I’m not one to normally read a new series just over a year after serialization. My first impressions of ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero consist of the first two volumes, but that could end up being half or two-thirds of the story. A lot of manga, especially battle shounen, tend to get axed as swiftly and mercilessly as a Danganronpa character. But sometimes you gotta live life on the edge, and by the edge, I mean invest early in something that could easily get cancelled even after a cliffhanger.
In ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero, the world is full of robots called droids. Fortunately, people in this world are naturally born with two cybernetic arms coming out of their shoulder blades. However, because we HAVE to have racism, anyone who has more than one pair of arms is considered to be in league with Satan, and are persecuted. The titular Ashidaka (whose name is thankfully not in all caps like the title) is named after the Moses of this world, and he inevitably ends up on a mission to take down Mecha Satan (henceforth known as the Centipede).
The immediate issue with ASHIDAKA is that it kind of dumps a ton of crap on you at once. It jumps right into combat when you don’t even know how anything works yet, you get a Biblical lore dump, Centipede destroys Ashidaka’s hometown that you’re expected to have an emotional attachment toward over the course of five minutes, and he’s roped into some secret Anti-Centipede resistance. Yeah, it’s a lot.
There are also some things that seem inconsistent to me, but it could be because of either the fast pacing, or the mangaka didn’t put much thought into the story. For example, why are people racist against those with four or more arms when the specific count has to be a hundred in order to be Satanic? I feel like that was just thrown in there just to be symbolic for the sake of symbolism. There’s also someone who’s a massive jerk to Ashidaka exactly one time for what seems like nothing more than shock value. Maybe if the manga runs long enough it’ll get to flesh this stuff out.
Another sad thing is that the writing is pretty bare-bones. It’s not as copy-paste as Kimetsu no Yaiba (which I may or not be saying out of spite against Kimetsu no Yaiba but I digress), but it’s enough to where you could probably read the Japanese version and more-or-less know exactly what’s going on. It’s a real shame, since it looks like it has potential to have a pretty good story moving forward.
The big plus with ASHIDAKA is definitely the arms. Usually, only one character in a series would have robot arms, but for that to be the standard for everyone in the world makes it a bit more interesting. There are many types of arms, along with a whole bunch of rules that will likely be amended on the fly because battle shounen love doing that. At least they look cool; that’s what matters most!
Unfortunately, that doesn’t help the characters. Similar to Musashi from Orient, among others, Ashidaka is a case of a “shounen protagonist in a seinen world”. He has absolutely zero rationality, and will throw a hissy fit if anyone dies for any reason, even if it’s for the greater good. He aims to find a less costly way of fighting, but that’s definitely not going to come into play for a while.
Supporting him is Geji, who is a bit more composed, even if he is super abrasive. And honestly, that’s kind of it so far. There’s several people in the aforementioned resistance movement, but they all consist of extremely basic tropes. At least they look cool?
Speaking of looks, ASHIDAKA is decent enough in the art department. The fights are flashy, but it can be tough to tell what’s going on since everything has robot parts.
Current Verdict: 6/10
ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero is nothing spectacular so far. But hey, I only read two volumes. Hopefully, it’ll get better in the future.
A couple years ago, before I even started this blog, I read one of my favorite manga of all time: Children of the Sea. It was a short, beautiful story with a simple message that really puts things in perspective (which is the vaguest way for me to describe it without spoiling you). It felt like a dream come true for it to get a feature film adaptation from Studio 4°C. Everything seemed to check out. “Oh boy!” I exclaimed. “Something legitimately unique and powerful that isn’t just mindless visual spectacle is actually going to get its well-deserved publicity!” However, karma seems to dictate that no truly creative and excellent media can ever get that publicity, for COVID-19 was at its peak panic levels during the month of the movie’s US theatrical premiere. And as such, the movie got downgraded to a straight-to-home-video release, as if it were a bad Disney sequel.
