Tag Archives: Romance

One or more romantic relationships play an important role. Not applied to tacked-on or minor romances.

Monsters, Magic, and Romance – Quick Manga Reviews

The Metamorphosis

Japanese Title: Henshin

Genre: Historical Drama

Length:  5 chapters (1 volume)

This batch of manga has a Western and horror focus, with a little romance to end things on a lighter note. We start with The Metamorphosis, a manga adaptation of Franz Kafka’s famous book of the same name about a man who finds himself transformed into a giant insect one morning. I haven’t read the book, so everything I say applies only to the manga.

The story is largely in flashbacks as the man reflects on his life and the events that led to his isolation as an insect man in his bedroom, shunned by family. As a dutiful son, he takes on all the burdens for his family after his father loses his job. He works hard and soon make decent money travelling from town-to-town selling fabrics. However, his family grows complacent under the ease of their lives now that food is always on their table. The father in particular is lazy. He’s the “back in my day” and “I could show them a thing or two” type to do nothing while reading his newspaper, ignoring the fact that he needs a job. Even the sister, who is the nicest of them, relies on the man for violin tuition money.

This is an interesting story, and while I’m sure the book is better with it’s 200 pages versus the manga’s five short chapters, I quite enjoyed it. Further research after finishing this has revealed to me that there are many interpretations of the story. And the interpretations are varied. I took it to be a harsh reflection of what it means to have others take advantage of you, take you for granted when you give everything and ask nothing in return. The moment you can no longer keep giving is when they no longer see you as useful. You are pathetic, disgusting. An insect.

If you haven’t read The Metamorphosis but want to have a simple understanding of the story, then the manga is an easy gateway. The art is suitably creepy for the insect, though a bit too simple elsewhere.

Overall Quality – Medium

Result: Found it by accident and enjoyed it.

*     *     *     *     *

H.P. Lovecraft: Various Stories

Japanese Title: Lovecraft Kessakushuu

Genre: Fantasy Horror

Length:  8 stories of varying length (1-3 volumes each)

H.P. Lovecraft is synonymous with supernatural horror. There is no greater influence on the genre. Cthulhu, monsters of the unknown, mind breaks from forbidden knowledge, and most of the things that nightmares are made of come from his works. It came as a surprise – while browsing at random – to see several of his stories adapted to manga form.

This review covers most of the Lovecraft manga (I couldn’t get my hands on a couple of them) adapted by Gou Tanabe, a Lovecraft connoisseur, including The Haunter in the Dark, The Colour Out of Space, and The Hound and Other Stories.

Another surprise is in how good these manga are. The Metamorphosis is around about the quality I expect of classic adaptations to different formats. This has been quite consistent in comic books, cartoons, and short films that I have seen of classics. Tanabe’s manga do a great job of evoking that air of insanity and general “what the hell is that” tone of Lovecraft’s short stories. The art is among the most realistic that you’ll find in manga, showing much of the story and characters emotions before one even considers the accompanying words. This is proper horror art.

I haven’t read the original versions of these stories (all of my Lovecraft experience come from works influenced by him, mostly video games), but they work perfectly for the uninitiated. At no point do I feel lost, as if there is an expectation that I already know the details of the Lovecraft universe.

These stories, as is most often the case with Lovecraft, involve mysterious supernatural entities, whether monster or ethereal concept, that slowly corrupt the world and its characters. My favourite of these is The Haunter in the Dark. A writer with a passion for the occult takes in interest in a gothic church he can see from his bedroom window. There are local stories about what went on in that abandoned church, yet no one is willing to speak of them. His curiosity gets the better of him and he awakens a creature from the dark. He had better hope the power doesn’t go out…

At the Mountains of Madness is the longest of the adaptations at 25 chapters and one I haven’t had a chance to read. I want to see a story that has a little more time to explore a concept in greater detail.

These manga aren’t perfect, but they are an engaging short reads late at night. Read a few or all of them, it’s up to you how deep you want to delve into madness.

