Naruto is a long-running series with all the power of hype that that entails. It begins as the story of a clumsy, none-too-bright boy who wants to bec...moreNaruto is a long-running series with all the power of hype that that entails. It begins as the story of a clumsy, none-too-bright boy who wants to become the greatest ninja ever. This is, as one might expect, not terribly easy.
I was more than a little leery of venturing into such a well-publicized manga. I’ve been burned before by popular works that have all the texture and depth of fast food, but I figured I’d give it a try. Fortunately, it is a long running series, so the initial toilet humor was easy to breeze past until the plot and characterization started kicking in. Even then, I don’t think there’s a moment where it passes the Bechdel Test. If a lack of strong female characters is a deal-breaker, I’d probably give this a miss—even when they’re supposed to be strong, they’re relegated to the background or otherwise dismissed—but if that doesn’t matter to you, or you can deal with it, then the guys are worth sticking around for.
The titular character, Naruto, starts out as a loud, obnoxious child of twelve, but slowly grows into an oddly charismatic boy due to sheer persistance and positive outlook. His teammates, Sakura and Sasuke, start out respectively as a flighty, mooning, tempermental girl and a brooding, taciturn boy, but both develop in their own ways. Assorted teachers, companions, and enemies gain depth and sympathy throughout the series, to the point where Naruto is actually consistently not the most popular character in his own series (the honor frequently going to Sasuke or their teacher, Kakashi).
While this is insanely popular with young teenaged boys, the series as a whole offers a lot to anyone who likes fast-paced action mixed with touching character development.(less)
First thing: for those of you reading this in email form, follow the link and check out the cover showing Ed practicing his unique form of unarmed com...moreFirst thing: for those of you reading this in email form, follow the link and check out the cover showing Ed practicing his unique form of unarmed combat. I'll wait.
Back? Done giggling/wondering what's wrong with me? Okay, now for the volume eight character review!
There are a lot of people I'd love to cover, and some of them I don't want to mention until later, to save some spoilers for those who haven't yet read any/all of the books (but do intend to do so), so after much deliberation, I've settled on Maes Hughes.
Lieutenant Colonel Hughes works for military intelligence. He lives, however, for his wife and daughter, to the point of annoying everyone around him with his effusive praise—and frequent photo sharing—of them. He's also Roy Mustang's closest friend and strong supporter, incredibly fond of the Elric brothers, generous, kind, deceptively intelligent, and a skilled knife-fighter.
Like so many others, he served his time in the war with Ishbal and, although not guilty of the wholesale slaughter committed by State Alchemists, he fired his share of bullets and was complicit in the murder of an incompetent superior officer. He was also good for keeping morale up and liaising between the regular soldiers and the alchemists—the former of whom were as terrified of the latter as the Ishballans were. Following a specific moment in the war, he was completely disillusioned by his country. Consequently, he and Mustang decided to work toward changing it so that more young men and women couldn't be forced into becoming murderers.
Maes is among the most popular characters in the entire run of the series, very likely because there is passion, dedication, loyalty, and a fierce desire to better life to everyone buried beneath a doofy exterior, and he can flip between the two with absolutely no warning.(less)
I've spent two volumes of reviews talking about the plot, and four more talking about assorted characters; it's time to tackle the protagonists.
Edward...moreI've spent two volumes of reviews talking about the plot, and four more talking about assorted characters; it's time to tackle the protagonists.
Edward and Alphonse Elric. For all that they have their own personalities, they pretty much have to be discussed as one entity. About a year apart in age (the author never quite specifies), Ed has vague memories of a blond man walking out the door, whereas his little brother doesn't remember their father at all. Having grown up surrounded by their father's alchemy texts that he left behind, they educated themselves at a very young age. After their mother's death, they decided to throw themselves into alchemy in order to revive her, certain in the way of young people that impossible, forbidden things are just sour grapes on the part of those that failed.
They are, of course, proven wrong.
The horrific, inside-out thing they recieved in lieu of their mother was paid for in their own flesh and blood when they inadvertantly opened the way to Truth, A.K.A. God, the Universe, the All and the One, and a mirror of all who interact with it. All unasked, they were granted intimate knowledge of alchemy and the universe, and the understanding of how to perform alchemy without an array. In exchange, Al lost his entire body, and Truth claimed Ed's left leg. Ed immediately made another bargain in order to get his brother back: his right arm for the knowledge of how to bind Al's soul to their world.
When Colonel Roy Mustang comes by in search of the Elric brothers he's heard rumors of, in the hopes of recruiting them for the military, he's terribly surprised to find an eleven-year-old boy down two limbs and silent for the guilt, and his ten-year-old brother inhabiting the empty shell of a seven-foot-tall suit of antique armor.
