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Site Status Update (and secret project introduction)

To paraphrase the Plague Guy from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “I’m not dead.  I feel fine!”

If you follow AAW, you probably noticed the lack of updates for quite a while now. If you’ve been visiting the site for a long time, you’ve probably noticed that this happens occasionally. The good news is that this time (unlike a few years back) it has nothing to do with my health. I’m doing progressively better, in fact (props to Stanford Digestive Health Center).

Partly it’s because my mother (AAW’s now-emeritus editor and occasional reviewer, Loretta) had a major stroke, which shook my life up a bit, and partly because I bought a house, which shook it up further. Mainly, though, it’s because I decided to undertake a big personal project I’ve dreamed of for a long time, and it turns out I can only effectively do one such thing at a time. More reviews and other AAW stuff will happen, eventually (there’s a review from Chainclaw going up as soon as I recover from a main-computer failure, to start with).

This isn’t an apology post, though. It’s advertising the about-to-no-longer-be-secret project, which is not entirely unrelated to AAW’s purpose for existence: I’m making manga.

I’m starting with a one-volume adaptation of the modern-fantasy romance you may have seen advertised in the sidebar: Only In Your Dreams. It will be available webcomic-style initially, and later in print. Story and writing by Makosuke (me), art by the talented HannaPhilip.

A little teaser.

I’ve been writing stories in prose for years, but I’m into visual storytelling, and anime is where my heart is, so making manga is the next best thing. I decided to finally do something about that, and I also decided that I wasn’t going to do it half-assed—go big or stay home. So last year (just before life went haywire) I started a little publishing company, found and hired the right artist, and set about making something I’d be proud of.

Initially it will, technically, be a webcomic, and you’ll be able to read it free, a page at a time, on a 5-day-a-week update schedule, launching August 10th (barring technical issue with the launch date), and concluding about one year and 275 pages later, at the end of August 2015.

Given the slipping schedules, missed updates, and burnout common to new webcomics, how can I be so confident about the length and update schedule? Because I took the insane step of finishing the entire thing first, just to be safe. So the buffer is 275 pages. As in all of it. No lazy artist days, no early flameout, no flaky unfinished stories, no hasty end, no wildly inconsistent art, no un-inked pages because I ran out of time—this story is polished, exactly as long as I felt it needed to be, and happening in its entirety, whether anybody reads it or not.

The print version will be available for purchase somewhere around the middle of the run (ideally in time for the holidays), once I work out the logistics of that and there is (hopefully) enough interest and readership to support more than a small-run on-demand version. I will also be working on Patreon and other ways of recouping my initial investment to make future projects possible.

Is this a good plan? Probably not. But my chips are already on the table. Hopefully you’ll take a minute to check out the manga once it goes up on the web, and if you like it you’ll throw a little support behind it so I can afford to do more and different manga projects in the future. I’ve certainly got the ideas and the drive—the only question is if the stories I’m telling are worth reading.

So that’s what’s up with AAW. Here comes the first manga title of AAW’s newly born parent company, Alternate World Publishing, and its book label, Alternate World Press.

Sweet Blue Flowers Manga Finale Notes

I just read the finale of the Sweet Blue Flowers manga, and I’m somewhat torn.

On one hand, the ultimate conclusion is relatively satisfying as far as the main two characters go (something I was a bit nervous about), and it confirms that, indeed, the anime was only about a third (half, if you really rushed the second half) of the story, and despite attempting to put a period on the end stopped just as things were getting good.

On the other, the end felt like it came really abruptly; for a slice of life story about people coming to grips with their sexuality, having (major spoiler) Akira’s tentative feelings and relative romantic immaturity finally develop over the space of less than 30 pages—a chunk of which is about other characters—seemed almost like an afterthought—like the author knew where the story was going, but decided that we didn’t actually need to see Akira wrestle with things once it came down to it.  The end, basically, seemed really rushed.  Some earlier parts did as well—there are bits that just don’t seem to get the number of pages they should given the unhurried mood—but the end was glaring even by the standards of this series.

I’d normally blame that on it actually being rushed—either the author ran out of pages or got sick of the story and decided to get it over with quickly—but when you look at the story on the whole, I’m just as inclined to believe that she’s just not that good at narrative.  The series uses a lot of flashbacks and nonlinear storytelling, but frankly it just doesn’t work well—it often borders on confusing, and even when it’s not it rarely seems to add anything to the mood or drama of the story.  It more seems like an attempt to make slice of life more interesting, and one that doesn’t work well.

She also introduced a number of minor other characters that looked like they were being set up for sub-plots or something, but ended up going almost nowhere, and felt like they were cluttering up the story rather than making the world richer.  Again, it felt like the author kept coming up with characters she liked, and couldn’t resist putting them in the story, but didn’t have the time (or energy) to give them the room they needed to develop enough story to make them engaging to the reader.  Most could have been cut without removing anything at all, and I’d much rather have seen those pages spent on the main cast.

