Categories
Manga

Sensor: Review

An advanced reader’s copy of this book was provided by Netgalley and Viz Media in exchange for an honest review.

Like many of Junji Ito’s works (Tomie and Remina in particular), Sensor is primarily about a character who is fascinated with a young woman who is herself surrounded by supernatural events that she seems to be connected to in some way. In Tomie, this takes the form of harm befalling those who the titular character encounters and harm befalling Tomie at the hands of the men who she charms. Remina meanwhile follows a girl who becomes the object of obsession with everything after having a planet named after her by her father, something which eventually leads to said planet destroying the earth in an effort to be closer to her.

Sensor, meanwhile, has Kyoko Byakuya, a young woman who feels drawn to Mount Sengoku, a dormant volcano. While there she meets a man who somehow knows everything about her. The man tells her that, thanks to the angelic hair that coats his entire village of Kiyokami, he and the other residents are granted telepathic abilities. The villagers believe that the hair (which they call “amigami”) is the hair of a Christian missionary named Miguel who long ago was put to death along with the villagers who harboured him for refusing to renounce their faith. Each night, the villagers stare up at the sky and use their powers to gaze into the cosmos in order to see Miguel. 

That night, Kyoko joins them and a large amount of amigami reigns down and enhances the villagers’ powers, causing them to sense a mysterious black entity instead of Miguel.

Hair everywhere in Sensor

60 years later, Mount Sengoku has erupted for the first time in ages and a team of scientists are investigating the area where Kiyokami was prior to being destroyed in a previous eruption. There they find Kyoko wrapped in a cocoon of golden hair. This discovery sets the rest of the story in motion and introduces the framing device of a reporter chasing after Kyoko, drawn to her much in the same way that she was originally drawn to Kiyokami.

Sensor is not my favourite of Ito’s stories, I find it hard to believe that anything will ever outdo Uzumaki though I absolutely welcome the idea that something one day could. That being said, I appreciate the big ideas Ito is bringing into this, the fact that he’s bringing in esoteric concepts like the Akashic Records (a compendium of everything ever) is awesome and I would love to see more stuff like that in a lot of media, I love esoteric stuff. In general, this book feels more in line with what I like from Ito’s work than the last story of his to be translated into English, Remina, does. Everything just clicks together for me and the imagery just works in a way that Remina didn’t for me. 

I love Ito’s books, I always have and probably always will. I’ve been told on a few occasions that I have more of his books than anyone some of my friends know. It was basically going to be a given that I had some nice things to say about Sensor. That being said, this book is a solid horror story with some great moments and some moments that just don’t work as well as others but all in all, I enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in reading more horror manga or would like to get into reading Junji Ito but is intimidated by his longer books like Uzumaki or Tomie.

Categories
Anime Manga

NARUTO: The Tale of The Utterly Gutsy Anime!

By Dan Avola

“My dream is to be the greatest Hokage! That way, people will stop disrespecting me and start treating me like I’m somebody. Someone important!” – Naruto Uzumaki 

When talking about The Big Three of Anime, you would be remiss if you did not mention Naruto. In today’s pop culture, even those who do not watch anime probably have an idea what you are talking about when you make fun of the kid “naruto running” in gym class, but hey, we don’t judge. I would be lying if I said Naruto was my first anime, like any other nerd growing up in the late 90s/early 2000s, I watched my fair share of Pokemon and Yugioh, but to this day neither of them tell stories that tear at my heartstrings like the ones in Naruto. 

Team 7

I do not want to wander too far into spoiler territory and risk ruining this show for you, but I want to talk just a little bit about the background of the show. Naruto takes place in its own world that does not follow our world’s rules for technology. Electricity exists, but guns do not. Do not think too hard about it. Each nation in this world is protected by a military power made up of Ninja, or Shinobi. And No, I do not mean the sneaky kind. Ninjas in Naruto are more akin to wizards who also know martial arts than someone who wears an all-black jumpsuit and sneaks around. Our hero, Naruto Uzumaki, lives in one of these military towns called The Village Hidden in the Leaves, which translates to Konohakagure, or Konoha for short. At the ripe old age of 12, kids can enroll in the ninja academy…or military school…to begin training to become one of their nation’s ninja. Gotta start ‘em young! It is Naruto’s dream to become the greatest ninja in his village, also known as the Hokage, however, for some mysterious reason, everyone in the village cannot seem to stand our main character. 

Naruto vs Neji during the Chunin Exams

At its surface, you might think Naruto looks like your standard Shonen story about an outcast main character who wants to be the very best like no one ever was….and you would be right. However, the real strength of the show/manga does not lie in just the main story arc alone, but rather in the arcs of its side characters. Sure, just like in your typical coming of age story, the main character goes through hell in order to achieve their goal and become accepted by society.  In this story, however, you also watch society change as a whole in order to become a welcoming place FOR the main character. All of the side characters have their own interactions with Naruto and have their perspective changed, not just because Naruto becomes hella OP, but because they see that the way they initially treated him was actually wrong. There is not only one big arc to follow but a series of little arcs that constantly push the main narrative forward. Each character has their own interactions with Naruto that help make him a stronger ninja, and Naruto helps make each character a better person. Everyone who looked down on Naruto eventually ends up looking up to him and rooting for him. Honestly, I think the viewer also plays the role of one of the town villagers when watching the series. At first Naruto is rash, loud, and annoying, but after enough time watching him grow and overcome every challenge put before him, you cannot help but root for the yellow-haired loudmouth knuckleheaded ninja. You sort of have to admire how little he changes as a person to get those around him to like him. 

Team KaKashi sans Kakashi aka Team Yamato

So, if you are looking to crash through the gate of anime, I can honestly think of no better place to start than with Naruto. It has comedy, flashy fights, compelling characters, and overall just an awesome story. It has its fair share of filler material, and that can easily be avoided due to the internet, but it has been released in its entirety, and for those of you like me, who enjoy watching their TV rather than reading it, has also been fully dubbed. So strap on that headband, learn those hand signs, and grab your shuriken because the Shinobi world awaits!

Categories
Anime Manga

The Run Down on Lupin the Third

Throughout my life, anime has been a somewhat monolithic experience. Frustratingly implacable in some cases and downright uncrackable in others. 

Certain shows still captured my still-developing frontal cortex, thanks to the weaponized delivery system of Cartoon Network’s Toonami and Adult Swim. Shows like Dragon Ball Z and the varying Gundam sagas thrilled and delighted me with their sometimes languishing serialized formats. Bursting up the monotony of summers indoors thanks to piles of VHS tapes and later DVD collections. Forming a sort of pre-binge era where the arcs were allowed to play with a different, but still pleasing and effective new patter.

But my friends and sleepover mates evolved beyond serialization; into longer-form anime and manga. I found myself outside of it all suddenly. Not really knowing where to go next or what to try and devote my precious teenage time to. Sure, I still had the TOMs and whatever Cartoon Network was willing to license, but beyond Bebop (and maybe like, Big O? Or Yu-Yu?) I didn’t really have a show that stood out for me. Not one to really call my “fave” beyond seminal stuff and features.

But then I met a weirdo named Lupin The Third and his band of equally strange (but noble) cohorts in crime. And it was like I saw colors for the first time! Well, at least, the color of jackets, that is.

This leads me to my personal effort for GateCrashers Anime August! A sort of primer/celebration of Monkey Punch’s Lupin The Third! A show and series that means a great deal to me, being a sap who grew up with pulp novels, James Bond, and The Italian Job. I was a WEIRD kid, okay?