Overall Quality – High

Result: I want to read more Lovecraftian works. These are a good introduction, which I recommend to anyone with a horror interest.

*     *     *     *     *

Spring Breeze Snegurochka

Japanese Title: Harukaze no Snegurochka

Genre: Historical Drama

Length:  7 chapters (1 volume)

Continuing with manga based on the West, we look at Spring Breeze Snegurochka. This time we go into Russian 1933, the Soviet Union era, where a woman in a wheelchair and the man that cares for her are in search of something within an old mansion, now controlled by the secret police. They will do anything to find the object.

The most interesting aspect of this piece is the Russian focus, a subject you don’t see much of out of Japan. It taps into many real figures from history, including Rasputin, the Russian royal family, and domestic rebels. Combined with the fictional characters, Spring Breeze makes for decent “what if” alternate history story if you have some familiarity with Russia’s past. If you don’t, the plethora of complex Russian names will go in one ear and out the other. The story is dense with characters, particularly in the latter half when the secrets unravel and people unmask themselves. There is a notable character reveal that means nothing if you don’t know who he is already.

As for the story itself, the history aspect is interesting but not so much for the main two characters. The woman’s rape into Stockholm syndrome into love (?) arc doesn’t work or make sense, not with the page time given. The man is the quiet type with no screen presence.

I don’t recommend this unless you love the subject matter.

Overall Quality – Medium

Result: Interesting to see a manga take on Russian history.

*     *     *     *     *

Cambrian

Japanese Title: Cambrian

Genre: Horror Science Fiction

Length:  28 chapters (3 volumes)

To go back to horror for moment, let’s stop at Cambrian. This is a disgusting manga. Literally. It features a biologist who believes he has created the next step of human evolution, splicing humans with marine creatures. He can now transform into an ammonite and rapes women with his tentacles (eating them is also involved) to spread his mutation. He infects a few and they infect more, creating a cult that will take humanity into the “next step.”

Yeah, no thanks. I don’t want to have barnacles covering my skin, even if it means I can rollout like Golem. Patrick maybe a hilarious cartoon character – doesn’t mean I want become a starfish. Looking like the Alien isn’t worth regeneration powers. Especially if my hair now forms into a sea biscuit. The main woman develops spiked nipples and a vajine spike for defence when aroused. I can imagine Cambrian would give nightmares to some people.

There’s a lot of sex (little of it consensual) and sexual violence (not many sample pages I can use for below). However, this isn’t a ℌệ𝔫𝔱ằ𝔦, though I’m sure it’s someone’s fetish. This is more of a sexual horror series, relying on grotesque body horror to engage the audience. This isn’t for me. Even outside of the sex and horror filling most pages, there is little in the way of character development or story. It’s frankly rather boring despite the shock value.

Overall Quality – Low

Result: Wouldn’t have bothered if I knew the result.

*     *     *     *     *

Witches

Japanese Title: Majo

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy

Length:  7 chapters (2 volumes)

Enough of the revolting. Why don’t we cheer ourselves up with a manga of magical girls meets Western literature? Dying of the plague is a welcome change.

Witches is an anthology of short stories set in the recent past of our world. Each story chronicles a girl or woman that has to deal with some injustice and she discovers a magical power along the way to help her. The issues are more in the mental realm – dealing with a bigot or some close-minded individual, for instance.

While the stories are from diverse locations and cultures, they do rather feel the same more often than not. Strip away the dressings of the art, the environment, and the personalities – boil down to core plot and character details – and you find much repetition. The dynamic of “good character is wise and smart against bad character, who is dumb and evil” is overused. Witches lacks character subtlety. Read one of these stories and you have read them all.