Because of this, I was concerned, to the point where I had to make a whole new paragraph for the following statement. The straight-to-home-video release made me consider an alarming possibility: Children of the Sea flopped. I don’t know why, but GKids didn’t exactly promote it, like, at all (for example, it was released on Netflix but I haven’t seen them Tweet about it and I was on them like a hawk leading up to this release). I’ve been worried about it not being well-received. Children of the Sea is incredibly abstract, and gets very cosmic very quickly. The fact that a hyperbole-hating guy like myself just used the word “cosmic” shows that this movie is a real trip. Anyway, this preamble has gone on for too long. My copy of the Blu-Ray is here, so let’s just watch the darn movie and stop postulating already!
In Children of the Sea, a girl named Ruka is living a typical life as an outcast among her peers and as a victim of divorce. She visits her dad’s aquarium, which acquires some unusual new specimens: Umi and Sora, two children who were found literally at the bottom of the ocean. Ruka acquaints herself with them, and when fish around the world begin to vanish, the boys are the only ones who can help her figure out why.
Like I said before, the story goes places. It’s so much of a trip that there’s not even a real antagonist nor actual stakes. The first half is basically a slice-of-life with some supernatural intrigue, while the second half is just… art. I’ll get to that last aspect in a bit.
I’m someone who’s consumed a lot of media that I’ve believed is pseudo-intellectual, and at first glance, Children of the Sea has every ingredient to fall into that same category. It has many shots that are framed with absolute beauty for the sake of beauty, as well as a lot of very esoteric dialogue to make them come off as smart, with a dash of real-world science thrown in. But unlike pseudo-intellectual works such as The Fault in Our Stars, Rascal Does Not Dream, and Monogatari, Children of the Sea has a clear-cut tangible meaning (which I choose not to disclose in this review). In fact, you could criticize its writing for being too ham-fisted if anything (but in its defense, this message is difficult enough to get across as it is so they kind of need to ham-fist it). Most of the hard science, which includes marine biology and astrophysics, is… true enough. Regardless of scientific accuracy, the messages that are conveyed via these factoids are what matter the most, as opposed to something like Rascal Does Not Dream where it’s like “Teenager issues? Have a quantum physics textbook!” just to force symbolism onto you.
“But a social commentary is still a social commentary,” you say, “and you don’t like social commentaries!” Normally, that would be true. From my perspective, most social commentaries are about human things that are already common knowledge by now. Children of the Sea’s message is something on a grander scope that- sadly- ends up going largely unacknowledged. Not to sound pretentious, but I think it’s something legitimately important for everyone to know.
Despite how straightforward the movie seemed, your mileage may vary. It’s not just the fact that I read the manga, but I’ve also been awakened to the same message through different means (Spoilers: through an old mini-series starring Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and it’s not Cosmos!). So of course the movie would make sense if I already had an understanding of what it was going to say! The anime is no-doubt the more difficult version to experience first. In the manga, you have the ability to stop and take everything in, whenever you want, while the anime moves whether you want it to or not. Sure, you can pause it, but anime Blu-Rays have a problem with making subtitles disappear for a few seconds after you pause them (which would be a non-issue if you watch the dub, you normie).
Anyways, let’s drastically change the topic and discuss… the differences between the manga and anime (that I remember)! While most of what they cut is trivial, some removed content can mar the movie experience a bit. They completely get rid of the backstory between these two scientists, Jim and Anglade, which gives context to their relationship with each other. But more detrimental is that specific cut content makes a certain scene regarding Ruka’s mother come from way out of left field. In any case, the cuts do help the pacing a lot. I’d rather have a fantastically done movie with some bits missing than a crappy TV anime with all the content.
Let’s move on to the characters, who are by far the weakest aspect of Children of the Sea. Ruka definitely comes off as a YA protagonist; crappy life, gets swept away by two handsome boys, and is arbitrarily chosen to fulfill some great purpose for no reason. Honestly, I can’t really justify her character arc. I have one thing to say, but I can’t say it without spoiling the central themes of the film. So, spoilers: Having someone like Ruka be chosen is a glimmer of hope that any human can regain its innate connection with nature.
Umi and Sora are a bit more likeable… to a point. They also have YA tropes; Umi is the fun, lovable kid, and Sora is the sexy bad boy. They say a lot of esoteric things, and it’s only because of my understanding of the movie’s message that I don’t want to bop them upside the head. Next up are Jim and Anglade, the scientists I mentioned earlier. Due to the cut content, their character arcs got beaten down more than anyone’s. Fortunately, they aren’t that integral to the plot to begin with, even in the manga, so it’s fine. Beyond them, we have Ruka’s parents… who are typical divorcees.
