“Prime Time” – A, A’ (manga) – 8/10

Mangaka: Moto Hagio

Genre: Sci-Fi/Romance/Psychological/Gender-Bender

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: No, this is unlicensed in the US.

Art: Very 80′s shoujo, with big galaxy-sparkle eyes and pretty guys. This still retains the nice, detailed backgrounds that modern shoujo lack.

Summary: A volume of short sci-fi shoujo stories all featuring a new race of humans called Unicorns. The major theme in all of the stories are about human emotions. As the characters in the story try to interact and relate to these Unicorns who lack a lot of the natural emotions humans normally feel. (MAL.net)

Review: In addition to the summary above, I would also like to posit that the stories that these three tales tell is also centered on identity, explored in three different ways: individually, emotionally, and sexually.

The first story pre-empts the Western world’s obsession with cloning and its effects by about 30 years. A Unicorn wakes up to discover that she’s a clone grown from the cells of a scientist who died on a distant planet. Because the original’s work was so necessary, they send her off to replace her. The problem is that all the members there remember her as she grew and changed, forgetting that the clone was a turn back in the clock to when she first came. Relationships – especially the romantic one that grew between her and another scientist – are all reset, much to their dismay. The clone must come to terms with the idea that she’s not the original, that these people aren’t crazy or trying to irritate her… that they’re merely trying to connect with her as they knew her. Where does the original end and the clone begin?

The second story really has no relation to the first, but does serve as a prequel story to the last in the trilogy. A young psychic makes a connection to a Unicorn that’s been raised in glass walls, expected to behave a certain way and live a certain way. It turns out not all is as it appears. Other’s expectations blinded them to her potential, and when she awakens there is no turning back. How can these two keep their bonds with each other? How can she find freedom?

The last explores the idea of sexual identity. A Unicorn is born with the ability to change gender at will, but currently has settled on the male form as dominant. But a chance encounter with the psychic from the previous story unsettles everyone as they try to deal with ‘his’ attraction to the man. What effect does it have on their love, and can their relationship survive?

All three have interesting insights into what it means to love and what it means to find oneself. It’s endlessly fascinating, and while I don’t feel that the themes are always explored to their fullest, I do think they’re explored well.

Overall, it’s pretty good, but with some issues exploring these ideas in depth due to these being one-shots, I can’t really give it a perfect ’10′. Even so, the ideas explored are fascinating, and the emotional parts just gut-wrenching.

Recommended: 14+. The ideas of sexuality and identity are definitely for the older crowd. This also has a few (non-graphic) character deaths.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

To Terra… (manga or tv anime)

Please Save My Earth (manga)

“Lying Eyes” – Lying Mii-kun And Broken Maa-chan: Precious Lies (manga) – 10/10 Peeps

Mangaka: Hitoma Iruma (Story), Satou Atsuki (Art)

Genre: Mystery/Psychological/Romance

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: No, this manga is unlicensed in the U.S.

Art: This is very much a modern manga, with clean lines, good shading, and solid detail when needed on the characters and background.

Summary: The setting is a rural city in which a kidnapping and a series of murders are happening simultaneously, where there was also a kidnapping 8 years ago. The victims, the compulsive liar “Mii-kun” (the narrator), and “Maa-chan” (Misono Mayu) reunite and start living together, despite of the fact that the kidnapped children were in Mayu’s apartment… (MAL.net)

Review: If you can’t tell by the title, this is all about lies. The lies we tell others, the lies we tell ourselves, all the lies that we can fill our lives with. This is told via an unreliable narrator, so not only do the characters lie (and lie, and lie some more), but each chapter reveals how we assume things about how stories work and shows us how wrong we can be about what’s happening. It’s a brilliantly executed idea, letting the story reveal in bits and pieces what’s really happening and never letting on about it from the beginning.

The characters are as engaging as the method of storytelling. This revolves around two missing children. Who took them? Why? It turns out that there’s a whole lot of trauma and terror behind the events. The names of the characters should also be major hints of what’s happening – Maa-chan is broken by a horrific past. It’s no secret that the police have their eyes on her because of it. Mii-kun ends up her accomplice, lying to protect her and himself. Lies are a powerful force in this story and often drive their motives and actions. The lies they tell also end up revealing a lot about them (doubly surprising since lies are usually meant to hide things) and what is going on between these two.

