My loss is your gain! I'm selling at a discount all my remaining in-house copies of Summerworld, signed by me, for $15 — that's $5 off the usual price for a signed copy! I needed to do some winter cleaning anyway, and the next edition of the book will most likely sport a bar code and be available through major distributors — so it's time to sweep the decks!
Go ahead and pick up a copy as a gift for that special someone (or for yourself)! It sure beats yet another dreary entry in the latest overblown fantasy mega-epic-cycle — and you're supporting the author directly!
Simply use this PayPal button to order the book for $15 including shipping:
That's it! I try to fulfill all orders within 1-2 days. If you want me to supply a special gift note or other goodie to go with the package, simply let me know in the "Notes" section of the order.
Now that I’ve finished with the second volume of the new adventures of Rally Vincent and Minnie-May Hopkins, I think I’ve finally worked out the filing category for Gunsmith Cats: Burst. “Manga that take place in the United States” was one possibility, and “Homage to American action movies” was another consistent one, but I think the best label so far has been “Manga I read with a crooked, silly grin all the way through.” Come on: What other comic shows us a seven-foot-tall mercenary driver with a bulletproof bandanna slicing through the wall of someone’s house with a hunting knife big enough to skin an elephant — and does all this with a straight face, because it’s allegedly set in the “real world?”
Burst #2 continues all the plot threads that were kicked off in Volume #1 — mainly, the mystery behind the theft of Rally’s prized Shelby GT 500 muscle car, her pride and joy. Now it’s been packed with explosives and about to be turned into a weapon of mass destruction. As in the earlier Cats adventures, Rally manages to stay a step ahead of her tormentors by outsmarting, outpacing (and occasionally outshooting) them — and by drawing on her friends, from Minnie-May the explosives expert to Miss Farrah the hacker-cum-researcher who will dig up any tidbit of information for a price, a percentage, or both. And I shouldn’t forget Bean Bandit, the any-time-any-place driver (I sometimes wonder if Jason Statham’s Transporter character was a polite nod to Bandit) who alternates between being a competitor, an ally, and a nemesis depending on the breaks. Read more
Gamers use the term nerfed to describe something that used to have impact but for whatever reason has been watered down. Black Sun, Silver Moon feels like a horror story that got nerfed — or maybe it’s a cute story with some horror added to it to spice things up. Either way, the cute wins, and if you like cute, that’s what you’ll get in surplus. (The adorable dog and the flowers on the cover ought to be a giveaway.)
I’ve said before that if you take the same basic story outline and give it to five different people, you’ll get five entirely different stories in tone, mood, content, and execution. BSSM plays like the outcome of one of those exercises, where someone got handed a plot outline for a potentially dark story and the results were anything but dark. The summary: Taki, a young man with many siblings and heavy family debts to pay off, takes a job with a local priest, Shikimi. At first the job doesn’t seem to involve anything more than keeping the priest’s library in order and keeping his teacup full. Then one night they trek out into the graveyard behind the church, and Taki is pressed into service to kill the zombies rising from the graveyard. It’s a job he’s suited to whether or not he wants to admit it, and so now he’s serving in the dual job of house servant by day and zombie hunter by night. Read more
I used to hate epic fantasy — or rather, I hated what epic fantasy had devolved into: cynical assembly-line knock-offs of the Tolkien estate designed to sell a series, rather than any one book. The Wheel of Time cycle turned me off after one book — although the shock and dismay of having Robert Jordan himself die before he could finish the series proper was absolutely not lost on me — and Eragon was almost too awful to be believed.
By that token, I should never have picked up The Guin Saga at all. Here we have a Japanese fantasy novel series that has been running for decades in Japan with over one hundred books in the series and with more still on the way. But I’d been hearing about Guin for over a decade through one channel or another — after all, any series that had sold something like twenty-five million copies in its native country was going to be hard to ignore. Everyone from upscale film director Nagisa Oshima to manga-ka Kentaro (Berserk) Miura described themselves as Guin fans. Read more
I’ll probably grouse forever about the shady illogic that underpins the central premise of MPD Psycho, but I also know it’s not going away. Last time around I wrote about how the central character was being treated like a clown car, with new facets of himself popping out at each new trauma. Kazuhiko Amamiya, alias Shinji Nishizono, alias Yosuke Kobayashi, alias Kiyoshi Murata, alias — How many multiple personalities can you fit in a single body? Five in the brain and one in each nostril.
