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I am officially in love with Kyugo’s BL manga series, Acid Town, and want to spread the love to others. Many thanks to [ profile] imperfekti for putting me onto this wonderful series. She likened it to Mirage of Blaze (novels) in having an intricate, interesting plot with a great ensemble of characters, and that’s all quite correct.

General Review and Rec:
spoilers only for the chapter 1 setup

The story, which is currently ongoing, is set in a near future dystopia run by yakuza and opens with the tough life of a teen boy, Yuki, who has to pay the hospital bills of his chronically ill and adorable little brother, Jun. Yuki and his friend, Tetsu, get a break—or do they?—when a yakuza boss, Hyoudou, agrees to pay Jun’s bills in exchange for Yuki visiting him once a week.

Acid Town is definitely boys love, but it breaks a lot of conventions. The reader has to wait for the romance, and when it shows up, it’s not necessarily where or how you might expect it. Like many a BL manga, it is rife with sexual abuse. But it also devotes a great deal of attention to relationships that are not sexual, producing a strong sense of multiple ties that bind people simultaneously to family, friends, lovers, colleagues, mentors, etc. It is a tightly plotted, intricately crafted story that builds its relationships (sexual or platonic) out of a lot of typical angsty tropes but also out of a great deal of psychologically astute character development. Read more... )
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I saw Dunkirk yesterday and highly recommend it. It's very good across the board, gripping, gritty, and realistic. I have only two small quibbles: it was hard to hear the dialogue over the music and bombings. (My hearing is getting progressively worse, but my partner agreed.) The non-linear storytelling sometimes worked for me and sometimes was just a bit confusing. It didn't seem like a story that really needed non-linear storytelling to get the point across. Otherwise, it's an utterly fantastic look at the terrors of war and the courage of people pulling together in crisis. (Oddly, it made me think, "Maybe we can survive climate change.")

The film I am most reminded of is Grave of the Fireflies, though Dunkirk is about soldiers (mainly), not civilians; takes place over a day or so rather than months; and is not animated. It is, however, a story about the horrors of war with virtually no reference to the politics of war. The enemy is nothing but an implacable force raining down fiery hell. The whole story is from one side's perspective, but that's okay because that perspective is not used to project anything onto the other side; it's really just all about surviving hell and making us ponder why we put ourselves and fellow people into situations like this.
labingi: (ivan)
Review: Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro's 2005 novel Never Let Me Go is a science fiction story about three young people, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, grappling with their emerging awareness of the disturbing social destiny they were born for. It may be one of the best written novels I have ever read, which makes it interesting that it's not better reviewed by readers: Goodreads gives it 3.8/5 stars, Amazon 4/5, not bad to be sure but not world class. I'd argue that this slight disconnect with many readers (evident in written reviews as well as ratings) reflects precisely why it is important that Ishiguro wrote this book. The novel challenges our blindness to how our own social indoctrination works. It asks us to face realities we not only don't wish to but have genuine conceptual difficulty with. This is not to say some criticisms are not valid, but they pale, in my view, next to the book's achievements.

Most of this review will talk about ideology and indoctrination, but that is not all the book is about, and I want to be sure to mention a couple of other ways in which it excels. It is one of the most realistic and subtle portrayals I have read of how deep friendships (often) operate: the good, the bad, the habituation, the ability to read each other, the passive-aggressive patterns, the maturing and evolving, the joy, the hurt, the power plays, the mutual support, the altruism, the mess of it all. Though the characters’ trio of best friends does not externally resemble my primary relationships at all, I saw my relationships everywhere, so much so that I fantasized about contacting the friend who’s severed ties with me and saying, “Read this book. This is about us.” The book is also about facing death, and apart from the story’s particulars, which I’ll come to, there’s an extent to which this is everyone’s story: we are all faced with our ending, with the years flying by and the likelihood of decrepitude and dependency and the loss of loved ones before a possibly physically painful ceasing to be. This is also very well captured.

As to the rest, spoilers follow… Read more... )
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Mirage Plays

Many thanks to [ profile] imperfekti for a) informing me that Mirage of Blaze Showa period stage plays exist and b) doing excellent summaries so that I can sort of tell what's going on. I have got my hands on the DVDs for the first two, thanks to [ profile] demitas, who used her Japanese skills to order them for me. And now I have thinky thoughts. To begin reviewish stuff:

Reviewish Thoughts on Mirage Stage Plays )
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Logan does what big, established franchise films should: it uses its built-in budget and audience to do high quality, authentic storytelling rather than safe-bet replication of the usual action-hero(es) formula. Imagine: the entire movie—employing 15,000 people, the end credits tell us—has not one youthful action hero-protagonist at the height of (or discovering) his powers. Instead, it has a run-down guy who looks fifty, a guy in his nineties, and a kid. My God, it's a breath of fresh air.

