Holiday Suggestions, Manga, Manga Monday, valentines day

Manga Monday: Princess Ai

We’re pretty sure that Courtney Love never really meant Princess Ai to be polarizing.

 

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Princess Ai is a really frothy 2004 manga series in three parts (and sequels/prequels) with a gothic lolita edge and lyrics… lots of lyrics.  Lots, and lots, and lots of lyrics.

A quick summary:
Lead character Ai is dropped in a nameless city (think… SanFranSokyo of Big Hero 6), memories wiped, with nothing but a small, precious, heart-shaped box that seems ever-so-important.  (Yes, it’s one of those stories.)  After meeting her first few side characters, the natural thing to do is get a job, so she does…  As a nightclub performer, she gets picked up by a label for her “angelic” voice, and creates a sensational following over the course of the series, and slowly gathers the little tidbits of her history that mean less and less to her in this new world but gives her more and more clarity about what is important to her now.

Princess Ai had a lot of classic tropes for fangirls at the time of its publishing:

  • Immediate love interest
  • Library and people who love books
  • Mysterious and easy-reach backstory
  • Quirky side characters
  • Lush pop-idol costumes
  • Winged dudes and dudettes (dragon and feathers)

About the music:

When reading Princess Ai for the first time, I had been listening to symphonic rock a lot – which meant classically trained opera singers backed by slammin’ electric guitars.  Think… Nightwish and Kamelot.  It pairs well with her Gothic Lolita/Punk look throughout the series, but then Tokyopop (proudly) released a few videos that could have… might have… should have launched an anime:


It didn’t.

Princess Ai did have a pretty sizable fan community during its release, but despite the resurgence of Tokyopop, it may take some extra push to get this angel off the ground if they feel like re-launching their attempt.  There’s also the polarizing influence of Tokyopop itself which, despite its relaunch, is trying really hard to make itself relevant again.

(Quick Opinion: I want to take a moment to mention that the problem with the video isn’t so much the song, or the sequences… It’s actually a really lovely animation sequence, and is pretty nuanced as a whole.  I think it’s because the readers all had a different voice for Ai in their head – and with that voice came expectations… and with those expectations came a bar.  Which seems to be the case with most fandoms – whether it reaches the bar or not.)
FINAL THOUGHTS:
If you’re in need of a frothy Valentine read, you might as well read Princess Ai.  Ai Yazawa’s art is on par with CLAMP for frilly Gothic Lolita, and the tankonbon with all three volumes is probably the best way to read it.  You can follow it up with Kamisama Kiss or even Angel Beats when you’re done.  I’d probably recommend it.

 

On this day in history, last year, we posted a heartstruck anime list, which you can find here. Happy Manga Monday, and we’ll see you again on Sunday!  Check back next Manga Monday – guests to be announced on Fandom Friday!

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Manga, Manga Monday, Mangaka and Indie Comic Interviews

Manga Monday: Exclusive with Blake Clouser of Kittarou: Witch Hunter!

This week for Manga Monday, we have Blake Von Klausur / Blake Clouser, of Kittarou: Witch Hunter!

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Clouser’s Kittarou: Witch Hunter takes place in fantasy feudal Japan – and the rogue namesake travels ronin-style to both protect the people that mistrust him, and follow his own path unlike his brethren.  At fifty pages strong, Clouser and his team have been working hard to bring Kittarou to life on the pages, and discussed some of their tactics since the launch, and some of their inspirations.

Anime Binge:  Tell me a little about you, and then we’ll chat a little about Kittarou: Witch Hunter

Blake Clouser:  Born in Texas, grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Became an artist in preschool when a black clad, lanky local artist came to teach us sculpting. As the other kids ran out for recess I stayed inside with him making things. I’ve always loved comics and Anime since I can remember. When I first saw Robotech and Speed Racer and the 80’s wave of anime to hit the US, I was beyond hooked. Since then I’ve always wanted to do my own comic and Kittarou: Witch Hunter ended up being the first real foray into this.

 

AB: Hah! I watched Speed Racer as a kid, too. It’s pretty iconic. It sounds like you’ve been creating things for a while, and Kittarou has a pretty unique style.  I was curious where you developed it and how it gets from your brain to the screen. Is it all done on computer, or do you draw, scan, and paint? How does it get to its current look?

