Thursday, 30 September 2010

Manga Focus: Legendz

To say that "collect 'em all" series like Pokémon and Digimon have entirely shaped the way anything is aimed at children is perhaps to make the most obvious statement yet to anyone who's as much as looked at multimedia successes aimed at children in the last decade or so. Of course it stretches further back than those two high points, I mean there were series like Transformers or Marvel's Rom Spaceknight comic series to shill toys to unsuspecting children over the years but it's arguable that Pokémon and Digimon are entirely responsible for today's focus existing, so I'm sticking to my guns on this train of thought.

Turn on your TV. Put on any kid's animé. It was probably made to sell collectable toys. Go to a bookstore, look at kid's manga. It IS there to sell something to the kids. Go to a toystore. THAT is what's being sold to them. It's just how everything works, and I know you're unsurprised. But it leads me to an interesting point about Legendz.

Legendz is a manga made to shill these unique and intriguing virtual pet style pod things to young'uns, we know this to be true. And yet when the manga was licensed for the US nothing was released. To this day, nothing has actually transferred over from Japan. And I don't even know if it was a success over there at that. Basically there's no business reason for this Pokémon clone series to be localised, and yet here it is in its entirety, available from any good bookstore. It boggles the mind to some extent.

But then I take a look inside the books and I get it. Who cares about whether it's selling goods to impressionable youngsters? It's good all-ages reading with art that blows the reader away and that is ALL that matters in the long run, isn't it.

So let's all hit that magical jump thing I include in these articles so you can read me worshipping the very pages the series is printed on or some such, shall we?


What Is It?: Legendz is a 4-volume manga series based on a toy range. Released by Monthly Shonen Jump and Shueisha in Japan and localised into the english language by Viz Media. It follows hyperactive Shonen generic mold #3, Ken Kazaki as he makes friends easily through the power of friendship and defeats bullies with ease. But that's just dumbing it down. What it actually does is follow Ken Kazaki as he starts as a new school, making friends and a name for himself as a legendary player of Legendz, a tamagotchi style battling game. This draws the attention of his school's best Legendz players, the leader of whom tries to give Ken a mysterious GOLDEN LEGENDZ CRYSTAL! This leads to conflict with increasingly evil groups of people who all want access to this mysterious and powerful tamagotchi thing. Along the way to the conclusion to the series Ken and his friends learn a lot about friendship, whether somthing has to be alive for you to care for it (and whether those items actually ARE alive) and how to have a jolly good time.

What's So Great About It?: As you've probably gathered from my synopsis of the plot it's not gonna be the writing that stands atop its qualities. Series like Beet the Vandel Buster have successfully proven that generic series can have excellent writing in the execution and Legendz certainly has a glimmer of what made its Monthly Jump cohort's genericness enticing, but around the second volume's conclusion it just gives up the ghost, realising that it may as well embrace the generic nature of any collectable, catch 'em all type series and start a slippery slope towards a lackluster conclusion.

No, what completely sells this to me and any other manga fan with sense is the art. Makoto Haruno is an artist without equal. You only have to look at the one-shot Toriya Trip from JUMP SQ II back in 2008 to see this. That's not to say that Haruno is the best artist out there. Far from it. But when it comes to what Haruno excels at, facial expressions, poses, proportions and adorable creature designs... Well, it's hard to imagine someone as perfectly suited to these things.

A simple way of getting this across to those who prefer western comics is to say that Makoto Haruno comes across in his work as a quality equivalent to Kevin Maguire with the sheer strength of the expressions, being realistic whilst looking nothing like real life.

The sheer amount of creatures and characters shoved down your throat over the four volumes is another brilliant aspect of the series. Not a single one feels rushed or poorly designed and stand out as much as the next. There will always be a little design touch or different bit of design to every character on the page that you will honestly never mix up one person or creature with another. And when it comes down to what you'd want from something expecting you to want to buy every buyable thing you see, it's kinda the most important thing.

Is It Worth Buying?: 4 volumes at £5/$8 a pop? For a fun and beautiful series with only some glaring writing flaws to be held against it? Why are you even asking? Seriously, this is a great book to ease you into the Shonen Jump style and has some decent appeal to any people who just plain love great art. It's a nice, easy to complete package and you can't possibly feel ripped off!

