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Micro-Reviews: Suzuka, Orange Marmalade, GE – Good Ending

Suzuka

Suzuka

Suzuka starts off as a fairly cliche high school romance manga, right down to the main male character transferring to Tokyo and living in an all-girl dorm/spa. In fact, you might recognize pretty much that exact premise right out of Love Hina. The curious thing about the manga though is that I was never really able to get a sense of whether it started this way intentionally, or if the gradual evolution of the story into something more meaningful was a happy accident. In either case, the character progression becomes much more interesting as time goes on, the harem and fanservice drops away, and many satisfying (and occasionally frustrating) developments are had by the end.

Basically, if you are looking for a more “realistic” romance manga along the same vein as A Town Where You Live, Suzuka is a good front-runner.

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Orange Marmalade

Marmalade

This is a Korean-style romance manga centering around high school girl Ma Ri, the “ice queen,” who actually happens to be a vampire in hiding. It has been 300 years since the last vampire has actually killed a human, but the discrimination and threat of exile is constant. In fact, her family has had to move around repeatedly any time people start to get suspicious, which has led to Ma Ri to make peace being alone forever. Despite her best efforts though, she is befriended by a group of girls and Jae Min, a boy who seemingly refuses to leave her alone once she accidentally nips his neck.

The pacing, art style, and overall quality of Orange Marmalade is extremely good. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that I basically plowed through the entire series in a single day. It has angst, drama, and moments of extreme pathos, all without necessarily devolving into standard tropes. There are some vampiric shenanigans, but the story isn’t necessarily about vampires. In fact, beyond a few initial plot points, the vampire angle is more allegory than anything – and in that regard, it is extremely effective. I recommend it.

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GE – Good Ending

GE

GE – Good Ending is, as you might expect from the title, a high school romance manga. The story centers around Seiji Utsumi, a boy who has a crush on the tennis club president. Too scared to make a move and too unathletic to join the tennis club himself, he remains content with admiring her from afar. That is, until another tennis club member, Yuki Kurokawa, catches him peeking in the bushes, and seemingly makes it her duty to put them together.

While this manga starts out with the stereotypical dumbass protagonist who is incapable of doing anything, the beauty of GE is the character progression and, indeed, evolution. Characters grow up, pasts are revealed, feelings change, misunderstandings are had, and basically real shit occurs. In other words, the beginning of the manga bears little resemblance to what it eventually becomes, which is a rather compelling narrative. If romance manga is your genre, GE will definitely earn a spot on your list.

Micro Review: Usagi Drop (manga)

Usagi Drop

Usagi_Drop1

Usagi Drop is a straight-forward, endearing, and deeply compelling slice-of-life manga. It follows the travails of a 30-year old man named Daikichi whom notices a 6-year old girl wandering around his grandfather’s funeral. After asking family members, it appears that the girl, Rin, is actually his grandfather’s illegitimate daughter by an unknown mother, whom has all but abandoned Rin. As the relatives discuss putting Rin in foster care, Daikichi decides (almost on a whim) to take care of Rin himself.

As I mentioned above, this manga is slice-of-life and mainly focuses on the sort everyday considerations a 30-year old bachelor has to make in the context of raising a child. However, the scenes and scenarios presented are not being done solely for comedic effect or to evoke sympathy for Daikichi’s lost carefree lifestyle. Rather they are all the sort of mundane miracles of parenthood and self-discovery. And for any person interested in Japanese culture, Usagi Drop becomes an exceedingly intimate glimpse into everyday life over there (or at least an example thereof).

Usagi_Drop2

It is actually difficult for me to express exactly how amazing I feel Usagi Drop is. Perhaps it is because I am also a 30-year old bachelor without children that I identify so well with the primary character. But I feel like there is an undercurrent of brilliance to this manga that simply needs to be experienced. There is an inherent progression to the relationships amongst the characters, and as they grow up, you feel yourself grow up with them. I really cannot describe it any better than that.

Simply put, if you ever find yourself in need of an example of a manga to prove to someone that these aren’t all simply childish (or perverted) comic books, Usagi Drop is one that you should immediately feel comfortable offering.

Anime Micro-Reviews: Strike the Blood, Kill la Kill, Anohana

Strike the Blood

Episodes: 24
Genre: Harem, Supernatural, Action

StB_04

Strike the Blood is a sort of disguised, supernatural harem action anime. The main character is a high school student, Kojou, who has been transformed into the “4th Progenitor,” a sort of super-vampire who could upset the balance of the other three super-vampires. In response, various human and supernatural parties try to court his attention, keep an eye on him, and/or try and kill him. Did I mention this all this takes place on a man-made island way out in the ocean, made structurally sound by magic and ancient relics? And a significant portion of the population are pseudo-demons?

While there were quite a few particularly hilarious scenes/situations, the bottom line is that this really was as I described it: an action harem anime. If it annoys you when 4-5 girls compete for the male lead’s attention in just about everything they do, then you’re not likely to have a good time. If instead you’re looking for something funny with angst and drama all the traditional harem trimmings, this is likely worth your time.

Kill la Kill

Episodes: 24
Genre: Action, Fast-Paced

Kill-la-Kill

Kill la Kill is a fast-paced action anime from the creators of Gurren Lagann. In this regard, I sort of view a parallel between it and FLCL; both are less-serious, more-manic derivatives of what came before while still holding ground on their own merits. The premise is that a particular Japanese high school is crafting school uniforms with “Life Fibers,” which grant the wearer immense power. Ryuuko recently transfers to this school to seek revenge for the death of her father at the hands of a mysterious assailant. What follows is a huge assortment of duels, explosions, and Sailor Moon-esque transformation sequences as Ryuuko dispatches her foes with one half of a pair of scissors. The show only gets crazier as time goes on.

