Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Things No One Cares About: Mistress Fortune

Reaching the end of this horrid month,we arrive at Mistress Fortune. I originally planned this as the follow up to Jojo month but for reasons lost to myself I didn't. Now I'm back with a vengeance to talk about my very first Arina Tanemura book. I have no deep story about why I picked this,it didn't call to me with a ground breaking premise or because a friend fervently recommended it to me. Nope,just picked it up because the pink and white spine looked nice. Well, now that I've outed myself as a vain idiot,let's talk about Mistress Fortune...finally.

Mistress Fortune shares a lot of similarities with the earlier I.O.N, in that both girls have psychic powers and are close to boys as a result. There is even a nice little call back to the flying scene from I.O.N as well as a few other series including Phantom Thief Jeanne. They both also feature a romance plot that slowly but surely overtakes the more fantastical elements. The only difference here is that the psychic plot is meant to play second fiddle to the main romance. Indeed everything is a side note to the romance between Kisaki and Giniro and every characters is semi aware of it.

The plot is a rather loose magical girl set-up that serves to help the main couple grow. The monsters or EBE as they are called are less harbingers of destruction and more oblivious tourists. Heck the first one the team fights, becomes a regular character and gets her own side story about becoming a socialite. The interpersonal drama between our two leads is mostly played for laughs,he's more interested in her tracts of land and this makes her angry. However when they do buckle down and get serious for a bit,there is some surprising tenderness in the relationship despite it seeming to be an aesthetic attraction. Once the apparently inevitable rejection scene comes up,it actually works this time. Mostly because again the romance is the focus so it's fairly important and she is actually rejecting him for a solid reason instead of just plot extender.

The characters themselves are not bad,more generic than anything else. Kisaki is one missing parent short of your typical shojo heroine and Ginro is the hot guy with the troubled past. Their director,Dr. Gunjo is a goofy jokester and Ebe-ko,the monster,is your wacky non-human sidekick. This can be forgiven as the cast is rather funny and likable. Ginro's love for the Kisaki's lady lumps and his inability to keep his mouth shut about them at risk of injury is funny. They all play their role well and get a few good jokes off.

This is shojo fluff through and through, attractive characters having a relationship that will be forgotten soon enough. I feel that Arina Tanemura is acknowledging her worse habits here and working with them as opposed to letting them run wild. It's just self aware enough that I can forgive the weaker elements while not being over reliant on them to the point of taking me out of the story.

So as I lay here at the bottom of the ravine dying slowly,alone and in pain, at least this month ended on a high note. I started this month for no real reason other than to have an excuse to read through some works of a prolific manga-ka. It's had it's ups and downs and while I won't claim I really know Tanemura's works better, I have a better feel for her when I get to her longer works. So I'll see you next time where I'll probably be a ghost or not mention that I died ever again

Till Next Time:Stay Positive

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Things No One Cares About: Time Stranger Kyoko

Since I'm feeling pretty good after Phantom Thief Jeanne,the inevitable crash should be coming pretty soon. What's that over there, is it a great series for me to read? Nope,it's just a poorly paced and boring waste of a cool setting or as it's called in common tongue Time Stranger Kyoko. Was that playing my cards too early,probably, not that I care too much.

Time Stranger Kyoko lays out an interesting premise then proceeds to never flesh it out and throws in new elements to it without warning. The Earth has been united as one nation and we follow the princess of Earth,Kyoko. She is gathering mystical stones and their respective users a.k.a Strangers to awaken her sister Ui. That's all we get for how the world seems to work, which is lacking to say the least. It leaves quite a few more interesting aspects relegated to sidebars,such as hybrids of humans and earth's other life forms. Something that should probably be explained is mentioned once as a definition then never explained further. How this works or how people like that came to be is instead pushed aside for wacky thieves and helping a guy over come his daddy complex.

This brings up the second big problem with the story:pacing. The first volume moves at a glacial pace with little to no world building and getting involved in adventures that just happen to tie back in to the main plot. This continues well into volume two before finally getting to interesting events,involving Akira the thief and the snake tribe's political turmoil. After this stretch of still not explaining much else the plot starts running at breakneck speed to get all the macguffins needed for the ending to happen. Throwing in plot points and trying for a bit of foreshadowing that all gets lost because it never takes anytime to breath.

