Japanese Journal: The Basics

hiraganaFor the good part of 25 years, the thought of learning Japanese has flitted in and out of my mind.  For most of that time, either inaccessibility of resources and/or time has kept me from putting any serious effort into it.  In the last three years, I’ve made two abortive attempts, both ending after collecting resources, but never taking it anywhere.

They say three’s a charm, so with this third attempt, I’m going to write about my experience, which I’m hoping will keep me on track.  That’s the problem with self-study sometimes, motivation.  I’ve set a goal of trying to reach an elementary level of reading that will allow me to read manga.  Speaking is going to be secondary, but since it’s helpful to learning the letters, I will be working on it somewhat along side the reading and writing.

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Review: Nightschool Volume 2

When Alex’s sister, Sarah, vanishes and all memory and evidence of her existence is erased, Alex is determined to get to the bottom of her sister’s disappearance.  What better place to start her investigations than the Nightschool itself?  But when she discovers that sneaking into the Nightschool isn’t as simple as it might seem, Alex enrolls as a student.  But is she prepared for what she might find?

Nightschool 2By Sveltlana Chmakova
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Supernatural
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★★
Buy This Book

The action in this volume moves to the titular Nightschool as Alex is forced to enroll in order to find out about her sister’s disappearance.  We learn more about the school and it’s inhabitants as Alex goes through orientation and attends a class.  We also see more of the Hunters as well as the seer Marina, as they relax and train at home, and more clues about the broken seal mentioned in volume 1 are dropped.

In order to find her sister, Alex tries to enter the Nightschool, and is twice evicted, but not before meeting Ronee, another weirn that is somehow connected with the prophesy and Alex.  So instead, she has to enroll in the school.  Mrs. Hatcher, the Day Keeper is great, and I love the dragon hatchery that she has to take care of.  They are so cute!  Another possible clue is dropped about Alex’s past as her pencil hovers over a cursed check box.  Once enrolled, she starts to play detective, and gets a tour of the school as orientation.  The best scene though, was her in the Astral Training class and showing up teacher Mrs. Murrey.  I especially liked Alex’s astral making the origami, and the page with Alex sprouting the wings really made this volume.

Also in this volume we get to see the Hunters on their home turf, studying and training.  They appear to be home schooled in much the same way as Alex.  They seem to be like a family, with all the sibling rivalry and play that comes with it.  Daemon, their “teacher” continues to be a mystery, as he is shown to have a connection to a teacher at the Nightschool, Mr. Roi, who also seems to have a connection to the broken seal seen in Marina’s vision.  He also looks like someone you don’t want to make angry.  There is more background on the prophesy, but still no answers.

Nightschool: The Weirn Books continues to move at a good pace.  The clues about the prophesy, the mysterious hooded shades who keep appearing, and the Alex’s sister’s disappearance are dropped at a slow but steady rate.  It’s at just the right speed to keep readers interested and wanting to know more.  The next volume should definitely prove interesting as Alex and Mr. Roi seem destined to meet.  This title remains on my must have list and it should be on yours.

Review copy provided by publisher. Image © Yen Press

This Week in Manga 3/20-3/26/10

Nature vs Nurture

The scanlation debate continues this week.  The first salvo fired was by Kate Dacey of the Manga Critic blog.  Spurred by a tweet that pointed to a link to a review of a Chrome plug-in for OneManga, she explains why a aggregator site like Onemanga is illegal.  Johanna Draper Carlson replies with a post that readers of scanlations know perfectly well what they’re doing is illegal, and just don’t care.  So is it the nature of the net, or a learned behavior?  I think it’s a combination of the two, since a lot of kids are either hearing about the sites from their friends, or searching Google, and the aggregator sites always come up on top.  And it’s going to take more than a “Just Say No” campaign to change things.  Most teens, who are probably the majority of online readers, either don’t know or don’t care about copyright.  Knowing is only half the battle, but as long as the illegal sites come up first in search engines like Google, behavior isn’t going to change.  If publishers don’t try to take down these sites or offer legal alternatives, then readers are going to think they think it’s okay.  Simon Jones of Icarus Publishing (NSFW) pretty much makes this point.

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Manga Tech Friday: Girl Geeks Represent!

PodcastLogoI’m a total girl geek.  I read comics and manga, watch sci-fi and anime, and I love technology.  One of the things I love about technology is the freedom it gives.  It’s the great equalizer.  With the advent of better and cheaper hardware and software, anyone can have their own radio and/or TV show.  You don’t need to be in broadcasting or work at a radio or TV station to be seen and hear by millions of people.  The tech I’ve come to love and really depend on are podcasts.  They get me to and from work and sometimes through the long day.  I can find podcasts on anime, manga, tech, astronomy, skeptic news and Doctor Who.  I try to share at the manga ones on my This Week in Manga posts, but after listening to the latest batch I realized there was something missing from everything I listened too.  A female voice.