So get your derrières over to and order yourself these gorgeous little things, they're out of print and may not be around forever!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Thought Balloons: Update + Renee Montoya pg.4

Oh my GOD! I've been gone a significant portion of time and another Thought Balloons update has rolled around. you'd think I'd have multiple entries to make up for the time between posts but... No. No, I only have one script for you. A script where I killed a character because I'm just not a fan, essentially making me much like any given E-I-C. Whoop.


As usual each script teaches me a valuable lesson, and this one is no exception. I've successfully learnt that if I don't like a character and don't think I can do anything with her flawed, unlikeable arse then frankly I shouldn't force myself to write something. Sure, people are hired all the time to write about characters they may not have a story for, but the basis of things being done through pitches kinda means that if you've got nothing or hate the character, you're not gonna get the job. It's as simple as that.

Also breaking necks Wonder Woman style is AWESOME.

Anyway, onto a character I DO like, to the degree that I took her elseworlds arse and caressed it fondly for what is now 4 out of 12 pages. This is a nice simple stylised wednesday comics style page, providing a simple clothing switch before I dive into the previously alluded to strip club.

... Yeah, so I'm just kind of a huge perv with this story but it's more for the style of the piece than anything. And a love letter to Frank Miller's scripting. So onto Noir As Heck page 4!


Page 4 - 8 Panels

1-- A sillhouetted Renee Montoya is in front of an open cupboard in a dimly lit apartment. the contents of the cupboard are unclear, but on the top of it is a selection of trilbys. As she's currently preparing an outfit Renee is down to her underthings, consisting of incredibly girly, frilly and colourful panties and bra, both of which are fully visible on her silhouette. Also of important note is that if at all possible her hair should be fully outlined on her silhouette.

NARRATION/RENEE MONTOYA - The Dark Bible has a strict dress code for its patrons, and an even stricter dress code for their employees. And seeing as I'm lacking the necessary fetishes to own my own uniform for that sordid place I'd better get suited and booted.

2-- A shot of Renee's legs as she pulls up some trousers onto her silhouette. The trousers are fully visible, being part of the traditional Question outfit.

3-- A shot of Renee's torso as she buttons a white shirt over her silhouette, tie hanging around the collar, untied.. Whether her bra is slightly visible underneath is purely a matter of whether you feel the colour would show up underneath a white shirt.

4-- Renee is tying her tie on her now done up shirt, with arrows or motion lines indicating her turning and tucking the tie around.

5-- Renee pulling the Question's trademark trilby onto her head, daintily keeping the angle perfect with both of her hands.

6-- Finally we have Renee with the Question's jacket on, doing that thing where you heft your shoulders and shake the collar (man, what is with that thing?). She is now suited. If you're in need of reference for this motion just ask me for some and I shall happily provide.


7-- Renee is now sitting on the bed in this apartment, putting on some loafers.


8-- A full shot of Renee in her full Question gear (sans the mask, which shall not be seen in this story). She's neatly dressed for a night in her seedy location, with no make-up other than some considerably dark lipstick.


NARRATION/RENEE MONTOYA - It's a strict dress code, all right, but I'll be struck down if it isn't the best for someone as snappy as me. Read More ..

Monday, 27 September 2010



(ah the 90s!)

A to Z: O is for Othello

So it's been a while, and a significant gap in my new schedule. Let's blame it on computer issues and self-loathing and get back on the horse, shall we?

To say that misinformation and ignorance can breed accidental racism or insensitivity is to say something exceedingly obvious. And when it comes to manga there are no end of these groan-worthy moments of cultural distance. Usually these come in the form of how people from foreign countries are represented, most notably America and Africa (doubly so African-Americans, obviously).

If you can catch my gist here, Japan has a HUGE problem in how they usually illustrate black people in manga. More often than not they just look like a horrific caricature, and not out of racism, but purely because most authors just don't realise that the depiction might be a TAD racist. Let's look at one of the more popular examples of this, the Shaman King character Chocolove.This is a relatively early image in that series, so it DOES improve, mind you.