I want to focus on the art, for a moment. It is simultaneously great and poor. On most pages, in black and white, I do not find the abundance of detail appealing. The art is too messy, the details lost in the mayhem. Rather than admire the art, I find myself looking closer and asking, “What is that supposed to be?” However, there are the occasional colour pages and suddenly it all makes sense. When you have nine different shades of green in a random pattern to create nature, it looks good. Turn it black and white and all we have are scribbles. It recalls that meme of “The teacher’s copy [of the colour image] vs. students’ copy [black and white on the exam sheet],” where you have to label an undecipherable image. I wonder if the artist did the whole original in colour.

It’s probably a matter of taste. I can image people loving the chaos of the visuals as an accompaniment to the chaotic magic. The art is certainly not generic. I would never insult it so.

Overall Quality – Medium

Result: Unusual and different.

*     *     *     *     *

Annarasumanara

Korean Title: Annarasumanara

Genre: Mystery Romance

Length:  27 chapters (3 volumes)

Keeping with the theme of magic and adding a dash of romance to the potion, let’s finish on Annarasumanara, a manhwa that blurs the boundaries of magic and reality.

We follow a high school girl going through a rough time, lost in her mind amid the pressures of succeeding at school while feeding her sister. Her dad abandoned them after failing in his career. She finds comfort in visiting a handsome magician at a nearby abandoned amusement park, rumours saying he can perform real magic. (“Annarasumanara” is the magician’s equivalent to abracadabra.)

Annarasumanara is a poignant manhwa that allows the art to do most of the talking to great effect and leaves much open to interpretation. Is any of his magic real? That was just a trick but maybe this was real… How else would you explain it? Similarly, her opinion of the magician is up in the air for much of the story. I like that this isn’t the usual instant infatuation prevalent in manhwa.

There is a subplot between the protagonist and a male classmate, the rival for the top spot in exams. He comes from big money (their house is like a palace on top of a high rise on top of a casino – hilarious metaphor) and ends up paying her to do worse on exams so that he can appear greater. A one-sided relationship develops on his part. He admires her independence, resents her love for the magician. The best part about this guy is his design. He looks like a…worm? Hard to describe – look below. All girls in school call him handsome though, which makes it even better.

I like this one. The writing isn’t spectacular, but the reliance on art over text more than makes up for it.

Overall Quality – High

Result: I recommend it alongside the Lovecraft manga of this batch.

*     *     *     *     *

Ao Haru Ride

Japanese Title: Ao Haru Ride

Genre: Romance

Length: 53 chapters (13 volumes)

Wait! One more before we go. Quick one, I promise.

Ao Haru Ride is a shoujo romance about a boy too aloof to share his feelings and girl too shy to take charge. Or is that blurb for another shoujo manga? Most certainly. This is generic shoujo. The art is indistinguishable from its peers and the characters are so inoffensive to the audience’s sensibilities that they don’t stand out in any way.

Most of my manga reading is before sleep (I have a half-finished brick of a fantasy novel by my bed, untouched in months because of manga). Let me put it simply: Ao Haru Ride is great for falling asleep.

After two or so volumes, I can’t be bothered with this. Ao Haru Ride is one of my few dropped manga. I won’t be mentioning any similar shoujo manga in future. It would be repetitive.

Overall Quality – Dropped

Result: I will confuse this for another dozen shoujo manga in future.

 

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Oh! My Goddess – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Aa! Megami Sama!

 

Related: Oh! My Goddess (anime)

 

Genre: Comedy Fantasy Romance

Length: 308 chapters (48 volumes)

 

Positives:

  • Gorgeous character art and designs (after a few volumes)
  • Good fun
  • Starts and ends well

Negatives:

  • Art begins in an ugly state
  • Main thread goes nowhere for ~30 volumes in the middle

Oh! My Goddess (sometimes called Ah! My Goddess) was one of the first anime I loved after having seen the 5-episode OVA and movie. It would later receive another adaptation with the first season retelling the OVA and several other volumes to be more manga accurate. It was enjoyable, but still the same section of story, more or less. The second season came about and was just comedy slice of life, much to my annoyance. Season 2 felt like a waste of time. The lack of closure has bothered me ever since.

