An exceptionally fun urban fantasy of the “magic in a modern city” type, as opposed to “my supernatural boyfriend” type, written by a TV writer whose credits include Doctor Who.

Peter Grant is a smartass rookie cop in London whose life changes dramatically when the sole witness to a decapitation murder turns out to be a ghost whom only he can see.

The plot is not exactly strikingly original, but the narration and atmosphere are outstanding. What makes me dislike a lot of urban fantasy is that it’s clearly supposed to be witty, but isn’t. This novel is full of quotable bits of very authentic cynical cop humor, and often made me laugh aloud. I suggest reading the first chapter, if you have an e-reader, to see if you too like the voice.

I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the London setting or of Grant’s West African heritage, but within the novel itself, both are vivid and believable. His London absolutely feels like a real city that you visit for the space of the novel, multicultural and sprawling and full of the little details people who love their hometown know.

The magic and magical beings, again, are not terribly original, but done extremely well, with humor and cleverness. The supporting characters are fun, sketched in bright strokes— I especially liked Grant’s mentor and a family of river spirits. This is a real craftsman’s book.

Note that it contains some gruesome murder scenes, including one with a dead baby. (The dead baby is not graphically described.) They’re not gratuitous and they’re essential to the plot, but as a murder mystery, it’s on the gritty rather than the cozy side. That being said, it’s overall a cheerful, playful book, not one where rocks fall and everyone dies.

I think it would appeal to fans of Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos series. It also reminded me a bit of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, but Peter Grant is a much more interesting protagonist than Richard Mayhew.

There are two more books in the series, but the first, at least, stands alone. I will definitely read the sequels.

Midnight Riot
The latest from Kaori Yuki, queen of crack, and full of all the beautiful men, id-tastic author’s notes, parrots of doom, deadly dolls, zombies, and utter WTF that one might expect if one is familiar with her work. I enjoyed the hell out of it, and if you like any of her other her manga, you probably will too. It reminds me most of Godchild, but so far without the emotional intensity – but then, Godchild didn’t have that in early volumes either. It’s very funny, completely bizarre, and makes a lot more sense than Fairy Cube. Of course, everything ever makes a lot more sense than Fairy Cube.

The first few pages are fairly incoherent, and I periodically got lost until I figured out that there are at least three different characters who are tall beautiful men with long blonde hair. One of them is named Lucille, but that did not fool me. I immediately pegged him as a man. Probably due to his resemblance to Rosiel.

I cannot even begin to summarize this beyond saying that it’s about a traveling orchestra that slays zombies with music, so I will quote bits of dialogue instead:

“You’re a man-eating doll… a guignol!”

“How dare you speak that way to me, minstrel scum!”

“When father told me we’d have visitors from the palace, I was sure they were finally sending the soldiers we’d requested to wipe out the guignols… the diseased dolls that infest the outside world!”

[Author sidebar featuring a drawing of a governess in a sexy maid outfit, with the caption, “Yes, I like big breasts! I wish mine were big!”]

“Go ahead and eat me! At last, we’ll be together!”

[Author sidebar featuring a drawing of an adorable hedgehog, and the note, “When the hedgehog isn’t visible, he’s probably under Gwindel’s hat. Aren’t hedgehogs cute? I can’t resist them. Anyway, the story is supposed to be set in the Middle Ages (sort of) with a French air – not that you’d know it! That’s okay. I like an anything goes approach.”]

“Have a look. A bird cage, just for you. Now you will sing for me alone! My canary for life!”

“Maids! You come with me! [Spoiler character name!] You stay here and infect Lucille!”

What is amazing is that this barely scrapes the surface of the glorious WTF contained within this single volume of manga. I promise you, if this tempts you read it, you will not feel like I spoiled a thing.

