Nisekoi: False Love—A Love Story For Everyone

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

LET’S TALK: GAME INFORMER

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Growing up I remember when gaming grew tremendously and publications were sprouting up everywhere.  Nintendo Power was big and GamePro as well, but the one that stood the test of time was Game Informer.  It was small at first, but once it graduated from its 6-pages to a full monthly magazine it quickly gained a following.  Old Funcoland stores, the originators of the magazine, got bought up by Gamestop and now the gaming giant rules the used and new game market with an iron grip that will doubtfully ever fail.  Most GI subscriptions come through their stores and almost everyone who plays games has heard of the magazine.  Game Informer is the definitive gaming news publication.  But on the internet, that’s a different story.

Ask anyone and they’ll likely tell you their favorite sites without a single mention of GI.  You’ll hear Kotaku, Polygon, and probably IGN as their top news outlets.  That’s because GI has always remained formal in a sense that drove the budding generations of casual gamers away from it when they wanted to see people more like them.  They wanted to hear crass jokes and watch goofy videos about the people who play games.  It’s why Let’s Plays on Youtube are a thing.  They wanted to see themselves in other people.  Meanwhile, GI wanted to provide you with in-depth knowledge of the business and detailed reviews about the medium.  They wanted you to understand and dig deeper into your interests in a way that seemed academic compared to some of the other more casual outlets.  And there was nothing wrong with that for the magazine.  Hell, it sells 6.7 million copies a month, so it’s definitely doing something right.  So why is it that their online comments on articles are so few?  Why is it that their likes and shares aren’t as strong as that silly-ass IGN video you watched the other day?  It’s because the internet has become a place for everyday people to seek surface level knowledge about the things that interest them in a casual way, and GI refuses to just give you surface knowledge when you deserve to have so much more.

That’s why it’s amazing that they are now doing personal columns.

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Just the other day GI announced and released two of their new columns that will be released weekly.  Topics like Science Fiction and how games intersect with our real lives.  Sports and humor and all about games and people.  And these aren’t just puff pieces or deep looks into the universe, but instead are personal accounts and musings on the topics that resonate most with people.  You may have gotten some personal tidbits here and there in the past about some of the writers on staff, but not like this, I promise.  Newbie Associate Editor and a close college buddy of mine, Javy Gwaltney, started his first column “The Virtual Life” with a talk about death in real life and death in games.  It was poignant and it read like a conversation he and I would have and not like some click-baiting headline or an essay on death.  Andrew Reiner’s first Science Fiction post outlines his life in the form of his influences in Science Fiction. The rest is just talking about the upcoming Science Fiction bits in pop-culture that he’s excited about.  It’s refreshing and it comes on the heels of a very personal piece he did recently about video game violence and explaining it to his child—something I was happily shocked by.   He opens up and he’s talking to you, the casual human, like a casual human, because they seem to finally get it.  GI has spent so many years doing the best damn job at gaming journalism and setting the bar so very high for the rest of the world’s outlets, but it never seemed to develop the online following and the community that the others did.  Now, I think that’s about to change.

Gaming is a complicated thing.  It can be isolated or it can be social.  It can be full of long-form, riveting storytelling or it can just be a casual challenge every now and again.  But most importantly it’s something we have in common.  We enjoy these windows of escapism and we cherish the time we get to devote to it, because it frees us and opens us up to ideas and worlds we couldn’t quite experience in our own imaginations.  And though we can consider games an art, with deep and fascinating layers worthy of criticism, we need to remember that art is at its best when it’s simply enjoyed by people, who then share it with other people.

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Game Informer is finally doing what I had hoped all of game journalism would eventually embrace—keeping the heavy critiques where they need to be, but talking more about real life.  Because we live in real life and these games, though just fantasy, are made from bits and pieces of our real lives.  We relate to them and they resonate with us through either personal connections to a specific thing in the games themselves or just reminders of what used to be when we played them in the past.  Games are life and we want to enjoy it, not spend all our time analyzing its every blemish.

So go over to Game Informer and check out their new columns.  It’s the beginning stages of something they’ve been trying to roll out for a while now and I can sense how excited they all are.  They felt it too, and it’s just really nice to know that the future will be a little more personable without removing any of the quality pieces that they put out.  Reward their efforts and make sure you comment and share if you like it.

Cheers,

Javy’s:  The Virtual Life

Reiner’s:  Science Fiction Weekly

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