Posts Tagged ‘manga’

I love manga and anime, but I often have trouble getting my hands on horror manga and anime that is actually scary. I’ve found plenty with ghosts, zombies, homunculi, serial killers, and death games, to name a few, but often they’re mixed with other genres to make them more palatable for non-horror fans. Other times I have heard of a scary one, but I can’t get my hands on it (still trying to get my hands on Corpse Party), and other times I just don’t know of some series that I should. So when I actually hear and find some manga or anime that is actually scary, I rejoice. Case in point, Uzumaki by Junji Ito, who is considered one of the greatest horror manga artists from Japan, and it shows in this series.

Uzumaki literally translates into “spiral,” which is the essence of the manga. The story follows Kirie Goshima, a teenage girl living in the town of Kurozou-cho. One day, her boyfriend Shuichi tells her that his father has become obsessed with spiral shapes, to the point that he is losing his grip on reality. This leads to a gruesome series of events that reveal a curse upon the town and the surrounding area, a curse involving spirals, spirals that hypnotize and entrance, spirals that terrify and excite, spirals natural and unnatural. And once the curse sets in, it doesn’t let go.

From the very beginning, Uzumaki is quite extraordinary. Ito illustrates with  incredible attention to detail, which in a horror manga  is necessary if you really want to convey a sense of terror. I mean, look at the imagery below.

Holy crap, that is both well-drawn and scary! You can see every detail, how much  work is put into each stroke of ink to make the imagery look realistic despite being an illustration. And the best part is, Ito is not concerned with aesthetic beauty. You look at most animation, and it’s meant to be pleasing to the eye. To be cool, or pretty, or adorable. Ito doesn’t concern himself with that. He’s concerned with just making you squirm, and he does that so well with his illustrations.

And on top of that, his storytelling abilities are great. Unlike other horror stories, the horror is based on abstract concepts. A geometric shape, the spiral, is what we’re supposed to be afraid of. You’d never think a spiral shape like the one below would be scary, but Ito uses his illustrations, storytelling, and the turn of a page to weave this frightening tale where we’re forced along to find out what happens, fining stranger and stranger things on the succeeding pages. And best of all, Ito just takes things in the most unexpected directions, inserting the spiral into strange places we normally wouldn’t see it. I won’t say what happens, but things like snails or pregnant women get matched with the spiral, and it becomes terrifying. It’s made even better that you don’t actually get a lot of explanation. With ghosts or vampires, you get a mythology on how they work and how to deal with them. In Uzumaki, Ito leaves it up to the imagination as to what’s happening. It’s very unnerving in a Lovecraftian sense to see how this town becomes part of some strange curse around a geometric shape, and never get an explanation.

Doesn't look scary at first. Wait and see.

Doesn’t look scary at first. Wait and see.

If there is one criticism I have, it’s that the people of the town don’t really come to terms with what’s going on as fast as they should. At a certain point, it becomes impossible not to face what’s happening in the town, but up until then, there are plenty of signs that something’s up, and not one of the main characters realize they have to get up and get out before it’s too late. Even the guy who’s constantly saying they should leave doesn’t. At least make an attempt!

But other than that, Uzumaki is a terrifying story of cosmic horror that takes something harmless and give it a weird, disturbing form that will surely stay with you for a while after you finish reading it. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Uzumaki a 4.8 out of 5. If you enjoy horror and don’t mind visual reading like comic books and manga, definitely check out Uzumaki. I’m glad I did, and I will try to track down the move version as soon as possible. Because after seeing these sorts of pictures, I’m curious as to how they’re translated into the cinematic world.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear. Pleasant nightmares.

From the moment I heard about this film, I wanted to see it. It’s horror, it takes place in Japan, specifically Aokigahara (one of the places on my first list of haunted locations I’d like to visit), and the trailers made this thing look awesome. I was excited.

Sadly, the trailers were better than the movie itself, and I will explain why:

First, the story. Natalie Dormer plays Sarah Price, a woman with a cliched psychic connection to her troubled identical twin sister Jess, also played by Dormer. When there’s a disturbance in the Force, Sarah learns that her sister, who was teaching in Japan, has gone into Aokigahara, a forest near Mount Fuji that is a common place for suicides and has a reputation for being haunted by the extremely angry spirits trapped there. Sarah heads to Japan to save her sister, and ventures into the forest, which in turn brings all sorts of hell upon her and unearths inner darkness Sarah never wanted dredged up.

