kikis delivery service [novel]

kikis cover

When Walt Disney in the US [and Studiocanal in the UK] released Studio Ghibis 1989 classic “Majo no Takkyūbin” [literally “Witches delivery service”] to a western audience the response was overwhelmingly positive , with  even oft-time critical review site Rotten tomatoes declaring it “a heartwarming, gorgeously-rendered tale of a young witch discovering her place in the world.

However, while some may have known that this film was based on a series of children’s novels by Eiko Kadono – not many would have known that it had had a brief, English language release!

This single volume release, published in 2003 by Canadian publisher Annick Press under the westernised name of Kikis delivery service, starts off as per the movie – Kiki, a newly fledged witch, leaves her family and home to find herself a new place in the bigger world, eventually arriving in the small town of Koriko where, in-between developing her magical arts further, makes a living as a titular Delivery service.

However thats where the similarities between the book and the film pretty much end.
In the original book Kiki never loses her powers, nor does she have to rescue a runaway Dirigible [both of which were the creation Of Hayo Miyazaki for the film version, which Kadano was massively unhappy about, at one point threatening to have the entire project scrapped because of it, with only hurried negotiations by Miyazaki and producer Toshio Suzuki saving the film].

Instead what we get is more a series of standalone stories, from a visit to the beach, to an accidental discovery of a new form of music – even a novel use for a woolen tummy warmer – however we never really get more than a brief glimpse of the world of kikis – why is magic hereditary? Where is the town of Kokori?

The artstyle [drawn by Akiko Hayashi] may put off some more used to Ghiblis version of kiki and yet i would say that they, rather than subtract from it its adds all the more to the book as we get to see a more truer idea of Kadano’s vision for her characters – it also make a relieving change for anyone tired of yet another moe looking magical girl image.

The writing also betrays the intended target audience, with its truncated plot, limited world building and simpler writing prose showing it to intended for a younger reading age [about 8-10]. Likewise the side characters themselves seem limited in their details, mostly being there to advance the plot or to weave said plot around – even Tombo, who played such a major role in the movie, only appears in three of the ten chapters of this novel, and often only briefly to aid Kiki, with a brief hint of a crush on her on the final chapter – presumably to be continued in later volumes.

And that brings us to a major problem – in Japan there are a total of 6 volumes in the series, yet as of this post only one was ever published by Annick press during the tenure of the publishing licence they held from 2003 to 2008 . I contacted Annick press to find out why, but their Representative was unable to give me an answer.

Yet there is still hope for this series – unlike back in the early 2000’s the rise of crowdfunded projects, and the increasing interest in licencing novels by Western manga companies has given otherwise obscure series the chance to be seen by a western audience – so who knows? maybe, with enough fan interest or the right company,  one day a certain little witch and her cat from Kokori town will fly their way back to our shores yet again.

Kikis delivery service was released in Hardback by Annick press however,as previously stated, the series has since been out of print for about 10  years, so this will require some legwork to conjure up a copy  of your own.

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Busou Shinki armoured war goddess

busou shinki case

Oft times the release of a new anime series can be a major gamble not just for the original rights holders but also for the anime studio creating it, and more so if that series is based on a toy or game line and is intended as a display for said line.

Case In point Busou Shinki armoured war goddess.

This 2012, 12 episode series from studio 8-Bit [of Infinite stratos and recently Rewrite fame] is based around the aforementioned Busou Shinki line – a series of poseable figures produced by Konami that had a media tie in line-up from comics to statues to even its own online combat game series Called Battle rondo [imagine Angelic Layer but on the PSP and you get the idea].

The series itself is set in the year 2036 where Rihito, a young high school boy who lives alone in his own apartment – alone apart from his three Shinkis – happy go lucky Ann, tusndere Ines, the ever calm and homely Lene and the newest arrival grim and determined Hina.

The animation itself is more than serviceable, with clear backgrounds and attention to detail both to the character themselves but also to their interactions with said backgrounds – no clippings or badly done work here. However, while the series hints at a more expansive and in some cases darker world [in one episode the subject of Shinki’s being used as terrorists, whilst another touches on the subject of the fate of Shinkis who are either abandoned or lose their owners] that’s all we get – just hints – with each episode effectively acting as a stand alone with little connection to each other [with the exception however of the last 2 episodes].

