Thursday, April 30, 2009

After School Nightmare (manga, vol. 8) by Setona Mizushiro

Usually, when I describe what happens in a particular manga volume, I do so pretty much in the same order the manga does. That's not the case with this post - hopefully this change will lead to greater clarity, not less. It's so hard to write about what happens in this series, because I never know what's important and what can be left out...

For this post, I'm going to try to switch to calling Mashiro a "she," as this appears to be the gender that she has settled on (for now, anyway). The previous volume ended with Mashiro finally telling Sou that she loves him. Plus, there was a parasitic student on the loose in the dream world.

Although Sou must know that Mashiro is likely still emotionally wishy washy, he chooses to leave his sister for Mashiro. That doesn't mean that things are over with Ai, though, and Sou still has a lot of issues to deal with. In the meantime, however, Sou and Mashiro have relationship issues to work through. Although Mashiro has decided to be a girl (in private anyway - during regular school hours, no one but Sou and Kureha knows Mashiro is anything other than a guy), this decision doesn't always seem to sit comfortably and certainly hasn't solved all her problems. She's jealous because she doesn't think she's as cute or pretty as Kureha or Ai or any of the other girls Sou has been with (by the way, Mashiro still thinks there might be something going on between Sou and Kureha - yet another reason for jealousy). She's embarrassed about letting Sou see her in the girl's uniform she was given.

Also, the physical part of her relationship with Sou isn't working out so well - the two of them enjoy kissing well enough, but when Sou and Mashiro try to have sex for the first time and Mashiro complains that it hurts, all Sou can tell her is "Your first time is supposed to hurt, just deal with it!" and "Just shut up, lie down, and let me do my thing!" Understandably, Mashiro smacks him (although, to be fair, I think Sou was pretty upset about the way things were going, too, and he might've said stupid things because he was flustered), at which point Sou admits that it's possible he's only using Mashiro as a way to forget his sister. Ouch.

Of all of them, Kureha appears to be doing the best. She's decided to move beyond the rape that has, up until now, shaped her dream form. Now her dream form is herself, with armor. Unfortunately, she doesn't have any weapons in the dream world, so when the parasitic student attaches itself to her hand she needs help getting rid of it. After the black knight cuts off her hand for her, he goes after Kurosaki and then after Mashiro. At first, Mashiro is a bit confused and tries to escape - after all, she and Sou had finally become a couple (or whatever you want to call what the two of them are). She realizes, however, that Kureha is ready to graduate, and the only way she can graduate is by using the key hidden inside one of the dream students. Mashiro allows herself to be killed and, as she dies, transforms her blood into birds that kill the black knight. In the end, Kureha is left with the key, but even though she is now able to graduate, she chooses not to. Her "special class" teacher in the waking world (who is not the same person as Mashiro's teacher, by the way) warns her that she may not get another chance to graduate, but Kureha is ok with that, as long as she gets a chance to see Mashiro graduate and maybe help him along. As frustrating as Mashiro can be, she still cares about him.

In the dream world, there are signs that Mashiro may not be as settled on her gender as she thinks she is (surprise, surprise) - the male Mashiro tries to get his body back, but the female Mashiro manages to get away, for now. Sou/the black knight also has some inner turmoil bubbling up in the dream world, in the form of someone I'm guessing is Ai. Also, before he dies, the black knight says, "That woman continues to control me... The words of a dead woman will always haunt me..." This doesn't make sense to Mashiro, and it doesn't really make sense to me either. However, it leads me to the next character, Kurosaki.

In the latter half of this volume, Mizushiro focuses a bit more on Kurosaki. Before her death, his mother told him to do as his father tells him, so that he can support his father and eventually take over the company. To Kurosaki, this feels like slowly killing the part of himself that is himself, so that the perfect leader he pretends to be can survive. He's tired of it, tired of being his father's puppet, and by the end of the volume he's decided he's not going to be the "perfect leader" anymore. He's quitting kendo, and he rips into Mashiro, who has made it no secret that she admires the person Kurosaki knows he is only pretending to be.

Kurosaki seems to come across a lot of suits of armor. He has some kind of panic attack after seeing one of them. It's possible that it reminded him of Sou from the dream world, but I've been kicking around another idea. Kurosaki feels that he's two people, himself and his father's perfect puppet. What if he's two people in the dream world as well? In the dream world, he looks like himself - this could be because he is himself. The other part of him, the perfect part, could be the black knight, which would explain the "dead woman" comment. If all this is true, however, then who's Sou, and why would Ai have hung around the black knight so much if it hadn't been Sou? Well, it's just an idea - I look forward to seeing what gets revealed in later volumes.

Before I wrap things up, I'd like to talk about the parasitic student a bit. After she's cut off of Kureha, she doesn't survive long. Mashiro inadvertently kills her when she admits that she doesn't know who she is - after she's gone, Kureha tells Mashiro that she's been in their waking world class all along. It's just a little thing, but I like how, in this series, the students in the dream class can kill each other by accident, just with words. In the real world, words can cut pretty deeply too, but the evidence of the damage they cause is often hidden. Not so in the dream class.

Overall, I enjoyed this volume. Damaged characters are fun to read about, and this series is full of them. I may occasionally want to wring Mashiro and Sou's necks, but that doesn't mean they aren't interesting. The series is just about finished (from what I can see in Anime News Network, it looks like I've got two more volumes to go), and I can't wait to see how things end. The nice thing about not really being sure whether I like most of the characters or not is that, when the series ends, I probably won't find myself wishing it would continue. It's kind of a good feeling.

The extras: there's a page of translator's notes at the end (mostly just explanations of people's names, except for one note that helpfully deciphers a reference readers may not be aware of) and some very interesting author free talks. According to the teaser, in the next volume "A tortured Sou must choose between reality and dreams" (which appears to be a choice between Ai and Mashiro - which one is reality and which one is the dream?) - somehow, this sentence feels like a spoiler.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Loveless (anime TV series); Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga - Twelve-year-old Ritsuka's life isn't very normal - his older brother died not too long ago, his mother is physically abusive, and a strange 19-year-old man named Soubi has shown up, claiming to have known his brother. Soubi says he is Ritsuka's Fighter, while Ritsuka is a Sacrifice. Ritsuka slowly comes to understand what this means, as he learns to battle other Fighter-Sacrifice pairs who may be able to lead him to knowledge about his brother's death. Those who'd like another story with mystery, twisted relationships, and emotionally damaged characters might enjoy this title.
  • Xxxholic (manga) by CLAMP - Watanuki is a high school student who is plagued by the ability to see spirits. One day, he meets a woman named Yuuko who can help rid him of this ability. Anybody who receives her help must pay a fair price in return, so Watanuki becomes her cook, housekeeper, and errand boy for an undetermined amount of time. Until he has worked enough to earn her help, Watanuki will continue to have to deal with his abilities, which often come in handy when Yuuko gives him special errands to run. This series includes lots of mini-stories, as Yuuko deals with clients who need her special skills and knowledge. Sometimes things turn out well for the clients, and sometimes things end badly, and, due to these experiences, Watanuki gradually grows and changes. Those who'd like something else that's often strange, sometimes a little dark, and has a tendency to deal with characters who have secrets and personal issues they have to overcome might want to try this series.
  • The Sandman (graphic novel series) by Neil Gaiman - The first book is the series is called Preludes and Nocturnes. This series focuses mainly on Morpheus, the Sandman, a dark figure who watches over dreams and makes sure they stay separate from reality. Despite this, several of the stories in this series involve the blending of reality and dreams. Morpheus' various siblings make the occasional appearance, and they're fascinating as well. Those who'd like another character-focused series that deals with dreams might enjoy this title. The series often takes a look at aspects of human characters' lives and personalities and how these intersect and blend with their lives in the dreaming world.
  • Kare Kano (manga) by Masami Tsuda; His and Her Circumstances (anime TV series) - Yukino is a vain and greedy (albeit likable) girl who has spent years making herself seem like a perfect, elegant, and humble student, just so that she can be praised and loved by others. One day, Arima, a boy she views as a rival, sees beneath her mask and uses this knowledge to blackmail her into helping him out with his tremendous volume of work. Arima appears to be the real deal, a good-looking, perfect, and humble student, but he has his own secrets, some of which are far darker than Yukino's. As Yukino spends more time with him, she begins to fall in love with him and wants to help him deal with the darker parts of himself. Several of the characters in this series have secrets, hidden selves, and insecurities that may appeal to some fans of After School Nightmare. This title is most like After School Nightmare when it's at its darkest, but it does have a tendency to be lighter in tone than Mizushiro's series.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Antique Bakery (manga, vol. 2) by Fumi Yoshinaga

The guys at the Antique Bakery learn a little more about Kanda's past after he has to find a new place to live. It turns out Kanda used to be in a biker gang. He'd save women who were being beaten or otherwise mistreated by other gang members, and then the women would sleep with him out of gratitude. Yep, Kanda may be cute, but he apparently wasn't always as nice and innocent-looking as he is now. Well, by the end of the chapter, Tachibana has offered to rent the second floor of the bakery out to Kanda, and Kanda has accepted.

Then, Tachibana finds things he thought he'd left behind catching up to him. One of those "things" is Chikage, who is tall, handsome, incredibly loyal, and amazingly inept. He's Tachibana's family's housekeeper, but he's really bad at it. He's been sent to Tachibana for reasons that aren't revealed until the end of the volume, when Yoshinaga hits readers with a plot whammy. I'll admit, when I first got this volume, I was bad and read little bits here and there before I finally read the entire thing from beginning to end. One of the things I read was the ending - at which point I gasped and immediately requested the third volume through ILL. However, I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll talk about the ending later. If you don't like reading spoilers, you probably shouldn't be reading this blog. My posts have spoilers more often than not, and I don't always remember to warn people.

