Tag: Manga

On love and Ice Skating

On love and Ice Skating

Yuri on ice was an immediate hit last season for a lot of good reasons. The characters were empathic and well thought out, the ice skating animation was gorgeous, and hints at a homosexual relationship in an otherwise standard sports anime lit a fire inside fans eager to see that narrative played in something that wasn’t pornography or boys love. But Yuri on Ice goes beyond just a normal love story between two men. It’s about people passionate about the sport they have decided to dedicate every waking moment of their lives too.

The core of what Yuri on Ice is about can be seen in the very first episode, the catalyst of the story where Victor decides to drop everything and go to Japan to train Yuri. Yuri has been studying Victor for years, attempting to follow in his footsteps. He has followed his career and even got the same type of dog as Victor. Yuri very much has built his career as  a figure skater, his entire life, after Victor. screenshot-2017-01-22-12-35-19

When Victor saw Yuri skating he wasn’t just watching another skating copying one of his routines. He was watching someone who had studied that routine with passion and who was recreating it out of pure love for the art form and for the person who had developed it: Victor. Up to that point Yuri was a talented skater but he lacked a goal, he lacked passion. Yet when he wasn’t competing, when he performed alone for his friends on that ice rink he preformed a master level routine with elegance and style.

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Review: Sailor Moon Vol. 1


It’d be hard to find someone who doesn’t recognize Sailor Moon, even outside the fandom. The series is responsible for giving Anime it’s first big push into mainstream pop culture and for defining the magical girl genre. I’m happy Kodansha decided to release Moon in the brand new 2003 editions from Japan, potentially introducing this classic series to a new audience. Usagi Tsukino was a normal young girl, although a little on the ditzy side and a bit of a crybaby, who stumbles over a talking cat. This cat, Luna, grants Usagi the powers of the Moon and tasks her to find and protect the legendary silver crystal and protect the Princess of the Moon. To aid her quest she must first recruit allies to her and form a team of Guardians of Justice.


Compared to it’s prequel, Sailor V, Sailor Moon’s art is of much higher quality and much cleaner. It’s stunning considering the series were created at the same time but it’s obvious that Takeuchi had some assistants and a much larger paycheck to help her craft Sailor Moon as opposed to the sporadically published companion piece. The character designs are fantastic with each of the girls getting a distinctive look that suits their personality. Their transformations, although all consist of a similar sailor uniform, have slight differences to help distinguish between the characters. The differences are as slight as giving them all different shoes and slightly different jewelry but it is a nice touch that Takeuchi threw in, it expresses her attention of detail.

I’m coming at Sailor Moon comparing it to Sailor V because Kodansha released both at the same time so I was able to read them back to back. Takeuchi was able to improve on almost all of my complaints in Sailor V in the short time between the two series. Sailor Moon is more contiguous, has a defined goal for the main characters, gives the villains a face and motivation, and Usagi gets a clear character arc in this first volume which takes her from a lazy middle school girl to preparing for the responsibilities of leading the Sailor Scouts.


The most impressive part of the work is how well it combines Shojo with Shonen elements. Sailor Moon is clearly a shoujo title with the romance between Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask appearing early and often throughout this first volume. Even with the relationship budding, Sailor Moon doesn’t know exactly who Tuxedo Mask is or what are his exact goals. Is he a villain? Ally? Why does he want the legendary silver crystal? These questions come into the narrative to create a mystery that adds another layer of plot and character depth. The fighting and team of warriors are nods to Shonen or super sentai, monster of the week type shows. The enemy, although more fleshed out than in Sailor V, still lacks any kind of depth. They are evil people who are doing evil things for evil reasons, and while they are starting to have personalities in this first volume they’ve never around long enough to get any individual characterization. Each of these threads on its own doesn’t make a completely compelling narrative but by interweaving them they build into an entertaining and fun story.


The goal of this volume is to bring together what will be the main cast. Each of the Sailor Scouts gets their own origin story that gives amble background and personality information which explains why they receive their chosen powers. The introduction of the scouts and the interaction between the characters was the most enjoyable aspect of Sailor Moon. Mercury, Mars, and Jupiter are all strong and capable people and it seems odd at first that Sailor Moon is chosen as the leader of the group. It’s in the interactions between action scenes and in the introduction of characters that her leadership is shown. She is friendly and likable, and those qualities draw people to her. So while she is not the most capable fighter of the group she is certainly the most charismatic and perhaps most illustrates the aspects of a “Guardian of Justice.”