This is a story I would happily pay someone to translate the light novels for. This manages a compelling story about two characters that are broken, twisted human beings, driven to actions by forces that were beyond their control and in some ways are still unable to stop. Top that off with managing to upset the normal form for storytelling in a clever – nay, ingenious – way that connects with the title, and I’ve found a winner!

Overall, this is a manga that I can’t help but recommend!

Recommended: 16+. This deals with some very, very harsh themes. Child abuse and murder are the order of the day. There’s nothing particularly gruesome shown, but the implication is more than enough. There’s also a good deal of blood shown even if the outright violence is avoided as much as possible.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Liar Game (manga)

Kimi no Knife (manga)

“Innocence Lost” – Lament of the Lamb (manga) – 9/10 Desks

If you don’t believe in ghosts, you’ve never been to a family reunion.  ~Ashleigh Brilliant

Mangaka: Kei Toume

Genre: Drama/Horror/Psychological/Supernatural/School/Romance

Review Status: Complete (7 Volumes/7 Volumes)

Licensed: No. It was formerly licensed in the US by Tokyopop.

Art: This starts out with a few color pages in the beginning of each volume. These are lovey, looking like oil pastel pictures. The pages themselves have a vaguely charcoal sketch look to them, which works because there’s a strong art theme through the series.

Summary: The members of the Takashiro family share a terrible curse — they have a thirst that only human blood can slake. Sent away after the death of this mother, Kuzuna Takashiro has long been blissfully unaware of his ‘condition.’ When Kazuna’s teenage hormones begin to rage, his uncontrollable bloodlust suddenly rears its head … (Source: Tokyopop)

Review: This manga treads a fine line between Slice-of-Life and Horror, and that is a line that very few manga manage to tread successfully. Actually, this is the first manga I’ve encountered that does it well. This weaves together a story of twisted love, familial ties, and isolation to create a very compelling story of a tragically ‘cursed’ family.

Kazuna, our main protagonist, is also the object of affection for a girl in art club. She’s a bit of a loner, but sweet, and he’s vaguely attracted to her… at least, until he discovers that he’s got as much of a craving for her blood as he does for her. He’s horrified and has no idea why he has this craving and proceeds to reject everyone from his life. That is, until he goes on a search for his past and discovers a long-lost sister who reveals that his condition isn’t unnatural; it’s a disease that’s been hidden in the family and passed down through the generations. Not only did the aunt and uncl who were taising him know about the possibility of him having it (though since it rarely appeared later in life they had reason to believe he’d never come down with it), but there is also no cure.

Thus begins his exploration of what it means to be a monster. He isolated himself and is determined to live out his life as someone who has no reason to do anything or be anyone. He sees it as his only option. From the outside, his family and friends try depserately to tell him that he’s not alone. Even though they don’t know what exactly is wrong with him, they still want to be his friends. His family might also know what’s happening, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t love him nonetheless.

Enter his sister. She’s dark, enigmatic, and knows exactly what her fate will be. She knows how horrific their past is, even within the tragedy that haunts their immediate family. A father, driven mad by the loss of his wife, made his daughter the number one woman in his life. A mother, drvien mad by the curse that haunted the family. The idea that the illness might be merely the warped desires of warped consiences. The inability to love those outside the family. Kuzuma may be the main character, but his sister is truly the driving force of the story. She’s at the crux of his desires to leave, and unable to offer any hope for the future. The only thing opposing her is a man who she’s unable to bring herself to care for as more than a friend and the art student who’s vying for Kazuna’s heart.

There are very few ways for a story like this to end, and the slow march to it becomes clear at the halfway point. That hardly ruined my enjoyment of the story, since this is really more of a character study than anything else. These really are some broken characters that I felt for. At the same time it’s fascinating to see how societal pressure also explains a lot of why Kazuna and his sister feel about their sickness, not just the familial alone, though the traditions of centuries also weigh on how they deal with certain issues. That combined with the character’s psychology – and this really made sure to let you into their minds to see how they thought and felt about issues – really just made this story what it is.

Overall, this is very mild on the horror and is heavy on the tragic. It’s not Dracula, but it’s certainly a good take on the vampire theme!