Anyway, Ono notices pretty quickly that there's something going on between Tachibana and Chikage. His first guess was that they were lovers, which Tachibana denies, but it's obvious that the two of them are pretty close. However, all thoughts of the Tachibana-Chikage mystery fly out of Ono's head the first time he sees Chikage without his sunglasses on - once again, Ono is in lust. Despite already having a lover, Ono flirts with and seduces Chikage (we're talking full-power "gay of demonic charm" mode here). Unsuspecting and innocent Chikage instantly falls for Ono's charms. When Tachibana decides to keep Chikage occupied by giving him a job at the Antique Bakery, Ono gets even more chances to seduce Chikage. He even almost manages to sleep with him, but Chikage is too nice a guy - Ono practically throws himself at Chikage, and all Chikage can think is, "For shame! I can't believe I almost took advantage of a drunken Ono."

Remember, though, that Ono already has a lover - this thing with Chikage could not continue, trouble-free, forever. Soon, Ono's boyfriend finds out, there's a big fight, and Chikage's feelings get hurt when he gets caught in the middle and Ono says some careless things. Amazingly enough, Tachibana gets angry with Ono not because he used his charms on Chikage, but rather because he hurt Chikage's feelings. Tachibana may no longer be the cruel homophobe he was (or seemed to be?) back in high school, but still - apparently, his affection for Chikage is such that he doesn't care if he's gay, as long as he's happy. Anyway, Ono patches things up with Chikage well enough, but he also stops playing his usual games with Chikage, at least in this volume. I can't wait to see how things progress in later volumes.

The guys at the Antique Bakery now have to gear up for the Christmas season. Tachibana wants to do some special door-to-door deliveries on Christmas Eve, so Chikage has to be ready to man the tables and take care of customers by himself. Meanwhile, it's time for Kanda to take his next step as Ono's apprentice and make a cake on his own. Nearly everyone has some serious training ahead of him - Chikage with...everything, Kanda with the cakes, and Tachibana with angel hair decoration (Miss Urushihara from the first volume is back, and Tachibana would rather die than make it seem as though the Antique Bakery couldn't handle every single one of her Christmas-time requests). Everything works out ok, though. Tachibana's Santa costume doesn't go over so well at first, and he makes lots of little kids cry, but he handles Miss Urushihara's request just fine. Chikage does well enough, or at least he doesn't fail horribly, and he saves Ono from a woman-inspired panic attack (Ono is afraid of women which, we find out in this volume, may be due to the affairs Ono's mother had with just about everybody, including one of Ono's teachers).

The volume wraps up with a doozy, which, at first, appears to be a setup that will reveal as much about Tachibana as the first chapter revealed about Kanda, no big deal. Tachibana shocks everyone when he shows up to work clean-shaven for the first time since before Kanda was hired. The sudden change was inspired by an impending family visit - Tachibana's aunt and grandmother stop by the bakery. Ono and Kanda are confused and amazed during their entire visit. It seems that both women think Tachibana is a perfect angel, a sheltered young man who should be worried over and looked after. Kanda is really angry with Tachibana for putting on such a "perfect little rich boy" act, which Tachibana says he does because he doesn't want them to worry about him. Only two pages later, Yoshinaga hits readers with the big revelation--

You know how, in my post for the first volume, I wondered if the second volume was going to refer back to earlier events? Well, it definitely does. I only mentioned it a little, but there was a former police officer in the first volume who, years ago, managed to find a kidnapped boy but failed to capture the kidnapper. Tachibana was the kidnapped boy. Mr. Tadahiro, the former police officer, didn't recognize him in the first volume because of the stubble (he really does look a lot different when he's clean-shaven). Anyway, not only was Tachibana the kidnapped boy, the kidnapper apparently loved cake and gave little Tachibana cake every day (I'm not sure if Yoshinaga ever mentions how long Tachibana was gone, but it was long enough for his hair to grow out some).

So, little details are possibly explained now (or they still don't make sense - whatever). The cake thing could be why Tachibana doesn't like sweets (although, emotionally, that dislike is pretty low-key if the kidnapping really is the root of it all). Tachibana's nightmare, earlier in the volume - probably something to do with the kidnapping. His close relationship with Chikage - not sure yet, but, again, probably something to do with the kidnapping or events after he was found. Tachibana's grandmother and aunt seem shocked when Tachibana does his usual "let's describe the sweet stuff in lovely and mouth-watering ways" thing, and his grandmother mentions that she was worried when he suddenly decided to open a bakery - all this probably has something to do with the cake-loving kidnapper thing. Actually, considering that, it's pretty amazing that Tachibana willingly decided to work around cakes and other sweet things all day long. Could it be that he decided to open the bakery just to see if he could stand it? Or - and this could be a little out there - is he hoping the kidnapper might one day walk into his bakery?

When I read the first volume, I remember thinking it was a little odd how easily Tachibana's parents went along with his sudden declaration that he planned to open a bakery. In fact, they not only went along with it, the fully supported him - Tachibana's father was the one who found Ono, the genius pastry chef. With the whole cake thing, it probably worried them a bit, but they've gotten so used to coddling and protecting Tachibana over the years that they couldn't help but support him. I'm impressed they didn't send Chikage after him sooner.

Eh, I must stop, or I'll go on forever trying to relate absolutely everything to the kidnapping.

Oh, I can't wait until I get the next volume. Our ILL staff is amazing - this 2nd volume was especially difficult for them to get, because there was no nice and easy record for just the 2nd volume in WorldCat. The nice thing about working right next to ILL is that they could come by and chat with me about the best way to hunt the volume down. The third volume should hopefully be easier.

(Once again, I have problems thinking up read-alikes and watch-alikes. This list does have some new stuff, but not much.)

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:

  • Yakitate!! Japan (manga) by Takashi Hashiguchi - Azuma Kazuma's goal is to make Ja-pan - every country except Japan seems to have its own national bread, and Azuma wants to correct this by making bread that would fit in with Japanese cuisine and be loved as much as rice. In pursuit of this goal, Azuma finds work at a branch of Pantasia, a famous bread-making chain. Bread-making isn't a sport, but you wouldn't always know it from reading Yakitate!! Japan - in this wacky manga, people bake the craziest things (which usually have some sort of basis in real-life breads), competing rabidly against one another. The feel of this manga is nothing like Antique Bakery - although this manga is also humorous, its humor is wackier than Antique Bakery's, and it doesn't have that same undercurrent of seriousness. However, readers who'd like another manga featuring mouthwatering foods might want to try this.
  • Honey and Clover (manga) by Chika Umino - (This popular manga has spawned both anime and live action shows, none of which I've listed here - check out Anime News Network if you'd like to know a little more about them.) This "slice of life" manga focuses primarily on a group of art college students - their friendships, dramas, and loves. Those who liked Antique Bakery's mix of humor and seriousness, character-driven story, and focus on relationships may enjoy this manga.
  • Bartender (manga) by Araki Joh (story) and Kenji Nagatomo (art); Bartender (anime TV series) - Ryu Sasakura is a genius bartender who makes the most incredible cocktails anyone has ever tasted. Customers of all kinds come to his bar, and Ryu uses his talents to help each one with their worries and problems. This is another character-driven "slice of life" story. In addition, those who enjoyed Antique Bakery's lovely and well-described pastries and cakes may enjoy Bartender's various drinks. (It is very bad of me to include this in the list, because neither the anime nor the manga are available in the US yet. But, oh, I wish - I've read some very nice blog posts about the anime.)
  • Emma (manga) by Kaoru Mori; Emma: A Victorian Romance (anime TV series), continues with Emma: A Victorian Romance Second Act (anime TV series) - If you found yourself really enjoying the cake and pastry-making details, you may like the lovely historical details in Emma. The story is set in Victorian England. Emma is a maid and William is a member of the gentry. The two fall in love, but how can they have a future when their class differences keep pulling them apart?
  • Fruits Basket (anime TV series); Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya - Tohru had been living with her grandfather after her mother died, but circumstances and Tohru's own desire not to be a burden meant that she ended up living alone in a tent for a while. However, she gets taken in by the Sohma family, who are hiding a secret - certain members of the family turn into animals in the Chinese zodiac when they're weak or hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Both the manga and anime are good - the anime follows the manga pretty closely (except for a few things, and the last episode), but it ends well before the manga does. Like Antique Bakery, this series has a fairly "calm" feel to it overall - also like Antique Bakery, it occasionally hits you with some jaw-dropping revelations that make it clear there's more to the characters than their light, fluffy surfaces let on.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

High School Debut (manga, vol. 2) by Kazune Kawahara

(This post has lots and lots of spoilers for this volume.)

Although Haruna's realization that she might be in love with Fumi shocks her, neither Yoh nor Asami are all that surprised. It takes a lot of coaching and help from Yoh, but it's not long before Haruna and Fumi have a date scheduled at the zoo. Haruna is terrified she'll mess things up, so Yoh agrees to follow the two of them and text Haruna tips and instructions as she needs them. Asami wants to follow too, but Yoh is very opposed to this. His words: "You'll get in the way!"

