Manga Review: Voice Over! Seiyu Academy Vol. #05

For hard core manga and anime fans, the voice acting world has the same kind of glamor and mystique as Hollywood. So it’s no surprise that the world of Maki Minami’s manga Voice Over! Seiyu Academy portrays it as such. Viz Media has just released Volume 5 of the series and you can read on for the review. (To see previous reviews of the series, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Hime’s producer Yamada has decided to let her have some time off for good behavior, so he sets up a trip to a lake for her and the rest of the Stragglers. But will Hime ruin the vacation when her idea of a fun time turns out to be a bust?!

The Review

Hime’s school life and the Stragglers have been scarce the last several chapters. As if to remind us of their existence, Volume 5 kicks off with Hime taking a lakeside getaway with Tsukino, Sho, Mitchy, and – surprisingly – Ume. The premise for their vacation is weak, and because it is a single chapter one-shot, their 29-stamp rally has a rushed feel to it. However, this story is probably the closest this series will have to a summer vacation arc.

The manga then continues by introducing a rivalry. No, not for Hime. She lives up too much to her super-amateur/super-noob nickname to inspire anyone to challenge her. This rivalry is between Mizuki and his costar on the Four Gods Squad anime, Toru Fujimori.

Actually, the rivalry is more of a one-sided grudge. For Toru’s entire career, his success has been overshadowed by AQUA’s popularity, thus earning him the handle of Mr. Shade. As such, he is obsessed with beating Mizuki, but all his efforts to steal the spotlight wind up backfiring – badly. Mizuki, for his part, doesn’t care. That is, until Hime/Shiro gets involved.

For someone who is supposed to be a professional with a lead role, Toru’s attempts to outshine Mizuki are amateurish – as in Hime-amateurish. Not surprisingly, she sees in Toru a kindred spirit. The production then devolves to the level of a middle school play when Toru can’t get past his personal feelings to deliver his lines. Of course, Hime is compelled to help in Lovely Blazer fashion, but that only serves to irritate Mizuki, causing him to stoop to their level of immaturity. When this arc finally concludes, I can only wonder why they haven’t all gotten fired.

Lots of extras including embedded author’s remarks, translation notes, and four bonus mini-manga.

In Summary

Only a brief glimpse of the Stragglers and nothing at all of Holly Academy in Volume 5. Voice Over! continues to focus on Hime’s career and the other actors on the Four Gods Squad anime. But the amateurish flavor in Minami-sensei’s depiction of the voice acting world unfortunately also continues, making the professionals in the entertainment industry look anything but.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Research Ramblings: The Spartan Citizenry, Part 13

As noted in my May 2, 2014 post, Spartan warriors were an interesting bunch, and I’m continuing my series on them with today’s fact:

“Black soup” was a staple of their diet.

This dish consisted of boiled pig blood and vinegar. According to one story, a non-Spartan Greek visited their dining messes, and when they served this up to their Epicurean guest, he said, “No wonder you Spartans are so eager to die.”

Tune in next week for more about the Spartans!

Manhwa Review: Goong Vol. #15

What if modern Korea was a constitutional monarchy similar to England’s? That’s the backdrop for Goong: the Palace, a manhwa that got turned into a wildly popular drama and musical.

Set in an alternate world where the Korean monarchy still exists, the story follows Chae-Kyung Shin, an strong-willed commoner who attends the same high school as Shin Lee, the crown prince. After accidentally witnessing Shin proposing to his girlfriend Hyo-rin and being rejected, Chae-Kyung unexpectedly learns that she will marry Shin and become crown princess due to a promise between the former king and her grandfather.

Yen Press has just released Volume 15 of the series, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of previous volumes go here.)

Back Cover Blurb

As Shin and Chae-Kyung try to pick up the pieces of their marriage in the wake of learning the truth behind their divorce, Yul is far from content to hang his head in defeat. Postponing his plans to study abroad, he positions himself near Chae-Kyung by taking classes at her school and even resorts to teaming up with the heartbroken Hyo-Rin to blackmail the former crown princess. But when Shin happens upon evidence of his cousin’s newfound treachery, will Yul’s plotting blow up in his face?!

The Review

Those who have been dying to see Yul’s mom get her just deserts will be somewhat gratified in Volume 15. Although Daewang-Daebi retains her position, she’s lost everything else, including the consideration of the King and Queen Mother. She gnashes her teeth so much it’s a miracle she has any left as she’s ousted from the royal inner circle. Of course, like any K-drama villainess, she’s not accepting her fate meekly, and she’s already laying the groundwork for a new scheme to get revenge.

