Each story takes you to a new country with new characters, keeping it fresh
Earlier art doesn’t hold up
Lack of complete translation
Golgo 13 is the second bestselling manga series of all time (behind One Piece) and the longest running manga still in publication at 200 volumes so far. I didn’t know this when I started. Never even heard of Golgo 13. I thought I was doing quite well at 13 volumes ahead of this review. Turns out Golgo 13 is a big deal! It took COVID-19 to pause this series for a few months after 52 years of constant releases.
This veteran manga is about the titular Golgo 13, a professional assassin for hire, willing to take on any job as long at the pay is right and the deal is straight. Try to cross him or double deal and he will kill you. If the shot is possible, even by the slimmest chance, he will make the kill.
Golgo is a James Bond type with little known about his origins – what we do know could just as well be false. He’s a man of few words who keeps to himself except when there’s a job to do or a beautiful lady in his path. It’s speculated Golgo may have dozens of children around the world due to his amazing penis (their words, not mine). He harkens to an older era of spy thriller, where plot continuity and character depth weren’t expected. Each volume is a couple of standalone stories, like hour-long episodes of a TV show, often drawing on real historical events but changing them into a “what really happened” conspiracy plot. Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the Tiananmen Square massacre, and Princess Diana’s death are but a few of the historical events that intersect with Golgo’s job.
I prefer this structure for this sort of protagonist, just like the James Bond novels. Had it been one long story, I would have grown bored around eight volumes in, as this character type doesn’t work for a continuous story, where you want to know and see him evolve over arcs. That doesn’t work here. Instead, each “episode” is an engaging spy thriller. I read one episode per sitting.
Included at the end of each volume are intel files profiling Golgo and his many exploits. It talks of his preferred clothing, including underwear, notable injuries, skills, and, my favourite, his body profile. See below for your amusement. A fun addition.
“…at any rate, an amazing penis.” Legendary line.
One weird writing device is the overuse of the ellipses. I’m not sure if this was commonplace in 60s manga – I’ve never seen it – but the author always has to make it clear when a character gives no vocal reaction. You’d think a simple lack of dialogue would suffice, but no, they must think “…” Not a real problem, though still a weird choice.
Golgo 13’s art in the early volumes is outdated by today’s standards, though it holds up well enough. The environments, particularly in the establishing shots, are full of clear detail.
While I do recommend Golgo 13, I should note the incomplete English translation. Only 13 volumes (a best of collection?) have had official translations (even less from fan translations) and I believe they aren’t in original order either, not that this matters with the independent story structure. However, 13 volumes is plenty enough to leave me satisfied. I have had my fill.
Art – Medium
Story – High
Recommendation: Read it. As the oldest manga still in publication and an all-time bestseller, Golgo 13 surely is worth a read.
Eternal Sabbath entered my radar over a decade ago through a passing recommendation, which I wouldn’t have remembered were it not for that absolute metal name. This turned out not to be a story I expected, though still a welcome one.
Eternal Sabbath is about two psychic beings born from experimentation, one of them a success, the other a failure and clone of the former, and how the difference in treatment of these two affects temperament. Akiba is the original, possessing immense mental powers to invade the minds of others, project hallucinations, and even kill with a mere thought. Isaac, the child clone, has the same power but without the maturity. He’s a test tube child, never intended for the real world until he breaks free and roams the streets with the power of a god. An unloved child is tragedy. An unloved god child is a catastrophe.
The protagonist of this story, however, is human woman by the name of Mine. She’s a neurologist brought on the case when a victim suffers an odd mental attack, seemingly all in the victim’s head yet with very real injuries. Interestingly, she’s immune to the more dangerous telepathic powers. This draws Akiba’s attention.
I want to start with Akiba. What a great character. First impressions establish him as someone with a sense of justice yet an absolute prick as well, uncaring for those around him and inconsiderate of the privacy and autonomy of others. After all, why does he need to care when he is, in essence, a higher being? He can walk into someone’s house, eat their food, rifle through their things, and leave without a trace in the owners’ minds. He isn’t cruel though. When he meets Mine, finding much of his power blocked and her calling out his behaviour, he can’t help but feel drawn to her. His arc sees him turn from a selfish individual into a caring human.
I love the subplot of his fake identity. Akiba isn’t his real name – it belonged to a man who died. “Akiba” took his place and manipulated the man’s relatives into believing he was the real Akiba who had never left. Even if it does bring them joy to see their Akiba again, it is quite cruel when you consider it. He treats them well, of course, but it’s just a cover for him. However, as Akiba grows into a real person, thanks in no small part to Mine and seeing his evil reflection in Isaac, this identity becomes more than a cover. You don’t need this subplot to tell the main story, but it enhances character and theme, as every good subplot should. It works as a perfect tracker for his change in emotion.
