The Plain Girl’s Earrings

"Earrings" cover image
Cover image
Interesting debut fantasy novel by Kim J Cowie.
The ruthless Virnal Order rules over the Empire of Satine by fear, guile and an iron hand. Lethal poisons from a past cataclysm are leaking from the ground, causing sickness and death. Unseen insurgency seeks to overturn the established order.

Cadet Starsin only ever wanted a simple life, pursuing his own selfish interests, maintaining a mistress and adding to his meager army pay by trading in ancient artifacts. But when he witnesses the cold blooded murder of a much admired officer by Virnal enforcers, Starsin feels impelled against his instincts to protest. This marks him down as a trouble-maker and potential rebel.

Implicated in sedition, and with both the Virnals and a mysterious adventuress named Lannaira Hajan taking an unhealthy interest in him, Starsin’s mundane life is turned upside down. His own ambiguous past threatens an explosive revelation.

Take a journey across a troubled land with Starsin, as he battles the Virnals, uncovers shocking secrets and finds that he is not the man he thought he was.
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Winter Anime 2017

I have not watched much anime lately, other than going to see “Your Name”, so thought I might check out some of the new season.

Blue haired girl
The hero moves to a new school, and on the first day a girl collides with him and then accuses him of taking an upskirt photo. She smashes his phone before taking off. Later, he discovers that this girl, the hyper-energetic Fuuka, attends the same school. After some more misunderstandings, Fuuka sees something to like in him and they go on a sort-of-date. There is nothing very original here – boring boy meets dream girl has been done before – but it is quite pleasantly done.

In this period piece, a thief is captured and tortured by the Arson Theft Control section of the Edo police. The section is headed by Heizo, also known as Onihei. Heizo sends the thief out to look for a gangster called Tanbei who is commmitting a series of robberies and murders. The thief thinks that Tanbei, his former boss, is being impersonated by someone else. This series is adapted from a novel, and is done in the style of a 1960’s police procedural. The story is rather dark in theme, and the animation is also rather dark. It’s not bad.

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid:
Kobayashi gets drunk one evening and invites a dragon-girl to stay with her. She is considerably put out when the dragon turns up next day asking to stay. The dragon-maid tries to do the housework with amusingly destructive results. I’m not a great fan of maid anime and it did not do much for me.

Uniformed girl
Youjo Senki/Tanya
Saga of Tanya the Evil:
This is set in an alternative world, where an empire similar to Germany under the Kaiser is battling the surrounding nations, as if WWI never ended, and using magical forces. On the Empire side is Tanya, a 10-year old magical soldier who can fly and use magical weapons. Tanya has the personality of a middle-aged person and is ruthless and totally devoted to warfare, sending disobedient underlings to their deaths and finishing off enemy detachments single-handed. Whether you like this depends on how you respond to Tanya’s deliciously evil personality.

Shimazu Toyohisa, whilst involved at the Battle of Sekigahara on the losing side, manages to mortally wound Ii Naomasa, but is critically wounded in the process. As he walks from the field broken and bleeding, Toyohisa finds himself transported to a corridor of doors, where a bespectacled man at a desk waits for him. This man, Murasaki, sends Toyohisa into the nearest door where he wakes up in another world. There, Toyohisa meets other great warriors like him who have been transported as well, to be part of a group known as “Drifters.” These warriors turn out to be from different eras and (in later episodes) from different countries. They are in a magical world populated by elves and magicians.
The first episode is basically the set-up, but it looks as though it might be interesting. Odd-looking character designs.

Dagashi Kashi:
Kokonotsu and his father Yō live in a countryside town where they run a small sweets store. He aspires to be a manga artist, an ambition that puts him at odds with his father who wants him to inherit the store which has been run by the family for eight generations. Also in the story are Hotaru Shidare, an eccentric rich girl and daughter of a sweets factory owner who wants to hire father Yō. Yō will not agree unless Kokonotsu agrees to take over the store. Also involved are twins who run a cafe: Saya Endo, a girl who has a crush on Kokokatsu and her brother Tō Endo. It is quite amusing, and the girls are cute.

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju:
The Rakugo series continues. By far the best series this season.

Kubo and the Two Strings

kubo1 Movie, BD, 101 mins, 2.35:1, 2016, by LAIKA
I saw this got some very good reviews so I invested in a BD copy.
The story is set in a fantasy Japan. A woman is washed up on a beach by a storm. With her is a baby which appears to have lost one eye. Ten years or so later the two are not doing great. They live in a cave and the mother is mostly catatonic while the boy does story-telling at a local village. He uses some powerful magic from his three-string shamisen to turn sheets of paper into origami figures to act out his stories.
His mother warns him never to stay out after dark otherwise bad things will happen. Of course, on the day of the O-bon festival he does stay out and his aunts, scary black figures, fly out of the gloom and attack him. His mother uses the last of her magic to let him escape, and so Kubo embarks on a quest for a magical sword and armour, accompanied by a monkey and a beetle.