Grand Guignol Orchestra, Vol. 1
The second branch features yet another put-upon woman, several folklore motifs familiar to me from stories from different continents, and the sudden recognition of an element from Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

It begins with Bendigeidfran (I’m not even going to mentally attempt that one), king of… London. Or maybe he just owned the literal crown of London. (I did check the notes, but they were less than helpful on this issue.) He had two brothers, Nysien (good) and Efnysien (not good.) Matholwch (also not even attempting), king of Ireland, sails up and asks to marry Branwen, who I think is Bendigeidfran’s sister and one of the Three Chief Maidens of the Island (no idea what this means.) She is gorgeous.

Celebrations are arranged. At this point it casually mentions that Bendigeidfran had to sleep in a tent because he couldn’t fit into a house.

“Eh?” I thought. “He was hugely fat? He was incredibly tall? How big are these houses, anyway?”

I begin picturing Bendigeidfran as 6’5” and 400 lbs.

Efnysien, because he’s evil, mutilates Matholwch’s horses. I bet when he was a little boy, he set fires and wet the bed.

Matholwch, very confused as well he may be, starts to leave, but is caught by messengers and explains how he’s been insulted. To try to make up, Bendigeidfran gives him a cauldron that will return dead people to life, though they will be mute. It’s Lloyd Alexander’s zombie-making cauldron! Man, that creeped me out when I read those books as a kid.

Assuaged, Matholwch returns to Ireland, taking Branwen with him. It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye people at court start muttering about the mutilated horse insult, and poor Branwen was forced to cook for the court and be boxed on the ears by the butcher. She and Rhiannon should get together and form a support group.

The resourceful Branwen teaches a starling to talk, and sends it off with a message for her brother. Bendigeidfran takes an army and goes to rescue Branwen, but he’s so huge that they sail across the sea, and he wades. Okay. Not 6’5” and 400 lbs! There’s a great scene in which beflummoxed messengers report the advance of the man-mountain upon Ireland. Branwen tells her husband to make peace, and he agrees. This is the part which is quite lyrically retold in A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

But the Irish have a cunning plan! They hide a bunch of soldiers in sacks hanging on the walls of the (presumably gihugic) house they’ve built for Bendigeidfran. Efnysien says, “What’s in this bag?” “Flour, friend,” replied the less-than-cunning bag. In this manner, one by one, Efnisien discovers the soldiers and crushes their heads with his bare hands. Ew.

He then, in much the same random manner in which he mutilated the horses, murders Branwen’s son by throwing him in a fire. I had not expected to find crossover possibilities between the Mabinogion and Criminal Minds, but Efnisien seems like a classic disorganized sadist.

Unsurprisingly, a giant brawl breaks out, and Efnisien leaps into the cauldron, breaking it and killing himself. Only seven men escape, one of whom is Rhiannon and Pwyll’s son Pryderi.

And then! The wounded Bendigeidfran orders his men to cut off his head and take it back to London. (Shades of Barbarika: Before decapitating himself, Barbarika told Krishna of his great desire to view the forthcoming battle, and requested him to facilitate it. Krishna agreed, and placed the head atop a hill overlooking the battlefield.) The seven men, Branwen, and the head depart. Branwen dies of heartbreak. There’s a really confusing part where they all meet some guys who tell them that there was some sort of uproar and some guy named Caswallon killed the heir and is now king of London. They all feast for seven years, and then they seem to drift into an Otherworldly Hall with a Door That Must Not Be Opened and feast there for eighty years without care or sorrow.

Having the head there was no more unpleasant than when Bendigeidfran had been alive with them. Because of those eighty years, this was called the Assembly of the Noble Head.

Then someone opens the door, and they remember everything and return to London with the head, which is still protecting London to this day.

Meanwhile, back in Ireland, everyone is dead except for five pregnant women in a cave. (!) They give birth, the boys grow up and have sex with everyone else’s moms, and Ireland is repopulated.

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the sheer overwhelming weirdness of this branch. Someone should name their garage band Five Pregnant Women in a Cave.

The Mabinogion
I did not receive any of the Harlequin titles, which I note all actually exist. Nor did I receive The Very Virile Viking or The Vampire Queen’s Servant, which also exist. I already own Clan of Death: Ninja, and have it reviewed somewhere under the tag genre: ninja.

