Tag Archives: myths-japanese

GeGeGe no Kitaro (Anime)

Title: GeGeGe no Kitaro

Episodes: 1-13 (Season 1)

Mana doesn’t believe in youkai, or in the rumors of a mailbox that can summon help from one who fights them, until she encounters things too bizarre to be natural. Writing a letter summons Kitaro, a young boy with mysterious abilities, and from there Mana discovers a world she never knew existed.

This is supposed to be a kid’s horror show but I watched it more like an urban fantasy (well, I’m old enough not to find most of this scary). It’s extremely episodic (only one 2-part episode in this batch), which makes it easy to pick up and watch a story or two whenever you have a moment. That’s usually a plus, as this is basically a series of short stories, and if one episode doesn’t quite appeal, something else will usually make up for it.

The only downside is that there isn’t much continuity. The first two episodes introduce someone who appears to be a villain working behind the scenes, but the initial buildup goes cold almost immediately. So there’s not much of a sense of an overarching plot. Even the episode where various explosions level parts of the city feels like it takes place in isolation, as no one even remarks on the damage in future episodes. And a couple of episodes have youkai visible to broader society but nobody has any ongoing reactions to that.

That said, I enjoyed the various vignettes. Each episode tends to introduce a new youkai and has an adventure related to those powers. Some of those are more heartwringing, like poor Shiro, and some are just funny, like the kappa. The series may be for kids, but that doesn’t stop it from touching on adult issues like overwork, corporate bullying, abandonment of elders, and others.

So all in all, this feels like a kid’s series that was designed just as much for adults. The youkai may be traditional but it can be a lot of fun watching how they’ve adapted (or not) to modern technology. I rate this show Recommended.

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The Shield of Kuromori (The Sword of Kuromori #2)

Title: The Shield of Kuromori

Author; Jason Rohan

Series: The Shield of Kuromori

Kenny Blackwood only meant to save his new friend Kiyomi from an untimely death—but what he’s unleashed in her might be worse. With an oni’s lifeforce now powering her body, she’s starting to adopt oni mannerisms and habits. So he’s determined to find her a cure. No matter what it costs . . .

I didn’t like this one as much as the first. I did actually enjoy Kiyomi’s changing personality, as I felt that saving her in the prior book was a big cop out, and seeing that the action has ongoing consequences has made that more palatable. But Kenny is in the process of throwing everything away for the sake of “fixing” her, and it’s not hard to see that this is going to land him in a whole heap of trouble in the long term.

(Besides, she doesn’t seem to be losing her essential personality. It’s basically her with new eating habits and anger management issues. Which is to say not very different from before at all.)

The book is still packed with a variety of weird Japanese monsters. This time, though, there’s a particular gang of them in addition to the random surprises. And this gang is acting much more intelligently than the rest. I liked the mystery of what was actually going on with the telescopes. (And the humor involved in the whole setup.)

I was less fond of the new human characters. I loathed Stacey. Pushy girls that will pretend to be in danger to get a reaction just hit all my “please someone kill you quickly” responses. But she’s wriggled her way into Kenny’s life (mostly by blackmailing him) so I guess the story will be stuck with her in the future too.

Overall I was mostly annoyed as I read this book. Annoyed at Kenny for pretending to go along with people only to abandon them when they were counting on him. Super annoyed at Stacey. And I’m not sure I care about the series enough to finish it out, especially since that currently means tracking down a copy of the third book. Maybe if my library gets them I’ll reconsider. For now, I rate this book Neutral.

The Sword of Kuromori (The Sword of Kuromori #1)

Title: The Sword of Kuromori

Author: Jason Rohan

Series: The Sword of Kuromori #1

Kenny Blackwood is on his way to Japan to meet his father, but he hasn’t even arrived before things start going weird. From the fuzzy animal in the luggage compartment to the various monsters that are wandering around, the various invisible residents aren’t able to hide from him. The problem is they hate being noticed. And like it or not, Kenny’s coming into this on the heels of his grandfather’s formidable reputation . . .

I liked the sheer amount and variety of monsters in this. Starting with the tanuki, Poyo, and branching out from oni and kappa to less familiar (but mostly deadly) creatures, Kenny’s experience of Japan is a menagerie of folklore.

I also appreciated that the story tried to give some depth to why Kenny is being drawn into all these things. He has family history with the work his grandfather did in Japan just after WWII, and that’s tied to why so many youkai are transferring old grudges or alliances to Kenny.