SHINKI 1

Also we get to the fly in the ointment – namely Konami, the rights holder for Busou Shinki. While no-one can be certain of the official chain of events one thread that some accept is that, after a tweet from someone working on the anime stating that Konami had difficulty with the production of the figures, the line had been rapidly pulled so that, by the time the series had originally aired in Japan, the Shinki toyline had been cancelled completely!

So where does this leave this series? Well, while it achieves its intended goal of introducing the Shinki toy line and acting as an advertisement for the toy line [and giving a tip to the hat to the ardent Shinki toy collectors] on its own however it comes across as a less than stellar entry in the “cute robot girls doing cute things” that other series have done before and in some cases [such as the recently aired Frame arms girls anime, itself a tie in to a model line by figure company Kotobukya] have done much better.

Busou Shinki armoured war goddess was released on DVD, Blu ray and streaming via the HIDIVE service from Sentai filmworks  for the US, and on DVD only in the UK via  MVM .

Flying witch vol 1

flying witch vol 1

If I ever had to imagine a modern day telling of Ghibli’s Kikis delivery service I reckon flying Witch might fit the bill.

Managing to achieve the ability to get their first work not only become massively well received in manga form but to also get an anime adaptation in 2016 Chihiro Ishizuka’s ongoing series finally makes its way to the west via Vertical comic and introduces us to the trainee witch Makoto Kowata, a rather polite well mannered young girl from Yokohama who, to complete her witches training [note the Kikis reference], travels to the town of Hirosaki, in the Aomori Prefecture, on the northern most tip of the main Island of Japan honshu, to live with her relatives the Kuramoto’s – comprising her aunt, illustrator Nana, her uncle Keiji [he of the very VERY strong regional accent] and Makotos two cousins – Laid back male cousin Kei and his little sister Chinastu.

We’re later on introduced to female friend of Kei [and initially reluctant friend of Makoto] Nao Ishiwatari, who acts as the “straight man” in the series – not an easy job when her introduction to Makoto is to see her fly through the air on a broom with Chinatsu!

Coming along with Makoto [and surprisingly entertaining in his own right] is her Cat and familiar Chito, whose personality reveals all too familiar [sic] traits all cat owners will recognise – in including general lazing about, antagonising dogs and [in one episode] chasing a pheasant.

Okey not the pheasant.

As for the artwork? – beautiful– that’s the best word I can come up with to describe both the character and background art [even thought the creation said background is similar in style to to Yotsuba&, in that it is copied from photos from real life locations in Aomori].

If I had to lodge a complaint about this volume though its that, for all its talk of witches and magic throughout, there’s hardly any magic that takes place at all, instead opting to concentrate on developing both Makoto and the Kuramoto family [a problem that the later anime adaptation remedied by changing around the chapter orders] – its only until the last two episodes where the series to me gets back on track, with one involving a visit from a physical manifestation of the herald of spring for Makoto [and who unintentionally scares Chinastu whilst at it] and at the end of the volume with the arrival of Makoto’s laid back big sister [and polar opposite to Makoto] Akane.

On its own I found this first volume, whilst great at establishing its general universe [whilst leaving enough mystery for later on] did seem to flounder halfway through with its mundane/magical plot balance.

[spoilers] I did learn that this was remedied from the second volume onwards so I would ideally recommend buying this along with the second at the same time.

Flying witch is available in physical format from most physical stores, with the digital release available via Amazons Comixcology site,  and via Kodanshas Bookwalker app.

Ghost diary vol 1

cover

[note: the following review was completed using a review copy supplied by seven seas]

First published in 2014 in Dengeki Daioh, and written and drawn by newcomer Seiju Natsumegu, this, the first of a three volume series, introduces us to Sukami Kyouichi, a high school student and trained exorcist who, after a fateful encounter six years prior with a shrine deity leads to his Elder sister and fellow exorcist Sukami Hanaichi being kidnapped by the same deity in exchange for sparing his life, leads him to aspire to both find her and to complete her titular ghost diary – a guide book for the identifying and defeating of supernatural creatures.

We are also introduced to Mangekyou Academy’s Occult club, which comprises our secondary cast for this series – detective wannabe Saeki Yuushirou, resident ventriloquist [via teddy bear] Suzukago Kukuri, Gangsters son and [later on revealed to be computer expert] Onigashima Tatsumi and Kaguyadou Mayumi, who will be our Tusndere/unconfessed love interest for this series.

