Sunday, May 29, 2016

Jump Ryuu - Eiichiro Oda

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Jump Ryu vol. 3 - Eiichiro Oda
I know I said that I wasn't going to buy any more of these DVD magazines right away, but I picked up some extra online work, which is bringing in enough money to justify my getting volume 3 at 1,330 yen (1,290 yen plus tax, or about $12 USD). This issue isn't quite as good as the one for Toriyama, in part because Oda hasn't been drawing manga as long, and doesn't have as many other titles to his name for a retrospective to cover, but also because there are only two A4 sheets, and only 3 DVD chapters. The A4 sheets include a color print of the One Piece cast playing on the beach, and a blue sheet of one manga page for further practicing of inking techniques.

(Examples of the two A4 sheets.)

(DVD case.)

(Photos from Oda's studio.)

(Examples of Oda's artwork.)

The DVD chapters have Oda drawing and coloring the A4 cast sheet (he uses soft-tip markers that give a watercolor feel to the pictures), a walkthrough of his studio (he has a full-size statue of a terminator in his office, a jukebox, and a big-screen monitor for playing video games), and the next installment of the Jump manga school series - this time on the use of screen tones. There's no real interview, just a rep for Jump asking Oda questions about what it's like to draw manga, and asking about some of the pens he uses. The conversations are all off-camera, and there's no pictures of him in the magazine. The unit on screen tones is pretty basic; if you have a scene showing clouds in the sky, pick a gradation screen, stick it on the entire panel, then cut along the lines for the panel and cloud and peel off the parts of the screen you don't want to keep.

(Part of the Jump school lessons for drawing manga.)

Overall, there's not really a lot here that I want to keep. The A4 color sheet is nice, and it's interesting watching Oda's hands creating the artwork on the DVD, but that's about it. Recommended only for people that want help making their own manga.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Attack on Titan, vol. 17 review

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Attack on Titan, vol. 17, Hajime Isayama. Grade: B
Mikasa and Connie pull Eren out of the giant husk, and show the boy that he's finally been able to create a husk that doesn't dissipate when he discards it. The husk held up the ceiling and saved the rest of the team. But, Rod Reiss, as the super slug, has escaped to the surface and is on a beeline to the city wall. Everything else in the carry case was destroyed. As the team talks to him, Eren is shown to have the same lines on his face that Frieda did as the holder of Coordinate. The team gets to the cart carrying Hange. Zoe is in bad shape with his shoulder wound, but is still able to make plans. Historia mentions that it's her thoughts that Frieda had only wanted to protect her own family, while Grisha wanted to use the giants' powers to save the rest of mankind. That can't have been such a bad thing. Eren tries to use Coordinate to command the slug to stop, but it doesn't work. Additionally, Slug is at least twice the size of Gatekicker and is emitting so much heat and steam as to make it unapproachable.

(Eren makes a hardened husk.)

Refugees are allowed into the inner city walls in part as bait for Slug, in case it breaches the second wall. Soldiers and cannons are lined up at the top of the wall, and the battle begins. The cannon balls do hit Slug, but none of them reach the back of its neck where they would do actual permanent damage. Historia joins the team on the wall, saying that the city isn't going to accept a mere passive leader. Erwin starts phase two, which consists of mounting grappling guns to wheeled carts packed with explosives. Slug reaches the wall and stands up, triggering a panic among the citizens. Eren turns into Toothy. Slug props itself up against the wall with its hands. The carts are launched at Slug, blowing up both wrists. It's "face" is brought down to wall top level, and Toothy shoves a big net holding more explosives into its "mouth". That explodes and launches the critical part of Rod Reiss into the air. The Special team uses their grappling hooks and jetpacks to chase after the lump, but it's Historia that delivers the killing blow, triggering another explosion. She lands safely on a cart filled with supplies, then stands up and announces to the bystanders that she is Historia Reiss, the true queen of the city.

(Slug crawls to the city walls.)

The scene changes to a flashback when Wally, Rod's older brother, had turned into a rogue giant to capture the mass killer Kenny "the Knife" Ackerman. Wally decides to spare Kenny's life in return for becoming his bodyguard/hitman. Kenny became a member of the city's council, and in his free time tracked his younger sister, Keshel, to a brothel in one of the underground towns. She'd died of disease a couple days earlier, leaving a very emaciated child behind, named "Levi, just Levi". Kenny allowed Levi to follow him around as he did his dirty work, and the child grew stronger and became extremely good with a knife himself. In their world, only the strong survive, and both of them were strong. Eventually, Wally got old and Frieda ate him to take over the family legacy. Kenny became the leader of his own dirty jobs police squad, gaining followers that believed in his tactics. Now, Kenny is sitting at the edge of the forest close to the Reiss church, dying from his injuries and severe burns received from Slug. He wonders what Wally would say to him now. Levi finds his uncle, who gives him the syringe kit he'd stolen from Rod's carry case. Levi wants answers about the Ackerman bloodline, and about why Kenny had saved him, but it's too late because the old man is dead now. (Kenny does say that Levi's mother was simply his younger sister.)

