Manga

Review: Fullmetal Alchemist (15) by Hiromu Arakawa

I haven’t been reading new manga in quite some time, and Huda recommended Fullmetal Alchemist to me. In the first few volumes I found the story very interesting, but not as engaging as Naruto or Bleach (I enjoy the manga versions rather than the anime). However, by volume 10 or so I’ve decided that Fullmetal Alchemist is in another league entirely. It’s a lot more mature and serious than other shonen manga I’ve read (not that I’ve read that many), but it’s still very funny at the same time. At the moment, the only other story I’d compare it to would be Robotech: The Macross City Saganovels and anime.

This story is set in a world where alchemy – the ability to “create” – exists. The basic rules of alchemy was explained in the first volume; it works on equivalent trade. This means that one has to give up something in equal value in order to create something else. Those who are trained in this ability are called alchemists, and alchemists who are part of the military (the country the story is set in is a military state) are State Alchemists.

Edward and Alphonse Elric committed a serious taboo when it came to alchemy – they tried to bring back their dead mother to life. While their attempt failed, Ed lost an arm and a leg, while Alphonse lost his entire body, chaining his soul to a huge suit of armor. Determined to get their original bodies back, Ed became a State Alchemist (codenamed the “Fullmetal Alchemist”) in order to get access to previous research as well as conduct his own study, uncovering dark military secrets as he gets closer to his goal.

I really can’t write a brief synopsis for the last 14 volumes, but that would have to do. Volume 15 is a flashback volume, depicting the Ishbalan war that occurred when the Elric brothers were still children. This means that the Elric brothers are barely in this volume, and it focuses on the characters involved during the war, like Roy Mustang (The Flame Alchemist), Alex Louis Armstrong, Riza Hawkeye, Maes Hughes, the Rockbells, and Scar, whose real name is yet to be revealed.

*may contain minor spoilers*

This is my favourite volume so far because it showed how the characters came to be who they are at the beginning of the manga. Mustang in particular appeared as an idealistic young man at first, determined that being a State Alchemist meant that he would be protecting the innocent and fighting for the good of his nation. During the course of the war, his talents was used to kill, and he did more damage than most of the soldiers put together. This volume shows how he slowly became embittered, and his realization that despite being called the hero of Ishbal he had killed more people than he could ever protect. He still clung to his ideals, however – after the war was over he became determined to rise in power and knock King Bradley off his throne so that his dream of living in a peaceful country could be achieved. Riza Hawkeye, the daughter of Mustang’s tutor, only just graduated from military academy, but was sent to the battlefield as a sniper because she was an excellent marksman. Armstrong came from a long line of military men, but he couldn’t stomach the idea of having to kill so many civilians – his “failure” in the Ishbal war would continue to haunt him in the future, and would be the reason he would never be promoted despite his abilities and family connections. The Rockbells were doctors working to save the Ishbalan civilians during the war, but were killed by one of the very people they saved. On the other hand, other doctors such as Knox and Marcoh, were in their idea of hell – they were being ordered to kill and experiment on people instead of saving lives. Scar, an Ishbalan warrior-priest, hated alchemy and the Amestrians, but was saved by his brother’s alchemy and recovered because of the Rockbells, who were Amestrian doctors.

Reading this volume, I could see how the war had shaped all of these characters, and how it affected the characters who were too young to be involved, like the Elric brothers and Winry Rockbell. Since I really like the characters in this manga (even the villains), I appreciate the character back stories, and the fact that I am growing to like this manga more and more as I read on. Thanks, Huda, for recommending this to me, and I’ll definitely be recommending this to others!

