“Play Ball!” – Taisho Baseball Girls (anime) – 9/10 Peeps

“If All You See Is How I Look, You’ll Miss The Superchick Within” – “Superchick” by Superchick

Genre: Sports/Comedy/Slice-of-Life/Historical/School/Romance

Review Status: Complete (12 Episodes/12 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed in the US by Sentai Filmworks

Art: It’s super-cute! The girls are all fairly recognizable, which says a lot because of how large a cast it is, and it’s in bright, vibrant colors. Definitely nice to look at.

Summary: 1925 – six years since the end of the Great War, four years since women were allowed to join political associations and one year since Emperor Hirohito assumed the throne. Only thirteen years after the death of the Meiji Emperor, Japan is a nation re-inventing itself, swept by wave after wave of wars, disasters and political unrest. War looms in China, males over the age of 24 are about to receive the right to vote and a strange new type of school uniform called the “sailor suit” is being introduced. But at least the national pastime, baseball, remains bound by tradition, the exclusive realm of men and boys. Until now. When a local player arrogantly states that girls should become housewives instead of going to school, teenage firebrands Koume and Akiko respond by forming their own baseball team. It’s shocking. It’s scandalous. And yet, in a nation in which almost anything seems possible, it may just be the start of something greater than any nine girls can imagine. It’s not just a game, it’s history in the making in Taisho Baseball Girls! (Back cover of DVD case)

Review: This was one of my favorite anime that I watched over winter vacation. Taisho really succeeds at capturing an era, before the destruction of WW2 and during the years when massive social change was happening. Koume is a young girl that wants nothing but to embrace the coming era. She wants a new, modern hairstyle. She wants a sailor suit instead of a kimono. She wants things that her traditional parents would never let her have, and it bothers her to no end. Her best friend Akiko is in similar straits, but because of her fiancée’s arrogance, has latched onto one way they can show that they can be modern: Play baseball.

But this is not a time or era when you’d have a flock of girls ready to sign up! They have to beg, plead, and cajole to get even six members, and all 12? It takes half the series just to get the team together. At the same time, it doesn’t fall into a trap of being repetitive. While they’re looking for members, the girls who are interested have to learn baseball from the ground up. None of them even know how to throw the ball, and have to enlist their English teacher, Ms. Curtland (yep, she’s actually English!) to teach them. They have to create their own clubhouse, tend their own field, and fight the school administration to be able to do the most basic school activities. It’s pretty cool to see these girls so willing to put themselves on the line, because everything is against them. They are outright dismissed by other schools because the only other teams out there are boy’s teams – and many see it as silly to challenge girls. Their families definitely don’t approve when they find out. And the school wants nothing more than to shut them down.

This is never really presented in an overly dramatic way, which is really admirable. All the these things are just the Facts Of Life in this story and the girls just find ways to deal with it.

At the same time this weaves in everyday life, mainly in the form of Koume’s family and what happens when a boy she meets falls in love with her. She’s not really thinking about that at this point in her life, but she has unwittingly brought a major complication into getting her family’s support. Her friend Akiko is in an arranged marriage against her wishes. And while some of this falls back on traditional tropes, it’s another thing that is just seen as being what it is – something common in those days, nothing surprising or overly shocking. And these things do manage to come to a fairly satisfactory conclusion.

Overall, it’s a wonderful series that wraps up perfectly in 12 episodes, and definitely one that I am happy I invested in.

Recommended: The back cover rates this as PG, and I think that’s pretty accurate. The most offensive that it could get is there’s one girl that clearly has a crush on the main, and another girl that crushes on that girl, but it’s hard to say whether this is romantic or a case of girls just idolizing each other like modern girls idolize famous women. I’m fairly sure that it could go either way.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Bamboo Blade (anime or manga)

Hikaru no Go (anime or manga)

Girls Und Panzer (anime)

Chihayafuru (anime or manga)

Moshidora (anime)

Big Windup (anime)

“Crime And Genius Detectives” – Young Miss Holmes (manga) – 8/10 Desks

Mangaka: Kaoru Shintani

Genre: Mystery/Historical/Shoujo

Review Status: Incomplete (2 Volumes/7 volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this series is licensed in the US.

