Trigun Omnibus–Review

Image (Dark Horse Comics)

So even more so than anime, I don’t know that much about manga. At all. Even though I came of age during the Manga Bookstore Explosion of the 2000’s, I never got into the medium, having already fallen for its Western predecessor of regular American comics.

But now I’m friends with a whole bunch of manga nerds, so now I feel inadequate. Hence, for my birthday, I asked for the English-language omnibus of Trigun, the Weird Western manga that ran for the space of 3 collected volumes under that name before switching genres (jumping from shonen–boys’–magazine to seinen–adult’s–magazine) and becoming Trigun Maximum.

My good friend Nate got it for me off of Things From Another World (tfaw.com), which had a gently used copy for cheap. Having finally finished the bulk of it the other day, I’m happy to say that while this is some rough-going early on, it’s an enjoyable experience that can help ease one into manga.

The story–quite a bit different from the famous anime adaptation that the franchise is best famous for here in the States, though I confess I haven’t finished it–takes place on the future, desert world of Gunsmoke, where the descendants of humanity live in far-apart settlements named after the months of the year. We’re told in a prologue that the third city, July, was destroyed under mysterious, dangerous circumstances.

We’re then introduced to our main character, Vash the Stampede (that guy on the cover), who carries an enormous pistol, walks around in a trademark all-leather outfit (without boiling to death in the hot sun…somehow) and is an easy, genial guy. Except for the $$60 billion double dollar (not a typo) on his head due to all the wanton destruction and murder he supposedly commits. He’s so dangerous they call him the “Humanoid Typhoon.”

Among the many people trying to keep tabs on Vash are two insurance agents and investigators from the Bernadelli Insurance Society: Meryl Stryfe, a no-nonsense worker and Millie Thompson, who is decidedly ditzier…and larger…and carries an enormous gun (a stun gun, apparently). The two wind up stumbling after Vash, who seems to want to genuinely help the people he comes across, is a staunch pacifist despite his reputation, and is haunted by visions of a mysterious woman named Rem.

Mangaka (manga artist) Yasuhiro Nightow, like so many others, created Trigun as his first series, and it wasn’t that big of a hit initially; like I said above, it jumped genres and titles, all because it got cancelled by its original magazine. It’s somewhat understandable; the art in the early chapters is really cramped and indistinguishable at times, although it improves as the scope–both story-wise and art-wise–widens and increases.

From the start, the characters are all quite genuine and fleshed out. When Vash’s backstory gets fleshed out, it not only raises more questions, but plays on the feelings you’ve developed for him as a reader by then. Similarly, it’s pretty funny that there’s a running gag about Millie calling Meryl “senpai” constantly, but it’s just one way of her showing she genuinely cares about Meryl.

Besides that initial cluttering, and some crampedness throughout, Nightow at his best has some really strong clear artwork with some dynamic action and fight poses. His script–as translated by Dark Horse Comics, anyway–starts small and expands, taking us from small stories to something absolutely huge and mind-boggling. The omnibus ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger, but it’s genuinely earned and makes me want to hunt down the first omnibus of Trigun Maximum.

There’s a bunch of extras in the Omnibus that I haven’t read yet, but I know they include the initial one-shot that inspired the manga and some other stuff, so I’m confident to check them out. If you like Weird Westerns and want to explore some from a new perspective, check this out.

Advertisements

Star Trek Saturdays #37

It’s time for…Star Trek Saturdays #37!

292px-TOS_head

This week’s episode is “The Doomsday Machine,” and it’s a showcase not only for a powerful guest star, but also demonstrates why the remastered versions of the original episodes–which are the ones I’m watching if you don’t remember or are new to this feature–are worth watching.

We open with the Enterprise receiving a faint starship disaster beacon, the only word of which they can make out is the word “Constellation.” At the same time, they encounter heavy subspace interference. Proceeding to star system L-370, they find that all planets have been destroyed, which is odd because they only surveyed htis system last year with all the planets intact. Proceeding to star system L-374, they find the same thing, except two inner planets are still remaining.