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Where the Seed Was Sown

I sometimes wonder where my obsession for collecting manga, for in many respects that is what I do, came from.  It’s easy to assume that it started with comic collecting, but I wasn’t that big of a comic collector when I was growing up.  There were a few series I followed, but it was nothing like the “gotta catch ’em all”, feeling I sometimes get with manga.  It finally hit me, as I was driving home from work, listening to a podcast.

200px-Doctor_Who_CastrovalvaI had grabbed the mp3 of a BBC Radio program, “On the Outside It Looked Like an Old Fashioned Police Box”.  It’s a radio documentary about the old Target book novelizations of the Doctor Who TV series from the 70’s-80’s.  This series of books made available all the episodes of Doctor Who long before there were VCRs or DVDs.  And I used to read them.  I was a big Doctor Who fan long before I was a manga/anime fan.  And with the show not starting in the US until the 4th Doctor, Tom Baker, there was almost 15 years of the show that couldn’t be seen, but through the novelizations, could be read.

As I’m listening to this program, I start my own trip down memory line as I though about how much loved those books.  And there were so many of them! As well as the old stories, there were novelizations of the current ones coming out as well.  I remembered how obsessed I was at getting them.  My mother would buy me one or two for just about any holiday, including Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day!  She always encouraged by love of reading.  The subject didn’t matter, just that I enjoyed reading.  I remembered going to the local Walden’s books, with their card board display and trying to decide which book for which Doctor I should buy next.  I would line up on my bookshelf and constantly reorganize them either by number or by doctor, or alphabetically.

When I remembered all that, I suddenly realized I had the same feeling for manga now as I did for the Doctor Who Target books I had back then.  It’s a strange connection, but true.  Doctor Who was the seed to my manga addiction.

Bone to Pick

Last night, on my way home from work, I was listening to the ANNcast podcast, episode 28, the one with the interview with Kurt Hassler of Yen Press.  Near the end of the episode, they read off some questions take from fans on Twitter.  One of the questions was about license rescues.  Kurt’s response to it really bugged me.  He started going off about why fans think they (Yen Press) would go “trolling” for titles from other publishers.  The hosts of the show weren’t much better, basically likening license rescues to dumpster diving.

Really?  This is what Kurt Hassler and Yen Press think of fan requests and the titles they love and want to see completed legally?  Does he really think that fans consider Yen Press to be a dumping ground for lost titles?  Or could it possibly be, that fans respect what Yen Press does with their titles and are hoping to see a title they love, but wasn’t completed because the original publisher went out of business or cut back to their cash cow titles, completed with a publisher they know will do it justice?  Do they  really think everything published by other companies is just trash, and not even worthy of their consideration?  Because that is exactly how Kurt came off with his mini rant.  If he had just limited his answer to the statement he made AFTER the rant, I would wouldn’t have been upset.

We all have titles we love that weren’t completed for one reason or another, and wish for some knight in shining armor to riding in and save them.  That’s why they’re called license RESCUES, and not license trolls.  Try being a little more considerate of fans that are trying to do the right thing in seeing the titles they love completed in English legally, and not just resorting to the scanlations that were scorned earlier in the interview.

Wish List: Appare Jipangu!

AppareJipangu_vol1One of the fun things about writing this blog is the little surprises that pop up unexpectedly.  I stumbled onto this title while researching Yuu Watase for my Noted Women of Manga postAppare Jipangu! is a short series, only 3 volumes long.  It was published straight to tankoban form instead of being serialized in a magazine.  It ran from 1998-2003, at about the same time as Watase’s more popular series Ayashi no Ceres (Ceres: Celestial Legend).

Yusura was abandoned as a baby and was found under a cherry tree with the Kogoumaru, a staff that turns blue when it is around people who are sad.  Fifteen years later, Yusura is now known as the Hikeshiya, or “extinguisher of sorrow”.  She wields the Kogoumaru to take away people’s sorrow and redirect it at the people who caused it.

What make this series sound so appealing to me is that it’s a lighthearted adventure with the romance secondary to the story the story.  The characters might seem typical for a manga.  Yusura is hot-headed and tomboyish, and Samon, a guy she rescues from assassins, is practically blind with out his glasses, often mistaking objects for Yusura.  But the whole set up sounds like a lot of fun, and with the more shonen style romance, there’s no melodrama over their relationship.

With Arata, Watase’s first official shonen coming out in the US, this shorter, similar in style series would make a great companion to it, as well as contrast with all of her shojo already available.  So how about it Viz?

This Week in Manga 3/13-3/19/10

Hollywood, Here Comes Netcomics!

Netcomics, the Korean publisher that puts all their titles online for a per-chapter fee, is producing a film of their manhwa X Diary.  There’s not much news out yet, other than Variety’s report which includes the names of the writer of the script, one cast member and the producer from Netcomics.  But the news itself isn’t too surprising.  Ever since Hollywood started coming to SDCC, and they’ve found that there’s an audience for comics based books, practically every comic company has been looking to get a title into production.  Though, the premise of X Diary does make it a good candidate.  It’s about a cartoonist and musician who break up as a couple, but try to make it as friends.  It’s a topic that surpasses culture and could very well appeal to non-comic/manhwa readers.  We’ll have to wait and see how production goes.  Lots of titles get started only to stall not far into the process.

