Review From the Vault: Eyeshield 21 (Manga)

[Posted to Comics class discussion on January 21, 2014]

The other day I did a review of the manga of Yu-Gi-Oh! Which essentially was just me pointing out how violent it was. To be honest, I didn’t go into much more detail than that, which I’m regretting a bit, so I thought I should talk about something that I CAN go into more detail on: Eyeshield 21, which is my personal favorite manga. As I notice, I’ll probably end up summarizing the first volume as I explain the plot, but it IS kind of important to understand what this series is about.

Eyeshield 21 is a manga about American Football. Alright, go ahead and laugh, but trust me, this is far from the strangest manga that Japan has ever coughed out (Seriously, go check out Fighting Foodons). The story centers around Sena Kobayakawa, a Japanese Teenager who has just gotten into Deimon High School with his childhood friend Mamori Anezaki. Within minutes of his acceptance, however, two mysteroius students from the Football club arrive to congratulate Sena, which turns into a ploy to try and recruit him to the Football Team. These two figures later turn out to be the plup and friendly Ryokan Kurita (Playing Center) and the terrifying devil of a man with amazing intellect: Yoichi Hiruma (The Quarterback).

Meanwhile, it’s revealed that Sena has been a gopher for most of his school life, forced to run errands for local bullies to avoid getting beaten up. A new group of bullies at Deimon (Kazuki Jumonji, Koji Kuroki, and Shozo Togano) follow suit, and soon Sena has to run from the bullies to protect Mamori and his newfound friend Kurita. Hiruma, meanwhile, witnesses Sean flee from the bullies and recognizes Sena’s speed and skill as a runner (Developed in those years of running for bullies) and recruits (Read: Ties up and drags him to the clubhouse) Sena as Running Back for the Deimon Devil Bats. Hiruma explains that if any of the other clubs would catch wind of Sena’s running skill, they would all try to recruit him and Sena would never get a moment of peace, so Hiruma gives Sena a tinted eyeshield to wear while playing, and the name “Eyeshield 21” to play under.

So now Sena is a football player. The problem? He hardly understands the rules, and even with him, the Devil Bats only have three players. They recruit “support” players from other sports teams at Deimon to fill in as substitutes, and as such have never won a game. On top of that, soon after Sena joins, they have a game against reigning Tokyo champions, the Ojo White Knights and their star Linebacker Seijuro Shin. The Devil Bats will need to overcome the Knights and even more teams, though, if they wish to make it to the national championship game: The Christmas Bowl.

This series was actually surprisingly long at 37 volumes, but they’re utterly action-packed. Watching the Devil Bats grow as a team from a small 3-man group, learning the history of the team, and of Kurita and Hiruma (as well as a third original team member named Musashi who left the team for unknown reasons) is just a blast. Along the journey, plenty of new characters join the team, who I’ll refrain from naming for the sake of spoilers, but they’re all just full of character, and they have such a great chemistry together that it’s impossible not to like them. On top of that, the opposing teams have plenty of interesting characters themselves, such as the main opposing team: The Ojo White Knights. The players on that team (Particularly Shin, Sakuraba, Takami, and Otowara) end up having just as much history and personality to rival the Devil Bats, and you end up rooting for them as well despite their rivalry with Deimon.

Other than the obvious conflict that comes from playing Football, there are some incredible antagonists that the Devil Bats have to face, from Agon Kongo to the monstrous Rikiya Gaou, and later on, even a cunning trickster to match Hiruma with Clifford, a quarterback from America.

One positive of this series was always its fantastic artwork. Dynamic and bright, it was always obvious what was going on. Each team has their own unique uniform, every character had their unique look, facial expressions, and on a whole it made what is one of the most chaotic and jumbled sports on the planet easy to understand by being so deliberate with the art-style. Speaking of which, don’t worry if you don’t understand the rules of Football (Sena doesn’t either, at first!), the series does a great job of explaining the rules in small chunks so you can pick up the rules as they slowly become relavent.