Logan is a story about getting old. And superhero movie though it is, its exploration of aging could hardly be more down to earth. It has introduced me to an entirely new experience: personally identifying with Wolverine! He's in a position that many of us are in, myself included: feeling the wear and tear of age sapping our physical strength and energy at the very time we find ourselves caught between caring for aged parents and raising still young and needy children. We find ourselves Aeneas, carrying our father on our backs, holding our son by the hand, and hoping to survive whatever ordeal a difficult world has thrust us into.Read more... )
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(I will now surprise no one by writing about Akira again.)

Akira (1988) is timeless. If you’re okay with violent anime, watch it. If you saw it a long time ago (and are okay with violent anime), watch it again. You may be very pleased at how well Katsuhiro Otomo’s twenty-five-year-old anime film, loosely based on his lengthy manga, stands up both as a story and work of cinematic art.

Akira is a near-future dystopian drama set in a post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo run by corrupt a government, a nefarious military-scientific complex, and—nearer the ground—by teen motorcycle gangs. The story centers on teen bikers, Kaneda and Tetsuo. Kaneda is the flashy, badass gang leader, Tetsuo the runt of the pack, who, we can guess, is only included in the gang because he’s Kaneda’s best friend. This power dynamic changes, however, when Tetsuo is abducted by the sinister Akira project, concerned with channeling massive energy through children. Tetsuo becomes the latest in a line of young test subjects, including the eponymous Akira, to have their lives and health devastated in exchange for superpowers. To save Tetsuo, Kaneda joins a band of revolutionaries and infiltrates the top secret Akira installation, only to discover that the friend he set out to rescue is no longer the boy he knew…

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
labingi: (riki)
If you’re in the mood for some horror anime this Halloween, you may want to check out Kara no Kyoukai (Boundary of Emptiness), a series of seven anime films (Ufotable, 2007-2009) based on the light novel of the same name. Each film is a standalone story, forming the loosely arced tale of a dark and quirky detective agency investigating magic-related crimes, usually grisly ones. As character drama, the series has its moments, but it is most notable for its dark, violent, intricately plotted mysteries showcasing strong female characters. Not for kids.

The central characters are Shiki Ryougi, a somber young woman with amazing supernatural fighting abilities; Mikiya Kokutou, a kind young man who was her high school friend; and (to a lesser extent) Touko Aozaki, their boss and a powerful, offbeat sorceress. The arc narrative—sometimes more central, sometimes less—concerns Shiki’s nature and how she grapples with her incredible powers and her desire to kill. In the course of Shiki’s search for her place in society and sense of identity, the team encounters numerous murderers, sorcerers, destructive spirits, and so on.

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
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The Unlimited: Hyoubu Kyousuke (2013), produced by Manglobe as a 12-part anime sequel to Zettai Karen Children, follows the adventures of the original anime’s antagonist, Hyoubu Kyousuke, as he fights–violently–for the rights of “espers” (people with superpowers) in a world dominated by norms. The Unlimited has all the elements of a truly great anime but misses a lot of chances to deploy them to the best effect. Overall, it is well above average without being spectacular. I have not seen Zettai Karen Children and so can confidently say that you don’t need to in order to enjoy The Unlimited.

The story is fairly simple, though the plot has some convoluted twists. Hyoubu Kyousuke is a very powerful esper (he can fly around, use telekinesis, shoot energy waves, etc.). He was born in the 1930s, but thanks to his powers has an extended lifespan and still looks like a teen, albeit white-haired. A child hero within a special esper unit in World War II, he became disillusioned with “normals” after experiencing cruel persecution and devoted his adult life to forming a criminal esper organization, P.A.N.D.R.A., to resist and possibly exterminate norms. Opposing him is nigh everyone, including B.A.B.E.L., a norm-esper organization founded by one of Kyousuke’s esper companions from World War II, Fujiko. Unbeknownst to Kyousuke, he is also being opposed by a young esper he has recently recruited, Andy Hinomiya, a Japanese-American who is, in fact, a US undercover agent. But things are more complicated than even Andy knows, and he may find cause to switch his loyalties. The three titular “children” from Zettai Karen Children, now middle schoolers, also make brief appearances as B.A.B.E.L. agents but are not central characters.

