Saturday, April 26, 2014

Animal Land vol. 9

I'll never get used to the seven month wait in between 'Animal Land' volumes. I've waited longer for other series(a few I follow are yearly), but none make me nearly as impatient as 'Animal Land'. I suppose that just shows how much I love this series and how compelling it is.

In my review of volume eight, I alluded to an old friend of Taroza's that switched sides and teamed up with Giller. "That character" turned out to be none other than the girl raised by lions, Capri. While Capri and Taroza had their tense moments in the past, I wouldn't have expected her to team up with Giller. She says she is doing because Taroza uniting all animals cries would cause pain for her lion brethren. Hearing your prey beg for their life can ruin the appetite after all...But there seems to be more to it. Giller readily admits that he is using her, and says she is aware of the fact as well, but still doesn't turn on him. So he must be blackmailing her somehow. How exactly, is not revealed.

So Capri and Taroza begin their clash with their respective animal groups. You would think that Capri and her lions would have the upper hand, but Taroza's ability to link minds with his comrades and expertly coordinate their attacks makes things relatively even. And Taroza's group wasn't even going for the kill, so in reality, they were superior. In the end though, this battle didn't amount to much. Something of which I am glad of since I didn't really want Capri and Taroza to fight at all. The arrival of bad news from The Tower of Babel led Capri to call for retreat. As things would have it, the lion guards Capri left at the tower were all defeated by a single animal. That animal being a strange looking deer. Not just any deer though. A two-hundred year old deer that has a pretty cool character design. He looks like a mix between The Spirit of the Forest from 'Princess Mononoke', and Xerneas from 'Pokemon X'. He's super powerful, making quick work of all the lions he encountered, and also seems to have connection with Quo. I'm looking forward to finding out more about this mysterious deer.
I choose you, Xerneas!

Speaking of interesting new characters, one introduced at the end of the previous volume is the human-looking chimera, Luke. Luke looks like a little boy, but is really a fearsome monster like the rest. Maybe even more so. On command, he can grow massive limbs, and swat away all the enemy animals with ease. Also, his face and eyes split apart in the most freaky sort of way. But that's not the most interesting part about Luke. What makes Luke unique is that he has an ego. A will of his own. He even disobeyed Giller when he said not to harm Reimu. On top of that, after meeting another chimera with an ego, now he wants to talk to other humans besides Giller. Why? Well, with free will, he may realize that he can follow his own path instead of being Giller's puppet. If he meets with Capri, who has turned "bad", nothing may come of it. But if he meets with our idealistic hero, Taroza, there's a chance Luke could turn "good". He's a wild card, which could be instrumental in the future of the story.
Luke is so photogenic.

Back at the Tower of Babel, Taroza's group starts making their way upward when they enter what is seemingly a twenty-first century Japanese city full of people. But I thought there were just five "miracle children" left on Earth? Appearances can be deceiving. All these "humans" are actually chimeras created in the past by the dwindling humanity to ease their loneliness. Now, they are just weapons. Weapons under the command of Giller. And Giller wants Taroza's group dead. With that, all these human dolls merge into one giant blob monster. Covered in agonizing faces, a sword for one arm, a scythe for the other, spike covered legs, and out for blood. This thing is gross and terrifying. What follows is more of the same coordinated group fighting, led by Taroza's special mind linking ability. Which I'm kind of growing weary of. At first, it reminded me in a good way of a hectic battlefield, soldiers marching and clashing. But over and over again, it just doesn't make for great fight choreography. I'd like to see more focused fights. It doesn't help that the enemies are gigantic and most of the animals are relatively small.

There was one animal that could match the giant chimera blob in size, and give us a bit of a one-on-one fight. The hippopotamus, Catherine. But even then, the fight wasn't much to look at. At the same time though, Catherine was the highlight of the volume. We are just introduced to Catherine in this volume, and her characterization consists of a few short flashback scenes, yet I was already able to sympathize with her and she made a really big impact. It really is a testament to Makoto Raiku's writing ability that he could get me to care about a character in such a short amount of time. There's a lot of cool looking animals in Taroza's group, so I hope that more of them get the same treatment as Catherine.

