Erased Volume 1 Review

Last March I started watching Erased, a mystery story that was being adapted by A-1 Pictures. Over the course of its airing many anime fans took notice of the series and by the end of its run we were all very engrossed in the story and how it would turn out. Fast forward a year and the manga is now being brought to English thanks to Yen Press, and I’m here to give my thoughts on it.

For those of you who don’t know, Erased tells the story of Satoru Fujinuma, who is a fairly ordinary guy to the average eye. He’s a published mangaka but struggling to pen his next hit, so he’s also working part-time as a pizza deliverer guy. However, Satoru has a special ability that randomly triggers when someone around him is in danger. This ability sends Satoru back in time to a key moment before a fatal incident occurs – how far back depending on the situation. Once in the past, he must focus on what is going around him in order to solve the incident at hand before time will move forward normally again. If he misses the obvious fix then time loops round again and places Satoru back at the beginning to relive the scene over and over again.

Usually this ability never sends Satoru back more than a few minutes, but after someone close to our hero is brutally murdered, he’s sent back eighteen years to when he was a child in elementary school. At the time many children in the neighborhood were being kidnapped and murdered, including a classmate of his: Kayo Hinazuki. Remembering the incident, Satoru vows to protect Kayo and discover the connection between the murder in the present day and the disappearance of the children so many years ago. With so much on the line, can he figure it out or will be forced to relive these days forever?

Now I’m someone who likes a good mystery story, so when Erased came along I was more than happy to give it a shot. Apart from the fact that the series doesn’t outright explain Satoru’s abilities very well, or even why he has them, the story at hand is a good one. Even for someone like me, who has watched the anime through to the end, it’s not obvious who the kidnapper is, which so far has made revisiting the story enjoyable. There are just enough hints and revelations to keep readers on their toes and it’s easy to find yourself considering the numerous possibilities as the story unfolds. It’s a series that really makes you think and that’s the real charm it has going for it.

This volume might be labelled as Volume 1 but actually it’s an omnibus that includes the first two volumes that were released in Japan. This is a good way of releasing the series in the west as the first volume doesn’t really drag you into the mystery as well as it could. It’s not until the end of the first volume that Satoru is sent to the far past, and as the real meat of the series takes place during this period, I’m glad that we had a second volume included to read through.

A problem that I do have with the manga though is sadly quite a big one. My complaint lies with the artwork itself, which spends the majority of its time looking very disjointed. Characters’ heads are drawn at too sharp an angle, so they look much more pointed than they should. There are a few scenes where a character’s hair is blowing in the wind and not once does it look natural. Instead the hair looks very flat and, as with the faces, far too rigid in design. The artwork completely ruins any attempts the series makes in conveying emotion as the expressions never feel like they fit, and throughout the two volumes the eyes of our cast look completely empty – almost dead to me. Sure, pupils are drawn okay but they’re just black circles with almost no highlights to speak of. The other problem with the eyes is that, on the whole, they’re not circular enough and often drawn to a point (I think you can see where I’m going with this). It all makes for a very jarring experience.

Initially I wondered if the issues with the artwork came about because the manga was older (not that there is anything wrong with old manga!). I honestly didn’t know. However, it turned out that Erased was first published in 2012 in Japan, so it’s not actually old at all. After that I wondered if maybe mangaka Kei Sanbe was just inexperienced, but with numerous titles to their name that appears to not be the case either. Erased ran in Japan from 2012 until 2016 and a part of me hopes that the artwork will improve in time, but I’m not willing to bet on it. It’ll be disappointing if the art doesn’t improve, because the anime of Erased was very emotional, and to lose that depth due to the artwork would be a crying shame.

Overall I liked Erased enough as an anime to continue the manga for now, but I do think the manga is a hard sell for others who perhaps weren’t big fans of the anime or haven’t seen the series at all before. If you like the sound of the story then I recommend checking out the anime, but if you can overlook the artwork then the manga isn’t a bad starting point. The Erased manga is by no means bad, it just isn’t quite as good as I was hoping it would be.

