Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, February 26, 2011
      ( 2/26/2011 01:46:00 PM ) Bill S.  

WEEKEND PET PIC: Xander Cat checks out the Sunday supplements, perhaps looking for a Temptations coupon:

THE USUAL NOTE: For more cool pics of companion animals, please check out Modulator's "Friday Ark."
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      ( 2/26/2011 09:29:00 AM ) Bill S.  


The newest entry in Shonen Jump’s boyish fantasy line, Hiroshi Shiibashi’s Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan (Viz Media) has an opening nearly as ungainly as its title. Centered on Rikuo Nura, who we first meet as a third grader, the series charts the early adventures of a lad who is one quarter demon as he tries to straddle the human and yokai world.

Raised by his full-blooded yokai grandfather, who is supreme commander of the Nura Clan, young Rikuo initially is enthralled by the idea of becoming a part of the supernatural world. His love for his grandparent blinds him to the fact that yokai -- supernatural creatures who thrive on fear -- are many times more irritating nuisances than they are all-powerful beings. Grandpa Nurarihyon’s idea of “yokai magic,” we’re shown in the opening chapter, is just as likely to involve a dine-and-dash as it is any more scarifying acts. While there are more truly fearsome yokai out in the world, the majority of them appear to be more goofily grotesque than frightening, like manga versions of a Basil Wolverton cartoon. At times, especially in the initial episodes, the crowded panels of yokai frequently threaten to distract us from our hero.

The first volume divides its focus between the yokai-crammed home where Rikuo is being raised and his time in a human school setting, though through much of the first volume, at least, the latter segments prove less focused and interesting. The two worlds collide when Gagoze, one of the nastier yokai out there, attacks a school bus in the hopes of killing Rikuo before he can take over for his grandfather. The assault rouses our hero’s one-quarter-yokai blood, transforming him into a tall, longhaired sword-wielding warrior for short bursts of time. Though his subjects by and large all look monstrous, transformed Rikuo doesn’t, perhaps because of his quarter human heritage.

Having established its central set-up, Nura skips four years ahead, showing our hero as a bespectacled seventh grader much less starry-eyed when it comes to his yokai destiny: a fairly typical tween-ager, in other words, pushing away from the life his primary parent has chosen for him. At school, he’s followed by Yuki-Onna, a yokai servant sent to watch over him, who looks like a schoolgirl but has an uncomfortable habit of calling him “master” at inconvenient times. When one of his classmates founds the Kiyojuji Paranormal Patrol, both our hero and Yuki get pressed into joining the extra-curricular club, in part to keep an eye on Keikain, a young girl exorcist specializing in banishing yokai. She has come to the small town because it’s well known for a high level of supernatural activity and she wants to banish as many yokai as possible so that she can inherit her grandfather’s legacy. While Rikuo has doubts about his place in his family, then, his potential nemesis appears much more self-assured.

The first book of Nura takes some time to find its footing -- which doesn’t seem unusual for a shonen manga serial like this (think of the first rough episodes of Naruto, for instance). But by the end of the opening volume, Shiibashi has honed in on his hero and fleshed out his classmates enough to keep our interest. There’s even a hint that transformed Rikuo will in time effect a change on his clan, though you know that there’ll be plenty of resistance from the old-liners like Gagoze (who dresses like the Vault Keeper in the old EC horror comics) in volumes to come. A promising series, which has already sparked its own anime adaptation, Nura has the potential to be either a strong coming-of-age fantasy or a visually arresting mess. Either way, it could still provide an entertaining read.

(First published on Blogcritics.)


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Wednesday, February 23, 2011
      ( 2/23/2011 06:32:00 AM ) Bill S.  

“YOU COME UP WITH THE MOST OUTRAGEOUS IDEAS.” Three volumes in and Eiki Eiki’s romantic political comedy Millennium Prime Minister (DMP) has significantly shifted its story focus. The first volume, you may recall, concentrated on the relationship between 25-year-old Japanese p.m. Kanato and 16-year-old schoolgirl Minori. In the third, it takes half the book before the latter even makes an appearance.

Instead, the book concentrates on Kanato’s smitten former senior aide Sai, who’d run off at the end of the second book. Sai, it turns out, has a hitherto unknown family connection to the p.m.’s biggest political rival, who of course wants to use the broken-hearted boy to thwart Kanato’s political agenda. We’re given a hint of the p.m.’s plans for reform, but not enough that they make any sense to the reader. “Did you understand any of that?” young Minori is asked after Kanato broadcasts his agenda. “Not a single thing,” Minori answers, while writer/artist Eiki lets us off the hook by including an on-panel note that says, “Representing the reader’s view.”

If Kanato’s reform politics remain muddled, the yaoi manga artist’s sexual politics in MPM remain clear: the primary focus is on handsome well-dressed men balancing the political and personal -- with the personal winning out. While Sai’s shifting camps has clear strategic ramifications, it also, for instance, pollutes the once friendly relationship between Kanato and the reporter Matsumoto, who not-so-incidentally appears to have his own attraction toward the 18-year-old former aide. You never saw these kinds of entanglements on The West Wing, now, did you?

(First published on Blogcritics.)


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Monday, February 21, 2011
      ( 2/21/2011 08:26:00 AM ) Bill S.  

“WHY STAY HUMAN WHEN YOU CAN BE LIKE ME?” “Based on the Best-Selling Video Game Franchise,” DC’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution has one aesthetic advantage over its recently initiated DC Universe Online Legends comic in that it doesn’t fool around with characters established in the pre-game era. Set in 2027, the game spin-off posits a future where biotechnology has progressed to the point where “augs,” humans who have been cybernetically augmented,” have become prevalent. Our series lead, Adam Jensen, is a former cop who has had over fifty per cent of his body replaced by mechanical parts. “You’re a man, Jensen, not a machine,” one of his colleagues states after our hero has successfully rescued a kidnapping victim. “Kinda hard to tell these days,” the hard-case Jensen replies.

Our hero works as security chief for Sarif Industries, the mega-corporation responsible for making augmentation more accessible to masses. Opposing Sarif are anti-aug groups -- moderate Humanity First and the more violent terrorist group more sinisterly self-named Purity First -- as well as a variety of underworld types wanting a piece of the biotech action. First ish of the “mature readers” comic, timed to be released with the newest variation of the Deus Ex video game, opens with Jensen saving the niece of Sarif’s founder from some way nasty types in Juarez, Mexico, and ends with a Humanity First demonstration being violently disrupted by an aug who thinks nothing of forcing his arm through the head of an on-camera TV newsman. In between we’re given background on the ideological conflict that’s fueling all this brutal conflict -- including a reflection by Humanity First founder William Taggart on the psychological trauma being experienced by augs like our surly hero.

Writer Robbie Morrison slathers on the hard-boiled attitude -- Jensen is the type of hero willing to use a thug as a body shield when the bullets start flying -- and artist Trevor Hairsine clearly gets a charge out of drawing flying bodies. How close this lean little dystopian tale is to the actual game I couldn’t say, though as a stand-alone piece of genre work, Deus Ex Human Revolution moves in a brisk no-nonsense fashion that gets the job done. If we must have comics based on video games (and considering the state of the American comic book industry, I don’t see publishers shying away from ‘em any time soon), this is probably the way to go.

(First published on Blogcritics.)


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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