Archive for the ‘Wilma Jandoc’ Category

May the Triforce be with us

October 29th, 2014
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Blogs are wonderful things. Most of the ones associated with the Star-Advertiser, including this one, are informational. Which is great, but it would be a shame, really, to limit it to that. Because here, we can talk about whatever (almost). We can be informal. We don't need to adhere to strict grammar rules or AP style. And it certainly has been some time since we here at Otaku Ohana have just, well, shot the breeze.

So that's what this post is about.

Well, not completely. It's more like me going on very long ramblings about video games, because this is probably the best place for me to ramble about them. So if that's not what you're here for, and you just want to pass on by, then I'll understand.

Feel like entering the possibly rough currents of my stream-of-consciousness typing? Then read on, intrepid adventurers...

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Layton in another light: Enter the "Mystery Room"

October 16th, 2013
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Layton Brothers Mystery Room title screen

Today’s profile: Layton Brothers Mystery Room
Publisher: Level-5
Platform: Apple iOS (reviewed), Android
ESRB rating: N/A (but suitable for ages 12 and up)

By now it's pretty well established that we -- and by that I mostly mean "I," although tag-team partner in fandom Jason Y. is certainly no stranger to the games, either -- are huge fans of the Professor Layton and Ace Attorney (aka Phoenix Wright) series of games. So much that there was much crying (on my part) when the second Miles Edgeworth Investigations game was not released in the U.S., and much disdain (on many fans' parts) when gaming website Kotaku revealed the reason for that. There was equally much tearing of hair as Capcom remained noncommittal about the release prospects for Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney, the Nintendo 3DS game that pretty much is what the title says.

Fans such as myself might be eased somewhat in their pain with the recent release of the game Layton Brothers Mystery Room. As I commented to Jason while I was immersed in the first case, I felt like I was indeed playing a crossover of Layton and Ace Attorney. The caveat? It's only for the iOS. Yes, only for Apple mobile devices, only for the iPhone and iPad.

(At least, it was so at the time I wrote this part of my review, which, admittedly, was back in July. Now, however, being that Mystery Room was recently released for Android devices, that's kind of a moot point. But bear with me and my fangirl pain for at least the next few paragraphs.)

I will skip over the many exclamations of disbelief I used when I was made aware of that fact. Because, sadly, I have no such device. And I have no plans to buy one. Although, being as Layton- and AA-starved as I was, I had to admit I was teetering dangerously toward getting one. So much that I had to warn my husband (who is a rather staunch non-Apple user, but please don't comment on that) of the possibility.

So how, one may ask, could I have been playing the game if I don't have an iOS device? Simple: I had to beg Jason to borrow his. (I had actually been borrowing it for a different game; the release of Mystery Room was unexpected and caught me off guard. And I'm sure my fevered, delirious chats to Jason once I found out about it caught HIM off guard, as well.) He walked me through the steps of downloading and installing and BAM! I was soon back in the world of Layton.

Well, not really.

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Tezuka's "Barbara": Much madness makes divinest sense

July 5th, 2013
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barbara cover

Today’s profile: Barbara (one volume, complete)
Author: Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Digital Manga Publishing
Suggested age rating: Mature 18+
Availability: In print & readily available

Like many manga artists, Osamu Tezuka is enjoyed in the U.S. mainly for his lighthearted fare. And once artists become known for one genre or another, it becomes exceedingly difficult to publish others of their works that don't exactly fall into that widely accepted category.

Barbara is one of those Tezuka works that U.S. publisher DMP wanted to take a chance on. So using the crowdfunding website Kickstarter, the company garnered a good bit of support to bring out the 430-page manga in English.

After I finished the book, it was easy to see why DMP needed to go the crowdfunding route. On the back cover, the description reads, in part, "Barbara may be Tezuka's most psychological and unsettling work, shattering the fine line between art and madness with masterful precision."

Short response: It is.

I must admit I am not familiar with the bulk of Tezuka's work. I did watch Metropolis, the feature-length anime based on one of his more serious stories, and is a movie I didn't particularly care for. I also know he's done Astro Boy and Atom Cat and Unico and Black Jack, and if those are any yardsticks to measure Tezuka by, then Barbara is certainly a wide deviation from his norm. To give you an idea of how unique this manga is, DMP even released a separate digital companion to Kickstarter backers with an essay dissecting the work, as well as a foreword in the actual book explaining briefly the political and social situation in Japan at the time the manga was originally serialized.

Barbara tells of a famous writer, Yosuke Mikura, who comes across the title character in Shinjuku station. The woman is a stinky, dirty alcoholic, but something about her prompts Mikura to take her home with him. She decides that his apartment isn't such a bad place to hang out, so she settles in and makes herself at home -- especially with the liquor cabinet.

