Archive for March, 2010

From the Pile: Shirley

March 13th, 2010
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From the Pile is a regular feature in which we profile something at random from our large pile of yet-to-be-reviewed anime and manga. Believe us, we’ve been in this game for several years now and have had only limited space in the print edition to share all our thoughts, so there’s quite a bit of catch-up work to do on our backlog. This time, there’s also a special tie-in for our commentary: this month’s Manga Moveable Feast profile of Kaoru Mori’s Emma and its maid-themed offspring … including today’s profile. So without further ado …

shirley0001Today’s profile: Shirley (single volume)
Publisher: CMX
Suggested age rating: Teen 13+

As tag-team partner in fandom Wilma J. noted in her profile of Emma in 2008, manga artist Kaoru Mori loves her Victorian-era fashion and her maid stories. While Mori was in the midst of working on Emma, though, she also drew an unrelated story, this time about a maid working in turn-of-the-century Edwardian England. That story, released in 2003 in Japan, was Shirley.

The titular character is Shirley Madison, a 13-year-old who shows up one day at the doorstep of cafe owner Bennet Cranley with the hope that she’ll hire her as her maid. Bennet’s hesitant at first about hiring someone as young as Shirley — she meant to include a minimum age requirement in her ad but forgot — but Shirley’s earnestness (and her confidence that she can make a lovely pigeon pate and tipsy cake) convince her to make the hire. (As if there was any doubt by looking at the cover … that ain’t exactly a bunny costume Shirley’s wearing there.)

Several compelling mysteries develop as the story progresses. Here we have a girl, apparently orphaned, who shows up out of nowhere with the skills and sensibilities of a mature maid and takes it rather hard when she messes up. We also have a woman in Bennett who’s still happily independently single at the age of 28, despite the efforts of the obligatory meddling aunt who wants to hook her up with a nice young man. There’s so much potential here for Mori to explore these mysteries further, to really develop and flesh out her characters and their relationships.

And it’s pretty much wasted.

Just when I was getting into the story of Shirley and Bennett, it ended. Or, to be more accurate, their story abruptly stops about 125 pages into the book, the focus veering away to a few of Mori’s other short stories (about maids, naturally). Want to know more about Shirley and Bennet? Sorry, but you’ll just have to wait and see if anyone translates the two-part Shirley story that Mori’s drawing for Fellows! magazine starting April 15. Whether it will tie up the loose ends introduced here is debatable. It makes me wonder about the story’s original Japanese serialization and whether Mori intentionally left the story open-ended or she was forced to stop because she was either too busy with Emma or her host anthology suspended its publication.

In retrospect, I should have realized that the book’s covers were giving me a big clue of what to expect inside. You’ve already seen the front cover at the top of this post; here’s what the back cover looks like:

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Meet the maid Nellie, a boy referred to only as the “young master” and his mom, the main players in the completely-unrelated-to-Shirley-and-Bennett short story “Me and Nellie and One Afternoon.” It’s your typical coming-of-age story, where the boy learns about life and death and why girls are cool. “Mary Banks,” in which the titular maid puts up with an elderly prankster as her master, rounds out the book.

What we end up with is a volume in which the first half has unfulfilled potential and the second half has competent and complete (but hardly memorable) stories. I chatted with Wilma while writing this review, and she added a few thoughts: She felt “Me and Nellie” was good, but “Mary Banks” was her favorite story. Those two stories, she said, were better than the Shirley arc in its entirety. She also said something that sums up my feelings quite nicely:  “It was okay but not overly great, just more ‘maid’ stories. It was kinda cute and touching, as I remember it. But becuse it was really just about, well, a GIRL, without any real INTERACTIONS, I found it a tad boring.”

Bonus Manga Moveable Feast coverage: While I was chatting with Wilma about Shirley, she also shared a few thoughts with me about Emma vols. 8-10. Those of you who followed the link to her 2008 Emma review will note that she only covered the main story arc of vols. 1-7, which were the only volumes out at the time. The last three volumes contained mostly short stories like those in Shirley, except more explicitly tied into the Emma universe. Yet save for a an appearance in vol. 10 to wrap up the story, Emma hardly appears — an absence that Wilma felt hurt those volumes. “They really had little to do with ANYTHING,” Wilma told me. “I get the feeling that Mori did them just because she wanted to keep drawing Victorian England without having a real story in mind.” So there you go.