Like mother, like child, and Yul is wreaking his own particular havoc upon the former royal couple. Having lost all chance at winning Chae-Kyung over, he’s out to make everyone miserable, too. Stalking Chae-Kyung isn’t enough; now he’s openly threatening her. With him resorting to extremes and terrorizing Chae-Kyung, it’s difficult to feel sympathy for him any longer. On the other hand, Shin and Chae-Kyung’s separation becomes more poignant, with Chae-Kyung suffering on Shin’s behalf and Shin throwing caution to the wind to bring her back.

In typical K-drama irony, Yul’s scheme to drive the desperate pair apart ends up pushing them together. Shin/Chae-Kyung fans will be gratified by a number of sigh-worthy moments, including one where Chae-Kyung is naked in the tub. However, though Park creates great melodrama, she’s always quick to dispel the pathos. Eunuch Kong’s appearances are fortunately kept to a minimum, but the way Park constantly shatters the romance with her particular brand of bawdy humor gets a bit old.

Included as extras in this volume are Words from the Creator from the Korean Volumes 21 and 22 and a three-page manga about creator Park meeting the Goong actors.

In Summary

Yul and his mother may have gotten caught by the royal family, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to roll over and play dead. Rather, Yul’s resolved to ruin everyone else’s happiness even if it means hurting Chae-Kyung. Ironically, his efforts result in Shin and Chae-Kyung running off together. A romantic getaway it’s not, but the amount of longing and angst should delight any Shin/Chae-Kyung fan.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Research Ramblings: The Spartan Citizenry, Part 12

As noted in my May 2, 2014 post, Spartan warriors were an interesting bunch, and I’m continuing my series on them with today’s fact:

Spartans were great at fighting on land but bad fighting at sea.

Spartans weren’t the expansionist sort. Their territory, Laconia Territory, was fertile as far as Greek lands go, and allowed them to be self-sufficient so they weren’t too interested in building ships and sailing elsewhere unlike the Athenians. So while Athens had a navy, Spartans were mostly landlubbers, and lack of experience with the ocean made them weak as far as sea power went.

Tune in next week for more about the Spartans!

Manga Review: Are You Alice? Vol. 5

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland has inspired all sorts of spinoff works, from visual art to movies to manga. However, Ai Ninomiya may have conjured up the most unusual Alice yet.  Are You Alice?, which originally began as a CD series, features a gun-toting male as its Alice! Yen Press has recently released the fifth volume, and you can read on for the review. (If you’re interested in my reviews for previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

The traitorous Dormouse had the Queen of Hearts in his crosshairs!! But once the Hatter wises up to the Dormouse’s game, he makes the mistake of leaving Alice alone with the Cheshire Cat – an error in judgment that proved fatal in the past – in his urgency to keep his sovereign from coming to harm. It soon becomes clear to Alice that the Dormouse wasn’t the only traitor to be reckoned with! Now Alice must fight to keep his position…lest his name – and his life – be forfeit!

The Review

Volume 4 ended with the Dormouse mowing down the Queen’s cards, and Volume 5 continues the bloodbath. The violence isn’t limited to the palace. Shootings, stabbings, and a surprising suicide have the panels from the Dodo’s pool to the Land of Broken Toys dripping with blood. Despite the splatter-fest, it’s not entirely gratuitous. There is actually meaning and reasoning behind each attack, especially on the part of the Dormouse.

The Dormouse might be a secondary character, but he dominates this volume, similar to the way the Duchess did earlier (by the way, she does get a cameo in this volume). His advance upon the Queen is bewildering at first but leads to some interesting revelations about the Hatter. Then, just when you think the dust has settled, the scene ends in a truly unexpected way. The Dormouse palace shootout may be a strange way to show it, but the connection between the Dormouse and Hatter, like that between the Cat and Duchess, runs deeper than they would ever admit.

The 89th Alice gets somewhat overshadowed by the Dormouse’s actions, but Alice has a major moment as well–a confrontation with the White Rabbit. It’s less Alice hunting the rabbit down and more a tumble down a rabbit hole. And despite Alice’s gun and supposed ability to kill the White Rabbit, the White Rabbit, who apparently is a very emotionally messed up bunny, holds the advantage throughout the fight. Much like the end to the Dormouse gunfight, the Alice/White Rabbit duel has an unexpected conclusion, but it hints that we’ll learn more about Alice’s connection to the real Alice in the next volume.

