Category Archives: Book Reviews

JP reviews books and other sources of interest to otaku and those interested in Japan.


Considering Japanese Incest, Cultural Obsession, and the Book The Six-Foot Bonsai

Recently, I’ve read a memoir written by Stacy Gleiss that shares her experiences with an abusive Japanese husband and her immersion into Japanese culture. I’ve considered doing a standard book review, but it’s difficult to critique a memoir. By their nature, memoirs share intimate details about a person’s life that I don’t feel right critiquing. However, The Six-Foot Bonsai touches on a darker experience of Japanese culture and media. Gleiss’s experience, shaped by an abusive relationship and her obsession for all things Japanese, brings up topics young otaku fail to consider.

I’ve ran into people who show the same obsessive interest Gleiss writes about in her book. In fact, those people drove me to start JP in the first place. I wanted to speak out against misplaced views about Japanese culture. Through my research, I’ve come to admire some aspects of the culture and dislike other aspects. To my neighbors, I’ve become something of a Japanophile, but my first interest was the Roman Empire (particularly the founding and collapse of Rome) and early Christian history. I own more books on those topics than on Japan, which is saying something. So in many regards, I struggle to understand the extreme love for Japan Gleiss writes about and otaku share. I find Japan fascinating but no more fascinating than the Roman Empire. I tell you this so you can understand that I am lack first-hand experience in culture obsession. Gleiss’s book serves as a better source. If you are obsessed with Japan (that is, it dominates your thinking and how you behave), you need to read her book.

With these caveats out of the way, let’s start with my impressions of the book and then lead into cultural obsession and kawaii culture. While I practice Zen, I stand in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. It’s through these lens that I view everything. I grew up in a particularly hardcore legalistic branch of Christianity, and its precepts are still written on my bones, despite knowing how wrong  many of them are. Much of what Gleiss accounts with her life troubled my sensibilities. I also struggled to understand how her all-consuming interest in Japan could drive her to drop everything and transplant into the culture. I have an interest in living in Japan as well, but it would be as a Westerner who is respectful of Japanese practices and  with an interest to study their history and folklore rather than trying to become Japanese. The West can learn many lessons from Japanese culture, but in the end, a person born and raised in the West can only adopt another culture so far. Cultures can only be judged in relation to each other, and the person considering the culture needs to have a broad and firm frame of reference. For example, I’ve studied Japanese culture, Persian/Babylonian culture, Hellenistic culture, Roman culture, ancient Hebrew culture, ancient Egyptian culture, and I grew up in rural American Judaeo-Christian culture. Gleiss writes about the importance of cultural comparison as a means to keep perspective:

When I first experienced Japan, I thought this intriguing culture held the secrets to a good life: order, process, and an almost artistic approach to everything. But my blind faith in this culture was sorely misplaced. In fact, placing trust in any culture is risky without a set of standards by which to measure the moral rectitude of any given custom.

In my case, my Judaeo-Christian background with a traditional rural American upbringing serves as my set of standards (with added standards from cultures I’ve studied). In many cases, I’ve observed my otaku friends pursue an interest in Japanese culture as a way to rebel against American individualism. While American individualism is toxic in its present rendition, turning toward a mistaken idea of Japanese culture can be more poisonous because the idea isn’t complete. Rather, it is an idealization. Now, idealizing a culture can be useful. My childhood idealization of the Roman Empire drove me to learn more, including the darker side of Rome–slavery, rape, disease, incest. However, for many, the echo-chamber of the internet prevents them from going past the sections of a culture they enjoy: otaku culture in particular.

Speaking of dark aspects of culture, as Gleiss’s book illustrates, Japan has a problem with objectifying young girls. American culture worships the idol of youth, but Japan takes it to the extreme. Long time readers know that I loathe fan-service. I’ve also explained the origins of lolita culture and kawaii culture.  In Gleiss’s life, she explains how lolita and kawaii culture shaped her abusive ex-husband’s views of sexuality and women. The access to prepubescent sexualized media–the upskirt shots and other sexual poses manga and anime peddle–encouraged his pedophile tendencies.  Buddhism and Christianity warn that the messages we consume shape our thinking. Consuming prepubescent sexualized manga–okay, let’s not dodge the word anymore: child pornography–will shape a person’s view of sexuality.