The driving force of Ed's life becomes the quest to rectify his mistake (he won't hear a word of Alphonse's culpability—he's the older brother) and regain his little brother's body and, a distant second, to get back his own missing limbs. He decides to get automail limbs, regardless of the detrimental effects it has on a growing body, and in spite of the pain of the surgery, which involves wiring directly into the exposed nerve endings without aenesthesia, and, furthermore, determines that the standard three-year adjustment period of physical therapy will only take one year. He makes good on his word, too.
Edward is determination in a tiny package, with a hair-trigger temper in regards to his height (the weight of the automail having stunted his growth), a strong sense of justice, and an inclination to massive attacks of guilt when it turns out that he can't fix a given situation.
For his part, Al is the calm, collected, responsible one. He's also the one desperately grateful for anyone (other than his brother) treating him like a child, as a seven-foot-tall suit of armor is quite intimidating, decidedly weird, and has people avoiding him. Consequently, he's terribly lonely.
He's more interested in repairing his brother's missing limbs than in regaining his own body, as he feels guilty for having gone alone with Ed's plan. He's also a soft touch, and has a tendency to rescue cats when his brother isn't looking, no matter how often Ed makes him get rid of them because they can't care for a pet while they're traveling.
His respect for life is intense, probably as a result of not being able to experience his own, and manifests in some odd ways. He cautions people not to shoot at him for fear the ricochets will injure his attackers. He'll defend the people attempting to attack him because he doesn't want anyone to get hurt. Al is an insanely good person, but still betrays the odd human quality that keeps him grounded and real.
Between the two of them they make amazing main characters; I challenge anyone to read this series and not fall in love with these boys.(less)
When Edward and Alphonse were looking into how to revive their mother, they concluded that they needed a teach...moreVolume six character love: Izumi Curtis.
When Edward and Alphonse were looking into how to revive their mother, they concluded that they needed a teacher. Circumstances delivered a traveling alchemist who, unlike any other alchemist, didn't need to draw an array to perform alchemy. Instead, she merely clapped her hands and shored up the dyke about to break and flood the boys' hometown. She collapsed shortly thereafter, vomiting blood all over the place.
The boys cornered her in the hospital and demanded that she teach them. Then begged and pleaded and generally made a nuisance of themselves until she caved in and offered them a trial month.
Kind-hearted soul that she is, Izumi left them on a deserted island for that month with the instruction that they must survive, and answer the riddle that she posed before leaving. (As her own training regimen involved being dropped, alone and with only a knife, into a frigid wilderness populated with vicious animals, she was going easy on them.)
Challenge passed, she then shaped the brothers into what they become. She trained them, body and mind, taught them to fight, to think, to steer away from the military, and to stay away from forbidden transmutations. Needless to say, when they show up years later having corrupted her training, performed human transmutation, and joined the military, she was less than pleased. Murderously so. She knew right away, because she knew how array-free transmutations were acquired: when she had tried to revive her stillborn child she lost a number of internal organs, getting off rather lighter than Ed and Al managed, but still rendered incapable of having another child.
All of this are things she did. What she is is even more interesting. She and her husband (a massive man of Major Armstrong proportions) run a butcher shop, and are sickeningly sweet in their affections to each other. Izumi invariably claims to be "just a housewife," usually when terrified people cowering in corners ask what she is after she kicks down walls, strolls in, removes obstacles between herself and her goal by blowing them up (inanimate objects) or throwing them aside (living ones). Amazingly strong—physically and otherwise—fiercely protective of her loved ones (even when she wants to kill them, herself), and unflappably stolid, Izumi makes me squeal with glee every time I catch a glimpse of her dreadlocks, because I know that awesome will encompass the next scene.(less)
This volume's character gushing is devoted to Winry Rockbell.
Oh, Winry. Girl-next-door, wench with a wrench, childhood friend to the Elric brothers, a...moreThis volume's character gushing is devoted to Winry Rockbell.
Oh, Winry. Girl-next-door, wench with a wrench, childhood friend to the Elric brothers, and blushing love interest for Edward...if only either of them would admit to it. A dedicated automail mechanic, in the tradition of her grandmother, Pinako, and inclined to minor medical treatment in homage to her doctor parents.
Having had her own share of tragedies, she remains positive and cheerful, caring and sensitive, and quick with a wrench to the skull if you dare cross her the wrong way. What's not to love? Sure, she almost shot somebody once, but she got over the impulse.(less)
In lieu of a plot summary for each of the volumes (as they do tend to run together in my memory), I've decided on a brief character summary. Perhaps t...moreIn lieu of a plot summary for each of the volumes (as they do tend to run together in my memory), I've decided on a brief character summary. Perhaps the character will be relevant to the volume in question, but perhaps it won't. It's anyone's game.
