Friday, September 24, 2010
So yeah, Otaku Public Library has been silent as a tomb for a few months now.
As you readers may remember (all 3 of you), the last post here was about me nearly getting laid off. I wasn't, thankfully, but it seriously harshed my mellow. In addition to that, I can finally admit that I've been on a pretty serious job hunt that basically eat my brain; it's hard to concentrate on making spurious and ham-fisted Kurosawa references in regards to Durarara! when you have to crank out cover letters and bone up on a random library's mission statement for a phone interview the next day. Somebody call the "wah-mbulence", right?
Thankfully, these are no longer issues - as of October 11th, I will be starting at the Austin Public Library (in beautiful Austin, Texas) as their Youth Services Division Manager. Austin Public Library is the home of the very, very awesome Yomicon and I'm looking forward to working with some total otaku staff and kids.
I'm still in shock that I'm gonna be working such an awesome job in such an awesome town, but once that wears off I plan to bring Otaku Public Library back from the dead. Keep watching this space.....
Thursday, June 3, 2010
To be honest, the latest anime season has pretty much sucked hard and I’m not gonna waste my time reviewing trite moe or softcore porn (i.e. K-ON!, B Gata H Kei, Seikon No Qwaser….eech); and aside from the awesome, awesome Vagabond, I haven’t really read a whole lotta manga that’s been worth more than a cursory flip-through.
Just like seemingly every other aspect of life, the dreary economy seems to be taking it’s toll on anime and manga; folks are less willing to take risks in producing or buying stuff, so I expect we’re gonna be seeing a lot more dull shonen and sugary moe escapism for the next couple of years.
More importantly (for me, at least), the turgid economy has resulted in some pretty severe cuts to this country’s public library service – budgets are being slashed, branches are closing, and lots of librarians are getting laid off.
I’m sorry to say that I’m one of them.
So for the foreseeable future, Otaku Public Library is gonna be on hiatus; I have to focus on trying to save my job (or find another one), and back-burner this whole graphic novel/animation thing. If you’re in the NYC area and value the services that the public library provides, please sign this petition:
“If the good Lord’s willin’ and th’ crick don’ rise” (as my Kentucky gran'ma used to say), I’ll be back again posting before too long.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
A month or two ago, I found myself getting increasing frustrated with fansubbed episodes. Not that the subbing was bad or that I, god forbid, felt guilty about it; it was just that my dang 5 year old slow-ass Dell hunk-of-crap PC was having trouble with VLC Player and Windows Home Cinema. Episodes were either freezing (VLC) or the audio was out of sync with the sub (Windows) and I was starting to get a little batty. So, I ended up going on Crunchyroll.com cause I had heard a lot about it....and lo and behold, I was pretty impressed.
Now, I do think most of the stuff on Crunchyroll is a little more middle of the road than I like (Shugo Chara? Eyeshield 21? Zzzzzzz); still, a website with free streaming episodes that has both brand new episodes of Naruto: Shippuden and Gintama along with minimally invasive advertising is a great step forward for watching anime. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s affordable, and you’re not stuck in that moral limbo of fan-subs. Also, if you’re one of those total J-culture freaks, there are loads of Korean dramas to view too.
I ended up watching the first 40 or so episodes of Naruto: Shippuden over the course of a month…and naturally burned myself out on N:S (Christ, how long is it gonna take to “rescue” that sullen jackass Sasuke?). That having been said, once I’m done with Bakemonogatari (see below), I’m probably gonna get back on Crunchyroll to check out Linebarrels of Iron and Code Geauss, both of which I’ve heard good things about.
Anyway, once I got sick of Naruto and his orange jumpsuit, I ended up back to fansubs – the simple remedy of downloading the latest Window Home Cinema put everything right. Thus, Bakemonogatari….
Describing Bakemonogatari is a struggle because it’s so unique but so familiar at the same time; it’s a weird and idiosyncratic cross between a ghost-hunt series (good natured ex-vampire Araragi keeps encountering strange, creepy spirits..), a harem series (…spirits that seem to be affecting the lives of a series of his comely female schoolmates and friends), and an artistic exercise that’s both eerie and full of otaku in-jokes.
With the exception of Mononoke, I’m at a loss to think of a series that’s as visually engaging; the inventive use of color, shading, perspective, camera angles, and editing are unlike any current series that I've seen. It turns a number of anime clichés on their head; and despite it being full of creepy occult allusions, the characters treat the supernatural in an insanely casual way – a wandering ghost or a curse is treated in the same annoyed and relaxed way that a case of dandruff would be.
The usual character clichés one finds in your typical anime are also warped into something unique. The character of Senjougahara is a perfect example – despite appearing to be the archetypal tsundere in the first few episodes, she warms to Araragi while still retaining her cool, stately demeanor the whole series. She'll aggressively flirt with Araragi at times....but it's clear she’s in control and a force to be reckoned with, almost like a film noir femme fatale. In a way, the banter between her and Araragi almost reminded me of the pseudo-noir film Brick (i.e. darkly humorous dialog batted around by teens talking like cynical and stylish adults).