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
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Aku no Hana (Flowers of Evil) (2013) is a truly different anime. This 13-episode Zexcs production, based on the manga by Shuzo Oshimi, is a dark slice-of-life teen drama. I generally detest slice-of-life teen drama, so I’m not just idly gushing when I say this series is (mostly) fantastic. It owes much of its originality–and controversy–to its use of rotoscoping in place of traditional animation. This technique, in which live-action footage is traced over, puts Aku no Hana artistically in a bit of an uncanny valley between cartoon and live action drama. The effect unsettled me at first, but the whole story is meant to be unsettling, and in the end, I found it the perfect mix of realism with a creepy, otherworldly overlay.

Aku no Hana starts out as an adventure in Schadenfreude. Shy middle-school boy, Takao Kasuga, has a crush on the beautiful and accomplished Nanako Saeki, and in a moment of bad judgment, he steals her PE uniform. Unfortunately for Kasuga, this momentary lapse is witnessed by Sawa Nakamura, a borderline psycho from his class who is desperate to find another authentic “sicko” like herself to relieve the tedium and hypocrisy she sees in middle-school life. She blackmails Kasuga into performing more and more bizarre acts in exchange for her silence about the uniform. And Kasuga, like the clueless, emotionally sensitive boy he is, lets himself get buried in increasingly unconscionable webs of deceit. All this is just the jumping-off point for an in-depth psychological investigation of Kasuga, Nakamura, and Saeki, none of whom is quite what they initially seem.

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
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I do not think War and Peace is a novel. If War and Peace is, in fact, a history text on the Russian perspective of the Napoleonic Wars, using fictional characters to portray a range of daily realities that formed part of the fabric of this time period, then it does its work, and it may be the most interesting history text on the Napoleonic Wars ever written. But if I am meant to see War and Peace as a novel--as a work of fiction whose task is to tell a story about its characters--I found it failure.

Its failure is more frustrating because it is plainly the work of a literary genius. Tolstoy may be the best writer I have ever read for comprehending and capturing the way human beings function psychologically. He creates a wide range of characters--young and old, extroverted, introverted, merry, severe, emotional, rational, capricious, conscientious, etc.--all of whom think and behave in ways exactly plausible for who they are and yet surprising and complex and evolving. And he depicts many of these experiences, external and internal, with a phenomenal eye for detail, nuance, strangeness, idiosyncrasy, and the stream of consciousness of human thought and feeling. So what's the problem?

Read the rest at Goodreads.
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The best thing I can say about the anime, Glass Fleet (2006), is it does interesting work with gender. If subverting gender stereotypes is up your alley, it’s worth watching. Pound for pound, it may include more gender fail than win, but when it wins, it wins in a pretty unusual way. The following review is substantially spoiler free. Below it, clearly labeled, is spoilerific commentary.

Glass Fleet is a 26-episode space fantasy anime about a People’s Army rebelling against the current emperor. The leader of this army, Michel, enlists the help of dethroned prince and super-warrior Cleo to overthrow the reign of the rather cold and amoral/immoral emperor, Vetti. Cleo has inherited a fantastically amazing glass battleship, which may become the pattern for a fleet: hence the title.

In many respects, the series is not very good. It looks cheap. The animation is choppy. The world building is ridiculous, inexplicable, and inconsistent even by generous fantasy standards. The space battles are absurd, though of the face-to-face fighting is reasonably well choreographed. The handling of the plot and character trajectories has some huge problems that may leave most viewers unsatisfied. So why am I bothering to pull this series out and dust it off now?

Because in odd moments, it’s deeply compelling. (Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.)
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For the past couple of years, birthday present money from my parents has gone toward funding some sort of life necessity. This year, however, that wasn't the case and I actually got a couple of birthday presents in the form of manga, Blade of the Immortal vol. 26 and House of Five Leaves vol. 8.

They're a marvelous contrast to each other: the back cover of House of Five Leaves features a fat cat; the front page of Blade of the Immortal features a starving dog, and that sums up the difference really. Here are my quick impressions:

Blade of the Immortal 26
Series summary: a young woman, Rin, seeks revenge on the group of swordsmen who killed her parents in 18th-century Japan. To that end, she hires a bodyguard, Manji, who is has been infected by mysterious "worms" that make him nigh impossible to kill.

