For insecure High school student Shizuka Shiroyama life is difficult enough, what with overprotective parents, a new friendship, and budding romance, with fellow student and artist Mamrou Tadami, and the usual growing pains of early adolescence.

The fact that she suffers from an condition that renders her invisible doesnt help matters.

Translucent, first written and drawn in 2003 by Kazukiro Okamoto, and which to date has had three volumes published in the west by Dark Horse comics, follows the life of Shizuka as she tries to live a normal life, whilst having to live with peer pressure, following her dream of becoming an actress and surviving the various anxieties of life, pressure that frequently results in her condition – called “Translucent syndrome” – causing her to become invisible, further increasing her insecurities, both in herself and in her friends.

The artwork for this series, although not in the same standard as to the likes of Ken Akamatsu [love hina] or of Kaoru Mori [Emma], still has the power to move and to entertain the reader, in particular I found that the artists ability to draw Shizuka in her various stages of invisibility but yet still keep her proportions and her effects on her environments in exact scale to be truly amazing, and worth other artists taking notes on.

proof that true love sees beyond the surface - visible or otherwise

And its he use of “Translucent syndrome” that marks this series out from the usual fare of shojou manga, with the conditions increasing or decreasing states used to highlight Shizuka’s mental state or insecurity at the time, although for a culture that has a low regard for those with conditions that makes anyone less than normal, the students and staff at her school seem strangely accepting and helpful towards her.

All in all though I found it an entertaining and welcome read, and I’d recommend it to anyone.

In fact you could say that this is one manga that you shouldn’t ignore.


Princess Ghibli CD

When Hayo Miyazaki commissioned the soundtrack for my neighbour Tottoro, I’m sure he had a particular theme and style in mind……

I’m sure however, that he wasn’t expecting a heavy metal rendition.

Princess Ghibli is a CD album released by italian record company Coroner Records and features rock band imaginary flying machines, Disarmonia and a number of other bands and solo singers who give their own…. unique interpretation to 12 of Studio ghibli’s iconic soundtracks – from Ettore Rigotti and blood stain childs powerful rendition of Teru no Uta [ from tales of earthsea], to Disarmonia Mundia and Sophia Aslanidou’s take on Arriety’s song [ from the upcoming the borrower Arriety] – if you don’t find yourself head banging to at least one of these songs then you have no soul.

Now I’m sure that for some the idea of a heavy metal version of Tottoro might not be for everyone [although I swear the male singer sounds just like him] but if your a Ghibli fan, you have to get this CD.

The only minor problem with this is the fact that [other than Japan] the only way to get this Album is to either import the CD from Japan , where its getting its [to date] only Physical release, or via downloading it from I tunes or Amazon – but hey, its only £7.99, thats what – Half a ghibli DVD?

But don’t take my word for it…..

Onegai teacher

Okay, what I’m about to write may shock some of you, possibly offend others, and probably confuse the rest of you.
So, here goes…… [Takes deep breath]
I like Onegai teacher.
There, I said it.
And now, for the confused, an explanation….

Onegai teacher was a fourteen part manga series written by please! [real name unknown] and drawn by Shizuru Hayashya. It was originally released in two paperback books in 2002 by Comics one to coincide with the original anime series animated by Bandai [and which in turn resulted in three sequels], and two light novels.
The series tells the story of Kai Kusanagi, your stereotypical Japanese schoolboy who, despite suffering a rare condition that causes him to go into a vegetative state for long periods of time, leads a pretty ordinary life.
That is until the arrival of his new teacher – Mizuho Kazami – who shakes up Kei’s world in more ways than one…

For one thing she isn’t even from his world!

Add to this the complications that lead to Kei and Mizuho becoming married, Kazumi’s ship becoming damaged, and thus stranding her on Earth, an over – amorous mother, an over – protective younger sister, a high school relationship chart more complex than the wiring of an ICBM missile….
Oh, and did I forget to mention that Kei’s married to his teacher?

And as you can see the result is hardly your average manga series.

kei and mizuho - the ultimate odd couple?

All in all the series, which sadly ended after only fourteen chapters, had the potential to be greater, however [and here I have to bite the bullet] the series suffers from a major flaw that otherwise prevent this – namely the artwork.
The artist, Shizuru Hayashya, admitted that this was his first attempt at drawing romance manga, having come from a background of drawing more violent, bloody serials – and it shows, with the artwork looking too cramped together, with little time for background details, which for me detracted from the story.

However, take heart. If you are willing to see past these flaws, you will find a series which both captivates and at times will mercilessly pull at your heartstrings – from Kei’s first meeting with kazami’s assistant noh, to the series’ tearjerker ending.

Buy it – this is a priority one!

Patlabor vols 1+2

What’s the first series that comes to mind when you think of the word “Mecha”?
Gurren Laggan?
Star driver?
For me the word “mecha” conjures up only one series – Mobile Police Patlabor, written, drawn and (in part) created by Masami Yuki, and released by Viz Entertainment.

Originally published in Shounen Sunday in 1988 as a manga adaptation of the original OVA anime series, and released in English by Viz ten years later, Patlabor tells of an alternate future, where the Cold War never ended, and where mankind has created “labors” – mechanised machines – to assist in construction and military work. However with labors came labor crime, as criminals and terrorists stole these machines for acts of crime and destruction.

The series follows the lives of the Japanese police force’s answer to labor crime, the SVD (Special Vehicle Division) – and in particular division 2’s – exploits both on and off duty. Division 2’s personnel, though, are hardly what you’d call your regular police officers.