My dive into the world of manga had me thinking of incomplete anime I could conclude in the source material. Oh! My Goddess was my first candidate. It has taken a while – 308 chapters over 48 volumes – but I did it. Does it have everything I’d hoped for?

The first shock came to me with the art of chapter one. To me, Oh! My Goddess has always had characters designs in a beautiful style I cherish. However, I find the manga starts ugly. How did they get the anime designs from this? I considered the possibility of a redraw of the manga that I hadn’t heard of, but the covers for later volumes showed what I was used to. And I must say, it is impressive to see how quickly the art improves from chapter to chapter. The art is years better within a few volumes. Thank the goddess, for I wouldn’t have been able to tolerate that Belldandy with the melting face for long. Oh! My Goddess ends up with elegant characters, expressive features, and detailed backgrounds where needed. The chibis are adorable too.

The premise in brief, for anyone not familiar with the franchise: University student Keiichi accidentally calls the Goddess Helpline and the goddess Belldandy answers his call with one wish. Thinking it’s all a joke and as a “manlet” (his words) with no chance of getting a girlfriend, he wishes for someone as beautiful as Belldandy to stay by his side forever. Wish granted! Since his dorm doesn’t allow girls, he finds himself homeless with his…girlfriend? They settle in a temple and begin to go about daily life in this unexpected relationship. No one at uni can believe someone like him got a woman like her. Her two sisters, Skuld and Urd, soon join them on Earth and the pandemonium only increases.

The anime’s second season that annoyed me so much turns out to be canon. It’s not exactly the same, but content is in line with the manga. See, Oh! My Goddess the manga stops main story progression – the Keiichi-Belldandy relationship – around volume 5 and doesn’t restart until the volume 38-ish mark. That is over 30 volumes of no progress and I could it feel more acutely with each passing chapter. The issue isn’t that the “filler” is bad (I’ll get to that in a moment), but rather that we don’t seem to go anywhere. Doesn’t even have the decency to focus on the main thread for one in four volumes – would still be a bad ratio, by the way, though it would be something. It recalls when classic Naruto was in filler mode while waiting for Shippuden. A filler arc would finally end and you’d start the next episode thinking, “Are we finally done?” only to have more filler molest you.

This middle section of arcs across 30 plus volumes focuses on side characters and most are decently fun. Urd arcs will often play on her demon half with visits from other demons, included her powerful demon mother (different mother to the other two sisters). Hers are quite good. Skuld arcs, on the other hand, are more child-like and about growing up as she crushes on a human boy or relies on her gadgets to solve all problems. I didn’t find these good or bad either way. Keiichi arcs are very much university centric, especially involving the motor club, where he has to build or repair some vehicle and partake in a race. These are among the better sub-arcs as author Kosuke Fujishima’s gearhead nature spills across the pages (he has a couple of other racing-focused manga). The background art also shines in these segments.

As for Belldandy arcs, they generally involve a challenge from a heavenly visitor. Someone either wants to bring her back or just wants to toy with Keiichi. These are among the weakest arcs. For one, they are all similar. What is it with the adult male gods/demons appearing as a child to mess with her? I don’t recall a single adult male god throughout the series (turns out the one featured in the movie is non-canon). These arcs could have been the focal points for progression, but they don’t amount to more than weird magical trials. Belldandy shines in other people’s arcs (she’s my favourite character).

My favourite of the sub-arcs has the interdimensional whale. Keiichi’s motor club seniors are going away for a time and need him to look after a couple of boxes of expensive parts. A couple of boxes ends up being a garage full. Since temples don’t have garages, they store it all in lounge room, but now they can’t use the lounge! Skuld has the idea to build a device that can create a TARDIS effect – “It’s bigger on the inside.” The intention is to expand the interior of the lounge room without affecting its exterior volume. However, the device doesn’t operate as planned and expands the room to infinity. They have no idea where their things are in this space. A creature called Schrodinger’s Whale soon appears before them, and it can navigate the space with ease as a being of negative dimensions. It’s an interesting concept clearly inspired by Star Trek (they are watching The Next Generation on TV before meeting it). I like those arcs that explore a mysterious concept. But no matter how much I like these, the total absence of main plot is nothing but infuriating.