The reason this bugged me wasn’t because it wasn’t interesting — if anything, MPD Psycho Volume 3 has shaped up to be the most absorbing book in the series so far — but because I was wary of this device being used to excuse any number of sloppy plot shenanigans on the part of the authors. I’m still wary, but I also get the impression that the authors do in fact have a bit more on their mind than just front-loading poor Amamiya/Nishizono/Kobayashi/Murata/etc. with a persona du jour each time something horrible happens. The real ambitions of this series are finally coming to the fore, and maybe it wasn’t really possible for them to be brought upfront until this point. Read more
And so at last we come to the fifth and final volume of Banya: The Explosive Deliveryman — although at this point we might as well call the series Banya: The Explosive Berserker. We’d started with a character who was instantly likeable and interesting — Banya, the Mailman of the Wasteland — and traded up him up for a character who was far less intrinsically interesting, a Berserker with a Tragic Past. There’s just enough of Banya as we remember him here to justify keeping the name, but really, I was against this whole detour to begin with. I was more interested in Banya when he was actually outsmarting the bad guys, not just slicing them into Salisbury steak.
It’s doubly annoying since most of the climactic plot shenanigans involve a bunch of stuff that could have been phoned in from any fantasy series, really. Most of them revolve around the (re)appearance of Kamutu, the man who was once Banya’s master, now missing an eye and thirsting after the kind of ultimate power that can only be awakened through a little girl. I also groused about the Mysterious Lone Swordsman character, Soah, stirred into the mix as of last volume. All of these things just felt like distractions from the series’ original and most inventive premise: how does Mister DHL-Of-The-Desert deal with getting his delivery to the destination this time? There’s only the faintest hint of that whole idea left in this volume; Banya’s cleverness and wit has mostly been traded up for the sight of him going Rambo on the bad guys. Read more
Lady Anne: Villain, thou know’st no law of God nor man:
No beast so fierce knows but a touch of pity.
Gloucester: But I know none, and therefore am no beast.
— Shakespeare, Richard III
Those words were tailor-made to describe Griffith, possibly the most pitiless and fascinating character in any manga currently running. He’s a good part of the reason why Berserk is, in turn, one of the most fascinating manga running, period. We have to know what he does next, and next, and next — and not just him but everyone else he’s gathered around him, too.
Throughout the eighth volume of Berserk, Griffith employs his friend and right-hand man, Guts — the seemingly unstoppable “Hero of a Hundred” — to destroy his opponents not only on the battlefield, but in the dark corridors of power. Griffith’s plans as a mercenary warlord are all just prelude to his even greater plans to create his own kingdom at any price, and anyone who has followed the series thus far will know in their bones that means, yes, any price. There’s very little that will give pause to a man who prostituted himself (to another man, no less) to pay for his own army’s rations and equipment. Read more
The second volume of MPD-Psycho does one thing right and another thing (still) somewhat wrong. On the good side, it tones down the often-gratuitous helpings of pathologically explicit gore that justified Dark Horse jacketing this gruesome little item in shrinkwrap and slapping an “18+” sticker on it. This time around, apart from a few sudden spurts of gore — including one thoroughly nasty scene where a girl throws herself off an apartment balcony and skewers herself on an electric pole — the book’s almost PG-13 rated all the way through.
On the bad side, we still get a story that milks multiple personality disorder (the MPD of the title) as shamelessly as it can for plot twists. Detective Kazuhiko Amamiya (originally “Yosuke Kobayashi”) has at least one sociopathic, don’t-give-a-damn alternate persona lurking inside that hide of his, Shinji Nishizono — and it has a horrible tendency to ooze on out when he’s confronted with someone else equally or even more sick (which happens with immense regularity). Fine, except that series author Eiji Otsuka isn’t content to just let him wrestle with one inner demon, or two, or even three. Amamiya’s three-way personality gains a fourth facet, “Kiyoshi Murata,” and by the end of the book we feel like the poor guy’s gone from being the closest thing to the story’s protagonist to becoming a veritable psychological clown car. I’m half-tempted to run a betting pool to see how many alters he ends up with by the time we get to the last book. Read more
At first, Asa Nonami’s Now You’re One of Us ambles along like one of Yasujiro Ozu’s movies about Japanese home life, a drama of manners about marriage and extended families. Then it reveals its real subject by degrees — how a cult mind-set works to seduce outsiders and break their resistance — and it goes from Ozu coziness to full-blown Takashi Miike madness. In a good way, that is. Read more
The first episode of Glass Fleet throws so much at you, and explains so little of it, that I dreaded what else awaited me on that disc. It was like bolting a whole box of bonbons at once: space battles, emperors, revolutions, uprisings, all of it mounted and staged with the pomp and pretense of a widescreen Hollywood special-effects epic. Then the second episode snapped everything into focus, and while there’s a lot here that’s clichéd and obvious (or downright puzzling), I would be lying if I said it wasn’t fun to watch. Read more
Time is the latest film from Korea’s Ki-duk Kim, he of several genuinely great movies (The Isle and 3-Iron) and a few that aim for something that we can’t even see from here and miss completely (The Coast Guard and Address Unknown). I am not sure if other people will accept Time as completely as I did, since it traffics in the deeper and murkier recesses of people’s ids and makes no apologies for going off the deep end not just once but several times. Then again, this isn’t a movie about rational people, and Kim’s forte is compulsive, obsessive people, so perhaps we can’t demand that the movie be wholly rational either. I’d rather see Kim take chances, as he is wont to do, instead of watching someone else with smaller ambition play it safe.