Art: The character designs look like a throwback to the 90’s, but with less detail in the backgrounds and simpler line art. I’m fond of how the girls look, but the men? They just look strange and emaciated. It has a strange effect on the overall appearance. Overall I’m okay with it, but it could be better.

Summary: Christie Holmes is a prodigy. At ten years old, she’s as familiar with the sciences and classics as any older student at Cambridge or Oxford. And her fascility with logic is reminiscent of her uncle., the eminent Sherlock Holmes himself. So, what’s a brilliant yhoung girl to do when her parents are away in India, leaving her behind in the care of maids and servants? Why, solve mysteries, of course. Along with her giant hound Nelson, Christie’s implacable curiosity leads her from one dangerous adventure to another, often joining forces with her Uncle Sherlock and Doctor Watson on their famed investigations. Christie may look pint-sized, bet her clever mind is never to be underestimated! (back cover of first volume)

Review: Young Miss Holmes is a very interesting title. It’s one of the critic’s darlings, a new manga that is just as much fanfiction as it is a geniune story in it’s own right. Why fanfiction? Well, this takes a character that never existed (several, really, when accounting for the fact that to make Christie the niece of Sherlock, the give Sherlock a younger sister) and inserts her into a well-established story, including inserting her into a few of Holmes’ actual cases! This might tick off original fans of the Holmes series, but if you can handle a little bit of creative license then this is a decently entertaining series.

I really don’t think the series hit its stride until the third case she was on. The first had virtually no detective work on Christie’s part; She was really only in the story for the ride as her uncle spouted off what happened and how they were going to recover the jewel. One of my peeves about manga is that I much prefer the show-don’t-tell approach for stories since this is a visual medium. If I want to read a book, I’ll read a book. It’s also the least exciting or interesting mystery of them all, with Christie merely sitting in a chair to fool the criminal. It just wasn’t a good start at all.

The second case was better than that – putting her into the infamous Redheaded League case – and the third was even better than that! Not only did we start getting a solid look into Christie’s life, but the case is far more interesting and better set-up. It felt far more like aHolmes story, with an actual investigation and look at the facts and scene of the crime. And the revelation is very similar to how the Homes stories are! I was very impressed with the ingeniuty the mangaka showed with it. Not only that, but it really started to showcase Christie as her own character and not just a side commentator. or a brat shoehorned in just for the heck of it. She’s looking for approval from an uncle that she admires more than anyone else in the world, and is dealing with a case of absentee parentism, which wasn’t that unusual back in the day (wow, an actual historical reason to get the parents out of the picture instead of just having them gone! So great!). In their place is a bevy of servants that need to reign in a precocious girl that could outsmart them all in a heartbeat. One woman who’s sent in as her tutor has to find ingenius ways of teaching her social niceties while her charge dives headfirst into soling mysteries. I also love the two maidservants that are Christie’s main… well, lackeys, for lack fo a better word. One is a down-home girl that can weild a whip but is less than refined, while the other is a fairly religious and proper maidservant… that isn’t afriad to whip out a gun if Christie is in any danger. They provide a fairly standard but amusing duo and comedic relief to the series.

As fun as the story got in the third case, the standards fell just a little more in the 4th. Unfortunately, this was a crossover with the manga Dance in the Vampire Bund, which means that this mystery had a geniunely supernatural element to it which I wasn’t ecstatic about. I thought the mystery and characters involved were just fascinating – seeing Christie inadvertantly make a friend was so adorable! – but since this is supposed to be Sherlock Holmes, I could have done without this extra element to attract those of the other series. Knowing the content of the other series, I also don’t feel compelled to read it, either. Whatever my feelings on this are, though, it was still a far sight better than the initial two chapters, so I feel that this will continue to be a good read in later volumes.

