Ludwig Revolution – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Ludwig Kakumei

 

Related: Ludwig Fantasia (sequel)

Similar: Count Cain

 

Genre: Parody Gothic Horror Adventure

Length: 4 volumes

 

Positives:

  • Interesting take on fairy tale classics.
  • Doesn’t hold back.
  • Good art.

Negatives:

  • Inconsistent tone.
  • Dichotomous humour.
  • Mouths look terrible when talking, surrounded by otherwise detailed art.

Some stories get adapted repeatedly, and with each new version, writers must find a way to hook the reader beyond the ‘same old story,’ drawing the passing customer’s eye. Few stories have seen more adaptations than the Brothers Grimm fairy tales (most famously by Disney). Ludwig Kakumei takes the inverse approach, turning the females evil – Little Red Riding Hood as an axe murderer, for instance. Flipping a famous character’s alignment always caches my eye, but sadly, this manga is quite rubbish, and yet, not boring.

Prince Ludwig, deemed a lazy disgrace to the kingdom by his father, must find a suitable bride, so he explores nearby kingdoms for the fairest maiden. (Not quite how medieval royal marriages work, but let’s go with it.) The structure is a simple series of short stories, each focusing on one of many famous fairy tale women. The first and most interesting is Snow White, who uses her ‘fairest of them all’ beauty to fornicate her way to power, including with her own father, the king, in her teen years to spite the Evil Queen (Snow’s mother in this version). Rather twisted.

Twisted also describes Ludwig, for he is a necrophiliac and keeps his dead lovers in glass boxes around his room. So far, it sounds interesting. However, after the first story, Ludwig Kakumei is no longer the same manga. Each subsequent fairy tale woman gets less and less interesting and the necrophilia vice is largely irrelevant, which makes me believe the first story was purely for shock value to hook the reader. The tone isn’t consistent either. The seriousness of the sex and brutality doesn’t match at all with the pervy comedy of the prince and his sidekick. Modern colloquialisms were a bad idea as well.

In all, Ludwig Kakumei isn’t a good manga, though the concept and nonsensical execution stave off boredom. Here’s to hoping the next manga brings satisfaction.

Art – High

The art is surprisingly good – nice environments, detailed characters (I like the outfits) – but the expressions at the mouth look awful.

Story – Low

A twisted prince seeks a bride in twisted versions of classic fairy tale princesses. An interesting idea, for sure, but Ludwig Kakumei needed better execution. The inconsistent tone between stories and jarring humour doesn’t help.

Recommendation: Try it. Ludwig Kakumei is not great, not even good, but it’s certainly not boring, so you may find some enjoyment. Not for kids – at all.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)

Natsume’s Book of Friends – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Natsume Yujincho

 

Related: Natsume’s Book of Friends Season 5 (starts October 2016)

Similar: Mushishi

xxxHOLiC

Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light

Cardcaptors

My Neighbor Totoro

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Slice of Life

Length: 52 episodes (4 seasons), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • More substance than most slice of life.
  • The cat sidekick.
  • Good-natured feel.

Negatives:

  • Becomes invariable after a while.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I kept putting this review off in the hopes I would find more within Natsume’s Book of Friends. “I’ll get to it next review. No, the one after,” I kept telling myself for three months. This time, I have to finish it. I wanted to find what it is that the fans love so dearly about this anime. I found the quality they love, but not why they love it this much.

Think of Natsume’s Book of Friends as a reverse Cardcaptor Sakura. Instead of capturing spirits like Sakura, Natsume works to release all spirits bound to the magical book he inherited from his grandmother. Until he does so, the spirits will follow him everywhere. Alongside him is a cat that claims to be an almighty spirit, yet why does he fall for every cat trap in the book? Tsk, tsk. More competent is the Okami-like wolf companion (voiced by Kakashi), who can transform into a tough high school girl.

The difficulty I have with Book of Friends is its laid back, easy-going nature. It’s too easy going, too laid back. It follows a ‘spirit of the week’ structure that feels repetitive before the first season is over. Each episode, a spirit follows Natsume, we flashback to when the grandmother bested them, they show a tragic backstory, and he gives the spirit peace. I have enjoyed many ‘of the week’ shows before, so why the difficulty here? The tone never changes. The episodic stories are always light, even when they should have intensity. Some stories are touching, yes – they’re dead, after all – but it feels so tame, so catered for children, as though afraid to cause heartache. Have light-hearted as the primary tone by all means, but some variance would keep the stupor at bay.