The romance was less appealing. Half the time Kenny and Kiyomi are fighting, and then just as suddenly they’re crushing on each other. The mood swings happened often enough to really annoy me, as sometimes there’s no buildup at all and suddenly he’s desperate for her. I also don’t like the trick pulled at the end. Taro’s offer lacked much impact because he’s not really there in the story except as a background character until that moment.

The card game also felt like a letdown. Since the rules are never explained, it’s hard not to feel like a random “I win” for whichever character is winning. There’s no sense of tension because we can’t follow the game, so all the games shown are basically two-turn affairs where the first player looks like they’re doing well until the second player crushes them.

Although ironically the thing I find hardest to believe is that he actually LIKED natto.

Overall this was okay. I didn’t like it as much as I hoped, but all the monsters helped keep my interest enough to finish. I rate this book Recommended.

Ushio and Tora (Anime)

Title: Ushio and Tora
Episodes: 1-39 (complete, seasons 1 and 2)

Ushio is a normal student who discounts his priest father’s stories about the legendary Beast Spear (and monster it’s trapping) that their temple supposedly protects. At least, until he stumbles across the monster while cleaning out a storeroom. Ushio ends up releasing it to help him fight the myriad of tiny demons now assaulting himself and his friends. He calls the tiger-like demon Tora, and it’s a rocky relationship from the start—Tora’s cautious of the Beast Spear but determined to eat Ushio. And if he can’t eat Ushio, he’ll haunt him. Ushio, for his part, now has the Beast Spear, which grants him incredible power but is chipping away his humanity.

I remembered reading an enthusiastic recommendation for this when I was looking for something to binge-watch over New Year’s Eve, so I gave it a shot, and was instantly hooked. 39 episodes and less than a week later, it’s now one of my top anime series as well. I ordered the anime the first night, and I still have the manga to read, which promises quite a lot that couldn’t make it into the anime. Unfortunately the manga doesn’t have an official English release or I’d be collecting that too.

Ushio and Tora is a modern remake of a rather old series that ran from 1990-1996. This gives it a unique aesthetic (and sometimes, like with certain demons who look like a bunch of heavy metal band rejects, it can be unintentionally hysterical). The animation is generally good, though towards the end it suffers a bit more from still frames because the final battle is pretty epic in scope. I’m not overly fond of the first opening song, but the music during the show worked well.

What makes the show so fascinating to me is the characters. Ushio is almost the definition of average. He’s got very average looks (no special hair color or wild design that calls him out as the protagonist, at least before the Beast Spear). He might have some talent for sports (and getting into fights), but his passion is art, despite a rather low amount of artistic talent. But he’s got enormous emotional range, and most unusually for a guy, he’s not ashamed to cry. Which he does, often. He empathizes with people (and youkai), stands up for what’s right, defends the weak, and often puts himself in considerable danger if someone else is in need. And once the Beast Spear comes into his hand, he gains slitted eyes, claws, huge hair, and a massive power boost. (Also, the Beast Spear seems to have something against shirts. Ushio may start wearing layers but as soon as he picks up the spear the shirt is usually toast.)

Tora is his polar opposite. Strong, vicious, bestial, prideful, and most of all selfish, Tora despises the heroic impulses that drive Ushio. He’s quick to pick a fight with anyone that offends him. But he’s also very childlike in personality—the modern world fascinates him (his reaction to television, cars, and bus rides left me in stitches). And that childishness in the end makes him really easy for those who know what he’s like to manipulate him (Mayuko does it with kindness, and Ushio has a variety of ways to bait Tora into helping him out). Tora was my favorite part of the show, but he wouldn’t work nearly so well without Ushio drawing such a sharp contrast.

On the love interest side, Asako is the childhood friend who won’t admit to anyone she likes Ushio (he returns the sentiment). Mayuko, though, also has a crush on Ushio—and in a radical departure from modern storytelling trends, admits that because she loves both Ushio and her friend Asako, she’s willing to move on so they can be happy together. AND SHE DOES. And this does NOT take vast numbers of episodes of her internal agony, but comes up quickly and is stated as a matter of fact. Mayuko won my respect with that. I also like how both of them have their own ways to be strong, whether that’s Asako’s refusal to give into fear despite the hopelessness of her situation or Mayuko’s steady faith.

It’s also really neat to see how Ushio’s kindness changes the people around him, and how that has unexpected dividends. And how as long as he has people who support him, he can’t fail—but when he feels utterly alone, no amount of his own strength is enough.