“Before I went sketching my drafts, I went and visited some old soldiers who had served and fought in the frontlines during World War II. Their stories were more vivid and intense than any you could ever find depicted in books or documentaries. One in particular even trailed off halfway, looked down at his desk and whispered, ‘I’ll never watch a war movie, ever.’ It left a really deep impression on me…” – Hiromu Arakawa

Manga

Mini Review: Sweet Lovin’ Baby by Yamaji Ebine

I really loved Yamaji Ebine’s Love My Life, which I first read as a scanlation. When I was in Japan I looked for her manga, but most of the bookstores didn’t carry them – except for Village Vanguard (I love Village Vanguard!). I bought Love My Life as well as a couple of other manga by her, and among the others this is my favourite.

Sweet Lovin’ Baby is a collection of short stories (in manga format) by Yamaji Ebine. Most of the stories contain GLBT themes, but then again, that’s the case with all her manga that I’ve read. While this may be part of why I love her work – I really like how she depicts lesbian relationships in a way that is very down-to-earth, which is rare in the yuri manga I’ve been exposed to – what initially drew me in was her art. I read a lot of shojo and shonen, so her art seemed a lot more simple and beautiful (and again, down-to-earth) than I was used to.

I’m going to Bookxcess now, so I don’t really have time to write a proper review. I’ll just write about the title story, which is one of my favourites. The protagonist of Sweet Lovin’ Baby is a straight girl who befriends a lesbian couple, and became attached to them. However, the couple had problems of their own, and I guess especially right now I could relate to the feeling when two people you really care about are breaking up.

A couple of chapters have been scanlated by Lililicious, apparently. They also have other scanlations of Yamaji Ebine’s manga:
Manga

Review: BECK (34) by Harold Sakuishi

When I started this, I didn’t realise that it was the last volume of BECK. I did notice that the story was winding down, but I had hoped that there would be one or two more volumes before the end.

Volume 34 continues with BECK’s performance at the Greatful Sound festival. It might be the last Greatful Sound fest, as Satou, the person in charge of it, was in huge debt. This volume really is just about that performance, and includes a lot of flashbacks of the characters. In volume 33, there was Saku’s flashback to when he first met Koyuki. He stated that the reason he practises his drums so hard was because he wanted to be able to keep up with Koyuki always. In Taira’s flashbacks, he admitted that when he was jumping from band to band he was always unsatisfied. He was always looking for a sound he couldn’t describe, until he found Koyuki. He also said that he never thought he’d find friendship in his band members, until he became a member of BECK. Chiba said that he was always running from something or towards something, but it was Koyuki who made him stop. Ryusuke, without whom Koyuki wouldn’t have been Koyuki, said that Koyuki reminded him of himself when he was young, with one difference – Koyuki wasn’t trying to be someone else. He wasn’t chasing after someone’s back. Right before their encore performance (in the middle of a typhoon), Koyuki had flashbacks of the times he spent with his band members, and how each of them changed his life.

Very sappy stuff. But after 33 volumes with these characters, and knowing just how close they are to each other, and remembering how each of them started out, the flashbacks really had a lot of impact. I liked the ending, after the Greatful Sound performance, when all of them were getting ready for their national tour, and Koyuki observed that he didn’t know what would happen to the band in the future, but he wasn’t worried because at the moment he was happy.

Vol 34 also included a standalone chapter, “The Last Day of Eddie Lee.” Which is pretty much self-explanatory. I liked that it showed the other side of Eddie’s last song that Koyuki finished, Devil’s Way, and the other people it meant a lot to.

I’ll miss being able to look forward to new volumes of BECK.

~ originally posted on blogspot

Books · Manga

Review: 夏目友人帳 (1) by 緑川ゆき

[Natsume Yuujinchou (1) by Midorikawa Yuki]
I’m really grateful to Akane who first alerted me to the anime version of 「夏目友人帳」Natsume Yuujinchou). It’s one of my favourite shows now, and after it ended I looked for the manga it came from. We never seem to have it in stock in Kino, so I ordered my copy. The Singapore branch has all the available copies, though.