Manga extras include closing remarks from the creators and the title page and table of contents printed in color.

In Summary

The pages run bloody with bullets flying at the palace, murder at the Dodo’s pool, and Alice facing off against the White Rabbit. Amid the violence, we get glimpses of Alice’s past but even more hints of what drives the Hatter. These revelations help make sense of the bewildering events of the previous volume, and although Volume 5 does raise new questions, it arouses more anticipation than confusion.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Research Ramblings: The Spartan Citizenry, Part 11

As noted in my May 2, 2014 post, Spartan warriors were an interesting bunch, and I’m continuing my series on them with today’s fact:

Spartan warriors carried a round shield emblazoned with a lambda.

The lambda, by the way, stood for Laconia or Lacedaemon, the name of the territory controlled by the Spartans. Spartans were also known as the Lacedaemonians.

Tune in next week for more about the Spartans!

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance Vol. 001

Sword Art Online was undoubtedly one of the most popular anime of 2012. Based upon a series of light novels by Reki Kawahara, SAO’s near-future characters, gorgeous fantasy setting, and life-or-death stakes drew an enthusiastic fan following. Yen Press has recently released Volume 1 of the Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of  Sword Art Online: Aincrad, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Kazuto Kirigaya (aka Kirito) has beaten Sword Art Online, a VRMMORPG that transformed into a literal game of death, and returned to the real world. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Asuna Yuuki (aka Asuna the Flash), the girl with whom Kirito fell in love in the virtual world of Aincrad but who has yet to awaken from her game-induced slumber. As his sister, Suguha, sadly looks on, Kazuto continues to visit Asuna in the hospital in the hope of finding answers. But when one day he meets a man claiming to be Asuna’s fiancé, Kazuto fears that Asuna may be lost to him forever… That is until a fellow survivor of SAO taken form the latest VRMMORPG sensation, ALfheim Online – a screenshot that features someone being held captive who looks entirely too much like Asuna! His hope renewed, Kirito dives headlong into an all-new virtual adventure, but can true love conquer the game?!

The Review

Unlike Sword Art Online: Aincrad, which was released in a single 375-page volume, Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance is being released in multiple volumes. For those familiar with the light novel or anime, the first volume of Fairy Dance covers the story up to when our heroes reach the underground lake before Lugru. As such, the 226-page Fairy Dance Volume 001 is only $13 versus Aincrad’s $20 cover price. In addition, Fairy Dance features a different mangaka for the artwork: Tsubasa Haduki. For those familiar with the TV series, Haduki-sensei’s illustrations are a close match to the anime, much closer than Nakamura-sensei’s in Aincrad.

Fairy Dance picks up where Aincrad left off. Kirito’s made it safely back to the real world, but of the surviving Aincrad players, three hundred have yet to awaken, and Asuna is one of them. Then Kirito receives a screenshot taken from within the latest VRMMORPG sensation, ALfheim Online – a screenshot of someone that looks strikingly like Asuna.

Sequels often have difficulty living up to the bar set by their predecessors, and Fairy Dance sadly falls several notches below Aincrad. Because Aincrad ended with Kirito beating Kayaba and his game, the continuation requires a new game and a new challenge. However, ALfheim Online, although it does have nefarious underpinnings, isn’t nearly as gripping as the you-die-in-the-game-you-die-for-real Aincrad world. As for the stakes, they’re much more personal for Kirito, but they render Asuna helpless. With Asuna literally immobile, Kawahara-sensei introduces Kirito’s cousin Suguha to be the new active female lead.

Suguha has a pleasant enough personality, but she’s difficult to relate to, mainly because of the massive squick factor. She’s got a huge crush on Kirito despite the fact that they’ve been raised as siblings, and up until the SAO incident, she believed Kirito was actually her brother. While I can see how a new romantic element would spice up the story, Kawahara-sensei could have done without the incest element. In addition, Haduki-sensei lays on the fanservice rather thick, and Suguha is the primary subject. Perhaps this is to appeal to a more shonen audience, but it’s ridiculous how her super-ample breasts look ready to pop out of her clothes in almost every scene.

Kawahara-sensei’s new villain Sugou is also lacking. In Aincrad, Kayaba was larger-than-life, an opponent as epic as the virtual world he created, and the Heathcliff/Kayaba connection was a wonderful twist. Sugou, on the other hand, is more of a garden-variety mad scientist bad guy. He is thoroughly disgusting and conniving but very much a stereotype. Despite his lack of character depth, Sugou does serve to act as Kirito’s adversary with the advantage in both the real and virtual worlds.