It’s difficult to really explain what makes this series work, but the writers give a weight to each play, each player, every scenario that draws you in and makes you invested in the game as if it were your home team playing. Watching the Devil Bats grow over the course of the series makes it feel like an enormous journey once you reach the end and look back to see where they began, and trust me, it’s worth the time investment. Eyeshield 21 is an action manga to compete with the best of them. Give it a read if you get a chance, and follow the Devil Bats all the way to the Christmas Bowl.

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Review From the Vault: Joy to the World (Webcomic)

[Originally posted to Comics class discussion board on March 20, 2014]

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Since this review, Wrathborne DID continue Joy to the World, sort of rebooting it, though he finished through a specific arc. He mentions returning to it later, but currently it isn’t easy to find. His old website for the archive (joyslittleworld) was taken down, and Wrathborne took all of his art off of Newgrounds as of 6/3/2016 in favor of finding a new venue due to some Newgrounds drama that I have no idea of. If you check his Newgrounds page, he’ll likely post where his new stuff is once he figures it out, so here’s a link to his Newgrounds for those interested: https://johnathan-wrathborne.newgrounds.com/art/ ]

[UPDATE 9/4/2016: The archive from below still works for those who wish to read it.
For the record, I can’t find either of his YouTube channels (I was previously subscribed to them), he hasn’t posted on his Newgrounds page in months, and I have yet to find a blog. It could be that he’s done as a content creator (he’s been talking about stopping with animating and writing for several years now), or, more optimistically, he’s taking a break before he starts again.]

[UPDATE 3/24/2017: Christ I have to keep updating this frequently. You’d think I was obsessed or something. Guess I just want to give potential fans all the information on seeing his work as possible. I did actually fine Wrathborne’s new website recently ( http://www.wrathborne.org/ ). He went on hiatus for a bit due to his Grandmother’s health and I won’t get into that, but he does have some new stuff coming. He’s re-drawing a lot of the Joy comics, has some Joy animations planned, and, at some point in the future does plan to return to Joy, though from what I can tell he doesn’t plan on that anytime soon. At the moment, he’s working on finishing an animation that he’s been working on for over two years… so if you’re a fan of his work, that’s where you can follow him. He also updated his Newgrounds page finally, but after he finishes this animation (titled 2XXX), he plans to finally, officially, and permanently leave Newgrounds.]

PRETEXT:

This review is going to be a lot shorter than my other reviews because this particular comic is younger and less complex than the others I have discussed. In addition, this is somewhat a touchy subject as just recently Wrathborne has been struggling with his personal and creative life and has taken an indefinate break from animating and announced that he won’t continue this webcomic beyond December of this year. With that said, this is still a very well done comic and very worth discussing. I’d link to the Joy to the World animations as well, but Wrathborne just recently took them all down in a fit of frustration. If you dig around on the internet, you might be able to find copies of them somewhere.

EDIT 3/27/2014: Wrathborne has officially ended the Joy to the World webcomic as of yesterday due to issues in his personal life. He’s taken the strips and all of the wiki material off of his website, though archives of the comics still exist on this website:

http://joysworldcomic.thecomicseries.com/

Joy to the World was originally an animated series on Youtube created by animator Jonathan Wrathborne (Best known for creating several “Tankmen” animations, Left4LOL, and Bio-Hazardous). The series was about an angry little girl who spends much of her time ranting on her Video Blogs about movies, video games, politics, pop-culture, religion, authority, or really anything that pissed her off. The episodes were short and sweet, and Wrathborne originally intended it to be a short series and was, at one time, writing the final episode to the series. That plan fell through, however, and he instead created the Joy to the World webcomic.

The comic keeps true to the story and contains scenes of Joy simply ranting on her V-Logs, but also includes many scenes of her at school and home depicting her single mom (Who is entirely tired of her Daughter’s crap but has learned how to put up with it), and her friends Neil, Kimmy, and Stanly. The series is able to keep a very casual nature to it and mostly focuses on small adventures ranging from one to ten strips long, keeping things fresh and interesting.

The comic uses a simple four panel setup, which makes each strip a quick read with satisfying payoff. Wrathborne seems most comfortable writing in these short bursts, and it shows, often giving big laughs or very quick touching moments. Wrathborne has a very smooth style of drawing, and despite being black-and-white, the images really overflow with personality and style, from Joy’s smile (seemingly showing fangs) to Neil’s calm demeanor and intent to finish a book he’s reading before diverting his attention elsewhere.