(Kenny locates Keshel, and finds her only child starving to death in a corner.)

Historia is crowned Queen, and the city accepts her. Later, she and the Special team go out to a farm, where they're abused by a bunch of spoiled children. Historia asks if Eren really wants to kill Reiner and Bertolt that badly, and he says that there's just no other choice but to kill them. Mikasa comes up, angry at how friendly Historia has gotten with Eren and disrupts the conversation. The city starts returning to normal, with Levi and Erwin helping Historia plan up a government. Eren, meanwhile, uses his "harden" powers to create a shell at the hole of one wall that can be used as part of a pile driver weapon. One of the Scouts stands in the hole to lure giants in one at a time, and the pile driver is dropped on the back of its neck to kill it permanently. It's the perfect weapon - wiping out giants with no danger at all to the human operators.

(All Hail Queen whatsername!)

The new city leaders discuss what to do with the spare syringe kit, questioning whether they can trust anyone that could possibly use it to turn themselves into an uncontrollable rogue, and Levi says he'll guard it. His team is also to prepare for a trip to the building that Grisha used, to find out what Eren's key will unlock. In the barracks lunchroom, Eren realizes that there's someone he needs to talk to, to see if he can get some answers - the sadistic drill instructor Keith Shadis. Elsewhere, in part of the ruins near Wall Maria, the Simian rogue finishes pounding the Armor rogue into paste. Simian turns into a tall, sinewy, blond bearded guy with glasses. He tells Bertolt to care for Reiner, and that pretty soon they're going to go rescue Annie.

Summary: Lots of exposition. We get backstory on Kenny and Levi, and how Kenny was recruited to work for Wally Reiss. Historia becomes the new queen, and the city begins its long-awaited housecleaning. Plus, we finally see the Simian rogue's human operator. This has to mean only one thing - there's more Carnage in the future.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Attack on Titan, vol. 16 review

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Attack on Titan, vol. 16, Hajime Isayama. Grade: B
Historia finally remembers when Frieda would come to visit her on the farm and take her horseback riding. Rod says that Frieda probably erased those memories for Historia's protection. She asks where Frieda is now, and her father tells her that Eren's father killed her 5 years ago. Eren sees Grisha pleading for help, and Frieda protecting the Reiss family and refusing. Grisha stabs himself in the hand with a scalpel and turns into a big, fat bearded rogue, followed by Frieda shifting into a white-haired hag. They fought, but Beardy won easily and ripped Hag's spine out with his teeth. He continued to kill the rest of the kids, and Rod's wife, while Rod himself ran to safety. The house, rather been damaged in a fire set by a robber, was half-destroyed when Beardy burst of out it to chase Rod. Historia wants to know why Grisha would do such a horrible thing, but Kenny Ackerman comes back and asks them what they're taking so long for. Kill the boy and leave before reinforcements arrive.

(Pieces of memories of Grisha, Frieda and the Reisses.)

Back at the palace, Commander Zackly is torturing one of the nobles. Pixis tells Erwin that the nobles aren't willing to step down, and the peasants aren't backing anyone else. It looks like the war against the King is going to drag on. Erwin tells his Survey crew to mount up - they're going to track down Eren and Historia. Elsewhere, Marlowe and Hitch are asking peasants at a cabin for directions, while Levi warns the others about Kenny. He talks to Mikasa about her family. She says that her parents never really said much about it to her, so she doesn't know about the Ackerman lineage. But, because her father married an Oriental woman, they had to move away from the main family. Levi asks if she ever had an insane burst of killing energy, and Mikasa remembers when she stabbed her kidnapper in the back. Levi says that both he and Kenny have this same ability.

(Beardy rips Hag out by the spine.)