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Manga Drive By: Harlequin Manga @ eManga.com

eMangaI’ve never been much of a romance fan, and have never read a Harlequin romance novel in my life.  So, when I was given the opportunity to read some of the Harlequin manga released by DMP on their online manga site eManga, I decided to check some of the titles out.  I read 7 titles in total, that seemed to run the gambit from historical to modern settings, and from chaste fade-to-black love scenes to those slightly more explicit, but not enough to rate a M rating.

Some general observations first.  DMP’s eManga site is very well done.  The navigation is clean and concise, and easy to get around.  The reading list displays all of your titles, including how long your rental will last.  The manga reader is also easy to navigate.  It allows for either one or two page viewing, as well as zoom in and out.  The two page view fit my monitor just fine though, and I could read the text easily without zooming.  My only complaint here was about the bookmark feature.  It didn’t really work.  I tried to use it, but it didn’t remember my page when I came back the next day.  Luckily had written down my last page as well, so I wasn’t too inconvenienced.  It would have been nice though, if it had worked properly.

For the most part, I enjoyed the Harlequin titles.  They all went fairly quickly and make for good light summer reading, such as a relaxing day at the beach. They are very much wish fulfillment, with strong, independent women (in their own way) meeting men that seem jerky at first, but then turn out to be kind and great lovers. They were fun, but they’re not anything I’d be interested in re-reading.  They can get rather formulaic and cliche, which gets boring fast.  The only real problem I had with all of these titles was the text.  It doesn’t appear that much time or effort was put into it.  The text looks like it was typed in, and no effort was made to make the text fit in the word balloons.  You do get used to it after a while, but really, even scanlators do a better job.  For something you’re paying for, you expect a better presentation.

Honor’s PromiseRating: ★★½☆☆ – I liked most of the characters in this story,  especially the protagonist.  She was feisty and fun.  The plot wasn’t too over used, though the Greedy Family Lawyer as the villain was kind of obvious and cliche.  It’s a decent read, and was a pleasant introduction.  Would Trade For.

Keeping Luke’s SecretRating: ★★★½☆ – I really liked this one.  I enjoyed out the protagonist, who is a historian that was asked to write a long awaited biography, stays true to herself, and her work.  She’s not looking for money or fame.  The story ends with a bit of a twist and a fairy tale ending.  Must Buy.

Marriage Under An Italian SunRating: ★★★☆☆ – This one I also enjoyed.  It was a well written story and the setting in an Italian villa was nice.  The story had a nice mature feel to it, as it dealt with different kinds of loss and trying to make the right choices in order to be happy.  It had some nice twists that kept it from becoming predictable.  Must Buy.

Millionaire Husband: Justin’s StoryRating: ★★★½☆ – This was my second favorite story of the seven I read.  I liked the switch up of making a guy the protagonist instead of it being a woman.  I found his portrayal to be realistic considering his past and his slow by steady change to be well done.  Must Buy.

Prisoner of the TowerRating: ★★★★☆ – This was the best of the seven I read.  I love historical dramas, and this fit right into that.  The characters were well developed and very likable.  I found myself rooting Emma on and wanting to slap Baron Greystone.  The art is also a treat.  I highly recommend this title and a full review will be forthcoming.  Must Buy.

Sale of Return BrideRating: ★★☆☆☆ – This was the most cliche of all the stories I read, both in story and in characters.  I was predicting every story element before they happened, and the ending was no surprise.  It wasn’t badly written or anything like that.  It was just predicatable, and that lowered the enjoyment for me.  Good Way to Kill an Hour.

The Sheikh’s Reluctant BrideRating: ★★½☆☆ – This was another average title.  The Middle Eastern setting and situation with the female protagonist was different from the other titles I read, and I did find it refreshing.  Again, the characters are well written and the story isn’t as predictable, but neither is it very interesting.  The old school feel of the art was a nice touch too.  It just wasn’t all that appealing to me.  Good Way to Kill an Hour.

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

Lucky Charms

St. Patrick’s Day is a decidedly American holiday that really isn’t celebrated or even mentioned outside of the US.  But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any good manga you can enjoy with your green beer and corn beef and cabbage.  Now, admittedly, some of these titles are a stretch, but in the spirit of good fun, here are some titles you might find in a pot of manga gold.

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Noted Women of Manga

Women creators in manga isn’t as an unusual thing as they are here in the US.  Over here, publishers have special events to show that women can create comics, while in Japan no one even bats an eye at the idea.  With March being Women’s History month, I thought I would highlight some of the women manga creators who have been influential in the medium in Japan and the US.

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