Manga Review: Barakamon Vol. 4

The contrast between city and rural life has been a source of entertainment since the time of Aesop’s fables. It remains a popular subject in manga and anime today, and joining the ranks of Silver Nina, Non Non Biyori, and Silver Spoon is Yen Press’ series Barakamon. Read on for my review of Volume 4! (For my reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back cover blurb

Aiming for an autumn calligraphy exhibition, handsome young calligrapher Seishuu Handa sets out to get in touch with his creative side. Meanwhile, a man whose appearance screams “yakuza,” landing him well out of place on the peaceful island, puts in a “request” to have Handa write the name on his boat…?! Kick back like a local and enjoy the fourth volume of this heartwarming island comedy!

The Review

Volume 3 left Handa with no means of communication following a powerful typhoon. I thought it would be a lead-in for another extended arc like the Tokyo visitors one, but it merely flows into a single chapter about Handa’s laughable attempts to use a rotary phone before switching back to Barakamon’s usual pattern of standalone chapters. The content is pretty entertaining though as Yoshino-sensei expands beyond the kids-getting-in-Handa’s-way storylines and into territory where Handa and Naru are collaborating on something. I found the fish preparation chapter especially funny, having dealt with overly lively fish myself.

However, Volume 4 does have a new feature: chapters rendered in four-panel style. Chapter 29, in which Handa and Naru catch dragonflies, and Chapter 32, which features a calligraphy tutoring session with the local kids, use this format along with a simplified character design. Because of this style, these pages have more of a gag manga feel. The humor in Chapter 29 is mostly visual so it translates pretty well, but the kanji-based jokes in Chapter 32 may require a visit to the cultural notes. In general, though, they’re pretty amusing, and except for some yaoi allusions, everything stays in “All Ages” territory.

The volume closes with a chapter on the Obon Festival. In addition to showing Gotou’s particular take on the Japanese holiday, it also touches on a subject I’ve wondered about, namely Naru’s parents. We’ve seen plenty of her grandpa, but her parents have yet to make an appearance. For a community that’s so unnecessarily well-informed about their neighbors, it’s a little strange Handa’s yet to learn anything about them, and I’m guessing that will provide fodder for future chapters.

Extras include a bonus three-page manga, translation notes, and information about the story’s island setting.

In Summary

After the extended arc in Volume 3, Barakamon returns to its pattern of standalone chapters. Themes range from Handa painting the name onto a local’s boat to managing the food gifts lavished by his rustic neighbors. The volume ends by touching on Naru’s family situation. Until now she’s been a pretty simple character, but the story hints that the boisterous, free-spirited kid might turn into something more complicated for Handa.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Manga Dogs Vol. 3

From Bakuman to School Rumble, the manga/anime industry has been a popular subject of manga and anime in recent years. Now joining their ranks is Kodansha’s manga series Manga Dogs, and you can read on for my review of Volume 3. (For my review of earlier volumes, click here.)

Back cover blurb

Teenage manga artist Kanna Tezuka’s series about a high school for Buddhist statues is facing cancelation! Meanwhile, the manga course that’s given her so much free time to draw at school is under threat from a principal taken with the next big thing: light novels! Their teacher’s solution to this existential crisis is an inspiring field trip, but will it be enough to get these dogs to start drawing at last?!

The Review

The appearance of the new editor-in-chief at the end of Volume 2 made it seem like the story was heading in a new, strong direction. Sadly, it winds up much like the kidnapping arc. The threats breathed by the editor turn out to be nothing at all, and the arc wraps up within the first chapter of Volume 3 without any real consequences for Kanna.

The manga then returns to its usual course of standalone chapters with Kanna’s three dogs blowing all sorts of hot air while avoiding anything remotely connected to drawing. Chapter 30 is unusual in that we see a happy, dressed up Kanna, but for the most part, she’s the same snark and sarcasm she’s always been. As in Volume 2, she doesn’t seem to enjoy being a mangaka, and even turns an invitation to a magazine publisher’s party into something to be depressed about. Toyama-sensei tries to liven things up by making Shota’s sister, Kanna’s editor, and the school principal wackier, but for the most part, it’s the same tired themes we’ve seen over and over.

