27 October 2007

Review:: Beck Mongolian Chop Squad (anime)

I can't help it, I'm a sucker for music. This anime is the other side of the coin of Nodame Cantabile (reviewed 10.22.07), where Beethoven reigns supreme. Beck Mongolian Chop Squad is all about rock and roll, baby. There's loud guitars, a rock god quality in one of the main characters, and a moody dog whose skin appears to be made of fabric patches.

I have to admit that I was skeptical when the opening theme, "Hit in the USA" by Beat Crusaders, was sung solely in English. It's a catchy tune, though, and when you pay close attention to the lyrics, you realize it's more Engrish than English anyway. The end credits show drawings of rock greats like Sid Vicious and Kurt Cobain, along with other Japanese icons that I, in my ignorance, do not recognize. By the time you get to this point, though, you know the love for music is entrenched in every frame of this anime.

The animation can be quite striking at times, with shots manipulated to resemble artsy photography and old-school fuzzy film reels. What makes this series special is that it captures the magic of youth, of the power of music, and that desire to be part of something amazingly cool.

8.35 of 9
The main character is your usual run-of-the-mill teen, full of unbearable ennui until faced with something extraordinary (like in Death Note by Ohba Tsugumi). In the case of BMCS, the almost normal Koyuki meets Ryusuke, archetype of rocking coolness. The characters seem real enough, though it is a little unnerving that all Americans (and even Japanese kids who speak English) are portrayed as somewhat violent and foul-mouthed. I mean, I'm a rock-loving American too, doggone it, and I don't make swear-word sculptures out of each of my sentences.
Mature teens, as there are plenty of rather vicious swear words and even partial nudity (though even this avoids being too campy)
Like it? Try this!::
I can't help but recommend "This Is Spinal Tap." I know it's not anime but everyone needs that kind of laughter in their lives.
Further Notes::
The more you know about Japanese language and culture, the more you're bound to enjoy any anime-- this one in particular. Each episode is split up into a "live," which is supposed to mean "live concert." During filler Japanese urban jungle scenes, companies like "Samsung" and "Lawson" are cheekily drawn as "Samsang" and "Lawsan." There's even a poster for the Brad Pitt film "Troy," but it's denoted as "Moroy" instead of "Toroy," as it would be in Japanese. One particular reference to natto may be too obscure for some. I know some people who love this food, but for people like me, it's not just the smell but the sticky consistency that makes me go barf.

25 October 2007

Road Map:: West Virginia, Mountain Mama

So maybe it doesn't count if I go to libraries on a Sunday and I don't get to actually go in, but here are some pix of my recent trip to West Virginia.

And yes, I really can jump that high. Kudos to my husband Michael for taking the shots just at the right time.

a) Mary H. Weir Public Library
Weirton, WV (10.21.07)
b) Swaney Memorial Library
New Cumberland, WV (10.21.07)
c) Swaney Memorial Library parking lot (10.21.07)

23 October 2007

Review:: Nodame Cantabile (manga)

If you're in the mood for love, music, and references to farts, then I say you can't go wrong with Nodame Cantabile. This one won the Kodansha Manga of the Year Award (shoujo category) back in 2004, and I think I can see why. Though the illustrations are not exactly top-notch, they are somewhat elegant and accessible-- that is, no big buggy flashy eyes. My favorite drawings involve hands on the piano. The music that is played by the characters, though not heard by the reader through the page, is definitely felt.

The characters also really make this story. In Chiaki-kun, you have talent and arrogance, and a desire to be more than he is. In Mine-kun, you have engineered rebellion and... well, a comfort with women's cosmetics-- at least when he tries to help Nodame. In Nodame, you have inspired piano-playing, puckered-up lips and an abysmal living arrangement. Nodame is one of the most interesting female characters I've seen in manga because she is not your average girly-girl. She is fragile and a bit love-obsessed but also a bit gross. She is definitely not above making fart jokes. That's right. It's a girl making the gas reference, not a group of jocks as you might expect.

Is this an improvement on a social scale? Maybe not, but at least she is more human than the frilly paper dolls that litter most manga, which is SOOOOO refreshing!

8.15 out of 9
They really propel the story. I love how Nodame "keeps it real." Oh, and as a side note, I really have known someone who reminded me of a sausage.
Moderate or fast, depending on how much you like music that you can only see
From early teens on
Like it? Try this!::
I know it makes little sense to recommend an adult New Zealand film in conjunction with a Japanese manga for teens, but I really love the piano pieces in (surprise!) The Piano with Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin.
Further Notes::
This one has been turned into both an anime (watch the glorious beginning here) and a live action series-- both quite decent. Normally, I'm not into live action, but face it, it couldn't be as bad as the Sailor Moon live action series. Here is a wonderful piano scene and the obligatory karaoke scene. Ah, the nostalgia of karaoke! Natsukashii!

Nodame Cantabile, Vol. 1. By Tomoko Ninomiya. Del Rey Manga, 2005. 208 pages. $10.95

18 October 2007


I can't take this. Clearly I've become a gigantic wussy pants.