Usagi is at first an odd choice for the heroine of the series. One of her biggest traits is that she is a crybaby, which is exploited for humor early in the book, and isn’t really that enthusiastic or driven by her sudden powers. She finds her abilities severely lacking and even requires aid from Mercury, who was recruited by Usagi, to complete her training. Having the heroine start at such a low point gives plenty of room for development, even at the end of this first volume Usagi begins to see her own short comings and dedicates herself to push beyond them. What seems to be building is a unit that can’t work independently but a team that needs to draw from each other in order to fight. Those themes are certainly common in Shojo, friendship and love, so it’s not surprising that I see them plastered all over Sailor Moon.


The path I see the series going down is that Tuxedo Mask will be a crucial part of this group, giving Usagi the confidence and drive that she lacks. Is this a positive theme in a title meant for young girls? I’m not going to condemn the series based on speculation but even if the crutch of the show relies on Usagi needing a man to feel confident the rest of the cast already consists of some strong and independent characters to even out Usagi’s weaknesses. Mars, a shrine maiden who jumps to action without hesitation, and Mercury, a super intelligent girl who spends all her free time studying even though she is already at the top of her class, those two alone are solid role models that balance out Usagi’s failings.

While Sailor Moon isn’t revolutionary or new to seasoned manga fans it offers a good historical perspective on tropes that havebecomealmost universal to the word “anime.” New fans, especially young women, will find what is presented in Sailor Moon new and excited, incredibly enjoyable, and fun. The characters are solid and interesting, there is a developing mysterious that kept me drawn in, and the action is standard shonen fun. Surprisingly, there is something inside Sailor Moon for everyone and it’s necessary read for anyone who claims to be a fan of manga.

Review: Codename Sailor V Vol. 1


Naoko Takeuchi’s first venture into the world of Sailor Moon is the short series “Codename Sailor V.” Sailor V serves as not only prequel to Sailor Moon, but also as a first draft of what would become one of the most popular Shoujo series of all time. Minako Aino is a normal High School girl until she meets the talking cat Artemis who grants her the powers of Venus and the ability to transform into Sailor V: Defender of justice.

Sailor V is a short manga that was published over six years and due to this it feels extremely episodic. Every chapter Sailor V reintroduces herself to the reader and catches them up with the fact that she has the power to transform. This gets tired fast when you have a Tankobon with half of the series collected. A cohesive narrative doesn’t seem to exist even though V is battling the same evil organization throughout, but the reader is never treated to information about what this organization is or knowledge of their goals. They act as a blank stand in so V has an antagonist to face. It wouldn’t be a problem to without complete information from the reader on the identity of the enemy but withholding awhat their actual goals are gives the narrative almost no sense of urgency. This group wants to suck the energy from people, that’s all the reader knows.

Obviously a manga where the main character has to reintroduce herself at the start of every chapter isn’t going to have the deepest characters. Minako is a collection of traits that she is forced to overcome to defeat her foes; those being laziness, lack of motivation to study, and easily becoming obsessed with idols. Most of the enemies of the manga being disguised as idols allow V to face this weakness and this aspect of the narrative actually makes a surprisingly bold statement about pop idol culture. Takeuchi manages to sneak in a lot of social commentary for the benefit of the young female readership. While Minako is relatable, with her general apathy towards studying and obsession with idols, when the “Dark agency” attempts to brainwash all of Japan into believing that work and studying are worthless Minako steps up and defends them. Although she might not be enthusiastic about those obligations she knows they’re important, especially after getting a snapshot of how the world works if the Dark Agency succeeded.

Sailor V has to look past the obvious and see deception before she is able to defeat her foes which sometimes causes frustration for the reader because no matter how many times she defeats “The Dark Agency” Minako still manages to fall for the majority of the agency’s obvious plans. Minako even regresses after Chapter 4, where she suspects the new idol foe before the consultation of Artemis. But those instincts seem to be gone by the next chapter, a symptom of the episodic nature of the series.

