Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘manga’

To be honest, one of the things that motivated me to start learning Japanese five years ago was that I wanted to be able to read manga and Japanese books that haven’t been translated into English. There’s a wealth of fantastic series and novels to partake in if you can read the language, and I’m happy to say that I’ve reached the point where I can enjoy reading some things in Japanese (although too much kanji with no furigana can still be a sure way to a headache). Now my dilemma is that even if I can read untranslated manga, I wish I could share it with those who can’t read Japanese. Of course, there are plenty of groups willing to release unofficial translations, but for the sake of making great series available to a wider readership while still giving the manga industry and the mangaka the support that they deserve, here are a few series I would love to see get official English translations:

Image from Kinokuniya

Image from Kinokuniya

ボクラノキセキ/Bokura no Kiseki/Our Miracle by Natsuo Kumeta

Bokura no Kiseki centers on Minami Harusumi, a boy who believes that the reoccurring dreams he sees of a princess are fragmented memories of his past life. Sharing his theory in elementary school, however, results in social isolation, and when he ends up using dangerous magic, a remnant of his past life, on school bullies, Minami decides to keep everything associated with his past life a secret. Yet after keeping quiet for years, assimilating into high school, and even getting a girlfriend like a normal student, he and his friends are suddenly attacked by someone who seems to have some connection to Minami’s past life. Life as Minami and his classmates knew it breaks down into confusion as the attack triggers more and more students at the school to remember pieces of their previous lives, and their new lives become increasingly tangled in the betrayals and mysteries of the past.

Going from the standard misunderstood-kid-who-finds-friends plot to something much more intricate in a matter of chapters, Bokura no Kiseki might have collapsed under its own weight in the hands of a less skilled mangaka. With two interwoven storylines, one in present-day Japan and another in a medieval-like fantasy world, there’s a lot going on. Characters try to piece together what happened in their past lives while working through present mysteries and problems that arise from remembering their pasts, such as who is really who. In order for Bokura no Kiseki to go beyond an okay manga with stock characters, the characters from both past and present must also be carefully developed. Fortunately, mangaka Natsuo Kumeta is one of those rare people up to the task of following through with such an extensive narrative and cast. At eleven volumes so far, Kumeta has proven herself a master of crafting stories, pacing the narrative just right to develop her characters and their relationships while still dipping into intense moments of action, building intrigue, and delivering compelling plot twists. In many respects, Bokura no Kiseki reminds me of the aspects that I loved about another series about reincarnation that has been translated into English, Please Save My Earth.

Lastly, gender roles seem to have practically dissolved away in Bokura no Kiseki. I initially struggled with what to say about how male and female characters are portrayed in Bokura no Kiseki because it’s a hard thing to define in a series where girls have been reincarnated as boys and vice versa. But the fluidity that makes it difficult to differentiate the boys’ roles from the girls’ is part of what I love about this series, as well as the crucial fact that it depicts female and male characters playing a wide range of parts in both lives. Its gender representation is subtle but well-executed so far. To top it off, Kumeta’s art is quite attractive, and the series offers a good mix of action, intrigue, modern and fantasy world, and even a side of romance that should please a wide range of readers.

7SEEDS by Yumi Tamura

Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

The mangaka of my second pick should be familiar to at least some English speakers. Yumi Tamura’s work has been translated into English before, the most notable of those being her 27-volume shoujo epic, Basara. Although both Basara and her ongoing series 7 SEEDS transport readers to a post-apocalyptic Japan, 7 SEEDS does not have the same level of romantic elements that Basara has, with it’s plot of a girl taking her brother’s place as the “boy of destiny” and falling in love Romeo-and-Juliet style with her enemy. It’s a harsher vision, abruptly plopping its readers and characters alike in a hostile, Jurassic Park-like future. Natsu, a high school student from modern-day Japan, awakes one day to find herself with several other young men and women in this strange land without a clue as to where they are or what has happened. The truth, they find out, is that the world has undergone a change similar to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, and that they, and a number of other people, were cryogenically frozen as part of a top secret government project meant to safeguard the survival of the human race. Now, with nothing but the supplies they woke up with, the natural resources of the land, and each other, they must learn how to survive this dangerous future.

Despite what might sound like the premise of a B-grade movie, 7 SEEDS is truly an A-grade series. Although there are plenty of close calls with nature, the characters are the heartbeat in this relatively slow-paced narrative where sometimes the actions of characters are rather mundane, such as looking for shelter. That suits a mangaka like Tamura just fine, however, giving her the chance to show off her excellent writing skills. She builds up a strong mix of characters, getting inside their heads, slowly unraveling their strengths and weaknesses, and then letting the characters bounce off each other and grow, or fall. Tamura knows how to work drama in order to capture the reader’s emotions. She makes a smart move, too, injecting an extra layer of interest into the narrative by switching among a number of characters rather than sticking with one protagonist. This allows her to keep the momentum of the story going, leaving one party once those characters get relatively settled and moving on to another, then back again. Much of the anticipation arises from what will happen when these parties meet, and Tamura pulls out all the cards when they do, adding conflict and, yes, even a little romance at times.

Having such a large cast also shows off Tamura’s range for character writing. Both her male and female characters are wonderfully developed and are never constrained to gender roles or stereotypes. (In fact, while gender roles are not as much in focus as they are in Basara, there have been a number of moments in the series that deal directly with gender issues.) And with multiple protagonists, you’re bound to find at least one character that piques your interest.