Why didn’t they make more use of Heaven as a location? There is so much one could do on another world of immortal beings that blends Norse mythology with technology. The movie had more of Heaven than the manga series did before the final arc. So much untapped potential lay wasted.

So, after all these volumes, I reached the final arc that sends Keiichi and the three goddesses into Heaven for a series of trials that will put Keiichi and Belldandy’s relationship to the ultimate test. It is a good arc, ending in a lovely conclusion, except for one moronic detail. There is a canonical explanation for the lack of relationship progression. I kid you not, magic prevented development. That has to be the worst defence put forth by any author in the history of literature. Other than that, it’s a fine end.

I got my closure. I simply wish the journey there had been better.

Art – High

Story – Medium

Recommendation: I can only recommend the Oh! My Goddess manga in full to fans of the anime that want closure. For the uninitiated to the franchise, the first season of the anime followed by the movie is the best experience, ending with volumes 39 to 48 of the manga should you want that final tie of the ribbon.

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

Beastars – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Beastars

 

Related: Beastars (anime)

 

Genre: Action Drama Slice of Life

Length: 196 chapters (22 volumes)

 

Positives:

  • Unique art is full of expression
  • The world building
  • Louis’s and Legosi’s arcs and themes
  • Memorable side characters

Negatives:

  • Introduces concepts only to leave them unresolved
  • Forgets so many characters
  • Abrupt and rubbish ending

This may be the most difficult review I have had to write. I finished the Beastars manga months ago, the week of the final chapter’s release. However, I have been stuck on what I think of it and thus, what I would write in a review. This might end up being an incoherent ramble. I have to get it out.

Beastars is an excellent manga set in a world of anthropomorphic animals where an uneasy peace rests between the herbivores and carnivores, the latter often viewed with prejudice as bloodthirsty killers. Some carnivores have killed herbivores; therefore, all carnivores are murderers. This tension is perhaps no tighter than at Cherryton Academy, a mixed diet school of herbivores and carnivores, an arrangement on which it prides itself. Public relations take a turn when an unknown attacker eats an alpaca on campus. Legosi, a massive grey wolf and friend of the victim, searches for the predator while grappling feeling of lust and hunger of his own for the small white rabbit Haru.

Most of the first arc centres on the drama club, of which Legosi partakes as a stagehand. His shyness precludes him from the stage. Then we have the red deer Louis, Legosi’s opposite in every way – slender, upright, confidant, popular, and destined for greatness as a Beastar, the most prestigious position in society.

The heart of Beastars’ greatness is in its handling of themes as told through a cast of compelling characters in a rich world. Prejudice, nature versus nurture, and belonging play a major role throughout the narrative. It’s a brilliant twist on the premise to have the carnivores be the “lesser” part of society, those discriminated against. Even within the carnivores, some groups suffer more than others do. The venomous, for example. Instinct for such a setting is to have carnivores dominant, like vampires dominating humans. Beastars’ approach flips the concept and leans into social and political conflict instead of going for the expected violent conflict of such a dynamic. Yes, there is violence, but that hides in the background most of the time.

Legosi struggles with his love of a rabbit, his potential prey, and his care for all living creatures in general. How is a hulking creature with immense jaw strength to be a friend of the herbivores? Who’s going to buy that? On the other side, Louis is envious of carnivores for their strength and inherent superiority. He sees carnivores hiding their true strength as weakness. Why was such strength wasted on them instead of given to him? He could do great things, if only…

The dynamic of these two characters, whether on screen together or walking their separate yet mirrored paths keeps you turning the pages. Many of the side characters are similarly compelling, but more on them later.

