Kindaichi Case Files Volume 1 Review

The Opera House Murders introduces Hajime Kindaichi, deceptively smart grandson of a famous detective and under-achieving best friend of straight-A student Miyuki Nanase. An isolated retreat for a drama club practice already darkened by the recent suicide of the former lead gets even more tragic when guest start dying in a similar manner to the play they’re rehearsing – The Phantom of the Opera.

 

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This is a murder mystery with all the classical trimmings. Our cast and the setting is slowly established to start and then from the first strike on it’s a tense race to figure everything out and stop the killings. The various layers to the story and twists to the mystery are extremely well done and all integrated together flawlessly. And while there are pieces of the motive not revealed until the end there are clues and a good chunk of it all is solvable as you read. Add in a carefully developed dark and dangerous atmosphere and a smart adversary and it all comes together quite impressively. There is a fair bit of exposition towards the end, but it’s presented well and is needed to unravel all the cleverly connected elements of the solution.

The art is detailed, clean, and easy to follow. This is all extremely important for a mystery, where establishing clues, characters and even the geography of their surroundings can all be vital to having the plot unfold properly.

I’ve always loved a good mystery, and Kanari and Sato’s manga about a deceptively bright high school student descended from a famous detective is a wonderful collection of them. The Kindaichi Case Files is a fantastic series and The Opera House Murders gets us off to a great start.

After Hours Volume 2 Review

“What do I want to be? What do I want to do?”

Emi’s unexpected relationship with the captivating Kei progresses, drawing her further and further into Kei’s personal circle as the pair tries to sell Kei’s friends on holding an event that will push them all to their limit.  But Emi had a life, unhappy as it was, before meeting Kei, and her failure to disclose the details to Kei hangs heavily over her head …

 

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After Hours continues to be something special in this middle volume of the series. As I remarked in my review of volume 1 the choice of adult protagonists has a hugely positive effect on the story, with complex perspectives and problems, as well a refreshing frankness about their happiness and the realities of adult relationships, underlying Emi and Kei’s tale that keep it all feeling natural and genuine. Also important is that they both make mistakes, and they both have to deal with the consequences of their choices, which gives a nice, resonant layer of depth beneath the core story of two women falling in love.  It’s highly compelling to follow Emi’s point of view as she’s drawn further into Kei’s world, and I’m really looking forward to the 3rd and final volume

Imperfect Girl Manga Review

“Looking back on it now, I realize that incident is what turned me into the novelist I am today. An author is someone who creates tales, but an aspiring author is someone who lies, and nothing more. This incident happened ten years ago, when I was in college, and merely an aspiring author. If those events never took place I wouldn’t have become much of anything at all, which is why I think I need to thank her, thank that girl …”

 

I’ll be sharing thoughts on the entire series (volumes 1-3) as a whole here. I will try to keep it as spoiler free as possible, but the above description from volume 1 by the publisher does NOTHING to convey what the series is really about so I will have to get into some plot details to properly discuss the points I wish to make.

 

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Ok, so the book description provides an intriguing hook and is connected to the narrator’s personal arc, but gives pretty much no information or framework about the plot. I find this to be an issue mostly because the story is pretty messed up. The college aged narrator is kidnapped and held captive by an elementary school girl after randomly seeing her act oddly at the scene of an accident where her friend was killed. Exactly what you’d expect, right? No, me neither.

From that disturbing premise came a manga that was unsettling in a lot of the wrong ways yet still extremely compelling and intriguing. I was constantly torn between wondering where things were going and being afraid to find out. Oh, and wanting to shake the main character for being an idiot. The girl was a far more interesting character, and even in context of all the strange happenings, emotional issues being addressed, psychological elements, etc, the narrator’s actions and reasonings often overstepped from those of someone in over their head and dealing poorly to flat out nonsensical. On top of that I considered abandoning it after the second volume also due to how creepy it was, but continued since there was only one left to go and I was admittedly curious.

 

I am glad I finished it. The overall concept of the story and pieces of what was being built towards were as interesting as certain elements along the way indicated. But it all could have been much better executed. It strayed too often from psychological suspense towards full on horror, and certain, important context regarding the narrator’s actions seemed short changed due to pacing issues and info dumps. I don’t know if these issues were in the source material or an effect of adaptation, but overall I wish the journey was approached differently to do more justice to the admittedly compelling underlying story line.

Overall I felt this short manga series both tried too hard in some ways and not hard enough in others. Again, it could all relate to the source material. Part of me wants to recommend anyone who can stomach the premise read it anyway because of the things it does do right and some of the thought provoking themes struggling to transcend the telling, but between the uncomfortableness of the approach and missteps along the way I really can’t.

