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August 16th, 2018

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Manga Review: One Piece V 9 Eiichiro Oda @shonenjump @vizmedia

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I have to admit that I was feeling a little ho-hum about this story arc  at first. I did read this years ago, and I even saw these episodes of the anime, but for some reason, they didnt leave much of an impression. I am not a big Nami fan (or I wasnt), and the thought of sloughing through her backstory just wasnt overly appealing. Oops. I was wrong. It was pretty angsty, and this volume has one of the most touching panel sequences to date.

Coco village is being terrorized by Arlong and his weird fishy pirates. This is Namis hometown, where she and her foster sister grew up. They were raised by Belle-Mere, a former pirate. She rescued the girls from dire circumstances and vowed to raise them as her own children.

Money was tight, and Nami quickly earned a reputation of being difficult, just like her foster mother was before her. When Arlong decides to take over the village, charging each citizen an exorbitant sum to stay alive, there isnt enough money for Nami, Nojiko, and Belle-Mere to all pay the fee to live. Bad things happen, the girls are traumatized, and Nami, with her gift for cartography, is recruited into Arlongs gang of violent pirates. Arlong agrees to allow her to buy the villages freedom for the sum of 100 million berries, and Nami dutifully begins amassing every penny she can.

After stealing from Luffy and the gang, she almost has enough to seal the deal. Then Usopp shows up and totally disrupts her carefully thought out plans. Way to go, Usopp! Not wanting Arlong to kill him, Nami does the deed instead. With Usopp out of the way, shes ready to get back down to business  until Arlong betrays her. Ouch.

There is a scene that almost made me cry, just after the village marches to their certain doom to save her from having to work for Arlong again.  Nami breaks down and asks Luffy for help, afraid of losing everyone she cares for. Nami is proud and used to taking care of herself and shielding her village from the wrath of the pirates, so trusting Luffy to give her a hand is a big step for her. And when Luffy places his straw hat, his greatest treasure, on her head  I literally got chills. Luffy trusting Nami with his treasure, while preparing himself to go and defend Namis treasure  this entire sequence was so well done. I love reading shonen battle manga for little gems like this one. 

Grade: 4.25 stars

Review copy borrowed from my local library

About the book:

Luffy and crew must contend with “Saw-Tooth” Arlong and his nasty Fish Man pirates, who specialize in using mafia tactics to squeeze the lifeblood from innocent villagers. Needless to say, it comes as a big surprise to everyone that pirate-hating Nami is actually a member of Arlong’s crew!

August 14th, 2018

Mini Manga Review: Slam Dunk V 14 by Takehiko Inoue @shonenjump @vizmedia

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The game against Kainan continues! Akagis back in the game, but can he play at 100%? His ankle looked like a pumpkin in the last volume! I dont think an entire roll of tape is going to fix that. I hope he doesnt do more damage and get himself knocked out of the rest of the tournament if Shohoku advances!

Ill give Shohoku this  the guys just dont quit. They powered through Akagis absence and Rukawa almost single-handedly got them back in the game. Now Akagi has something to prove, because for the past three years, he as dreamed of nothing but getting to Nationals and being recognized as  a power player. Everything is on the line for him, and hes willing to injure himself further to win this game. What about the next one?

Fatigue is catching up with Shohoku, and once again, they are battling from a 10 point deficit. Coach Anzai changes up the strategy, and calls upon Hanamichi to once again be his secret weapon. These ego strokes get Hanamichi so energized, it doesnt matter how exhausted he is. Suddenly hes as fresh as a spring daisy. I wish I had half of his energy when I need it the most!

This was another exciting installment in the series. The pages were turning so fast Im surprised they didnt catch on fire! The back and forth scoring is nail-biting, and guess what? Hanamichi gets fouled while hes driving to the basket, so he gets to blunder into free throw territory again. Will he make a fool of himself again?? His unconventional shooting method may look ridiculous, but if it works, so what?

There are still two minutes left to play, and its still anybodys ball game, so make sure you have V15 on hand before you pick this one up!

Grade: 4.25 stars

Review copy borrowed from my local library

About the book:

Winning isn’t everything in the game of basketball, but who wants to come in second? It takes dedication and discipline to be the best, and the Shohoku High hoops team wants to be just that. They have one last year to make their captain’s dream of reaching the finals come true–will they do it?

August 13th, 2018

Manga Review: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Part 1—Phantom Blood, Vol. 3 by Hirohiko Araki

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This series. I just dont know. Its a little gorier than the other Shonen Jump manga that Im reading, and the character designs are baffling. How do these guys fit through most doors, which are designed to accommodate normally proportioned mortals?