Overall, it seems to be off to a rocky start, but since it’s getting better and better as the story goes on I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Recommended: 10+. If you think your kid can handle Muder, She Wrote, then they can handle the content in here. There are two scenes of dead bodies: you don’t get close-ups on them or the wounds. you just see enough blood to show that they’re dead.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Sherlock Hound (anime)

“Jazz Hands” – Kids on the Slope (anime) – 9/10 Desks

Genre: School/Romance/Slice of Life/Historical/Josei

Review Status: Complete

Licensed: Yes, it’s licensed by Sentai and available for free viewing on Crunchyroll.

Art/Animation: Fantastic! This has some standard character designs, but the animation is top-notch. The care that they took animating all the music scenes is very evident. I even think that the fingerings and technique for the instruments is correct! Watching this is an absolute treat for the eyes.

Dub Vs. Sub: There is no dub for this anime.

Summary: The beginning of summer, 1966. Because of his father’s job situation, freshman high school student Kaoru Nishimi moves by himself from Yokosuka to Kyushu to live with relatives. Until then, Kaoru was an honor roll student who tended to keep to himself, but meeting notorious bad boy Sentaro Kawabuchi starts to change him. Through his devil-may-care classmate, Kaoru learns the attractions of jazz and finds the first person he can call a “friend”. He also discovers how much fun it is to play music with a pal.  Other characters include Sentaro’s kind childhood chum, Ritsuko, who is the daughter of a record shop owner; the mysterious upperclassman, Yurika; and Brother Jun, the much-admired leader among their peers. Set against the backdrop of a seaside town with a scent of American culture, this series is a drama about young people coming into their own, crossing each other’s paths, and finding friendship, love, and music! (Official Website)

Review: What does jazz have to do with anything? At first, nothing. Kaoru, a gifted classical pianist, is living with his relatives and joining a new school. He’s been moving around for most of his life, and because of it has no interest in making friends with anybody. After all, he’d just have to leave them again. However, after a chance encounter with Sentarou, a headstrong drummer, and Ritsuko, the daughter of a local music shop owner, Kaoru is drawn into jazz, and his encounters with the people there change him forever.

As melodramatic as that sounds, that is the most basic description of this anime that I can give. There’s school competitions, love quadrangles, family squabbles, all of which play out in Kids on the Slope. The name is no mistake – they go to school on a dreaded hill that they must climb every day. They meet at the top of the hill, almost by accident. Sentarou is a bit of a delinquent and a loner, only really interacting with Ritsuko, his childhood friend. Kaoru would have left him well enough alone if he hadn’t had a passing interest in Ritsuko, and curiosity would drive him to the underground practice room (awesome speakeasy themes going on there!) where Ritsuko’s dad, a family friend, and Sentarou play their hearts out. And what do they play? Jazz.

This is really what brings Kaoru out of his shell. He’s intimidated by their playing, so different from his own classical music, and feels challenged enough to grab a record and try it for himself, practicing until he’s note-perfect. And so he joins the little underground band, and so things begin to change.

I’m both surprised and pleased that Kids on the Slope managed a decently complex plot (relationship-wise, at least) and resolved most of it in 12 episodes. I’ve seen simpler ones that could barely get over and done with in 26! Kaoru is in love with Ritsuko, while she is in love with Sentarou, while he falls for Yurika, and Yurika has the hots for Junichi. It seems like there’s no way for this to end happily, right? Wrong! Yurika is no wilting flower and lets her feelings be known, and while that leaves Sentarou in the dust, the way that this couple managed to get together was one of the most touching and romantic I’ve seen. There were no flowers, there were no melodramatics…it was simplicity in it’s purest form, and it worked.

However, that brought about a whole lot of issues characters had about their families. Sentarou is alone, even with a bajillion siblings to take care of, and that rejection hits him where it hurts. He’s not as carefree as he lets on, and this is where it starts to show. Against a background of jazz competition and tension over Ritsuko, Sentarou becomes the main player and a tragic figure in his own right.

