Thursday, June 6, 2013
In volume two of 'Knights of Sidonia', Nagate was set up to take the blame for mission failure by Kunato and he wondered if he would ever be allowed to pilot the Tsugumori again. But after the discovery of a Gauna shaped Garde, there was no question that he would be needed to fight once again.
Volume three kicks things off with a fight against three "Garde Form Gauna" that are able to take their new shape after ingesting Nagate's friend, Hoshijiro, and her Garde unit. Now, not only are the Gauna able to mimic the appearance of the Garde mechs, but their weapons and tactics as well. And they seem to be mimicking human intelligence, going as far as speaking some words, laughing and perhaps showing some personality. This drastic change in appearance and actions has greatly improved the actions scenes, and it chips away at my past complaint that the Gauna are just formless, faceless blobs of an enemy that are hard to have any feelings about, let alone hate as a main antagonist. Not to mention, their bastardized Garde copies take their level of scary up a few notches. The opening color spread is a testament to that, showing an up close look at this truly frightening, skeletal mech and its human copy pilot.
There was a lot of Garde vs. Gauna action in this volume. At least three, well choreographed sequences. I think that I am either getting better at being able to follow the action, or Nihei is drawing the action scenes more comprehensible. Maybe both. But it's not all about fighting in this volume. There is a little down time too, and I can really appreciate that. It's important to show the life of the Sidonians beyond the war so that we know what they are fighting for. In this volume, that comes in the form of a date of sorts between Nagate and his third-gender friend, Izana. They go to Izana's grandmother's house for vacation and end up having to fish for some food. Comically, Izana ends up snagging Nagate right in the mouth with her fishhook, when guess who shows up? That's right! It's Yuhata Midorikawa from volume two, who has a crush on Nagate and is officially the romantic rival of Izana competing for Nagate's attention. The mild and kind of cheap laughs from this love triangle and a few other situations may be mild and cheap indeed, but they are an important mood buffer to break up the darkness and death that comes with this space war against the Gauna.
The real highlight of this volume for me came with two very informative flashbacks that acted as more than just info-dumps. The first flashback tells us the story of how the Sidonia came to be in the possession of the only effective weapon against the Gauna. The rare Kabizashi lances. Interesting and entertaining in its own right, the flashback features some familiar characters going on a mission six-hundred years ago to research a seemingly harmless, yet mysterious structure. I thought I was getting a bit of adventure, and it kind of was, but I should have known it would have turned bad...The next flashback tells us how the population of Sidonia was nearly wiped out one-hundred years ago. There are some fascinating revelations that I don't want to spoil, but just know that we do learn about Nagate's true origins and why he is special. Along with all the information we learned from these flashback chapters, we also got some great world building through the history being told, and well done characterization for Captain Kobayashi and Lalah, the talking bear.
While reading this volume, I noticed that I'm getting used to the art. Before I thought it was a shame that Nihei didn't stick to his more gritty style that he was famous for, but now I'm just starting to see Knights of Sidonia as its own project with its own artistic identity. The color covers and color pages have especially helped me take a liking to the art. I'm starting to find the softer, more round features of the character designs to be kind of attractive.
If I wasn't hooked with volume two, I am now. Most of the complaints that I had from the first volume I seem to be either getting used to, or they are actually being improved upon in story. I'm really glad that I stuck with this series and my anticipation for volume four couldn't get any higher. Thankfully, it comes out at the beginning of August, so we won't have to wait long.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
'Thermae Romae' was easily my favorite new series of 2012. As soon as I finished volume one, I could not wait to get my hands on volume two. Nearly six months later, the wait is over, and I'm happy to say, it was worth my patience. Now I just have to reign in my anticipation for the third omnibus by Yen Press, which doesn't yet have a release date for me to look forward to...
At the end of volume one, we were left with the ominous cliffhanger of a man planning to make Lucius "disappear", and that's exactly where we pick things up in volume two. Men from the senate who hate Emperor Hadrian's choice of successor, Aelius Caesar, are furious to find that all of the bathing innovations Lucius has made are increasing the popularity of the future emperor. They conclude that the only way to make the public see the truth of Aelius' shortcomings as a leader is to attack his popularity at its source and get rid of Lucius. Their master plan entails tricking Lucius into going out into the bandit ridden wastelands by himself under the impression that Hadrian wants a hot spring villa built out there. Surrounded by deadly bandits who are out for blood, Lucius does what he does best and wins them over with the power of the bath! When I finished volume one, I thought that this new development of a dramatic, overarching plot line could add a lot to the largely episodic story, but now that I read volume two, I'm kind of glad that it didn't last and it ended the way it did in comical fashion. A continuous threat of murder conspiracy just wouldn't allow for some of the fun bathing adventures we got in the rest of the book.