This volume wraps up the first story arc. JoJo has cornered Dio, disrupting his evil plans of turning the village of Wind Knights Lot into a zombie wasteland. JoJo knows that if he and his allies dont stop Dio here and now, the world will suffer horribly. So he throws everything on the line, willing himself to defeat his childhood rival once and for all.

Most of the this expanded volume is comprised of fighting. I have discovered a new appreciation for the page compositions for the fight scenes. They are exciting, varied, and jampacked with excitement. I still think the backgrounds are too cluttered, and the clutter takes away from the action sequences. My biggest disappointment is with the character designs, which have not aged well. Big, bulky, and so out of proportion, its like watching a bunch of body builders on mega steroids going to war. I just found it very distracting. On the plus side, I did love the characters clothing. Yes, their wardrobes brought on waves of admiration, and I realized that both Dio and JoJo have the best tailors in Great Britain.

The ending of this story arc is dark and not uplifting. I am pretty sure I hated it, but I am still dazed by Dios talking head in a jar, and cant fully focus on my feelings. I have requested the next two books in the JoJo series, because I am having trouble just turning away from this one. I dont find it particularly appealing, but to broaden my reading background, I should probably continue with one of the classic shonen series. The next story arc takes place with a different hero and decades in the future, so I am curious to see how Araki handles the story with JoJos descendants.

Grade: 3 stars

Review copy borrowed from my local library

About the book:

The conclusion of the Phantom Blood Arc! Jonathan Joestar and his mentor Zeppelli continue their pursuit of the villainous vampire, Dio! But to get to him, they must first face down his murderous henchmen! In battle after bloody battle, JoJo and Zeppelli are pushed to their limits and beyond!

August 10th, 2018

Manga Review: Dance in the Vampire Bund V 11 by Nozomu Tamaki

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I felt a little more connected to the story with this volume. After the long gap of time between reading the series, I, naturally, forgot what was going on, and who was doing what, and felt really out of touch with the previous volume. I settled into the story with V 11, and enjoyed it a lot more than V 10. Both because the story makes sense again, and because there was more action this time around. And the evil Mina imposter is about to get her comeuppance. I hope.

This volume starts with the icky scene of fake Mina molesting poor Akira while hes sleeping. Yuck. Thankfully that did not last long, and its back fake Minas deceitful schemes to further disrupt the Bund and the vampires living in it.

Yuki is the only one who has realized that Mina is a dangerous fake, and of course she is in absolutely no position to do anything about it. Until suddenly she finds the strength and the power to tip off Akira, without fake-Mina being aware of what she was doing. Haha, Mina, the jokes on you!

Soon after, Akira disappears, and Mina realizes shes been had. After putting out an APB on Akira, things really hit the fan. Vera, Wolfgang, and the Beowulf all return in a flurry of guns and threats, only to be quickly subdued. Ah, man! That leaves only Akira still on the loose to put an end to the threat to the Bund, the vampires, and Mina. How will he get off the island when every single person on it has been ordered to apprehend him?

This was a fast-paced and suspenseful installment of the series. I couldnt put it down. Akira quickly gets into a whole mess of trouble, but he skillfully manages to outmaneuver fake-Mina, both through sheer luck and with the help of friends in high places. Things still look rather hopeless at the end, though, as his dad is being held prisoner in the Bund, Akira has been cut off from his allies, and he has no idea where the real Mina is being kept. Time is of the essence, because the fake-Mina has powers over the vampires that only Mina should, further cementing her position on the throne. If Akira doesnt find Mina soon, things will get even uglier.

I still find the art, particularly the characters noses, kind of jarring, but I love Akira #2s character design. Especially his hair. How does he get all of that glorious hair?

While Dance in the Vampire Bund isnt my favorite series, I like it well enough to want to finish it up. Since these have to go back to the library, I have to power through the final three volumes.

Grade: 4 stars

Review copy borrowed from my local library

About the book:

The New York Times Bestselling series, now a hit anime from FUNimation!

The queen of vampires, Mina Tepes, has been replaced by an imposter, and only Yuki, now a mute, knows the truth. While the subjects of the Vampire Bund are unaware that an evil doppleganger rules over them, Mina’s most trusted friends remain sequestered on the sidelines. It’s up to Yuki to risk her life to convince Mina’s werewolf bodyguard Akira that the time has come to fight back.

Dance in the Vampire Bund is an ongoing manga series that features stunning artwork and an enthrallingly original supernatural narrative. The manga has been adapted into a hit anime series in Japan and licensed by FUNimation for North America. Volumes 7-9 of Dance in the Vampire Bund have hit the New York Times Manga Bestsellers List several times!

