Saturday, July 24, 2010

Chi's Sweet Home Vol. 1

Writing this review has been one of the most difficult tasks I have been charged with. One of my main goals with the U.S. Anime Review is not just to talk about anime and manga but also to talk about how to introduce someone to anime and manga. I understand fully that everyone’s tastes are different and no one is going to like the same thing simultaneously.

Usually when I review something, I am very convicted in my opinions. If I like something and appreciate it then it is quite easy for me to express these views and opinions. Chi’s Sweet Home is one of the newer releases by Vertical Inc., and much like this website, Vertical is more concerned about reaching out to new audiences who may not particularly be a manga fan, than simply pandering to the existing fan base. After much deliberation, I have decided to write this review in sections. These sections will help provide a well rounded scope of what this book contains and can provide to potential readers.

A young stray kitten gets separated from its (feline) family one day. A kind family, the Yamadas, find the kitten and take her home, despite the fact that there apartment complex has a strict “no pets” policy. This volume introduces the kitten, later named Chi, and the Yamadas; as the focus is on their everyday life and the growing up experiences of Chi.

The Facts
Chi’s Sweet Home is presented in full color by Vertical Inc. and it looks amazing. The paper quality and the color palettes match perfectly with the tone of the material. This is a fun light-hearted book that uses author Konami Kanata’s art style to its full potential. The character designs of the human characters are very basic to say the least. Every aspect of the humans is very plain and not exactly what I would call detailed; but the artwork is never ugly. The main focus of this series is of course Chi and she is drawn very nicely. While not realistic is her design, Chi has all the details and nuances of what a great comic feline should have. The author has to be a cat lover because each scenario Chi is placed in is realistic in how it plays out; how a cat plays, potentially thinks, and feels.

Needless to say, Chi is adorable. The design and character of this cat is genetically engineered to be relentlessly adorable and strike the perfect nerve for the target demographic. The translation by Vertical is also pretty top notch. The wording fits perfectly into the English language and never presents an awkward feeling in its flow. The choice to make the vernacular of Chi extremely cutesy is a little less than perfect though. As with Vertical’s release of Black Jack, they use strange spellings to reflect the immaturity and speech nuances of young characters. Chi constantly speaks with this pattern, words such as “pway (play)”, “miulk (milk)”, and “scarewy (scary)” are used to the point of excess. While reading the book if you “speak” the words in your head it is easy to imagine this being animated. You can hear the nuance and it adds to the cute factor ten-fold. However, because it is used so much it can become over bearing and slightly annoying at times. In Black Jack the only character with this translated nuance is Pinoko and she isn’t heavily involved in each story so it is easier to take there; where as here the main focus is Chi and there practically isn’t a single panel that doesn’t at least show Chi.

This is a book that understands its material perfectly and is flawless in how it presents the story. Each chapter is only around eight pages, each making for perfect relaxation material or a great escape when light-hearted super cute is the mood you’re in. Each story gives a believable perspective that makes the series all the more relatable. The way Chi thinks and acts will make anyone who even knows a cat start to wonder if this is what they are really thinking when the cat acts a certain way.

Solid writing with just enough humor make this volume a great start to a series that has a lot of potential to touch hearts and crack smiles the world over.

My opinion
I LOVED this book!! I am a cat person, I have always owned a cat, and I really enjoy just ENJOYING a book every once in awhile; one that doesn’t push the boundaries of my imagination or intellect. I think that it is strange that this is a seinen manga (older men) because this is on the level with any successful children’s book ever created. Being an adult I don’t have an issue with this because I didn’t find the book condescending in any way, it was just simple fun with intelligent writing that really makes each story pop. Also, the fact that my own cat does very similar things as Chi not only makes me wonder about my own cat’s motivations but also connects me closer to Chi and love each chapter even more!

I highly recommend this book to anyone that will enjoy it because I have read this volume twice so far and really enjoy just getting lost in the absolute cuteness of it all. I also feel that Vertical has hit another one right out of the park! Sticking to their guns of not strictly going for the pre-existing manga fan, they present another series for everyone else to enjoy. Like Peepo Choo, which can draw in the sex and violence American comics crowd, Chi has the ability to draw in another crowd. Yes children will love this series, it is a great way to introduce small kids to the world of Japanese comics and possibly make a future convert out of them. Also, I know plenty of adults who either don’t know about anime/manga or straight out don’t like these mediums. However, they love watching videos of animals doing cute things and/or are huge animal/cat lovers. This book is for them. It could very well be a cross over series that can help break down barriers and open up the possibilities of manga in America! The fact that the book if oriented from left to right, as opposed to the traditional Japanese format of right to left, proves that it is this demographic that Vertical is aiming for.

