Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Grown-Ass Manga vol. 2

Okay, folks.  I think we’re going to continue on the subject of manga with adult characters and adult themes (not naughty themes, just grown-up ones).  Why?  Because I’ve been reading a lot of manga lately.  It’s as good a reason as any other.

So, once again I’ll raise the colors.
 The same rules apply as the last time I raised the pirate flag.  I’m not going to tell you where to find the series in question.  I urge you to support any official releases these manga may get.  Also, I will give you one completely legal recommendation.

So, our theme for today’s post is: Parenting.  Yeah, I know it may feel like a throwback to my “superhero moms” and “superhero dads” posts.  However, as I’ve gotten older and seen my peers take on the role of parent, I’ve developed a new respect for the moms and dads out there trying to do their best to raise their kids up right.  There are some good and some unique depictions of parenting in manga.  There are also some questionable ones.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Here are my favorite manga featurimng parents at this time:

I’m a Middle-Aged Man Who Got My Adventurer’s License Revoked , but I’m Enjoying a Carefree Lifestyle Because I Have an Adorable Daughter Now by Fumi Tadaura and Manimani Ononata.
Yes, that is the full title.  There seems to be a trend of manga, anime and light novels with very long, descriptive titles these days.  This is a series set in a video game-esque fantasy world.  The main character is a magic-user named Douglas.  Once an adventurer, now in his late 30s his powers and health seem to have declined and his adventurer’s license is revoked.  He resigns himself to a life of aimless travel and odd jobs until he comes upon a cursed little girl named Ravi.  He soon finds that his own illness and Ravi’s curse may not be so random and they both seem to point in the same direction.  That’s just one thing occupying his mind though, as Douglas is also preoccupied with work, travel and taking care of the little girl who has fallen into his life.
While I enjoy this one so far, I’m including this one a bit tentatively.  That’s because there’s a bit of a trend in adoptive parent stories in manga, anime and light novels like this one that I am desperately hoping this series does not stray into.  I’ll discuss that more later.

Musuko ga Kawaikute Shikataganai Mazoku no Hahaoya by Zyugoya.
 In English, the title translates to “My Son is so Cute, I Just Can’t Help Myself!”.  Think of this series as a sort of spiritual companion to the “Demon Bride” series I talked about in the last post.  The series is largely about a demon named Lorem and her baby son Gospel as they go about their daily lives.  Other characters that pop up include Lorem’s sister Meri and her human friend Sera.  For the most part it’s a very light series with much cuteness in it.
Bambi to Dhole by Okaue Ai.
 Teen parenthood is a tough topic to tackle anywhere.  And it’s easy to think that with its sometimes strict approach to family and education, it wouldn’t happen in Japan.  But the truth is that it happens pretty much everywhere.  This manga (among others) takes on this thorny topic to some extent.  Yukimi (called Bambi because the characters of her name can also be read that way) is a seemingly strict student council president who has a less law-abiding side herself.  She runs afoul of a lone wolf named Tetsu Nagasawa who seems to flout her authority.  She later discovers that there’s more to Nagasawa than she thought, including that he’s father to a two-year old boy named Raichi.  This one is a shoujo manga (aimed at teenage girls), but it does aim for some tougher material.  In addition to teen parenting, chronic illness also figures in as well as Yukimi’s past as an abandoned child.

I Became the Mother of the Strongest Demon Lord’s 10 Children in Another World by Ema Toyama.
 Speaking of teenage parents, and by extension teen pregnancy.  I’m including this one too even though it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure.  High school girl Akari lives with her single mother until tragedy strikes and Akari’s mother dies saving her from an oncoming truck.  After that day, coping with the loss, it becomes Akari’s dream to be as good a mother as her own was.  That dream doesn’t keep Akari from being lonely.  Then suddenly she’s summoned to the world of a fantasy video game that her mother bought her for her last birthday.  There, she is told that she is the “Great Priestess” and it is her duty to bear the children of the Demon Lord Gran so that they may defeat the human kingdom.  This is admittedly a bit of a strange one.  So far, Akari’s had two children and they were both born through magical means with no sex involved.  The first chapter even suggests that they’ll all be born while Akari’s still a virgin.  Despite its strangeness, it can also be kind of a sweet manga about finding a home and building a family in an unexpected place with unexpected people and through unexpected means.  It also has its funny moments.  A similar manga for those who like this one would be From Maid to Mother.

