Nisekoi: False Love—A Love Story For Everyone

Imagine two crime bosses coming together while their ranks fight it out in the streets.  Instead of fighting themselves, they devise a plan to keep their city from falling apart from their gang wars.  One of them offers a son, and the other his daughter.  The plan—they start dating and the syndicates use it as a bridge to stop their fighting for good.  The problem—their kids don’t like each other.  This is the premise to Naoshi Komi’s 2012 hit manga and now anime called Nisekoi:  False Love that currently runs in Weekly Shonen Jump magazine.  This twist on the average love story has garnered much popularity and sparked 2 seasons of an anime and counting.  Its premise seems simple at first, but add to that multiple love interests and a confused male hero and you’ve got yourself a hit rom-com that connects with everyone.

The story centers on Raku, a boy whose father runs the Yakuza in the area.  He’s well-mannered, he cooks, he cleans, and he does well in school.  All traits of most female characters.  The other main character is Chitoge, a girl whose father runs the mafia in her part of town.  She’s athletic, she’s often insensitive, and she’s super good looking.  Traits of a typical male character in a love story.  Together, they make our fake couple with the goal of keeping their family organizations convinced that they truly care for each other so the city doesn’t suffer.  The only hitch is that they are complete opposites and can’t stand each other.  This problem becomes the funniest and most compelling part of the story to watch and genuinely keeps you invested to the end.

What makes Nisekoi interesting lies in the premise’s ability to make its way into every part of the characters’ lives.  And unfortunately, though it helps their families, it has some negative effects on their social lives.  On top of the entire school touting them as a new power couple, Raku is unable to tell the girl he truly likes that it’s just a fake relationship.  Of course, in true romance fashion, Raku has no idea that the girl he likes, Onodera, actually likes him back.  To complicate it more, other girls fall in love and compete for Raku’s love which challenges Chitoge’s fake love.  But what follows is not a tale of just competition, but honestly a tale of friendship and honesty.  Each character’s affections for Raku only bring them closer to each other as they realize they all want the same things in a romantic partner.  It also allows Raku to showcase his caring personality that reflects the idea that a truly good person will be good to anyone without having to have a reason.

Now, you’re probably wondering how is this in Shonen Jump?  Where are the action pages and crazy super powers?  I thought this was for boys who like action and not some Shōjo manga for girls?  Well, here’s where Komi really shows his stuff.  Certain characters in the mafia or Yakuza will showcase prowess beyond human belief.  Chitoge even displays unearthly strength and athleticism and her bodyguard, Tsugumi, is actually a trained assassin.  That’s right, assassin.  It’s the mafia, so it works.  The action here is rare, but the dosage is right on the mark for the magazine’s usual crowd and it always makes sense in the narrative.  But what’s interesting is that a romance manga can be clever enough to be both semi-action oriented while also presenting itself as a non-typical romance story and get away with it in an action magazine for boys.

And it’s not just for boys!  It’s easy to think that Chitoge or Onodera could end up as just eye candy for the male fanbase, but the modesty in which Komi draws them with is unheard of for the medium.  Never are they presented as pinups or sexual figures.  In fact, Raku ends up shirtless probably more times than any of them even approach the line of sexually appealing in an overt way.  There are even other male characters that get the spotlight like Raku’s best friend Shu and he even gets his own love triangle too.  This story is just as much for boys as it is girls in that it showcases both sides’ thoughts and feelings equally.  What Nisekoi achieves is a balance between what both sexes would like to see in a manga about real relationships while maintaining the expectations of a shonen manga.

Onscreen, the anime does the series justice in that we get to see the humorous situations and reactions in real time, and it honestly translates better that way.  Much of the humor of the series is in physical comedy, so the show really gets an advantage there.  The anime covers everything almost perfectly and the art style is well-mimicked from the pages.  No character feels flat at any time and the music always sets the scenes well.

If you’re interested in a funny and different kind of love story, then check out Nisekoi: False Love.  It’s a must read for both Shonen and Shojo fans.  If you’re like me and you get invested pretty quickly, you’ll even find yourself rooting for one of the girls in particular and hoping their dreams come true.  I’m unashamedly on Team Chitoge.

You can check out both seasons of Nisekoi on Hulu and purchase the manga at any major bookstore.


Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans S1 Review


In the year 2000, most Americans were introduced to the idea of Gundam through Cartoon Network’s Tonnami block with the hit series Mobile Suit Gundam Wing like I was was.  Its popularity guaranteed almost every release of the Gundam franchise since then on either Cartoon Network or the Sci-Fi channel, and hopefully the latest, Iron-Blooded Orphans, won’t be an exception since a dubbing cast has already been announced.  It has already sparked model kits and fan art across the internet, and honestly made this Gundam fan consider it to be possibly the very best of the bunch.