This is one of those volumes that is mostly an extended battle scene, but it's a reasonably interesting one and the end segment brings to a head an important moral plot thread that has been winding along since the early volumes. Overall, it's a good volume but lacks the plot and character development of the best.

Spoilers follow )

House of Five Leaves 8
Series summary: A timid samurai, Masanosuke, gets taken in as a member of a gang of kidnappers, led by Yaichi, and discovers he quite likes them (in 18th-century Japan).

This is the final volume of House of Five Leaves, and I must confess it's the only one I've read, the rest of my knowledge deriving from the anime. However, I wanted to see how the manga ended, and I was not disappointed. Though different from the anime's ending, this conclusion feels thematically and emotionally similar. It's a happy ending--very happy really, but understated and earned enough to make me root for the characters and their continued well being.

Spoilers follow )
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Angel’s Egg (1985) is an OVA I profoundly like—but I may be weird. Whether this collaboration between artist Yoshitaka Amano and director Mamoru Oshii will appeal to you depends strongly on what you look for in anime. If you like the meditative, beautiful, and atmospheric, you may be in for a treat. However, if you like your stories to have some sort of plot and pacing and make sense, you may wish to look elsewhere. One thing is undeniable: the visual artistry of this almost thirty-year-old anime stands up elegantly across the decades.

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
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Psycho-Pass: cop-turned-criminal tangles with disgruntled literature major (or that’s how I like to look at it). This 2012 series from Production I. G. is excellent hard sci fi and close-but-no-cigar to excellent character drama. Set about a hundred years in the future, the series posits a Japan in which all people are monitored by means of a biofeedback device called a “psycho-pass” (katakana pun on “psychopath”). The psycho-pass measures emotional state. If a person reaches a certain level of agitation, a very pink and kawaii robot (or cop inside a holo-robot suit) may appear to suggest therapy. At a higher level, the pink robot may arrest you or shoot you dead. This system is the basis of Japan’s new calm and well-adjusted civilization. But as you might expect, it also poses problems. For one thing, some high-strung or traumatized people are not really criminally inclined, yet they may find themselves imprisoned or worse. Conversely, there’s a segment of the population that tests as normal but is, in fact, coldly sociopathic. (If this sounds like Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, it’s meant to: the anime explicitly invokes the book.) Throughout the series, a team of Enforcers (emotionally volatile prisoners put to work as cops) and their detective supervisors deal with with various crimes, mostly fomented by one of these cold sociopaths.

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
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The verdict: fantastic! This is the Les Mis recording I waited twenty years to hear, and it did not disappoint. There is some urban legend that this version is no longer (legally) available, but that’s bull: it’s available at a very reasonable price on iTunes. In a nutshell, the cast is superb and the songs mostly excellent; I only wish the recording were more comprehensive. (Spoilers follow.)

The Editing:

The selection of songs is similar to the London recording’s. The focus is on set numbers with relatively few connecting parts. As in the London recording, this serves 1815 and 1823 better than 1832. Since most of the barricade drama does not break down into individual songs, much of the barricade story is missing. The exceptions are the set songs: (“Un peu de sang qui pleure”/“A Little Fall of Rain,” “Souviens-toi des jours passés,”/“Drink with Me,” and “Comme un homme,”/“Bring Him Home”), which all take place in between moments of military action and, thus, bypass the fall of the barricade arc. If you’re listening to the recording to get the full arc of the story, this is the biggest impediment. Another shame is the omission of much of Gavroche’s part. Lesser gaps, but still unfortunate are Valjean’s difficulties as a paroled convict, Fantine’s arrest, and the Valjean-Javert interchanges surrounding “Comment faire?”/“Who Am I?” (Not missed–by me–is some of the Thénardiers scheming at the wedding.)

The good news is that many of these omissions are parts the original French cast recording of 1980 included: Fantine’s arrest, more of the barricade, much more Gavroche. So with the two together, there’s comparatively good French coverage of the full play in a recorded format (though ironically not as good as we have in English).

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project
labingi: (ivan)
I've done a couple of reviews of French stuff:

Rousseau: A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality: Surprisingly outdated and yet still current.