They also find the drifting, powerless husk of the Enterprise‘s sister ship, the Constellation. Assuming at once that they were attacked, Kirk brings the Enterprise to red alert.

File:USS Constellation remastered.jpg

Subspace interference is still present, but the sensors are able to tell that the Constellation‘s bridge is uninhabitable, the ship’s power plants are dead, and it is running with minimal life support. Detecting no other ships in the area, Kirk brings his ship down to yellow alert and, leaving Spock in command, has himself, McCoy, Scotty and a damage control team beamed over.

Arriving there,  they find the warp engines exhausted and the phaser banks depleted, signs that the ship fought a huge battle and lost. Kirk wonders if the crew couldn’t have beamed down to one of the two surviving planets, but Scotty informs him that’s impossible: the first planet has a surface temperature akin to the boiling point of lead and the second’s atmosphere is too toxic to support human life. Kirk and McCoy journey through the rest of the ship, finding no survivors or bodies until, hunched over in the auxiliary control room in a fugue state, they find the ship’s commander, Commodore Matt Decker (William Windom).

Decker is still blindly panicking about whatever his ship faced until McCoy gives him an injection. He begins to come around, eventually recognizing Kirk.  Scott manages to restore communications on the ship and finds and begins to play back Decker’s captain’s log, which reveals that the Constellation initially entered the system to investigate readings showing one of the planets breaking up. Kirk orders the Constellation‘s sensor tapes beamed back to the Enterprise for analysis.

Beginning to recall what happened, Decker horrifically recounts how his ship was attacked and disabled and, unable to request assistance due to subspace interference, he was forced to beam his entire crew down to the third planet in the system. The ship was then attacked again with its transporters disabled, leaving Decker stranded. Then the planet was destroyed by “something right out of hell,” with Decker helpless to do anything but listen to his crew scream for help as they were destroyed and he collapses in grief.

Recovering, he says that the attacker was “miles long, with a maw that could swallow a dozen starships.” He says it uses a pure antiproton beam to carve planets up into rubble. He further says that he couldn’t tell if it was a ship or a living organism.

Spock reports from the Enterprise, saying that the sensor tapes indicate the “planet killer” is some sort of automated weapon created to destroy planets and then digest the matter for fuel. He says that he and Sulu have mapped out that the creature is from outside the galaxy and will continue to ravage planets as long as they are there for it to destroy.

Kirk theorizes to McCoy that the killer must be some sort of doomsday weapon created by a far-distant race and has now outlived the conflict for which it was created. McCoy, concerned about Decker’s mental state, wants to get him back to sickbay; Decker refuses to leave his ship, but agrees to do so when Kirk offers to tow the Constellation. McCoy and Decker beam back over to the Enterprise while Kirk and Scott stay on the other ship to prepare her for towing.

McCoy and Decker materialize in the transport room to find the red alert sounding and, rushing to the bridge, they find that the planet killer has returned, and has set its sights on the Enterprise.

File:Planet killer, remastered.jpg

Kirk orders that he and the rest be beamed back to the Enterprise, but the planet killer attacks and damages the ship’s transporters and communications before it can do so, leaving Kirk, Scott and the rest stranded on the Constellation with no way of moving.

The Enterprise, meanwhile, outruns the planet killer and Spock announces his intention to swing around the monster, pick up Kirk and the rest, and then, evading the planet killer’s subspace field which has been the cause of all the interference, connect with Starfleet. But Decker, saying that their primary duty is to defend the rest of the Federation, invokes regulation and uses his superior rank to take over, ordering the Enterprise to attack.

What will Decker do? And what will Kirk do, stranded far from his own ship?

There are three things this episode is a showcase for: 1. The performance of William Windom, who is absolutely captivating, giving us a portrayal of a man stricken and enraged by grief enough to attempt the impossible. 2. The music, which is incredible, full of tension and excitement. 3. The talents of the remastering effects team, who go all out in depicting the wreck of the Constellation, as well as the ferocity of the planet killer.