August 9th, 2018

Manga Review: A Bride’s Story V 2 by Kaoru Mori @yenpress

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Wow. This series is stunning so far. The hardcover presentation is top-notch, and the art is gorgeous. The age difference between Karluk and Amir didnt even bother me as much this time around. The entire volume was engaging, and I couldnt put it down.

A Brides Story is a slice of life series, and the first two volumes focus on Karluk and Amir, his older bride. Theirs is an arranged marriage, and the chapters revolve around Amir and Karluk, as well as Kurluks extended family. Pariya, a village woman about Amirs age, is introduced, and though the two are complete opposites, they strike up a friendship over the community oven while baking bread. I hope we get a volume about Pariya and her so far unsuccessful attempts to find a husband. With her somewhat crabby disposition and lack of skill with needlework, the search has so far been fruitless.

Amirs awful family reappears, and they are determined to take her back home, by force, and marry her off to a brutal clan. Two girls from her clan have already been married off to them, and both have been killed, violently. When the village puts up resistance, Amirs family decides to fight back, under the cover of night, and steal her away, kicking and screaming if necessary.

Ugh. I am not a fan of Amirs blood relatives. Good thing shes found a new, safe home with Karluks family. They treat her with respect, are grateful for her contributions to the family, and have embraced her as a member of their family. When Amirs own older brother refuses to put a stop to his familys plan to retake her and send her off to a bunch of killers  ugh.

I could gush about the art all day, but  instead Ill just ask you to check with your local library, or hop on over to your favorite bookstore, and scoop up a volume of A Brides Story. Its beautifully illustrated, with interesting characters, and compelling vignettes. 

Grade: 4.25 stars

Review copy purchased from Amazon

About the book:

Acclaimed creator Kaoru Mori’s tale of life on the nineteenth-century Silk Road continues as the young bride, Amir Halgal, struggles to remain with her new groom despite the wishes of her family, who would see her wed another. Will Amir be able to preserve the bonds she has cultivated in her new home?

August 8th, 2018

Manga Review: Slam Dunk V 13 by Takehiko Inoue @vizmedia @shonenjump

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While Hanamichi is steaming on the bench, Rukawa rallies a drive against Kainan. Everything is cruising ahead like roses  until Akagi twists his ankle landing a jump. In obvious pain, he leaves the game, and Hanamichi overhears him instructing Ayako to tape it up. She fears that its broken, and Akagi, in an unusual show of temper, yells at her to do as he says. He has waited three years to make it to Nationals, and a little injury is not going to stop him. Inspired by his resolve, Hanamichi is determined to cover for Akagi and lead the team to victory!

Yet another winner in the Slam Dunk series. This volume encompasses the end of the first half of the game, and man oh man is it action packed. Kainan is faintly gloating, knowing that Akagi is Shohokus team leader, and without him, they will be hard pressed to play well. Little do they know! Both Rukawa and Hanamichi are determined to step up and fill Akagis massive shoes! Coach Anzai, in one of the funniest panels of the series so far, instructs them to defend the low post with their lives. Then he touches Rukawa and Hanamichis hands together. Hahaha! The reactions from both Rukawa and Hanamichi are comical. And completely in character.

What follows is a head to head contest against Hanamichi, Rukawa, and Kiyota. Hanamichi is a rebound machine. He dubs himself King Kongs little brother, and darned if that isnt perfectly descriptive. This volume showcases everything I love about sports manga. The art is one big, action packed panel after another. Rukawa makes one mind boggling play after another, scoring basket after basket as he blows by Kainans defenses. Hanamichi fights for rebound after rebound, refusing to lose to either Kiyota or Rukawa. Shohoku is out matched, but the team finds the determination to elevate their skills, matching, and even surpassing their opponents. 

Grade: 4.5 stars

Review copy borrowed from my local library

About the book:

Shohoku is down fifteen points against the Kings from Kainan, so whom do they turn to in an effort to get back in the black? Superstar Kaede Rukawa, of course. Rukawas natural abilities help put some crucial points on the board, and a comeback seems possible, but when Captain Akagi twists his ankle on an opposing players foot, Shohoku quickly finds itself without one of its biggest offensive and defensive forces. Can Sakuragi step into Akagis shoes and keep Kainan from running away with the game?

