piranha: red origami crane (orizuru)
2014-07-10 09:55 pm
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review: thieves emporium by max hernandez

near-future novel about the surveillance state and the importance of computer technology both for it, and for any possible resistance movement. it has everything going for a rousing action-adventure romp: government agents purportedly protecting us (when they are not incarcerating us), underground activists resisting the powers that be, shadowy men of power moving other characters behind the scenes, and a desperate mother trying to protect her children, who gets swept up in the battle between those forces. but i read it not as entertainment, as more of a call to action for anyone who realizes that we're already too close for comfort to this scenario becoming reality. and i am saying that not as a person eager to jump on the next conspiracy -- i scoff at most of those, and i am at times a little embarrassed how much i worry these days about whether my government is going off the rails. however, i AM truly worried more about the course the governments of the "5 eyes" have been taking than i am about terrorists or any kind of criminal, and this book speaks loud and clear about those fears.

the work is very well researched, and the author has attempted to explain concepts as user-friendly as possible without dumbing them down too much. i make my living with computers, and it was really nice to see somebody get it right, though i'm not sure whether the IT aspects are still too complicated for the lay person. on the other hand i knew very little about money and debt at the government level, and i did begin to understand what's really happening there, so i am hoping the same goes for people who don't really understand the power of computers.

the novel could have used a competent editor to make it a more cohesive, tighter whole. the writing has inconsistent narrative voice, odd jumps in time, confusion about who is who (especially towards the end). there are typos and some grammatical errors. but none of it made me want to close it in disgust at the lack of care. the worst of it is probably the oddly disjointed climax.

a bigger problem is that we really only get to know one of the characters, dancing fawn, the mother. the other characters are opaque, and i am left wondering at their motivations, especially in the case of of joshua weidemeyer (a government agent). the children are mere props, this would work better for me if they actually had personalities. and the villains are uni-dimensional. i am not squeamish, but i could have probably done without the graphic rape scene that seemed almost written for rape-porn fans (i doubt that was intended).

i enjoyed the appendices and recommended books. the author clearly cares about the subject and the state of the world, and it shows. (though no, i will never read another book by ayn rand, *shudder*. "atlas shrugged" is required reading because understanding its philosophy is important, but objectivism is not my thing).
piranha: red origami crane (orizuru)
2014-03-13 02:14 am
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review: mustang hill by rolf & ranger

this is book 3 in the falls chance ranch series of free, online reads, available in the authors' blog: http://fallschanceranch.blogspot.com/

at the start of the book dale is away from the ranch for a month on his first real project since his breakdown, which brings back a lot of the stress and unfortunately derails his recovery. upon returning to the ranch so his family can help pick himself up again, he continues seeing strange and sometimes scary events around the ranch, and the vivid nightmares get worse and worse. not knowing whether the events he sees while awake are a product of his own anxiety or a mystical connection to the past, his analytical mind cannot leave this unsolved problem alone, and he keeps following the clues to a spiritual place on the ranch called "mustang hill", a clearing in the woods where nothing grows, petroglyphs are carved into rocks, and something intangible seems to haunt the place, ready to attack. of his partners, jasper is the only one who also senses some of the things dale experiences on mustang hill, and helps him explore their meaning.

unfortunately this book has 2 strikes against it for me right off the top -- domestic discipline, and sorta-native-american mysticism. i have complicated feelings around appropriation and this hits them right smack in the middle and i felt uncomfortable the entire time. not the discomfort of "you really ought to examine your own preconceptions here", like i feel about the domestic discipline, but discomfort with the myth of oppressed people being used by someone not of those people to elevate a character also not of those people. using 9-11 is alas another half strike. it's not the authors' fault, there's nothing wrong with the storytelling, the authors strike me as sensitive and tolerant and thoroughly well-meaning, and the story is potentially a very touching one for somebody not-me, but i am desensitised and allergic due to years of cold-blooded exploitation by american politicians, and the unrelenting erosion of civil rights in its wake. which reminds me: dear ranger & rolf; please do not use "politically correct" in your books unless you actually WANT to sound like american rightwing nitwits. people who use it over here usually have problems with empathy, and consider it a bleeding-heart liberal weakness. they would hate the people in your books for being deviants in every which way, and a little spanking would not reconcile them. eradicate the term from your vocabulary; you'll be better off.

all that said (just blurt it out, dale), i actually found dale's development very interesting even though it is partly headed in a direction i can't relate to, and i was glad to see jasper show more of himself (even though the character of jasper makes me uncomfortable (see appropriation)). i also don't quite grok how jasper got into DD; it seems to make absolutely no sense to me from looking at his beliefs.