The final arc feels a bit random. It begins with a kind of manga history lesson and ends with Kanna’s class actually creating manga together. While a Japanese audience might appreciate reading about past mangaka, most references will probably go over the heads of Western readers. The story then awkwardly segues to the impending cancellation of the manga class and the students’ last-ditch effort to prove themselves. Kanna’s heroic leadership over their joint collaboration seems really forced considering the boys are shiftless as they ever were. Perhaps it’s meant to be inspiring, but when the boys start doing their usual whining about work, I’m ready to pull the plug on the class.

Extras include the opening illustration and table of contents printed in color; translation notes; short bonus manga; and author afterword.

In Summary

Manga Dogs reaches its final volume, and to be honest, it’s a relief. Its characters weren’t likable, and the humor never was that clever. I’m actually surprised it lasted three volumes. Considering how pointless the storylines were, Manga Dogs really had to be put out of its misery.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Barakamon Vol. 3

The contrast between city and rural life has been a source of entertainment since the time of Aesop’s fables. It remains a popular subject in manga and anime today, and joining the ranks of Silver Nina, Non Non Biyori, and Silver Spoon is Yen Press’ series Barakamon. Read on for my review of Volume 3! (For my reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back cover blurb

Kawafuji, the only friend of handsome young calligrapher Seishuu Handa, has come to visit the island…!! However, the lack of cell phone signal and any useful landmarks is preventing the two of them from meeting up!! And who is this Kyousuke Kamisaki who’s come along for the ride…? There’s a storm brewing in the third volume of this sophisticated (?), heartwarming island comedy!!

The Review

The “Handa’s visitors from the city” arc is the best this series has delivered so far. Two Tokyoites come to the island to find Handa, and all sorts of misunderstanding and mayhem erupt. Part of the reason these chapters are so fun is because Handa’s not the sole butt of the ignorant-city-slicker type jokes. Also, the kids, who usually are the ones doing the mocking, wind up looking pretty foolish for Handa’s sake.

The other reason these chapters are so entertaining is because Handa’s visitors are unlike anything I expected. I assumed they had to be good friends given the three hour trip to Gotou, but eighteen-year-old Kousuke Kanzaki is anything but. He’s a rival and an obsessed one. Despite never having met Handa before, Kousuke comes to Gotou to embarrass, provoke, and belittle Handa. On the other hand, visitor Kawafuji actually is a good friend of Handa’s. He spends most of the arc drunk/hung over, but when he does sober up, he provides insight into the type of person Handa was and how he’s changed since his move.

Handa’s two visitors cause him to reflect on these changes himself. However, it’s not until Naru gets her hands on Kousuke’s calligraphy magazines that readers realize how badly Handa wants to transform himself. For once, Naru’s actually spreading factual information on the island gossip network, and though I don’t quite understand Handa’s embarrassment, it’s still pretty funny watching the locals ask him for autographs.

Then Kousuke and Kawafuji leave, and it’s back to Handa being the sole stupid city boy in time for a typhoon to hit the island. While his ignorance is an element of the story, the island’s strong neighborly culture and spooky stories (like the type kids tell at camp) factors in as well. It’s an odd combination but works in getting laughs and setting Handa up with his next dilemma: destroyed home electronics.

Extras include a character lineup, bonus five-page manga, translation notes, and information about the story’s island setting.

In Summary

Lively comedy abounds when Handa gets guests from Tokyo. Not only do they provide two more variations on the city-boy-in-the-country theme, but the local kids revert to some crazy distraction tactics when they realize one of the visitors is Handa’s rival. In the midst of bug attacks and severe hangovers, we get a clearer picture of pre-Gotou Handa, which Yoshida-sensei manages to turn into a new flavor of embarrassment for our resident calligrapher. All in all, Volume 3 is a fun read with a nice mix of humor.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Yukarism Vol. 2

Geishas are an icon of Japanese culture that, although their heyday is long post, continues to fascinate Westerners to this day. If you’ve wondered about the lives of these flowers of Japan’s bygone pleasure districts, you may want to consider Chika Shiomi’s historical/time slip manga, Yukarism. Read on for my review of Volume 2. (For my review of Volume 1, click here.)

The Review

Things get more interesting for Yukari with the arrival of his temporary housekeeper Katsuhiko Satomi, but they get really interesting for Satomi and Mahoro. Before, Yukari merely saw hints of previous lives manifesting in their reincarnated souls. Now, old grudges actually impact the present when Satomi and Mahoro meet.

