Sun-ken Rock – Manga Review

Korean Title: Sun-ken Rock

 

Genre: Action Comedy Drama

Length: 25 volumes

 

Positives:

  • Some good comedy.

Negatives:

  • Comedy often undermines serious moments.
  • The further you read, the less engaging it becomes.
  • Sexual content with no purpose.

Ken is a young Japanese guy in love with a Korean girl. When she moves back to Korea to become a policewoman – “Officer” – to become a policewoman-officer, he follows her with designs of becoming a policeman-officer, but through circumstances too ridiculous to comprehend, he finds himself as the leader of a gang.

After reading this hilarious setup, I thought I was in for a great time with Sun-ken Rock. Then it settled into its core, the meat of the story, which is a series of repetitive arcs (with no end in sight) of Ken being an idiot, stumbling across someone – usually a woman – mid-abuse/rape, calling the gang, and getting in a fight. Rape? Sounds serious. Except that the comedy undermines any chance of taking such a subject seriously. And it’s not as though Sun-ken Rock handles this humour with the genius skill of South Park, raising an interesting point through the unusual choice of comedy, which is a shame because the comedy is good when not breaking a serious scene.

If you’re here for main element – action – prepare for disappointment. Sun-ken Rock’s action looks nice (the artist put all his effort in these 2-page spreads), but is repetitive and the characters are too stupid to enjoy.

By the way, the plot about Ken and the Korean girl is superfluous with how little importance the author placed on it. Sun-ken Rock is not a good manhwa. How did it receive 25 volumes…? I should become a detective to find out.

Art – Medium

The action shots look great, while the rest is so-so. Most female characters have the same design.

Story – Low

A boy with a crush on a girl follows her to Korea to join the police, but becomes a gang leader by accident instead. Sun-ken Rock suffers from repetitive story arcs and shallow characters. Even its one selling point – comedy – doesn’t mesh with the serious, particularly in relation to sex.

Recommendation: Skip it. Whether manga or manhwa, the action genre isn’t empty enough to require you dig this deep in the slush pile to find a worthwhile series. Go for The Breaker over Sun-ken Rock any day.

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

Moonlight Mile – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Moonlight Mile: Lift Off

 

Similar: Space Brothers

Planetes

Armageddon (Hollywood movie)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Adventure Drama

Length: 26 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Science and engineering detail.
  • Some tense dilemmas.

Negatives:

  • Disjointed storytelling.
  • Characters don’t have time to develop amidst the dilemmas.
  • Junk animation and CG.

(Request an anime for review here.)

What made me curious to watch this anime? Was it a) space, b) the engineering, c) premise, or d) sex? The answer is a), of course – I love space! Alright, I admit, it was the sex, okay. Happy? But no, in all seriousness, when I was at the Kyoto International Manga Museum, they had an exhibition spotlighting civil engineering in manga – infrastructure, architecture, development, etc. – as the Japanese take great pride in their civil engineers (when you watch them build a house in a day, you can see why [turn on captions for subtitles]). I picked up Moonlight Mile because it had an astronaut on the cover (I am serious about the loving space part), but was struck by how sexually graphic the opening scene was. If I hadn’t seen the cover first, I would have assumed this belonged in the section you wouldn’t mention to your parents. This scene is so graphic that I was curious if they got away with it in the anime adaptation. Spoiler: they don’t.

But first, the story. Two climbing buddies, Gorou from Japan and Jack “Lostman” Woodbridge from the US, make a pact atop Mount Everest to see each other in space as they look to the sky above. They soon part and set about achieving this goal in their own manner. Gorou takes the path of an engineer, while Lostman goes the air force route (two-thirds of US astronauts come from the military). Becoming an astronaut is no easy journey and each will face trials and setbacks, even more so than real astronauts, for Moonlight Mile loves to throw one disaster after another at the protagonists.

Now, you know me, I love conflict – it’s the engine of fiction – but there comes a point where you need to allow characters to grow. In fiction, scenes follow the rough pattern of action and reaction. Something happens in a scene (action) and the characters react/reflect on this action in the next scene (reaction). Moonlight Mile rarely stops for the reaction. All space movies have those disasters – oxygen leak, broken thruster, power failure, etc. – for the astronauts to solve. These moments are exciting edge-of-your-seat tense, yet if you have nothing but this, as Moonlight Mile does, the tension wanes. The characters, while decent, feel like mere nuts and bolts to this story, rather than driving agents.

The first episode is nothing but a disastrous climb up Everest to establish the characters. This should have taken a few minutes. Well, there is Gorou’s butt as well.