Then we have the world. Wanting to know how this society operates raises endless burning questions. If they don’t eat meat, how do carnivores survive? How do interspecies relationships work? Procreation? Are marine mammals intelligent as well? If so, how do they communicate and live? You want to know more.

I love the answers to all of these questions.

Then you notice the forgotten and half-finished concepts. First one, then a few, and then many until you have more incomplete content than complete. Everything starts to devolve past the halfway mark.

Beastars is a rubbish manga for how it presents so much and discards most of it, from characters to plots. Never have I read a story that neglects so much of itself.

When a group of writers get together for a TV series or movie, they will often brainstorm ideas of what needs to go into their story and what optional elements could they include. Do we want a romantic subplot? What about two? Do we include family drama? How are the backstories going to work? And so on. Anything and everything goes on the board before they refine those ideas into a tight narrative full of engaging events. Unused ideas might find a place later. Beastars is like reading that brainstorming board. Seemingly every idea the author had went in without thought of where they would lead or how they integrate with other ideas already in place.

This predicament is particularly egregious when it comes to the side characters. Author Paru Itagaki has a real knack for memorable characters, even minor ones, with such efficient and impactful introductions. You don’t see this skill that often. It recalls J.K. Rowling’s ability to make every character in Harry Potter memorable after one scene. There is the giant snake working as the school security guard (one of my favourites); then we have the beloved “seal bro,” nudist extraordinaire (another favourite); the Michelin Star egg-laying chicken; the rodent leading the newspaper club; the stripper zebra giraffe; and so many more. Each of these are worthy of recurring roles in any story. Sadly, Itagaki likes to buy new toys every few chapters before throwing them away for the next thing. For some of these characters, it’s okay, they need mere chapters. More often than not though, many have such a strong presence and importance in the story (as presented by the author) that you expect them to return. You’ll get to an incident further along and think, “Oh, we’ll see that character again! This is the perfect moment for them.” But no, she’s forgotten they exist.

Let me reiterate. The problem isn’t the plethora of minor characters. The problem is the promise made by the author of their importance each time, yet rarely delivering on that promise. It gets worse.

Major characters also suffer. Most notably, Haru, the main love interest and a driving force in Legosi’s arc, drops off the face of the plot for what feels like a dozen volumes at times. The anime has given her more screen time (for the material covered) and developed her into a better character within two seasons already. If all you have seen is the anime, then you probably can’t imagine a logical way to remove her from the [potential] upcoming seasons. How do you remove the third most important character? Of course it isn’t logical, yet the manga does so.

Every problem comes to a crescendo in the final arc, which introduces a herbivore-carnivore hybrid villain to present a possible outcome for Legosi and Haru’s future. The world expands with a ton of lore, more questions, and even more characters. Almost none of this comes to fruition. Furthermore, the style of the story turns into a battle anime with superpowers (don’t even get me started on these, which also appear once before she forgets them next battle), combat training arcs, and a climactic fight. Gone is the subtlety and social commentary of the earlier arcs – for that matter, gone is the commentary setup at the start of this arc. Yes, the second arc/season has a climactic fight, but it isn’t about the action.

Beastars is up there amongst the most disappointing endings of all time, and not just across manga. I have experienced an absolute ton of stories and few come close to going from such a high quality down into absolute rubbish. Off the top of my head, only Game of Thrones (TV) has outdone it in terms of the quality drop.

You could create a several-page list of characters, subplots, and questions on which Itagaki fails to deliver. When I read the final chapter, I didn’t believe it was the end at the time. I called my friend who introduced me to Beastars to ask if this was right, if it really was the end. Perhaps this was a Naruto situation, where it returns as a “sequel” Naruto Shippuden, surely.

That was it. The end.

The author gave up. There’s no simpler way of putting it.

She has continued the franchise by returning to the Beast Complex series that introduced this world, but it’s just a series of single-chapter stories independent of each other. You know, those short stories that make you want to see a grander continuous story set in this universe…

I don’t really know what to rate Beastars the manga or whether to recommend it. Do I recommend a series with moments of absolute brilliance knowing where it all leads? Do I rate it well for the high points or poorly for the atrocities?