Minako doesn’t grow or change much over the course of the volume until the final chapter where some of her preconceptions are challenged when she falls in love with a punk gang leader. Minako is able to grow a little thanks to facing her first real love and comes to terms with the idea that looks can be deceiving, as it were. The gang leader’s duality contrasts the “Dark Agency” which is only painted in black and white terms.

Sailor V is far more a comedy than it is an action or romance story. The action sequences are contained in two or three pages per chapter leaving the rest of the book dedicated to character humor. Not only are Minako’s own personality flaws exploited for humor expertly but I was endeared to the poor police detective who becomes frustrated that Sailor V keeps solving his cases, or the police superintendent-general who has fallen completely in love with Sailor V. The best part of each chapter is the costume that Sailor V decides to disguise in during each story. Using her powers she can transform into anything she wants and this leads to some of the most humorous and adorable scenes in the book. My favorite of these transformations is when she decides to take the form of a “GI fighting girl” which personified her resolve at that moment. That transformation is great due to the sheer randomness of the choice, but it also represents a slight character shift, being one of the few times Minako shows serious resolve.

Ultimately Sailor V suffers from being repetitive which comes from lack of a contiguous narrative, real character development, and compelling action. The art is a step below Sailor Moon with only a few stand out images. Sailor V is best when it is being a light comedy and loses steam when the chapters move towards the conflict with “The Dark Agency.” There is enough good in Sailor V to make it a fun read but its shortfalls are obvious, especially after reading the first volume of Sailor Moon. Fans of Sailor Moon will want to read Sailor V because of how they connect and my reading of Sailor Moon was definitely enhanced by what I learned in Sailor V. But I recommend that most readers simply move on to the sequel and leave this book for the more hardcore Takeuchi fans.

Review: Disappearance Diary by Hideo Azuma

Disappearance Diary is a fine example of the scope of Japanese Comics. Here we have a veteran of the craft writing a tale about the lowest point in his life, a truly touching life story about a human pushed to the breaking point, how his life is destroyed, and how he puts himself back together. Disappearance Diary is an autobiographic work by the father of Loli-con, Hideo Azuma where he recounts the two times he ran away from his life; his career as a Mangaka; and his struggles with alcoholism.

Disappearance Diary is a story told in three parts. There is no initial backstory, no history on the author at the start of the book. Azuma tosses you right into the first disappearance where he excuses himself from his studio claiming to go buy some cigarettes and simply does not return. The piece starts “This manga has a positive outlook on life, and so it has been made with as much realism removed as possible,” and the art work reflects that attitude. Azuma himself is a cute little character with stubby legs, ruffled hair, and a single large eye. The cute art helps soften the blow of the content, as intended, because it simply is less tragic to see a cute chibi Azuma sleeping in two inches of water than it would a photo realistic Azuma.

In the first part Azuma leaves his studio and decides to live in the woods behind an apartment building. He survives by scrounging food from the trash and picking up cigarette butts off the ground. After the police find him and return him to his wife. Three years later he runs away again, this time sleeping in parks until he takes a job with a gas company laying pipes. He works for the company, his goal being to do anything to escape from the life of a Mangaka. Then the book recounts Azuma’s Manga career as he takes job on top of job, lives a life of sleepless nights, and is almost unable to say no as editors pile more projects on top of him. The final section of the book explores Azuma’s fall into Alcoholism and his time spent in the hospital in recovery.

The title is becomes somewhat procedural because it is written in the form of a diary, Azuma goes over his journey step by step explaining the tactics he used to survive outside of civilization. The clever ways he uses the resources available to him to, for example cooking himself Ramen while avoiding the notice of a residents of a nearby apartment building, are a fascinating snapshot of homeless life. The first disappearance story is filled with his survival tactics and they are all bitter because the reader knows he is coming up with these clever tricks to avoid returning to his former life. He could simply go home and eat a warm meal, sleep in a warm bed but he chooses to sleep in snow just to maintain the feeling that he escaped from his life.