I had a lot of problems with this movie. First, there’s the protagonist. Sarah Price is not a very interesting character. It’s no fault of Dormer–I’ve seen her in other stuff, I know she’s a great actress–but beyond the psychic connection and a reckless love for her sister, the character is rather flat and dull. She does border on interesting when talking about her past, but that’s it. In fact, most of the characters are rather boring. Probably the only one that peaks your interest is Aiden, who helps Sarah look for her sister, but that’s mostly because you’re never sure what his motives are or if he can be trusted. And Sarah’s husband? You really could cut him from the film and it wouldn’t affect a thing.

Next, the storytelling and the mood. The movie moves rather slowly through most of the first hour, establishing exposition and introducing us to the relationship between Sarah and Jess. Important, but not particularly interesting. It isn’t until they’re already deep in the forest that the story actually tries to scare you, but even then most of the scares are jump scares, and even the best of jump scares are meaningless if they’re not tempered with other stuff, like a tense, suspenseful and horrifying mood, which the movie only really does just the once. By the end of the movie, when the film tries to surprise you with a few twists, one feels forced and awkward, while the other you saw coming a mile away. Just not very effective in terms of storytelling or making you feel scared.

Finally, there’s the effects. Now, I know on a budget of ten million dollars you can’t do much in the special effects department, but the effects they use in this film are for the most part pretty stupid. There’s a scene where a ghost is revealed in a cave, and I was expecting like out of The Ring or The Grudge (originally Japanese stories, if you didn’t know). Instead we get a goofy fanged monster-girl that looks more like a carnival attraction monster than a real ghost, and in the last few minutes of the film we get some CGI ghosts, which are about as scary as a frying pan. There’s one shot in the last few seconds of movie with such a ghost, and I felt more contempt than fear when I saw it, because it was so obviously fake. They might as well have had an actor put on a sheet with eye-holes, save a few dollars on computer-rendering, because that’s how lame it was.

So did The Forest have anything I liked? Actually yes: besides beautiful shots of Tokyo (always nice to see Tokyo when it’s not animated or hand-drawn), the film does a great job of making you question what’s real. Once Sarah is really trapped in Aokigahara, you find yourself questioning everything: river directions, people’s intentions, whether anything you’re seeing is real or all in Sarah’s head. You even question for most of the film what is the real source of the hauntings Sarah experiences: is it ghosts or a living forest? Or is it maybe psychological or even an infection from some bug? The movie makes a good case for all four throughout the course of the story, and even now I’m not really sure what the true answer is. Not that I’m spending a lot of time thinking about the answer, mind you.

Another thing that the movie has going for it is that when the jump scares occur, you really do jump pretty hard. One woman in the theater even cried out after one particular jump scare. That’s not enough to redeem the film, but it does work in its favor. And finally, the film’s got the wheels in my head turning, looking for stories that could come out of it. In my opinion, inspiring me and other writers and creative types is always a good thing, especially if it leads to good stories.

On the whole though, I find The Forest below average, earning a 2.6 out of 5. It’s premise is promising, and it tries hard, but on the whole can’t deliver. You’d be better off staying at home and renting The Ring or The Grudge if you want Japanese-inspired horror. At least this film didn’t ruin my desire to visit Aokigahara (only to see it and sate my horror author’s interest in creepy stuff, though. I would not visit it for the reason other people do).

And if you would like some good horror, consider some of my work. Right now, all my books are on sale until Thursday from Amazon, Createspace and Smashwords. Check them out now and pick up a great read for an even greater price. Trust me, this is an opportunity you do not want to miss.

I just recently finished the second draft of “Gynoid”, a sci-fi love story novelette. During that time, I thought a lot about romance in fiction. Have you noticed that it’s everywhere? In fiction, you find a lot of time devoted to find your one true love, and in real life, you find people not just actively looking for their one true love(s), but even measuring themselves by fictional couples! Our music is rife with love songs or how love is betrayed (the so-called “Song of Songs” in the Bible is one huge erotic love song), and if you go back in time, some of our oldest stories involve love and lovers.

Heck, it’s in a lot of my fiction too! And I write fiction where “love” is more likely intense adrenaline and a shared peril being mistaken for attraction. Snake has a love story that’s central to its plot, Reborn City has a bit of romance in it here and there, and..well, you saw the description for “Gynoid” above.

