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Jose Cruz



Joined: 20 Nov 2012
Posts: 1357
Location: Serra Gaucha/Minnesota
PostPosted: Sat Dec 06, 2014 1:14 am Reply with quote
Hi I am opening this thread in parallel with my anime reviews thread. I watched way more anime than manga (because, well, it's cheaper) even though I might say that the best anime/manga I ever read was a manga. So I am opening this thread to talk about the manga I have been reading. It's not very sophisticated review but just my superficial thoughts on the matter.
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Jose Cruz



Joined: 20 Nov 2012
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Location: Serra Gaucha/Minnesota
PostPosted: Sat Dec 06, 2014 1:57 am Reply with quote
Mayo Chiki! (2010-13)



A manga adapted from a light novel, hence, I didn't expect it to be a masterpiece but some nice light reading. It indeed was: a very nice romantic comedy manga. Though it was a bit too heavy on the erotic content and given my "advanced age" I found these elements a bit too silly. Though the silliness of it actually proved to be a source of amusement for me. It's similar to Strike Witches in that regard because I found the way fanservice was used to be quite amusing: it's as if it didn't exist but it's blatantly obvious.

I also liked the general art style and character designs, though they are now what appears to be the typical "contemporary seinen" style I actually find it to be quite good. Well, there is a reason why it became the standard. Though it was so blatantly obvious that Konoe wasn't a boy, that I was: ok, how ludicrous this can get. Anyway, it's a very entertaining manga that captured my attention until it's end. It's nothing that made me feel strong emotions, though the finale had a sbustantial emotional reward although the "epilogue" was a bit too much nonsense for me to take: ok so these girls are perfectly willing to live with this guy even though they known perfectly well that he is not interested in them.

My rating is 7/10.
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Jose Cruz



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PostPosted: Wed Dec 10, 2014 9:56 pm Reply with quote
Black Magic (1983)



Now for something a bit more "classy". Nothing is classier than good'ol 1980's science fiction manga from the masters such as Masamune Shirow. While Shirow hasn't written anything that I would regard as a masterpiece of the purest form several of his works are really great and the corpus of his work becomes significant in itself as more than the sum of it's parts.

Black Magic was his earliest work and here we already see the traces of the author's thematic tendencies but here is more in the style of classical science fiction with "space stuff" all over the place as well as the more traditional cyperpunk themes that he focuses on later work. The drawing style was very simple specially if you compare with something he wrote 18 years later like Ghost in the Shell 2.0. In a way it's better as it has that classy chubby look of the 1980's manga when Japan was poised to become the world's dominant economic power before the country "blew up" in the 1990's.

The manga is pretty short and consists mostly/essentially of a collection of short stories which are tied together into a single narrative. I also watched the OVA and noticed they adapted it into a much less ambitious sci fi setting: near future Earth instead of the distant past featuring an interplanetary civilization based on Venus that developed super advanced forms of artificial intelligence but that eventually collapsed and whose offspring are us.

My rating is 8/10.
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Jose Cruz



Joined: 20 Nov 2012
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 10, 2014 10:19 pm Reply with quote
Orion (1991)



Another one of Shirow's titles. This one is more fantasy focused than most of his other works. It's less sci fi though still has some elements and more fantasy. In fact, many elements of it reminded me of Dragon Ball, specially the completely over the top action sequences. Like Dragon Ball it features god like characters who fight in a way that changes the "geography" of the battlefield. There is also a lot of comedy in this particular title as it never takes itself seriously but allows itself freedom to be what it wants to be without being restricted by almost anything, including any annoying physical laws, besides basic narrative consistency. Overall a highly addictive comedy manga read that I greatly enjoyed. My rating is 7/10.
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Jose Cruz



Joined: 20 Nov 2012
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Location: Serra Gaucha/Minnesota
PostPosted: Mon Feb 16, 2015 9:54 pm Reply with quote
Ghost in the Shell (1990)


Continuing with Masamune Shirow's work, how could I forget GitS? One of the moves influential mangas of all time. It's also the manga that impressed me the most among the set of mangas I read from Shirow.

It is also very prescient in a way, since we are clearly moving in the direction that manga first envisioned. While certainly overestimating the speed in which cyborg technology would be developed (writing in 1990, he "guessed" that by 2030's we would have full body cyborgs, as of 2015 we are certainly still very far away from it). The concept of a fully artificial organism capable of reproduction (in a way), and evolution, is very fascinating as well.

The manga is quite different from the film, though the plot of the manga actually serves as the source material for the two GitS films directed by Oshii. though the second film modifies the original story significantly more than the first. Like the movies, it's something that I appreciated more on a intellectual level rather than in a emotional level, though the manga is emotionally closer to the characters than the film.