This anime does many things particular well. For example, while the heroine (and most female foes) dons a fairly fanservice costume, there is at least an attempt at a rational explanation for it on top of the anime not dwelling too much on it… outside of some jokes at the anime’s own expense, of course. The pacing of the show is also extremely well done, with just enough breaks in the action to catch one’s breath. In this regard, the episodes seemed to fly right by and always leave you hungry for more. I recommend a watch if you enjoy zany action anime.

Anohana: the Flower We Saw that Day

Episodes: 11
Genre: Everyday Life, Ghost, Drama

Anohana

Are you in the mood to be depressed? Homesick? Want to feel like you need to call your friends right now? Then, boy do I have the anime for you! Anohana is an anime that follows a small group of friends, several years after the accidental death of one of their members. After a year or so of social withdraw, Jinta suddenly begins to see what he believes to be a hallucination of Menma, the member of the group that had died years prior. After interacting with her over a series of weeks and months, he comes to believe that perhaps she is a spirit trapped on Earth until her final wish is granted. From there, he begins to try and recruit his old friends to help figure out Menma’s last wish and fulfill it.

I’m not going to lie – this can sometimes be a hard anime to watch, for reasons that have nothing to do with it’s otherwise outstanding quality. In fact, this is perhaps the best anime I have ever seen in its examinations of how much impact a death can have on a circle of friends. There’s survivor’s guilt, jealousy, feelings of failure, love triangles, mental health issues, and more all in 11 short episodes. Still, if you are in the market for an anime that will make you feel something, Anohana is an easy recommendation.

Holiday

I’m still on one, technically.

In the meantime, please enjoy the three new anime micro-reviews I uploaded: Nichijou – Everyday Life, Planetes, and My Teen Romantic Comedy: SNAFU.

Book Micro-Reviews: Dresden Files, Codex Alera

The Dresden Files (series)

Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: Modern Fantasy
Books: 1-14

The Dresden Files series follows Harry Dresden, a private investigator in Chicago who also happens to be a wizard. Each of the books follows along the prototypical mystery/whodunit framework, presenting 2-3 seemingly unrelated events that each carry the possibility of death/cataclysm before a resolution at the end. Despite each books’ fairly standard formulaic structure, where the Dresden Files series really shines is with its down-to-earth characters, the witty/hilarious dialog, and straight-forward style. I was at first put off with the “kitchen sink” approach used when presenting the supernatural (demons, fairies, vampires, oh my!) but again, the writing definitely saves what might otherwise come across as convoluted.

Overall, I feel pretty good in recommending this series. Compared to a lot of other fantasy series out there, the Dresden Files are considerably less dense but no less satisfying. I am definitely hoping that book 15 (and beyond) comes out sooner rather than later.

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Codex Alera (series)

Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: Fantasy
Books: 1-6

When a friend recommended this series to me, the only thing I knew going in was the following paragraph from the Wikipedia entry:

The inspiration for the series came from a bet Jim was challenged to by a member of the Delray Online Writer’s Workshop. The challenger bet that Jim could not write a good story based on a lame idea, and Jim countered that he could do it using two lame ideas of the challenger’s choosing. The “lame” ideas given were “Lost Roman Legion”, and “Pokémon”.[1]

Reading that will either intrigue you or turn you off immediately, but let me just mention that the Codex Alera series won Jim Butcher that bet, in my opinion.

The series itself follows the life of Tavi, a particularly clever boy who nevertheless was born without the ability to use magic in a world where everyone has an elemental familiar. As with Jim Butcher’s other series, the Dresden Files, the Alera books lean towards a sort of detective model that is very much Butcher’s style; you can definitely expect a lot of long trains of logic and counter-logic. It is not all cerebral however, as there will frequently be 10+ page fight scenes that may or may not leave you at the edge of your seat.

Overall, I enjoyed these books. Like many fantasy series, I felt it started somewhat slow and required a bit of acclimation to the world being presented. I was hooked by the second book though, enjoyed the natural progression, and quickly finished the rest thereafter.

New Year

Welcome to a new year of In An Age.

I am going to skip armchair prognosticating and instead focus on some goals/long-term plans. You may or may not have noticed that in my “Currently” sidebar, I have been listing more things than simply videogames. Since I have a website and write game reviews already, I figure that I may as well belt out a few words about what I thought about the books and anime I have been consuming too. There are plenty of more dedicated anime/book review websites out there though, so I am sticking to a “Micro-Review” format that is basically 1-3 paragraphs to give you the gist of what I thought about the series and whether you might like it.

I have not yet decided whether these “off-topic” Micro-Reviews will hit the front page, so to speak. On the one hand, you folks are here because you see some redeeming feature in my various pontifications, so why not have some more? On the other hand, this started out as a gaming blog and I wouldn’t want to… you know, fuck it. This shit will hit the Front Page when I feel like it, and won’t when I don’t. Nobody paints Baby into a corner.

Other than that nonsense, I expect to continue playing WoW and PlanetSide2 for the next several months, along with possibly checking into Dust 514 (now that have a PS3). I have Steam games coming out the ass, so there will be plenty of those sort of reviews/impressions coming too. And, of course, there will be plenty what I enjoy best: arguing with people over the internet.

If you liked what you read in 2012, you ain’t seen nothing yet basically will get more of the same in 2013.