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Fruits Basket Another

Yes, I am aware there is a sequel to the frankly amazing¬†Fruits Basket.¬†Am I as confused about what’s going on with the timeline and the curse as everyone else was to begin with? Nyeeeah… Less confused now chapter four’s come out. But, I will not be reviewing the thing until it is over. But I am so excited. I just can’t hide it. I’m about to lose control and I think I like it. ūüėõ

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Youth Gone Wild – Nicky Lee

In keeping with the Nicky Lee theme…

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Lan Ya-Ting, an agent, has just been fired by her record¬†company¬†– thanks to her demonic diva charge. It’s not an ideal state of affairs, but luckily for Ya-Ting her uncle has decided to use his life savings to set up a record company of his own; he takes on Ya-Ting as his first employee and commissions her to find their first act. She seizes this opportunity to do what she has always wanted to: Form the first¬†Asian rock band capable of competing (and conquering) on the world stage. Perhaps they’ll¬†succeed, if she can only deal with the madness¬†and drama that the band will bring with them!

This manhua is one massive love letter to stadium rock and hair metal. The sheer affection¬†and enthusiasm that Lee has for rock music shines through, not only via promoted fangirl¬†Ya-Ting, but also in the way that the performances are drawn and the simple love of music that comes though in the writing. I have a funny feeling that this is what Batman: Fortunate Son was aiming for, except instead of trying to define and intellectualise rock in some woolly, half-baked way* (which is ultimately insulting to fans and musicians alike) Youth Gone Wild¬†goes down the route of showing how music affects individual characters and their lives, and brings them together for some juicy plots. The music facilitates the story, not the other way round. On a side-note, portraying music on page can be a problem and whilst you’re left to imagine something awesome to go with the lyrics¬†for all of the band’s original compositions, if the music on page is pre-existing Lee will give you the title and artist to¬†look up, which I personally found very helpful.

From a character standpoint, this manhua is the real Joss Whedon of all of Lee’s work so far – insofar as there is a massive core cast and (almost) everyone gets their chance to shine at one point or another; however, whilst this is a strength in that there are a wide variety of character types to draw on for drama and comedy (a lot of it) – it does affect the pacing, as we have to stop to get this person’s back story or that person is suddenly the A plot for this volume, when all you really want to do is get back to the story of the band or someone else’s plot arc. Nevertheless I love all of the character designs and how they change to suit the plot, and a good chunk of the conflict and comedy are based on character dynamics – which works rather nicely.

Speaking of the character designs, as is par for the course with Nicky Lee I love the artwork. A lot. All though be warned, some of the earlier volumes are disconcerting to look at¬†if you’ve read¬†The One,¬†as Youth Gone Wild is from an earlier point in¬†her career

My one main criticism of this work is that is oh my God do the last couple of volumes ever drag!¬†This happened to a lesser extent in¬†The One¬†as well, but this feels like an author running out of ideas rather than having artificially prolong a story. The last few chapters are actually very good, but I’m glad the story didn’t continue beyond there at that time. Having said that, I am looking forward to reading the sequel, now that she’s had a long break from that world and has promised to focus on the more neglected characters.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I need to go and rock out…

*Half-baked wool pie. Eugh.

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The One Revisited

Whilst my review of¬†The One¬†doesn’t make me want to cry quite so much as some of my other earlier reviews, it is brutal¬†in its brevity. This is a phase when I was trying to get two or three shorter reviews out a day, and didn’t realise that I hadn’t really done much more than a plot summary, with a yay or nay and a justification attached.

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Cane Lele is finally going to try and make it big in the modelling industry. For years she has resisted the pull of her dead parents’ profession and the entreaties of her Aunt, thinking it a frivolous, easy job;¬†but a photo of one of the biggest stars in the industry, Angus Lanson, has finally persuaded her that fashion photography and modelling are art-forms in their own right. Nevertheless,¬†nothing was ever given to anyone on a silver platter and Lele has a steep learning curve ahead if she wants to break out of Taiwan, – however¬†that’s nothing compared to the weird and wonderful¬†people she’ll meet along the way, and the situations she’ll be pulled into as a result. But nothing is going to stop Lele in her quest to become… THE ONE!*

One advantage I have over when I first reviewed this is that it’s actually finished now.¬†Huzzah. So, I actually have a better overall perspective¬†and I’m not in thrall to “what happens next?!” syndrome. Double huzzah. My opinion on the artwork is basically unchanged, it’s still absolutely gorgeous and utterly unique to Nicky Lee ¬†and she uses it well to create the atmosphere and feel that she wants for each part of the story. Something I noticed over the course of re-reading is that Lele’s character design does change subtly over the course of the manhua, beyond superficial changes in hair length and image; Lee actually allows Lele to physically grow up. She allows for the fact that we are essentially seeing a young woman between the ages of 15 and 23 (I think) develop from an elfin androgynous teenager, to a certified badass supermodel with curves and muscles. You’d be amazed how rare it is for artists to actually reflect the ageing of the characters, unless there has been a massive time-jump.