Like Gundam Wing and all other entries before it, Iron-Blooded Orphans (IBO) exists in a harsh reality where kids are soldiers against a corrupt government.  But this Gundam show goes a bit further than its previous series, and despite much controversy overseas it brazenly confronts realistic depictions of child soldiers, child slavery, children murdering, and the effects of mass poverty.  The sheer brutality of IBO’s world is only matched by the determination of its victims, a group of orphans enslaved by the military on Mars.  The two main characters are Orga and Mikazuki, two orphans that were forced to survive by killing and stealing at as young children.  Mikazuki and many of the other children were forced to undergo a risky surgery to attach themselves to mobile suits in order to work and fight for their oppressors—a surgery most of them did not survive.  Those that did, under Orga’s command, overthrow their captors and embark on a galaxy-wide journey toward freedom.  Calling themselves “Tekkadan” or Iron Flower Brigade, the children continue to fight as an organization that vows to help a political activist garner better rights for the people of Mars who are dominated completely by a galaxy governing agency known as Gjallarhorn.  As they make their way toward Earth, it becomes very clear that no one is safe and that the only positive outcome is the fact that they got to choose their fates for themselves.

From the first episode, IBO shows no mercy in its depiction of child slaves.  More surprisingly, it makes it clearer that none of its main characters are safe from the hand they’ve been dealt in this world.  Orga is constantly tormented by the burden of leading the children in battle as well as the crushing weight of Mikazuki’s expectations that he’s held for him since they were very young.  Mikazuki is drawn with wide, unblinking eyes that demand unwavering answers from his childhood leader and his intensity carries through to the battlefield.  He cuts down his enemies without a second thought and without remorse—actions of what most would consider a sociopath created by war.  Actions that are mirrored from his childhood when he had to kill to survive.  All of this is framed by the perspective of a young woman named Kudelia, the aforementioned activist, who vows to stand up to the corrupt government and make real change for the people of Mars.

The style of IBO is clean and beautiful, but the weight of the series is harsh and unrelenting.  Some of the character designs stand out like a sore thumb, like Orga’s visor-like hair, but the majority are easy to look at and remember.  Each episode’s narrative is action packed and emotional in a very balanced way that keeps you coming back for more.  And each time you return you just wish things could be better for these characters, but it keeps you wondering who will even survive the end.


The Gundam designs are some of the most unique in the franchise’s history in that there is no one style of Gundam.  Each one seems to be designed specifically toward what its main approach to fighting may be.  The main suit, Gundam Barbatos, is a sleek and quick machine like its pilot Mikazuki and it is versatile in that it can wield almost any kind of weapon.  Gundam Gusion eventually shows up in completely opposite fashion, sporting a bulky frame and a giant hammer—clearly a wall of power to be reckoned with.  As more and more appear, it becomes obvious that each suit is a reflection of its pilot in some way and this provides a unique connection and easy association visually for viewers.  It never pours on the action scenes in the mobile suits too heavily, and it spends most of its time developing the world and the characters in it.

By the end of the first season, I was left breathless and exhausted as much as the characters were after what they went through.  It never falters on the seriousness of their situation and though you get small moments of humor, it is only to build character and further twist the knife in your heart when the pain of their world hits them another time.  As the newest entry in the Gundam universe, I can honestly say that none of the previous shows have come close to covering the issues of our real world the way that IBO does.  It’s not overly preachy about how awful these things are, but it definitely makes sure that you see the horrors and you lament the losses that the characters endure.  There are no throwaway characters and there are few annoying stereotypes to detract from the experience.

Iron-Blooded Orphans is powerful and one of the most unique entries in the Gundam franchise.  The entire first season is available on Hulu as well as Crunchyroll at 25 episodes and it will return for a second season in the Fall of 2016.

Doubt, Judge, and Secret—Horror/Mystery For Saw Lovers


For those of you out there who need that same Horror/Suspense fix that you got from James Wan’s first Saw movie, here’s a recommendation for you:  Doubt, Judge, and Secret by Yoshiki Tonogai.  Not only is it the exact same premise, but both stories end with that same twist ending that left your head spinning with a stupid grin.


