Archive for May, 2010

From the Pile: Twin Spica vol. 1

May 12th, 2010

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. So without further ado …

Today’s profile: Twin Spica vol. 1
Publisher: Vertical
Suggested age rating: N/A

Back in November 2008, I gave Vertical’s release of Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack what I consider my highest praise — a push for readers to BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW. I really do adore the doctor’s methods, and I still believe in the series’ appeal to this day.

Since then, there have been a few other series that I’d put in that category — Yotsuba&! and anything by Naoki Urasawa are the first that come to mind. Having read as many manga as I have, any series to earn that sort of respect from me had better be really, really good, having the ability to blow me away on first reading, grabbing my attention from the first page and not letting go until I’ve read the book in one sitting.

I’m now happy to add Kou Yaginuma’s Twin Spica to that list as well. See, when I went on my part-vacation retreat/part Kawaii Kon coverage binge a few weekends ago, I took six single volumes of manga with me to the hotel, the (in retrospect foolish) idea in my mind that I could catch up on some reviews in my down time. The only one I managed to plow through was, of course, Twin Spica.

Reading the first volume reminded me of the experience one has with a really fun roller coaster: First you’re waiting in line seeing just how awesome the ride looks, then you strap in to one of the cars, and then you lurch forward and head up, up, up, eagerly anticipating that point at the top of the hill where you plunge into those thrilling twists and turns. In the case of Twin Spica, we’re only at the point where the cars are heading uphill — we’re just starting to meet the main players and their likely motivations for what’s to come — but man, it looks like there are some fun times ahead.

We learn in the beginning that Japan’s space program is in recovery mode 15 years after its first domestically built and manned rocket crashed soon after launch, killing civilians in a nearby town. Our hero is 14-year-old Asumi Kamogawa, whose mom was one of the victims in that accident and who dreams of one day soaring among the stars. She also has a mascot character, Mr. Lion, whom only she can see, who follows her around and provides tidbits of wisdom. Asumi’s managed to make it into the second phase of testing for Tokyo Space School, a phase that poses an intriguing challenge: Examinees are placed in groups of three in different rooms, closed off from the rest of the world for a week and told to work together to complete an assignment. Asumi’s placed with Kei Oumi, a rather friendly girl with glasses, and Shizuka Ukita, who seems rather distant; there’s also a group of boys — one of them one of Asumi’s childhood acquaintances — who Yaginuma’s also following. At this early stage, I have a feeling these two groups will cross paths sometime down the line.

It just won’t happen in this volume. When I reached the middle of the book and a bottom-of-the-page proclamation, “Continued in Twin Spica vol. 2,” my heart sank. You have to  understand that the last time I dusted off this “From the Pile” feature … umm … from the pile, it was back in March with my look at Shirley. Even though Twin Spica at least had the promise that its story would continue in another volume on another day, it still seemed to me at that point like this volume was on the verge of veering off into Shirley territory — filling out the book with unrelated filler stories that were nice in their own way if not for the fact that, dagnabbit, I wanted to read more from the main story.

I needn’t have worried. Thankfully, Twin Spica is no Shirley. Its short side stories, prequels written by Yaginuma before Media Factory picked up Twin Spica as a regular series, go a long way toward fleshing out some of the concepts touched upon in the series. “2015: Fireworks” delves into the origins of Mr. Lion, while “Asumi,” depicting Asumi’s final meeting with her mom, had me in tears by the end of it and really solidified the book’s value for me.

With all of the bad news swirling around the industry in recent days — Go! Comi vanishing, layoffs at Viz, the Yen Plus anthology ending print publication — sometimes we, as manga fans, just need to get back into reading manga and seeing stories that remind us just why we love manga so much in the first place. Twin Spica is definitely one of those stories. And I’m looking forward to seeing more.

Word to yo’ mothers

May 9th, 2010

Back in the early, heady days of this blog almost a year ago — when I thought I’d have more free time to devote to it than I actually have, alas — one of my first posts was a Father’s Day tribute to the dads of anime and manga. Since Mother’s Day is today, and since I’m all about giving equal time to both sides of the parental equation, today’s post is dedicated to the moms of anime and manga … whenever you can find them around, that is.

Everything I wrote earlier about dads — often a non-factor in series, either making quick cameos to let us know they exist or explained away via the Overarching Tragic/Poignant Plot Point of the Series — seems to be even more so with moms. I don’t know what it is about creators’ relationships with their moms, but they must have had some serious issues growing up. I mean, just consider the first four moms that came to my mind when I started brainstorming this list:

Yui Ikari (Shinji’s mom, Evangelion franchise): Dead; soul transplanted into Evangelion Unit-01, which Shinji often ends up getting trashed in battle; DNA used as basis for several hundred kajillion Rei Ayanami clones.

