notes for English-speaking audiences reminding them that being fluent in Japan might be required to be published in such magazines or even to speak to editors. (There is a note about how to speak to United States publishers at conventions and the like.) As it was originally printed in Japan in 2006, the U.S. editors strongly encourage readers to double check that submission guidelines haven’t changed, though unfortunately the Japanese websites for the magazines are not included, which would have been helpful.

What are most useful, however, are….

This review was originally posted at Good Comics for Kids. Please visit the original post to see the rest of the review.

How to Draw Shojo Manga
by collaborative editing of Hana to Yume, Bessatsu Hana to Yume, LaLa, and Melody editorials
ISBN 978-1-4278-1665-8
TokyoPop, November 2010

Neko Ramen, vol. 1

When Tanaka-san wanders into a new ramen restaurant in town, he’s stunned to see that the restaurant is owned and operated by a talking cat. But Taisho’s ramen skills leave something to be desired–namely taste and texture! He’s determined to succeed, though, and Tanaka-san can’t help coming back to the restaurant, just to see what will happen next.

Neko Ramen is a yonkoma or “four cell manga,” like a comic strip in the United States, but told vertically rather than horizontally. As in comic strips, there is a set-up and a humorous ending. Unfortunately, that means that there isn’t much in the way of deep plotting. That’s not a bad thing–after all, Garfield isn’t the most introspective of works, either–but it can make for slightly tedious reading when you’re reading it all at once, rather day-by-day in the newspaper or online. The jokes are often of the “Oh my, Taisho’s a cat, but he doesn’t act like one!” variety and those can quickly get stale. Luckily, there’s enough of a storyline to keep things moving along and, much like Tanaka-san, you find that you want to see what crazy thing will happen next….

This review was originally posted at Good Comics for Kids. Please visit the original post to see the rest of the review.

Neko Ramen, vol. 1: Hey! Order Up!
Kenji Sonishi
ISBN 978-1-4278-1779-2
TOKYOPOP, June 2010
Publisher Age Rating: T/Teen

Deka Kyoshi, vol. 1

Police detective Toyama has been given a tough new undercover assignment: teaching a fifth-grade class! Their teacher was killed under mysterious circumstances and the police believe that the students are in danger as well. Toyama soon discovers that one boy, Makoto, has the ability to see what others cannot and his horrific visions may be the key to the problems haunting Toyama’s students.

Baba’s manga is more than it first appears, though the T+/16+ rating could keep it out of middle school libraries. In the first volume nothing is too violent or too adult for a middle school audience, so I am assuming that the rating comes from more mature subject matter in volumes to come. The strength of Baba’s story comes from an acknowledgment that older elementary school students and middle schoolers are dealing with issues like bullying, puberty, cutting, divorce, shoplifting, and peer pressure. All of the students in Toyama’s class are struggling with a problem of one kind or another and none of those problems are treated as minor issues. Whether it is the student whose body is maturing faster than she is ready for or the student whose family problems have stressed her to the point of wrist cutting, all issues are dealt with sensitively and seriously. But, at the same time, Baba doesn’t make the mistake of being overly sentimental. This is a horror title, so there are lots of scenes of scary monsters–the visual evidence of a person’s mental turmoil or internal demons–and plenty of action as go-get-’em Toyama tries to help his students as best he knows how, occasionally bumbling, but helpfully guided by school nurse and voice of reason Reiko Narita.

The art is as much of a surprise as the story….

This review was originally posted at Good Comics for Kids. Please visit the original post to see the rest of the review.

Deka Kyoshi, vol. 1
Tamio Baba
ISBN 978-1-4012-1890-4
CMX/Flex Comics, November 2009

Howtoons: The Possibilities are Endless

I have to confess. I am not handy. I don’t enjoy building things or using tools. I have no desire to hang out in workshops or garages, smelling sawdust or organizing wrenches. The worst part of owning my own home is not having a landlord to call when something breaks. So imagine my surprise when I ended up reading Howtoons cover to cover, and finding I’d actually like to give some of the projects in the book a try.

Bored siblings Celine and Tucker are told by their mother to go “make something other than trouble.” Taking these instructions to heart, they turn a corner of the basement into a workshop and get to work. Together the two complete a series of kid-friendly projects using easy to find materials. Each short chapter includes a quick story about the kids that sets up the project, safety tip, or how-to pointer. From making their own ice cream and learning to count on their fingers in binary, or building a marshmallow shooter and a whoopee cushion, Celine and Tuck use their imaginations, some ingenuity, and a little bit of science, to have a whole lot of fun.