Child Pornography in Japan

Back in the 1990s, Japan’s child pornography industry flourished. In 1997, Christian Science Monitor wrote:

The child pornography that Japanese officials consider legal falls into two categories. The first features pictures of children in public places photographed with hidden cameras or powerful lenses. This “peeping” material does involve Japanese children, but is not considered a violation of the child-welfare law since the photographers are not “inducing” children to practice “obscene acts,” which the law prohibits.

A second type presents posed pictures of children, very often naked. Most of the children involved are girls from Southeast Asia and, to a lesser extent, Eastern Europe, according to three men who work in the pornography industry. In keeping with the industry’s self-imposed guidelines for pornography involving children under 18, no genitals or sexual activity is shown.

Part of the reason why it flourished in the 1990s was because of obscenity laws that banned displays of pubic hair, creating a loophole for images of prepubescent children. In 2015, the Japanese government banned the private ownership of obscene products involving both male and female children under the age of 18, but the law did little to curb the distribution of such material (Osaki, 2015). I’m sure you’ve seen anime or read manga that featured far-too-young children depicted in voyeuristic poses. These types of poses are so common to the media that they have become expected tropes. Adult women are shown flashing their assets along with teens and pre-teens in mainstream titles. Just look at No-Game; No-Life as one example. Dance in the Vampire Bund is another title that thinly veils this problem by stating that Mina Țepeș is far older than she looks and has an adult form. But that doesn’t stop the anime from objectifying her prepubescent body.

I debated an entire day about whether or not to use this picture. I don’t want to be seen as supporting what amounts to child pornography, but I also wanted to provide an example for discussion. Shiro is 11 years old. There’s no way to call this illustration anything but sexual. Her pose and lack of clothing showcases her budding prepubescent breasts and her lack of hips. This is what sexualization of children in manga and anime looks like. Kawaii culture sees such depictions as normal and even innocently cute. If it was innocent, the illustration wouldn’t depict her in such an outfit and angle. This illustration isn’t out of the ordinary for manga and anime, sadly. While I debated about this image, fans often think nothing of such illustrations.

These types of fan-service are so common that few think much of it. Rei Ayanami, from Neon Genesis Evangelion, is perhaps one of the most fetishized characters. She’s 14, well below the allowable age to have sex according to Japan’s Children Welfare Act (which forbids sex for anyone under the age of 18) but above the age of consent established in the Japanese Penal Code (which is only 13). As you can see, even the law is ambiguous. In the United States, she still falls under child pornography laws, however. In any case, Rei and other characters have become so fetishized that it’s considered a normal part of being an anime/manga fan. Some fans even claim her as a waifu. In fact, relationships with fictitious teen and prepubescent characters are fairly common in the otaku fandom. The confusion surrounding the enforcement of obscenity laws (and how they clash with free expression) contribute to this normalization.

One of the issues surrounding enforcement of Japan’s obscenity laws deals with kawaii culture. Characters may be 20, but look 15. Lobbyists for the Japan Cartoonist Association resist an outright ban on the content (Ripley, 2014):

Ken Akamatsu, who lobbies lawmakers on behalf of the Japan Cartoonists Association, said a total ban on explicit content would damage the entire industry, making creators too scared to put pen to paper in case they risked breaking the rules.
He said the characters were imaginary, so unlike real child porn, no one was hurt.
“Actual children suffering and crying is not acceptable. But manga doesn’t involve actual children. So there are no actual victims,” he said.

Gleiss’s ex-husband echoes this reasoning. In the book, she accounts how her ex-husband claimed to separate reality from fantasy. Many people claim fiction doesn’t affect behavior; however, for most of human history fiction–myths and folklore–taught morals, values, and cultural viewpoints. While some claim fiction lacks victims, the victims are the readers. Their consumption distorts their idea of reality. It does it gradually, in ways that evade notice. In turn, this can shape sexuality and make it difficult to bond with people on an intimate level. Yes, some claim to be unaffected and have happy and healthy relationships. As with everything, fictional relationships and interests can benefit people and their relationships. Obsessive behavior falls outside of these possible benefits.

Incest in Japanese Culture

While Suguha and Kazuto aren’t brother and sister by blood, they were raised that way. This makes Suguha’s romantic affection for him as akin to incest.

Related to child pornography is Japan’s long history of incest. Shinto mythology features incestuous relationships between deities. A region of Honshu has special terms for different types of incest:

  • hiemaki refers to mother-in-law/son-in-law
  • awamaki for father-in-law/daughter-in-law
  • imonoko for father daughter.

