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AICN Anime - Two Of The Most Magical Manga To Hit North America In Years, Plus A Couple Bonus Kids' Choices

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Column by Scott Green

Before we get into spotlighting three wonderful manga and one anime great for all ages... timing is slightly late, but still... a quartet suitable for your holiday shopping...

I have to point out that tickets for a retrospective of some of the greatest all ages anime went on sale this week.

You can now pick up tickets to GKids Ghibli retrospective here.
















***ALL 15 FILMS FROM 1984 TO 2009***
Masterpieces from Hayao Miyazaki & Isao Takahata
Full Four-Week Schedule, Dec 16 to Jan 12, at IFC Center

THE STUDIO GHIBLI COLLECTION - GKIDS is bringing a complete retrospective of films from Japan's famed Studio Ghibli animation studio to the IFC Center this winter! Don't miss your chance to see some of the greatest films of all time on new 35mm prints, including the Academy Award-winning Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, Kiki's Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, Pom Poko, The Cat Returns, plus North American Premieres of Only Yesterday and The Ocean Waves and more.

Films will be presented in both subtitled and English language versions (where available), with subtitled versions playing 6pm and later.

Manga Spotlight: Princess Knight
Volume 1
By Osamu Tezuka
Released by Vertical

One of the fixtures of North American manga bloggers' wish lists can finally be crossed off! It's been sampled in Shoujo Beat. There was a retroactively much sought after bilingual edition by Kodansha that hit before the manga boom really took off, but, now, at long last, Vertical is giving Osamu Tezuka's shoujo matriarch Princess Knight a suitably beautiful release.

The rich, beautiful fairy tale is the "God of Manga" at his most magical. And, it's far simpler and satisfying to say Princess Knight is completely and literally fantastic than is to dissect the extent to which the manga is important document to the history of medium. That latter element both is and is not debatable.

Osamu Tezuka worked with a "Star System," in which a host of character designs were re-used as if they were typecast actors. For example Ham Egg (the curled mustached circus master that Astro Boy was sold too) and Acetylene Lamp (the dented headed Far East Chief of German Intelligence in Adolf) played villains throughout Tezuka's extensive body of work, while harsh featured Saruta was both a tormented scientist and artist in Phoenix and the tormented savior / mentor of the eponymous Black Jack.

Princess Knight's heroine Saphire, identifiable by her hair's jigsaw curls, proved to have a life beyond her home manga. For example, the six different characters she played in Black Jack came to constitute something of a chronicle of the "sorrows of women," portraying a teacher who burned to death while protecting one of her students or a lady whose social standing role and precipitously fell on her beauty. The leanings weren't quite as feminist as they were in Princess Knight, but here's a character who maintained her gender role significance across Tezuka's opus.

Princess Knight starts in heaven, with God processing the souls to be born. These pre-infants receive a blue heart to be "brave boys" or a red one to be "graceful girls." Disarray is introduced into the fairly orderly process when mischievous angel Tink asks one of the soul if they're a boy, and in response to their uncertainty, pops in blue-heart. God gives the boy a second, female heart before he can realize Tink's impetuous gender-preemption. So much for infallibility in Tezuka's cosmology. To correct this and to serve as punishment, Tink is sent down to Earth, tasked with taking back the extra heart once the baby's gender emerges. However, the angel's mission is tripped up when he falls on a shooting star and is stranded outside the reach of the baby.
Matters are complicated when apparently female baby Sapphire is born to the monarchs of Silver Land. To circumvent the laws of the kingdom and ensure that the girl inherits of her royal birthright, the dolls are hidden in favor of rapiers and Princess Sapphire is raised as Prince.

15 years later, Tink hasn't made much progress on his mission, Sapphire splits her days between her Prince and Princess identities, and add to this a flaxen haired wig wearing alter ego to allow Sapphire to publically engage in female activities, such as wooing Prince Franz Charming of the neighboring kingdom (catch your breath, because the identity overload continues... she's briefly the Zoro masked Phantom Knight, and she undergoes a Wild Swans/Swan Lake transformation).
Would-be usurper, Duke Duralumin and his accomplice Sir Nylon spy these complex identity issues as an opportunity to overthrow Sapphire's family and seize the crown for Duralumin's spineless son Plastic. On the other end of the opportunistic spectrum, the demonic witch Madame Hell (Mephisto in an earlier version) appears to take advantage of Sapphire's moments of desperation, hoping to take Sapphire's feminine aspect and transfer it to her rambunctious daughter Hekate. And, late in the volume , the Prince Charming love affair is further convoluted when Sapphire runs into Captain Blood, a gallant pirate too worldly to be fooled by the prince/princess rouse.