I loved this. The Japanese village setting is carefully researched. The animation is done in stop-motion, with CGI processing, and what you see on screen is often beautiful. The story moves through a large number of settings, with magic, and fight scenes, before reaching a conclusion. Recommended.
The animators, LAIKA, are the same people who did Coraline and other successful animations.

Database fixed.

The anime and manga databases are working again. Links were still pointing to the old database after an upgrade, and after a while the service provider removed the old one.
I have as a result re-enabled comments, so you can waste your life sending me comment spam. :-(

When Marnie Was There

Marnie and Anna at mansion
When Marnie Was There (Omoide no Mani) (2014)
An animated release from Studio Ghibli, adapted from the novel by Joan G Robinson and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. The original book was set in England, but the movie is set in Japan.
Anna Sasaki has a difficult relationship with the aunt who is acting as her foster parent, and is sent to stay with other relatives at the seaside. Here Anna fails to bond with the local schoolchildren but meets the mysterious blonde Marnie who lives in a mansion across the tidal marsh. It seems that Anna is the only person who can see Marnie and the mansion is long deserted.
Regardless, the relationship between the two girls develops, but surprises are in store.
This is definitely one of Studio Ghibli’s better efforts, and is a good-looking film that repays multiple viewings. It is less action-packed than some, and in feel it probably most resembles the later adaptations of non-Japanese books, e.g. “Arrietty”. Anna is a more troubled child than any of the other Ghibli heroines, and the movie has an emotional impact. The plot contains some unexpected twists.
I suggest that you get the BD version if you have a player. Recommended.

New Order book

neworder The Blue Monday Diaries – in the studio with New Order, by Michael Butterworth. (Plexus Books)
One for the fans.
In a day-by-day, minute-by-minute diary, Michael—who was there at the invitation of the band and their manager Rob Gretton—documents the making of New Order’s second studio album and the 12-inch single it spawned.
Other people and subjects meander through his narrative including Ian Curtis, Michael Moorcock and Linda Steele, PJ Proby (lots of him), Peter Saville, Malcolm Whitehead, Claude Bessy (who used Savoy-supplied visuals, from comic books to hardcore weirdness, in his role as official Haçienda video jock), Fenella Fielding, Michael Johnson, Open Head Press, the Altrincham music scene. Most of all, the Savoy bookshops themselves—purveyors of literature, comics, bootlegs and independent records in the 1970s and 80s to the Factory and Manchester music scenes.
(Savoy news release)

Winter Anime 2016

Rakugo performer Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is a Noitamina adaptation of a josei drama manga. In the 60s a former petty thief nicknamed Yotaro gets out of prison and becomes the apprentice of a famed rakugo performer named Yakumo. Yotaro joins Yakumo’s household, which also includes Konatsu, the orphaned daughter of a former rakugo colleague of Yakumo, Hatsutaro. Rokogo is a traditional one-man storytelling art form in Japan in which the lone performer re-tells traditional comic stories with very limited props while performing multiple roles in the story.
After the first episode, the story is a flashback to of a younger Yakumo, nicknamed Kikohiro, and his friend/rival Sukeroku, nicknamed Hatsutaro. Initially the outgoing Hatsutaro is a more successful storyteller than the repressed Kikohiro.

Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku o is essentially a parody of teens-in-an-RPG-world type stories. Teen gamer Kazuma rarely leaves the house unless he absolutely has to, but one day he does leave in order to buy a new game. On his way home Kazuma sees a girl classmate who is about to be run over and pushes her out of the way, dying himself instead. In fact the girl was in little danger from the tractor.
After his death, Kazuma arrives in a transitional world where a minor goddess Aqua tells him his options. One is to go to a RPG-type world, taking one thing with him. So he chooses her.
Following episodes have Kazama trying to start a quest in the RPG world, and collecting some female comrades, all equally dysfunctional. This show is very funny.

Mahou Shoujo Nante Mouiidesukara
An average schoolgirl is accosted by a ball with wings lurking among the rubbish bags, and the creature tells her that she is a magical girl. She gets transformed and discovers to her embarrassment that her costume is a two-piece swimsuit. The comedy revolves around the creature trying to combat her lack of enthusiasm and train her.
This is pretty funny, and if you don’t agree the pain only lasts for 4 minutes. It feels a little pervy to be watching a pubescent girl in a bikini, though.

Tabimachi Lateshow
Comix Wave Films is producing four episodes with the theme of “goodbyes and journeys,” entitled “Recipe,” “Transistor Smartphone,” “Summer Festival,” and “Clover”, as part of the Ultra Super Anime Time programming block broadcast in Japan.
So says the Crunchyroll trailer.
I watched the first two, and found that while the animation is basic, the scripts are less bland than the usual fare.
In the first of two unrelated episodes, a trainee chef labours to match his mentor’s recipe for what appears to be spaghetti with tomato sauce. (Perhaps a satire on cooking anime shows)
In the second, an episode about a friendly schoolgirl trying to befriend a loner leaves one wondering which of them is the more dysfunctional.
It could be worth checking out this series to see what you make of it.