Blake C.: Kittarou was inspired by the premise that I could do more with the classic samurai/ninja or chambara story style and add a supernatural element. I wanted to make it an open story without too much fleshed out as I preferred to approach it as a kind of playground where I can make whatever I want when I want.

Development goes as follows: I draw and design a lot of the characters then write a script. I pass these to our great Penciller, Felix, and he sends me sketches for pages and I edit those or give him the thumbs up. Then he does final pencils. I take those pencils and add all the word bubbles and dialogue in photoshop. From there I may edit my dialogue or change it all together into something better. Then I print them off on paper and ink by hand. I turn these pages into a flatter, James, who does wonderful work for us, and he gives them back to me. I then send them to our astounding colorist, McKenzie, with notes and she colors them. I then do my own editing of the colors and add mist and smoke and blood and texture or whatever else I think the page needs.

So I’m doing the designs, the writing, the lettering, inking, and assisting with colors. It’s a lot of jobs but I love the final product. Its look comes down to all of our talents coming together mixed with my final vision for the series. The style evolved a bit on its own as I was learning what worked and what didn’t, but I knew from the start what kind of look I wanted. I just had to trial and error my way to achieving it. It was very off the cuff and yet very planned somehow.

AB: The best way to do things

Blake C.: I concur. It allows for changes on the fly. Evolution.

Allowing my teammates to have their style shine also influenced the final look. My penciler has his own unique take on things that can be great and my colorist has a real in depth eye for color that I don’t. It’s nice to see all of our thumbprints come together to create this book.

AB: The most recent pages have been really lovely, there’s a lot of depth and patience in them.

Blake C.: I’m flattered that you noticed! I feel that we’ve only gotten better as the pages go on and that the pages for [the next story] will look even better as the book comes into its own.

Interestingly enough, these last pages were added to the story much later as an idea I had one day at work. I felt like the final battle wasn’t full of enough surprise and felt phoned in so I worked with Felix to make these new additions to the story. He jumped right on board as he liked the new ending.

AB:  Having an elbow room to move within an arc can really help with pacing, too.

So, I would normally ask how anime and manga have influenced the style and plot of the comic, and we’ll get to it, but your story takes place in a fantasy feudal Japan. If you can, tell me a little about how it ended up being your character’s backdrop and/or how Kittarou developed as an idea.

Blake C.: Years ago my friend handed me a Dungeons and Dragons Oriental Adventures book and I flipped it open to a class called the Witch Hunter. It was electric. I instantly invented a character in my mind named Kittarou. The idea of a feudalistic mystery solving Witch Hunter really appealed to me as a story. It has so many of the elements of anime/manga I’ve loved over the years, such a Ninja Scroll, Ruroni Kenshin, Inuyasha, Blade of the Immortal, etc. While I never got to play any DnD with this character I did draw my own amateur manga of him and entered contests.

So there are very non-[professional] black and white manga versions of Kittarou that exist with different character designs. I’d say those old versions where more inspired by Naruto and other Jump comics than the current iteration. I also wanted to have an excuse to explore feudal Japan as a culture and research their legends and ghosts and demons. Kittarou needed to be familiar to audiences while also being something well done and new, so feudal swordplay with a new twist was what I wanted. The story has never been about breaking the mold or shattering a genre as much as it is appreciating all the things I love in anime and manga in one place.

AB:  If you had a chance to a B&W arc with the current design, would you?

Blake C.: Most definitely. The original version of my book had both a color and black and white version. We had a good number of pages done in B&W in a wonderful ink wash style. However due to budget constraints, the extra work, and problems making this idea work on the website where the eraser could seamlessly switch between color and B&W, the idea was sadly scrapped for color only.

AB:  Hey, when you have a system, and it works, it’s a good thing.

You mentioned researching legends, ghosts, and demons from Japanese folklore- Is there anything that really struck you that you’ve started to weave in that you didn’t initially expect?

Blake C.: Yes! The book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost by Zack Davisson is great and shows you how wild and random the ghosts of Japan can be, which reminds me to stay wild when it comes to Kittarou’s adventures. There’s ghosts that do odd things like watching you poop to asking for your help in a snow storm as to get you lost and make you freeze to death. It’s very reflective of being their own version of Grimm’s Fairy tales in a way. Yet ghosts take benevolent forms as well.