Image from Baka Updates

Image from Baka Updates

あめのちはれ/Ame Nochi Hare/Clear Weather After the Rain by Bikke

Ame Nochi Hare is one of the more fantastical gender bending tales that I’ve encountered, but it’s also among the more interesting in terms of its exploration of gender. The plot is relatively simple. Five high school boys, Hazuki, Toma, Yusuke, Madoka, and Junta, are just getting settled into their new, all-boy school when they’re caught in a rain storm. For some inexplicable reason, the storm causes a change in them and whenever it rains, the five of them change into girls. Now, the boys must keep their odd transformation a secret while trying to navigating life and love with two identities.

Before you stop reading, imagining an empty story filled with more boob and panty hijinks than substance, rest assured that this manga is an unusually thoughtful and whimsical treat. As it is a shoujo series, there’s romance abound, and it takes rom-com levels to the max with not just one but five characters who get into all kinds of sticky situations on account of their erratic gender bending. But the true rarity of this series is that, beneath the comedic romance troubles, is a story that delves into serious discussions of gender, framing the boys’ gender bending experience as a chance for them to learn what it’s like to live as women. At the same time, we see the struggles the boys have as boys. And while we have yet to see whether any of the boys decide they prefer life as a woman, the series does expand beyond depictions of straight men and women with at least one well-developed character in the cast who loves someone of the same sex. But even if all the boys decide they’re heterosexual men, the idea of people of the opposite sex learning to understand each other’s experiences is an intriguing one, and it’ll be interesting to see what effect those experiences have on the characters in the long run. Ame Nochi Hare is a sweet gender bending series curious about the different experiences of young men and women, and I’m just as curious to see where it takes its readers next.

Well, there are some of the untranslated gems that I would love to share with others! Do you have any untranslated manga series that you’d love to receive an official translation?

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

When you see a female character with a large chest, what do you think? Is it simply an artistic rendition of a curvy female body type, or does it fall under the category of fan service, and seem to exist as sexual titillation for consumers of a certain sex and sexual orientation? Leaning toward the latter line of thought, feminist bloggers such as myself often point out those big-breasted women of manga, anime, and video games as problematic. Just in my last post, I again attempted to tackle the issue, using the popular shonen manga series Fairy Tail as that week’s example of the prevalent trend.

While many previous readers have voiced disagreement with the concept that something is wrong with the fan service I highlight, a recent reader got me thinking about the issue in a slightly different fashion: where do we draw the line between “pure” artistic rendition of the human body and bodies draw for the purpose of sexual fan service?

One of the many charms of fiction like manga and anime is the varied art styles, the way the artist chooses to visualize a world. Art styles range from highly cartoonish and deformed to relatively realistic, resulting in many ways to represent the human body. Just think of comparing the artwork in Hiroyuki Takei‘s Shaman King or Gainax‘s Panty and Stocking to that of Naoki Urasawa‘s Monster or Tsugumi Ohba’s and Takeshi Obata‘s Death Note. Clearly, these artists all have distinct ways of drawing the human body. Depending on the style, the body many be more or less exaggerated, and exaggerated in different fashions at that.

Here’s where we hit a snag. Artistic expression is something to enjoy, but all too often, a line is crossed in the fictional depictions of busty women that shifts attention away from the character and onto the character’s body. Instead of just being another character who happens to have a shapely body, the minds behind the fiction sexualize her, focusing on her breasts, her curves, or what-have-you. Her body becomes a tool intended to gratify the straight male consumer and the work encourages the reader/viewer to objectify her through those cleverly placed shots.

Nevertheless, there are ways of making the majority of one’s female characters curvy without giving the series a crazy injection of fan service. Compare the depiction of curvy female characters in works such as Fairy Tail to that of Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist. FMA is full of female characters with shapely bodies, from mechanic/childhood friend Winry to highly skilled military personnel such as Hawkeye and Major General Armstrong. Unlike other works, however, their (realistically) sizable busts are not the center of attention. Is it apparent that they’re shapely? Yes. Gone, however, are convenient shots of shiny breasts, bouncing boobs, or other gimmicks intended to draw the eye to their chest. Some female characters even wear clothing that could have been used as fan service in other series, like Winry’s tube top or Izumi Curtis’ cleavage, but the mangaka chose not to focus on. Perhaps Arakawa’s female villain Lust comes closest to fulfilling fan service, acting as this series’ sexy character, but even the fan service we see with Lust isn’t as pronounced as the fan service in many other series. The fan service in FMA is slight, allowing the consumer to appreciate each character as a whole. In other words, there is a way to depict shapely women without making them into sexpots, and demonstrates that those who do fulfill that role in manga or anime are drawn with the intent that they do so.

Of course, we have to recognize that fiction has a way of showing audiences ideal body types of both sexes. I tend to focus on the depiction of female body standards (large breasts and a tiny hourglass waist), but male characters have long appeared in superhero-type fashion, boasting six-packs and muscles in areas you didn’t even know it was possible to build up. One of my favorite examples is Gohan from DBZ, who ends up with a chiseled body long before he even hits puberty. Obviously, both sexes get to see unrealistic ideals reflected in fiction. Despite the fact that those six packs often represent strength and power while the sizable female chest serves to turn the female body into something pleasurable for a given demographic, such male representations still builds on traditional ideas of masculinity and unrealistic body ideals. There are also examplesthat put male characters in the sexualized spotlight.

Here’s where all those reading this post who are ready to defend fan service can relax a bit. I’ve laid out how I differentiate fan service bodies from shapely forms, I’ve touched on why I see fan service as problematic, and I’ve pointed out men suffer from this fan service, too. Nevertheless, I don’t think that this kind of fan service in and of itself is the biggest problem. There will always be fan service and, in limited doses, it’s not that big of a deal. The issue becomes the sheer volume of fan service.