There isn’t a huge overarcing story behind this webcomic, there’s no huge following or huge production budget, it’s just one man telling a simple story about a little girl’s life, and that simplicity is what lends Joy to the World its greatest strengths. Give it a read and maybe you’ll find a little Joy in yourself.

Review From the Vault: Dragon Drive (Manga)

[Originally posted on Comics class discussion board on January 31, 2014]

All of the comic reviews I’ve done thus far have been so positive that it’s almost sickening. I feel like I’m just gushing about my favorite things, but, while I do like to do that, sometimes you just need to point out the flaws in something and shake it about while screaming “YOU COULD HAVE BEEN SO MUCH MORE!” As such, Dragon Drive.

This is actually a pretty low-key Manga as far as I know. I’ve never heard anyone say a word about this manga in the past, so what got me interested in it? Well, years ago I was subscribed to Shonen Jump Magazine, which was a monthly magazine filled with the latest chapters of various manga, plus various art corners, behind-the-scenes stuff, and random other articles like various ones about the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game. Some issues began with the first chapter of a new manga, which would be a one-off for the magazine and sort of a sample for those who were interested in buying the manga. Personally, I loved leafing through the new stuff, and some of those previews led me to my two favorite mangas of all time: Eyeshield 21 (Which I’ve already gushed over) and Beet the Vandle Buster (More on that in a future review, perhaps). So, when I saw this preview for an interesting little manga called Dragon Drive, I got hyped and started buying it. While it started on a good note… well, let’s just disuss the story, shall we?

Dragon Drive is about a secret underground gaming operation for kids where players use virtual reality technology to enter a game called Dragon Drive, a dule-style battle game where each player gains control of a dragon to battle their opponent. Okay, I’ll admit it, that concept alone was what made me start buying the manga, but the first volume really was an exciting journey. The story follows a new player by the name of Reiji Ozora who sneaks away from home to play this new hot game. Entering the game, he finds himself partnered with a pathetically small and weak dragon which he names Chibi. However, after a close battle, Chibi reveals a great power within him, a power which could make Reiji the most powerful player of Dragon Drive.

I’m going to be honest, I initially thought that this series was going to take the Beyblades approach. That is to say, the story would be about Reiji and maybe a team of a few others traveling the world and battling the greatest teams from across the globe towards a championship of sorts. I still think that would have been the smarter, if safer and maybe less rewarding in theory choice. Instead, the series completely throws the reader for a loop and takes a hairpin turn right down Digimon Alley. Yeah, they start to throw a lot of jargen at you about a “Virtual World” which Reiji, Chibi, and Yukino (The obligitory female best-friend character similar to Anzu in Yu-Gi-Oh! or Mamori in Eyeshield 21) and to be completely honest, I never quite made heads or tails of it. Even trying to read through it again to get a clearer idea for the review, the idea of plowing through all 14 volumes again just completely killed my will to do it. Regardless, unlike Digimon, the virtual world stuff just kind of staggers around a bit before getting resolved and they all live happily ever-oh balls there’s a second arc, isn’t there?

Yes, the second arc picks up a few years after the first arc, if I remember correctly. Dragon Drive is still huge, and a new player named Takumi arrives to tear up the scene. With his dragon Raikoo (surprisingly large and not-worthless like Chibi initially appeared), Takumi makes a splash like Reiji did. It’s at this point that I’m starting to get hesitant about buying new volumes, but with the arc reset I get a surge of hope that the writer finally takes it in an interesting new direction. No such luck, I’m afraid, as the second arc plays out very similarly to the first arc with the primary difference being that now the real world is in danger because of stuff from the virtual world (I believe there was an arc in Digimon very similar to this one, if you recall watching that you probaby have an idea of where it went). Honestly, at this point the series was just staggering on grasping at straws to try and keep the reader interested by constantly upping the ante. At this point, the only reason I continued to read was becuase I was still incredibly optimistic about the series getting better. Around Volume 12, I was about to just give up when my issue of Shonen Jump Magazine, in the “Upcoming Manga” section, detailed that Volume 14 of Dragon Drive would be the final volume. Being somewhat OCD about my collections, I decided to tough it out to the end. Unsurprisingly, the end was also very bland, with it just trying to make an epic ending that came off as very predictable (Sort of a “BY YOUR POWERS COMBINED I AM CAPTAIN PLANET” sort of “Final Power Attack” thing).