One of the most interesting developments in this volume came when Lucius was commissioned to create a very gaudy and tasteless bath house for a newly rich freed slave. Lucius was reluctant, but agreed in order to help his friend Marcus. In an argument with his new employer, Lucius yet again is thrust into the future by nearly drowning in a fish tank. Cut to modern day Japan, and we are shown an interesting parallel to Lucius' situation. A young engineer named Yoshida, who has a similar passion for baths as Lucius, is also forced to create a distastefully designed hot spring for a newly rich employer. Yoshida is lamenting the job he has to do when out of nowhere appears our Roman bath expert, Lucius. With Lucius' help, Yoshida is able to create a more modest and authentic Roman style bath, and even though it wasn't what his employer originally wanted, it ended up being a big hit. In a nice change of routine, I found it fun that in this excursion to the future, it was Lucius who was able to impart his knowledge of bath engineering on to the "flat-faces" who have previously been the ones to inspire him. And even though their designs were inaccurate, Lucius was just over the moon that the Rome he is so proud of had finally reached the land of the "flat-faces". Yoshida and Lucius' interactions were also very nice and genuine. Though they could not speak to each other, as fellow bath engineers, they bonded and communicated well.
Another very interesting development occurred when Lucius time traveled to the seaside Ito Hot Springs. Emperor Hadrian was just about to make an important request of Lucius when he was transported to the future, so he was in a hurry to get back, but no matter what he tried, he couldn't make his way to Rome again. That's when he met the lovely Satsuki Odate; A lover of ancient Rome who happens to speak Latin! Satsuki is an interesting new character who I hope to see a lot more of in the future. We did get an eleven page, detailed back-story about her, so I'm sure she will be even more important than she ended up being in this volume. The bulk of this latest excursion to the future had Lucius reacting to other modern things besides baths, like television and what not, so we didn't really get to see as much of Satsuki as I would have liked. But, there did seem to be a bit of romance in the air. Lucius is the very image of Satsuki's idea of a "indomitable, spartan" man, and Lucius was captivated by her beauty like he had never been before with the "flat-faces". Even while trying to think of how to get back to Rome, Lucius didn't like the idea of leaving her behind and even thought about taking her with him. And best of all, since Satsuki spoke Latin, they were able to talk to each other. Never before has Lucius been able to speak with the "flat-face" people he has visited, so this was an exciting advancement. Though an advancement that was also underused and that I'd like to see more of in volume three. This journey to the future is also the longest Lucius has been gone from Rome. He seems to be stuck in modern day Japan. So that leaves even more to look forward to from future chapters.
This volume came with a lot of the same laughs that came from Lucius' episodic adventures in bathing that I loved from volume one, but it also had some surprising and enjoyable new aspects. Presumably, there is just one more omnibus volume for Yen Press to release. Ideally, Lucius and Satsuki's relationship will be further explored in the final volume. I can't wait to find out.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
'Sunny' ,by Taiyo Matsumoto, is one of my most anticipated manga titles of this year. I absolutely adore Matsumoto's 'Tekkonkinkreet' and regard it as a masterpiece. 'Blue Spring' didn't quite live up to my expectations, but the experience wasn't able to put a dent in the vast amount of faith I had in Matsumoto's talent that 'Tekkonkinkreet' brought on. Since hearing of Matsumoto's new series running in IKKI magazine(which has spawned some of my favorite manga), I have been (im)patiently waiting for my chance to read it. Then Viz Media came through with the license announcement last Fall, fulfilling my manga reading desires. I really had no idea what to expect given the short, vague synopsis I read, but my enjoyment of volume one just reinforces my confidence in faith based purchases and Taiyo Matsumoto's ability as a manga author.
In the garden of the Star Kids Home lies a beat up old Nissan Sunny. To the kids of the group home, it is more than just a rusting hunk of metal. It is their clubhouse, their safe haven, and their escape through imagination. To Haruo, it is a place where he can look at porno mags, pretend he is a racecar driver, or just take a nap. To the older kids, it is a place to talk, have a smoke, and just be away from the adults. In Taiyo Matsumoto's 'Sunny', we get to take a look at the daily lives of the foster kids at Star Kids Home, and how they all gravitate towards that old Nissan Sunny.