What's been printed by Vertical is the third manga version of Princess Knight. The raw original ran in the anthology Shoujo Club from 1953 to 56. A sequel/re-telling called "Twin Knight" ran in Sailor Moon home anthology Nakayoshi beginning in 1958. Then, this remake, with a significantly reworked second half kicked off in Nakayoshi in 1963, a point in Tezuka's career where he was parlaying his popularity as a manga author into an opportunity to launch the Astro Boy anime, neither at the extreme of the early career wunderkind nor later experimentation and reinvention.

No informed manga follower is going to deny Princess Knight's landmark significance in the history of the medium. It predated Secret Akko-chan, which predated Sally the Witch, which helped establish anime's multi-identitied magic girls. Shoujo tropes like magical assistants at least got their footing with Princess Knight. More importantly, its handling of gender, and especially gender identity issues, helped inform the work of Year 24 Group creators like Moto Hagio and Rose of Versailles' Riyoko Ikeda innovating shoujo written by women.

Outright saying that it all begins here requires a bit more venturing further out onto the limb.

The keepers of Tezuka's legacy say this was the very first Manga in Japan for girls, and it was the realization of a long-held dream for Tezuka Osamu. In Manga: the Complete Guide, that's been qualified by Shaenon K. Garrity as "first modern." Tezuka authority, translator and friend Frederik K. Schodt says in Dreamland Japan that Knight is responsible for jump starting many of the shoujo tropes, as well as opening the door for shoujo written by men, which in turn set the stage for manga written by women.

That Osamu Tezuka was a revolutionary force, responsible for a unique contribution to anime and manga is undeniable. However, saying that this is that shoujo all started here goes a long with Tezuka's self portrait as the beret wearing artist: iconic but a bit reductionist; missing a lot of what made his career and the broader history of manga interesting.
Sussing out the credit, contributions and innovations is not an issue particular to Princess Knight. It's true of his career. For example, the simple narrative is that Tezuka's breakout work was his illustration New Treasure Island, with broke from front-and-center staginess of prior make with a fresh, cinematic look. Tezuka's official site says of this

Its Western-style pictures and quickly unfolding storyline attracted a lot of attention, and his work became a best seller with 400,000 copies sold, laying the groundwork for the Manga craze. The original version of "New Treasure Island" was based on Tezuka Osamu's manuscript, but substantial modifications were made by Sasaki Shichima, who cut nearly 60 pages and also changed some of the lines. When publishing "The Complete Works of Tezuka Osamu," Tezuka Osamu remade it based on his memory to make it closer to his original.

Though it is clear that the manga was a startling debut, re-issues of New Treasure Island, such as the 1968 version, served to obscure the ways in which the original deviated from the manga conventions of common during its original publication. That feeds the debate as to degree to which Tezuka personally innovated and originated, versus the degree to which the brilliant manga creator was one of the best known, highest regarded workers during the formative years of modern manga.
And, there is fact a debate. While there are many, vocal advocates of Tezuka's work, there have also been plenty bristling at the notion of a"god" reining over manga, ready to offer a critical or revisionist take on his work. None other than Hayao Miyazaki responded to his 1989 death with the essay "I Parted Ways with Osamu Tezuka When I Saw the 'Hand of God' in Him," saying that Tezuka was undeniably influential, but artistically suspect, who was in turn forced to emulated Disney for lack of a other teachers.

None of this inspection of his legacy is to suggest that Tezuka is overrated or that Princess Knight is by any respects ignorable.

In "Give Me Centrism or Give Me Death!," Chuck Klosterman listed "The 10 Most Accurately Rated Artists in Rock History." In this list of acts that were neither over, nor under rated is an entry for the Beatles:

4. The Beatles: The Beatles are generally seen as the single most important rock band of all time, because they wrote all the best songs. Since both of these facts are true, the Beatles are rated properly.

Tezuka is the Beatles of manga, and Princess Knight is a testament to how deserving he is of the high regard in which he is widely held. It's just not because his work is important, it's because his work remains effective. In the case of Princess Knight, the reasons for why the manga are significant is not entirely material to why it remains appealing.

Talk of spectacle in manga or comics often relates to climactic fights, or super heroic feats, sci-fi, grand tableaus out of mythology or evocative of blockbuster movies. In contrast, there is a set piece in Princess Knight that looks just about as amazing as anything in manga/comics, and it's just a weird little bit of kinetic action that revolves around Hekate impishly waking Sapphire up by pelting her with a blizzard of puffy balls. It's a cartoonish bit of witchery, but the way that Tezuka conveys that cartoonish movement on the manga page is marvelous.

