Posts Tagged ‘anime/manga’

This has been long overdue. But as promised, I am doing another post on anime I like. After all, along with horror, anime is a huge influence on me and my life as well as my writing (anyone who’s read Rose can see that). So with that in mind, I thought I’d do another post recommending some anime I’ve enjoyed recently and that I hope other people would like to check out.

If you’d like to check out my first list, click here.

And with that in mind, let’s get onto the recommendations!

Princess Tutu

At first glance, this anime seems like it’s something aimed at little girls. A duck is chosen to become a human girl, and then become a magical girl named Princess Tutu, who uses the power of dance to restore a prince’s lost heart. And admittedly, the first couple episodes are light-hearted and comedic. But as you continue on, it becomes clear that this is actually a dark and emotional anime about fate vs. free will. The characters soon begin to realize that there are sinister forces manipulating their lives, and it becomes a struggle not just to restore the prince’s heart, but if they should restore it, as well as to find a path that allows them to control the course of their lives.

This is the sort of anime where you’ll look back at the first episode after watching the last and be like, “Holy crap? Did that just happen?” It’s a roller coaster, a thought-provoking anime that uses dance to create emotional struggle and to explore the idea of who controls our destiny. If you want a surprising fantasy anime using a beautiful art form to tell its story, you might enjoy Princess Tutu.

Also, this is an anime I watched as research for Toyland. Just saying.

The Helpful Fox Senko-san

An overworked and super-stressed office worker comes home one day to find a fox spirit in the form of a human girl in his apartment. This fox-girl introduces herself as Senko, and says she’s here to take care of and pamper the office worker. Thus starts the office worker’s new, and hopefully more relaxing, life.

At first, I was not sure what to make of this anime, or why I kept watching it. But then I had a long, exhausting, stressful day at work, and I realized the reason why I was drawn to this show. We’ve all had days where life has stressed us out and we want to scream to the heavens about our exhaustion. And on those days, we really wish there was someone waiting at home for us at home to take care of us and make things better. Maybe not a magical fox girl, but someone. Senko-san taps into that, and gives us a scenario like that. And rather than making us overly jealous, it actually relaxes you a bit. You relax vicariously.

If you’re interested in an anime that aims to soothe you (or you’re into ASMR, like I am), I highly recommend The Helpful Fox Senko-san.

Digimon Tamers

A lot of people think Digimon is a knockoff of Pokemon, but in reality they’re just very similar products that came out around the same time in the 1990s. In fact, at some points Digimon was more popular than Pokemon! Another thing people don’t realize is, unlike Pokemon, the anime is made up of several different anime revolving around the same concept, like how there are multiple coexisting versions of Marvel superheroes with their own separate universes.* And Digimon Tamers is, by far, the best of the various series.

In this version of the franchise, Digimon are fictional characters with a TV show and card game, kind of like our world at the turn of the century. However, certain children come across real Digimon. Unlike on TV, however, these are violent and wild animals who enjoy the fight and the kill as much as they enjoy the human world. As time passes, it becomes clear that a secret shadowy organization is watching the Digimon and trying to stop them as they emerge into our world. And if these kids aren’t careful, they’re going to lose more than their new friends.

A darker take on the franchise, Digimon Tamers deals with the issues of what it’s actually like to have a connection with what is essentially a sentient wild animal that needs to kill its fellows to survive. It’s a slow burn story that grows more complex as time goes on, dealing with heavy psychological issues and even incorporating cosmic horror themes at times. If you want to see how a “kids show” can be more mature than some shows for adults, while at the same time evoking 90’s and 2000’s nostalgia, this may be the show for you.

*And for those unaware, the concept of Digimon revolves around children who befriend monsters made of computer data, and together they fight evil Digimon and try to maintain the balance of both the human world and the Digital World.

Flying Witch

Makoto is a young witch who moves out to the country to live with relatives. The goal is to attend high school in an area with plenty of nature while also nurturing her magic skills. Along the way, she makes friends, sees amazing sights, and collects a lifetime of memories.

Flying Witch is a relaxing, quiet anime that focuses more on interaction between its characters and making you laugh or feel good rather than building a big, magical world. The result is a mellow series that leaves you feeling relaxed while you watch it. If you’re just looking for something wholesome to melt your stress away, Flying Witch is probably the answer.

And trust me, it’s worth it just for the “Mommy” joke in the first episode.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Madoka Kaname is your average middle school girl. That is, until she saves a mysterious creature from a transfer student in her class, and the creature offers to grant her one wish in exchange for becoming a magical girl and fighting evil entities known as witches. While at first it sounds like a great deal, Madoka soon learns that every wish comes with a price. And for some, it’s too much to pay.

Considered a classic of anime, Madoka Magica is a dark take on the magical girl genre, showing the psychological toll of trying to be a savior of humanity at the tender age of 14 can do to a girl. Combined with masterful twists and storytelling, beautiful backgrounds and trippy imagery, this is an anime that’s still being talked about today.

If you’re looking for an anime to surprise you (or you want to see one of the other anime I watched as research for Toyland), I can’t recommend Madoka Magica enough.

Cells at Work

You know that movie, Osmosis Jones? Imagine an anime version that’s a thousand times better, and you have Cells at Work, which portrays an anthropomorphized world full of cells working together in a human body as their city.

