|Pop Culture Gadabout|
Wednesday, July 25, 2012 |
( 7/25/2012 02:41:00 AM ) Bill S.
“ALL I HAVE TO DO IS HANG AROUND HER AND I CAN KISS MY MONEY PROBLEMS GOODBYE.” Ever since I began my manga explorations, I’ve made an effort to check out as many manga genres as I could. But it wasn’t until recently that I availed myself of the opportunity to examine a work of hentai (a.k.a. erotic) manga. I was aware it was out there, of course, and had even skimmed over some of it online. But Chihiro Harumi’s Velvet Kiss (Project-H) is the first full-blown example I’ve read. A four-volume sex comedy, the premiere entry in the series comes shrink-wrapped with a large “Warning: EXPLICIT 18+ Only” label on its cover. The label is an appropriate one.
The hero of Velvet Kiss is a hapless young office worker named Shin Nitta. After a lucky day at work where even the office vending machines seem to be paying off, Shin is dismayed to learn that he’s been tricked into signing a document saddling him with an 80 million yen (just over a million U.S. dollars) debt. This debt will be frozen, he’s told, on one condition: that he befriend and become a companion to a spoiled young buxom beauty named Kano.
Our patsy hero (who never even wonders if this absurd piece of paperwork will hold up legally) has been set up, of course, though to what purpose is clearly meant to be the series’ mystery. Much of the focus in the first volume, then, is on Shin’s introduction to Kano and her world. The girl lives in a hotel, has a bevy of wastrel friends and appears completely unfettered by money worries. She’s also sexually assertive, and through the course of the first book we get a variety of sweat-drenched sex scenes.
If Velvet Kiss’ comic set-up is slight, writer/artist Harumi manages to embed a few sly themes within all the smuttiness. Foremost is Shin’s uncritical fixation on woman beauty (“It’s like gazing upon an entirely different world,” he says as the story opens, “and I don’t really mind what they’re like on the inside.”), a belief that will be tested the longer he gets to know Kano. In its way, the hentai manga has its roots in American screwball comedies of the thirties -- the type featuring class-steeped squabbles between couples we know will be clinching by the movie’s end. We never saw Carole Lombard buck nekkid in any of those flicks, of course.
Harumi’s art is crisp and up to the demands of its extensive sex scenes. If all of her sexy babes seem to be of a type (at one point, I was reminded of the old Mad comics parody of Archie which joked about how “different” Betty and Veronica looked), few hentai readers, I suspect, will complain. I did have an odd moment midway into the book where it looked like four color pages were printed in gray scales. The shift made Kano’s hair look darker and for a brief flash I had to wonder whether Shin had changed partners in the midst of the act.
As a simple story, Velvet Kiss comes across more character-driven than a newcomer like myself might have expected: there’s a comic scene, for instance, where Kano makes our hero watch a horror video with her over Shin’s protests. “I guess I got my money’s worth since you’re so scared,” she states after watching her companion’s reaction to the movie. “It’s fun seeing a grown-up get scared or freaked out at stuff like this,” she adds. We suspect that this won’t be the only time that Shin will feeling the fight or flight impulse in this oddly appealing series.
(First published on Blogcritics.)
Labels: sixty-minute manga# |
Sunday, July 22, 2012
( 7/22/2012 12:20:00 PM ) Bill S.
THE SILICON CHIP INSIDE HIS HEAD: Some events are so over-the-top incomprehensible that just about the only response one can have is a “holy” followed by a string of obscenities. I have to admit that was my first response when I heard about this week’s incident in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, where a gunman wound up shooting into the audience at a showing of the latest Dark Knight movie. A night of summer entertainment turned into a real-life episode of Criminal Minds.
Like most people, whenever I hear or read of an event like this, one of my early responses is to personalize it. We have friends who live in the Aurora Colorado area, so we had to contact them to make sure they were all right. (They were.) Next, I started egocentrically imagining myself in the seats of that theater. Though disposable income has been at a premium for far too long in our house, I’ve been an avid moviegoer in the past -- and The Dark Knight Rises is just the kind of entertainment that I would’ve been eager to see in a crowded movie house. If I’d been in that theater and seen the gunman coming down the aisles, would I have recognized the danger, I wonder, or simply assumed that his appearance was a stunt of some sort? Somebody playing at being a character in the movie like some Rocky Horror Picture Show fan perhaps?