Will pre-existing manga fans love this series? Yes, if this sounds enjoyable to you and you think you would have fun following Chi on her many adventures by all means buy this book! If you are some irrational “purist” who will only read manga in its original right to left format then obviously you won’t pick it up, but you will be missing out of one of the more heartwarming and fun experiences released this year!

That being said…

For everyone else
If you are not a cat lover, if you are not under the majestic spell of cute animals doing cute things…don’t even bother! Not only will you probably hate this book but you might assault however it was that told you this book was great and recommended it to you. If you are not the type of person this book is meant for not only will you not fully enjoy it, or enjoy it at all, but you will probably hate your life while reading it.

It is not a super intense story full of mystery, intrigue, action, and/or mind-bending puzzles. It is intended to be fluff; highly enjoyable fluff if you think this is something you might possibly enjoy. Otherwise, you have been warned! However, if you fit this description and know someone who would enjoy this series, well you already know the best book to recommend.


Take this Kitty home today!!

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High School of The Dead Ep. 1

With the announcement at Anime Expo that Sentai Filmworks will be simulcasting the new series High School of The Dead, I was immediately excited. I make it no secret that I love, and am a complete sucker for, Zombies.

This series is being promoted as a hit even before it aired, with Madhouse animating based on ultra violent manga by Daisuke Satō I can see why! The premise is simple enough; for reasons unknown as of episode 1, zombies have taken over Japan. At the titular high school, Takashi has witnessed the school's first attack at the school gate and immediately takes action. He bursts into a class and grabs his childhood sweetheart, Rei, and her boyfriend, Hisashi, and begins to evacuate the school. The zombies very quickly take over the school leaving the three no choice but to head to the rooftops.

Anyone who knows anything about zombie movies knows that it is never about the zombies. The quality zombie flicks all focus on the survivors and these survivors must be "real" and interesting. H.O.T.D. does just that in its premiere episode. With the focus on Takashi, Rei, and Hisashi we are presented a great window into these characters as their interactions are true and believable despite the madness starting almost immediately.

My only complaint is the fanservice. There is simply too much of it and due to the heavy and extremely violent nature of the show, it is very distracting to the point of not enjoying the show. If the fanservice can stay realistic within the confines of the story, which was only one scene here, it would be just fine and even enhance the show. But instead we get boob jiggles and panty shots to the extreme!

This is an extremely violent, gloriously so, show that is off to a great start with it's premise and character development. Honestly, I cannot wait to see more episodes as I was quickly drawn in and immediately moved to see what happens with the characters. Just lay off the unnecessary fanservice, please!


Watch Episode 1 here!
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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Monster - The group discussion

Thank you for your patience. To reward you we are proud to present a new episode of the U.S. Anime Review!

Download the Episode Here!

On this episode we talk about the importance in supporting the anime/manga industry. Dan talks about a show he recently watched, Kino's Journey, and Chris raves about Giant Killing. Nolan talks about the end of Kenichi and why he hates relationships in anime.

For the main review we talk about Naoki Urasawa's Monster, which I previously reviewed here. For some unknown reason Viz is refusing to release further box sets of what I believe to be the best anime series in recent years. Help support awareness of this anime by listening to our opinions and seeing if the show is right for you, and then buy it!

We wrap things up with a special announcement that you will only know about by listening to the podcasts! Join us next time as we discuss Cowboy Bebop, Until Next Time Space Cowboy...

Buy Monster Box Set 1 Today!

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Peepo Choo Vol. 1

Previously I’ve talked about my thoughts on OEL manga and a great book that transcends the stereotypes and becomes great on its own merits, King of RPGs. This time, I will talk about an American artist who was so good that his work was actually published in Japan, Felipe Smith.

If you can get past any preconceived prejudices that manga has to be “by a Japanese author” and “published in Japan” then Vertical Inc. has just published your favorite new book!