What’s interesting about studying this is that it has made me also branch out into studying other cultures gods and spirits. For instance in book one Kittarou mentions Karasura the Crow Demon, which is inspired more from India and their myths. So I’m studying cool things from other cultures and mixing them with ancient Japanese stuff to create my own world.

AB:  So I got a mild sense of fantastic classism – Witch Hunters don’t seem very well-loved.

Blake C.: Indeed. They are more feared than loved and that can lead to problems for sure. And Kitt being a kind of vagabond Witch Hunter who’s on the run from his fellow Hunters has made him a big time pariah. Usually they are regal and suave and intimidating as you’ll see in book 2 when Kitt as a little run in with some Witch Hunters, but Kitt is the exception and people don’t like it.

AB: Does Kitt have buddies we haven’t met yet? It feels like he does somewhere.

Blake C.: He does. A stocky bear of a man with a club who’s all about living in harmony with nature. An traveling apothecary medicine man who can get in trouble for helping out Kitt. Kitt also has some friends to make as he goes. A cursed one armed, one eyed thief who he kinda falls for, and a little shape shifting fox girl who rescues him and wants him to help her find a cure for being stuck in human form as being human is too complex and full of emotion and drama and all she wants is the simple fox life again.

AB: So, before I forget, what anime and manga have more or less influenced the story so far? (That you may have paid homage to, etc.)

Blake C.:  Samurai Champloo, Blade of the Immortal, Berserk, Inuyasha, Mushi-shi, Naruto, Bleach, Ninja Scroll, Zatoichi, Lone Wolf and Cub, Kenshin, and last but not least, Lupin the 3rd.

AB: I can absolutely see Mushi-shi and Inuyasha, Samurai Champloo as well. Can you talk about how Lupin the 3rd and Zatoichi have influenced the series?

Blake C.: Lupin the 3rd has definitely influenced how Kittarou sometimes deals with solving a problem in a funny way or unexpected way. You’ll see both Lupin and Kittarou grin that classic cocky smirk while dealing with villains from time to time.

Zatoichi comes in with the idea that because he is on the run and always gets into trouble, he must move from town to town ever adventuring or misadventuring his way through life. The classic vagabond moving from town to town. My idea for Kittarou is that he must do the same. Always a rogue. Never settling anywhere. Always on the run, but always ready to do what’s right or fight if pushed enough. Just like Zatoichi.

AB:  Last but not least – let’s say someone has binge-read the whole archives, donated to the patreon, and are looking for something else to read (Manga) or something else to watch (Anime). What would the Kittarou: Witch Hunter team recommend to go check out next while they wait?

Blake C.: Great question. I say read Berserk. Binge it. Learn it. Love it. You’ll see the art style change and character grow in ways that I think are happening with our book. You’ll also get the swordplay mixed with dark supernatural stuff that our book has and some of the most unparalleled art in manga.

 Special thanks to Blake Clouser of Kittarou: Witch Hunter for offering an evening of his time to chat about his webcomic!  If you know of a manga series, online omake, or manga-style webcomic that deserves some attention, reach out on our Facebook or comment!

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The Binge

Election Day Special: Anime to watch after you go vote.

Ahem… if you are in the US, Go vote. 

If you are not in the US, we at AnimeBinge are sorry that we’ve been all preachy about voting this year.  And weird with our candidates.  We’re so sorry, that we decided to compose a list of imaginary ballot issues in hopes that you will forgive us for this weirdness that happens once every four years.

Why?  Because #betterfictionalcandidates should have never had to exist, that’s why.  So why not embrace it.

But Anime Bracket did that better.

We’re not mad about it.  But, as usual, we do have a few series to suggest.

Le Chevalier D’eon

On the run from the law, D’eon is accused of the death of his sister – Lia de Beaumont.  Something sinister is at the edge of this mystery – possession, zombies, obsession, politics…  how was D’eon to know that his life would become so weird, so quickly?