The second disappearance is similar to the first, but Azuma meets a large number of interesting characters that he establishes expertly in just a few images and off the cuff phrases. One homeless beggar has the strangest goofy expression on their face which instantly that establishes them as a character that the reader is not supposed to take seriously. In the narration Azuma describes him as “odd” and the goofy expression works to reinforce that. The simply artwork is used like that in all the small characters Azuma comes across. Azuma’s partner in the gas company was a much hated womanizer. The first panel he appears, even before Azuma tells the reader who he is, the character boldly states “Banged another woman I pulled through phone dating yesterday!” while wearing a wide, stupid grin which instantly establishes his character type and attitude. The reader immediately recognizes the world Azuma was entering as he shifts from artist to Blue collar labor.

The effectiveness of the Disappearance arcs wouldn’t be nearly as powerful if not for the inclusion of Azuma’s history as a Mangaka. I was taken aback by the way the piece began, with Azuma walking out of his studio on his first disappearance, but as the story went on I came to accept that it didn’t matter why he decided to leave his world behind as long as the audience understood that this was a deeply broken individual. The process of unfolding his career is quick but effective and explains how fast he became overwhelmed by the amount of work, and in those few pages it clicks with the audience why Azuma would just drop everything and run away. It was a beautiful moment and an exceptional way to bring the back story into the narrative, the audience immediately understands the reason Azuma ran away after knowing the story of his experiences the desperation and sadness in the first two sections hits the reader all at once and Azuma becomes an absolute tragic character.

The final piece tracks Azuma’s time spend in rehabilitation for Alcoholism. Using the same tactics he used to track his disappearances he describes the procedures though the ward expertly, he colors the people in the ward; no matter how tragic; in a cartoonish hue, and his telling of his experiences are in the same simple and cute art style in which depressing events are made less so by the lack of realism. What sets this chapter of the piece apart is that Azuma is not describing the selfish escapism of the first half of the book but he is describing his struggles with addiction. This is perhaps the lowest part of the author’s life and yet it appears on the page with cute art and a sense of humor. It is an amazing and rare accomplishment because while many artists go through drug rehab they don’t have the gall to write about it in such a light and humorous fashion. Azuma expresses to the reader how dark this part of his life was but also doesn’t shy away from making fun of himself at the same time.

There is a general lack of characterization in the book, which suits the diary style that Azuma was going for. But we never get any actual detail on which Azuma is and apart from the quick sketches mentioned above all of the side characters lack any sense of depth. The most unfortunate out come at this is the lack of information on Azuma’s wife. She is constantly in the background and becomes Azuma’s constant assistant while drawing Manga. She is a woman who put up with her husband walking out and living as a homeless person twice, watched her husband work himself nearly to death, and saw him become consumed by alcoholism. Yet, we never are given a reason why she put up with him. What made Azuma a desirable husband? Why did she love him? I continue to wonder what made her stay with Azuma after the first time he walked out, let alone through Alcoholism.

The biggest strength of the work might be how personal it is to the author. This is the story of the last ten years of his life and so while he wanted to get his experience out on the page the emotional turmoil that he and his wife went through is absent. It is impressive that despite that the piece remains a touching human story, and that proves Azuma’s skill as an artist. But the book could be so much richer if Azuma had shown how these events affected the people who love him, rather than simply showing us the events in a cold procedural manner.

Disappearance Diary is a colorful look at the darkest moments of a man’s life. It’s heavy and depressing while at the same time maintaining a light and humorous tone. It is a wonderful experience and a look at the stress that Mangaka actually have to endure. At times it can feel a little procedural, when Azuma describes the processes he used to survive or the processes of the hospital, has weak characters, and lacks a deep emotional connection. But this is a Diary; as the title suggests, so those details give a sense of realism to the story rather than slow the narrative down. The piece shows the power and flexibility of the medium and should be on the shelf of any manga fan.

Images sources: 1 2 3 4

Review: Bakuman, Season 1


The man who created the smash hit Death Note, Tsugumi Ohba, shifts from the supernatural genre to take on a more realistic approach to Shonen. Ohba writes much closer to home by creating a story about a team of young men who are trying to become Mangaka and, ultimately, have their manga turned into an Anime. The product is both an entertaining look into the workings of the Japanese Manga industry and the attempt to apply the Death Note narrative structure to a seemingly mundane subject.