One of the strengths of the story is its strong characters, Lele being chief among¬†them. Her physical growth is mirrored by her growth as a character throughout the course of the story, however whilst she does change and develop and grow stronger, she remains recogniseably the Lele we were introduced to in chapter one.All of the supporting cast are quirky and memorably-designed; however my one criticism is that any antagonistic characters become outright two-dimensional the minute they become “evil.”

The story does suffer a little towards the final arc from being artificially prolonged by a conflict which feels equally artificial, and has the air of being an excuse to keep the main couple seperated just a little while longer, – just whilst Lee fulfills the last few chapters that her contract requires. But, it’s still a solid ending and I would certainly recommend ¬†giving it a read, particularly of you like plots where the romance is integrated and not the only thing going on. There’s also a lovely little Easter Egg at the very end to confirm to long-time Lee fans that all of her works really¬†do¬†take place in the same universe, and not just the two music-themed ones.

*I’ve always wanted to do that,

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Fruits Basket Revisited

The manga which kick-started it all off – it has a helluva lot to answer for.

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Ah, back in the day when it actually took ¬†weeks for me to read a manga with over a hundred chapters… Admittedly that was partially down to an astoundingly dodgy internet connection that took forever to load up the next page and full time education, but hey. It was my first attempt at reading manga, and I in fact read the first chapter backwards (left to right, and not vice-versa) until I figured out that the narrative structure made a bit more sense the other way around. So when I started this blog, it was a natural choice as a review – and bloody hell, it was clumsy.

Honda Tohru has not been having a great couple of years. After her mother died in an accident the previous year, she¬†had¬†been living with her grandfather. Until his house needed re-modelling. Not wanting to trouble him, she said that she would stay with a friend whilst he went off to another relative. ¬†Trouble is, the ever optimistic and hardy Tohru knew none of her friends had the space – so she decided to live in a tent. In the woods. However, the woods belong to the Sohma family and after a landslide buries her tent, she ends up as the live-on housekeeper to her “prince-like” classmate Sohma Yuki, his hot-headed cousin Kyo and their romance novelist uncle Shigure. So far, so reverse-harem right? Throw in a big dark mystic Sohma family secret and a whole menagerie of their attractive and screwed-up relatives and you have a modern classic of the shoujo genre.

One of the interesting things to note is that the artwork matures as the characters do. Initially, the proportions are a bit a dodgy and all of the high school characters look a good two or three younger, and everything’s generally a bit pointy and heavily-inked. But, as I mentioned before the series was over a hundred chapters and the artwork develops into a very mature, understated and expressive thing that uses more realistic proportions, thinner lines and curves.

So far so technical, now onto the actual plot. Something I was struck by as I was re-reading it was that¬†Fruits Basket¬†for all its mystical, zodiac elements is essentially very domestic and is a family drama at its core. It’s about family (surrogate or blood-related) dynamics, and relationships and how humans relate to one another as much as anything else. To that end there are a helluva lot of back stories. And I mean, a helluva lot¬†of back stories. Characters who don’t have a traumatic back story, or emotional trauma, or hang-up are very much in the minority – something you really notice as quite often this character background gets a chapter or two dedicated to it. And whilst I can’t think of a single characters’ story which I would drop/isn’t necessary in one way or another,¬†damn¬†it slows down the pacing. However, this might be a by-product of the fact that I re-read it in 48 hours – but there are pacing issues with chapters which are just plain unnecessary to the plot. However something that’s very much in¬†Fruit Basket’s¬†favour is that it balances out its comedy with angst, and has very good three-dimensional characterisation and the resolution – which might have seemed a bit neat – is questioned by at least one of the characters.

I reckon with Fruits Basket, I had a very good spring board into the weird and wonderful world of manga and it will always have a very special place in my heart. Even if the last two pages are so saccharine I want to vomit. 

N.B: I know I complained about all the back stories, but special mentions to the mini-arc about Tohru’s parents and their relationship which is so beautiful and funny. Even though you know how it’s all going to end, you’re still with them all the way.

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Okay That Was Weird…

Okay, someone actually found this blog by googling my name. I really hope it was someone I know otherwise my life just took a weirder dimension…

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Vampire Knight Revisited

Eight and a bit years of Vampire-fuelled fandom came to an end last month. Damn, that makes me feel old.