Haruna and Fumi get along well and, with Yoh's help, the date appears to be a success. Fumi doesn't appear to notice that Haruna feels anything more for him than friendship - the guy is even more clueless than Haruna, if that's possible. However, Yoh is confident enough about how things went that he advises Haruna to confess her feelings. Haruna also wants to tell Asami, since Asami helped her out and let her borrow a top to wear on her date. Unfortunately, when Yoh and Haruna arrive at Yoh's house, they find Asami in Fumi's lap, kissing him. Haruna runs off but comes back, only to be told by Yoh that she should probably leave. Fumi tells her that he and Asami are now dating. Fumi's not being mean - he still doesn't have a clue about Haruna's feelings for him.

Although Fumi still doesn't get it, Asami certainly does. Haruna can't stand the way things are between her and the two of them, so she decides to go see Asami and talk about everything that's happened and why Asami never told Haruna that she liked Fumi. Asami tells Haruna that there was no reason for her to tell her anything. In her words, "It's just that Fumi liked me better in the end." Haruna leaves after this painful conversation, and then Yoh chews Asami out for her actions. He doesn't believe that Asami actually liked Fumi until Haruna started liking him. At this point, Asami gets upset, saying that all Yoh ever seems to think about is Haruna anymore, and he's been neglecting his own sister.

Yoh goes to Haruna and lets her cry on his shoulder, promising to help her find someone even better than Fumi. The next day, Haruna manages to do ok, despite having to watch Asami cuddle with Fumi while the two of them arrange a date at the movies. On the day of Asami's date with Fumi, Yoh tries to help Haruna find another guy. It doesn't go well - none of the guys interest her. When Haruna gets a call from Asami and discovers that she's alone and for some reason skipping out on her date with Fumi, Haruna runs to her and encourages her to see Fumi. Asami tells Haruna that she should take her place, since a guy like Fumi could never really like someone as horrible as her (Asami). At some point during their conversation, Fumi spots Asami. Asami is sure he'll be furious that she stood him up, but Fumi just assumes he got their meeting place wrong (like I said, he's even more clueless than Haruna). In tears, Asami finally says she likes him.

As Yoh and Haruna continue to have problems finding her a new guy, Asaoka suggests that they may be having difficulties because there's someone Haruna already likes, someone she can't admit to liking. Haruna realizes that this person is probably Yoh. Unfortunately, if he finds out, he won't be her coach anymore, and he might not even want to be her boyfriend, so Haruna does her best not to act out of the ordinary around him. Instead, she works hard at practicing softball for the Sports Meet. It's hard, though, and she finds herself thinking about all the things she's learned to like about him and freaking out when he leans a little too close after giving her a sweatband.

Yoh is also preparing for the Sports Meet - amazingly, he's going to play basketball, a sport he hasn't really played since the infamous "beads incident." It appears as though, for some reason, Yoh may finally be over his old girlfriend. Now that Yoh's over her, though, is it possible that he might end up with another girlfriend? Haruna gets upset at the thought, and Yoh and his friends assume she's upset because Yoh might not be able to be coach if he gets a girlfriend. Later, Yoh reassures her that he doesn't plan to get a girlfriend until she has a boyfriend. All Haruna can think is that Yoh's girlfriend couldn't possibly be her - after all, Haruna is nothing like Yoh's ex-girlfriend, so she's not his type, is she? These thoughts (and the words of some jerk spectators) cause Haruna to do less than her best while pitching during her softball game. When Yoh gets disgusted with her, Haruna goes back to pitching her best and is happy when Yoh tells her it's ok for her to come and watch him play.

I was amazed that Kawahara didn't try to hook Haruna and Yoh up in the second volume, but the buildup to that eventuality is really nice. In this volume, it's tough to tell whether Haruna has decided to like Yoh because Asaoka put the idea in her mind, or whether she really does like Yoh - with Haruna, it's difficult to tell because, as she herself admits, she's easily influenced. I have to say, though, that Yoh's friends are funny. Fumi may very well be the most clueless person in the universe, while Asaoka is extremely perceptive (although he doesn't say so, I think he's already guessed Haruna's feelings for Yoh).

Most of the characters in this series are really likable and fun to read about. The big exception, for me, is Asami, and this volume is the beginning of my extreme dislike of her. Fumi may be clueless, but Asami definitely isn't, and she knew exactly what she was doing when she seduced Fumi after his date with Haruna. She has that horrible conversation with Haruna where she makes it seem like she had no part in how things turned out and was just going with the flow - kicking at Haruna like that is a lot like kicking a puppy. To make matters worse, she heaps on the PDA after her conversation with Haruna. Asami's not dumb, so I can only assume she was trying to hurt Haruna on purpose. She seems to have an attack of conscience later on, but I don't think that really makes up for her actions. It's like Kawahara used Asami to keep Haruna from ending up with the wrong guy and then, once that was done, tried to restore Asami to her place as the amused, interested, and occasionally helpful spectator in Haruna's quest for love. This didn't really fly with me.

I'm not sure how else Kawahara could've dealt with the budding relationship between Haruna and Fumi, however. Haruna and Fumi are both nice, clueless characters who, I think, would've eventually slipped into an easy and comfortable relationship. They're both so easy-going that they would've made for a pretty boring manga couple. I suppose Kawahara could've had Yoh eventually realize his feelings for Haruna and have him win Haruna away from Fumi, but shojo manga is just rife with that sort of thing already. Plus, I don't think it would've fit Yoh's character very well. Actually, I had thought that at some point Asami or Asaoka would've convinced Haruna that the guy she really likes is Yoh and not Fumi. Both of these characters have noticed what Yoh and Haruna are like together, and I think both of them have commented on the amazing amount of effort Yoh is putting into finding Haruna a boyfriend.

Oh, before I go on to the read-alikes/watch-alikes, I should add that one of the things I didn't like so much about volume 1, Yoh's criticism of Haruna's love for sports (because it gives her non-girlie, and therefore unattractive, muscles). In this volume, he takes back what he said - he now thinks that her love of sports, the way she dresses, and the way she wears her hair are all part of her good points. Aww...

Like the previous volume, this volume includes some author free talks. In addition, there's a little test at the end that is supposed to tell readers how good they are with guys and give them advice depending on their level of ability. It makes me think of the tests you'll find in teen magazines - I could just imagine Haruna earnestly filling something like this out.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Fruits Basket (anime TV series); Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya - Tohru had been living with her grandfather after her mother died, but circumstances and Tohru's own desire not to be a burden meant that she ended up living alone in a tent for a while. However, she gets taken in by the Sohma family, who are hiding a secret - certain members of the family turn into animals in the Chinese zodiac when they're weak or hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Both the manga and anime are good - the anime follows the manga pretty closely (except for a few things, and the last episode), but it ends well before the manga does. Those who'd like another story with romance, a sweet and cheerful female main character, and a guy who isn't always good at expressing his emotions might want to try this.
  • Kare First Love (manga) by Kaho Miyasaka - Karin Karino is a shy student at an all-girls school who doesn't stand up for herself enough. Aoi Kiriya is a handsome and popular student at an all-boys school. Althought they seem completely different, when their paths cross Kiriya ends up asking Karin out on a date. As their relationship develops, Kiriya teachs Karin to be more confident, while Karin helps Kiriya deal with his family-related issues. Those who'd like another series featuring a female character who's a newbie at love and relationships might want to try this.
  • S.A (manga) by Maki Minami; S.A (anime TV series) - This series is also often referred to as Special A. Ever since she was a little girl and Kei beat her in a wrestling match, Hikari has always been second to Kei and considered him her rival. What she doesn't realize, even though everyone else figured it out ages ago, is that Kei loves her. In her determination to beat Kei at something, anything, Hikari has become a member of the Special A, an elite group at their elite school, right alongside him - will she ever realize his feelings for her, and what will happen if she does? My main exposure to this series has actually been to fansubs of the anime - since I don't think this anime has even been licensed by any company in the US, I'm kind of breaking one of my personal rules by putting it on this list. Not like it's the first time, though. Those who'd like another romantic series with a clueless heroine might want to try this.
  • Beauty Pop (manga) by Kiyoko Arai - In Kiri's school, there's a team of three guys who transform random girls by doing their hair, make-up, nails, etc. It's said that any girl they make over is guaranteed to get a date with whoever she has a crush on. Kiri is also a master hairstylist, but she prefers to work anonymously, and she's more willing than the guys to help out girls who aren't already good-looking to begin with. Kiri usually acts pretty apathetic, but she's got a soft heart and can be persuaded to use her skills to improve people's self-esteem. Those who'd like another series featuring makeovers and romance (far less romance than High School Debut, however) might want to try this.
  • Crimson Hero (manga) by Mitsuba Takanashi - All Nobara has ever wanted to do was to play volleyball, but, since she's the eldest daughter, her family wants her to become the next hostess for the family's ryotei (old-fashioned Japanese restaurant). Although Nobara's mother makes it as hard as possible for her to pursue her love of volleyball, Nobara still has the aid of her aunt and ends up living with the members of the Crimson Field High School's boys' volleyball team as their dorm mother. Although, due to lack of interest, this high school has no girls' volleyball team, Nobara is determined to pursue her dreams and gets the team reinstated after challenging the boys' team. Those who'd like another series with romance and a heroine who loves sports might want to try this.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Is that really my schedule...?

