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...






Wednesday, August 7, 2019

蛇を飼う女 by 胡蝶社

It's been a while, huh? Finally a new batch of purchases has arrived, a rare treat in this period of suffering 33 celsius in front of an oven for six hours a day... Only five dōjinshi, but all of them turned out to be keepers, so I'll probably review each one of them. I might even make a new order post-Comiket, even though my favorite circle isn't putting out anything new this time around.




First of this new batch is a little hidden gem, which I purchased on title and cover alone. 蛇を飼う女 (The woman who keeps a snake, 2003) sports one subdued, yet deliciously creepy cover, and I was instantly won over. Behind the 胡蝶社 circle name hides manga author 武富健治 (Taketomi Kenji), who has published some manga proper, as well as winning a few prizes.

Anyway, 蛇を飼う女  is exactly the kind of not-overt-horror, yet totally creepy story that I happen to totally be into. A young woman keeps a boa constrictor in her city flat, except the snake isn't really hers: it used to belong to her dear friend Kyouko, who died in a car crash. Since then, the young woman (really nothing more than your average Japanese office lady) has been living the life of a hermit, projecting her grief and anxiety onto the pet animal, as a sort of surrogate for her dead friend. An attempt to break out of her shell turns into tragedy, when the pet breaks free and does the irrepairable... or maybe not? 




I noticed that, often, Japanese authors tend to have a very ham-fisted approach to metaphors (might be a cultural thing, who knows), but this is certainly not the case with Taketomi: the parallel between caring for the cumbersome animal, and the elaboration of grief is very well handled throughout, inclunding a spectacular final panel that really tops off the story in the best possibile way. 




Visually, I expected edge in the style of Garo or Ikki, and I wasn't disappointed. The visual style is rough, unpolished, yet extremely vibrant even in black and white. There are anatomical errors and wonly perspectives, but that's more of a part of the alt style, than a fault per-se.

In short, an excellent work from an artist that I'll be digging for from now on. 


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Blog not dead yet

That I feel like making a 'blog's not dead' post after a single month of no updates really tells a lot about my OCD...

Truth is, for a while I've been in less than favorable financial waters, a situation that only now is showing some signs of improvement. Therefore, no shipments = no dōjinshi to review. I could write about other stuff but, frankly, I really don't feel like spreading the blog's themes too thin, as others cover some areas far better than I could ever hope to. So, save the occasional off topic, this blog is and will be about original, non-h dōjin.

Long story short, a new order is on the way, so expect more reviews of Japanese stuff that probably not even japanese people know about. Stay tuned.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Record of Lodoss War - 9 DVD set

So, this month I took a break from dōjinshi purchases and invested instead into a long-coveted item: the 9 DVD boxset including the entirety of my favorite anime, Record of Lodoss War - both the OAV and the series proper. The two boxes set comes in its italian version from Yamato video, and it' fairly barebone, as it only contains two slim booklets and basically no extras on the DVDs themselves, but it's got what matters: the 13 episodes OAV, focusing on the adventures of heroic knight Parn and his elf buddy Deedlit; and the 27 episodes full-length series, narrating instead the adventures of young knight Spark as he sets out to save Lodoss from a grim fate...




... or so I used to remember. Rewatching in a binge both series actually made me realize how complex and bizantine the two series' approach is in adapting the source material, a series of seven novels by Ryo Mizuno (I reviewed them here). In my discussion of the novels I generalized, saying that the OAV adpated novels 1 and 3, skipping 2; and that the series adapted 4 and 6-7, skipping five.
In reality, the OAV surely adapts those two novels, but it tacks an ending (evil wizard Vagnard's attempt to corrupt Deedlit so that the goddess Kardis can be reborn) that is actually very similar to that of novel 7. The full-length series, on the other hand, cuts away a few subplots but basically adapts the books above in a rather linear way, also keeping the ending.




While the reason for this strange adaptation loop is anyone's guess, my idea is that, as it often happens with anime adaptations, the OAV was made with no plans for a full fleged series. Therefore, as book 3 leads into 4, but the OAV didn't have enough episodes to carry forward, they simply took the end of book 7, but with the characters of books 1 through 3. Then the series was made and, in order to avoid overlap with the OAV, it started off from volume 4 of the books.




The series themselves are, in general, as awesome as I remember them to be. The OAV is simply amazing, tightly plotted and boasting a rather good design and animation standard. A very unusual, low-key OP, and an amazingly fantasy-like ED - probably one of my favorites ever. The full series shows, of course, its larger budget in its very well animated OP and ED, but suffers of very common late-series fatigue: there is a jarring animation quality drop around the 20-25 episode mark (outsourced to a quick n' cheap Chinese studio?), and then pick up again for the last two episodes. There are also a couple of bizarre continuity errors - for example, body-jumping witch Karla is mentioned as possessing the body of thief Woodchuck, like in the novels; but then, suddenly and with no explanation, appears as a young woman...




Details, of course. The series is still awesome, that kind of epic, no-frills heroic high fantasy that they simply don't make anymore. Just like the novels, highly suggested for those wanting a trip down fantasy's memory lane. There are two more animated series set in the Lodoss universe: I distinctly remember Rune Knight being crap, but I'm actually a bit hazier on Legend of Crystania... might give it a shot.

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 c...