Sunday, November 1, 2020

私設図書館シャッツキステへようこそ

 So, for a change, I'm goign to review an item that is not a dōjinshi, as it was published by a proper publishing house (Kadokawa), and is available on Amazon, both in hard copy and Kindle... but! I enjoyed it, so you get a review anyway. Too bad for you.



シャッツキステ (German for 'Treasure Chest') is not an author nor a series, but a café in Akihabara, Tokyo. What makes it somewhat notable is its theme, which eschewes (for the most part) the atrocious tropes of 'manga cafes' (flyers for such places being forced in my hands every few steps is one of the worst memories I have of Akihabara), opting instead for an Old World, pesudo-Victorian aesthetics, including maids that actually dress as maids are supposed to, and - from what I've heard - actually decent country-style food, as well as a setting that reminds one more of an English tea house than a manga cafe. It was on my to-do list when I was over in Japan but, unfortunately, I eventually wasn't able to make it there.



Another notable point is that the café occasionally puts out books and comics as promotional materials, in the form of manga, short stories, and even music, usually attributed - fictitiously, I assume - to one of the actual people staffing the cafe.  私設図書館シャッツキステへようこそ (Welcome to Schatzkiste Private Library) , for example, lists 有井エリス (the real-world coordinator of the cafe's maids) as its author. A nice little conceit, to make this blatant promotional material some sort of in-world item, which I appreciate even more when, as in this case, the material happens to be decent.



The book, a meaty and mostly-color 223 pages, consists for the most part of 4-koma, short gag stories consisting of only four panels cum punchline. The many (real world) maids of Schatzkiste are the protagonists of these (fictitious) adventures, in which jokes largely center on every character's one-dimensional idiosincrasies and retorts in a boke-tsukkomi (straight man and fool?) style. So yeah, no sweeping storylines, but cute little jokes garnished with chibi maids and a fluffy JRPG, Animal Crossing  style aesthetic. Pretty neat stuff, and the Japanese is basic too - good if you want some intermediate practice. 

You can get a copy here

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

ギルティごはん by COSMIC FORGE

 ... and it's thanks to a dōjinshi from this circle that I learned the Japanese word for 'normie'. What makes it even funnier is that jisho.org has 'normie' as an actual definition. Sign of the times...

A different dōjinshi, that is. I reviewed in the past a couple of works by COSMIC FORGE, all of them rather high-quality - glossy, full color, and fallign right into that 'bizarre, specific take on a narrow otaku interest' that I dig so much. This one is no exception - ギルティごはん, a 20 pages, full color work from 2015 is dedicated to showcasing a few places in the Tokyo area where you can have your fill of, as the title says, 'guilty pleasure' meals. 



This blog is not new to food-centric circles, as I happen to be a big fan of SAYU Studio's self-published books of recipes. This is the first time, however, that I got my hands on a restaurant-reviews dōjinshi, which I know to be a rather florid subset... I simply never bought one. Still, it's a purchase I don't regret, and not only because the publication itself is rather high quality - the pictures are nice and crisp, the descriptions and field reports clear and to the point, and the horiziontal layout really brings it all together in a 'magazine insert' kind of way. 



ギルティごはん also happens to be a time capsule of sort. As globetrotting foodies might know, restaurants and eateries in Japan, big cities especially, are very short lived; and, as far as I could research, none of the places reviewed here are still standing. I might be wrong, though, as my Japanese Google-fu has failed me before. 

So, yeah, not much to say beyond this. Still, a nice interesting read, especially relevant if you happen to be into this kind of stuff. There is a volume 2 available as well, though I'm not sure I'll bother buying it. We'll see...

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

着艦未満 by シギサワカヤ

 Sometimes we get pleasantly surprised, even in  the times of coronavirus. Be it the reduced airmail traffic, be it that print material packages tend to fly under the radar (in years of collecting I had to pay customs maybe once), I got in two weeks a Mandarake delivery that usually takes months. It's a mystery...

But! This also means that the blog is coming back to life, and reviews will pour forth once again. We're starting nice and easy with a dōjinshi by シギサワカヤ (Shigisawa Kaya), titled 着艦未満 , which translates to... insufficient landing strip? I'm not sure to be honest, as 着艦 is some kind of military navy term I'm not familiar with. However, as you might have guessed from this, the dōjinshi I'm reviewing is a KanColle parody, which I was not expecting... as this specific work is actually filed as 'original' on doujinshi.org




Now, as you might know, I'm not a fan of parody works. I'm also not a fan of KanColle, one of those otaku obsessions that really never stuck with me. On the other hand, I am a decently big fan of Shigisawa Kaya - if you're unfamiliar with the author, she usually dabbles in yuri romances between salarywomen, plus some forays into the sapphic supernatural. She doesn't have a huge catalog of commercial work, but she participates often in anthologies and used to put out a lot of dōjin works, especially in her early career. She has a very distinctive, simple and sometimes abstract graphic style that fits very well the kind of love stories she usually focuses on.