Peepo Choo is a three volume series being released by Vertical throughout 2010. The basic premise follows as such: Meet Milton, a self proclaimed Otaku who loves anything and everything about Japan; especially the anime series Peepo Choo (say it slowly and it is quite clear what Felipe Smith is parodying). Milton “works” in a comics and manga shop which is run and operated by Gill, a psychopathic mass murderer who has recently been released from jail.

Meet Takeshi Morimoto, the cruelest, sickest Yakuza gangster I can think of in recent memory. He is the Japanese version of Gill, just a lot smaller and sadistic in his mannerisms. Meet Reiko, a smoking hot 17-year-old model who is rougher around the edges than a rusted razor blade. What do all of these characters have to do with each other? They inhabit and fill the world of Peepo Choo with exquisite color and depth despite the horrific circumstances of which they intertwine.

The plot gets moving when Gill is hired to kill someone in Japan. He decides to hold a “Win a Trip to Japan” contest at the comics shop to create an alibi. Milton “wins” the contest with a little help from Jody, the anti-nerd, super sex obsessed clerk of the comic store who simply hopes that Milton’s “knowledge” of Japan can help him get laid.

Much of this volume is spent introducing the characters and presenting the world and all its idiosyncrasies. While many series do this in the first volume, Peepo Choo never threatens to become boring. With hyper-stylized sex and gloriously gratuitous violence we are ushered into a world in which we are simultaneously interested and enthralled with as well as completely terrified of! The opening pages, presented in expertly rendered color, introduce Gill as he rampages and completely decimates a small gang in the projects of Chicago. There are no sly tricks of the “camera” to suggest the violence; it is laid out for the entire world to see. The level of violence is something I am more familiar with in American graphic novels, such as the work of Frank Miller and Garth Ennis. The same thing goes for the sex; the book never reaches the level of pornography but is quite frank in how it depicts sex.

The thing about the sex and violence that I found interesting was that, while in great excess, never seems forced or unwanted. These scenes always enhance the narrative to allow the reader a better understanding of the characters involved. One of my biggest gripes is unnecessary scenes that do not move the plot forward or give character development, they just exist as fan service.

As an anime and manga fan I found it quite easy to relate to both the main character, Milton, and the author. For many years the anime/manga fandom was presented with the idea of “Cool Japan”. Almost everyone at some point builds high expectations for Japan based off of the entertainment we consume. Milton goes so far as to detest his life in America because he must act a certain way which is completely contrary to who he feels he is as a person. Milton feels that he should have been born in Japan.

The ways in which Felipe Smith develops the story makes me feel as if he once thought like Milton. Once he got his wish and visited Japan the realities hit, and I am sure they hit hard. Peepo Choo is more a chronicle of disillusionment and the journey to find our place in life more than it is about the story it presents. Certain scenes, such as Milton performing the Peepo Choo dance in Japan as a greeting, are so realistic in their depictions because the characters have so much depth that we, the readers, know exactly how they think and how they feel.

The gritty world of Japan, the false promises of anime like Peepo Choo (super cute and cuddly with a glowing display of happiness and universal peace in Japan), and the realistic depictions of characters of different creed and disposition really make you realize that what we see as the world in our backyard, is the world. The grass is never greener and maybe you really are better off right where you are.

There are still some mysteries to be revealed which has me begging for the rest of the series’ immediate release; but with Volume 1, Peepo Choo gives us something that we can revisit and dig through to find more subtleties in Smith’s art and message. Plus, it is one hell of a ride that action, violence, drama, and comedy junkies can return to again and again. The simple entertainment value is one that is not often matched. Many series require you to become a fan to enjoy repeated visits; Peepo Choo makes you a fan immediately. Even if you don’t become a fan there is something compelling and dark that urges you to revisit multiple times.

Note to the wise: Peepo Choo is rated 18+ and is shrink wrapped. This is wholly justified but then again, kids aren’t the ones who will pick this up. Peepo Choo is a bonafide cross over hit with Americans of all classifications. American comic fans should be sure to pick this up because is it not just manga, but it is manga that sympathizes and show the reasons why Comic fans hate manga. This is American art with Japanese storytelling conventions melded to a consumable art that can cross boundaries and introduce members of both fandoms to what lies on the other side.

Felipe Smith has created a masterpiece that I see sitting on the shelves next to The Watchmen and Preacher as well as a Kazuo Koike series and Monster.


Buy  Peepo Choo Volume 1 today!

Thanks to Ed Chavez of Vertical Inc. for providing this review copy.

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