However Kyouichi’ s life takes a sudden turn when a reaper, Chloe Kowloon, approaches him with an offer – Complete the Ghost diary, and in so doing restore Chloe’s memories, and she will help him find Sukami. Sounds simple on paper – Except from the get go we get the sense that, despite appearances, Chloe has her own agenda for completing the Diary – an agenda that does not bode well for the fate of Kyouichi or his friends in the occult club – and especially Mayumi.

cast 2

The first thing that struck me immediately about Ghost diary was the art-style – from its backgrounds to character designs I initially thought was that this was something from the pen of the famous manga group CLAMP yet I could find no direct link between them or Natsumegu – whether its one of the group [or a former member] under a pseudonym or just someone who’s style is a near copy of their style we may never know.

Secondly the concept for the series itself does show potential – each episode covers either Kyouichi or one of the club members discovering a legend and, after investigating, either Kyouichi or Chloe dispatch said supernatural antagonist. However we also have that standard trope of many a manga series with more than one female cast member – the love triangle, with Mayumi forever pining [but not admitting to it] for Kyouichi, despite him seeming to have all the perception of mitochondria, whilst shes forever jealous that Chloe, with her impressive built figure, will seduce Kyouichi away – and with a promise of restoring his sister to him who can blame him.

However at the same time there were some flaws that for me at least stuck out notably – for example except for Kyouichi all we really know about the club members is a brief piece of text under their names [for example “Kaguyadou Mayumi Daughter of a makeup mogul”] and that’s it – unless we see more development in the later volumes their sole purpose [going by this volume] seem to be to either offer leads to the main character, get into danger that requires Kyouichi to come and rescue them or just stay in the background.

As I mentioned earlier from the get go it seems that Kyouichi, Mayumi and Chloe will be the main focus, with the rest of the Occult club cast staying in the background as the aforementioned damsels in distress/plot providers – I hope that I am mistaken about this as there is definite potential to develop these characters further [for example its implied early on that Yuushirou, on top of having the hots for Hanaichi, may also have feelings for Mayumi, but has chosen to step aside in favour of Kyouichi].

The volume wraps up with a backstory showing the founding of the Occult club which was largely by the numbers in its execution – it mostly comes down to:

Hey, what to join our club?”

Okey”

And yet, with all this in mind…..I want to wait and see. This first volume, despite all the faults I found with it, nonetheless sets up an interesting story and cast that could in the right hands develop into an engaging and intense series – whether Seiju Natsumegu has those hands….time will tell.

This first volume [of a planned three volume series] is available from Seven seas  in physical format from all regular stockists.

The last American fanzine PATLABOR

patlabor_fanzine_cover-380x615Love them or loath them – the Anime blog Colony drop has, for the last 8 years, made a name for itself as a dedicated source for articles and reviews of anime and mange either released in the 80’s and early 90’s, or modern series that were inspired by that period.

This issue, in fact the third of the series that comprise of variously contributed articles concerning classic anime series and culture is the first to cover a specific franchise – in this case Mobile police Patlabor.

The first thing that comes to note is the size of the magazine – coming in at 5.25″ x 8.25″ , compared to 8.25″ x 10.75″ it comes in much smaller than the previous two issues. There’s also the fact that, unlike the previous two that covered a wide number of series and topics, this issue is exclusively focused on the 90s mech series Patlabor and yet only comes in at 54 pages [including 17 pieces of artwork and photography, of which 9 fill out the magazines page count] – that’s not to say that the contributions don’t make up for the shortfall in pages-far from it-as we’ll see shortly.

We open with Anime world order co-host and Otaku USA magazine writer Daryl Surats PATLABORS CONTEMPORARIES, which covers the year of Patlabor’s first appearance into the world [1988] and talks both about the shows that aired [this being the year that Chars counter attack premiered] and the shows that played a seminal role in the genesis of Mobile police Patlabor.