Halko Momoi’s animated madness

March 7th, 2010
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The star of our show. Quite an outfit, don't you think?

Meet Halko Momoi: former Akihabara idol, singer, voice actress, happy peppy public entertainer extraordinaire. You might know her from today’s Cel Shaded column, where I talked about her coming to Hawaii next Sunday to perform at the Honolulu Festival for a third straight year. For those of you who didn’t go to see her these past few years, though, words alone can’t sufficiently describe the Halko Momoi Concert Experience. It’s for those people — and anyone who’s curious to see how my amateur photography skills measure up — that I provide this photographic guide of what to expect at her concert this year.

The first thing you notice about her is her outfit. Hard to ignore, really, with all those frills and the glitter and the eye-popping colors and the accessories flying everywhere. The second thing you notice is her voice, which pretty much matches every stereotype of the cheerful Japanese singer that you may have in your mind: It’s high, it’s shrill, and it sounds like it should belong to someone who’s much younger than 31 years old — her actual age when she performed last year. (Because of that shrillness, I’d recommend that the more sensitive of hearing among you bring ear plugs to dampen the sound a bit — it came across really strong last year.)

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Momoi is a woman of the people. Here we see her in mid-performance, singing and mingling up and down the aisles of chairs with people like this UH-West Oahu student fresh off a stint at the Maid Cafe and someone cosplaying as Chi from Chobits.

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Momoi is also a friend to all children. She started pulling up children from the audience early in her concert, and they happily danced around while she sang and did her thing. Well, okay, maybe that boy in the orange shirt to the right wasn’t concerned so much about dancing around as he was covering his ears. (As I said, her voice was pretty loud.)

But it wasn’t just young children dancing around. There was also … shall we say … the young at heart.

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See all those guys with pink aloha shirts off in the background? Those were hard-core Momoi groupies who came from Japan to see her in concert. They knew exactly when in her songs to dance, chant, shout out things and wave around their glow sticks (of which they had an ample supply to share with the rest of the rather bemused audience).

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There was also a guy in a chicken suit and one in a Stitch costume.

Put all of this together, and … well, this results.

Fun times, folks. Fun times.

Ponyo loves home

March 2nd, 2010
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Ponyo arrives in stores on DVD and Blu-ray today. And by “arrives,” I mean “officially arrives,” not that misleading false start that I talked about in Cel Shaded last August.

This, of course, means I get to run this picture again:

EVERYONE'S going to the store to buy Ponyo on home video!

© 2009 Nibariki-GNDHDDT© 2008 Nibariki-GNDHDDT. All Rights Reserved.

Here on Oahu, Best Buy’s offering the 2-DVD set for $17.99; both Best Buy and Target have the Blu-ray/DVD combo set at $24.99. The best deal, though, may be in pairing one of the Blu-ray sets on sale with a coupon for $10 off that’s available at the Disney Web site, valid through Sunday. (Note that you’ll have to download a 1 MB application to get and print the coupon.)

I’m just disappointed that no one thought of a promotion offering free ham with every Ponyo purchase. The fish-girl does love her ham, after all. Or as Noah Cyrus-as-Ponyo put it, “HAAAAAAAAM! PONYO … LOVES … HAAAAAAAAAAM!” … a line that will join “Ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind” from Lilo and Stitch in my collection of Disney-Released Films With Lines That Get Hammered Into Your Brain Until You Can’t Help But Remember Them.

If there’s anything worth noting about the Blu-ray, I’ll add a post later. I’m just glad I’ll be able to watch it on my PlayStation 3 without having to worry about it inadvertently partying like it’s 1999.

Also out today for you Hayao Miyazaki/Ghibli fans are re-releases of the My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky and Kiki’s Delivery Service DVD sets, for those of you who missed those in 2006. Making the decision of whether to buy those (again) tougher for me: the promise of new interviews, documentary footage and interactive features. If any of you out there buy those — and if you can even find them; they weren’t advertised for sale in Sunday’s ad circulars, which makes me think only specialty retailers will carry them — share what you think of ‘em with fellow readers in the comments.

Update, 9:15 a.m. 3/2: $17.96 DVD/$24.96 Blu-ray price points confirmed at Walmart as well. And yes, the coupon works.