Honestly, Dragon Drive reminds me quite a bit of another manga I read called Legendz. I rather liked that series compared to Dragon Drive despite it having a similar premise because, being only 4 Volumes long, Legendz kept things moving and fresh and was gone before it overstayed its welcome. Dragon Drive, on the other hand, got stale fast and never really evolved beyond what it was, which was (if I haven’t already made it clear enough),  a cheap Digimon knock-off. Give a pass on this manga. If you’re interested by the premise, go read Legendz instead. It’s the shorter and sweeter version of this story.

Review From the Vault: Pokemon: Hard-Mode (Webcomic)

[Originally posted on comics class discussion board on January 24, 2014]

http://www.nuzlocke.com/index.php (Nuzlocke’s personal website, which contains all 3 arcs of the still running Hard-Mode, plus his discontinued “Speedrun” webcomic and the in-progress “Space Cat” webcomic)

http://s7.zetaboards.com/Nuzlocke_Forum/forum/30751/ (The Nuzlocke forums, where many others have posted and completed their Nuzlocke challenges. There are some good reads in there if you take the time to pick through them)

Oh, I hear you all now: “What, first Yu-Gi-Oh! and now pokemon? Jack, you’re an enormous nerd, you know that?” Why yes, yes I am. The difference being that this review isn’t about the pokemon Manga (Which does exist. It’s actually incredibly long, and though I haven’t finished it, what I’ve read is pretty good). Instead, I want to talk about a webcomic that took the Pokemon community by storm: Pokemon Ruby: Hard-Mode.

Before I get into what the Comic is about, let’s talk a little history. Back in 2010, a user by the name of “Nuzlocke” posted a comic on the /v/ board of 4Chan (Because really, everything on the internet is connected to 4Chan in SOME way) detailing a run of Pokemon Ruby that he would be chronicaling. Wishing for an extra challenge, he self-imposed two rules on himself:

  1. You may only catch the first pokemon you encounter in each area.
  2. Release a pokemon if it faints (It’s dead).

With the rules in place, Nuzlocke dubbed the run “Pokemon: Hard-Mode” and created what would end up being a 14-strip long comic detailing the adventure of the main character, Ruby, as he tackled this challenge.

This challenge would become extremely popular in years to come, and the challenge would simply become known as “The Nuzlocke Challenge” (Though Nuzlocke himself continued calling it Pokemon: Hard-Mode). You can find hundreds of people detailing their Nuzlocke Challenge throughout the internet, be it through animation, comic strips, Let’s Plays, screen-shots, stories, poems, and there are dozens of variations of the original Nuzlocke rules to make the challenge more difficult or what have you.

So now, what about Ruby: Hard-Mode? The original series was a simple tale about the main character of Pokemon Ruby, who, obviously, is named Ruby. Ruby adopts what he simply calls “The Challenge” and is determined to become the Pokemon League Champion with these rules. Along the way, he gathers a team of pokemon with their own unique personalities such as Katie the Spheal, Mr. Humpy the (Female) Numel, and of course, Nuzlocke.

Here is where the name “Nuzlocke” comes into play. Early on in the series, after Ruby’s Zigzagoon and Beautifly die, he begins to blame his Whismer for being too weak, whereupon Ruby’s Seedot is seen drawn with the face of John Locke (From the television series Lost) and says “I believe this is all happening for a reason.” This would become sort of the tag-line for the series. Seedot eventually evolves into Nuzleaf (The combination of John Locke and Nuzleaf leading to “Nuzlocke”) and perishes in a gym battle, leaving Ruby to grieve and think of the consequences of this challenge for his friends and pokemon.