Like Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Bakemonogatari is very, very Japanese – at times, the dialog is so casual and the action and plot so nuanced that some viewers are bound be turned off; I love dialog-heavy series so I was perfectly fine with it, but do be aware there’s very little “action” in the traditional sense. Also, I found elements of the “snail” plot (involving a flirtatious grade school girl) to be in bad taste; I dig harem anime as much as the next dork but I’m getting increasingly tired of these “young girl, get out of my life” characters – and it’s particularly glaring when Bakemonogatari has three excellent and strong female characters (the afore mentioned Senjougahara, the primly charming class president Hanekawa, and the spazzy but likeable Kanbara).
That being said, Bakemonogatari is a unique and boundary-pushing series that deserves a look. Hopefully, some clever company and license it here in the US; it’s got a huge fan base in Japan, so that should work in its favor.
Lastly, I want to mention a great blood n’ guts chanbara series Shiguri (aka Death Frenzy). On the orders of deviant Tokogawa noble, two crippled swordsmen square off for a death match. The action suddenly flashes back to their mutual past as brothers in arms/rivals at the rough and tumble Kogan dojo – both Ikuro and Fujiki are skillful enough to take over the dojo’s leadership, but it’s Ikuro’s charm and extraordinary talent that win him the favor of the dojo’s powerful yet insane master, Iwamoto. The haughty Ikuro begins to lord this over the forthright Fujiki, but when Iwamoto finds out that Ikuro has been dallying with his mistress Iku, he blinds Ikuro and kicks him out of the dojo. Before long, the various students of the dojo begin getting killed by a mysterious swordsman….one that can only be Ikuro, bent on revenge.
Very bloody, very explicit, and very, very dark (both visually and thematically), Shiguri is still a blast to watch – I gladly put up with the spurting blood and entrails despite my low gore tolerance because the story was enthralling and well-paced, and the animation was top-notch and realistic (a bit too realistic at times!). A great choice for fans of Lady Snowblood /Vagabond , or folks (OK, dudes) who like their samurai action on the hardcore, non-Rouroni Kenshin side, this is an ideal DVD to put on when your macho non-otaku friends start claiming that anime is for little girls. Kudos to FUNamation for licensing this in the USA.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
A costly accident forces high school freshman Mai into taking a part-time job…but rather than flip burgers, Mai ends up at working at SPR, a paranormal investigation agency run by Naru, a mysterious young man not much older than Mai. Naturally, the spunky, outspoken Mai and the cold and narcissistic Naru butt heads, but their animosity is tempered by the weird and eerie hauntings they’re hired to investigate.
Ghost Hunt takes a unique turn for Japanese horror, being less interested on atmosphere and more on the actual science and technology of paranormal investigation; it’s closer to a police procedural or detective case than a ghost story. Aside from the storyline involving (spoiler alert!) Mai’s latent psychic abilities, its light on over-arching plot and more focused on episodic investigations, and at times it feels a bit flimsy and formulaic; it may just be the case that the episodic format of manga doesn’t always translate well to the anime medium. Character development is a bit insubstantial as well – Mai and Naru are sorta cardboard, and the supporting cast is a bit cliché (wholesome young catholic priest, sassy Shinto priestess, goofy Buddhist monk, etc). Nevertheless, Ghost Hunt takes the standard ghost story format and injects a welcome scientific/real world element. Dubbing, subtitling, and packaging are up to the usual fine FUNamation standard. Nothing earth-shattering here, but it’s a pleasing series for younger otaku and a pleasant enough diversion for older ones.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Joking aside, I’ve honestly had a lot going on, and when that happens, the first casualty is inevitably this blog. Things have finally slowed down a bit, so I found time to cram in a few simple joys: Harmony Gold’s iconic Robotech, Yen Press’s Yotsuba vol.6, and the confusing yet appealing Hetalia – Axis Powers. So I’m going to do an extra long entry today to make up for my lack of updates since, oh, August.
I’m happy to say, in many ways, Robotech still holds up: the storyline, albeit clichéd, is still tightly paced and filler-free, the interpersonal relationships are realistic, the dialog and voice acting is decent, and the numerous action scenes do well to drive the plot…..but sweet baby Jesus, the animation itself is skin-crawlingly HORRIBLE. Faces are misshapen, uniforms and vehicles change colors from scene to scene, and overall the art is sloppy, rushed, and half-assed. If you’re used to the crisp, vibrant style of modern anime, it’s going to be a difficult transition - and the usual bonuses of hand-drawn anime (warm, deep color and expressionistic form) are hard to notice.
Still, if you can forgive its lack of visual perfection, Robotech is easily and deservingly a classic; it’s a shame that Macross (the anime from which Robotech was adapted) was never resolved. And, without sounding like a scold, it’s nice to watch a series that has such a low moe/fanservice element.