Title: Erased Volume 1
Publisher: Yen Press
Genre: Fantasy, Mystery
Author(s): Kei Sanbe
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: Teen
Length: 384 pages

Score: 6/10

Review of The Ghost in the Shell: Deluxe Edition

“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…” – William Gibson

The new Ghost in the Shell film, made in America and to be released at the end of March, has already attracted plenty of comments. Most of this commentary is along the lines of: “How come they cast Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi? This is whitewashing and racist!” or “*sigh* Oh no, not another attempt by the Yanks to make an anime adaptation.”

What is it with Hollywood and their seeming inability to adapt anything that isn’t American properly, especially when it comes to anime? Personally speaking, I have no problem with us in the west adapting stuff from Japan for our own audiences. Take The Seven Samurai – that was turned into a film set in the Wild West, and became The Magnificent Seven, a perfectly good film. The difference, however, is that they clearly changed the location and thus casting American actors in the roles was perfectly fine. The new Ghost in the Shell film fails to do this, at least from what we currently gather. It would be fine if they had set the film in the USA and changed the entire cast, but they haven’t. They still got Japanese actors to play other parts, including major roles, like Takeshi Kitano playing Chief Aramaki. If they can cast a Japanese actor as Aramaki, why not cast one for the Major? I don’t think I’m qualified to say if this is racist or not (excuse my cowardice), but I do feel that it is wrong.

If there is at least one good thing about the new film, it is that it gives everyone a chance to re-evaluate the original work. Manga Entertainment is re-releasing the films [[and the Stand Alone Complex TV series]] on both DVD and Blu-Ray on 20th March, and now Kodansha Comics have released “Deluxe Editions” of the original manga, in hardback and, for the first time, printed in the correct right-to-left unflipped format.

For those who are unfamiliar with the story, it takes place in the fictional floating Newport City in Shinhama Prefecture, and begins on 5th March, 2029. By this point in time, technology has become so advanced that people are able to possess “cyberbrains” that allow their bodies to interact with various networks. People can also gain various forms of prosthetics and even complete prosthetic bodies. The problem with all this technology is that you can be hacked and made to do things by whoever controls you.

The action follows Public Security Section 9, group of ex-military officers and members of the police who investigate crimes that normally involve the hacking of cyberbrains. They are led by Chief Daisuke Aramaki, who everyone always comments looks a bit like a monkey, while most of the main work is done by Major Motoko Kusanagi, who has undergone full-body prostheses.

There are some individual cases in this manga, but there is also the overriding case involving “The Puppeteer”, a criminal who is hacking into humans to commit a wide range of crimes. Major Kusanagi and Chief Aramaki attempt to get the bottom of these cases along with the other members of the team, including Batou, who is recognisable by his cylindrical cybernetic eyes; and Togusa, one of the few members of the team not to have any cybernetic enhancements. All the time, Kusanagi believes she able to solve the cases because of what her “ghost” is telling her, but what is her ghost? Is it a soul? Can someone so mechanical have a soul?

If you are confused by the plot, don’t worry: everyone seems to get confused by the plot of Ghost in the Shell. It and Akira are two of the most cyberpunk manga/anime around, and two of the hardest to get your head around. It is made even harder by the inclusion of loads of notes in the margins of the pages. If you turn to the back of the book, it even gives you a note of caution saying: “This book contains a great number of margin notes and commentary. If read alongside the narrative, this may cause confusion and interrupt the flow of the story, so it is recommended that they be enjoyed separately.” You know when some people tell you to read a book twice because you might miss all the hidden references and jokes in it? With Ghost in the Shell you have to read it twice to make sense of everything.

Also, because it was written in 1989, it has dated badly in some places. This is a story with all kinds of futuristic technology, but also one in which the Soviet Union still exists. There also appear to have been some problems with translation. At one point, a Tachikoma (an intelligent tank) says to Kusanagi: “We demand the use of use of natural oil!” It is odd that this error has occurred, especially when you compare it to Dark Horse’s release of the manga in 2004, which has the line correctly written as: “We demand the use of natural oil!”