This suggests these types of incest were common enough to warrant naming (Kitahara, 1989a). Shinto rituals that purified sins also named forms of incest. This further suggestions a commonality. According to Kitahara (1989a), the practice of co-sleeping and co-bathing may have contributed to historical cases of incest. Kitahara (1989b) examines a book outlining cases of mother-son incest where the mother helps relieve her son’s stress by helping him masturbate or even having sex with him. Kitahara (1989b) writes:

According to a 20-year-old male, when he was 14 and bathing with is mother, he inadvertently experienced erection. The other said: “It is better to discharge it,” and she petted him to ejaculate. They were having coitus since he was 16. Apparently some mothers behave similarly toward their sons, who typically express their reactions by saying “mother helped me to ejaculate” and this usually takes place in the bathroom.

Francis Pike confirms this was a lingering problem in 1997’s article in London magazine The Spectator.

In her book, Gleiss makes no mention of such happening with her ex-husband; however, the awareness of incest through literature and, perhaps through rare events as Kitahara examines, creates a framework that allows him to normalize such behavior. Manga and anime contributes to this as well. Brother-sister relationships have become rather common in recent years. No Game; No Life serves as an example, as does Sword Art Online. All of this points to an undercurrent of incest in Japanese cultural history. Over the last few decades, as Japanese birthrates decrease, researchers have pointed to how men have a mother complex. Back in 1993, Satoru Saito doubted mother-son incest was common, but the relationship between mother and son still defined Japanese society (Mccarthy, 1993):

‘There is no clear distinction between male-female relations and mother- son relations,’ says Dr. Saito. ‘Japanese males are always mixing these two: they want to assert their sexuality, but at the same time they want to be held by their mothers – warm, safe, secure.’

Today, as you can see in this article about dating, people still struggle with this issue. It results in unequal sharing of household work and general inequality in marriage. Again, this ties back into child pornography. Men from households with extreme nurturing–regardless of the sexual elements involved or not involved–struggle to develop adult viewpoints, so it would only be natural for them to develop affection for cute, innocent, and available portrayals of girls and women as media culture pushes.

Obsession and Fault Blinders

Mina from Dance in the Vampire Bund has far too much sexuality for her child form. The show made me uncomfortable throughout.

Cultural obsessions blind people to the culture’s faults, such as Japan’s child pornography and, to a lesser extent, incest. Gleiss’s book shows how a personal obsession can do this, but obsession can also blind a fandom. The normalization of fan-service and soft incest within anime and manga attest to this fact. Sadly, anime with such content sells. Some people argue that fan-service and lolicon are protected under free speech. While this is true, they shouldn’t be normalized. There’s a difference between protecting and normalizing certain types of expression. Yes, such expressions can be useful; they can raise awareness of the problem and–I’m going to stretch here–provide an outlet for people. But consumption of such messages affects how reality is understood. This is why you see some otaku encroach on women.

So far I’ve singled out men, but women suffer from the same issues. However, society places less focus on these issues. There is a double standard when it comes to unwanted sexual advances toward men. A female otaku grabbing a man at a convention doesn’t face the same backlash as a man doing the same to her. But setting that aside, I focused on men because most anime/manga objectify women more often than men. As a male, I expect my fellow men to behave as gentlemen. Check out the blog Art of Manliness if you want to see what I mean.

Gleiss’s book The Six-Foot Bonsai brings up all of these issues and speaks about Japan’s focus on youthfulness and cuteness in the context of her own life. Her book serves as a warning for those who are obsessed with Japanese culture and unable to see the culture’s negatives, and every culture has its darker side.

Now there are some who are obsessed with anime and manga but have little interest in Japanese culture. They just like the stories and the characters. However, obsession of any sort is an issue. Obsessions lack balance and leave a person with a one-dimensional life. You might know of a religious person who does nothing but speak about God and Jesus or Allah. In many cases, these obsessions are based on misconceived ideas and a lack of true understanding about the target of the obsession. They are obsessed with the idea rather than the reality, often in order to escape reality. Eventually, reality will prick the bubble and the shock of it will leave people unable to function. Gleiss suggests she struggled with this problem when her bubble finally burst.