But better still Lupin The Third, as a franchise, is pretty accessible! Sectioned off into Parts or “eras”, each with their own strengths and charms! And delineated with the simple visual motif of Lupin’s jacket color changing with each new incarnation! Visual and narrative in-roads easy enough to please even the most discerning of anime neophytes! 

I give you, A Jacket For Every Taste!

For Completionists – Lupin The Third Part I

(The “Green Jacket” Series)

For my money, probably the “purest” translation of Lupin from page to screen and roughshod, but a great place to start, should you want to. 

Animated by the legendary Masaaki Osumi and then later the iconic Hayao Miyazaki, the “Green Jacket” series is less of a story and more of an experience. Introducing viewers to Lupin and his team (along with the doggedly determined Inspector Zenigata)  for the first time, this series comes across a touch blocky if only because of its focus on its Bondian elements. Lupin and his crew are still criminals, but they are locked in a sort of ongoing battle with the nefarious SCORPION; a SPECTRE-like organization that wishes to kill Lupin and his crew in order to take the scores they would leave in wake of their deaths. 

The end results and episodes can feel a little scattered. As well as needlessly cruel and antagonistic, as, like its inspiration, Lupin is not a particularly heroic or warm character here (much like the Bond of the books wasn’t the version that translated to the screen). BUT, despite the push and pull from the series’ structuring, the plots and charm of the franchise still shine through. Coupled with some truly impressive animation, even from the early era and starting talents of it’s creatives.

A rough start, maybe, but a worthy one all the same!

 For Traditionalists – Lupin The Third Part II

(The “Red Jacket” Series)

The “Red Jacket” series is what most people think of when it comes to Lupin The Third. And for good reason too!

Serving as the second adaptation of Monkey Punch’s manga alongside its introduction to overseas audiences, thanks to its inclusion in the Toonami/Adult Swim rotation, the “Red Jacket” series finds the show shoring itself up both narratively and tonally. Alongside finding a whole new audience of fans.

Lupin and his gang are now fully leaning toward being “gentleman thieves”. Each episode serves as a mini heist film, complete with its own specific loot for that story. Better still, the sort of Ian Fleming-Esque globe-trotting of the first series is also improved, whisking Lupin and his team to all sorts of real-life locations and folding their visual flavor into each story in turn.

The tone of the “Red Jacket” episodes are, admittedly, pretty broad. Here a lot of the risque comedy and sexual innuendo of the manga are amplified for animation and through the voice cast (both in the subs and dubs of these episodes). It can make the stories seem cartoonish (I am so sorry) and theatrical, which can naturally be a turn-off for most viewers.

But the action plotting, score, and near-constant energy of the “Red Jacket” series cannot be denied. If you were looking for a breezy, consistently watchable way to get into this franchise the “Red Jacket” era is precisely the speed you wanna go. (Just expect a LOTTA jokes about boobs and butts). 

For Decontructionalists – Lupin The Third Part V: Misadventures in France & The Woman Called Fujiko Mine

(The “Blue Jacket” & “No Jacket” Series)

Two of the most “modern” inclusions in this piece, but two of the absolute best things of Lupin The Third I have ever seen.

Framed basically as soft reboots of the franchise, both Part V and The Woman Called Fujiko Mine have very different takes on Lupin but stand wonderfully with one another as “Prestige Cable” versions of the same characters.

Part V is clearly “What if Lupin and his friends operated in the world of Mission: Impossible?”. Presented as a cocksure, but lawfully chaotic bandit, Lupin and his gang now have to deal with a world overrun by technology, sectioned off in two-to-three episode mini-arcs. A sort of Silk Road-like drug outfit has been cornering the black markets, hidden behind the work of a now-infamous, but rarely seen hacker mastermind. Lupin has a simple plan on how to disrupt that. Steal the hacker.

What follows is a sumptuous animated, shockingly heartfelt exploration of Lupin and his gang, who are pushed further and further into positions of being the moral protagonists of increasingly murky stories. Even more, interestingly, the scripts consistently fold commentary on technology, personal autonomy, and war profiteering into the stories, taking Lupin and his friends across several entertaining arcs, taking them all over the globe. Also, there is an episode about Goemon going to a comic con.

The Woman Called Fuijko Mine takes this “Prestige” approach and just runs the fuck away with it. Barely featuring Lupin AT ALL and instead focusing on breakout co-star, Fujiko Mine, this “alternate history” on Lupin just really goes for it.

Just a word of warning, however, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is a long way away from the hijinks based action of the “Red Jacket” series or even, really, Part V. It’s scripts are filled with stark depictions of violence and sexual situations that puts it more in line with The Sopranos than it does a regular “action-movie anime”.

But using that honed edge of adult drama, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine launched a whole ass separate “universe” of Lupin stories, sustained by follow-up series and features based on the tone set by The Woman Called. A universe where the co-stars admirably stepped into the roles of stars and carried on their perfect backs tremendously entertaining stories of crime, betrayal, and blood throughout the lives of professional thieves and assassins. 

The best part about all of this? This is barely even SCRATCHING THE SURFACE of the delights Lupin The Third can offer as a franchise.

There are a number of other shows, feature films, and even video games, offering up all manner of crafty and endlessly watchable crime yarns out there. Yarns like the now seminal Castle of Cagliostro (Miyazaki’s directorial debut!), the visually gorgeous CG animated Lupin III: The First (recently released in theatres overseas), and even stories in which he faces off against a legendary gumshoe (Lupin Vs. Detective Conan!) and even HIMSELF! (Green Vs. Red).

There is no wrong way to get into Lupin The Third so we here at GateCrashers wanted to give you a map to use however you wanted.

Treasures lie at the end of whatever path you take. Just make sure you hang onto them. Because once Lupin and the gang come around, they may lift them (and your heart) and you’ll never see them again.

Until Next Time,

Categories
Anime Manga

MHA Dabi: Gifted Kid Burnout

by Salem @cicada_cryptid

My Hero Academia has taken the manga reading and anime watching community hostage, having approximately 30 million copies of its manga in circulation as of January 2021, and with its anime adaptation still airing its popularity is sure to continue climbing. Much of its popularity comes from fans who love the fantastical characters created by Kōhei Horikoshi, and it’s not hard to get why, a relatable main character with a slew of side characters that sweep across the personality spectrum, anyone who watches the series (or reads it) is bound to find a character that they enjoy, and with the screen time devoted to each character there’s no shortage in seeing your favorite in action. So why has a villain character that’s been kept mostly a mystery grabbed the attention of the ever-growing fanbase, a character with less screen time than most of the other villains no less? Is it his cool attitude? Is it his simple emo-Esque costume?

Throughout my time as a fan of My Hero Academia I’ve always seen posts online of fans gushing about the character of Dabi. A villain with a unique flame quirk, much like another fan-favorite Todoroki, with the exception being his flames were blue. Even when I was a reader had not been introduced to Dabi as a character I already kind of liked him. All of this talk about Dabi came to a head for me personally when Ryan Stegman the artist for such titles as Superior Spider-Man, Venom, King in Black, and Uncanny Avengers drew a cover for the french edition of the manga in September of 2020.