But rather than speculate on why romance and finding it is such a big thing (I think we can all guess at the answer, right?), I think I’m going to share some of the trade secrets I’ve gleaned over the years from other writers and from my own romantic experience, both writing it and from experiencing it (do not ask me which I have more of. I wouldn’t want to upset anyone) on writing romance in your stories. Why? No particular reason, it’s just on my mind and in my stories so much I feel like talking about it. And I know I might not be the most qualified person to talk about the subject–I know I’m not a romance writer–but I know a bit, and since when has not being an expert ever stopped anyone from talking about anything? (*cough* climate change deniers in Congress *cough*)

So let’s begin on my tips for including romance in your stories:

  1. Give the characters personalities, make them fully-rounded and three-dimensional. I feel like often times some of our most celebrated romances involve people who are just good-looking nice folk and not much else. Romeo and Juliet were a sad emo guy with a thing for teenagers and Juliet was a teenager, Cosette and whatever her guy’s name was were good-looking and nice but they weren’t much else, and Katniss Everdeen…okay, Katniss was at least well-rounded. You knew who she was, what her problems were, what she stood for, and what she was willing to do to overcome those problems. Her love interests, on the other hand, just seemed there so as to add something to the story that the story might have done fine without. I mean, Gale is just handsome and angry with the Capitol, and I can’t tell what Peeta is besides sweet. One minute he’s skillful enough to manipulate the hearts of the whole Capitol, the next he’s too naive to tell that Katniss is using him for survival. Make him one or the other! Seriously, if you’re going to bother putting love interests in the story, I’m going to need a reason to ship either of them besides their attractiveness and professions of love.
    And that brings me to my next point:

    It took a long time, but these two became a wonder couple.

  2. What’s the reason they fall for each other? Please don’t say, “Oh, they’re good-looking”, it’s got to be more than that…or heroin-flavored blood. Take one of my favorite anime of all time, Sailor Moon (yeah, I’m a huge fan of that even so many years on. Moonies forever!): all of the main characters are good-looking. So why does Sailor Moon end up with the male lead, especially when in every adaptation of the story they start out fighting and disliking each other and in some he’s already seeing someone else? Leaving aside backstory exposition, I think they just grow comfortable with each other over time. They realize they can be honest with each other and that their faults are just part of who they are. Cute parts too. And it helps when they find out each other’s secret identities, which shows how courageous and reliable they are to one another, to the point they make a pretty good partnership, in love and in combat.
    Another example I’d like to use is Captain America and Peggy Carver in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which is my only reference point, I was never much of an American comic books reader for some reason). Heck, at the beginning of their relationship, Cap’s a scrawny guy who doesn’t seem like much of a hero, while Agent Carter is…well, Agent Carter. What forms the basis of their relationship is that Carter likes that Cap wants to help out despite all the barriers facing him, and his sweet and loyal personality, while Cap likes that she’s a unique and confident woman who doesn’t need a man and who also doesn’t look down on him for not being tall and buff. Over time and numerous battles, their relationship grows closer and they fall in love, which ultimately doesn’t end well but I’m sure that if things had gone differently, it would have been a different story.
    Speaking of which, here’s point 2a. Shared experiences, especially combat experiences, can bring a relationship closer. Unless of course you and your supposed lover work really horribly together, in which case fighting will just highlight it and you’ll fall apart at the seams.
  3. There is no point where the relationship becomes perfect. Work is involved. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about relationships in the real world, they’re always a work in progress. Why? Because we’re all works in progress, so our relationships are too. There’s going to be rough times, where the characters struggle or worry that something or someone will come along and the good thing they have going will be ruined. Back to Sailor Moon for a second. Fans agree that the heroine and her man are a strong and stable couple (though whether or not it’s a good coupling, I find people disagree on the subject more than you’d think), but they do have to work at it. Besides enemies that threaten to pull them apart for whatever reason, they have the normal couple troubles: people who seem like better matches coming along, occasional misunderstandings, an unexpected child. Heck, they even broke up for a time during the anime’s second season. Just goes to show that even great couples have ups and downs.
    And the best part is, you can extend these meetings, character explorations, falling-in-love scenes, and ups and downs over several books. In fact, half of the fun of the TV show Scandal is watching the heroine Olivia have an on-again, off-again relationship with the (married) President of the United States. You never know how that one is going to work out. And as long as you can keep it going, the more you get to explore these characters and their relationships (provided fans don’t start to get bored, of course).
    And now that we’ve discussed what makes for a relationship, let’s discuss some content.
  4. Sex is not always necessary. Yeah, I know we live in a hyper-sexualized society where everything has a sexy component to it, and I know I included a steamy sex scene in Snake, but seriously, sex isn’t always necessary. In fact, some people prefer romance stories without anything racier than a kiss or two. There’s actually an entire sub-genre of romance like that, it’s called sweet romance, where the characters don’t have sexual relations before marriage (or commitment too, maybe) and it has a big and loyal following. Besides, some authors aren’t comfortable with sex scenes. I know I wasn’t at first, though I later got more comfortable with them. So if you don’t want to do one, there’s no law saying you have to.

