“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)

“Men In Space” – Saturn Apartments (manga) – 10/10 Desks

The Earth is just too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in. ~ Robert Heinlein

Mangaka: Hisae Iwaoka

Genre: Drama/Sci=fi/Slice-of-Life

Review Status: Incomplete (3 Volumes/? Volumes)

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

Art: It has a more light hand to it, with a few more cartoon-ish proportions, but most definitely manga style!

Summary: Far in the future, humankind has evacuated the Earth in order to preserve it. Humans now reside in a gigantic structure that forms a ring around the Earth, thirty-five kilometers up in the sky. The society of the ring is highly stratified: the higher the floor, the greater the status. Mitsu, the lowly son of a window washer, has just graduated junior high. When his father disappears and is assumed dead, Mitsu must take on his father’s occupation. As he struggles with the transition to working life, Mitsu’s job treats him to an outsider’s view into the various living-room dioramas of the Saturn Apartments. (Viz)

Review: I’m fond of sci-fi, I’m fond of slice-of-life, and this manga manages to merge them both with fantastic finesse. This is as much a study of characters in a strange environment as it is a story about living in space. Mitsu, the star of the series, is living in a highly class-driven society. There are few chances to better one’s station, and knowing that he has to earn his way, ends up in the same job his father did many years before… before his safety rope snapped and he hurtled down to the earth. Mitsu has his own reasons for checking out the scene of the crime outside the station; he wonders whether his father was a victim of circumstance or whether he gave into the allure of seeing the Earth first-hand, something that was forbidden long ago due to the damage humans caused it.

His job as window washer puts him in a unique position. Even though he’s of the lowest class, he sees and deals with the windows of the higher class most often, since they’re usually the only ones that can afford the window-washing prices. This provides unique opportunities to sort-of interact with them and even start to make friends. At the same time, the rare opportunity to clean for the lower classes lets him fill dreams. Only about half the series involves his job, though; a solid half involves exploring various parts of the space station, explaining how things work, and dealing with what it means to be a window cleaner on a space station that’s so divided.

The characters play into that a lot. They aren’t particularly deep, but they play an important part in Mitsu’s life. They are a constant commentary on how he’s like his father, each dealing with their own effects of the death. Many of the people he works there were also on the job when his father fell. That doesn’t mean he’s a carbon copy, by any means. He can’t keep his head down like the others – his friendships forged with others make him a target for alienation, both from the people on his own level and those from the higher stations. It goes from just being ignored to later on some outright hostility and prejudice. It’s becoming more obvious that his job and the class conflict will clash more often, but how that will happen and what the trigger will be is still up in the air. However, he’s still slowly becoming a liason between the classes, and his interactions and friendships are wonderful to watch develop.

Overall, this is one of the most laid-back slice of life series I’ve ever read. It’s easy to get caught up in the emotions and characters, as well as a fascinating socio-economic dynamic that brings up a lot of interesting questions and ideas. Definitely a great series!

Recommended: 10+. There really isn’t anything objectionable in here except the mention of how the main’s dad died, and a mention that one of the neighbors is dying. It deals with these very sensitively.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Twin Spica (manga)

Planetes (manga and anime)

Aria (anime and manga)

Space Brothers (anime and manga)

Uchuu no Stellvia (anime)

“Tree-hugger” – KissWood (manhwa) – 10/10 Sunflowers

“Can’t see the forest for the trees.” ~ Anonymous

Mangaka: Ahn Sung Ho

Genre: Adventure/Fantasy/Sci-Fi

Review Status: Complete (3 volumes/3 Volumes)

Licensed: No, this manga is unlicensed in the US.

Art: Wonderful. The characters are all distinctive, it’s all in color (brilliant colors!), and I simply can’t find any faults here.

Summary: After losing his job as a city gardener, the main character only seems to  care about one thing, his home garden full of rare plants.  But when a mysterious man burns down his garden and home, the protagonist barely manages to escape alive.  When he wakes up in the hospital, he learns he has lost his eyesight.  With nothing left, the man just lies in the hospital bed with seemingly no hope left, until the sudden regaining of his eyesight causes him to realise he has been transported to a strange new world covered in a mystical forest. (MAL.net)

Review: The movie Avatar was an interesting one (take it or leave it as you will). I adored the interesting world that it presented, where there were some fantastical creatures and interesting technology that it had. While my initial comparison to Avatar might turn off those who weren’t that fond of the environmentalist blue cats, KissWood manages a solid take on the environmental fantasy story with an overarching story about needing to connect to others.