Also interesting is the police setting of the manga. Although it's science fiction at it's heart, the crime elements sort of bring these concepts closer at home. As the world depicted is very much like our own, but with slightly different vehicles and cyborgs.

9/10


Last edited by Jose Cruz on Mon Aug 17, 2015 9:26 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Jose Cruz



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Location: Serra Gaucha/Minnesota
PostPosted: Mon Aug 17, 2015 9:25 pm Reply with quote
Battle Angel Alita: Last Order (2000-2014)



Introduction

The original Battle Angel Alita was one of the first mangas I read when I was about 13-14 years old. It’s an adult manga so when I read it I was deeply disturbed by it at the time: in that manga the boundaries between man and machine disappear completely. No other work of fiction I know is so willing to push into its ultimate logical implications the concept of cybernetic organisms. Another famous works of the genre, from the GitS manga to the several movies of GitS and Robocop, don’t treat the subject to the same extent.

Besides being an interesting work of science fiction it features some great characterization, well-paced narrative, great artwork, boundless imagination and highly entertaining plot. It’s an all-around masterpiece of the likes that are rare in any artistic medium. In fact, it’s easily among the best works of science fiction in any genre that I have had the privilege to experience.

It is also one very interesting take on what a transhuman interplanetary society would look like.

Background

Battle Angel Alita: Last Order was conceived by its creator (both the main artist and writer) Yukito Kishiro as a continuation of the story of Battle Angel Alita. The original Battle Angel Alita was written between 1990 and 1995, just during the peak of Japan’s economic bubble and of it’s relative importance to the rest of the world. The original manga depicting the story of cyborg girl Alita who is rescued from a state of suspended animation by scientist/doctor Ido and who gradually finds her place in a very “weird” world, that is simultaneously futuristic and retro looking. Everything in that manga felt like it was old and rusty, including most of the cyborgs: instead of perfectly realistic reproductions of the human form most cyborgs in Battle Angel Alita were monstrous in one form or another: basically a human brain inserted into some type of robotic machine not always humanoid and varying in size from a dog’s size to 15 meter tall giants.

Kishiro had to finish his story in the original manga by the seventh volume, much earlier than he wanted due to pressure from the publishers. After doing an unsatisfactory conclusion (though I even cried during that conclusion when I read the original manga), he stopped working on the story for five years, while working on parallel projects. After he got the chance to resume his work on Battle Angel Alita he started serializing chapters again under the title “Last Order”, whose significance is central for the plot of this continuation of Battle Angel Alita. Thus it should not be understood as a sequel because it is not.

Art style

Kishiro’s style is still very reminiscent of 1980’s manga in my opinion. It reminds me a bit of Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed in some aspects. Though the style in Alita is more gritty, in fact, and characterized by very clear lines. One manga critic (1) said that a critical factor for the emergence of the moe aesthetic was a type of appreciation that he called “the pleasure of the lines” which is the pleasure generated by the well-defined, straight and placed in highly angular composition lines common in manga. Alita is perhaps a member of the otaku school of manga art, in contrast with mangas like Vagabond which opt for a more realistic art style and clearly consistent with the tone and style of this manga. Although it’s degree in adherence to generic otaku manga art is not as high as most other mangas that I would classify as such: a person not familiar with manga in general might not instantly think this is a Japanese comic. Of course, the highly detailed black and white art with very professionally drawn lines is also

World building

One of the things I love about science fiction or fantasy (or historical, to a certain degree) is the world building: use your imagination to construct a world that doesn’t exist. It’s very particular of this type of fiction and some critics of science fiction and fantasy usually focus on the relatively poorly developed characters, since most of the brain matter of the creator of such works is usually dedicated to world building and the science fiction concepts and ideas instead of being focused on character development. Not here in Last Order though, both the characterization and the world building are exceptional.

One of the strongest points of Last Order is the amazing world building that it does. Very few other works of fantasy, historical or science fiction that I read create/depict their world in such level of detail as Last Order Does. The manga is even arrogant enough to call itself a work of boundless imagination (yep, around chapter 110 and even brags that James Cameron (of all people) is talking about it), though it is indeed fully justified. One of the most creative things of the manga was the setup of the political order of the (already well colonized and developed outside of Earth) Solar System: In the original Battle Angel Alita manga there was no information regarding the world outside of the city of Scrapyard, the city floating above it, Tiphares and its surrounding wasteland, where all plot elements of the original manga takes place. It was depicted in the original manga that Tiphares was suspended by some sort of giant superstructure whose other end was presumably in space and the centripetal force of Earth’s rotation was what actually held the whole superstructure in place.