The Long and Short

I want anime and manga to stop with the fan-service and ecchi and soft incest. I want them to focus less on tropes and more on good writing, and anime can do that. Animations have the ability to tell stories live action cannot. But I’m not naive. This will continue until Western and Japanese fans pressure the companies by not purchasing such content. It’s past time for anime and manga to stop with prepubescent sexualization.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have any issues with adult nudity. I used to draw and paint classical nudes back when I studied animation and art in college. The difference is intent. Classical art nudes seek to show the beauty of the human body or tell a story about the person. Sexual poses as we see in anime and throughout online art websites intend to arouse. They are not art because they don’t tell a story. Even child nudity can be used to drive home a point, such as the famous photo of 9-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc as she tried to run away from the napalm that burned her during the Vietnam War. But sexualization is a different matter entirely.

If you are obsessed with Japan and/or anime and manga or even video games, you need to reevaluate how it influences your life. Is is a way to escape something that troubles you? In small amounts this is okay, but if there is a problem you need to face it and make corrections if you can. If you can’t you should learn to accept the way reality is rather than avoid it. Everything ends, so even what seems forever will change.

Develop different interests. If you are an extreme otaku, develop interests apart from anime and manga. Take up a creative hobby aside from drawing your favorite characters or writing about them. Diversify.

If you are like Gleiss, you may have to abstain from Japanese culture altogether. She writes about using Japanese culture like it’s a drug. It’s okay to be interested in another culture. It’s different if you are consumed by it. Throughout Gleiss’s book, she write candidly about this consuming influence, which is why I recommend you read her memoir if you too suffer from cultural addiction.

References

Barr, C. W. (1997, April 2). Why Japan plays host to world’s largest child pornography… (Cover story). Christian Science Monitor. p. 1.

Kitahara, Michio (1989a). “Childhood in Japanese Culture”. The Journal of psychohistory (0145-3378), 17 (1), p. 43.

Kiatahara, Michio (1989b). “Incest- Japanese Style.” The Journal of psychohistory. 16 (4), p. 445.

McCarthy, Terry (1993) Out of Japan: Mother love puts a nation in the puch. Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/out-of-japan-mother-love-puts-a-nation-in-the-pouch-1508595.html

Osaki, Tomohiro (2015, October 22). Groups Criticize Japan’s Tolerance of Child Pornography, Call for Stricter Laws. The Japan Times.

Pike, Francis (1997). Where Some Sons Do Have Them. The Spectator. 20.

Ripley, Will and Hilary Whiteman. (2014). Sexually explicit Japan manga evades new laws on child pornography. CNN Wire.


Fanfiction Review: The Heart of the Ocean. Chapter 2.

Alex continues her review of Mystrade in this mashup of Titanic and BBC’s Sherlock. For those who are not familiar with Mystrade fanfiction, the story concerns a yaoi pairing between Mycroft Holmes and Gregory Lestrade. The original fanfiction is written by somebodyswatson. You can read it here.

Starting off, you immediately share in Mycroft’s displeasure and lack of enthusiasm. Even though the air is humming with excited emotions, (trust me, you can feel them,) you feel as bored as a bookworm at a sporting event. In the middle of wanting to hit your head off of a wall, there is a pause. You can’t help but feel your chest swell with awe and wonder. Almost able to see the magnificent ship rising up in front of you in all her glory and splendor.

Moran is introduced in this chapter, (he is from BBC’s Sherlock for those who are unaware). He is the valet for, of course, one James Moriarty, (also from BBC’s Sherlock). Who struts in as a wealthy pain in the rear. (For our poor Mycroft at least). He flashes his wealth, is openly an arrogant jerk, and you feel the urge to either sock him in the face, or recoil and hope his slimy, high and mighty attitude doesn’t rub off on you. And he just HAS to be the one who says the infamous line, “God himself couldn’t sink this ship”. (…..thanks Moriarty. Thank you very much. Future deaths and tears that I will undoubtedly shed will be on you. A$$).

You continue to share in Mycroft’s unimpressed attitude. Possibly even frowning in slight disgust at the way Moriarty behaves. (He really takes the place of the wealthy, slimeball jerk role quite well. Way to go with that somebodyswatson, thumbs way up from me). You honestly keep swapping emotions throughout this chapter. Switching between bored, unimpressed, feeling trapped and caged, to excitement, awe, wonder, and bittersweet feelings from farewells of every sort. It’s done beautifully, and the feelings don’t overpower the details. And vice versa.