    Love the relationship dynamics of this show!

  5. Also, you don’t have to just have one person love only one other. I know there are a couple of Buffy fans reading this blog. One of the best parts of that show is the characters had many different relationships over the 7 seasons. Buffy herself had three major relationships over the course of the series.  The writers could’ve had her with Angel, her first love, through the whole series, but they allowed her, Angel, and many others to explore other relationships and really mature through that. Same with Teen Wolf, which had two main characters being “meant to be forever and ever”, but gradually changed things up over time. So if you want to, you can have characters wait a long time and go through several relationships before finding the right person.
    Especially with love triangles. I hear there are quite a few series out there where a good dose of fun is trying to find out who the main character will end up with in the end, especially when there’s two really great, fleshed-out characters to choose from (though usually from what I hear it’s whoever the protagonist meets first).
    And this brings me to my final point.
  6. Don’t do it because everyone else is. And no, that’s not a drug PSA (though you shouldn’t do those either. Not even weed, that stuff will mess with your system). Yeah, you see people putting all these different things in their stories–love quadrangles, the other man or woman, unexpected pregnancies, even some sexual exploration. Only put those in your story if you feel they’re what the story needs, not what others say you should put in or what others are putting into their stories. Believe me, that’s how I avoided something really unnecessary romance-related stuff in Reborn City, and that worked out great for me.

I’m going to end it right here, but I have to say, there’s a lot more that I could include in this post. Suffice to say, there are a lot of intricacies to writing romance and love stories (point number 7, a romance has a happy ending, a love story doesn’t have to. Learned that a romance writer friend of mine), and you learn these things over time. But hey, in the end they can lead to some really great stories, and maybe melt a heart or two while you’re at it.

What romance writing tips do you have? Do you feel romance is important to your stories or not so much?

Here’s a fun manga I highly recommend.

Well, that was a longer title than what I usually give a blog post. But it contains grains of truth.

Last night I was reading a manga in bed. The manga was Hikaru no Go, which is about a boy who starts learning how to play Go (a Japanese board game, for those of you who haven’t heard of it before) and how he becomes a better Go player. While it’s not the kind of story you’d expect to have you at the edge of your bed, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I wanted to know if the main character passed the pro test (in Japan, you can take the pro test if you’re under the age of 30), and was reading as fast as I could to find out what happened.

When I finally got to the last chapter of the volume I was reading, I couldn’t put the book down. They kept me wondering the results right up until the last moment, and when they finally revealed the results, I jumped out of bed and started doing a funny little dance. Thank goodness I didn’t shout for joy, though I was tempted to (I did not want to wake up my roommate, who had just gone to sleep).

But you see, this illustrates a very important point. While Hikaru no Go isn’t a very complex manga and its rating is for “General Audiences”, the author and illustrator were able to tell the story in such a way that you begin to feel the emotions of the characters and you wish the best for them while at the same time reading on ahead just so you can find out how they are doing. And when the resolution presents itself, you just want to dance like I did at the end of the volume I was reading, because you felt you were there and that you wanted to partake in the celebrations as well.

I think the mark of a great story is when an author can induce this effect in its readers. It’s an effect I don’t usually see in stories, but when I do they end up becoming some of my favorite stories. Every author tries to replicate that effect, and whether or not they do depends on the skill and experience of the author, as well as on the readers who take the time to commit to the story. I know it’s an effect I’ve been trying to create in my stories, and if some of the reviewers of my work are being truthful, I’m getting to the point where I might be able to insert that effect into my stories.

But how does one go about getting that effect into the stories? I’m not sure any author can answer that very well. The only advice I can give is that you should read a lot and take notes on what the writers did in the novels or other stories you find yourself celebrating with the authors. Then trty to replicate that wth your own stories. If your audiences end up enjoying your work and give responses like what you’re looking for, that they celebrated the victory of the characters, then I guess you’ve done your job.

What are some stories you’ve read that made you celebrate the victories of the characters? What do you think the author(s) did to make you feel that way?