This series has been lauded for its accuracy as a portrayal of how blood cells actually work (albeit from a whimsical side) and has even been used as a teaching tool in universities around the world. Plus, it’s just fun to see a hapless red blood cell hanging out with a ruthless white blood cell, platelets portrayed as small kids going around and building things, and watching bacteria getting the shit kicked out of them.

Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms

This is one of the most Ghibli-like non-Studio Ghibli films I’ve ever seen, and I mean that in a good way. Maquia is part of the Iorph people, a tribe of long-living humanoids with blonde hair, blue eyes, and youthful appearances. One day, after a powerful kingdom invades their homeland and Maquia is separated from her people in the ensuing madness, she comes across a human baby whose mother has just died. She adopts the child, and soon begins a journey that will change the both of them forever.

While I have some problems with how the movie explains the world it’s set in, I have to admit this is a beautiful tear-jerker of a film. It captures the struggles of parenting beautifully, while also adding in the pressures of being an eternally young mother. At the same time, it deals a lot with identity, extremism, and the things people are willing to do to survive. It’s a powerful film and may make you cry. If you prefer your anime more heartwarming and Ghibli-ish, I can’t recommend Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms enough.

Gonna be the Twin-tail

A parody of magical girl anime, Power Rangers, and the hairstyle of twin pony/pigtails (aka “twintails”) which shows up in 80% of anime, this is one of those anime meant to make anime lovers laugh!

A high school boy with a thing for girls with twintails is approached and tasked with a humongous task: aliens are coming to Earth with the goal of stealing the world’s twintails and other attributes that cause physical attraction! Why? Because they feed on that sort of thing, apparently! And this young man must stop these aliens from messing with his beloved twintails…while at the same time transforming into a redheaded girl with twintails named Tail Red.

Yeah, this series is weird. But for anyone who’s been around the anime scene long enough, it’s basically a goodhearted laugh at what makes most of us keep coming back to the medium. I wouldn’t watch it if you’re looking to explore anime for the first time. But if you’re already into the scene, and you need a lighthearted laugh, Gonna be the Twin-tail is the series for you.

 

What anime do you recommend? Have you seen any of the ones on this list? What did you think? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll have more posts out soon, believe me (though it may be another 6-8 months before I do a list like this again). And until then, goodnight and pleasant nightmares!

It’s no secret that, along with horror, I’m a huge anime fan. In fact, I’ve dedicated posts to my love of Sailor Moon and to my favorite manga of all time, Red River. And because I wanted a change of pace, I figured I’d put out a list of some off the anime I’ve been enjoying lately or continue to enjoy years after I watch them. Along with Sailor Moon and Red River, these might be good places to start delving into what has become a worldwide phenomenon over the past several years. Or if you’re already a fan and just want something new to dive into, these could be good choices.

And of course, I’d love to hear from people who have already seen these series and enjoy them as much as I do.

So with all that said, let’s dive in. Here’s 8 anime I recommend.

1. Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion

Another one of my favorite anime, this still influences me as much as Sailor Moon does. In a world where Britain is the Holy Britannian Empire and has conquered over a third of the world, an exiled Britannian prince in hiding in the recently-conquered Japan gains the power to control and influence people under certain circumstances. He dons a disguise and starts a rebellion against his father’s empire, while his best friend takes up arms against his rebel alter-ego on Britannia’s side.

An excellent show combining war, chess-level battle strategy, political intrigue, romance, high school drama, and giant robots. All in a cool two seasons that have spawned several mangas, games, a movie series, and even a new season coming out later this year (I will catch it as soon as I catch the movies, because apparently this season is a direct sequel to them). This is not a series to be missed, believe me.

2. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

A programmer by the name of Kobayashi (first name never mentioned) gets drunk one night, goes into the mountains, and stumbles across a dragon. She pulls a sword out of the dragon’s back, saving its life. The next day the dragon appears at Kobayashi’s apartment as a human girl to become her maid. Hijinks ensue.

This is one of the most popular animes out there right now, and it’s only thirteen episodes long! It’s just a silly fish-out-of-water story with dragons, but goddammit it is fun. They’re hilarious and heartwarming characters, learning to get along with this world and have a good time. I sometimes just watch some of my favorite episodes because they make me relaxed and lift up my mood. I highly recommend to anyone looking for a fun and laidback series with lots of laughs.

And it’s worth a watch just for the “How to Tame Your Dragon” joke in episode 2 (only available in the English dub).

3. Zombie Land Saga

A teenage girl named Sakura Minamoto dies in a car crash after she leaves for school one day. Ten years later she’s resurrected as a zombie, her mind and personality intact but her memories lost. That is crazy enough, but then the guy who resurrected her, a weirdo named Kotaro Tatsumi, informs her that she and six other zombie girls must form a pop idol group and become popular enough to somehow “save” the Japanese equivalent of the state of Idaho (sorry Idahoans, but the only time I ever hear anything out of your state is when there’s a presidential election). All while keeping their identities as zombies a secret from the public.

Considered by many to be one of the best anime of 2018 (including yours truly), this anime is a satire making fun of the Japanese idol industry as a whole as well as the anime focusing on them (yeah, that’s a genre). It’s hilarious even if you’re not familiar with either industry or genre, and it’s heartwarming too, with a cast of characters you grow to love and root for by the third episode. And it has the best examples of a trans character and a disabled character I’ve ever seen in anime. That alone makes it truly special.

You should give it a watch just for the outta nowhere rap battle in episode 2.