Like most living and breathing otaku, I’ve been anxiously awaiting Yotsuba 6 from Yen Press. As you may know, ADV (publisher of volumes 1 – 5) has pretty much tanked so it was looking like this popular series was a lost cause in print until up-and-coming publisher Yen Press took it over. Yen does a fine job with translation; although I don’t like they way Yen makes Yotsuba refer to herself in the third person, it’s a minor factor (and probably more faithful to Japanese grammar). So what is everyone’s favorite green-haired 5 year old up to these days, dare you ask? Yotsuba gets a bike, drinks milk, and then gets on her bike to bring milk to Fuka at her high school. Yes, it doesn’t seem like much on paper but Azuma has the rare genius for taking mundane situations and evaluating them to high comedy. Highly recommended.
One of the joys of anime is the fact that it’s willing to take chances, and Hetalia – Axis Powers is one hell of a screwball. A weird comedy/history mutant, it takes all the countries involved in WWII – Japan, England, Germany, the USA, etc – and personifying them in order to play out the epic conflict and other instances in world history as zany slapstick comedy: Italy begs Germany to be his friend, Italy and Germany try to befriend the standoffish Japan, England and America argue about how to help France after he gets beaten up by Germany, and so forth. It’s pretty funny and very politically incorrect (Italy is depicted as a pasta-scarfing wimp, Germany as an uptight jerk, Japan as a stuffy hermit, America as an energetic but deluded know-it-all, etc.) but man, I don’t really know how the animators are gonna spin the Holocaust, the Siege of Leningrad, the Rape of Nanking, Hiroshima, etc, as something to chuckle at.
Monday, August 17, 2009
If you’ve already dropped the series and are eager to hear the ending, read on ….or skip ahead to the next paragraph if you have a weak heart. Kyon (of course) breaks the cycle by…..asking the gang to help him with his homework. Yeah, pretty underwhelming. I was personally hoping for Kyon to plant one on Haruhi for a little drama, but oh well. Ah, MoHS: wonderful yet horrible at the same time, just like your first psycho girlfriend/boyfriend from college.
In other news, I sat through the 1st DVDs of Peacemaker Kurogane and the Cyborg 009 series from 2001 this weekend. I was pretty underwhelmed by both, I have to say. I didn’t know that much about Peacemaker Kurogane going in, aside from the fact it was “twilight of the samurai”-style shonen action series. Aside from some decent swordfights, it’s pretty unremarkable and the main character (the standard-issue “scrappy, spiky-haired, overly energetic” shonen protagonist) got on my nerves pretty quickly. Granted, it might be worth watching more episodes…but I’m not going to. Sorry Charlie.
I had more high hopes for Cyborg 009, a 60’s era classic manga in its latest anime incarnation. Like most 60’s ephemera, though, I found it pretty dull. I will grant that it was probably more ground-breaking in its day, with a dark edge uncommon to 1960’s shonen manga – or it just might have been better if I’d have grown up with the series. Otaku with an Astroboy/Kamen Rider/Battle of the Planets moe might dig the throwback vibe, but I’m not one of those dudes…
Sunday, August 2, 2009
What up anidorks? Once again, personal and work issues have conspired to keep me paying closer attention to my danged email than to the Groundhog Day parody that’s been passing for the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, har har. Still, I have found time to catch a half-baked but not half-bad 90’s mech series: Parallel Dual.
Young Kazuki is deeply troubled by the visions of mech warfare that periodically flash in front of his eyes, a habit that makes him the subject of ridicule in his high school. But when Mitsuki - the prettiest girl in school - invites him home, he finds out his visions aren’t as weird as he though - Mitsuki’s eccentric scientist father Sanada is convinced Kazuki is somehow seeing into an alternate reality.
Naturally, the only solution is to send him there to see if it’s true...and Kazuki, the unwilling test subject, now finds himself in an alternate reality where Sanada commands a squadron of mechs, Mitsuki is a mech pilot, and the mech warfare he’s always feared is an actuality, as Sanada, Mitsuki, and their mechs are the last line of defense against the evil Rara Army's plans to take over Japan. Naturally, Kazuki is drawn into the conflict, and finds himself commanding a mech against a series of increasingly dangerous mech foes.
Pretty rote plot, I know…but the appeal of Parallel Dual is less about it’s pedestrian plot and more for the fact it’s note-by-note parody/satire/rip-off of Neon Genesis Evangelion:
• Crybaby boy pilot? Check.
• Pony-tailed tsundere pilot? Check.
• Spacey girl pilot? Check.
• Doting yet sexy commander/teacher/mother figure? Check.
• Eccentric and bespectacled scientist commander? Check.
• Lithe, stylized mechs fighting monstrous foes? Check.
• Heavy Freudian and biblical allegories? Um….
I have to say that I actually started to enjoy PD’s ramshackle tribute to NGE after a while; hell, there are far worse sources to steal from than NGE. Sure, the plot is pedestrian and predictable, but I found that to be almost reassuring; sometimes the formula is a formula for a reason. Artwise, it’s a mish-mash of styles: NGE-style mechs with characters that look like extras from Tenchi Muyo; likewise, I have to give the creators credit for stealing from the best.
All in all, Parallel Dual hardly wins on style or originality… but once you get used to the lightweight parody that it is, I think you’ll agree that the series actually isn’t half bad (although I'm sure hardcore Neon Genesis fans will be horrified by the blasphemy). There are far better series out there, but Parallel Dual is a fine diversion. I’ll give this one a solid C+.