My next two or three weeks will be busy. I'm going to help judge a spelling contest of some kind, attend a conference (yay, technology petting zoo!), attend a 2-day online course, attend an online presentation about RDA, teach a library intern a little about cataloging, and somehow still do my regular cataloging and maintenance work. It'll be fun, I'm sure. (Not a sarcastic statement, but I do wonder how much my regular work will suffer.) The director of my library recently commented that it was too bad that I couldn't go to our state's library association conference (the library budget being what it is and my personal budget still recovering from moving and getting my car fixed). I could only imagine how swamped I'd be if I were going, however. The saddest part, to my mind, is that I'll be missing out on a big library conference (I have only been to one conference, and it was very small and tightly focused - I'd love to attend a larger conference). Also, I'm missing out on some really interesting and useful-sounding RDA-related presentations.

I'm still hoping I'll get lucky and RDA will be postponed indefinitely. For now, the more vocal people on AUTOCAT have turned their attentions away from criticising RDA and have focused on the 505 field (contents note) instead. It's been fun, or at least interesting, and I've even participated a little off-list.

High School Debut (manga, vol. 1) by Kazune Kawahara

In junior high, all Haruna really concentrated on was softball. She practiced hard, made lots of friends, and enjoyed herself, but she also began to hope that there was romance in her future. She looked forward to high school, because she figured all girls automatically got boyfriends then. When that doesn't happen, she turns to teen magazines and romantic manga, desperately trying to find the key to being attractive. No matter how much time she spends doing research or how many different popular outfits she wears, she never gets hit on. She knows she must be doing something wrong, because she sees girls around her getting hit on by lots of guys, even as she is ignored or avoided.

Haruna turns to her friend Mamie for advice, and Mamie tells her that maybe she should look for a coach of some kind - maybe a coach who knows more about what guys look for in a girl might be able to guide Haruna and tell her what she's doing wrong. Haruna instantly thinks of someone who might be able to help her - Yoh, a really hot guy she saw while trying to get hit on. Yoh happens to go to Haruna's school, and at first he wants nothing to do with her and her quest to become attractive. However, he eventually caves and agrees to take her clothes shopping, much to his sister's and friends' glee.

Eventually, Haruna finds out that the reason Yoh was so against becoming her coach was because of his girlfriend in junior high. When he inadvertently hurt her feelings, she told him, "All you ever do is hurt people," and turned his basketball teammates against him with her tears. After she hears this, Haruna's not really sure what to do about Yoh, but she ends up working out a deal with him - he'll be her coach, as long as she doesn't fall in love with him.

One of the first major things Yoh tries to do for Haruna after he agrees to be her coach is find her a skirt (Haruna's reasons for wanting a skirt: because they're girly and because boys like skirts). While they're out skirt shopping, Haruna gets hit on by a guy and is completely thrilled about it, but Yoh senses something's a little off about him. Haruna decides to give the guy her number anyway, which just pisses Yoh off. Yoh's annoyed enough that he says he's just going to let Haruna make her mistake, but he can't help but go after her when he finds out that she plans to meet up with the guy and go to his place. Things go badly with the guy - Haruna finds out that he's not the sweet, inexperienced guy she thought he was and that he didn't like her as much as he said he did. The guy starts dragging her off, but Yoh saves her. Plus, Yoh finally found a skirt that looks good on her.

Haruna's next hurdle: finding a guy. She's not really sure what her type is ("As long as it's someone that likes me, I'll be happy!"), and she's not really sure if there's a guy out there who'd even like someone like her (Yoh says the same, which doesn't exactly increase her confidence). Yoh's friend Fumi helps Haruna stay positive, and it begins to look like Fumi may be the guy for her.

There are aspects of this volume that are cringe-worthy. Haruna may not have a lot of common sense, and she tends to be straightforward to a fault, but she's a great girl regardless. She's kind of like a happy puppy. She's not nearly as unattractive as she thinks she is. Although some of Yoh's advice is probably good, some of it make me want to give Haruna a hug, even if she wouldn't realize why she might need one (she's so relentlessly cheerful that it takes a lot to bring her down). Haruna's a very sporty girl who loves softball, but Yoh tells her to stop working out because it makes her too muscular. He insults her a lot, and the way he phrases things isn't always very nice ("...we still have to find a guy who'd actually like you first").

Of course, some of the things I don't like about Yoh in this first volume actually turn out to be part of his charm. Although girls flock to Yoh because he's attractive and cool-looking, he's not always very good with words. He can be overly blunt, and he's really bad at talking about his feelings. When Haruna compliments him, he blushes and the reader can tell he's pleased, but he's too embarrassed to let Haruna know that her words make him happy. Basically, he's not perfect. It's a good thing Haruna's feelings aren't easily hurt, or Yoh's emotional clumsiness would ruin things between him and Haruna (although Kawahara has Haruna falling for Fumi by the end of this volume, it's not hard to tell who this series' true couple is).

What do I like about this volume? The cute moments between Yoh and Haruna - when he compliments her on her smile, when she compliments him on his smile, when he gets all stubborn about finding her a skirt, etc. The humor - Yoh's horror at some of Haruna's more unflattering outfits, the way Yoh deals with the creep, Yoh's surprise that Fumi would go out with Haruna. Quite a bit of the humor works because of Kawahara's skill at drawing expressions and combining those expressions with various manga conventions, such as sweat drops or throbbing veins. All Haruna's expressions are open and easy to read (Haruna is awestruck, because it seems to her like Yoh can read her mind, when all he's really doing is reading her expressions). Yoh, on the other hand, is more subtle. This makes those instances where he smiles or laughs freely all the more wonderful.

Overall, I liked this volume, even though there are moments throughout the volume where it might be embarrassing to say so. I have ended up addicted enough to this series that I now own the first 8 volumes.

The only extras this volume has are some author free talks.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Fruits Basket (anime TV series); Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya - Tohru had been living with her grandfather after her mother died, but circumstances and Tohru's own desire not to be a burden meant that she ended up living alone in a tent for a while. However, she gets taken in by the Sohma family, who are hiding a secret - certain members of the family turn into animals in the Chinese zodiac when they're weak or hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Both the manga and anime are good - the anime follows the manga pretty closely (except for a few things, and the last episode), but it ends well before the manga does. Those who'd like another story with romance, a sweet and cheerful female main character, and a guy who isn't always good at expressing his emotions might want to try this.
  • Kare First Love (manga) by Kaho Miyasaka - Karin Karino is a shy student at an all-girls school who doesn't stand up for herself enough. Aoi Kiriya is a handsome and popular student at an all-boys school. Althought they seem completely different, when their paths cross Kiriya ends up asking Karin out on a date. As their relationship develops, Kiriya teachs Karin to be more confident, while Karin helps Kiriya deal with his family-related issues. Those who'd like another series featuring a female character who's a newbie at love and relationships might want to try this.
  • S.A (manga) by Maki Minami; S.A (anime TV series) - This series is also often referred to as Special A. Ever since she was a little girl and Kei beat her in a wrestling match, Hikari has always been second to Kei and considered him her rival. What she doesn't realize, even though everyone else figured it out ages ago, is that Kei loves her. In her determination to beat Kei at something, anything, Hikari has become a member of the Special A, an elite group at their elite school, right alongside him - will she ever realize his feelings for her, and what will happen if she does? My main exposure to this series has actually been to fansubs of the anime - since I don't think this anime has even been licensed by any company in the US, I'm kind of breaking one of my personal rules by putting it on this list. Not like it's the first time, though. Those who'd like another romantic series with a clueless heroine might want to try this.
  • Beauty Pop (manga) by Kiyoko Arai - In Kiri's school, there's a team of three guys who transform random girls by doing their hair, make-up, nails, etc. It's said that any girl they make over is guaranteed to get a date with whoever she has a crush on. Kiri is also a master hairstylist, but she prefers to work anonymously, and she's more willing than the guys to help out girls who aren't already good-looking to begin with. Kiri usually acts pretty apathetic, but she's got a soft heart and can be persuaded to use her skills to improve people's self-esteem. Those who'd like another series featuring makeovers and romance (far less romance than High School Debut, however) might want to try this.
  • Crimson Hero (manga) by Mitsuba Takanashi - All Nobara has ever wanted to do was to play volleyball, but, since she's the eldest daughter, her family wants her to become the next hostess for the family's ryotei (old-fashioned Japanese restaurant). Although Nobara's mother makes it as hard as possible for her to pursue her love of volleyball, Nobara still has the aid of her aunt and ends up living with the members of the Crimson Field High School's boys' volleyball team as their dorm mother. Although, due to lack of interest, this high school has no girls' volleyball team, Nobara is determined to pursue her dreams and gets the team reinstated after challenging the boys' team. Those who'd like another series with romance and a heroine who loves sports might want to try this.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Strangers in Death (book) by J.D. Robb

(There are a few spoilers in this post, so beware.)

Thomas Anders's friends and acquaintances consider him to be an all-around nice guy who loved his wife. Given that, why was he found dead, strangled, after what looks like a night of kinky fun (with someone other than this wife, who was vacationing at a resort) gone horribly wrong? It's Lieutenant Eve Dallas's job to dig below the surface and figure out what actually happened the night Anders died. Her gut instinct tells her that Mrs. Anders killed her husband, but the woman's alibi is rock solid and there's no sign she hired a professional. It's a tangled case, but Dallas doesn't plan on giving up until she's gotten justice for Mr. Anders.