Now, onto my un-pirated recommendation.  But before I get to that, I’d like to express how difficult it can be to find the kind of manga I’m looking for.  Because of cultural differences and sometimes because of manga’s general tendency toward wish fulfillment, sometimes they include elements that don’t really gel with American sensibilities.  One recent series that has raised a few eyebrows in three different forms (light novel, manga and anime) is Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks.  The series is about a 15-year old boy and his mother who get transported to another world.  The problem is that the series finds humor in placing the two characters in awkwardly sexual situations with each other (though, I give the series credit for including an attractive woman over 30 in the form of the mother.  So often, the good-looking characters in manga and anime are teenagers or barely out of their teens).  Probably the most infamous series of the like is Usagi Drop, which starts out looking like a story of an unprepared man learning to care for his adopted daughter ends up being a story about a man who raises the woman who eventually becomes his wife from childhood.  It’s definitely a strange idea from an American perspective.  I don’t think it’s common in Japan today but it does have historical precedence and even shows up in probably the most influential work of fiction in all of Japan The Tale of Genji.  That’s what I’m afraid is going to happen with that Middle-Aged Adventurer manga I listed above.  So, for this I’m going to pick Sweetness and Lightning by Gido Amagakure. 
 Sweetness and Lightning is the story of a widowed schoolteacher named Kohei who’s struggling to raise his daughter Tsumugi by himself.  This is particularly the case in terms of cooking healthy meals.  Things change though when he makes friends with his lonely student Kotori whose culinary expert mother is always working.  Together, with the aid of Kotori’s mother’s recipes, the three of them tackle the job of learning to cook and bond over the food they make.  It’s sweet, heartwarming stuff.  I will warn you that I think Kohei and Kotori might end up as a couple toward the end, but that’s a taboo to discuss on another day.

So, there are my choices for manga on the grown-up subject of parenting.  As always, keep an eye out for official releases and happy reading.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Grown-Ass Manga vol. 1

For a while now, I’ve been a big fan of manga.  One of the biggest appeals of manga (Japanese comics) is how many different genres and demographics there are for it.  However, just because the genres and demographics exist doesn’t mean they’re easy to find.  Here in the United States, the largest amount of imported manga is either shonen or shojo.  That is, manga intended for and starring teenage booys or teenage girls.  Seinen (men’s) or josei (women’s) manga is harder to find.  That means it’s harder to find manga starring grown-ups in grown-up situations.  I have managed to find a few though and I thought I’d share them with you.  There is one thing, though . . .

That’s right!  Today we’re dealing with material that I found because it’s been pirated!  I know this sort of thing bothers some people and I totally get why.  Creative types should certainly be compensated for their work.  Creative works shouldn’t be free as a matter of course.  However, when it comes to scanlations (scans+translations) of manga and fansubs of anime and tokusatsu, the people who pirate this stuff are usually just trying to create exposure for things that they love.  So, a few ground rules.  One, I’m not going to tell you where I found these things.  Finding them yourself is up to you.  Two, if an official release does come out, please support it with your money.  But, if you still don’t want to go forward, stop now.  That’s why I put up the flag.  It’s a warning.  You might see it more in the future.  Also, I might spotlight some officially licensed manga at the end to make up for it.