This is where I start having issues with the show. I have no problems with the music, I have no problems with the characters, I have no problems with the plot…except when it starts winding down to the ending. Religion never really played a part in this show, though Sentarou and Ritsuko were shown to be Christian early on, and it was made to seem like it would play a bigger part. However, it’s not until the ending that we get how it plays into Sentarou’s life, and then not very satisfactorily. The same can be said for how Ristuko and Kaoru’s relationship works out. Things are really left hanging, with lots of unanswered questions. I can deal with those – often I’m far more approving than others seem to be – but here it just doesn’t work.

However, I can’t deny that for all that, I really was moved by the ending. Something about seeing them as joyful as when they were teens just brought me to tears. I have no issue about it…just about how things were left hanging in that time gap. It really is a great show, and definitely works on the strength of the characters’ relationships. They don’t feel fake or forced, and work out in a way that really does feel fairly natural and real, something that’s desperately needed in a saturation anime that is utterly teen fantasy.

Overall, this is a fantastic series that might not do everything right, but it does a lot of it great!

Recommended: 13+. At one point, Yurika asks Junichi why he didn’t have sex with her, and there is some child abuse talked about. During one performance a US sailor tells them to not play any (insert slur here) jazz – in keeping with the time it’s placed in, but could throw the unwary off. Other than that, this is a very clean series.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Beck (anime and manga)

NANA (anime and manga)

Nodame Cantabile (anime)

“A Ghost In The Attic” – Hungry Ghosts (Kinetic Novel) – 5/10 Sunflowers

Genre: Supernatural/Historical

Review Status: Complete

Licensed: It’s licensed and can be found for a free download on Ren’Py

Art/Animation: The backgrounds are just fine, with great pictures very suited to the atmosphere and setting. The character sprites are adorable, well-drawn, and look like something you’d find in a child’s picture book. It didn’t take away from the atmosphere much, though it did seem a little out of place for a story that was supposed to be fairly tragic.

Summary: A girl moves into an ancient house and finds a ghost – one that she has to help move on!

Review: I’m a big fan of ghost stories, and am very familiar with the term ‘hungry ghosts’. As an affictionado I have to say that this term is horribly misused in the title, since there are no hungry ghosts to be had! It’s merely the tale of a young girl’s spirit that hasn’t been able to move on because of spirit amnesia.

I liked that the story is, for the most part, pretty fleshed-out. There’s a good amount of wonderful exposition about where they’re living and why the main character comes to live there. This isn’t true for the whole VN, though. The whole story behind the ghost and who she is and all that was run through incredibly quickly and conveniently for the main character. She manages to figure everything out before dinner! That set-up made the main section feel more like a children’s story than anything, which is at an odd contrast with the rest of the writing.

The story isn’t a bad one. I did think the main girl was cute, and the ghost was fun. It reminded me a lot of Casper. But I really feel that some parts could have been expanded on.

Overall, the story isn’t bad, but the set-up isn’t that fantastic.

Recommended: 11+. The story is rather tragic (a child dies), but it’s off-screen. There’s not a whole lot of objectionable material here.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Ghost Hunt (anime)

“This Time, This Place” – NOW (manwha) – 8/10 Pencils

The most important of life’s battles is the one we fight daily in the silent chambers of the soul. ~David McKay

Mangaka: Park Sung-Woo

Genre: Action/Adventure/Comedy/Fantasy/Historical/Romance

Review Status: Incomplete (6 Volumes/25 Volumes)

Licensed: This manhwa was formerly licensed by ComicsOne, later by Infinity Studios. However, both businesses have gone defunct and it’s out of print.

Art: It looks just fine for a manhwa. The art takes a more sketchy quality when

Summary: Just before the fall of the mighty Korean Kingdom of Goguryeo, a lone man roamed the lands causing destruction beyond imagine using Sa Shin Mu, a form of martial arts never before seen in this world. Now, 20 years after the fall of the Kingdom of Goguryeo, a new rumor is spreading that a secret manual detailing this legendary martial art has resurfaced. Will Sa Shin Mu once again dictate the fate of this new era? (Amazon.com)

Review: This manhwa caught my eye a while ago when I was at my public library, and I had hesitated to pick it up, thinking that it wouldn’t be complete. Well, I was right! That’s really too bad, because this is one of the more charming manhwa I’ve come across in a while. This starts out somewhat misleading, following a band of martial arts diciples as they hunt for the scrolol that contains the secrets of Sa Shin Mu. The younger brother of the leader is rpessed forward as everyone is attacked, making him the one responsible for finding it. The problem is that he’s not the only one looking for it – he comes across two powerful enemies, and is knocked about like a tennis ball as he attempts to defeat the one who holds the secrets of the martial art his brother died to find.