(Ryan Stegman’s Dabi and Shigaraki)

Recently I saw a trend with all of the Dabi love and Dabi fan accounts that I was seeing, many of “his” fans were around my age, around 18 to 21. This conclusion led me to more questions, ‘why were people around my age liking this character so much?’ The answer lies in a lot of our childhoods, much like Dabi’s own motivations.

(The rest of this piece contains spoilers for chapter 290 of the My Hero Academia manga. As of writing this piece these chapters have not been adapted into the anime.)

“Gifted kid burnout,” a very real phenomenon has really taken control over my generation and many others. What is it? Well, in layman’s terms it’s a fixed mindset that has been instilled in a lot of us since we first entered school. Expectations placed upon us that frankly, a lot of us couldn’t keep up with. This gifted kid program was meant to help us find out potential and hopefully achieve that full potential, the actual reality is much less cheerful. A lot of gifted kids have grown up anxiety-ridden and depressed simply because we weren’t able to meet expectations. So, I’m sure you’re wondering just what this little info dump has to do with Dabi? Well, simply put, Dabi is a gifted kid, and much like the rest of us, he wasn’t able to meet the expectations put onto him by his father, pro-hero Endeavor.

If you’re not caught up with the manga of My Hero Academia Dabi’s mysterious backstory was finally revealed to the readers, Endeavor, and Shoto Todoroki all while in the cataclysmic battle between Shigaraki and the League of Villains and the pro-heroes joined by members of the UA hero program. Dabi’s real name is Toya Todoroki, a reveal so dramatic it would make any theatre kid blush. However, it’s his history that makes him so relatable to the now-grown gifted kids.

Toya, much like his brother Shoto, was born as a result of Endeavor’s vain goal to usurp All Might, and such a lot of pressure was placed on him from a young age. His quirk was similar to Endeavor’s being able to wield and create fire, unfortunately, his mixed quirk also made him vulnerable to his own flames, as his mother quirk allowed her to control ice, because of that Toya was simply unable to keep up with his father’s expectations of him. (See where I’m going here?) Toya, a child who just wanted his father to be proud of him kept going and kept trying until one day in an incident with his quirk he was thought dead. He almost literally experienced burnout. (Side note: wouldn’t that have been a wicked villain name for Dabi?)

Burnout and its effects are growing more and more common in today’s culture and to see a character like Dabi rise from that burnout to his own kind of success is really nice to see. That’s why so many people relate so hard to him. He had his burnout and has come back stronger, and besides the fact that he’s literally a serial killer, his endgame of sorts honestly has a hint of heroic ambition in it.

As we all know Dabi’s joining of the League of Villains was prompted by the Hero Killer: Stain, and his vision for a world with true heroes, and when we hear and understand what Stain wants one could make the argument of Stain technically being a hero. When Dabi broadcasted to all of Japan just what kind of person Endeavor was you could make the argument that he did so to protect Japan from the Endeavor that he and his family know.

When you look at Dabi’s actions in that way it’s hard not to see the conclusion. Dabi is trying to be a hero. Kids who experienced burnout at a young age are still trying to fulfill their dreams, seeing a character experience that, and still be able to somewhat do it, even if it is in a different way than originally intended. Dabi does see himself as a hero and the best way to understand that comes from the classic line from 2008’s The Dark Knight “not the hero we deserve, but the one we needed.” 

Dabi represents what a lot of ex-gifted kids see in themselves, and yeah maybe it is a little weird to relate to a fictional serial killer with an insane amount of daddy issues, (but seriously it’s only weird if someone related to him because he’s a serial killer,) but his story is pretty much a more dramatic retelling of gifted kids’ childhood. Obviously, not all of us had abusive fathers or faked our deaths, but we can relate to a character who is going through an extreme version of what happened in our own lives. Seeing that fear of failure in young Toya’s eyes really brings me back to when I was afraid to try new things because of that fear of failure. The legit fear of disappointing my mom when I brought back a test that I got a C on.

Categories
Anime Manga

How to Get Into One Piece

by Christian Thrailkill

So! You want to get into One Piece, the most successful manga of all time, and one of the most successful book series in history. Let’s get this out of the way: if you’re a new reader, it can be intimidating to try and get into One Piece. Having run consistently for 24 years, there are currently 1022 chapters of One Piece. Anyone telling you that’s a breeze to get through is patently lying to your face. The anime is just as daunting a challenge, currently sitting at 985 episodes. Simply put, there are very few convenient means of catching up.

Before attempting to read or catch up to One Piece, I would like to offer two pieces of advice. Firstly, read or watch at your own pace. This series has been going on for 24 years and will be going on for years to come. There is no rush, so read at your own pace of enjoyment. Secondly, It’s okay to not like it and stop! You should never feel forced to complete a series you don’t like. Reading and watching stories are ultimately about enjoying the tale being told. If you aren’t, there is no shame in just stopping.

Now that the caveats are out of the way, let’s get into it!

Luffy from One Piece from early in the anime

The simplest method of getting into One Piece is to simply start at chapter one. One Piece is incredibly consistent in quality and has its trademark blend of slapstick humor, character focus, and dynamic action from the very start. All the hallmarks of the series that will indicate to you if you’ll enjoy One Piece or not are readily apparent early on. The second reason to recommend starting at chapter one is that unlike other popular comics such as Superman or Batman, One Piece narratively functions as an epic, in the vein of Lord of The Rings or Game of Thrones. While not immediately apparent, every chapter, moment, and panel serves a larger narrative purpose. It’s quite common for off-handed comments or brief scenes to become pivotal to the plot hundreds of chapters later. While this makes the reading of One Piece incredibly rewarding for long-time readers, it also is a very real barrier to entry. The first 100 chapters of the series function as a prelude, for Pete’s sake!

With that in mind, If you’re looking for just an abbreviated retelling of early One Piece, look to my second recommendation: The “Episode Of” TV Specials. These are movie-length adaptations of the early sagas of One Piece to catch up fans who haven’t been reading the series for decades. The general narrative structure of One Piece is that every 100 or so chapters constitute a “saga”, with 3 or 4 smaller story arcs telling an overarching narrative. Each of these “Episodes” will retell the highlights of the 100+ chapters in order to help you catch up to the present-day story. This is something I’d recommend for children who are curious about what happened previously in One Piece, or adults who don’t have the time to invest that they might have had when they were younger. The tradeoff, however, is losing much of the climactic catharsis that comes with having 100 or so chapters to add in character depth and emotional stakes.

One of the ships belonging to the Straw Hats

My third recommendation for getting into One Piece is to try one of the One Piece Movies! There are currently 14 movies, and most of them capture the strengths of the series, such as incredibly detailed worldbuilding, engaging characters, and a sense of adventure and wonder. The movies Strong World, Film Z, Gold, and Stampede, in particular, were produced with direct creative input by the mangaka of the series, Eiichiro Oda. The English dubs of the movie are very well done as well, so there’s no pressure to watch the original Japanese either! My personal favorite is Gold, which is a pastiche of casino heist films like Oceans’ Eleven.

The fourth recommendation I have for new One Piece fans is to literally just jump into the current arc of One Piece. I started following One Piece in the middle of the Marineford Saga, which is the One Piece equivalent of Avengers: Infinity War. Thankfully, the story is so engrossing that it didn’t matter that I didn’t have the previous 500 chapters of context; I was immediately invested. The current Wano arc serves as the climax to the last 400 or so chapters of the series and is easily among the most entertaining and engaging One Piece sagas even without context. It’s worth diving in the deep end sometimes!