Similarly, Isaac takes over another child’s life. Here we have the opposite to Akiba. Isaac mistreats the parents, always acting like a spoilt child, mind controlling them to do his bidding. As Akiba improves, Isaac declines further into cruelty, psychopathy, and eventually, depravity. The closest thing he has to a friend is Yuri, a little girl from school. She too is a neglected child, though not an evil one, but her poor understanding of morality and consequences leads her to encouraging Isaac’s evil for her benefit.
Then we have Mine, a strong woman balanced by uncertainty about her role in all of this. When the case starts affecting people around her, she questions if there is something she could have done better, if she is responsible in some way as a person aware of these supernatural beings and largely immune to them. What she goes through would certainly drain the mentally toughest of people.
Eternal Sabbath is a page-turner laced with tension. Isaac is a genuine threat. It’s good to see a villain with a personality for wanton killing actually kill people indiscriminately, and it never feels forced like those villains that “shoot the dog” just to show how evil they are. His actions are always in line with his character. This doesn’t mean he is predictable, mind you, as he is complex despite his immaturity. From his perspective, he feels justified in his actions, sometime even committing what we see as evil to “help” others. Most chapters end on cliffhanger once things get going, so I have to read the next to find out what happens.
I’m glad I remembered Eternal Sabbath. It was a worthwhile read and receives my recommendation.
Art – Medium
Story – High
Recommendation: Read it. Eternal Sabbath is a simple yet tense manga that holds your attention to the end.
Utawarerumono, an anime I remember most for the long title and whose review I’ve had in the bank waiting for completion since a year ago. Two? I don’t remember. Wait… Yep, file created January 2019. I am not keen to write this review because, simply, I am not keen on this anime. Frankly, it’s boring. The clichés are numerous, the fantasy is lazy, and no character grabs my attention. You know you’re in for a rough time when even the OP doesn’t have great art or animation.
This anime centres on a mysterious man found in the woods. He can’t remember his past, who he is, and he wears a mask that can’t come off. A local village of animal people take him in and call him Hakuoro, curious about his lack of a furry tail or ears. Whatever he was in the past, Hakuoro becomes a leader in this village and leads a revolution against the oppressive emperor.
The story isn’t immediately boring. I like a good revolution. The character designs scream laziness and their implementation are the first warning sign that little effort will go into anything. These villagers have animal tail and ears, yet are human in every other way, from behaviour to society. Their part-animal design is pointless. There’s also something I hate about Hakuoro’s one defining characteristic of wearing a mask all the time. Is try hard the phrase I’m looking for? I don’t know. Just lame. I can’t imagine anyone caring about the mystery of who’s under the mask.
Before long, the story shows similar flaws by dipping into every shounen cliché in the library. Honour at the risk of everyone’s lives, grandstanding, characters than can’t contribute on the battlefield because they aren’t main characters, and the skinny girl with a giant sword no one else can lift for some inexplicable reason are but a few examples. Some characters have supernatural abilities with no explanation of how or the limitations of said powers.
For an anime with significant time dedicated to battles in the uprising, the strategy isn’t clever. At all. Did any second thought go towards this? Don’t know.
On paper, this story sounds good – a man rises up to become emperor with the aid of a part-animal race, yet everything has such average execution and never goes beyond the obvious that it isn’t interesting. One leader is joyous and rearing to tell how he slaughtered the enemy one second, then becomes melancholic the next. That’s Utawarerumono’s attempt at conflict.
So bored am I with Utawarerumono that when the big act three twist reveals itself, I just sigh. The twist upends everything in the plot, which sounds like it should wake me up, but when elements prior offer no engagement, it’s hard to care. Also, I don’t like when this twist type is in the third act. Not to give too much away, though using such a twist so late tends to nullify much of the build-up and work put in by earlier acts. It benefits as a first act twist to invert the protagonist’s world and throw them into the unknown, or as the mid-point turn (if well foreshadowed) to shake things up. Using it late has an effect similar to an amnesia twist, just not as bad. Utawarerumono does make it worse by having an amnesiac protagonist. Ironically, I almost forget that detail.
I’m not sure why Utawarerumono is even on my list. I can’t remember.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: For specific fantasy anime fans only. Being a fantasy fan isn’t enough to enjoy Utawarerumono. You must also be a fan of specific anime fantasy clichés.