Kanata Izumi (Konata’s mom, Lucky Star): Dead; spirit tries to return in family portrait; Konata wants the image deleted, while widowed husband Sojiro wants to burn the image, thinking the family will be cursed if it remains.

Trisha Elric (Edward and Alphonse’s mom, Fullmetal Alchemist): Dead; briefly resurrected (badly); dead again.

Kyoko Honda (Tohru’s mom, Fruits Basket): Main inspiration for Tohru. Hit by a car. Dead.

… and that would have made for the most depressing Mother’s Day tribute ever.

Thankfully there are other moms who manage to remain among the living. And so, with a bit of help as usual from the ol’ tag-team partner in fandom, Wilma J., we offer up this list of memorable moms:

Chi Chi (Gohan’s mom, Dragon Ball Z): The quintessential doting mom who’s always worried about her son’s safety. Sure, Gohan may be the son of freakin’ Goku — most powerful fighter in the universe, power level over 9,000, able to die and come back to life even better than before. She was also a keen fighter in her own right, being the daughter of the Ox King and making it to the quarterfinals of the Tenkaichi Budokai. So what does she want for her son, a product with undeniably rich fighting genes? She wants him to hit the books, not those pesky combatants who always seem to be invading in search of the Dragon Balls. All that fighting stuff is way too dangerous for her precious son, after all.

Aki Hinata (Fuyuki and Natsumi’s mom, Sgt. Frog): Hands-down the coolest mom on Pokopen — err, Earth — by virtue of how she rides a motorcycle to and from her job as a manga editor and allows her kids to keep a whole bunch of alien frogs who could well take over the world if not for them being in awe of her power. Also provides plenty of ample fanservice to the series.

Hanae Ichinose (Maison Ikkoku): The upside with Mrs. Ichinose is that she’s always happy to lend an ear and listen to people’s secrets. The downside: Her willingness comes usually after she downs some sweet, sweet alcohol. And then she’ll spill all those secrets anyway, usually while dancing around with her paper fans.

Vivian Kudo (Case Closed): In a family dedicated to mysteries — her husband, Booker, a best-selling novelist; her son, Jimmy, a good detective in his own right — Vivian manages to hold her own as a master of disguises and a pretty good crime solver. She’s also the only mom on this list to have a nickname, “The Night Baroness,” in honor of her husband’s main character.

Misako Kurata (Sana’s mom, Kodocha): A mom to a celebrity child who herself is a celebrity as a bestselling author (and whose revelation in her book takes the series to a whole different level). You also have to love a woman who has an assortment of hair ornaments that can house her pet chipmunk, Maro.

Misae/Mitzi Nohara (Shinnosuke/Shin’s mom, Shin-chan): The quintessential housewife who cooks, cleans, runs errands, takes care of the children, spends money on luxury items that are promptly broken by said children and is always ready with a swift fist o’ justice every time her husband’s eyes stray over to that cute young woman sunning herself by the pool or Shin calls her “flat-chested” or “cheap.” You know, Mrs. Every Mom. Sort of.

Mrs. Sakurada/Milfer (Nene/Penny’s mom, Shin-chan): We never learn her first name, but she’s the mom that we know all moms secretly are: the type who entertains guests with a smile (sometimes through gritted teeth, if need be), then goes in back and releases tension by beating the stuffing out of a bunny plushie.

Queen Serenity (Princess Serenity’s mom, Sailor Moon): Okay, so technically she’s dead, too, having sacrificed herself for the sake of the Moon Kingdom. But really, isn’t that one of the qualities of a good mom — sacrifice for the sake of providing a better life for her children? Yet she’s also still alive, too, preserving her spirit in a computer and helping the Sailor Scouts remember their true identities.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms reading this. I’d include my own mom among them, except I haven’t quite gotten around to teaching her how to browse the Web yet. I’ll get around to that soon, I promise!

Party at UH! (a day earlier)

May 5th, 2010

I got a nice e-mail yesterday from Will Massey, president of the University of Hawaii Anime and Manga Society, regarding the group’s end-of-semester and post-Kawaii Kon party that was mentioned in Cel Shaded on Sunday. You’ll note that there is no link to that particular column in this post, because there was one detail that was wrong: The party’s on Friday from 3 to 10 p.m., not Saturday … Kuykendall Hall is actually closed on Saturdays. Sorry about that.

I did get the other details right, though … the games, the anime screenings, the potluck, the ID-required screenings of certain anime for mature audiences 18 and older from 9 to 10 p.m. And may I add, Friday is also tag-team partner in fandom Wilma J.’s birthday, so everyone is morally obligated to wish her a happy birthday and find some way to have fun on that day. Just sayin’.

Now if you don’t mind, I have to go stand out in the hallway holding two buckets of water as self-punishment for that error. (I admit, I hold myself to high standards.)