I'm reading award-winning juvenile and teen fiction, and this stuff is brutal. I'm talking trails of carnage and guts. I can't get through these books without wanting to throw them across the room and hiding under my blankie.

These are just some of the things I can't handle:
  • Grandmother tries to stick her grandson into a refrigerator and close the door on him-- while it's plugged in (Joey Pigza Swallows the Key by Jack Gantos)
  • Adult gives a newborn baby the lethal injection, graphic detail of convulsions and all (The Giver by Lois Lowry)
  • Mother mistakes kerosene for water, and as she tries to make coffee, gets burned to a crisp. Faceless and sore-ridden, she dies days later, as she gives birth to a child (Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse)
And I don't even have to talk about The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. You know what I'm talking about.

The thing is, violence has always been a form of entertainment: public executions in previous centuries, bloody folk tales (such as Bluebeard or Bethgellert), and The Little Mermaid is actually supposed to die.

Am I just being lame? When kids read about needles in babies and flaky, scorched skin, does it really sink in?

02 October 2007


Ah. You know, I've met some wonderful library workers in my time. Generous. Effective. Ambitious. Innovative. And I'm talking about librarians, library assistants, circulation attendants, pages, janitors-- everyone. There are people out there who really work hard at making libraries a bit of a second home for the community.

The one I met just an hour ago did not fall into those categories. I'm sure that she is hard-working and brings wonderful input to the library. Just not today.

I was getting my assigned 20+ Caldecott winners from the holdshelf at the circulation desk. A really polite circ attendant was checking my books out to me when a boy in his early teens came up to the desk to use the phone. Another library worker looked at the boy and asked, "Why don't you go read a book or something?"

Her tone was not rude or malicious by any means. I know that in her mind she was trying to be helpful, maybe by ridding the kid of boredom. My first thought, though, was "Way to go, lady. Now he's REALLY going to go to the shelf and pick up Tolstoy."

  • If you want respect, you don't patronize teens by telling them what to do.
  • You won't get anywhere with a sentence or two of "helpful" suggestions. You have to get to know them on an individual basis. Find out what they are interested in.
  • If you have the luxury of a varied collection, you might want to slip them a cool book/graphic novel/magazine while they wait for the computer to be available. Again, it should be something that fascinates them. You don't want to hand a Sweet Valley High book to a manly guy who's into hip-hop, you know?
Granted, the library worker I mention is not a teen librarian or library assistant. She is not expected to specialize in the psychology of the fourteen-year-old male mind, but come on. Can you not ruin the work of so many people who are trying to show the community that libraries are essential?

Review:: Breaking Up (graphic novel)

"In the stormy ocean that is high school, the four of us clung to our friendship like a raft." --Chloe Sacks

There are so many stories out there about break-ups between lovers, but let's not forget about sisterhood, ladies. Emotional divides between your best girlfriends really can be just as painful.

Friedman takes four girls and puts them through the meat grinder that is maturing into young women. There are certain aspects of the story that certainly feel real to anyone who's had to brave the late teens. The ocean wave of acne, boyfriends, and pressure is pretty effective. Each character deals with sexual pressure/desire, though it is the trend nowadays to speak of it more frankly and openly.

While the text is usually superb, Norrie's sumptuous drawings kick the story up a notch and create a layer of texture that the written story alone couldn't expose. The illustrations during a New Year's Party glitter with freedom and insecurity at the same time (p. 74 is a beautiful example). Page 15 shows the girls through the years, and I imagine it's very difficult to show maturity in just a handful of drawings that barely measure two inches wide.

Growing into a young adult is a difficult time to really accept yourself, as Chloe finds out. It's the time when people grow apart, and hurt does fly around like jagged snowflakes. Ultimately, though, how much power should you give your friends and your enemies?

Story: 7.95 of 9. This was an enjoyable book but see "Characterization."
Illustrations: 8.75 of 9.
I found Chloe, Isabel, and Erika to be quite real in their heartbreak over being true to themselves and being good friends. Mackenzie, though, becomes such a one-dimensional, insensitive juggernaut that I found it hard to take her seriously. I think that there are ways of making her a bit more human and still keep her controlling and obsessive nature intact.
The succinct observations about youth and the expressive drawings ensure that the story move along swiftly.
From early teens up
Like it? Try this!::
I'm assuming this is a series (the cover says "A Fashion High Graphic Novel"), but it appears we'll have to wait for those. In the meantime, read "The Breakup Bible" by Melissa Kantor. How about anything by either Friedman and Norrie?
Further Notes::
I think this is a must-read for young women. It certainly means something different to me, nearly ten years out of high school, than to someone who is living through it right now. Unfortunately, though, having problems with your friends is not just a high school issue. *SIGH* Here's to friends and all their quirky ways!

Breaking Up. By Aimee Friedman. Illustrated by Christine Norrie. Graphix, 2007. 192 pages. $9.99