4. Shimoneta: A Boring World in Which the Concept of a Dirty Joke Doesn’t Exist

You know how there are people who believe if pornography and swearing were banned by law and sex education highly regulated, a more pure society would arise and people would naturally become better? Imagine if technology got to the point where that was enforceable and Japan somehow tried to make this happen. That’s the concept of Shimoneta, which follows a young man who wants nothing more than to be a moral, upright citizen and distance himself from his father, who was jailed for protesting the government’s efforts to over-regulate sex education and sexual content. Too bad he gets wrapped up with a classmate of his who is secretly a “dirty terrorist” and wants to decriminalize potty mouths and sexual content in our everyday media, and ends up founding an organization with her.

It’s a brilliant thought experiment on the part of the anime, and gives both sides of the argument, as well as what happens when either side becomes too extreme, a fair hearing. Of course, being anime it does it with as many dirty jokes as possible, to the point I’m surprised my floor isn’t covered in dirt whenever I watch it, but it’s still a brilliant anime. If you want a raunchy comedy with brains behind it, Shimoneta may be for you.

5. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime

One of the latest entries in the isekai genre,* a 37-year-old businessman is stabbed to death after a mugging gone wrong, and ends up being reincarnated in a world out of a fantasy game. The thing is, he’s been reincarnated as a slime monster. Which normally would suck, but he soon finds himself becoming a protector for the many peoples living in the area he reincarnated in and taking on several foes with his unique powers. Within the span of a few episodes, this slime, renamed Rimuru Tempest, will become a great player to the events of his new world.

This anime has recently wrapped its first season, and a second season is already ordered for next year. Not hard to see why, with great animation/visuals, and relatable characters, especially Rimuru who is kind and funny and makes being a ball of slime look desirable. All set in a rich world filled with a variety of creatures with unique abilities and cultures. And my God, I think the society Rimuru creates should be the model for every community in the world who wants to make coexistence between different groups a thing. I’m kind of jealous.

6. The Rising of the Shield Hero

A darker isekai than the last entry, this is considered one of the most controversial anime in recent years (and its first season still isn’t over). A young man is transported to another world with three other teens to become the legendary four heroes who will save this world from Waves, invasions of terrible monsters bent on destroying the world. Problem is, he gets to be the Shield Hero, which compared to Sword, Spear and Arrow isn’t as cool. As if that weren’t bad enough, soon after arriving in this new world, he is betrayed and finds himself losing all his money, dignity and respect, even from the other three heroes. Alone, unable to trust anyone and still required to go save the world, he ends up buying a slave named Raphtalia to help him in his missions, and sets out to destroy the Waves. At the same time though, will he find a way to redeem himself and find hope again?

As I said, this is one of the most controversial anime of recent years, due in part to how the protagonist is betrayed (I won’t go into why here, you’ll have to watch the first episode and decide for yourself if you want to go further afterwards). However, I will say that besides that, it is a great story of someone going against impossible odds and trying to find hope again. I look forward to every Wednesday when a new episode comes out, and will be waiting eagerly for the next twelve or thirteen on the way.

7. My Hime

Also known as Mai-Hime, this is from the same studio that brought us Code Geass. A teen girl and her sickly younger brother go to an exclusive boarding school, only to find out that the girl is a Hime, one of thirteen girls selected to participate in a ritual that occurs in the area around the school every couple centuries. Armed with fire magic and a dragon named Kagutsuchi, she must fight off terrible monsters or risk losing all she cares for. But there’s a secret plot afoot at the school involving the Hime, and if she isn’t careful, the teen girl will be the latest victim to fall prey to the ritual’s dark purpose.

I own this series on DVD, and still break it out every couple of years. It takes what seems to be a lighthearted story and expertly adds darker elements over time, drawing us in to the plot as well as into the lives of these characters. I’d give it a try if I were you.

8. My Otome

A spin-off/sequel to My Hime (it’s heavily hinted the events of My Hime cause the events of My Otome), a teen girl goes to a famous school for Otome, women who use nanotechnology to become superpowered warriors and keep wars at bay by working directly for the rulers of different nations. The girl goes there hoping to become an Otome and find out who her mother, a former Otome, was. While there, she makes friends, falls in love, and becomes embroiled in a plot to take over not just the country the school is located in, but the whole world.

This anime features a lot of characters from the original anime (possibly reincarnated after several centuries), and a less cosmic/Apocalypse-themed plot, but at the same time allows these new characters to shine and has the same expert storytelling as the previous series. If you like My Hime, definitely check out My Otome.

Well, that’s eight anime I recommend. Thanks for sticking with me through this long article. But tell me, which anime peaked your interest? Have you seen any of the above-mentioned shows? What were your thoughts? And what would you recommend seeing? Let’s discuss.

And if you like anime and horror, maybe consider becoming an advanced reader for my upcoming novel Rose, about a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). The concept itself is influenced by anime and my love of the medium, and I think it shows. If this at all interests you, send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com and I’ll put you on the list. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

*For those unaware, isekai stories are about people from our world who end up in alternate worlds or dimensions with strong fantasy or sci-fi elements. They often end up becoming chosen heroes, going on quests, or otherwise becoming central to the events of the world they’re in. Sometimes these worlds are real life versions of video games the protagonist is playing prior to changing dimensions, is itself a video game, or has some video game elements. It’s one of the most popular genres out there right now. The more you know.

Your protagonist is faced with a terrible choice. Whatever choice they make, they’ll be gaining one great thing but losing something else that’s equally important to them. Which one do they choose? Why can’t they have both? And is that even a possibility?

