Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sage Reads Romance Manga Now!

Character Development Level Up! I realize this isn't really going to come as a shock to people unless they've known me longer for longer than a year or so. For those who have...holy crap, right?

I'll explain. For a long LONG time, I wasn't much for romance manga/anime. Okay, actually screw "not much"--I flat out hated them. I relegated the lot of them to being the Japanese equivalent of "chick flicks". And yeah, I'd see guys online talk about how they liked them, but my immediate reaction to this was always something along the lines of, "You know, if you were to read/watch an action series, you could find your balls again. Maybe get your man card back too, while you're at it."

...Admittedly, I still kinda feel that way about guys who only like romance series and don't like action ones. I still love shonen manga. In fact if I'm talking about a series its *far* more likely I'm discussing Bleach rather than say....Open Sesame. But the thing about shonen series is that...they're very long-running. A short series is 20 volumes. (Yu Yu Hakusho, Black Cat.) And given that...

A.) There's only so many series that can be released in the anthology magazines from month to month

B.) Most of them run a long time, often leaving no room for possible new series to get put in an anthology.

C.) With all the action scenes and whatnot, they read rather fast.

You're left with the fact that completed series are the best to go for, or at least the ones that have run long enough for it to actually take time to read them, and because they DO run so long, there just aren't that many of them. Essentially, what I'm saying is that I've tapped the well.

I've read Flame of Recca. I've read Black Cat. Rurouni Kenshin. Even the obscure stuff like Mx0 (Mahou x Zero), and Houshin Engi. I've watched DBZ and its infinitely superior cousin, Yu Yu Hakusho. I'm current on Naruto, Air Gear, World Embryo, Pokemon Special Adventures (don't hate...we all liked the game and Pokemon Adventures is the game, in manga form), and Bleach. (And I hate One Piece.) There are a couple of gems left here and there (Kekkaishi, Gintama, Full Metal Alchemist, Ryuuroden, D.Gray-man), but mostly I've run through them all. And the ones I find most interesting are just getting started: Code: Breaker, Omamori Himari, Chrome Shelled Regios, Blazer Drive, Freezing, and so on. And the new chapter each week usually breezes by so fast I normally just wait until a month or so has passed so I can read 4-5 chapters at once.

So I had to start looking at other kinds of manga. And aside from action series, romance ones are really the most plentiful. Again, there was a time where I wouldn't spend even a half second looking at them, but I guess its just that I'm older. Having gone through a number of relationships and always having a pretty impressive talent for empathy, a decent romance story can offer me a lot of interesting twists and turns and conflicts that I can "feel" and relate to, in a way.

Thus, I decided it might not hurt to check out a few slice-of-life/romance series. (To be fair, these aren't my FIRST. My first was years back, when I first got my computer and read the 13 volume Video Girl Ai manga. But that series was half sci-fi, since the main girl came out of a freaking video tape.) Note: A few. I don't read *all* of them, anymore than I'll read all shonen/action series (I have the feeling Kateikyoushi Hitman Reborn sucks). You're not going to catch me reading Marmalade Boy. Or Mars. Sorry, but..fuck that. (Not to say I dislike all shoujo series now, as I don't hate Special A or Vampire Knight, but one must draw the line somewhere.) I have two primary rules to decide whether or not I'm interested.

- No milquetoast main characters. None of these indecisive losers you find in a harem. Life don't work that way. I know. I tried. The results were...far less than desirable.

- The romance itself has got to be a situation I've either been in, or would like to be in. Yeah, the "r" word. "Relatability". That's anathema to me when I'm watching an action series, but in romance its essential. I can't relate to one girl's struggle to date the most beautiful boy in school. (I'd give a link, but, really...this comprises a shitload of romance manga and I just don't got the time to sift through.)

A third rule MIGHT be "the relationships have to be realistic", but let's face it: This ain't happening very often. When I say realistic, I mean a manga where it doesn't take the entire series for the two characters to get together. And, y'know, once they date, they actually have sex. I realize that sounds kinda perverted (and yeah, I totally am), but if you're dating and not having sex, unless you're trying to "save yourself", there's a big problem. These series that take the whole series for two characters to kiss give me a headache. (And yet, they're everywhere.)

It would also be nice to get a series that deals with more than one orientation exclusively. Anyone who's read a romance manga knows there's no such thing as an omnisexual manga. (Shout out to Captain Jack Harkness.) Its either all straight characters (that may have your odd gay or lesbian character but they're always fucking comedy relief), or all gay guys, or all lesbian girls, or something like that. And of course, bisexual people just get thrown under the bus for the sake of easily written extremes. As I've said elsewhere, I'd kill for a series featuring a web of characters of different sexualities all with feelings for one another. (If there's a romance manga expert out there reading this and you know of something like this, please point it out to me. It doesn't even have to be manga.)

