Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Manga Review: Sailor Moon volume 6

At long last, a Sailor Moon review. Specifically, of the first volume of the S arc, which introduces the wonderfulness that is Haruka and Michiru.

I won't bother summarizing Sailor Moon up to this point. If you're considering reading the sixth volume of this series, you should already know what Sailor Moon's premise is. I will say that the volumes up to this point (covering the first two arcs) are excellent. And Haruka and Michiru are one of the most enduringly beloved, mega-popular yuri couples for good reason.

Just to be up front, although I've written about it here before, Sailor Moon is my gateway manga and anime and holds many sepia-tinted memories for me. For what it's worth, on re-reading this series as an adult, I still find it well-written and enjoyable, although naturally, some aspects of it read differently now.

As for what is in this volume...

A new arc, a new set of baddies. And a new pair of Sailor Soldiers who we know will be allies, even if Sailor Moon and the other Inner Soldiers don't yet.

Yes- kyaa!- this volume introduces Haruka/Sailor Uranus and Michiru/Sailor Neptune in its first chapter. Haruka being mistaken for a guy plays out less comedically here than in the anime, and there is more confusion on Usagi's part over her fleeting attraction to Haruka. And one... surprisingly creepy line from Haruka to Usagi. And there are a lot of helicopters. Helicopters seem to be to Haruka and Michiru in the manga what fluttering flower petals are to them in the anime.

We first see Michiru emerging from the swimming pool in her penthouse and Haruka wowing everyone at a racetrack before they fly together in their private helicopters to the elite school they attend. Strawberry Panic!, eat your heart out. One of the funniest moments in this volume is when a character Haruka and Michiru track for a bit (because she entered the villains' headquarters without realizing it) emerges outside and is like, "Oh wow, it's dark, and I need to get home. Kind of dangerous to walk after dark from here, isn't it," and they suddenly swoop down in a helicopter and are like, "Oh hey, we were just passing by in our helicopter. Want a lift home?" I also question the extent to which Haruka and Michiru desire to keep their Senshi identities a secret from the Inner Senshi, given that they give a big hint about it to Chibi-Usa and Haruka nicknames Usagi "Dumpling" (after her hairstyle) when she encounters her as a Senshi and as a civilian.

The Sailor Moon manga is darker and less campy than the SM anime, but it still has some comedic gems- this is the origin of attack names like "Jupiter Coconut Cyclone!", "Tuxedo La Smoking Bomber!", and my favorite, from a later arc, "Star Gentle Uterus!" (Poor, poor Taiki.)

Mugen Academy, the elite academy that Haruka and Michiru attend, is a towering glass skyscraper where preschoolers through graduate students are cultivated to be the leaders of tomorrow. Mugen Academy and its affiliated lab are owned by Professor Tomoe, a mad scientist who acts as the ringleader of this arc's villains.

While the head villains in the previous arcs had fantastical backstories, Tomoe is just a widowed man with a sick young daughter named Hotaru. Hotaru doesn't know what her father is up to, although she notices that his behavior is strange and his hands colder than they used to be. Tomoe and his lab assistants, the Witches 5, create creatures that latch onto to people and turn them into inhuman things, which Sailor Moon and the other Sailor Soldiers vanquish when they encounter them, returning the possesed people to normal.

My one criticism of the villains in this arc is that the Witches 5 aren't as... well, entertaining in the manga as they are in the anime. Physical appearance and attacks aside, they're pretty interchangeable. The manga's pacing doesn't give it as much room to give them individual quirks as the anime does, but one still misses how much of a hoot their anime counterparts are.

Another downside of the manga's tighter pacing is that we don't have time to see Haruka and Michiru being playful and lovey-dovey in this arc the way we do in the S anime- although we will get that itch scratched later in the manga, when Haruka and Michiru don't have their hands full trying to prevent the apocalypse by themelves. Despite their current lack of lighthearted couple moments, they're very cool and display plenty of badassery while indubitably being an item.

The Inner Senshi come to distrust Haruka and Michiru for understandable reasons, but Usagi still believes they can be allies. More like Usagi than she thinks, Chibi-Usa believes that Haruka and Michiru are trustworthy also.

Chibi-Usa also meets Hotaru, who is reticent and reclusive and a little floored by Chibi-Usa's desire to befriend her. One of the nicest developments in this volume is Hotaru opening up to Chibi-Usa.