Sound familiar? This is actually a pretty common trope in a lot of fiction, the “Two Big Life Choices” trope. And I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan of it, at least in theory. I see its use, but as the title of this post indicates, the trope has its limits.

Let’s quickly go over it with a hypothetical example, shall we? You’ve got a character, a protagonist who has a big life choice set ahead of them and they have to make a choice soon. Let’s say it’s a young man who is given the chance to be the leader of a powerful mafia clan. His parents, friends and the clan itself want him to take over the clan, and saying no could lead to consequences for him, his parents, the clan and many innocents. On the other hand, he has a girlfriend and child that the former doesn’t know about just because of all that drama, and he wants to stay with them. Problem is, if he accepts the leadership position, he’ll have to leave his family forever to keep them safe. Which will he choose?

This is the Two Big Life Choices trope. And you’ll find it in many different places throughout fiction. Most recently, I found it in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix, and that inspired this post.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has a great example of this trope in its first few episodes.

But as I said, this trope does have its limits. To be specific, while in able hands the trope does create for some strong tension and storytelling while the protagonist goes back and forth between their choices, it will eventually lead to a choice being made. Otherwise, the audience will lose interest with the constant hemming and hawing.

In our hypothetical example, the protagonist could choose to join the mafia clan, destroying his relationship with his girlfriend and child, as well as hardening/numbing all of them to everything that happens from here on out, but allowing one of the most powerful mafia clans in the story’s world to survive under a strong leader. On the other hand, he could give up the mafia clan and run away with his family, leading to his happiness but the dissolution of the clan or it being passed to a leader who will hunt him down for leaving the clan in the lurch, which means they’ll be on the run for the rest of their lives.

You can see where my problem with this trope comes from.

Sometimes though–not every time, but sometimes–there’s a third path to take. This is when the protagonist actually decides to defy convention and take both options or neither one, forging an entirely new road. In the case of our hypothetical story, the protagonist could demand that since all the other options for clan leadership suck, he’ll take the job but only if he’s allowed to marry his girlfriend and raise his child with her under the clan’s protection. This could lead to all sorts of interesting conflicts as the protagonist deals with the strains of trying to be a husband and a father while at the same time dealing with the demands and politics of leading a powerful mafia clan. And for many audience members, this could be the most wished-for option, even when it doesn’t seem all that likely.

Conversely, the protagonist could decide “screw it” on both options and just run in the exact opposite direction, but I’ve never seen that option employed and I have doubts about the quality of the story if it is used. Or the quality of the character.

The managa Nisekoi uses this trope very well, especially in the final arc.

Now, despite its limitations and while I’m not exactly a big fan of this trope in theory (which might limit how much I use it in my own fiction), I do admit that when done right in practice, it is amazing. One story that uses this trope extremely well is the manga Nisekoi, where the “Big Life Choice” is the protagonist trying to decide between two girls he has feelings for in the final chapters of the story. I freaking loved that manga, and looked forward to every single one of its twenty-five volumes. Another great example is the above-mentioned The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, where this trope is a driving force through the first couple of episodes of the first season. And as we can see from the show’s critical reception, people (and this half-human demon lord) love the show and can’t wait for Season 2.

So yes, while this trope does have some limits, it can make for some fun storytelling. The thing to keep in mind while using it is, beyond an interesting set of choices for both character and audiences, keeping the drama and tension high while at the same time keeping it from being melodramatic, as well as figuring out how best to handle the drama that ensues once the choice has been made.

If you can do that, you might just have the makings of a very engaging story. One that can last quite a long time, and will have fans for years afterwards.

What are some good examples of the Two Big Life Choices trope?

Do you use the trope in your own work? What tips do you have for using it?

It’s here! It’s today! It’s the day I celebrate every damn day of the year, even during the High Holidays, but which I celebrate twice as hard in October, because everybody is celebrating it too. It’s Halloween!

I’ve always loved Halloween and the month of October.* In fact, I consider it the most wonderful time of the year. And before you say December and Christmas is the most wonderful time of year, think about this: during this month, you start worrying about a fat old man who watches and stalks you for three-hundred sixty-four days out of the year, and then one night breaks into your home via the chimney. And depending on whatever his judgment of your behavior is, he’s either going to leave behind awful fossil fuels or consumer goods that violate so many patent, copyright and trademark laws, you could be pulled into a class action lawsuit just by association. Prove me wrong!

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of problems I have with calling December the most wonderful time of the year.

But back to Halloween. You know what makes it really special? It’s a holiday both for the mainstream of society and outcast. For one day, you’re allowed to be someone else and revel in that. No one’s allowed to break that spell, and those who do are cursed to be jerks.

No one’s ever accused me of being mainstream. There were times where I didn’t have many friends, and when I did, I was always a little bit different from them. Call it being neuroatypical, call it being half-human and half-entity from another universe, call it just being different. There was always this barrier between me and other people.

But on Halloween, all that changed. Kids and adults changed into costumes, became other beings and we were all equals. We all had a simple goal of showing off our costumes, getting candy, and having a spooky delightful time. It was magic for me. And as I got older, that magic has still been part of my love for the holiday. That, and more people actually get my obsession with things dark and creepy and horrifying and get into it, too.

But also this strange equalizing. For one night, we’re as different as can be from ourselves and from others, but we’re all equal and having a fun time. In a world where the wrong kind of scary is all too common, that’s something special.

