Category: Fantasy


Elfen Lied: Vol. 5

Wow. That volume was surprisingly tame by Elfen Lied standards. Except for things occurring in flashbacks that we had already witnessed, I don’t think there was a single instance of dismemberment, torture, rape, or murder this whole volume. I guess we can call this a breather volume. There were still plenty of disturbing things and the introduction of one new character (as well as bringing another established character into the Kaede residence). I think it’s finally beginning to dawn on me that one of the reasons for this series’s existence is that it’s trying to deconstruct a lot of the tropes at the heart of the harem-manga/anime genre. And it’s doing it all pretty well. This particular volume was heavy on seeing how these characters interact with each other when there isn’t some murderous force out to get them all, and while I was initially shocked that there wasn’t something genuinely traumatic happening every other page (though there are still moments of considerable personal dysfunction), it was interesting to learn a little bit more about the burgeoning group dynamic in the Kaede home.

The last volume ended with Lucy (as compared to Nyu) running into Kohta and Yuka after she had murdered Professor Kakuzawa. While the series teased the possibility of Lucy revealing to Kohta all of the terrible things she had done to him as a child (i.e. killing his sister and father), she reverts to being Nyu at the last second (as I’m assuming the anesthetic finally wore off that had caused her to become Lucy in the first place). Despite Kohta and Yuka’s growing romance (which we saw last time at the temple), Nyu still has something resembling feelings for Kohta (it’s complicated since she’s so childlike) and she crawls into bed naked with Kohta and then Yuka walks in and then Nyu tries to seduce Yuka (maybe…). Only Mayu’s arrival stops it from happening when Nyu tries to grope Mayu and realizes how much Mayu disliked it (because of what happened with her pedophilic stepfather). Eventually, Yuka invites a friend over to the house, another girl her age with an amazing singing voice named Nozomi. However, Nozomi suffers from crippling anxiety that has resulted in her having little control over her bladder and she has to wear a diaper (which is accidentally revealed to Kohta along with other mishaps). Back in evil scientist-ville, Karuma is ordered by his boss to dispose of Nana but Karuma instead decides to help her escape. Though she is almost killed by Bando who discovers her when she arrives in Kamakura, they decide to team up to take out Lucy. Nana befriends Mayu (who helped her learn about money and didn’t judge her because of her horns), and Mayu brings Nana back to the home where she meets Nyu and proceeds to beat the shit out of her. When she realizes that Nyu won’t fight back (and after Kohta hits her and tells her to leave), Mayu is confused because she can’t feel Lucy’s presence as she should. However, the head trauma is causing Nyu to become ill and then as the manga ends, Nana suddenly feels Lucy awaken.

For once, I think the series might have crossed the line into gratuitous nudity in this volume. There’s always a ton of nudity in this series, but all of those shots of a completely naked Nana (who is supposed to be like a pre-teen I’m pretty sure) didn’t really serve any purposes that I can think of and were maybe just really awkward attempts at fan service for weirdos. Also, it’s getting to the point with Nyu’s indiscriminate sexual groping of everyone that it’s starting to be used more for humor than for drama (at least I can’t wrest any dramatic overtones from it except when she molested Mayu) which is to me a problem. I also don’t really know how I feel about Nozomi. She seems like the series attempt to add a yamato nadeshiko to the mix (except one with incontinence because no one is allowed to be semi-normal in this show). I did appreciate the job the series took to show perhaps the softer side of Karuma who has up til now been the series’ Big Bad. However, he no longer has that title since we’ve met who I assume to be the real big bad in the chief who apparently was also the father of Professor Kakuzawa (which means he must be infected with the Diclonius virus). Unless I’m confusing the chief and this new villain because they were both drawn very similarly.

I’ll keep this review to a minimum because I still have a lot of writing to catch up on from this weekend. I didn’t do any extra writing yesterday because I wound up playing Xenoblade Chronicles almost the entire day. Damn is that game addicting. It’s pretty much everything you could possibly want in a modern JRPG except for good graphics (cause it was several years old when it finally came stateside and it’s already on the Wii which has pretty awful graphics). So at the moment (and by the moment, I mean apparently the last month and a half or so), I’m going through one of my patented “into Japanese shit” phases which I’m sure will eventually wear off. Now that Lucy has woken up again, I really want to know what’s going to happen in this next volume because Kohta is slowly remembering what happened all those years ago and Lucy seems to be losing her patience with his amnesia (and Yuka’s continued presence in his life). There could be a bloodbath of violence awaiting us, and I have to assume that this especially calm volume means that things are going to get pretty terrible for everyone soon enough. However, I must take my break for Bleach which is also getting to an interesting point. I definitely think I chose the right two manga to read.

Final Score: B+

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So, my manga consumption has slowed down a little bit this week. I’ve had a couple concerts, and I’ve just generally been sort of busy (I’ve been playing a ton of Xenoblade Chronicles which also begun to eat up a ton of my free time). Anyways, it took me a little longer to read this particular volume of Bleach than it has the others. It’s a shame though because I feel like this is the volume where the various story threads are starting to come together, and we’re going to get a look at the bigger picture of where this series is going to go (in terms of it being a team-oriented shonen fighting series). This has become my mantra of the franchise, but I still really enjoyed this genre and while it’s not my favorite so far (that award goes to Memories in the Rain), this is definitely the moment when you realize that the series won’t entirely be about Ichigo. He’s got companions (oh no. Is Ichigo the Japanese version of the Doctor sans time travel… that metaphor quickly went nowhere) or he will have them anyways. He doesn’t actually know that the spiritual powers of his friends have awakened yet which is too bad for him because they were pretty bad ass moments even if Orihime’s powers are super lame.