I truly hope that the anime changes a great many things in future. Season three will still be great, but season four onwards will need to change 50% of the material to avoid disaster.

Art – High

Story – ?

Recommendation: Try it. Maybe? Beastars is a great manga until it isn’t. By reading this, you will find many elements to capture the imagination in this animal world, but much of it leads nowhere. Beastars is a fascinating study in storytelling and the dangers of concept bloat.

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

Beastars Season 2 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Beastars Season 2

 

Related: Beastars (Season 1)

Beastars (manga)

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Drama Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Improves on the manga
  • The snake
  • The unusual tone in the main conflict
  • Music continues to be great

Negatives:

  • The CG animation still has room for improvement

(Request an anime for review here.)

Note: Mild and implied spoilers for season one.

Beastars was a surprising hit for many people, including myself, back in 2019. Who would have thought “that CG furry anime” could have such great characters, killer music, and non-horrible CG? It’s back again for a second season and I am very intrigued, even more so because I have read the manga to conclusion. Those who have done so as well will know what I’m hinting at.

Legosi of Cherryton Academy for herbivores and carnivores continues his search for the killer of his friend, a sweet alpaca. Meanwhile, star of the academy and leading candidate for the prestigious Beastar position, the red deer Louis, has fallen in with a back alley gang of lions after killing their leader. They don’t want to eat him, however – they want him to lead.

The story picks up where season one left off, but there are immediate and noticeable changes from the source material. If you haven’t read the manga but have seen season one, the only notable change there was in cutting down that finale’s action scene from a typical shounen anime brawl into something that fit the tone more. It was a great change. Season two changes far more and for the better.

A new character to the series is the school security guard, a giant snake, who had a tiny presence in the manga (one or two chapters?) after an impactful introduction. We never saw her again (a problem to discuss in tomorrow’s manga review). The anime gives her the time she deserves and delivers a couple of great horror episodes with a feel of high school myths told around a torch late at night. Let’s hope the anime further fixes the manga’s mistake and brings the snake back in future. Also, Haru (the white bunny and Legosi’s love interest) gets more screen time of importance, which is better treatment given to her than by the manga.

The focus of this season is the murder mystery. Who killed the alpaca? I love this story thread. The hunt for the killer and the several scenes with said killer have great tension and the snap between killer situation and ordinary school life works perfectly here and are some of my favourite scenes. The way Beastars handles juxtaposition of carnivore versus herbivore, fight to the death versus living ordinary life is simply brilliant (done better than in the manga too). This isn’t just an anime with “furry” characters.

Not all changes are for the better. The story falters in the finale at the apex of Louis’s arc, cutting a pivotal moment short and lessening the impact. If you haven’t read the manga, then this will still be noticeable, though you won’t have the source to fill in what the director was trying to do. Should you feel dissatisfied, watch this excellent extended ED video only after you have watched episode 12 (spoilers). A deer leading a gang of lions sounds ludicrous if you haven’t seen Beastars, but man does it work and make for a compelling subplot. The mirroring of Legosi’s and Louis’s arcs continues to impress.

The visuals are the same as the first time around, so if you couldn’t stand it then, you won’t handle it now. Despite some slippery animation issues, I still find that it works. The compositions and visual metaphors sometimes have me forgetting the CG.

Acting, still just as good. Love Orochimaru’s voice actor for the snake! The music has a tough act to follow after that quality season one soundtrack, and while few could match that original stop motion OP, every new song in season two is excellent.

In all, Beastars delivers another quality season. Now, season three – should they announce it – promises some excellent content, particularly in the world-building department as we explore wider society. However, to avoid the downward trajectory brought on by the manga, it would need even more changes than this season. What downward trajectory? That’s for tomorrow’s review.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Keep watching. And if you haven’t started Beastars, then what are you waiting for?