I’m pretty sure if there’s a Heaven that I’ll be allowed into, and if that Heaven individualizes itself for each person in it, it’s going to be a forever Halloween. Lots of people in costumes, and my costume changes at my whim. Plus real monsters to fly around and terrify with. Lots of candy that never tastes bad and never upsets your stomach. There are endless horror themed rides and mazes, as well as libraries and theaters with an endless supply of horror movies, TV shows, books, manga and anime, music and art. All to digest at your leisure. The sun is never a problem (which is good, because even outside of sunscreen season, I have to worry about sun damage to my skin and even to my eyes!), and it’s just cool enough for sweatshirts. And everyone’s as friendly and chummy as the Addams Family, even after you scare them silly. And no one ever feels left out.

Like Hell Fest, but much better.

Seems like a nice dream, doesn’t it? And if it’s one I can someday achieve (though hopefully not too soon), I’ll be happy.

Wishing you a Happy Halloween this year!

In the meantime, I’ll work on making a Heaven on Earth. By that I mean, becoming a successful horror author who can afford to host an awesome Halloween party every October and get a bunch of people into a room to celebrate being scary together.

Wow, I really went on a ramble, didn’t I? Anyway, I think you get what Halloween means to me, don’t you? And I hope it means something special to you too.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll have another post out by the end of the day, a review of a new scary movie. Until then, Happy Halloween and pleasant nightmares!

*Even if, in Central Ohio, this is the month when summer heat and humidity changes to winter chill. Yeah, there’s no autumn here. It just switches from one extreme to the other. I’m pretty sure God’s punishing us for something, but I can’t figure out what.

From left to right: Sailor Mercury, Sailor Mars, Sailor Moon, Sailor Jupiter, and Sailor Venus.

I’ve been wanting to do this a long time, especially after the post about my favorite manga series did unexpectedly well. Just had to have the right timing. And as this weekend is the first of two Sailor Moon movie screenings,* I figured now would be a good time to discuss one of my favorite anime of all time, Sailor Moon. What it is, why it’s great, and what it means to me personally. There’s a chance that very few people are interested in that, but I’ve often been surprised by what gets read the most on this blog, so who knows? Perhaps you’re as interested in why a 25-year-old horror writer holds a debt to Sailor Moon as I am.

So if you’re somehow unaware of what I’m talking about, Sailor Moon is a Japanese media franchise that started off with a manga by Naoko Takeuchi and has since seen several different adaptations, the most enduring and popular of which is the anime that ran from 1992-1997. Stories vary slightly from iteration to iteration,** but the basic structure across all, especially the anime, involves a 14-year-old teenager named Usagi Tsukino who learns from a talking cat that she is a guardian with special powers bestowed upon her by the moon who must gather allies, find a mysterious princess and her magic gem, and stop dark forces from taking over the world. Thus she becomes Sailor Moon (the Sailor part referring to her superhero outfit being based on the sailor-style school uniform), a magical warrior dedicated to love and justice.

And if you’re unfamiliar with the show, just based on that description and the photo above, you might think that this is the silliest premise ever. And I’ll admit, you’re  not wrong. It is kind of a silly show at times, and not without its problems. Most episodes were formulaic monster-of-the-week stories with the characters discovering a scheme by the enemy of the season and destroying a monster. There was also a lot of reused animations, which was typical for a lot of anime from the 90’s (and today, to a degree). And let’s face it, the main character Usagi Tsukino/Sailor Moon isn’t your ordinary protagonist. She starts out as only caring about sleeping, eating, relaxing and finding a cute boyfriend. Fighting evil is the last thing she wants to do!

Oh, and this show was also being made simultaneously the manga. So while the former took cues from the latter, it often had to make drastic changes and that occasionally led to glaring storytelling issues. (*cough* rainbow crystals? *cough*)

Usagi Tsukino, aka Sailor Moon. Goofy as heck, but a heart and the capacity to grow braver with every episode.

But despite all that, there’s quite a number of things that this anime has going for that. For one thing, the characters: in the 1980s, female characters were in animated shows were either just “the girl” (ex. Smurfette or Arcee) or they all existed to sell toys and didn’t have very distinct personalities from one another (ex. the original My Little Pony). But Sailor Moon was special as each of its female leads had very distinct personalities: Usagi/Sailor Moon is goofy but kindhearted; Ami/Sailor Mercury is smart and bookish; Rei/Sailor Mars is a hotheaded but empathetic psychic; Makoto/Sailor Jupiter is a strong-willed fighter with a passion for baking and gardening; and Minako/Sailor Venus is a fun-loving but ambitious girl and a skilled warrior. Not only that, but throughout the series, the characters would have individual episodes devoted to their growth where they worked on overcoming their flaws and issues. Even Sailor Moon, who always retained her goofiness throughout the series, became a strong leader and fighter who wouldn’t hesitate to fight to protect the world she loves. This ended up creating a mix of role models that people like me growing up could look up to and identify with on a number of levels.

There’s also the fact that this show was hugely empowering for a number of kids back in the day. On the one level, it is highly feminist in its portrayal of its female leads. They are able to fight off their enemies while still retaining their personalities and femininity, and the show doesn’t make a huge deal out of it (like they would if characters regularly shouted “Girl Power!” or something). Even if the male lead of the show often helped out and stepped in during a pinch, it was still the ladies doing the main fighting. That’s really amazing. And on another level, you have regular teenagers saving the world from forces that are cosmic in their power. When you consider the other big superhero shows at the time were shows like Batman or Superman, that’s big. I mean, one’s a billionaire and the other’s an alien. How many kids growing up with those shows were either of those? And then you had Sailor Moon, with ordinary teens, teens we already looked up to, being chosen to be superheros. Do you know how inspirational that could be to kids back then?