As for my initial curiosity, while most episodes have a sex scene, it isn’t graphic. Still certainly not for kids, though is a far cry from the manga. It also doesn’t add to character, for Gorou falls in love with a new girl faster than a shooting star. This wouldn’t be an issue if he grew from each relationship. Alas, a new girl means a clean slate of development, so what’s the point?

In regards to the engineering, Moonlight Mile succeeds in taking care to do the math and science in a disaster. I’m not a rocket scientist, so someone more qualified may find great flaws here, but Moonlight Mile doesn’t try to convince us that training oil drillers to become astronauts is easier than training astronauts to operate a drill.

Art – Low

The 2D animation is junk, whereas the 3D sees overuse for vehicles and sweeping shots. Even the ground is CG in these scenes – so distracting.

Sound – Medium

The Japanese script is a bit dry, so go with the English, which added more banter and a natural flow to the dialogue.

Story – Medium

Two friends and rivals vow to meet each other as astronauts in space. This is their journeys to meet that goal. Moonlight Mile suffocates its characters in disaster after disaster for them to resolve, giving little room to develop. At least the disasters are tense.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For space fans. Did you like Armageddon? If yes, then Moonlight Mile is the anime version. If you thought that movie needed better science, Moonlight Mile will also satisfy in that regard.

(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:

Ugly Artistic Design

The Cain Saga – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Hakushaku Cain Series

 

Related: God Child (sequel)

 

Genre: Gothic Historical Mystery

Length: 5 volumes

 

Positives:

  • Unique in style and story to other manga.
  • Glimmers of engagement.

Negatives:

  • Messy storytelling and structure.
  • Messy art.

So messy is the storytelling and structure in The Cain Saga that the conflict comes from finding scene transitions rather than the characters. Imagine you are watching a conversation scene in a film, camera cutting back and forth between close up of two characters, and suddenly it cuts mid-conversation to a funeral. Is this funeral a part of the conversation? Have we started a new scene? Yes…no! Not sure…

It’s a shame The Cain Saga suffers from such a glaring issue, for it could have been great. The Cain Saga is the story of Earl Cain Hargreaves, a wealthy heir exploring his family history of lies, secrets, and treachery told through a series of short stories.

Are these stories any good? Mmmyeah…ish. The ideas are fine, but as said earlier, the structuring makes it a chore to read. The dialogue is similarly disjointed. At times, it feels as though each character is talking for a different scene.

As I am trying to decipher yet another scene transition, I find myself wondering what made me add this manga to my collection many months ago. It must have been the genre. I love Gothic fiction, a rarity in anime and manga, so it was nice to find some. Sadly, it wasn’t what I had hoped. The search continues.

 

Art – Medium

Detailed art – possibly even too detailed. Without colour to highlight details, the art regularly looks like a mess, which is a pity.

Story – Medium

An aristocrat delves into his family’s history filled with secrets and lies. It’s a shame poor structure and muddled scenes make The Cain Saga a chore to read.

Recommendation: Try it. If you can stomach the messy art and storytelling, The Cain Saga has interesting Gothic short stories to tell, different from your typical manga.

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

Whisper of the Heart – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mimi wo Sumaseba

 

Related: The Cat Returns (spin-off)

Similar: From Up on Poppy Hill

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

The Garden of Words

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Romance Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 51 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful small character details.
  • Full of heart.

Negatives:

  • Empty first act.
  • Ends just as it gets going.
  • Doesn’t give characters the whole stage to perform.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Shizuku loves books more than anything else in the world. Peculiarly however, in the borrowing card for each book she reads, someone else had borrowed them from the library before her. Who is this Seiji Amasawa? He must be a wonderful guy.

One day while going about her easy life of books and snacks, she follows a cat on the train, who leads her to a workshop of antique wonders and classical instruments run by an old man. He turns out to be the grandfather of the boy who makes fun of her at school. Worse yet, this boy is her perfect match in literature!

Whisper of the Heart is another lite-n’-easy film from Studio Ghibli, similar to the likes of Only Yesterday and From Up on Poppy Hill. But where I found those two rather dull with little to recommend themselves in terms of engagement, I enjoyed my time with Whisper of the Heart because of its characters. And just as it was drawing me in close, it ends. The first act being so empty made this more frustrating. What amounts to the equivalent of Chihiro and her family driving to the fairground in Spirited Away (several minutes) requires half an hour in Whisper. It takes too long to get to the point.