Last volume ended with the introduction of Uryu Ishida, a mysterious kid in Ichigo’s class who has the power to defeat Hollows and hates shinigami. We quickly learn this volume that he is the last member of a group long thought to be extinct called the Quincy (humans who battle Hollows but rather than cleansing them and sending them to Soul Society, they simply kill them). He challenges Ichigo to a duel to see who can defeat the most Hollows using their particular style. Releasing a Hollow bait, Uryu summons dozens of Hollows in to the world for he and Ichigo to fight (Uryu isn’t worried that they’ll harm anyone because he’s so confident in his Hollow slaying abilities). As Ichigo and Uryu battle Hollows, other residents of Karakura town soon realize that they have powers of their own. Ever since they were saved by Ichigo (in different incidents), Tatsuki, Orihime, and Chad can all see ghosts and Hollows with varying degrees of accuracy. When a Hollow attacks Chad and Ichigo’s sister Karin, Chad finally accepts his inner strength (he has inborn pacifist issues from his father) and a giant armored arm replaces one of his normal arms and he defeats a Hollow (and then passes out). Orihime and Tatsuki are also attacked by a Hollow, and the manga teases you by making you think Tatsuki is going to get powers next when she fights back against the Hollow, but she is quickly overpowered and Orihime’s powers manifest which are six fairy things which give her a magical shield, healing abilities, and the ability to tear a Hollow in half. She too defeats the Hollow attacking her and passes out just as Uruhara shows up with Chad who he has rescued.

One of the things that I’ve always enjoyed the most about this series is the art design (which while Elfen Lied is certainly the superior manga, Bleach runs circles around it in terms of aesthetics), and this was maybe the best drawn volume yet. There were a ton of Hollows this time around, and they all had interesting designs. Ichigo and Uryu mowed through plenty of them (and even more in the anime which was in rare animation form [and by that I mean it looked better than normal]) and we also had the Hollows that Chad and Orihime battled. I also thought it was nice that we got some more back story with Chad (which I’m sure will be revealed in more depth later on) as well as something deeper with the relationship between Orihime and Tatsuki. I just wish that stalker lesbian Chizuru wasn’t around because she seems like a really offensive stereotype. As for Uryu, he’s kind of a lame villain at the moment, but the philosophical debate between the methods of the Quincy versus the methods of the Soul Reapers could make for interesting drama down the line if I didn’t already know that Uryu becomes friends with Ichigo later. There was some stuff in the anime at the end that wasn’t in the books but I’m assuming that will just happen in the next volume like it did last time.

I’m going to keep this review short (because I have to review Tuesday’s Glee cause concerts made me fall way behind this week), but I do have one last comment before I draw things to a close. I really hate how every comic book/manga feels the need to make the main female heroine/sidekick have an enormous chest, and Orihime has most certainly fell prey to the most common superpower. It’s such a sexist and annoying tradition of comics and I wish it would go away. It also doesn’t help that I’m just not crazy about Orihime (especially compared to the more interesting Rukia and Tatsuki), and maybe this is just giving me another reason to dislike her. I’m pretty sure that the incident (besides Rukia’s initial transferal of power to Ichigo) that sets the majority of the rest of the series’ plot in motion is going to be happening soon so for better or worse, Bleach is about to change forever. I hope I can still enjoy the manga after it happens.

Final Score: B

Elfen Lied: Vol. 4

What in the good lord’s name am I reading? I finished the fourth volume of Elfen Lied last night before I went to bed, and it is only by divine providence (even though I don’t believe in anything divine) that I wasn’t wracked with nightmares brought forth by the horrendous scenes that were occurring at least once (if not twice) an issue in this latest volume of Lynn Okamoto’s horror opus. I finally get what all of the big deal is about Elfen Lied. We can officially say that Volume 4 was the moment where the series “Grew the Beard” if you will (Star Trek reference that means essentially the opposite of “Jumping the Shark”), and I am now hooked. I really wish I wasn’t hooked though because I regularly feel like I’m treading down some dark, voyeuristic path of Hell that no normal person would keep on reading. Yet, I press forward because this world’s mythology and its cruel and inhumane cast of characters (whether because of their actual non-humanity or the blackness of their hearts) rigorously compel me to see what could possibly happen next. I’m guessing nothing pleasant.

I think I finished this volume on Friday and for god knows what reason, I’ve sort of delayed doing my actual write-up. So, if the details of the events of this volume are a little foggy in my mind, I apologize. I had actually gotten better these last couple of weeks of not letting myself fall behind on my blogging. Essentially, the gist of this volume is that we finally learn the tragic backstory of Lucy (though not how she came to be captured by the government) and her connection to Kohta as well as the origin of Kohta’s amnesia. As Lucy is wandering around after murdering Professor Kakuzawa (and slowly returning to her Nyu personality), she recollects on the last time she was in Kamakura. Lucy was an orphan who was abused and bullied at her school as a small child because of her horns (she isn’t yet aware of her powers). The only friend she has is a puppy in the woods that is eventually brutally murdered by her classmates at which point her powers awaken and she kills every single kid in her class room. As she’s wandering around the forest, she runs into a young Kohta and the two strike up a friendship. Kohta generally cares about Lucy but she’s slowly succumbing to her madness. Kohta is only in town for a little while and he spends his last day at a festival with Yuka. Lucy sees this, gets jealous, and kills a bunch of people at the fair. Kohta and his family see the massacre and decide to leave town. Lucy ends up on the bus they take to leave town and murders Kohta’s father and little sister at which point Kohta’s mind snaps. Back in the present, Lucy/Nyu arrives and addresses Kohta by name (who’s beginning to remember what happens) and asks him how he’s been. Ruh Roh Rooby.