Gag manga based around anthropomorphizations of battleships? not so much. In fact, I'm afraid to say that this thin, 24 B&W pages booklet is really nothing special. The story is the usual gag where the battleship girl of the day (can't really be bothered figuring out which one it exactly is, I'm not that much of a weeb) fails to satisfy the commander in some way, feels but but is forgiven in the end. From what I read of KanColle dōjin works, that's pretty much a trope. The drawing style is Shigisawa's own, which is a plus, but really doesn't blend too well with this bland fan fiction. Or maybe I'm just shocked at the scandalous lack of yuri...




All in all, I can't really reccomend this dōjinshi, but I can reccomend Shigisawa Kaya - go get one of her commercial works, or the good dōjinshi, like ヴァーチャル・レッド.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Girl Meets Chair by KJ Lab

I've remarked in the past how much I enjoy dōjinshi with a theme, rather than a parody, behind them. There is something that speaks of commitment behind the work of circles such as Heikinritsu, or dōjinshi like Chocolate Apple: the strong vibe that there is a concept, a design behind their ongoing work that will reward following up. It doesn't rely on ongoing narratives and plots (which usually I find don't work in the dōjin format), but also provides stronger cohesion than your average collection of illustrations (reviews of which, by the way, are in the pipeline - got a few pretty good ones last month).




Since I also enjoy bizarre anthropomorphizations, purchasing a copy of KJ Lab's Girl Meets Chair was pretty much a clinched deal. Now, when it comes to the circle's history, facts are a bit sketchy, as searching for the circle's name or artist (ケイジェー) brings up a clearly unrelated outfit (still worth a peek though). Their first book dates from late 2017, making them a fairly new circle, and their latest dates late 2018. As usual, one can't exclude that this Kj Lab circle and the one above are the same, with the usual 'wipe the past' coat applied, but I remain unconvinced.




Girl Meets Chair, as the title suggests, is a collection of illustrations featuring moe anthropomorphizations of... chairs. Fifteen examples of design chairs through the years, from Hans Wegner's Y Chair, to Eames' Side Shell Chair, is paired with a young girl whose clothes and color scheme emulates the piece of furniture's. And so, Hansen's Ant Chair has a girl, dressed in boy scout clothes, trying to save such chair from a line of ants; and Droog's Tree Trunk Bench has a scantily clad girl playing the dryad while sitting on the grossly overpriced piece of wood. The charm is, of course, in the strange and endearing ways by which ケイジェー manages to tie together the human figure and the furniture, playing each one with and against the other.



Graphically, the work is top notch: the artist clearly knows how to play with shape, layout, and especially color: complementary hues are often used, giving the illlustrations a strong and vivid vibe. The girls themselves are fairly cutesy moe, there are a couple anatomical inconsistencies but nothing excessive.

Definitely a nice little work from a circle worth keeping an eye on... assuming it still exists.

Friday, November 22, 2019

怪作戦 (寺本浩人) 妖怪写真集 原点回帰の第七巻! by 怪作戦テラ

Some stuff is just too weird to ignore - and, sometimes, stars align and you get stuff that is both funny, weird, and simply puzzling in an exquisitely Japanese kind of way. It was the case with a last minute addition to my most recent dōjinshi shipment from Japan, a homely black and white zine that held, by cover alone, the promise of unabated weirdness. Seeing is believing, so take a look at the cover below and judge for yourself...



Yup. It's a guy, donning the world's lowest budget kappa cosplay ever. 妖怪写真集 (Youkai photo album ) is, as the full title suggests, the sevent installment of a series by dōjin group 怪作戦 (Mystery Tactics? Covert Ops?), which entirely revolves around cosplaying yōkai (Japanese supernatural beings) in the most absurd, hilarious, cheap ways. The booklet's underground cred is massive: black and white printed on cheap paper and, from what I could see, hand-stapled. It also features a gigantic, full page warning against unauthorized uploading, so for this review I will limit myself to scans that are already available on the group's own blog and Twitter.




The booklet's setup is simple. The circle's three main members (main man テラ, 桂つかさ, and 蘭陵亭) plus a few guests (including a guy in a horse mask) comment on a series of real-life reenactments of old yōkai depictions from yukio-e prints. Now, if you're thinking costumes and prosthetics in the style of Link Factory... you'd be wrong. A scrawny (eyes blacked out) guy poses half naked in a public park, behind a tree... and there you have it! A Oni cosplay! Same guy, wrapped in a towel, licks the ceiling beams of a ryōkan... and he's a てんじょうなめ (Ceiling Licker - google it, it's worth it). Props are nearly non-existent, and the whole affair is clearly an absurdist, tongue-in-cheek piece of humor: the 'cosplayer' can barely hold his laughter in, and the experts' comments range from bizarre explanations behind the choice of portrayal, to out-there jabs ('Needs to stick the neck out more!' 'What's under the towel?'). Also, don't expect to learn anything about the yōkai portrayed, because you won't.

All in all, a fun piece of bizzarro that really plays on the kind of stuff I like: underground execution, out-there content, inane comedy. Highly reccomended.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Yume Nikki - Dream Diary -

So, I took advantage of a 3 euro sale, and downloaded myself a copy of Yume Nikki - Dream Diary. Now, in case you're unfamiliar with the Yume Nikki franchise (because, even though only a handful of products are available, this is basically what it's become), here's the quick rundown: about 10 years ago some Japanese anon nicknamed Kikiyama  released a small pixel-art style game called Yume Nikki. Cobbled together with rudimentary skills and a copy of PRGMaker, the game's bizarre, dream inspired atmosphere, as well as its lack of perceived basic elements of gameplay (almost no enemies or game overs, an 'ending' that is little more than an afterthought, no significant scoring system) caught on with those looking for something bizarre, different, and free.
Cue Kadokawa (yes, they don't publish just books) and their so-called Yume Nikki - Dream Diary - project: a tribute / sidequel /rehash of the original game in glorious 3d graphics, allegedly under the supervision of Kikiyama itself. A cursory browse of the web should make it pretty clear that this cash-in masqueraded as a tribute was very, very poorly received.




Because, I won't deny it, the game is a quick and dirty cash-in, designed to capitalize on the original game's popularity, while trying to get more audience by sticking on top of it more typically 'game-like' elements that might appeal to a contemporary crowd. Still I feel that, while the intentions might not have been pure, the tangible result is a flawed, but still interesting little game - for a number of reasons.



First of all, while I was very attached to the pixel-like graphics of the original Yume Nikki, I must admit that the select few worlds rendered in Dream Diary are visually stunning, keeping to the predecessor but adding a layer of eye candy that, for obvious reasons, the original lacked. Also, the couple of worlds that are 'new' to Dream Diary (a city alley and a school) are probably the best parts of the game: the school in particular could very well deserve its own small, indie game.




So, where's the problem(s)? first of all, Kadokawa's attempts to turn Yume Nikki's abstract gameplay into a more streamlined experience, both action-wise and in the story department, leave a lot to be desired. A 'good' ending tacked at the end of the game, while heartwarming, has little sequitur with both the original, and the remake's own atmosphere. Also, the many platforming elements, often poorly designed, really drive home one concept that, by now, I hoped all game designers got into their head: your game either is a platformer, or it isn't. Platforming 'elements' never work, period. Controls are wonky, and the point of view more often interferes than not with actually accomplishing objectives. Finally, the puzzle elements are ok, but very basic and could have used some more polish.




As often happens with remakes / reboots / however you want to call them, I feel Dream Diary would have worked much better as its own thing, keeping the bases but delving into its own world - perhaps building more on the 'school' levels. As it stands, Dream Diary is a largely disappointing experience, and not the least because it's hampered by the legacy left by its predecessor, a milestone in indie gaming.

If you're wondering yes, it's worth those 3 euros. Not much more, sadly.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

ちとちとに by 空中セピア

As you've probably guessed by now, one of the things that I enjoy the most about the dōjin world is, we could say, its sometimes 'alternative' aesthetics. While I do enjoy the occasionally ultra-polished, plastic like visual style of some publications, I'm generally not a hug fan of the Nitroplus / Crypton / RedJuice style of illustration. I like Garo; I like Ikki; I like dōjinshi that look and feel like zines that have been stapled and printed in someone's basement. And the same goes for the story - the more abstract, slice-of-life like and banal it is, the better. Sometimes I think it's mostly a reaction to my Western media fixations, that usually revolve around bombastically childish high fantasy stuff (long time World of Warcraft player here).



The dōjinshi I'm reviewing today falls squarely into this 'alt' category. ちとちとに is, as one could guess by the title, the second in a series: unfortunately, I couldn't track down the first booklet, or any of the others for that matter. The circle, whose sole member is 藤田ユウヤ, is actually fairly prolific, though most of their output in the last few years consists of Love!Live and Touhou fanbooks, and is therefore of no interest to me. ちとちと is, as far as I know, their only 'original' themed dōjinshi series. The object itself is a black and white, stapled 24 pages booklet on what looks like recycled paper. Right up my alley, in other words.



Since I could track down only volume two, I'm not entirely sure on the whole story arc the four total volumes are meant to narrate, though all signs point to a fairly simple slice-of-life story. In ちとちとに, a young woman called Minatsu has turned to cross-dressing as a way to cope with her brother's rejection of her since they were young. She is gradually, and not entirely painlessly reintroduced to her femininity by her willowy, nameless and mysterious friend and this lady's brother, giving form to a sort of bizarre love triangle that, unfortunately, is not resolved in this volume. There is minimal conflict, the story is barebone and lives of the yuri tropes of Japanese storytelling that I happen to love to death.


Visually, there is much to be loved if you're into that pencil-drawn, barebone yet visually rich style that, in mainstream manga, is usually associated with alt slice-of-life (think Urushibara or Ashinano). There are anatomical approximations, the characters are barely posed and much more attention is paid to countryside backdrops, when present; yet, the jagged, barely inked linework has a charm of its own, and goes along well with the story's homely (in a good way) development.

So, a nice little oddity that I would gladly follow upon, if I could find the other three volumes... which I could, through Pixiv' Booth, if I could be bothered with proxies.

Friday, October 18, 2019

KING PROJECT VOL.01 by VARIOUS

I have a sort of optimistic ambivalence toward illustration anthologies. They can be kind of hit and miss, and I find that most of the time success depends on the willingness of the artists involved to stick with the theme, without necessarily falling back on safe ground - which, in the case of Pixiv artists, usually means sugary bishōjo. Well, unless the theme is bishōjo... a good example of a successful anthology that I recently reviewed was the cozy and nifty Sailorbon, an interesting take on a somewhat unusual theme.

All of these preambles to introduce another awesome themed collection, pooling together a variety of artists from the dark recesses of Pixiv. And the theme is... kings. Yup. King Project vol. 01 (no vol.2 available so far) gathers 41 artists, each one of them offering their illustrated take on the theme of the royal figure. First of all, let's get measurements out of the way: 78 pages, full color A4 format, sturdy and professionally bound.



The contents are, overall, quite impressive, and I'm not just referring to the illustrations. What really makes this collection stand out is that almost every art piece, along with author bio and social links, also features a 'tutorial' kind of page, which shows different stages of drafting, along with the artist's comments. Pretty nifty, especially when one can see that the final piece ends up nothing like the original sketch...



So, something of a collection plus reference guide. Overall, the art quality is in the Pixiv daily rankings ballpark, which is to say, pretty high. There are, of course, more or less elaborate art styles, but every illustration actually feels like a finished piece, something that doesn't always happen in this kind of books. Some highlights are 羽山晃平's demonic tyrant king; ぽん吉's way too funny beaver king; and おつまみ's Turneresque king of dragons.




So, all fine and dandy? well, for the most part. One disappointing note is that the grand majority of the artists really played it too safe thematically, and fell back on the old trope of the fantasy king, ruling over some medieval or renaissance-looking court. There are, in fact, only two illustrations that offer a different take on the 'king' theme: 添田一平's gun wielding queen of the mob; and えだまめ畑's Lovecraftian 1800s monster king.

Still, an excellent themed collection, showcasing some real talent. Well done.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

MUJIHAPIX by ムジハ

So, here we are, back to regular-ish updates... or, at least, that's the idea, as much really depends on my finances and Japan Mail's abysmal shipping times.  Got a couple nifty things coming up though, so you might want to stay tuned for more of what this blog is really all about -  dōjinshi.

This one is actually from a fairly well known face, at least if you happen to orbit around Pixiv, Danbooru, and clones of the two. Mujiha's infrequent updates usually end up on Pixiv's top 3, and recently it seems they have also branched into commercial manga, in the form of a web serialization... which I'm actually not that thrilled about, as Mujiha really gives their best in color and full page size.



For now, we'll focus on one of their available artbooks: Mujihapix. Dating from 2014, this one you can actually get your hands on, as it's available through Pixiv's BOOTH service. I snagged a copy, and I have to say that I was impressed by the artbook before even opening it: large A4 format, glossy paper, quality binding, if it wasn't for the slim page count it could easily pass for a commercial release.



As far as content goes, Mujihapix is largely what we've come to expect from high-ranking Pixiv artists: plenty of bishōjo pinups, with some sci-fi and cute mascots thrown in. Most are personal works, but the book also features some covers Mujiha did for the book series 女戦士・フレア伝. There are also a few sketches towards the end. The artbook is full color, structurally hampered only by the fact that one side of each sheet is left blank - effectively halving the actual page count.




So, a bit less meat than one could expect from an already slim artbook, but Mujiha's skills more than make up for it: they have a visual style that is immediately recognizable as their own, especially when it comes to anatomy (sort of a manga style with a more realistic bend) and the abundant use of white space and pastel skintones against colors. As the volume mostly consists of pinups there is less focus on backdrops and environments, which are however paintakingly rendered when present.

So, an excellent collection from an established artist worth keeping an eye on. I will definitely get my hands on Mujihapix 2...

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Tears of Nosferatu by 70年式悠久機関

I have the very, very bad habit of buying series out of order. It's not just a manga, or dōjin thing: I've done it as far as I can remember with books, films, and so on. Result, I am flooded with 'volume two' or 'four' of this and that series, with varying degrees of follow-up depending on quality. The dōjinshi I'm reviewing today, lucky volume three (to be fair, it was written in a very, very tiny font...) is one of a series I will definitely seek to complete, considering the material. Keep in mind that the review refers to this volume, as it's the only one in my possession.



Tears of Nosferatu is a four-volume series by circle '70年式悠久機関', sobriquet for a certain Okito Endō (who also happens to have some mainstream published manga to their name). It dates from 2001, and present itself as a high-quality dōjin publication, from the embossed cover to the full-color gatefold. From what I could gather, having started halfway through the story, Tears of Nosferatu is the slice-of-lifeish story of a female vampire, inexplicably named Chocolate, and her retinue of  assorted live-in demonettes and such. Don't be fooled by the 'vampire' tag: there is very little violence, even less blooduscking, and the general threat level is generally pretty low. Think Rozen Maiden, but with demons instead of dolls. Well, there are also dolls, as this volume's story pits Chocolate and friends against a suspicious dollmaker called Werther (who doesn't appear on the character list - instead we get a 'Brams', who doesn't appear at all...).

So, nothing particular innovating when it comes to story and plot. The real selling point of this dōjinshi (and Endō's output in general, from what I can gather) is the artwork: full of detail and flair, it has a wispy, willowy tract that really reminds me of Oyari Ashito, with some added floweryness. A warning thought: there is some borderline non-h loli content. Reader beware.

All in all, an excellent dōjinshi that, unfortunately, I have began halfway through. I'll make sure to pick up the rest, if only for the art.



Thursday, August 15, 2019

くらやみの世界 by ツクモイスオ

It's artbook time this week! In spite of what one might guess from my previous reviews, I am actually more of a dōjin manga fan, than a dōjin artbook one: while usually of a higher production quality, the first category tends to be made up of hopeful professional illustrators, which often leads to slick, plastic-y artwork that only goes so far for me; I tend to find more edge in the amateur manga scene, especially when it goes the super-alt way.

The artbook in question, くらやみの世界 by circle Ox/ツクモイスオ, is no exception. As one can easily see from their Pixiv profile, Ox's work pretty much approaches professional quality, possessing that clean, shiny, digitally enhanced polish that is pretty much the professional standard in Japanese illustration (and you can also buy the dōjinshi I'm reviewing on their Booth).




くらやみの世界 , a fairly slim (around 20 pages) artbook from 2016, is split in half between landscape concept art, and character art. Visually and technically, there is very little criticism that can be leveled against Ox's work: they nail the perspective and volumes to a pinpoint, the color palettes are varied (perhaps sometimes a tad bit too chaotic), and the large, two page spread format really makes the artist's fantasy cityscapes justice.




The contents themselves are, however, a bit too... by the numbers. I mean, there's nothing explicitly wrong with Ox's designs; yet, they play really close to the tropes of that generic J-fantasy that, personally, I am not a big fan of. Let's look at the character designs: there's the little dark witch, the human prince, the anthro, the robot... even the landscapes, while well constructed an executed, could thematically come out of whatever SAO clones happened to be the flavor of the week in 2016.




All in all, a very nice display of skill, but I can't help wishing that the artist had pushed the envelope a bit more when it came to the... imagination part. This is really a criticism I could move against most Japanese fantasy illustration today, so I hope Ox doesn't take it personally...






私設図書館シャッツキステへようこそ

 So, for a change, I'm goign to review an item that is not a dōjinshi, as it was published by a proper publishing house (Kadokawa), and ...