This series is about Natsume Takashi, a boy who could see spirits – the terms ayakashi and youkai are used, which are usually translated as ghosts or demons, which they are not really, not in the English-language sense of the words. Anyway, I’ll just call them ayakashi. Anyway, Natsume had always been able to see ayakashi, but either ignores them or runs away from them as no one else could see them and would not believe him if he told them he could.

In this first volume, Natsume discovered that his late grandmother, Reiko, had the same gift he did. In her youth she had collected what she called her yuujin chou or “Book of Friends”, which contains the names of many individualayakashi that had to obey her if she called out to them. Because she had their true names, she had power over them – the book is a sort of “contract” in which she binds their will to hers. After she passed away, Natsume inherited her Book of Friends, making him the prime target for all the ayakashi who either wanted their names back or wanted to gain control of the book. He ended up forming an allianced with a dangerous ayakashi sealed in the form of a maneki-neko (the “beckoning cat”), agreeing that Nyanko-sensei (the cat) would give him protection from other ayakashi while Natsume begins a mission to return the names, and therefore dissolving the contracts, of all the ayakashi in the book. In return, if Natsume happens to be killed along the way, Nyanko-sensei would gain control of the book and the remaining names.

This volume is pretty much the same as the anime version, detailing different experiences that Natsume had in his dealings with the ayakashi. Each chapter work as self-contained episodes, and I really like how I got to read about different kinds of ayakashi through the different stories in this volume.

~ originally posted on blogspot
Books · Horror · Manga

Review: The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (2) by Otsuka Eiji& Yamazaki Housui

I think I may have to actually follow this series now; thank you Kit for making me addicted to yet another series that I probably can’t afford to follow! :p

*spoiler alert*

While the first volume of Kurosagi Corpse was episodic, and has a different case in each chapter, this volume tells one story and works as a standalone. It’s about Sasaki Ao, the leader of the delivery service. From the first book I knew that she has access to a chat room called Corpse-Chat and has a morbid interest in the dead, but in this volume her backstory is revealed and I found out what started her out.

Born as Saito Ao, Sasaki had returned home to discover her parents and younger sister brutally murdered. (She changed her name to Sasaki after being adopted by relatives) The only survivors from the massacre were her older sister and herself, because they were not inside at the time. However, she clearly remembered a man who had asked her the pin code to the main apartment entrance when she was outside. While her sister was consumed with thoughts of revenge, Sasaki claimed to have put it behind her. However, this volume shows that she had been just as obsessed with the past, spending nights poring over the pictures of her dead family.

The Kurosagi Delivery Service was started by Sasaki, and what they do is deliver corpses to where they need to go before their souls could rest in peace and move on to the next life. Most of the time the corpses had unpleasant deaths and the delivery service would have to help them get their revenge on the living. But what about the living who want revenge upon the dead? Apparently there is another group of people offering this service – they bring the dead back to life so that those victimised by them could exact their revenge. Since the man accused of murdering Sasaki’s family was on death row (and have died), Sasaki and her sister were invited to participate in it so that they could finally revenge their family.

I really like how the story unfolds slowly, revealing the story in small pieces and putting it together at the end. A good mystery. A creepy one, too. I like stories that discuss the need for and consequence of revenge (the Blade of the Immortal series is especially good at that) . If you think “an eye for an eye”, and kill the killer, what really makes you different from them? In a smaller extent it also talks about cheating death and why bringing back the dead will not change the fact that they had died, but it didn’t explore that as much as I would have liked. The best part of this manga? It’s really somber and serious, but still funny!

~ originally posted on blogspot

Books · Horror · Manga

Review: The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (1) by Otsuka Eiji & Yamazaki Housui

I browsed through the Chinese or Japanese version of this awhile back. I don’t remember which version it was, I just remember that a customer was looking through the book and left it at our counter, and I flipped through it before returning it to the appropriate section. It has been at the back of my mind ever since then.

