|Pop Culture Gadabout|
Saturday, September 12, 2009 |
( 9/12/2009 08:54:00 AM ) Bill S.
WEEKEND WILDLIFE PIC: From our front yard, it's Dudley, one of several road runners who call the grove behind our house their nesting area. Note the legs in motion.
THE USUAL NOTE: For more cool pics of companion animals, please check out Modulator's "Friday Ark."
Thursday, September 10, 2009
( 9/10/2009 07:24:00 AM ) Bill S.
A LOYAL, NEVER SHIRKING GIRL: Some manga series grow from what was originally intended to be a stand-alone tale. And, depending on both the richness of the base material and the writer/artist's skill in expanding their initial concept, this can read as either natural or forced. I was reminded of this reading the first volume of Natsuna Kawase's shojo romance, A Tale of An Unknown Country (CMX). Though loaded with charming moments, much of the book reads like an afterthought to its opening 34-page chapter, which was originally crafted as a single story.
An All-Ages-rated romance, Country is set in two mythical kingdoms, each with its own distinct personality. Ardela, home to the series heroine Princess Rosemarie, is a "small country that's rich with nature" but economically struggling. The tiny kingdom is so cash-poor that both the sixteen-year-old princess and her older brother Mache regularly mingle with the commoners to sell bread and act as tourist guides. Eager to lift their country form its lowly fiscal state, wheeler-dealer Mache arranges his sister's engagement to the prince of a neighboring, richer country. "It's only natural to seek out a connection to a wealthy nation," he explains.
Said nation, the unfortunately named Yurinela, is a "large country on the cutting edge of science," and its seventeen-year-old prince, Reynol, seems suited to this more secular environment. Hearing that the prince is a "cold, selfish weirdo who almost never goes outside," Princess Rosemarie is understandably reluctant to become engaged to this unknown entity. Manipulative brother Mache, though, cajoles her into visiting the prince disguised as a servant: "Marie, Princess Rosemarie's handmaid." This she agrees to do: a hard worker, "Marie" has no qualms about taking on drudge work.
Reynol, for his part, has heard via the rumor mill that Princess Rosemarie is a flake. The central romantic conflict, then, is between the uptight, science-based Yurinelan prince and the more open, natural Ardelan princess. Workaholic Reynol is so mind-centered that he barely takes it upon to eat regularly, something that Marie in her role as handmaid immediately keys into. She pushes the prince into a healthier eating regime, stating that "for the people of Ardela, health is the number one priority." So what we've got here is more than a shojo romance, it's a dramatization of mind and body duality.
Of course, we all know that out couple is destined to fall in love; though they're products of a two different cultures, they've very much in tune with each other. ("You really are weird, Reynol," Mache says late in the volume. "You say almost the same things Marie does.") By the time the first chapter has concluded, Rosemarie's maid impersonation has been put aside and the two admit their attraction for each other. What else is there to do?"
Manufacture more excuses to get the princess in her maid's disguise, of course. In chapter two, Reynol comes to visit Ardela, and our girl winds up donning the costume so the two can find time together away from everyone. In chapter three, a potential rival for Reynol's affections from another land puts on the costume, but can't maintain the pose for more than five minutes. In the fourth chapter, an old childhood friend of Rosemarie's gives her a maid's outfit because "Mache told me you were into them."
"How long is he going to milk that joke?" an exasperated Rosemarie wonders, as the reader starts to think likewise about the series' writer/artist.
Country is Kawase's first work, which in part accounts for its ragged construction. (She has since followed it up with the much-better-received Lapus Lazuli Crown, which I haven't yet read.) You can just the eager young manga artist, after being giving the green light to flesh out her original one-shot into a series, struggling to keep things interesting while hanging onto her original story hook. But in this case, the gimmick starts to interfere with her more naturally appealing leads. If she'd focused more strongly on the cultural clash between our two leads, the romance might have seemed less forced.
The art in Country is clean and simple, well suited to an All-Ages manga, though the young artist missed an opportunity by not establishing a clearer visual distinction between the two book's kingdoms. Yurinela should look more shiny and hermetic, while the more nature-centric Ardela calls for a more open and floral appearance. A few simple establishing panels could have set up this visual dichotomy early, though Kawase doesn't do this
Still, I suspect A Tale of an Unknown Country will pull in readers enamored with the manga artist's later series and will also work with a younger audience less concerned with critics' issues like obvious plot contrivance and more invested in seeing our plucky young heroine in costume. Let's forget about the possible sexist implications for now. As they sang in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, everybody ought to have a maid. . .
Labels: sixty-minute manga# |
Sunday, September 06, 2009
( 9/06/2009 08:48:00 AM ) Bill S.
BLOWIN' IN THE WIND: Safe to say that if the only platter Jackie DeShannon released had been her debut, sixties pop fans wouldn't be holding her name in such esteem today. For as revealed in a recent Collectors' Choice reissue (one of four DeShannon platters to be pulled from the vaults), the first long-player to feature the singer/songwriter's evocatively husky voice was a set of sincerely strummed folk songs quite removed from the transcendent studio pop ("What the World Needs Now Is Love," "Put a Little Love in Your Heart") and pop-rock ("Needles and Pins," "When You Walk into the Room") on which she's since built her rep. Jackie DeShannon, the woman who co-wrote "Bette Davis Eyes," singin' "Puff the Magic Dragon"? Just don't seem right.
Supported by master studio arranger Jack Nitzsche, the twelve tracks on 1963's Jackie DeShannon aren't bad; they just don't really rise above the multitude of albums released during the early sixties folk boom. A few tracks provide a slight hint of the more distinctive direction DeShannon would take -- this is a woman, after all, who paved the way for the ringin' folk-rock sound with "When You Walk into the Room" -- but it's easy to miss.
Instead, the overall impression is of overly polished middle-of-the-road folk music: three Dylan songs (the best of which is loping opener, "Walkin' Down the Line"); two tracks better known by Peter, Paul and Mary; some spirituals; Brit folk and an interesting obscurity penned by a young Bobby Darin ("Jailer Bring Me Water"). At times, the singer and her studio collaborators can't keep their pop proclivities from sneaking onto the tracks: her remake of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" (re-titled "Oh, Sweet Chariot") features a girl group back-up that wouldn't sound out of place on "Breakaway," the DeShannon composition rollickingly covered by Tracy Ullman two decades later. Such production playfulness was certain to offend the sensitivities of the period's ultra-serious folk purists, but, thankfully, it didn't put a crimp in the singer/songwriter's still-developing career.
Labels: folk-pop# |