In the cave, Historia looks at Eren with hate at having taken her beloved sister from her, as Rod brings out a syringe, adding that in this way she'll be reunited with Frieda again. Eren sees the vial kit and remembers his father crying and saying "I'm going to inject you with your mother's enemy." Levi's team reaches the church. They find the trapdoor in the floor and get ready for their attack. In the basement, Ackerman's team waits at the top of the pillars scattered around the cave. Armin and Sasha roll a gunpowder keg down the stairs and shoot it with a flaming arrow to create a smoke cloud (Sasha has became the default archer now). The team zips around in the cloud, aided with the additional smoke from the signal flare guns to slowly whittle the enemy down from a starting total of 32 people. They've gotten a lot more hardened to the idea of killing humans. The battle drags on until Hange takes a grappling hook to the shoulder. The enemy runs and Levi gives chase. Back in the main cave, Rod keeps trying to get Historia to inject herself with the serum, saying that their family had maintained the peace for the last 100 years by passing the secret of the rogue giants from generation to generation. Rod's older brother, Wally, had the "power" (i.e. - Coordinate), then when Frieda turned 15 she injected herself with the serum to turn into a rogue, and killed and ate Wally to take Coordinate, and "Sekai no Kioku" for herself. ("Sekai no Kioku" translates to "World's Memories". This power apparently lets the user control other people's memories. It would explain how Frieda made Historia forget about her.) The lines under her eyes were then proof that Frieda had inherited the powers from the First King. Kenny comes into the room to interrupt them again.

(A young Kenny talks to his dying grandfather about the Ackerman legacy.)

Kenny flashes back to when he was much younger and his grandfather was an old man on his deathbed. Kenny mentioned that he'd found his younger sister working in a brothel in the underground, and she apparently had a child from one of her customers. He demands that his grandfather explain why the King's family has such a grudge against the Ackerman line. The old man had considered taking his secrets to the grave with him, but that would be kind of meaningless. He says that he's not sure how things got started, but the Reiss family has the powers of the giants, one of which includes the ability to erase members. To protect mankind from the giants, they had the walls erected, and then erased all memories of what life outside of the walls was like. But, apparently Orientals and members of the Ackerman line are immune to this power. At the time, Kenny thought that having such powers would make things interesting, but now he's older and less happy with the idea of working with Rod Reiss. Listening now to Rod, he's thinking that he's being lied to. He threatens Rod, and Historia stops him. Kenny asks her if she really wants to become a monster and eat Eren, and she says "that's my mission, isn't it?" There's a bit of yelling and threatening, then Rod tells Kenny that he's free of the Reiss family and to go have a long happy life. Kenny thinks that's boring, then goes to the pedestal to remove Eren's gag and cuts his forehead to make things more fair. Rod yells at Historia to use the serum and eat Eren's spine (the only way to get Coordinate's and World's Memories' powers) before Eren turns into Toothy. Eren begs her to do this too, because he never wanted these powers.

(Historia rejects the serum, and her father goes crazy.)

Historia keeps hesitating, remembering her time with Ymir, Frieda and Eren. It's when Rod tells her that having Coordinate and World's Memories would make her a god, that she makes her decision, throwing the syringe to the ground. She realizes that her father is a manipulative coward and she wants out. He goes insane, trying to attack her. Historia throws him to the ground, grabs his carry case and goes to the pedestal to unlock Eren from the chains. He's still telling her that he wants her to eat him, so she slaps him in the face to make him settle down. Rod finally gets the courage to become a giant, and laps up the serum from the floor, turning into a super massive slug monster. This giant is so big that it destroys the pillars in the cave, causing the roof to begin collapsing. Levi's team arrives in time to help Historia unlatch the final chains. But the force and heat emanating from the slug are so great that the team is pushed against the back wall and can't make an escape. Eren sees a vial that fell out of Rod's bag, marked "armor". He bites down on it and turns into Toothy.

Summary: Lots of background information this time, connecting the Ackermans with the Reiss family, and the need to eat the victim's spine in order to obtain Coordinate. Still nothing solid on how the Reiss family makes the serum that turns people into rogue giants, though. But, it looks like Historia and Rod are the last of the Reiss line, and Kenny, Mikasa and Levi may be the last of the Ackermans (that we know of). Additionally, the reason so few people want to leave the walled city is that the Reiss line of kings and queens messed with everyone's memories of what led up to the first giants attacking them before the city was made. You can bet, though, that it involved Carnage.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Thoughts on Bakemono no Ko

(Image from Studio Chizu Facebook page. Used for review purposes only.)

Bakemono no Ko (Studio Chizu, 2015) (AKA: The Boy and the Beast)
Director Mamoru Hosoda used to work at Toei as an animator, then spent a few years at Madhouse before starting up his own studio. He directed Wolf Children (2012), Summer Wars (2009) and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006). I haven't seen any of these films, but they were all heavily hyped at the times of their releases. I think Hosoda has a certain level of popularity in part because Japan as a whole is desperate to find the "Next Hayao Miyazaki", and Hosoda does big, grand set pieces similar to those of Studio Ghibli.