The best change would be to have fewer spirits, yet give each more time to develop – make some nastier, give proper arcs that twist left and right. Surprise me!

The spirit design and lore could also use work. Ninety percent of the spirits look like throwaway enemies from a generic JRPG or monster collect game. When looking at Doctor Who and all the creative monsters it comes up with (and the variance in tone), I expect more from Book of Friends in a medium that doesn’t have the limitations of live action. Now, if you’ve never seen these designs before, like the target audience, it won’t be much of a problem.

When not helping spirits, Natsume’s life consists of covering up the strange things that happen around him, inexplicable to all but himself. The overarching plot sees Natsume progress through the stages of school, which I like; however, this is far in the background. The episodic spirits take most attention.

Having light-hearted anime on occasion is a good thing – anime of any type can be a good thing – as long as it’s good. I don’t want to turn Natsume’s Book of Friends into a different anime. I want it to be a more interesting version of itself.

Art – Medium

Average if nice art that could use more animation and greater creature creativity. None of the creature’s surprised me in their design. With possibilities boundless, it’s disappointing they stuck to an unvarying design folio.

Sound – High

Good acting, especially the cat’s old man voice. I love the folk ED song from season one – listened to it every time. The music in general is nice.

Story – Medium

A boy releases the spirits from his ‘Book of Friends’ one by one so that they will leave him alone for once. A pleasant show about ‘reverse’ monster hunting each episode, but it plateaus quickly.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Those looking for an easy-going supernatural anime to watch one episode at a time will find pleasure in Natsume’s Book of Friends.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None

Dengeki Daisy – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Dengeki Daisy

 

Genre: High School Comedy Romance Drama

Length: 16 volumes

 

Positives:

  • Chemistry between main characters.
  • Snappy humour.
  • Well-suited art.
  • Starts so well…

Negatives:

  • …continues so poorly.
  • Goes far longer than it should.
  • Villains aren’t really villains.
  • Repetitive.

I’m not sure which is worse: the series that tells you it’s terrible from the start or the series that starts great and spirals after it has held you for several volumes. Dengeki Daisy is a case for the latter. It starts so well – hilarious, likeable characters, and more depth than expected. Around volume seven, however, Dengeki Daisy took the populist American sitcom route of overstaying its welcome, as it got renewed volume after volume to milk the cow.

Dengeki Daisy centres on orphan girl Teru and her secret guardian ‘Daisy’, a hacker who watches over her, particularly at high school where she is bullied for being poor, though she holds her own rather well. Her only contact line is through her phone, the last memento from her late brother. Daisy is the school janitor, Kurosaki, her senior by several years and a foil to Teru’s snappy attitude. Daisy’s identity isn’t a spoiler, which isn’t a good thing, actually. Though Teru doesn’t learn Daisy’s identity for a few volumes, we figure it out within a chapter. I don’t know why the author did this, especially when you see how much filler they resort to later on. It would have been more interesting to keep Daisy a mystery for the first arc (at least), replacing (at least) one of several dull villains.

The villains are Dengeki Daisy’s greatest failing. Their blandness is responsible, in large part, for the story feeling so slow and dragged out. They aren’t even villains. Every villain arc goes as follows: villain is interested in Teru for her brother’s legendary hacking software (story maguffin), acts creepy towards her, kidnaps her (or her friend), Teru talks to him a little, villain becomes weak, and really wasn’t such a bad guy all along. Yep, every villain gets an instant redemption story. I didn’t mind the first time, but after three instances, my eyes couldn’t roll any further – after a half-dozen, I wished I didn’t have eyes to roll. The more I read shoujo manga, the more shoujo authors seem to think girls can’t handle real villains in fiction.

As alluded to earlier, Dengeki Daisy promises surprising depth through Kurosaki/Daisy, as his feelings conflict with his role as protector and his past actions. His two identities are vastly different, making for an interesting character. Unfortunately, like everything else in this manga, depth takes a sharp, boring turn after volume six.