Possessed is probably the most accurate way to describe what happens to the two. Not only does their old hatred consume them, the skills of their previous lives manifest despite neither having trained in swordsmanship or magic. However, Mahoro and Satomi are only vaguely aware of what’s happening. One moment they’re literally trying to kill one another, and the next they snap back to their senses, embarrassed and apologizing profusely. These moments of possession occasionally have a comic effect, but for the most part, it’s creepy, especially with Shiomi-sensei’s illustrations of black magic in the background.

Yukari’s forays to the past also take on a different tone. Before, his episodes in Yumurasaki’s body were merely amusing, but that changes when he returns to the Edo period and finds himself in bed with witch doctor Takamura. (Ummm… yeah. Yumurasaki’s a courtesan, and even though all the vital parts are covered, it’s pretty obvious what Takamura’s trying to do in that scene). Yukari confesses to Takamura that he is Yumurasaki’s reincarnated soul, and being a magician, Takamura understands that it’s true. The interaction that follows not only causes Yukari to question his original preconceptions about Takamura, it helps him understand himself better as a reincarnated being.

Another character whose image gets shattered in this volume is Mahoro. The narrative reveals chilling details about her background. She’s definitely not the person Volume 1 led readers to believe she was. Yukari remains ignorant of what Mahoro’s truly capable of but given the irrepressible hate between her and Satomi, I doubt that will remain the case for long.

Extras include a bonus one-page manga, translation notes, and author bio.

In Summary

For Yukari to investigate Yumurasaki’s death isn’t particularly gripping when s/he’s already been reincarnated, but when the hostilities of the past invade Yukari’s present life, the story gets a lot more compelling. In addition, Shiomi-sensei throws readers for a loop by blowing apart some of the assumptions of Volume 1. The story occasionally takes on the flavor of a horror flick when the Kazuma/Takamura feud reasserts itself in the present, but Yukari’s interactions with the past now actually take on meaning and purpose.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manhwa Review: Milkyway Hitchhiking Vol. #2

Most manga and manhwa have lengthy plots with human main characters. However, if you prefer a feline narrator and more of an anthology feel, you may want to check out Yen Press’ Milkyway Hitchhiking. Read on for the review of Volume 2. (If interested in my review of Volume 1, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

There are as many people on Earth as there are stars in the sky. From the unique marriage traditions of a faraway tribe, to the unusual relationship between a fox and a chick, to the tale of a complicated royal succession, Milkyway continues to leave her mark across the bright stars of people’s lives, loves, tears, and laughter.

The Review

Milkyway’s tales continue in their non-linear fashion. As in the first volume, her roles vary from main character to mostly uninvolved bystander, but these stories run longer overall. Volume 2 contains only six “episodes,” and only two are single chapter stories. In one of these shorts, “Find a Bride,” Milkyway plays her biggest part when she disrupts a tribe’s time-honored marriage tradition. The tribe, a mishmash of Pacific Islander and Native American, is very obviously fictional but offers fun comedy as well as a chance for Milkyway to show some sass. In contrast, Milkyway’s more of a prop in “Flower Painting,” which explores the relationship between two brothers in long-ago Korea.

Her role is also minimal in “Tiger’s Present”/”Fox’s Dream.” Unlike most of the Milkyway stories, animals take the main stage in this one. The brightly colored artwork and whimsical style give it the feel of an Asian folktale and would definitely appeal to a younger reader. On the other hand, “Three Stories” is solidly set in the contemporary human world. Three elderly women trade memories that involve a cat (Milkyway), but though their anecdotes happen in different times and places, they all have a positive feel.

That is definitely not the case for the two longest works in the collection, “Crimson” and “The Watcher in the Shadows.” Those who enjoyed Volume 1′s “Knight of the Fallen Leaves” will probably enjoy “Crimson.” Like “Knight,” “Crimson” features a viciously dysfunctional royal family and has a color scheme that involves a lot of red and black. “The Watcher in the Shadows” has more of a Victorian Goth than a Grimm feel, but it also delves into disturbing territory with its predatory siblings. In both these stories, the humans dominate, and Milkyway’s little more than a narrator.

“Milkyway Convenience Store” makes another appearance, and Sirial also introduces “Milkyway Café.” This time around,  characters from the featured stories get thrown into the bonus mini-manhwa for comic effect. Other extras include a bonus illustration at the end of the book and footnotes explaining cultural terms.