Anyway, our theme for this post is: marriage and married life

Okusan (the Japanese word for “wife”) is a seinen series by Ooi Masakazu.  It’s a slice-of-life romance series about a 32-year old housewife who moves to a new town.  The manga is about the unnamed wife adjusting to her situation and dealing with the quirks of her neighbors as well as her own.  I should note that series is also an ecchi (read as: “sexy”) series owing partly to the main character’s rather audacious figure and partly to just being rather frank about the subject of sex.  However, that’s one of the virtues of reading a manga for and about adults.  When manga starring adolescent characters is so explicit, it can feel a bit squicky for some people.  This manga-ka also produced a similiarly ecchi married life series that can be loosely translated as The Life of the Ashitba Family’s Husband.

Marry Me!
Marry Me! by Yuuki Miko is a slice of life romance with its origins in some of Japans current social issues.  In an undisclosed time in the future in order to stave off the declining birth rate, Japan passes the NEET Protection Law.  The basic idea is to pair government employees with NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) for the purpose of marriage.  The idea is that it would reintroduce the NEETs to society while also boosting the number of people getting married and having families.  The initial test subject for this new law is a civil servant named Akiyasu Shin and a young woman named Sawamoto Himari.  Things naturally get off to a rocky start, seeing as Himari was registered without her permission.  Ultimately, the two get married.  While they initially get hitched so that Shin won’t lose his job and that Himari won’t be alone anymore after losing her grandparents, ensuing chapters show the two do start to become closer and do form a functioning if unconventional little family.  It really is a rather sweet manga and you should give it a look.

What I Get for Marrying a Demon Bride
 Of the ones I’m focusing on here, this one is probably my favorite.  Partially because of my love for Japanese fairy tales and the creatures in them and partially because it’s just a charming little comedy manga.  The manga is about a man named Tomoyuki who is married to an oni named Mitsuki.  While Tomoyuki is a rather mild-mannered salaryman, Mitsuki is crude, hot-tempered, a bit insecure and a literal monster.  However, the two really do love each other and are completely devoted to one another.  The manga really just is the ins and outs of their life together.  One of my favorites is one in which Mitsuki informs her husband that she can’t eat peaches for religious reasons (apparently “Momotaro” was based on a real story in their world.

I said before that I’d also recommend some legit licensed manga if I could, didn’t I?  Well, I have two.  One is The Way of the Househusband by Kousuke Oono.  The other is The Yamada Wife by Richi Okada.  The Way of the Househusband is a comedy about a yakuza (Japanese gangster) who quits his life of crime in order to become a househusband to his normal (if maybe a little geeky) wife.  The funny thing about it is that he still dresses, talks and acts like a gangster.  This leads to normal domestic situations having a ridiculous crime-thriller level of intensity.   

The Yamada Wife is about a city woman who suddenly has to move to the country to live with her husband’s very traditional, old-fashioned Japanese family.  She’s then put through her paces by her very strict grandmother-in-law.

The Way of the Househusband has just released its first volume in the U.S. and can be purchased either in book stores or digitally on the official Viz website.  Many volumes of The Yamada Wife are available and can be purchased digitally either on Comixology or Book Walker.

If you seek these out, keep in mind that there might be a little bit of culture clash between the Japanese way of doing things and your own (for example, the wives in these manga often tend toward being housewives because of a combination of old gender roles and the rather intense Japanese work culture demanding someone always be home to get domestic tasks done because the other spouse is always at work).  Also, be mindful of official releases and support them even if you read these elsewhere first.

Until next time.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Ode to a Mallrat.

Oh, Jubilee, why do I love thee?  Let me explain the ways.