There are some interesting ideas that actually do work, once the main group figures out that the stones are in the hands of the various tribe's rulers they call them all to the castle instead of cavorting about to find them. Also to be fair the foreshadowing with Kyoko's true nature is actually done rather well early on but fails by being a bit ham handed once the plot kicks into overdrive. The series also plays fast and loose with the time travel aspects. Which is better in the long run since closely examining the time travel would not turn out well for this book. Since I'm being nice to the series,I'd be remiss if I neglected to mention Akira.

Normally when talking about characters I'd start with the main one,Kyoko in this case,  but in the interest of putting my best foot forward,I'll start with side character Akira. He's a lovable rouge and unlike the others flits between goofy and serious rather well. The brother of the Snake tribe's leader that commands a band of thieves in the capital city. Everything about him works: he's funny,cool,has a tragic yet believable back story and brings energy to a main cast that has none. The way Kyoko is characterized it seems to be setting him up as her love interest as opposed to her actual one. They instead just send him off in the end to do his own thing,probably for the better because everyone else is kind of boring and crap by comparison.

Speaking of Kyoko,she's all over the place in terms of character. It's clear she's supposed to be the fun determined kind of person but she keeps getting these selfish moments. The plot is kicked off by her being selfish to avoid be exposed as Earth's princess. You can have a character like this work if the balance is right, Josuke Higashikata strikes a solid mix of kindness and being greedy. It's like Tanemura is afraid to make a straight forward and honest protagonist so she shoe horns in these more selfish actions to hide it. When she has to be gone for a few chapters after she is revealed as the Time God's daughter, which is also never really explained by the way. The others miss her deeply but it seems to be because the reawakened Princess Ui is rather unpleasant.

Sakataki and Hizuki, step brothers and the body guards of Kyoko probably fare the worst as along with Kyoko get into one of the worst subplots in the book. They kick of a few plot points with the stones and establishing a monster race that seems to be here simply so the characters has something to fight on occasion. Near the end the get into a terrible love triangle that serves little purpose other than to extend the story and so that weird plot Tanemura set up has some resolution. They do get some funny bro-con moments but it's intermixed with serious angst. Sadly, this works about as well as Kyoko's characterization.

The brothers are both Strangers and Hizuki happens to be the last Stranger they are searching for and this plot point is just dropped so unceremoniously that it's laughably bad. It doesn't help that he is the Ice Stranger when there is already a Snow Stranger. Yes snow and ice are rather different but she could have used a different element or made Sakataki the Snow Stranger in lieu of him being the Crystal Stranger. It'd work better from a theming stand point at least

The reminder of the cast is forgettable,especially the remaining Strangers that don't even have their own chapters. Making their desire to see Kyoko come back to the world even more bizarre since they've known her for all of about five pages. Chronos the time god comes out of no where and like most other probably important points in this story is never expanded upon. He seems to be here again to add drama and draw out a plot that should have finished ages ago but didn't because we didn't have a romantic ending yet. Then we get an epilogue and no offense but half these characters had maybe a handful of panels. So why in the name of all the is unholy would I give a crap about what they did after this.

This is a series that doesn't seem to want to focus on anything,squandering a rather interesting setting and neglecting to build up the world. Instead focusing on inconsistent characters that range from unpleasant to just outright cardboard cut outs whose role could be fulfilled with a ambitious batch of custard and a plot that is determined to break some sort of speed record. See you next time at the bottom of the ravine for Mistress Fortune.

Till Next Time:Stay Positive.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Shojo A Go-Go: Phantom Thief Jeanne

Sorry about the delay,I'm a ditz some days,well most days but whatever. 

Arina Tanemura month is off to a rocky start with I.O.N and its' romance overtaking the more interesting aspects of the story. Maybe today will be better with the first volume of Phantom Thief Jeanne. I mean after all today is the greatest day of all. So by this logic this will be the greatest book if today is the greatest day. Though I could be wrong and this is the worst day ever and thus this the worst book ever. I'm not sure really anymore,so lets just start talking about this book and hope I remember which one it is.