After Hours Volume 1 Review

 

Twenty-four year old Emi Ashiana is rather miserable after being dragged out to a dance club, which is not at all her normal scene, by a friend who then disappeared on her to pick up men.  But then she meets one of the DJs, a self assured woman named Kei, and the night, as well as Emi’s life, might be turning around.

 

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The unfolding relationship between the socially uncomfortable Emi and the more confident and in control Kei is paced in a way that feels natural in real terms yet perhaps a bit unusual and uneven for a fictional story. As the point of view character Emi is the lens through which the reader views Kei and the story’s events, but Emi’s own thoughts and situation aren’t broadcast through monologues or internal narration. So in a sense the readers are meeting BOTH Emi and Kei gradually and seeing bits and pieces of the issues that surround them in a way that is building nicely and slowly foreshadowing future developments but perhaps requires more patience than normal for a story of this type. There’s an uncomfortableness to uncertainty, and the way the narrative is structured conveys a touch of that feeling to the reader at the same time it’s being experienced by the characters. Emi’s thrown into a series of unexpected situations, reacting instinctively, and often dealing with the emotional weight over everything after the fact. This makes for a fascinating, engaging story, but necessarily means a little of the chaos of real life must be captured intruding over the normal “neatness” of constructed stories.

That touch of the unexpected is underscored by the extremely interesting way After Hours both utilizes and upends tropes and stereotypes of typical romance stories. The cliched elements and themes that appear, as well as the more unique ones, are incorporated in a natural way that feel like legitimate extensions of the characters’ emotions and it all blends together in a complimentary mix that elevates the complex undertones I touched on above.

One last thing I’d like to mention is the somewhat unusual, and excellent, choice of going with adult protagonists. It adds a significant amount of depth and nuance to the story to be starting with emotionally mature characters with adult responsibilities and complications and exploring things from there. It also facilitates the deft touch with which Nisho handles the subtext and themes of Emi’s simultaneous hesitance and excitement and she unexpectedly begins to fall for another woman.

I didn’t know much about this going in, but the first volume of After Hours proved to be a wonderful start to a romantic story that felt incredibly fresh and genuine.

7th Garden Volume 1 Review

“Did I open a Pandora’s box I never should have laid my hands upon?”

Awyn (the) Gardner is living his perfect life tending the remote estate gardens belonging to a young lady he devotedly serves and wishes to protect. However when the ruling Angels’ crusading knights arrive to wreak havoc on his peaceful corner of the world he may have to revisit his less than savory skills of the past… and make a deal with a demon.

 

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7th Garden runs through a lot of cliche checkboxes: a quiet main character who’s more than he appears, an idyllic life he wants left alone, ruling Angels who are unjust and devils who still tend towards evil but maybe more just, etc. But the first volume shows just enough nuance to the characters and does well enough in the execution that I enjoyed this and am intrigued to see where it goes from here.

The fanservice is in-your-face when it happens, but in at least one character’s case they seem to be building to some story justification for it. The art is good and easy to follow in the action sequences, and the end of the volume is already hinting at deeper secrets to be uncovered involving Awyn’s demon “friend.”

Pretty standard Shounen fare here, but good for what it is.

 

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime Volume 1 Review

Middle aged Mikami’s life isn’t nearly as exciting as he’d hoped, stuck in a salaryman’s job with no girlfriend and friends who primarily come around to brag about their good fortune. But that all might be the least of his worries when he’s unexpectedly stabbed to death and reborn in a fantasy world as the lowliest of monsters.

 

 

So this is pretty absurd, fairly amusing, and completely and sufficiently described by the title alone. Though nothing’s really been explained yet the setup is easy to follow and the premise interesting. The atmosphere is stereotypical Shounen power fantasy so far with the monster angle being the only real twist.

The pace seems pretty breakneck. I understand the necessity of getting to the point where Mikami can actually do something quickly, but more time spent with him exploring his predicament would have been nice. He’s a monster that seems more harmless than he is and has to learn to use his powers rather than one who has to learn to cope with being powerless and find a way to get stronger. The latter would have been much more interesting, and is more what the book description implies. There’s already a formula starting to develop to his encounters, which is a tad worrisome so early on.

Still, while nothing groundbreaking That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime is a decent, quick read. It will be interesting to see if the pace settles down and if the series can find a bit more depth once the main cast and environment are fully established.

 

Beautiful Dreams 2: More Art of Juri the Dreamer

As I mentioned in Beautiful Dreams, I’ve been a fan of Juri H Chinchilla’s amazing art for several years and have been fortunate enough to develop a nice collection of her work. Here I’d like to share and talk about more of it (as well as ramble a bit about the stories and inspirations behind certain pieces).