There are many different body types in this world, and it’s a good thing to pull from and represent that variety. Art even has the power to expand on the vast variety we already have in this world. Unfortunately, instead of representing various body types, some fiction eliminate that variety in their efforts to provide fan service. Others reinforce stereotypes. Even when we see a female character who supposedly doesn’t have an ideal body (which often means she has small breasts), we aren’t encouraged to appreciate variety. Rather, our attention is thrown back to sex appeal and cultural ideals. It’s not unusual for female characters with small breasts to express dissatisfaction with their body and occasionally envy toward those who have the ideal body type. Although we may sympathize with that character’s feelings, at times, traditional ideals seem to be confirmed in these tiny melodramas: it’s presented as a given that girls should be dissatisfied with smaller chests. On the flip side, female characters with big chests are often doomed to fulfilling fan service, no matter what kind of personalities or skills they possess. Seeing this type of rendition repeatedly can feel limiting, which is a shame since art clearly has the potential to expand our perceptions of the world.

I’ll finish this post by stating that I don’t claim to hold all of the answers on this issue. There’s a bit of a gray area between artistic expression and all its exaggerated glory, and the realm of simple fan service. Viewpoints on fan service itself are largely varied as well. Much of it depends on the eye of the beholder, but I hope this clarifies my personal definition. With that thought, what do you think of this issue?

Read Full Post »

Another few weeks have gone by and it’s time I put out another post. (I apologize that my posts/comments have been few and far between lately; it’s been a hectic semester.) Since readers seem to have enjoyed my post on shonen manga series created by female manga artists, and there are still a lot of examples I haven’t covered, I’m continuing the list this week with another round of great series.

Image from Amazon.com

Image from Amazon.com

InuYasha (犬夜叉) by Rumiko Takahashi

If we’re having a conversation about female manga artists succeeding in shonen manga, we absolutely cannot forget Rumiko Takahashi. Beloved for her iconic characters and unforgettable humor, Takahashi is one of the best known manga artists of any genre. Her work spans over decades and include a slew of popular series, from the hijinks of the boy cursed to turn into a girl when he comes into contact with cold water (Ranma 1/2), to tales of ghosts and reincarnation in her most recent work, Rin-ne. Many of her works have been translated and published in English at some point, a significant feat since we often only see a couple of works by the same manga artist make their way over to the States. With so many great shonen series in her arsenal, it was hard to choose which one to discuss here, but I’ve decided to discuss her award-winning shonen series InuYasha because of the huge popularity it had in the U.S. during its run.

InuYasha takes Takahashi’s talent for romantic comedy and puts it in a crazy adventure where past and present meet, injected with a fine dose of Japanese mythology. We start in modern-day Japan where 15-year-old Kagome lives with her family at the shrine her grandfather runs. One day, however, a horrific creature springs forth through the sealed well on their property and drags the girl back down the well with it. Yet Kagome doesn’t hit the bottom of the well. Instead, she falls right back to feudal Japan, where she awakens a strange boy–half dog demon, half man to be exact–who was put into a deep sleep for decades after a fight with a powerful priestess. Now that he’s awake, he’s convinced that Kagome is the priestess and wants revenge! But when a magical jewel with great power gets shattered and scattered across the land due to Kagome and InuYasha’s actions, the two are charged with collecting the pieces before those pieces make their way into the hands of evil.

Opening up a volume of InuYasha is like being enveloped in a pleasant batch of memories for me. Takahashi’s distinct style has a special charm and her comedic faces are top-notch. She spends time on the protagonists’ adventures, diverging from the main plot to explore the many side-adventures that occur on their journey in an episodic form. She is a master at creating a cast of characters that you just can’t help but root for, from the dutiful Sango and the womanizing monk, Miroku, to InuYasha’s powerful (and slightly terrifying) half-brother, Sesshomaru, who goes on his own emotional journey over the course of the story. If you’re looking for a classic adventure series with loveable characters and a good mix of comedy, romance, and action, check out InuYasha. While you’re at it, check out some of Rumiko Takahashi’s other works as well! You really can’t go wrong with any of them.

D. Gray-Man (ディー・グレイマン) by Katsura Hishino

Turning from a twist on historic Japan to one on industrial England, we have Katsura Hishino’s D. Gray-Man. Katsura Hishino is perhaps best known by her 51x-2-qIyjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_instantly recognizable artwork that finds a balance between cool and beautiful, art that has been highly praised. She puts it to excellent use in D. Gray-Man, masterfully expressing the mix of the grotesque and horrid alongside great fragility that exists both in the world and the characters she has created.   

Set in an alternative version of the nineteenth century, the world is under attack by killing monsters called “Akuma,” an attack put into action by the mysterious “Millennium Earl.” Allen Walker, a polite teen with a dark past and present, however, is not about to let the Earl have his way. When his beloved foster-father Mana died, the boy foolishly made a deal with the Earl to bring Mana back to life. Instead, Mana’s tortured soul was resurrected under the Earl’s control, forced to kill and possess the resurrector to become an Akuma. Luckily, Allen was born with an arm infused with “Innocence,” the only means of fighting Akuma, but the incident leaves the boy emotionally scarred and cursed. Ever since, he’s been able to perceive the otherwise invisible souls that have become Akuma. After training for years with a master, Allen embarks to join The Black Order, a worldwide organization of Innocence-wielding exorcists and humankind’s only hope.

