Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ouran High School Host Club Manga

Ouran High School Host Club Manga – Distributed by Shojo Beat (Viz Media)
Number of Volumes: 14 (still ongoing)
Genres: Comedy, Reverse harem, Romance, Cross-dressing
Written and Illustrated by Hatori Bisco

“At the private Ouran Institute lineage counts first, money a close second. The wealthy are blessed with idle hours and six handsome, especially idle students have formed a host club to entertain females also burdened by a surfeit of leisure time.” One day, however, the lower-middle class scholarship student, Haruhi Fujioka, accidentally appears and due to clumsiness incurs a debt of $80,000. In order to pay off the debt, Haruhi becomes “the natural host” among these beautiful, young, and disgustingly rich boys. What happens when they discover that Haruhi is, in fact, a girl?


This has become one of my latest obsessions. After watching the entire anime series, twice, I decided to pick up the original story by way of the manga. I am so glad I did! I have yet to devour a manga series as hungrily and as quickly as I have Ouran High School Host Club (Ouran, for short). Putting aside the somehow magnificent fan service for us girls, and the almost non-stop humour, it is just a great story! Love triangles, class rifts, teenage rivalries, and some of the most wonderful characters I’ve ever come across.

There are several elements that are required for a shojo story, and different approaches that can be made, depending upon the type of love story the author wants to write. The wonderful thing about Ouran is that it touches on so many of them that one can hardly limit it to the reverse-harem genre of Shojo, but also include BL (Boy’s Love), fish-out-of-water stories, pauper and the prince tales, numerous iterations of cross-dressing and queer identities… and the list goes on.

First and foremost, though, Ouran is a reverse-harem shojo manga. All the players are listed and accounted for, from the romantic prince to the cool and collected guy with glasses, the stoic strong wild type to the boy lolita who makes you want to pinch his cheeks. Of course let’s not forget the devilish twins who like to cause trouble, and the poor girl caught in the middle. In her own way, she fills the void as both the tragic hero telling tales of her late mother and as the unusual specimen of the common man.

For us girls (and those boys who appreciate boys like girls do) there is this wonderful in the anime/manga business called “fan service”. No, this is not where you use the book or DVD case as a fan, but rather where the artist decides to give the fans a little swoon-worthy material in the guise of shirtless, good-looking young men who aren’t overly muscular, and yet are still well defined. Granted, it doesn’t appeal to everyone, but for those who like it, Ouran has more than enough for any fan of the male figure! Hatori Bisco, in my personal opinion, is a very, very talented artist.

Even though the premise alone does not strike me as original, the treatment most certainly is. This shojo is both a tribute and a parody – a true homage to the reverse harem genre. It reminds of what Wes Craven did for screamer movies with his honestly satirical approach to the Scream trilogy. This approach is observed in several ways, the first of which being the breaking of the proverbial fourth wall. On occasion different characters will either comment on the “previous chapter” or how “something was written”, signifying the meta-fictional awareness. There are also several characters who address the audience directly in a similar fashion to Zach in Saved by the Bell or Ferris Beuller of Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, the originator of the style. The second indicator that we are being treated to a satire is apparent in several chapters where an outside character will comment on the similarities between the situation and shojo manga. Finally, there is the presence of Renge, a female student who transfers to Ouran from France just to be closer to Kyoya. After forcing herself into a managerial role within the club we discover that she herself is an otaku – a rabid fan. Renge makes a point of finding whatever does not agree with the stereotype and “fixes” it, or at the very least points it out for the guys to try and correct themselves, often times to no avail.

Essentially, I love this story, and will be sad when it comes to a conclusion later on this year (Bisco Hatori Sensei has stated that she will be ending the series in the next couple of volumes). There is a character for each and every female fan to faun over, appreciate and admire. The situations these beautiful men find themselves in, along with their unwilling female partner, are both heart-warming and gut-splitting, showing off Bisco Sensei’s talent for writing such complex emotions into such stereotypical plotlines. My hat’s off to you, sensei!

Until next time, ja ne!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Number of episodes: 26
Genres: Swords, demons, conspiracy
Based on the manga Claymore by Norihiro Yagi

Synopsis: Clare is what we humans would call a “Claymore”. Named for the large swords they carry on their backs, and recognized by their Silver eyes, these warriors have been infused with the blood and flesh of the demons, called Yoma, that they are charged with killing. As Clare completes a mission in a small town, she meets Raki, a young boy who feels indebted to her. Together they travel from town to town, wherever Clare is needed to slay the Yoma that plague the land.