The audio and visuals make Children of the Sea complete. The music is absolutely enchanting, and perfectly sells the atmosphere of the movie. But as great as Joe Hisaishi is, he didn’t write the end credits theme: Spirits of the Sea. This little ditty was by the singer Kenshi Yonezu. I’ll discuss Yonezu… in the future, but for now, lemme tell you that Spirits of the Sea is a wonderful, beautiful ballad that really conveys Children of the Sea’s magic. I got to listen to it when he released the single, at the time of the movie’s Japanese premiere, and it is how I discovered Yonezu in the first place. I highly recommend listening to it casually, but also listen to it during the credits; a post-credits scene follows afterward.
And- Holy crap!- the art. A lot of TV anime these days might look… eh, but at least the movies have maintained a high standard for quality. In fact, Children of the Sea is the most beautiful anime I’ve ever seen. They were faithful to the original manga’s linework-heavy artstyle, while also adding their own flourish to it. Studio 4°C also had the manga’s sense of composition; each shot is full of little details, yet it’s easy to identify the main subject at any given time. The animation, use of CG, and particle effects were also top dollar. After reading the manga, I had asked myself, “How the crap are they going to handle the climax?” Well, I’ll just tell you… they did a good job on that end.
Final Verdict: 10/10
I knew that the best case scenario with Children of the Sea was it would become my favorite anime of all time. And guess what: it’s my favorite anime of all time. The stars aligned with this one. Amazing source material, adapted by a studio that really cared. It’s practically perfect in every way. But boy… Children of the Sea got Shrekked hardcore. The COVID-19 pandemic killed its one shot at publicity in a U.S. premiere (outside of Chicago at least), and it made me real salty. This was a rare chance for something obscure, adapted by a talented team, to be unleashed upon the world, and it was all for naught!
This is one of the few pieces of media that I recommend you try regardless of your tastes. I might be sounding pretentious, but understanding the message that it conveys is very eye-opening. I’ve read a lot of books where the blurbs say “This completely changed how I view the universe!” and it ended up being two boring teenagers falling in love. Children of the Sea is not that; it is genuine, brutally honest, and poignant.
An unspoken tradition in the world of anime and manga is to make things into guns. Swords are among the first weapons to become guns, for example. Even Western anime like RWBY honor the tradition by turning scythes, boots, and even suitcases into guns. Honestly, it’s surprising that it took until the manga No Guns Life, published in English by Viz, to turn an entire person into a gun.
In No Guns Life, people get all kinds of augments. The people with these augments are called Extended. Juzo Inui is so Extended… his freaking head is a gun! Although there is no war, things are not safe in the city, and he does all sorts of odd jobs to get by. But one fateful day, a dude hires him to protect a child named Tetsuro Arahabaki. Turns out that the dude was being remote controlled by Tetsuro due to a special ability called Harmony. Because of this, the megacorporation known as Beruhren tries to climb up Juzo’s ass. But that doesn’t matter; if the client pays, he’ll do the job.
At first, it seems that No Guns Life is a typical “cyberpunk starring a hard-hearted war veteran who was used as a tool, is outcast by society now that he’s obsolete, and is sucked into a massive government conspiracy while he comes to terms with his past and makes us wonder what makes us human”. And, well, that’s because it’s just that. Like Levius, there really isn’t anything particularly special about the manga in terms of ideas.
Fortunately, it does have a good sense of momentum. So far, No Guns Life has behaved similarly to Ghost in the Shell, where we observe Juzo take on various jobs, each of which tells us a little more about the world and the overarching story. The plot is engaging, and full of intrigue, even if it’s all stuff we saw in every piece of cyberpunk media ever published.