Over the course of the book we see the ups and downs of their strange relationship and the many times Mikura kicks her out for her slovenly ways, then just as readily accepts her back when she predictably shows up at his door again. Even he can't explain why he doesn't give her the boot, considering all the times she's messed something up or how much she's costing him.

The manga is psychologically interesting at first as it delves into the queer mind of Mikura. From the beginning, he can't seem to distinguish between one thing and another, which leads to several bizarre but not completely unexpected twists -- most times Tezuka cleverly provides hints that could point one way or the other depending on how he would have wanted the story to end, or even could have left the ending wide open to discussion. Other times, Tezuka leaves things blatantly ambiguous. It's certainly not a new plot device, but it's always highly effective in dealing that mental blow to the reader.

But then Mikura's obsessions coalesce and center on Barbara, and the manga starts getting less interesting and more just simply crazy. It all comes to a Matrix-like ending that is expectedly a bit sad, but satisfying.

It's the roller-coaster feeling of Mikura and Barbara's relationship, and of Mikura's life overall, that makes this manga difficult to enjoy. And that's not even including the famed author's psychotic-ness in general, with or without Barbara. Many chapters are the same: They start off with a seemingly normal (or at least tangible) situation, then devolve into an insanity that eventually bursts, leaving Mikura to deal with the shock of returning to reality ... or with the haunting realization that he does not know what the reality is.

Add in the drunkard's aggravating personality and deeds that would drive even a saint to slap her upside the head as Mikura often does, and you have a story that's so peculiar that it takes great effort to keep reading -- but at the same time, it drives you to continue on to the end.

Mikura is obviously a tragic character, one for whom a kind of happiness (and perhaps even a bit of sanity) seems as though it could be within reach but then slips from his grasp, one who struggles constantly to chase his desires but never achieves them. And Barbara is the one thing he wants but never truly possesses.

We don't find out what is behind his misogynistic personifications; he just is like that, and in some way that lack of knowledge adds to the tragedy of his life.

The one thing that is sort of explained is Barbara's background, although even that could be just another pretense. That revelation -- and the story's eventual dependence on it -- both add to and take away from the enigma of Barbara herself, even as the story tries maintain her mystery. It also needlessly gives Mikura a reason for going mad, although by that time even we aren't certain what might be witchcraft and what might be the hallucinatory product of Mikuru's fevered brain.

But then, that is probably what Tezuka was aiming for, and in that sense, he's definitely achieved his goal and shows how unhinged Mikura's mind has become. Nearly every chapter had me thinking, "Wow, these people are really messed up." But it also begs the question: Must an artist such as Mikura necessarily go through such madness to create great works?

In many ways, Barbara is not much different from other demented stories. The key to remember is that this manga originally came out in the early 1970s, when far more people would probably have been appalled at the scenarios depicted.

Nowadays, it's not so much the shock of the supposed deviant life of artists that makes this book so disconcerting and fascinating at the same time. What still resonates after all these years is the mental trauma that Mikura is clearly experiencing. For the reader, the true pain is not only seeing Mikura's descent into madness, but also recognizing the inevitability of it.

Still, this is the kind of story that makes you incredibly glad you are sane -- or at least much saner than Mikura -- and, when it's over, immensely grateful that you are merely reading about it from the outside rather than experiencing it firsthand within your own life.

Barbara is a bit too extreme for me, but it is moving and powerful in its portrayals in a disturbing way.

A 'Journey' worth remembering

April 13th, 2013
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journey of heroesToday’s profile: Journey of Heroes
Author: Stacey Hayashi
Illustrator: Damon Wong
Publisher: Self-published
Availability: In print & readily available at www.442comicbook.com and various retailers (refer to this list posted on Facebook)

If you grew up in Hawaii, chances are about 100% that one of things imprinted upon you in school is the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent internment of Japanese-Americans following the attack. And naturally, one of the things you also hear in conjunction with that is about the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Infantry Regiment; how they were composed of all nisei (second-generation Japanese), many of whom were from Hawaii; and how they are among the most decorated units for their size and length of service.

But something that's not often taught in schools -- at least, not in my memory, and I will say that I've been out of high school for many years now -- is what happened in the time between the Pearl Harbor attack and the creation of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team and the days leading up to their entrance into actual combat. It's usually only around the anniversary of "the day that will live in infamy," Dec. 7, when we hold gatherings around the state to honor those who sacrificed themselves, that we hear the tales from the few remaining survivors about the horrors they experienced in the war. And even then, the stories can be few, with many veterans often reluctant to speak of those times.

The slim graphic novel "Journey of Heroes," written by Stacey T. Hayashi and illustrated by Damon Wong, attempts to fill in that gap. And a fine endeavor it is. (It also made me finally understand why the unit is called the "100th/442nd.")