Ajussi is a man who’s lost his entire family except his niece, who’s frustrated by the love he gives his plants and how out of place they are in the city they inhabit. She leaves, and he finds himself the sole inhabitant of his garden. So when he finds himself in a world soley consisting of trees, he has to make a decision: will he make his home here, where the trees and plants seem to protect him, or will his conciousness find its way back home? His decision at first seems soley motivated by the fact that this world isn’t the paradise one would expect – it’s ruled by Mua, a girl that seeks to punish those who’ve found there way to this world, and has them killed with no flicker of a concience. At her bidding is the butterfly of the forest, who tries to help Ajussi however she can.

Along the way, Ajussi collects two companions who also have their own reasons for wanting to escape the forest – a boy, who’s reason for leaving is the same as his own, and a man who fears he has no one waiting on the other side. To escape the forest they need to go to the heart of Mua’s kingdom, but with her power over the forest the way is perilous.

His skill and love for plants plays a key role in what happens to the adventurers, and the reasons why he’s there are as surprising as they are touching in his need to get back. Mua in turn becomes a character of depth as she deals with the butterfly’s treachery and the bonds that tie them. Loneliness and love become a unifying theme. I couldn’t help but tear up at a few places because of how emotional and wonderful the story was.

Overall, this is a top-notch fantasy adventure, and no matter if you were frustrated by Avatar or loved it, you should check this out!

Recommended: 13+. Three people are killed off-page, and there are two minor swears in it.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Origin: Spirits of the Past (anime)

King of Thorn (manga)

Earth Maiden Arjuna (anime)

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (anime)

Princess Mononoke (anime)

A Tree of Palme (anime)

“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)

“Rockin’ The Heavens” – Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem (anime) – 8/10 Sunflowers

Genre: Sci-fi/Fantasy/Adventure/Action

Review Status: Complete (1 Movie/1 Movie)

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

Art/Animation: The art is a little dated, recalling the days of retro sci-fi character designs with elongated limbs and big, wavy hair. Sometimes there seems to be an art change for short segments of the movie. It has some great animation, though, very fluid.

Dub Vs. Sub: There is no dub. There is no sub, for that matter – this is a story entirely told through music and the pictures, much like Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron. If you don’t like Daft Punk, then you probably won’t like this. Though even if you are a fan, if you’re sensitive to repetitive sounds like I am, then there are segments which will drive you up the wall because of the one or two stanzas that are repeated for a long while to get through the scene.

Summary: An evil music producer has had his eye on an alien band for a while, and finally kidnapps them to fulfill his nefarious schemes of destroying the world. A lone starship operator is called upon to save them.

Review: This is one of those anime that I have to double-check the date on, because it just screams 80’s, with all the cheese and hair and rock ‘n roll that means! Interstella just goes with it, creating a prolongued music video for Daft Punk that isn’t half bad when you get over the sheer stupidity of certain things.

For the most part, this is 80’s awesome. The music is pretty good (minus it being super-repetitive in some scenes. The opening had that song dragged out FAR too long, for instance). The premise, while a bit lame, has it’s moments of amazing – I loved it when they transformed the aliens into humans. The adorableness of the pilot’s crush on the girl in the band was fantastic. The ploy to destroy their mind-control devices was super-dramatic and classic.

But… and there is always a but with these sorts of things!… this really went off the boat when it decided to try and tell the story of why the manager was trying to destroy the world. It was stupid and nonsensical, and how he was trying to destroy the world even moreso! Actually, I was willing to go with the world-destroying-plan because of how 80’s rock movies work, but the manager’s backstory just made it seem even more ridiculous than it was and completely broke the mood.

Even so, there was a lot more great here than bad, and I was charmed and excited by a lot of the movie.

Overall, if you’re not a fan of music videos, you can skip this – otherwise I’d totally go for it!

Recommended: 10+. If they’re watching Star Wars, they can handle this! There’s nothing that’s particularly scandelous or shocking here.

Other titles you might enjoy:

I’ve got nothing. There really aren’t any other music video anime out there. However, if you’re into music and anime, then check out

Beck (manga)

Nana (anime and manga)

“A Spirit, A Soul” – Ghost Hound (anime) – 8/10 Pencils

I figure I basically am a ghost. I think we all are. ~John Astin

Genre: Spiritual/Supernatural/Psychological/Mystery

Review Status: Complete (22 Episodes/22 Episodes)

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

Art/Animation: The character designs are fairly typical for around this time, with bug eyes and small facial features, making them look flat and young. This uses a dark and subdued palatte for almost all the scenes, though, which fits with the general tone. The CG is pretty obvious and not very well-integrated in most places, but the scenes it’s in are very effective nonetheless. The animation is pretty average, but that’s okay- it’s not an action title.