Recommended: 16+. There’s an implication of incest between their father and Chizuna, and possibly between the two mains. There’s a few panels where you see the dead body of the mother, where she attempts to kill her daughter and where she’s lying under a tree. The most you see is some blood.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Monster (anime and manga)

Koi Kaze (anime and manga)

World Embryo (manga)

“Going Nowhere” – The Vestibule (Visual Novel) – 6/10 Desks

Genre: Psychological

Review Status: Complete

Licensed: This is available for free download at Ren’Py.

Art/Animation: It was obviously done in Paint or another similar art program, but it’s actually pretty skillfully done. I know I can’t make people like that! It’s still not exactly professional art, but it is fine for what it is. There isn’t really any animation to speak of – the transitions are standard.

Summary: You’re on a train going towards you future – both literally and figuratively.

Review: Heavy-handed metaphor is heavy-handed metaphor. If you’re vaguely aware of what a spiritual journey is, then this is an obvious metaphor from the get-go. You enter the train, confused about your future, and your actions on the train will determine what happens next.

This can be a slightly frustrating game. While slow and meditiative, it seems to take a specific combination of events to unlock the next stage of the game. I’m unsure of what it was, exactly, that allowed me to go on after the first car, but it did take nemerous, repetitive questions to the person in the first car and sleeping a few days to do it. Without new interactions, this got fairly boring, fairly quickly. The second car in the train wasn’t any better, requiring the same amount of guess-and-check actions to get to the ending. There is only one ending here – and only one ending fit for this type of game – but I still remain more unimpressed than usual by how long it took to get there.

I definitely appreciate the background, the art, and the atmophere. That was very effective and really helped while I was playing. But the repeititve gameplay and heavy-handed (and somewhat stereotypical) metaphor and situation really didn’t make this a thrilling game.

Overall, it’s fine for what it is, but nothing special.

Recommended: All Ages. While there really isn’t anything here for children and there is some metaphor here that would go right over their heads, there is absolutely nothing inappropriate in this story.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Mushishi (anime)

Natsume Yuujinchou (anime and manga)

Kino’s Journey (anime)

“Seeing The Light” – Lychee Light Club (manga) – 9/10 Sunflowers

You don’t have a soul.  You are a Soul.  You have a body.  ~C.S. Lewis

Mangaka: Usamaru Furuya

Genre: Horror/Drama/Ecchi/Psychological

Review Status: Comlplete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: Yes, ths is licensed in the US by Vertical.

Art: This is fairly typical manga-style art, but the detail in the gore and dramatic shading make this visually darker and more atmospheric.

Summary: In an abandoned warehouse, a band of nine students have assembled to plot out a new future.  Their “leader” Zera is determined to cleanse his community of the ugly and cowardly. Having taken command of a band of young men to build him a god-like machine capable of changing the world.  This machine, named “Lychee,” will give them what they’ve been searching for…a beauty of the finest quality. (Amazon.com)

Review: Sometimes there really aren’t that many words to describe a series. This is one of the series that just leaves me speechless in many ways. Shocking? Yes. Dark? Definitely. Good? Amazingly so. This is in no way, shape, or form for those with weak stomachs – this is horror and starts crossing the line into Ero Guro simply because of how detailed and common the gore is and how the boys are part of and descending into a life of self-fulfillment at the risk of others. It never really crosses the line, since they are aiming for a kind of domination, though how far their goal is to spread and control is never really gone into.

What this story really is, is a tale of awkward adolecense crossed with Frankenstein. These boys have a highly unhealthy outlet for their teenage hormones, thinking that instead of learning to talk to girls they’ll just capture and hold them. To do it, they need someone able to capture the girls… a robot. It goes almost hilariously wrong at first, a strange injection of humor into an otherwise very sober story. To make it understand beauty as they do, they input a simple program: for the robot to think of itself as human.

This is where the various story threads start coming together – one story of the robot and the most beautiful girl teaching it to really be human, and the other a story of ruthlessness, madness, and paranoia bringing down the club from the inside. How these stories weave together makes perfect sense and is one of the most tightly-written plots I’ve seen in a while. Things get ugly a members grasp for power or try to stop each other. Many die horrific, gruesome deaths. At the same time, the girl imparts humanity to the robot, and it brings about the final downfall of everything the Lychee club was trying to do.