Doubt is the first in this set of books and this is the easiest to find and collect since it’s two giant volumes.  The story follows a single protagonist as he is roped into a killing game with other people.  All of them played a game on their cell phones called “Rabbit Doubt” in which people who didn’t know each other would compete to find out which rabbit among them was really a wolf.  If the rabbits guess wrong, then the wolf eats them all one by one. If they guess right, then the wolf dies and they go on their merry way.  In true Jigsaw fashion, some twisted asshole among them decides to make it real based on an unknown personal grudge and the games begin and yes, they are watching it all play out.

What makes Doubt great is that it never really gives you the perspectives of anyone other than the main character.  Because of this, you’re forced to go along with his perceptions and actions which leads to equal surprise for both them and you.  Tonogai’s style is clean and smooth and his compositions are wonderful at giving you an idea of atmosphere and space.  Space being the most important thing here so you understand the situation and the location that everyone is being forced to play in.  One thing that carries through both Doubt and Judge is the use of a mascot-styled animal head that is placed on the characters at the beginning to signal both the transition from the narrative for setup and the start of the real story where the game begins.  For Doubt it’s rabbits and Judge it’s several different kinds—each of these signifying the type of game as well as the type of players involved.  Also it’s really creepy to look at.


Judge follows several characters again, but this one is a different game spread across six smaller volumes.  Just like before, people are capture and forced to endure a terrible Saw-esque game, but this one has some specific rules.  Every so many hours, the group has to gather in a courtroom and select one among them to die.  This vote will actually have the person voted for mysteriously killed, and then after so many deaths they can move on to the next room and eventually toward escape.  It becomes a crazy game of learning about the other characters and trying to figure out who is lying and if they deserve to die.  I won’t lie, some of the assholes involved in this one had me ready to vote them dead, but that’s what the story wants from us.  It takes a lot of the worst from our society and places them in harm’s way and asks us if we give a damn.  By the end of it, I was surprised at who I sympathized with and who I didn’t.  This one also got a live action adaptation.


Secret came along recently and changed it up a bit.  Instead of having a single protagonist that we watched over the shoulder of, we now have several kids who were in a horrific bus accident.  Each of them gets some time to be our guide as we try to discover what happened that day and why they were the only ones to survive.  Their counselor attempts to make them all come to terms with the grief of surviving, but at the same time he blackmails them in to trying to have them admit that one of them was a murderer that day.  Manipulations and crazy teen emotions fly all over until this one hits us with an equally surprise ending as the other two series.  Not a lot of animal masks this time, though—mostly on the cover.


The whole series is fun and truthfully they are quick reads with a lot of panels being silent to showcase movement or a new location.  The space on each page is wide and Tonogai’s knack for environments shows through pretty well.  There’s an abundance of tone usage to convey shadow and depth and not really a lot of line work going on to provide textures unless it’s necessary.  It’s not overly gory, but there’s plenty of violence and corpses that pile up as the games go on.  All of these caught my eye visually with the creepy-ass masks and then hooked me with the horror mystery elements pretty easily.  The payoff at the end of each one is unique and very rewarding with the only downside being that a re-read isn’t the same.  Just like watching the first Saw flick, we all know what’s going to happen at that last scene and it just doesn’t hit as hard the second time around.

All 3 of these can be found at Barnes and Noble or Amazon and I recommend them to anyone who needs something quick to read in the horror genre.

If you’ve read them already or pick them up and have opinions—hit me up on Twitter at @RAT_FOX and tell me what you think.


BLEACH Delivers A Strong Comeback

I never thought I’d say this, but here it is and I can’t deny it.  Tite Kubo, writer and artist of the hit manga Bleach, has written what I consider to be one of the single most impressive issues of a manga that I have ever read.  And I’ve read a lot of manga, folks(42 ongoing too).

It was looking down for Kubo as he slowly drudged through his last story arc.  His bad habit of limited dialogue and minimal paneling was starting to feel lazy.  Sometimes he’d even paint a whole page black for effect.  By the time you finished a Bleach chapter you were only a minute from where you started and you felt like nothing really happened.  And that’s where Kubo sort of hovered in my mind—a writer who could craft excellent characters and superb back-stories, but couldn’t do pacing worth a damn to save his life.  I began to wonder if the editorial department would ever step in to slap him something fierce.


It seems someone has, in fact, done just that, and in this new story arc set a year later Tite Kubo has knocked it out of the park.  In just one fell swoop it’s like he’s back on track and is reminding his readers why his characters really pop.  Kubo has introduced several characters as enemies who all draw their special powers from particular items and each ability is associated with the nature of that item.  This is exactly the kind of originality that led Bleach to become one of the most popular manga in existence.  The pacing is there now and the writing could not be any better.  The writing quality is so smart and full of emotional context that it really reestablishes Kubo as a talented writer of not just concepts and character creation, but of great dialogue and scripts.  The chapter I’m referring to is the latest on this Dia De Los Muertes and in its liveliness it is nowhere close to being dead.