Dub Vs Sub: The dub isn’t half-bad. I was more impressed the longer I listened. For an anime that depends so much on medical terminology and spiritual explanations, this is remarkably accurate to the subs and gets all the information across very clearly and in a way that can easily be understood. The VAs chosen also managed to fit their roles very well. The sub is also very good.

Summary: When he was three, Taro Komori and his sister were kidnapped, but the kidnapper was run over and killed before the ransom could be delivered. The police eventually found Taro, but not before his sister had died. Eleven years later, Taro still has nightmares of the events surrounding the kidnapping and is haunted by a tall, featureless specter. Now, Taro searches for answers in the Hidden Realm, but something sinister is brewing there. The spirits are restless and a malevolent ghost is appearing with increasing frequency. In the “real” world, an out of favor religious cult is finding dozens of new converts, especially among the high ranking politicians. And just what the scientists at Dai Nippon Bio are up to is a question in need of an answer. Can Taro and his friends find the answers they need in time to save their friends and families? (back of dvd cover)

Review: How does someone deal with severe trauma at a young age? Taro really hasn’t, in a way. His mother is caught in a world where his sister is perpetually mourned, his father hasn’t considered who would inherite the sake brewery they owned, and he is plagued by nightmares of what happened. The only thing that has really moved on is that he’s gotten older. His life is the dream-like aftermath of a terrible incident… except for something very peculiar. What he’s unwilling to really tell his psychiatrist is that his dreams don’t only consist of his sister – there’s a art of him that flies. He can see anything, go anywhere in town, and no one can see him. Except for a young girl that takes notice.

Two stories start building at that point. One is the story of the girl and her strange abilities and the ties that she might have to the spirits of the mountain. The other is that of Taro and two classmates that come together, bonded in ways that they’re all unaware of, who realize that what’s happening to them is something that signals something bigger is coming and don’t know what it is or how to stop it.

One of his friends at first seems like nothing more than an obnoxious transfer student who doesn’t know how to keep his nose out of things that aren’t any of his business. He digs into Taro’s little secret – about both his sister and his astral projection – and decides for the heck of it he’ll try to becme friends with the school delinquent, who’s father is rumored to have been involved in Taro and his sister’s kidnapping and his sister’s subsequent death. All three are the most unlikely friends, but it works. Makoto feels a sense of guilt because of his father’s susicious actions and suicide, as well as feeling ostracized from this only living family since his aunt is the priestess of a cult. Nakajima is holding closely his own secret guilt as well. Their interest in Taro’s strange ability and the realization they have it as well lead them to explore the spiritual world around them and to try and discover the roots of what’s eating at the town around them.

Things aren’t good there, with strange spirits creating havoc (closely connected with what Nakajima’s father is involved in). Their investigations lead into a grand consiracy of all this leads to leads on why Taro and his sister were really kidnapped, what the horrible things at the new biotech company are really about, and what the cult really is about. All in all, it’s a vast conspiracy, with family disputes and struggles blending in with the spiritual turmoil that’s changing things.

What makes things doubly interesting is that each episode is titles with a psychology term that actualy ties in with the theme of the episode and what would be considered the ‘preview’ section is given over to various explanations and theories with in psychology. And really, psychology and how the mind works factors into this very strongly. They are all looking for their own identities, and want others to take notice. If I had to give a theme for this anime, it would be ‘identity’.

This really runs with it, and does it amazingly well up until the end of the series. The last three episodes start to take it beyond the realm of belief, without firm explanations for several phenomena, and ends quite anticlimactically. Most of the important plot threads were wrapped up, but it wasn’t enough to keep me from scratching my head at others. But it was brought to a conclusion, and the very ending was really rather sweet. For a story that was first concieved of in 1987, this was pulled off very memorably. I have no idea why it took 20 years to be created and aired, but it was very worthwhile!

Overall, while not all the questions were answered and without any real climax, this is definitely an intriguing look at people, memory, the mind, and what it means to be yourself.