Overall, this is disturbing, but in many ways brilliant in execution.

Recommended: 18+. There is violent, graphic death, and a lot of it. There is one panel where it shows a young girl was violated with metal tubing. There is one sex scene, and one masturbatory scene.

Other titles you might enjoy:

I have nothing. I’ve never encountered something like this before, and it leaves me at a loss for recommendations.

“Me Against The World” – Neon Genesis Evangelion (anime) – 9/10 Sunflowers

Depression is nourished by a lifetime of ungrieved and unforgiven hurts. ~ Penelope Sweet

Genre: Mecha/Psychological/Action/Drama/Sci-Fi

Review Status: Complete (26 Episodes/26 Episodes) *Review note- Episodes 21-24 were the Director’s Cut

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

Art/Animation: It looks just fine until the last two episodes. At that point, it goes into some very low-budget art and animation, and attempts to pass it off as part of what’s going on in the series.

Dub Vs. Sub: While the dub is pretty good, I noticed around episode 15 or 16 that there were peices of information being left out of it. Not only was I getting more information via the sub, but the sub is a cast of all-star VAs in all the roles! They’re Japan’s biggest names and best voice actors in the country, gathered together to create this. You will never find anything like it in another anime.

Summary: In the year 2015, the Angels, huge, tremendously powerful, alien war machines, appear in Tokyo for the second time. The only hope for Mankind’s survival lies in the Evangelion, a humanoid fighting machine developed by NERV, a special United Nations agency. Capable of withstanding anything the Angels can dish out, the Evangelion’s one drawback lies in the limited number of people able to pilot them. Only a handful of teenagers, all born fourteen years ago, nine months after the Angels first appeared, are able to interface with the Evangelion. One such teenager is Shinji Ikari, whose father heads the NERV team that developed and maintains the Evangelion. Thrust into a maelstrom of battle and events that he does not understand, Shinji is forced to plumb the depths of his own inner resources for the courage and strength to not only fight, but to survive, or risk losing everything (AniDB)

Review: Until this last winter, I’d stayed away from NGE simply because it caused a firestorm of controversy. As beloved and classic as it is, I felt like I knew too much to enjoy it and wasn’t that interested. Then I remembered that I like psychological series and really should see something so classic.

I have to say, this is definitely one of the most interesting series I’ve seen in a while. There’s a cast of characters that are pretty obviously prototypes for later anime stereotypes (which, unfortunately, makes them rather unmemorable to someone who’s already familiar with the stereotypes). Shinji, the protagonist, is cast unwillingly into the role of hero and protector of Japan, a place under seige by unnatrual – perhaps supernatural – beings. He’s a weak character, bothe motionally and otherwise, for the most part, with spurts of being memorable and awesome. He’s angry all the time and for good reason, but is trapped by those emotions and becomes unable to break free of them and be a person apart from that. He and Asuka, one of his partners, are in much the same boat. They are plagued by guilt and feelings of abandonment, and both choose to deal with it in very different ways. Rei, the third kid in the group, is an aloof and cold being, with vaguely romantic feelings towards Shinji’s dad and is mostly an outside observer on what is happening to the rest of the cast. All of them are dealing with their own emotional scars, which play out as the fights get more dangerous and their missions become more personal.

They are surrounded by a cast of adults that are trying to manipulate them and the events around them to ends that are a little surprising. Misato is given charge of caring for them and becomes a surrogate parent at a time where she’s not really in a position to take care of children. She does try her best, but dealing with teenagers and their angst can be tricky at the best of times, and when you are also given orders to make them fight, that those teens don’t necessarily agree with. Ritsuko is her best friend but an emotionally charged scientist, emotionally entangled with her superior in unrequited ways. Kaiji, Misato’s off-again-on-again boyfriend ends up a surrogate dad/love interest, but his other activities in the organization lead him into certain danger.

Forcing everyone to play their parts in a power struggle are the organizations of NERV, headed by Shinji’s dad – a complete and utter douche for the most part, but with a shocking ultimate goal for the future – and Seele, the group that had given him control but now are wary of Shinji’s dad’s goals. NERV is simultaniously trying to stop the Angels from destroying the world but is ultimately working toward the future… but it could easily lead into the destruction of the world.

