【Manga】放浪息子 / Hourou Musuko

Found out about this slightly overlooked manga thanks to Enthousiaste on Twitter. Thank you!

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NITORI Shuuichi (short-haired boy), who is the protagonist, and his elementary school friend CHIBA Saori (black-haired girl). (Illust: 志村貴子)

Title: 放浪息子 (Hourou Musuko/Transient Son)
Author: 志村貴子 (SHIMURA Takako)
Volumes: 9+ (78 chapters at the time of posting)
Genre: Seinen (Drama, Slice of Life, Gender Bender)
Status: Ongoing, scanlated by Kotonoha (Ch.1-34) and anonymous (35+)
My Rating: 7.7/10

Fifth-grader NITORI Shuuichi is a very girly boy, and his friend TAKATSUKI Yoshino happens to be a very boyish girl. Nitori wishes he was born a girl, and Takatsuki wishes she was born as a boy. They soon find out about each others’ odd wishes, and throughout the course of growing up together, they’re made to question their genuine wishes of becoming the opposite gender.

Despite being based on the theme of transgenderism, this manga felt more to me like a regular life drama/growing up story than anything else. We have a relatively large, memorable, and diverse cast, and the character interactions are usually developed through childhood classmates or crushes, which makes the manga pretty easy to relate to. There’s also a lot of internal agonizing about personal issues and friendship problems too. The instances of actually showing them doing something kind of controversial things (cross-dressing, befriending a transvestite) are pretty few and far between, and mostly come off as trivial or even not-as-ordinary child’s play. I do enjoy seeing the issue addressed, and to do it this subtly makes it seem more realistic and accessible, but on the other hand, it just seems so insignificant at times. I’ll admit that it made me very curious about non-fiction Japanese crossdressers, though.

As for the cast of characters, they are all unique and impressionable, but I wholly failed to develop any real attachment to any of them, even after reading 78 chapters. I also found myself hating about 80% of all the characters in the manga (especially the secondary classmate characters, who are almost all absolutely detestable.), and if I didn’t hate a character, I was indifferent to them, save for two or three. The only character who I can say I actually like seeing was the gorgeous CHIBA Saori, whom I despised at first, but after seeing some much-needed character development (and fashion), she became my favourite. Having a slightly despotic and weird personality helps as well. A close second is Yuki, who steals almost every scene she appears in, and a distant third is Takatsuki, who looks awesome, but lacks a definable personality for the most part.

The artwork looks exactly like it’s from a children’s storybook, with round faces and eyes on all the characters (even for the teenagers and adults!), lots of white space and clean lines, as well as a watercolour-like colouring style for the covers. (Those familiar with Shimura’s other work, like Aoi Hana/Sweet Blue Flowers, would not be surprised about this.) The art is incredibly fitting and impeccable, and Shimura’s lovely fashion sense along with the simple but recognizable character designs also makes (mostly) everyone look attractive and recognizable.

Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hōrō_Musuko
Scanlation at Onemanga: http://www.onemanga.com/Hourou_Musuko/

【Manga】Pluto

Hopefully I’m not beating a dead horse, although I’m pretty sure I am. Sorry!

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This is Gesicht, whose name I need to learn how to spell and who is not as surly as he looks. (Illust: 浦沢直樹)

Title: Pluto
Author: 浦沢直樹 (URASAWA Naoki)
Co-Author/Producer: 長崎尚志 (NAGASAKI Takashi)
Supervisor: 手塚眞 (TEZUKA Makoto)
Original Concept: 手塚治虫 (TEZUKA Osamu)
Volumes: 8
Genre: Seinen (Mystery, Science Fiction)
Status: Completed, licensed in North America by Viz.
My Rating: 10/10

In the far future where robots and humans now co-exist and robots even have freedom of rights, Gesicht, a highly advanced and world-renowned robot detective from Europol, gets called to solve the mystery of who or what is trying to kill off all the best robots and founders of robot law in the world. It is based on “The Greatest Robot on Earth” arc of Astro Boy.

Drawn and authored by the very famous Urasawa Naoki, it comes as no surprise that this work is of incredibly high quality in terms of coherency, depth, and storytelling. The strongest part of this series is of course its plot, which, being only 8 volumes, is just right in terms of length, and has absolutely nothing similar to filler. It also resolves 99.7% of everything mentioned throughout the series at the end, with the remaining 0.3% leaving the issue of a certain bear unresolved. At first the story’s direction seems relatively easy to predict, and then things happen, slight chaos unfolds, and a totally unique direction picks up in the latter half of the series. However, both halves of the story are equally immensely intriguing, which I thought was really amazing. The pace never slacks, and events just keep unfolding one after one. It even made me almost cry. Thrice.