There’s officers Noa Izumi (a newly commissioned Labor pilot and self confessed Mecha-phile) and Isao Ota (think Kamina from Gurren laggan but with less self restraint and you’ll get the gist of his personality) working as labor pilots. There’s Asuma Shinohara (who chose the police force over working for his father, whose company make the labor units) and Mikiyasu Shinshi offering backup.

Finally there’s Captain Goto, the commanding officer of the unit, whose laid-back, anarchic mannerisms and scruffy looking appearance hide both a razor-sharp intelligence and uncanny powers of observation, which always keeps him two steps ahead of every situation, much to the consternation of both his subordinates and Captain Shinobu, head of division 1 and at times the long-suffering Dr Watson to Goto’s Holmes.

However, the real stars of Patlabor are the labors themselves – marvels not only in their combat ability, and their simplicity (no spikes or unnecessary flashy bits), but also in their realism – the writers “Headgear”, the creative group behind the original anime series, having long researched the mechanics and designs that lead to the creation of the labors – that makes you believe that these mechs could exist in real life (an aspect that most creators of mecha-based anime/manga seem to ignore.)

Considering that this is a mecha series, the stories of Patlabor seem to dedicate as much focus to events outside the battlefield as well as in, with the goings-on and relationships and interactions between the crews adding an extra depth to the stories – from Noa naming her labor after her pet dog, to Shinobu’s continuous exasperation with Goto’s seemingly laid-back approach to police work.

The storylines themselves also show the same attention to detail – the first volume showing us the setting up of division 2, and taking us on their first mission, capturing a stolen labor – with the mix between comedy, drama and action perfectly balanced, with no uncomfortable gaps in between – and that’s not suprising, considering that the writing and art team that made up “GEARHEAD” itself comprised a who’s who of anime and manga creators at the time:
there was Artist/writer Masami Yuki (Birdy The Mighty, birdy the mighty:decode ), Mecha designer Yutaka Izubuchi (Gundam: A War In The Pocket, Record Of Lodoss War,RahXephon), Writer Kazunori Ito (MaisonIkkoku, .hack//SIGN), Artist/character designer Akemi Takada (KimagureOrangeRoad, dirty pair, Maison Ikkoku, Nausica of the Valley of the Wind [Screenplay]) And finally anime director Mamoru Oshii (both the original Ghost In The Shell movie and both series of ghost in the shell: stand alone complex and both the original Blood The Last Vampire movie and blood+)

So, with talent like this why didnt the manga series become a breakaway sucess?

Unfortunately only the first four chapters of the series were ever published, no thanks to Viz’s then policy of splitting up individual chapters into smaller parts, so they could be released as western–style comics, an action that, in my opinion, disrupted the manga’s story flow and, in part, lead in the series’ eventual cancellation; which I think was a shame, as this series, if it was done again in the compiled form that most modern manga has been done in recently, would have sold far better.

However there is hope, albeit tentative.
In a recent interview to Anime news networks’ podcast Vertical media’s, Marketing Director Ed Charvez let slip that, if it were possible, he would love to get the licence to republish manga series.

We can but hope…..

Patlabor vol.1 and vol.2: Basic Training are still available from many specialist manga/anime stores.


To be honest I have two pet peeves

My first is for the Victorian period, with it’s over embellished gowns, stuffy imperialism, insufferable housing conditions for the poor and its general…. Snootiness.

My second is for Animé style maids – you know the ones, the clutsy, half a brain Variety, whose only purpose in life is to either look cute, get chased by the male lead, or trip and reveal various parts of her underwear in as many ways as possible every episode.

As such most manga and animé about either period or subjects never really caught my attention…….

That is, until the day I was introduced to Emma.

Emma [or to use her Japanese title “Victorian romance Emma”] is a 10 volume series by the new and upend coming artist Kaoru Mori, with this being her first self – created series to be published by a mainstream manga company. It was originally serialised by the Japanese comic company beam commix, was translated and released in the west by DC comics’ late lamented CMX and has also been adapted into 2 12 – part animated series.

The series, set in late 19th century London, follows the life and times of Emma who, since childhood, has served as a maid in the service of a retired governess.
Yet her seemingly quiet, organised world is turned upside-down by the arrival of William Jones, the son of a rich industrialist, and the stirrings of love begin to blossom between the two of them.
However, in an era where a still rigid social order bars their way, can these two lovers, separated by tradition and birth, find true happiness?
Or are they doomed to be forever apart, either through circumstance or the scheming of Richard Jones, William’s father, who plans for William lie more in him improving his own standing in society than the feelings of his son?

The first thing that made his series stand out for me was the absolute attention to detail about Victorian life that Kaoru Mori has done on this series – testament to her research, and a standard that many artists and writers should aspire to. From clothing to mundane pieces of furniture – even to Emma’s ways of cleaning carpets – the research is exhaustive and extensive.

The artwork also shows the hallmarks of this diligence, with an attention to detail of the buildings, clothing – even the backgrounds – In way’s that make the series seem almost cinematic in its storytelling.

And it’s the scriptwriting, often the deciding factor of many manga, which compliments, and, like two halves of a circle, complete the experience. With every character, from the lowliest bit part to the main characters themselves, well thought out and realised, their personalities and thoughts so realistic that its as if they are living breathing real people, rather than simple drawn characters on a piece of paper.

The result is a series which, from start to finish, will pull you in, wring emotion form even the hardest of hearts, and leave you gasping for more.
the anime adaptation is still available from Right Stuf International and, while CMX is no more it’s still be possible to collect the 10 volume manga series from amazon.