He has to be the protagonist of this story, right? Nope! Unlike most shounen that have a master to be defeated, this goes in an unexpected direction- the keeper the the secrets finds himself in the company of a young girl about his age and on a quest of his own to protect the secrets of the martial art he was entrusted with! The previous master died, but the young new master isn’t quite up to par, with deadly anger and a tendency to go berserk. He also is far from evil, merely obeying his mater’s wishes about the art and seeing the destruction of the book a blessing because of what the skills he was taught have done to him. He teams up with a young girl who got caught in the fray, one who has deadly skills of her own, but isn’t up to the master-level that she needs or wants to be because of an incident in her childhood… something that leads the young man to ask to follow her and meet her parents.

This takes that incident and expands on it, the young brigand who is defeated becoming the antagonist, a warrior with a desire for revenge, but comes across a few obstacles on that course, from maniacle leaders of other schools of martial arts, to leaders of schools that recruit him to their cause. He needs to skillfully maneuver himself into a postition that won’t get him killed while honing his skills against these enemies!

At the same time, the Sa Shin Mu master travels with the young girl, encountering various obstacles and opponents of their own, from an unexpected travelling partner, to a friend’s own past catching up to her. There are numberous plot threads going on at once that tie all of the characters together, and I can tell how involved this is going to be! Revenge. blooming romance, multiple plotlines… It’s a fantastic feeling, but at the same time highly disappointing since I can’t read the rest of it to see how it pans out. For the beginning of a series, though, this really can’t get much better!

Overall, while I might never get to read the rest of it, this really caught my attention and I hope someday someone will pick it up so I can enjoy it!

Recommended: 16+. This has some standard violence, but some of the training described is brutal, and there is the implication of cannibalism by one of the bad guys. There are several on-page deaths.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Claymore (anime or manga)

Berserk (manga)

Shin Angyo Onshi (manwha)

Blade of the Immortal (manga)

Amatsuki (manga)

“Softly Falling Snow” – Lady Snowblood (manga) – 9/10 Pencils

Revenge is a confession of pain. ~ Proverb

Mangaka: Kazuo Koike

Genre: Action/Historical/Drama

Review Status: Complete (4 Volumes/4 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed by Darkhorse in the US.

Art: This overall looks really good. This keeps to realistic anatomy while looking… refined, for lack of a better word. It also uses a lot of light and dark imagery, rarely going into shades of grey, which goes well with the dramatic themes of the manga. The lines are very crisp and clean, the faces very expressive. There’s nothing that’s really lacking in this department.

Summary: She spells out revenge with strokes of gushing blood. Her name is Yuki, Japanese for “snow.” Born to be a child of hell, walking a path of vengeance for cimes committed against the family she never met, Lady Snowblood will prevail. For the price of one thousand yen, she works as a mater assasin, with a blade and her wits as weapons. It’s a time of change, of modern culture pressing in on archaic Edo, but in Lady Snowblood’s mind, the old tradition of a bloody grudge lives on. (back cover of 1st volume)

Review: Whether you like Lady Snowblood will hinge on how you feel about her motives behind her journey for revenge. This is ultimately the driving force behind her actions, and even her jobs tend to reflect the uncertain nature of whether she’s doing the right thing. It’s fraught with shades of moral grey and notions of honor that are vaguely familiar.