Watching them all interact and deal with the attacks and motives of everyone else is really a fun thing to see. They all act like people, all of them very different, who’ve been forced into living together. And it feels real. They don’t get along all the time, but the issues and difficulties that they are trying to overcome speak to how human they are. These aren’t shallow harem shenannigans by any means! Many of the events really just seem to break these kids further, and I can’t help but want to hug them. That being said, while I’m sympathetic towards the characters, I rarely ‘get’ them. They are so deeply flawed but in a very specific way that it can be hard to connect on that deeper level. That level of detatchment sometimes made it hard to really feel for some of the characters. But I did like them, and that’s the important thing.

The religious iconography is shallow at best, as acknowledged by the creator himself. It’s the battles and the emotional aftereffects that provide all the themes and symbolism that run through the series. Isolation and loneliness are two themes that are played out in a multitude of ways. One of my favorite things to analyze became the idea of space and where the action was in relation to the emotional confusion that was going on within a character. Trains provide a metaphor for journeys and a hint to what’s beginning to happen to the characters in regards to the ending. Mental breakdowns begin the process of self-discovery that really is the hallmark of this series.

During the last two episodes, the meta-story for NGE is abandoned for completing the thematic story arcs, partly due to a lack of funding (which is completely obvious in the art for them). Brief shots of the ‘real world’ give hints to what’s going on and what it all means. I can’t say that I’m completely satisfied with the ending. It’s both very tragic but rather beautiful in it’s own way – and I’m okay being torn on it. Most people are take-it-or-leave-it. I just regret that there wasn’t the ability to flesh out what was happening more.

But hey, that’s what the movies are for, right?

Overall, this is a classic for a reason. It’s not perfect, but it’s good, and this really shows that the creator knew what he was doing in many ways.

Recommended: 16+. There are three-four instances of partial-to-full nudity, but all of it is Barbie-doll with no genetalia. There is one offscreen sex scene. People die, usually offscreen, and if you see anything at all it’s a blacked-out-shadow against a background or has a cutscene to something else.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (anime)

RahXephon (anime)

Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica (anime)

Bokurano (manga)

“There’s A Murderer In My Soup” – Yandere-chan (Visual Novel) – 7/10 Sunflowers

Genre: Horror/Romance

Review Status: Complete

Licensed: Yes, this Vn is licensed and available for download on Ren’Py (free).

Art: Pretty good. It’s a little rough around the edges character-wise, but you only see one character anyway. The backgrounds are just fine. I just wish there were… more. There’s a lot of dialogue that happens while you’re looking at a very plain background, with no character sprites in sight.

Summary: As a new student, you find you’ve caught the attention of Mia, and she’s obviously enamored. But her affection is a little over-the-top….

Review: “100 Ways To Die: The VN”. From the beginning, your treading perilously close to death. One wrong choice and you’ve had it! In some ways, it’s a lot of fun seeing how badly you can mess up a choice and seeing what happens when you have caught the attention of a crazy stalker girl. On the other, a lot of this behavior is genuinely disturbing, and in some cases, the only thing standing between me and being totally and utterly creeped out was my having forgotten to type in a name and having it filled in with the generic ‘Protagonist’. That provided many levels of hilarity that were really needed in a few places.

There is really only one ‘good end’, and I can’t even say that it’s good. This is very much a horror tinged with the ‘romance’ that the Yandere can muster, a romance that’s all about obsessing over the protagonist and him catering to her love. It’s obsessive, it’s freaky, and there’s really not a whole lot that you can do to escape it.

Honestly, that really works. It’s a fascinating story and I really did have a lot of fun playing it. Except when things really got intense. There were a few parts that just managed to cross the line into ridiculous, such as a very, VERY prolonged death monologue, but for the most part this can get to you.

Overall, it’s definitely something for the horror aficionados, but not for those with weak stomachs.

Recommended: 16+. There’s death, death, and more death. Thankfully, for the most part it’s kept offscreen except for some blood spatter on Mia.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Higurashi: When They Cry (anime or manga)

Perfect  Blue (anime)

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