Monday, 30 December 2013

Top Ten Upcoming in 2014...

Excel Saga 27 – It’s taken almost ten years, but the final volume of Excel Saga arrives in January.  More people are familiar with the hijinks of the parody-laden anime, but the original manga is a very different creature.  With a stronger satirical bite, its increasingly cynical cast pour jaded bile over the ongoing story.  It had quite a rocky release schedule so I dread to think of how many times it came near to being cancelled.  I’m very happy and grateful to Viz Media for sticking with this one to the end.

Evangelion 3.33 – Out in March to own is the next instalment of the Neon Genesis Evanglion reboot.  General reactions I’ve heard so far have been mixed, whereas the last one got a lot more praise.  It wouldn’t be Evangelion if it wasn’t controversial, any anyone who’s come this far with the franchise isn’t about the quit now.

Furari – For my money anything by Jiro Taniguchi is worth a look, so I’ll be looking in on this one by default.  Also look out for a new edition of The Walking Man as it’s been unavailable for quite a while now.

Space Dandy – Everyone loves Cowboy Bebop, and quite a lot like Kids on the Slope as well.  Any new anime from director Shinichiro Watanabe is worth checking out.  It’s also apparently taken American money to help fund its production, so hopefully this will be a bit special with a nice juicy budget to back it up.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 – The first film’s popularity grew steadily over time by word of mouth, and now How to Train Your Dragon is sustaining its demanding public us with toys and a TV series.  People are expecting big things from its sequel.  A third film is already confirmed in any case, and it can’t be as bad as more Shrek.  Also of interest is that Dreamworks will be releasing 3 animated films in 2014 against Disney’s Big Hero 6 and Pixar delaying The Good Dinosaur until 2015.  Quantity over quality is of course a concern, but otherwise this could be a big year for the company.

Monster: Perfect Edition – Naoki Urasawa’s 18-volume thriller has been notoriously out of print for a while now, commanding extreme prices in the second-hand market to desperate readers.  This new edition will throw in 2 volumes per book and allow everyone another chance to own this great series.

Attack on Titan – This year was a big year for Attack on Titan, and next year promises to be even bigger as the spinoffs start to hit.  Side story manga, light novels and the already successful anime will all be hitting retail in 2014.  It will be interesting to see just how far it can go without risking outstaying its welcome.

Mysterious Cities of Gold Season 2 – Anyone who’s been following this blog for any length of time will know how eager I am to finally see this.  It’s currently airing in the UK on a channel that sadly isn’t free to air, but is due out on DVD and Blu-ray in February.  We’ve waited 30 years to see what happens next in Esteban, Zia and Tao’s adventure.  Not long now!

Dragonball – Before Super Saiyans, Planet Namek and the ‘Z’ at the end of the title, Dragonball was a sturdy comedy series about an odd little boy with a tail who practised martial arts.  In a somewhat backwards release schedule after both Z and GT, the UK will finally get the original series on DVD.  It should be a real treat, and keep an eye on the US for the Dr. Slump Movie Collection while you’re at it.

Ghibli Omnibus – With a little luck (or just waiting for distributors to pull their thumb out), 2014 should be a very good year for Ghibli followers.  Hayao Miyazaki’s latest, and reportedly last, film The Wind Rises is all but ready for western markets.  The dub has been recorded and will hit the US in February screens, so hopefully a summer release for the UK is a possibility.  Less has been said about The Tale of Princess Kaguya, but it’s surely just a matter of time.  Isao Takahata’s output is quite varied, so should be worth the wait.  The just-announced When Marnie Was There will probably have to wait for another year, but that we’re due a batch of new Ghibli films is always an exciting prospect.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Top Fifteen of Manga: 2013

Obviously I am restricted only to things that I’ve personally read, which on that grand scale of things isn’t all that much, so please take my top 15 as one opinion of many (for example this year was a quiet one for shojo at my end), and of course feel free to recommend your own. :-)  The traditional top ten has been upgraded to 15 as there were a lot of interesting titles this year.  I also wanted to keep the variety up.  As a personal set rule I’m only considering titles which have been physically published in English this year – no ebook shenanigans here.

Yotsuba&! 12 – We only get one volume of this series a year, but it’s always worth the wait.  The everyday tales of a five-years-old as she experiences new things in each chapter is told with a gentle ease.  It’s a happy little manga with appealing, and undeniably quirky, characters and outstanding background artwork.