it's quite a fascinating journey, and has a bit of a mystery feel to it, which really attracts me. and i am clearly too tired to do this review justice, so for now, this is it. it sounds more negative than i actually feel; i still love the series, i still love dale, i can't get enough of reading about him. the love and affection that runs through these books -- not just for people alive today, but for people of the past, their culture and history, and the land on which they lived -- is wonderful, heartwarming, and inspirational.
piranha: red origami crane (orizuru)
2014-03-05 09:36 pm
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review: falls chance ranch by rolf & ranger

this book is part 1 in a series of free, online reads, available in the authors' blog: http://fallschanceranch.blogspot.com/


i did not know this was a kink book, and a very specific kink -- domestic discipline -- when i started to read it; it was recced by a group in which i participate, which covers a wide range of m/m fiction, and it was recced on the strength of its characters. domestic discipline is not a kink i even understand. spanking for sexual pleasure i can understand intellectually, but for punishment? everything inside me is repelled at that (background: i was physically abused as a child, from spanking to outright being beaten black and blue, and it was all justified as "christian"). so, domestic discipline is anathema to me, even though i realize that there is a huge difference between the serious power imbalance and non-consent situation of an adult using corporal punishment on a child, and two adults deciding with full consent that this is something they want to include in their relationship. i believe corporal punishment of children is abusive and should be illegal. what mentally sane, consenting adults do is none of my business. maybe. i feel profoundly squicked by christian domestic discipline situations where the man is always the top and the women always the spankee. in general, men being tops and women being "brats" bothers me (heck, the terminology alone bothers me). still, i am willing to accept it if i am convinced it's not abusive, but emotionally i do not grok it.

i generally do not like the setup for the story. corporate hyperfocussed CEO wunderkind dale had a mental breakdown complete with hallucinations, and his boss sends him to a remote ranch in wyoming, a working cattle/horse/sheep ranch populated by 4 guys who, aside from running the ranch, also specialize in rehabbing executives who've overworked themselves and run off the rails in some way. they do this by providing a very firm structure, with strict rules, isolating their clients from all outside influence, keeping them there as long as necessary, and retraining them to handle the pressures of their jobs better. which apparently includes spanking them if deemed appropriate *raises eyebrows*. not your usual executive rehab. the problem with this book is that the corporal punishment comes initially across as dubcon at best, and considering dale's mental state when he gets to the ranch, can quite easily be seen as noncon and abusive. he sort of consented to being there, but under duress ("get fired or go there"), and he's too distracted by the sudden ultimatum to actually read the introductory materials. oh man, this is problematic in a lot of ways; there are no safeguards here at all against actual abuse of vulnerable people. i -- figuratively -- tossed my bookreader against the wall. but the rec had promised unusual polyamory, so i picked it back up.

i like the setting -- the story of the ranch's founders, the "strays" they took in, and the network they built, the insights into equine herd behaviour, the connection with nature and the history of the land. very evocative. the world built here is fully realized, and it's a world i wouldn't mind to be part of.

and i am fascinated by dale. the book is very long, and some might find the pace excruciating, but i enjoyed it. i like slow, in-depth character exploration. dale is a work in progress, and it takes a long time to change the damaging habits of a lifetime. the rehabilitation -- aside from the corporal punishment -- is relatively sensible for dale's issues. he's a marvelous character, complex, highly intelligent but hypercritical of himself, extremely analytical and competent when it comes to matters of work, quite inept when it comes to close personal relationships; desperately lonely, yearning for somewhere to belong with someone. i can identify well with him even though we are very different in specific aspects of our personalities, but he's so well designed that i find him easy to understand. and i've learned something about domestic discipline through dale that makes it feel somewhat less objectionable.

i have issues with some of the other characters, though. first, jasper is a cypher and a bit of a stereotyped one (part native american, quiet, connected spiritually with the land, carves totemic animals); i never connect with him and i don't see where dale does -- which is a major problem since we're talking polyamory here. there is a bit more to paul the homemaker who is an excellent listener, and i can write it off as "understated", but i would have still liked to see more. riley is a true brat (and i generally don't like bratty 30 year olds). he has redeeming character traits, but frankly, he seems to me to be quite unaffected by the spankings he gets for any length of time; the effect often doesn't even last for a day. i dunno; my therapeutic abilities tell me that maybe domestic discipline ain't working and they should try something else. also, flynn and riley are locked into a negative behavioural pattern where flynn becomes withdrawn when he gets scared for one of his partners (usually riley), and riley can't stand that and keeps poking him, which results in flynn withdrawing even more, so riley gets brattier and brattier until flynn nearly snaps and leaves for a few days in order to not lose his temper and take it out on riley, all the while riley gets to stew in his own guilt. these two men have done this for 15 years, apparently. hello! the 4 guys specialize in treating bad behaviour patterns in CEOs. physician, heal thyself. maybe flynn needs some spanking? that seems never to be an option for a self-declared "top" -- why not? are there no switches in domestic discipline circles? dale doesn't get to withdraw because it's detrimental to his recovery. flynn's withdrawal is also detrimental. neither flynn nor riley seem to have learned to handle this in 15 years; it takes dale to talk flynn out of his grim mood. i see what you did there, dear authors, and it's too much of a setup.