Towards the end of this volume, Neptune and Uranus save Mercury from an enemy attack and a familiar face pops up in Mugen Academy's university science department. How will these elements tie together? Keep reading and see! ^_^

The glitches in Kodansha's early translation of this series have smoothed out by now- but don't be mistaken, it has always been good and made me weep with joy compared to the old localized Tokyopop version. For a softcover release, Kodansha's edition of Sailor Moon has very good production values, with sturdy binding (another aspect I can't helping contrasting with Tokyopop's release from eons ago) and (in this case, somewhat spoilery regarding Hotaru) glossy color art pages at its beginning. There are translation notes in the back and a preview of the next volume.

I especially appreciate the color art pages because I love Takeuchi Naoko's ethereally pretty artwork. Takeuchi has some really freaking beautiful drawings, especially in color. The best aren't in this volume's color pages. I want to send Kodansha flowers not only for re-releasing this series in English, but going the extra mile by planning to release a snazzy new Sailor Moon artbook in Japan, the U.S., and five other countries (not sure which ones right now) in 2013, since the Sailor Moon artbooks have been long out-of-print worldwide. (I actually have the German release of the first Sailor Moon artbook, since I spotted it while traveling in Germany years ago.) There may be some artistic inconsistencies in the Sailor Moon manga, but Takeuchi's art style still delights me to an extent that few series match, just as her storytelling does.

Story: A-
Art: A- (A for the color art.)
Overall: A-, but even with its flaws, no less loveable than any other other series.

As a bonus, a cute Haruka and Michiru Christmas fan art by one of my blog's readers, Kori! (Who I know some of you know as the person who pens Prince of Cats, which I still find adorable.)
Her DeviantArt page (where I got this fan art) has a lot of other good Haruka x Michiru/general Sailor Moon pics.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Manga Review: Himawari-san volume 1

This book was originally intended to stand alone, so nothing on its cover indicates that it has subsequent volumes. After it came out, it sold well enough that it got green-lit to keep running in Comic Alive, the same magazine Sasameki Koto ran in.

Himawari-san is a pleasant, laid-back slice-of-life series about Matsuri, a high school girl who has an undisguised crush on the owner of the old-fashioned Himawari ("Sunflower") bookshop located across the road from her school. Everyone in town nicknames Himawari's owner "Himawari-san" after her shop. Himawari-san is a little gruff, but genuinely cares about her customers (who like her quite a bit in turn) and comes to have a soft spot for Matsuri- but not in a romantic sense, Matsuri's age being what it is.

Like many a manga heroine, Matsuri is cheerful and good-hearted but none too bright, so when she studied for her high school entrance exams, no one gave her much encouragement. Himawari-san believed in her, however, and that was the start of her crush.

Himawari-san helps a few other customers out with their problems in this volume- including Matsuri's younger sister Fuuko, who, amusingly, develops a crush on Himawari-san also, although she's slow to admit it since she was initially kind of a jerk to Himawari-san. My favorite chapter is the Jinbocho chapter, since it perfectly captures the appeal of browsing the stacks at a bookstore, especially when you find a book that unexpectedly captures your fancy.

It turns out that Himawari-san's older brother Kuroizato-sensei, who kind of reminds me of Fruits Basket's Shigure, is a light novel author, and there's a rift between him and Himawari-san. Matsuri pieces together the misunderstanding between them after reading his latest novel and, in a nice example of things coming full-circle, helps them patch things up.

So, like I said, this is a pleasant, pick-me-up kind of series. You're going to be disappointed if you go into it for the yuri (which I didn't, although I liked how no one reacts to Matsuri's obvious crush on Himawari any differently than they would to a teenaged girl who has an obvious one-sided crush on a guy), but if you're looking for a yuri-friendly slice-of-life with likeable characters and no fanservice, this is a solid pick.

As a bonus for folks learning Japanese, like Sasameki Koto, this series is chock full of furigana, so it's easy to read for a seinen series.

Story: B (But B+ for the Jinbocho chapter.)
Art: B+
Overall: B

Monday, December 10, 2012

Manga Review: Paros no Ken volume 3

We ended the previous volume of Paros no Ken on yet another cliffhanger- but this time the threat is real.

The contestants in the sword-fighting tournament are whittled down, and Yurias is one of the semi-finalists. Erminia hopes he'll win because they have sparred together since they were children and she has never lost to him. At this point, Yurias is competing not with the aim of marrying Erminia, but of freeing her to choose whoever she wants.

However, Yurias's next opponent not only defeats him, he slashes his right eye and exults over it. Technically, the man who blinded Yurias is still allowed to compete.

Enraged, Erminia rushes into the arena to challenge him, and the livid spectators cheer her on. Erminia holds her own to the point that the folks who had wanted her to be a delicate flower are really impressed. But then her opponent knocks her sword out of her hand, her uncle Alphonse throws her another sword, and Erminia finds, too late, that she has walked into a trap.