Phantom Thief Jeanne was her first work after I.O.N and there is noticeable improvement in the short one year span. The man story is better interlaced with the romance. The love square we seem to be in actually works. Instead of relying on a ton of forgettable characters,she trims it down to three major characters and some hopefully developing supporting cast. Even the one off characters that appear during heist scenes are interesting enough.

The leads of our story are Maron a.k.a Phantom Thief Jeanne and her rival/love interest Chiaki a.k.a Phantom Thief Sinbad. Maron is the reincarnation of the historical figure Jeanne D'Arc and is tasked with exorcising demons from paintings which puts her at odds with Sinbad who is recapturing demons for the Demon Lord. Most of their core problems are laid out on the table over the course of the volume. We learn why these characters are acting the way they do and grow closer to them as a result. Maron's fears of loneliness and abandonment may hit close to home for some people,myself included. Her hesitation to trust Chiaki whose working through his own problems related to being his own person,feels natural. Especially given his devil may care attitude belying his genuine compassion. Their is the possibility that the romance can over take the main plot completely in later volumes but here it works as their tumultuous relationship adds to the plot instead of controlling it.

The rest of the main cast are not as well developed as they could be but given more time they have the potential. Maron's best friend Miyako is constantly trying to outwit and capture her Jeanne persona as an amateur police officer with her police chief father and is pursing Chiaki to no avail. The love square is rounded out by Minazuka,the student council president, who is trying to become a stronger person and maybe capture Maron's heart. Everyone plays off each other in different ways:ranging from playful to hostile to sweetly intimate etc. It also helps that the Maron and Chiaki actually have chemistry as romantic leads compared to the pieces of card board known as Ion and Mikado. Again the aforementioned playing well off themselves and their friends lends the romance some creditably. The only two characters we don't know much about are the angel helpers of Maron and Chiaki,Finn and Access respectively. This works out for the best though as going too deep into their histories may be playing some cards too early in terms of plot.

Speaking of the plot,it is stranded early magical girl plot with lack of a clear arc. The building blocks are there with a demon lord and God being background players and Sinbad in general. However the plots so far are mostly Jeanne finds demons hiding in paintings and Chiaki and Miyako try to stop her in their own ways because shes an honorable thief that announces her “ heists”. There is interconnection between stories via characters which works to develop them properly,so it's not really boring.

The one major element I'd like to touch on briefly in case I ever do a full review for the series is the concept of demons corrupting people via beautiful paintings. It brings with two possible connotation: that art is of the devil and that humanity is weak. The first one is semi dispelled by the fact that not every painting is evil. However Jeanne replaces the art with the picture of an angel once she takes the demon away. Implying that its the art itself that's demonic which is not a great message in general. Though it may be completely unintentional,as that would be a weird message to put in a book full of drawings.

Alternatively, the idea that humanity is inherently weak gains a little more credibility when realizing that it's the weakness in the human heart that invites the demon in. The obsession with the paintings and our own hang ups are what cause the problems. This is reflected in the main characters that are all hurting but at the same time hopeful that things will become better and they learn to grow. While this does paint humanity in a poor light it does offer hope in that if you can change then things will become better. Again this is more guessing than anything else based off of one volume.

Character development is the name of the game here,along with some fun plots. It does what a good introduction should do, build the characters and their world up. There isn't much in the way of an overarching plot,however there is so much potential for a great story with excellent characters that I can't help but adore it and want to read more. Well this turned out to be a good book so hopefully this correlates to the quality of the day. Hopefully this begins a plateau of better written martial for Arina Tanemura month. Next time Time Stranger Kyoko.

Till next time:Stay Positive

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Things No One Cares About: I.O.N

It's time for another theme month. These tend to work out great for me,so this will turn out awesome too. This month I'm looking at Arina Tanemura,whose books keep ending up in my collection by complete accident. So might as well clear out a good chunk of them,before more show up,and the best place to start is the beginning with I.O.N.