While exorcists, demons, and “humankind’s last hope” are nothing new in the world of action/adventure, Hishino adds spice with a unique, and sometimes downright bizarre, cast of characters, from Allen’s morally questionable master who racks up debt wherever he goes to the Earl who, despite his ominous role, often appears smiling and twirling an umbrella. The story can go off on seemingly random tracks at times (although these usually lead to the discovery of new comrades), but when the plot moves forward, D. Gray-Man becomes addicting. And if the good vs. evil plot leaves you wanting more complexity, rest assured that Hishino knows how to mix things up. Characters who enter the story aren’t always what they seem, not even Allen himself, although you have to be patient and wait for those plot twists to come. As a bonus to those who stick to the series, Hishino’s art goes from nice and stylish to an absolute gorgeous feast for the eyes! Unfortunately, the series has gone on and off hiatus several times due to various injuries and illness, but Hishino nevertheless continues to draw D. Gray-Man.

Nabari no Ou (隠の王) by Yuhki Kamatami

Image from Amazon.com

Image from Amazon.com

Nabari no Ou is a lesser known shonen series that I discovered back when Yen Press published it in their manga magazine, Yen Plus. Like ultra-popular shonen series, Naruto, Nabari no Ou takes the idea of the ninja on a wild imaginary ride, but this series is no cheap Naruto knock-off. Instead of a ninja world, Kamatami re-imagines our modern world with a shadowy underbelly, where ninja clans have secretly preserved their arts and kept their identities as ninja hidden for generations. Miharu is an apathetic 14-year-old who knows nothing of this other side of the world until he suddenly finds himself attacked by a couple of ninja. To his surprise, his classmate and teacher come to his rescue as ninja affiliated with the Banten Village, who explain to Miharu that he holds a power known as the Shinra Banshou in his body, making him a target of the Grey Wolves, a group of ninja who plan to use the Shinra Banshou to fulfill their wish. His teacher, Tobari, vows to protect him until they can remove the mysterious power from Miharu, but Toabri and Miharu’s classmate, Koichi, soon discover that helping such an apathetic child will be more challenging than they had anticipated. Add to the mix a bold samurai girl with revenge on her mind, a ninja with a death wish who has every intention of getting the Shinra Banshou, and many other people all with their own affiliations and individual desires/secrets, and Nabari no Ou starts to heat up.

One of the things that I really enjoy about this series is that although the characters at first seem rather uninteresting and flat, spouting justice and good vs. bad, those bland speeches end up crumbling away in each case to reveal more complex personal motivations. Lines become blurred between “good” and “evil” as each group Miharu meets presents themselves as justified in one way or another, including the Grey Wolves, who Miharu’s allies initially paint as the bad guys, proclaim good reasons for wanting the Shinra Banshou. Yet questions always remain about whether those proclaimed reasons are the true goals, leaving Miharu, and readers, at a loss as to who to really trust. Miharu’s most trusted ally turns out to be the person one least expects. Nabari no Ou is not perfect, especially at the beginning, but stick with it and you’ll witness the simplistic film around the truth slowly give way to a dark plot with characters whose fates you’ll want to stick around to find out.

Black Butler (黒執事) by Yana Toboso

Finally, Yana Toboso’ s Black Butler gives us yet another dark version of England in the 1800s. The series currently spans 18 volumes, many of which have 51D6oCX3byL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ranked on the top-selling list in Japan, and is the inspiration for a number of anime adaptations, a live-action film, and even a musical.

The story follows Ciel Phantomhive, who is by no means a normal 12-year-old boy. After the sudden death of his parents a couple of years ago, young Ciel inherited a massive fortune and responsibilities of the noble Phantomhive family. Yet his outward responsibilities are not the only unusual thing about this rather grim-looking boy. In that incident two years before, Ciel’s parents were murdered and he was taken captive. At that time, the boy made a contract with a demon, promising his soul in exchange for vengeance. Now that demon accompanies him under the guise of the perfect butler, Sebastian, granting Ciel’s every need until the boy’s revenge is complete.

While he searches for clues that will lead him to those behind his kidnapping and his parents’ murders, Ciel acts as the Queen’s eyes in the underworld, policing the many unseen illegal activities in England. Although Ciel looks anything but threatening to thugs, they have another thing coming when the boy’s all-too-perfect butler makes a move–Sebastian isn’t about to let Ciel’s precious soul be stolen before he gets a hold of it!

Toboso’s twisted manga about equally twisted characters is oddly addicting. Like the beautiful Sebastian himself, her artwork draws readers into a world of elegant mansions, stunning Victorian fashions, and eye-catching characters only to reveal a chilling (and often violent) underside hidden beneath that pretty surface. At the center of it all lies Ciel and Sebastian, whose relationship keeps the readers on eggshells. It shifts between a tense servant-master relationship, with Sebastian’s true demonic intentions peeking menacingly from beneath his complying exterior, while simultaneously acting almost like a solid partnership, as Sebastian saves Ciel in times of need, and Ciel likewise trusts that his demonic butler will have his back. Yet the thoughts of Ciel and (especially) Sebastian remain clouded from the readers’ view. So, if dark Victorian intrigue mixed with the supernatural and warped characters with the faces of angels is your cup of tea, try Black Butler.

That’s it for this round of shonen manga created by female manga artists! I know there are still plenty more to get to, including CLAMP (Tsubasa) and Akira Amano (Hitman Reborn), which I will try to cover in a future post. As I said last time, if you have any shonen series written by women that you would like me to write about, please leave me a comment!