Where Ghost in the Shell really stands out, however, is the artwork. Now, it should be mentioned that the quality of the art does vary. For example, sometimes it looks like Batou’s eyes are a bit out of place. But on the other side, especially when you get to the colour pictures, the artwork looks brilliant. The shading and the details all look wonderful, and the characters are also great in colour, especially Kusanagi. This does lead to one of the issue that some readers might have, which is that creator Shirow Masamune is someone who is also known for doing erotic art, and thus a few of the outfits worn by the female characters may be a bit too revealing for some tastes. Put it this way: it appears that in Masamune’s vision of the future, nurses are more than willing to wear uniforms that show off their sexy knickers.

However, arguably the fact that you are not seeing something even sexier is worse. A quick bit of research is enough to show you that Kodansha have made some changes. At the beginning of the third chapter, we see a swimsuit-clad Kusanagi on holiday on a boat. We see her jumping into it with two women already on board, also in swimsuits, waiting for her. At least that is what you see in the Kodansha version. If you read the 2004 Dark Horse version, you see that Kusanagi and the other two women are in fact naked. Not only are they naked, the two women already on the boat are having sex, and Kusanagi is about to join in, which she does in the Dark Horse version. What then follows are two pages of a raunchy, lesbian threesome, in colour – at least in Dark Horse’s copy.

In Kodansha’s “Deluxe Edition”, a title which should at least imply that it includes all of the manga, they not only put clothes on the women and moved the characters so they sit separately rather than making love, they removed two entire pages of the book. Now, if they were doing this because they were trying to make the manga more accessible to the public by getting it down to a 16+ rating for example I can at least understand the reasoning even though I would disapprove. Yet Kodansha’s version still has a 18+ “Mature” rating. If the manga is still being aimed only at adults, why censor anything? It serves no purpose.

When I was writing up the conclusion to this review I was going to argue that while there are many reasons to not buy Ghost in the Shell – including the varying quality of the art, some errors made in translation, the difficulty in understanding the plot, the fact that it is not the most feminist story out there in the way some women are depicted, and also the issue of it dating badly in certain places – it was still worth investing in. After all, it is a rare release of a hardback manga, it is now finally in the correct right-to-left format, the wonderful quality of the colour pages outweighs some of the dodgier segments, the chance to see the earliest origins of one of the most famous characters in all of manga, and then there is the biggest reason of all – it gives you a chance to enjoy the Major as she should be enjoyed, before Scarlett Johansson has any chance to potentially spoil things.

However, the censorship tipped me over the edge. Not only are there all the other issues, but Kodansha made this stupid decision to cut out a bit of the story. Yes, it doesn’t add anything to the plot, but the fact they felt the need to do this is just wrong, especially when it serves no purpose at all. This has made me so angry as to change my view, to get rid of my defence of this new book. I originally want to say “read it before the Yanks ruin it”. Kodansha have already ruined it for me.

The worst manga I have ever reviewed is Cardfight!! Vanguard, which I principally hated because it was too commercial among other reasons. Only the artwork prevented me from giving it a 1 out of 10. I think The Ghost in the Shell: Deluxe Edition may well tie with it. The only things saving it are the colour artwork, and that it’s in hardback, it’s unflipped and the Major is so iconic as a character. However, publishing a book in hardback is not a difficult thing to do; the unflipped nature of the manga is just something we now expect, unlike back in 2004 when flipping was more commonplace; and removal of the sex scene also removes another major aspect of Kusanagi as a character, in that this scene clearly proves she is also an LGBT character.

In conclusion, you can cope with it being flipped. Save your money and get the older, paperback Dark Horse version instead.