Extras include the title page printed in color, story summary, background guide blurbs, and closing remarks from the creators.

In Summary

While some Kirito/Asuna fans may enjoy seeing Kirito diving into the virtual world of ALfheim to rescue Asuna, I’m not particularly thrilled to see “The Flash” reduced to a damsel in distress. I’m even less thrilled with Kirito’s new female companion in ALfheim and the incestuous overtones of her obsession with him. Squick factor aside, the world of ALfheim, despite its fairy wings and magic spells, is very much a fluffy shadow of Aincrad. While SAO fans will see the return of some of their favorite characters in Fairy Dance, they shouldn’t expect the same level of intensity and drama in Sword Art Online: Aincrad.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Research Ramblings: The Spartan Citizenry, Part 10

As noted in my May 2, 2014 post, Spartan warriors were an interesting bunch, and I’m continuing my series on them with today’s fact:

Spartan men lived in the barracks until thirty.

From the ages of seven to thirty, Spartan males lived apart from their families. While that helped engender camaraderie among the soldiers, it also had a major impact on Spartan family life, especially since men married in their 20s. Once they turned thirty, however, they could move in with their wives and children, who’d probably seen little of their fathers till then.

Tune in next week for more about the Spartans!

Manga Review: My Little Monster Vol. 2

There’s the type of shojo manga where a girl really can envision herself as the heroine. And then there are those where the characters are constantly going off the deep end. My Little Monster falls into the latter category, and if your taste in high school romance leans toward the improbable and wacky, this title might be up your alley. Kodansha  has just released Volume 2 of the English translation, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of Volume 1, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Haru’s big brother suddenly appears with unclear motives. What is clear is Haru’s hatred for his big brother. Haru disappears at the sight of his big brother and Mizutani is left with even more questions about Haru. What are her feelings for him? How can she make him like her? And what is the deal with his big brother?

The Review

Summer break in high school manga often means vacation arcs that feature characters in a more relaxed, non-school setting, but Robico limits the holiday pages to one chapter. Although it’s disappointingly short, we do get to see Haru and company at the beach (in a brief four-page stint) and on a fishing trip in the mountains. Haru is his usual wild and reckless self, and Shizuku is serious as ever despite the different settings, but toward the end of the summer break chapter, we get an interesting development: the introduction of Haru’s older brother Yuzan.

We caught a glimpse of Yuzan in Volume 1, but in Volume 2, he really steps in to invade Haru’s life. One of the mysteries of this manga is the root cause of Haru’s unique personality. With Yuzan’s arrival, we don’t get all the answers, but the information he provides about the Yoshida family is certainly enough to keep readers interested and pique curiosity about Haru’s dad.

In addition to Yuzan, we get another new character: Class Representative Oshima. She leads an isolated existence, similar to the kind Natsume, Shizuku, and Haru used to have at school, but her lack of friends isn’t due to a wacky personality. Rather it stems from a gloomy attitude and a lack of initiative. She gets thrown into the story mainly to cause strain in the Haru/Shizuku relationship. While Oshima’s crush on Haru does create an emotional stir for Shizuku, who is still sorting out her feelings for Haru, the meek class representative is hardly aggressive enough to spark a love triangle. In fact, she looks likely to be overshadowed by the rest of the cast.

Extras include four-panel comics interspersed through the book and translation notes.

In Summary

Haru’s estranged brother makes a forcible entrance in Volume 2. While he’s not wild like Haru, he has his own flavor of quirkiness. His appearance causes all sorts of inconveniences for Shizuku, but more interesting than his hijinks is what he reveals about the Yoshida family. Shizuku also continues to struggle with her romantic feelings for Haru, but it’s really Haru and Yuzan’s sibling dynamic that dominates this volume.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Research Ramblings: The Spartan Citizenry, Part 9

As noted in my May 2, 2014 post, Spartan warriors were an interesting bunch, and I’m continuing my series on them with today’s fact:

Attendance was very important at the Spartan dining messes.

In fact, only two excuses were acceptable for absentees:

  • Hunting trip
  • Requirement to perform religious sacrifice

I wasn’t able to find out what happened to those who didn’t have a valid excuse, but knowing the Spartans, the punishment was probably severe.

Tune in next week for more about the Spartans!