Sadly, I am unaware of the existence of Knives Chau plushies. Cthulu plushies exist, and I waaaant one.

In-To-Me-See does not exist. Thank God. It was a fictional book on Sex and the City.

Nobody has ever sent me a head or a fetus (yet), though [livejournal.com profile] oyceter emailed me an article about a found fetus in a jar.

[livejournal.com profile] tool_of_satan sent me Spock, Messiah! It is even worse than it sounds: sexist, Islamophobic, profoundly stupid, abominably written, boring when not offensive, and did I mention sexist? The original cover is hilarious, though, with a strangely-proportioned Spock looking paranoid, insane, and constipated.

The Federation has the bright and totally ethically unobjectionable idea of infiltrating an uncontacted planet by hooking up the landing party’s brains to the brains of unknowing locals (via a long-distance telepathic thingummy), so that the landing party will react in-character as their local telepathic doppelgangers. THAT couldn’t possibly go wrong!

A repressed female ensign deliberately takes a nymphomaniac persona to see what it’s like, but her repressed crush on Spock manifests and so she hooks him up to a mentally deficient and insane local religious fanatic with a high sex drive so he’ll want to fuck her.

The possessed ensign “ruts like a bitch in heat” with Spock. Spock goes insane and takes over everything. This would be much more fun if we cold see Leonard Nimoy playing a different character, but since we can’t, it’s pretty dull. There’s more rutting and attempted rutting, and it’s STILL dull.

I did not expect this book to be as bad as its title indicates. Amazingly, it is.

Thanks Dan!

View on Amazon (with less hilarious cover): SPOCK, MESSIAH! (Star Trek)
I first learned many of the legends and historical incidents of India by reading Amar Chitra Katha comics, so this graphic novel struck me as the perfect introduction to Romance of the Three Kingdoms when I saw it in Taiwan.

It is now several years and reading attempts later. Now that I’ve also seen Red Cliff, I think that is a better introduction. This is no knock on the book, which is a truly valiant effort to condense an enormous text into a single and slim graphic novel. Amar Chitra Katha’s Mahabharata was something like forty issues long, and probably would have been much more confusing if I wasn’t already familiar with Indian names and had additional exposure to the story via the Doordarshan miniseries (which is about 100 episodes long.)

Though there are many entertaining moments, I am still completely confused and forget who most of the bazillion characters are, except for the ones who were also in Red Cliff. I’m sure eventually I’ll become sufficiently familiar with Chinese names that this will be less of a problem for me, but it did not help that not only did everyone have their regular names, they also had courtesy names. It reminded me of when I was reading Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles for the first time, and I went through the entire book thinking that “Sir Walter Scott” and “Buccleuch” were two different people rather than the singular Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch.

On the positive side, the graphic novel has lots of decapitations (including one of a very startled-looking horse—poor horse!), done in a cartoony style with people shouting “Die!” This is something which I never fail to enjoy.

A few more highlights:

-Cao Cao claiming that he wasn’t trying to assassinate anyone, he was just giving him a sword!

-The caption “Zhuge Liang made his dazzling appearance.”

-Zhuge Liang’s totally awesome stratagem with the arrows and the straw bales.

-Huang Gai getting himself beat up for the greater good. I am certain John Woo will film this in a very slashy and fetishistic manner in Red Cliff 2, and I for one can’t wait.

-Zhou Yu and Zhuge Liang writing “fire” on their palms. (Zhou Yu comes across really differently here than he does in the movie!)

-The chapter title “Zhou Yu Exasperated To Death.”

-Guan Yu playing chess while undergoing surgery.

-The hilariously large-assed illustration of Guan Yu on page 105 – even worse since he’s being decapitated at the time. It’s his tragic death scene, and I could look at were his enormous, globular ass cheeks.

-Zhuge Liang winning a battle after his own death.