Unfortunately, its cast is not too special. Juzo is the most likeable by far; he’s that nonchalant bad-ass type. There’s a number of parts where he gets livid just for someone messing with his favorite brand of cigarettes (as a small side note, there is a chance that the fact that it is implied that his smokes are essential for his Extended body to function could be interpreted as the manga endorsing substance abuse. But I’m the last person who wants to be “that guy” so I’ll leave it to your discretion). But other than him, we have some typical cyberpunk tropes. Tetsuro is basically a shounen protagonist disguised as a supporting character, and his personal engineer, Mary, is the sisterly figure who exists to tune him up while sometimes being a waifu.
The antagonists aren’t much better either. If you couldn’t tell from the rundown of the premise, Beruhren is the typical evil, monopolizing conglomerate that “symbolically represents Apple and Google and their massive conspiracy to take over all our personal data and allow the world to be controlled by Chinese censorship since they’re the biggest market in the world and all they care about is money” (side note: I’m being sarcastic and I personally don’t believe any of that). There’s also the organization, Spitzbergen, that is against the Extended (and guess what: they use Extended to kill other Extended which represents “the hypocrisy of the government and/or every organized religion”). And as far as individuals are concerned, at this point they’ve mainly been war veterans who got all cuckoo as a result of PTSD which “represents what Juzo could potentially have become which makes them morally ambiguous for some reason”.
At the very least, No Guns Life has great art. It has a rough style, with plenty of action. Even if the antagonists are lackluster, they at least have some legitimately creepy character designs. And speaking of character designs, Juzo definitely stands out as a protagonist given his unique head shape.
Current Verdict: 8.4/10
I hate saying this as a sci-fi fan, but cyberpunk has definitely lost its luster since the 1990s. At the time, sure, it was cool to be like “Whoa, what if we’re living in a simulation?” or, “Does pimping ourselves up with machinery make us no longer human?” But now, in this day and age, questions like that are about as cliche as a hentai protagonist being popular among cute girls. Despite how much the genre brings to the table, it’s deceptively restrictive. Personally, I believe that sheer entertainment value is all that cyberpunk has left in terms of appeal, and No Guns Life delivers (took me long enough to get to the topic at hand). I recommend it to any cyberpunk fans, as well as edgelords who think having a gun-head is cool.
I found 5 Worlds okay,The Witch Boy less than okay, and before them, I tried Amulet and Cleopatra in Space, to little success as well. I have been at my wits end to find a good Western graphic novel. But now, through a publishing medium that I didn’t know about until just recently, I might have just found a GN that I can seriously enjoy. And that GN, or webcomic rather, is Abbadon’s Kill Six Billion Demons.
In Kill Six Billion Demons, a young woman named Allison is enjoying some… er… quality time with her boyfriend when they are rudely interrupted by an assortment of demons. They kidnap her boyfriend, and stuff a weird thing into her skull, which transports her to another world. Yeah, it’s pretty simple.
First, in case you decide to read the original web version, I should give some pointers about the site to save you some headache. For some reason, when you select a chapter from the drop-down on the left, it displays all the chapter pages in reverse order. So unfortunately, you’ll have to scroll down to the very bottom of the webpage, and likely click to a second web page in the archive to view the actual beginning. It’s faster than going back to chapter one and clicking the chapter skip button over and over again!
If you couldn’t tell from the intro paragraph, KSBD is a rootin’ tootin’ good time. It’s a bit expositiony at first, but it’s legitimately good exposition about Throne, the world it’s set in. It’s a very interesting and creative place, full of weirdos of all shapes and sizes. The creation story of Throne is very wild and complex, and it seems to integrate literally every religion known to man in its lore. It’s borderline overwhelming, and it makes a pretty straightforward plot seem more convoluted than it is.
One issue I did have- and it’s one that’s entirely my fault- is that I had a very hard time following a lot of the dialogue. For the most part, Allison’s portion of the story was fine. But whenever White Chain or literally anyone else came up, they pretty much spoke like the Bible met Shakespeare and had a kid. It is definitely very eloquently written, but like I said, it’s a SERIOUS mouthful.
My other issue ended up being with the cast. While they are by far the best graphic novel cast I’ve seen so far, they are high in abundance… and weird names. Allison starts out kinda whiny, but after the end of book 1, she stops messing around and becomes very spunky. White Chain is much more complicated… to the point where I don’t quite know what to think of him (or her?) yet. So far, my favorite character is Cilo, a blue devil who ends up tagging along with Allison and offers a lot of sass. Most other characters appear for about five seconds… and have some seriously weird names that went in one end of my brain and immediately out the other.