In Summary

Milkyway Hitchhiking returns with six more “episodes.” Most these stories are longer than the Volume 1 works, and though there are lighthearted stories in the mix, they tend to have a darker feel. Milkyway continues to be the common thread binding the stories, but as in Volume 1, the stories are more about the lives she encounters so the particulars about her remain largely unknown.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Dengeki Daisy Vol. 16 (Series finale!)

Bad boy/good girl love stories are popular in shojo manga, and for those who enjoy a dash of cyber intrigue in their romances, Kyousuke Motomi’s Dengeki Daisy is worth checking out. The series finale has recently been released, and you can read on for the review. (For those who are interested, click here for reviews of earlier volumes).

The story centers on orphan Teru Kurebayashi, who, after the death of her beloved older brother, finds solace in the messages she exchanges with Daisy, an enigmatic figure who can only be reached through the cell phone her brother left her. One day, she accidentally breaks a window at school, and as  a result winds up becoming a servant for Kurosaki, the delinquent school custodian. Although brusque and rude, he somehow always shows up in her time of need, and Teru finds herself increasingly drawn to him.

The Review

This high school romance/cyber thriller has had crazy things happen over the course of its run (furniture falling from great heights, kidnappings, exploding boats) so it’s only fitting for the series to end with a really big bang. The remainder of the main story only takes up one chapter in the final volume, but it is a long one. It’s fraught with tension as Kurosaki strives to redeem Akira, but Motomi-sensei still manages to insert her particular style of goofy humor in the midst of the turmoil before getting everyone to a happy ending.

Thus concludes Dengeki Daisy, a series that remained consistently engaging through the years (and I didn’t realize exactly how many years until I saw Motomi-sensei’s “Daisy Chronology”). While the ending makes clear Kurosaki and Teru will be together, it might not be lovey-dovey enough for Teru/Kurosaki fans. That’s where the remainder of the volume comes in. Four bonus chapters present character postscripts and flashbacks. Anyone who’s wondered what the lead couple would look like with a baby will enjoy “Daisy Special Episode Part II.” The baby’s not actually theirs, but that warm, fuzzy family vibe definitely comes through, not that Kurosaki’s crossed the line with our underage heroine. He remains a gentleman throughout, despite the yearning Motomi-sensei so exquisitely portrays, and the Kurosaki sutras jokes continue to the very end.

These chapters also offer insight into Soichiro, who has been a vital part of the cast despite being dead, and his relationship with Riko. Riko’s mainly been portrayed as a support for Teru, first as school counselor, then as roommate. But the extras offer a glimpse of her in the context of her relationship with Soichiro, and the angst she suffered at losing her lover.

Extras also include Motomi-sensei’s debut manga, No-Good Cupid; the final installment of “Baldly Ask!!!”; and closing remarks from the mangaka.

In Summary

It’s the final explosive chapter of Dengeki Daisy! The ending is Akira and Kurosaki centric, but never fear, Kurosaki/Teru fans. This volume contains over 100 pages of extras that offer a glimpse into our main characters’ future together as well as some hitherto unseen moments from the past. Motomi-sensei’s created some unbelievable situations through the years, but her characters have such depth and appeal I can’t help but smile to see them all come to a happy ending.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Master Keaton Vol. #2

I became an instant fan of Naoki Urasawa in 2004 when I saw the Monster anime. Psychological thrillers are definitely NOT my cup of tea, but he had me hooked with his combination of realistic artwork and gripping plot. As such, I was thrilled when Viz Media decided to release a translation of an earlier Urasawa action/adventure: Master Keaton. Read on for the review of Volume 2! (For my review of Volume 1, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Taichi Hiraga Keaton has a degree from the University of Oxford’s master’s programme in archaeology, but he abandoned further studies due to tight finances. Because combat didn’t suit his nature, he left the SAS and is now an exceptional insurance investigator. Equipped with a strong body and a keen intellect, Keaton is about to solve the most difficult cases ever seen!

The Review

Master Keaton continues to deliver a series of mostly single chapter stories with settings ranging from Switzerland to Mexico City. Those who enjoy watching the unassuming yet amazingly capable combat soldier take his opponents by surprise should be entertained by a third of this volume’s contents. Keaton raids terrorists with a bunch of bounty hunters in “Little Big Man” and turns the tables on far-right extremists trying to hunt him down in “Black Forest.”