This time, I'll go with the simpler of the two characters on the cover: Alex Louis Armstrong, AKA the big shirtless guy in the background.
Major Armstrong, the Strong-Arm Alchemist, the third child and only son of the venerable Armstrong family, is a walking mountain of a man. He has incredible pride in his heritage, intense loyalty to country, family, and comrades, a propensity for removing his shirt at the merest suggestion of an opportunity (all the better to display his insane musculature), and a tendency to burst into tears at the slightest provocation. He remains merely a Major because he's too soft-hearted to pursue promotion, a trait which not only results in waterworks when faced with another's misfortune—or joy, or displays of solidarity, or pretty much anything that might evoke an emotion—but also led to a nervous breakdown during his stint on the front lines of the Ishbal war.
While he does have serious moments, mostly in his backstory, Armstrong is largely played for comedy. In case the shirt-ripping and extravagant tears weren't enough of a clue, the odd muscle-flexing competition and several (literally) crushing hugs of relief point that out quite nicely.(less)
Volume two is where the meat of the overarching story puts in an appearance. Meeting Shou Tucker, the Sewing-Life Alchemist, is life changing for the...moreVolume two is where the meat of the overarching story puts in an appearance. Meeting Shou Tucker, the Sewing-Life Alchemist, is life changing for the brothers, and the introduction of Scar is very nearly life ending for them.
Scar remains one of my favorite supporting characters. His personal quest to murder all State Alchemists is never justified, although it's explained quite sympathetically, and is the highlight of any number of morally grey actions featured in the series.(less)
The first volume of the series serves as an introduction to the character, world, difficulties, and companions of Edward Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemis...moreThe first volume of the series serves as an introduction to the character, world, difficulties, and companions of Edward Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist. Orphaned at a young age, the eleven-year-old prodigy and his younger brother, Alphonse, attempt forbidden human transmutation in an effort to resurrect their mother. They learn the hard way why it’s forbidden, when Al’s body vanishes along with Ed’s left leg, shortly followed by his right arm—the price to keep his brother’s soul and bind it to a suit of armor. The series opens four or so years later, after Ed’s debased himself by joining the military in exchange for access to resources in his efforts to restore his brother and himself.
The four chapters (of the series’ 108) in volume one expose different aspects of the brothers and begin the world-building that will continue throughout. The first, two-part story exposes their motive and desire for the Philosopher’s Stone—which can bypass the laws of Equivalent Exchange—as they confront a cult leader who claims he can bring back the dead. The second story reveals both their integrity and the general corruption of the military—as well as the hatred people harbor for it and its “dogs”—when they pass through a small, coal-mining town run by a corrupt official. The third story demonstrates Ed’s hair-trigger temper, Al’s intrisic concern for others, and the ingenuity and resilience of them both when the train they are on is hijacked and a vacationing general and his family are taken hostage. Also important in the train chapter is the introduction of Ed’s commanding officer: one Colonel Roy Mustang, Flame Alchemist, renowned hero of the Ishballan civil war (or genocidal butcher, depending on which side is talking), highly ambitious leader of his intensely loyal personal staff, and the first of many richly-detailed supporting characters.
FMA is a rollercoaster of a series, alternating horrors with the absurdly silly, setting up loveable characters and killing or otherwise maiming them, and otherwise mixing up tear-jerking existential dilemmas and slapstick comedy. The artwork is clean and readable, even in the action sequences, which is fairly rare for this style of manga, and all the more appreciated for that. This volume is an excellent beginning to an outstanding series, and I can’t recommend it strongly enough.(less)
I read the first eight volumes of this some time back—between one and four years ago—and the other day I noticed that volumes nine and ten were availa...moreI read the first eight volumes of this some time back—between one and four years ago—and the other day I noticed that volumes nine and ten were available, picked them up, and concluded the series.
I suppose I have a love-hate relationship with Hellsing, and for two very obvious reasons.
On the side of love are Sir Integra Wingate Hellsing, the titular heroine of the series, a no-nonsense, hard-as-nails woman whom singlehandedly runs an organization devoted to keeping England free of freaks and monsters, and her primary servant, Alucard. That's "Dracula" backward for a reason. Alucard is a shameless monster, bound to the Hellsing family and acting only at the behest of his master—and taking great delight in the destruction of freaks, i.e. lesser vampires. He's as amoral and cunning as Integra is driven and dedicated, and together the two of them make me fangirl with glee.
On the hate side of the coin, however, we have four little words: Nazi werewolf vampire cyborgs. I wish I were kidding. Really, Hirano? Really? That was the best you could do? I swear I have a minor aneurysm every time I think about it.