The way in which Tezuka creatively synthesizes other media in Princess Knight is remarkable, not just for how innovative it may have been, but for the uniquely bewitching results it produces.

Tezuka's famous cinematic vision is on full display in complexly designed yet easy to follow directory transitions, such as a sequence in which a dejected looking Sapphire in her princely attire wordlessly glances towards her dresser, then a close up captures her hands lifting her ribbon adorned gown, then her hugging it, followed by a perspective shot of the scene being spied over her shoulder via the rounded view of a telegraph peering through the chamber's grated window. That page is not some rare case of experimentation in the Princess Knights. The manga is full of exciting evocative scenes like a water level view of Sapphire and Tink on a row boat, as a column of horsemen ride in silhouette along the river bank, then crowd the horizon, surrounding the pair with bows drawn, or swan Sapphire flying up to window, though the pane seeing a gowned Madame Hell with a squad of treasure chest bearing attendants trying to bribe prince Charming father. The beautiful shot composition in these scenes throughout the manga call to mind the works of film visionary like Orson Wells, or, more specially and directly cited, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's work on the 1951 Tales Of Hoffman.

Part of what complicates the famous narrative of Disney's Lion King's evident glances back to Tezuka's Kimba the White Lion is that a fundamental building block of Tezuka's work was figuring out how to translate what was effective for Disney animation to manga and later, the far more limited animation of anime budgeted for Japanese TV. As a child, Osamu Tezuka's family took trips to Osaka to see movies by Disney. Princess Knight inspiration Tales of Hoffman hit Japan in 1952. The year previous, Tezuka is said to have seen Disney's Bambi over 80 times, an in a professional capacity, as well as to build his own technique, he re-sketched what he saw in that movie. In with Princess Knight's mix of Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckling and Sunday school bible stories for kids (nothing to theological or coherently religiousness, but more than preponderance of prominent images of Tink praying to crosses or going after Madame Hell with one) is plenty of evocation of big Disney numbers, from Bambi's frolicking animals to Fantastia's mythological grandeur.

The final pillar of Tezuka's ambitious cross-media fusion might some like it'd contradicts the cinematic quality that helped build his fame, but while Tezuka rejected unnecessary staginess in manga, he also played with capture theater in through the medium. The most radical example of that is the short Robe of Feather chapter of his magnum opus, Phoenix, which was explicitly frame as a manga curtain opening to closing recreation of a stage performance.

A prominent feature of the narrative of Tezuka's artistic education was that the manga legend shared a home town with the all-female musical theater troupe, the Takarazuka Revue and his mother brought her children to see the group, famous for their unisex cast, lavish costumes and sets, and, in recent years, their choice of adapted works, from Hamlet, to Oceans 11, to Phoenix Wright, to some of the manga that Tezuka's manga helped inspired, such as Rose of Versailles. And, Tezukza brings delightfully extravagant elements of Takarazuka Revue into Princess knight, from attention to and focus on costumes, as in a page dominating panel of newly crown Prince Sapphire, reveling in the detailed royal robes, crown and scepter, framed by a set-like throne room, or in expressions of grand performances, such as what are basically dance numbers projected onto manga in full pages in which the costumes, quantity of figures and movements are designed to impress. This feeds and amplifies the other elements in an amalgam of inspirations that is specifically Tezuka, as when Tink's praying brings forth an orchestral rush of dancing Jiminy Cricket, as much Fantasia as it is Pinocchio.

The results of bringing Takarazuka into the manga are gorgeous. There aren't many manga that we see in North America that follow its tradition. We do see a few anime that follow the lineage, but Princess Knight continues to rival the fully animated works like Revolutionary Girl Utena that it inspires.

What's truly spectacular about Princess Knight is that these bits of movie or stage magic being translated into manga are not some rare flourish. Tezuka is weaving them throughout. There is never a presumption that an idea is going to win over the audience on its own. Panel by panel, Tezuka is fighting to stage a swashbuckling, fire breathing dragon, witch mischief, comical court intrigue packed marvel. And, that many of the elements are identifiably brought in from elsewhere makes it no less impressive. They are being conveyed in manga with their full energy and motion as only Tezuka can.

What might make Princess Knight slightly less effective for an adult reader is that it is far from novelistic. Contemporary to this third version of Princess Knight, Tezuka was working on bringing Astro Boy to TV, and on manga/anime like drug powered Nazi superman Big X and Wonder Three, about aliens disguised as a horse, duck and bunny trying to decided whether humanity should be destroyed for the good of the universe. He was still a couple years away from his early, rough long form stories for adults, like Swallow the Earth. Not inappropriate to a fairy tale, Princess Knight take plenty of radical twists and turns, and while the surprises apt to delight the young, intended audience, and older crowd could wish for more coherent development of the plot.