Besides Windom, the cast is stellar, although, oddly, Uhura isn’t present for this episode. Spock, strangely enough, in the course of his actions, demonstrates some parallels to Kirk in the 2009 Trek reboot; at least that’s how I see it.

This episode has been called “Moby Dick in space,” and even more so than The Wrath of Khan, the comparison is very apt, with the unfeeling planet killer a perfect stand-in for the white whale. Clearly, that’s the comparison script writer Norman Spinrod wanted to make, and he succeeds with some solid writing that gives us some very big stakes in an apocalyptic scenario. Marc Daniels returns to direct, and he amps up that tension with every shot, and nicely frames Windom so that he is the center of everything every time he appears on screen. This episode is tense, exciting and heartbreaking all at once, and you can see its shadow extend throughout the franchise.

Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you in two Saturday’s time and until then, live long and prosper.

Once More Unto The Bleach: Part 2

And here we go again! Since last time, I’ve been trying to watch at least 2 episodes of this show a day, and it’s worked, so let’s dig into the second season of Bleach!

File:Bleach-Logo1.jpg

If you didn’t read the first post, here’s how this feature works: I’m going through each season of the long-running, legendary anime series Bleach–which is available entirely for free on Hulu (in Japanese w/English subtitles)–and writing about it. I do this because I want to see what attracts people to shonen (boys’ action) anime that run on for years and years. I’m only covering the seasons that are adapted directly from the original manga, because even in a shorter anime, filler is a killer™ and I don’t want to slog through it. The title of this feature comes from the fact that this is my third attempt at making it through the series, after trying to get into it through the English dub a couple of times before.

The first season, “The Substitute,” ended with our hero, Ichigo Kurosaki (Masakazu Morita) journeying into the afterlife and to the world of Soul Society, the organization made up of the police-like Soul Reapers who transport spirits to the afterlife, to rescue Rukia Kuchiki (Fumiko Orikasa), the woman who accidentally gave him all of her Soul Reaper power when helping him save his family, then guided him through his duties as a Substitute Soul Reaper. After a series of one-off adventures, Rukia was captured and brought back to Soul Society by fellow Soul Reapers Renji Abarai (Kentaro Ito) and her adopted brother, Byakuya (Ryotaro Okiayu) to face judgment for her crime of transferring her power to a human. Ichigo attempted to fight them off, but was easily outmatched, stripped of his powers and left to die while the Soul Reapers took off, Rukia admonishing him to let her go otherwise she would never forgive him.

Byakuya2-1-  E320 Renji Mugshot

(L to R: Byakuya and Renji)

Ichigo recovered his powers under the tutelage of helpful store owner and spiritual expert Kisuke Urahara (Shinichiro Miki) and a training regime that resulted in him nearly becoming a Hollow, although he managed to pull himself back, but not before he grew a Hollow mask. At this point, Ichigo unlocked the true nature of his zanpakuto, revealing its true form, as well as learning its name, Zangetsu (Takayuki Sugo).

Ichigo left through a portal under Urahara’s store for Soul Society, determined to save Rukia. But he didn’t go alone like he thought he would. Instead, a party consisting of his similarly spiritually-gifted friends Chad (Hiroki Yasumoto), a gentle giant with the ability to turn his right arm into unstoppable armor and emit energy blasts, Orihime (Yuki Matsuoka), whose hairpins contain magical fairy-like creatures called the Shin Shin Rikka that she can command and Uryu Ishida (Noriaki Sugiyama), the last of the Quincy, a tribe of humans who used their spiritual energy to kill Hollows.