Anyway, enough of "What Sage thinks would make a killer romance story". I figured since I got the time, I may as well talk about the few romance series I'm following...

Koibana Onsen - This is actually my favorite. Koibana Onsen is about a guy named Akiyama who visits this couples Onsen (hot springs) just after breaking up with his girlfriend the day before. The Onsen is run by these three cute sisters, who do their best to help the guy have a good time despite the fact that he's alone. Over the course of his first day there, he falls in love with the middle sister, Nonoka-chan. (This creates an interesting moment later on, where the girls invite Akiyama's girlfriend to the place so they can make up and finish the trip together, and he ends up confessing that he's in love with another woman.) And by the start of the second chapter, he's become a part-time worker at the Onsen to be near her.

There's not much more to the story than that at this point, as its only four chapters long, but I love it. I'm guessing it aims at a slightly higher age because they have no qualms about showing Akiyama and Nonaka as they try to...consummate their relationship at various points. Its not quite graphic as all the naughty bits are whited out, but you can definitely see what's going on. I think they're moving a bit fast, but its better than the series where they seem afraid of all physical contact outside of a hug. I'd have more comments on it, but its so early in there really isn't much to say, aside from how much I love the series' unashamed portrayal of sexual situations.

Love Lucky - This one's pretty cute. Its about a very average looking salaryman, Kinashi Fuuta, who's got a crush on Japan's most popular idol, Kirari-chan. He's got absolutly AWFUL luck with women and relationships, but at the start of the series he gets sent to this matchmaking party and meets a strange girl who has her entire face covered. They hit it off and end up going on lots of dates (still with her face completely covered) before they fall in love and get married. So finally after a bit of prodding (and a hilarious scene where he asks to "see" her and her response is to get naked...but still leave her face covered), she unmasks and--surprise!--its Kirari-chan. (Who didn't see *that* coming.)

From that point, the manga becomes a mixture of the story of their developing relationship (I'm three volumes in and they've yet to actually fuck, though at least they've given it a shot here and there) and commentary on what a relationship with a J-Idol is like, as well as the difference between a famous person's stage and real personas. Its intriguing to see how the couple's relationship develops while they have to keep it secret for their first year from reporters, the public, even their own friends. (Japan doesn't have a very strong love of scandals and I've heard of cases of idols being fired from groups for getting pregnant, or even just smoking!)

The most interesting part is the way they've turned the normal romance manga trope on its head. Instead of marriage being the end goal, the two characters are married before the start of the second chapter, and the story from there on is how their relationship develops and is tested because of the disparity in their positions in life and the fact that they have to keep it a secret. (I'm only three volumes in and already Kinashi has been sent on several dates by his work friends, which he has to squirm his way out of...without explaining that he's married to Japan's biggest idol.)

Metal Heart - Like Koibana Onsen, I haven't read much of this one. Only 15 chapters, which doesn't even finish up volume 3. The story of Metal Heart is about an otaku named Hyun Min Woo, a teenage boy that excels at a fighting game called Metal Heart. At the start of the series, the creators of the game, MegaTech, invite him to playtest the sequel to the series because of his incredible skills at the original (the very beginning features him winning a national tournament). Unfortunately, something goes wrong (of course). As it turns out, Min Woo is not given Metal Heart the fighting game, but Metal Heart the dating simulator, which for whatever reason, synched the main girl of the dating sim, Min Sia, with a prototype MegaTech android. (Yes. Its as insane as it sounds.)

After researching all other choices, they learn that the android is set on playing out through the game with Min Woo (who's name is entered into her internal memory) in real life, and any outside interference to try and cancel her programming would likely result in a self-destruct, ruining the company. So they bank on Min Woo's skills at gaming...which would be a good bet, except while he excels at every game genre...he possesses absolutely zero skills at any sort of dating simulator game, which leaves the fate of MegaTech, and the relationship itself, unknown.

....You know, I love this manga. Its the first manwha (Korean manga) I've ever read, and it reminds me of the first romance manga I ever read, Video Girl Ai. There's not much to say about it yet, as none of its good qualities are apparent, and it may take some unexpected turns along the way. (In fact, I'm sure at some point it'll be at least a LITTLE action-oriented.)