I pretty much skimmed over the plot (because like I said, I read it like four days ago), but let’s just say that this was by far the most emotional and psychological volume of the series so far. This was Elfen Lied‘s Neon Genesis Evangelion moment and then some. Honestly, the shit that happens to Lucy and Kohta in here makes everything that Shinji Ikari went through (at least to where I had gotten in the anime [which is admittedly not very far]) seem like a day where you wake up on the wrong side of the bed. This volume explored social alienation, the cruelty of humanity, young love, unrequited love, sexual awakening, and plenty of other issues in a manner that was far more mature than I would have expected to be possible from a manga. This was heavy shit, and Elfen Lied more than did the material justice. Not only that though, but it was also the most legitimately disturbing material of the series yet as well. There were several massacres in this volume alone, and at no point has the series begun to desensitize me to the violence that I regularly witness in its pages because each act of gruesome violence and cruelty is given the proper weight and importance that it deserves. This isn’t meant for exploitative purposes. It’s meant to scare the hell out of you but also make you think, and on all fronts, Lynn Okamoto succeeds.

I’m going to keep this review short because I have to finish doing laundry today (it’s my day off). There have been clothes drying in my basement on the clothes line for a couple days now that I’m sure are ready for me to fold and put away. But seriously though, I’m addicted to Elfen Lied. I almost want to put my reading of Bleach on hold so that I can keep reading this series, but I know that if I stick too long in Elfen Lied world, it will probably kill my soul (not that I believe souls exist). I felt emotionally depleted after I finished this volume, and I had to actively fight off desire to sleep so that I wouldn’t have nightmares filled with visions of Lucy killing schoolchildren or schoolchildren bashing her puppy to death. So, breaks are probably good. Plus, I’m still enjoying Bleach and I want to stick with that series for as long as I can before its quality implodes on itself. On that note, you really should read Elfen Lied if you’ve managed to get this far in this spoileriffic review.

Final Score: A-

I feel like there’s the distinct possibility that I could find myself in a very repetitive place for my reviews of Bleach by consistently saying at the beginning of the reviews that we haven’t gotten to the place in the story where it starts to suck yet. Regardless, we’re still at the point in Bleach where I’m still enjoying it as much as I can any conventional shonen manga. Though, honestly, calling Bleach conventional at this point actual does the series a bit of a disservice as I still believe that it’s basic premise is pretty original and the world that Tite Kubo has imagined for these heroics is intriguing urban fantasy fare. This particular volume started out a little bit on the filler side with an adventure that only served one over-all myth arc purpose (I’m assuming anyways), but at the end, it managed to introduce a new character that I know is going to turn out to be very important (because I’ve watched past this part in the anime years and years ago). Even though the majority of the volume was filler, it was still fun filler that managed to subvert exactly where you thought the story was going to go which is something that I think Tite Kubo does very well.

A popular ghosthunting show (Tite Kubo accurately predicted the surprise popularity of that phenomenon about a decade early) visits Karakura Town, led by the charismatic Don Kanonji. It’s one of the most popular shows in the country and the entire town attends the show. Ichigo’s family are big fans so even though he suspects that Don Kanonji is utter BS, he attends the program. However, it turns out the hospital that the show is being filmed at is actually home to a Demi-Hollow, a “plus” that is slowly transforming into a Hollow. It also turns out that Don Kanonji can actually see ghosts, and though he thinks he is exorcising the spirit by prying open the whole in its chest, he is actually speeding up the process of turning it into a Hollow. Ichigio is forced to transform into his shinigami form and battle this Hollow with the help/burden of Don Kanonji who truly believes himself to be a hero and helps fight the Hollow despite his very limited powers. After the Hollow is vanquished, Don Kanonji is forced to face the truth of what he’s really been doing to the spirits he’s encountered. At school the next day, Rukia keeps getting calls on her beeper from the Soul Society about Hollows, but when they arrive, the Hollows have already been vanquished. It turns out that another student at Ichigo’s school named Uryu Ishida has been destroying them. He has high Spirit Energy as well and can summon an energy bow from mid-air. He claims to be something called a Quincy and openly expresses his hatred for shinigami.

One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed about this volume is that Tite Kubo hasn’t been afraid to embrace some of the more humour aspects of the series. Bleach is such a moody and brooding protagonist (he’s one tragic backstory away from being Sasuke from Naruto) that the series can sometimes take itself a little too seriously for what is essentially a children’s manga, and in both the anime and manga for these volumes, there were plenty of moments that made me laugh. All of the bishie sparkles coming off of Don Kanonji when he thought he was going to die were pretty hilarious because it was such an obvious tongue-in-cheek reference to the anime convention. Similarly, the scene where they post the test scores (which worked for me better in the anime) was great because it sort of subverted the Japanese stereotype of everyone doing well in school (that is regularly reinforced by me becoming more popular in Persona 4 when I get good grades). Ichigo’s friend Asano’s reaction was just so absurdly over the top that it just had me laughing out loud on my couch which doesn’t generally happen when I’m watching anime. There were no notable differences between the anime and the manga during this section other than the last episode of the anime I watched continued on into the action of the next volume of the manga so I’ll just discuss that later.

I like Buffy the Vampire-esque “go to high school, save the world” stories. I have ever since I started reading Harry Potter in elementary school and that pleasure has managed to not disappear even though I’m now 23. At this point, Bleach does that well, although admittedly the “high school” stuff definitely takes a backseat to the “saving the world” stories. Unfortunately, I know that the series eventually completely abandons that whole high school thing when Ichigo goes to Soul Society (spoiler). It’s a shame because not only do I really like these main characters (even Ichigo who I seem to remember really disliking the last time I tried to watch this show), I love the supporting cast down to the most minor people. The show has a quirky identity at the moment, and I’m not looking forward to the point where it abandons what makes it special to become a more standard shonen series.