Recommended: 16+. This has some disturbing imagery, from seeing the body of a dead girl, to seeing her ‘awaken’, to strange spirits that are menacing. Taro’s family owns a sake brewery, so there is some discussion about that.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Kaiba (anime)

Serial Experiments Lain (anime)

Dennou Coil (anime)

Hell Girl (anime)

“All A Little Crazy” – The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Part 1 (manga) – 8/10 Tulips

Mangaka: Gaku Tsugano (Illustrator), Nagaru Tanigawa (Contributor), Noizi Ito (Contributor)

Genre: Sci-fi/Fantasy/School/Comedy/Romance

Review Status: Incomplete (10 Volumes/? Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US

Art: If you’ve seen anything Haruhi (and I’m sure you have!) than this looks just like it. Everyone is their familiar, recognizeable selves.

Summary: Kyon is your ordinary high school freshman who has long given up on his childhood dreams of encountering the fantastic and supernatural…or so he thought. From the very first day of school, his classmate-the beautiful but eccentric Haruhi Suzumiya-makes it very clear that her only desire is to meet aliens, time travelers, and psychics! A chance conversation between the two inspires Haruhi to form the SOS Brigade, a school club created for the sole purpose of gathering together such supernatural beings. The initial members consist of the mute bookworm Yuki Nagato, the timid but voluptuous Miharu Asahina, and the polite and ever-smiling Itsuki Koizumi. By the end of this first volume, Kyon quickly finds out that these seemingly “helpless victims” of Haruhi’s are actually members of secret organizations-both futuristic and alien-with the single aim of keeping watch over Haruhi Suzumiya as she is the pinnacle of some major calamity on the horizon… (Amazon.com)

Review: If I’m allowed to be honest for a moment, Haruhi was not an anime that really impressed me when I saw it. The brash, forward star just wasn’t quite my cup of tea, though I knew that a whole lot of other people liked her. Where they saw forward, I saw obnoxious. Where they saw fun, I saw irritating. Whether it’s because I’m no longer as sensitive to these things because I’ve been watching anime for so long, or because in the manga it’s so much easier to pass over these things, everything I disliked about the first season was made infinitely more palatable here.

The first season of the anime is told out of order, so that threw me for a bit of a loop. Since it’s a continuing story, though, this worked out rather well, the stories flowing rather smoothly- even if I’m not sure I buy Kyon falling for Haruhi a lot sooner than the anime let on. Everything in the manga is the exact same as the anime, so there’s no big surprises or plot twists. However, I hadn’t seen the second season of the anime, so seeing Endless Eight play out in two chapters was amazing and a huge relief!

Since the ten volumes go up to The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, I should comment on this. I really enjoyed Disappearance, and feel it’s the strongest story arc in the whole series so far. It really brings out character development and depth that was only hinted at in places. It was really interesting to see things changed up and how life would be if Haruhi hadn’t existed- and definitely was good stuff for those who like alternate pairings!

Overall, while this is only a good chunk of the series, it’s highly enjoyable and good fun!

Recommended: 13+. There’s a little bit of fanservice here and there, but I think it’s not as strong as in the anime.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Is there anything quite like Haruhi? Probably not. I recommend watching the anime, and skipping a few episodes of the Endless Eight fiasco.

“What Dreams May Come” – A Drunken Dream And Other Stories (manga) – 9/10 Streamers

Man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the sculptor.  ~Dr. Alexis Carrel

Mangaka: Moto Hagio

Genre: Fantasy/Slice of Life/Psychological/Shoujo

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

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

Art: This has an elegant, old-fashioned feel to most of the art It looks like classical sketches, with luxurious strokes of the pen and elegant character and clothing designs.

Summary: Moto Hagio has been reinventing shōjo manga (Japanese comics marketed at 10-18 year-old girls) since 1969. Unconstrained by boundaries of genre, she has sculpted a career characterized by intellectual curiosity, psychological authenticity, and an aesthetic sense that has often been at odds with a shōjo manga mainstream littered with Sailor Moon knockoffs and sub-Harlequin-romance clichés. Now, for the first time in English, we offer a Hagio primer, a selection of short stories spanning four decades of groundbreaking work — 1971-2007 — by an artist who is working at the peak of her creative powers. In “Autumn Journey” (1971), a boy’s pilgrimage to the home of his favorite author has more meaning than either the author or his daughter can imagine. In “Marié, Ten Years Later” (1977), two estranged friends learn too late how their actions had destroyed the balance of a perfect triad of intimacy. In “A Drunken Dream” (1980), two scientists—one a hermaphrodite, the other a tribal priest—meet on a space station orbiting Io; but they have met before and are destined to meet again. In “Iguana Girl” (1991), a girl who appears to her mother and herself to be a hideous anthropoid iguana struggles to overcome her mother’s rejection and find happiness … but her mother has a secret. (Amazon)