Read Full Post »

47347 I believe it’s safe to say that Attack on Titan was the hit anime series of the season. Dramatic, stylish, and shocking, the series grabbed the audience with a titan-strength grip and wouldn’t let go, even after a season finale that went down with a boom! For those of you who don’t know the set up, the series is centered in an alternative world where humanity has been pushed to the brink by things called titans–human-like beings that tower above humans, making them look like dolls in comparison. For some unknown reason, titans began rampaging long ago, making humans their prey. Driven to desperation, humankind secluded itself within a space sectioned off by three impenetrable walls to stave off further titan attacks. In addition, they created a special military group trained in combating titans, although with little success. Despite the warnings from his mother and his adopted sister, Mikasa, that he’d get himself killed, young Eren dreams of joining the most ill-fated sectors of the military that venture outside the Walls. His other friend, Armin, also dreams of going outside the Walls, although doing so through the military is the last thing on his mind.

But after living in relative peace and safety for some time, Eren, Mikasa, and Armin’s lives are forever changed when a colossal titan breaks through the first Wall, once again releasing the horrors of titans on humanity. They manage to escape to the solace of the second Wall, but not without experiencing loss–Eren’s mother and later, Armin’s grandfather. Eren’s father has disappeared, too, but before that, he leaves Eren with a key to their basement and a mysterious message that Eren find out for himself what is hidden in the basement. Seeking revenge and the answer to his father’s strange demand, Eren becomes a military trainee with his two friends and begins the fight of a lifetime.

Balancing combat sequences in which the threat of death is very real with intense moments of character interaction and development, elements of mystery, and even some humor, Attack on Titan quickly became my addiction of the season; it’s the full package. One of the best surprises of all was the way the series has handled its female characters in relation to its male characters so far. It’s been a trend in shonen manga/anime (that is, series directed at boys) to star a large cast of characters who fight alongside the male hero. Within that group, there have been a good number of female characters in the ranks of fighters, albeit significantly fewer relative to the number of male characters. The catch is, however, those female characters are often differentiated from the male fighters as intelligent and technically skilled, but lacking in prowess and actual battle ability compared to the men. That’s not to say there are not exceptions, but I often run into that type of set up.

That’s why it was nice to see Attack on Titan playing with this trend and switching things around a bit. Instead of making the hero’s female friend the strategically skilled but physically weak character and the hero’s male friend the super skilled, battle prodigy, as happens with popular series such as Naruto, the series flipped the stereotypes. Mikasa acts as the prodigy soldier whose skill excels her comrades and Armin plays the role of the physically weaker genius strategist. I like this change because it removes those skill sets (combat skill/intellect) from a stereotypical connection with one or the other gender. Guys can excel at using their heads instead of their fists and aren’t always great at combat. On the other hand, girls can be great–even better than their male comrades–at combat.shingeki_no_kyojin-06-mikasa-blade-sword-looking_totally_badass-crowd-scouting_team

That brings me to my thoughts on Mikasa. Mikasa, if nothing else, is an intriguing female character. Cool and collected to an almost alarming degree, you’re not going to see this female character hesitate in the face of danger. She’s shown over and over to be more than capable, starting in the first episode when Mikasa scares away a group of bullies who are about to hurt Eren and Armin with her mere presence. (Yes, you read that right: the female friend saves the guys for once.) In later episodes, she’s shown to have the potential to rival one of the best fighters in the military, a battle-hardened man named Levi. She’s not just physically strong, but also mentally as strong as steel. She’s able to rally herself to fight on even in the face of devastation.

She’s certainly far from perfect (she is human after all). Her devotion to Eren is at times worrying–sometimes it seems like Eren could tell Mikasa to jump off a bridge and she would–but it’s made clear that Mikasa has not made herself a mindless servant to Eren. Most notably, Eren tells her repeatedly that he doesn’t need or want her to protect him anymore, but that hasn’t stopped Mikasa from following her own wish to do so anyway. This absolute devotion does, however, make me pause and think of trends of female characters devoted to an extreme–romantically or otherwise–to a male character, which isn’t my favorite.  At least in Mikasa and Eren’s case, the devotion is a result of a traumatic event, which makes Mikasa’s reaction, and the strong bond that forms from the event, more understandable than simply being an unhealthily love-crazy girl. I also like that, from the beginning, Eren and Mikasa’s bond is founded on helping each other, instead of one (aka the girl) always hanging on the other for survival. So far, Eren and Mikasa’s has been fairly even give-and-take. With any luck, the series will keep it that way. In addition, rather than make the tough-as-nails Mikasa vulnerable, a gimmick used frequently, the revealing of her tragic past serves to depict how she became so tough. The use of Mikasa’s background (as well as Levi’s) brings difficult questions about what it means to obtain the strength we often see in action-driven series like Attack on Titan.

But Mikasa isn’t the only dynamic female character in Attack on Titan, not by a long shot. The series is full of female characters who are just as skilled and active as their male comrades. From fellow new recruits to veterans to zealous researchers, there are many types of female characters popping up to play significant roles. Without spoiling anything, there’s a particularly nice twist involving a female character at the end of the season.

shingeki-no-kyojin-characters

Imagine that. Practical uniforms for both men and women!