According to a note from the author, Hayashi wanted to tell the story about the nisei units, so she met with hundreds of veterans and gathered their reminiscences with the intent of making them into a movie. Unfortunately, the difficulties of producing a film stood in the way of that project. Fortunately, this 30-page book grew out of it instead.
heroes1_small
"Journey of Heroes" is told in the first person from the perspective of an unnamed nisei soldier. (The stories, however, are based on the experiences of veteran Goro Sumida, a dear friend of Hayashi's who died last October.) It starts off in November 1944 just after the famous Vosges assault in which the 100th/442nd had been ordered to rescue a Texas unit that had become trapped behind enemy lines -- the so-called "Lost Battalion." The nisei units managed to save the Texans after several days of fighting, suffering heavy casualties in the process. And as the remaining men are standing at attention waiting to be recognized for their bravery, the narrator describes what happened up until that point and what will happen in years beyond, switching seamlessly from past to present to future while maintaining a "flashback" mode. It sounds strange as described here, but the device works well.

It's "only" 30 pages, which sounds awfully short for a graphic novel. And in one way it is, but in another way, it's interminably long as you read through the history of the 100th and 442nd, the details that most people don't often get the chance to hear about, of the pain and humiliation and struggle and the differences -- even with each other -- that they had to overcome.
Some 10,000 Japanese-Americans in Hawaii eagerly volunteered for 1,500 available spots in the military
Damon uses the "chibi" -- Japanese for "small," with the connotation of "cute" -- drawing style, one that's often used in Japanese manga. I initially had qualms about it, wondering how such an approach could effectively portray the grueling intensity of war, racism and more. However, I found that the "cuteness" of the people doesn't detract from the emotion that the simply worded narration evokes. Even the use of pidgin English is well placed, serving to show the contrast between the carefree island days and the grimness of war. Married with this are realistic, stylized backgrounds and elements taken straight from history, such as the well-known photograph of the sinking of the USS Arizona; the famous front page of the extra edition of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin declaring war on Dec. 7, 1941; the gates to 'Iolani Palace as the nisei soldiers are given a huge farewell send-off; and even smaller features such as flags, office windows and bunk beds. It all contributes to a tremendous reading experience, and I must admit I didn't expect to be moved as I much as I was when I read the book.

Even now, after having read "Journey of Heroes" multiple times, I still choke up as I can only try to imagine the hell it was. It is intense and emotional in a rather simple way, which easily reaches out and touches the reader. We can't help but share in their pain and feel great respect for the men who came out of it all and did not let the war and racism break them as they continued on with their lives.
heroes4
About half of the book is devoted to the soldiers' battles and the Vosges assault, but what made the most impression on me is the recounting of the time before their deployment to the war zone in Italy. This is the part of their story that we never hear about and that contributes even more to our admiration for them. We are finally taken behind the scenes, beyond the well-publicized heroism, and we see what they went through to even get to the point at which they went to war. We read about the family struggles, about the deep-seated prejudice that went both ways, forcing some Japanese-Americans on the mainland to sneak out so they could start their military careers, sometimes against their loved ones' wishes. We see the culture clashes when the Hawaii men meet up with mainlanders, the tension and conflicts within the units caused by different upbringings. We watch as the Hawaii and mainland soldiers are finally made to realize that it doesn't matter where they come from -- they are all Americans, they are all fighting the same war, and the enemy is not each other.

One thing that stood out at me in the entire manga was something so tiny it was easy to overlook. When discussing the values that Japanese held, the concept of "not bringing shame to the family name" was brought up. It may very well have been this ideal that led the nisei to "go for broke" and achieve more than anyone likely thought they ever would. But also, perhaps it is some kind of "shame," perhaps it is the trauma, that keeps many veterans from speaking -- both of which are understandable, and I know that I would never be able to truly comprehend what they went through that keeps them silent. We are fortunate that so many already are willing to open up and share the experiences that led to the creation of "Journey of Heroes." I hope more veterans of the proud 100th/442nd can overcome those sentiments and share their stories for the next generation and many more beyond.

The only "gripe" I have is that this graphic novel is such a small, thin volume that it could easily be passed over on the bookshelf -- it doesn't even have its name on the very narrow spine. It would be a shame if this very worthy book were lost due to mere slimness of size. I wish Hayashi much luck in raising the support and getting the help she needs to get more books out to students. Her original goal was to split the first print run of 10,000 copies in half, with 5,000 being distributed to students and libraries and another 5,000 being sold to recoup production costs. While that strategy's been a success -- so much so that a second printing's become a possibility -- production logistics are a bit of a concern, as this comment on the book's Facebook page would indicate.