Title: The Ghost in the Shell: Deluxe Edition
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Crime, Cyberpunk, Sci-fi
Author(s): Shirow Masamune
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 1989
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: 18
Length: 352 pages

Score: 2/10

Review of Death Note: Blu-Ray Collection

death-note-cover

“You must believe in God, despite what the clergy tell you.” – Benjamin Jowlett

If Death Note succeeds in at least one thing, it is that it has possibly created the most interesting and intriguing character of all anime. This is a big claim to make, but there are so many ways that you could describe lead character Light Yagami: genius, ruthless, draconian, misguided, charismatic, megalomaniacal, psychopathic, influencer, passionate, deadly and godly. It is hard to think of another anime character so complex that they can be described in so many different ways.

It is also hard to think of a modern anime or manga that has attracted so much controversy. While there are some series that have attracted people’s anger because they contain sexual or violent scenes, Death Note has had been through several attempts to ban it in various countries including China and Russia, has been the cause of several school expulsions in America, and was even linked to a real-life murder in Belgium.

The story follows the highly intelligent 17-year-old student Light Yagami, who one day spots a black book falling past his classroom window. After class he finds the book, the “Death Note”, and takes it home with him, reading a set of instructions that say:

  • The human whose name is written in this note shall die.
  • This note will not take effect unless the writer has the person’s face in their mind when writing his/her name. Therefore, people sharing the same name will not be affected.
  • If the cause of death is written within the next 40 seconds of writing the person’s name, it will happen.
  • If the cause of death is not specified, the person will simply die of a heart attack.
  • After writing the cause of death, details of the death should be written in the next 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

Light tries the book out and discovers it actually works. After this, he encounters the book’s original owner, a Shinigami (death god) called Ryuk, who was bored and thought things would become more interesting if he dropped it in the human world. Light decides what to do with the book: he opts to use it to make the world a better place, by killing wrong-doers. He wants to make the world free of criminals, where only the good can survive in peace. Thus, Light starts to kill as many criminals as he can, and soon ends up being nicknamed “Kira”, a Japanese corruption of the English word “Killer”.

death-note-1

When so many criminals start dying all other the world, Interpol gets into contact with the world’s greatest detective, a man simply known as “L”. Using a fake video, L is able to track down Kira’s location to Kanto, and soon Light ends up in a battle of wits with L, as well as the Japanese police, of which his father happens to be a member.

As the story continues, the battle between Light and L intensifies as the viewer tries to figure out what will happen: will Light be caught, or will he be able to discover L’s real name and put in the Death Note? Also, we witness how much Light changes. He starts off a vigilante, and soon ends up becoming almost godlike in his desire and power. Light wants to become the god of this new world, and he is not going to let anyone stop him.

As stated, the main reason for watching Death Note is Light. This is a character that you can look at in so many different ways, and can develop so many different opinions on. One the one hand, he is an egotistical, draconian serial killer with a messiah complex who is responsible for the deaths of millions over his lifetime, and is so ruthless he will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. On the other hand, you could argue that because he is trying to kill bad people the ends justify the means. Over the course of the story, Light’s activities cause crime worldwide to drop by 70% and he even manages to bring about world peace. Also, as far as gods go, his abilities seem to be more on show than God’s. Then again, you can argue that while Light is in a way well-intentioned, he is corrupted by his powers and misguided by his own ideas.

death-note-2

This is also why I think that Light is charismatic. Draco, the ancient Greek lawgiver from whom we get the word “draconian”, was incredibly harsh, executing people for the smallest of offences (e.g., stealing a cabbage), but during his lifetime he was incredibly popular. People threw their coats at him in appreciation – which actually was a mistake because so many people threw their coats that according to legend he suffocated under a massive pile of them.

Similarly, Light gains many followers as Kira, and these are followers that he is able to manipulate to his advantage. In this modern age of “post-truth” politics, it seems as if it is those with charisma rather than political know-how who get into power.