On equal footing with the crazy good plot, characterization was just as awesome. I don’t remember what I’ve read of Astro Boy at the age of 5, so I can’t compare the characters’ counterparts, but every member of this series’ cast is not only memorable, but makes you feel something for them. Even the villians..! Gesicht is basically the protagonist overall, but for different segments, other characters get a chance on the stage too, and Urasawa really utilizes their spotlight time well to develop and let the reader learn more about them. If you must know, my favourite character was Atom, and not only because he is a perpetually cute little boy.

As per usual with Urasawa’s art style, characters are simply drawn but really expressive, perhaps even moreso than in his usual works, since even the robots seem to give off emotion. The character redesigns (as compared to the original) are super-cool and modern too, and so very realistic and plausible, even if Evangelion’s Ikari Gendou seems to have been the inspiration for one of them. Being set in the future, the backgrounds and buildings are drawn in excruciating detail as well, which I highly, HIGHLY appreciated.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a high quality work like this, so my final verdict is that this is now one of my Top 5 Awesomest Manga Ever Created, and maybe even surpasses Urasawa’s Monster solely because of the very satisfying 99.7% complete wrapup and the conciseness of everything, from 8 volumes to no fillers to 100% un-pretentious dialogue. It also made me unconsciously (!!) think about the depth of the whole issue of what is human and what is robot. The concept was just THAT intuitively presented. Another thing is that this is set mainly NOT IN JAPAN. Mostly Europe, and that just makes it better. Did I mention there were large robots? Well, there are large robots, and everyone likes large robots.

I recommend this work to everyone who can or wants to delve further into the issue of who or what can be considered as human, and to everyone who is fascinated with robots, technology, or Urasawa Naoki. Fans of Astro Boy probably shouldn’t miss this either, though I’m quite sure that this is an enormous departure in both atmosphere and tone from the original concept. Also, even though this manga’s pretty serious and thought-provoking, I recommend it even to readers who don’t want to think while reading, because mystery’s development is explained very well and very concisely (ie. no Death Note-length paragraph panels). I also recommend this to people who like perpetually cute little boys and girls and who aren’t afraid to read ~2-3 volumes in until they get to meet them.

Actually, you know what? I’m going to recommend this work to every human being who can read English or Japanese.

Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluto_(manga)
Pluto article at Tezuka in English: http://tezukainenglish.com/?q=node/147

【Manga】妄想少女オタク系 / Fujoshi Rumi

Haven’t read manga in a while, but I’m really glad I read this one..! Absolute classic!

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Original Title: 妄想少女オタク系 (Geeky Girl Obsession)
English Title: Fujoshi Rumi
Author: 紺條夏生 (KONJOU Natsumi)
Volumes: 5+
Genre: Seinen
Status: Ongoing, licensed in North America by Media Blasters
My Rating: 8.8/10

Asai Rumi is a fujoshi who likes to pair her male classmates up together, and her favourite pair in her class is Takahiro Abe and Chiba Shunsuke. However, things happen and the two guys start liking Rumi, even though Rumi doesn’t want them to like her since she wants them to like each other..! Hilarity ensues.

The manga is drawn and authored by Konjou Natsumi, and she said that the idea for basing a series about a fujoshi comes from being inspired by a friend of her’s. As will be apparent by the manga, Konjou has a really deep understanding of the fujoshi mind, and in her manga likes to throw in references to everything otaku-related, which is extremely awesome. As well, the artwork for this series is decent and nice, but the characters and their personalities are the main attraction. My favourite character is probably Matsun because she is really evil and funny (her face is pretty too).

Even though this is a seinen manga that seems extremely shoujo-like at times, I would recommend it to everyone over the age of 16 (because of innuendos and dirty-like concepts) regardless of gender because this manga is really funny. At least finish reading volume 1 before you drop it for whatever invalid reason(s)!

There is also a live action movie and two drama CDs (with Fujita Saki as Rumi!!) based on this work.

Live Action Movie Official website: http://www.mousou-shoujo.jp/index.html
Interview with Natsumi Konjou: http://comichigh.jp/sp_konjyo.html (Japanese)
Anime News Network Review: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/review/fujoshi-rumi/gn-1
Fujoshi Rumi stub at Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fujoshi_Rumi