Final Score: B

Elfen Lied: Vol. 3

Every time I read a new volume of the manga Elfen Lied, I become slightly more convinced that this series is going to leave me an emotionally scarred, broken shell of a man. Sweet lord this story is disturbing. I feel like there’s going to be some variation on that phrase in every single post because in every single volume thus far, Lynn Okamoto manages to outdo himself in the “how miserable can the lives of our heroes be” department as well as “how cruel can the villains be” section as well. In this volume, I also finally began to see where Okamoto introduced some of the more philosophical and outright psychological themes that lead to this series’ regular comparisons to Neon Genesis Evangelion, and while the shoddy translation that’s at the core of the copy of the manga I’m reading still unfortunately interrupt and distract from the over-all experience, Elfen Lied has quickly turned into one of the most outright disturbing pieces of fiction I’ve ever encountered whose shock value seems to only be matched by the copraphagia and orgy scenes in Gravity’s Rainbow (note that I am in no way saying Elfen Lied is half the work that Gravity’s Rainbow was).

After they both ran away last volume, Nyu and Mayu both make their way back to the Kaede residence. Nyu has reverted back to her docile Nyu personality after going on a roaring rampage of violence against Big Bad Karuma’s Diclonius daughter Nana, and Mayu (who was injured during the fight) was picked up at the hospital by Kohta. After enjoying Kohta and Yuka’s hospitality for the evening, Mayu (who has repressed the memories of Lucy’s fight with Nana) goes back to being a homeless street urchin with her dog Wanta as her only companion. We learn that Mayu ran away from home after her mother’s new husband began to sexually molest her and when Mayu told her mother, the mother hit Mayu for trying to cause problems. Now, Mayu takes shelter in a firewood shed and lives off the scraps from a bread shop that a kind clerk gives her. However, the clerk leaves the bread shop (which means Mayu has no food) and Wanta’s owner turns up to take Wanta away (it’s real name is James) and tells Mayu to stay away from the dog forever. Eventually, Mayu returns to the Kaede residence because she has no where left to go, and Kohta and Yuka begin to take care of her. Cue a time skip of sorts and Kohta and Yuka are finally attending college again. They drag Nyu along with them because she can’t be left on her own. Nyu can also say “Kohta” and “yes” besides just “Nyu” now.

Nyu runs into Bando on the college campus but thanks to something that apparently didn’t translate very well into my comics, other people using “nyu” as syllables in other Japanese words makes him unable to be sure that he’s run into the same Lucy that maimed him. Bando is at the school to find out if there’s any way he can avoid castration which Kurama has sentenced him to face after being infected by Lucy. It turns out this infection happens to any man who is pierced by the vectors of a Diclonius. If they were ever to have children, the kids would be Diclonius. The scientist however isn’t all he seems to be and he offers to not castrate Bando as long as he is able to go around and impregnate as many women as possible so the scientist, Dr. Kakuzawa, can study the effects of letting the Diclonius into the human population to wreak havoc. Yeah, he’s not suspicious at all. The volume leaves it vague on what Bando decides to do but somehow I don’t see him picking the greater good over emasculation. The scientist is also one of Kohta’s professors and he finds Nyu next to Kohta and Yuka in his class and takes her away pretending to be her uncle. He, is in fact, a male Diclonius although he lacks any of Lucy’s powers because his bloodline has been diluted. He wants to impregnate Lucy to retake Earth for the Diclonii, but Lucy returns when he puts Nyu under anesthesia and she doesn’t like to be used by anyone. She decapitates Kakuzawa just before the anesthesia wears off and she becomes Nyu again. At that moment, Kohta and Kakuzawa’s assistant arrive to find Kakuzawa’s headless body.

This volume really upped the number of plot threads (I even left off where Nana learned to use artificial limbs with her vectors to replace the ones that Nyu ripped off) and added something really important to the mythology of the series, mainly the existence of who knows how many other weak Diclonius in the world and the virus that will result in the birth of stronger, purer Diclonii. However, honestly, at this point, the most impressive thing was how it made one character seem more whole and well-rounded than even Kohta and Yuka after only a couple of issues. Mayu has to be the most damaged and scarred person in this whole series and that includes Nana whose father regularly does evil Mengele-esque experiments on her for the sake of who knows what. We learned a lot about Mayu’s backstory and how this is affecting her ability to function in the Kaede residence, esepcially after she walks in on Kohta and Nyu taking a bath together. Nyu seems to be in love with Kohta in some odd way that only her underdeveloped mind can really comprehend. We’re also learning that Nyu’s vectors are growing so this could prove to be especially fatal for anyone that attacks her when she’s in Lucy mode. I’m curious to see exactly what the consequences are going to be if anyone discovers that she’s the one that killed Kakuzawa (and Kohta already suspects this to be the case).

I always read these volumes of Elfen Lied incredibly fast because I have to know what happens next. The chapters are very short and they almost without fail end on some sort of a cliffhanger so there’s an immediate urge to know just how deep this rabbit hole goes. However, I’m also thankful that I’m also reading Bleach at the same time as Elfen Lied because if I didn’t have decent breaks between volumes of this comic, I think it would just break my soul. There are almost no moments of happiness in this series. Even when they do occur (such as Kohta and Yuka throwing a birthday party for Mayu), they are almost always a prelude to something absolutely terrible happening. I’m not sure if I’ve encountered an author with such an eye for how to construct horrific situations since George R. R. Martin, and at least his terrible moments weren’t always as unsettling as what happens in Elfen Lied. Well, it’s time to begin a short break from the macabre world of Lynn Okamoto and into something a little lighter like Tite Kubo’s urban fantasy and the adventures of Ichigo Kurosaki.

Final Score: B+

When I decided to read the Bleach manga initially, it sprang from Netflix’s sudden decision to remove all of Bleach from their Watch Instant service. It probably wasn’t that sudden and I likely just missed the “Available until Apr. 1st” notification, but regardless, just as I had finished watching the first disc of the series on Instant, it was suddenly gone the next day. However, I recently acquired a subscription to Hulu Plus (mainly because I wanted to start watching the cult hit Community which I’ll do my first review of for the entire first season simply because the manner I initially began watching the series in wasn’t conducive for my traditional disc-based reviews), and Hulu has the entirety of many anime on their site for streaming purposes, and Bleach is one of them. I actually finished the third volume of the Bleach manga on Friday, but I’m waiting til now to review it because I’ve decided to watch the anime while I’m reading the books. So, from this point forward, whenever there are any major additions added to the anime that weren’t in the manga, I’ll mention them at the end of my plot recaps. This particular volume was the first time that happened but more on that later.

