Hey readers! After being on and off the past few weeks your source for all-ages comics, From Friendly Ghosts To Gamma Rays, is back with a vengeance and kicking it back off with this special Wednesday edition of the column, which seems to be under the theme of stuff from the land of the rising sun! So grab some pocky and save your Castlevania game, and let’s goooooooooooooooo!
It can be tough for us to define things as “classics” sometimes. Looking back on a body of work from 100 years ago can be easy because we can trace and see what has stood the test of time and influence. Calling something a classic from the 1980s or 1990s can be a bit trickier, since most of us lived through it and at the time didn’t realize it was going to be a classic. Proudly I can say Sailor Moon is a modern classic in the world of manga. Like Dragon Ball, there were plenty of other stories like it. Magical girl stories have been going forever from cute little witches to the sexy Cutey Honey, however, it gave us something new. Sailor Moon wasn’t just a world wide phenomenon spawning countless fans in almost every country it touched, but it also reinvented the genre by having a “dumb” every-girl who didn’t have anything special about her to begin with, become the hero and grow up throughout the story. Usagi doesn’t have magical powers naturally, she isn’t an android, she was just the cute girl that sat next to you in class who didn’t like to study and played video games. Sailor Moon reinvented the magical girl sub-genre through its fantastic storytelling (these page layouts rock), and by having a character that most female readers could connect with and picture themselves being. Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon is a true influential modern classic, and without this (or CLAMP’s Magic Knight Rayearth, which we’ll get to some other time) it’s certain that manga/anime would not be what it s today.
Volume 1 is translated from the new collected editions from 2003 in Japan. For those unfamiliar, it tells the story of Usagi, an average girl who meets a talking cat named Luna, who gives her the power to transform into guardian of justice Sailor Moon. Sailor Moon’s mission is to find the other Sailor Scouts, get the legendary silver crystal, and protect the Princess, none of whose identities are known, and to make things harder, Usagi starts off as a lazy cry baby. With a little help from the mysterious Tuxedo Mask, Sailor Moon fights off some of the evil stealing energy from the innocents that’s a foot, and also unites with three other Sailor Scouts over the course of the volume. The shoujo-styled action, storytelling, and characters make every page a joy and still hold up all these years later.
For those wondering about the new editions, I puled out some of my old issues of Mixx Magazine (later Tokyopop) which published it first here in English years back. The new translation is more literal versus Tokyopop’s original translation in the magazine, which I feel sounds more like someone speaking it in English than a translation, the flow is better, although Kodansha’s accuracy would be more correct. So really it’s just a reader’s personal preference. The art in the new version has apparently been touched up a little bit on some of the color pages as per the 2003 Japanese reissues, so no flaws, just improvements, not that the comic didn’t look great already. If you have never read Sailor Moon, I honestly say “what are you waiting for?” There’s no better time since we have this great release of great material; pick it up.
The adventures with pocket monsters in the Unova region continue with volume 3 of Pokemon: Black and White, which is the most exciting volume yet of the series.
The volume starts off right in the middle of the Pokemon battle between Black and N that was started in the last book. We get a peak into N’s past and see he was chosen to go out as the chosen one for Pokemon liberation, and a fantastically drawn Pokemon battle ensues. In the second story, Bianca and Cheron finally catch up with Black in Striaton City, but it turns out the restaurant they were at is actually the Pokemon gym there. After putting their differences aside, the three decide to have a three-on-three battle against the triple gym leaders of Striaton, leading us into the the third chapter of the collection, in which an intense battle ensues and our young trainers learn more about what types of Pokemon work best against others. The volume ends (not really giving anything away here) with our heroes being victorious against all the odds, getting their first gym badge, and with Black going back off on his travels with White.
Yes, this is a pure action volume, but it’s wonderful. We already set up the interesting characters in volumes 1 and 2, and so to get down to some much needed action and finally get a badge is perfect timing for this story. The battles as I mentioned in previous reviews of Pokemon: Black and White are fantastically done, always entertaining, and are just the right mix for these battles in comic format. The writing holds up still, as well, giving us the intriguing background of N, who is more of an anti-hero than a rival. The Pokemon: Black and White volumes are a bit shorter than other manga volumes, however, their price is chopped in half, too, and only $4.99 per volume is the right price for action in your kids’ books.
I have enjoyed Pokemon: Black and White so far, and I’m sticking to saying it’s the best Pokemon manga in a very long time, perhaps slowly shaping into the best, so check it out.
Something To Watch: Kikaida volumes 2 and 3
Kikaida, also known by its full title Jinzo Ningen Kikaida, plain out rocks, and is pretty much one of my favorite things we’ve reviewed this year here in this column. We covered DVD volume 1 of this series a few columns back (click here to read), and today we continue that by looking at volumes 2 and 3 of this amazing series. To give you a quick background, Kikaida tells the story of Jiro, an android created by Professor Komyoji to fight against terrorist organization DARK, who has their own army of killer androids. Jiro has the power to transform into Kikaida, a super-powered form of himself, to do battle. The series, created by famed comic book artist Ishinomori Shotaro, was a hit in Japan and interestingly enough in Hawaii during its original run.