In Last Order we finally see what is actually in the end of this “space elevator” superstructure that begins at Tiphares: the even more impressive orbital space city of Ketheres, which actually used Tiphares as its laboratory and its population as their (unwilling and unaware) human test subjects for several types of experiment. For example, it was revealed in the end of Battle Angel Alita that all adult inhabitants/citizens of Tiphares had their brains replaced with computer chips. The so called brain chips that simulates the activity of an adult human brain, while their original brains were sent to Tiphares to be added as organic components of the (constantly evolving) orbital city’s supercomputer Melchizedek.

In fact, it is later shown that supercomputers like Melchizedek are self-aware creatures that consider themselves superior to the puny humans that they are (or at least they think that are) manipulating. With names from biblical or mythological sources, these computers are effectively real gods of the futuristic solar system. Though only two of such artificial beasts are described in the manga it also suggests there are several more of these computers.

The other computer described in detail in the manga is Zeus, the main supercomputer of the Jupiter System Union, which is as a political organization, even more powerful than the relatively small but influential Earth’s council LADDER, which is an organization headquartered in Ketheres that functions as the Solar System’s United Nations of sorts. While the Jupiter System Union is a regime that controls Jupiter and all the settlements located in the planet’s orbit and it’s numerous moons. A very centralized regime, it forces all citizens to replace their human bodies with black boxes style cyborg bodies so that they don’t have to spend money building up infrastructure on Jupiter’s moons and space stations to house human inhabitants, instead with their brains in these black boxes the citizens of Jupiter can survive in a vacuum easily. Clearly, this political system is a reference to the Soviet Union and it’s cookie cuter nature and disregard for individual needs as it replaces forcibly all citizen’s bodies with standardized ones for the reduction of social costs.

Besides the Jupiter System Union the other main power of the Solar System is the Republique Venus, which is populated by genetically engineered transhuman peoples. They look monstrous as well: with huge heads and tiny bodies, they look like gremlins of something. And they manufacture food using human DNA as well, so these transhumans are also cannibals. This faction was based on the United States and the historical French Empire and they even pride themselves of allowing free competition, unlike the collectivists at the Jupiter System Union. Both factions exist in a state of cold war as they both want the resources of the asteroid ring between Mars and Jupiter: Jupiter System Union wants these asteroids to use as raw material in their massive construction projects, such as the creation of a Dyson Sphere around Jupiter (I wouldn’t know why they would build a Dyson Sphere around a planet though, the idea of a Dyson Sphere is to envelop a star to capture all its energy emissions). While the Republique Venus wants to uses the asteroids as raw material for their terraforming projects on Venus.

The Republique Venus is also adept in using nanotechnology (in fact their proficiency in genetic engineering came after research in nanotechnology was forbidden due to massive accidents caused in the past by self replicating nanorobots, the so called called Grey Goo apocalypse (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_goo) , so they shifted their human resources into genetic engineering, including the creation of genetically manipulated beasts of warfare) and they also invented nanotechnology to block aging: injecting nanorobots into the bloodstream of people and these nanorobots will supposedly repair cells and stop aging. As a result most of the population of the Solar System became effectively almost immortal (only dying from accident or violence) which meant that natality rates had to be controlled very carefully since almost nobody dies anymore and children became sort of a “plague” in the Solar System.

Besides Earth, Jupiter and Venus, Mars is also heavily inhabited and is in fact Earth’s oldest colony but it is divided into several factions that are always in civil war: one faction supported by the Jupiter System Union, another supported by the Republique Venus, a faction of Nazis called the Neo Third Reich and the “good faction”: domestic (thus not under influence from the superpowers) and freedom loving of normal people. It is later revealed that Alita herself is a martian who was in state of suspended animation for nearly 200 years after her body was thrown on Earth due to the last great interplanetary war.

Another thing that I liked very much was the justification for the state of the Earth: while the solar system remained well developed and heavily populated with human settlements spread all over the place, most of Earth itself remains a wasteland and Scrapyard appears to be the largest city on Earth’s surface in fact. And most of the population living near Earth either inhabits the orbital colonies or the moon settlements. The reason for that is that around the year 2010 in the manga’s chronology Earth was hit by asteroids and mankind almost went extinct during the “nuclear winter” (not to be confused with the title of the famous Sodom album) following that catastrophe. After the nuclear winter was over a massive settlement grew around a military base that served as a shelter for over a thousand people during that long nuclear winter, that settlement was what would become the Scrapyard and it’s leader decided that humanity’s chances of survival would be improved if mankind spread through the solar system instead of being confined to Earth. So most of the resources of this newly established center of civilization on post-apocalyptic Earth were allocated to the construction of the space elevator which is the superstructure that we see in the rest of the manga. Ketheres was built at one end of the space elevator and Tiphares was built at its beginning in order to stabilize the whole superstructure. Because most of the resources of this gem of civilization were allocated for space colonization the rest of the Earth wasn’t colonized/developed and just became a massive wasteland. Apparently, no other large population centers emerged in the world following the nuclear winter so “Scrapyard”, that miserable town that lived off the garbage Tiphares sent down to it, and the beginning of the story of the first manga can be understood as the origin of the whole interplanetary civilization depicted in this massive manga. That’s quite typical of science fiction stories like those though but still makes my heart race.

Martial arts

Anyone familiar with the Dragon Ball manga (or the TV series adaption of it) might notice many similarities in the way combat is depicted here and most of the ca. 4000 pages of Last Order are dedicated to martial arts combat. I personally find it one of the manga’s weakness when it stars to focus too much on the details of combat instead of other, more interesting, aspects. As well as the relative time dilation involved: thousands of pages of manga later and it is still the same tournament, yes, because the plot of this manga is built around a martial arts tournament that last only a few days: thus about 5 days represent 3,000 pages of the manga.

Because (nearly) all the characters are full cyborgs (or genetically engineered monsters) they practice martial arts that were developed for these artificial bodies. And also, one thing that bugged me was that they still had techniques made against the human body in its original form: “grab the arm like this and then do like that”, but considering cyborg’s bodies can be so different from human bodies why would you expect something like that to always work?

Also, since they are cyborgs whose bodies were made using super advanced nanotechnology at least the completely over the top fights can be rationalized in some way: how could a 1.9 meter tall cyborg defeat a 50 meter tall monster that shoots organic missiles though it’s skin? (yes, that one of the Republique Venus’ genetically engineered monsters, they even had a 500 meter tall giant monster as their trump card in the martial arts tournament), well, because he is a cyborg. Lot’s of over the top fights in here, any fan of Dragon Ball would be happy to read this for that aspect alone. Though I found the whole approach of this manga to fights to be a bit too over the top for my tastes: the use of time dilation is common in manga and has been common since the 1960’s when an entire chapter of manga was written depicting a single second of a baseball match. But for me it feels weird to just read through hundreds and hundreds of pages to find out we are still in the same day of the story! And then we have flashbacks of hundreds of pages long that span huge periods of time. But that is one of the things that I love about manga: the incredible level of time and space distortions they manage to put into narratives. Though I like some type of distortions more than others.

Characters

One of the great things in manga/anime/Japanese live action is that female characters are given bigger roles than in Western fiction. While in Western fiction apparently all thinking and acting people in the world are men: women exist only as a consumer goods for men in these books. But here, instead, women are people too! They fight, they have interests, they have dreams, they play an active role and about half of the important characters are women. In fact, this is a gender neutral world as men and women can do everything and the main character in fact could be perfectly replaced by a male character and none of her lines would seem weird (except that she would be a gay man since Alita has a lover) though in the past Tiphares even made a female android using Alita’s data which an identical body who was supposed to beat Alita up (but lost, naturally to the main character), that android eventually got to change his/her body to a masculine one. Though since he is an android whose only objective in life is to get strong and become the Solar System’s strongest martial artist he doesn’t care about anything relative to “gender relations”.

All characters are also well rounded and have very characteristic personalities. It’s among the most interesting science fiction mangas in that respect as other titles I read recently had much inferior characterization: I rooted for the main characters/protagonists and I hated the villains as well. But well, this is indeed one of the best mangas ever made, so it’s unfair to compare it to lesser stuff, specially science fiction mangas that tend to focus less on characterization than this one. Battle Angel Alita, both the original manga and this continuation are essentially about Alita’s quest for self fulfillment. She doesn’t know exactly who she actually is: she was found in a state of suspended animation by the scientist/cyborg doctor Ido in Scrapyard and she didn’t have any memories of anything that might have happened before, except stuff like knowing how to talk, read and write and her martial arts skills. Over the course of original manga, she eventually learns bits of her past but most of it is still completely obscure and then some of her memories come back but completely unconnected with the rest of her memories: as if there were the memories of two persons inside her mind: Alita and somebody else.

Another interesting aspects were the highly developed side characters: manga is essentially a character driven art form. Or at least is usually character driven, which helps to explain why there are so many science fiction manga with great character development if compared to the relatively "character development poor" science fiction literature in the west. Since in manga the character is central everything is usually build around the character instead of the character being inserted in a setting as is usual in Western science fiction and fantasy, thus in this way the character development tends to be superior and more realistic.