Another area that struck me is how integrated everything is. Ushio and Tora end up getting filmed fighting a giant monster IN THE SECOND EPISODE. And he KEEPS making the news, along with the other youkai-caused disastrous events. He’s only a “secret” hero because his looks change so drastically using the spear that even his own friends have a hard time recognizing him. He’s not jumping into a hidden war, but a very public one. The real enemy threatens humans and youkai alike—and BOTH GROUPS are needed to stop it. Every time I thought the show was going to rag hard on something (like the scientist episodes) it turns around and points out that this, too, can have a purpose. Most of the things that started out looking extremely cliche turned out to have something more running through it.

And the show is gut-bustingly funny. Tora wins pretty much every scene he’s involved in. Whether it’s his wide-eyed enthusiasm about watching himself on the news or his rage at someone else wanting to eat the human he picked out for his own lunch, he’s going to throw himself into things wholeheartedly. His vicious streak also makes him great at trolling enemies.

Equally, the story has tons of pathos. Ushio gets his heart broken again and again by the various things he’s going through. And he’s dealing with a lot of people in emotional crises themselves. It’s not just a story that knows how to deliver great action and funny lines, but one that’s honest enough about pain and joy and all the rest to go deeper.

All in all, this is one of the rare few shows I’d highly recommend to pretty much anyone. It packs so much in that even 39 episodes feels far too short. If you’ve missed out on this one so far, definitely give it a try. It’s currently streaming at Crunchyroll.

City of Gods II: Horsemen (City of Gods #2)

Title: City of Gods II: Horsemen

Author: Jonathan Maas

Series: City of Gods #2

The Horsemen have learned much during their time at the Academy, but now they have to face final exams. True to form, the exams aren’t easy—and some of them require involving themselves in the outside world. And after, everyone is split up as they’re sent on their first real missions . . .

I still think this is better as “kids with powers” than Horsemen specifically, the little nod to a vision of horses notwithstanding. That said, it’s still an interesting world, and each of the kids gets a lot of opportunity to develop.

In some ways this feels like a novella about the final exams, followed by the first half of a book about their first missions. That’s not a bad thing—both stories rotate between all four Horsemen and the split means things can go in several directions. One of the missions, for example, is directly built on an exam.

I like that Gunnar’s challenge is more about leadership, because he’s not really used to working with others still, much less the people who actually end up by his side. And I liked that Rowan isn’t quite as one-dimensional as he’s seemed (I usually love berserkers, but Rowan being an arrogant bully cancelled that out). I liked that Saoirse picked up the biggest incongruity about the minotaurs and is clever in playing to her strengths. I liked that Kayana gets challenged over her sociopathic tendencies, because Tommy and Cassander show her she may be extremely intelligent but she’s operating from a bad set of assumptions about humanity. And Tommy not only has a chance to be more of a leader himself, he’s got hints about the shape of his destiny that intrigue me.

Some of the characters felt a bit weaker, though. Cassander sometimes comes across as less of a character and more of a mouthpiece, and I dearly hope Kayana’s “overpopulation is the problem” confronts the reality that people can be jerks just fine even if they have all their material needs met.

Overall, though, this is still a really unique setting that I’m enjoying a lot. It’s fun to see Apaches and Celts and Spartans and Amazons and so much more all vying for attention. There’s enough tech to be a light sci-fi while of course the gods provide a lot of magic. I rate this book Recommended.

City of Gods: Hellenica (City of Gods #1)

Title: City of Gods: Hellenica

Author: Jonathan Maas

Series: City of Gods #1

In a world where gods and mortals squabble over a constantly changing set of countries, Hellenica has dared to try something different. They have chosen 16 different beings with their various powers to train as peacemakers. People who might be able to change the status quo. Of those, the wildcards are the four Horsemen, whose powers no one fully understands and whose destiny points towards great things . . .

I’ll be honest—I really enjoyed this as a story about kids with powers, but I think the kids with powers shouldn’t have been associated with the Horsemen. For one, the White Knight doesn’t appear to be Conquest, but reminds me more of the rider from Revelation 19:11-16, which has imagery depicting someone with powerful speech. Also Pestilence is used here, which has a very interesting set of powers but doesn’t technically seem to jibe with the descriptions of Revelation 6:1-8, which reads more like Conquest, War, Famine, and Death. The only reason this MATTERS to me is because we are talking about various gods and legends, and by and large everyone else fits pretty well into their source material (I was highly amused to see Dagon show up. Talk about obscure deities).