There’s almost a certain futility in trying to explain why a certain character is your favorite.  Especially in a franchise as stuffed with good characters as the X-Men.  So much of it comes down to being the right age at the right time and encountering the right story under the right circumstances.  So, forgive me if this post ultimately doesn’t communicate what I’m trying to communicate.
But let’s rewind to first contact, shall we.  The year is 1992. On the newly formed Fox Kids line-up of children’s shows, a new and potentially groundbreaking animated series debuted.  It was based on the comic book series that had been Marvel’s bestselling title for almost two decades.  It was called X-Men.  The show featured a cast of both old and new heroes from the X-Men’s history.  There was Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Gambit, Rogue, Jean Grey and Beast.  And then there was Jubilee.  Voiced by Alyson Court (known for a number of kids’ shows like the Beetlejuice cartoon and the pre-school show The Big Comfy Couch), she was depicted as a young girl who was confused and scared by her mutant powers and worried about how it would affect her relationship with her foster parents.  It’s a fairly decent, dramatic start.   However, after that her depiction on the show  was . . . not great.  It’s not that cartoon Jubilee was a bad character exactly (though, some X-Men fans will disagree).  It’s that she was kind of designed to serve a purpose.  She was one of those kid characters created for children’s action shows that was there mainly so kids would have someone to relate to and who could ask questions about things so that the kids at home wouldn’t be lost.  She was an orphan, which made it very easy for Jubilee to join the X-Men for adventures, yet she also conveniently didn’t have any past that could play any significant part on the show (on one episode it was boiled down to “bounced around between foster homes”).  And her mutant power was shown as being weak enough that she couldn’t possibly upstage her elders in terms of super-powered feats.  Granted, Jubilee’s depiction was probably pretty good for the time, but in retrospect it seems a bit lacking.
Little did I know, comic book Jubilee was something else entirely.

The comic book version of Jubilee first appeared in 1989.  The story, according to the 1989 Marvel Universe Handbook is that she is the first generation American-born daughter of two prosperous Chinese immigrants.  She lived a life of wealth and privilege in Beverly Hills until one fateful weekend when her parents were killed in a car accident and all their investments were wiped out in a stock market crash (presumably the 1987 one).  With nowhere else to go and no one to turn to, she ended up in Los Angeles County Juvenile Hall, where she quickly learned to rebel against authority.  Then she was sent to where she probably should have gone in the first place, an orphanage.  At this point, Jubilee didn’t like her prospects and was afraid she might end up getting sent to whatever living relatives she might have in China.  Not wanting to be sent halfway around the world to a country where she didn’t know anyone or anything, she ran away to the only other place in her life that felt like home: The Hollywood Mall where her mutant power manifested. That power being the ability to project articulate, quasi-animate, transitory plasmoids.  Basically, she can shoot explosive bursts of plasma from her hands that look kind of like fireworks.   After that, a series of events led her to become the youngest X-Man at the time, including rescuing Wolverine from being crucified by a gang of criminal cyborgs called the Reavers.

Jubilee for much of her early appearances had a tendency of putting up a front.  She would act tough and crack wise and would have a tendency of complaining loudly about things she didn’t like.  But by the time I had started reading Uncanny X-Men, that façade had started to crack.  You see, the X-Men were having a really lousy year.  Collosus’s little sister Illyana had died from a mutant-killing virus.  Collosus himself had defected to Magneto’s isolationist asteroid Avalon.  Iceman had been put into a coma.  But possibly the biggest thing in regards to Jubilee was that Wolverine, who had long been Jubilee’s mentor and protector, had been injured in a story titled “Fatal Attractions” and had left the team.  Through the cracks in the façade, a different image of Jubilee was revealed.  One of a scared, sad, troubled kid who had lost her first family and was terrified of losing the second one that she had built with the X-Men.  These revelations and this development were all in the purpose of moving Jubilee to a spin-off with other young mutant characters titled Generation X (don’t mind the title, folks.  It was the ‘90s).
She’s strong, but not as tough as she acts.  She’s kinder and big-hearted than she pretends to be.  She tends to embrace life with vigor, but also has an impulsive streak that can get her in trouble.  Her power is potentially devastating, but she tries not to use it to hurt anyone.  Oh, and she has a big mouth.  But to me, the biggest thing was that Jubilee represented the found family aspect of the X-Men.  To others, that aspect might be represented by Kitty Pryde or Cyclops or Rogue, or whoever.  But to me, it was Jubilee.  Her need for a family really resonated with me.