on the plus side, i adore the unconventional polyamourous family. my own is very different from the norm (though talking about "norm" in polyamory at all makes me chuckle), and it's rare that i read about something that is in some ways quite similar, and is very much how i'd love to live if we all were in the same location. i was glad that there was no sex in the book; it would have been very inappropriate for any of the tops to have sex with dale, and since dale was basically asexual for most of the duration of his initial stay on the ranch due to his mental state, it made sense to keep sex between the others off-screen and at most alluded to. i seriously enjoyed the understatement in regard to sex; usually i find an overemphasis on it in society at large while in my own life it's a whole lot less important than many other things, and i feel quite odd when reading constantly about people for whom sex is a major drive that makes and breaks relationships. it's nice to see an intentional family where their love isn't primarily based on sex.

3.75 stars, docking points for unbelievable and potentially abusive setup, and lack of full character development. still, character-wise this is leaps and bounds above the norm, and the pacing is perfect for this story. also, while the authors could have used an extra proofreader to sort the its from the it's, the book is better edited than some published works. i'll be reading the next volume (and thank the authors for offering a quality work for free; much appreciated).
piranha: "wait, are you gay?" -- "what do you think i've been doing with you all this time?" (are you gay?)
2014-01-28 12:32 am
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mini review anime: free!

this one got the hetboy otaku's entitled knickers in a knot, so i knew i wanted to watch it.

haruka loves to be immersed in water, and to swim in it. in elementary school, he won in a swimming tournament along with his fellow swimming club members, makoto, nagisa, and rin. good times, but rin abruptly went his separate way afterwards.

time has passed and memories receded when in the middle of their uneventful high school lives rin reappears and challenges haruka to a match, wanting to show off his overwhelming swimming prowess. not wanting it to end like this, haru and the other boys create the iwatobi high school swimming club in their school where nobody else has an interest in swimming, while rin joins the swim club of a highly competitive high school.

i'd like to wholeheartedly support this unexpected foray into male objectification from kyoto animation, the studio heretofore engaging in reams and reams of female objectification. it seems like such poetic justice. the animation is better than average, the sound excellent, catchy OP and ED, well-chosen voice talent, and wow, kyoani can animate water like no other. however, the story and characters are thoroughly cliched -- maybe on purpose -- but it felt all too thin to me. i think this is best enjoyed as a light and mildly amusing parody of its archetypes where all the roles are played by boys. for those who want to see it, there is a steady stream of homoerotic subtext. but if one doesn't want to see gayness in every interaction of two boys, one can honestly watch this as solely a story of childhood friendships and sports rivalry, without there being any love interest.

it's unfortunately for my taste not actually gay. there isn't even a true moment of romance here, nevermind of sexual activity. no kissing (and we don't even get close to it). it is a perfect example of plausible deniability. the fan service is quite classy (certainly when compared with most bouncy-bouncy-boob fan service directed at het fanboys); there's no ecchi, no lingering on sexual characteristics, no sexual cast jokes, no accidental wardrobe malfunction. we just get miles and miles of lean swimmers' bods, which are conveniently scantily clad because: swimming.

one thing i really liked, because i hate the "scheming female" trope in BL, is that the main girl in the cast is not used to come between any of the boys, she's competent and clear-headed, makes a great manager, and looooves their muscles. no, really, plausible deniability even stretches to the potential fujoshi. so, weirdly enough for a story inviting me to match up the boys, i much preferred her to her mopey jerk brother. yeah, definitely not enough gayness for me here.

not based on a manga, but a light novel, so i can't see whether the source material is more satisfying.

aaand... it just got a 2nd season. huh. i guess it was successful enough.
piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2011-05-15 01:47 pm

review: secondhand heart - scarlet blackwell (mm)

this was a very welcome relief from a string of truly execrable crap i've been reading lately.

larger than usual because it's probably my favourite mm cover of the year so far. catt ford did it (catt can write AND do good covers; impressive).

blurb: Conrad Muller's heart is the center of a web of friendships, fights, and love lost and found in a close-knit group of gay men in Orange County, California. Six months ago, Conrad died, and his organs were donated for transplant. A month later, Conrad's lover, Christian, receives a letter from the recipient of Conrad's donated heart.