 

 

Juri continues to be heavily featured in Perna Studios excellent card sets. I’ve been lucky enough to get several diverse, beautiful sketch cards of hers from sets like Witchcraft, Elementals, etc, in addition to having the opportunity to commission some incredible Artist Proofs (APs) as well.

Juri’s also done promo and base card art for Perna’s sets, and special cards including metal and spot foil chase cards and variants.

 

 

Some particularly interesting pieces of my collection include unique original works, such as Juri’s original pencils underlying her Mistress of the Night piece (the final version of which I featured in Beautiful Dreams) and colored and original art versions of her page from Sarah “Sakky” Ruth Ford’s Magical Girl Coloring Book.

 

 

Juri’s Personal Sketch Cards (PSCs) have been more fantastic additions to my collection, with the great opportunity to request particular subjects and design elements.

As always I adore her use of color, particularly in her hand drawn work, and like with her Perna sketch cards and APs above that aspect also really shines in her PSCs. Seeing her visions of some of my favorite characters come to life has been a real treat. I’m a diehard gamer, with particular preference to RPGs and fighting games over the years. With Juri’s pitch perfect confrontation between Kasumi and Ayane from Dead or Alive and jaw dropping melding of Morrigan and Lilith from Darkstalkers joining the original sketches I got from her featuring Millia Rage, Jam Kuradoberi, and Dizzy from Guilty Gear, I now have incredible renditions of all of my favorite characters to play from each of my favorite fighting game series.

 

 

Valkyrie Profile is my single favorite RPG of all time, and Juri’s intricately detailed, soft yet strong interpretation of Lenneth Valkyire is exquisite. Favorite series honors go to Persona, and I adore Juri’s vibrant, striking depiction of a key supporting character from one of the series’ best entries.

 

One of the more unique requests I’ve made is a card featuring one of my favorite professional wrestlers, Mitsuru Konno from Gatoh Move. Mitsuru’s already showing great potential and instincts even with only a little over a year in wrestling, and I adore the incredible way Juri’s captured and combined her strength, determination, grace, and beauty in this remarkable rendition.

 

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Mitsuru Konno PSC by Juri Chinchilla.

 

The last two pieces I’d like to talk about are anime/manga related. I’m using the word “favorite” a lot, but in explaining the inspirations for choosing these subjects across various mediums it has been appropriate and illustrative in every case. Gorgeous animation, thought provoking stories, and an incredible atmosphere come together to make Kino’s Journey my all time favorite anime. Juri perfectly related Kino’s cool, somewhat detached demeanor resting for a moment atop Hermes against a wonderful background horizon that evokes the show’s sense of traveling through a vast, intriguing world.

 

Rosario Vampire is an amusing, fan-service and action heavy harem style manga based around a high school for monsters where students regularly get into fierce battles with one another. It has solid story progression once it gets going, but is admittedly largely formulaic and trope ridden. However halfway through the second “season” of the manga there’s a side story,  introducing a relatively minor supporting character (who didn’t even make the anime adaptation), which embraces and upends cliches in equal measure to present a nuanced, emotional story that is easily at the top of the (long) list of things I’ve read. San Otonashi is a phenomenal character and (here’s that word again 😉 ) an absolute favorite of mine despite her relative obscurity. Even with being initially unfamiliar with San, Juri was able to create a gorgeous, spot on card of her, conveying both delicacy and strength and again really elevating the final work with her incredible coloring.

 

 

More information about Juri’s art can be found on her artist page. I hope to continue to follow and collect her incredible creations for a long time to come. 🙂

 

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Edit 2/9/18: I recent received three more wonderful Personal Sketch Cards by Juri, and wanted to add them to this celebration of her art.

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro is an incredible, unique adventure. At its heart are Kuro’s ever curious companions Ninjuku and Sanju, enjoying their journey but also gradually losing their blissful ignorance of the larger world around them. Juri’s wonderfully captured their playfulness and variation of personality.

 

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Brian Q Miller’s Batgirl series was an wonderful comic with the headstrong yet lovable Stephanie Brown in the titular role. One of my favorite issues of the run was a lighthearted story about her friendship with Supergirl. I absolutely love Juri’s rendition of the two of them together.

 

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Finally, Food Wars is a surprisingly fantastic manga/anime with a sports competition manga feel applied to idea of a highly competitive cooking school. Beneath the (admittedly enjoyable) humor,fan service, and general ridiculousness are compelling story arcs featuring an interesting, fun cast. A personal favorite of mine is prodigy Alice Nakiri, who’s simultaneously sheltered/immature and world traveled/formidable in a highly amusing way. Her confidence and attitude are perfectly reflected in Juri’s depiction.

 

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