View Red Cliff on Amazon: BATTLE OF RED CLIFF PART 1 & PART 2 ENGLISH SUBTITLES - 2 DVDS
In 1881, meek Hester Marsh inherits her great-uncle Diablo the Great’s riverboat magic show, after he accidentally decapitated his wife onstage while performing a magic trick and then shot himself.

It’s a fest of stereotypes as she meets Gypsy Mara, superstitious black boatmen, and “the embittered dwarf, Quantimo.” And yet, so entertaining! Shadowy figures try to push Hester overboard, spooky women lurk at her bedside, Gypsy Mara croaks dire warnings, handsome men gallop about on stallions, the ghost of decapitated Mary haunts the riverboat, and (since they’re still using it in the act) the guillotine claims another victim!

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s Gypsy Mara explaining what she wants to save Hester from: “From the deep night and the spider’s web. From the crawling things that tunnel in the earth and feed on festering mortals.”

Which I guess is better than festering balls. Though if I understand her correctly, she’s saying that Hester needs to be saved from earthworms.

The only thing this story lacks is a monkey, so I have provided one in my icon.
Note: No disrespect is intended to actual victims of swine flu or other real illnesses. This is about illness as metaphor in fiction.

Thoughts to ponder:

Is there any relationship, either direct or by similarity, between modern hurt-comfort and Victorian fictional illness fetishization?

What is the most current manifestation of illness as metaphor? Do tragically sensitive and artistic characters still always die of heart disease, cancer, leukemia, and/or AIDS, or is there a new preferred disease?

Remember all those YA novels where someone always died of cancer (or occasionally drowning or bee sting) by the end? Are current YA novels less death-laden?

What is the most cracktastic anime/manga/romance illness?

[Poll #1392575]
This is exactly what I've been dying to find for ages: a shounen manga with all the shounen tropes I love - martial arts, personal growth and pain written on the body, "I will get stronger," the truest expression of love being "if I go berserk, I want you to be the one who kills me," warrior camaraderie, character development expressed via fight scenes, training sequences, and heartbreaking flasbacks - but with female protagonists.

Claymore, I love you and hug you and squeeze you!

In a generic European medivaloid world, monsters called yoma impersonate and infect humans, sometimes taking over one member of a family, only to transform into monsters and eat everyone's guts. Only one force can stop them - the warriors called Claymores for the huge swords they carry. All Claymores are female, and have gained their powers at a dreadful price: they are part yoma themselves, and must constantly fight their own demon side. Eventually, they lose the battle, and must be killed by one of their own.

This is a story in which women and girls get all the fighting and angst and "am I becoming a monster" and same-sex soldierly bonding usually reserved for men. There's a moment late in the series when they're reading the roll call of Claymores, and it's something like "Alicia... Pamela... Kathy... Rafaela... Dorothy..." Just seeing all those women's names made my heart grow several sizes.

The women are not objectified in any way: no panty shots, no peek-down-the-cleavage - there are even some non-sexual nude scenes which are not fan service-y.

It's pure awesomesauce with a side of swordplay-induced limb loss. See tags to get a sense of all the parts that go flying. I probably missed some, even.

Click here to buy it from Amazon: Claymore, Vol. 1 (Claymore) (v. 1)

Spoilers!

Read more... )
Yoko Nakajima is a modern Japanese teenager distinguished only by her total passivity and natural red hair. One day a bunch of monsters explode into her classroom! And a blonde guy hands her a sword and tells her to fight! She bursts into tears and refuses, and he makes a disembodied head demon crawl into her body and take it over to fight with that sword!

Yoko is taken to a very cool otherworld, where she proceeds to be the most reluctant, whiny, and passive heroine ever. If this didn't make the read difficult enough, nothing good happens to her for the entire first two-thirds of the book.

I watched part of the anime based on this and was intrigued by the worldbuilding, but ultimately gave up due to disliking every single character. I was told that character development was the entire point, but I didn't stick it out long enough to get to that part. But since I can take a book at my own pace, I speed-read this to see if the changes were actually worth it.

To my surprise... yes, they are. At the two-thirds mark, Yoko has changed a lot, the plot stops being one of relentless grinding misery, and it becomes an intriguingly different epic fantasy with some unusual takes on old tropes. I did think the pay-off made the whole book worth reading, but your mileage may vary. The translation is pretty clunky, incidentally.

Click here to see it on Amazon: Twelve Kingdoms - Paperback Edition Volume 1: Sea of Shadow (v. 1)

Spoilers for the beginning of the anime, which may be spoilers for later books in the series.

Read more... )
Yuri Narushima is the mangaka who created Planet Ladder, a fantasy series noted for the extreme complexity of its background-- and by extreme, I mean that two volumes in, there was a diagram of seven planes of existence, their political set-ups, and the ways in which they were related to each other that looked like a circuit board and was just as easily comprehensible-- and the fact that the character with the most poignant and tragic backstory was the spirit of a Japanese engineering student who was swept out of the Earth during WWII, and eventually transplanted into the body of a giant robot chicken.

Planet Ladder, apparently loosely based on a Japanese folk tale, loosely follows a basic quest framework, in which a Japanese girl is swept into a fantasy world because she's the Chosen One who has been prophesied. (For those of you who hate Chosen Ones, note that this is satisfyingly upended later on.) She meets an emotionless constructed boy with a gold hand (I think he has a twin, but I forget the details) and has a femmeslashy relationship with a bad-ass woman named... er... Bambi.

In an interlocking plotline, a young man rules a world which succumbs to a horrifying disease which makes your limbs, including your head, suddenly fall off. He is saved only by being put in total isolation. By the time the heroine meets him, he is so traumatized that he passes out if anyone touches him. His sole companion is the giant robot chicken. This is because a scientist was trying to save the population by transplanting their souls into robots. But before this plan could be launched, almost everyone was dead, with only one robot finished, so the last dying man's soul had to be popped into that one. That prototype robot happened to be a giant chicken. Just go with it.

There's also a complicated cross-dimensional political story which I found almost totally incomprehensible. It did not help that in an early volume, when I was still trying to remember who was who, Tokyopop's handy character guide switched the descriptions of the hero and the villain.

Complete in seven volumes, with a somewhat rushed finale but pleasing conclusion. Dense epic fantasy with angsty men, tough women, and a giant robot chicken -- what's not to love? The art's good too.

The Young Magician also uses the narrative strategy of dropping the reader directly into the middle of the action and letting us try to put together the sense of the quite complex story as we go along. One does get the sense that there is a coherent story, but the fly-on-the-wall viewpoint makes us work to understand it.

As best as I can figure out, the Guino clan of magicians adopted a traumatized, amnesiac little boy during the Crusades and attempted to teach him magic. The boy, Carno Guino, bonded with another magician, Rosalite, whose body stopped growing when she was a child.

It's now modern times in Hong Kong (the magicians are either near-immortal or operating out of a timeless dimension) and Carlo and Rosalite are trying to stop a magician from another clan who is imitating Jack the Ripper in order to read the future in human entrails.

Insanely complex, with tons of largely-untold backstory. The foreground has an unusual amount of social realism, with a sub-theme about the difficulties of racial minorities in Hong Kong. (One character is a Filipina maid, and another is East Indian/British.) The conclusion alternates rather gory magical battles with lengthy infodumping about the relationship of magic and genetics. The tough-talking Carno is apparently one of two main characters, and the other one doesn't even appear in the first volume.

I await the arrival of some sort of Fowl of D00M.
This is the sort of story where one can quite honestly write, "I forgot to mention that Heaven and Hell collided some volumes back."

It also features this exchange, which I believe can be appreciated out of context, and is probably the only time in the entire series when I liked Rosiel:

Sandalphon (creepy): Once I have my own body... I will devour you! I'll devour you all!

Rosiel (deadpan): Well, I'll look forward to that, Sandalphon.