Christian can't stop thinking about the letter, and he's not the only one affected by loss. Conrad's best friend Eban is also brokenhearted, and he's struggling with his lover Damien, who has always resented living in Conrad's shadow. Though Conrad is gone, his friends and his lover will have to cope with their grief to move on and find new love.

that blurb is a bit dry when compared with the actual book, *little snrk*. read more; i tried to make it non-spoilery )
piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2011-04-20 09:10 pm
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mini reviews (abe akane)

this mangaka is new to me, though her first two published tankoubon date back to 2005 and 2006; but nobody scanlated them. i think i might buy them though, but am a bit on the fence about it.

small cover images included; no sexual situation )
piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2011-04-18 11:38 am
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piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2011-04-13 11:37 am
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mini reviews / griping / rantage

so as not to worry people who tend to worry if i remain silent for some period of time, i'm gonna try to copy my miniature manga griping here; since i already write them anyway to remind myself. they're not written for a general audience, and often will only talk about some detail that annoyed me in a manga, so i don't know whether they'll actually be useful to anyone. especially since they're mostly be about BL manga.

summaries are generally taken from scanlators, publishers, or mangaupdates; only rarely written or edited by myself.

without further ado:small cover images included; no sexual situations )
piranha: erotic kiss (eros)
2011-03-09 02:38 am

reaction: dog style - motoni modoru (manga, BL)

i don't really have words right now but i wanted to write this down before i go to sleep.

i am a wreck. i thought my heart was gonna break. what a fantastic roller-coaster. it's complex, honest, tough, stubborn, witty, boyish, aggressive, silly, unpredictable, erotic, deeply emotional, and completely original. i don't cry easily, but i'm sitting here with tears streaming down my face, and i can't stop. was this really just 3 volumes? these people became my friends. i sat in that abandoned building with them, and i bled with them. i don't want to leave. i might just read it again right away. or go to sleep in the hopes i'll dream about it.

on a scale of 1 to 10 this is an 11. this is a story that is everything i read BL for and find so very rarely. i will buy several copies and give them to my friends, even the ones who don't usually read BL. and i'll write my first ever fan letter to a mangaka.

piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2011-03-06 11:46 am

review: deki no ii kiss na warui kiss - kano shiuko (manga, BL)

warning: boys love|yaoi|gay|man x man manga. do not read review if that sort of thing offends. art samples might include sexual situations; if so, there will be an extra warning.

volume 1 cover

title [J]:
title [E]:
licensed by:  

Kiss All the Boys
3 (complete)
bliss (2 ch; dropped)
deux press

i'd saved this one for a long time because kano is one of my favourite BL authors, and her stories are never just pointlessly smutty; they always have plot and great characterisation. i didn't want to inhale everything by her all at once -- a (bad?) tendency i have when i find a good author.

atarashi tetsuo is a single, 32 year old mangaka of (hetero) erotica. 15 years ago he fathered a son (haruka), but he hardly knows him and doesn't really care. suddenly his ex gets a job opportunity in france and dumps haruka on him. adjusting to his new life with his estranged son who is openly gay isn't easy for him. not only does he have to come to terms with his son's sexuality, he also has his own sexual probems, namely impotence, which is affecting his work (i guess without sufficient fantasising he can't write good porn, *snrk*).

to make the plot more complex, we also have 3 other people: enomoto michiro, who is tetsuo's editor -- and also the brother of his ex, and on good terms with haruka who views him as a father figure. and haruka has an unrequited crush on a classmate, tamaki. and momoyama kiichi, whom tetsuo meets in a porn cinema where he has an ... interesting experience.

one reason i read certain genre fiction at specific times is that it is in certain ways predictable -- romance has a happy ending, yaoi is smutty, etc. and while i don't at all mind unpredictability in fiction in general, and even like it when an author screws with my expectations, in genre fiction i don't like unpredictability when it messes with the main rules. i read genre fiction in certain moods because i want that predictability, that delivery of the happy ending against all odds, and/or of hot sex.

kano screws with those expectations, and it's totally unexpected because i've read almost all of her work, and while it varies in degrees of thoughtfulness, it never before didn't deliver on what i want from my BL smut. but here it does. beware, i am seriously gonna spoil this manga )

the problem is of course that BL is a ghetto genre; authors are locked into it the moment their manga is about romance/love/sex between men because nobody else but genre publishers will touch it. BL authors who experiment are still published by the same people who publish the regular BL stuff, and it's not possible to tell when something follows genre rules and when it falls outside of them, unless an author is already well-known for doing it. i would have liked this manga a lot more if i had known that kano was gonna screw with me, but coming at it straight from all her other work this felt like a slap with a dead fish.

somebody who doesn't have the same expectations might like this a lot better; the reviews it got are mostly positive. somebody who likes less smut and/or less graphic smut and usually avoids kano might want to try it (though there is still some, but it's not as graphic either). this isn't a bad manga; it's just not for me.