Now, I haven’t read every Jubilee story.  There are a whole mess of stories from Wolverine’s solo series that I haven’t read that she’s in.  I also haven’t liked every story of hers I’ve read.  A while back they took away Jubilee’s mutant powers.  This resulted in her being reduced to a damsel-in-distress for a while.  I didn’t care for that.  Then, in the wake of Twilight fever, they turned her into a vampire.  Some people liked it because it gave her more physical powers.  I also didn’t care for that.  Granted, it seemed out of left field to me and the writers who wrote her seemed to forget what the vampire rules were on the regular.  Possibly my favorite event in Jubilee’s recent life is that she adopted a baby boy named Shogo. 
Yeah, it’s a strange turn of events in a genre that’s not usually kind to the concept of parenthood.  However, the way Jubilee went about it was both big-hearted and impulsive and in that way, very Jubilee.  Also, it gave Jubilee a more consistent tangible and grown-up connection to the whole “found family” thing that she can bring with her even when she’s not an active member of the X-Men.

I’m happy to say that Jubilee seems to be back on her way to being a more active X-Men character.  In the near future, she’s going to be a member of the reconstituted Excalibur.  But even if she wasn’t, she’d still be a favorite.  And I hope that, in my own admittedly clumsy way, I’ve expressed why.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Days of Cinema Past.

Hey, guys!  Dark Phoenix is out!  Isn’t that . . . isn’t it . . . great?

Okay, let’s not pretend that any of us actually went to see that movie.  The truth is that the X-Men movie franchise has been flagging for a little while now.  Sure, it was innovative when it first came out, but that was nearly 20 years ago.
A little color would pep up those uniforms
Before I talk about where the X-Men movies have been stumbling, let’s take a look at where this whole crazy superhero movie trend started.  The year 1997 saw the release of Batman & Robin, the third sequel to the 1989 Batman film.  Reaction to the film was negative, as moviegoers pushed back against a series that went from dark and noir to dark and gothic to ridiculously bright and silly.  This was considered the death-knell for superhero films and films based on comic books.  Hollywood entered a fallow period when it came to pictures based on comic books.  That terrible period lasted for, oh . . . about a year.  You see, in 1998 New Line Cinemas released Blade, a movie based on a character from Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula comics.  The character had been heavily revamped between the comics and the movies, but the modern version had made some appearances on the ‘90s Spider-Man cartoon.  This is probably because they wanted to test the new version out on some kind of audience.  The movie did well.  One should note that despite having some superheroic qualities (superpowers, distinctive costume, fighting evil in an urban setting), most people don’t usually think of Blade as a superhero  (note: as of this writing, the comic book incarnation of Blade is a member of the Avengers).  Two years later in 2000, the first X-Men movie comes out from 20th Century Fox.  Now, this is a property that people knew was a superhero thing because of the ‘90s cartoon.  However, they played a lot of it down.  Things were a lot more stripped down and more grounded.  The palette was a lot darker.  And the colorful costumes of the comics and popular cartoon were replaced with black leather bodysuits reminiscent of both Blade and The Matrix.  Again, it did well.  Two years after that, Sony Pictures released the first Spider-Man movie which embraced the superhero thing a lot more and the rest is history.

But yeah, in the middle of that whole era when the entertainment industry was pushing against the whole idea of the “superhero” was when the first X-Men film was released.  And the problem is that they’ve never entirely been able to quite separate themselves from that era completely.
You may scoff, but the “superheroes are uncool” era extended out beyond the Hollywood movie set.  Marvel used to downplay the term “superhero” in its own text pieces and press releases.  Per their descriptions, Captain America was “a soldier”, the Fantastic Four were “explorers”, the X-Men were “activists”, etc.
Still one of the best on-screen renditions, though I like X-Men: Evolution too.
Anyway, over the past 19 years superhero films have sort of broke loose and shown what they were capable of with the MCU.  And they did it by embracing a lot of the crazier aspects of it all.  The main X-Men films still feel unusually cautious.  They repeat the same conflict over and over again.  They always default back to showcasing the same four characters, Professor X, Magneto, Wolverine and whoever Jennifer Lawrence is playing (they say it’s Mystique, but the character comes across more like Amelia Voght), despite the X-Men having possibly the best ensemble cast in all of superhero comics.  The color palette is still this sterile, bland black and chrome thing.  And that’s just the beginning of it all.