Long story short, Erminia's father dies, Kauros takes over Paros's capital, and Erminia wakes up imprisoned. The third prince of Kauros is there when she wakes up. He confirms what happened and tells her she will be his bride. The prince of Kauros is a sewer of a human being ("You may act like a man, but that does not change the fact that you are a woman! And women must submit to men." After being rejected by her: "Erminia... what a pity it is that such a beautiful woman holds men in such disdain. I shall cure you of that illness."), and tries to rape her, but thankfully, doesn't go through with it. He figures he'll have plenty of time to break her after she marries him in Kauros.

The procession escorting Erminia to Kauros stops at a town overnight, where Fiona and Erminia are reunited.

How did Fiona get there after what happened in volume 2? After being raped, Fiona threw herself into the river nearby and was rescued downstream by a nice older couple who live in the countryside. While living with them, she recovered somewhat.

After learning what happened to Paros's capital and Erminia, she organized the other youths in the area into a rebel group (in case you're wondering, Fiona is sixteen; Erminia is eighteen), helped Yurias leave his captivity (he was much less stringently guarded than Erminia; and somehow, knew what happened to Fiona), and hatched a plan to get Erminia to safety.

While the people who attended the sword-fighting tournament easily bought Alphonse's reason for indicting Erminia for her father's death, most of the citizens of Paros recognize that Alphonse's argument for Erminia's guilt is bullshit and are still willing to resist the Kauran military under her. Their loyalty to Erminia and Paros is so moving, in fact, that I felt pretty awful for them re-reading this volume, knowing how things would pan out.

In a nutshell, Fiona, Erminia, and Yurias all ultimately sacrifice everything else for love, and Fiona and Erminia get to be together.

The ending is pretty abrupt and leaves Paros's fate more ambiguous than I'd like. I suspect Kurimoto Kaoru wound up not having as much time to resolve things as she wanted, and had to do the best she could given the page count she had left. But, erm, despite the ending's problems- especially considering this series's context and the fact that Kurimoto could have easily written an unhappy ending for Erminia and Fiona for perfectly valid reasons- I'm glad Kurimoto was like "lol Nope" to ending things with Erminia accepting Fiona's sacrifice and sacrificing her own happiness with her, and made Erminia save Fiona anyway.

Despite its flaws, this is a very worthwhile series, both for its value to the yuri genre and simple entertainment value- especially if you're in the mood for a romance that is more plot-oriented than most.

Story: B+
Art: A
Overall: B+

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Manga Review: Paros no Ken volume 2

Couldn't find a picture of this volume's cover online and my scanner's being funky, so I'm just posting a photo of my copy of it.

Volume 1 left us with a masked Yurias breaking into Erminia's room and covering her mouth before she could scream. He only snuck in because he wants to play fairy godmother and give Erminia the chance to go to Paros's capital city Paro's annual carnival with Fiona. Yurias made sure Fiona had the night off so she could go. Erminia gives Fiona a beautiful gown, dons a dapper outfit herself, and promises Yurias that she will return before midnight. If she doesn't fulfill her promise, Yurias will be found out and executed for helping her leave.

This series' artwork is always lush, but the carnival pages are especially vibrant and eye-popping.

The revelers admire how good Fiona and Erminia look together. (Granted, because Erminia is wearing a mask, they don't recognize her as their princess. They think she's some random guy.)

When Fiona and Erminia step away from the crowd, Fiona shares her fear that that night will be as good as it gets for them and she'll never see Erminia again. Not knowing how little Fiona has to look forward to in her day-to-day life (or how little hope Fiona had of seeing Erminia again after being demoted to an even more menial position than laundry maid because her co-workers are all assholes), Erminia has a more optimistic view of things. Erminia asks Fiona if there aren't any dreams she wants to fulfill, and shares her dream of traveling the world. Erminia is thrilled Fiona takes her dream seriously, because the only other person who has is Yurias. She is surprised when Fiona tells her that her only dream has been to meet the prince from her childhood, and that prince is her.

They kiss, but their moment is cut short when a tipsy masked man with a villain smirk shows up and hits on Fiona. He persists, so Erminia challenges him to a sword duel and kicks his ass. His reaction to losing makes Erminia think he might not be so bad after all. He reveals that he has been living the dream, traveling the world as a sailor. Erminia tells him that Fiona is an aristocrat who has seven days to choose a groom to marry, and Erminia cannot marry her because her status is too low. The stranger proposes a solution, which Erminia puts into effect when her time to choose a groom is up.