Dtechnolife

(Left to Right: Chad, Orihime, Ichigo, Ganju, Hanataro and Uryu)

At the beginning of Season 2, “The Entry,” The four of them, plus the talking cat Yoruichi (Shiro Saito), an old friend of Urahara’s who mentored Orihime and Chad on their powers, leap through the portal, but before they break through to Soul Society, they find themselves caught in the powerful Koryu current that, Yoriuchi warns, will devour them completely before they can make it through the portal, unless they hold on to each other. Thanks to his showy ornamental cape, Uryu nearly gets pulled in, but is saved by Chad, with Orihime using her powers to shield them from the current so they can escape.

The group plummets down like a meteorite into the Rukon District, the largest part of Soul Society, where all souls arrive upon death. The District is much like a real city; divided into several areas, it decays outwardly, with the very poor and destitute living on the outskirts. Ichigo, quickly noticing the gated entrance to Seireitei, the compound where all Soul Reapers live, rushes to it, but is blocked by the gatekeeper, an absolute giant of a man named Jidanbo (Takashi Nagasako), who brags that in the 300 years he’s been guarding the gate, no one’s been able to beat him, and he fights Ichigo. The cool thing abotu this part of the plot is how it shows the epic tradition Bleach is following in. The heroic party has formed; now, the Hero must confront the Gatekeeper. It’s an essential part of any legend, and the way series director Noriyuki Abe and his team set things up here is glorious. The fact that Ichigo is fighting a literal giant is never lost on the viewer, with the destroyed ground being used by Ichigo as cover and vantage points from where to attack. It’s a well-placed sense of scale, and it’s a great fight.

Jidanbou Yoruichi Cat

(L to R: Jidanbo, Yoruichi.)

Ichigo emerges victorious, and Jidanbo, stunned that someone could beat him (and break his precious axes), lifts up the giant stone gate to let them in, but the group is met by Gin Ichimaru (Yusa Koji), the sadistic, creepily grinning Soul Reaper Captain who slices up Jidanbo’s arm and forces the group back into the Rukon District. Angered, the group rests at a friendly old man’s house, where they meet Ganju (Wataru Takagi), a macho doofus with a severe hatred of Soul Reapers due to one killing his brother. He takes them to his older sister and family head, Kikaku (Akiko Hiramatsu), who gets them through the bubble of spirit energy that surrounds Seireitei through a giant spiritual cannonball fired through a giant cannon, which is impressively rendered.

Cannon Launched

Once the group gets in, the cannonball collapses and creates a whirlpool, which splits the group up and sends them flying into different areas of Seireitei: Ichigo and Ganju going one way, Orihime and Uryu going another and Yoruichi and Chad flying off in different directions, apart from everyone else.

While all this has been going on, Rukia has been sitting in a jail cell, awaiting execution for her crimes. However, she is soon transferred to the Senzaikyu, a tall, white tower that overlooks the execution field–and nothing else–and told that if she repents of her crimes, she might be spared.

Ichigo’s group–referred to by the Soul Reapers as Ryokas (or outsiders, like the inhabitants of the Rukon District) eventually figure this out, and resolve to get there. Ichigo and Ganju figure it out after accidentally taking a member of the 4th Squad, the hapless Hanataro (Koki Miyata), hostage. But Hanataro agrees to help them because he was a janitor while Rukia was in her old jail cell, and struck up a friendship with her, with her telling him all about the human world and about Ichigo.

A little note: as explained here, Soul Society is divided into 13 squads, each of which has a Captain and a Lieutenant, along with several subordinates. A ton of characters are introduced here, but there’s only a few that are really important at this stage of things. Byakuya is the Captain of Squad 6, Renji his lieutenant. Hanataro, as I said, is a member of Squad 4, which isn’t even a combat squad, but is instead the medical corps of Soul Society. Then there’s Ichimaru, the captain of Squad 3 and Aizen (Sho Hayami), the captain of Squad 5, who seems nice and kind, but seems to have some sort of beef with Ichimaru.