And can I just say that I am extremely happy that for once the female characters don’t get a cute/sexy, feminine version of the military uniform in the series? Creators seem compelled to give female officers miniskirts or pink versions of whatever uniforms the male officers are wearing, even combat operatives. Just because they’re female doesn’t mean you have to give them a cute uniform. It was refreshing to see a series that isn’t afraid of treating the female characters just like the male ones: they are treated seriously and don’t exist as attractive things to drool over. In fact, not only do the uniforms not objectify them, but the character designs themselves show that the female characters aren’t just there as eye candy. While there are some female characters in the cast that are cute or beautiful, there are also a number of female characters that don’t fit traditional and limited ideas of beauty. There are also no conveniently angled shots of female butts or boobs nor any unrealistically large female anatomy present. The female characters are treated just like the male characters. To me, that pretty much sums up how Attack on Titan succeeds with its female characters.

It’s violent. It’s brutal. But with interesting characters that break gender roles, good mix of character building and action, and a compelling plot that keeps you begging for the next installment, Attack on Titan is without a doubt my favorite series of the season. Give it a try if you haven’t already. You can watch the entire season for free (and legally) on Crunchyroll.com now.

Read Full Post »

images-88Most of us, at one point or another, experience a series that catches your heart upon picking up the first installment–a sort of “love at first sight” for story lovers–only to find ourselves disillusioned by the end. I have had my share of those over the years; sometimes, it was a result of growing up and maturing taste or simply the thrill of something once new and shiny fading away. The worst, however, are the cases of series that really have everything I could ask for–good plotting, interesting and three-dimensional characters, something unique, and that element that keeps me dying to get my hands on the next installment–but get tripped up and crash along the way. Unfortunately, this was my ultimate experience with the manga series Please Save My Earth or, 「ぼくの地球を守って」 by Saki Hiwatari.

Written in the late 80’s into the 90’s, Please Save My Earth started off like any other teen drama. Alice Sakaguchi is a 16-year-old who is having trouble adjusting to the recent move to Tokyo. Inhibited by her shyness and inadvertently intimidating her new classmates with her demure appearance, she just can’t seem to make any new friends. If that wasn’t bad enough, she has been getting harassed endlessly by the 7-year-old brat living in the apartment next door, Rin Kobayashi. Perhaps the only hint of something mysterious underneath the mundane is a mention of Alice’s ability to talk to plants, a secret only her family knows, and a story from two classmates, Jinpachi and Issei, about a strange dream they both seem to be experiencing that they believe has something to do with their past lives.

But things soon take a sharp turn when a job babysitting Rin goes terribly awry and Alice accidentally sends Rin tumbling over the edge of a 15th story balcony. While he miraculously survives, Rin begins to remember his dark past life. At the same time, Alice finds herself being drawn into Jinpachi and Issei’s story of their past lives: in the dreams, Jinpachi and Issei are two of six scientists from another plant sent to the moon on a mission. After she has a dream similar to theirs, it appears she too may be one of the group of scientists reincarnated and this spurs the three teens to look for the other reincarnated members. What starts as a mysterious yet fun reminiscing soon gives way to growing darkness as secrets of their past lives are gradually brought to light and Rin, unbeknownst to the others, sets up a carefully spun web of revenge for the wrongs done to him and manipulates the others for some unknown purpose.

Just as Rin masterfully manipulates those around him, Hiwatari is able to draw raw emotions from the readers with her excellent storytelling abilities. She moves the plot at the perfect pace, building anticipation as we watch the story morph from lighthearted fun into a tangled mess as the characters struggle to come to terms with what happened in their past lives. Intriguing questions confuse the reader as much as the characters. For example, are Jinpachi and the others living as their reincarnated selves or being absorbed by their past lives? Alice becomes stuck in passiveness, unsure if she really is the reincarnated form of a woman named Mokuren and afraid to find out. While she hesitates, the others jump right into the memories of their past lives and suddenly find themselves falling into the same traps their previous lives did; just as Jinpachi’s previous life fell in love with Mokuren, Jinpachi falls in love with Alice. But does he love Alice because she’s Alice or because she might be Mokuren? Issei, despite being reincarnated as a boy, can’t help but feel jealous at the sight of Jinpachi, the reincarnated form of the man he loved in his previous life as a woman, in love with Alice. Rin suffers from this the most, transforming from a bratty 7-year-old to someone utterly consumed with the anger and demons of his adult past life and in turn reminds the others of the demons of their own pasts. On top of that, nothing is what it at first seemed to be as Hiwatari skillfully turns things on their head with the simple switch of perception. Needless to say, it’s a multi-layered story with plenty of complications, but it’s artfully unraveled before our eyes.

If you haven’t read this series in its entirety and don’t want it spoiled, I strongly recommend you not to read the following paragraphs, since I will be diving into huge spoiler territory for the remainder of my discussion.

Perhaps Please Save My Earth‘s greatest strength as well as its greatest downfall lies in these terrifyingly complex characters and their unraveling. Throughout the series, readers are given a chance to experience events that happened in Alice and her friends’ past lives from different view points, the most in-depth and predominant being the perspectives of Shion, Rin’s past life, and Mokuren. Many times, it breathes life into otherwise two-dimensional characters as we get to see what one character was really thinking or how they got to be the way they are. One of the best examples of this occurs when readers get to at last see things from Mokuren’s perspective. Until this point, Mokuren is depicted as she was seen by the other characters: a perfect woman who was feminine, beautiful, saintly kind, and had all the men falling in love with her. This type of perfect yet dull female character appears fairly often in fiction so, I was pleased when Hiwatari ripped away this image like a veil hiding the not entirely pleasant truth beneath.

