Spider-Man by Hirai Kazumasa & Ikegami Ryoichi

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If only the rest of the manga looked like this….

I’m doing some mindless cooking (it makes sense) and so I decided to hit the “surprise me” button over at MangaPanda again.  This time it turned up a singular chapter of the 1970s Spider-Man manga by Hirai Kazumasa (writer) and Ikegami Ryoichi (artist), and I thought, “Okay, why not?”

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For me as a long-time Marvel fan, probably the best part of this was noticing the differences between the Japanese version of the main character of what could arguably be considered Marvel’s flagship title.

The most notable difference is the name.  Gone is Peter Parker, and in his place is Yu Komori (his name sounding quite similar to the Japanese word for spider: kumo.)  Yu is still very nerdy and spends his after school hours in the lab, where he is bit by the self-same radioactive spider that gives him the same superpowers as his American counter-part.

The other startling difference is that in place of Mary Jane is a pen pal, Rumiko.

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Aunt Mei (May)

Rumiko introduces the shounen element here.  She comes to Tokyo to enlist Yu’s help finding her nii-san.  Their mother is sick and is in desperate need of a million yen to pay the hospital bills, but elder brother has gone missing and, being a country girl, she doesn’t know her way around town.

Yu agrees to help her.

Meanwhile, TOTALLY COINCIDENTALLY, there is a bank robbing cyborg on the loose: Electro.  He’s been stealing from banks, almost like he’s desperate for money for something. This is a departure from what I remember about Electro.  I thought he was just a guy who got hit by freak lightning, but in this universe somehow people instantly assume he’s a cyborg (maybe this is just Japan. You know, “Oh, another kaiju… no, one of them cyborgs.”)

Yu doesn’t put two-and-two together though, until it’s too late.

In fact, he helps Rumiko follow her brother’s trail until it grows cold. Yu figures he has failed in his promise to help Rumiko either find her brother or get the money to help pay her mother’s hospital bills. That is, until the Daily Bugle newspaper (the one the Marvel Spider-Man is a photographer for) offers… wait for it…. a MILLION YEN prize to anyone who can capture or kill Electro.

A big fight ensues and Yu rips the mask off only to find…….

Yeah, Electro is Rumiko’s nii-chan.  Life sucks for Yu.  He gives Rumiko the money (with no explanation) and she leaves hating Spider-Man for having killed her elder brother.  Yu is left with guilt about the enormity of the responsibilities involved with superhero-ing.

Despite the massive origin story differences, I would say that, emotional arc-wise, this Japanese Spider-Man is exactly who Spider-Man would be if he were originally from Japan and not Queens, New York, if that makes any sense.  I guess what I mean is that this kind of crushing sense of ‘am I a monster or a hero?’ feels very Marvel.

Also I love that Yu has a pen pal!  That’s both so very 1970s and so… dorky (she says as someone who is an avid pen pall-er well into the 2017s.)

Would I recommend this?  Uh…. maybe as a historical document.  The art is old-timey and not really what I hardly even think of as manga-esque.

Ja mata!

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One-Punch Man by Yusuke Murata (One)

Since all the cool kids were doing it, I thought I’d finally get around to checking out One-Punch Man.

I read the first volume and I sort of feel like my review could be summed up by this (web) comic strip from Questionable Content: “I can’t tell if it’s a brilliant deconstruction of shounen anime tropes or just garbage.”

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Yeah, it’s pretty brilliant parody.  I mean, I guess.  I don’t fail to see the humor in a guy who “over trained” and can now defeat all his enemies with one punch. I kind of even adore that he got into hero-ing for “fun,” (although the author seems to change his mind about this backstory and there is, at least, some sense that Saitama has a well-honed sense of justice that go him into hero-ing even earlier.)

But, will the joke sustain me?

Eh, I’m not sure.

This is where I get into arguments with people who try to tell me that the best comic book superhero movie of all time was “The Incredibles.”  Yes, it’s a good movie.  But, to say that “The Incredibles,” which is intended as a send-up, a parody,  is the best superhero movie  is to actually discount what I LIKE about superheroes, and to only enjoy the ways in which people make fun of superhero tropes.

I feel very similarly about shounen.

I know it’s cheesy. I know it’s melodramatic.  I know that so many of the fights are unrealistic and drawn out and could just be over if someone would just Do The Thing (or if the villains weren’t quite so OP, too.)

But, okay, one of my favorite themes is good conquering evil–and part of that story is always how HARD good has to fight to win.

I dunno.  Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood for this.  Probably it’s better consumed as an anime, even though it was the web comic that went viral.

The robot is cute, though. I now at least understand the copious amounts of fan art of him. And I do kind of love this art style when it crops up:

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So, I don’t know. I guess I’m going to go against the grain here and say, “whatever.” Have fun with it, kids. I’ll just enjoy your fan art instead of canon, k?