One thing to keep in mind is that kid-friendly doesn’t necessarily mean easy, and each new project builds on the skills learned by doing the projects that came before, so adult supervision is recommended, but adult help isn’t always necessary….

This review was originally posted at Good Comics for Kids. Please visit the original post to see the rest of the review.

Howtoons: The Possibilities are Endless
Authors: Saul Griffith, PhD, Nick Dragotta, Joost Bonsen
Illustrator: Nick Dragotta
ISBN: 9780060761585
HarperCollins, 2007

Land of the Blindfolded, vol. 1-9

Kanade can sometimes see a person’s future when she touches them. It’s not always a fun power, but she’s learned to live with it. Her world is tossed upside down, though, when two new students appear at her school. Namiki is a handsome, but bitter, young man who can also see the future. It is, however, the cheerful but mysterious Arou who captures Kanade’s attention with his ability to see into the past. These three gifted teens must work together to learn to use their powers and to deal with school, friends, family, and love.

Tsukuba’s nine volume series is delicately romantic and will capture the hearts of readers looking for gentle love stories with a sweet and caring heart. She achieves this by not rushing anything and by building a believable and realistic story, despite the fantasy elements. None of the teens’ powers are explored in the sense of where they come from or if anyone else has these powers. Instead the focus is on the best way to use the powers. Kanade tends to dive in and try to fix things before they become a problem, whereas Arou prefers, from long experience, to allow things to be the way they will be. Namiki, the most mistreated member of the trio, has learned to consider other people as lesser beings, not important to him except as a source of money, food, or amusement. What is fascinating is seeing how Tsukuba crafts all three to be distinctly different people, yet also shows how those strengths play off of one another.

Her story builds slowly, gradually adding more details and more characters as the volumes go on. This allows readers to fully immerse themselves in the tale, to feel connected and engaged. This also allows the relationships between the characters, whether romantic, friendly, or familial, to develop naturally. By the end, we can see how the characters have changed over the course of the story. Kanade changes the least, but since she is the strongest to begin with, that isn’t necessarily a fault. The ending is slightly less resolved than I would have liked (an epilogue would have been nice), but upon later reflection, it did seem to fit.

The art is strong and rather timeless feeling, despite the age of the title, which first began running in Japan in 1998. Tsukuba uses a lot of humorous elements, which play nicely off of the more serious stories, but she doesn’t go for full chibis, preferring to alter facial expressions or body movements to express the comedic moments. Her faces and bodies aren’t much more than shojo standard—wide eyed pretty people, both boys and girls—but she’s obviously confident in her drawings, so her characters are different and distinct.

My favorite thing about this series is Tsukuba’s treatment of sexual tension. She doesn’t ignore it, far from it. She actually shows the reader the amazing wonderfulness of touching the hand of the person you like for the very first time. You can see how that feels; you can almost taste the magic of a first, chaste kiss. She has moments where characters joke about sex or get flustered when talking to the one they like. It’s all very believable and I’m thrilled that she doesn’t skip over that very important part of romance. At the same time, she doesn’t get overly explicit, which is why CMX gave the book its E (for everyone) age-rating. While I think that this series isn’t quite for everyone (younger than middle school won’t understand or care about the romance), I do think this is a nice middle school level romance, which the sexual tension helps make realistic to early teens.

Readers looking for something to pair with Fruits Basket, From Far Away, Apothecarius Argentum, or Yurara, should definitely look for this series. It has the romance, it has the fantasy, and it has the strong writing and good art to make it a keeper. The first three volumes also have terrific bonus stories, which are a mix of realistic and fantasy and which leave the reader longing for more of this fine creator.

Land of the Blindfolded, vol. 1-9
Sakura Tsukuba
Vol. 1, ISBN: 1401205240
Vol. 2, ISBN: 1401205259
Vol. 3, ISBN: 1401205267
Vol. 4, ISBN: 1401205275
Vol. 5, ISBN: 1401205283
Vol. 6, ISBN: 1401210163
Vol. 7, ISBN: 1401210171
Vol. 8, ISBN: 140121018X
Vol. 9, ISBN: 140121052X
CMX/DC Comics, 2004-2006