Her motives aren’t clear at first, revealed through a series of flashbacks and incidents as she gets closer to her goal: finding those who destroyed her mother’s family. It’s the only thing she lives for, unable to lift the burden of her mother’s death and live her own life until it’s finished. Along the way, she encounters villains and rights wrongs to the few she does care about, feels responsible for, or even stains the honor of the nation. She will do any job, though, as long as she gets payment for it, but even with payment there’s no guarantee that the person who pays her will get off guilt-free as long as there’s some guilt in their past.

The variety of jobs she takes and trails she undergoes is astounding, from learning to pickpocket, to killing off many state officials.She encounters Yakuza gang leaders and small-time thieves. They are treated with the same amount of care and intensity with their stories, which makes her tales more compelling. The dramatic turn the last volume takes, with Lady Snowblood finding a way to flush out the criminals by revealing her story, seems as ingenuous a twist than any, making a story-within-a-story of sorts.

She does manage to find those who tormented her mother, and finish her revenge, but the story is as bittersweet as any. There’s a moral grey area that she must navigate, and it is never an easy task to find a way to save the innocent when all you want to do is kill the guilty and all associated – something that she has done before. It is a satisfying ending, though, feeling like the start of a new beginning at the same time.

Overall, this is one of the more interesting and compelling manga I’ve read, and it really does a good job of making me feel for the characters.

Recommended: 18+! This has some rather graphic violence – people are beheaded, imbs are cut off, they are shot and stabbed… Blood is a very common thing. There isn’t any graphic gore, but that doesn’t really help matters. Men, women, and children are killed. There are also a number of depictions of sex. Sometimes it’s rape, sometimes it’s consensual, sometimes it’s heterosexual sex, sometimes it’s homosexual sex, and while it never reaches pornographic it is fairly detailed in the implications. At one point you even see a penis right up there on the page (though it’s a filled-in-shadow, it’s a very detailed shadow).

Other titles you might enjoy:

Lone Wolf and Cub (manga)

Samurai Executioner (manga)

Sidooh (manga)

“In Hot Water” – Thermae Romae – 8/10 Sunbeams

Genre: Comedy/Historical

Review Status: Complete (6 Episodes/ 6 Episodes

Licensed: No, this anime is not licensed in the US.

Art/Animation: The art is surprisingly well-detailed and looks pretty good. Characters are distinctive, some looking more realistic while others are…. not. But main characters are made with a lot of care. Since this was animated in Flash, I expected something a little more rough and hap-hazard, but it’s really very smooth and well-done! I’m highly impressed.

Summary: The story is a comedy about Lucius, an architect of public bath houses in ancient Rome, who time-travels to various modern-day baths in Japan. The author explores the two cultures in the world “that have loved baths the most: the Japanese and the Romans. (Wikipedia)

Review: Thermae Romae manages to be part historical comedy and part homage to something that both Romans and modern Japanese hold dear to their hearts: Bathing. It’s something that we Westerners take for granted, but something that these cultures take some glory and pride in, and this anime takes this idea and runs with it!

Taking place when Roman baths are stagnating and no new innovations are coming around, Lucius finds himself stuck in a creative rut, his career going nowhere. A chance slip and journey into unconsciousness brings him to modern-day Japan, where the creative marvels of the bathroom inspire him, and when he arrives back, he’s determined to bring back all the things he’s seen! From inventions like a bidet and a shower head, to foods like ramen and hotspring-boiled eggs, he’s enchanted with the things that the ‘flat-faces” have come up with!

The majority of the humor comes from Lucius’ astonishment at the modern world and it’s amazing possibilities, which can make it feel slightly repetitive. But on the other hand, there are so many things that we do take for granted, and seeing his inventive ways of recreating what we have is always interesting! Honestly, this is a great look at something so culturally imbedded, most people don’t think twice about it.

Overall, it’s not always ‘lol’ funny, but manages to get it right more than enough times.

Recommended: 10+. A few people are said to be homosexual (it wasn’t exactly hidden back then), the people in the baths are implied to be naked though you never see anything below the waist, there’s threatened violence that’s never carried out, and mention of a brothel.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Saint Young Men (manga)

Nichijou (anime)

Yakitatte Japan! (anime)

Kyou Kara Maou! (anime)

Hyouge Mono (anime)

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