Read This: A Centaur’s Life

This week I polished off the latest English volume of A Centaur’s Life. It brought home two main facts:

1. This manga is damn good.

2. This manga is damn underrated.


A Centaur’s Life is largely overshadowed by that other monster girl manga from the same publisher, Monster Musume. It’s marketed in the same way, but the two manga are worlds apart. Unlike the surprise New York Times best seller, A Centaur’s Life isn’t packed full of T&A fanservice. Instead, it’s packed full of fascinating world building and down-right weirdness.

For example: there’s an entire chapter with the dialogue in a non-existent language. After transfer student Sassassul meets a fellow snake-person visiting Japan, they stop into a coffee shop to discuss philosophy. The entire time, their word balloons are filled only with pictographs and the the snake-people’s alien alphabet. Except, of course, for when they order their drinks and say thanks to the waitress. Even without using words, the chapter manages some of the greatest emotional impact in the whole volume.

For the final chapter, rather than a slice of high-school life, we get a historical look at the bloody centaur uprising during the Napoleonic Wars. I’d think I was reading a different manga, except that it snaps back to modern times for a subtle commentary on today’s race relations.

A Centaur’s Life is, unabashedly, a slice-of-life comic with plenty of “cute girls doing cute things.” And it does that damn well. The chapter with Himeno’s niece Shino is diabetes-inducingly adorable. Unlike many other similar comics, though, it can hit those buttons while still being wildly inventive. It’s like hot chocolate spiked with Frangelico liqueur: warm and nostalgic, but with an eye-opening kick to it.

Settlers of Catan referenced in Anime

It’s been on American TV shows before, but this is a whole new level of cultural saturation.

Catan in Teekyu

This is from the 15th episode of Teekyu. And before people say, “Wait, produces on  a roll of 15? There’s no such hex in Catan…”, ah yup, that’s part of the joke. Teekyu is a sort of rapid-fire absurdist comedy (which, coincidentally, is also legally streaming on Crunchyroll right now).

Catan is getting well known in Japan, though. They even have, bizarrely enough, a Megaman retheme of it. Yeah, that makes even less sense than Star Trek Catan.

This Should Be a Thing: Idol Gear

This Should Be a Thing: A series of story ideas. Feel free to use them yourself.

This is a story outside the story, following an obsessed fan of the anime “Idol Gear.” It’s a show where the world is threatened by trans-dimensional aliens, impervious to conventional weapons, called “Higher Realm.” Higher Realm can only be defeated by “Idol Gears,” young girls in mecha suits who combine their flying formations with colorful pop songs.

The protagonist is a NEET who’s devoted his whole life to the show. One day, he reads an obscure doujinshi about his waifu, Nagisa. Nagia learns why their attacks are so effective against Higher Realm…also known as “3D.” The people of Nagisa’s world can’t bring any physical force against the Higher Realm, so they wage a cultural war of propaganda. Her and the other Idol Gears are that war’s vanguards, weakening the enemy’s will. Only through controlling Higher Realm can her people assure their world’s expansion, along with new territory and resources.

But now Nagisa sees the Higher Realm as actual people, not just the shapeless shadows they fought before. For the first time, she feels the emotional pain she’s wrought as an “Idol Gear.” The protagonist is one such victim. He’s a man estranged from his family, and any friend he might have once had. Now, he lives in dark squalor off a dwindling bank account, trying to find solace in the glow of a TV screen. She’s struck with pity, and also guilt. She never imagined being an Idol Gear was about sucking away people’s lives.

Surely, she thinks, there must be some way for the two realms to coexist in peace. The battle lines are crossed. She appears as a vision in the protagonist’s head, even when he closes his eyes. Their story together begins. His love pains her. They’re from two different worlds, never meant to be together. Every day,she struggles over whether she’s helping or hurting him even more. Can she open his eyes to the light beyond the blinds, or will he slide even further into isolated depression?

I envision a visual novel as the story’s ideal medium. From here, the story branches in many directions. Each branch finds a different answer to the question of whether this inter-dimensional cold war can end in peace.

English Doujinshi: My Little Sweetheart

“My Little Sweetheart” is an artbook of sexy My Little Pony fanart, being sold to benefit a children’s charity. Ah, what a blessed era this is.

All the book’s profits go to K.I.D.S., “Kids in Distressing Situations.” They provide vital items like clothes and toys to the children who need it must, suffering from problems like poverty, domestic abuse, and disaster survival. Their website states that “With overhead costs consistently at 2.5%, K.I.D.S. is one of America’s most efficient charities and has earned Charity Navigator’s highest rating of four stars.”

Compared to other fandoms, bronies have been especially prolific in their charity. There’s been charity projects like the fan music album, “Smile!” (with another album, “Seeds of Kindness”, coming). Plus, their record breaking donations to the Humble Bundle as the “Brony Bundle.” I guess all those Friendship Lessons really do have an effect.