It seems like a laugh, thinking of someone writing a comic about their Pokemon playthrough, but it’s surprisingly well done. If you’d believe it, Nuzlocke is still writing this series today. After Ruby: Hard-Mode, he went on to Fire-Red: Hard-Mode and is currently writing/drawing Pokemon White: Hard-Mode. In addition, he started two additional comics: Speedrun (Which he discontinued) and Space Cat (which he’s writing alongside Hard-Mode). While the original Ruby: Hard-Mode has a very rough stick-figure black-and-white art style, looking at his comics today, it’s clear he grew quickly as an artist, and the comics are now smooth, colorful, and beautifully done. More importantly, it’s packed with humor for all sorts of people and will have you laughing throughout the read.

What about the story? Well, as I explained, in Ruby: Hard-Mode, we simply follow Ruby as he attempts “The Challenge”. Though still rough, as party members fall and Ruby struggles to the end of his journey, you really feel a twinge for Ruby’s loss. However, the story really gets going in Fire-Red: Hard-Mode. Not wishing to spoil the ending of Ruby: Hard-Mode, I’ll go into as little detail as possible, but it takes place approximately two years after the events of Ruby: Hard-Mode. Ruby decides to move regions and attempt to resume his challenge in the Kanto region. Meeting a new rival with Gary Oak and an evil organization named Team Rocket, Ruby has a new slew of challenges between him and the League.

People who watch Lost will notice right off the bat that Fire-Red: Hard-Mode references the hell out of Lost. Hell, parts of the plot outright mirror Lost, and as a fan of that series, I really enjoyed how he put a pokemon spin on an already oddball story. Other references and in-jokes litter this comic (Including a rivalry between Ruby’s Charmander and Gary’s Squirtle that ends up as a Dark Knight reference, in a good way) making it very funny. At the same time, with the stakes still high, there are times where the comic is an outright tear-jerker. Party members falling will tug on your hear-strings, learning the history between Squirtle and Charmander is its own sad story, and the plot resolution with Giovanni (The leader of Team Rocket) is an utter shock for non-pokemon fans, and a nice reference and nod for the more hardcore pokemon fans. Not to mention, Ruby’s struggle against redeeming himself and risking his new friends on this dangerous challenge has the reader right alongside Ruby with his tough decisions and his risky battles right to the bitter end. The final comic in Fire-Red is really what sets it aside and makes for such an excellent webcomic. Again, I’ll avoid spoilers, but it’s a hell of a comic, and a great cap-off to the arc.

So, with the comic still running and still managing to draw you in, this is a classic in the making. If you haven’t yet, I highly suggest picking it up. It’s a quick read once you get going, and well worth looking into.

Review From the Vault: Yu-Gi-Oh! (Manga)

(This Review was originally posted in the discussion board for a class I took about comics. I posted several others and will be posting those here as well for archive purposes. This was originally posted on January 16, 2014)

I’m a huge manga nut. It was mostly the advent of the anime versions of Yu-Gi-Oh! and Dragon Ball Z that made me notice Manga, and after skimming through a few volumes of Shonen Jump, I was hooked. Since then, I’ve read quite a few manga series including Legendz, Dragon Drive, One Piece,  Beet the Vandle Buster (On haitus since 2006…)[EDITORS NOTE: As of late 2015, no longer on haitus!], Yu-Gi-Oh!, Kinnikuman 2 (Ultimate Muscle in America), and Yu Yu Hakusho, just to name a few.

Something I realized after only reading a few of these is that it wildly changed my perspective of shows that I thought I had a good grasp on. For example, Kinnikuman 2 or Ultimate Muscle as it’s known in America is, in its American Anime form, a comedy cartoon about superpowered masked wrestlers. That still holds true for the manga, with the slight change that it is is horrifically violent. No, I’m completely series, you see guys straight up get bones ripped out of their arms; it’s rather jarring. The most jarring of these mangas, however, is a bit of a surprise: Yu-Gi-Oh!