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Hino Matsuri’s shoujo manga was the second that I ever read, and it was my first taste of the frustration of “Whaddaya mean there’s no more chapters yet?!” I didn’t read it from the very beginning, (November 2004) but instead got into it about three years later and was instantly hooked. To the point of I was meant to be writing an essay for my English GCSE and was rewarding myself by reading a page for every paragraph written. Then it was a sentence. And then I thought that I really deserved a tea-break and what else should I do but… Read¬†Vampire Knight.¬†

Luckily for my degree, these days I have more of a manga/life balance thing going on but I’ve still been following Yuki, Kaname and Zero all of these years and recently re-read the entire thing from start to finish. So, has my opinion changed that much since my first (read:old and busted) review? Let’s re-evaluate, shall we?

Yuki Cross was left abandoned in the snow with nothing, not even her memories when she was ten years old. She is saved from a predatory vampire by Kaname Kuran ¬†and taken to to Kaien Cross, the principle of an elite boarding school who adopts her as his daughter. Five years later, she and her tsundere foster-brother, Zero Kiryuu, act as Prefects in that self-same school – which Kaname also attends as President of the mysterious and elite “Night Class.” But Yuki and Zero have a far more important function within the school than keeping the Day Class in line; it is their job to make sure that the Day and Night Classes stay separate – why? Because every single last student in the Night Class is a vampire.

Okay, for a start I’m not as enamoured of the earlier artwork as I once was. In contrast to what comes later, it looks quite clumsy and strangely-proportioned. But whilst it has its flaws and the later draftsmanship is far more refined, it was still very distinctive and completely unlike anything else that was being done at the time. The artwork does get better as it goes along and it is truly, mesmerisingly beautiful.

It’s very interesting looking at the plot of¬†Vampire Knight¬†from a post-Twilight¬†perspective, because they do share a few elements. From the beginning amongst fans, there was a Team Kaname vs Team Zero aspect as to who should end up with Yuki – with the latter having very complicated feelings towards both of them. This is where I point out that¬†Vampire Knight¬†pre-dates¬†Twilight¬†as¬†thing¬†as such in the global consciousness. Team Kaname had a boost at the time from the delay between chapters (which at one stage was a very big one for English-speakers), and the fact that he was so wrapped up in the main mystery elements of the story, particularly those to do with Yuki’s past. Why did this character benefit from the gap do much? Because when you read the chapters in quick succession, you notice what a, frankly, manipulative bastard Kaname can be. Equally, the cumulative effect of Zero’s actions and little gestures is positive. Just through re-reading them all I went from Team Kaname to Team Zero. (Admittedly, my main justification for the former in the first place was more to do with the fact that Yuki fancied Kaname first and therefore I somehow thought that he had first dibs).

There is one big section about three-quarters of the way through the story in which the plot seems to come to a stop altogether. Seems. As I discovered the other day when I was attempting to explain how the manga ended to a friend on Skype, I realised that actually a lot of groundwork is laid slowly but surely in this slow bit for the final story arc. The supernatural and mystery elements work really well throughout the entire story to produce an original take on the vampire trope, with a couple of genuinely good twists. My main criticism of the plot would be an apparently pointless sub-plot in the last quarter involving the blood-tablets which takes precious pages away from where we really want to be.

It’s visually-stunning, with some memorable characters and a pretty solid well-planned plot. Read it if you haven’t and buy the actual volumes if you have. Remember: Vampires are demons in human form, not sparkly vegetarians.

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Announcing “Revisited”

I’ve had this website now for the best part of three years and I think it’s time to do some looking back. Not because I’ve done some spectacular things, or enough to merit existential navel-gazing, no. It’s because in the beginning I did some truly terrible reviews.

I was very new to the whole blog-reviewer thing and, frankly, it didn’t take me very long to look back on those very first reviews and be faintly embarrassed at this very public evidence of my steep learning-curve. I could live with it if it was just that. But it’s not. Because those first mangas which I reviewed were and still remain massively popular, they are some of the most looked at pages on this site; which quite often means that the reader goes away thinking that these clumsy first stabs are representative of my work and the rest of the reviews. So they don’t look at the rest of the site, don’t discover new things and I’m left with a faint blush when I see someone looked at the Vampire Knight review again.

So what am I going to do about. I am going to revisit and re-review a couple of these early reviews in an attempt to salvage my dignity, and hopefully you – the reader – will have fun seeing me re-evaluate my responses and seeing if you agree or disagree. To quote Homer Simpson in the episode¬†Power to the Max:¬†“Give me back my dignity!” *Walks into a cactus.*