From the perspective of just about any North American reader who isn't a manga wonk, Princess Knight is apt to be special, not because it's the third revision of a work that, no matter how you fine tune the particulars, was a landmark is the history of manga, but because it's fantastic in the truest sense of the word. You rarely see comics or manga capture the magic of a fairy tale this beautifully. Tezuka's labor to graft together swashbuckling, grand stage musical, and the best of Disney results in marvelous manga, sure to be treasured by young readers and fans of the medium of any age.

Manga Spotlight: Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon
Volume 1
Codename: Sailor V
Volume 1
by Naoko Takeuchi
Released by Kodansha Comics

In a newly translated edition, one of anime and manga's most identifiable heroines is back for the first time since Tokyopop's release went out of print in 2005. With an awkward teen undergoing a magical transformation into a champion of justice, what's not to love about one of anime/manga's most popular and enduring heroines?

Going into this, there was some justifiable trepidation that few outside the nostalgic geeks would care. For example, top tier comic blogger/retailer Chris Butchers publically wondered why younger audiences weren't more vocally enthusiastic about Kodansha bringing back a title that many older readers felt should be an enduring touch point to anime/manga.

I chalked this up to an understandable disinterest in the magical girls among what should ostensibly be the genre's intended audience. Bold, totemic imagines... Afformational rituals... magic girls should have the broad, ever green appeal of their super-heroic cousins.

Now, superhero comics come in for a lot criticism for their violent decadence, but as far as poorly custodianed genres that should be to kids go, they have nothing on magical girls.

As otaku took over anime, they took magic girls with them. For the better part of a decade, magical girls haven't been a face value kids proposition. There's so much anime/manga stuff online, that anyone with a vague interest in the subject can read its pulse without too much effort. And, if you look for magical girls, you'll see franchises that are kindof for kids, such as Pretty Cure, but which also obvious double dip playing to a older audience. You can also factor in innocent-ish revivals of classics, but even then, the main proposition for the genre is apparent. What you get now is moe, feeding older audiences the opportunity to reexperience a youthful view of the world, parodies, generally that play up/joke about the sexuality of the little girls in the bright outfits, or you get harsh, deconstructionist tales like the currently popular Madoka Magica.

Geek affection for magic girls and general and Sailor Moon specifically is long standing. When Hideaki Anno's Gunbuster went back to create more bonus joke "Science Lessons" for a new release, the goofy short where sure to have the geek girl heroine of the proto-Evangelion spoofing Sailor Moon. But, over the years, geek ownership come to eclipse the kid-intended original intent of the genre.
Here's a not atypical example of how magical girls work in 2011. Back in the 70's, Osamu Tezuka created Marvelous Melmo. a weird, but innocuously weird and well intentioned manga about a girl whose mother dies in a traffic accident. To help the eight year old raise her younger brother, God gives the girl magic candies that allow her to turn into an adult. It was supposed to teach kids lessons about their body and such, but what people remembered about it is that Melmo's clothes didn't grow along with her body when she became an adult... and so when it was revived last year, it got a sexualized moe spin for Comic Ryu, the older male audience anthology that has run the latest Dirty Pair revival, Mamoru Oshii spin-offs and such.

Looking back at Sailor Moon is a clear illustration of the gulf between where magic girls were and where they are now. Sailor Moon was phenomenal. It was a key building block in the growth of the popularity of anime and manga in North America, convincing many that there was something to pay attention to here. The 1995 UHF airing of the anime gained a cult following such that mainstream outlets like the Boston Globe were writing about how too-old-for-cartoon folks were setting their alarms to catch the show's pre-dawn airings in those pre-DVR days. In 1998 it broadened its audience, and didn't ask for early wake-up calls when it found a spot on Cartoon Network's Toonami block.

While the show was more than capable of levity, it took its characters seriously, and though it was episodic, it established continuity and consequence. Relationships deepened. Villains died. Lovers were separated for long stretches. Pair that with glowing girls in cute/vaguely trangressive, naughty mini-skirted sailor suits, and, in short, you've tapped into what earned anime and manga their North American fans. From Star Blazers to Fullmetal Alchemist, the anime that offered characters that drew the viewer's empathy and a presentation that offered a new experience have had the capability to draw the attention of American audiences. Magnified by catching viewers who were generally primed to expect episodic cartoons, Sailor Moon not only caught its audience's attention, it thoroughly imprinted itself on their pop culture consciousness.