There’s also Hitsugaya (Romi Park), a child prodigy who’s the captain of Squad 10. Then there’s Kenpachi Zaraki (Fumihiko Tachiki), the captain of Squad 11, and an immensely powerful Soul Reaper, easily the strongest of the 13 Captains. He becomes the default Big Bad for this season, and his multi-episode fight with Ichigo is some cool stuff and very intense in its own right.

Gin ep 280  Pre-Defection Aizen    Hitsugayatoshiro  Ep199KenpachiOpt3

(L to R: (Top) Ichimaru and Aizen,  (Bottom) Hitsugaya and Kenpachi)

Even with the rapidly expanding roster of characters, the show still keeps its focus on the humans entering into Soul Society (as well as Ganju and Hanataro). Having the characters split up only serves to highlight their individual arcs as well as highlight their personalities. Ichigo’s headstrong heroics find a perfect counterpoint in Ganju’s bluster and Hanataro’s goofy optimism, which lead to some fun comedy. But the two are also capable of being serious when the moment demands it. Similarly, pairing the highly competent Uryu with the inexperienced Orihime works really well, in that they develop a mentor/mentee relationship that eventually goes both ways (one can also read some romantic subtext into their storyline, but I digress.) Having Chad by himself, which could seem boring, also works because this rather silent character reveals himself through introspection, including the story of how he first met Ichigo, and why he feels loyal to him.

The new Soul Reapers I highlighted above all have their moments, but Ichimaru and Kenpachi are easily the standouts. Yusa Koji is known for playing dark characters (like Shadow the Hedgehog and Lunatic from Tiger & Bunny) and he brings a similar quality here, being mysterious and shady in ways that complement Ichimaru’s creepy, permanent grin. Kenpachi is a stereotypical supervillain, in some ways, and Tachiki plays that to the hilt, reveling in making his voice as outsized as his character.

The scripting, led by Masashi Sogo, remains as tight as ever, although some characters feel lost in the shuffle as things go on, with Uryu and Orihime eventually disappearing three-quarters through the season (although their story picks up in Season 3, which I’m watching right now). The direction gets even more bombastic, especially now that we’ve moved away from the formula of Ichigo V. Hollow that so defined last season. Here, Ichigo is tested, pushed to his very limits physically and mentally, and the way the fight scenes are choreographed and directed by Noriyuki Abe, his team and people like key animator Rioji Nakamori, reflects that wonderfully.

One thing I do miss is that, since the show is now permanently set in the afterlife, there’s none of the distinctive lighting that distinguished when Ichigo transformed into a Soul Reaper last season from when he wasn’t. But with all that’s gained by the expansion of the show’s world, as well as its ability to maintain a focus on a single story throughout, it’s easy to gloss over.

This show continues to impress and entertain even as its scope widens. I’m currently in the beginning of Season 3, “Soul Society: The Rescue,” and so far, that continues to be the case. A special thanks to the Bleach Wiki, where all the above images are taken from. See you next time!

Justice League: War (Review)

Justice League-War.jpg

So by and large, I’ve been pretty happy with DC’s New 52 since it debuted. Granted, I’m only keeping up with Superman (through Superman and Action Comics) and Batman (through Batman, in trade) and most recently, Wonder Woman (in trade), but while I stick to my preferred characters, thanks to the Internet, I’m pretty aware of what’s been going on in the entire DC Universe these past couple years.

I’ve also been aware of DC’s generally excellent series of direct-to-video animated films with top-tier talent based on popular storylines. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen all of them yet, but I plan to one day.

So, for Valentine’s Day, when my roommate gave me a Blu-Ray of Justice League: War, an adaptation of the first arc of the current Justice League comic, I couldn’t wait to watch it. And rightly so: this is a damn good movie, with well-paced action, really great casting, excellent animation, and some welcome takes on some great characters.