I.O.N is Tanemura's first published book and while the story and art are rather strong the romance is lacking. It wouldn't be too bad if the story wasn't solely about the romance. The world is fleshed out rather well for the one volume length and the story is fine till it is derailed by the romance. Enough with broad strokes and romance potshots, lets go more in depth with these potshots.

The story follows Ion Tsuburagi, a girl with minor physic abilities when the story starts. As events progress her powers increase and she gains the attentions of a boy, Mikado. with an interest in physic powers. We've somehow stumbled into the shojo counterpart to Sussano,with less craziness. The central conflict stems less from we can fly/lift objects and those ramifications and more from does Mikado view Ion as a girl or a experiment. I could forgive what seems to be a glorified romance subplot taking over the plot if the main players had any chemistry.

Ion and Mikado really don't play well off each other and seem to be in love because the plot demands it. She claims to love him because he says his mind,no matter how cheesy. He loves her because I guess they worked together for a while and to spite his ex. Once he starts returning her affections,it derails the more interesting physic powers plot,for romance drama. Ion herself is a bit all over the place in terms of her affections,being aggressive but chickening out,then going back to being aggressive in time for Mikado to be stupid.

The other characters fare no better in they all tend to blend into one big forgettable ball. Both main characters have a rival for their partners affections. Kouki is the eternally rejected suitor of Ion and him and his lackey can be funny but add little to the plot outside of drama with club formation that goes away quickly. Mikado's ex,Ai, is nicely realistic for a love rival in that she doesn't try to do anything really crazy to Ion and when she accidentally hurts her feels genuinely remorseful. Her presence does bring up something that infuriates me. She has physic powers as well,weaker ones but still powers. The story brings up the fact that there is research on physic powers and people clearly have them but that is never really addressed in terms of how this could affect the world. I know this is a shojo manga and romance tends to reign supreme but come on don't leave me hanging on the better plot or at least don't let it all crash down.

The final chapter train wreaks due to having to follow the boneheaded rejection that is there to create drama rather than actual add to the story. at the end of chapter five. The plot sets up that a weird substance is amplifying Ion's powers but the final chapter throws in the fact that it is breaking apart and her powers will diminish. I get that it's aiming for a bit of a symbolic loss of her connection to Mikado but the guy just rejected her and she's genuinely heartbroken,so why does she care. Mind you I think the other characters are just as perplexed at her bounce back but the whole chapter seems to be here because we can't have a sad ending.

For her first full book that,going by the author notes, was wrote with very little knowledge of how many chapters she would have;the world is well fleshed out barring that final plot point. The romance could have worked if the leads weren't together solely because of a red noose or the cast wasn't for the most part shojo stock chracters. Arina Tanemura month is off to a poor start but I'm not one to stop after a bad start,I'm kind of stupid that way. So see you next time for the first volume of Phantom Thief Jeanne.

What's Going On.

I realize I've been neglecting this blog as of late just now putting out a review almost three months into the new year,I'm turning into a less funny Jonton. I have no excuse for  January for not doing anything besides the writing for Hawyire. It did help with some issues plaguing my mind at the time and getting to write that article did allow me to move over the mental hump blocking the way. Mind you on the way over that hump my laptop decided to go kaput so February was marked with me wanting to actually write things with no ability to do so. I realize that too is a pretty lame excuse,but I can't really do much about it now but apologize while laying on a bearskin rug by the fire.

So for those of you who did miss me,sorry and for those of you who were glad I've been mostly silent,sorry to you too. In the spirit of not being a layabout,we're doing a theme month for Arina Tanemura. I won't go into too many details as the first review covers most of it. It'll probably extend into April because I'm bad with timing. where I'll go after that remains to be seen as me making plans tends to go down in flames rather easily. Expect the first review to follow after this shortly and the rest to follow in the weeks to come, shooting for Wednesdays like the old times. I'm not covering Full Moon or The Gentleman's Alliance Cross this month but will probably be back to those at a later date. Instead we'll start where she started to gain fame and then go from there to sort of see how she has progressed in terms of story and characters.