Victor Hugo, The Man Who Laughs: Good story (about the guy whose look inspired the Joker in Batman) but disappointingly executed.
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Ano Hi no Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai (aka. Ano Hana: That Flower) (2011) is a very pleasing slice-of-life anime with a supernatural twist: five teenage friends are visited by the ghost of a friend, Menma, who died in an accident when they were children. Through revisiting her death, they must come to grips with their feelings about Menma and each other and find a way to move on.

Read the rest at the Geek Girl Project.
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In honor of Martin Luther King Day, this seems a good time to review James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time (1963). I recently read this book after having somehow missed Baldwin all my life and found his discussion of race relations in America brilliant. It should be standard reading in all American high schools. The book comprises two essays: a short letter to Baldwin's nephew giving advice on how to weather life as a young African American man and a long discourse on race relations with extensive personal examples. Along the way, he addresses his own conflicted youth, the Holocaust, the Cold War, school integration, and the Nation of Islam movement of Elijah Muhammad, among other social and historical moments.

I feel ill qualified to comment on the book but will venture a few observations. Baldwin was ahead of his time and--at least as far as mainstream discourse of the white hegemony goes--is still ahead of ours. His discussion of the blindness of white privilege (though he doesn't use this term) feels right out of contemporary racial discourse.

But Baldwin's challenge runs deeper than exposing power relations and demanding they be acknowledged. He is correct that the dominant discourse on race in the US (he is mainly concerned with African Americans and whites) frames the problem as the need to elevate black people to the status of white people. If black people become as socially mobile, wealthy, professionalized, well represented in various fields, etc. as white people, goes the argument, then the task of integration will have been accomplished. As far as I can tell, this is still the dominant discourse fifty years after Baldwin's book. Read more... )
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I have reviewed Gungrave at the Geek Girl Project. Now, I've written many abstruse posts on this series, but this is legitimate, basic review (with pictures), so if you'd like an overview of the anime, check it out!

The Review:

This month I’m an evangelist for Yasuhiro Nightow’s 2003 anime, Gungrave. Disclosure: this is one of my favorite stories ever, so your mileage may vary. Based loosely on the video game of the same name, Gungrave is a seinen anime following some thirty years of the relationship between two orphans, Brandon and Harry, who become best friends and join the mob together in a fantasy America, where tragic missteps ensue.

Gungrave has two distinct modes, which might be described as “video game” and “human drama.” In its video game mode, it has lots of “necrolyzed” people (i.e. zombies), who are in need of being shot. And at its dullest, it levels up through a series of boss battles that are probably more exciting to play than to watch. This is the weak side of Gungrave, but I, for one, can brush it off–because Gungrave is about the human drama, and the human drama is almost perfect. Spoilers follow for the basic story structure…

Read the rest at Geek Girl.
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When I first went to see Les Mis in what must have been 1991, my program confidently assured me that “in 1992, she will going to the cinema” (image of little Cosette holding theater tickets). I was very excited, and I waited eagerly throughout 1992 and 1993 and 1994.... They are twenty years late, but they got there, and it was worth the wait.

[personal profile] louderandlouder has already evaluated the Les Misérables movie very comprehensively in terms I would mostly agree with here and here.

I will try not to retread too much, but here are some overall thoughts:

* I was surprised by how much I liked it. My reaction in scene 1 was to stare quizzically at fake-looking galley stuff set to what seemed a rather quiet musical track (vs. seeing the play live). But early on, it carried me away, and I cried a lot. In fact, I had an odd dual sensation of being emotionally engulfed while simultaneously running precise technical criticisms in my head. Portrait of a true Les Mis fan maybe.

* It’s a great story. Victor Hugo was an exceptional writer, and Schönberg and Boublil did a very solid adaptation--as one friend said, better than most of the movie adaptations in terms of capturing the novel.

* It’s a very 19th-century story, not just set in the 19th-century but very 19th-century novelesque: the unironic praise for noble, good people and religious faith; the obligatory boring romance; the “lets lie to the womens for their own good” thing; the coincidental meetings with long-lost acquaintances; the almost complete absence of women as power players--all very 19th century. And oddly, I found this refreshing. I would certainly not want to live in that world, not in 19th-century France and not in a 19th-century novel, but after a long, long stretch of wading through indifferently written contemporary novels, just the taste of a real, consummately written classic was like a glass of water in the desert. Indeed, the unironic 19th-century moralizing seems to fit very well with the over-the-top Broadway musical-style narrating. This might be a large part of why the whole thing works.

Read more... )


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