The final and the least recommended method is to seek out the famous anime fan edit One Pace. Due to the unique situation of being consistently on Japanese broadcasting for twenty years, the One Piece anime mutated from being a well-paced adaptation to one of the most infamously plodding anime in history. Episodes that used to cover 2-3 chapters of material now average covering around ¾ths of a chapter. The One Pace edit seeks to rectify this pacing issue by removing many of the padding tricks and cutting down 985 episodes into a significantly more manageable 415 episodes. This makes the anime still a major time commitment, but one you’ll save weeks of time on compared to the real thing. This is not an officially licensed or sanctioned edit, however. If you can support the official release, I highly encourage that over One Pace.
Overall, there are many of getting into One Piece, but few that are quick and easy. If you do decide to take the time to read or watch the series, however, you will be rewarded with one of the richest, most fully realized stories ever put to page. One Piece is a serious contender for being the greatest comic book series ever made and is an engrossing adventure epic worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as The Odyssey, The Mahabharata, or The Lord of The Rings. If that’s something that intrigues you, climb aboard and set sail into one of the great works of fiction!

Categories
Anime Manga

Watching Anime as a Queer Adult: Yu Yu Hakusho and the Soft Boy

By Pat Dickerson.

I grew up in a house that watched a lot of television. It was a family affair, so my T.V. viewing consisted of the ABC dramas that defined television in the mid-to-late-2000s. Not having much of a cultural reference for anime, when I did watch animated programs, it was usually American content, such as SpongeBob SquarePants, much to the dismay of my father who did not understand why I would spend my time watching “dumb cartoons.” And sure, I would occasionally watch the shows in the Toonami block, but not with much regularity. My only exposure to anime was through other means: the Pokémon video games or the Yu-Gi-Oh trading card game, staples of almost any kid growing up in the 2000s.

         Somehow, my friends never learned about my great failing when it came to anime. All my life, I was surrounded by peers who watched anime, read manga and were fully engaged in this cultural landmark. And yet, I personally had only watched a few episodes of some anime. Then one day, my boyfriend (now fiancé) sheepishly asked if we could give My Hero Academia a shot. He, of course, had watched anime his whole life, but was worried that I would judge him for being a “weeb”. However, I was happy to watch something new, plus My Hero Academia was on Hulu, so it was easy to watch. And so began my foray into anime.

         My Hero Academia is a genuinely great time. Its cast of characters, despite being insanely powered, were fun and relatable. The story is engaging and the animation is incredible. But in a media environment that has an abundance of superhero stories, it felt like another, albeit unique and very good, superhero universe. Its ease of entry and fast-paced storylines made it easy to catch up on all episodes that had been released.

         In December 2019, when I mentioned to my friends I was watching my first anime, they were astounded. Kate couldn’t believe it. Bernadette had known me for almost a decade and had no idea that I never engaged with anime. Amanda insisted that I had to set aside all other tv watching plans, and get started on rectifying this immediately. I was given express instructions to go on Hulu and start watching Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files right away. I was a little hesitant to start this show because it premiered in Japan in 1992; I was worried it was going to be dated, with cliches and characterizations that we had long moved beyond. I thought it would be like when you show someone your favorite movie from growing up, just to realize in horror that you only love it because it was an integral part of your childhood.

         But oh boy was I wrong. If you have ever watched Yu Yu Hakusho, then you know what I’m talking about. It was obvious right from the opening arc that these were characters that I was going to become obsessed with. They were troubled but loyal; strong, but caring, and solitary, but most powerful when they were with their friends. I couldn’t peel myself away from the screen. As I watched, I was updating my friends with such regularity that they created a whole new channel on our Discord server to discuss anime.

         I knew that something exciting was happening when my friends all started eagerly telling me about how thrilled they were for me to meet Hiei and Kurama, two demons who team up with delinquent humans Yusuke Urameshi and Kazuma Kuwabara; Amanda (of GateCrashers fame) let me know Kurama is “the softest, most tortured boy.” They were so happy that I got to experience this show for the first time. And slowly, but surely, I began to realize why anime was so important to them.

Soft and Tortured

As a queer man, something that I never really saw in media growing up was male characters like me. And while there were very few openly queer characters on my television, the depiction, in general, of men in American media was problematic as well. Television shows portrayed a sense of manhood that was rigid and often toxic. Male characters were aggressive, rude, gross, and misogynistic. Even in a show like Futurama, one of my favorite shows and one which features strong female characters, characters like Fry and Bender would spend entire episodes treating women poorly or refusing to understand their own emotions and engage in emotional labor.

Anime is not perfect, of course. There are continuing problems with the representation of queer individuals in many different manga and anime. It is not uncommon for a queer-coded character to be the villain, such as Sesshomaru and a number of others in Inuyasha. There is also plenty of queerbaiting, with many queer-coded characters being shoehorned into heterosexual relationships at the end of a series (for example, Ayo in Fruits Basket). But, on the other hand, Yu Yu Hakusho featured an openly queer character in a 1995 episode. This character, Itsuki, was a villain, but he was not just queer-coded; he was openly queer and openly expressed his love.

But while there were not queer heroic characters, there was something just as important happening while I watched Yu Yu Hakusho: I came across four very different men who not only felt their emotions and supported one another but turned those emotions into real, tangible power. Kurama was always soft of course, a dutiful son dedicated to protecting his ailing mother from those who were threatened by Kurama’s demon power. Hiei was dark and brooding, dedicated to obtaining more power and revenge despite the cost to his own health. And Kuwabara was already revealed from the start as a loyal friend and brother-in-arms, despite his hoodlum reputation.

But Yusuke had a harder time with his emotions, with a troubled home environment and a lack of support in school that led him to often act only for himself. He is also a creep, often crossing boundaries with his romantic interest, Keiko. However, once Yusuke became a spirit detective after a surprisingly selfless brush with death and began working with our other heroes, he started to soften too. Yusuke begins to see his colleagues as his friends and even starts to show more respect for the women in his life, including Botan, Keiko, and even his mother, despite her poor parenting.

The importance of his new companions became fully realized during the Dark Tournament arc, a marathon 40+ episode storyline. In the final match of this fight-to-the-death, Yusuke and friends find themselves at a severe disadvantage against the villain Toguro’s team. It is not until Kuwabara, his former rival and now best friend pretends to sacrifice himself does Yusuke gain access to a power source he did not know he had. This intense spiritual energy was unlocked by watching harm come to the friends that had become his found family. He allowed his emotions to take over and, through tears, avenged Kuwabara’s apparent death.

Yusuke vs. Toguro

I had officially been introduced to the “soft boy”. These shōnen leads were so different from the men who led American stories. There was an emphasis put on duty and honor, loyalty and devotion, and even emotional depth. And these characters could be funny, they could be strong, and they could also be emotional. They countered much of the toxic masculinity I had experienced my whole life, growing up in the Atlanta suburbs. They showed me that there were male characters out there that could feel how I felt.

Japan is a collectivistic society, almost opposite to the individualistic society of the United States. A collectivistic society is one where the people are dedicated to supporting the community as a whole for the betterment of everyone, where individualistic societies are focused on the success and independence of oneself. This translates in media to very different archetypes for male characters in particular: American television shows have characters that usually adhere to a strict, dangerous version of masculinity. However, in anime, male leads are often intelligent, dedicated to a cause, and loyal to a fault. Their emotions make them smarter and more powerful. Their friends, teammates, and countrymen work together to achieve their goals and protect their community.