Time gives us a young, slightly Yuppie-esque Korean couple, Si-hee and Ji-woo. He edits movies on his Macintosh for a film company, and has a passing eye for the ladies. Si-hee (whose job is never defined) burns with jealousy whenever Ji-woo so much as looks at another woman, and the depth of her jealousy is cemented in an early scene where she screams at a couple of women who traded phone numbers with Ji-woo when they hit his car by mistake. She’s disturbed that she should be this obsessive. So’s he, and what sane man wouldn’t be? But the movie does its best to make Si-hee’s obsession tangible, not just a given, and it does this by showing her thinking at work: If I looked like another woman, would he want me all the more? Read more
Most people would probably find an unintentional laugh in me saying that some Merzbow albums are nowhere nearly as interesting as others. It does have the makings of a comedy sketch: you have someone listening to one long blur of noise and gushing “Exquisite!” and then listening to another long, equally indistinguishable blur of noise and wrinkling his nose in distate. The joke isn’t lost on me, believe me.
I write these reviews not just for other fans but for people who don’t know anything about whatever subject I’ve tackled, and so I owe them at least one discussion of what to me is a lesser Merzbow album and why. The great ones, like Merzbuddha or Amlux, seem able to pull endless amounts of invention out of thin air, and have a focus to them from start to finish. The lesser ones sound like the kindling is there but not the spark that will touch them off.
Dharma is in that spirit: it sounds like bits and pieces for another, more powerfully defined album that wasn’t recorded. The title hints at it being something of a cousin to Merzbuddha, but the grab-bag of track names on the record don’t quite up hold that end of the bargain. Not that such a thing is required: most Merzbow song titles have been for flavor rather than as some kind of explicit descriptor. It’s when compared to other and more conceptually coherent work he’s done that the shortcomings become clear. Read more
With a title like Pumpkin Scissors, I half-expected some goofy puff pastry about kids pulling pranks at Halloween. The show is anything but, though — in fact, it’s one of the more intriguing new offerings for the end of 2007, a strong mix of elements that are both audience-friendly and relatively challenging.
Call Scissors a “post-war story,” for a lack of a better term — it’s not about war itself, but how the mess left behind after the official hostilities have ended is sometimes every bit as bad, and often worse. Anyone who’s opened a newspaper anytime in the last four years knows this, but you don’t need to look to Iraq alone for an example — Japan itself will do nicely. There are plenty of grim memories of the post-WWII years, when hunger and black-marketeering and a general state of ruin prevailed*, and a lot of those feelings, however second- or third-hand, seem to have filtered into the overall mood of Pumpkin Scissors. Read more
Ghostly urban legends are all the rage in Japan right now, and they tie nicely into that country’s general appetite for supernatural weirdness. The things that fascinate them are almost quaint compared to the kinds of urban legends that fly around on this side of the Pacific, actually: they ruminate over haunted hotel rooms and ghostly tenants in apartment buildings, and we have nasty stories about people waking up in an ice-filled bathtub with one kidney missing.
Hell Girl fuses modern-day urban-legends and high technology with low-tech spooking and old-school Japanese mythology. If you have a grudge against someone, or so the whisperings go, you can enter a certain website that shows up only at midnight and punch in the name of the one you want to send to hell. Accept the covenant that the Hell Girl, Enma Ai*, offers you, and “your grievance will be avenged,” as she declaims again and again. However, as Ai points out, “Grudges come home to roost.” The cost for sending someone to the underworld will be your own soul, claimed after your death and sent to hell as well. (I’m no believer in the afterlife, but seeing something like this work out for real just might get me to change my theory.) Read more
A grotesque parade of dolls, household appliances, and stuffed
animals bustles through the city streets, turning everyone in its path
into dream monsters. People dive in and out of paintings, billboards
and movie screens. Girls sprout wings, only to be sucked into the
ocean’s depths and erupt once again from the water as mermaids.