Review: This collection of sroties are a range of genres, from sci-fi, to psychological, to simple family drama. Hagio’s skill in storytelling is evident in all of them, which is no surprise since she’s been making manga for so long. These stories are from various periods in her work, accounting to variances in the art styles within the stories themselves. However, all the stories show off her skill in creating stories that speak on the human condition. Regret, insecurity, remorse all play into each story. Sometimes, the characters within are successful at overcoming it- other times, they are not.

My personal favorite story was “Iguana Girl”, a story about how we perceive ourselves can often be affected by how those we love view and treat us. It’s something that many who have dealt with self-image issues will be able to connect with, doubly so if their issues come from dealing with family members. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as fond of “A Drunken Dream”, a rather psychadelic story about two people who’s pasts were always going to catch up to them, where fate could not be changed. It dealt with a theme that’s been done time and again, in a way that perhaps isn’t as fresh or  different as it was when it was made. All the others were in-between, but generally quite touching. Because even the least impressive of them is still done with good skill, and the only reason the ‘worst’ of them seems that was is because of how it compares to the others, this ends up a collection of manga of real quality.

Overall, this has a little something for everybody who wants a story about people and the things they go through.

Recommended: 13+. There is some nongraphic death in “A Drunken Dream”, some slight blood but that’s it.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Heart of Thomas (manga)

They Were 11 (manga)

A Savage God (manga)

“The Breath of Life” – Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (manga) – 10/10 Snowballs

Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.  ~Henry David Thoreau

Mangaka: Hayao Miyazaki

Genre: Action/Adventure/Drama/Sci-Fi

Review Status: Complete (7 Volumes/ 7 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US

Summary: In a long-ago war, humankind set off a devastating ecological disaster. Thriving industrial societies disappeared. The earth is slowly submerging beneath the expanding Sea of Corruption, an enormous toxic forest that creates mutant insects and releases a miasma of poisonous spores into the air. At the periphery of th sea, tiny kingdoms are scattered on tiny parcels of land. Here lies the Valley of the Wind, a kingdom of barely 500 citizens; a nation given fragile protection from the decaying sea’s poisons by the ocean breezes; and home to Nausicaa. aNusicaa, a young princess, has an empathetic bond with the giant Ohmu insects and animals of every creed. She fights to create tolerance, understanding and patience among empires that are fighting over the world’s remaining precious natural resources. (back cover of 1st volume)

Review: Nausicaa might not be Miyzaki’s most famous anime, but it’s truly a shame that the manga is so often overlooked. This is a manga that tells a story of amazing complexity and beauty, that is both hopeful and bittersweet. It begins in the quiet land of the Valley of the Wind, where Nausicaa is quickly enlisted into the war that all of the coastal cities are held to by ancient treaties. This engages in some serious political maneuvering that Nausicaa is right in the middle of, Doroks against Torumekians, and individual factions in them fighting over how to wage war and if they should wage war. The war affects the world in a number of ways, from biological warfare to the resurrection of anceint technologies that are better left lost in the sands of time. People die- innocent people, some not so much, but bloodshed begets bloodshed and often people call for revenge. Nausicaa must stay on her own side, though, leading people to a more peaceful existence, because they forget that the thing that they must fear is right on their heels- the Sea of Corruption. And even that isn’t as dangerous as they believe. Nausicaa attempts to bring understanding to others about how it works and why it is the way it is, paving the way for peace between everyone.

Within this story, there are a multitude of characters that have their own importance. Some are leaders of factions that Nausicaa encounters- that believe she is their saviour, or change through knowing her, or die because they cannot see the truth in front of thir eyes- others are there to help reveal the plots and machinations that are going on in the story, and give different views on the people in the countries. Rarely is there a character that isn’t of some importance to the story, even if it’s brushed over fairly breifly. Being a character-driven story, it’s by the actions and beliefs of characters that events come about, and you see them change as the story goes on, affected by Nausicaa or the events around them. Seeing how they adopt various beliefs or actions that she would take as fits their personality is fascinating and creates a lot of dramatic scenarios.