The writers seem to be having trouble continuing to deliver the archaeology aspect into Keaton’s insurance cases however. “Fire and Ice” opens with an ancient Greek drawing, but the case just involves regular sleuthing and some modern history. In “Red Moon” and it’s conclusion “Silver Moon,” mention is made of werewolves, but the story ultimately turns out more of a dark sci-fi. Ultimately, the chapters without a strong action component wind up showing Keaton more like a clever detective than an archaeologically minded investigator.

As if to make up for the lack of archaeology-related insurance cases, the writers create turmoil for Keaton in his academic life. He loses his university position, and struggles to find a way to continue pursuing his passion for things ancient. These segments are more character studies, and while not quite so exciting as his run-ins with underworld criminals, they’re an exploration into Keaton’s eccentric personality and personal life.

As in Volume 1, he talks about his ex-wife, but there’s no sign of her. Daughter Yuriko makes an appearance though, and Dad Taihei gets its own chapter in “Flowers for Everyone,” the only story that takes place in Japan.

Extras include the first pages of Chapter 1 and Chapter 5 in color and a sound effects glossary.

In Summary

While Keaton continues to take adversaries by surprise with his SAS fighting and survival skills, the archaeology components of his cases fades to passing mentions of legends that have little actual bearing on the mystery or dilemma at hand. The writers compensate by focusing on Keaton’s personal struggles in academia. While Keaton’s quirky personality does keep things interesting, he comes across more as a clever detective than an Indiana Jones in Volume 2.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Your Lie In April Vol. #1

Despite being a soundless medium, music-centric stories are not uncommon in manga. Now joining the ranks of Nodame Cantible and La Corda d’Oro is Kodansha’s Your Lie in April, and you can read on for my review of Volume 1.

Back cover blurb

Kosei Arima was a piano prodigy until his cruel taskmaster of a mother died suddenly, changing his life forever. Driven by his pain to abandon piano, Kosei now lives in a monotonous, colorless world. Having resigned himself to a bland life, he is surprised when he meets Kaori Miyazono, a violinist with an unorthodox style. Can she bring Kosei back to music, and back to life?

The Review

Your Lie in April may have a male main character, but it is definitely a shojo manga. The lead is fourteen-year-old Kosei Arima, a former piano prodigy whose ability to hear his music disappeared when his mother died. If this was a shonen title, he would overcome his loss through the power of male friendship or sheer determination. However, because this is a shojo manga, the catalyst is Kaori Miyazono, a girl who not only reawakens Kosei’s connection to music but stirs his heart as well.

In addition to being a romance, Your Lie in April is a music manga, which is a tricky category to pull off well. While the anime version handled the music scenes brilliantly with a combination of soundtrack and motion capture animation (probably thanks to sponsor Steinway and Sons), the manga version is underwhelming. The narrative fails to deliver a real sense of characters’ performances. We get internal and mob comments on the  emotional impact, but little about the featured music’s tone or style. For instance, the scene in which Kaori draws Kosei in with her melodica playing provides no details on what kind of tune she’s playing.

As in many music manga, there’s a large reliance on visuals to convey sound, but the illustrations in Your Lie in April falls short in this respect. Kaori’s preliminary performance in the Towa Music Competition starts off with six pages sans text, but it’s difficult to tell from the pictures alone exactly what kind of performance she’s giving. This is partly due to the mediocre quality of the artwork. It’s not as drastic as the difference between Honey and Clover’s manga and anime, but Arakawa-sensei’s drawings look like rough sketches compared to the TV series.

The music aspect aside, Your Lie in April does have an engaging plot, as long as you don’t mind a lot of emo. Kosei is the very picture of passivity (which can get annoying, actually) so it’s up to Kaori’s exuberant personality to keep things moving. Considering she’s expressed interest in Kosei’s friend Watari, she spends an undue amount of attention on Kosei and his stalled piano career. But when she demands Kosei be her accompanist, you get the sense she’s got an ulterior motive, and it’s that hidden agenda, more so than the music competition that keeps interest levels high.

Other extras include translation notes and blurbs about featured music written by violinist Rieko Ikeda.