For those who, like me, read this series for all of the character relationships, this book is a little bit disappointing, since hardly anything new happens with most of the characters. Dallas only has one dream that I can remember, and it's not a "my hideously awful childhood" nightmare - that was actually a relief, since I've gotten a little tired of those nightmares. However, Charles and Louise are two characters who do have new relationship developments. The two are still a couple, but, for a while there, it looks as though their relationship is doing badly. The problem turns out to be a lack of communication. Because Charles seems to be hiding things from her, Louise assumes that he plans on breaking up with her. That is definitely not the case - Charles is hiding things from her because he wants to surprise her with the news that he's retiring from his job as an LC (Licensed Companion - a legal prostitute), has gotten a license in psychology, specializing in sex therapy, and has bought a house. Charles proposes marriage, and Louise accepts.

The actual murder mystery in this book didn't really excite me too much. I don't mind books where the story is more about figuring out how the killer did it than who did it. Sure, it could've turned out that Dallas was wrong and the wife didn't really do it, but I never expected that to be the case - actually, if Dallas had been wrong, maybe the book would've been more interesting.

There was something about this book that reminded me of Origin in Death (the one about the Icove case). Both books have a murder victim who appears to be the sort of person no one would ever want to kill, and both books have a woman who seems innocent but who Dallas thinks is a little off. However, the Icove case was much more interesting than the Anders case - it's possible that this is because the Icove case touches on some very discussable issues, whereas the Anders case is just about greed and the lack of a conscience. Robb tries to make Mrs. Anders seem like a criminal genius who would have gotten away with the murder if Dallas hadn't been so tenacious. However, as the Anders case is unraveled and the giant holes in Mrs. Anders's plan are revealed, she couldn't look less like a criminal genius.

Long-time readers of Robb's books probably read them as much for the character relationships as for the mysteries. In this case, although the character stuff (Charles and Louise are getting married!) is certainly fun, there isn't very much of it. The focus of this book is on the mystery, which, as I've mentioned, wasn't really all that gripping.

Overall, I love this series, but this particular book was not an example of the series at its best.

Read-alikes:
  • Light in Shadow (book) by Jayne Ann Krentz - Zoe Luce is an interior decorator with secrets, one of which is that she is a psychic who can sense the emotions that permeate rooms. When she walks into a new client's bedroom, she knows immediately that something terrible happened there and hires Ethan Truax, a private detective, to investigate. As the two of them spend more time with each other, the attractive between them deepens, but how will Ethan react when he discovers that Zoe isn't who she says she is? Those who'd like another romantic suspense story, by an author with a writing style that's similar to Robb/Roberts', might want to try this.
  • Ghost in the Shell (anime movie) - This movie takes place in a future where just about everyone has some sort of cybernetic implant, if not entirely cyberized bodies. Unfortunately, this leaves people vulnerable to brain-hacking. Section 9, a group of cybernetically enhanced cops, is called in to investigate a brain-hacker called The Puppetmaster. The sound effects and look of this movie are a little dated, in my opinion, but it's still an excellent movie (although it may require more than one viewing in order to figure out what's going on), and it's a great place to begin before trying any of the newer incarnations of this franchise. However, those who prefer something newer might want to try the anime TV series. I suggest this title as a general watch-alike (or read-alike, if you decide to go with the manga) because the Major, like Eve, is tough, yet with a buried vulnerable side.
  • I, Robot (live action movie) - The year is 2035 and Detective Del Spooner is called out to investigate the apparent suicide of Dr. Alfred Lanning, the scientist who created the robots humans now depend upon. Spooner begins to suspect that Lanning's death was not a suicide, but rather a murder committed by one of his robots. Unfortunately, Spooner can't get anyone to even consider his suspicions because all robots are programmed with the Three Laws of Robotics, the most important of which is that injure a human being or allow one to come to harm. Those who'd like another near-future murder mystery starring a tough cop with emotional issues want to try this - like Eve, Spooner pursues his theory even though on the surface it appears impossible.
  • The Beekeeper's Apprentice (book) by Laurie R. King - This one's a bit of a stretch, but hear me out. In 1915, 15-year-old American Mary Russell, an orphan chafing in her aunt's care, meets Sherlock Holmes and impresses him with her intelligence and observation skills. He agrees to mentor her and lets her take part in a few cases, until she finally becomes part of a much more dangerous case. King's style is different from Robb's, and it takes a while before there's any romance (and it's never at the level of Robb's books - Mary and Holmes are more intellectual than romantic, and King's books are mysteries, first and second). However, those who'd like a character-oriented mystery featuring a strong female heroine and a real criminal mastermind might want to try this.

Monday, April 20, 2009

At Face Value (book) by Emily Franklin

In this book, Franklin borrows a few things from the play Cyrano de Bergerac, sets everything in a modern day high school, and omits the tragic ending.

Seventeen-year-old Cyrie Bergerac can't wait for the day she turns 18, so that she can finally get the rhinoplasty she's wanted for years. Her nose is enormous, so enormous that she can't drink comfortably from a bottle of soda without a straw. Over the years, Cyrie has learned to use her wit and sharp tongue to combat any hurtful comments - unfortunately, her words can be so cutting that, by defending herself this way, she tends to turn others against her.

Although Cyrie's outward confidence and her role as editor of the school newspaper have gained her access to the "popular crowd," she stands apart from everyone and really has only three people she could name as her friends. Linus is one of those people - however, Cyrie is beginning to worry that Linus may want to be more than friends. Leyla is another one of those people. Leyla is pretty and gets along well with the popular students, but she lacks confidence, isn't good with words, and is a bit shy. Finally, there's Eddie Roxanninoff, whom everyone but Cyrie calls "Rox." Eddie is good-looking and kind, and Cyrie is secretly in love with him.

Just when Cyrie begins to think that Eddie might possibly like her in return, she discovers that Eddie actually like Leyla and Leyla likes Eddie. It's a terrible emotional blow, but not entirely unexpected, so Cyrie swallows her feelings and reluctantly agrees to help Leyla out when Leyla asks for Cyrie's editorial help with her love letters. They set up an email account that allows Leyla to write drafts, which Cyrie can then edit before Leyla sends them out. Cyrie is supposed to just edit Leyla's spelling and grammar, but it isn't long before she begins embellishing Leyla's words with her own thoughts and feelings, supposedly to make Leyla sound better. Although Eddie and Leyla end up together, how long can a relationship built on Leyla's looks and Cyrie's brain last? Will Cyrie and Leyla's friendship survive the revelation that Cyrie loved Eddie all along? Will Eddie ever find out the truth and, if he does, can he return Cyrie's feelings despite her nose?

Well, considering that I already mentioned that Franklin's ending is not tragic, it's probably not too hard to guess how things end.

Anyway, I got this book through ILL after reading about it on the publisher's website (At Face Value and Lament are published by the same publisher). The cover art caught my eye, and I like "ugly duckling" romance, so this sounded like a potential winner. Overall, it was a nice, light read, but not as good as I was hoping it would be.

One of my problems with this book is that there were too many things that felt forced. For instance, Leyla's tremendous lack of ability with words. I can see grammatical errors and spelling mistakes - lots of people have those problems, and goodness knows my own writing could use help. However, Leyla's also got a conveniently bad vocabulary ("I mean the brain thing on the inside" instead of "Maybe I'm not intellectual enough" or even "Maybe I'm not smart enough"). Their school newspaper is the second-best in the state and has high standards - Leyla is a member of the school newspaper's staff, so how can she bet this bad?? True, she doesn't write anything for the paper (I think she just takes notes during events and works on the paper's layout), but I would've thought she'd pick up something. Another thing that felt forced was people's reactions to Cyrie's putdowns. I don't think anyone ever jumped to Cyrie's defense whenever someone started to make a crack about her nose, and yet when Cyrie would verbally fight back, even her own friends expressed their disapproval. Yes, she'd have been on higher moral ground if she'd just "turned the other cheek," but I could understand why she said the things she said. If Cyrie was in the wrong, then so were those who made fun of her, so why was Cyrie the only one being frozen out?

My other problem with this book was the fantastic hugeness of Cyrie's nose. Had her nose just been large, I think I would've been ok with it - after all, Cyrie herself says that everyone has something they don't like about themselves, and plenty of people are very self-conscious about that something or plastic surgeons wouldn't be able to stay in business. Had her nose just been large, it would have been easy to applaud when both Cyrie's parents and her future pastic surgeon all told Cyrie that she should try to be happy and comfortable with herself as she is. However, Cyrie's nose isn't just large, it is apparently so big that it can get in the way of everyday activities. This made it a little harder not to be on Cyrie side when she started talking rhinoplasty. Cyrie does eventually see things her parents' way, but it takes Eddie telling her he likes her for this to happen. Would she have come to feel the same way even if things hadn't worked out between her and Eddie? I don't know.

Even though they didn't always interact with each other and do things in ways that felt realistic to me, I still liked most of the characters and liked reading about them. For once, the popular girls weren't all just cardboard cutouts - one in particular was pretty interesting. The story was ok, although I felt like screaming "No, that is NOT a good idea!" when Leyla outlined her plan to have Cyrie edit her love letters. It wasn't a bad book, it just wasn't a great one.

