Four ways to forgiveness

There’s no two ways about this: Spirit Circle is a damn good manga. Unfortunately, it’s rather hard to discover this for yourself, as all the synopses I’ve read make it sound incoherent or unremarkable. Take this one, for example:

Fuuta Okeya is a normal 14-year-old boy, except for the fact that he has the ability to see ghosts. A cute girl transfers into his class one day, but acts particularly aggressive towards him. This girl called Kouko Ishigami is followed around by a ghost called East. Fuuta tries to get along with her but ends up failing after she sees the birthmark he usually keeps covered. She then declares him as her enemy, his birthmark as a cursed brand and claims they have a long history, while talking about reincarnation. Who is this girl and how are they connected?

“Oh, it’s another high school story,” you might think. “Is it like Bleach? I’m guessing from the art it’s a comedy-romance and the reincarnation angle is the only unique thing about it. Oh well, high school comedy-romances are a dime a dozen.”

A girl and a boy fighting in the present day, as two young people in the pre-Hispanic Americas, as an old witch and a young knight, and as a ninja and a feudal Japanese swordsman

Hell no. I would never have tried this manga out if I hadn’t known it was written by the same person as the one behind Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, but I’m glad I did. I think I have enough samples of his writing now to say without hesitation that Satoshi Mizukami knows how to write a moving story.

Basically, Spirit Circle is about the dispute between a boy and a girl that stretches backward and forward to the past and the future and back again, through different reincarnations and universes. In the present day, the boy searches through his past lives to find the reason for the girl’s animosity, while in each life the two fight and try to find a way to stop fighting.

Don’t get me wrong, this manga is definitely funny. There actually is comedy and romance in this series. But each reincarnation of the two rivals lives rich and full lives with their share of tragedy and suffering and peace and joy. Some heavy shit goes down, and not in just the past lives of the two.

The series is available on Crunchyroll’s online manga service. I do have to mention that I read it on my tablet and the app has the annoying tendency to occasionally show me a page that I’d already read. If that happens to you, I recommend exiting the manga and entering it again; that should make the proper page show up.

I’ve found Crunchyroll’s online manga offerings to be rather sparse in number and in quality. One might call it hit-or-miss but in my case I’ve found more misses than hits. This manga, though, is definitely one of the good ones. It’s also being simultaneously published, which means that it’s still not finished. However, from the way the story is going I think it’s almost done. If it sticks the landing then it’s going into my list of favourite series.

My Teen Romantic WTF-ery

After having watched the eighth episode of the current season, I think My Teen Romantic Comedy Snafu should be re-titled Jesus Christ, What the Fuck is Wrong With These Kids?

I do like how the kids’ social problems aren’t a result of some past trauma, which would have been too pat (remember that Hikigaya was already a loner long before he got hit by a car). They’re like this because that’s just how they’re wired. Some people are shy, some people are gregarious, and some people have trouble connecting with others. Perhaps it’s good that pop psychology isn’t as pervasive in Japanese media as it is over here, otherwise I get the feeling that undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome would be the easy answer for the question of the kids’ social issues.

I wonder now what the writer of the light novels is like. The personalities of the characters are exaggerated for dramatic effect, of course, and most of the situations in the show are too contrived to be realistic, but it feels like there’s emotional truth and perhaps first-hand experience in the depiction of the loneliness of the misanthrope.

Go, go, Power Rangers

Despite never having read the manga, I’m sure you already know the story of Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer. Briefly, the protagonist is awakened to his destiny by an animal guide and told to find his reincarnated teammates to fight an evil sorcerer bent on destruction.

It’s been done and redone by series as diverse as Sailor Moon and god knows how many tokusatsu shows (i.e., Power Rangers type shows). So you can kind of guess where the story is supposed to go, but it keeps going the opposite way. The series even gets meta with the characters watching a magical girl anime and snarking about the cliches to be found in the destined hero narratives that their own story deconstructs.

A woman cheerfully being recruited in her bedroom by a talking snake

This is a joyfully clever comic, and in small ways and large ways – like in this scene – it keeps pulling the rug out from under you. I’d be more specific but I don’t want to take away from the enjoyment of anyone who wants to try this manga out. Read it already, people.

Return to Baldur’s Gate

One of the Children of Bhaal from Baldur's Gate 2 (don't ask me which one, I haven't encountered her in my game yet but she's got a staff and a feathered headdress)

I’m finally playing Baldur’s Gate 2: Throne of Bhaal. I installed the BGT mod, which turns the entire Baldur’s Gate series into one really long game. Essentially I’ve been playing the same game off and on for eight or nine years now. The last time I touched this game was probably back in 2011 but here I am back in the saddle.

I’d forgotten how fun playing Baldur’s Gate 2 was. In my last session I used the Zapp Brannigan strategy to clear out the sewers under Saradush by sending out wave after wave of expendable minions to overwhelm my enemies. I believe I summoned some dire bears, a couple of skeletons, an efreet, two ogres, an earth elemental, a bunch of lesser earth elementals, a berserker warrior, a wyvern, an invisible stalker, two air elementals, a nishru, a hakeashar, and probably a few more creatures that I’m forgetting.

Meanwhile, my party of adventurers waited near the dungeon entrance for the screaming to die down. It’s a lot easier than going toe-to-toe with all those umber hulks and orcs and mages.

Space cowboy and gangster of love

I finally watched Cowboy Bebop. I tried it out probably eight years ago and found it boring, but it turns out that was because I was watching it with subtitles. After I tried the English dub I finally got how cool the show was. The music especially was great. This show and Baccano are joining my short list of great English-dubbed anime.

Oh, and happy Victoria Day weekend once again to all of you in cyberspace.

Shakespeare in the original Klingon

This is a weird thing I just came across, but I discovered a trailer for Legend of Korra in the original Japanese.

I jest, of course. But something seems off about the voices.  I assume the top voice talent wasn’t used to dub a foreign cartoon show.

Some research into Korra and Avatar‘s reception in Japan reveals that it was seen as too American, which I can understand because the show basically has American kids dressing up in East Asian costumes.

To continue with the weirdness, here’s a trailer for Book 2 of Avatar:

I don’t think they got Azula’s voice down. But I think Katara’s voice wasn’t bad in the opening. And here’s a peek of how the typical episode plays out.

Strange, right? It’s like looking through a portal into a parallel universe.