RahXephon by Yutaka Izubachi & Bones/Takeaki Momose

Once again, feeling kind of at a loss for something to read, I decided to hit the “surprise me” button on MangaPanda.  The random generator directed me to this: RahXephon, which is categorized as: action, mecha, ecchi, drama, and seinen.

Important for my current needs, it was considered complete at sixteen chapters.

I read the whole thing.

I’ll be honest, ecchi and hentai are usually two labels I avoid.  You and your straight sex is fine with me, so long as you do it behind closed doors, okay?  (*teasing!*)  But, you know, there’s a little truth to that, in that I’m happy for the labels so I chose to read or not.

This time I chose. So, I’ve really never read anything that’s been considered ecchi before, and now I feel I understand this term a bit more.  It involves a lot of nipples–either being seen through clothes or actually full-on naked shower scenes–and panty shots.  Wikipedia tells me that ecchi is more playful and less explicitly sexual than hentai, and I would totally agree with that assessment. Ecchi felt to me like super-aggressive fan service, to the point where I wondered if this was supposed to be a science fiction harem manga.

But, whatever. Personally, I found it little distracting from the story (like I do most fan service), but milage may vary.

The concept behind RahXephon is kind interesting.  Seventeen year-old Ayato Kamina grew up reading Wizard of Oz, and I was hooked by this introduction to the manga:

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And we very quickly discover, in the vein of the movie “The Matrix,” things are really not as they seem.  In fact, Kamina isn’t even living in the TIME he thinks he is….

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With this strong hook, the story actually skips back to set-up a bit about who Kamina is.

He’s actually kind of annoying.

He has a tendency to blow off Reika, a girl he grew up with–who lives with him, in fact, but who isn’t related by blood.  She’s kind of an adopted sister, but she’s clearly got a crush on him.  He’s been pushing her away pretty much their whole life, including one time so hard she fell off a wall and scarred up her back.  Kamina is currently trying to discourage Reika’s affection by hooking up with another girl.

Bickering over the boy ensues.

I would have been bored by this already, except when Kamina is being hauled around between the arms of his two warring love interests, we cut to a scene of someone in futuristic military-esque garb who is spying on them.

Then, the sunglass-wearing men in black arrive who try to kidnap Kamina, with some noise about his special ability. The spy, a woman named Hiroka, shows up in the nick of time and kicks the butts of the men in black and our real adventure begins at last!

Hiroka breaks our heroes into an underground facility where they start to realize that, maybe, they’re underwater?  Moreover, there’s a giant egg that holds a super powerful robot that Hiroka says is a threat to her people’s existence.

When asked who her people are, Hiroka basically says, “Earthlings.”  She informs them she’s working for TERRA, the future United Nations.

Okay, there’s a surprise.

Turns out, our heroes have been living in a bubble.  Literally.  The people inside what is known as Tokyo Jupiter think it’s 2015, but in actuality it’s 2033.  And, Tokyo has been secretly controlled by a race of blue-blooded alternate-Earthlings called Mulians, (“Mu” for short). The Mu are obsessed with reversing the timeline and reverting Earth back to their ancestral paradise (an odd sort of Aztec-ish fantasy world).  To do that, however, they have to control this robot, known as RehXephon, which is reputed to have the power to alter reality by granting the wishes of its pilot. Of course, the only one who can pilot RehXephon is our hero, Kamina.

Kamina decides to join forces with TERRA and helps wage war on what are essentially his own people.  And, it turns out, the connection is deeper than that.  His own mother is the leader of the Mu.

Dun-dun-dah!

Despite using every opportunity to show off naked/half-naked lady bits, there’s actually a lot going on in this manga.  We learn early on that the connection RehXephon has with Kamina extends to Reika, his adoptive sister/love interest.

In fact, one of the things I ended up enjoying about RehXephon (kind of despite myself,) is that all the intriguing mysteries that were set-up from the start get revealed.   Like, even though it’s kind of standard to just have the audience accept the ‘chosen one’ trope, we eventually find out WHY RehXephon has a connection to Kamina… and Reika.

The villains are villainous, but they also have a reason for doing what they do.  I was a little disappointed in Mom, if only because we never really saw (in the manga, anyway,) why the so-called paradise is so much more appealing than “filthy” Earth.  I would have preferred more There there, but my imagination could fill in.  It wasn’t like TERRA didn’t have faults, and one could extrapolate from what we see that maybe all of Earth had become a kind of military hegemony.