(as always, you can ask me for a copy to check it out if you are on my subscription list.)

piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2011-02-27 07:50 am

review: dengeki daisy - motomi kyousuke (manga)

darn, i wish i remembered how i found this manga -- it was through one of mangaupdates' algorithm to show you manga in some way related to a manga you had read, but i can't recall now with what i started out... hm. kimi no todoke, i think? anyway...

this was a fantastic find! i downloaded the first volume to taste test it, and when i was done, i grabbed not only the other 5 scanlated volumes but also hunted down the remaining raws. the manga has been licensed by viz, but they're way behind, and i hope the scanlators won't drop it; the scanlation is good.

before 16-yr old orphan kurebayashi teru's older brother souichiro dies of cancer, he gives her a cellphone and tells her that if she needs any help, to use it to contact a mysterious man who goes by the pseudonym of DAISY. she soon finds solace in the messages she exchanges with DAISY, he is kind and thoughtful, and he always there to encourage her when she is down. while teru is determined to make her own way despite her poverty and being bullied in school, that support is her lifeline, because whenever she is lonely, DAISY will send her email. in stark contrast to the comfortable relationship with DAISY, teru is working off a debt to the rude, inconsiderate, and obnoxious school janitor kurosaki tasuku. aside from those lovely traits, kurosaki is also lazy, a bit of a pervert, has a lousy temper, and is quick to use his fists -- but even though he makes teru do most of his own work, he also always seems to show up whenever teru needs help (being quick to use his fists is a bonus in that case). and help she needs, because not only does she get bullied, but some nefarious people are starting to hang around for reasons unknown.read why this is great, no spoilers; graphics )

highly, highly recommended. i'll now go and seek out motomi's other works.
piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2011-02-25 03:02 am

review: hanazakari no kimitachi e (manga & live adaptation)

i watched this a while ago, but wanted to wait with reviewing it until i had finished the manga. i chose it because it's another incredibly well-liked shoujo, it's tagged as a "gender bender", and the live action has two of my favourite actors in the lead role.

the manga (affectionately abbreviated as 'hanakimi'), written by nakajo hisaya, started in 1996, and i had to remind myself of that at times because, while the art doesn't show its age, the pace does -- it gets very slow at times, and there is a bit too much extraneous filler stuff that i'd prefer cut. but since i have not read much shoujo, i have no complaint about the storyline being overdone. at the time it certainly was not, and it does in fact retain some facets that i have not seen a lot. for example, there is an actual gay man in this manga, who even gets to have his own small arc, including an onscreen kiss. i find this very cool in a genre that usually only teases with pseudo-gayness as fan service, if that.

anyway, the story is that ashiya mizuki (horikita maki) had been idolising high jumper sano izumi (oguri shun) after seeing him in a competition, and when he seemed to drop out of the sport after an accident, she decides to transfer to his school to encourage him to return to high jumping. the twist is that his school is an all-boys school, but that doesn't deter her; she cuts her hair and disguises herself as a boy. when she arrives at school, she happens to be in luck and gets assigned as his roommate. yes, i know -- how much more feeble a setup could you design if you tried? :)

summary opinion: enjoyed the manga, hated the live action. read why, mild possible spoilers )

so, read the manga if you like shoujo, crossdressing girls as boys, don't mind the slow pace (23 volumes; licensed by viz). the art is decent throughout -- strangely enough it becomes really good at some point in the middle, and then towards the end gets worse again. there is no anime, which strikes me as odd. don't watch the live action.

ps: ok, i am officially an arashi fanboi now, *sigh*. so sad, but i can't help it that so many of their songs are so catchy that i find myself singing along all the time. ah, the joy of men who sing in the high tenor range. but guys, what is it with your totally non-sensical lyrics? i don't really care because i can still totally ignore japanese lyrics, but it's startling how often i can't even decipher the plentiful engrish.

piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2011-02-22 10:50 pm

review: itazura na kiss (live manga adaptation)

i regret that i called hana yori dango "unmitigated crap", because now i need an expression that describes something considerably worse.

i watched itazura na kiss because the manga by tada kaoru is popular and "ground-breaking" shoujo, and i put it on my list without checking the comments at mangaupdates. they would have probably tipped me off that i would hate it, because most people are enraptured by the "dumb but cute and funny" protagonist. i never, ever, find dumb "cute and funny". i mean, tom hanks as forrest gump is oftentimes (unintentionally) funny, but hanks doesn't play gump for laughs; i can handle that. this, i couldn't.

in retrospect i gather the "ground-breaking" part is that the manga goes beyond the two lead characters getting together and shows them as a married couple, so the "happily ever after" isn't merely implied as is usual in romance. the live action, however, doesn't go there; it stops at the point where they get together. i don't think i could have handled to watch any more; as it is i forced myself through 8 of the 9 episodes and was glad when it ended. rantage ahead )

kashiwabara takashi
so, no love from me. well, maybe a little love for kashiwabara takashi who's one of the few characters in this show not overacting, and for akashi ryoutarou who plays yuki, naoki's little brother -- he's smarter and more mature than kotoko, and he writes and draws a diary about her which is actually funny.

i won't bother with the manga or anime or the korean and chinese adaptations.

piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2011-02-20 03:33 am

review: stand up!! (jdrama)

why was i watching a comedy in which horny yet frustrated teenage boys are obsessed with sex? it's got a stellar cast; 7 (!) actors i know and like. and i was in luck; this turned out rather better than i had feared (i did not like american pie, which is probably the closest well-known western equivalent).

the story revolves around four friends who are apparently the last virgins in their high school, and get quite a bit of fun poked at them for it, such as being nicknamed the DB4's (doutei boys = virgin boys). they're desperate to gain some actual experience (like, say, a kiss). they live in a close-knit neighbourhood in which their parents are shop keepers. the neighbourhood is very concerned with keeping its children "pure" -- away from any and all potential sexual activities. (good luck with that!)

at the beginning of the summer holidays, oowada chie (suzuki anne) [1] comes to visit; a girl who used to be the much admired neighbourhood "princess" 11 years ago, but then moved away. chie has changed; she's a bit chubby and frumpy, wears thick glasses, and is generally awkward. she's also hiding something from everyone. at first the guys don't really know how to interact with her. chie has a crush on our lead protagonist asai shouhei "shou-chan" (ninomiya kazunari) [2], who, blissfully ignorant of that fact, has himself an unrequited crush on a pretty teacher. shouhei is a bit young for his age, small, naive, and insecure.

then we have shouhei's friends: iwasaki kengo "ken-ken" (yamashita tomohisa), a sensitive dork who has a strange fascination with trains; enami kouji "kou-kun" (oguri shun), who is the loud-mouthed athletic type who gets foot-in-mouth disease when a girl comes near; and lastly udagawa hayato "udayan" (narimiya hiroki) who is the group’s clown.

(left to right: yamashita tomohisa, ninomiya kazunari, narimiya hiroki, suzuki anne, oguri shun)

the show is very silly, thanks to the boys doing some really ridiculous stuff in their quests to have their first experiences, and the adults all having quite special foibles. but as it progresses i started to care about those guys -- regardless of their immaturity this is clearly (once again) a story about friendship, between the four of them, and between them and chie. and despite the humour, which is sometimes a bit loud for my taste, in this show it didn't turn me off, but i got used to it. that's mostly due to good acting by the 5 lead characters, but a part of it is also that the show doesn't have any seriously dramatic bits until near the end, and so the humour didn't kick me out of the mood. the guys suffer typical teenage angst and frustration, which i can remember myself, but with enough distance to laugh at it now, so the mood stays light. kinda nice how age has taken the sting out of those painful experiences -- i really never want to be 17 again.

i'm not gonna write a lot about it because all the fun is in the well-timed interactions. the friendship between the boys and chie felt real to me; especially ninomiya does a superb job portraying shou-chan. yamapi is sickeningly adorable here -- not that he isn't always adorable anyway, but ken-ken brings it out to the max. oguri hadn't quite gotten into his stride yet -- or maybe i just didn't warm up entirely to his character, who's a type i've not cared for in real life. narimiya is just plain nuts; i want to hang out with him.

theme song: 言葉より大切なもの (kotoba yori taisetsu na mono) by arashi (ninomiya sings with arashi). i like this one; very upbeat and has a tongue-twister section which i am still practicing to sing fast enough after 11 episodes. *ack*. i wasn't previously very fond of arashi, but lately they've been growing on me.