The plot–adapted from Geoff Johns’ and Jim Lee’s apparently not-very-good story Origins–opens with Green Lantern (Justin Kirk) investigating a series of mysterious abductions carried out by a bat-shaped figure. He’s patrolling in Gotham City when he sees a woman kidnapped in front of him by what turns out to be the winged monster known as a Parademon. The Parademon nearly kills GL, but he’s saved at the last minute by Batman (Jason O’Mara). The Parademon attacks both of them, and they head into the sewers, where it charges a mysterious box and then explodes. Realizing the box is extraterrestrial in origin, they decide to head to Metropolis to find Superman (Alan Tudyk) and see if he knows anything.

Elsewhere in Metropolis, as star high school quarterback Vic Stone (Shemar Moore) is prepping for the big championship game, he’s brimming with rage that his dad won’t be there, spending all his time and energy working at S.T.A.R. Labs investigating another mysterious box given to him by the Flash (Christopher Gorham). While Green Lantern and Batman have a huge knockout fight with Superman, moody, sullen teenager Billy Batson (Zach Callison) sneaks into the big football game, steals Vic’s jersey and confronts another of the mysterious winged monsters, which he gets rid of by turning into the superhero Shazam (Sean Astin). Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., Diana, princess of the Amazons (Michelle Monaghan), is on her way to meet the President, but exacerbates her military liaison, Steve Trevor (George Newbern), by refusing to play the diplomat’s game.

And on the planet Apokolips, the evil warlord Darkseid (Steven Blum) plots his invasion of Earth…

The curious thing here is that Aquaman, present in the original story, is here swapped out for Shazam (the New 52 moniker for Captain Marvel), largely because, as a post-credits teaser hints, they’re working on a solo Aquaman movie. That’s fine for the interconnected New 52 universe DC is building in these movies now, but it’s an odd absence. Happily, the way he’s been written here by screenwriter Heath Corson, Shazam more than fills the gap, and while a pissy teenage Billy Batson could have come off horribly wrong, here, it’s entirely believable.

Corson’s screenplay also gives us perhaps the best version of Wonder Woman I’ve ever seen and definitely the best use of Green Lantern ever. Seriously, for the first time ever, there’s finally more to GL’s power ring than “that thing that shoots laser beams,” with a steam train and all sorts of creative constructs on display. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman is not only painted as a kick-ass warrior, but she’s also given ample opportunity to be funny and endearing. The rest of the heroes are rather spot-on, although Superman was a bit more ruthless towards the end than I prefer.

By and large, the cast helps sell this. Fitting for a Johns-derived story, Green Lantern is the center here, and Kirk sells it, investing each wry quip with force and verve. This guy even has the nerve to call out BATMAN as a “phenomenal douchebag,” which might sound petulant in print, but is awesome here. O’Mara sounds a little old to be as young as Bruce Wayne is supposed to be here, but you warm to him by the end and I look forward to see how he’ll tackle an older Batman in the upcoming Son of Batman.

Monaghan is absolutely terrific as Wonder Woman, and I hope they keep her bravado warrior shtick around. Moore, perhaps best known for Friday Night Lights, is the emotional core of this movie, and he’s great as a good kid who gets caught up in something beyond his imagining. Tudyk makes a fine Superman, but I wish they had given him more to do. And Blum, the undisputed king of cartoon villains (seriously, look him up), is fine as Darkseid, but his voice is so electronically distorted, I can’t tell it’s him half the time.

Director Jay Oliva does some great staging with the battle scenes and I give him credit for taking what could have been a slog and making it great. This is pulse-pounding, hard-hitting action. Definitely worth checking out.

Here’s Me Writing Somewhere Else!

Hey folks, sorry I’ve been gone so long. The outside world has been crazy.Anyways, remember a while ago I wrote about how great the new Ms. Marvel is? Well, I wrote about it again.

This time, I wrote it for the Festival of Faith & Writing, which I’ve written about before, but am volunteering this year. Also, G. Willow Wilson, the writer of Ms. Marvel, will be a special guest, hence the Festival let me write about the book again for their blog.

Now that I think about it, issue #2 came out today…

While I go buy it, go read what I thought of the first issue here!