It's generally a mistake to over-conflate anime and manga. The businesses are different. The creative processes are different, and, neither in America nor in Japan, is the audience for anime equivalent to the audience for manga.
While shoujo has something of a vital market, shoujo anime struggles. In North America, Sailor Moon has been one of the few to become successful or sought after (Ouran High and Fruits Basket being a couple of others), while a spectrum from ok (Saint Tail, Fancy Lala) to excellent (Kodocha) floundered. That speaks to Sailor Moon's winning qualities, and, it speaks to how deeply it imprinted itself on these shores.

And, speaking of manga, if the Sailor Moon anime hitting North America was eye opening, the Naoko Takeuchi original was revolutionary. When Tokyopop in its pre-re-branding form Mixx took to the internet on platforms like Usenet to announce plans to publish Sailor Moon in something called a "Mixxzine," it sounded like a too-good-to-true scam. If you think the internet gets vitriolic about its manga debates now, you should have seen the swastica marked hate expressed then, but ultimately, that is far less well remembered that the positive effect Sailor Moon helped engender as it t expanded horizons and redefined expectations for what comics/manga could offer.

Sailor Moon was a phenomenon, and it continues to be a phenomenon. By all appearances, concern that only a few die hard will care about Sailor Moon's return seems to be proven unfounded.
Sailor Moon took the top spot in Nielsen BookScan's chart of best selling graphic novels for September and October. Prequel Codename: Sailor V was the runner up in September. And, with Sailor Moon volume 1 holding the number one spot on The New York Times bestseller list for manga for weeks, Kodansha USA Publishing has announced that the company has commissioned a second print run equal to the first, doubling the initial 50,000 copy run and bringing the total to 100,000 copies in print.

Nostalgia, curiosity and prolong scarcity are probably compounding each other to boost Sailor Moon and Sailor V's sales, but while a drop down in the numbers for later volumes seems inevitable, Sailor Moon seems apt to have enough going for it that it'll hook readers for plenty of its run (the Kodansha releases of Sailor Moon packs the series into 12 volumes).

While Princess Knight was a case where its significance and what made it enjoyable were somewhat distinct, the two elements of notoriety are more linked in the case of Sailor Moon. Naoko Takeuchi's manga recalls what we liked about anime/manga on the eve of the boom years, and that goes beyond rekindle to our love of glowing girls in miniskirts. It takes that "anime" / "manga" style that was already an over generalized concept when the series came over in the mid 90's, and with its characteristic heartfelt, dramatic and sometimes a touch naughty view, makes the style distinguishing own. Hopefully, to a large extent we're at a place where male audiences aren't apt to discount anime/comics/manga that looks "girlie" and female audience aren't apt to feel that those media have nothing to offer them, but the release of this manga is a great reminder why Sailor Moon had the power to make an instrumental contribution to that shift.

Neither Sailor Moon nor Sailor V feel current, but both have aged well.

Prequel/prototype/ultimately concurrent sibling series Codename: Sailor V kicks off to a quick start, arriving at the series status quo within a chapter. Tomboy-ish, but pretty; distracted, but capable of being practical after a fashion first year middle school student Minaki Aino summersaults off a school yard gymnastic high bar and lands on a strange cat. She curses the unknown person who put a cat under her landing zone and in turn, her gym teacher curses her for attempting a stunt beyond the simple a forward circle she was supposed to be doing. The cat follows Mina around, and after she boots out the cat for sneaking into her room, he’s eventually able to introduce himself as Artemis and toss a magic locket and pep at her, with which, by the power of the moon, she can transform into Codename: Sailor V, Champion of Justice! The Pretty Guardian in a Sailor Suit: Sailor Venus!

There are a lot of nice touches here. Mina doesn't like the trademark sailor suit: too drafty, not stylish, not tailored for the kind of kicking the baddies maneuver she want to do... and while Takeuchi's action sequences are abrupt single panel effects shots, she does illustrate exciting images of V punting a foe in the face or blast them with a beam. Beyond that, Mina gripes about the lack of a salary for her Champion of Justice work. She's even bemused by some of the conventions of astronomical/mythology spirits of good. She asks Artemis why a male cat is named for a goddess. Artemis expresses surprise that Mina, whose interests are dominated by youthful pop culture and not studies, would know who his Greek namesake was. True to her nature, Mina points out that of course she knew; the goddess of the hunt was a character in a video game she played

Bolstered by Mina's magnetically cheery, outspoken demeanor, Codename: Sailor V's formula works. While the manga gives her that humanizing fallibility, unlike later leads, including Sailor Moon's Usagi, she's not a klutz. Instead, her failing is that she doesn't apply herself to matters that disinterest her. Conversely, she does what she wants to do with gusto, and that willingness to boldly succeed and boldly fall on her face give the character real star quality. Takeuchi is cognizant of this and uses it to launch Sailor V into episodic stories relating to pop and popularity.