At a time when the anime industry was still reducing female characters to the role of the damsel in distress waiting to be saved by the heroic male character GENDER ROLES IN PATLABOR, by Dave Merril and Shaindle Minuk, covers the complete role reversal that the series undertook – with Noa Iszumi always in the thick of action as a Labor pilot while Asuma Shinohara took the decidedly unmale role as van driver and backup of always stood back. For many fans the most memorable characters of the series were invariably taken by the female characters such as Noah as mentioned, the American-japanese US cop Kanuka Clancy [ played by the late Yō Inoue] supplying more than enough action and general bad-assery than most of the male characters offer – even the hotheaded Ota [he of the “shoot first, shoot again, shoot it some more and THEN ask questions] had to bow down to her.

From gender politics to politics of another kind as the author of “Stray dogs of anime: the films of Mamoru Oshii” Brian Ruh gives us PATLABOR AND THE 226 INCIDENT a piece that covers the attempted armed uprising by members of the Japanese army in 1936, an incident that would not only lead to the military increasing its control over the civilian government, but would become an inspiration for Oshii when creating the second Patlabor movie.

But did you know that the basic plot for that film very nearly became about not labors…But Lupin the 3rd?

In Renato Riviera Rusca’s PATLABOR AND THE LUPIN 3RD MOVIE THAT NEVER WAS we discover that, after Hayo Miyazaki turned down the chance to Direct another Lupin film Mamoru Oshii was tapped to take over the project, even bringing in A-list talent such as Yoshitaka Amano [Gatchaman, Vampire hunter D, god knows how many final fantasy art pieces] as character designer, Studio Gainaxs’ Hideaki Anno as a key animator and Kazuyoshi Katayama [Space Adventure Cobra: The Movie, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the big O and many others] as assistant director.

So why did this project get pulled, and how did it end up as the film we all know and… well mostly love?

From one project that never came to be to one that many wished had never happened as Matt Schley Gives us the rather spoilery THE NEXT GENERATION – PATLABOR: A THING THAT EXISTS [WE DONT GET IT EITHER] which covers the afore mentioned 2013 live action series that tried to reinvigorate the franchise – and instead ending up crashing and burning.

Wrapping up the fanzine is GHOSTS OF FUKUSHIMA, by Ian Martin, a contemporary story which moves quickly from the streets of Tokyo to the abandoned towns and countryside of Fukushima’s irradiated dead zone, an area of about five mile around the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear reactor cordoned off after the Tsunami of 2011, as police detective and Series regular Takahiro Matsui investigates a spate of Construction labor thefts, and uncovers much more…

So, after looking into this release how does it measure up? Welll……

The first key problem is one I’ve covered earlier is that with only 37 of the 54 pages of this issue not comprised of artwork it leaves very little page-count for these articles – the longest is that of the short story with 12 pages, with the 226 article [the one that should have had more pages to fully cover the events of that time period that lead to the incident and its after effects] only getting 4 pages, which in my opinion results in them suffering for it.

The other is the method of publication itself – in a time where many publications are now beginning [or have already made] the move to a digital format – Colony drop insisting that this [and all of the last fanzines future issues] would be only available as physical publications I feel is a move that, while I’m sure is intended to invoke “the good old days” of the fanzine, seems to only come across as more of a deliberate intent to refuse to move on from the 80’s.

Finally here is the entry level of the readership for this issue – with no “idiots guide” – like introduction to the franchise it’s expected that the reader has at least a working knowledge of Patlabor, if not at least access to the series.

And so I find myself at an impasse – on the one hand there’s the side of me that’s been the fan of Patlabor for the longest time [even thought my introduction was via Manga UK’S release of the two Patlabor movies] and so as a fan I found this to be an enlightening and [albeit abridged] read. However its my side as a reviewer that make me hesitant about recommending this release – maybe its the fact that this release is clearly intended if not for the hard core Patlabor fan, than for someone who is new to the franchise. It could be that the articles, as interesting as they are, fail to deliver any more than a mere surface level coverage of the series, leaving me at times flipping through the pages of each entry asking “what, is that it?”.

So what do I say? Go into this if your a fan, but don’t go into this expecting anything but the most bare bones of articles.

Both this and all issues of The last American fanzine are available as print on demand from Mag Cloud.

Amaama to Inazuma [Sweetness and Lightning]

sweetness cover

To call Amaama to Inazuma a copycat Yotsuba& would be an injustice to both series.