This is a pure, "jump right in-style" slice-of-life manga. We are just thrust right in to these kids lives as foster children and left to learn about all the details naturally as the story moves forward. I can see how that may sound confusing and unappealing, but it really works in this case. You don't need to be hand-fed a robotic narrative for the story to be good. Just take it slow, understand what slice-of-life is, and it all flows quite nicely. At this point, I've expressed my thoughts on daily life stories over several blog posts, so this may seem redundant, but I'm going to say it all again. I'm fully aware of how and why normal, seemingly mundane daily life events could be boring to read about for some, but for reasons I can't fully or properly explain in words, this type of manga really clicks with me. When things slow down and aren't dictated by an overbearing plot, I can connect more with the characters, appreciate what they appreciate, and almost feel like I am there with them. I especially felt this in 'Sunny' while the kids were playing in their clubhouse car. Don't be afraid to slow down and try slice-of-life books, because you get to experience a whole other side of the characters and the atmosphere that you don't usually get from story driven manga.
There are several interesting characters that live at Star Kids Home, but the one that stands out most for me is Haruo, nicknamed "White" for his white hair(as you can see on the cover featured above). He probably gets the most attention and detail in this first volume, but doesn't monopolize the book with his presence nor screen time. The other characters get plenty of love, but we get to know Haruo just a little more. We get to know where he came from and how much he has changed since then, who he has a crush on, and see several of his daydream sequences while playing in the Nissan Sunny. But one of the most telling scenes was when the house-master's grandson, Makio, came for a visit. You can tell that Haruo looks up to Makio greatly and tries to keep Makio all to himself during his visit. He even confided in him his conflicting feelings on visiting his mother. He does want to visit with her, but he also doesn't. He loves and looks forward to seeing her, but he only gets to see her three times a year and each time he has to say goodbye is painful. So by not seeing her at all, he would avoid that pain altogether. I loved this scene and think it was really well written. Conflicting feelings are so strange but so real. I hope more of the kids get this level of characterization in future volumes. I'm especially interested in Sei, a new boy from Yokohama who makes it known that he doesn't feel at home at the Star Kids Home.
I love Taiyo Matsumoto's art and I think he is in top form for 'Sunny'. Maybe at his best. He still uses his signature, strange, unsymmetrical style that I've seen from 'Tekkonkinkreet' and 'Blue Spring', but somehow I find 'Sunny' to be a lot less chaotic and a lot more coherent. Possible due to the more realistic and clean setting, because he definitely didn't water down his art at all. I think this is a good chance for readers that have previously been scared off by his unconventional style to get into his work. It is easier to read and easier to appreciate the beauty in how different it is from the norm. We also get several stunning, full-color pages that really blew me away. They were a real treat and I hope we get some in volume two as well.
These last few days waiting in anticipating for this book to arrive, I thought I might have been letting my excitement get the better of me and setting myself up for disappointment. That worry was unfounded though. Taiyo Matsumoto put out a truly compelling first volume and Viz presented it in an amazing hardcover that is now one of the jewels of my collection. I'll be preordering volume two for sure and its November release date can't get here soon enough.
Thursday, May 2, 2013
I came across 'The Summit of the Gods' the same way I came across 'A Zoo in Winter'. That is, through the Jiro Taniguchi Manga Moveable Feast. Interested by the Manga Moveable Feast and then captivated by 'A Zoo in Winter', I thought that I would have read every available Taniguchi book by now. Somehow though, other series took priority and I am just now trying my second Jiro Taniguchi work. This time though, it's a collaboration with Taniguchi doing the art and Yumemakura Baku doing the writing. I enjoyed the first three volumes of 'The Summit of the Gods', but not as much as I thought I would, and whenever I get around to reading Taniguchi again, I'll be sure that it is another of his original works.