Sixteen volumes is far, far too long for a story of this nature. If made into an anime, Dengeki Daisy only has enough material for thirteen episodes without filler, maybe twenty-four. For context, The Rose of Versailles has forty episodes – packed with content – adapted from a mere ten volumes. I loved these protagonists, their chemistry, and their humour, but it wasn’t worth reading beyond the first six volumes. I just wanted it to end!

Art – High

The art style is close to that of a manhwa style, which is well suited to the shoujo genre. Good use of visual humour and not too busy. The artist uses camera angles to keep panels varied.

Story – Medium

Dengeki Daisy starts strong with great chemistry and a lot of humour; however, after six or so volumes, the arcs repeat, you realise the villains are the same weak opponents, and the plot goes nowhere until the final two volumes.

Recommendation: Read until you get bored. Dengeki Daisy’s strength is in its humour and chemistry between protagonists – the overall plot isn’t particularly engaging. You don’t need to keep going once the repetition no longer feels worthy of your time.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)

Nana – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Nana

 

Similar: Paradise Kiss

Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad

Kids on the Slope

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Music Comedy Drama Romance

Length: 47 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Instantly likeable characters, flaws and all.
  • Balance of comedy and drama.
  • Punishes mistakes.

Negatives:

  • Poor structuring at times interferes with the flow.
  • Doesn’t do the music element as strong as other music-centric anime.
  • The end.

(Request an anime for review here.)

A train delayed by snow brings two women called Nana together. One Nana has no goals in life other than to be independent, hopefully breaking away from her incessant need to fall in love with every guy she meets. The other Nana, fiercely independent, seeks stardom as a punk rock vocalist while burying the hurt she feels from her ex-boyfriend, who abandoned her for another band. Love is far from her mind.

To make things simpler, I will refer to one Nana as Hachiko (her nickname given in the show) and the other as Punk Nana. As always, the anime’s name is in italics – Nana.

These women present themselves as likeable characters right away, conveying their personalities in an authentic manner on the train. Hachiko’s bubbliness spills forth as she gives Punk Nana an earful on her amazing current boyfriend. Meanwhile, Punk Nana’s reserved nature and maturity billows off her like the smoke from her cigarette. The two may be opposites but she can’t help smiling at the endearing Hachiko. The first encounter between these two girls is a masterclass in giving the audience a feel for the characters in minutes.

After the opening episode, we go back several years with Hachiko to her high school life of moving from one love to the next (Punk Nana receives similar flashback treatment later). Hachiko keeps falling for one guy after another, each older than her. She gives new meaning to falling in love at first sight. Guy delivers pizza – she’s in love. Guy cooks at the restaurant – it must be love. Guy breathes – love! Get a grip, Hachiko! None of these men return her attention except for a married man a decade her senior. Like the introductions, this is another case of excellent writing, for it establishes her flaw and its resulting conflict without a drawn out explanation.

Hachiko is a stupid girl, a girl that claims independence, but is entirely dependent on others, has no skills and no direction in life. She sounds like a terrible character, so why do I like her? She is authentic and the story doesn’t let her get away with anything. Her hypocrisy about independence leads to the negative turn after act 1. Her stupidity results in…well, to avoid spoilers, let’s just say I hope none of you, dear readers, makes the same mistakes she does. Her romantic view of life and love is punched in the ovaries by reality and maturity. A craving for love or rather, what she thinks is love leads her down a path of mistakes – to put it mildly. And as any great writer will tell you, the theme for your ultimate conflict works best when you start it early, giving the conflict time to resonate throughout the story until it builds from a ripple into a tidal wave that crashes over the protagonist.

Ever wonder why a story that suddenly goes dark in the finale never feels right, even if you can’t quite put your finger on the reason? It’s because it lacks that resonance. The story didn’t foreshadow properly, obfuscating its goal for the sake of shock value. Nana doesn’t make that error. Now, it never becomes dark like those other anime, but my point is that its heavy drama never comes out of nowhere, even when it barges into what we thought was a comedy episode. When a dramatic change occurs, it feels right because Nana never lied to us. It makes sense.