I like the scenes with the grandfather in the workshop, but these are rare. Most scenes involve Shizuku doing ordinary every-day activities like household chores or attending school. The first act has enough of these ‘nothing’ scenes to fill an entire film, so having even more than that makes the film feel like half filler to reach feature length. If Makoto Shinkai had directed this film, which is in his wheelhouse, he could have conveyed the same story in half the time with more said by the end.

Outside the filler, we spend most time with Shizuku and Seiji growing closer. Conflict arises from his goal to become a violin craftsman, which will likely send him overseas, whereas she has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She finally finds her match and now he’ll probably be gone forever. However, these plot beats pop up and dissipate without much impact.

This story gets everything right, except for the plot. Whisper of the Heart’s events aren’t as strong as they could be, don’t challenge the characters as they should, and don’t give these brilliantly written children the whole stage to work with. Their small details are beautiful, such as how a girl reacts to seeing her crush or in the way a boy goes crazy at the roundabout way girls drop hints (pro tip: hints don’t work on guys). The Miyazaki touch is clear.

The poster for Whisper of the Heart shows Shizuku flying through the air alongside a gentleman cat, giving the impression of a strong fantasy element. This is deceiving. We only get one such scene inside her imagination, which is a shame, for it is a beautiful scene. We should have returned to her imagination several times as a metaphor for her inner growth, later reflected in her outer growth. These could have added depth instead of the filler scenes that serve little purpose to character or story.

I love much about this film, characters in particular, yet I want so much more.

Art – Very High

Studio Ghibli.

Sound – High

Good acting and solid music – it is interesting to hear an American classic in Japanese (Take Me Home, Country Roads).

Story – Medium

A fateful encounter with a cat leads Shizuku to solve the mystery of who had borrowed all her favourite books from the library before her, and she may even find inspiration for a purpose in life. Whisper of the Heart’s charming character barely get going when the story ends, making one wonder why so much empty space remained unfilled.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of other light Studio Ghibli movies. If you enjoy the more slice of life-type anime movies, Whisper of the Heart is another to add to your folio.

(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:

Stunning Art Quality

Negative: None

The Breaker – Manga Review

Korean Title: Breaker

 

Related: The Breaker: New Waves (sequel)

 

Genre: Martial Arts Action Comedy Drama

Length: 10 volumes

 

Positives:

  • High quality art.
  • Solid action.
  • Han is hilarious.

Negatives:

  • Slow to get the protagonist’s story going.

The Breaker follows Shi-Woon, a downtrodden student, and his womanising martial arts teacher in hiding, Han. In the story’s opening, Shi-Woon is a victim of severe bullying at the hands of classmates. These one-dimensional bullies found in every Karate Kid-type story made me groan, but when Han tells Shi-Woon he is bullied because he’s a piece of shit, I laughed (see first image below). You don’t expect the master to tell the apprentice he’s trash. My opinion changed thereafter.

Han is the best character here and, in my opinion, the true protagonist since he has the most page time and conflict focus. His combination of goofball during downtime and serious when needed makes every scene with him a joy. He’s a martial arts master in hiding from several high-end gangs he’s peeved off in the past and he sees potential in Shi-Woon to become something great. The sexy Shiho, a master in Ki healing, joins them soon. She and Han play well off each other, particularly in regards to the sexual humour.

Having the underdog learn from a master to win a series of fights is nothing new and I would say oversaturates action manga. However, The Breaker executes it at the top tier, so don’t let past slush get in the way here. For one, there’s more psychology to Shi-Woon than your usual underdog. The author made an effort to explain why he is mentally and physically weak at the start, developing him in a believable way from there.

The Breaker also deviates from the formula with the inclusion of these gangs, which takes the story into a more Ki-powered mafia direction. Having more than a string of fights prevents the story from growing stale. Don’t misunderstand – action is still the focus, but there’s enough around the action to elevate it from the slush pile.

As for the action itself, it has all you expect – trash talk, comebacks, punches that knock the soul out of your gut, blood pouring over one eye, supernatural strength, and despicable villains. I preferred the comedy sections, but wasn’t disappointed either when it switched to action.

Art – High

I love The Breaker’s art style and character designs – Shiho is gorgeous. Panels aren’t cluttered and the action sequences have clarity often lacking in action manga/manhwa.

Story – High

A bullied student learns to pick himself off the ground when his school teacher turns out to be a martial arts master in hiding. Taking the Karate Kid formula as a baseline, The Breaker adds supernatural martial arts, sex appeal, humour, and plenty of opponents to defeat.

Recommendation: A must for action fans. The Breaker’s great characters balanced in comedy and action make this an engaging read to the end. If you only want to read one martial arts series, The Breaker should probably be it.

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

Anime and Manga Reviews