I believe in a measure of gun control, though I don’t necessarily think that stricter gun regs would have kept the horrific events here from taking place -- any more than tougher DUI laws have prevented drunk driving. To those who say that giving everyone access to firearms is the answer to the problem, I can only offer myself as a rebuttal. I’m a major klutz who can’t go through the week without stubbing something. Give me a gun, and I’m liable to shoot my right foot off by accident. You definitely don’t want me packing.
Living in a state where open carry is practically a religion, though, I can’t help wishing that a greater degree of common sense was brought to the discussion (seriously, guys, let’s have open guns on college campuses?) But I don’t expect that to happen any time soon. I do expect to hear spokesfolk from both sides of that debate to try and spin the event to their own pre-set conclusions -- and for at least one idiot politician to try to drum up alarmist concerns that President Obama Is Going to Use This to Take Away All Our Guns!
As a self-professed religious liberal, I also find myself wondering after an event like this if there’s a way to fathom it in a larger sense. I always fall short in my attempts to place this in any sort of fuller context. I can comprehend moments of despair that lead to nihilistic thinking, but the impulse that leads someone to violently lash out against a theater full of innocents is beyond me. My thoughts go out to the family and friends who have been affected by this horrible act, though -- and I hope that they all have something or someone that will help them through it.
Labels: cultural commentary# |
( 7/22/2012 02:20:00 AM ) Bill S.
“JOLLY GOOD OF YOU NOT TO LAUGH AT MY AMATEUR MARKSMANSHIP, SENHOR GOMEZ.” The third volume in Titan Books’ omnibus reprints of the James Bond comic strip, The James Bond Omnibus Volume 003 presents the British-made newspaper series at the point where all the original Ian Fleming stories had been adapted -- and scripter Jim Lawrence was forced to start producing original material for the comics. Though Fleming’s name remained on the strip (rather like Walt Disney did with the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck strips), the only adapted tale in this set proves to be Kingsley Amis’ pale pastiche Colonel Sun, which amusingly is still credited as being “by Ian Fleming.” The shift to original spy tales in 1968 appears to have gone fairly smoothly: scripter Lawrence, having cut his teeth on six of the Fleming stories, had his core cast and the series formula down. Each of the seven episodes included in this book features our hero hooking up with a suitably comely Bond Girl -- most memorably a former MI-6 agent who’s been framed as a traitor and an Algerian anti-imperialist beauty who gives 007 mouth-to-mouth after he fakes a near drowning -- along with the requisite over-the-top baddies. If some of Lawrence’s plots aren’t as grandiose as the ones in Fleming’s novels, they prove more involving than the low-thrill perils of the written “Spy Who Loved Me.”
Though she isn’t a major presence in these strips, the lady leader of a revived S.P.E.C.T.R.E. puts in an appearance, though not as the primary antagonist. She shows in the volume’s most engagingly outlandish offering, however: “The Golden Ghost,” which centers on the hijacking of a nuclear-powered dirigible, which we’re told “will open a new era in aviation.” Pretty steam-punk for 1970.
Lawrence collaborator, artist Yaroslav Horak continues to capture the dapper agent and his exotic world, though at times the slightly smaller size of the omnibus package (7-1/2 by 9-1/4 inches as opposed to the 9-1/2 by 11-1/ 2 trade size of your average Modesty Blaise collection) seems to lead to some line loss. The artist is particularly strong in his use of blacks and shadows, which adds to the strip’s overall tone of pulp seriousness. This is not your pop-colored James Bond (as we sometimes got in the movies) but a deadly serious secret agent man. If a few of Bond’s single-entendre quips fall flatter than they would in the flicks, that’s arguably truer to Fleming’s original creation.
Lawrence and Horak would continue to produce original Bond strips for the next six years: not as impressive a run as Peter O’Donnell’s “Modesty Blaise,” but still a testament to the character’s enduring appeal. Hard-core Fleming fans will most likely favor the first two omnibus sets, but I’m thinking many of ‘em will also count this snappy set as an enjoyable bit of Bondiana.
(First published on Blogcritics.)
Labels: classic comic strips# |