So, your warm fuzzy feelings are secured. Now, on to the cheesecake! Normal people needn’t worry; it’s all humanized, so  there’s no confusing questions about your sexuality. Some of the art is rather amateur, being a highly collaborative project with 28 artists. But overall, it’s impressively high-quality. There’s the well-known artists like Slugbox and John Joseco, but also lots of artists who I can’t believe I’d never heard of it. emlan stands out with a beautiful, painterly style that goes far beyond just being sexy. And X-Arielle‘s sultry picture of the Mayor is just damn hot. A full artist list can be found here.

For the hardcore pony fans, the book has a wide range of background characters. Even Carrot Top and Allie Way are represented…along with Fleur de Lis, of course. The book has 53 total pages, and comes in a “bigger than average doujinshi” trim size of 11 x 8.5. It makes a great addition to your bookshelf, or your locked cabinet of darkest secrets. So, do you want to help children in need? And do you want to get turned on by cartoons? If you answer “yes” to either of these question, head on over to get your copy today. Society will thank you, eventually.

English Doujinshi: Witches of the Sphinx Volume 4

This is the shortest volume of the series yet, with 60 pages instead of the 90-100 pages previous volumes had. This volume lacks a short story from Takaaki Suzuki, which is sorely missed. The absence of his leisurely prose heightens the volume’s action-packed feel; this one is all about explosions, unending enemy waves, and dramatic last stands. There are a few pages devoted to Mami and Charlotte’s relationship concerns, though. It’s good to see the side characters get some focus. Not to mention bad ass cameos from Major Miles, the Patton Girls, and the magnificent bastard Patton himself.

It doesn’t quite top the 3rd volume, my current favorite. This one falls in the awkward position of building up to the awesome, “F-yeah!” climax, while not actually being the awesome, “F-yeah!” climax. Still, it’s a must-have addition to the Strike Witches-verse.

The only real bad part of volume comes on the last page. Coming Next: “Vol. 5, the last episode: Know what you want.” Aww! Well, it’s been a great run with these characters. Nogami has given them so much life. With the Strike Witches movie coming out, and the franchise going strong, who knows what’s next? “Africa Witches: The Animated Series?”…I can always dream. Well, on to the 5th volume, and whatever great thing comes after.


Buy on MangaPal

List of Nogami Takeshi’s Bilingual Doujinshi

Not Buying Stuff: My 6 Month Plan

For the past few years, I’ve bought things faster than I can enjoy them. Now I’m in the thick of the looming backlog all anime fans experience at some time. BDs sit in the shrink wrap, books pile up, and games stay uninstalled. The deluge of currently airing shows doesn’t help. Consuming entertainment can even feel like a chore. I’ve actually seen people talk seriously about “anime time management,” as if it were some second job.

So I’m trying a little experiment: For the next 6 months, I won’t buy any new entertainment. This includes all books, manga, BD, DVD, music, games, figures, dakimakura, etc. Of course, I don’t watch fansubs either; I’m not just forgoing the legal option to pirate everything. I do have some existing preorders, which is kind of cheating, but it doesn’t add up to much.

What will I do for the next six months instead? Well, plenty! I’ll have all the more time to:

1. Catch up on my backlog. That’s hours and hours right there. I’ve been anticipating the original Higurashi sound novels forever, but could never find the time to actually play them. Heck, I haven’t even played Katawa Shoujo yet.
2. Rewatch old favorites. When you focus on quality over novelty, less can actually be more. I’d probably get more enjoyment out of rewatching Diebuster than any other new (likely quite forgettable) anime.
3. Enjoy free entertainment. God bless you, internet, for unleashing your endless parade of free culture. I’ve got Pixiv to browse, webcomics to read, indie music to hear…well, it just goes on and on. I can’t forget the good old local library, too.
4. Do things that are actually productive. Bonus points if its something that’s pleasurable at the same time. Drawing with a tablet, for example, can feel incredibly relaxing.
5. Research how to invest all the money I’m saving. I’ve always used the “patronage of the arts!” argument to justify my otaku-ish expenditures, but my investment portfolio will appreciate the cash just as much. And since I’m still young, this is the best time to ramp up savings for maximum compound interest. I just hope I haven’t missed the party on REITs…

It might sound like a self-denial, but I’m actually looking forward to it. The scariest possibility is that, after 6 months, I won’t feel like I’m missing anything…and be ready to go for 12.

More Official Animu’d Versions of Dominion

Dominion really is popular in Japan. Not only have they made an officially licensed Touhou version, now there’s one for Nitroplus and the anime Majikoi Oh! Samurai Girls (licensed by Sentai and Crunchyroll in the US).