I mean the name alone hints at some small issue, as I'm sure you've noticed, but the huge afro, tribal clothing (he's from New York and at one point was wearing a huge African mask) and large white lips all kinda sit awkwardly as kinda-sorta a bit racist.

But that's the thing. It's not represented as such. In fact Chocolove in that series is one of the more able characters, strong and capable and with a tragic history that's inspired him to want to give good humour to the world at large. It's just that the visual is painfully off (and kinda close to minstrels with the huge white lips). It's just not knowing what you're doing.

Which brings me to today's entry in A to Z. See, this segue is largely unimportant to the manga at large, but I wanted to make a point of acknowledging how awkward it is that a rich girl has a completely subservient black assisstant who doesn't speak so good. It's utterly cringe-worthy and utterly unintentional. The poor speech is because he's not Japanese and doesn't fully speak the language, and the subservience is just how a worker should behave towards their boss in Japanese society. But it rings so awkwardly due to a simple lack of knowledge.

... So yeah. I just wanted to bring up how kinda awkward that is. Now let's talk about Othello.
[WARNING: This review has absolutely NO images of the series in question, because my own scanner and the big bad evil scanlation community have let me down. With that said let's continue, shall we?]

So Othello is a 7 volume series by Satomi Ikegawa that follows the life of Yaya Higuchi, a timid, withdrawn type (something that is basically comics code for "bullied the shit out of") who secretly spends her sundays hanging out with a gothic lolita group (SAFESEARCH ON, PEOPLE!) in secret, the only place where she feels she can truly be herself. But that's really neither here or there. Basically the bullying becomes too much and a childhood persona Yaya calls Nana comes to the rescue, being a brash, no-nonsense polar opposite of Yaya who can deal with the bullies that give her a hard time. And as with ANY story about split personalities Yaya doesn't remember any time she spends as Nana.

Basic set-up, right? Well.... it doesn't really get any more complicated than that for the most part. I mean there's a love conflict between Yaya and Nana of sorts, and more people out to bully poor little Yaya, and even some music related stuff as a central plot point, but really when it comes down to it the series is just an interesting if not simple take on a multiple personality trope spliced with a bit of magical girl tribute.

Oh, that? Yeah, it's kinda interesting. The tool that brings Nana to the fray at first is a magical-girl styled kid's mirror, and Nana herself has very Sailor Moon-esque poses when need be, as well her own catchphrases "HEAVENLY PUNISHMENT" and "JUSTICE IS DONE". Which is kinda awesome in its own awesome way. Not just that, but the idea of someone too weak to fight turning into a powerful version of themselves is kind of the whole crux of the magical girl genre, so there really isn't any denying the connection to the much-loved genre.

So this is where I get into why it's worth reading as part of this 27-part super range of comics. And I gotta say, it's NOT because of the art. Ikezawa's art is very much the typical Shojo art style, in that it's background light and details aren't in the least bit important. Oh and the tones kinda suck complete arse. But if you've been reading Shojo for more than... I don't know, a month? Yeah, a month. If you've been reading Shojo for more than a month you know to expect this and completely ignore it in favour of the story, which is more than satisfactory.

Othello manages to just about dodge becoming saccharine sweet simply by how destestable the antagonists are, or even with how frustrating each situation becomes. It's no Hot Gimmick or I"S when it comes to making you too frustrated with awkwardness and emotions, I mean you can still turn the pages without missing a heartbeat, but it certainly stands out as one of the better titles offered in English.

The most important facet here though is simply this: most quality Shojo series run for about 20-30 volumes, and even the shorter, most brilliant titles like Hot Gimmick run in at 12 volumes. So the fact this clocks in at 7 without feeling the least-bit rushed pays dividends, providing a complete and interesting story without breaking your wallet.

So I implore you to ignore my lack of images in the article, to go to a shop, book exchange, amazon, ebay or even a library, and find this book. Give it a try and you won't be disappointed. And heck even if you are at least you'll... um... hmmm... I'll get back to you on that.

You can find Othello on Amazon (UK) and probably in many a book store, especially as Del Rey's support for manga in the UK is good enough that most of their titles can be found in any decent-sized Waterstones.

And that's O. Next up is P, which is... Classified?! WHAAAAAAAAAAAAA?! Read More ..

Tuesday, 14 September 2010