Open Sesame
- I'm not really sure HOW I ran across this one, but its interesting, so who cares? Open Sesame is about an amateur boxing champion, Danjou Yamato. He moves from a more rural area to attend school in Tokyo, at a school that was previously all-girl and has just become co-ed. But despite the new co-ed status of the school, the boys are a far smaller group, so the girls have most of the power. But Danjou's strong personality means he refuses to backdown in the face of this power, as he goes so far as to create his own club (boxing, of course) to rally the boys under. His main adversary at the school is Maki Mogami, a fellow classmate who seems to carry a grudge against him due to his inability to recall the past (naturally, she won't tell him exactly what it is he should be remembering)...

I'm not sure how I feel about this one so far. Its interesting because the focus isn't exclusively on the two main characters, Danjou and Mogami. There's a lot of development given to both Danjou and Mogami's friends, which is good since the plot's kinda paper-thin and its obvious what Danjou can't remember is that he and Mogami were childhood friends or the like. I'll keep following it though because Danjou is a lot like me and that keeps things very amusing.

Onegai Teacher - Okay, anyone who's a big anime fan knows what the plot to this is. There's a guy named Kei Kusanagi who has this odd physical affliction called "stagnation", that put him in a coma-like state for three years, meaning that while he's mentally 18, his body's only 15 and he's still a first year high school student. (Japanese high schools only have three years.) Due to circumstances beyond his control, Kei meets and ends up marrying (!) an beautiful alien girl named Mizuho, who happens to be his teacher.

Its a situation a lot like Love Lucky, since they have to keep their relationship a secret from Kei's friends and all the teachers at school. You know, I'm not sure exactly what, but there's something about this series that resonates with me. I can't pin it down, but I identify with a lot of the emotions the characters are feeling...the feeling of rejection, the feeling of wanting to improve one's self for the one you love... I don't know if the anime is exactly like this or not but if it is, its sure to make my Top 25 list.

Unbalance x Unbalance - Speaking of guys dating their teacher...this is another Korean manwha, my third or so. They're pretty good, aside from the really long names which tend to throw one off. Anyway, its got a pretty typical set-up...this guy has a chance encounter with a woman that doesn't leave a good impression on her (and the guy isn't too hot on HER either), but then a couple of weeks later--surprise (bitch)!--she turns out to play an important role in the guy's life.

In this particular case, the two characters meet in a store when the guy, Jin-Ho Myung, returns the woman's (Hae-Young Nah) wallet and cell phone. Innocent enough, except Jin-Ho has stolen the vast majority of the wallet's contents to buy a book he really likes. (Am I the only one who...y'know...WOULDN'T RETURN THE WALLET right then? Maybe after I'd replaced the money sure, but what the fuck...if I had 100 bucks in it and suddenly 70 was missing...am I not supposed to notice?) After he explains himself, Hae-Young decides this is a loan and demands to be paid back. Which becomes even more of an issue once school starts back and Jin-Ho learns that she's his new homeroom teacher.

Now, despite this one being 9 volumes long, I haven't gotten very far. What caught my eye is the fact that this is the kind of relationship I could either see myself getting into, or wish I could've gotten into. (I actually HAVE dated a woman four years my senior, before, though she wasn't a teacher.) The taboo of a teacher dating her student is one I've always liked as far as mining for story material, to say nothing of the fact that I've always liked when they turn the older/younger trope on its head and make the woman the senior and the guy the younger person in the relationship.

Hopefully this series moves rather fast, and gets to the good stuff quick. I'm impatient! :D

Lastly, there's this...

Toshiue no Hito - Heh. This one's another favorite of mine, and has quite a bit of potential if it continues on the road its going. First off, its done by a guy who normally does H-Manga so you KNOW he's not afraid of going there.

But anyway its about a fellow named Tsutomu, who keeps having dreams of this beautiful dark-haired girl, who he one day suddenly meets in real life, although she's younger and smaller than he is. The story starts with them being strangers, but by the end of chapter 1 our main character's house has burned down and the girl has been gracious enough to let him stay with her.

I really, really like this one so far. Its kind of sweet in a pervertedly realistic way, as the guy seems to be impotent except in his (wet) dreams, and around this girl, and the girl, Osanai Ageha, seems to be different from the normal romance manga heroine. Really, she's more like a secondary heroine. Y'know the one that's ALWAYS more interesting than the real one, and the one you like better but also the one the guy NEVER fucking goes for?