From the once-happy-go-lucky times of prewar Hawaii, to the internment of Japanese-Americans, through the difficulties of finally becoming a true unit, to the Vosges rescue, to the liberation of a Jewish death camp, to the homecoming back in the islands after the war, and beyond -- this graphic novel truly takes us on the "Journey of Heroes."

If you want to learn more about "Journey of Heroes" and are a Star-Advertiser subscriber, please check out Gary Chun's profile from the March 17 issue.


From the Pile: "Absurd" is the word

February 24th, 2013
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Jason's note: From the Pile was supposed to be a semi-regular feature in which we profiled something at random from our large pile of yet-to-be-reviewed anime and manga. Considering the last installment came with Genkaku Picasso back when this blog was regularly updating on the starbulletin.com domain last year, and the last installment before that came with the gawd-awful Master of Martial Hearts aaaaaalllll the way back in 2010, we've kinda abandoned all hope of this being even "semi-regular."  But we still try. Oh, we still try. Anyway, without further ado …

Aron's Absurd Armada coverToday’s profile: Aron's Absurd Armada vol. 1
Author: MiSun Kim
Publisher: Yen Press
Suggested age rating: Older teen 16+
Availability: In print & readily available

Like many other books I get attracted to on a whim, the synopsis of the Korean manwha Aron's Absurd Armada was what drew me in. It seemed like a funny enough series, about the misadventures of a pirate crew under the captainship of one Master Aron, a freewheeling noble who wants to go out and be a pirate because they're "cool." His faithful servant Robin naturally tags along with him to protect him -- because if Aron gets killed, he'll be out of a job, and Robin loves money more than anything.

Along the way they pick up two sailors, Gilbert and Anton, and a mysterious tomboyish girl, Ronnie, who is constantly mistaken as a guy, which provides the fodder for a lot of the jokes. Rounding out the crew is another gender-bender mate, Mercedes the hairstylist, a guy who looks (and acts) like a girl, and "chef" Vincent, whose cooking skills -- or, more accurately, the lack of them -- create concoctions that are probably the most lethal weapon the pirate wannabes have aboard.

You can tell right off the bat that this is going to be one of those series that will live up to its name and makes no bones about it. The character descriptions on the first page, for example, say this about Aron: "He's an immature rascal who drives people up the wall, and he's a stupid dumbass."

After that introduction, I was ready to have a good laugh with what I expected to be a typical manga-style comedy story. But what I found instead is that Armada isn't your usual manga or manwha style; it hews more closely to what's known in Japanese as the 4-koma format. Rather than long-form stories drawn on full pages like regular manga, 4-koma -- an abbreviation of the Japanese term that literally means "4-panel comic" -- is more like the daily newspaper funnies: The strip is divided into four frames and usually ends with a gag.

Because of that, any apparent character development or seriousness during the first three panels is almost immediately wiped away by the silliness of the last panel. There are occasional longer comics that are more in the typical manga format, but even those end just as inanely. At the end of 30 pages, which is as far as I managed to force myself through before tossing the book down in disgust, I wasn't sure if anyone had any "development" at all or if the comics had merely cemented the "Absurd" part of the title.

This steep up-and-down cycle gets stale, extremely annoying and terribly disappointing after just the first few strips. If the technique was meant as a laugh-getter -- hey, here's a totally serious situation but we'll end it on an unexpected ridiculous note because it's FUNNY! -- then it failed miserably. (Actually, after just a few strips, it won't be "unexpected" any more, just exactly HOW it ends will continue to be the surprise.) If the story kept solely to running up the "funny" meter, rather than trying to include some actual development, then Armada might work. Barely.

Adding to the headache is that Kim often squeezes a lot of text and action into the small frames, many of which are divided into even smaller blocks to try to get even more into the story, so the four panels usually turn into six, eight or more. The detailed art style suffers from being squished into such a small space, and a lot of times coherency is sacrificed as well -- at points I struggled to understand the story and which character was saying what.

I read Armada off and on for about a week before I finally gave up. When I opened it up again after a couple of months (because, to be honest, I had nothing else to read and that was the only thing close at hand) and picked up from where I'd left off, I found myself laughing out loud at the gags. But the enjoyment still faded just as quickly as when I'd initially started reading.

So as my experience shows, Armada is one of those books that: 1. grows on you; 2. tickles your funny bone once you understand that it's not a serialized comic; and 3. like anything slapstick, is best in small doses. Emphasis on "small."

Still, in the end, there's only so much I can take, and seeing as this was labeled as volume 1, there's apparently more in store. But my patience and sanity were exhausted by the time I managed to reach the end of the book, and the thought of a "volume 2" and beyond makes my mental faculties scream for mercy. My brain has had all it can handle of Aron's Absurd Armada.