It turns out this is a common theme. In shōnen from Naruto to Demon Slayer, we see these soft boys. Inuyasha, Naruto, Tanjiro, and Deku all get more powerful as they protect their friends and access their emotions. As I watched more and more anime, I realized that Yusuke was not an exception, but the rule.

I think what stood out to me the most about Yu Yu Hakusho was the genuine connection that developed between Yusuke, Kuwabara, Hiei, and Kurama. Queer people in the United States and around the world often find themselves on their own, alienated from their families and their communities because of who they are. Without support, it becomes necessary for queer people to create families of their own. These new families become safe havens that allow for a level of emotional support that many of them have never had before. These families held the queer community together during the AIDS epidemic and help queer youth escape homelessness and poverty. These communities are often much different from the individualistic tendencies of the most American aspects of our society.

Yusuke and his pals fought for each other would have died for each other and were there for each other when it got to be too much. I think about my friends who have become my family and support network. I’m not fighting demons, and I don’t shoot spirit energy out of a finger gun, but I would do anything for them. I would risk life and limb. I have cried about all of them. I have become stronger because of their presence. And being willing to access my emotions and share them openly has made me a stronger person.

A nice family portrait

I bottled up my emotions for so long. I was always afraid to show others what I was truly feeling. I was worried about being perceived as too gay or not manly enough. As I entered into a long-term relationship with my fiancé, my emotions came flooding out. I thought something was wrong with me. I was so worried that these emotions were unhealthy. But then I started watching anime, and I realized that I wasn’t the one who was wrong. Our society and its disdain for male emotions was unhealthy. I was afraid to be soft, but now I am proud to be a soft boy.

I did not start watching anime until I was 26 years old, but I am better for it, because Yusuke Urameshi taught me I should express my emotions. And he taught me it made me stronger.

The original series of Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files is available to stream on both Hulu and Funimation. The original video animations are available to stream on Funimation. I watched the dubbed version.

Categories
Anime Manga

Crying Isn’t Weakness for Izuku Midoriya

by Derrick Shaw

My Hero Academia, also known by its Japanese name, Boku No Hero Academia, has swept the world by storm. It’s a story of a teenager named Izuku Midoriya who lives in Japan in a very different world than our own. In this world, about eighty percent of the population is born with a quirk, a special power that allows them to do different things. Unlike superheroes in the world of DC or Marvel, people attend schools and get licenses to become heroes. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes and all form factors, such as those who battle villains head-on and support heroes who ensure the safety of civilians during a villain attack. Our protagonist Midoriya is one of the few people who were born quirkless. This is quickly introduced to us to nail home of the theme of the series: Not all men are created equal. Things shift for Midoriya, however, when he meets his idol, All Might. After telling Midoriya That he couldn’t be a hero because he was quirkless he quickly changes his mind and gives him the chance at a life.

My Hero Academia has brought amazing storytelling and color not only to the world of anime, but to animation, storytelling, and the things that we look for in stories about heroes. We are greeted with characters who, for the most part, are written extremely well. We are given characters with motivations that fit the narrative and does it justice, and a story that dives into the trauma of different characters but notes that it doesn’t justify their actions. While it has done those things and has done them well, it has also brought us a protagonist who is emotional in doesn’t hide it from anyone.

In our story, Midoriya is the product of both the culture of bullying and an overbearing support system. My Hero Academia sets up the point that not all men are created equal and that is driven home by the treatment that the protagonist endures at the hands of his elementary and middle school classmates. Before he turned five years old, he had a crew he ran with that involved his best friend and a few classmates. After he turned five and his quirk didn’t manifest, they shunned him no matter how hard he tried. Not only that, but Katsuki Bakugo, his best friend, became his biggest bully. We’re talking throwing his things out of a window, using his explosion powers on his desk, labeling him a “Deku” which is described as someone useless and a waste of space and even told him to jump off the roof to get reincarnated as someone with a quirk. Although Bakugo has grown and is well on his way to making amends for this, it’s still things that Midoriya had to deal with.

This brings us to his mom. His mom, one of the greatest moms in Shonen, in my opinion, loved her son despite his being quirkless. But her words to him at the discovery not only stayed with both of them for years, but it caused Inko Midoriya so much pain and guilt, that she became an intense worrywart, and with good reason. She, without a doubt, watched her son get bullied day in and out by his classmates and saw him obsess over being a hero all the while knowing at the back of his mind that that goal wasn’t attainable and that his mom believed it too.

Izuku and his mother, Inko.

It’s because of his life that Midoriya is an emotional being. He tells people how he feels. He empathizes with others. And most importantly, he cries and doesn’t hide it. He’s not ashamed of crying and in fact, the narrative plays to this. His friends in class are so used to it that it’s not only played for laughs and gags but it’s expected that Midoriya is cry because it shows in his right frame of mind. Even in the latest chapters, his tears are mentioned by Todoroki.

Midoriya’s emotions are so pivotal to his character, he wouldn’t be the same without them! Many people feel that he cries too much and that his emotions are bad to see because they don’t want to see the main character be emotional, but in many ways that shows how society wants people to be. Society wants people, especially boys, to be hard and cold all the time. To walk around like Todoroki did before Midoriya saved him from his own darkness.

It’s so important that he cries and is emotional because everyone around him allows him to be that. It’s often exaggerated just how often Deku cries, but it’s actually not often at all! Aside from the instances when it’s played for gags, like when he cries so much he sank into the floor, his tears and emotions are reserved for those special occasions where he can’t contain them. Could you imagine how things would have been with Eri had he not been in tune with his emotions?

All this is to say that it’s so important that Izuku Midoriya expresses his emotions openly. It gives us a chance to have a main character who allows himself to feel what he feels instead of running away from the feelings! Let’s be honest, a few main characters could learn from this!

The tears from training with ALL MIGHT

It begs the question of why do we expect main characters to be cold all the time? Why do we hate when they show emotions? Especially because many of the anime protagonists are teenagers. Midoriya starts the series off in middle school briefly and then becomes a first-year in high school. Ichigo began Bleach at fifteen. Naruto was eleven. Even Edward and Alphonse were fourteen and fifteen, yet we expect them to have a handle on their emotions because crying and emotions are seen as weak. But it shouldn’t be.

I hope we see more main characters like Midoriya. Bring it on anime world!

Categories
Anime Manga

Studio Proteus: Bringing Manga to the Masses

It would be a drastic understatement to say that anime and manga have been a smash hit in America. After all, the second-best grossing movie in the hellscape of 2020 was the movie Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, grossing almost half a billion dollars worldwide. Some of the best-selling comic books in America also reliably come from Japan, with industry mainstays like Dragon Ball and  Berserk constantly selling in high numbers alongside new successes like Beaststars and My Hero Academia.

And yet, 30 years ago, almost no one dealt in anime and manga unless it was for pornography or badly-translated pulp media. There was generally one exception, and that was the manga licensed by Studio Proteus. Essentially the first company to even try and bring manga to America regularly, Studio Proteus’ effects are as long-lasting as the American branch of the industry itself.

It began with one die-hard fan and massive nerd moving to Japan.

Toren Smith, circa 2011 (left). Self-portrait (right).

