Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Gantz: First Phase


The first "phase" of Gantz ended around 240 chapters into it. While I have since read up to chapter 272 (the latest chapter) there are some thoughts that I had while reading.

1. In the last entry I said something to the effect that I wanted several of the characters back. Looks like that's not as far-fetched as I thought. This series is approaching DBZ levels of resurrection.

2. The fights still drag terribly. Seriously, they get really frickin boring. The first few were great. The very first in particular was excellent. It had only two aliens, one of which went down without a great fight. But it was tense, and visceral, and didn't outstay it's welcome. It was used to extend character motivation and was chilling in places. The current fight started about 30 chapters ago, and is still going strong.

3. There are still no significant advances in the plot. All we know is that there are some other Gantz spheres, and there may be a master sphere in Germany. The vampires are probably aligned with the aliens, but that doesn't stop them slaughtering each other if necessary. I really want to know more, but it doesn't look like I will any time soon.

4. The death of Izumi seemed a little quick. He had been built up for 70 or so chapters as a cool anti-hero. While his death is suitably epic, it seems like wasted potential.

5. I'll restate my opinion on the vampires. Seriously, katana wielding vampires are really original. Unless you count Anita Blake, or Underworld, or World of Darkness, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or any vampire fiction written since 1990. Why can't vampires go back to being solitary predators of the night? You know, scary.

6. Seriously. MORE PLOT! I read stories for the story. The violence is cool and all, but I really want the plot to kick in, and there's no signs of that happening soon.

Gantz has so much potential, but it seems wasted somehow.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Gantz: Enjoyable, yet infuriating


Don't get me wrong, Gantz is a good series, but there are several things that pissed me off about it.

1. The fight in the temple, where the entire established cast bar one is cheerfully annihilated, including the coolest character in the series.

2. The fight scenes are epically long. The Dinosaur fight for example took almost 30 chapters to complete. It was a cool fight, but it dragged after a while. I actually tend to prefer the parts where fights aren't going on, as the plot and characters get their chance to shine. The fights have also lost the sheer, visceral horror that made the first couple of them so tense and fun to read.

3. Apart from the introduction of the vampires, which I'll get to in a minute, the plot really hasn't gone anywhere since the temple fight. I'm 167 chapters in and I still have no clue about any of the forces at work in the series. New mysteries have presented themselves, but none of the old ones have been resolved, in fact they seem to have been ignored entirely. This is unsatisfying to say the least.

4. The introduction of katana wielding vampires. Some people just might say that that is a little bit cliched.

5. The relationships between characters are developing nicely, but I still want some of the old characters back, especially Kato. The story is on the back-burner.

Still, the series is somewhat addictive, so I'll stick with it for now.

Gantz: First Impressions

After finishing Suzuka I needed another manga to read, so I chose largely at random from the list of manga on onemanga. I ended up with Gantz. The story is...unique, to say the least. Sometimes, when people die, they get taken to a small apartment in Tokyo to fight aliens on behalf of a giant sphere that speaks only in leetspeak. No....really. Imaginative? Yes. Crazy? Yes. Still, it's a blast. I haven't read manga this fast since Battle Royale, and the series does actually share some similarities stylistically with that cavalcade of fetishistic violence and extravagent nudity. It's bloody, to say the least, and it does seem that it sometimes uses blood and gore as a standin for actual storytelling.

Still, it's fresh and original, and fairly dark too. The main character seems to be undergoing a fall from sanity, probably from gazing too long across the abyss. The character development is reasonably well done so far, and I look forward to seeing where this one is going.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008


I just finished reading the manga series Suzuka. I was initially sceptical about it, and the terms that Onemanga described it in really didn't help. They said something to this effect:

Yamato is ready for a fresh start. So when his aunt invites him to stay rent-free in her big-city boarding house in hustling, bustling Tokyo, Yamato jumps at the chance. There's just one teensy-weensy catch: It's an all-girl housing complex and spa!

I was not convinced by this at all. If I was lucky, I thought, it would be a Love Hina clone. If I was unlucky, it would be a Hanaukyo Maid Team clone. The latter I don't want because they suck, the former I don't want because I've already read Love Hina and, while it isn't the greatest harem comedy around (that honour goes in my opinion to Akamatsu's other opus, Negima), it is about as good as the genre is ever going to get without going into other genres like shonen fighting.

So it was with trepidation that I approached the series. Fortunately, I was pleasently surprised. The manga is not a typical harem manga at all. There are a couple of characters who do play up the stereotype, but it's in a light-hearted way, and they are developed characters, not placeholders.

The main romance is handled well for the most part, although a little clumsily at times. There's just a little too much of the main character screwing up and having to work out why and how he should apologise. That gets tedious after the fifth or sixth time. However, the mature plot and well developed characters more than makes up for that fact. Yamato Akitsuki stands out in particular. Usually I hate the main characters in romance, and Akitsuki joins Keitaro Urashima and Kasuga Kyouske in the critically small list of 'romantic comedy protagonists that don't piss me off.'

The main female lead, the titular Suzuka, is an equally interesting character, albeit marred by a tendancy for the author to keep trying to make her motivations and thoughts a mystery to the reader even after we have figured them out, which leads to her being annoying at times.