This 2013 series from Kodansha Comic’s “Good! Afternoon” which is both written and drawn by Gido Amagakure [And which is know in the west as “Sweetness and Lightning”] follows Inuzuka Kouhei, a high school teacher who has tragically recently been widowed. This results in him having to juggle his career and struggle to raise his 5 year old daughter Tsumugi, often leaving him little time to cook meals and having to resort to buying instant meals and take out.

Fate however introduces the pair to Kotori Iida, one of Inuzuka‘s students whose mother runs a small family restaurant. Its here that Kotori [whose parents we discover later on have divorced and, with her mother regularly away at work, results with her winding up her home alone] suggests an idea – in return for visiting the restaurant Kotori will help Inuzuka with practising recipes that can change up the home meals that he and Tsumugi are currently eating.

The art style itself is both detailed enough to make backgrounds and even small props recognisable, whilst being incongruous enough to not be overbearing when focusing on characters and props is necessary.

The series also marks Amagakure’s first attempt at writing for the seinen genre [with the majority of her works being mainly of the shonen ai or outright Yaoi genre] however to be honest reading this I really couldn’t tell – the writing and characters never showed any trace of her previous yaoi influences – indeed if I hadn’t researched her work I wouldn’t have even know!

Coming back to the food – think the food looks enticing? Fancy trying to make it yourself? No problem! – The recipes for all the meals, which are described in detail throughout each of the chapters, also come with a detailed summary for easy reference at the end of each chapter.

Obviously there are those for whom the prospect of a series based around food and child raising will sound less than appealing and to be honest this series will never be for you. Also don’t expect shouseki no souma levels of food orgams – all the meals are realistic in preperation, appearance and in taste.

For everyone else I definitely recommend this series – grubs up!

Sweetness and Lightning is currently available to read digital via Cunchyroll’s manga streaming section, with the option to buy to own [again digitally] via Amazon kindle, Ibooks, Nook, Kobo and Amazons comixology site.

For those of you pining for a more traditional paper copy though fear not as kodansha USA will be issuing a physical release, With Volume 1 being released in July to tie in with the upcoming Anime adaptation.

Confessions of a Texan in Tokyo

Confessions of a Texan in Tokyo cover

In lieu of a rich sugar-mummy, or a win on the lottery, my main source of life in Japan has been following the many blogs and vlogs of foreign residents living in and experiencing that far away country, with one of my favourites being American born Grace Buchele – Mineta and her Japanese husband Ryosuke Mineta’s “Texan In Tokyo” Youtube series and blog site that covers their life and times as a multinational couple living in Japan.

Its the later writings and 4 panel cartoons that have been gathered together over the last 2 years and published as a series of books with this, “Confessions of a Texan in Tokyo”, being her third release.
As with her previous work [ and a definite boon for anyone coming into her work for the first time with this volume] the book starts with a basic introduction of grace and Ryouske [ and Graces imaginary friend Marvin, who serves as one part graces sounding board, one part straight man].

Interspersed throughout the 4 panel comics are some of her writings from her Texan in Tokyo blog [and her posts from both gaijinpot and Metropolis Magazine] which cover a wide number of subjects from the serious [ like how she manages negative feedback to her posts, and how her health prevents her ability to ] to the informative [want to know what a Tsundoku suru hito is? How to live in Tokyo on a budget?which street light colour means go?] to the insightful [how grace dealt with culture shock while living abroad] all of which are written with a clear sense of knowledge and experience that you don’t get from a quick wikipedia search.
comic 1

So are there there any faults to this release? well the art style, while legible and entertaining might not be to very-ones cup of tea. Also, apart for the posts about negative posts, the book never really goes into the dark side if you will about life as a foreigner living In Japan – and im sure they have experienced their fair share – instead simply writing about the generally lighter side of their life and times.
There is also the fact that, as the majority of these posts and comics have been published online [either on her Texan in tokyo blog or on both the aforementioned gaijinpot and Metropolis Magazine’s own website], that your affectively paying for free content – however as neither websites contain a complete collection of her work and not all of them have been published in book format as yet [this and her previous 2 collections being more of a “best of” of her work so to speak] it could be argued that this is an easier way of seeing them all them in one place.

So have I tempted you? Or made you at least curious about her? then your in luck as Grace has, as a promotion of this new book, arranged so that from the 21st to the 23rd of this month it’ll be free to download from Amazon, with a physical release available afterwards

ryouske and grace