A Canadian native, Toren Smith was born on April 12th, 1960. Most of his upbringing was “traditional” for someone in the 60s. Sure, he liked comics and science fiction, but he also adored rock climbing, hang gliding, and even mountain biking. However, a chance invitation to a 1980 science fiction convention resulted in the claws of nerdom sinking into him forever. He would move to California and become part of the burgeoning anime and comic book scene in the bay area. While writing for Epic Illustrated, Eclipse Comics, and Amazing Heroes, Smith would befriend UK novelist James P. Hogan. When his works hit it big in Japan, Smith was invited to come along with Hogan to attend the convention Daicon V in 1986.

Daicon was the nickname of the Osaka-based branch of the Japan Sci-Fi Convention circuit, which would change towns each year. Those based in Tokyo, for example, would be called Tokon. For those who think it sounds familiar, animation studio legends GAINAX cut their baby teeth on animated intros for conventions Daicon III and IV. Enjoy what reconstructed footage exists below:

Just don’t make a drinking game out of the references. Oof!

At Daicon V, Toren Smith would meet a veritable who’s who of the best and brightest at the time, as well as those who would become industry legends. Osamu Tezuka, Toshio Okada, Yasuhiro Takeda, and many others. At that specific Daicon convention, Masamune Shiro’s own manga Appleseed was awarded the best manga of the year, and Smith realized what he wanted to do. Toren Smith knew Japanese, and he enjoyed reading these books. People in California’s growing anime and manga fandom scene also loved these books. After all, the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization of Los Angeles and their obsessive importing of Super Dimensional Fortress Macross basically resulted in the first successful American import of anime, 1985’s Robotech. And thanks to working in the comic industry, he also had a lot of connections with publishers in America.

So, Toren Smith packed up his things and changed his country of residence once again in 1986.

The staff of GAINAX, circa 1985, visiting the United States’ Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.

To Japan.

Smith was dedicated and was this remarkable oddity to the major publishing companies in Japan. This little nerd was so dedicated, he’d moved to Japan to try and bring comics to his country of origin (and America). Studio Proteus, as he had named his company, would be a middle man for manga. They would obtain Japanese comics for an American publisher, doing all of the licensing and negotiations with the Japanese publisher for the American market, while the release and marketing in America would be up to the actual company printing the manga.

Money was ridiculously tight, so Toren found himself living in an unheated, 12 square meter room with an outside toilet… and only cold running water. The rental unit held 8 apartments altogether, and the owner actually let Smith live in their residence for free, so long as he acted as the manager for the complex. This lasted for about three months…

…until the Yakuza who actually owned the place found out. While the articles I’ve found don’t go into what happened, it looks like Smith started paying rent once again. This resulted in almost no money for food, and his health suffered. Toren Smith went from 190 pounds to 163 pounds after only nine months of living in Japan. We know it’s only nine months because that’s when his Visa ran out for staying in the country.

Luckily, he’d made a lot of friends by this time. One of them was Tetsu Yano, a science fiction novelist who had made a name for himself with translations of American science fiction works before making his own. A letter of recommendation from Yano had allowed his Visa to extend those nine months, and Smith would return with many licensed works to start translating and publishing at the time.

The sheer amount of content and smaller page count did allow for multiple publications per month.

In 1988, the first manga translated by Studio Proteus was published. These earliest works were a partnership with California-based publishing companies VIZ Communications and Eclipse Comics, as the latter was suffering financial difficulties after a flood in 1986 caused catastrophic damage to their headquarters and saved content. These included Area 88, The Legend of Kamui, and Mai the Psychic Girl. The latter is best known as the first completed manga to be released to America, while Kamui is best remembered for being lettered and touched up by indie legend Stan Sakai. The manga line would be expanded upon, but financial issues would wind up causing Eclipse Comics to bow out.

Other releases would soon follow, with Dark Horse Comics and Innovation Publishing also joining the American release train. Dark Horse would pick up Outlanders by Johji Manabe, which was the start of a long and prosperous publication relationship between Dark Horse Comics and Studio Proteus.

Outlanders would sell massively for Dark Horse, as did the spinoff Caravan Kidd. Both would receive American-sized graphic novel collections, which was remarkably rare for manga before the 2000s.

Studio Proteus was an odd beast, so far as printing standards were at the time. Smith would work off the original art, making scans from the actual same quality of comic that was published in Japan. Everything would be translated, with sound effects cleverly replaced and re-drawn by hand. Only the most experienced writers and translators were hired, with the company having decades of writing experience under their roof. Further, their translators were paid some of the highest rates in the industry, and they even received royalties for their translations.

There are also times where a monthly release schedule meant that their comic needed new art for a cover. Rather than make their own, Studio Proteus would commission the original creator to make one. They would also make use of several pin-up pages from volume releases to act as covers, and their localized releases even had different art from the original on rare occasions.

Outlanders volume 1. Art and writing by Johji Manabe. Japanese edition on top from Hakusensha Inc, American edition on the bottom from Dark Horse Comics.

In the case of the above example, it’s not really known why the art was changed. Was it to make the book less violent, despite depicting a decapitation? Was Manabe not happy with the way the head was sliced in half? It does look like someone copied-and-pasted the head from panel to panel 3 before adding a blood splash, but we don’t even know for sure if it was that. No interview exists online that’s asked.

With his fledgling company starting to take off, Toren Smith would return to Japan in late 1988. This time he wouldn’t be living in a cold room under threat from mobsters. Instead, the same crazy animators who’d gone on to form GAINAX offered him a room.

The staff of GAINAX, circa 1986. Publication unknown.

GAINAX had taken up residence in an apartment. They lovingly nicknamed the place GAINAX house, and it was a little cramped. 12 animators lived there, stacked up on bunk beds and feverishly working on their next project. This didn’t come out of nowhere, either, as Toren had been long friends with the animators at one of the hottest new companies on the market. How do we know?

Say hello to Smith Toren, a reasonably important character from the middle of GAINAX’s legendary Gunbuster original video animation series from 1988. The character showed up in the middle of the series to show how horrible space could be to the main character, and he came from America. Obviously, he’s a “name” tribute rather than a complete copy-and-paste into an anime, but in the real world, Toren even got to add his voice to the Japanese language track to Gunbuster as it was being worked on. Sadly, he did not get to voice himself but was instead the voice of one of the bridge crew of the starship Excellion. While no interviews I could find talk about this, it’s fair to say he got one hell of a kick out of it.

GAINAX House was a hellscape for a few reasons. While Toren likely appreciated living with friends, he was still in an unheated room that was four square meters smaller and working on a salvaged typewriter mostly built out of an IBM Selectric. At least it was no longer a manual typewriter!

An IBM Selectric II, a close approximation to what he was working with at the time.

Of course, it eventually caught fire while he was working on a translation.

Unfortunately, GAINAX House was also crammed full of 12 nerds from Japan (and one Canadian) with whom hygiene may not have been the highest priority. GAINAX staffer Yasuhiro Takeda would later recount their home in a memoir released in 2002 the condition of their living area:

Make no mistake, GAINAX House was a den of rabid bachelors. Nobody cleaned or even straightened up—ever. When we received a visit from Hiroe Suga (who for a time was staying at a boarding house in Tokyo and working as an author), she was literally sickened by the smell. The color drained from her face and she beat a very hasty retreat. Ultimately, we elected to move out of GAINAX House. When the landlord came by to give the place a once-over and release us from our contract, he was stricken speechless. Almost immediately after we vacated, the house was demolished.