Crayon Shinchan 4 – Underdog publisher One Peace has somehow managed to release more Shinchan than anyone else.  It does recycle the defunct CMX’s translations, so it remains to be seen if more of the naughty 5-year-old’s adventures will arrive or not.  Compare this one to Yotsuba if you’re feeling brave.  While you’re distracted by one optimistic portrayal of a growing child, the other has snuck off to gleefully strain out a turd into your bath.

Unico – It’s hard to imagine this is the first time I’ve ever mentioned Osamu Tezuka’s work on this blog, particularly as I’m quite a big fan.  Even if one of his titles isn’t particularly successful, Tezuka’s comics are continually inventive have a lot for your brain to work with.  Unico stands out of this year’s crop for not only being printed in full colour, but of its life starting out as a kickstarter project.  DMP since went on to fund even more titles, and eventually acquired the God of Manga’s entire output.  It remains to be seen what else will be translated and the format/s in which they will reach us.

The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame – Strictly an adult title this one, and anyone familiar with the term ‘bara’ will automatically know what to expect from this book.  This volume’s existence makes it unique in English-speaking territories, which alone makes it worthy of note.  To be honest I’d only really recommend it to already interested parties, but those wanting more extreme titles in their manga collection, or just to widen its general variety, they will definitely find something new here.

Bakuman 18-20 – The end of the manga-making series.  Comics about making comics aren’t all that unusual, but for the action-centric land of Shonen Jump it did a lot to make a couple of guys sitting at their desks seem really involved and exciting.  Additional fun can be had under the consideration that Bakuman’s creators toy with parodying themselves, decrying their own creative inefficiencies and dictating the manner of its own editorial progression by bringing it up throughout the main story.  Lots of fun, just please don’t take it as a work of non-fiction.

Attack on Titan 4-9 – This was already turning a lot of heads last year, but once the anime launched this year Attack on Titan’s popularity exploded.  It’s sat consistently at the top of sales charts both in the west and in Japan, so it’s just as well it’s not a bad read at all with overwrought drama to accompany its brutal violence.  Volume 9 pushed the series beyond the scope of the anime, so now is a good time to jump on in.

Gundam: The Origin 1-4 – I’ve tried and failed more than once, but I’m just not that big of a Gundam fan.  Despite that this manga is still a good pick as it chronicles the original series well and is showcased in slick hardbacks.  The paper quality is good and coloured artwork is peppered throughout.  Some of the best production values you’ll see in a manga.  Ever.

Genshiken Season Two 2-3 – The second generation of the Genshiken club is well underway as the male otaku graduate and make way for the fujoshi.  Maybe it’s all one big comment on the changing landscape of fandom, so it will be interesting to see what kinds of people join the club in future.  For now though Genshiken is a friendly manga of well-written dialogue that pulls you into what is perhaps the most down-to-earth representation of otaku life in comic form.

The Last of the Mohicans – Outside of Osamu Tezuka, it’s quite rare that we get to see a manga from before the 1970s.  This offering from 1953 is an interesting look at a manga that absorbed American influences before reworking it for Japanese audiences.  Though obviously for children at the time, I can’t help but think the English version is only really aimed at adult audiences, which is a bit of a shame and possibly missing a trick.  A curiosity piece to be sure and hopefully will get more people interested in older works.

Helter Skelter – Liliko does everything she can to stay relevant in the cutthroat world of modelling.  Helter Skelter is an uncompromising rock ‘n’ roll ride where superficial beauty is countered with aggressive insecurity.  We don’t get as many josei titles over here as I’d like, and books like this are the reason I want more.

Doroheodoro 9-11 - We’re really getting into personal favourite territory now… it’s an opinion blog though, so it’s allowed!  Dorohedoro continues on its path – a path to which no one seems to know the destination.  This bothers some readers, but honestly I love it.  Dorohedoro depicts a very strange and dark world, but is grounded by an oddball cast who bicker their way through mushroom spells and casual occurrences of violent death.  The colour pages ended way back in volume 3, but otherwise full respect to Viz Media for sticking with this one.