  • Reasons to watch:
    • Great to compare/contrast with newer anime – some of the frames are very carefully staged, with hand-drawn animation.  Also worth contrasting with Pilgrim’s Progress
    • One of the best EARLY examples of a strong female protagonist in anime
  • Reasons to avoid:
    • Intermittently S….l….o….w… pacing.
  • What to watch instead:
    • Glass Fleet
    • Revolutionary Girl Utena

Castle Town Dandelion

Eight kids. One throne. Sounds like a set-up to Game of Thrones, anime edition.  Well, you’d be wrong.  This one’s a slice-of-life magical-teen edition.  In a world with a polite monarchy, the kind townspeople decide to choose a king.

  • Reasons to watch:
    • Twins, Fanclubs, Idol stories, School arcs, Magic
  • Reasons to avoid:
    • A frustrating amount of “panty shot” jokes
      • (But they’re an anime staple and there are less of them at the end, so YMMV)

Lord Marksman and Vanadis

Go read this review, because it’s pretty on point.

Anime Binge is working on ramping up posts again.  What anime are you watching post-election?  What are you excited about coming out?  We’d love to hear your comments!

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Anime Suggestion Trail, Manga Monday

Anime Suggestion Trail: Manga March

Many Anime series are born from source material of novels, graphic novels, movies, and other inspirational outlets.

So this week, I’m putting out some recommendations for reading, not watching, because there’s just not an Anime for it quite yet.

  • Kamikaze Girls
    • Ichigo and Momoko come from two different worlds. Momoko is a Lolita, drenched in white and femininity.  Ichigo is a tomboy with a bike-gang history and an attitude problem.
      • A mild reference is made to girls in bike gangs in Fruits Basket – this really puts it in perspective
      • Best FOCUSED look at the Lolita Genre
    • Shoujou Genre, Teen Drama Genre
  • Princess Ai
    • Ai is introduced with no memory, no history, and a heart-shaped box as her only clue to her past
      • Gothic Lolita EVERYWHERE
      • Suggestion: Listen to J-pop in the background while reading. Your brain will thank you.
    • Shoujou Genre, High Fantasy, Pop Music
    • 3-volume Graphic Novel, or one-volume Omnibus
  • Juror 13
    • A graphic novel that you cannot read “for the first time” twice
      • According to recent news, this might make it to the big screen.
    • A good follow-up to watching “Perfect Blue”
    • Psychological Drama, Thriller

Looking for more one-shots to take on?

 

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Anime Primer, Anime Suggestion Trail

Anime Suggestion Trail: February

For February’s Anime Primer, stories of relationships and fantasy collide.

  • Romeo x Juliet
    • Perfect for binge-watching over February.
    • Science Fantasy update of the Shakespearian classic.
    • A treat for English majors and Theatre lovers who are just discovering anime
  • Kamisama Kiss
    • A young schoolgirl finds a world of responsibility suddenly on her shoulders when she is given godhood by a runaway Kami.  Hijinks ensue.
    • Suitable for compare/contrast with InuYasha
    • Additional genre: Shojou anime
  • Tenchi Muyo
    • Tenchi, a young man tending to his family’s shrine, finds his life turned upside down by the appearance of alien space travelers.
    • Start with the movies, in order.
    • Additional genres: “Harem” anime, Science Fiction
      • Think “The Bachelor” without anyone ever getting kicked out, with younger characters
      • Additional challenge: Find a drinking game for harem anime.
  • Fruits Basket
    • Follows the adventures of a high schooler who takes up residence with a family of young men who all symbolize characters of the Chinese Zodiac when they are hugged by a woman.
    • Rare “Reverse Harem” anime – One girl, lots of guys!

Done with fantasy and just want a pure feelgood, heart-thumping, saccharine romance?

  • The romance:
    • Whisper of the Heart
      • A good, old-fashioned, “This is how we met” love story
      • Violins and libraries.  Watch with “Nice to Sweet You” chocolates.
  • The fantasy:
    • The Cat Returns
      • The sudden return of The Baron from “Whisper of the Heart”. (In case you are charmed by his presence in the above movie.)
      • Compare/contrast with The Velveteen Rabbit.

(Most of the above are fairly Hetero-Normative romances, but I’ll try to cover Yaoi and Yuri romances in a later update.  If you’re highly interested in those genres, I would recommend Revolutionary Girl Utena, after checking out Sailor Moon.)

Happy Valentine’s Day for those who celebrate, and Happy Nirvana day for those who don’t!

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