And those are just a couple of reasons this show has been so enduring and beloved. It’s also been noted for being very LGBT-progressive at a time when that wasn’t usual; for pumping new life into the magical girl genre of anime that’s still flowing today; for influencing a number of shows, including the American hits Steven Universe and Star vs the Forces of Evil; and so much more. It’s no wonder that the show has endured and continues to find new fans.***

Sailor Moon and Luna Funko Pop dolls. There are good reasons why I bought them, and why I hope to buy more someday.

And as I said, I owe this series a huge debt. Sailor Moon is still one of my favorite anime ever. I identified with many of the characters, and Sailor Moon herself made a big impact on me. She wasn’t hero material at all when she started out, but over the course of the series she truly became a hero. That’s a character arc I still include in my own stories (Zahara Bakur from Reborn City, anyone?). Not to mention this show helped plant the seeds of feminism in my young mind.

And you know what else? I still find reasons to love this show to this day. Just a couple of months ago, this show gave me a pep talk when I was feeling a little disenchanted with writing. It was quite powerful, and it reignited my love for storytelling again. If a show that’s older than me can do that, then I’m glad I still watch it all these years.

To sum up this monster of a blog post, Sailor Moon is just an awesome show, and it isn’t hard to see why it endures to this day. And if you’re at all interested, I highly recommend checking the anime out, or any of the other incarnations out there.  You never know. You may get out of it something special like I did all those years ago.

Are you or have you been a fan of Sailor Moon? What did/do you like about it?

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Thanks for reading this long post of mine. I hope you liked it. Maybe someday I’ll write more posts about anime I love. Would you like that? If so, let me know. And until next time, pleasant nightmares.

*The first two films get screened in theaters this Saturday, and a special and the third movie is next Saturday. Probably won’t surprise you that I have tickets for both.

**And I’m sorry I won’t discuss those here. Perhaps I’ll discuss some of the other adaptations another day.

***Especially with more faithful translations. Back in the 90’s when I found the show, it was heavily edited to make it more geared towards American kids, because that’s what you did with anime in the 90’s. While I still have fond memories of that edited version, I’m glad that nowadays you can get the anime without all those silly edits or American character names. It feels more pure that way, and endears it more to new fans.

Well, looks like I’m not the only one who’s having a dream come true. And I’m very excited about this interview. She’s a rather unique voice I’ve come to know recently.

I first met Rabbi Leiah Moser back in December, when I ran across one of her posts on her blog, Dag Gadol (Hebrew for “big fish”). Her post was about why, as a rabbi, she was writing a fantasy novel. I read through it, and I found that not only did she have some good points, but there was something about this blog and its writer’s voice I found compelling. As I read further, I found out that not only was she a Member of the Tribe, a rabbi, and a writer, but a member of the LGBT community. And here’s me, not just a writer, a Member of the Tribe and of the LGBT community, but the son of two rabbis, one of whom is also LGBT. I think the first line of my first comment on her blog was something like, “An LGBT female rabbi who writes fiction. Where has this blog been my whole blogging life?” Thus started our acquaintanceship.

Recently, Rabbi Moser announced that her YA fantasy novel, Magical Princess Harriet, had been published and was live on Amazon. Me being me, I offered to give her an interview here on my blog. Thus are we here today to here about Rabbi Moser and Magical Princess Harriet. Enjoy!

Rami Ungar: Welcome to my blog, Rabbi Moser. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.

Rabbi Moser: I think I’ve wanted to write a fantasy novel since I was in the sixth grade, but the road to actually achieving that ambition has been a long and convoluted one. Throughout my teenage years and into adulthood I tried my hand at writing fiction from time to time, but never managed to actually finish anything to my satisfaction, partially I think because I still hadn’t managed to get the whole identity thing nailed down. Trying to write without really knowing who you are is like trying to run on loose sand — the ground keeps shifting beneath you and you never seem to make any progress. After a while I kind of gave up on the dream of being a writer. I tried to find other dreams to pursue, but in a lot of ways I was just drifting.

Then while I was living in Japan I had this really intense religious experience. It’s kind of hard to explain, but the practical upshot was that afterwards I had this absolutely unshakeable conviction that God was real and that I needed to be Jewish. When I got back to the United States I found a synagogue and began attending, and after a while converted to Judaism. Later on, I decided I wanted to deepen my Jewish learning so I could do more work in the Jewish community, and that’s how I ended up moving out to Philadelphia to go to rabbinical school.

Rabbinical school was amazing, but before too long I was running into the same problem there that I’d had with my writing, namely that to do this kind of work you really have to bring your authentic self, whereas I’d been doing my best to hide from my authentic self ever since I was in middle school. After a great deal of soul searching I decided to come out as transgender and start my process of transitioning, and that, of all times, was when I finally realized that I had an idea for a book that I wanted to write. It was really that closely connected — converted to Judaism, came out as trans, and then the idea for Magical Princess Harriet popped up out of nowhere begging to be written.

If anything what I’ve learned from all this is that in this life things sometimes have to happen in a certain order and I am in no way the one who gets to decide what that order is. As they say in Yiddish, a mensch tracht un got lacht (a person plans and God laughs).