The only problem I really have is that the mangaka often segues into Tsutomu's little wet dream sequences with no sort of transition, and the only way you can really guess that its a dream is because things seem to be "moving too fast". Its very jarring to go back and forth between what's reality and what's Tsutomu's fantasy. I'm not quite through with the first volume and I've gotten volumes one through three so far. Hopefully it can maintain my interest as I really like the set-up.

I think that's it for romance manga. The only series I've left out is Parallel, which is about this kid confessing to a girl in his class, only to learn both their parents have decided to get married, but not before moving away for a while (for a reason I forget), leaving the two kids to live together in the same house. Its a really sweet manga with a nice ending, though it kind of breaks my sort of third rule, what with the whole thing ending with just the two characters kissing. C'mon. I realize they're in eighth grade or whatever, but there's just no way I'd live in the same freaking house with a girl I had a huge crush on and at least not try to smash. And I'd wager to say only a select few people I know would disagree.

Anyway, that's that for this week's update.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

2009: The Update

Well. Its been two months without an update. I was actually wondering if I wanted to bother with this for 2009, since I accomplished my goal of updating more than once a week last year with 57 entries (55 or so if you don't count a couple of incidental entries), but I realized some of you just wouldn't know what to do if I closed this down.

So, we're back for another year! (I say we but obviously I mean me since no one ever comments.)

I suppose this first entry should be an update on what's going on in my life.



.................Shit. I really need to get out more. :P (I'm doing emoticons now. Don't like it? Go somewhere else.)

Okay, seriously though, we might as well go through this by month.

I had my birthday, which sucked as I spent most of it trying to convince myself I was still sane. No, I didn't get anything on my wish list, but I wasn't really expecting them, so no big deal.

Christmas almost passed without even being noticed. Its getting harder and harder to convince my mom that we should put up the tree despite not having any gifts to put under it. This time it went up a whole week before Christmas came. >_< Great.

And what sucks even more is that, when I was younger, we used to hold little Christmas parties--each one at a different family member's house. (The ones at our house were always the most fun and people always stayed the latest here, of course. ^^) We'd do one every night right after everyone was home and all the kids (that would be me and my cousins) got out of school. They were a great chance to get together and joke around and get into the Christmas mood. Sadly, for the past two years or so we haven't really done that.

As for Christmas Day itself...y'know, I haven't really gotten anything for Christmas since...Junior year? Maybe Senior year, I think. I got a Creative Zen M in '06, but once I found out my mom paid $100 more than she needed to, I told her to take it back and we could buy it for cheaper online. That turned into intending to buy it online, then intending to buy the Creative Zen W, then never buying anything. But I got over that and decided to actually believe that Christmas wasn't about presents but spending time with family, so as long as I could go up to my grandparents and spend time with my cousins, I was cool.

Annoyingly, I didn't get that this year. Okay, in truth, I really only have a few cousins I can hang out with for an extended period of time. Most of them are either 6-7 years younger than me, or 12+ years older. These age differences don't mean all that much when you're say, 30 or 40, but at MY age, they're completely different fucking worlds.

The ones that are 6-7 years younger than me are talking about middle school, which I hated. Plus by hanging out with me I've made a lot of the cousins who are around my age cool. We listen to a lot of the same music, watch anime, and play a lot of the same video games. Unfortunately...my younger cousins didn't get this, so its kinda hard to listen to them sing the praises of Li'l Wayne when I'm used to listening to Lupe. (Okay, I don't hate Wayne, but this "Best Rapper Aliiiiiiiiiive" shit has GOTTA stop. That aggin ain't even in the top fucking ten, and anyone that says otherwise doesn't know WTF they're talking about.)

Then the ones that are 10-12 years older than me...conversations with them go like this:

Me: Hey man, you played that new *insert popular action game here*.

Them: Nah man, I been too busy working this job to take care of my FAMILY.

Okay, that conversation would never really happen 'cause I'm not stupid enough to ASK that question, but still. I'm still in the stage of my life where the most important things in my life are playing video games, watching anime, getting into/attending college, and finding a way to be with my girlfriend. (More on this in a sec.) These guys are on some, "I gotta go to work because I've got a wife and kids and they need clothes and food and all that other shit" shit. I'm sure I could find some common ground, but it wouldn't be much.

Unfortunately, the two or three cousins I have in my age range, since moving here after Hurricane Katrina, usually go HOME for the holidays. So its just me, the 21 year old, with a family that has age groups ranging from 0-8, 13-14, and 30-80.

....I spent ten minutes saying hello to people, then I stayed in one of the empty rooms of my grandparents until my mom decided she was ready to leave.