Falling somewhere in the middle are Integra's improbably impressive butler, Walter, he who designs the outlandish guns that Alucard and Seras use; Seras Victoria, the "police girl" that Alucard makes into a vampire and his servant at the beginning of the series, and who serves as fanservice bait for the majority of the run; and then, of course, the oft-incomprehensible pages and pages of black and white splash art in which there are presumably fights occurring beneath the motion lines and blood splatters. Happily, while such scenes are plentiful, they are nicely counterbalanced by the odd, brilliant, beautiful pictures, such as one of Alucard, sprawled out in a chair, looking utterly debauched while surrounded by numerous empty bags—formerly holding blood. The parallels to an alcoholic surrounded by bottle of bourbon were deliberate, evocative, and altogether striking.
So, while there's a lot here that sounds terrible, there's a lot that is wonderful, and I highly recommend the series. It's a fantastic antidote to the sparkly vampires we're getting socked with these days, and hammers home the point (pun intended) that only a human can defeat a monster.(less)
Kuroshitsuji, or Black Butler, is composed of one part serious historical fiction, one part supernatural horror, one part fanservice, and five parts u...moreKuroshitsuji, or Black Butler, is composed of one part serious historical fiction, one part supernatural horror, one part fanservice, and five parts uncut crack.
Twelve-year-old Ciel Phantomhive is the last of his line, and the Earl of Phantomhive, following the death of his parents in the fire that claimed the family mansion. He lives alone, but for his servants: one whom doesn't do much of anything, three whom fail at everything they attempt, and the titular butler, Sebastian. In his own words, Sebastian is "one hell of a butler."
Literally. Sebastian is a demon, contracted to Ciel to serve him until Ciel meets his goal: the death of all who conspired to kidnap him and murder his family. Until that time, Sebastian is happy to serve his master in any manner required, whether it be shining the tea service, hunting down murder suspects, or ever-so-politely eliminating all threats to Ciel...other than himself.
The art can be gorgeous, even if it occasionally descends into chibi, the relationship between Sebastian and Ciel is a beautiful study of loyalty and sadism in equal measures, and the plots careen wildly between deadly serious (like a Jack the Ripper arc) and dreadfully frivolous (pretty much anything to do with Ciel's cousin/fiancée, Elizabeth), and occasionally both at the same time.
If you don't mind mental whiplash and a few gratuitous art pieces of Ciel and Sebastian in...suggestive poses and attire, this is definitely a series worth trying.(less)
As with all story collections, there's a variance in enjoyment from one to the next. Overall, I found the writing darkly lyrical and the sentiments ju...moreAs with all story collections, there's a variance in enjoyment from one to the next. Overall, I found the writing darkly lyrical and the sentiments just a few degrees skewed. The first story in the book is the one that made the biggest impression on me, evoking the feel of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" with its jubilant celebration and human darkness intertwined, but there were others that were just bizarre and, so far as I could interpret, largely pointless.(less)
I'd like to review this in the style of an internet meme:
At first I was like :D But then I was like D: And then I was like :-\ And finally I was like :-|...moreI'd like to review this in the style of an internet meme:
At first I was like :D But then I was like D: And then I was like :-\ And finally I was like :-|
The very premise of the book—a sci-fi magitech near future with a cyborg bodyguard for a rock star elf—is relevant to my interests and I wish to subscribe to the newsletter. Too bad that it rapidly devolved into some kind of schlocky romance with the awesomesauce cyborg chick wangsting over her existance and mooning over her charge. There's only so much "I hate elves/he's hot" that I can take before feeling the urge to discreetly vomit.
The plot takes an upswing after Mr. Moodypants Rockstar gets himself captured, but then the awful characterization of Lila kicks into high gear as she plays ill-timed games of Boff-an-Elf. It's as if the author realized she was at least halfway through a book and hadn't squeezed in a sex scene.
The resolution was distinctly lacking in resolve and, while I know this is the first of a series, there's no excuse for so many loose ends still dangling about, unused. Chekhov's Gun was not employed in this one.(less)
It's a fun read, but the conceit wears thin after the first few chapters. It's been long enough since I've read Pride and Prejudice that I enjoyed the...moreIt's a fun read, but the conceit wears thin after the first few chapters. It's been long enough since I've read Pride and Prejudice that I enjoyed the book for the base story considerably more than I did for the additions. There's something wonderful about the very English attitude toward the zombies, or, rather, the victims of the Strange Plague, which was actually dimmed for me by the emphasis on Japan- or China-based martial arts. All in all, a fun read, but not so great as I'd ever bother reading it again—unlike the original.(less)