The cover of Magical Princess Harriet.

RU: Reminds me of the old country. So tell us about your new book, Magical Princess Harriet. I’ve heard some good things.

RM: Magical Princess Harriet is a young adult fantasy novel that draws its inspiration in roughly equal amounts from the “magical girl” genre of anime, Jewish mysticism, and my own strong feelings about LGBT inclusion and neurodiversity in Judaism. It’s about a young trans girl named Harriet Baumgartner who is doing her best to avoid having to think about the persistent feeling she has that she’s not supposed to be a boy, when a pushy angel named Nuriel shows up and tells her that she’s a magical princess now and that it’s her job to protect her town from the forces of darkness. (A quick side note: You have no idea how difficult it is to figure out how to talk about a book in which the main character changes their name and pronouns a third of the way in without misgendering them. Of all the challenges I’ve faced in figuring out how to explain this book to people, that has been the most difficult!)

RU: Tell us about some of the characters, and why we might like (or if applicable, hate) them.

RM: Harriet I’ve talked about a little already, so let me talk about her friend Frances.

Frances and Harriet have been best friends for years, ever since they met in Hebrew school. When Frances was six years old she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and ever since she’s been pushing back against peoples’ tendency to regard her as stupid or crazy because she sometimes has trouble speaking. Obsessed with architecture, she has an inherent talent for understanding spatial relationships, which serves the kids well in the labyrinthine corridors of Arbory Middle School where the ordinary laws of space and geometry tend to break down.

The girl on the cover with the lavender hair and the dark holes where her eyes ought to be is Kasadya. She looks like that because she’s one of the nephilim, a group of creatures who got their start as angels unwilling to devote their existences to service. As a nephil-girl, she has the power to influence human minds, and she has used this ability to turn the middle school into her own private domain… well, private except for her brother Azrael, that is, but as far as she’s concerned she is the one in charge. Kasadya likes to think of herself as an epic villain from a TV show or comic book, and she’s been waiting for a hero to come along to challenge her. When Harriet shows up, glowing like a disco ball, it occurs to Kasadya that she might fit the bill — much to Harriet’s chagrin.

RU: What was the inspiration for MPH? Did any of your own life experiences make their way into or influence your writing of the story?

RM: I think all of my life experiences made it into the book in one way or another. This was an intensely personal project for me.

RU: MPH had an illustrator, Magdalena Zwierzchowska. How did you two meet and what was it like working with her on the book?

RM: When I got to the point where I was thinking seriously about publishing this book for real I knew I wanted to find an illustrator. I’ve always been a very visual person myself, and know how helpful illustrations can be in solidifying one’s sense of the world an author is presenting. How we met was fairly prosaic — I posted an ad on DeviantArt indicating that I was looking for someone to illustrate this book, and she was one of nine or ten people who responded. I was totally charmed by her work, by the gorgeous, surreal creepiness of it, and so she got the job.

Working with her was easy in some ways, difficult in others. She was extremely professional and always willing to listen to my input and feedback regarding how the characters and setting elements should look. The tough part was figuring out how to translate the images I had in my head into concrete instructions she could use. In the end I was very pleased with how it all turned out. I think it has a very unique look.

An illustration of a seraph by Magdalena Zweirczkowska.

RU: You address several issues in the pages of MPH: autism spectrum disorder, Jewish identity, gender identity, intersectionality, etc. Was it hard to talk about those subjects in the book?

RM: Yes. Not because I normally find it difficult to talk about these topics (on the contrary, most of the time I can’t shut up about them!) but because I didn’t want to address them in a way that would come across as preachy. That may sound a bit weird, coming from someone whose job literally involves preaching, but I was writing with the assumption that these were things my target audience, middle schoolers and teens, are dealing with every day, and the awareness of that fact demanded that I approach what I was doing with a self-critical eye.

RU: MPH is a crowdfunded, self-published book. What made you decide not only to self-publish, but to crowdfund your story?

RM: While it is theoretically possible that I could have found a publisher for a book like this, my hopes were not high. That has nothing to do with the quality of the book, mind you, but rather its subject matter. MPH in many ways defies categorization. I mean, Jewish fantasy is not exactly a well-represented subgenre, is it? Add on top of that the transgender element and… well, I felt like I might be able to find a publisher for a Jewish fantasy book, and I might be able to find a publisher for a queer fantasy book, but a queer, Jewish fantasy book with a transgender protagonist? That’s where I wasn’t so sure.

Also, I’ll admit, there was a part of the decision that was about actively wanting to do it myself. I’ve always been fascinated with every aspect of the publishing process, and with print-on-demand and online sales venues making it so easy to self-publish these days, it seemed like a waste to write the book and then turn it over to someone else to produce. I probably bit off more than I could chew, and I had to spend a lot of time learning about things like layout and formatting for print, but in the end I’m really happy with the way it turned out.

RU: What has the reception for MPH been like so far (from congregants, friends and family, random Internet people, etc.)?

RM: It’s still early days, but so far all the feedback I’ve been getting has been very positive. The first question of everyone who’s actually finished the book has been, “When is the next one coming out?”, so that’s pretty great to hear. My one thing is that because my Kickstarter backers are obviously all adults, I haven’t yet received any feedback from the young people who are the primary audience of the book. I’m really looking forward to that.

RU: Are you working on anything new? And what are your plans for the future?