On the bright side, it wasn't all a TOTAL loss. My girlfriend, amazing woman that she is, sent me a ton of stuff for my birthday:

- All five series of Entourage, which is the greatest show on television right now. (Though a lot of S3 and none of S4 worked.)
- The Dick Van Dyke Show
- The Mary Tyler Moore Show S1-3
- All 88 episodes of favorite Sci-Fi series ever, FarScape and the movie Peacekeeper Wars
- Tiny Toons
- Freakazoid
- The entire series of my *second* favorite Sci-Fi series ever, Lexx
- SWAT Kats
- The entire Transformers G1 (You got The Touch...! You got the POWER....)
- Pr0n. Well, really, Hentai. Yes, I'm serious. Yes, my girlfriend is full of win.

Then for Christmas she gave me a book of 500 Manga Heroes and Villains, which at some point I'm going to read in probably one or two sits, as I've always loved info books and stuff like that.

And for our anniversary (which is ALSO on Christmas...because she told me it was), she sent me a card, which is something I've never gotten before (unless someone was breaking up with me), which I would say I feel is the nicest gift I've ever gotten except I'm sure it would make me sound like a little bitch.

....Fuck it. Its the nicest gift I've ever gotten, and if anyone wants to mock me about that, I'll just punch them until my fist goes numb.

I also managed to get a new DVD burner, and Yu Yu Hakusho Seasons 2 and 3, which accounts for episodes 30-84 of the series and makes me have almost the entire thing, save the ending. And, as proof of my pwntastic money managing skills, I even managed to get my g/f Disgaea 2 with some of my gift money. So for the first time in a while I managed to get quite a few presents, and even play Santa Sage. Not a bad Christmas season, all in all.


Ah, 2009. Finally. I'm still kinda pissed about New Year's. I mean, I realize I'm supposed to be 21, and thus an adult, but I'm used to popping LOTS of fireworks on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. This year though, as there was STILL no one here except me that liked to do it, we just kinda forgot about it.

Okay, so I know what you're thinking. "What about all the seven and eight year olds--don't they like to play with fireworks, Sage?" Well you'd think so but no such luck. Sadly, the lot of them have been babied just a little too much and while we've gotten them to the point that they don't mind watching them (they used to be afraid of the noise), they're all definitely too afraid to actually LIGHT any. Its depressing, and I'm starting my kids off with Sparklers at five and by six they're setting up Roman Candles and Saturn Missiles, dammit! (I sense a possible argument coming with the girlfriend over this, but oh well. I stand by my kids' right to blow shit up with Thunder Crackers and make the skies light up with all those fireworks with the Chinese writing on them.)

Anyway, with New Year's gone I finally cracked open my g/f's DVD spindle and went on a two week marathon of watching Entourage. I love that show, but I'm pondering giving it up as it kinda makes me wish I was an actor and could buy a lot of shit that I don't need with money I don't have and get the adoration of a lot of people for playing as a B-List superhero.

....Shit, who am I kidding...I'd be Eric and I know it. The only one with sense, and the one that's always got a girlfriend (that's me with my friends already). Only difference is I'd rather become a cutter than be Shad Moss's (Bow Wow's) manager.

I wrapped up my Entourage marathon about a week ago and I'm gearing up to start a Farscape marathon. This will, at some point, lead me to come in here and say what makes a good Sci-Fi series to me, so be ready. I'll also probably pick back up the Farscape swear words, because I can't help myself. So look for a lot of frells, yotzes, hezmanas and so on in the near future.

In the real world, I've actually found a fucking goal for myself. Sometime around October, my girlfriend brought up the subject of moving out into her own place, just as I was getting the hint that I really needed to get the fuck outta this house. After she brought it up, I did a little research and lo and behold, the state she lives in just happens to have an excellent Computer Design and Programming (read: Game Design) program.

So given that it was either that or stay here another year and be talked into attending either Miss. State U (fuck that), or worse, community college--I figured I'd be best off moving the fuck out and heading to the West Coast.

The only hurdle now is money. I don't got any (and neither does she, really), and I need at least 2 or 3k to afford the cost of renting an apartment and furnishing it (and a plane ticket, but that's not a big deal). So during the day I've been looking for a job.

Thus far, no luck, which is kind of annoying as I was hoping to have a job before the 15th, but there really aren't many openings in a town like this. The college kids take up most of the jobs and the rest are usually jobs for people that have crazy things like...experience...and degrees. (I know, insanity right?)

I'm set back a month, which sucks, but, oh well. I'll think of something. Its just nice actually wanting to do shit, aside from watching anime, playing video games, and reading comics.