No pictures exist on the western side of the internet of GAINAX house, and it is probably for the best. However, even while living in squalor and among the messiest people in the nation, Toren Smith actually did what some considered the impossible. Yasuhiro Takeda would add a side-note to the mention of GAINAX house about Smith himself:

He is one shrewd fellow—not only did he make plenty of manga-related connections while he was here, but he snagged himself a beautiful Japanese wife to boot. I still remember one morning, shortly after we all woke up; the door to Toren’s room opened and out walked a young lady we’d never seen before!

This woman was Tomoko Saitou. While she would undergo several name changes in her career on both sides of the ocean, perhaps the most significant was that of Tomoko Saitou Smith. The two were married in 1991, and she would work alongside Toren at Studio Proteus as a letterer.

According to what research that can be found, Studio Proteus was almost the victim of the crunch the comic industry experienced in the mid-1990s. For those who aren’t aware, the hyper pandering performed by most comic companies to a new speculation market would result in many ripples throughout the industry. Some of it was simple, with a large number of comics being relaunched with a new first issue to entice collectors (which still happens to this day). Others included artists becoming more important than the writer when it came to sales, almost directly starting a chain that ended with Image Comics being founded.

As the sales of the speculation market crashed around 1995, sales slumped across the board. Companies tightened their belts, and many smaller publishers fell to ruin. It looks like Viz Communications chose to cut costs by starting their own branch of translation rather than deal with Studio Proteus, while Dark Horse Comics seems to be the one company that was still working alongside Studio Proteus… on the all-ages market, anyhow.

This is the only cover we can show that is safe for work. I’m not kidding.

Working with a Fantagraphics imprint called Eros Comics, Studio Proteus began to crank out pornographic material to pay the bills. Proteus had dabbled with near-porn works before, as Outlanders creator Johji Manabe started as a pornographic artist and did not mind using nudity and sex as part of his plots. However, books like Secret Plot dealt with crossdressing and teachers seducing their students, while Super Taboo was all about incestual relations. Bondage Fairies featured characters akin to Tinkerbell in relation to the beasts living around them. These are just the more easily found content, however, as keeping track of Studio Proteus’ adult translations has been less important to the internet at large.

Needless to say, this didn’t help the image of manga in America, but you do what you have to do.

At this time in the publishing world, several companies tried to mimic what was done in Japan. Rather than release single chapters (or paired chapters) each month in a ‘floppy’ format like American comics, many attempts at large anthology releases were tried. 

1997, for example, brought MIXXzine. This was a collection of manga from MIXX Entertainment, later known as Tokyopop. Their works focused on the more girl-friendly works, like Magic Knight Rayearth and Sailor Moon. VIZ had their own, called AnimericaEXTRA, after their popular anime magazine. Also focused on the female audience, they would have works like Fushiugi Yugi and Video Girl Ai. Both of these magazines would survive the better part of a decade, albeit with low sales resulting in smaller page counts or lower quality printing. This is still remarkably respectable, as their prices were higher than the average comic at the time.

It was either Dark Horse Comics watermarks or another website’s watermarks…

Dark Horse would also release their own answer to this, partnered with Studio Proteus in 2000. Called Super Manga Blast, these 128-page volumes would feature content that would spread the target audience out. The cat-focused What’s Michael would appeal to everyone, while 3×3 Eyes covered the action and adventure. Oh! My Goddess was also a major hit early on, and the biggest draw for most fans of the day. It was also monthly and lasted for just shy of 5 years. This was around the time all the other manga anthologies died out, and for good reason.

Manga went mainstream.

Thanks to companies like Tokyopop churning out manga at inexpensive prices and partnering with major book retailers, the days of the floppy and anthology releases were ending. After all, why buy a chapter or two of manga when you could wait a few months and get a full volume for only 10 bucks? This shift was almost overnight, with every company changing gears in a way that must have left transmission fluid on the highway that is the history of manga in America.

Studio Proteus also survived this as well, with their running translations of Blade of the Immortal and Lone Wolf and Cub being converted to volume publication. Some of Dark Horse’s earliest direct-to-digest publications were also by Studio Proteus, such as Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis. Manga was also finally being released in a format that was faithful to their Japanese publication!

You see, almost all manga released before the 2000s was “flopped.” This means the art was mirrored before being translated, resulting in the book reading left-to-right to match the western style of reading. Most cases literally mirrored the art itself by flipping it digitally, but the art style of Blade of the Immortal was so loved by Smith and Studio Proteus that they actually cut the pages and re-laid the art so it would read Western without changing the art itself.

The fact that flopping the art would have made the manji on the back of the main character into a Nazi swastika is likely the real reason, though. The comic even had a full page dedicated to explaining the manji and historical Japanese references that basic liner notes could not do.

Toren Smith himself was against the idea of publishing in the Japanese format. At the time he started in the business, it was a risk just to publish some of these weird black and white comics from Japan. Because of that, making the comics as “normal” as possible was important. Smith would later admit that the revolution of manga publishing in the 2000s solved this issue by both making manga easier to obtain and sell. The fact that Smith was so adamant about flopping manga made him a bit of a pariah in the early online circles, but it wasn’t his only major controversy… that being the lack of shojo (girl’s) manga.

Luckily, the explanation for that one is easy: Toren Smith (and by extension, Studio Proteus) obtained and licensed the works he had an interest in. Toren loved science fiction, action, adventure, and comedy. Girl’s manga was less up his alley, which resulted in a blind spot for the company.

By 2004, Studio Proteus was no longer needed. The world had changed, and manga companies were dealing directly with publishers. Dark Horse Comics would buy them out, absorbing the company’s licenses into themselves as their manga publishing arm. Toren Smith took the opportunity to retire at this time as well, citing burnout and comparing his output to massive companies like Tokyopop.

With Studio Proteus behind him, Toren Smith would dabble with translation and writing still. However, he spent more of his time at anime conventions, conducting impromptu interviews with fans. Toren Smith passed away on March 4th, 2013 at the age of 52. He spent the last years of his life adventuring around the world with his wife, while also reading and enjoying the medium he so loved. However, Toren’s work would survive him, as any manga republished by Dark Horse’s manga division retains his touch as a translator. This even includes the recent omnibi of Gunsmith Cats and Dominion.

Without one weird little anime fan getting the idea to travel to Japan, it’s entirely possible that the manga boom of the early 2000s wouldn’t have happened. Anime still would have become popular, as it evolved on a different path in America, but major retail stores would be lacking a large selection of their stock without the path laid by those like Toren Smith and his cohorts in Studio Proteus. If you ever have a chance, check out some of those old books that Toren translated. They hold up really well and have this nice timeless quality to them… not all of which can be attributed to the original creators.

Thanks, Smith. You were one in a million.

Categories
Anime Manga

WELCOME TO THE NHK: The Greatest Conspiracy is Compassion

By Jose Cardenas

CW: Mental illness, porn mention, suicide mention

“I really feel my brain’s been out of whack lately.”

If you have experienced any amount of anxiety or executive dysfunction, Welcome To The NHK is an incredibly bleak series, especially so if you consider yourself any kind of artist or creator. This series focuses on the struggles of desperate young adults trying to find purpose in life, often with hilarious and heart-breaking results.

College dropout and series protagonist Tatsuhiro Satō begins a journey back into the outside world after spending three years as a reclusive shut-in (or hikikomori as the Japanese call it) due to severe insecurity and a panic attack.

Mysterious high school dropout Misaki Nakahara reaches out to Satō as part of a made-up charity project in order to prove to herself that she is needed and has value.