That angle to Sailor V's fight against evil offers the teen super heroine manga plenty of rich material to work with. There's plenty to cheer in the adventures of a girl who does things her own way and is not one to be swayed by the crowd; who suits up and protects the masses when some popular sensation becomes the vector for dark forces, but who can still be swept up in her own enthusiasm for latest hotness. While the particular looks and some generalities of the pop idols and social phenomena that Mina deals with are definitely not current, the spirit remains relevant.

The problem is that while there is some continuity, Sailor V is bound to that formula. The repetition is wearying such that, as fun as the manga is, as gleeful as Mina's presence can be, it is difficult to work through an entire volume in one sitting. While it can benefit from space between reading the stories, even then, desperation seems to creep in, as when Mina ends up flying to Hawaii for an episode. As enjoyable as V is, it wouldn't sustain like Sailor Moon.

As in Codename Sailor: V, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon opens with a cat collision, as clumsy Usagi Tsukino wakes up late, hastily readies herself and rushes (past her mother, who's reading a newspaper headline congratulating Sailor V on foiling bank robbers) and manages to heedlessly step on a cat a she tumbles down the sidewalk. Despite some visual similarities and despite sharing a lack of traditional girlish grace, the differences between Mina and Usagi become immediately evident, as while the distracted Mina cursed the cat for being under her, the flighty Usagi kisses the cat and apologizes. The latter's kind gesture is rewarded with the assaulted cat clawing up her face.

As in Codename, there is a formula in Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, and, again, it's an effective part of the charm. Unlike Mina, who, despite not exactly being quiet, well behaved pretty soldier, quickly proves adept at her job, Usagi proves to be more of a project. She bruises herself emulating Sailor V's trademark kicks. Where Mina took to it all naturally, Usagi needs her magic cat to tell her to calm down and how to proceed. As such, the manga that Usagi star in has someplace to go.

The winning formula of Pretty Guardian is progressing, and, more that than, its not quite as transparent as Codename's. At least as far as this volume goes, it's intertwined with the virtues of Usagi's personality, especially her lack of prejudice. The pattern here is that Usagi will meet some girl, and the whispers and social cues will be that Usagi should leave the girl alone. Stay away from the cold, studious genius. Stay away from the intense girl at the shrine. Stay away from the towering tomboy. In turn, the open hearted Usagi gets close to these girls, and finds in them friends and companion champions of justice.

If you know the story from the anime, you'll be surprised by the go for broke speed of the manga. Introducing all of Sailor Moon's inner circle save the in-the-background Sailor Venus, introducing dashing hero Tuxedo Mask and his boyfriend to be alter ego Mamoru Chiba, and torching through enemy generals, it's really not conceiving any developments and for all its light tone, it's not fooling around.

Kodansha's decision to launch the two series at the same time works out well, less because of the plot tie-ins than because of how well the structured experience of the two complement each other. Codename: Sailor V is easier to get attached too. Like its star, it has a quick likability. However, while Codename is sure footed, it's also fixed, circling in its place and it’s also quicker to become bored of. Because Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon is going someplace, and with that momentum, it’s easier to read through. However, like its heroine, its potential hasn't been fully realized. The brisk pace, results in a quick, essentialized view of these people that makes it points. However, even if you know these characters, the manga feel rushed, leaving you wanting to know these characters better rather than fully endearing them. The likability of Codename and the possibility of Pretty Guardian complement each other to suggest that the full Sailor Moon series could be outstanding.

I suspected that the new edition of Sailor Moon would at best be a worthy document of a series that helped popularize anime/manga in North America and became a dominant vision of magic girls in Japan. Seems like my thinking was a bit backwards. Sailor Moon's importance was a matter of timing to some extent, and in that, it is wonderful to see magic girls manga in its unadulterated form, before it became overloaded with other intensions. However, it’s not simply a function of chronological precedence. Especially in the case of its Japanese significance, Sailor Moon wasn't working with an entirely new idea. More than that, Sailor Moon offers a convincing reminder of why we were drawn to this moon princess champion of justice, and by extension, manga in the first place. And if it can rekindle that in jaded fans, surely it can convince a new generation of enthusiasts.

Manga Spotlight: Gon
Volume 1
by Masashi Tanaka
Released by Kodansha Comics

We're all supposed to pretend to have grown out of our love of dinosaurs until some Jurassic Park-like spectacle allows us to briefly re-indulge in it. Well, here's one such treat.

Deservingly so, Masashi Tanaka's wordless, painstakingly rendered nature studies, humorously intruded upon by a micro t-rex is a perennial kids manga recommendation. But, in those vibrant, panoramic scenes and classic physical humor, Tanaka offers a bit of dino-art that anyone of any age can shamelessly adore.