After defeating the mod Soul that inhabited his body (mostly thanks to the help of Uruhara Kisuke), Ichigo placed the Mod-Soul into a plush stuffed lion which they’ve named Kon (cause it’s short for the kanji of mod-soul or something like that. It doesn’t translate well). As Ichigo leaves for school one day, he looks at his watch and learns that it’s June 16th, the day before the anniversary of his mother’s murder. As Ichigo goes off on a family outing with his sisters and his obnoxious father to pay respects at his mother’s grave, Rukia (and Kon in her purse) follow along to keep tabs on Ichigo. After confronting Ichigo about the possibility that a Hollow might have killed his mother, Ichigo tells Rukia that he feels like he killed his mother because he chased a ghost to the river bend which led to his mother’s death when she tried to save him. As they’re having this confrontation, the same ghost of a little girl that Ichigo saw all those years ago appears in front of Karin and Yuzu (Ichigo’s sisters). Karin is soul-sensitive and can see the ghost, but it is a lure used by a very powerful hollow to trap people with high spirit energies. It was this same Hollow that murdered Ichigo’s mother.

Ichigo and Rukia arrive at the scene just in time to save Ichigo’s sisters from being devoured by the Holow, known as the Grand Fisher because he lures his prey with bait. After realizing exactly who this Hollow is, Ichigo enters the fight with reckless abandon which proceeds to result in him getting his ass kicked. However, Ichigo is probably anime’s biggest example of a determinator this side of Son Goku so even after being impaled with several razor sharp talons on multiple occasions, he doesn’t back down. Even when the Grand Fisher turns his lure into the form of Ichigo’s mother as a trap to stab Ichigo both literally and metaphorically right through the heart, Ichigo uses that opportunity to chop the Grand Fisher’s arm off. It was a bad-ass moment indeed. However, Ichigo is unable to defeat the Grand Fisher (who flees conceding the tie) and collapses after he’s expended nearly all of his spirit energy. That’s basically the whole volume which was the fight against the Grand Fisher/the exposition leading up to why it mattered. In the anime, a subplot is introduced involving a Soul Reaper from the Soul Society who comes to Earth to investigate why Rukia hasn’t returned to Soul Society yet. When he finds out she gave all of her powers to a human, he tries to arrest her but the fight with the Grand Fisher makes him change his mind and he leaves our two heroes in peace.

So far this has probably been my favorite volume. I finally felt like I knew a little bit more about Ichigo besides the fact that he is a certified bad-ass. The scenes where Tatsuki recounts her childhood memories of Ichigo and his mother to Orihime were well done, and seeing how Ichigo’s inability to protect his mother shaped him into the hero he’s become adds more context to why this otherwise brooding and moody 15 year old would suddenly decide to be a hero. Also, there just a layer of mourning and darkness to the whole proceedings. Ichigo has lived his whole life feeling guilty for his mother’s death and he finally finds out that it’s his high spirit energy that caused her to be targeted in the first place. But rather than going the easy way out and having him immediately conquer the demon that took away his mother, Ichigo loses the fight. The demon flees so basically it’s a tie, but Ichigo didn’t win and in his mind, that’s a loss. It should be interesting to see when the Grand Fisher will return because I’m positive I haven’t seen the last of him. I also really enjoyed the anime-only stuff about the Soul Reaper that was sent to arrest Rukia. I wonder if that was meant to foreshadow future events in the manga that the anime writers felt wasn’t probably contextualized in Tite Kubo’s original work.

I have no shame in how much I’ve been enjoying Bleach so far. If I were unironically enjoying something like Naruto (which I’ve watched and it’s painful at times, especially that 85 episode long filler arc), there might be a problem, but so far Bleach has been a refreshing twist on standard shonen conventions. I can easily understand why it’s one of the most popular anime/manga franchises alongside One Piece and Naruto. I know that sooner rather than later, it’s quality is going to start crumbling around me, but until then, I take pleasure in the fact that I can just sit back, turn my brain off, and enjoy the fantasy adventures of Ichigo Kurosaki (and soon, his nakama of friends). It’s a bad-ass dude doing bad-ass things in a world with an interesting back-story. What isn’t there to like so far?

Final Score: B

Elfen Lied: Vol. 2

Sweet bloody Jesus on a crucifix. Sorry if that seems like a heretical epithet to begin a post with, but Elfen Lied is one fucked up manga. I just wrapped up the second volume which (if it’s possible) managed to up the gratuitous violence of the first volume in ways I would not have imagined to be doable. I really don’t want to imagine what is going on in Lynn Okamato’s head (the series’ writer and aritst), but this dude obviously had some really dark things going on in his life that he felt the need to work out via manga. Not since Neon Genesis Evangelion have I found an anime/manga series that is just this brutal. While Elfen Lied still isn’t quite as psychological or philosphical as Neon Genesis Evangelion, I can definitely see where the series planted the seeds for future growth. I’ve been reading this volume over the course of the last couple days (I nearly read it all in one sitting again but I forced myself to stop), and it’s a Festivus miracle that it hasn’t caused me nightmares because of the always shocking depictions of violence and disturbing examples of serious cruelty. Elfen Lied is the master of the macabre.