The saintly guise dropped, Mokuren is revealed to be a rather feisty young woman with a rebellious spirit who is tired of being made out as perfect. As one of a handful of people with a power considered holy, she has been idealized, idolized, and isolated, unable to get others to see past her image as a holy woman. In truth, she has problems and questions of her own and doesn’t always approach things in the right manner. Yes, Mokuren is a romance-obsessed young lady at times, but it’s shown as a quirk developed through her past experiences and her wish to reject constraints that dictate she cannot love someone as a holy woman. And indeed, Mokuren’s idea of romance is shown to be a bit simplistic and idealized. Shion’s character development is a lot more typical, showing his harsh exterior to hide someone desperately in need of love and comfort, but is nonetheless well done. His darkness alienates him from every chance of love that comes his way and we watch as he slowly pushes himself further into darkness by committing successively worse offenses to others.

Yet something that started so good slips into an extremely convoluted and repulsive development. Another huge shock rocks readers’ perception of the fairy tale-like romance that we are made to believe existed between Mokuren and Shion. The engagement of the ruthless Shion with the ultra nice Mokuren appears like any other formulaic romance nowadays, but as secrets of their past life come to light, it is revealed that Shion actually raped Mokuren. To the bewilderment of Shion, however, Mokuren lied and told the others it was their misunderstanding, that she and Shion are engaged. In other words, what the others thought was rape was not. This is perhaps the ultimate turn of events in the story and readers are left wondering what Mokuren was thinking for volumes. After all, her actions don’t make sense. But the final reveal ended up smashing this beautifully sculpted world to pieces for me.please_save_my_earth_v11p140_copy

Mokuren, who really did love Shion, is naturally crushed to think he didn’t actually love her. At first, we’re made to think she hates Shion for this, but this feeling is warped into devotion for a man who she not only thinks doesn’t love her, but who also has committed the greatest act of violation against her. At the same time, we’re told Shion used his hatred as an excuse to rape Mokuren, but really just wanted to love someone. Did Hiwatari run into a writer’s wall, in which she needed to make these two love each other despite the plot twist that suggests everything but love? I’ll likely never know, but what I do know is we’re left with a scenario that not only contradicts itself, but also supports a sick misconception about rape. Somehow, some people seem to be under the impression that a victim of rape can fall in love with the rapist, which is about as far from the truth as possible. In Mokuren and Shion’s case, Mokuren loved Shion before he raped her, but the idea that there is love in a relationship where one person rapes the other is simply preposterous.

While Mokuren does appear naturally confused at times, her love and devotion seems the strongest emotion even in the wake of the rape, which conflicts the other messages sent about how terrible an act the rape was. Yes, it is clear the rape hurt her, but the reaction Hitawari constructs for Mokuren undermines the crushing affect rape has on the victim. At the same time, Shion is almost excused for his unforgivable act by the end by the sympathetic yet highly flawed reasoning behind his actions. Did he rape her? Yes. Do we all agree this is bad? Yes. Oh, but by the way, he’s just a sad, empty guy who really did love Mokuren and thought in his selfish, twisted way that rape was the only way he could be loved by her. The reactions and reasoning seem forced and unnatural and send a horrible message about rape as excusable, forgivable, and above all, as something someone who really loved another could do to that person. To add insult to injury, when Mokuren lies about the engagement to save Shion from punishment for raping her, she acts as if she is in the wrong for forcing Shion to pretend to be engaged to and in love with her.

There are other issues such as Alice’s development later in the series and her relationship with Rin, a relationship in which she is constantly being manipulated, but Mokuren and Shion’s relationship was the biggest smack in the face for me. It’s quite unfortunate because there are plenty of wonderful things about Please Save My Earth. In fact, it was one of my favorite series up until I reached the rape incident and its subsequent handling of the issue. There are some things that can be overlooked, but presenting a rape and then essentially sweeping it under the rug just doesn’t cut it.

Read Full Post »

519IfIf-3xL._SL500_AA300_A master of manga, Fumi Yoshinaga, has created several titles worth raving about for their riveting and thoughtful/thought-provoking exploration of various characters and their lives. Antique Bakery, the story of four very different men starting a bakery, and, more recently, Ooku: The Inner Chambers, a retelling of Japanese history in which the women are the rulers and heirs, are two of her most famous works to be translated into English. Having read Antique Bakery and fallen in love with Yoshinaga’s excellent character and story craftsmanship, I quickly turned my attention to more of her work. This past holiday season, I was lucky enough to get my hands on many manga that could be considered “feminist,” including a book of short, ever-so-slightly connected stories entitled, All My Darling Daughters. 

The book starts with a tale of a daughter, Yukiko, who, at nearly thirty, still lives with her mother. From the quick flashback at the beginning and interactions seen within the first few pages, mother and daughter seem not to have a warm, fuzzy relationship nor bad relationship, but one where they appear to be somewhat at odds with each other. Yukiko’s routine with her mother is changed suddenly when her mother announces that she decided to get married. That’s right, not decides, but decided; the deed is over and done with and, to the daughter’s horror, her mother has married a man even slightly younger than Yukiko.

However, this isn’t just a silly story about an awkward situation (although Yoshinaga does a good job with sprinkling in some natural humor). While many of the interactions are of Yukiko and her mother’s young husband, the core of the story is about Yukiko and her mother, Mari. Yukiko struggles with the changes taking place between her mother and her, a relationship that is revealed to be stronger than it appeared at first. Yukiko’s father died when she was fairly young so, her mother raised her as a single woman. In a moment that especially touched me, Yukiko discusses how her mother never saw herself as pretty. “She really doesn’t like her own face. When she was young, her parents told her she was bucktoothed, so she worries about it.” Then, in a quick scene with a closeup on her face, Yukiko admits simply, “But I always thought she was beautiful.” It’s quiet, rather subtle moments like these that Yoshinaga excels at and made me a huge fan of hers.