The relationship pacing for both Nanas and their respective boyfriends recalls His & Her Circumstances (don’t remind me of that ending! T_T) in how well they move forward, free of artificial stalling. The story does slow when needed through effective use of internal monologue in contemplative moments, which unlike Honey and Clover doesn’t tell us how the characters feel.

Due to the strong writing and fast pace, I couldn’t stop going from one episode to the next, watching 20 in my first sitting – even the terrible idea to repeat episode 1 as episode 6 didn’t stop me. However, the second act seems to double the cast overnight and both old- and new-comers must have their dedicated arcs. Like the author’s other famous work, Paradise Kiss, this doesn’t work. Side characters are side characters for a reason. You can’t make everyone lead singer. This is especially noticeable in the third act, where seemingly everyone must wrap their respective arcs before the Nanas can take their bows. The finale feels like having to shake everyone’s hand at the end of a wedding rather than riding off to the honeymoon. Between the flashbacks, repeats, and tangents, I could make a case to remove near 10 episodes’ worth of content from the total. The worst part? A random time-skip in the final episode raises several new questions with the Nanas and gives no answers. The manga is on permanent hiatus, I understand, but one has to choose such a weak end by design.

The end is similar in unconventionality to Paradise Kiss, which I liked in that anime, but Nana doesn’t guide us to that end with the thoroughness it requires. Relegating protagonists to the sidelines before the finale is not a good idea.

My other serious complaint would be with the music side of the story. After Beck, Nodame Cantabile, and Your Lie in April had such strong understanding of music and the industry, it’s a shame to see Nana offer so little. The bands don’t have many songs, there are no standout musical performances (the aforementioned three feel like nothing but standout performances at times), the concerts lack animation, and the industry insight only meets minimum requirements for fiction. The best music is in the opening and ending credits, not within the story. The sole detail of the music plot that stood out to me was its exploration of one’s fame affecting friends and family around you. I like how some react with joy, others with jealousy.

Ultimately, the characters carry Nana, especially with many being such engaging train wrecks. You can learn many lessons on what not to do in life here, which is where great drama originates.

Art – Medium

The characters have a distinct style and their animations are expressive, but that’s really it. Everything else from environments to animation is average.

Sound – High

I listened to the OP and ED most episodes. Sadly, music within the story is nowhere near the level achieved by other music anime. The voice work is great in Japanese and English, though I preferred the latter for giving Punk Nana a raspier voice.

Story – High

A fateful encounter brings two women with the same name yet opposing personalities together as they deal with love and life in Tokyo. Nana’s strong characters, complemented by punishing drama, make this anime an engaging ride despite some excess fat in the structure.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for fans of intense drama meets comedy. Though Nana is a great anime, its crazy drama and ditzy protagonist may make your head spin before you reach the end of its long runtime.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Strong Lead Characters

Negative:

Weak End

Honey and Clover – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hachimitsu to Clover

 

Related: Honey and Clover II (included in review)

Similar: Nodame Cantabile

The Pet Girl of Sakurasou

Eden of the East

Nana

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Comedy Drama Romance

Length: 24 episodes (season 1), 2 OVA, 12 episodes (season 2)

 

Positives:

  • The older characters and their arcs.
  • Second season.
  • Some hilarious moments.

Negatives:

  • The dull protagonist and his meandering story.
  • Minimal animation.
  • Poor exposition.
  • Unfocused structuring.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Yuuta lives the life of a harassed art student, penny-pinching like Scrooge to survive the week on bread crusts while dealing with his eccentric roommate, Shinobu. A ray of sunshine enters his life when his art teacher brings his cousin’s daughter and talented artist, Hagumi, to class. Wait, wait! Sorry, wrong anime. Honey and Clover is actually the story of Ayumi, a pottery student with her heart set on a man obsessed with the wife of a dead man. Hang on – sorry – what’s this about Shinobu’s brother and getting back their father’s company?

Honey and Clover tries to tell too many stories. As a result, this feels like two different anime mashed together without interconnecting threads that weave them together. The stories don’t affect each other. This wouldn’t be much of problem if both anime were great, but this isn’t the case. Yuuta’s piddling romance with Hagumi, an eleven-year-old we’re told is eighteen, and his later pilgrimage to Japan’s north for self-discovery – a less funny Golden Boy – is so standard, so empty that he’s barely in the second season. The production team found him so boring that he becomes an extra in his own story! He only showed up so he wouldn’t get fined.