Speaking of whom, it goes somewhat with the low-key slice-of-lifeness, but it doesn’t do a particularly satisfying job of wrapping up the other two main characters, either; one gets some time that doesn’t feel at all conclusive or weighty in the final chapter, and the other was more or less written out about halfway through but felt, somehow, like she wasn’t quite done with her time in the spotlight.  At least she got something of a brief epilogue appearance later on.

The anime is an interesting contrast, because it fixed most of the narrative issues with the manga; it smoothed out the awkward or unnecessary nonlinear chunks, significantly fleshed out the rushed parts, and knew exactly when to slow down and spend time on important things and small, intricate interactions between characters.  The only mistake it made, basically, was not being a couple of seasons longer.

And that’s the real tragedy; Sweet Blue Flowers is a refreshingly understated lesbian coming-of-age romance with an unusually frank recognition of both reality and sexuality hampered only by an author who was a little too creative and not good enough with narrative flow to make the story as outstanding as it could be—it was forced to run mostly on the charm and life of its characters.  The production team of the anime clearly knew exactly how to work with and expand on this base material, but didn’t get the chance to take it as far as the story was supposed to go, leaving the anime a frustrating disappointment and the manga satisfying but rough around the edges.

Still, I’d recommend either if you’re in the mood and prepared for the flaws.

Detroit Metal City Notes

Detroit Metal City is a show about a nice guy who wants to be a mellow pop musician. Unfortunately for him, he got hired as the guitarist and lead singer of the popular indie death metal band Detroit Metal City, aka DMC. Worse, he’s really good at it, even though he hates playing the raging, Satanic, misogynistic character Krauser. His two bandmates are only slightly more into their job.

The episodes are only 15 minutes long, and are pretty much all built on the same gag: kind, meek Negishi being accosted by the demons of his alter-ego, ranging from nasty fans to accidentally slipping into character in front of the sweet girl he’s trying to impress. It’s clearly based on a gag-centric seinen manga—reminded me of a much less surrealist Cromartie High School—so the bite-sized episodes work well at keeping the pace up and not wearing out the joke.

And they are hilarious.

What could have been merely funny repeatedly builds to spectacular crescendos of horrifying social disaster or beautifully orchestrated juxtapositions of what DMC’s fans are seeing and what’s actually happening, like some kind of antisocial sitcom on ‘roid rage.  It’s got an utterly vicious, absolutely no-holds-barred sense of humor, great timing, and several times manages to keep adding another layer to the joke just when you think the madness has reached the climax.

You sort of have to cringe at some of the terrible things that befall poor, gentle Negishi and the nice people he knows, but even though I usually don’t go for that kind of embarrassment-centric humor at all—frankly, I usually hate it—I was somewhere between laughing and gasping for breath in nearly every episode.

Notably, the series has a great feel for DMC’s rebellious death-metal fans—they’ve got a mix of genuine malice and middle-class rebellious youth trying too hard to be bad that sort of rings true while being overboard enough to stay funny.  (And let’s be honest, it’s pretty easy to make fun of death metal fans.)

The intro is must-watch—it is (of course) a straightforward set of DMC’s signature song, which does a great job of establishing the band and their music (and raving fans), the lyrics are believable yet amusingly ridiculous, and there’s a fantastic bit of the band doing repeated takes into the camera that, for some reason, I just can’t get enough of.

Oh, and then there’s DMC’s fast-talking, chain-smoking, sadistic manager. She is the most foul-mouthed character I have ever seen in anime. We’re not talking “uses the blunt verb form,” we’re talking Richard Pryor having an argument with a Quentin Tarantino character. Japanese doesn’t actually have any functional profanity per-se, so to compensate, she drops at least one random F-bomb (in English) per sentence, along with a wide variety of other very graphic imagery to describe just how much things do or do not excite her.  Seriously, to edit this show for daytime TV, you’d have to just delete her entirely.

The characters—or at least Negishi—also has enough functional personality to carry the plot (though there isn’t much of an ongoing one), but just enough of a lame dark side to not feel 100% sorry for (I love that he really isn’t Krauser inside, but when he gets really angry in his pathetic The Office way he has a tendency to let Krauser out because, hey, I’m somebody in another life, really!).  You just feel 95% sorry for him.

The show’s a whole lot of fun, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.  Unlike a lot of crazy gag-based things like this, not only is it not wearing out its welcome or running out of jokes, it actually seems to be getting better—it’s building up layers of callbacks to earlier disasters and Krauser’s ever-growing and completely accidental legend of mayhem.

Good stuff.