there is one jarring note to the show, and it comes towards the end when we finally find out exactly what chie has been hiding. all of a sudden everything turns deadly serious, and the hijinks that follow a bit later don't work for me anymore. IMO that situation is also not satisfactorily resolved, so there's a bit of a regretful aftertaste. and i don't like how the shou-chan/chie/ken-ken triangle is worked out -- the end seemed a bit rushed, thrown together hastily.

but overall this didn't feel like a waste, and not just because of the pretty boys -- actually they're just a bit too young for me to drool over here anyway. it's kinda fun to see these actors all in their late teens; at that age 7 years makes a big difference. i now must go and find everything ninomiya has been in since.

if you can handle that style of humour, i'd recommend the show; it left me with a generally warm feeling of affection for the characters.

[1] if suzuki anne's name sounds familiar, that's probably because she was in snow falling on cedars.
[2] possibly also familiar, if you have seen letters from iwo jima.
piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2011-02-17 08:13 pm

review: juui dolittle (jdrama)

watched this because oguri shun is in it -- once i get attached to a voice, i really get attached. :) also, the subject matter seemed potentially like fun, and i always like watching animals.

at first glance tottori ken'ichi (oguri shun) is a cold, rude, foul-mouthed veterinarian who appears to only be interested in money. his catch phrase is 'pet care is business', and he refuses to treat any animal unless the owner can pay his -- often steep -- bills. he's also extraordinarily skillful, otherwise he might not have any clients. as it is, he is often the go-to man of last resort. he runs his animal clinic by himself until he encounters tajima asuka (inoue mao), who comes to him for help with her lame race horse. because she can't pay, he hires her as his gopher/assistant so she can work off her debt. one of the few people with whom he is friendly is fellow vet hanabishi masaru (narimiya hiroki), a friend from university; the charismatic host of a popular TV animal show. hanabishi excels at diagnosis, but he has a secret -- ever since botching an operation on his own dog, which resulted in the dog bleeding out, he has been unable to operate. he hides this from everyone, and often comes to tottori for help with operations.

i can't say this is a good drama, but i watched all 9 episodes of it, and enjoyed myself. click for detail, very mild spoilers )

i can't say i'd heartily recommend it to anyone but fans of the lead actors, and maybe those who're looking for some light entertainment in japanese (it's good for learning weird medical terms!).
piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2011-02-16 02:23 pm

review: hana yori dango (jdrama)

this is an insanely popular franchise; there is a 37 volume manga (licensed by viz), an anime (subbed for the north american market), a taiwanese tv drama, a korean tv drama, a japanese film, and who knows what else. people go into ecstatic raptures over it. the manga won the 1996 shougakukan manga award, and is the best-selling shoujo manga in japan. so it made it onto my list of jdramas to watch (but i was prepared for disappointment; ecstatic general raptures seem to usually predict serious disappointment for me, and even award winners do not always come through). i have not read the manga, nor seen the anime or watched the chinese version.

the storyline is fairly cliched (though the manga started in 1992; maybe it was fresh then): makino tsukushi (inoue mao), a girl from a poor working-class family, attends an elite high school, where the other pupils all come from high-society families. at the very top are the "F4", a group of 4 boys from powerful families. naturally, they're all good-looking, and the entire school is ga-ga over them. unfortunately they also rule with an iron fist, and get away with bullying anyone who doesn't fit in. makino hates the lot, but is determined to keep her head down and just work towards graduation. but one day the only girl who befriended her accidentally runs into doumyouji tsukasa (matsumoto jun) (the leader of the F4) and spills food on him. despite apologizing profusely, that results in a "red notice" -- the F4's public call to seriously harass her. we're not just talking nasty words here, but physical abuse as well.

that's when makino's resolve to be quiet and unobtrusive cracks, and she tells doumyouji just what she thinks of him, and then punches him hard enough so he goes down.

the next day there is a red notice in her locker, and the entire school starts to make her life miserable. there seems to be only one person who's not joining in: hanazawa rui (oguri shun), another member of the F4, who likes makino's spunk and starts to stick up for her.

ok, so it's cliched, but at first glance the female lead seemed to be a strong person who wasn't shy in conveying her disdain for bullying, and i always like some butt-kicking by a strong female lead.

alas the drama is unmitigated crap.
read why; spoilers )
i like the music; it fits well with the emotions of the story. opening song is "WISH" by arashi (matsumoto jun's group); pleasant jungle. ending song is "planetarium" by ohtsuka ai; i like it too and let it play out every time.

the production values are unusually high; too bad they're wasted on such a uninspired show.