After Lucy temporarily returned and decimated the government Special Assault Team sent to kill her (and horrifically maimed its psychotic leader Bando), she quickly reverted back to her childlike persona of Nyu and returned to the Kaede residence to be cared for by Kohta and his cousin Yuka. After Yuka walks in on Kohta trying to clothe Nyu (because she’s too mentally underdeveloped to do it herself), Yuka moves in with Kohta because she’s A) jealous of the attention he gives Nyu (despite the fact that he has no real interest in her) and B ) because she wants to make sure Kohta doesn’t take advantage of Nyu. Despite being Kohta’s cousin, Yuka feels a romantic attraction to Kohta and becomes jealous whenever she sees anything remotely inappropriate happening between Kohta and Nyu. A 12 year old homeless girl (named Mayu) shows up at the Kaede home. Though she was at the beach when Lucy destroyed the SAT team, she doesn’t recognize Lucy as Nyu. Matters spiral out of control when Nyu slips and hits her head and becomes Lucy again. She slips out of the house but she is quickly located by another Diclonius, another young female named Nana. Nana desperately seeks the affection and approval of apparent Big Bad Kurama who she sees as her father despite him using her for torturous scientific experiments. Lucy rips every single limb off of Nana’s body though. Just when she’s surrounded by SAT forces though, she begins to revert to her Nyu mindset. She manages to escape before the transformation is complete and shows up back at the Kaede residence a mindless simpleton again. (Mayu witnessed this whole ordeal and wound up in the hospital. She called Kohta to help her out because she has no one else. Should be interesting to see if she recognizes Lucy/Nyu now).

The whole incestual subtext between Kohta and Yuka is making me really uncomfortable but I’m pretty sure that was the point. Yuka certainly has feelings for Kohta, but I don’t think he quite seems to feel the same way about her. Also, apparently he is blocking some traumatic memory from his childhood which is causing even more friction between him and Yuka. I’m interested to find out what really happened there. There’s just a lot of teenage sexuality in this manga, and that in general is making me pretty uncomfortable just because Kohta regularly finds himself in these very awkward situations with Nyu who is for all mental purposes a child. There is zero fanservice in this comic so far. It’s just all intended to be as disturbing as humanly possible, and it succeeds. It can be difficult to sit through reading some of these moments just because they are so awkward and painful, and that’s as a reader. They’re meant to be even more disquieting for the characters on screen. Similarly, all of the moments between Nana and Kurama were brutal and heartbreaking. Nana is meant to be a sympathetic figure who is slaughtered (though still alive I think…) by Lucy and who wants nothing more than the love of her distant and uncaring father figure (though he does seem to want revenge for Nana’s assault). It plays at your heartstrings.

It’s weird. I’m just realizing that while I certainly think this is a better and more interesting comic than Bleach, both of my Bleach reviews have been a little bit longer than my Elfen Lied reviews. I think that has something to do with A) the fact that Bleach issues are about five or six pages longer than Elfen Lied and that B ) also, Bleach‘s stories tend to have a little bit more happening plot wise (just because Tite Kubo tries to jam as much action and exposition into his stories as he can). Anyways, I’ll keep this Elfen Lied post short and sweet (if for no other reason than it’s really hard to find manga pictures via Google Search). This comic is seriously messed up, and unless you can handle things that make Quentin Tarantino films look like a Disney picture, you should really stay away from this series. I feel sort of dirty and disturbed just for reading it, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay to find a fiction that is this genuinely unsettling. I can only imagine where it goes from here.

Final Score: B+

If Bleach really does end up going wildly downhill as every other fan I’ve talked to tells me, it will be really disappointing because I have thoroughly enjoyed (with no sense of irony) these first two volumes. I like shonen fantasy series, and this one has a pretty cool premise, and Tite Kubo has done a really cool job of slowly introducing more and more aspects of this world’s mythology. I’ve got an admitted soft spot for urban fantasy so that also probably has something to do with the fact that I really like the story so far. I mean, let me qualify what I mean by “really like.” I’m enjoying this as much as I can anything that’s primarily meant for like kids (that’s what shonen means as a demographic. for “young boys” though as virtually every anime fan in America will tell you, shonen programs (like Dragon Ball Z or Full Metal Alchemist) have plenty of cross-demographic appeal. I’m not getting any intellectual stimulation from this series at all (unlike say, another shonen franchise, Death Note) but it’s fun, and I still haven’t gotten to the part where it supposedly gets terrible, so I’m going to enjoy this series while it lasts.

The first volume ended with Ichigo’s school friend Yasatoro “Chad” Sado adopting a parakeet that is actually the home of a “whole,” a spirit that has yet to be sent over to the Soul Society. The parakeet’s soul is a very young boy who watched his mother murdered in front of him by a serial killer. The young boy accidentally caused the serial killer to fall to his death, and when the murderer came back as a “hollow” (evil spirits that haven’t been sent on), the Hollow murdered the boy and has mentally tortured him since then by promising to bring his mother back to life if he could avoid the Hollow for three years (which is something the Hollow can’t do. Because Ichigo is forced to momentarily care for his ailing sister Karin (who was injured by a psychic blast from the tortured mind of the young boy’s soul), Rukia is forced to temporarily battle the Hollow alone, even though she’s using her “gigai” (human form) and isn’t at full strength. Eventually Chad helps her but since he can’t see the Hollow, their effectiveness isn’t very high despite Chad’s enormous strength. When it looks like Chad and Rukia are getting the upper hand despite their limitations, the Hollow pulls a trick out of the manga bad guy playbook 101 by revealing an ability he had been hiding the whole fight. He summons these frog like creatures which spit leech like creatures which the Hollow could remotely detonate as bombs. Just when things are looking hopeless, Ichigo shows up and promptly kicks the Hollow’s ass. Because the Hollow was evil in his past life, he is sent to Hell by a massive door that opens up which draws a knife-wielding disembodied fist that drags the evil spirit away.