Read-alikes:
  • Geek Magnet (book) by Kieran Scott - KJ is thrilled to be the stage manager for her high school's production of Grease, but she's less thrilled with the way things are going in her social life. For some reason, she attracts the attention of creepy geeks (like the guy who's more attracted to her breasts than any other part of her), but a cute jock like Cameron doesn't even notice her. KJ finds she has a lot to deal with when her alcoholic father begins drinking even more and she is befriended by popular Tama. Tama can bring her even closer to Cameron, but is this really what KJ wants? Those who'd like another young adult romance in which a less-than-popular girl with body image problems nurses a crush on a popular guy might want to try this.
  • How Not to be Popular (book) by Jennifer Ziegler - Maggie's hippie parents don't like living in one place for long, so Maggie is constantly being uprooted. Maggie's tired of making friends only to lose them during yet another move, so she hatches a plan to become a social pariah at her newest school. She'll be so unpopular that no one will want to be friends with her, making her inevitable next move less painful. Of course, things don't work out the way Maggie intends them to. Those who'd like another light teen romance with a female main character who doesn't fit in with the popular crowd (in this case, on purpose) might want to try this.
  • Bloom (book) by Elizabeth Scott - Lauren, a not-so-popular high school junior, is dating Dave, the secretly celibate most popular guy in school. She tells herself that dating a popular guy is all she ever wanted, but when Evan, the loner son of her father's former live-in girlfriend, returns to town, she finds herself making up excuses so that she can avoid her boyfriend and spend more time with Evan. Those who'd like another young adult romance in which the main character is conflicted about relationships and must deal with the consequences of lying might want to try this.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

New Fullmetal, yay!

I just started watching the new Fullmetal Alchemist series, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, on FUNimation's website. Actually, I'm kind of amazed that they're showing it - I think they post subtitled episodes only days after they're aired in Japan. This more closely resembles what fansubbers do, which I'm guessing is the point. If they weren't airing the episodes themselves, fansubbers would be providing them anyway, regardless of the legality of doing so. I don't know if FUNimation has done this with other shows before, and I'm not really sure what the restrictions are going to be (the episodes are free, but how long will they be available for viewing?) - it's possible that they're trying this out with Fullmetal, a show they know already has a huge, ready-made fanbase, even outside of Japan. Well, I applaud what they're doing and hope that they do this with other shows in the future.

So far, there's only two episodes up, so I can't say too much about the show. In the first episode, it's made clear that this won't be a continuation of the original anime. This doesn't really surprise me, since, with the TV series and movie, the original anime has done just about everything it can do. True, there could be a series in which Edward and Alphonse find a way back to their own world/dimension, but I'm glad that's not the case. The original anime was very good, and the movie, in my opinion, wrapped most of the loose ends up in a very satisfactory way. Anything else might just be too much.

The art style in the first episode has more in common with the manga's art style than the original anime does - I think the look of Edward's eyes makes that especially clear. However, the second episode shows that the series will have more than just Edward's eyes in common with the manga - it looks like the series might also be following the manga more closely than the original anime.

Time will tell, I guess. After all, the original anime series wasn't that different from the manga at first. I'm guessing that what happened was that the anime caught up to the manga. Rather than having episode after episode of filler while waiting for the manga to get farther ahead (*cough* Naruto *cough*) or following the manga faithfully and ending abruptly once the anime caught up to the manga, the anime creators went with a different, but still plausible, storyline. The original Fullmetal Alchemist anime can still easily be included in a list of my top ten favorite anime, but I like the manga too, so I'm interested to see how things will go in this new anime. Here's hoping the original English dub cast will be handling this series too (I can't imagine that this won't be dubbed). The only person I'm wondering about is Aaron Dismuke - he was fantastic as Alphonse, but I think he was very young then and I'm not sure what his voice sounds like now.

The end is near...

Well, not really, but it's going to be a little more difficult to keep this blog going at the pace I've set for myself. I'm down to only one usable draft and I've currently got nothing scheduled to be posted tomorrow. I'm sure tomorrow will work out fine, but it's later posts that could be a problem. I guess it's time to finally blog about all that manga stacked by my bookcase (I recently bought more shelves to take care of my anime overflow, but I have yet to do the same for my print overflow).

Oh, and on an unrelated note, I've started watching fansubbed episodes of Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler), a show which began airing October 2008 in Japan. I'm only two episodes into it so far - at this point, it doesn't look like the most original show (it's child's play to come up with a list of similar anime and manga). That's ok - I'm still enjoying it. Sebastian is a lot of fun, I love the humor, and I'm perfectly willing to sit back and see how the supernatural storyline unfolds. Also, I really like the first ending theme ("I'm Alive!" by BECCA).

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Naked in Death (book) by J.D. Robb

The year is 2058 - technology is a bit more advanced, but the world isn't really all that different. Eve Dallas is a tough and dedicated New York police lieutenant. She's called out on a brutal and politically sensitive case, the murder of the granddaughter of a politician with aspirations for the presidency. Sharon DeBlass, the granddaughter, had been a prostitute (Licensed Companion) and something of an embarrassment to her family, especially her grandfather, Senator DeBlass, who opposes legalized prostitution. Now it looks like she's been killed by one of her clients, shot by a gun in a time when guns have been banned for years. What Dallas finds especially chilling is that the killer has made it clear that Sharon is only the first in what will be a series of murders.

Dallas is determined to find Sharon's killer, but she seems to continuously stumble across obstacles in her path. The senator wants to keep tabs on her progress, no matter the damage this causes the investigation. The senator doesn't want his granddaughter's name linked to the other murdered prostitutes, who he considers to be of lower class. Simpson, the chief of police, enjoys playing politics more than he does doing what's best for his officers. Finally, Dallas's first, best suspect, Roarke, the richest man in the known universe, is also the first man to ever be able to get underneath her emotional defenses. In her gut, Eve knows that Roarke didn't kill Sharon and the other women, but she risks losing her badge (after all, sleeping with a possible suspect is considered unwise) if she can't get actual proof that he wasn't involved.

I've been a fan of this series for several years now - re-reading this book after having read so many of the other ones, one thing I found a little jarring was the dream Eve woke up from at the start of this book. If you know the series well, you expect that pretty much any dream she has is about her father and her terrible childhood - or, if her current case is well underway, her dream might be about the case. This time, the dream is about a case that closed before the book even began. Not an issue for new readers, but I'd forgotten about it and it threw me off a little.

It amazes me how many regular characters Robb (aka Nora Roberts) manages to introduce in this first book. There's Charles, Roarke, Feeney, Mavis, Mira, Whitney, Nadine, and Summerset. She establishes Roarke as someone who's sexy, filthy rich, and not always into legal activities. Eve is established as somewhat emotionally closed-off and driven, with a past (her father beat her and raped her when she was a child) that still causes her pain. Even with all of this, the book doesn't feel rushed, probably because Robb doesn't bother to develop many of the characters and on-going themes and issues (not that new readers will necessarily realize that these will be on-going) very much. She doesn't really need to, actually. If you read the books she writes as Nora Roberts, you know that most of her characters only really get one book to themselves. If those characters reappear, it's only as part of a supporting cast or for walk-on roles. The books she writes as J.D. Robb allow her to do something I'm not sure she's ever done before, focus on a fairly limited cast of characters for as long as she wants. At the moment, "as long as she wants" means at least 25 books and short stories.

Although I had read and enjoyed quite a few of Nora Roberts's books, it took me a while to try out the stuff she'd written as J.D. Robb. I was hesitant, I think, because I'd read some of her romantic suspense and hadn't really liked it - the romance in those books (sorry, can't remember the titles of the books that turned me off) just seemed wrong combined with fear, death, and danger. However, this book didn't hit that wrong note with me, and I ended up getting addicted to the series. I love reading about the characters and the changing and developing relationships they have with each other. I also like the subtle futuristic aspects. There's far too much futuristic romance that's just fantasy that happens to be taking place on another planet. I'd be more likely to call Naked in Death romantic suspense, but at least this book and series really does have some futuristic aspects - droid dogs, autochefs, futuristic fashion (Mavis wearing paint), cars that can hover, etc. The history is subtly "other" as well, with guns banned, prostitution legal, Urban Wars, terrorists killing of a bunch of legislators at some point in the past (Eve's past, our future), compuguard, and more. These things are different enough to be interesting, but not so outrageous that you can't imagine it all actually happening and existing.

Overall, I love this series, and this book is a nice start. Those who like contemporary police detective mysteries should find the futuristic aspects in this novel just subtle enough to enjoy this book. Those who like romance novels should enjoy the chemistry between Roarke and Eve - the only complaint I had was that it didn't seem very smart for Eve to jump into bed with Roarke when she did. However, since the chemistry between them gets developed sweetly and slowly as the series progresses, I can forgive that. The murders aren't described in vomit-inducing detail, in my opinion, but there's enough detail that it might put off some romance readers (however, Roarke and Eve never have romantic situations around death and violence - the closest they come is a passionate kiss around guns).

