Thursday, December 29, 2005

Boy, I love to fly. It's like a geography-themed rollercoaster. Shame it costs so much...

I picked up some manga I hadn't exactly been eager to read, due to this and that and the other thing. Surprisingly, none of the volumes in question were disappointing; some were actually quite promising. I suppose that's the value of low expectations.

Her Majesty's Dog's biggest problem is that the publisher, Go!Comi, has foolishly insisted on selling copies exclusively through the Waldenbooks/Borders book chain. The closest stores I've been able to find in this chain are in Allegheny County, although both my sister and the clerk in the Robinson Town Centre Borders Express both insist that there's a Borders Express somewhere within the city limits of Altoona. I suppose I'm going to have to go find it in February, because that's when the second volume of Her Majesty's Dog is due, and I don't want to have to trek out to Northway Mall on such a flimsy premise.

HMD is a pretty good book - the protagonist is a magician who derives her power from the knowledge of the true names of things, people, and identities. The dog of the title is her inugami, or dog-spirit - essentially a familiar or pet demon in the alternating forms of a lion-huge demon-dog and a teenaged bishounen. There's a lot of racy humor at the expense of the heroine, who has the blase, peculiarly innocent jadedness of the Japanese rustic. (There must be some essays out there on the distinctly Japanese inversion of the usual Western innocent country/depraved city sexual duality, but my aversion to pomo is cognitively blocking my google fu, sorry.) It was apparently written as a "horror" title, but the writer admits that she's not much for serious horror, and it plays more as slightly fantastic high-school comedy. The first chapter or so is a bit bare-boned and schematic, but the writing settles down quickly enough, and by the end I was looking forward to more.

Crossroad another shoujo from Go!Comi was less promising. Shojo Beat and various relevant websites have been full of obnoxious, dopy ads for the comic which made it sound like the most bare-boned of harem-grade "visual novel" tedium. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't nearly as precious or simple-minded as the advertising threatened. The protagonist is the daughter of a fairly worthless, aging tart who keeps accumulating children from even more worthless beaus, and generally dumping them on the doorstep of her much-put-upon mother, while "Rumiko-mama" goes charging off in search of another meal-ticket. While the protagonist is the actual body-child of the soon-absent mother, two additional step-brothers seem to have just been dumped on the family, and who knows where the second girl came from? The woman who actually kept some semblance of a family together over the years dies as the book opens, leaving the kids effectively abandoned and semi-doomed.

The heroine of Crossroad surprisingly *doesn't* rise immediately to the occasion, mostly because a lifetime of abandonment and broken promises has left her suspicious and nearly pathologically antisocial. Even better, she's not always right, or even particularly sympathetic. There's plenty of room for a lot of character arc in this one. The one big problem with the manga is that the author has a bit of a tendency to let off liberal-concerned-social-conscience steam in the form of inappropriate, doofy sermons from the heroine, and that sort of thing isn't made any more palatable by the typical Japanese insistence on bland political abstraction and airy passive-aggressive idealism. But the hysterical adoption of "no incest in the house!" as a family motto by her frazzled oldest brother makes up for one hell of a lot of preachy speechifying on the part of the protagonist.

Finally, I gave in & finally read the first volume of Nodame Cantabile, which I had been avoiding despite the near-universal positive reviews. Mostly, this had been because the art looked crude, and generally I can't stand artists, and stories about artists. If you've been reading for any particular period of time, I can't imagine that it comes as any surprise to you, dear reader, that I hold the artistic personality in the lowest of esteem, and consider such people suspicious and not to be trusted with sharp objects, responsibilities, or any semblance of authority or power. The delightful thing about Nodame Cantabile is that the author seems to be somewhat in agreement on this point, as the student-artists who populate the comic are alternatively egotistical, thieving, self-regarding, or monstrously arrogant and self-centred. The operating theme of the manga seems to be that most artists must be tricked, conned or otherwise fooled into turning into worthwhile human beings, and the few exceptions are, while essentially harmless, still and all feral & incapable of taking care of themselves or others.

The protagonist of Nodame Cantabile is a wildly talented and skilled college junior, who has grown as an artist to the point where he's essentially unteachable. He's rude and hostile to his instructors, and unapproachable & openly contemptuous of his fellow students. The text never comes out and states it baldly, but it is quite clear from the context that the school essentially gave up on trying to instruct the hero, and left him to sink or swim. I'm still not sure whether the powers that be decided to toss him in with the problem students in an attempt at reform, or whether it's all accidental, but the process seems to be that in cleaning up after his semi-feral neighbor and fellow pianist, our hero grows by irritably instructing the hopeless semi-failures among the loser set within which he's been set loose.

The art's still crude and uninspiring, but I expect I'll still go & pick up the next two volumes this afternoon anyways. Got to do something with this money burning a hole in my pocket.

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