Gon ran in Morning, a seinen anthology for older male readers; the eclectic home of super loveable cat manga Chii's Sweet Home as well as Makoto Kobayashi's cat based What's Michael?, published in North America by Dark Horse and the first manga to be nominated for Eisner Award. (Gon won the 1998's Eisner's for Best Humor Publication and Best U.S. Edition of International Material) And, Morning is the anthology that housed Takehiko Inoue's artfully violent fictionalized biography of "Sword Saint" Miyamoto Musashi, Jiro Matsumoto's retelling of Peter Pan with Pan as a psychopath and Wendy as a troubled teen, sadomasochistic, sexual story of a time travelling witch Mephisto, soccer title Giant Killer, the anime of which is streaming in North America, Monster/20th Century Boys creator Naoki Urasawa's look at the significance of symbols, Billy Bat, Youji Fukuyama's manga version of Don Giovanni, Kaiji Kawaguchi's provocative look at World War II Zipang, Go Nagai's older audience revisitation of a classic Devilman Lady, Moebius and Jiro Taniguchi's Icaro, Mkoyoko Anno's look at the life of a career woman, Hataraki Man , and many other notables.

There have been situations where publishers have been burned trying to market manga to younger readers than the publication's original demographics, particularly involving works from Morning's sister publication, Afternoon. And, there have been seinen manga presumed to be all ages appropriate with subtexts or intensions that aren't really so all age suitable. That's not an issue with Gon, which can be viewed in light of what Frederik Schodt notes in Dreamland Japan to be Morning's slogan : Yomu to genki ni naru - "You'll feel great if you read it."

Kodanasha's release of Gon is the about the umpteenth to hit North America (third, really), and the nice thing about getting so manga release of the manga, dating back to Paradox Press' in the 90's, is that it proves out the manga's timelessness.

Each wordless Gon short story is set in a different ecosystem filled with some variety of modern fauna. The major operating conceit is that the series features a small dinosaur popping up an any spot on the globe to experience nature at that locale with no signs of humanity. Beyond that, the wildlife is anthropomorphized in the sense of applying human mental and especially emotional characteristics. It's not Bugs Bunny, but it is a step beyond March of the Penguins.

For the most part, Gon's role is to assert himself at the top of the food chain: beat up the bear for a claim on the salmon, then nap on the belly of the newly subservient beast, ride on the back of a very displeased lion on the way to the wildebeest, show up the beavers in building a monumental dam. There is a pure simplicity to the stories, where part of the appeal is a that this fierce little dinosaur stands as a totem for vented frustration.

One would be hard pressed to call him a benevolent king of the jungle, and what passes for a softer side is still a function of his headstrong attitude, but the character does have his principles and empathy. The final story of the volume, "Gon Goes Flying" starts with the tiny dino imposing on a nesting eagle, but when Gon stands up with his adopted brethren, the story evolves into something more touching. Even as it is impossible not to feel pity for the abused wild life, Gon is a charismatic bully and sometimes benevelent tyrant.

The design for Gon himself evolves a bit to acquire a slight abstraction in his rendering. He goes from a very narrow, very reptilian form to a broader, somewhat more cartooned shape. Even then, all of the scales, ridges and veins are captured in the detailed illustration. Every panel of the manga looks like a carpel tunnel nightmare. Tanaka applies human expressions to the animals' faces, but beyond that, he approaches every i,age with a naturalistic style of rendering. Every aspect of each landscape and creature is depicted with incalculable detail in Tanaka's fine lines. Whether it is a forest or a mountain top, Tanaka's illustration suggests the genuine location, populated by the genuine fauna.

With the realism of the technique and the pantomime of the animals' anthropomorphic expressions, the much talked about uncanny gap seems like it could be a potential issue. A chipmunk that looks like a real chipmunk, but face-faults when Gon knocks down a tree sounds like it could be unreal enough to remove the reader from the experience. However, there is consistency and exactness that allows the illusion to function. Every animal and every environment looks credible, and every expression looks creditable. Without a second thought, the complete image clicks, and what is presented can function as genuine animals acting genuinely funny.

Anime Spotlight:Dragon Ball Z
Blu-Ray 1 - Level 1.1
Released by FUNimation

Like many, I've seen Dragon Ball Z multiple times. It's difficult for any anime watcher to avoid that. And, my opinion of the series was informed by the fact that, whether it was in raw Japanese on the International Channel or on Cartoon Network, it was something that I just threw on the TV to have something on in the background. It seemed like the colorful fighters were always standing around looking intense, on some fake alien planet Namek, and then, as the meme says, "still on Namek." Yet, though I've never been a Dragon Ball Z fans, I still think, with what a fixture it’s been for over a decade, with all the re-releases, what gets lost in the familiarity is that Dragon Ball Z is kind of ingenious.