Chapter 471 is entitled Pray for Predators 2, a continuation of the last chapter only this one being severely different in both tone and structure.  I’ll begin with the title because it really sets up the cleverness displayed in this kind of writing.  Obviously we have a play on words where the word “Pray” is echoed in our minds by the word “Prey” in the context of predators.  This entire chapter presents four different origin stories at once in which we are to see the tragic upbringings of these villains in order for the readers to empathize.  However much Kubo wants you to pray for them,  as the reader we already know they oppose our heroes and therefore have made themselves the predators and the main characters into their prey.

The structure of this issue is stellar and it revolves around a very intuitive style of cinematic pacing and presentation.  Like I said earlier, we have four different characters’ origins being presented and for any writer that’s a lot of work.  Especially when you have an 18 page maximum to do it in.  But Kubo nails it by presenting each origin and each character’s affinity for a particular item in just two pages each.  Separated in sequence so that no two pages of a single origin are back to back.  One page hits hard with one character.  The next another.  Then another.  Then another.  Then back to the first.  Repeat.  All of this covered with an overarching narrative as well as each character’s own voice commenting about their natures with the idea of predator versus prey as their mantra.  Each origin of each character comes with their own personalized background design that perfectly expressed their personalities, unique special abilities, and their specific items.  It was eerie and sad, but terrifying at the end we see that this painful upbringing has led them to cope in vicious ways.  Survival at whatever cost.

I’ve been a fan of Bleach for a long time and even when Kubo slacked off for a while or spent time off due to illness I maintained my watch over his series because I was already invested pretty far into it.  But I have to say, without a doubt, that Tite Kubo has really turned this series around, and every chapter that comes out has me excited for the next.  I’m constantly reminded why he’s a professional and how a good writer can always bounce back.  If you are interested in Bleach, I strongly encourage you to check it out.  It’s action-packed, supernatural, heroic, and friendship-centered drama that will grace you with original concepts, characters, and at the very least an exciting read.


With that, I leave you with my favorite line from it and a link to the chapter itself.  Enjoy!

“‘The weak become meat for the strong to eat’. That saying is just an illusion to delude the weak into believing that if you work hard you can become the hunter. They’re not getting eaten because they are weak. They’re getting eaten because they’re too few. The predators end up being the ones with greater numbers. But all they have is their incompetence and loud voices. So who you really are, even though you’ve already realized it, you just sit there pretending you haven’t–We are scraps of weak meat.'”

Manga: The Most Respectable Form of Illustration

“Bakuman” by Tsugumi Ohba/ Takeshi Obata

The world of manga is something that the North American audience tends to disrespect on many levels.  Often manga is overlooked and the nature of its exaggerated features drives the “cartoon” haters away.  But the reality is that in terms of literature and illustration, manga outshines every publishing media to date in the modern world.  That may seem like a bold statement, but I assure you that the proof is in the pudding.

“Naruto” By Masashi Kishimoto

An average manga in Shonen Jump Magazine, geared toward young boys and action lovers, runs a weekly 18 pages.  Each page goes through typical editing in terms of plot, concept, dialogue, and composition from both the creator(s) and the editor of that particular series.  Typically, a series will have a writer, an artist, and an editor with a few assistants hired on to do touch-ups and background work.  Popular manga creator Masashi Kishimoto, who crafted Naruto, has 4 assistants that all specialize in certain detail work like blackening frames, whitening frames, crowds, speed lines, and other decorative effects.  The main portions of the illustrations come from Kishimoto himself as well as the complete story and plot breakdowns each week.  Now, 4 people may seem like a lot (most creators have around 2-3 assistants with 4 being the most) and you would expect to see no problems in meeting deadlines, but the quality of the final product changes that outlook.  Each drawing is precise in both style and line quality with the most professional drawing tools and skills used on every panel.  Quilled ink pens (often Nib G-Pens), brushes, and stencils are required to make a good manga work and stand above the rest of the works in the realm of illustration.

“Bleach” By Tite Kubo

Also, a weekly schedule makes this very complicated in the periodical business.  The North American audience is used to seeing monthly to bi-monthly comic books at most where a book may come out at the beginning of the month and then again at the end. Manga creators press harder to release a chapter of higher quality in both story and illustration EACH WEEK.  That means that every week 16-18 pages of an ongoing series will come out with precise inking, dynamic paneling, a compelling story, a cliffhanger ending, and every now and then they get to do a 3 page color spread.  The color will come directly from the creator—tones and application.  No digital–we’re talking pens, brushes, pencils, inks, paints, etc., literally the works.  Sometimes they even get the cover of the magazine which will require them to do a completely separate colored page.