I mean, they’ve tried to loosen up a bit especially in the prequel trilogy.  They used The Hellfire Club in X-Men: First Class, who are a group that provides a different conflict seeing as they want to take over the world just because they’re arrogant, ambitious jerks rather than for some mutant supremacy agenda.  X-Men: Days of Future Past used the Sentinels who are usually the go-to choice for stories about the push back of evil, mutant-phobic humans (which always evolves into the Master Mold AI trying to take over the world, by the way).  And then there was X-Men: Apocalypse which used Apocalypse, one of the X-Men’s most comic book-y villains.  But they still didn’t push any of it quite far enough. 

The truth about the X-Men is that there’s always a drive to make it some kind of grounded, serious, mature thing because of the seriousness of its famous central metaphor.  However, the thing is that as serious as the X-Men’s metaphor for bigotry and discrimination is, it’s also increasingly dated and very flawed.  For example, the metaphor loses a bit of power when you consider that unchecked mutant powers are actually pretty dangerous.  And the more you focus on that metaphor, the more the cracks in it start to show.  So, the metaphor is always there in the comics, but there’s also a lot of cross-genre craziness and over the top soap opera melodrama to draw the eye and make sure you don’t inspect the metaphor too closely.  What kind of craziness?  Oh, all kinds.  Evil mutant terrorist kinds like Magneto and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.  Ancient conqueror kinds like Apocalypse.  Time travel kinds like Stryfe and Trevor Fitzroy.  Technological kinds like the Sentinels (including Master Mold) and the Phalanx.  Alien and interdimensional kinds like the Brood and Mojo.  Magical kinds like the Juggernaut and Belasco.  Heck, sometimes they just go to a place called The Savage Land and fight dinosaurs and jungle people.  The X-Men probably have one of the most diverse galleries of rogues out there, surpassed maybe only by Superman.  And Superman has a diverse collection of villains because he’s the prototype superhero and has a lot of prototype villains.  (Note: I said “most diverse”, not “best”.  I know many people will argue with me about how Batman, Flash or Spider-Man have better rogues galleries than Superman).  The one place where the vaunted bigotry metaphor and this varied array of villainy come together is in how people react to the X-Men’s heroism.  Basically, the X-Men are the heroes who will save the world everyday for a week before breakfast and will never receive the proper recognition for it.  No one throws the X-Men a parade.  Instead, they’re greeted with suspicion, contempt or worse.

Not to mention there are other themes that play into the X-Men.  Like found family.  For decades, the idea that a family doesn’t begin and end with blood or marriage and that a caring family unit can be built out of friends, classmates, teammates and other such people has been one of the defining themes of the X-Men.  Ever notice how Joss Whedon includes found family as an element in so many of his shows and movies like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and even the Avengers movies.  It’s probably because he’s an X-Men fan going back all the way to the ‘80s.  The movies did pretty much nothing with it.
Back to the printed page.
But now the X-Men are back with Marvel.  Though, I’m not entirely crazy about the circumstances.  Disney buying 20th Century Fox is a little worrying.  Big companies getting bigger can cause some serious problems.  Not to mention the fact that I’m not crazy about the idea of Disney handing what’s left of Fox, which includes right-wing propaganda factory Fox News, billions of dollars.  However, there’s little we can do but look on the bright side of things.  So now, the X-Men can get a fresh start, which I am eager to see.

That’s about all I can say on this aspect of the X-Men.  But I have to say, now that I’ve started, it’ll be really hard not to turn the next post into just a love letter to my favorite X-Men character of all time.  Hmm . . .