You think that lump of flesh clinging to life in that tub is my true form?! )
I finished this series a while ago, but was unable to write it up because every time I attempted a thoughtful, coherent analysis, the content I was trying to analyze was so deliciously demented, so carefully foreshadowed yet totally insane, that my head exploded.

So I will not analyze. Perhaps someone else can analyze in comments. I will merely provide a highlight reel. And, in case this persuades others to persevere beyond the awful and incoherent first volume, this is the kind of series where it's not all that spoilery to mention that a fleet of flying cannibal zombie angel embryos is sent out to destroy the universe. Also, the art is jaw-droppingly beautiful, especially on the covers.

Setsuna escapes on the back of a flying whale. )
Last year I visited New York City in order to meet my mother. (She lives in India, I live in the USA; the meeting place was more convenient than one might imagine.)

She stayed with some friends of hers who are dancers. She had brought me an illustrated children's Mahabharata and some Amar Chitra Katha comics. I looked through them, showed the dancers some illustrations, and told them some stories. Apparently I focused on decapitated and exploding heads.

For newbies, here is my Fannish Guide to the Mahabharata..

About that exploding head: A man named Jayadratha had a boon that whoever dropped his head to the ground would have his own head explode. When Arjuna and Jayadratha met in battle, Krishna instructed Arjuna to let fly an arrow so that when it decapitated Jayadratha, it would carry his head to Jayadratha's father, who was watching the battle from the sidelines, and drop it in his lap. Arjuna did so. Jayadratha's father leaped up in horror, letting the head fall to the earth... and his own head exploded!

You've got to be careful with the wording on boons.

As a direct, albeit belated result of my telling of such stories, the dancers are doing a piece on "the decapitated head through the ages," and have requested that I send them illustrations and stories. I obliged with a few Mahabharata stories, plus some Amar Chitra Katha comics, including a valiant Rajput woman who cuts off her own head.

I now have three requests for you:

1. The dancers were particularly taken by my story of Jayadratha's decapitated head and his father's exploding head. They requested an illustration. I can't find one. Does anyone have one or know of one? A link, an emailed image, or even a mailed Xerox if you wish to go that far would be great.

2. Do you have any good head stories that I might have missed or forgotten? Not limited to the Mahabharata!

3. I did send them the one about the nodding self-decapitated head on the hill who watched the war of Kurukshetra. [Linked via the "disembodied head tag.] Does anyone have an illustration for that?
In light of the troubled times we live in and the many serious issues which surround us today, I would like to discuss a profoundly important topic, namely, The Decapitated Head In Narrative.

I am eminently qualified to discuss this subject, as I once mailed a head to my collaborator and friend [livejournal.com profile] telophase.

I was thinking about it because, as you all know, I am reading The Mahabharata, and that contains a number of decapitations, including two of the best stories about heads that I have ever heard:

First, there is the self-removed magic nodding head on the hill. You have to read the comments and follow the links, especially the last one in the original post, to get the full effect.

And then there is the Exploding Head Of Jayadratha's Father. At the climax of a very intense battle, Arjuna shoots an arrow to cut off the head of his enemy, Jayadratha. As his... um, for the benefit of the newbies, I'll just say "best friend and ally" Krishna had instructed, Arjuna aims the arrow so it carries Jayadratha's head off the battlefield and dumps it in the lap of Jayadratha's father, who was watching from the sidelines. To the astonishment of everyone but Krishna, Jayadratha's father's own head explodes!

Krishna explains that Jayadratha's father had made a pre-emptive attempt to get revenge on anyone who might kill his son by making it so that whoever held his son's decapitated head would have their own head explode. Oops! Those sorts of boons never do work out as intended.

There are, of course, many heads in anime and manga. Sometimes they are in jars. Perhaps my favorite is the head in a jar in Yami no Matsuei, not because it does anything in particular, but because of the reason for its jarred existence: a man killed his brother, then kept his head in a jar in the hope of some day bringing him back to life... so he could kill him again.

I also like the disease in Planet Ladder which causes people's limbs or heads to suddenly fall off, while they are going about their daily lives. It brings up the issue of emotional response:

Drawing of someone's head suddenly falling off: comedy gold.