From the end of that chapter, the stories rotate between several other women who are in some way connected to Yukiko from a friend who seems to have it all–brains, beauty, and kindness–yet can’t seem to find a guy she wants to marry, a college student with low self-esteem who gets into unhealthy relationships, and a school friend from long ago who reflects on the courses she and her friends took in life. Finally, the book wraps up with another story about Yukiko and her family. Along the way, it touches on issues such as abuse, self-esteem issues, and how women’s lives are affected by living in a patriarchical society (for example, the phenomenon of women having to do the majority of household work even if both she and her boyfriend/husband are working outside the home).

All in all, I really enjoyed this one-volume manga of short stories. As always, Yoshinaga has created a beautiful tale filled with the wide range of human emotions and experiences–happiness, angry, sadness, love, friendship, family, and more. She does this in a simple yet impacting manner, exploring something as potentially mundane as various women’s lives. This creates a very relatable cast of characters both male and female in realistic situations. All My Darling Daughters is not just a story about mothers and daughters, but about women of various backgrounds trying to make their way through life. So, if you haven’t already, I definitely recommend you try Yoshinaga’s All My Darling Daughters.

Read Full Post »

!!Spoilers for Barrage!!

A couple of weeks ago, a series by the name of Barrage concluded in Shonen Jump. Set in a futuristic fantasy world, slum boy Astro’s life is turned upside-down when the son of the king, Prince Barrage, runs away and wants Astro, his newly found look-a-like, to take his place as prince. Astro has little choice in the matter for it is not long after the prince proposes his idea he is mysteriously killed and Astro is mistaken by royal soldiers for the lost prince. Now forced to play the part of Barrage, he is sent on a journey to save his country from aliens. This one-shot manga brought some unique elements into the Shonen Jump world, but what about the main female character?

A trend that appears to be used fairly frequently in shonen manga is the main character usually has one main female friend or ally who is supposed to be an action girl. While the intentions may be well-meant, sometimes these female characters can end up feeling like token female characters who start off with potential for being competent, but are at some point undermined and reduced to the female character who relies on her male comrades to handle things or even a damsel in distress. We’ve seen this in Naruto (Sakura), Katekyo Hitman Reborn! (Chrome), and Rurouni Kenshin (Kaoru), just to name a few.

This always disappoints me greatly when I see it. It’s annoying to see stereotypical female characters, but it’s almost harder to be presented with a female character who could have been a very interesting one only to have that potential ripped away from me and left with the same-old, same-old. I can’t help but think what could have been. In addition, it feels like this trend says that people are willing to create stronger female characters than seen in the past, but with strict limits that keep them below the male characters in terms of overall competency. Even if you are not like me and don’t care particularly about female characters, doesn’t it get boring to see the same scenario played out repeatedly? There’s only so many times one can see any plot device before he/she develops a sensor for the trend and can see it coming.

That’s why I was concerned that Barrage would fall under the same line of plotting. It very well could have gone in the atypical direction with its female character, Tiko. Tiko is introduced toward the middle of the story as a young woman seeking revenge for the death of her adoptive mother. While the aliens may be her main enemy, she’s also got her eye on the military, specifically a group that has turned traitor and joined the aliens to enslave the town she lives in. Tiko is tough and ruthless to her enemies and is fixated on revenge, but she cares deeply for her friends and loved ones. She is the type of female character who has a tragic past that gives her that sympathy aspect, but it’s played out in a way that was no different from male heroes with tough childhoods. The hero of the story meets her when she is banishing a dangerous alien from her town single-handedly.

However, things take a turn for the atypical when the corrupt faction of the military and the aliens decide to take Tiko out before she causes any more trouble. She is horribly defeated and has to be saved by Astro and his comrade. After that, Astro asks to let them take care of ridding the town of enemies. Like many other shonen manga, the action girl of the series is stepping aside to let the guys take care of things.

But Barrage doesn’t play the trend as I’ve come to expect. Unlike so many heroines in shonen manga, Tiko decides on her own that she can’t afford to sit around waiting for the guys to handle everything and goes after the guys to help. In fact, the story plays out in such a way that Astro and his comrade, Tiamat, need her help as she ends up saving Tiamat who then helps Astro. Tiko ends up taking care of things alongside the guys. But the creator, Kouhei Horikoshi, takes things further. Once she’s saved Tiamat, it looks like she’ll take the support position and act as the distraction while the guy finishes the fight. There is nothing wrong with acting as support–it can be necessary and very useful–but female characters take this role so often that it gets a little old and once again seems to limit their strength to being only support-worthy. However, in a move that broke the trend and surprised me, Tiko actually used her male comrade as the distraction and took out the enemy. Once again, Tiko took initiative, this time by coming up with a plan and successfully acting on it. The way this sequence was handled really solidified that Tiko is an equal to the guys. This is what I’ve wanted to see with so many female characters who had the same potential but were held back by the trend.

Overall, I’m very happy with how Tiko’s part played out. I thought I knew where the story was headed, but Barrage‘s creator, Kouhei Horikoshi, pleasantly surprised me. Tiko shows initiative repeatedly and is not undermined by any plot devices that often cripple other supposedly tough female characters. By giving the story a competent action girl the plot was able to go in different directions than the typical one and adds new dynamics. So, Kouhei Horikoshi, please create another manga with a female character just as active as Tiko. We need more of characters like that!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »