The first four volumes of the Ultraman manga were bookended by the sentence “This is the beginning of a new age.” Volume 5 starts with that sentence, but ends with the sentence fading from the page – and that says a lot about where this volume of the manga ends.

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I enjoyed Laid Back Camp a lot. Between its informative depictions of going camping in Japan, it’s interesting travelogue sequences, and it’s generally chill tone, it ended up being one of my favorite anime, and one where I was kind of sad to see it end, and glad to see the show get a second season. After hearing that the manga had been getting an English release, I decided to check out the first volume of the manga.

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If I was going to describe 20th Century Boys in a high concept manner to someone in an elevator, I’d describe it as It meets The Stand. It’s a story that takes place over a vast scope of time, almost 30-40 years, with multiple time skips, and an apocalypse in-between, with a fundamental premise of a group of childhood friends being forced to face a great evil as adults. The difference is, the evil in It is a clearly supernatural, unearthly evil. The evil in 20th Century Boys is very, very human.

There are some spoilers below the cut.

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Ultraman cover art from volumes 1 & 12

If you think about it, superheroes have been a part of Japanese pop-culture ever since the post-war period, and in particular the 60s and 70s. Astro Boy is Pinocchio with Super-Powers. Characters like Shotaro Ishinomori’s Android Kikaider and Kamen Rider featured protagonists fighting a supervillain organizations and their superpowered minions, and so on. And, of course, there is the tokusatsu classic – Ultraman from Tsuburaya Productions.

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When I was younger, there were a couple things that grabbed my imagination when it came to dungeon fantasy – there were the Monster Ecology articles in Dragon Magazine, and the descriptions of monsters in Hackmaster and KODT Magazine. The Monster Ecology articles envisioned a fleshed out dungeon ecology, where every monster, even ones created by coked out wizards like the Owlbear, had a life cycle and found a way to fit into an ecosystem – indeed, the articles presented the idea of a Dungeon Fantasy setting as an ecosystem that the monsters fit within.

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A few weeks ago (as of when I write this in October) I came to learn that the most popular tabletop RPG in Japan right now was neither D&D nor a homegrown RPG like Sword World, but Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu. Also, I learned Dark Horse Comics had released a collection of adaptations of the works of H.P. Lovecraft by artist Gou Tanabe and had announced a planned release of Tanabe’s adaptation of At The Mountains of Madness. Thus, it seemed appropriate to read the first of Tanabe’s adaptations and get a feel for his take on Lovecraft’s work. (more…)

I have a manga review that’s actually topical for Valentine’s Day next week.

Hayate the Combat Butler, Vol. 7

Hayate the Combat Butler, Vol. 7 by Kenjiro Hata

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whenever I’ve had a rough day, and I feel like I can’t remember the last time I laughed, one of the manga or anime I turn to, in order to lighten my spirits is Hayate the Combat Butler. The blend of oddball comedy and reverentially referential humor, along with a willingness to just chip away at that fourth wall blends together well to make an enjoyable comic, and the fact that the characters are incredibly likable really helps to keep me coming back in a way that TV shows like Family Guy, which also relies on referential humor, fails to do. (more…)

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Volume 2The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Volume 2 by Eiji Otsuka

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery service is a very interesting manga to describe, in terms of being a horror manga that contains elements of the supernatural, but is ultimately bases its horror out of what people do to each other, then it does with the actions of the restless dead – though those elements are there. (more…)

(Originally Published on Goodreads)

King of Thorn, Volume 2King of Thorn, Volume 2 by Yuji Iwahara

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This volume is causing the series to risk becoming cluttered, from a plot standpoint. Coming into this volume, the plot had the main driving conflict of “How do these characters, which are almost all infected with a disease that could kill them, survive in this post-apocalyptic world with massive thorny plants that have consumed everything, and freaking dinosaurs?” (more…)

Red Hot Chili Samurai Vol. 1Red Hot Chili Samurai is a manga that feels like it’s not sure what it wants to be. The manga follows samurai Kokaku Sento as he fights various criminals in rural Japan during the Shogunate. Kokaku’s strength and weakness is his dependance on hot peppers, which he eats regularly, and which strengthen him, like Popeye.

Like Kenshin, Kokaku and his comrades, bespectacled Ento, ninja manservant Shou, and girly-girl of action (if that makes any sense) Ran refrain from killing at all times, even if by all rights it doesn’t make sense for them to do so. However, like Samurai Champloo, the series is filled with anachronisms. Ran is introduced wearing spike-heeled knee-high leather boots with stockings and garters under her kimono. Kokaku is also introduced to a young kid who invents the Polaroid camera, the squirt-gun (modeled after the Colt M1911A), and aerosol pepper spray. Additionally, Kokaku wears a distinctive tattoo, something that would have been taboo for a historical samurai.

With the various chapters in this volume, they all have a comedic tone. Even when Kokaku is infiltrating a brothel which is drugging the women with opium (and occasionally over-dosing them), and whose owners are responsible for several murders, the tone of the story tries to stay incredibly light. This leads to a cognitive dissonance, particularly when it comes to more serious subject matter. Hopefully later volumes will take things slightly more seriously, but this volume is simply average. It’s not great, not terrible, just average.

One of the news stories I’ve been following recently is The Handly Case, which is an obcenity case in Iowa – the state which was sufficently progressive enough to legalize gay marrage (an act I support), involving Christopher Handley for posessing recieving child porn – in the form of a Hentai (porn) Manga (or Japanese comic book) containing sex involving people who are underage.

I’m not going to defend Lolicon here. For starters, Lolicon isn’t my thing – and in any case, if the material was prosecuted as being obcene for an entirely different reason (bondage material) that still wasn’t my thing, it’d be hard to defend it – because it’s hard to defend a kink that’s not yours, especially to a someone who doesn’t have that kink (and besides, if they already have that kink, you don’t need to defend it to them). I’m going to refrain at this time from going into my kinks anyway because they’re irrelevant (and if you really care what they are, you can post a comment and ask – this doesn’t mean that I’ll answer, but I’m not getting into them in this blog post).

I’m also not going to get into the free speech reasons why this case is bad, because, frankly, Neil Gaiman did it better than I possibly good. I strongly encourage you to Neil’s post, because it’s excellently well written, and explains why you can’t slack off in the defense of free speech – because unfortunately, if you let icky speech be outright banned in a particular medium (video games, comics, film, etc.) it becomes easier to ban speech you support. This doesn’t mean you can’t marginalize certain types of icky speech (hate speech, NAMBLA), but banning icky speech outright bad (note: I’m not defending actual photographed and filmed child porn as icky speech – a crime must be committed in its creation, thus making it by its nature illegal – though I find the prosecution over sexting absurd, but I’m digressing – just read Gaiman’s essay.) (more…)