And, of course, driving the plot ever-forward is the immenent war between the nations, which shows the depths of ruthlessness that people will go to in order to gain something. Greed has no boundaries for many, even if it means destroying themselves in the process. Thematically, this uses humanity’s failings- the greed, fear, uncertainty, and rage that can drive many unwise actions, and brings them into stark light in how the war is conducted and why people engage in it. To supplement and highlight these ideas, the forest is used and has many layers of meaning- as a metaphor, as something to bring out those failings, as a plot point in and of itself, but whatever its fate is, it is tied to the humans that live in the world. It’s a fully realized world which has a lot to say, a commentary on us and our current condition, but manages to say it in a way that isn’t condecending or even that noticeable if you aren’t looking for it. That this manga manages to do so, create a fully realized world, and still is able to be a compelling story really speaks to how masterfully this is written.

Overall, this is a breathtaking work of emotional and political complexity, that stands up to the best of them.

Recommended: 16+. This is a story of war, so there are a multitude of deaths, both implied and on the page, of people of all ages. There are bodies shown with no marks, bloodied ones, the occasional body part (a dismembered arm, or leg, and once, a head), and a few times gore is shown along with the bodies. People lose limbs and die on the page. If I were to compare it to a movie, it would be bloodier than Gettysburg, but a decent amount less than Saving Private Ryan. There are only seven or eight swears, all of them the d-word. No more than two swears a volume.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (anime)

The Music of Marie (manga)

“Calling For Help” – Project Blue Earth SOS (anime) – 5/10 Snowballs

 

My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth. ~Abraham Lincoln

Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-fi/Shounen

Review Status: Complete (6 Episodes/6 Episodes)

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

Art/Animation: This looks really good- it channels 50’s sci-fi, with character designs, gadgets, and other things that could come straight out of any comic book from that era. The CG is pretty nice if obvious, and the animation is quite good.

Dub Vs. Sub: Both the dub and the sub are quite good, though I actually prefer the sub because of Margaret’s voice.

Summary: In this exhilarating series paying homage to classic 50’s era science fiction, the disappearance of revolutionary G-Reaction engines is but the beginning of the ghastly end for mankind. While deranged alien forces prepare a fleet of flying saucers for the invasion of all invasions, teenage geniuses Penny Carter and Billy Kimura join forces with a clandestine secret alliance to save humanity from the extra-terrestrial helmet worms and their tentacles of doom! Avoiding alien attacks and dodging disintegration rays won’t be easy, but these courageous kids will have help from above as Ace pilot James and his mentor Cpt. Clayton enter the fray to stave off a threat incomprehensible to mere mortals! (Funimation.com)

Review: Visually and in spirit, this is the one of the best homages to 50’s sci-fi that I’ve ever seen. You have classic characters in the forms of spunky child geniuses, to genius scientists, to invading aliens. They have the names to go with it, Penny and Emely (yes, a misspelling on part of the creator, but the spirit of it is there, and yes, Penny is a boy), Billy and Margaret. And the plotline can’t get more into it, with invading aliens and mindless minions!

This has some amazing moments that range from the campiness that can fill them (getting into the spaceship), that are full of drama and horror (the discovery of the missing people), to the heartbreaking (Margaret’s fate). These moments shine in the show, standing out in a show that really is a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, those well-timed moments are rare. This is honestly a decent series on its own, but is far too fast to really draw you in. There are moments that are meant to be meaningful and moving and fail at it simply because the story is too rushed and you haven’t known the character for longer than fifteen minutes. A few things actually end up taking away from the story at hand with unnecessary storylines and revelations. Some mess with the pacing of the show, and not usually in the good way that means character and plot development.

And of course, the character development is as minimal as it can get when the runtime is so short. It’s hard to really feel for anything that happens, and there’s no growth or change in them over the course of the story. Even if this stuck to the tried-and-true of 50’s stories and there was no change, it’s hard to root for any of the good guys for any other reason than they’re fighting the aliens.

Project Blue Earth does have a few good twists to it, though, and I appreciate those. It does give some depth to the invaders instead of leaving them simply ‘bad guys’, which many shows are prone to do. But even this can’t really save a rushed story and characters you can’t get into. I want to like this show, and I really do enjoy some parts of it, but it leaves me wanting for more development and an actual, honest-to-goodness series.

Overall, while it’s fun to watch if you’re a fan of older sci-fi, there are better ones out there that are more fulfilling as a story.

Recommended: 13+. There are a few non-gruesome deaths onscreen, and you do see a few dead bodies though there’s no gore- they just look asleep.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Macross Frontier (anime and movies)

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (anime)

Heroic Age (anime)

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