Now, I will preface this review with the fact that I love swords. Anything having to do with swords is an automatic “must watch at least once”, and then hopefully it will live up to my high expectations. To my delight, Claymore did just that. It was painful having to wait months between volumes so that I could continue the story. The anime follows the canon of the original manga almost frame for frame – a refreshing change, I might add. There is no filler, and only stories that are relevant to the main plot are presented to the audience. Anyone who is a fan of serial series like Bleach and Naruto would appreciate this.

Clare is intimidating, right from the start. We get an excellent explanation of the situation within the first five minutes of the first episode, leaving the rest of the time to learn about the cold Clare, and how she meets the spunky and admiring Raki. It is easy to see that although these warriors do nothing but save the people of the land from Monsters known as Yoma, they are feared as much as their prey, if not more. The way the story unfolds we get to see Clare fight and learn her temperament before we get her true back story. The true reasons behind her becoming a Claymore drive her onwards and leads her to develop both as a fighter and as a person.

In terms of artwork and animation, I would have to categorize it as nothing special, but it also doesn’t hinder the story. Emotions are well portrayed and the fight scenes are fun to watch, to a point. As one would assume, once a battle reaches a certain level it is supposed to be too hard for a human to observe all the motions, both of the weapons and the fighters. This leads to a very Dragonball-like battle at times, where all the audience gets is blurs and sound effects. Granted, unlike the aforementioned classic, these battles don’t take up entire strings of episodes, but it still feels like a cop-out sometimes. One thing that is impressive, however, is the artwork produced later on in the series in order to portray the monsters known as “Awakened Beings”. The striking beauty of these horrors contrasts perfectly with their nature and the fear they elicit. (On a side note, I’m actually thinking of getting one of them as a tattoo on my back!) The animation is fluid and realistic, which is to be expected with such a current title.

I must admit, I am one of those who are partial to original audio with English subtitles, but for you all I did get a taste and a feel for the English cast. As per my usual findings, the Japanese cast has a bit more depth to their performances, which is to be expected with acclaimed veterans Houko Kuwashima (Sango in Inuyasha, Tomoyo Sakagami in Clannad) as Clare and Romi Park (Edward Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist and Toshiro Hitsugaya in Bleach) as Teresa. Considering the material, the English cast seemed just a little too lively, which I would attribute more to the casting than to the performances themselves. The Japanese cast is able to bring across a casual apathy that is lacking in the North American counterpart. The people at Funimation need to find more voice actors with a breathy rasp like Kathleen Turner, and stop hiring these girls and women who sound like teenagers.

This story is not for the faint of heart, and not for those who need happy endings. I, however, loved it, from start to finish. The twists and turns that we get at each new mission helps drape the dark Organization – those who create and manage the Claymores – in a mired conspiracy. The relationships that develop among these seemingly heartless and emotionless beings is refreshing.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hello World!

I've decided that I want to share my ever-growing knowledge and views on Japanese animation and comic books, also known as Anime (like Annie-May) and Manga. For a long time I have been developing what has now become an obsession, and have found few (read as NONE) reviews and critiques written by women. This is probably due to the fact that in North America these two vehicles for fiction have been consumed by males for the most part. It is only recently - within the last ten years, really - that stories targeted to women and young girls have been translated and distributed.

Now, I know there are a lot of you out there thinking: "Hey! I watched Sailor Moon when I was younger, and I'm a girl!" I will admit there have been a few exceptions, although it should be noted that these titles, and Sailor Moon in particular, were not really marketed as Anime. The themes were toned down and the content was edited in order to gear it towards young girls in North America. If, however, you decided to pick up an elusive original copy of the third season of the show, you would find that it is very different and deals with much more adult content and issues. In fact, the final season was never licensed to be translated into English at all, and can only be found with English subtitles as bootleg copies.

Back to the topic at hand! I'm hoping to share my views with you all, and comment on upcoming news and events in the world of Anime and Manga culture. I won't focus on a single genre, since I love them all. My collection includes girly dramas and abstract movies; robots fighting in outer space and samurai tales of romance; popular serial titles and oldies that have been long forgotten. Maybe this way I can share my passion with you all, and perhaps introduce you to a title that will become a favourite. Also, if you're new to the Anime culture as a whole, I welcome you into this wonderfully colourful and entertaining world!

O tanoshimi kudasai!