Though I still had some misgivings relative to some aspects of the main character: by the end her change of costumes start to look like as of Kishiro was beginning to imagine her a a fetish object as well as a character. In that way it kinda of hurt a little bit my suspense of disbelief and hence my immersion in the story.

Conclusion

Another thing that I forgot to mention is that despite the extreme brutality of the stories told in the manga, this manga is also characterized by the use of constant humor throughout. Even in some parts that were supposed to be relatively serious (or that would have been done in a completely serious way in other comics/mangas) have some very, very funny elements. And I actually found the jokes funny this time (unlike many manga/anime comedies that have very boring humor such as the famous Gintama).

Kishiro is indeed a genius of the field of manga (what impressed me as well was that he wrote the original Battle Angel Alita manga when he was younger than I am now) and this is a must read, I think, for anything interested in comics/graphic fiction, though it’s full of crazy things: imagination runs crazy wild here so people without capacity to suspend disbelief (and I mean, to REALLY suspend disbelief) will not be able to grasp it fully. But it is great storytelling overall and not to be missed by anybody who likes science fiction as well and is not afraid of picture books. Pop culture at it's finest.

(1) “The Moe Manifesto: An Insider's Look at the Worlds of Manga, Anime, and Gaming”, chapter 12.[/img]

10/10
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theflickx



Joined: 20 Aug 2015
Posts: 5
PostPosted: Thu Aug 20, 2015 7:36 am Reply with quote
It seems you haven't started Reading Baki Smile
you should try that too.
Or do you watch anime of it too
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Jose Cruz



Joined: 20 Nov 2012
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Location: Serra Gaucha/Minnesota
PostPosted: Tue Aug 25, 2015 7:01 pm Reply with quote
I put it into my list of manga to read. Very Happy
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Jose Cruz



Joined: 20 Nov 2012
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Location: Serra Gaucha/Minnesota
PostPosted: Mon Feb 06, 2017 8:51 pm Reply with quote
Ashita no Joe (1968-1973)



There probably exists very few comics that can compare to Ashita no Joe in terms of raw emotional power. Or even works of fiction of any kind. This is a masterpiece, pure and simple: It's a rare shounen manga that does not suffer from excessive lenght measuring carefully sculpted 20 volumes with very little fat in its narrative. A shounen manga that actually does not feel remotely like any "shounen manga" you can find, I mean if you compare it to stuff in modern shounen magazines like Food Wars and One Piece which are among the most easily consumable but light and vapid entertainment you can find on the planet.

The art style has a vintage look and screams ca. 1970 manga and when one reads this work it becomes obvious its a shining example of the power of the medium during its most important period in terms of artistic development: the 1960s and 1970s. The art is very simple but very effective in conveying the information for the reader. And the while thing has a very fresh feel that is lacking in modern manga/anime (which is usually due to the high level of recycling of plot and narrative present in most current stuff, but well I am comparing a classic among classics of 50 years ago to the usual stuff of today, but it has a raw visceral drama whose intensity is such that can perhaps only be felt living in a society undergoing such severe internal revolution such as Japan around 1970 when the economy was growing at 12% a year which was a society that was mostly medieval a couple of generations before).

Joe represents Japan itself: a country that was a poor small occupied country that was devastated by war in 1945 which became an global economic superpower by 1975, boasting a prosperous middle class. spoiler[Joe starts out as a person devoid of anything: friends, family, money, home, by the middle of the manga, he finds a purpose in life and roughly at two thirds of it these basic life necessities are meet as he builds up his life as a successfull boxer. Yet, it becomes more and more clear that, he, in his driving need to overcome progressively harder and harder trials, is on a path for self destruction as his health deteriorates.]

The manga is also self aware of its "melodramatic" nature which is perhaps a general nature of Japanese fictional narratives: when the Venezuelan boxer Carlos comments on the relationship between Joe and Tange his coach (and effectively adopted parent) he says something of the sort: "these Japanese are so dramatic, everything is like a Shakespearean tragedy to them".

All the main characters of this manga are giants of the medium: Danpei Tange, Yabuki Joe, Yoko and Rikiishi Toru. I usually forget names of characters, specially Japanese names, but these characters are so memorable... It's like, they feel very real and are well developed through the narrative. And the whole work is endowed with a deep gravitas that it's very rare, among the comics I read, I can only recall the Nausicaa manga and Lone Wolf and Club have a similar sense of gravitas. But here is more natural.

Rating:
11/10
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