When they’re boarding the RMS Titanic, you’re in absolute awe. The details, the electricity in the air, the grim aura surrounding Mycroft, you’re completely sucked in. It’s like you’re actually there with him, experiencing everything. The throngs of people, the happy laughter of children, the hum of the ships engines and the sounds rising above it, you’re living it all. And the details, oh the details! You glance up from reading, and you half expect to be standing among the passengers outside waiting to board, in the halls of the Titanic, or in the suite the trio will be staying in. It’s amazing, it really is.

predestination_by_beginte-d5b2d00

( Predestination by Beginte on Deviantart.com )

Sherlock is mentioned again, and here a frown returned to my face once more. Poor Mycroft didn’t really have a choice with whatever is going on. (Well..I mean, he did. But he really didn’t). If you weren’t feeling bleak about his situation before, whatever his situation is, you should at this point. This ship is a prison. Basically a golden cage. From the moment Mycroft stepped from the automobile, boarding the Titanic, viewing their rooming arrangement, it was all a downhill tumble. Whatever happened with Sherlock, it wasn’t good. And it seems to have only gotten worse for our Mycroft from there. This ship is suffocating. This cruise is not a vacation or something to be enjoyed. And I can bet their destination isn’t something to be looked forward to either.

Mycroft is depressed, unimpressed, and living in a mini Hell. And, when he’s mentioning Sherlock, your heart aches. He loves his brother dearly. He did this, whatever this is, to save him. No regrets are held about saving his little brother. Mycroft loves Sherlock. Always has. Anything that has ever needed to be done to protect his brother, he has done. Anything that will ensure Sherlock’s safety, Mycroft will do. But..it doesn’t mean that Mycroft can’t mourn the loss of his freedom. Of his life. And you feel that. With all the excitement going on, through the events slowly unfolding, you share in Mycroft’s distress. His despair. His loss. But, Sherlock is alive. And Sherlock is safe. Losing him would have been worse than this Hell and the future that it seems to hold. And so, it’s on that note, that we continue on to chapter 3. (Impatiently awaiting the appearance of our dear Gregory).


Fanfiction Review: The Heart of the Ocean. Chapter 1.

Fanfiction sits in an important fandom niche. Fanfiction can encompass anime or, as in this case, Western stories. Alex reviews a fanfiction based on BBC’s Sherlock. While you may wonder what this has to do with Japan, Japanese culture has inspired modern fanfiction of all types. This story, “The Heart of the Ocean,” involves a pairing called Mystrade, a contraction of the names Mycroft Holmes and Gregory Lestrade. This story is essentially Western yaoi. You can read the fanfiction here.

Dang-cap-cua-Heart-of-the-Ocean-NecklaceThis fanfiction is based around the 1997 movie of Titanic. (The movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, and other actors and actresses who all make this movie come alive. I highly recommend it. But, I digress). Mycroft takes the place of Rose, (Kate Winslet’s character), and our dear Gregory replaces Jack, (Leonardo DiCaprio’s character). Others from BBC’s Sherlock take over roles that are in the movie. And while somebodyswatson follows details and scenes from the movie beautifully, some details are changed up a bit to help this amazing fanfiction flow more smoothly with it. But I’m not going to spoil everything.

The feeling of wonder and nostalgia is almost immediate. The events of April 14th, 1912, are known to many. The lives that lived, the lives lost, feelings, memories, almost nothing but history now. Pictures, words on paper, tales told and retold. For those who have seen the movie, and lovers of Mystrade, this tale will certainly not disappoint. Somebodyswatson wrote gold with this, they did a marvelous job.

Looking for stories to read, I go by what I’m feeling at the time, and by what catches my eye. Scrolling through Mystrade and Johnlock fanfics, the title caught my eye instantly. The tragic tale of the Titanic caught my attention at a young age, and I am a huge fan of the movie. I absolutely love it, and I cry my eyes out every time (But, back to the topic). Right away I grumbled to myself, because the death of one of my precious babies is something I do not enjoy reading. (It was also well past 1 in the morning when I stumbled upon this multi-chapter work of art). …but Mystrade. And Titanic. I needed this in my life. The curiosity would just kill me if I didn’t give in and read this. So, much as my grumblings tried to talk me out of it, I gave in. (As if I actually had a choice to begin with once I saw it). To cut off my personal ramblings, I continue with the review of this wonderful story. (Really, I can’t give it enough love. It’s fantastic. ..anyway).