My first impression of Oldman: “Is that Sean Connery?” “Is that Cate Blanchett as the queen on the key art?” “Is that Rhys Ifans as the doctor?” Apparently so. The author Sheng Chang uses real actors for reference with his characters, as if casting them in a film (and in the hopes that someone like the late Sean Connery would act in an adaptation).
Oldman is a medieval action manga with one fantasy element. The titular Oldman, imprisoned son of the queen, breaks out of jail to enact revenge on his ageless mother. On the way out, he grabs Rebecca, a once legendary warrior doomed to rot in her cell with both arms and legs severed from her body. They join a few other characters on the quest, including a doctor to construct a new set of limbs for Rebecca.
The opening volume of Oldman is excellent and shows so much promise. The conflict inherent between Oldman and the queen is obvious, but the questions garner much intrigue. How is such an old man the son of a young queen? What the hell happened to Rebecca? Who is the other girl with amnesia yet friends with Oldman? Can he do real magic or is it all trickery? Volume 1 made me binge this series in a single sitting.
Sadly, it doesn’t hold up through to the end. The middle section flakes on the detail as it sets up a decently complex two-thread plot, with the final act rushing to the finish line. There is a great story here that needs at least 10 volumes to do it justice. I can see this making for a good 26-episode anime should one flesh out the skeleton presented.
The mix of action and surprising amount of comedy layered with mystery succeeds well. However, the action physics need work. Take Rebecca’s mannequin limbs. They have built in enhancements, including explosives that create rocket-like punches. Except, these explosives would shatter her arms to splinters before anything else. It doesn’t makes sense. Also, taking a few lessons from Shadiversity on the effectiveness of arrows and full plate armour wouldn’t go amiss. Just because you use Hollywood actors for reference, doesn’t mean you should use outdated Hollywood medieval action as well.
I do wish Oldman had more time.
Overall Quality – Medium
Result: Give me a fleshed out remake.
* * * * *
Korean Title: Diamond Dust
Genre: Drama Music Romance
Length: 40 chapters (3 volumes)
Diamond Dust is a manhwa webtoon about a piano prodigy with strict parents and the terminally ill underground musician she falls in love with. If you are imagining the stereotypical strict Asian parents forcing their child down one career path from birth, then you’d be right. And if you imagine the romance is the usual misery lit, then you’d also be right. In essence, Diamond Dust is predictable. Yet, the merging of the two story types makes it more engaging than seeing either apart.
The piano career side features a father that resents everyone in his family without prodigious talent (the mother is just as bad). He forces the girl to practice piano 12 hours a day, bans socialising, and freaks out at the slightest action that could endanger her golden hands. The parents are truly nasty, but in that believable sense where you see they believe that they’re doing what’s best for their daughter. She does find massive success until she (obviously) has a breakdown after one too many high-pressure performances. Her fingers cramp up. She cannot play.
Warmth and comfort arrive in the form of a young musician trying to make it in a struggling band. A tumour is pressing into his brain, affecting his memory and ability to concentrate. The romance follows all the beats you expect. She rebels against the parents, his conditions strains the relationship, the parents try to keep him away from her, and so on. Diamond Dust does this well. Don’t expect any surprises.
One last thing I want to note is the design of the two main characters. They suffer from same-face syndrome (until the cancer progresses), which makes them look like siblings – not something you want from a romantic couple. If not for the different hairstyles, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart in close ups.
Overall Quality – Medium
Result: Not bad. Wasn’t disappointed.
* * * * *
Japanese Title: Kyouko
Genre: Action Drama
Length: 14 chapters (2 volumes)
If you know anything about B movies (low budget, non-artsy films), you will be familiar with the hack director’s number one plot device for conflict and motivating the protagonist – rape. There is so much rape. More specifically, the filmmakers don’t understand the crime and no one cares after it happens. They use it like a villain randomly shooting a puppy to show how evil he is.
Kyouko (aka The Accident) is one such example. The protagonist, a woman, is gang raped in the first chapter as her boyfriend watches on, helpless. An American soldier happens to pass by and rescues her. Rather than show any signs of trauma at the experience, she dumps the boyfriend and is ready to jump this American’s bones right away. Then someone assassinates him. Her quest for revenge turns into action schlock with dumb conspiracies.
Another manga I read after Kyouko that fit the mould is Mephisto. That protagonist is a rapist, serial killer, and bathes in the intestines of children and we are supposed to sympathise with him? Ha!
Overall Quality – Very Low
Result: Truly a B movie in manga form.