Makoto Fukamachi is a Japanese photographer wandering aimlessly through Kathmandu, trying to escape his bitter thoughts of a recently failed summit attempt of Mount Everest. Strictly by chance, he made his way to a climbing supply shop when a certain camera for sale caught his eye. A Vest Pocket Autographic Kodak Special. The very same model that famous mountaineer, George Mallory, took with him on his Everest summit attempt before disappearing. Could this be the very same camera that belonged to Mallory? And if so, what was it doing in Kathmandu? If it was indeed Mallory's camera and had images of a successful summit on it, it could change mountaineering history as we know it. As a journalist, this prospect made Fukamachi's heart race. Deciding to pursue the mystery behind the camera and how it made it's way to Kathmandu, everything led Fukamachi back to one man. The enigmatic and legendary mountaineer, Jouji Habu. In 'The Summit of the Gods', we follow Fukamachi as he tries to learn the truth about the camera and uncovers the tumultuous life story of Jouji Habu.
I would say in terms of panel time, there are two main characters of this manga. Makoto Fukamachi and Jouji Habu. But for all intents and purposes, Habu is the true main character and by far the more interesting of the two. Fukamachi acts more like the readers' avatar. We experience everything through him and his curiosity and actions drive the story. That's about as much as he was able to offer me in the first three volumes. I don't really like him at all and it doesn't help that his search for the camera inadvertently caused a lot of the story's conflict. Fukamachi is also kind of a "downer". He starts out the story moping around and throughout the series, gives the sense that his life is without direction. I was totally unsympathetic to this though and just found it annoying. "Woe is me! I couldn't make it up Everest and don't know what to do with my life.". And then with so much time spent developing Habu, the plot line between Fukamachi and his ex-girlfriend felt shoehorned in to make him seem more interesting, but it only succeeded in making me resent Fukamachi for taking panel time away from Habu...
Jouji Habu is a different story altogether. His presence makes this series worth the read. What a fascinating and well developed character. Most of the first two volumes are dedicated to telling Habu's life story in the form of Fukamachi interviewing his acquaintances and researching his mountaineering exploits. Though I enjoyed reading about him unlike Fukamachi, much like Fukamachi, he isn't necessarily a likeable guy. He is very selfish and mostly just cares about himself and mountaineering. He's also extremely honest to a fault. Often hurting others' feelings with his bluntness. And even as a middle aged man, he showed himself capable of being very childish. For all his faults though, he was also capable of moments of greatness and growth. As a younger man, he made it clear that he wouldn't hesitate to cut his climbing partner's rope if it meant saving his own life. But later in the story after making a connection with a young protege, not only did he not follow through with these words, but he did everything he could to save him. And man, was he one helluva tough guy. His extraordinary mount climbing feats made him a living legend, and fellow character and reader alike can't help but to admire and be inspired by him. His complicated nature and the exciting path he chooses to take are what made this series so engaging and why I am going to keep reading it.
Volume three is a bit of a departure from the first two. Things move from Habu's backstory and exciting climbing scenes to Fukamachi's present day search for Habu in Nepal to try to solve the mystery of Mallory's possible lost camera. Maybe it's just me, but for some reason, the camera mystery doesn't excite me much. Perhaps you have to be a mountaineering enthusiast to see the true value in that plot line, much like the in story value of the camera itself. Really though, the "camera plot line" is the "find Habu plot line", but somehow it feels like the story and Fukamachi can't decide which one is more important and because of that, things seem unfocused(no photography pun intended). A little more interesting, Ryoku Kishi, Habu's former lover and sister of his diseased protege, has joined Fukamachi in the search for Habu in order to reunite with him and get closure. I was more interested in the human drama this reunion entailed, but what I actually got felt a bit like an 80's crime movie. Kidnapping, extortion, car chases and a harrowing cliff side rescue followed. It felt a little odd and out of place, but it was exciting and probably the most purely entertaining part of this series. All of this led up to learning Habu's main goal, which is to do an oxygenless solo summit of Everest's south west face in Winter. Something never before done and what everyone else in the story thinks is insane and practically suicide. If this series' previous exciting climbing scenes are anything to go by, this summit attempt is more than enough reason to check out the last two upcoming volumes.
Jiro Taniguchi is a pretty great artist. Sometimes I feel like his character faces can be a little off and weird. Specifically the eyes when looking at a character head on. They can look, for the lack of a better word, a little creepy at times. Beyond that though, their faces are very expressive and dynamic. Taniguchi excels at the "thoughtful look", as I like to call it. Strong, furrowed brows and deep, expressive eyes. This is especially well done with Habu, who has the most varied appearance throughout the series because of so much time covered. The cover to volume three above basically personifies what I am talking about. Taniguchi also impressed me with his ability to draw "action" scenes. The mountain climbing scenes were very exciting and cinematic and one of the main draws of this series. Taniguchi also excelled at drawing stunning mountainscapes. I don't know if he used assistants to do them or if he did them digitally with a computer, and I don't care. All I know is that the mountain scenery(and the backgrounds in general) was really well done and painstakingly detailed. One thing that I would like to see more of is the wonderfully done color pages present in the first volume, but absent in the next two. I oddly prefer black and white art, but a few color pages here and there can be a great treat. You can sample the art for yourself at Ponent Mon's website where you can preview all three volumes.