Overall, the story is seriously good. Just because my pea-brain was too small to comprehend it doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. The author really gave it their all when making this narrative and the world it’s set in. There is so much lore that it begs for rereads just so you can soak it all in. It can easily take over an hour just to get through half a book because of how much content there is.
Also, I finally read a Western comic with really good art. KSBD has an abstract and twisted style that suits itself perfectly. The character design is incredible, and much better than the other GNs I’ve read at this point. KSBD also seems to have a better grasp of actual PANEL FLOW than those others that I read. I don’t know why it was so much better, but it just was. While motion lines are still sparse, the illustrator uses perspective and gesture drawing to give the action scenes legitimate sizzle.
Current Verdict: 8.5/10
It’s not perfect, but Kill Six Billion Demons is definitely the best Western comic I’ve read thus far. But since it’s a webcomic, updates will likely be sporadic, making it difficult to commit to the long haul. I’m willing to finish it; it’s just a matter of when. For now, I recommend it for fans of edgy stuff.
I’ve heard mixed things about Christianity, and know a limited amount of only one country’s iteration of Buddhism. As such, I had no idea what I was getting into when I began to read Saint Young Men, published in English by Kodansha Comics.
“Christianity? Buddhism? What does any of that have to do with this?” you ask. Well, this manga is set in modern Japan, like your usual manga. It’s about two guys renting an apartment together during their vacation there, see. Those two roomies are none other than Jesus Christ and Buddha.
At the very least, you don’t need to do research on either religions, for the translators have already done it for you. There are notes in every volume on all the religious references to help you understand what’s going on. Thank God too… for there’s a LOT of stuff to get, especially since Buddhism in particular varies between countries, and this Buddha seems to encapsulate a little of everything.
Let me just say that this is one of the most unique comedic portrayals of religious figures that I have ever seen. In Western culture, most interpretations of religious figures (particularly Jesus) that I’ve seen in pop culture have been done in comedic matters that try to be funny by being offensive on purpose, such as that iconic Family Guy episode where Jesus chainsmokes and is kind of an A-hole (for the record, I do know about the movie, Jesus of Nazareth, but in this post I’m talking about more fictional portrayals). By comparison, Saint Young Men is a simple portrayal of these two kind of just being regular guys; they are on vacation after all.
With this being a slice-of-life, the characters are where it’s at, since you need incentive to read about people doing boring everyday stuff. In Saint Young Men, Jesus and Buddha are genuinely good friends, which- intentional or not- promotes a social commentary to where people of different faiths can exist in harmony together. I find their interactions to be similar to Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Jesus is aloof and acts more like Laurel, while Buddha plays the straight man and behaves more like Hardy (although he too is a bit of a goofball). Their relationship is fun and wholesome, and gives Saint Young Men a refreshing and relaxing feel.
As for the art, Saint Young Men is very simple. It reminds me of the Descending Stories manga I covered a while back, but since this manga isn’t as serious, the style doesn’t clash. The characters are very expressive, and the panel flow is strong.
The one nitpick that I have with Saint Young Men is Jesus and Buddha being in it. “But you just said-” Allow me to explain! As previously mentioned, I’m not at all offended by these figures’ portrayal. However, their existence seems a bit… marketable. Regardless of if the mangaka genuinely wants to make a great manga with this premise, the presence of these figures inherently makes Saint Young Men an easy impulse buy (it worked on me, even). If I merely described it as “two guys live together in a flat in Tokyo”, would you be interested? Probably not. Maybe you’d be interested if I said “a Christian man and a Buddhist man live together in a flat in Tokyo”, but regardless, the actual content of the manga isn’t that much different from a bog-standard slice-of-life. There isn’t even any commentary on the social state of the figures’ respective religions, which might be a turn-off for people who like that kind of stuff.
Current Verdict: 8.4/10
Saint Young Men is a great manga. It’s a fun, fluffy comedy about two gods living life. Of course, you will need a mind as open as Breath of the Wild’s overworld in order to enjoy it.