* * * * *
Cradle of Monsters
Japanese Title: Mouryou no Yurikago
Genre: Action Horror
Length: 41 chapters (6 volumes)
Continuing with the B movie inspirations, we have Cradle of Monsters, a horror manga that blends The Poseidon Adventure with The Walking Dead and a low budget. After a cruise ship capsizes in the middle of the ocean, everything goes to hell as most of the passengers turn into zombies and many of the remaining living become murderers. Amongst this chaos are a few survivors, most of them teenagers from the same school on a trip.
This is not a good manga. Quickly you will notice how the fan service takes priority and how irritating it is. While people are dying, the primary concern of the artist is to have a panty shot or for the writing to mention how a character isn’t wearing panties. Half of the deaths mention this, I swear. The ultimate fan service in Cradle of Monsters (or so the author believes) is the frequent golden showers before or at the moment of death. This guy has a serious fetish.
Should you look past the fan service, there isn’t much on offer anyway. To say the characters are one-dimensional would be to give them too many dimensions. Everyone in this story is evil except for maybe three people. I find it so dull when a disaster story makes everyone incomprehensibly evil. Apart from being unrealistic, it’s also predictable. Furthermore, there are so few survivors. It isn’t as if this situation has been raging for months while the infection spreads. Maybe, what, a few hours have passed since the incident and only 20 or so people are alive out of everyone on a massive cruise liner? The author is clearly lazy.
This story wasn’t planned out either. Characters will teleport around the ship for dramatic ambushes, surprise reveals, and last second rescues. It makes no sense how they catch up or get ahead of the main group when navigation is so limited. Again, lazy.
Character backstories also suffer under the lack of forethought. Many characters have a backstory that suddenly reveals a talent they just so happen to need to get out of a situation. “I never mentioned this before, but in the past I studied this thing, so I can use it to clear this obstacle for us.” I believe they call this an “ass pull” in the business. Happens over and over.
And finally, this horror manga isn’t scary. The art is quite bad, so turns supposed frightening moments into comedy, which combined with the above-mentioned issues makes for a yawn-inducing experience.
Overall Quality – Low
Result: That’s going to be a no from me on the golden showers.
Golden Time looks good on paper. Or rather, it looks good in stills, thanks in particular to the fashionable character designs. However, once the CG extras and lack of animation come into play, it’s a letdown. Or rather, the start of the letdown. Posters, stills, and snippets from early episodes of Golden Time promise a fun romantic comedy, but lurking in later episodes is face clawing melodrama, a shockingly bad twist, and no romance.
I had an inkling things were off from the start when the protagonist had amnesia. “No,” I thought, “there must be a good reason for it. They aren’t going to pull off that twist, surely.”
Banri is a first-year university student with amnesia. Lost and confused, he makes a friend on his first day only to have some random girl slap his new friend, Mitsuo, with a bouquet of flowers. Turns out, this fashionable beauty is an absolute psycho of a childhood friend that stalked Mitsuo to this university after he kept it secret to escape her. Banri has the hots for this crazy Kouko and thinking with his pants rather than his head, he allows her to drag him off to whatever university adventure catches her fancy.
The early episodes of Golden Time are the fun one would expect. Early focus goes to club recruitment, which is rather humorous from the demonic Tea Club to the Scientology-like cult that ropes in Banri and co. The Festival Club has his apparent high school crush, unbeknownst to him.
Fun soon gives way for banality and cliché of anime romcoms before it takes a sharp turn into melodrama with an amnesia twist so widely known to be horrendous that you’d think no one would use it. If the protagonist doesn’t remember anything, then we have little to go on, little for him to develop from, and little for us to care about. Amnesia, more often than not, creates false conflict through contrivance. It can work – see the excellent film Memento – but this writer is certainly not good enough to pull it off. And when Banri does remember the past, he forgets everything that happened after the initial memory loss just to double down on the worst amnesia twist of all time.
An amnesia twist is bad enough by itself, yet it isn’t Golden Time’s only major failing. The love triangle is as clichéd as you can imagine, which combined with misunderstandings as the primary source of conflict makes for a tedious anime to complete. False melodrama reeks throughout the latter part of Golden Time. Banri also has no personality to show for himself. No girl would be interested in him – never mind more than one – and his relationship (if you can call it that) with Kouko is simply crap. I have nothing positive to say about the romance.
I cannot recommend Golden Time to anyone. Romantic comedy fans won’t like the melodrama. Drama fans won’t like the tonal imbalance. And no one will like the twist.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Skip it. I don’t know to whom Golden Time could appeal. The melodrama dampens the comedy, which in itself doesn’t fit the drama, and the romance doesn’t exist.