I’ve been consuming a lot of Japanese media lately; I usually just watch one anime series at a time, and even then slowly (usually), but lately I’ve been not only watching a couple series at once, I’ve also been reading manga, which is something I never used to do. In fact, I’m a complete manga newbie; I read through all of Kare Kano last year due to being unsatisfied with the way the anime ended (although upon reflection I think the anime has a fantastic ending that makes sense if you approach it from the right direction…not gonna go into this here); that was the first time I had ever even considered reading manga. I definitely enjoyed it, but the only thing I read after that until recently was Akira, and then I got busy and went no further.
Work’s been somewhat slow again lately so I’ve picked up manga again to entertain myself while I’m there. I’m having a great time diving into this side of…uh…otakudom (shiver), although I’m not a very fast reader at the best of times so it’s somewhat slow going. But that’s okay, I’m enjoying myself and that’s what counts, and I find myself having to make up for a lot of lost time, in much the same way I do when it comes to anime. I’ve been somewhat haphazardly making my way through anime and manga lately, just picking up anything that looks the slightest bit interesting and going for it. Here are my thoughts on some of the stuff I’ve watched and read lately.
The Garden of Words // anime (2013)
This was my final stop on the Shinkai train, the only film of his that I hadn’t seen, and I must say I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. It’s unmistakably his work; take away the animation, and the angst still retains his hallmark theme of distance, this time expressed through age rather than physical distance (Hoshi no Koe) or time (5 Centimeters Per Second). So yes, it was predictable and bittersweet, but the animation. I mean…holy crap. Holy crap. I’d seen enough AMVs that use this movie to know what I was getting myself into, but there’s just no preparing for it — this is the single best-animated feature I have ever laid eyes on and I don’t care about any other aspect of it. Anyone who wants to be considered the “best” in the field of animation has to top this, and I just really don’t know how that can ever happen.
Barakamon // anime (2014)
Barakamon was a pleasant surprise…I was searching for more anime in the same vein as Sketchbook (particularly, something relaxing without much plot) and someone on Reddit recommended this, and I’m glad I watched it. It was fun, cute, happy, well-animated, placed in a unique setting, had interesting and dynamic characters…it was just…nice. At its best it reminded me a lot of Usagi Drop, which is high praise given that that’s probably my all-time favorite series (maybe). Even so, it’s probably not something I’ll watch again (at least not for a loooong time), as there’s not a whole lot of emotional investment to be made, but I would recommend it to those searching for something a little out of the ordinary and who want something easy to just chill out to. Oh, and it has a really awesome opening song and ending song… all-around, sublime stuff.
Kids on the Slope // manga (2007-2012) & anime (2012)
My re-entry into reading manga was with this title, and it was surprisingly good. It takes the ever-popular high school setting and drops it in the 1960s; our protagonist is a loner (surprise, surprise) who finds himself in a new school, used to moving because of his father’s job. He has trouble relating to people but ends up becoming friends with the female class rep (who he of course immediately falls for) and his class’s delinquent tough guy through their mutual love of music. It actually becomes a fascinating, deep exploration of various kinds of relationships, both romantic and platonic, and I enjoyed every bit of it. It hit on all the right notes, repeatedly, and I was hooked all the way through.
Of course, for a story that relies heavily on the incorporation of music (specifically, characters playing jazz), the limitations of the manga really start to come through at some of the more intense moments, so for this reason (among others), I was excited to watch the anime when I got done with the manga. I wasn’t too disappointed, but taking 45 chapters and condensing it down to 12 episodes necessarily entails a lot of pruning. The result was mixed; ultimately, the anime was very enjoyable and true enough to the manga in spirit, although enough things were cut to bug me. That said, the advantage of the anime is obvious: You can actually hear the music that the characters play, and several scenes in the anime are incomparably more powerful than their manga counterparts. Also, I feel like the anime had a much more realistic ending.
Still, I think the two complement each other, and if you haven’t seen/read this, I would encourage you to do both. You’re missing out on a lot if you only do one or the other, and if you ignore Kids on the Slope completely, I think you’re missing out on one of the more memorable and unique high school slice-of-life productions out there, at least in recent years.
Koe no Katachi // manga (2013-2014)
This manga destroyed me.
I mentioned in a recent video release of mine that I can get sucked way too far into fiction sometimes, and that’s exactly what happened with this manga. The set-up intrigued me: in middle school, protagonist Ishida Shouya bullies a deaf girl by the name of Nishimiya Shouko who is transferred into his class, although he ends up being bullied himself because of it. The bulk of the story details his path to redemption.
If this sounds even the least bit interesting to you, I’d suggest taking 15 minutes to read the one-shot, which is a run-through of the first few chapters. This is a story that is incredibly difficult to read, especially at the beginning; I found myself disgusted and seething while I read the first several chapters, as Shouya’s character is just a thoroughly despicable person at first. But, as the manga progresses, a lot changes, and the story takes many, many interesting turns.
This was completely unlike anything I’ve ever experienced when it comes to manga or anime, and I loved it. It was consistently challenging to read, in the sense that my emotions were always, always being put through the ringer. Being sensistive to this kind of thing, my emotional state during the week I took to read through this manga was unstable and probably very erratic, but I take that to mean that this must have been a very well-written story. All I know is that I adored it.