Now one of my opinions, of which I have many, is that the quality of a romantic comedy can be assessed by how it handles secondary romances. That is, other people who fancy either the male or female protagonist. There are basically two ways I can see of doing this right. Love Hina did this well by largely ignoring all of them as potential candidates except for Mutsumi. Kimagure Orange Road, on the other hand, does it well by giving these other candidates personality and depth and giving the protagonists real reasons to think about choosing them. This is the more mature route, but it is very difficult to pull off. Most harem comedies try this route, and end up failing miserably, leaving them with a cast of bland, generic secondary females who exist for no other reason than to hamper the main relationship and provide fanservice.

Suzuka takes the Kimagure route, and does it well. Part of this is that there are only three other potentials in the whole series, one of whom does not appear very long. They all have their own personalities, none of them are annoying, and there would have been valid ways to characterise Yamato going with any of them. To top it off, they all have their own story arcs, which means that they are never there solely to try to get the guy. This is the way to do multiple potential romances, if you're going to do them at all.

That being said, the series is not without its problems. The ending feels rushed, and happens very quickly. I won't spoil the ending, but I will say this: while there is no doubt that it's a very happy ending, it might annoy people. It is certainly a fairly mature ending, and it is reasonable to imagine that real life might go a little bit like that, but there is a bittersweet tinge to it.

The art is good, but not spectacular by any means. The character designs are also nice, and all characters have a certain feel to them. The obligatory fanservice is not as intrusive as it can be in some mangas, and it takes a back seat to the story, which is the driving force of this series.

All in all I can heartily recommend this series to anyone who likes shonen romance. If you liked Kimagure, or Maison Ikkoku, then go ahead and read it. If you're into anything more violent, or with lots of fanservice, then give this one a miss.

Friday, 9 May 2008

In which an interesting weekend is described

Friday 2nd: My birthday. We went to a Japanese restaraunt first, and then to the pub, where fun was had.

Saturday: Gaming was done...all day. I tried Tribe 8 for the first time. A post-apocolyptic science-fiction fantasy horror mish-mash....SET IN CANADA! Actually it's an astoundingly good game with a tight system and a rich setting. I will almost certainly try to get my hands on the rulebook at some point. A mammoth game of Arkham Horror was also started. And Arkham Horror is always good, although it steals your time and life away, much like the actual Cthulu.

Sunday: Mostly played Iron-Man DnD. Rolling 3d6 down the line has never been so entertaining!

Monday: The highlight of the day was without a doubt Classroom Deathmatch, aka Battle Royale the RPG. A class of Japanese schoolchildren dropped on an island and told to kill each other. The mechanics are geared for co-operative storytelling more than anything. Each character has a best friend and a rival. If you succeed on an action, your best friend describes the results. If you fail, your rival does it. There are no real limits on what can be described, so death is very common. But that's ok, because that's how it works, and you can always quantum leap into a new student. Scenes are set by all the players, even those whose characters aren't participating, and flashbacks can be used to get bonus dice. The only problem is that it is most definitely a one-shot game. The mechanics as they stand would not work for anything longer than that. Oh, and avoid the swim team; they're lunatics!

Sunday, 13 April 2008

In which I apologise for being a closet powergamer

I was statting up Star Wars characters today, as one does, and my train of thought actually caused me to stop dead. There I was putting together some kind of Zabrak fringer (I had the model, okay? It seemed appropriate) and I envisioned him as a sort of Scout/Scoundrel mix. So anyway, halfway through I realised that I was actually statting the character out for optimum efficiency. You know, I'll take this feat because it stacks with this talent allowing me to leap out of cover, shoot, and dive back it, all while never exposing myself to counter-fire. Isn't building a character like that, you know, being a munchkin?

Well not wanting to be thought a munchkin, I desperately tried to justify it. Perhaps min-maxing was ok, as long as you roleplayed properly. But wait, I hadn't even thought of a personality for this guy yet. Perhaps as long as I made sure the mins were there as well as the maxes. But wait again, that's what a min-max is. In the end the only justification I could come up with was that perhaps as long as I didn't annoy the others it would be fine. But that's a pretty lame justification. So in the end I did what anyone would do. Seek out the biggest powergamer I know for advice.

So he gave me some interesting things to think about. Principally that there is a difference between powergaming and being a munchkin, and I had to work out what that line was. So I admit it world, I am a powergamer. I love being effective in combat. I love stacking feats to create an unstoppable badass capable of offing stormtroopers and dark jedi in a single shot. I like being impossible to hit. Because you know what? Being a non-combatent sucks in a game designed around combat.

Powergamers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your dex bonus!

Monday, 7 April 2008

This just in, Tate not bad

Well actually I saw the new episode of Doctor Who on Saturday, and I have to apologise to Catherine Tate. I assumed on the strength of her terrible comedy show that she wouldn't bring anything to the show, but she was actually not bad. No Martha or Rose, but certainly better than that awful woman played by Kylie Minouge (sp?) in the Christmas special.

I actually look forward to seeing what happens, perhaps she will grow into the role. Also, it's certainly nice to see some older talent joining the show (no offence to her, of course). Still, it seems we're still a long way from the Doctor being allowed heterosexual males as companions, like he used to be. Perhaps they could bring back Matthew Waterhouse, I hear that he's good, and it would be nice to get someone who remembers the good old days, because Russell T. Davies really makes me wonder at times.

Also, I saw the actual Buffy the Vampire Slayer film today. I never thought I would say that Luke Perry could rescue a film, but apparently he can. Damn he was cool as Pike. And of course Rutger Hauer makes everything good. Still, SMG is a better Buffy than Swanson.