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Red River – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Sora wa Akai Kawa no Hotori

 

Genre: Historical Action Drama Romance

Length: 96 chapters (28 volumes)

 

Positives:

  • Good use of historical events and characters
  • An engaging and grand plot
  • Quite a few beautiful art compositions

Negatives:

  • Uses the same set of plot conundrums each arc
  • Characters are thin on dimensions

Red River uses a story type more common in the West than in Japan – you could have called it the West’s “isekai” at one point – time travel. Fifteen-year-old Japanese girl Yuri’s greatest troubles are the flutters in her heart from the boy she just kissed. A mysterious force yanks her into the water and takes her back to 14th century BC Middle East. The Hittite Empire is on the rise, set to rival the Egyptians and Yuri will be at the fore of it all. That is, if she can survive plots from the evil queen, rival lovers for the prince’s affection, rival lovers for her affection, and assassination attempts.

Prince Kail takes her as a concubine for protection, but love soon blossoms between the pair. Yuri will have to make the choice between staying by Kail’s side – even if he must marry a foreign princess for duty – or finding a way back to her family in Japan. Some say she is a reincarnation of the goddess Ishtar. This story of love and war spans several countries and draws in many characters.

Red River reminds me of classic epics like the Mahabharata or Ramayana, where the characters are simple, designed for their one role with a straightforward personality, and plot drives the story (complex characters are relatively modern). It’s easy to remember so many of these characters because they are simple. “Wasn’t he the one that fed insider information to the queen?” Around 95% of characters can have their complexity covered in only one sentence. Even the handful of major characters are quite simple. There are no hidden motivations, subtext, or deeper truths to unravel on closer inspection. This may be a problem for readers who like their characters as complex as a labyrinth with no end.

The romantic conflicts are easy to follow. Yuri loves Kail, but he’s a prince, so they can’t be together. Kail loves Yuri, but he knows he’s a prince, so they can’t be together. This other guy also loves Yuri, but she’s with Kail, so they can’t be together. The queen is trying to sacrifice Yuri to curse Kail because she wants her son to be the next king, therefore Kail must protect Yuri. It’s easy to follow.

However, if you can accept this fact, Red River is an engaging saga over its 28 volumes (an easy read) as the Hittites wage war with various surrounding kingdoms involving real people from history. This is the time of Tutankhamun, Nefertiti, Ramses II, and Mattiwaza. Because they lived so long ago, details are thin on what they were like in reality, which gives plenty of room for creative freedom by the author. Key historical events and alliances also play prominent roles throughout Red River’s plot. The historical aspect of the manga is the most interesting part to me. Had it been all fictional characters and fictional events, it wouldn’t have captured my attention anywhere near as well.

Where Red River falters most in its plot is with repetition. Expect to see the following devices several times. Yuri kidnapped by the enemy; a prince from a rival kingdom falling for Yuri (often the kidnapper); the queen using Black Water to mind control innocent people to kill others (there is a minor magic element); and someone close to Yuri such as a servant or advisor framed for whatever evil the queen committed, followed by an unfair trial. Plenty else happens, yes, but you start to notice when it’s one of those four again. Leaning more into the politics could have avoided the need to resort to these staples. Instead of the queen controlling someone to kill her 30th victim, why not have here use some clever political scheme to corner her opponents?

Red River could have been a High quality manga even with the simple characters had it not been for this repetition problem. When you see Yuri kidnapped again by a love rival, you know where the story will go. And when the plot is meant to carry the series, such predictability kills motivation. It is particularly egregious when the final arc use the Black Water, Yuri kidnapping, a foreign prince, and the false accusation towards an ally all over again.

Still, Red River is a good manga that I recommend to any history fans who want it spliced with shoujo romance. I enjoyed my time with it.

Art – High

Story – Medium

Recommendation: For history fans. The romance is quite typical of shoujo, but the use of real historical characters and events makes this war drama something different.

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