Slam Dunk 26-31 – The final volumes of a genuine manga classic.  Not only did you learn to care about the characters, but also basketball.  The western manga market traditionally regards sports titles as a doomed prospect, but this one bucked the trend.  I’m going to miss it.

I’ll Give it My All… Tomorrow 5 – The chronicling the life of a middle-aged man in a dead end job while trying to make it as a manga artist.  It inevitably goes to some pretty dark places and to be honest it really had the potential to make me die inside depending on how the ending played out.  Luckily the finale was sane, realistic and not the end of the world, with a message that even if you aren’t 100% successful in life you can still made a positive impact on the people around you.  This book was one of my favourite single volumes of manga from this year.

Natsume’s Book of Friends 13-14 – Natsume is a boy with the ability to see yokai and other spirits, so he isolates himself so as not to endanger his loved ones.  Accompanied by the grouchy Nyanko-sensei, the two form a pact and defend the powerful Book of Friends.  This is an inhibited manga of fragile emotions which has no real aims other than to overcome loneliness.  Consistently wonderful.

Real 12 – I’m a big fan of Slam Dunk, but I consider Takehiko Inoue’s current manga on wheelchair basketball to be the superior work.  Its atypical subject matter is handled honestly and not without a certain amount of wit.  Each character holds their own as they each confront their own personal development, able-bodied or otherwise.  Volume 12 is just another chunk of the ongoing story really, but as a whole piece of work it is to me a near-unrivalled work of brilliance.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Top Ten of 2013: Animation

I’m watching anime a lot less that I used to, but I’m still maintaining a steady intake of other animated works, prompting this this list.  You’ll have to forgive my generally mainstream tastes and I found few non-English speaking titles to consider, but that’s just how it is.  As before choices are limited to titles on physical UK retail which means that titles such as Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 will have to sit this one out.

Frankenweenie – A story about a boy and his reanimated dog set to a 1950s-esque suburbia backdrop.  Tim Burton remakes his live action short film from 1984 to great effect in this stop motion effort.  Classic horror movie references abounds, and the odd proper scare or two.  Everything is as it should be with this one.

Paranorman – It plays in the same neighbourhood as Frankenweenie, but is very different.  It removes the classic horror vibe in favour of a more modern tone with disinterested leads, and a smarter, cynical outlook.  Definitely recommended to the many Coraline fans out there.

Lady Death – Okay, I’m joking…

Monsters University – I’ll admit I cast a massively sceptical eye over Pixar’s current trend to churn out sequels to all its popular franchises, and to a certain extent I still do (there’s no way a studio with that level of talent aren’t coming up with new ideas by the second).  Monsters University stumbles through its first half and yet results in a genuine emotional depth that is satisfying to see.  It’s very much playing in its safe zone, but does enough to be both enjoyable and relevant.

Archer Season 3 – Superspy Archer shoots and shags his way through a third season of action.  Somewhat side-lined by the Family Guys and South Parks of this world, Archer dumps the constant pop culture references in favour of just letting the characters battle it out from their brutal freeflowing scripts.  As often hilarious as it is deeply inappropriate.

Despicable Me 2 – You don’t watch Despicable Me 2 for its story.  It’s there, and does what it needs to do to keep the jokes coming which, in a way, makes it perfect.  Grab a drink and a banana and dive on in for some unpretentious fun.

Ernest & Celestine – I’ve talked about this film before but once is never enough for something this good.  Released on DVD with absolute zero fanfare and noticed by essentially no one, Ernest & Celestine is a gentle soul with a simple tale of friendship to tell with its charming artwork and quality animation.  Safe for all audiences (unless you’re queasy when it comes to loose teeth), and it’s basically a joy throughout.

The Little Mermaid – The film described as igniting the Disney Rennaisance, and it’s not difficult to see why.  Sat between Oliver & Company and Rescuers Down Under in the Disney’s feature film chronology, Little Mermaid still looks distinctly modern compared to its contemporaries.  It triggered over a decade of quality Disney films before CGI enveloped 2D animation in the west almost entirely.

Adventure Time Season 1 – I’ve been seeing cosplayers of this show at comic events for ages now, and finally the relevant parties have wised up an have given us some Adventure Time love.  Judging by the amount of merchandise already out there, Finn and Jake’s visit to the UK will be a long one.