RM: Right now I’m mainly focusing on getting the word out about Magical Princess Harriet, but I have plans for at least two more books in the series. After that… well, who knows? It all depends on what kind of response I get, I guess. I really loved writing this book, and now that I know I can, I feel like there’s very little stopping me from writing another, and another, and…

RU: What advice would you give another writer, regardless of background or experience?

RM: Write! But that’s ridiculously obvious and patronizing, so I take it back. Here’s the best piece of advice I can give: Take the time to figure out who you are and to learn how to be okay with that. Writing can be this incredibly daunting thing because those ideas and feelings on the page you just handed to someone else to read are basically you. It’s hard not to get intimidated by that and start pulling back, to restrain the words, force them into a mold that’s more about what you think others are expecting than it is about what you have to write. Edit your writing, not yourself.

And also: It is ridiculously easy to publish a book these days. Give it a try, you’ll see what I mean.

RU: Final question: if you were stuck on a desert island for a little while and could only take three books with you, which ones would you picks?

RM: Ack! That’s so hard! Assuming that “three books” refers to three actual bound volumes and that bringing an entire set would be cheating, I have to go with:

  • Volume 2 of my portable Talmud set (the one with massechet Chagigah)
  • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
  • A copy of The Star of Redemption by Franz Rosenzweig, because then I might be able to actually finish the darn thing.

RU: Thanks for being on the show, Rabbi Moser. We all hope the book does well.

If you’re interested in checking out Magical Princess Harriet, you can check it out on Amazon. And I highly recommend checking out her website Dag Gadol. Trust me, it’s a great site and I always enjoy seeing new posts in my inbox.

And if you would like to have an interview for your new book, hit me up on my Interviews page or email me at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com, and we’ll see if we can make some magic happen.

I’ve mentioned plenty of times before on this blog how much I love manga and anime. I’ve even written before how writers should check it out for a boost to their creativity. Well today, I’d like to talk about my favorite manga series, Red River by Chie Shinohara, which ran in Japan from 1995 to 2002. I absolutely love this series, and have since I discovered it prior to entering college seven years ago (and for numerous reasons, it took me nearly that long to get each volume and read it). I’m actually rereading it now, and I’m still in love with the story.

With the awesomeness of this series, it’s one I actually don’t see a lot of people talking about, so I thought I’d do a review to spread the word a bit. I don’t know if this post will get a lot of reads, or if the review will get a lot of people interested in reading the manga, but you never know. So without further ado, let me tell you about Red River:

The manga follows Yuri Suzuki, a Japanese teenager who finds herself pulled through time and space to the Hittite Empire in ancient Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). She’s been brought there because Nakia, the current queen and the emperor’s third wife, needs to make sure her son, who’s rather low in the succession order, attains the throne and a special sacrifice is needed. Yuri is meant to be that sacrifice, and narrowly avoids being killed thanks to the intervention of Prince Kail, the third Hittite prince. Together, they try to find a way to get Yuri home, while also circumnavigating not only Nakia’s schemes for power, but the schemes of others who would do them and the Hittite Empire harm, and at the same time finding something in each other they couldn’t find in anyone else.

This is a story of the same stripe as Game of Thrones: struggles for power in a grand empire, magic, history, battles with swords and chariots, romance, an exotic setting and a rich culture, and some great characters whom you grow to love and root for (and somehow remember a lot more easily despite the Mesopotamian/Biblical names).  And the characters are the best part:

First off, there’s Yuri, our heroine. I love this sort of character. While she starts off as a damsel-in-distress, she grows throughout the story, showing strong nerve, cleverness, and a desire to do what’s right, which allows her to save herself from difficult situations and gain several followers along the way. Prince Kail, based on the historical Mursili II, initially comes off as a playboy prince, but over time reveals a young man with the weight of the empire on his shoulders. He’s a brilliant politician and tactician, occasionally rash and impulsive, but above all loyal to those he loves and will go out of their way to help them if he can. And Queen Nakia is the villain Cersei Lannister aspires to be: while she’s beautiful, she doesn’t rely on her looks. Instead she uses a combination of magic, political power, brains, and manipulation to accomplish her goals. She doesn’t necessarily even need Yuri’s death to accomplish those goals, it’s just Plan A. And believe me, if she sees an opportunity, she’ll develop a Plan B, C and D.

A full-color shot from Red River.

The storytelling is also phenomenal, taking actual historic events and people and weaving them seamlessly into a story that also manages to balance intrigue and romance very well. In addition to Nakia, there are other enemies, usually enemy states and their leaders, who attempt to conquer the Hittite Empire or just to the characters themselves. Throughout the series, suspense is kept high with a variety of plots against the characters, as well as numerous twists that keep readers on their toes. And the romance is never too sappy or idealistic, but often shows how the leads have to struggle not only to make their relationship work, but also to make it legal in the eyes of the Hittite Empire (politics, am I right?).

And finally, there’s the art style. It’s meant to be quite appealing to readers, with characters having proportions similar to what they might have in the real world. There’s also plenty of attention to detail when it comes to locations and attire, which one would expect for a series like this. It all comes together in a visually pleasing package, which is what manga artists go for, so good on that.

Sadly, Red River never had an anime produced, but the manga is available in the United States and Canada (I think, anyway). If you want a story that encompasses ancient Middle Eastern history while filled with intrigue, magic, and romance, this may be the story for you. Check it out, and dive into what could definitely be called a whole new world.