Do I have to even say that I can't wait for the next volume? By now, that should be a given. It seems obvious that we are in for a 'Game of Death' style tower climb, with Taroza and gang fighting stronger enemies at each floor. That sounds like a whole lot of fun to me, so I'll be the first in line for volume ten in October.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Knights of Sidonia vol. 8

If you've been following my blog(who am I kidding? No one does hehe...), you have probably noticed that with today's review of 'Knights of Sidonia' volume eight, that I skipped three volumes. Well, I have no excuses. I'm just a slacker. I love those volumes to death, I just plain couldn't gather enough coherent thoughts to make a full blog post, and I fully believed that my Attack on Sidonia post would be my final words on the matter. But volume eight was so good in several ways that I had to get off my lazy butt and write something up.

Captain Kobayashi has killed off her hibernating fellow captains and taken full control over the Sidonia, deciding that they will no longer sit and wait to act on the defensive, but make the first move and go on the attack. After the Guana wiped out the peaceful settlers unprovoked, I can't see any fault in her logic. The Guana seemingly can't be negotiated with and are incredibly hostile. Why wait for them to hunt you down? At the same time though, as a reader, I feel like there is a sense of foreboding from this decision. Part of that comes from the fact that Captain Kobayashi is a dictator of sorts and just usurped complete power over the ship. Not that she did it for the sake of gaining power, but from a story perspective, I can't see everything going perfectly her way after what she has done. So I think the decision to go on the attack will backfire in some way in the future.

Meanwhile, the hybrid Tsumugi is on the mend from her heroic sacrifice from the previous volume. After she is up and running again, her friendship blossoms even more with Nagate and Izana. This is by far my favorite part of the volume. Not only is there great interactions between the three, but I'm impressed that Nihei managed to humanize and make me care for what is essentially a giant, scary tentacle monster, in such a short time. I actually was sold on Tsumugi last volume just as soon as she put herself in harms way to protect the citizens of Sidonia, but now that her relationship with Nagate and Izana is more fleshed out, this giant tentacle monster is already one of my favorite characters. Tsumugi also comes with some good laughs. Specifically the way she tends to interact with her enormous phallic tentacle(as seen on the cover image), even using it to sleep with him. You could even say she has become a part of Nagate's growing harem, which also includes a clone and a third-gendered person(who sports a new awesome yet creepy ten-fingered cybernetic hand in this volume).

Not unrelated to Tsumugi, but on a different note, Nagate looks for a new place to live in this volume. After having to move out of his dorm, he stays with Izana for a night, which leads to a subtle, but kind of awesome character moment. We all know how much Nagate loves food, so when Izana trips and sends Nagate's dinner flying through the air, we see him eye it passionately, only to see him forget about the rice ball to break Izana's fall instead(comically grabbing her(?) boob in the process) As an aside, Nagate specifically referred to Izana as "her" in this volume. I can't recall if anyone has done that before, but I do remember Izana telling a vendor that she(?) is not a girl, and Yuhata wondered why Izana didn't go to the "middle" bath and referred to Izana as "Mr.". Is there just no third-gendered pronoun in this story, or is this just a Japanese translation thing? Or perhaps Nagate just sees Izana as a girl, and Yuhata prefers to see Izana as a boy so that she can subconsciously eliminate Izana as a romantic rival. Anyway, I'm definitely over-thinking that detail...

Getting back to Nagate's housing issue, so that he can more easily spend time with Tsumugi, he finds an awesome place on the perimeter wall that is close to Tsumugi's living quarters. Close enough for her to easily send her tentacle though the pipes and ducts to hang out with Nagate and Izana, who has also moved in. The house itself is really cool and I can only describe it as a house built on the side of a cliff. I would love to live there(especially if I had a cool tentacle monster friend and a cool third-gendered cyborg friend). Nagate's new house, along with the first good wide shot of the Sidonia residential quarters is definitely Nihei at his architectural art best. Speaking of art, the opening color pages of this volume are kind of a departure from what we have seen so far. They feature some of the settlers that left the Sidonia landing on a brilliant blue ocean planet. A stark contrast from the dark and edgy color pages set in outer space, these color pages are kind of peaceful and hopeful, if only for a brief moment...

I just can't get enough of this series. It's the total package as far as I'm concerned. Good characters and interactions, world building, great art, action, and a compelling story. Volume eight especially epitomizes that. And it steps it up more and more with every new book. This volume ended with Izana in a dire situation and Tsumugi and Nagate are rushing to the rescue, so I have no doubt that volume nine will deliver and continue this series' awesomeness.