Toon talk

March 9, 2006

There’s been lots of chat of the impact of the Naruto anime on sales of the manga, which seems to be significant. Tom Spurgeon makes an interesting point when he notes that there’s rarely very much critical discussion of the property:

“The unfortunate thing about a mainstream comics-oriented mindset that doesn’t easily embrace a hit like this is that Naruto is clever and accomplished, well-written in terms of escalating drama and linking character interaction to plot lines, and features the recurring visceral thrill of ninjas punching and stabbing each other a great deal of the time in very expressively drawn and not particularly groove-on-the-violence fashion. I don’t think it’s a transcendent work or an artistically significant one, but its virtues are rare enough I can’t help feeling it would be nice if it more easily popped to mind when the discussions turned in its general direction. Not that it needs the boost.”

I’ve only read a couple of chapters of the manga in some issues of Shonen Jump, and I tend to hit the clicker when the anime comes on, because the register and volume of some of the voice work puts every mammal in my household on edge. The manga seems appealing enough, though, and it’s a title that always hovers on my “I should try that sometime” list. (Unfortunately, that list is pretty long.)

For a look at things from the other side of the equation, pop by Newsarama for the latest Animated Shorts. Steve Fritz talks to Cartoon Network VP Terry Kalagain, who oversees programming not actually produced by CN (Naruto, Zatch Bell, etc.). There’s nothing terribly surprising here (Naruto = cha-ching!), but it’s a nice overview. Kalagain talks about the Toonami block, the ratings performance of the Miyazaki films (To the person who once suggested to me that I should avoid the dubbed version of My Neighbor Totoro, I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you.), and politely evades questions about what new properties might be coming to a television near you.

She also disappoints me deeply when asked about the prospect of some shôjo programming:

“Well, you never say never, but I don’t think so. We did some testing and those kinds of shows just don’t do well in the U.S. Honestly, all around the world it’s been proven that girl-oriented properties never do as well as boy, specifically the anime. Now what’s interesting is a show like Totally Spies, which most people aimed for girls, actually does very well with boys. We have 15 new episodes of that starting in April.”

I think I remember reading elsewhere that CN already has a substantial audience of girls and women for its Toonami programming, so I guess it isn’t surprising that they don’t see the need to delve into that product niche. And I can always get Fruits Basket DVDs from Netflix. (I would actually find it pretty uplifting if it turned out that girls don’t generally like Totally Spies, because the characters are mostly vapid, shallow, and even more stereotypical than the Charlie’s Angels troika usually engenders.)


From the stack: Go! Comi sampler

March 9, 2006

I think I’m going to have to reserve judgement on Shioko Mizuki’s Crossroad (Go! Comi). There are lots of nice moments in the first volume, but as a whole, it’s all over the place.

The death of 16-year-old Kajitsu’s grandmother leads to an extended family reunion. Kajitsu’s hopelessly irresponsible mother Rumiko shows up, as do Kajitsu’s two step-brothers, 20-year-old goofball Taro and 16-year-old Natsu. Kajitsu hasn’t seen any of them in years, and lots of old resentments crop up. Things get worse when Rumiko vanishes again, leaving another step-sibling (cute grade-schooler Satsuki) in their care.

Left with few other choices and not entirely happy about it, the kids decide to stick together, mostly for Satsuki’s sake. The process of reaching that decision is complicated, with Taro demonstrating a surprising nasty streak. Kajitsu is also shocked that chubby, sweet Natsu has turned sleek and cold (and smart and popular) during his absence. The beats that come out of all this are alternately funny, sad, angry, weird, and tense.

They aren’t entirely coherent, though. It seems like Mizuki is spending most of the first volume finding her tone, fishing around until she finds one that suits. There isn’t really a cumulative effect from beginning to end. Something similar happens with most of the characters as well, though Kajitsu is a solid, consistent presence.

She’s also interesting and sympathetic enough to make me curious to see what happens to her next. She’s understandably angry and withdrawn, still dealing with abandonment and other losses, but she’s also very cautiously open to life’s possibilities. Kajitsu is the one element of Crossroad that really holds together, and I’m invested enough in her to want to see what happens next.

*

I liked the nasty edge of the first volume of Takako Shigematsu’s Tenshi Ja Nai!! (Go! Comi). Things are a little smoother and sweeter in the second, but it’s still an entertaining read.

Closed-off Hikaru is helping schoolmate and pop idol Izumi keep a secret: he’s a boy pretending to be a girl to hold on to a lucrative career as a model and actress. Izumi and bodyguard Yasukuni initially had to blackmail Hikaru into helping, but the scheming duo has grown on Hikaru as she learns more about their motives and backgrounds.

Now, she’s a willing part of the conspiracy, though she isn’t particularly thrilled about the unwanted attention that comes with her role. She’s also got another distraction in the form of a handsome, romance-novel-ready music teacher named Ayase. Hikaru has to balance life as Izumi’s assistant and accessory, a budding and forbidden crush, and a steady stream of jealous and curious outside parties.

It’s fun stuff, a nice mix of mistaken identity comedy, complicated romance, and coming-of-age drama. Shigematsu gives more depth to her three protagonists and does an equally nice job introducing orbital characters like Ayase, mean girl Shiori, and self-proclaimed ladies’ man Kurobe, a co-star with romantic designs on Izumi.

Tenshi Ja Nai!! bustles along, throwing new twists at its characters with every chapter while deepening their relationships. I like it a lot.

*

Speaking of Go! Comi, they’ve announced two new titles, Night of the Beasts and After School Nightmare. (I love the title of the latter.) David Taylor mentioned this development a couple of days ago, then Franklin Harris linked to the official confirmation.


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