Erminia's suitors must compete in a sword-fighting tournament, and the last man standing must win a sword fight against her before he can marry her. Erminia, of course, expects to win- and then (although she doesn't mention it as a condition to her father), expects to be free to publicly make Fiona her bride as a result. Awww/nothing can possibly go wrong, right? ^^;

The part in which we see people in the various classes of Paros preparing for the tournament is cute- especially the cameo by Candy Candy's leads.

Erminia's uncle Alphonse, whose interests would be served by Paros being absorbed by Kauros, reminds Erminia of the very real possibility that she will lose and gives her a way to cheat. Erminia dismisses him, but can't bring herself to dismiss his plan completely. When she thinks that she would be willing to dirty her hands for Fiona's sake, you know the story isn't going to let that go.

Additionally, Erminia worries about an old legend saying that Paros will have its glory restored if it is ruled by one who is both a man and a woman, and will be destroyed if ruled by one who is neither a man nor a woman. The people of Paros are anxious to see if Erminia will turn out to be the former or the latter. Yurias freaks out about the legend after Erminia rejects him. You're more of an ally than an ass, Yurias, but please stfu about how if Erminia could just "regain a woman's heart" and like guys/you, you would be happy.

Btw, despite the context for this series, the effect I know its setting would have on how its characters conceptualize and discuss sexual orientation and gender (i.e. not how we do) and its awesome progressiveness and skewering of sexist and heterosexist social conventions, I'm annoyed by the weirdly conservative correlation drawn at points by the story between Erminia's lack of interest in men and her gender being possibly male/not-female. Claudine...!, which I compared to this series in my review of Paros no Ken volume 1 for having a protagonist who could be read as a butchy cis lesbian or a straight trans man, actually succeeded at pulling off that ambiguity without drawing that correlation. I remember a similar correlation coming up briefly at one point in Rose of Versailles also, and it annoyed me there, as much as I love RoV. (Like, to the point of having a PVC figurine of Oscar in uniform, brandishing her sword.) Ribon no Kishi plays with a similar idea (its protagonist Sapphire being cool and competent and actiony when she has her boy heart, but weak and damsel-in-distressy when she only has her girl heart), but takes it to the point that I dislike Ribon no Kishi.

Erminia cannot see Fiona until after the tournament. Unbeknownst to her, something horrible happens. Some knights from Kauros find Fiona and rape her, thinking she will be ashamed enough of it to never approach Erminia again.

On the last day of the tournament, Kauros's army crosses the border into Paros.

While volume 1 focused on setting up character relationships, this volume sets up the plot denouement that will take place in volume 3. What will become of Erminia and Fiona!? Tune in next time and see.

Story: B+
Art: A
Overall: B+

Speaking of portrayals of lgbtq folks in Medieval Europe-inspired fantasy stories, this two part blog post series, "Heteronormativity, fantasy, and Bitterblue", is really worth reading for its discussion of writing sexual minority characters in such settings.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Another Serving of Yuri Christmas Fan Art

It being December again, I'm posting a batch of Christmas and winter-themed fan art based on yuri and yuri-ish series. ^_^ My previous Christmas fan art posts are here and here. Without further ado...

Saber and Irisviel still make me giddy. I have a ridiculous amount of fan art of them at this point. XD
Can't find the original source for this image. If you do know it, please let me know so I can link! (The X's in this post are all links.)
For anyone wondering, I am fangirling over a certain pair in Urobuchi Gen's newest series. Bless his heart for writing another cool, hyper-competent suit-wearing woman and making it surprisingly obvious (more than once) that there's... some sort of relationship between her and one of her female co-workers. I'm dying to find out more about them.

A cute moment with one of our classic couples. D'aww, Himeko.
Squee, NanoFate! Speaking of subtext couples that I have a ridiculous amount of fan art of.

No yuri Christmas fan art post would be complete without MariMite's loveable characters. Coincidentally (in all honesty), most of what I found features the White Roses again.

I don't ship Yumi with Touko, but I still thought this was cute.
Man, Sei, you player.
If, like me, you ship Sei with Kei, you should visit this Pixiv account.

The pic below is technically not a Christmas pic, but the star makes it feel Christmasy.

The pic below was drawn to celebrate the New Year. The joke is that Yumi and Yoshino are giving Sei (whose birthday is on Christmas) a belated birthday present. In response, Sei's like "Woah, this is kind of late!! But thank you~"

Good times with the ladies from Noir.

And of course, some Madoka Magica.

Below the cut at the bottom of this post, you'll find a sweet but spoilery Madoka x Homura picture.

Yumi and Momo- definitely my favorite Saki couple.

I also still like Saki and Nodoka as a couple.

Yay, Haruka and Michiru! ^__^ Wonderful, as always.
Last but not least, Alpha and Kokone, a pairing I like from another excellent classic series, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou.