Tuesday, January 15, 2019

BrownS by ニリツハイハン

While I steer clear of openly H dōjinshi, which I find not only in poor taste but also often shoddy in layout and execution (I mean, I really don't get how an ahegao with a mess of speedlines around it could ever be erotic...), I occasionally purchase works that conjugate high production values, or an interesting visual style, with... umm, let's be generous and say, 'my personal preferences'. A case in point is the short dōjinshi I'll be reviewing this time around, which features the bullseye combination of tanned skin and short, blonde hair. Blue eyes optional, I'm not that picky*.

BrownS by ニリツ is an illustration book that, while a bit short on the page count, make up for it with excellent production values: large A4 format, full color, nice glossy paper. Each illustration is a pinup, focusing on shōjo who conjugate tanned skin tones with a variety of other desirable traits - flaxed hair, provocative swimsuits, and so on.

The subject matter, in the context of Japanese anime-style illustration, is of course as trite as it gets: in these cases, it's usually the craftsmanship that makes all the difference, and Nilitsu has plenty of skill to show. Often entirely devoid of backgrounds (though, where they are present, they are of very good design and execution), the illustrator focuses solely on the human form, which conforms to a manga aesthetics but with the added values of a keen eye for complementary color combinations; and a strong sense of shading and chiaroscuro. Every image is also accompanied by a short description detailing the creation process, and a few rough sketches are provided at the end of the book. As I mentioned, while there are a few ecchi pinups, nothing really forays into H proper.

With its only flaw being the very short page count, BrownS is a nice addition to my collection of Pixiv artists' books, and  sign that Nilitsu is someone to keep an eye on - while the subject matter is certainly not revolutionary, it's all in the execution, and they have that figured out.

*Coincidentally, I've never been in a relationship with a blonde. What a waste. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

SAILORBON by Various

In between the job hunting and taking care of my estate and dogs, one thing I'll be focusing on early 2019 is the first draft of a... young adult mystery novel. Yup, that's right. I've been selected as one of eleven participants to Il Battello a Vapore's A Caccia Di Storie, a residency that has spawned quite a few literary careers in the past few editions. Details on my story will be forthcoming (and we're actually forbidden to blog the details, from what I gather), but I've been reading a lot of New Orthodox mystery fiction lately, so...

New year, new dōjinshi review. Sailorbon is actually a group effort, featuring about 100 different artist and helmed by dōjinka 午前4時, ostensibly centered around a nautical theme - which is, surprisingly, largely followed by participants. Sure, considering the topic it'd be way too easy to cheat and simply draw a girl in a sailor suit (and some artists certainly do), but all is forgiven considering Sailorbon's overall quality. There is no clear low-hanging outlier, and all featured artists have done a very good job of providing a nice, on topic illustration, regardless of differences in style. Since reviewing every single illustration would probably overkill, I will focus on highlighting in no particular order a few of my favorites, and a few that stuck to the theme in ways that I found interesting.

I have mentioned before that, while I enjoy the very detailed and pseudo-realistic style a lot of Japanese artists seem to embrace, I al always very open to slightly more abstract visual choices. For example, I really dug  のすけ's playing with very simple basic colors, contrasting with the complex starry patterns.

On the other hand, artists such as ざいん choose instead to play with perspective, softer colors, and almost pastel-like coloring. Shōjo are, of course, the dominant subject in Pixiv-style illustration, and it's also the case with Sailorbon - I'm pretty sure every illustration that doesn't feature a cute girl features a cute boy...

The nautical theme offers a lot of interesting subjects to play with, and some do. ノナ offers us an extremely simple image, composition and coloring wise, counterbalanced by the awesome visual cues and melding of the pretty girl and sailor themes and iconography.

Just in case you thought I had something against pretty 2d girls, let me show you a snippet of 麦白子's offering - blonde on tan, yummy.

And finally, of course, there is no lack of troll pictures. Check out ケロ's pretty marinarette:

All in all,  an excellent collection of illustrations that really displays the variety of styles that can be found among the Pixiv community. The only faults, really, are the minuscule size of the book - barely an A6 size - and, as mentioned, some artists' lazy choice of simply putting a girl in a school uniform and call it a day. Faults that I am more than ready to forgive, given the overall quality of the illustrations within Sailorbon. 

Sunday, December 16, 2018

SHORT-WORKS~ HP by はっとりみつる

SHORT-WORKS~ HP by はっとりみつる is one of those purchases of mine that straddles the grey line between dōjin proper and commercial work - while its imprint seems to be a mere vanity label, this single volume collection is published by a well established author (mostly known in the West for the mediocre Sankarea and the much more enjoyable Umisho), with production values that rival that of the published tankōbon of his main series. The volume features most of Hattori's one-shot works, along with some pin ups for magazines, and a couple of logos / chara designs for brands.

The main featured one-shot, which is also the longest and split in four blocks across the volume, is the hilariously titled 'Kishizuki-san is a Graceful but Bitchy Girl', which is exactly what the title promises: pretty much rom-com fanservice featuring Kishizuki-san herself, who is in fact the school's idol, and graceful and bitchy in equal measure. The story is pretty much non-existent, but graphically it's on par with Hattori's main series - and full color, which always helps.

The other one-shots are mostly b&w, and generally fall within the standards of comedy, with a dash of yuri here and there. The highlights are definitely 'Dear Miyuki-chan', a bizarre almost-mystery with a hilariously comedical twist ending; and 'Existence Check', which is Hattori's first published one-shot ever and, graphically, far from the author's current style but still not too bad at all.

Rounding out the collection is a gallery of illustrations for various clients, from pinups for manga magazines to a mascot designed for NHK Japan, to a way-too-cute 'manatee burger' chara created to promote Mie's food industry...  I have to say it's quite nice and refreshing to see an author who's not afraid to show commercial work for hire and humble beginnings along with more recent work - as I mentioned in previous posts, the tendency is to swiftly sweep under the rug all traces of non-professional, non-manga work as soon as an author reaches some kind of notoriety. A shame, really.

Overall, a pretty good collection, which made me appreciate more a mangaka who, to be honest, hadn't impressed me much before.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Acqua - Pianeta by 結布

Warning: cover aside, the images in this review are NOT of the actual reviewed item. There are none online, and the volume is so tightly bound scanning or photographing would actually require tearing it apart. So, yeah, enjoy some unrelated eye candy!

Lately I've been trying to shift more of my (meagre) Japanese practice into actual reading and listening. NHK takes care of the former (everything still pretty much sounds like a jumble of 'u' sounds), while the former is mostly done through manga, though I've begun to tackle bits and pieces of novels here and there.

One of the best manga I have read in its original language so far is Acqua-Pianeta (awesome Itarian title by the way) by 結布, of who I had read before the excellent ゆかりちゃん, though this time around Yuu is in charge of the story, as well as the artwork.

I admit that most of my reasons to like Acqua-Pianeta boil down to the fact that I simply love slice of life, nothing-happens postapocalyptic (is eupostapocapyptic actually a word, or just an oxymoron?) stories in the vein of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, and that's pretty much a requirement for enjoying Yu's single volume story of people stranded on a flooded, yet surprisingly peaceful future Earth: if you expect things to actually happen, you're out of luck. The biggest adventure our girls face - yes, all of the co-protagonists are girls - is finding an old sign pointing to a long collapsed Tokyo Sky Tree. The rest of the time they go to school, fish, attend some singing practice, et cetera. The backstory on what happened to Earth is barely touched upon - apparently most of people have moved to Mars - but, honestly, that's not really the point of this manga to begin with, so all's forgiven.

The artwork, on the other hand, is all but ordinary. In full color, Yu has a painterly style that is nothing short of amazing: landscapes are rendered in a technique that almost borders into watercolors, and the anatomy and layout of each scene is invariably spot-on. She has a special flair for spanning, full -page scenes that do away with frames, letting the manga approach illustration territory.

So yes, very good stuff. I understand her most recent work is some kind of Yami no Moribito adapatation, which I'll be sure to pick up as I really enjoyed the novels too.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Benigyokozui vol.37 by Carnelian / Yggdrasity by Soji Hisakata / Furu Machi by Yoshitoshi ABe

Triple review today because, honestly, there just isn't enough meat around these bones to flesh out a full review for each dōjinshi... one of the downsides of the medium is that, more often than not, if you're buying blind (which, even with extensive online research, is almost always the case when purchasing from abroad) you'll find yourself with brochure-sized publications that, if you're lucky, won't be a mere collection of rough black-and-white sketches...

Let's start from the best one of the three. Yggdrasity by Soji Hisakata (2011) is a very, very thin illustration collection, clocking in at a mere 20 pages... but hey, at least it's on glossy paper, and full color! He seems to be one from that score of Japanese illustrators that mostly live off working in the fantasy light novels / trading cards / magazines genre - he also has a page on 100 Masters of Bishojo Painting - and the fare displayed in Yggdrasity (what the title might be trying to convey... your guess is as good as mine) seems to confirm this. There are a couple of bizarre exceptions, such as a scene from Dante's Purgatory (yeah, that Dante); and a few action pieces dedicated to Greek mythology. Little criticism can be moved from a visual point of view: Hisakata clearly knows his way around digital painting, and his handling of color and composition puts him squarely into professional 'commercial' territory. The competition is fierce, and probably something more needs to be done to stand out, but for some this might be more than enough.

On the other hand, Benigyokozui [?] by Carnelian, fails to deliver in spite of being also on glossy paper, also full color, and a tiny bit thicker too - about 30 pages. I'm clearly in the minority in my assessment, as this is nothing less than the 37th volume put out by this circle...
A big, big whammy for me was the strange, inxplicable decision to publish each illustration twice: for each two-page spread we have the illustration - usually competently, but not amazingly portrayed shōjo - on one page; and, on the adjacent one, the same illustration about twice enlarged. Carnelian's pinups are not particularly full of details that might require magnification, so this poor choice really feels like padding. We end up with more pages, but fewer illustrations than Soji Hisakata's...

Finally, Furu Machi, one of Yoshitoshi ABe's earliest dōjinshi (1995, the colophon tells me). Now, I love ABe, or at least I used to before he descended into the KanColle / slice of life pit he still seems to partially reside into, so I was thrilled to get my hands on such a visual relic... which turned out to be quite disappointing. The rough paper is not a problem for me, I actually prefer it to glossy paper as the grain enhances ABe's wavy, sometimes sketchy tract. But the contents are quite disappointing: after a few (about 10 pages) tiny, literally two-inches-wide color illustrations - now, here we could have used some magnification! - we are graced to page after page of characters sketches, with little to no background or explanation given (I ranted about this before). We are also graced with a mock-up of ABe's web site, for no apparent reason. Visually, well... humble beginnings, certainly, and the style displayed in Furu Machi is hardly representative of what ABe's style was, even as early as Serial Experiments Lain. 

Overall, a mild surprise and two disappointments. Fortunately, my next review will focus on one of the best purchases I have ever made, so stay tuned...

Saturday, October 27, 2018


This one even has its own website where you can download all the illustrations from... and you can also have a second opinion on it!

As you may know from some previous reviews, I have a soft spot for anthropomorphizations - and I don't mean furry stuff, which I would gladly set on fire at any time of the day. I am referring to young girl versions of paintings, chairs... that kind of stuff. I just love the way the artist applies the qualities of an item to a fictional look and personality, keeping some design elements while discarding others.

The weirdly titled オールドレンズ擬人化少女 (literally Old Lens Antrophomorphization Girls, 2013), in this department, is as weird as it gets. The 'OldLens' circle, an alliance of dōjin-makers Garnet (illustrations) and Tetsu Sawamura (photographer) features a number of retro camera lenses... as young girls. Yup, that's right. Did you ever wonder what an Olympus Pen F Series would look like, was it a cute delicious loli? Did you, like me, have to search what an Olympus Pen F Series actually is? either way, you're up for a minor, yet entertaining visual treat. 

The rather slim (30 pages) offering is full color, in a rather nice glossy paper. The layout is quite nifty, as it works out as a series of two-page spreads, one page featuring the lens girl, and the other a series of pictures taken with that very lens. I'm no expert on photography - though, to the untrained eye like mine, Sawamura sure seems to have the chops - so I'll comment only on the illustrations, which are excellent. Definitely a bunch of cuties, and one can actually see the parallels between each girl's design, and the lens they are meant to embody. My personal favorite is the Kodak Vest Pocket Auto-Graphic 80mm, mostly because I like steampunk-donning chicks, and because I'm one of those unfortunate souls who think 70s pastel soft focus is the height of human aesthetics. 

Overall, a short but very good collection, which unfortunately seems to be the only common effort Garnet and Sawamura produced. Oh well... 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

シャリオット by ソウマトウ

As I mentioned in other reviews on this blog, it's not uncommon for dōjin authors to eventually move into the mainstream world of mass published manga - I'm sure most readers of the medium will be familiar with stuff like CLAMP and so on. Today I'll be reviewing a short dōjinshi by one such authors, whom I have actually discovered first as a published mangaka, and then as a dōjin creator...

 シャリオット is a short (36 B&W pages) manga by ソウマトウ (under the name まよいばし), who might be known to some as the creator and artist for the 3-volume series 黒  (2014-2016) - which, if I remember correctly, has been at least partially scanlated into English.

A little girl, cheerful and caring in spite of devil horns on her head (hint hint) runs a tiny circus troupe, consisting of herself and three... malformed shadow creatures is probably the most accurate description. Her success soon rouses the jealousy of a competing youn entertainer, who will stop at nothing to steal the protagonist's spotlight. The latter, however, hides a dark secret, one that will ensure no crime goes unpunished...

Let's get the art thing out of the way first since, to be honest, there is very little to criticize. ソウマトウ's artwork is nothing short of amazing, super-detailed, dynamic, and appropriately cute even when dealing with blood, guts, and dismemberment. Given the wintery setting, the B&W works fairly well, though the artist's often excellent coloring is missed on the cover - which, by the way, is a totally different color in real life. Disregard the pic included.

The story, setting, and atmosphere... well, they're alright, I guess. If you enjoy Tim Burtonesque creepy-cute, slightly gotic, loli guro stuff, you're going to love the everliving crap out of this dōjinshi. I'm not part of this fan club, so the story kind of fell flat for me. We must also consider that シャリオット dates from 2012, and ソウマトウ has come a long way since then, as his traditionally published work demonstrates.

Overall, a stellarly drawn and decently plotted outing. If you want to check out ソウマトウ's best work, however, I really invite you to take a look at 黒 , which features the same excellent art along with a much stronger story and setting.