It’s hard not to compare Bakuman to Death Note, Ohba has a narrative style that commands the attention of the audience and adds suspense with surprising regularity. One could claim that the idea itself is what really kept people interested in Death Note, but now that Ohba has applied that style to the rather mundane story of two kids writing comics and made it just as intense as Death Note, so clearly he has unlocked a structure and pacing that simply works. The impact of cliffhangers is such an important and difficult aspect in serialized content and yet Bakuman is able to create a compelling stopping point nearly every episode with story lines like “will they meet their dead line” or “What will happen when they meet with the manga editor.”

Certainly some credit should be given to director Kenichi Kasai for translating those elements so effectively to animation but the perfection of the Shonen style lies with Ohba. Each new challenge that Mashiro and Takagi has the same feeling that Bleach or Dragon Ball would have except instead of an epic fight scene we get scenes of two guys drawing. That is the true beauty of Bakuman; it is an elegant story that takes the audience on a ride through an artist’s life while they try to get a foot in the door at the big manga publishers and it feels as exciting as a Shonen action show. The energy and drive of the main characters are inspiring, one will find it hard not to buy in to the suspense at each turn from the sheer fact that you want to see these characters succeed.

Bakuman’s characters are the vehicle which audience sees the world. An exceptional narrative trick that Bakuman achieves is to present the world through the eyes of the main characters including their own personal misconceptions and bias’. Eiji Niizuma, a genius mangaka who becomes the youngest person ever serialized, is perceived as a rival for most of the series, a hurdle that Mashiro needs to overcome. However, once Mashiro spends a good amount of time with Niizuma he comes to realize that his rival is not superhuman but just another young artist with failings of his own. At that point the concept of the “rival” in Bakuman changes and the artists that Mashiro has met at that point become comrades, able to exchange information and help each other improve. The true rival is the self, honing and refining ones craft is the way one will win in this world and the concept of the prodigy Mangaka is dismissed, at least in the first season.

The characters also work as an audience stand in, as they learn about the process of creating manga so does the audience. Again, entering the world of Manga publishing feels extremely Shonen but instead of a fantasy world what the audience is getting is a detailed look into the world of manga publishing. I’m glad that Ohba decided to frame the story this way because while manga fans in Japan might know how the big magazines work I find myself learning a ton by watching Mashiro and Tagaki go through the process. The fact that Shonen “Jack” relies on reader’s questionnaires is, for example, a specific detail of Manga publishing that is just second nature to a Japanese manga fan yet I had no idea such a thing existed, and of course didn’t realize that questionnaires can make or break a mangaka. Bakuman treats them with the life or death gravity that any young artist would feel when awaiting rejection.

With so much good in Bakuman it is disappointing to say that what Bakuman does wrong almost distracts from the quality. The romance between Mashiro and Miho is laughably bad, so unrealistically bad. It’s designed to fit into the world of Bakuman where success as a Mangaka should lead to all rewards. One of those rewards is love, and while this does fit into the Shonen structure there is a sense of realism to Bakuman that makes it feel icky at the same time. In Bleach, Ichigo having to become a better fighter to rescue Rukia feels right, but having Mashiro’s success as a Mangaka deliver the girl of his dreams into his arms feels cheap, misogynistic, and crushes the realism of the show. The portrayal of women in the show as a whole is weird, as I’ve written about previously all accusations of misogyny are for good reason. There is a general sense that men have their goals and women are required to support them, because they can’t fully understand men’s dreams. It’s repulsive.

Even with the romance souring a good third of the show there is still a lot to like about Bakuman. The application of the Death Note formula to the mundane story of two upcoming Mangaka is exceptional. Ohba has made his own life, in the eyes of Anime and Manga fans, a roller coaster of disappointment and joy. I’ve also learned more about how the comics publishing industry in Japan works from watching this one show than in ten years of being an Anime fan. Any fan of Japanese animation, especially Shonen, will love Bakuman as long as they can get passed the uglier elements of the narrative.


  • Well placed cliffhangers keep the audience eager to watch
  • The audience learns about how Manga publishing in Japan really works.
  • Mangaka as Shonen heroes structure is brilliant.


  • Overbearingly negative attitude towards women
  • Romance in Bakuman is, at best, childish