Before I start listing some read-alikes, I would like to mention one thing. I know not everyone who reads this book will have a copy with the same cover as mine. Mine is kind of boring, a sort of bronze color with a couple police cars. Very generic, an impression that is only reinforced by the error I recently noticed - the cars have NYPD written on them, even though Eve works for the NYPSD. Whoever put the cover together figured that contemporary police cars would be fine and didn't bother to check the details. Bad, bad.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Light in Shadow (book) by Jayne Ann Krentz - Zoe Luce is an interior decorator with secrets, one of which is that she is a psychic who can sense the emotions that permeate rooms. When she walks into a new client's bedroom, she knows immediately that something terrible happened there and hires Ethan Truax, a private detective, to investigate. As the two of them spend more time with each other, the attractive between them deepens, but how will Ethan react when he discovers that Zoe isn't who she says she is? Those who'd like another romantic suspense story, by an author with a writing style that's similar to Robb/Roberts', might want to try this.
  • The Unsung Hero (book) by Suzanne Brockmann - Navy SEAL Lt. Tom Paoletti returns to his hometown when he is put on medical leave because of a head injury. In addition to emotional complications (Tom once again becomes involved with Kelly Ashton, the girl he left behind), Tom also has to deal with the unnerving experience of catching glimpses of a terrorist he once pursued, someone who's supposed to be dead. Unfortunately, Tom's superiors won't believe him, blaming the sighting on his injury. Those who'd like another story with action and bumpy-but-intense romance may want to try this.
  • I, Robot (live action movie) - The year is 2035 and Detective Del Spooner is called out to investigate the apparent suicide of Dr. Alfred Lanning, the scientist who created the robots humans now depend upon. Spooner begins to suspect that Lanning's death was not a suicide, but rather a murder committed by one of his robots. Unfortunately, Spooner can't get anyone to even consider his suspicions because all robots are programmed with the Three Laws of Robotics, the most important of which is that injure a human being or allow one to come to harm. Those who'd like another near-future murder mystery starring a tough cop with emotional issues want to try this.
  • Ghost in the Shell (anime movie) - This movie takes place in a future where just about everyone has some sort of cybernetic implant, if not entirely cyberized bodies. Unfortunately, this leaves people vulnerable to brain-hacking. Section 9, a group of cybernetically enhanced cops, is called in to investigate a brain-hacker called The Puppetmaster. The sound effects and look of this movie are a little dated, in my opinion, but it's still an excellent movie (although it may require more than one viewing in order to figure out what's going on), and it's a great place to begin before trying any of the newer incarnations of this franchise. However, those who prefer something newer might want to try the anime TV series. I suggest this title as a general watch-alike (or read-alike, if you decide to go with the manga) because the Major, like Eve, is tough, yet with a buried vulnerable side.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Widths have been changed!

I just changed the width percentages, and it looks like everything went fine - at least, I haven't noticed that anything is broken. If you've been here before, you may find the change to be drastic or not so much, depending on your screen resolution. Basically, I bumped the percentage for the center column from 40% up to 47% and resized the left and right sidebars accordingly. The right sidebar is now slightly thinner than the left one, whereas they used to be the same width. Some of the tags listed in the right sidebar may now take up two lines when before they used to take up only one. Hopefully it doesn't look too bad.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Chobits (manga, vol. 2) by CLAMP

The previous volume ended with Ms. Shimizu at Hideki's place, guzzling alcohol. At the beginning of this volume, Hideki wakes up to find himself in his underwear, with Ms. Shimizu still there, cheerfully teasing him ("Don't worry, Hideki. I didn't take advantage of you."). The two of them head on over to cram school - Ms. Shimizu seems to be doing fine, despite all the drinking, but Hideki notices that Shimbo looks both exhausted and angry. When Shimbo gets upset after finding out that Ms. Shimizu stayed over at Hideki's, Hideki almost manages to figure out what's going on, except that Yumi interrupts his train of thought. As usual, Yumi becomes sad when the subject of persoms comes up. She seems to become even sadder at the thought that Hideki might find a persocom like Chi to be cuter and more fun that a human being, so Hideki assumes Yumi has a crush on him. When Yumi invites him to join her for a picnic lunch, Hideki's assumptions appear to be confirmed.

While Hideki was out, Chi was at Ms. Hibiya's, trying on clothing. Ms. Hibiya mysteriously reveals that the (very frilly and revealing) clothing Chi is trying on was made for her. She talks about Chi as though she knew her from before Hideki found her. Also, she has the picture of the other Chi that Minoru received in the previous volume, and she talks about the "someone just for you" (in this case, someone just for Chi), just like Chi's picture book. When Hideki comes home, he's too excited about his upcoming date with Yumi to notice anything significant about the way Chi talks about her new clothes. He certainly doesn't notice Chi's reaction when he talks about his date with Yumi.

Before Hideki and Yumi meet up, Hideki finds the second volume of the "A City With No People" picture books, which contiues the whole "someone just for me" thing, ending with something that might be worrying Chi even now - "what if that person does not love you back?"

While on their date, Hideki and Yumi bump into Minoru and Yuzuki. When Minoru notes in approval that Hideki seems to still enjoy human companionship more than that of a persocom like Chi, Hideki takes the opportunity to ask about Minoru's unusual relationship with Yuzuki. It turns out that, after Minoru's only remaining family, his sister, died, Minoru created Yuzuki and made her as much like his sister as possible. Unfortunately, what he did not forsee (heck, he was, what, 10 when he built her?) was that the more Yuzuki became like his sister, the sadder he would become. Although her love feels real, no one knows better than Minoru that it's just part of her programming. All this gives Hideki something to think about when he goes home to Chi, who has spent Hideki's date meeting her other self (who could be called "gothic lolita Chi") within her mind, or whatever you call it when it's a persocom you're dealing with.

The next day, Chi notices Hideki bemoaning his lack of money and announces that she'd like to get a job. All she knows are the jobs listed in Hideki's porn magazines - not the kinds of things Hideki wants her doing. While Hideki is at work, Chi goes off on her own to find a job and ends up being approached by a guy from a peep show - it's not until after he gets home that Hideki finds out from Ms. Hibiya that Chi's gone off on her own. Hideki goes looking for her, sees Shimbo, and decides that Shimbo could help. However, Shimbo is having a very serious discussion with Ms. Shimizu. To Hideki's shock, it looks like the two of them have been having an affair. They're interrupted by a call from Minoru, who's spotted Chi in a live online peep show. Completely forgetting the whole Shimbo/Ms. Shimizu thing, Hideki springs into panicked action, borrowing Plum from Shimbo and running to Chi's location.

The peep show guy has been asking Chi to take off her clothes, which she doesn't have too many problems with. However, when he asks her to "play with herself," she doesn't know what he means at first. Then the "other Chi" prevents Chi from doing as he says, so the peep show guy decides to help her along. Something goes wrong, and suddenly persocoms everywhere are at a stand-still. They all go back to normal when Hideki finds Chi, who collapses in his arms.

Wow, CLAMP sure managed to cram a lot into one volume. Everybody but Hideki has secrets, it seems, and even Hideki has lots to think about, what with all the "persocoms vs. humans" stuff. A bit of humor and some blatant fanservice (Chi's dress - what is with Ms. Hibiya's fashion sense?!) keep the overall volume from being too weighty, but quite a few serious issues come up. Even if I hadn't already read this entire series, I'd be able to tell there's more heavy stuff to come.

At the moment, I can only think of one thing I'd like to write about for this volume, and it's a spoiler - so, you've been warned. If you'd rather not read any spoilers, I'd suggest you skip to the read-alikes (which, since I'm lazy, will look awfully familiar if you've read my other Chobits posts - it's hard thinking up new stuff, but I guess I should for volume 3).

Anyway, I'd like to write about Ms. Hibiya. Considering what is later revealed about Ms. Hibiya's relationship to Chi, I couldn't help but be amazed by some of the things she did (or didn't do) in this volume. First, the clothes. If that's what Ms. Hibiya dresses her "daughter" in, I wonder how she used to dress her dolls when she was little. Gah. And wow, all that studying (or maybe all that porn, since I'm not sure how much studying Hideki has managed to do) must have blown some of Hideki's brain cells, because it doesn't occur to him even once to wonder why Ms. Hibiya, whose clothes are perfectly ordinary, might have something like the clothes she gives Chi on hand.

Second, Ms. Hibiya's cheerful and completely non-worried reaction to Chi's announcement that she's going off to find a job. She knows Chi is somewhat lacking the in the common sense department, and yet she doesn't worry when Chi leaves or when she's been gone for a while. I suppose she might have assumed that Chi's inner gothic lolita Chi will keep her safe, but still - even though there's more to Chi than meets the eye, she's not invincible.

Well, overall things are definitely becoming more exciting in this volume. If someone at my library ever decides that we need manga, this might be one of the titles I'd suggest. The human-AI relationships theme is interesting, the artwork is lovely, and the series as a whole is short enough that it would be possible to buy the whole thing without too much trouble and expense. As an academic library, the "boobie" factor (to borrow Otaku Librarian's amusing and apt way of putting it) wouldn't be as big of a worry for us - however, other libraries might sweat a bit over Hideki's interest in porn, scantily clad Chi (and the various women in Hideki's dreams), Chi's non-Barbie boobies (nipples!), and what must be done to switch Chi on or off.