Drawing of character we already know, but now with her handless arms wrapped in bandages: horrifying and tragic.

The decapitated head, clearly, creates some narrative difficulties. One is unintentional comedy. When characters weeping over the decapitated body of their friend go on to pick up and caress the head, particularly in visual media, it is about fifty-fifty whether I will weep or snicker.

Then too, decapitation is instantaneous. (Or unwatchably horrible if it isn't.) This precludes the possibility of long death scenes. (Unless it's the sort of story where heads can keep talking) I recently read a book where the main character canonically dies from getting his head cut off. But it seemed very much the kind of book that would have a long and dramatic death scene. To my delight, the author resolved this problem by having the character die from having his head half cut off, thereby sticking to canon but getting in the requisite lengthy (and, I must say, memorably disturbing) death scene.

What are your favorite moments in literature (or anime, etc) involving heads?

Please do not spoil significant plot points. For instance, if you want to write about heads in X/1999, you may describe the scene, but please don't say who is cuddling whose head.
No real spoilers, but this probably won't make much sense unless you know who the characters are.

I am beginning to experience the frustration felt by so many others before me: I love this series, but it's apparently been abandoned, and I can't find any publication schedule for the English editions of the rest of the series. The last one I have is number fourteen, but the series goes to... what... nineteen or twenty? Waaah! I want to read the rest!

I don't really have that much to say about its qualities, as opposed to the plot, that I haven't said before: the art is incredibly beautiful, the character designs are easy on the eyes and easily distinguishable from each other (an important quality in a story with such a huge cast) and the characters are also well-drawn in the metaphoric sense. The artists are exceptionally good at creating moments of visual tenderness between characters: a touch of hands, a meeting of shy glances, an over-eager set of the shoulders when that special person walks into the room.

Especially between Kamui and Subaru. Subaru has a much bigger role in the manga than in the anime, and now I see why people like him so much. (Poor guy.) And I love the scene between Sorata and Arashi in volume 14 where he touches a lock of her hair. Awwww....

The manga is, of course, more detailed than the anime, but I have to say that the anime generally did an excellent job of integrating the short back stories that appear at the end of each volume, focusing on individual characters, into the series. In the anime, I especially liked how they included Seiichiro Aoki and Daisuke Saiki's; in the manga, Yuto Kigai's romance with the fountain is lovely. I have no idea why the anime did not put in that Kusanagi's power is that he can hear the voices of plants and animals. It would have taken them thirty seconds to establish, and it makes all sorts of things about his role and character make sense.

On the down side, the manga is a bit repetitive, and the whole CLAMP school plot seems unnecessary and self-indulgent. There's cross-over characters who I don't care about because you obviously have to have read aomething else to know who they are, and I generally want to see less of them and the goofy blonde schoolboy who's in love with Kamui, and more of the Dragons.

The manga is more violent, which in this case is not an advantage. For instance, in the anime a character is crucified and then stabbed in the heart. In the anime, she's crucified, stabbed in the heart, then dismembered and decapitated. Apart from the death-by-giving-birth-to-shinken scenes, which have to be gruesome, I don't think this is necessary and leads to a problem. If you're going to kill a character and then have someone pick them up to mourn over them, it's better if their body is more-or-less intact. Visual image of person holding dead body of the one they love: moving. Visual image of person holding the decapitated head of the one they love: faintly ludicrous.

So at approximately what point does the manga leave off? Have any of the main characters died yet? Does Subaru face off with Seishiro? Does Sorata get a chance to save Arashi? Does that really cool scene of the final showdown between Karen Kasumi, Seiichiro Aoki, Yuto Kigai, Satsuki, and the Beast happen, or was that made up for the anime? (If it was, hats off to the anime scripters.) And is it ever revealed who Kamui's father is, or is that not important?

I assume the wonderful scene between Fuma and Yuzuriha must happen in volume fifteen, as I was expecting it in fourteen.
.

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