August 7th, 2018

Manga Review: One Piece V 8 by Eiichiro Oda @shonenjump @vizmedia

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I actually read this in two chunks because I got distracted by life after Luffys battle with Don Krieg.  After several volumes of frantic action, sometimes the lulls are a little too tame for my mood. The next story arc with Arlongs pirate crew wasnt my favorite, so I didnt really have much incentive for blowing through this volume. Lets see if my opinion of Namis backstory has changed in 15+ years since I first read it.

The fight between Luffy and Don Krieg is crazy. Not sure how Luffy managed to stay alive after all of the abuse from Krieg, but somehow, battered and bloody, Luffy survives long enough to take down the evil pirate captain. And almost drowns in the process, because he is flung into the sea after the fight. Eating that Gum Gum fruit really wasnt the smartest thing he could have done, but without it, he wouldnt have been able to repel some of the attacks hes endured, so I guess it wasnt  completely terrible. With Sanji there to save him from drowning, Luffy survives to fight another day.

This volume sees the addition of another crew member, as Zeff pretty much kicks Sanji off the Baratie to go live his dream of seeing all of the oceans and all of the fish swimming in them. Sanji isnt completely convinced he should leave the man who saved his life when he was a kid, but his desire to see more of the world finally convinces him to go with Luffy. Luffy couldnt be more pleased, because now he will have delicious food to eat, since none of the rest of the crew can cook for a darn.

And then they  are chasing after Nami, who has for some reason sailed to Arlongs island. Arlong is a vicious pirate captain, and he makes Don Krieg look like a lightweight. Arlong and his crew are part fish, so they are incredibly strong and incredibly cruel. They destroy entire villages if just one person fails to pay their required tribute, and effectively keep the people under their control in a state of improvised terror. Arlong has no redeeming qualities that I can think of, so it will be a relief when Luffy sails into the picture and takes these villains down.

Grade:  3.75 stars

Review copy borrowed from my local library

About the book:

If Luffy wants to get out of a year’s worth of chore-boy duty on the oceangoing restaurant Baratie, he’s got to rid the seas of the evil Don Krieg. Unfortunately, Krieg’s armed to the teeth and aided by his “Demon Man,” Commander Gin. The battle takes a surprising turn as Krieg reveals his increasingly deadly military might! Meanwhile, Nami has sailed off on the Merry Go with treasure in tow, and she’s headed to Arlong Park, home of creepy Captain Arlong and his Fish-Man Pirates. What business does Nami have at Arlong Park, anyway? Something fishy is going on and Luffy’s crew just may be in over their heads!

August 6th, 2018

Tranquility

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Last months I’ve been in search of tranquility. It was not easy, since the more I searched for it the farther away it seemed to be. Strangely, and I would say even magically, when I stoped pursuing tranquility in an active manner several events in my life fell just in the right place.

I can finally start feeling some kind of inner calm.

From now on I will do my best so I don’t pursue tranquillity again

August 5th, 2018

Material Matcha – Rare Craft Matcha Green Tea from Japan

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I love what my two friends Etienne and Morgan have done after quitting their corporate jobs.

They created Material Matcha Uji, one of the most disruptive tea companies of recent years. Now they have their unique craft Matcha green teas after a year of patient development and hard work.

Material Matcha Uji is the brainchild of two foodies at heart, who after years in finance & IT gave up their big corporate jobs to go on a quest for purity: to find and create the greatest matcha green teas ever.

Etienne Denoual, co-founder at MMU, explains: It all started from a deep wish to reconnect with nature and authenticity. When I went back to Kyoto, a city I had lived in for years before, it was a revelation. We just had to do it.

Making high grade Matcha is no walk in the park. Indeed, they faced serious issues: while so-called matcha is booming worldwide (it is often low quality green tea dust), its production has seen a steep decline in Japan. Farmers are facing increasing expenses, weak demand for superior quality matcha, and lower sales value. Even more worrying, the aging tea-making community faces successor problems, endangering its very existence.

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The two founders, who willingly admit that two years ago they knew next to nothing about tea-making, and were both rather coffee persons, took a fresh look to the issues and devised an innovative development model: if superior matcha doesnt work in the domestic market anymore, they would take it abroad for the first time, where foodies are thrilled by Japanese delicacies.

Their matcha blends, the result of more than a year of hard work in the fields and in their workshop, are uncompromising, bold, sophisticated, and probably unlike anything you have ever tasted before. Straying from the very classical image of Japanese tea ceremony, their craft matcha belongs to the realm of guilty pleasures, not unlike artisanal chocolate or micro-distillery whiskey.