Bubuki-Buranki characters
Bubuki Buranki We start out in what appears to be an idyllic forested setting with ancient ruins covered by plant growth. Two six year old twins frolic through the forest and get into mischief, such as climbing up an ancient “Neo Ranga”-style mecha-golem giant. Seems that the golems are giant robots being curated by the twins’ mother. Things start to go wrong when the more assertive twin, the girl, climbs on a robot and activates it. Several robots activate and fall to the Earth far below, and the twins and father are sent there while the mother tries to sort things out. Fast forward to ten years later with the boy on a dystopic Earth where super-powered adults and teens battle each other using giant mechas and magic.
The show looks good, being done in 3DCG, but the story is full of rather familiar elements.

Autumn Anime 2015

lupin2015 Lupin III (2015) is one of the more entertaining shows of the new season. This show is set in Italy, and was released in Italy this August. It looks much the same as the movies and the dialogue is the usual banter between the familiar Lupin characters.
Lupin is trying to lift the treasure of a small principality and goes through a marriage with an Italian princess, much to the disgust of Lupin’s long-term associate Fujiko.
The wife turns out to be a match for Lupin in a manner other than the intended, and some far-fetched hijinks ensue. Seems she is set to be a new significant character.
Looks like this will be fun.

Young Black Jack: An anime prequel to Osamu Tezuka’s classic manga series about a maverick doctor with a disfigured face. It starts with ‘Jack’ still at medical school but developing amazing surgical skills. In the first episode he re-attaches the arm of a young boy severed in a train accident. In the second he is kidnapped and blackmailed to perform a heart transplant. This is gripping stuff and worth a look.

Beautiful Bones – Sakurako’s Investigation: A teenage boy has an odd relationship with an older woman who is obsessed with collecting bones. Every time they go on a bone hunt, they come across human remains and Sakurako makes forensic deductions. The first episide was very watchable.

Owarimonogatari: Another story in Akiyuki Shimbou’s “Monogatari” series. This looks like one of the more duff sections, as both the new major characters are dislikable and it’s also very static and talky. The first episode on Crunchyroll was a double length, and the whole story is about school student Koyomi Araragi’s awkward past relationship with another student.

Utawarerumono – The False Faces Fantasy series. In the first episode the slacker hero, wandering in a wilderness, is attacked by a giant bug and saved by a young woman who takes him to a village where he is forced to work. Not great, but quite diverting.

Concrete Revolutio: Choujin Gensou, a “Watchmen”-influenced original superhero series, has turned into a dark and complicated “wheels within wheels” tale that is essentially an “anti-superhero” story. It is a wonderfully bleak, bitter, paranoid and smart parallel world story where superheroes and super monsters take the place of nuclear weapons.
Different episodes appear to take place in different eras from the 1930’s to the 1970’s. Essentially, a secret group of superheroes tries to protect the intrests of superheroes and recruit them. In society at large, superheroes are feared and distrusted, and public mention or discussion of them is banned.

Summer Anime 2015

charlotte Charlotte was the only new anime I followed through the whole run. The story takes part in an alternate reality where a small number of children manifest supernatural powers on reaching puberty. The protagonist, Yuu Otosaka, develops the power to temporarily possess others, and uses it to cheat at exams. He is exposed by Nao Tomori, a girl who can make herself invisible to a specific person. Nao forces him to transfer for his own protection to Hoshinoumi Academy, and join the student council, of which she is president. The purpose of the council is to contact and retrieve teenagers with powers before they are exposed and experimented on by organisations intent on exploiting their powers.
Yuu, initially dislikable, becomes a sympathetic character as he and the cute Nao contact various teenagers with weird powers. Then there is a head-banging plot twist halfway through the series …
Not a great anime, but an enjoyable watch.

Also checked out:
Akagami no Shirayukihime (Red-haired Snow White): A shoujo romantic drama in which a girl is pursued by a prince she doesn’t like. Silly. Dropped after 1 episode.
Rokka no Yuusha Six heroes are chosen to defeat a demon king. Dropped after three episodes.
Ushio and Tora (2015) remake of old anime. Not bad, but I didn’t want to watch it all again.
Monster Musume no Iru Nichijou A switch-off. Dire.
Okusama ga Seitokaichō (My wife is student council president). The main character loses the school council president election to a girl who gives out free condoms and advocates free love. She then moves into his house. I think you can guess where this piece of soft porn is going. :-(
Aoharu x Kikanjuu Another survival-game anime, but with a girl disguised as a boy. Dropped after one episode.
Gate: Fantasy characters rampage into Tokyo through an inter-dimensional ‘gate’ but are soon shot down. Then the Japanese government launches an inter-dimensional invasion and counter -attack. Potentially interesting idea but the characters didn’t grab me. Dropped.
Shimoneta to Iu Gainen ga Sonzai Shinai Taikutsu na Sekai: Very rude and funny comedy about a Japan where all reference to impropriety is banned. The hero enrolls in the leading elite school of morals, but is soon blackmailed into joining an association opposing public morals and ends up taking part in obscene acts of terrorism against the student council president, a beautiful girl whom he happens to have be in love with. The first episode was a hoot, and clearly directed against the current tightening up of comics and anime censorship in Japan, but I had a feeling the joke would turn stale long before the end of the series..