In Summary

Manga with an associated anime often get compared, and in the case of Your Lie in April, I’d recommend watching the anime and not bothering with the manga. The plots are virtually identical, and with one main character who has sounds disappear on him and another main character who plays against music scores, the story simply works better with a soundtrack.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Anime Review: Rose Of Versailles Part 1 Litebox DVD

Anime reviews generally feature the latest and greatest from Japan, but occasionally, we get a blast from the past. Nozomi Entertainment’s release of Rose of Versailles definitely falls into that category with a shojo title that was  considered “classic” back when I was growing up.

Back Cover Blurb

General Jarjayes – so desperate for a son to preserve the family name and noble standing – names his newborn daughter “Oscar” and chooses to raise her as a boy. Fourteen years later, Oscar is a masterful duelist, marksman, and the newly appointed Commander of the French Royal Guards. Her first task: to protect Marie Antoinette, who is engaged to the French prince and future king, Louis-Auguste.

But even though the planned marriage should provide both countries with some much needed peace and prosperity, the French court is a dangerous place – and Marie’s youthful naivete makes her an easy target for those who wish to see the monarchy overthrown. Oscar soon finds herself both defending Marie’s reputation from those that seek to discredit her and protecting her life from those that wish to kill her.

The Review

General Jarjayes is a nobleman desperate for a son to carry on the family name. When his wife bears him yet another daughter, he takes matters into his own hands. Naming the newborn “Oscar,” he declares the girl his heir and raises him as a boy.

Thus begins Rose of Versailles, a shojo historical made in the late 1970s. The back cover touts the anime as “THE gold standard of ‘shojo’ anime which all anime fans must see.” While I wouldn’t go so far as to put it in the everyone-must-see-category, it certainly is a classic that forged the way for many gender bending shojo titles to follow.

Classic, of course, means that the animation is pre-digital. Thus, there are a lot of zoom in/zoom out/panning of stills, and special effects are primitive by current standards. Character designs also reflect the 1970s with waves of fluffy hair, prominent noses, long skinny legs, and super sparkly eyes with crazy long lashes. Despite the dated artwork, Rose of Versailles is a Louis XVI historical, so the story can be enjoyed as much today as it was thirty years ago.

Oscar is very much a fictional character, but many in the cast are based on actual people, most notably Marie Antoinette. Oscar and the Austrian Princess are the same age, and Oscar is appointed Commander of the Royal Guards at the same time Antoinette arrives in France to marry the Dauphin. Oscar immediately becomes Dauphine Antoinette’s favorite, and the anime follows the parallel journeys of the two women in the years before the Revolution.

In addition to providing a glimpse into and commentary on the French Court, Oscar also serves as a stark contrast to Antoinette. Both women are physically attractive, but while Antoinette is frivolous, weak, lazy, and irresponsible, Oscar is strong, courageous, and dutiful. Oscar is also fiercely loyal, and because she pledges loyalty to Antoinette, the anime does its best to make the Dauphine a sympathetic character. Unfortunately, Antoinette has history against her, and when Oscar remarks how Antoinette is “too true to her emotions” like it’s a good thing, she sounds like she’s making excuses for the airhead royal.

The anime takes an interesting perspective on this period by focusing on women and their point of view. The first five episodes covers Antoinette’s introduction to the French court and her rivalry with Louis XV’s mistress, DuBarry. Their power struggle, however, rather comes off as an amped up high school popularity contest. As Antoinette strives to establish herself as Versailles’ top female, Oscar alternates between dazzling the men and women of the French court and foiling underhanded schemes against the Dauphin and Dauphine.

The tale of Marie Antoinette wouldn’t be complete without representation from the common folk so in Episodes 6 through 10 the focus turns to the impoverished sisters Rosalie and Jeanne. The girls are opposites; Rosalie has an angelic disposition, and Jeanne is like the devil himself. Through circumstances as contrived and ironic as a Victor Hugo novel, both manage to escape Paris’ slums for the upper echelons of French society.

In Episode 11, Louis XVI ascends to the throne, and with it comes the beginnings of tension between Antoinette and Oscar. A trip to the countryside opens Oscar’s eyes to the wretched circumstances of the peasantry and their dismal opinion of the queen. Meanwhile, Antoinette falls under the sway of the conniving Madam Polignac, who fuels the queen’s reckless spending habits.