That’s also what trips me up on some of the other details. We have Horsemen, who are part of Christian doctrine, but they have no horses. They don’t even seem aware of the existence of God, with the possible exception of Tommy, but there’s no indication Tommy actually BELIEVES in the faith of his hospital. Saoirse even worships a completely different goddess. They not only don’t have horses, there seems to be no need or desire for them. So again, this really works well as kids with powers, but I have a ton of trouble buying these are actually the Horsemen. I don’t really care that two of them got gender-flipped to female to provide a balanced team. The other things bugged me more.

Once I decided to pretend these weren’t actually the Horsemen but rather just a bunch of kids with interesting powers, I could enjoy the rest of the story a lot more. There’s a good mix of personalities as well as powers. Tommy’s kind and caring nature is at odds with the fact that he’s basically a walking vector for every disease known to man (and probably will accidentally invent new ones if that’s what it takes to infect someone). Kayana is highly intelligent but absolutely clueless about the workings of normal humanity and tends to view things in a very black-and-white manner. Saoirse has very ill-defined powers, but being raised as a high-class prostitute has left her attentive to the subtleties of humanity, and she prefers to avoid conflict and seek to talk her way out of problems. Gunnar feels like he got the short end of the stick. He’s Spartan, raised in a culture of war, and a pit fighter—but apart from a few glossed over fights at the start most of his matches do little to highlight any unusual skill or any kind of power. I was particularly miffed at the bout with the Amazon near the end. They don’t have any divine power, and he should, so why couldn’t it have turned out a bit differently?

Gunnar’s the one I hope develops the most, as nothing he’s really done so far has hinted at him being anything different than a Spartan, except the mystery of what he did with his rite for adulthood that has cast him out of Spartan society.

Overall I did enjoy this. It was fun to see so many different cultures and gods represented, even though the story mostly picks a few varied examples rather than try to handle absolutely everything. The friendship between the four main characters is growing, and if this book is any indication the story will continue to unfold in unexpected ways. I rate this book Recommended.

(And if you want a less ambiguous take on the Horsemen, I highly recommend Riders, by Veronica Rossi.)

Noragami Aragoto (Anime)

Title: Noragami Aragoto

Episodes 1-13 (13-25 overall; it’s season 2 of Noragami)

Yato’s trouble as a stray god of calamity are only getting worse. Bishamon, the war goddess with a huge grudge against him, has finally pushed him too far. And beyond that, Yato’s shadowed past is coming back to haunt him . . .

This season focuses on two major arcs, which was great for me since I prefer longer stories. I particularly liked what happens with Yukine this season.

Last season, Yato went far above and beyond to give Yukine every chance he could, and Yukine is determined to repay the favor. He’s too new to really know what’s expected of him, so he’s determined to learn how to fulfill his role to the best of his ability (and his abilities are considerable). The methods he chooses surprise those around him, and although he succeeds in many things, it’s still an open-ended question whether or not he can grant Yato’s dearest wish. That part will likely hinge on Yato himself.

It’s also interesting to see Yukine’s building rivalry with Nora, the other major Regalia in Yato’s life, but one Yato doesn’t seem to want—perhaps because she has multiple names from multiple masters. Yukine wants to be dependable enough that Yato can abandon Nora for good. Nora, however, has her own plans for Yato.

Some parts of these arcs felt a bit rehashed, as Hiyori loses her memories multiple times, although one of those times was a good reminder to her that she’s not specially immune from the consequences of forgetfulness. But Hiyori in general is still a great character. She knows she’s important to Yato, but he can still be really annoying to her since he has no concept of how to relate to people as friends. Still, when she does attempt to do something to make him happy, she never expects the kind of reaction she gets. She’s HUMAN (mostly), and although that puts her under basically everyone who has powers, she’s got her own strengths that none of them can duplicate.

And I liked the direction Yato took here, where his troubles are more evident and his hyper personality comes off more like a desperate wish for how he wants to be. He’s hardly mentioned his own history. Yukine and Hiyori are stuck asking the gods who knew him about a lot of the details, but even they only have fragments of the full story. Yato still has his really aggravating moments, but overall I’ve come to appreciate him more as a character, and I hope he and Yukine will be able to work out a new direction for his life.

Overall I think this is a stronger season than the first, with Yukine’s big moment and subsequent development my favorite parts. But I also liked the deepening relational dynamics, the high level of action, and the rising stakes. There’s a bit at the very end that hints at further complications to come, so I hope a third season will be announced at some point. Until then, I’ll be reading the manga to figure out what happens next. I rate this series Recommended.