Unfortunately, they look like rethemed clones of existing cards, instead of cards with all original mechanics. I can’t read Japanese too well, but the last sample card on HobbySearch is clearly Oasis.  It seems Donald X. is fine with retheming Dominion, but doesn’t want to ruin his vision of mechanics and balance. As his planned expansions come to a close, I guess we’ll have to depend on fan cards to keep on exponentially increasing the games depth.

These are some really nifty collector’s items, though. And it’ll bring the joy (and addiction) of Dominion to an even wider audience. Also, finally Harem actually makes sense, as seen in the “STEINS;GATE ver.” here.

Witches of the Sphinx 4 to be sold online soon.

…and my fanboying over Strike Witches continues. With the dust of Winter Comiket settling, I got an email back from MangaPal:

Dear customer,

Thank you for your inquiry.
Witches of the Sphinx Vol 4 (with English Subtitiles) (by Firstspear) will be available from this or next Friday at MANGA PAL online store.
Sorry for keeping you wait so long.
Thank you very much.
Should you have any question, please feel free to contact us.

Your sincerely,

Yay! The wait felt awfully long, after Volume 3’s cliffhanger ending. This installment promises plenty of the hot-blooded, cigar-chomping grit the TV anime lacked. There are some preview pages on Melonbooks; it looks like  my reader response questionnaire wasn’t the only one asking for more of the Patton girls and Major Miles.  America! Bad-ass sword drawing! Heck yeah! And all in glorious imperial English. I’ll post a review as soon as I have a copy in my hands.

My Little Pony, Touhou, and a Corporate Doujin Culture

My god…A My Little Pony version of the 1st Cardcaptor Sakura OP. And it’s done perfectly.

What I truly love about MLP:FiM is the extent of the fanworks. I’ve seen some people say, “I watched a few episodes, but couldn’t get into it.” If they only watch the actual show, though, they’re missing out. Take this video, for example: all the characters in it are background ponies, who appeared in as little as 15 seconds of the TV show. Despite that, fanon has given them personalities, involved backstories, and miles of fanart. It’s like Koakuma, but on overdrive. MLP might even become the American equivalent of Touhou Project, if more doujinshi is churned out. Already, though, this simple children’s cartoon has been reinterpreted so many ways. It’s:

– A symbol of resistance against traditional gender roles.
– An endless source of memetic humor.
– A yuri ship-fest for socially maladjusted males to deal with their sexual issues in a cute, non-threatening way.
– A world of high fantasy, with epic roleplaying campaigns and historical chronicles
– A new call for optimism, sincerity, and interpersonal relationships in a consumption-driven world lacking all those things

There’s one difference I worry about, though. Doujin works like Touhou Project and Ryukishi07’s “When They Cry Games” are made by individual autuers. But My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is the intellectual property of a large corporation. They’ve been surprisingly lenient in allowing fanworks. They haven’t moved a finger against entire sites purely dedicated to My Little Pony fanporn, or a project for a My Little Pony dating sim. With ZUN cracking down on White Canvas for selling Touhou goods recently, Hasbro might be even more lenient than some Japanese doujin authors. And Hasbro might exert less influence on fan interpretations. With an autuer, fans are likely to accept new fanon-destroying canon without resistance. But with Hasbro, fans are less likely to accept a corporation’s canon as authoritative, as witnessed with the Lyra/Heartstrings controversy. But how long can this corporate lenience last? There’s a balance between the consumers they’d alienate by going all Cease & Desist, and the perceived brand damage from being associated with “creepy weirdos.” They might want to please the fanbase and keep the social media hype going, but the brony demographic is still a relatively small part of their profits. There are no hard numbers, but I couldn’t see it being much higher than 15 or 25% of MLP merchandise sales. For now at least, Hasbro continues to embrace the brony fandom. And hopefully they will long enough for us to see more awesome fan animations.

Internet Censorship, Hachette, and Yen Press

Are you a US citizen? Have you taken the time to contact your congressional representative, and urge them not to vote for a destructive internet censorship bill that emulates China? If you haven’t, please do so before reading the rest of this post.

Back? Ok, good. There’s a list of the companies behind the lobbyists for SOPA going around: This might be the best guide out there for where not to spend your entertainment dollars. These are companies willing to sacrifice our online freedom and culture for the sake of squeezing profits. But the list has one name very troubling to me: Hachette Book Group. Manga readers might know them best through their graphic novel division, Yen Press. Which is, to be honest, my favorite US manga publisher (although Seven Seas is getting up there). This sort of dirty lobbying strongly discourages me from buying their books, and I’ve written a letter to Hachette explaining just that. They might ignore a single letter, but not as easily as hundreds…or thousands of lost sales.

Hachette’s Contact Form

(Yen Press isn’t the only manga publisher on the list: Del Rey (a branch of Random House) is too. Although, they don’t print much manga these days.)