The manga deals in-depth with a lot of issues that are sidelined or grossly simplified in other series. It explores what it means to forgive and be forgiven (I mean, really, truly forgiven) and how both parties have to respond when that event occurs. It explores what actual, unconditional love looks like, both for the giver and the receiver, and the transformational power which that kind of love begets (as a Christian, I had a field day with this aspect of the story). It deals with forced alienation and the psychological trauma it causes (a somewhat common trope, perhaps, but expressed more creatively and realistically here than most other places). It approaches the harsh reality of suicidal thoughts and inentions. It’s dark and uncomfortable at the best of times, but utterly absorbing and fascinating.
This was a jaw-dropping, heart-wringing, brutally honest, no-holds-barred whirlwind. I walked away from it feeling challenged on a personal level — this doesn’t happen often with fiction for me. It’s the best manga I’ve read so far, and everything from here on out is going to have to answer to it.
Wolf Children: Ame and Yuki // manga (2012-2013)
I was hesitant to read this manga for the same reason I was hesitant to watch the movie (which I still haven’t done): it just seemed weird and too furry-ish to me. But I bit the bullet because it was short and I have literally heard nothing but praise for this story in either of its incarnations, and after reading the manga I can easily see why. Beautiful artwork, a compelling story that is told in an effectively understated way, and fascinating characters developed through minimal dialogue (seriously, the artwork in this manga speaks louder than any of the words) made for a quick but massively engaging read. Phenomenal.
Tamayura // anime (2010)
The one-two punch of having read Koe no Katachi and Wolf Children left me in desperate need of something calming and purifying, and as Tamayura was billed as such I decided to give it a shot. It didn’t leave too much of an impression on me, other than it being the first really “moe” anime I’ve seen (unless you count Kamichu!, which I don’t know if you would). It didn’t leave a great taste in my mouth, if I’m honest; I didn’t hate it or anything but it was occasionally annoying (the voices, ugh), and if it’d gone any longer than four 18-minute episodes would have easily been classified as “meandering”. But, it did what it was supposed to do — helped me clear my head and reset my emotions, so I guess it served its purpose.
Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun // anime (2012)
Gooooooood Lord what a fricking disappointment this was. It’s an innocuous enough premise (reclusive, socially inept studybug high school girl encounters troublesome, aggressive male classmate, shenanigans begin), with an awkward first episode that culminates in a profession of love from one main character to another, despite having literally just met like a day earlier…yeah, I almost shelved this one after that, but I stuck with it and now I’m kinda-sorta regretting it.
See, I like the high school rom-com trope, I don’t care how overdone it is. Maybe I haven’t seen enough series to be truly sick of it yet, but there’s something comforting in the familiar, and this is exactly what I was looking for when I started watching this series — predictable, light, heart-warming…y’know, derivative. As the series progressed I thought I had struck gold. All the characters were extreme archetypes, the plot was progressing in the direction I had anticipated, and although there was a lot of annoying emotional ping-pong between the primary male/female leads, I was expecting it to end in a way that a series like this should end, and I was mostly enjoying the ride.
Unfortunately, the last third of the series completely unravelled into a mess of side-stories with no time to resolve. Plot points and new characters were introduced in that time, an unnecessary and distracting love triangle was formed that went nowhere, and then another, and the last episode answered exactly zero questions I had about all the characters and their various relationships. I then found out that the series ended at chapter 16 of the 48-chapter manga, so I’m sure that had something to do with it. Not that every anime has to have a definitive ending where everything is explained (see: Kare Kano), but that’s what I had been craving and it was what I expected…I was let down. Now I’m probaby going to have to read the manga to be completely satisfied…SIGH.
Lovely Complex // manga (2001-2007)
I’m currently reading through this (almost halfway done) and I already have an intense love/hate relationship with it. I knew full well going in that it’s a shoujo high school romance, and was prepared to deal with all the baggage that implies, and so far I haven’t been disappointed: we’ve already had multiple confessions of love, multiple instances of the main character swearing off love only to have her question this decision at the end of each chapter, multiple love triangles (kinda), lots of angst, etc. The first…10+ chapters were grating to read through, but since then I’ve enjoyed it pretty consistently. Although I definitely think that around 1/3 to 1/2 of the content that I’ve read could have been cut or condensed, I like the story and the characters. They’re all extremely cookie-cutter, but this is kind of exactly the sort of story I was looking for (and hoping that Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun would be), so I’m willing to suck up the manga’s defects and deal with them; it’s scratching that high school rom-com itch I’ve had for a while.
Tonari no Seki-kun // anime (2014)
Have you seen seasons’ recent video? No? Go watch it. It’s brilliant, and it turned me on to this series which I’m currently watching with my girlfriend. I love it. The premise is just so funny to me: Yokoi Rumi sits next to Seki Toshinari in her class; Seki is always doing things at his desk to occupy himself, and Yokoi ends up getting even more sucked into whatever Seki’s doing than he does, often creating elaborate narratives in her head to explain what he’s doing. Each episode is only like eight minutes long, so it’s fast and easy and immensely fun. This is one of the most delightful things I’ve watched in a long time, highly recommended.