But, by in large, (ignoring the random boob shots), the story was satisfying.  It started out being about the conflicted relationship of brother/lover, that conflict was central to the plot, and ended with that relationship resolved/healed.  Tokyo is freed from the tyranny of the time/AU alien overlords and the (false?) paradise lost, but the reader is left with the impression we saved the right people for the right reasons.

There is sacrifice and there is loss, but like Dorothy in Oz , our heroes embrace the ‘real world’ over the fantasy one.

The end.

Would I recommend you read it?  I’m not sure. The boobies were awfully distracting (SO. MANY. BOOBIES.) and the story veered so far into cheesy that, at one point, I stopped reading to check to see WHEN RahXephon was written, expecting to find that it was from the 80s, or something.

Turns out, no.  It was made in this century. Early in this century, but still this century.

It was at this point that I discovered that this story was simultaneously produced with an anime https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RahXephon (26 episodes).  I guess, even though it sounds like the anime is quite different in several regards, I might recommend that, if my description of the story sounds interesting to to you, you should try the anime, instead.  Most people I know prefer to binge watch a thing, and this might be a good candidate for that. I’d love to hear from someone who has already watched it, or chose to watch it after having read this.

I’m not sure if I’m going to bother tracking the anime down.  I like the premise all right, but it wasn’t as grabby-hands for me as, say, Psycho Pass. Like, I read all the way to the end, despite all the perky/exposed nipples, but that was enough for me, you know?

So not exactly a ringing endorsement, I’m afraid.

Hitogatana (Chapters 1 -21) – A Review

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As mentioned on an earlier podcast*, I started reading this new manga, Hitogatana by Onigunsou.

Well, I finished it.  Non-spoiler thoughts can be summed up very easily: this is awesome.

As I said in the podcast, Hitogatana is a futuristic, science fiction shounen manga.  The basic premise is that there are weaponized mechs (originally built for scientific research, but people, being people, started making them wicked and creepy-cool.)  Unlike a traditional Pacific Rim kind of mech, these are controlled from a distance by a kenshi, who kind of-sort of hand-wavingly downloads their consciousness into them.  For reasons, some of these mechs, called katana, have gone rogue.  So there’s a team of ‘good guys’ (the AKCD) who hunt down these bad swords and bring them to justice.

Our three main heroes are the members of the AKCD’s 8th Division:  a katana/kenshi combo of Tsurumaru/Seri Yachiyo, their ‘swordsmith’ Juuzou Tsukiyama, and, the final member, a mysterious (if very domestic) young man known only as Togusa.

The art is clean and the action is super-easy to follow.  However, sometimes there’s a little too much of the same-type-of-face-ism (aka SnK-issues) and you may wish you had this lovely cheat-sheet MUCH earlier:

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There are specific things I liked about Hitogatana, but I’ll let you bail now if you don’t want to be spoiled for this awesome manga….

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There are any number of things I find tremendous about this manga, but probably the first and foremost is the character of Seri Yachiyo and her katana Tsurumaru:

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As the chapters progress, we learn that Seri is a human who had been ‘bought’ by a specialized weapons-training program as a very young girl.  She was raised to to be an “artisan,” a kenshi who can stay inside their katana for far longer periods than your average person.  It seems, too, that a large part of their training involved learning to beat the crap out of people.  She kind of ‘failed out,’ not because she wasn’t bloodthirsty enough, but because she retained her memories from the past, and thus, it was deemed, broken.

However, her being ‘broken’ turned into a plus  when the program was shut down. Only Seri and one other were allowed to return to normal society.

What I love about this character is that, due to this past, her needs are kind of simple–while being really profound.  All she really wants is to live a ‘normal’ life.  Only… she really DOESN’T know how to do this, not really, but… close enough is good enough for.  She and Togusa kind of fake being a domestic couple–squabbling over whether or not to put tomatoes in a dish, how much Seri drinks, and all the small little things that make us human.

Which is only ironic, since Togusa, really isn’t human at all.

We learn fairly early on that Togusa is a human-katana hybrid.  His exact origins are still fairly mysterious (something about a soul drug, maybe, I wasn’t clear), but Togusa seems to have been raised much like Seri–to be a living weapon.  At one point, when they’ve discovered another like him (who seems to be entirely an automaton), it becomes clear Togusa only recently learned how to smile.

I love tragic backstories like these. I also kind of have a soft spot for ‘AI’s who struggle with being human.  Once they adopt the automaton girl into their fold I found I’ve really fallen for the motley 8th Division crew and their straight-forward, yet profound desire just to have someone’s smile to come home to at the end of the day.

There’s also a lot MORE going on in the background of this world involving an enigmatic shadowy woman/katana(?), the former ‘artisans,’ and other political machinations–all of which keep me on my toes, guessing, and wanting to read further.

So, yeah, this one has its hooks in me… like some kind of freaky-cool katana!