The last half of the volume is the beginning of a new story arc which introduces another layer of Soul Society life and technology which is starting to show that maybe they aren’t quite as good as the heroics of Rukia make them seem. Whenever Rukia uses her glove thing to force Ichigo’s soul out of his body so he can be a Shinigami, his body is just lying around unconscious and is therefore completely vulnerable and very suspicious. Rukia visits the shop of a man named Kisuke Uruhara who sells weapons and technology to Shinigami. Rukia thinks she’s bought an artificial soul to place in Ichigo’s body when he’s fighting Hollows. However, it turns out to be one of the last remaining mod-souls, a group of scientifically bred warriors that the Soul Society had created to fight Soul Reapers. However, it didn’t work out and so the Soul Society abandoned the project and destroyed every mod-soul they could find. This one escaped somehow, and when he enters Ichigo’s body, he absconds with it as Ichigo is fighting a Hollow. Ichigo (in his Shinigami form) and the mod-soul inhabiting Ichigo’s real body are forced to work together to fight another Hollow, and eventually Kisuke Uruhara shows up and forces the mod-soul out of Ichigo’s body. However, Ichigo and Rukia decide to spare it because they know that they’d be killing something that just wanted to be free by destroying it.

I”m one of those people that is really into universe building. I know several people who tire of George R. R. Martin’s never-ending descriptions of the politics, geography, religion, and history of Westeros but that is 50% of the enjoyment I get from his A Song of Ice and Fire books. So, I really appreciate how Tite Kubo is making the Bleach universe seem like a pretty multi-faceted place. Yeah, occasionally, we’ll spend like four damn volumes of the book on just one fight, and this is a fairly early Hollow in the series (so I can’t imagine what it will be like when we fight enemies that are actually supposed to be threatening). However, I always feel like I’m learning something new about the world where this series takes place, which is essentially our own but with magic teeming behind the veils of perception we can’t see past. And at no point have I felt like any of the twists about the events of this world are dumb or uninteresting. Yeah, there have been plenty of standard anime conventions used (especially during the fight scenes), but they are part and parcel to this particular genre, and while I know they are derivative, it isn’t really keeping me from enjoying the series yet.

I’m starting to wish that I knew more about these characters. I really like Chad. The whole gentle giant trope is a favorite character archetype of mine, and Rukia always tends to make me laugh, but Ichigo still seems pretty ill-defined. However, this is a shonen manga and character development is almost never very important. That tends to only really matter in shojo or seinen pieces (though Full Metal Alchemist had pretty satisfying character development as did Death Note), so I may be disappointed if I expect too much from this series. Anyways, I’m only two volumes in out of the 52 that have been written thus far, so I’m obviously still far too early in the series to make any judgments, but so far I’m having fun reading it, and that’s what really matters.

Final Score: B

 

Elfen Lied: Vol. 1

Because I don’t want to burn myself out while reading Bleach (and because I left all of my real books/comic books in WV), I’ve decided to switch back and forth between volumes of Bleach and volumes of the notoriously graphically violent and psychologically disturbing Elfen Lied. There are something like 52 volumes of Bleach (it’s been running for over a decade and is still going) and only 12 volumes of Elfen Lied so when I finish the latter, I’ll just have to find something else to distract me as I continue to read Bleach although there’s a halfway decent chance that just by that point, I’ll have given up on Bleach if it ends up being as bad as I’ve heard towards the end (or even towards the part where they end up in the Soul Society). Anyways, last night I began Elfen Lied which I read very, very quickly (if for no other reason than the plot propels itself forward very rapidly), and it without a doubt deserves its reputation as being one of the most (for lack of a better word) fucked up manga on the planet that doesn’t somehow delve into being hentai or ecchi.

At a remote island research base, a scientist named Kurama is explaining to government agent the nature of a new mutant offshoot of humanity known as the Diclonius. Born with two horns extending from their head and telekinetic powers beyond imagination (i.e. they can dismember humans with utter ease), the Diclonius are the greatest threat to humanity in our existence. There is only one (so far) named Lucy, who the government keeps completely locked and chained in a secure holding facility. All the guards know not to come within two meters of her (or to allow any of their belongings to get that close to her) because it will result in their immediate and ghastly death. Guess what happens? After killing the two guards watching her (in gruesome, gruesome fashion), a naked Lucy waltzes out of her holding cell and continues to mow down even more of the armed soldiers in the complex, including a brutal dessication of a young secretary. Just as she’s about to leave the island, one of Kurama’s sniper’s hits her in the face with a .50 sniper round which she somehow manages to survive. However, Lucy is now suffering from amnesia and she washed up on the shore of a beach, still completely naked only to be found by two young cousins, the male Kouta and the female Yuka, who attempt to care for the amnesiac Lucy who can only say “Nyu” (which is what they name her) and has the mental faculties of a very small child. After government operatives (including a true psycho named Bando that Lucy maims when she momentarily regains her memories) try to recapture Lucy, it is quickly apparent to Kouta and Yuka that something is strange about this girl they’ve just found.

I’m not quite sure how to approach this manga critically yet since I’m still so early in the process of reading it. Here are some initial thoughts. There is a ton, ton, ton of violence in this show. Like, just an unbelievable amount of blood and gore. It takes a lot of blood and guts to faze me but there is so much violence here that it can make me slightly sick to my stomach to read it. Yet, somehow that disturbing voyeuristic quality is also one of the reasons I can’t quite put it down. I read the entire volume in one sitting which is certainly high praise (though it felt like the chapters in this manga were short but maybe I was just reading it very quickly. The other big thing to warn potential readers of the series (or viewers of the anime) is that there is also a considerable amount of nudity in this show. Once again, it’s not being done for a hentai like porn effect or to titillate readers. It’s meant to be disturbing/dramatic, and it pretty much always is. If this comic doesn’t get under your skin somehow or if you’re enjoying it without a healthy helping of disgust at the actions you’re seeing, there’s probably something deeply wrong with you.