This series wasn't what I was hoping it would be or what I expected it to be with Taniguchi being connected to it. A bit dry and tedious sometimes, and slightly hampered by one, unlikeable main character, at other times, it is compelling and engaging, and bolstered by the more appealing co-main character. I'd say that the bad outweighs the good, and with Habu's incredible summit attempt to look forward to, I'll definitely be anticipating the last two volumes.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
I was kind of avoiding this series. I really didn't seem like my sort of thing. I thought it would just be about kids being cruel to each other, and it sort of is, but not in the way that I thought. Then the anime came out and caused all sorts of buzz for its controversial use of rotoscope animation, and I planned on giving it a watch to test the waters before I dished out money for a manga book. But as things turned out, my library recently stocked the first five volumes, so I decided to give it a go. The library is always great for stepping out of your comfort zone.
Takao Kasuga is not your average middle school student. He socializes, but deep down, he believes he is different from the rest of them, and prefers to bury his face in his favorite poetry book, 'The Flowers of Evil'. One day after school, he forgets that book in class and goes back to get it. While retrieving the book, he sees the gym bag of his long time crush, Nanako Saeki, and not being able to help himself, pervertedly fondles her used gym clothes. When he hears someone coming, Kasuga panics and hurries home, gym clothes in hand. The next day, the whole class is up in arms about the theft of Saeki's gym clothes and Kasuga is wracked with guilt, thinking he is a sinner. Contemplating his crime on the way to his favorite book store, he runs in to class loner, Sawa Nakamura, who confesses that she witnessed his misdeed, and kicks off a cycle of sadistic blackmail that will make Kasuga question everything he knows to be true.
The first volume of this series was surprisingly comedic, and not dark comedy. Nakamura's crazy smile and expression, her calling her teacher "shitbug" to his face, and the psychological torture she employs on Kasuga just had be laughing out loud several times. And that's rare for me even for pure, straightforward comedies. I'm not really sure if this is intentional, or if there is just something wrong with me. I'm hoping it's the former, because it shocked me that I took pleasure in Kasuga getting mentally tortured. That isn't me. I turn my head when people get hurt in movies, so why did I enjoy Kasuga's angish? It's interesting and odd, but I'll just go with it. Life's too short to apologize for what you laugh at. With bullying being such a sensitive subject these days, I thought this would be an uncomfortable and serious read, but volume one didn't convey that at all. I feel like the overall vibe changed quite a bit in following volumes though.
I couldn't put volume one down. You could say that it was like a drug. Not just in that it was addicting, but I also felt strangely euphoric while reading. Especially during the climax where Nakamura puts her cruelty towards Kasuga into overdrive. Also like a drug, for every high, there has to be a low. After the initial glee of watching Nakamura screw with Kasuga psychologically hit its peak at the end of volume one, volume two kind of leveled off and rather than continue escalating, it was just more of the same. By the end of volume three, I thought that the three way relationship between Nakamura, Kasuga, and Saeki could be really interesting, but more and more I felt like the story was just turning into some kids' self inflicted melodrama.
I'm confused about how I feel about the characters. Technically, they should be super interesting and count as "well written", but somehow they just aren't clicking with me. Both Kasuga and Saeki actually develop quite well for only five volumes of story. Nakamura is still more of a mystery, but I can't fault the author on that because that seems to be the plan. I think the problem is that they are neither likeable or relatable. I thought I liked Nakamura at first, but I was just blinded by how shockingly blunt she is. On the surface, her actions are entertaining for a time, but underneath it all, she comes across as unhinged and just as angsty as Kasuga. Finally you see that she is just plain mean. But there is still a bit of intrigue on her exact motives, feelings and how she came to be this way, so I have not given up on her character quite yet. I briefly enjoyed watching these characters as a fascinated observer, but in the end, not being able to relate to them at all caused my interest to wane.