The Rabbi’s Cat – Kind of bending the rules as this hasn’t actually had a UK release yet, I doubt I’ll have another opportunity to talk about this one (the US Blu-ray will work here however so import away).  The Rabbi’s Cat is a mischievous film, poking fun at certain human conventions while critiquing the inflexible and intolerant.  You wouldn’t think a film about a talking cat would be as intelligent as this, and younger viewers may find it a little dry, but mature audiences will be fully engaged while being stunned by the amazing artwork.

Other noteworthy titles:
King of Pigs
Kirikou and the Men and Women
Legend of Korra: Book One

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Top Ten of 2013: Anime

Top Ten lists are fun, so as I’ve been skimping on my usual blogging duties recently I thought it’d be fun to do a bumper round-up of mini reviews from what I think are the best anime that came out this year.  To be truthful I’m quite woeful when it comes to keeping up anime so there will be obvious gaps in my list, so feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments. :-)  For this list, an anime title needs to have had a physical release in the UK in 2013 on either DVD or Blu-ray, no streaming or fansubs here.  Please note that there is no order of preference.

From Up On Poppy Hill – Goro Miyazaki’s second Ghibli feature.  It’s far better than Tales From Earthsea, so that’s a good start.  I doubt anyone will put this one down as a significant turning point in Studio Ghibli’s history, but it’s pleasant enough and beautiful to look at.

One Piece seasons 1-4 – Proving that patience is virtue, the UK finally started to get One Piece released on DVD.  The pacing can sometimes be a little wonky to help fill its lengthy runtime but the characters are varied, the designs interesting and its overwrought drama can really throw you for a loop if you allow it.  It’s more than just another anime show, it’s a worldview that loves fun and adventure.  If you let it, it will consume you.

Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt – Take FLCL, add an American cartoon vibe and aim it at mature audiences.  This series is the result.  Gainax certainly don’t do things by halves and even their flawed attempts are far more interesting than what the majority of other studios are putting out.

Berserk 2 – The Battle for Doldrey – The middle part of the Golden Age Arc in the movie series was the only one to get released this year.  While the drama is allowed to build up slowly in both the original manga and anime, the film’s shorter runtime forces it to accelerate through its source material’s intricacies and rapidly bludgeons its way through the violence and sex.  It’s remarkable that it’s as watchable as it is, and the promise of the third film fills me with an equal mix of excitement and dread.

My Neighbour Totoro – A steelbook reissue doesn’t exactly make this a new release proper.  Never mind though.  It’s Totoro, and I’ll use any excuse to include it.

Lupin III: The Women Called Fujiko Mine – The Lupin III franchise attempts to return to its roots in this short series.  Acting somewhat as a halfway house between the typical goofy post-Miyazaki Lupin and the super-sleazy manga, it does a great job at being engaging with both its plot and design.  Moreover, it requires zero prior knowledge of the series and with luck will pave new paths for future endeavours.

FLCL – A Blu-ray release of Gainax’s bizarre coming of age story where the line before adulthood is expressed with robots and aliens bursting out of peoples’ heads.  It rapidly changes in design and tone without warning, seemingly for no reason other than to amuse the animators.  If it didn’t do so well at being entertaining it probably would still be doing the rounds at haughty animation festivals worldwide.  It’s quite insane, and great fun.

Perfect Blue – Satoshi Kon’s first feature length film as director arrives on Blu-ray, whose loss in 2010 is still being felt.  It looks a little rough around the edges these days, but Perfect Blue is a quality mature thriller and a true anime classic.

Wolf Children – It’s somewhat irresponsible to recommend something I’ve not yet seen, but I’m doing it anyway.  Sources I trust are singing its praises, and I loved the director’s previous films The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars, so this will definitely be worth a peek.

Kids on the Slope – A 12 episode romantic drama of three friends and their relationship with 1960s jazz.  The rotoscoped animation for the music scenes are an obvious highlight, but genuine interest in the story prevents it from being a one trick pony.  The last episode is a misstep in an otherwise wonderful series, but still leaves on a good note (every pun is intended).

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Comics in Brussels

Changing gears from the usual articles/reviews to a travelogue entry now, I thought I’d give a little run down on a trip to Brussels I had recently.  Why?  COMICS! (Humour me. I don’t leave the house much, let alone go anywhere interesting!)