Dedicated otaku Kaoru Yamazaki aspires to be a game creator not just out of passion but also out of fear of returning to the eternal trap that is his family’s farm. 

Other, more mature characters like Hitomi Kashiwa and Megumi Kobayashi are faced with important transitions into adulthood, but try to avoid them through very self-destructive methods.

Whether it means indulging in nerdy hobbies, practicing amateur psychology or getting addicted to online porn, these characters try to distract themselves from an imagined conspiracy that only serves to reinforce what they constantly tell themselves: I am, and always will be, unloved.

What eventually breaks these individual cycles of self-loathing are not sudden epiphanies but rather the small details that reveal how the world, and humanity at large, does care about them.  

“Puru Puru Pururin Purupururin” 

What makes this 2006 anime unique in its approach to themes of self-hatred and depression is the fact that Satō meets so many other characters with similar emotional problems. 

Sometimes these interactions and realizations motivate him to make progress in breaking his shut-in lifestyle. Other times it’s an excuse to relapse, but the story always keeps a forward momentum, introducing new situations and characters that disrupt his thinking and increase the pressure.

  One of the best arcs of the series that showcases this dynamic is also the most harrowing. 

After reconnecting with his upperclassman and high school crush Hitomi, Satō joins her on a trip to an island with a group of quirky strangers. He discovers too late that this group is a suicide pact that plans to die together on a deserted island. Horrified, Satō tries to reach out, further out of his shell than he’s ever been, and helps convince the pact not to follow through. The amazing thing is, he’s somewhat successful and it’s a moment of heartfelt triumph.

However, once Hitomi, his crush, accepts a marriage proposal, Satō gets absolutely heartbroken and initiates his own suicide plan, turning the tables where the pact now has to convince him that life is worth living. 

Before, during, and after that nerve-wracking adventure, Satō reveals just how close he is to getting it and how much he needs the world, and a collection of strangers, to remind him that it’s not too late to change and love himself. 

This is not a story about a man falling deeper into a pit, but rather a man peeking out of his pit, only to see a giant field with other pits and a helping hand, offering to help him out of his pit. Whether Satō accepts the hand or just digs further down is the crux of the show, and it leads to moments that are equal parts comedic, saddening, and crushingly relatable. 

Especially when it comes to the thematic climax that leaves him crying and ready to face the future. The realization that the world wants him to live.

“Enjoy the outside world!” 

The characters in Welcome to the NHK don’t really have happy endings but rather gain a healthier way of living and “earn” some hope for the future. 

Satō manages to let go of his conspiracy obsessions, but he still has social anxiety and other problems that he now knows how to manage and overcome. 

Misaki learns that she is needed and loved unconditionally by the people around her and decides to go into high school again. Personally speaking, her development and relationship to Satō throughout the story is a real highlight of the series. 

All the other characters reach a level of stability too, and even better, they manage to walk away from the nihilistic philosophies that sabotaged their relationships and mental health. Even though their journeys are dark, and only get darker from episode one, there are always small lights in the darkness that makes you want to see them to the end. 

If you are going through a rough patch yourself or experiencing similar shut-in tendencies after a year of pandemic lockdown (and the possibility of a second one on the horizon), this series comes with the highest recommendation. 

Categories
Anime Manga Television Various Media

AnimeCrashers: Horror

Welcome to the first installment of our new Anime and Manga column where each month we will be making recommendations on starting points in various manga and anime genres! This month’s genre is HORROR!

Promotional art from NETFLIX

DEVILMAN: Crybaby 

By Science SARU

In this remake of Go Nagai’s classic Devilman, you are hit with tons of style and themes. Director Yuasa Masaaki and his studio Science SARU take their flattened, high contrast, and high energy animation style to breathe new life into the story from 1972. In Modernizing the story, the classic anti-war themes change to cover things more for today’s world like sexuality, self-confidence, and more. From a Black Sabbath to a drug and sex-filled rave there are many changes that make this ten-episode Netflix Original anime, an amazing series worth watching for anyone.

Follow Akira as his old friend, Ryo, drags him into the world of demons and possession. Akira is one of the few to be possessed by a demon; becoming the first Devilman! Akira must lead the Devilmen in taking on the demon hordes, led by Lucifer, as they bring upon the apocalypse. Can the soft-hearted crybaby Akira stop the destruction of Earth and save his loved ones? Find out.

I genuinely loved this when I watched it during a winter break in college. The color palette of the series just pops at all times because of the flatter art style causing the high contrast bright colors to work so well. Also, there is a character who is always rapping and he ends up being a decent guy in the end. It lived up to the hype that I had been seeing from all my friends.

  • Jake McMahon
Cover to Volume 1 of Tokyo Ghoul

Tokyo Ghoul 

By Ishida Sui 

Imagine, you meet a cute girl and she asks you out on a date to talk about books over coffee. One thing leads to another and you become a flesh-eating, coffee-sipping ghoul! Well, that’s exactly what happened to Ken Kaneki. Now as a half-ghoul, he must navigate the worlds of humans and ghouls while managing his new diet.

For me, this series is best read rather than watched. The anime’s second season outpaced the manga and took on an alternate story to the source material. To add more confusion goes back to the original story for the third season. But the manga is a fantastic read and the art is so kinetic I could look at single panels all day. I admit while reading it on the Shonen Jump app I screenshot so many of my favorite panels.

  • Jake
Cover from Volume 1 of CHAINSAW MAN

Chainsaw Man

By Fujimoto Tatsuki

I read Chainsaw Man very recently and devoured all 11 volumes in less than 48 hours. I truly wasn’t interested in it for the longest time and then all of a sudden, I found myself paying $2 for the Shonen Jump app solely to read it. There’s so much to say about Chainsaw Man and how utterly fantastic it is. The thing that really stands out for me the most, even beyond the stunning art, is how it treats its female characters. This is the first Shonen Jump series I’ve read in a long while where the women dominate the story, even though its main protagonist is a man. While Denji certainly falls into the stereotypical trappings of being a Shonen Protagonist, there is still a lot of care taken to give his character more everything and make the reader feel like he’s unique in a very oversaturated genre. Makima, Power, Kobeni, etc. all have more spotlight than almost every male character, and even female characters we see for only a volume feel like someone we’ve been with for a while. Each one has substance, an arc, and though they leave just as quickly as they came, it doesn’t leave you feeling unsatisfied. Warning for body horror and gore, but if you’re a fan of things like Invincible, Slasher movies, Berserk, etc. where the violence isn’t just there for gratuity’s sake, and you want some really beautiful looks at trauma, humanity, and morality, all mixed in with goofy fun, I truly cannot recommend Chainsaw Man enough.

  • DW

Parasyte

By Iwaaki Hitoshi

Parasitic aliens fall to Earth and begin implanting themselves into the brains of people with few special cases. One of those special cases is Shinichi Izumi. Through his fear of bugs, panics at the parasite tunneling into his body, but stops it from getting past his arm. He is rewarded by a shapeshifting talking hand named Migi, who helps Shinichi fight off other parasite hosts in a bid for survival.

I’m not too far into the anime but it’s super easy to follow. I appreciate that it doesn’t have Migi give a long-winded explanation of his origins because he doesn’t know much himself. I thought it had some really cool ideas and even some funny bits in how Migi tries to understand things. It’s an interesting take on body horror without seeming to go overboard with it

  • Jake