The final episodes in the collection focus on Antoinette’s obsession with the Swedish Count Fensen, with whom Oscar has also fallen in love. But while Oscar stoically keeps her feelings to herself, the slave-to-her-passions queen launches into an adulterous affair with the handsome Swede. This puts Oscar in the unenviable position of suffering unrequited love while having to shield the queen’s forbidden romance from gossip mongers.

For this anime, entertainment definitely trumps historical accuracy. As such, it takes liberties with details, but at the very least, viewers will come away familiar with the names of historical figures. Characters tend to have a very one-sided quality though. Villains, like Jeanne, DuBarry, and Duke Orleans, are steeped in evil while the good guys, like Rosalie and Oscar, are absolutely pure and noble. Marie Antoinette is in an odd category: goodhearted but too stupid to see she’s destroying her people. Probably the most well-rounded character is Andre, Oscar’s sidekick, who is neither noble nor beggar and provides much of the series’ comic relief.

Despite Rose’s flat characters and simplistic storylines (it’s amazing how easily the bad guys get away with literal murder), the glories of the French Court, Antoinette’s public and private life, and Oscar’s increasing dismay at the decline of France are still captivating. It’s a train wreck destined to end with Antoinette at the guillotine, but Oscar’s path remains uncertain. Whether the honorable soldier continues to stay loyally beside her queen or sides with the suffering people of France should make for compelling drama indeed.

In Summary

If you’re looking for a classic style anime featuring an androgynous lead, Rose of Versailles, is the way to go. Oscar is a woman who can more than hold her own as a French officer yet so stunning men and women alike fall in love with her. Improbable as this combination is, it makes for an interesting and entertaining perspective on Versailles in the days of King Louis XV and King Louis XVI.

Features:
Japanese mono, English subtitles, clean opening and closing animation, and promos for other Right Stuf! anime.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manhwa Review: Milkyway Hitchhiking Vol. #1

Most manga and manhwa have lengthy plots with human main characters. However, if you prefer a feline narrator and more of an anthology feel, you may want to check out Yen Press’ Milkyway Hitchhiking.

Back Cover Blurb

There are as many people on Earth as there are stars in the sky. Milkyway–a peculiar cat with a pattern of the Milky Way splashed across her back–travels across time and space; sometimes to observe, other times to interact with an unfolding story. From Sirial, the creator of One Fine Day, comes the full-color tale of Milkyway hitchhiking across the bright stars of people’s lives, loves, tears, and laughter.

The Review

From the title, you might guess this manhwa is a sci-fi along the lines of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. It is definitely not. Milkyway refers not to the stars, but a cat whose fur looks like the nighttime sky. As for hitchhiking, that’s what she calls her ability to move from one place and era to the next. Her adventures, however, are not told in a continuous, chronological arc. Rather, the manhwa contains several short standalone stories. Their settings range from a European boarding school to an ancient Korean village to a near future city. Some tales are tragic, some romantic, and some humorous. The only common thread is that Milkyway features in each story; even so, her part varies widely. She plays the lead in the comical “I Am the King of the World,” but is more narrator than actor in the Grimm fairytale-esque “The Knight of the Fallen Leaves” while she plays more of a supporting role in “The Black Cat’s Wish.”

Milkyway doesn’t offer many particulars about herself. She wields magic and can “hitchhike” from one place/era to the next, but if there’s any particular impetus or mission behind her travels, she doesn’t divulge it. For the most part, she epitomizes the proud independence often associated with cats as she interacts with humankind. The personalities she encounters are varied and so is her treatment of them, ranging from super snobby to compassionate to perplexed.

Unlike many manhwa, this one is printed entirely in color. Palettes vary to match the tone of the stories, but all the illustrations, whether of cats, humans, or backgrounds, are gorgeous. Even when Sirial reverts to a super deformed style for the funny bits, the drawings maintain a high level of charm.

By the way, Milkyway Hitchhiking contains an eight-page segment titled “Milkyway Convenience Store” about the patrons of a convenience store. It’s placed in the center of the book but really feels like a bonus mini-manhwa. Other extras include four illustrations at the end of the book and footnotes explaining cultural terms.

In Summary

Milkyway Hitchhiking is a collection of eleven stories that don’t have a terrible lot in common. However, all of the tales have a very high cute cat factor and plenty of observations about humans from the feline perspective. The book’s full-color illustrations have a whimsical charm, and if you’re a cat lover, you may want to pick it up solely for the pictures.

First published at the Fandom Post.