Here are the basic questions you have to ask yourself before you read this manga. Do you have a weak stomach? If so, go find something else. Are you offended by nudity? lots and lots of nudity. Once again, if so, go somewhere else. Other than that, this has a reputation for being one of the most psychologically daring and morally complex manga ever written so I’m all aboard. I haven’t actually gotten to any parts where the series is deeply philosophical but I’m sure they’re coming because this franchise has developed a considerable cult following over the years. I’m actually looking forward to reading more Bleach though instead of coming right back to these books just because I feel like my brain is definitely going to need regular breaks from the shocking and disturbing violence that appears in Elfen Lied‘s pages regularly.

Final Score: B+

Literally, for the first time in many, many moths, I’ve added a new top level category to this blog. I rarely even add subcategories these days because I’ve covered so many different bases over the last year and two months, and it had been ages since there was a new high level category. Well, I’m finally covering completely new ground for this blog by reviewing my first manga series. It’s not the first manga that I’ve ever read. That award goes to Death Note, and I’ve read bits and pieces of others since that one, but it’s the first one that I’ve read in the time that I’ve had this blog, so new steps are constantly being taken I guess. I’m kind of embarrassed that I’m reading this particular manga because Bleach is a pretty ridiculously popular manga/anime and it has a very vocal hatedom that it’s just your stereotypical/conventional shonen fighting manga. I’m lazy and thinking that I may just stop italicizing manga and anime every time I write them even though I’m supposed to because they are foreign words. Anyways, this series is notable for being around for a long time (over ten years) and for having story arcs that tend to drag a bit (like Dragon Ball Z!), but I love me some anime and manga, and I can’t really call myself an otaku if I don’t really know much about one of the most popular franchises out there. So, without further ado, Bleach, a series that starts out well enough and is enjoyable in a shonen way with a unique aesthetic/identity and a cool premise.

Ichigo Kurosaki is a 15 year old Japanese high school student with decent skills in martial arts and one supernatural gift. He can see ghosts. One day (and I apologize if I accidentally mix in details from the anime which I was going to watch instead until it was randomly taken off of Netflix with no warning), after helping a troubled young ghost deal with her passing by scaring away bullies who were vandalizing her spirit’s resting place, Ichigo is visited by a young woman in a kimono named Rukia Kuchiki who claims to be a type of spirit known as a shinigami, or Soul Reaper. Her job is to help good spirits, known as “wholes” move on by sending them, and to defeat evil spirits, known as “hollows” in battle, before they can devour wholes or attack living humans. Rukia sensed great Spirit Energy at Ichigo’s house, which is a sure indication of an impending hollow attack, and during their conversation, one attacks Ichigo’s home and nearly kills his two sisters (one of which, Karin, can also see ghosts). After showing immense personal strength by breaking a Soul Reaper spell that Rukia had cast on him, Ichigo is given Rukia’s powers when she nearly dies protecting Ichigo from the rampaging hollow. This awakens Ichigo’s natural strengths and he handily defeats the Hollow where even Rukia, the seasoned shinigami had failed.

The next day, no one else in Ichigo’s family can remember the attack, but a completely human (sort of) Rukia shows up at Ichigo’s high school as a new student. It seems that while she had intended on only transferring half of her powers to Ichigo, he took all of them, and she’s stuck in her current human form (called a gigai) until her power returns. She now expects Ichigo to take up the mantle of a Soul Reaper until she can return to duty. While he bristles at the work and responsibility at first, he quickly changes his mind when he sees a spirit of a young boy nearly being devoured by a Hollow (whose ass he proceeds to briskly kick). Ichigo’s first real challenge arrives though when a school friend, the shy and truly bizarre orphan Orihime Inoue is attacked by the Hollow of her long-dead brother who had refused to pass to the other side because he wanted to look after her. However, by staying behind, he was devoured by a Hollow and subsequently turned into one himself. Ichigo doesn’t actually defeat this Hollow, but instead it voluntarily sends itself, when it realizes it nearly killed its own sister. The first volume of the manga ends with the introduction of another of Ichigo’s friends, a gentle and quiet giant of a teen named Yasutora “Chad” Sado, who has adopted a baby parakeet which Rukia and Ichigo recognize as a whole that is being targeted by a very malicious Hollow.

So far, I don’t understand the hatedom, but I also know that the general consensus towards the series is that it starts out promising but then it slowly starts to nose-dive with arcs that never end and plot twists that don’t make any sense so I’m probably just not at the point where it gets bad yet. Honestly though, I definitely enjoy it. I mean, I’ll always have a soft spot for anime and manga, and I think Bleach has a really neat premise. Here’s this kid who could see ghosts (so that’s cool) and he was a good fighter but not super natural about it. But then he gets his powers from another supernatural being and has to learn how to do her job. It’s got elements of urban fantasy as well as some of the more superhero tropes of your typical shonen manga. I think the characters are genuinely likeable. At this point, Ichigo seems like a relateable high school student who suddenly has all sorts of new responsibility heaped on him which is an archetypal trait of many young superheroes. I also just really enjoy the whole urban aesthetic of the series which abandons some of the more obviously feudal Japan/science fiction things that are really common in a lot of the most popular manga franchises. Do I think this is remotely as good as Fullmetal Alchemist or Death Note? Hell no, but so far, I enjoy it.

This series has been running for like over a decade now so I hope it’s obvious that I’m not going to just read it straight through. I would be burned out and then some especially if I come to agreed about the considerable arc fatigue this series is rumored to regularly suffer from. I left all of my books in WV… literally all of them so I have pretty slim pickings on what to read while I’m up here. I’m going to try and find places on the internet where I can read manga for free (like what I’m doing with Bleach) without having to illegally download anything as well as try and find things for comic books so that maybe I can go back and actually start reading more of The Walking Dead cause I still don’t know why I had stopped reading that as regularly as I was last semester. It was just starting to get good. Anyways, if you’re looking for a good introduction to manga, I think that you could do a lot worse than Bleach and I look forward to seeing how this series progresses. I’ve seen the first story arc on DVD ( so the first 2o episodes) so I think I actually know where the story will be going for a while.

Final Score: B