Monday, November 18, 2013

A Centaur's Life vol. 1

Seven Seas Entertainment has kind of been on a roll the last few weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers List, and it's all thanks to the "monster girls" featured in 'Monster Musume'. I'm glad for their success, but I'm more interested in another new manga released by them that has "monster girls" of a sort, 'A Centaur's Life'. If you've read my past blog posts, you may know how much I love the daily-life/slice-of-life genre, and after reading volume one of 'A Centaur's Life', I think it captures the daily-life aspect perfectly, and will be right up my ally.

'A Centaur's Life' is essentially a school-life manga, but there's one small difference. The world is populated by fantastical creatures. In fact, our main character, Kimihara Himeno, is a half horse, half human centaur. Following her day to day life, in school and out, we meet other strange creature people, like her best friend Nozomi, who is of the draconid race, which is a species with elvish-like ears, bat-like wings, and a pointy devilish tail. Other races include angelfolk, catfolk, among others. If getting a look into the daily lives of people wasn't interesting enough, this interesting twist on the genre lets us see how these mythological people make due in a real life setting.

So, if you're not familiar with the daily-life genre, the name pretty much says it all. It just shows the day to day lives of the characters, with almost no overarching plot or goals. That may sound boring, but it can get quite interesting, especially with good and likeable characters to follow. With only five chapters so far, I wouldn't say we've gotten to know the characters very well yet beyond their base personalities, but I certainly find them likeable enough.

The whole first chapter deals with Himeno's insecurities with the way her horse vagina looks...which was kind of strange, but it led to good character interactions between her and her friends. Another situation dealt with Himeno and her classmates putting on a school play, which briefly introduced some side characters that I'd like to see more of. And an especially interesting part for me was when they were running for gym class. Himeno's friend Kyoko was out of shape and Himeno offered to carry her on her horse back. Very urgently though, Kyoko declined in fear of being arrested for a hate crime. The manga then goes on to explain how in the past, centaurs were once enslaved and used as mounts by other races. This one little detail seamlessly added in really piqued my interest, and I hope to see more world-building features like this in future volumes.

The art in 'A Centaur's Life' is nice and easy on the eyes. Where it really excels though, is the character designs, and that is mostly due to all the different creature races involved. Main character Himeno stands out as a centaur with a huge, luxurious mane of bushy orange hair, reminiscent of Merida from Pixar's 'Brave'(they're both even archers!). And funny enough, the angelfolk aren't actually descended from heaven, their halo's are a biological feature seemingly made from their hair. There's also frightening looking snake people(Oops! I mean Antarcticans. "Snake people" is apparently a derogatory term in their world.). All these different races are a great way to give variety to the designs, and I look forward to seeing even more creatures(in the afterward, amphibian and merfolk were hinted at). And the nice art is displayed in a larger than usual format that even includes two glossy colored pages.

I thought I would like this series given my penchant for daily-life manga, but I was pleasantly surprised by the intriguing world-building aspect. Normally you don't get that because...well...our world is already built. But just changing the dominate species, how they interact with the world, and changing history up a little really adds a whole new dimension to my favorite genre. So if you are interested in "monster girls", but the heavy fanservice in 'Monster Musume' isn't your cup of tea, then 'A Centaur's Life' might just be what you are looking for. I know I am anticipating what's in store for volume two this February.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Wolfsmund vol. 2

The first volume of 'Wolfsmund' really got my attention with its well done action scenes, formidable antagonist, and brutal retelling of the "William Tell" legend. Volume two, however, was almost completely devoid of the things I enjoyed about the first, or made me tired of those aspects.

At the end of the previous volume, we were introduced to William Tell's son, who I thought was going to be our main protagonist, and I was anticipating seeing more of him. Instead, we go back to the mildly repetitive formula of a duo and their experience crossing the Wolfsmund barrier station. A little different though, but in this case not a good thing, our duo are not two people we hope to see successfully make their crossing, but an extremely unlikeable husband and wife. The husband is a gutless traitor to the rebels who has been ratting out his fellow townsfolk for money, and his wife his money grubbing and selfish. Their story takes up two thirds of the entire book, and I can't say I enjoyed reading about them. And it wasn't even as if it was satisfying seeing them get their comeuppance. All I really felt was indifference, which isn't a good way to end a story arc that takes up more than half of the book.

Interestingly enough, they didn't meet their end at the hands of the evil bailiff, Wolfram. Their fate was sealed by none other than the mysterious female innkeeper, who had a small, but recurring role in the last volume. What I also found interesting about our innkeeper, who we now know as "Grete", is that parallel was drawn between her and Wolfram that I didn't notice last volume. Twice she mentioned how her inn was her "station and battlefield", taking her job just as seriously as Wolfram, and even handing down judgement like him. She was portrayed as a sort of "anti-Wolfram". I was really beginning to be compelled by this character when, SPOILER ALERT, Wolfram catches her and kills her...Yeah, I was kind of annoyed by this. Not only because the only real recurring character was killed off, but because now I grow tired of Wolfram's near omnipotent ability to sniff out rebels. I guess I should have known she was done for when I saw her all chained up on the cover though...