I promise, I'll try to make this the only post to use the word "boobies." Now, on to the read-alikes and watch-alikes.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (live action movie) - This film takes place in a future where humans have figured out how to build mechas (robots) that look like humans. These mechas are used and thrown away (or worse) when they are no longer wanted or needed. David is an artificial child, the first mecha to have real feelings. Monica adopts him as a substitute for her son, who is in cryo-stasis, but David is no longer necessary when her son is able to come home. Alone, David goes on a journey to find out how to become a real boy. This movie is pretty dark and heavily philosophical, but it deals with some of the same issues as Chobits. What makes a person a person? Can artificial people really love, and how do they/should they fit into the human world?
  • Absolute Boyfriend (manga) by Yuu Watase - Riiko is an energetic and nice girl who doesn't have any luck with guys. One day, a strange-looking salesman gives her the URL of a website that sells "love figures" (androids designed to be the perfect lovers). Riiko doesn't really believe any of it is real, but she orders one and signs up for a free trial anyway. The love figure, called Night, does arrive, but Riiko forgets to return him before the end of the trial. If she keeps him, she'll owe the company more money than she could ever pay, but, even if he's only a robot, she's starting to like him too much to give him up. Those who'd like another story featuring attractive robots might want to try this. Like Chobits, this series has romance and deals a little with the implications of falling in love with something non-living and man-made.
  • Body Electric (book) by Susan Squires - This is a very unusual romance novel - the main "male" in the story is an artificial intelligence program, and the main female is, emotionally, pretty unhealthy (which is part of what makes this story fairly dark in tone, and certainly darker than the Chobits anime). Vic Barnhardt, a brilliant and troubled computer programmer, creates Jodie, an artificial intelligence program that she, at first, decides is female. She is shocked and outraged when Jodie finally breaks it to her that it considers itself to be male, but Vic eventually adjusts and her relationship with Jodie deepens even further. Eventually, in order to save Jodie from her boss, Vic must find him a body. This book starts off a bit slow, and Vic's emotional issues may bother some readers. Those who'd like another story dealing with the emotional relationships between humans and human-like computers/programs may want to try this.
  • Oh My Goddess! (manga) by Kosuke Fujishima - Keiichi Morisato, a student at a technical university, accidentally calls a Goddess Help Line while attempting to call a restaurant for some take-out. A beautiful goddess named Belldandy shows up and tells him he can have one wish. He wishes for her to be his girlfriend forever, and things get more complicated from there. There are other goddesses who come calling throughout the series, magic goes awry, and magic is used to help people be happier. Those who'd like another "romance for guys" in which the main female love interest wants nothing more than to make the guy happy, sometimes with disastrous results, might like this.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Angelic Layer (manga, vol. 2) by CLAMP

This volume continues where the first left off, with Misaki's Hikaru battling Ringo's Lanka. Things aren't going so well, until Misaki realizes the secret behind Lanka's signature move, her dance of death. Even though she's a newbie, Misaki quickly learns how to get Hikaru to dodge Lanka's moves and wins the match (using Suzuka's Rolling Thunder move, the one that defeated Hikaru in the last match). Even though Ringo lost, she's a good sport about it - it looks like Misaki's made another friend.

After the fight, there's a brief and kind of creepy bit in which shadowed spectators discuss the fight and Misaki's abilities. Two of these spectators (Madoka Fujisaki and Arisu Fujisaki) are involved in Misaki's next battle. Madoka's angel Mao (a kung fu kitty thing) is Hikaru's opponent. Although an angel's deus (the human being using the angel in battle) is usually the one who created the angel, in this case Madoka's younger sister Arisu was the one who created Mao.

Prior to Misaki's battle with Madoka, Ringo warns Misaki that not everyone who plays Angelic Layer is as nice as Misaki is. Of course, this warning becomes important right away - although Madoka and Mao are already pretty strong opponents, Madoka and Arisu don't plan on leaving anything to chance. Madoka plants a device on Hikaru, which allows Arisu to interfere with Misaki's ability to control Hikaru's movements at any time. Misaki has no idea what's going on, but Icchan, who's watching the game from behind the scenes, has a pretty good idea, and he's not happy. Icchan plans to stop the cheating, but Ohjiro, who has also been watching Misaki's battles, wants to take care of things instead. Ohjiro goes to see Arisu, who's sitting in the stands with the other spectators - it's at this point that Misaki first finds out that Ohjiro is a hugely popular Angelic Layer champion. Ohjiro quietly lets Arisu know that he knows she's been cheating and prevents her from continuing to do so. Now that no one is interfering with her control, Misaki easily beats Madoka.

After the battle, Madoka wonders whether she would have been able to win the fight if she hadn't cheated and had fought her hardest instead. Although Madoka appears to have learned something valuable from her fight with Misaki, Arisu is still too upset (and embarrassed about being caught by Ohjiro?) to admit that their cheating was a sign of weakness.

Later on, Icchan visits Misaki and talks about both her strengths (strong observation and memory skills, the ability to predict her opponents moves) and weaknesses (? - he mentions that Hikaru has a weak point, but he doesn't say what it is). Hikaru's weak point worries Misaki, but she gets through any remaining battles all right. The four semi-finalists of the tournament are Hatoko Kobayashi, Kaede Saitou (one of the somewhat creepy shadowed spectators), Sai Jounouchi (another one of the creepy shadowed spectators), and Misaki Suzuhara. Although Misaki had managed to put her weak spot out of her mind for a while, Sai brings it up again, renewing Misaki's worries.

Although Icchan knows what that weak spot is, he's not going to tell Misaki ("You know, having someone tell you, vs. discovering it yourself - which one leads to attaining real power?"). Unfortunately, Misaki really doesn't have a clue, so she can't help but wonder if Hikaru's weak spot is her small size. She consoles herself with the thought of the angel that first interested her in Angelic Layer, a light-weight model just like Hikaru. Kotaro also tries to cheer Misaki up by offering to let Misaki watch him do some karate. Whether or not it helps Misaki figure out Hikaru's weak spot, at least she'll have a chance to pick up some new moves for Hikaru to do (plus, it gives the budding romance between Kotaro and Misaki more of a chance to develop).

Oh, CLAMP wants so very badly to make readers squirm over the series' great secret. Ohjiro frequently comments on the similarities and differences between Misaki and...someone. Shouko worries about Misaki eventually meeting...someone. Then there's the tall, mysterious lady who may or may not be Misaki's stalker and who Misaki thinks looks strangely familiar. Having already seen the anime and read some manga spoilers, I know that "someone" (aka the mysterious lady) is Misaki's mother. The fact that she's standing and running all on her own is an immediate indicator that this is another one of those instances where the manga and anime are different. Once again, I already knew this from the spoilers (I both love them and hate them - I can't seem to keep away from them).

I hadn't realized, however, that manga Ohjiro is also a bit different from anime Ohjiro. Yes, he's still got some of the "Prince of Angelic Layer" aspects - he stops Arisu and Madoka's cheating in a fairly quiet and painless sort of way, after all. However, manga Ohjiro also has a pretty big mischievous streak. There's one part where he whispers to Misaki that her "panties are white with orange stripes." Although he's wrong, his comments have Misaki blushing with embarrassment and horror for three pages.

As the manga progresses and the various ways in which it differs from the anime become more important, I'm interested to see whether I start to prefer it over the anime. At the moment, I still sort of prefer the anime more than the manga, simply because I enjoy the battle scenes more in the anime than in the manga (however, the spread on pages 88 and 89, in which Hikaru knocks Mao out, is really wonderful).

There aren't really any extras in this volume, unless you count the one page and one spread of full-color artwork at the beginning. Also, if you look closely at the "Angelic Layer Daily News" pages at the beginning of the volume, you'll notice that some of the "news articles" cross over a bit with other CLAMP series (I noticed X and Clamp School Detectives, but there may have been others I missed). "Angelic Layer Daily News" also has a bit that explains some of the sound effects, which is nice, since these are left untranslated throughout the volume.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Chobits (manga) by CLAMP - There is also an anime version of Chobits, which is very similar, but the manga is better and, at eight volumes, quite possibly cheaper. Hideki, a cram student, comes from the country and knows almost nothing about persocoms, robots that look and act almost like humans. Unfortunately for Hideki, almost everyone has one now for their computing needs, and there's no way he can afford one. However, Hideki gets lucky and finds one abandoned next to a dumpster. She's a bit broken and can only say "chi" at first, so that's what he names her. Chi adores Hideki, and, as the series progresses, he comes to care for her, despite his concern about the implications of humans falling for their persocoms. This series crosses over with Angelic Layer a tad. Chobits deals with somewhat weightier issues than Angelic Layer and contains quite a bit of fanservice, so it's not suitable for as broad a range of ages as Angelic Layer. I shudder at the thought of someone trying to explain Chobits' ending to a child or young teen.
  • Dragon Drive (manga) by Ken-ichi Sakura - Reiji has never played a game that has managed to capture his interest, at least not until his friend Maiko makes him try Dragon Drive, a virtual reality game in which players team up with dragons to fight one another. Reiji's dragon, Chibi, seems worthless, but it's actually very rare and may be much more powerful than Reiji realizes. Those who'd like another story involving a kid who gets wrapped up in an addictive fighting game might enjoy this series.
  • Hikaru no Go (manga) by Yumi Hotta (story) and Takeshi Obata (art); Hikaru no Go (anime TV series) - Twelve-year-old Hikaru is looking through his grandfather's things for something he can sell when he comes across a haunted Go board. Sai, the ghost of a long-dead Go instructor, is delighted that Hikaru can see him and basically forces him to give him opportunities to play Go. Hikaru is reluctant, at first, but he gradually learns to love the game and starts on the path to becoming a professional Go player. Those who'd like another story in which a kid gets hooked on a game and gradually gets better at it might enjoy this series. Also, the anime, at least, also has at least one part in which the issue of cheating is dealt with (the manga may as well, but I haven't read enough to know for sure). Unlike Angelic Layer, this series is based on a real-life game - you can try finding Go players to play against in your area, you can download the game and play against a computer, or you can play online against real players (be careful where you play, however - players are known to cheat more on some sites than on others).
  • Cardcaptor Sakura (manga) by CLAMP; Cardcaptor Sakura (anime TV series, plus a few movies) - [Note: if you plan on getting the anime, make sure you're getting Cardcaptor Sakura and not Cardcaptors - Cardcaptors is an extremely edited version of Cardcaptor Sakura that barely resembles the original.] After Sakura accidentally opens a book containing dozens of magical Clow Cards, she works to get them all back, with the help and encouragement of her best friend Tomoyo and Kero, the cards' guardian. Those who'd like another CLAMP series starring an energetic young girl might want to try this - in addition, I think this is meant for a similar age group (although it should be suggested with care, as some parents might object to some of the character relationships and romances).
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