From the outside looking in, this still may strike you as something possible and not a problem for a good artist to do, and you’re right because people like Kishimoto are just that.  But the business is demanding and a weekly schedule can wear you down.  With only a few holidays in-between an ongoing series’ creator will work every day of their life crafting and planning the series in hopes that it will continue to run in the magazine.  Unlike the North American publications, Japanese manga can be pulled off the shelves quickly because the fans get to decide what is printed.  In Shonen Jump, polls are mailed in from the magazine where readers vote for the series that they like and its popularity is rated in the editorial department.  Stats are calculated based on age and gender of the readers and if a series scores poorly there is a very good chance that it will be discontinued.  In North America, we tend to let series go on or we allow them to at least finish up their work.  In Japan, a conclusion is forced to the best of the creator’s ability and they are compelled by the staff to come back after cancellation with an even better idea than the last.  And missing a deadline?  That doesn’t fly for manga.  If you miss a deadline, you missed your chance and your series will be considered for cancellation.  In America, there are comics still waiting to come out.  I’m looking at both of you, Frank Miller and Kevin Smith.

“Inuyasha” By Rumiko Takahashi

Primarily throughout this post I’ve only mentioned Shonen Jump, but there are several other magazines for all genres, genders, and age groups.  Some publish weekly while other may publish monthly or quarterly.  In the quarterly manga magazines, a series may not come out but once every 3-4 months, but the page count is upped to 40-60+ pages.  This balances out the divide between them and the weekly chapters and produces in one fell swoop the same amount of content.  Tack onto all of this the ability to tell a good story, maintain pacing, keep the art fresh, and meet deadlines and a manga becomes a difficult way of life.

“Kekkaishi” By Yellow Tanabe

And that’s the difference between manga and all other illustration—it becomes a way of life.  It consumes every waking moment and is your life’s work.  If you don’t make it that way, then you will not succeed.  Mediocre artists come and go all the time in America, but in Japan a standard of quality is constantly maintained.  Now, more so than ever, Japanese creators are becoming one person stars who write and illustrate their own stories.  The classic pairing of artist and writer is still around, but more and more individuals are rising up to show determination and passion that the rest of the world may be lacking.  If you are ever in a book store where manga is sold, don’t be put off by the stylistic approach so much and give the manga volumes a try.  Each volume, or tankoban, from Shonen Jump contains around 7 chapters of a story for literally half the price of seven issues of an American comic.  Give it a shot and see what you think of the story and development.  Ask someone to help you find a genre that would appeal to you the most—I promise you won’t be let down with as much quality and hard work that the creators put into it.

Below I’ve listed some recent series and their creators based on the genre and target audience of their work.  Feel free to click them to go to their Wikipedia pages and see if it’s something you’d be interested in.

Yellow Tanabe’s “Kekkaishi”—young adult/supernatural/ action—boys and girls

Masashi Kishimoto’s “Naruto”—young adult/fantasy/action—boys

Tite Kubo’s “Bleach”—young adult/supernatural/ action—boys

Ito Ogure’s “Air Gear”—young adult/ modern/ action—boys and girls

Kaori Yuki’s “Angel Sanctuary”—young adult/ fantasy—girls

Natsuki Takaya’s “Fruits Basket”—young adult/ humor/ fantasy—girls

Nobuhiro Watsuki’s “Rurouni Kenshin”—young adult/ historical/ action—boys and girls

Tsugumi Ohba/ Takashi Obata’s “Deathnote”—young adult/horror/ mystery/suspense—boys and girls

Tadashi Kawashima/ Adachitoka’s “Alive: The Final Evolution”—young adult/ horror/ suspense/ action/ fantasy—boys and girls

Rumiko Takahashi’s “Inuyasha” and “Ranma ½”—young adult/ action/ fantasy/ romance—boys and girls

Yuichi Kumakura’s “Jing: King of Bandits”—young adult/ fantasy/action—boys and girls

Atsuchi Ohkubo’s “Soul Eater”—young adult/ action/ fantasy/ horror—boys and girls

Hiromu Arakawa’s “Fullmetal Alchemist”—young adult/ action/ sci-fi/ fantasy—boys and girls

Yoshiki Nakamura’s “Skip Beat!”—young adult/ romance/ humor—girls

Matsuri Hino’s “Vampire Knight”—young adult/ horror/ fantasy–girls

“Fullmetal Alchemist” By Hiromu Arakawa