At the very end of the volume, our possible protagonist, Walter Tell, shows up making a dramatic and cliche proclamation to nobody listening that "he's back", making me sort of interested to see what happens in the next volume, but after this volume's poor showing, I'm just not sure. We barely know Walter Tell at all, and now that Grete is dead, there is not a single other member of the rebellion to identify with or care about. Then we have a boringly challenging, one note villain, and all we are really left with is what are basically episodic little stories of the despair Wolfram sows. I can't imagine enjoying the next volume if it continues with the same formula and level of plot progression. The next volume doesn't come out until January, so I have plenty of time to think on it, but as things stand, I'm not very excited for volume three.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular vol. 1

...That title...Kind of a mouth full. From now on, I'm just going to use the shortening of the Japanese title, 'Watamote'. Anyway, I had heard some interesting things about this series prior to buying it. From how painfully awkward it is, to how laugh out loud hilarious it is. After reading volume one, I'd say it's definitely both of those, but I'm not sure it's for me.

Tomoko Kuroki is fifteen years old and about to start her freshman year of high school. More than a little delusional, she quite incorrectly thought she was popular in middle school, and she thinks high school is her chance to take her popularity to the next level. Little did she know that the atmosphere of high school is an entirely different beast, and she hasn't talked to a single classmate in the two months since school started! All her training in dating games is for naught! But she hasn't given up just yet. Socially awkward hilarity ensues as we follow Tomoko in her daily life as an unpopular high school girl.

It's not hard to see that the main appeal of this manga is comedy. You might even call it a "gag manga". And that gag is Tomoko failing over and over again in her attempts to have a social life. The chapters are even labeled as 'Fail 1', 'Fail 2', etc. I did indeed laugh at this gag. Out loud even several times, as well as a few internal giggles. Asking for more laughs out of nine chapters might be a little greedy. So on that front, 'Watamote' did its job very well. At the same time though, I found it kind of sad. Maybe even a little depressing. So yeah, while I did plenty of laughing, I also felt kind of bad for her. She even seemingly non-jokingly said she would kill herself when her brother jokingly told her to drop dead...

Tomoko is a loner(she refers to herself in video game terms as a "solo player"). And there's nothing wrong with being a loner, but you can see that she is lonely. She doesn't want to be alone and goes to great lengths to change that. Along with her dating game "training", she also engages in self prescribed cognitive therapy of sorts. After not talking to people for so long, she makes an effort to talk to her little brother for an hour each day in order to improve her communication skills. I actually find that kind of admirable...though her results are not nearly as good as she believes. At other times, Tomoko can(somewhat understandably) let her jealousy and envy get the better of her, making her quite mean. Internally calling the people she strives to be like "sluts" and "scum". She even claimed that she would give up one year of her life if they would all die in a fire. Of course this is all part of the joke, but if you think about it, this makes her more than a one-note gag character, and at the very least, someone you can sympathize with.

Most of this volume was Tomoko being a "solo player" and getting to see her internal thoughts, but there were a couple of supporting characters for her to interact with. I mentioned before her little brother, who though thinks she is an idiot and nuts, still puts up with her eccentricities and listens to her when she needs to talk. Though more prominently featured is her middle school friend, Yuu, who was once plain and nerdy, but has now blossomed into a real beauty. But to Tomoko's delight, Yuu's personality hasn't changed and she still treats her the same, despite their gap in social status. I guess it's because they attend different high schools, but I kind of wonder why Tomoko doesn't take advantage of the situation and spend more time with the one true friend she has. I also kind of wonder how the interaction between Tomoko and Yuu would go in a group situation. Yuu claimed that her new school is like a constant fashion show, and she had to basically adapt and makeover herself in order to maintain a proper social standing, basically doing what Tomoko couldn't do. So I wonder if Yuu would still treat the dorky Tomoko the same if her "popular" friends were around. But I'm probably getting ahead of myself there.

Even though volume one of 'Watamote' had more than the satisfactory amount of laughs, and even though it introduced a sympathetic main character with potential, I'm still not sure this manga is for me. Besides the borderline depressing comedy stylings, I also feel like to keep that "laugh at her pain" gag going, Tomoko is going to have to keep failing and keep suffering, with little development. I'm not sure how much longer I can watch that. So while volume one was worth the read, I think from now on I'll depend on others' reviews to let me know if this is a series I can handle.