Because Matcha is a precious and pure material, they package their blends in different raw materials honoring the minimalism of Japanese craft & culture.
“We consider our packages and vessels as something one lives with, a celebration and everyday ceremony of the purity of Matcha.” explains Morgan Josset, co-founder.

Support their Kickstarter’s Crowdfunding campaign
Backed by a devoted community and now ready for production, they are asking backers to help them buy a whole year of harvest of several plots of land that are especially promising. Providing tea farmers financial stability and peace of mind, they push them to always favor quality over quantity, and hope that younger generations will one day take up the torch!

Back them on Kickstarter

The bridge that crosses over the Moon – Togetsu bridge

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The bridge of Togetsu (In Japanese written with the characters !  K: crossing, moon, bridge) is one of the most emblematic of Kyoto. With its 155 meters long it was first built in the 9th century to cross the Katsura River towards the mountain of Arashiyama . Although it has been rebuilt and restored several times, the current version remains in the same place as the original.

Crossing the bridge and strolling along the river bank is a pleasure enjoyed even by the emperors of ancient Japan. It was Emperor Kameyama in the 12th century who named the bridge. He was sailing with his boat at night and enraptured by the beauty of the moment he declared: “It seems that the bridge is crossing the moon.”

A local legend says: boys and girls have to cross the bridge without looking back at any time. If they ignore this rule it will bring them bad luck of not looking back. I wonder if Ghibli was inspired by this bridge to for Spirited Away but instead of not looking back you have to hold your breath.

Fukui

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After visiting Shirakawa-go we went north all up the way until Fukui. It was my first time in Fukui prefecture. We decided to only visit Fukui City, it was a big mistake… the city is disappointing and boring. The castle was so unimpressive (there is not even a castle, it is a dull government building) that I didn’t even take a single picture of it! If you are curious, this is a picture of the “castle” I just found on Fukui’s government website:

Don’t bother too much visiting the castle. The only beautiful and worth place to visit around Fukui’s city center was the Yokokan garden. The Matsudaira lord, who ruled Fukui at the beginning of the Edo Era lived in these gardens considered by the Japanese Government as a National Designated Place of Scenic Beauty.

One morning is enough to visit the Yokokan gardens. I would not recommend spending the night in Fukui City, leave to the northern coast. Next time I go to Fukui I will focus on visiting the villages on the seaside which they say are beautiful.

August 3rd, 2018

Manga Review: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Part 1—Phantom Blood, Vol. 2 by Hirohiko Araki

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One thing I can say about JoJos Bizarre Adventure  it has a ton of action. If JoJo isnt battling his lifelong nemesis, Dio, hes training under his new mentor, Zeppeli. JoJo fights against vampires, zombies, and giants in this volume, and ho-boy, if that isnt exhausting, I dont know what is.

The first half of this volume is all JoJo and Dio duking it out over the body of JoJos dad, who made the terrible call of inviting a murderous monster into his home. During a touching moment, Lord Joestar apologizes to his son for always being so hard on him, while giving Dio pretty much a free pass. Poor JoJo. All he ever wanted was the love and respect of his father, and when he finally gets it, his dad is only moments away from death.

Soon the mansion is consumed by flames, and still Dio and JoJo trade wilder and wilder blows as the house collapses around them. Somehow JoJo survives and is nursed back to help by  you guessed it!  his childhood sweetheart Erina. She never stopped having feelings for JoJo, so for a few blissful days, JoJo and Erina enjoy rediscovering each other. Then Will Zeppeli arrives to shatter JoJos idyll, and its back to training!

Zeppeli has mastered the Sendo method of ripple energy (Harmon). By mastering breathing techniques and increasing the oxygen in the blood stream, one can increase strength, healing, and defense. Or something like that. All I know is that Zeppeli jabbed his finger into JoJos stomach and miraculously healed all of his broken bones. Uh. Moving right along.

I’m not totally won over by this series, which is utterly ridiculous, but it’s engaging enough that I want to know what happens next. Character designs are big and bulky, and the fight scenes are cluttered and chaotic, making it hard to follow the action. Still, there’s a certain charm to JoJo and his quest for justice against the evil, not-so-human anymore, Dio, and I find myself looking forward to finding out what happens next. Viz has done a bang-up job on these hardcover editions, and its almost a shame to not keep checking them out of the library and completing the series.  So I guess I will.

Grade: 3.25 stars

Review copy borrowed from my local library

About the book:

As if Dio wasn’t diabolical enough, now he’s an immortal vampire with incredible strength! But Jonathan Joestar’s not one to back down, even when it seems like victory is impossible! It’s a classic battle! Good versus evil! Grit and determination against power and arrogance! Who will win?!

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