One thing I don't get is the eye flower imagery. What is it suppose to mean? I know that it is a stylized version of Odilon Redon's flower illustration from Charles Baudelaire's 'Les Fleurs du mal' poetry book, but I don't get the relevance as a piece of recurring symbolism. Do I have to read Baudelaire's poetry to get this? I doubt I would understand anyway, since I just don't get poetry either. I feel like I am missing a layer of understanding and enjoyment by not comprehending the eye flower's importance and not having previously experienced Baudelaire's work. This actually isn't a bad thing. Perhaps the importance and full meaning is not yet revealed and it is another aspect to look forward to. Or maybe if I read Baudelaire's poems, I will have a new appreciation of this series on future rereads....Or it could already be revealed plain as day for readers smarter than I to see. Then again, maybe it isn't plot important at all and I am over-thinking things. We'll see.
'The Flowers of Evil' has a strangely funny first volume and sets up a great premise. Subsequent volumes don't quite live up to the first, but there were still aspects to enjoy and still more to look forward to. I'm going to keep following this series, though it will mostly be out of curiosity, rather than anticipation.
Monday, April 22, 2013
Would you believe that I was afraid to read this book? Silly, I know, but even though I bought this book almost a year ago, I kept putting off reading it because I was afraid I wouldn't like it. I had previously read one of Shigeru Mizuki's other works, 'Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths', and it didn't particularly impress me. Shigeru Mizuki's works are highly regarded and award winning in Japan, and the works released in English have been critically acclaimed as well, so when I don't see what everyone else seems to see, it makes me feel like I have bad taste or something. But I finally decided to sit down and give 'NonNonBa' a read, and I really wish I hadn't waited so long, because it turned out to be a great book.
Very much a memoir of Shiguru Mizuki's childhood, 'NonNonBa' takes a focused look at his daily life in pre-World War II coastal Japan. Most specifically, his interactions with his grandmother, who he called "NonNonBa". NonNonBa was a spiritual expert of sorts and taught young Shigeru all about yōkai, which is a blanket term for ghosts, monsters, demons and other mysterious creatures from Japanese folklore. Through these whimsical and sometimes scary folk tales, NonNonBa passed on life lessons hidden within her superstitions, and greatly bolstered Shigeru's imagination, leading him to become known as the forefather of yōkai manga.
This manga was a most pleasant surprise for me. Not only because I highly underestimated it, but because I wasn't expecting it to be so heavy with aspects of one of my favorite sub-genres. That is, slice-of-life. More specifically, daily life. In past blog posts, I've talked about how I could understand how some would find daily life stories boring, but for some reason, they are oh so endearing to me. I think it's perhaps they feel so natural in the events featured and the pace. There are no convoluted plot lines to artificially make things more interesting and exciting. Things are often slow going and thoughtful and when dramatic things do happen, they don't feel forced or melodramatic. Being a memoir, this story captures all of that. Sometimes a chapter is just Shigeru learning about yōkai. Sometimes a chapter is about him having fun with his friends. And sometimes it is about him coping with loss or his family's struggles. Slice-of-life allows for an evolving pace and tone that never feels unnatural, which you don't often get with plot heavy stories in my experience.
'NonNonBa' has got some pretty interesting "characters". I put characters in quotations because, this being a memoir, as far as I know, these are true to life, real people. One of my favorites is Shigeru's father, Nozomu. He is not your stereotypical, strict Japanese father. This guy was kind of a free spirit, more than a little lazy, and a bit flaky. But he was also rather wise in his life advice to Shigeru, even if he didn't always live by his own words. And I absolutely loved the level of encouragement he gave Shigeru in following his dreams of becoming an artist. And of course, there's the title character, NonNonBa. It seems like she can find a yōkai tale to fit every part of life. Stains on the ceiling? That's a yōkai. Feel like someone is following you? Another yōkai. Didn't clean the bath properly? Watch out for the yōkai. Through NonNonBa, these folk tales are seamlessly woven into the story, and not only did they seem to add more than a bit of fun to Shigeru's life, but they also came across as lessons sometimes. They kind of reminded me of western fables like "the boy who cried wolf" and what not.