In volume two we get episodes 6-10, and although the episodes clearly follow the formula now of Kikaida does battle with DARK as they search for a lost Komyoji who has amnesia, the series stays strong with surprising moments and the reminder that DARK is a truly evil organization who kills people to benefit themselves. In episode 6, Kikaida squares off against Black Horse, who during the episode kidnaps Mitsuko and Masaru. Kikaida saves them, and although a simpler episode plot wise, the fight scenes are solid and Black Horse’s giant horseshoes that set people into flames are an oddly neat weapon. In episode 7, DARK deploys Bull Kong as their weapon. He goes after a boy and man in Tokyo whose wife was killed by DARK, and they are trying to spread the word and warn others about DARK (no one taking them too seriously because of how bizarre it sounds). The man is killed, and it’s up to Kikaida to protect the boy and save the day. Bull Kong proves an interesting assassin, as his body can come apart, float around, and reconstruct at will. The concept and style gives the already neat episode another great flare. In episode 8, DARK deploys Carmine Spider, who is attacking young children to find a special blood type. If DARK can find this blood type, which is one in a million, they can use the blood as the base for a formula to make people into mindless zombies. Carmine Spider finds the boy, but there’s a twist I don’t want to give away here, and Kikaida of course gets stuck in the battle. In episode 9, Red Condor starts out on a dark note and kills an entire village so he may experiment with weapons there in secret without being bothered. The amnesia ridden Komyoji stumbles across the village and is recaptured and tortured by DARK. Kikaida and the gang show up on the scene, and the best fights on this disc ensue. The final episode of the DVD is episode 10, in which a doctor who has made a super weapon is captured by DARK’s Scorpion Brown, and tortured and forced to agree to give his secrets away. His daughter is looking for him, and with a little help from Kikaida the day is saved. This episode also includes an amusing fight with comic relief character Hanpen dressed like a musketeer fighting the DARK foot soldiers that can’t be missed.
In volume three we get episodes 11-15. In episode 11, we get a swank horror movie vibe, with the villain Gold Wolf, who like Jiro can disguise himself in a human form, but when the moon light shows he transforms into a goldish wolf-man robot. Gold Wolf proves to be the first really interesting “monster of the week” on this show, for like Jiro his conscious circuit is incomplete. Therefore, Gold Wolf is more of an anti-hero forced to do DARK’s bidding since he can be tortured by Professor Gil’s flute like Jiro. A bitter sweet battle at night ensues, and this episode also gives us hints that Professor Komyoji’s memory may be coming back. In episode 12, DARK sends out Crimson Cat to steal the crown of Munga, an ancient treasure which can help upgrade their evil androids. Somehow Crimson Cat has the power to take over and jump into other people’s bodies, giving us another new twist to Kikaida’s “monster of the week.” Bombs are set, people are kidnapped, treasures are stolen, and fighting takes place to the viewer’s delight. In episode 13, DARK uses Pink Tiger to target an old clown robot Komyoji designed that’s used at an amusement park when the organization expects the robot contains the secret of the personality circuit, however, by being a target it may destroy the amusement park and all the innocents in it. Aside from once again having great action, it was really cool to see a slice of the forgotten past by having the episode shot in a Japanese amusement park from yesteryear. Episode 14 starts out with a bang as everyday police are fighting Silver Tortise and getting killed. Although Silver Tortise flying may feel reminiscent of Gamera, this human-sized killer packs a punch. DARK reactivates the previous 13 androids who’ve been destroyed by Kikaida and has them all fight Silver Tortise, who wins (and it’s really neat to see the DARK destructoids fighting each other). Professor Gil has some of the former destructoids disguise themselves as the Komyoji family to trick Jiro as he battles Silver Tortise, which all adds up to an exciting episode. In episode 15 we get a ton of great material as DARK sends out Golden Bat, who is disguised as Mitsuko and Masaru’s dead brother Taro. Upon the joy of seeing their “brother,” we get some interesting stuff with Jiro wishing he wasn’t an android. Also great battles, Jiro rocking out the guitar as per usual, and Hanpen dressed as Charlie Chaplin!
The art style of this series is awesome. It’s a live action series with a certain flair, like Adam West’s Batman, but with way less camp, and the show takes itself seriously (unlike Adam West did). The lighting, the imagery, everything down to the multi-colored android armor Jiro has as Kikaida, is visually neat pop art. Kikaida is considered by most as the start of Toei’s Metal Heroes line (Toei also has the Sentai/Power Ranger line and the Kamen Rider line), and solid action and dark tones are a dynamic that would echo throughout the shows that would follow in that series, like Space Sheriff Gavin and the like. As mentioned in previous reviews, the stunt work is great, and if you are fan of anything from Ultraman to Power Rangers or the like, there is no way you won’t fall in love with this TV show. Yes, some of the special effects seem aged now, but if you can get past the aged look, the pop-art vibe and the ruthless villains make up for it, still making Kikaida hold up today for enjoyable viewing. You can get Kikaida from our friends at Generation Kikaida, buying volumes 1-3 in a pack all together or volume 2 and volume 3 separate. Your something to watch this week is Kikaida!
That’s it for today! See you Friday! Sending you kaiju-love from India!
DVD copies of Kikaida Volumes 2 and 3 were provided by Generation Kikaida. A copy of Pokemon: Black and White volume 3 was provided by Viz Media.