A student who studies and then graduates isn’t an interesting story. A student who fails from laziness, gets his life in order, and then graduates is a story. A coming-of-age story should have more drastic character growth than your typical genre, for we change most when coming of age, whether it is at thirteen or thirty. Yuuta’s story is your generic graduation journey. The writer tried to shake things up with his feelings for Hagumi, but she isn’t an interesting character nor does the relationship matter much between these two, so it falls flat.

A core problem of Yuuta’s story is in how it’s told. I have heard people say that one of Honey and Clover’s greatest qualities is the inner monologues that tell us everything about what a character is thinking and feeling. Notice the key word in that sentence? Tell. These characters are telling us how they feel instead of showing us through actions. Look at it this way – if you muted the monologues, would you still see the same character information? If the answer is ‘no’ then the monologue was the writer’s crutch when lacking the talent to show this information. An angry character doesn’t tell us he’s angry – he punches something. A lonely character doesn’t tell us he’s lonely – he looks with sad envy at a happy couple. I’ll give you one guess as to who has most of his character told to us through inner monologue. Praising the monologue is like praising someone who treats you as an incompetent. The live-action series (Japanese version) does better with Yuuta.

Then we have Ayumi and her ‘love chain’ (it extends through a dozen people, at least, by the end though many of its members are for comedy). The man she loves is in a ‘friendzone’ of sorts with a widow, who is traumatised and has the scars that will forever remind her of the tragic loss. It’s pathetic to watch this man crave her, in the good narrative sort of way, as you think, “I would probably be the same in his shoes.” We see what a potion of love, lust, sadness, and loneliness looks like.

Ayumi is spectator to this display, just as pathetic as the rest of them (again, in a good way). She doesn’t have a monologue that treats the audience like idiots. More importantly, the characters in her story have complexity – I hate most of the men involved, which is great! I find their actions creepy or even despicable, but it works because I buy who they are and why they make these decisions. Honey and Clover is at its best in the second season when Ayumi’s arc reaches the climax. I wish they had made this anime as two separate stories. This would have improved Yuuta’s story as well with Ayumi no longer monopolising all the drama. As is, his conflict-light story seems to serve as a break from Ayumi’s drama more than to tell his story.

One element you should be aware of as a prospective viewer is Hagumi. There is no getting past the fact that she looks, sounds, and behaves like a little girl. Her story ends even creepier than I anticipated. (Notice how neither the Japanese nor the Taiwanese live-action versions of Honey and Clover hired a little girl to play Hagumi.) Even looking past this, her depth amounts to ‘be cute.’ That’s it.

To end on a happier note, I want to talk of the comedy. Honey and Clover is quite funny overall. Shinobu steals the comedic scenes. From his hijinks with his sculpture professor to his work with film director “Peter” Lucas, Shinobu is hilarious. To be honest, he feels like a superfluous character at first, but soon earns his place on the cast.

I debated at length on whether I like Honey and Clover or not. When I think of the Ayumi’s arc, I find myself recommending it. Then I remember Yuuta and I grimace – surely, I can’t recommend this, no? After much deliberation, I concluded that the second season made it worth my time, regardless. If I didn’t know better, I would say season two had a new author.

Art – Low

As with most slice of life anime, the budget wasn’t large. The art looks good in stills thanks to the style, but the motion is rigid and limited.

Sound – Medium

The opening songs sound like a drunk child screaming about their preschool woes during karaoke. Less obvious exposition for the sake of the audience would help this otherwise decent script.

Story – Medium

A group of artistic friends seek meaning and success in life. With too many stories to tell, Honey and Clover oscillates between interesting and bland characters, engaging you one episode and boring you the next. If it were just Ayumi’s story, I would give a high rating.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For slice of life with romance fans. If you aren’t willing to sit through twice as many episodes as necessary, Honey and Clover isn’t worth starting. That is unless you love slice of life and can subsist on a shallow protagonist doing ordinary things.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None

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