This leads us to the storytelling. Original writer Tsugumi Ohba, along with artist Takeshi Obata, are able to do something remarkable: they are able to take Light Yagami, who is the biggest murderer in possibly all anime, and make him likeable. You sympathise with his cause, because his cause is ultimately to make the world a better place by getting rid of people who are awful, even though the thing he is doing is awful too. Ultimately, there is that bit of us that is a bit like Light, in that at some point just about everyone, whether as a child or an adult, has thought of someone particularly bad and hoped they would die. We all know of sci-fi stories about wanting to travel back in time and kill Hitler; we all wanted to get our own back on people who have committed atrocities around the globe; even during the US election, I bet you there were millions of people who looked at Trump and Clinton and thought to themselves: “Wouldn’t be brilliant if one or even both of these people just dropped down dead, so that the US can have a leader who is actually good”.

death-note-3

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you were to ask me which character in western fiction Light is most similar too, oddly I would go for a sitcom character: Rik Mayall’s right-wing MP Alan B’Stard in the satirical sitcom The New Statesmen from the late 1980s and early 1990s. B’Stard, like Light, is horrid in so many ways: corrupt, greedy, power-hungry and bigoted. However, B’Stard is also rather likeable, mainly due to what is seen as a lack of hypocrisy. B’Stard was honest about his views. The character is honest when says things like: “I hate queers almost as much as I hate poor people”, or when he once suggested the way to cut NHS waiting lists was to shut down the health service, and he is the only character in all fiction to be proud of the fact he has an incredibly tiny penis and it takes him less than a minute to orgasm.

Again, similarly Light lacks hypocrisy. He obviously has to lie to hide his identity from the police, but as Kira there are no double standards with his brand of justice. If you are suspected of having done something wrong, regardless of your race, gender, sexuality, class or whatever, you are down for the chop. There are those he does keep alive for his own purposes; those people will be due to die later. The main differences between the two characters is that Light is not comedic, but serious in his goals. Also, if B’Stard did exist, his name would no doubt go in Light’s book.

Ultimately, it is up to you the viewer as to whether Light is good or not. Is he a brilliant vigilante righting wrongs, or just a murderer? Personally speaking, I would classify him as an antihero. His goal is basically to improve the world by letting the good survive, it’s just that his way of achieving his goal is so unforgiving in its scope. As to whether I want him to succeed, shockingly for myself there is a big part of me that says: “yes”.

Regarding the rest of this collection, the only extras are two OVA collections which retell the entire series. The quality of the animation is good, there appears to be nothing wrong with the subtitling, and the soundtrack mainly provided by metal acts Nightmare and Maximum the Hormones is great. On the downside, the second half of the series is not as good as the first due to some characters not appearing in it, and depending on whether you are for or against Light, the ending might disappoint you.

If there is any problem with it, it is there could be another Death Note related murder: in the form of a Hollywood adaptation of the series next year, with Nat Wolff playing the role of a character named “Light Turner”. Now, I personally don’t mind them changing the name of the character and setting the story in the USA. That is no different to taking The Seven Samurai, setting it in the Wild West, and turning it into The Magnificent Seven. Yes, there are always going to be people upset that the cast is not made up of Japanese actors and that there isn’t a Japanese actor in the lead, possibly even calling it racist, but by the sound of things, it’s at least a bit better than other manga adaptations I can think of. What I’m bothered about is the fact that L is being played by American actor Keith Stanfield when in the story it is made clear that he spent much of his childhood in England, while his assistant Watari is still being played by an Asian actor, Paul Nakauchi. This seems inconsistent. Surely you should change all the characters or none of them.

The big problem however, is that I cannot think of a decent American adaptation of an anime. If this is the first then that would be great, but I doubt it will, and what I suspect will happen is that more American parents will panic about their kids being corrupted.

In the end, the best thing to do is watch this series and decide for yourself, because it is a brilliant story with so much going on around it.

Title: Death Note
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Crime, Horror, Psychological, Supernatural, Thriller
Studio: Madhouse
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2006
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 1081 minutes

Score: 9/10