*Review Start*

Infiltration

( Infiltration by scigirl451 on Deviantart.com )

Somebodyswaton did a bloody great job of blending characters in, following the movie, and making the feelings and emotions..the reader really feels everything from the get-go. Especially if you love the pairing and have seen the movie. As far as characters who are introduced in the first chapter, we have Mycroft and Anthea, (BBC’s Sherlock), and Lovett and Bodine, (Titanic. While Lovett is a real person, I believe Bodine was just a created character for the movie). Sherlock is briefly mentioned, as is Moriarty, (both from BBC’s Sherlock). But Moriarty will definitely be seen in this story from the sound of things. Our lovable Lestrade is also mentioned. (Also from BBC’s Sherlock). This being a Mystrade story, we will most certainly be seeing him later on.

Having seen the movie, I can hear the music from it as I’m reading this. (That’s how close somebodyswatson kept to the details of the scenes). The emotion started right off for me. It was like looking at an old photograph and reminiscing. Mycroft is spot on. His wit, charm, elegance, he’s all there. And it’s all shown beautifully. Anthea, ever loyal with her phone glued to her hands, is right by his side. This is just the first chapter, and I was glued from the first line. It starts off where the movie does, of course. Somebodyswatson didn’t miss a detail. (Seriously. If you haven’t seen this movie, go watch it. Now). And it cuts off right before Mycroft begins his tale of being aboard the luxury cruise liner.

Through the majority of this chapter, I was chuckling and grinning. Mycroft was being his usual classy, subtly sassy, genius self. (Just a few reasons why we love him). But the moments where he’s remembering, where he feels..the reader feels too. You see his face, you hear his thoughts, you experience everything. You are right there with him. And you remember. It happened. And, for this story, it happened to him. The heartbreak, sadness, pain, fear, you’re going to feel it, to experience it. But, along with all those feelings, there is also love, happiness, joy, living. You’re going to be pulled into it all. The curiosity of the crew, even if you know the details, read the book, watched the things, you’re going to share it. To sit in front of Mycroft, waiting, preparing yourself to hear his life. You’re doing that by reading the first words of this chapter, this tale. And that’s where you’re left. Waiting. Wanting to listen. Wanting more. And so, one chapter ends. But the story is merely beginning.


Dragon Ball–The Freeza Arc, Book 1

20160320_194730Dragon Ball Z is one of those series that I’ve evolved on over the years. It was big among the geek crowd in my middle and high school years, but at the time I was more into shows like Inuyasha and Full Metal Alchemist. Then, after Chris started this blog, we attempted to watch the original Dragon Ball Z series, and while I could see where it had potential, the vast amount of filler in the show turned us off.

But then Toonami added Dragon Ball Z Kai to its line up, and I decided to give the series another chance. Now the show has become the highlight of the week. It is a vast improvement over the original, not only in terms of art but the story as well. From what I understand, the Kai series is closer to the original manga than the first anime was, so was happy to find that the original source material wasn’t as ponderous as the anime became. I don’t want to sound like I’m downing on the original anime–if I had grown up with it, I’m sure I’d love it as much as some of you do. But for someone trying to get into the show who didn’t grow up with it, well, it’s a tall order.

Long story short, while I was once skeptical of how good Dragon Ball Z was, now I’m a believer. So when Chris asked me to review a full color copy of a full color version of the manga we received from VizMedia, I jumped at the chance. The book covers the beginning of the Freeza Arc. After his defeat at Goku’s hands in the first arc, Vegeta returns to Freeza Station to recuperate from his injuries, intent on going to Planet Namek to gather their Dragon Balls and use them to wish for immortality once he recovers. However, Vegeta is beaten to the punch by the evil emperor Freeza, a powerful being who also wishes to use the Dragon Balls to achieve immortality. Vegeta rushes to Namek, hoping he still has times to get his hands on the Dragon Balls.

20160320_194850Meanwhile, back on Earth, Son Goku is recovering from the wounds he received fighting Vegeta. Many of his friends died in the battle with the Saiyans, and now the remaining Z Warriors want to gather the Dragon Balls from Namek to revive them.

The book is beautifully illustrated, with vibrant colors and detailed artwork, more akin to Kai than the original anime. All in all, the story and dialog is similar to Kai–I believe there were a few small differences, but those may have more to do with my faulty memory than anything else. Manga is new to me–I’ve never been big on comics, and manga in particular throws me off since it reads backwards to what I’m used to. Even so, I enjoyed this book, and based on my limited knowledge of the genre, this volume is a solid addition to any manga lover’s collection.

 

Available at Amazon.