Journey to the West is a long, the English translation is over two thousand pages, Ming Dynasty epic concerning the monk Sanzang's pilgrimage in search of Buddhist Sutras. Really, the part most remembered and retold concerns the first of his disciples, Sun Wukong or Son Goku: the devious, violent Monkey King, semi-tamed by Bodhisattva after a rebellion against heaven and set to follow Sanzang.

Dragon Ball was far from the first anime/manga to adapt the Monkey King legend, one of the earliest anime released in North America was Toei's 1960 Alakazam the Great, based on Osamu Tezuk's My Son Goku. Showing up deep into a well established tradition, Akira Toriyama put his funny, cleverly juvenile stamp on the material, making his Goku one of the most enduringly popular takes on the popular legend.

Goku became a feral kid martial artist who turned into a King Kong kaiju ape on the full moon, while Sanzang was irreverently adapted into undergarments named, blue haired girl (Bulma, as in "bloomers").They fight off an impish would be-conqueror accompanied by a woman in an overcoat and a dog ninja, a paramilitary group, a cadre of classic monsters and the like, eventually getting wound up in the conflict between a version of god and the devil (well, demon king), both of whom turn out to be green skinned guys with antennae.

Toriyama managed a manic just go with it spirit, without seeming carless. That exuberance has been winning over generations of fans, including the current crop of lead shonen manga authors. One Piece's Eiichiro Oda, Naruto's Masashi Kishimoto, Fairy Tails's Hiro Mashima, and Soul Eater's Atsushi Okubo all cite Toriyama has a key influence. If Osamu Tezuka was the God of Manga, and Go Nagai was the dirty uncle, Akira Toriyama was the school record breaker... the guy whose name is on the wall, who the new comers all aspire to be.

The anime took a breaking point in the story, on the eve of an onslaught of shockers and retcons, and rebranded itself Dragon Ball Z (the Japanese publication of the manga was always "Dragon Ball").
While it’s hard to erase the conception of Dragon Ball Z as guys standing in place and yelling, Z did constitute a clever, wild shift in the anything goes take on the Monkey King.

Dragon Ball Z reintroduces the monkey boy, now a man, though not necessarily more mature, as a parent of his own monkey child. Turns out, he was never really just some aberrant wildling. What he never knew was that he was Saiyan, a race of alien conquerors. In a sort of evil twist on the Superman scenario, he was sent as an infant by the people of his soon to be doomed planet to devastate Earth. Except, he got hit on his head as a baby and lost his evil impulses, becoming the beloved hero instead. Unfortunately, more of his race are on their way to Earth, and our hero must up his game to face warriors out of the league of even the gravest previous threats. Then, that origin gets rewritten again. Turns out, the Saiyan home planet was destroyed by an even more powerful evil overlord, and our hero must content with the new uber-threat.

These early episodes of Z still feature fights against saber tooth tigers and dinosaurs and still inhabit a world in which anything exciting for fun can exist. However, Z's MO is refocused on the succession of arrivals of guys who are so big and bag that the gravity of their threats rewrite everything that preceded it. The way that this plays out is deserving of its reputation for dragging on. It's not the kind of fighting series where you're wondering what happens if character X and Y fight, or who will be paired off to go blow for blow with who. It's build and release. The heroes worry and train knowing some meteor strike enemy threat is coming, and in Dragon Ball Z, that buildup is legendary. Apart maybe from a hypothetical transfixed young audience experiencing this for the first time, there are bound to be some "get on with it!" Breaking pints Even in this early going, when it didn't have to milk the proceedings too badly, it's still a lot of dragging before the ball.

This is TV anime that originally air in Japan in 1989. We're not talking work produced for a modern hi-def TV. Still, these new Blu-rays look as good as they can. FUNimation's work to restore it paid off and I see no reason to complain.
With the popularity of MMA, there's something of a resurgence of interesting in martial arts. If you're looking for a good martial arts anime... with Goku as a lead, the Dragon Ball Z takes its cues from his unquenchable enthusiasm and righteous willingness to throw down, such that it offers fun unbound by logic and as such doesn't insult intelligence or interest in the real thing. Still, I'd point older viewers to Dragon Ball director Daisuke Nishio's latter work on street fighting anime Air Master, which streams on most outlets for legitimate streaming anime. For new, younger viewers... I don't see any reason why it wouldn't delight them just as much as it’s delighted the audiences of the last decade and a half.




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