I kind of wanted to see Bakemono when it was in the theaters, but I didn't feel like paying 2,000 yen or so for a ticket. Then, I ended up getting a membership at Tsutaya Books (which I might write up as a Small Adventure by itself) which allows me to rent DVDs fairly cheaply. I was in Tsutaya one day and was kind of being forced to pick up something by someone I know, and I happened to be standing right next to a row of Bakemono no Ko DVD cases, so that's what I settled on.

It doesn't look like this movie has been marketed outside of Japan, but I expect that most fans here either have already seen it, or are familiar with the story. Anyway, the full storyline has been posted in the wiki article (wikipedia complains that the plot section contains WAY too much detail). I'll content myself with a short description here. Ren is a 9-year-old kid living in Tokyo. His parents are divorced and he's been living with his mother. When she dies in an accident, Ren refuses to move in with his legal guardians, and instead runs away to live on the streets. The first thing he does is befriend a mouse-like creature that ends up channeling his mother's spirit. Ren then attracts the attention of one of the Bakemono (which translates to "monster", but is treated to mean "beast), a bear-like guy named Kumatetsu. Kuma (for short) is a loud-mouthed, ill-tempered drunkard. He's also one of the best swordsmen in the Beast World, and has been picked by the Lord of the beast kingdom as one of two possible successors to lead the country when the Lord retires. The other potential successor is the more-refined Iozen. The Lord's replacement will be decided by a major bull ring-style battle, but one of the prerequisites is that both guys need to have students. Iozen has his two sons, but Kuma is unmarried and childless. He picks Ren kind of as a joke, and is surprised when the boy follows him through the path between both worlds and ends up in the Beast world. Ren is angry, headstrong, and full of hate towards the world, and refuses to join Kuma. Initially. The movie is largely about Ren's transition from a rebellious child into a strong, trained teenager. Eventually, he returns to the human world, tracks down his real father, and makes friends with a high school girl that is picked on by bullies. The girl becomes Ren's tutor, and he turns out to be a fast learner as a Japanese school student (but, without the school).

--------- Spoilers --------

Unfortunately, Ren is still prone to nasty mood swings, and this seems to be related to his ability to travel between the two worlds. Turns out that Iozen's older son, Ichirohiko, is also a human that was brought to the Beast world as a baby, and he suffers from the same mood swings, and a bad tendency to succumb to hate. When Kuma defeats Iozen in the bull ring, Ichirohiko attempts to assassinate him by stabbing him in the back. Ren is almost overcome with the same hate, but is saved by his friends. The final battle between Ren and the almost god-like Ichirohiko takes place in Tokyo in the real world. Kuma turns into a sword and ends up filling the hole in Ren's psyche, making him the better fighter. I'll leave the ending hanging here.

--------- End of Spoilers --------

On the whole, Bakemono no Ko (literally, Monster Child) is an impressive movie. It definitely needs to be seen on the big screen, as with any Miyazaki movie. The artwork is great, the character designs are great, the music is great, the voice acting is great, and the animation for the fight scenes is great. The problem is that this is a very talky film, with characters just frozen in place and yapping for several minutes on end each, and Ren's superhuman learning skills are pretty unbelievable. The final battle against Ichirohiko is spectacular, but the finish is just way too neat. All the loose ends are wrapped up and everyone gets happy endings. When all was said and done, I was kind of left scratching my head, asking what the point was. In a way, this movie would have worked well back in the 1950's or 60's, as something that Akira Kurosawa could have made. And I guess that's what Bakemono no Ko is, a throwback to an older-style of movie storytelling, with updated character designs and "pretty-boy" angst.

In summary, I'd say that Bakemono no Ko is a decent popcorn flick, but Hosoda lacks an understanding of Miyazaki's ability to hook the audience. Maybe that will change with future anime. But, in the meantime, I'm not seeing a clear successor to the Miyazaki throne. It's certainly not Kumatetsu. Bakemono no Ko is recommended to anyone that likes anime actions films.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Conan Movie Boards

New Meitantei Shonen Conan movie out. Nothing I care about, but the puzzle stuff for children seems kind of rudimentary this time.

Word search for the code names of the bad guys. Follow the rules to get the secret keyword and get a chance to win a free t-shirt.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cat Massage

On the heels of the cat bus, we have Zentai Hogushi for 3,500 yen, from Hogushi Neko. From the advertising, it seems to be a massage parlor that uses cats to give the massage. If this blog was for-profit, I'd spend the money to find out more about cat massagers.

The card with the arrow says "Please talk to us about anything."

Monday, May 23, 2016

Cat Van

There's a Catholic church and school dedicated to Saint Francis Xavier, the first missionary to visit Japan, arriving first in Kagoshima. They have a cat van for shuttling children from their apartments to the church.

It's a pretty convincing design. I'm surprised I haven't seen it before.