Yu-Gi-Oh! today is best known for the popular trading card game, but it actually started as a manga series. Shockingly, there’s hardly any of the actual card game in the original 7-volume run; the game doesn’t even appear until chapter 9! So what was the series about? Well, if you watched the Americanized Anime, this part should sound familiar: Yugi Moto is a student at Domino High School who lives with his Grandpa, who runs a gameshop. A bit of a nerd obsessed with games, Yugi is treated like an outcast by everyone except for his best friend Anzu (Tea Gardner in America). However, there is one bright point in Yugi’s life: an Ancient Egyptian Puzzle given to him by his grandfather. Yugi has never completed it as it’s the most complicated puzzle he’s ever attempted, but as the legend goes, whoever assembles the puzzle is granted a wish. This isn’t easy as Yugi is constantly harassed by Jonouchi (Joey Wheeler) and Honda (Tristan Taylor). The two steal a piece of the puzzle, and another school bully, Ushio, offers to be Yugi’s body guard. Later, he show’s Yugi that he’s beaten Jonouchi and Honda into a pulp, and now is demanding Yugi pay him an absurd Bodyguard fee. Yugi attempts to protect Jonouchi and Honda, but Ushio beats Yugi up and gives him another day to come up with the money. Back at home, Yugi finally finishes the puzzle (Jonouchi having returned the puzzle piece to Yugi’s grandfather earlier that night) and becomes possessed by the powerful egyptian sprit within known as Yami, or YuGiOh, or The Pharoah, whatever you want to call him.

So, why did I just talk your ear off about Chapter 1? Because now you see how similar it is to the backstory given in the American Anime of Yu-Gi-Oh! And now you will see where it takes a sharp turn. Yami confronts Ushio and offers him the money, but only if he can best Yami in a game. So, what, now Yami challenges Ushio to a Children’s Card Game and we’re treated to product placement for the rest of the chapter, right? No. Yami produces a knife and explains that the rules of the game are to take turns placing money on top of your hand and stabbing at it with the knife to get as much money as possible without stabbing your own hand.

…Wow. That’s pretty morbid, eh? Well, that’s pretty much what the series is like. Among other things, the series has our heros fighting Child Billionaires, murderers, thugs, serial bombers, corrupt TV producers, thieves, and other scum of the earth, usually being resolved when Yami goes Jigsaw on them and challenges them to a game, often either ending with the villain’s brutal death, or Yami forcing them to play a “Pentalty Game” which is usually some crazy illusion that drives them insane. Trust me, this is anything but a children’s series. The series comes to a climax at two seperate parts:

The first is the return of Seto Kaiba, who early in the series did that thing in the Anime where he kidnapped Yugi’s grandpa to get the Blue Eyes White Dragon… blah, blah, blah. Well, he does it again, and this time he forces Yugi to pass through his new amusement park, called “Death-T”. As the name implies, each level is some elaborate death trap designed by Kaiba, and it gets pretty brutal, from a haunted house ride that will electrocute you if you scream to “Lethal Laser Tag”.

The second is the “Yami Bakura” Arc in which a new student, Bakura, invites Yugi’s friends over to play a tabletop game (Similar to Dungeons and Dragons) only to reveal that he has an Egyptian Artifact similar to Yugi’s which awakens a dark spirit within him. Trapping Yugi’s friends within the game, Yami Yugi is forced to play along to set them free. A very trippy second of the story, being told both from the perspective of the pieces, and of the two players above, constantly talking with one another as they face (especially from a Tabletop Gamer’s perspective) near-impossible odds.

So, that was a rather long-winded way of saying that if you hear “Yu-Gi-Oh” and scoff at what a “Kiddie” game it is, I’d hold off on that laughter until you give it a read. So, with the “It’s not for kids, it’s very violent out of the way” is it good? Well, it’s kind of like Saw or Heavy Rain, but the crazy guy making death traps is the good guy. It’s a very fascinating series, if only to see how the series continues to raise the stakes with its traps. It’s also interesting to note that this series gives the classic Yu-Gi-Oh characters a bit more backstory, such as a look at Jonouchi’s at-home life, Anzu’s dreams to be a dancer in New York (touched on in the anime, but gone into more detail in the Manga), and Honda’s love-life. In fact, even previously wimpy characters from the anime like Mokuba Kaiba come off as fierce and intimidating in this series.

If you’re a Yu-Gi-Oh! fan, be sure to check this out, it takes your old perspective of the series and turns it on its head in a good way. If you’re not a fan, give it a shot; you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

[Editor’s note: I didn’t score these, and I won’t be adding a score now in spirit of keeping them the way they were. The Yu-Gi-Oh! manga is great though, check it out!]