I went to Paris a couple of years ago and thought the comic supply was plentiful enough… I knew nothing.  Brussels is truly the city of comics where they are regarded as a respected and celebrated art form.  Dedicated shops are numerous and themed murals decorate the sides of buildings throughout the capital.  Bring a decent amount of spending money, a strong bag and a French dictionary and there will be much to tempt you from the usual superheroes and manga, to more Franco-Belgian-specific titles.  You’re not on home turf, so it makes sense to get into the local culture.  Off to the Belgian Comic Strip Centre with you!

A giant version of Spirou's hat.
Dat rocket.
It might be worth doing a little research before visiting a place like this.  I’m no expert by any stretch, but I felt being able to recognise the likes of Lucky Luke, Gaston and Spirou on sight helped keep my bearings in a land where virtually everything else is being seen for the first time.  The Centre’s art nouveau building (designed by Victor Horta, architect fans!) is free to enter on the ground floor and holds a comic shop and small restaurant.  There is also a substantial reading library that requires a small fee for access.  Guarding the middle stairs is Tintin’s space rocket, up which is the entrance to the main attraction.

Lucky Luke's shadow.
The Belgian Comic Strip Centre is a museum that describes the history of comics, how they are made, and celebrates its continuing evolution.  A large range of original artwork is on display and is divided between writing, pencilling, inking and colouring.  Styles in this area range from the cartoony to the realistic and both classic and recent work is covered.  Other areas on this level provide showcases for more famous Belgian titles like Spirou, Marsupilami, The Smurfs and Lucky Luke (it’s perhaps worth noting that a French title like Asterix is conspicuously absent).  Tintin of course gets a special mention and has a major dedicated section.  The higher tiers of the museum are for temporary exhibits, providing more detailed focus on a particular series or artist (at the time of writing there are two.  One for Olivier Grenson and the other American artist Will Eisner).

Porco Rosso for no reason.
The Centre is a great place to get a good idea of how bandes desinées are regarded.  It’s also good for getting ideas on what kinds of titles you may want to check out for yourself once you hit the high street afterwards.  Tourist site reviews may complain that they didn’t know any of the characters on display, but to be honest if you’re going to an educational facility and don’t try to learn something new, you’re frankly doing it wrong.  If you have an attraction to the medium and what to discover something new, this place is a good way to go.

A few other general notes/observations on comic-related things in Brussels:

  •  Comic shops are pretty easy to find.  If there are humans and shops about, keep your eyes peeled for your next random encounter.  Mainstream bookshops and newsagents should also stock several major titles.
  •  Most comic shops will be selling the latest releases at discounts that rival online prices.  Older titles seemed to be at full price and availability of specific volumes is a bit more hit and miss.
  •  All shops seem to adopt a different method for organising their stock, which makes looking for particular titles very difficult.  They could be arranged by title, publisher, genre or writer/artist depending on where you’re at.  Be ready to either browse deep or unleash your mad language skillz and ask for help.  You can descend to using English in a pinch, but attempting French initially will allow local shop workers to warm to your plight.
  •  If you really don’t want to leave your safe zone small English-language sections can often found in larger book and comics shops (you will find Cinebook ranges that shame most UK shops).
  •  There often seems to be something going on in terms of conventions, signings or limited edition prints.  For a taste on this kind of info try visiting: and
  • Many comic shops have dedicated second-hand sections with titles at reduced prices but still good condition.  Some shops are completely second-hand.  Bargains are to be found!
  • Don’t go too nuts when shopping. BDs are large, hardback and heavy.  This is a major consideration particularly if you’re flying, but if you’re travelling via Eurostar your only limit is your physical power!  Take your time and get something that’s really good.  Impulse-buy sparingly or risk regretting it later (my poor back…). 
  • Check out the manga section.  The range and quality of work that’s translated into French but isn’t available in English will break your soul. 
  • Specialist figurines are in good supply, and prices vary to extremes.  To be honest I have no idea in this field.  I’d stick to obviously mainstream stores for risk of paying 300+ Euros on some poorly moulded tat. 

Smurf statue found outside the Moof museum.
That’s a very basic roundup of comics in Brussels.  It’s a must for any comic fan in the UK who wants to see something new, but America and Japan seem too far away.  It’s also a cool place to do touristy things.  Someday I would like to return!