For me, the art of 'NonNonBa' is a big step up from the art I experienced in 'Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths'. It has the same style of cartoony characters on highly detailed, semi-realistic backgrounds, but the scenery of 'Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths' just didn't seem to allow for dynamic art. Jungles, beaches and uniformed soldiers during a war can be pretty bleak and just plain. 'NonNonBa' on the other hand has a more varied setting and many more uniquely designed characters. Not to mention the imaginative yōkai designs. On top of that, the book starts off with some surprisingly well done color pages. Check out a free preview of 'NonNonBa and sample the art for yourself.
I know I said I didn't really care for 'Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths', but after reading 'NonNonBa', I have a new, retrospective respect for it. Both being at least semi-autobiographical accounts of Shigeru Mizuki's life, they act as great companions to each other. And the pre-World World II tone of 'NonNonBa' is a really interesting contrast to the thick of battle that is 'Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths'. That said, I still much prefer 'NonNonBa' and I'm truly glad I finally got around to reading it.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
After being unexpectedly disappointed by the first volume of 'Knights of Sidonia', I am very pleased to say that volume two didn't continue that trend. Things kick off with some nice color pages that lead in to a a battle scene with a Guana that I found to be far superior to the first volume's battle choreography. Perhaps due to the increased length, making everything a little more coherent, but Nagate's heroics also spiced things up a lot. Though the Guana as an enemy still don't really excite me. It doesn't help that they are mostly just blob tentacle monsters that can take on any form, so they are essentially a "faceless" enemy with no known motivations, and that makes them harder to hate.
Not only was the battle scene more entertaining this time around, but it brought on another development. In the first volume, the characters(besides Nagate) seemed inhuman and unrelatable. Only the very last scene of the book showed a small display of emotion that saved things for me. This volume is much improved in that area. When Nagate went to save Hoshijiro's life after the fight with the Guana, it inspired the entire Garde battalion to break protocol to save them both. I did not expect this at all from them. And this small detail made me feel more connected to the Sidonia population in general.
This same scene also created a new layer to the story that is much welcomed by me. Romance. Nagate and Hoshijiro were stranded in space in close quarters for about two weeks. Not only did Nagate save Hoshijiro's life, but she saved him from dehydration by giving him her pee to drink! How could they not bond after that haha? This romantic development is followed up with an actual date where they tour the underwater floating tanks. Both of these scenes have a slight twinge of comedy to them, which is also a welcome element when things can be pretty gloomy in the vastness of space with giant monsters constantly attacking. And it's not just Hoshijiro that Nagate is coupled with. He's on the verge of building his own harem with new girl, Yuhata Midorikawa, having a crush on him and the memorable third gender character introduced last volume, Izana Shinatose, seemingly wanting to monopolize our main character's company.
One of the simple yet effective details of this volume was an info dump courtesy of Nagate looking up the history of Guanas and humans on the computer. We learn about the very first Guana attack on Earth and how everyone evacuated. We even learn the dates and that there may be other ships out there. They lost communication long ago, but meeting up with another colony is something I wouldn't mind seeing later in the story. It could add a lot to the story.
A second battle scene, while not as entertaining as the first, ignites a shocking development that both upset me and really hooked me in to the story. While fighting a "cluster ship" Guana(many Guana cores clustered together to make a massive super-organism), Kunato Norio, that jerk from the last volume that is jealous of Nagate, sets Nagate up for failure with bad orders. It was Kunato that was suppose to be the pilot of the special Tsugumori Garde mech before Nagate showed up, and he seems to be taking it quite hard. To the point where he basically tried to get Nagate killed and endangered the rest of the battalion as well. Nagate survived, but now everyone hates him because the failure appeared to be his fault. It's a shame too, because everyone had just started to warm up to him after his earlier display of heroics. Forget the Guana. For me, Kunato is the real antagonist of this series, and I really want to see him get what's coming to him. As an interesting side detail, Kunato seems to belong to a prestigious family who's company developed the Garde mechs. This same company seems to have replaced Toha Heavy Industries as the primary contractor of Sidonia. Anyone who has read Nihei's previous works might recognize that company name. Probably just a reference, but it could lead to interesting plot developments.
I've got to say, I was quite pessimistic about continuing this series before I sat down to read this volume. I was even bouncing around the idea of canceling my volume 3 preorder(and I would definitely have if this volume didn't deliver). Instead, I'm off to preorder volumes 4 and 5. This volume renewed my faith with more varied and dynamic art, great character interaction, exciting fight scenes, and an all around better pace and story structure. If that wasn't enough, the preview pages for volume 3 imply some interesting questions will be answered. I can't wait.