there is a second season, and a movie. i am debating whether to start the manga to see whether it's any better, but 37 volumes is a lot, and i didn't like the art when i looked at it. normally i wouldn't even bother, but if something is this popular i keep thinking maybe i missed something.
piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2011-02-12 01:15 pm

review: kurosagi (jdrama)

since i am on this live action kick i started looking at some where i have not read the manga yet, and i am picking those on story concept and lead actors. when i saw that kurosagi features both yamashita tomohisa and horikita maki, two of the three leads in nobuta wo produce (my favourite jdrama), i jumped on it. the story sounded intriguing too.

based on the manga by the same name (by natsuhara takeshi and kuromaru), this is primarily a crime/mystery drama with a wee bit of romantic interest thrown in. the show tells us at the start that there are 3 kinds of swindlers: those who pray on people's money; the shirosagi (white swindlers), those who prey on people's emotions; the akasagi (red swindlers), and finally kurosagi (black swindlers), who prey on the other two. an important factor is that the law, because of a loophole, cannot bring justice to the victims (i have no idea whether that is true).click for details, possibly mildly spoilery )

overall i liked it enough to see the movie sequel, but i am not sure i'd recommend it, because part of why i liked it is that the protagonist is a loner with emotional issues, and i can look at yamapi all day long. the reviews on the net seem generally less impressed than i was. if you're a yamapi fan, it's a must, of course. ;) and there's slashy subtext -- kurosaki runs into a former friend from high school, tanabe satoshi (koyama keiichiro), and wow, at first i thought HERE is the real love interest; the two virtually lit off sparks (maybe they have real good rapport because they're both in NEWS -- another JE boyband). koyama's role is small, but i liked him in it.
piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2011-02-11 06:45 pm

review: otomen (manga by kanno aya, live action)

the title is a play on 乙女 (otome; young lady) and "men" (in english), and it refers to boys who like girlish things. i've seen another term for this, which seems to carry more of a connotation of such men also not being very sexual or aggressive/assertive when it comes to love: 草食男子 (soushoku danshi, literally "herbivorous guy"; i guess because herbivores are less aggressive?).

masamune asuka is quite the manly guy, excelling in karate and kendo. but he has a secret: what he really likes is cooking, sewing, knitting, and everything sparkly and cute. when he was a young teenager, his father left home because he had always wanted to be a woman. this affected asuka's mother very badly, and, because she saw that her son liked girly things, she forced him to be completely masculine.

of course denying a large part of oneself doesn't ever work well, but asuka doesn't actually want to be a woman; he just wants to do things that normally are in a girl's domain. one day a new transfer student joins his class; miyakozuka ryou. ryou has grown up without a mother, and with a tough father, and she's pretty much taken on the role of his son; he taught her karate and kendo, and training with him is one of her favourite things. she doesn't know how to cook or sew, and she likes action and horror movies. asuka and ryou are quite taken with each other, and quickly admit their secrets and start helping each other.

i started reading this because i think japan, and especially shoujo, needs manga in which people break through gender barriers, and it sure can't hurt westerners either. this is a true gender bender; not as in magic body swapping, or pretending to be a boy/girl, but as in stretching the meaning of gender beyond its standard perceptions. read more detail; no spoilers )

it's not any big revelation for anyone who's been pondering gender seriously already, but it's quite progressive in the shoujo manga universe, and indirectly acknowledges that gender isn't binary, and that liking pursuits commonly attributed to the "opposite" gender doesn't turn one into a transvestite or transsexual or make one homosexual, and i am happy that it's quite successful in japan. so yeah, recommended.

piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2011-02-07 12:11 am

review: gokusen - morimoto kazueko (manga/anime/live action)

this is one of those strange occurrences where i got sucked into something i would never think i'd be attracted to. i only watched the anime because i am following two of its seiyuu around; suzumura ken'ichi and konishi katsuyuki, and that led me to find the manga and then the first live action series, and now the second -- i haven't previously touched live action adaptation of manga at all.

the manga is josei (marketed at young women), and it has a strong female lead, which is always a good thing to see -- i am still amazed how japan with all of its gender inequality creates so much fiction with competent female characters who can handle themselves and don't need any guy to rescue them from distress. now, that would of course interest me, but it's also comedy, and i am very careful with japanese comedy because 95% of it misses for me. and indeed i am glad i didn't see the live action first, because it would not have had the same effect as the anime had; i doubt i would have checked out the manga and the anime.
click for in-depth notes; images; spoiler alert )

and speaking of crushes, fujiwara motoo is still god. bump of chicken can make me happy even if i am down. i should order the new CD.