First of all, the writer of this manga is Otsuka Eiji, who wrote one of my favourite manga I never finished, MPD Psycho. Before MPD Psycho I had only read manga in Malay translation, and those were mostly kiddy stuff like Doraemon, or shonen manga like Slam Dunk and Vagabond. Then Daisuke lent me his copies of MPD Psycho. I couldn’t read Japanese back then but the images were arresting. The art was beautiful, gory, disturbing. I immediately sought out scanlations online, and the story was just as compelling as the art. I stopped reading scanlations sometime ago, which means most of the manga I was reading, I never completed. Manga and graphic novels are pretty expensive, though, so for the most part I hardly read them anymore.

This one is difficult to resist. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is about a group of students from a Buddhist college with strange abilities who found a lucrative job – by helping dead people rest in peace. They are (1) Karatsu Kuro, who has the ability to speak to the dead, and sometimes cause dead bodies to be animated, (2) Numata Makoto, who is a dowser who finds dead bodies instead of water, (3) Yata Yuji, who wears a puppet on his left hand that supposedly channels a foul-mouthed alien, (4) Makino Keiko, a licensed embalmer who reminds me a lot of Yazawa Ai’s Miwako, and (5) Sasaki Ao, a hacker who runs an internet chat-room called “Corpse-Chat.” Not able to find better jobs, they formed the delivery service by using their skills to help dead spirits move on.

The story is macabre and disturbing – most of the people I know won’t be comfortable reading this. The opening chapter has a double suicide, incest, and a walking corpse. The first panel shows a corpse hanging off a rope in the middle of the woods. It’s no MPD Psycho (I’ve yet to come across anything quite as twisted), but still it’s not something that I’d recommend easily. Having said that, I absolutely love it! I’m a big fan of seinen manga, and this is a fun read. While I do wish for it to be a bit more like MPD Psycho, I also appreciate the fact that The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is laugh-out-loud funny and thoroughly enjoyable, as well as full of gore.

Books · Manga

Review: BECK (32) & (33) by Harold Sakuishi

I couldn’t find the cover of volume 33 online (then again, it was only released on the 17th this month…) and my scanner is currently not working, so I used the cover for volume 32 instead. I’m so glad I bought them straight away, even though they cost RM 27.05 here when the most I would have to pay for them in Japan would be RM 17/18! (Everything costs more here, so I don’t really get why people complain that things are expensive there).

*CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Anyway, I will probably make dozens of mix-cds while waiting for the next volume to be released (this October). I have this sad feeling that this is the beginning of the end for BECK. The greatest hurdle that the band had to get past – Ran’s influence – is gone, thanks Koyuki and his SG. They’ve gained popularity overseas and in their home country, and I really liked the fact that the manga showed their old friends’ reactions to seeing their video being played in the big TV in Shibuya, seeing their CDs in big stores, and advertisements all over the place. Not to mention being on the covers of music magazines. Finally, they are getting to where they were supposed to be. Saitou & Momoko also finally gets back together (he crashed her wedding XD). Hiromi told Maho why Saku is so hard on himself when it comes to drumming, and keeps wanting to get better (he doesn’t think he’s good enough to play Koyuki’s songs, and wants to be able to keep up with Koyuki always). It’s funny when I remember that of the five of the band members, Koyuki was the novice in the beginning of the story. The Koyuki now is nothing like the 14-year-old in the first book, who had little or no personality, listens to pop idols and crushes on his childhood friend.

BECK32In volume 33 there are a lot of scenes from the past, which makes me very nostalgic. The first time Koyuki met Chiba, the time Saku got beaten up by the school bulies for talking to Koyuki (who was supposed to be an outcast)… I’m surprised the first Koyuki and Ryusuke meeting isn’t in, since that’s when the story really began.

The chapter covers (and 1 special colored cover for each volume) are supposed to be parodies of actual CD covers, and I was so happy to see that the colored cover of volume 33 is a parody of BUMP OF CHICKEN’s 2nd album, THE LIVING DEAD! One of these days I really need to scan in all the cover pictures and put them up somewhere.

~ originally posted on blogspot