For this month:

3/10: I.O.N

3/18: Phantom Thief Jeanne vol.1

3/25: Time Stranger Kyoko

4/1: Mistress Fortune,for real this time.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Things No One Cares About:Gokusen

I'm back after battles with myself and technology to write about more shows and books that no one really cares about. So to highlight me actually doing work outside actual obligations, I'll be looking at the interesting and original: Gokusen. Oh did I say interesting and original, I meant boring and uninspired. My apologies it's been a while, I may have forgot how words works. So here are words that you may enjoy or not.

Gokusen is often touted as the Josei equivalent of Great Teacher Onizuka, I.e a tough and crazy teacher helps those that people view as unteachable. Maybe the manga does live up to this comparison,however the anime can not hold a candle to it. It's part comedy that forgot to bring the jokes and part drama that forgot to bring the engaging characters. It can't decide what it wants to do and has a hard time committing to a plot line. Which may be for the best as the plots that do happen are awful and make little sense.

The story follows new teacher Kumiko Yamaguchi,the acting head of a Yakuza family. She's teaching the students that others have given up on while also keeping her Yakuza side a secret for reasons never clearly explained. The lack of explanation of really anything in the story till way too late makes it hard to get invested. Why she doesn't want people knowing about her life is not really explained till half way through the series and even then it's rather poorly explained. Up to then we're just supposed to take her word for it that it'll be bad if she is found out. Without a sense of the consequences that an action will have it kills all tension that could possibly be there. Though it's not like she is doing a good job of hiding it with here hammy acting attempts in the dub. I think the facade she is using is an attempt at a joke on the shows part but it's less so bad its good and just bad. The plot fares no better;trying to set events up and having anything interesting going on.

The bigger plot outside the duel life aspect is about a gang called Nekomata screwing with the other Yakuza families. You'll can be forgiven for not noticing this as the episodes seem busy just meandering around doing nothing but having bad jokes and nonsensical character changes. One episode has the main group of punks decide near the end that “hey lets go to the remedial class” because the teacher waited for them. It makes sense in a way but the lack of any clear or really any visible character development muddles what it's trying to say. The boys just seem to trust her despite none of them,bar the silent but cool guy, knows what she does for them. So once that main plot comes to fruition and the boys come to her rescue it has little impact emotionally. At this point she also lets her crazier side that she's been trying to hide come out in front of them. So either she forgot that that was a plot point or they just didn't care.

The characters themselves are all rather boring and remind me of better ones. Angel Densetsu managed to take stereotypical punks and make them into likable characters that rose above the usual one note archetype. This is sadly not the case here,with every boy being defined by two traits: one unique to them such as being fat or ugly and being decently moral. They seem to be moral less because they have deep reasons for it and more because the show feels characters like that sell better. They end up coming off as less likable and more morally superior despite being massive jerks.

Kumiko and her family of thugs fair somewhat better in that they are crazy thugs but fall prey to the same problems as the school kids. They fanatical devotional to Kumiko is rather funny, providing some of the shows sparse laughs. The family gets the lions share of the character development and if her students had even this level of back story then their loyalty would actually make sense. The thugs are still pretty one note overall so and what little development Kumiko gets is all over the place. Ranging from wanting to reel her class in to letting them run wild. With the aforementioned lack of explanation it makes her or really anyone hard to care about.

So much of more mediocre elements could be forgiven if the show was actually funny but it's just not. Most of the jokes range from tired slapstick and punchlines to the just plain bizarre. Kumiko has a dog who seems to be a pitbull version of Scooby-Doo that doesn't talk yet he gets lip syncs like he's talking. It makes little sense and like most every other joke is unfunny. Also the head of the Nekomata Group looks like a cat for some reason. Also before you start that email,I'm aware of the pun they are going for. However in-universe no one else has a look like this and you think it's something at least one of the characters would comment on. Nope, there is zero explanation and the design seems to be here for the stupid pun.

Gokusen lacks anything memorable or funny about it. Calling it bad would imply that it tried something besides trying to be a poor man's Great Teacher Onizuka. It's a boring show that can't be bothered to explain itself and just faffs around for 12 episodes. Maybe this is just a poor representation of the source material that was made as a cheap cash in or maybe the manga is awful as well. I don't know,but I do know that we should probably just let this one fade into darkness of the collective unconscious and never speak of it again.  

Till Next Time: Stay Postive