School Judgment Review-First Impressions (Volume 1)

school-judgment-v1School Judgement is a new manga series being released stateside by VIZ Media. The series–created by author Obuaki Enoki and illustrator Takeshi Obata (Death Note, Bakuman)– tells the story of a world where, in order to curb crime, schools hold trials for students accused of crimes. The crimes can range from accusing someone of cheating on a test to accusations of murder. Trials have a judge, lawyers, prosecutors; pretty much everything a real court does. While the trials may seem mundane, the punishments actually have real world implications. Students can be given jail time or even the death penalty.

The story tells of Tento Nanahoshi and his lawyer Abaku Inugam. Abaku transfers to Tento’s school in order to defend him in a case in which he’s accused of murdering the class pet. This also introduces the prosecutor of the trial(s) and Abaku’s rival: Pine Hanzuki.  After the completion of Tento’s trial, both Pine and Abaku decide to stay at the school as permanent students.

For the most part, the manga is a very interesting take on a shonen story. Like many shonen, the story is a “battle” manga, but unlike many other stories such as DBZ and Naruto, the battles in this story are one of wits and words. It’s similar to how Death Note is a battle of wits between Light and L/N. School Judgment falls into the typical shonen formula though. Each battle happens, where the “good guys” win with little to no trouble, and the volume ends on a cliffhanger of what seems to be a much bigger battle with higher implications than before.

My biggest gripe with the first volume: while the smaller trials are unimportant other than introducing characters, they were solved far too quickly. Each trial was solved in about two and a half chapters each (SPOILERS: And two of the cases were solved the exact same way. Very boring). I really hope this changes later on and the story has more complex cases.

Overall, the series is very interesting but I’m not too sure if I’ll continue reading. While the art-style (which is something I’m very picky on when it comes to manga) is very nice– as I’m a fan of Obata– the story seems pretty predictable. There’s a certain mystery about Abaku’s past, but I really have a feeling that anyone can predict what his story is a mile away. Personally, I may read it if I have nothing much going on, but it’s not a series I’m going to make a point to continue. It’s not bad by any means, just not my cup of tea. If you like Obata, shonen stories that are a new twist on the genre, or want something interesting check out School Judgement: 7/10

You can purchase School Judgement at the following sites:


Naruto: Kakashi’s Story

kakashi's storyOne of the perks of being an anime blogger, especially as a librarian, is the opportunity to review new books. Viz Media sent me Naruto: Kakashi’s Story, a novel that takes place after the events of the original manga series. I was surprised to see the novel. I wasn’t aware of Naruto novels. Akira Higashiyama captures the feel and the humor of Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto universe.  The story follows Kakashi on a mission to protect the first flight of an airship made by the Land of Waves. Only a year has passed since the Fourth Great Ninja War had ended. The war had allowed the Land of Waves to prosper as a transport hub for supplies, but all wealth comes at a cost. A group of ninja seek to free the lower classes from the debt and work imposed on it by the wealthy. Kakashi and an injured Guy must stop their plan. In the process Kakashi must face himself and his future appointment as the Sixth Hokage.

Higashiyama does an excellent job conveying the feel of Naruto. The novel weaves fights with introspection and observations about society. Kakashi’s Story spends a lot of time in Kakashi’s mind, giving the reader a look at a sometimes enigmatic character. Of course, Naruto and friends also appear. Higashiyama mixes horror with whimsy in a way that balances and keeps the story from slipping too far either direction. The story is spare of description and assumes the reader already knows how everyone looks. For fans, this works well. Although I haven’t see all of the anime series, I had no trouble envisioning the characters. Action sequences are written clearly and convey the fast speed of shinobi conflict.

The novel is the size of a standard manga, which works well for those who like consistency in their library. The pencil cover art is attractive and reminds me of traditional Japanese ink drawings. Jocelyne Allen’s translation lacks most of the awkward phrasing you sometimes see in translations. The phrase “The problem is that” was the only stand out. While grammatically correct, it is awkward. But I am being a little nitpicky here. The prose flows well if you know how to pronounce all the Naruto words like hokage and kunai. I’m not a devoted Naruto fan, but I did notice some of the jutsu were different from the anime. Some fans may find this distracting.

While this isn’t what I normally read, I quite enjoyed spending an afternoon with this book. At 188 pages, it is a fast read. Fans of Naruto should give it a go, especially if you like Kakashi. You can find it at Viz Media’s Naruto Shop and Amazon.