I remained as spellbound during the third disc of Mushi-shi as I did for the first two. Isn’t it around this point in the lifecycle (as it were) of most any anime series that things begin to drop off? Not here. This show is inexhaustibly fascinating.
In my earlier reviews for this series, I mentioned how this is a story about an ecosystem — about the cycle of life and death within a world. The closest thing we have to a protagonist in the show, the wandering and taciturn mushi-master named Ginko, has been quite deliberately kept at arm’s length from us. The show wasn’t really about his personality, but about the world he walked through and did his best to understand and help people cope with.Read more
Bride of the Water God is the first sunjeong, or shojo-style comic from Korea, that I’ve read so far. What surprises me is not how different it is, but how familiar: if you’ve already had some exposure to the tropes and eccentricities of shojo comics, you won’t find this difficult to get into at all. In fact, if it weren’t for the names and some of the internal references, there would scarcely be any way to know this was a Korean production.
I shouldn’t make those things sound like a criticism, though. Country of origin aside, Water God is light romance first and foremost, with some excursions into the godly and the supernatural. Sadly, it doesn’t have anywhere near the narrative confidence of something like Real / Fake Princess — it has the same diffuse storytelling I've seen in other shojo titles, and when you get down to it there’s really not a lot going on. It looks good, but I’m hoping it eventually evolves past just being a fashion plate and becomes something more memorable. Read more
When I looked at an early galley draft of Manga: The Complete Guide earlier this year, I wrote “It promises to be just the sort of buying and critical guide that English-language manga readers need now, more than ever.” Now that the book has finally been released, that promise has been more than fulfilled. What we have here is one of the few really indispensible and complete guidebooks to a subject that has become so sprawling and difficult to assess on one’s own that we need all the help we can get.
M:TCG serves two duties. First, it’s a buyer’s guide, akin to the Rolling Stone or Trouser Press record books, where you can look up a series you’re curious about and get a general feel for what it’s about and whether or not you’ll want to blow about $10 a book on it. Since the book itself is $20 list price and covers just about everything of significance released in English translations over quite a span of time, it’s almost certain to prove its worth in the long run, especially if you spend $20 a month or more on manga and are just now getting started building a serious collection. Read more
Once, when I lived in New York City, I watched two speed-chess players doing their thing a couple of tables down from me at the Wendy’s in Times Square. They set up their board and drilled their way through something like five games, possibly six, in the time it took me and my wife to finish our meal. The only sounds they made were the slap of the pieces on the board and the clack of the chess clock, and their faces were as blank as freshly-cleaned blackboards. Right then, I thought, there’s nothing else going on inside these guys except chess.
There are many moments throughout Hikaru no Go when I look at the cast and think about those two guys. Everything they are, everything that validates their worth as a human being, boils down to what happens on that board in front of them in the next ninety minutes. And when you battle one opponent, you’re not just fighting him: you’re fighting all the people that taught him, too. Read more
It’s always a pleasure to pick up the second volume of a series you’ve had great expectations for and not feel like you’ve had the rug jerked out from under you. The first volume of Parasyte kicked off what promised to be a great premise, and the second volume doesn’t just rehash what we know; it boldly moves the story forward into new territory. Author and artist Hitoshi Iwaaki was clearly not content to just take the situation he’d set up and beat it to death, and I’m grateful as both a critic and a fan that he decided to stick his neck out a bit.
The second book deals with roughly three intertwined plot threads — school teen Shinichi’s relationship with the alien (?) parasite that’s cohabitating with him in his body; Shin’s mother falling victim to one of the parasites; and Shin’s on-again-off-again relationship with two different girls around his age. The first two are the most important, while the third is just a real-world leavener — a kind of bookend for the main action this time around, a reminder that the world outside of Shin’s increasingly bizarre life is at least halfway normal. Just because your arm’s been turned into a protean monster doesn’t mean you are going to automatically give up on feeling Read more
You could do a lot worse than DOA: Dead or Alive, believe me. Is it any good? No, not really. Is it fun? Yeah, sort of, in the splashy, stupid way the videogame it’s based on is also fun, and at least it has the sense to recognize it’s not meant to be taken the slightest bit seriously. Fine by me. Not every movie has to be The Accidental Tourist.
There was a time when I was something of a Bad Movie celebrant. Then over time I lost my taste for seeking out entertaining crap simply because a) it was, after all, crap and b) with the sheer number of genuinely good and criminally underappreciated movies out there that can now find the audiences they deserve, thanks to DVD, why bother with the bottom of the barrel? But every now and then you just got to see what sinks to the bottom, if only to have some idea of how bad it can truly get. Read more