Manga Quickies: To-LOVE-Ru

If you’re not into fanservice, To-LOVE-Ru is not for you. This manga pretty much exists for the singular purpose of showing cute, mostly naked girls as much as possible through silly and ridiculous circumstances, and while the characters are decently likable and it has its funny moments, I really can’t imagine getting into this manga if you don’t appreciate the cute, scantily-clad girls. The strength of this series really lies in how well Yabuki Kentaro can draw female bodies, and the story is well aware of this, operating without any intentions of being much more than a series of excuses to get the girls out of their clothes.

As far as the fanservice goes, I rather enjoyed the almost innocent, youthful approach that To-LOVE-Ru takes towards it. I mean there’s no denying that most of the scenarios are incredibly stupid and the characters and their reactions to things that happen are completely unrealistic, but there’s this very real sense to me that the creators of this series had the simple, straightforward desire to make a story that young boys could read to indulge in cute girls. It really does feel like pornography for twelve year-olds, and I mean that in the most complimentary sense that I possibly can.

At the risk of going into TMI territory, when I was a kid porn was kind of scary to me. I wasn’t old enough to understand sex and how it worked, and so much of it seemed seedy, dark, and weird. I was more able to understand simple stuff like cute naked girls in my favorite manga. Even though they were being sexualized, it almost felt incidental, like it wasn’t really a big deal or something. That’s how To-LOVE-Ru feels to me–like something that a kid could read because they like the cute naked girls, but without feeling dirty or overexposed for doing it. That’s what I mean when I say there’s a certain innocence to it.

After all, the artwork is very bright and the story doesn’t take itself seriously in the slightest. It’s full of fun, kinetic little action scenes and bright, bubbly characters of varying degrees of interest. Most of the chapter storylines are incredibly cliche, but I think if I’d read this manga when I was 12, even recognizing some of these cliches, the series would’ve been just funny enough and had just enough action to have captured my interest. As an adult, most of it falls kinda flat, and I’d say I was only able to power through ninety chapters of it because it reads incredibly fast. Dialog is pretty sparse, with lots of large images, so I could read each chapter in a little over a minute; meaning it only took a few hours to power through like nine volumes. There were also little nuggets of things that I enjoyed, such as some of Lala’s creative inventions, and the sub-plot about Lala’s bodyguard, Zastin, becoming an assistant manga artist working for Rito’s dad.

Even though this manga is all about the typical misunderstandings and confusion that any romantic comedy love-polygon manga is full of, it actually manages to feel like it’s making very slow, small progress as it goes along. Characters actually change and grow little by little, and their feelings never return to a previous default state the way they’d tend to in something like, say, Ranma ½. That’s not to say that this series is better than Ranma, since Ranma had way more interesting and original ideas with its characters and storylines, but I do think that it’s a breezier read that lends itself better to the fanservice-driven storyline it has.

Around where I stopped reading though, it seemed like the artwork was moving in a direction of having more and more screentone, giving it a darker look that didn’t fit the breeziness of it as well, and as more and more characters got introduced and the same plotlines kept getting recycled, I found myself losing interest. I did find the story of how To-LOVE-Ru stopped running Shounen Jump to be one hell of a juicy tabloid story, which I recommend looking into if you’re interested, and I had a look at the sequel manga, To-LOVE-Ru Darkness, which currently runs in Jump Square.

If the first series was porn for twelve year-olds, Darkness is porn for the older teens who’ve grown up reading the series. As the artwork has improved, so to has the fanservice gotten way more intense, detailed, and all-encompassing. Some of the breeziness and comedy trappings have been softened, while the service-driven romantic angle is pumped up, along with some of the character development aspects. Unlike the first series, I probably would’ve felt dirty reading this as a kid, and looking at it now it just comes off as a lot less readable than the first series, and makes me wonder why I wouldn’t just look up porn instead. Although honestly, this is close enough that it might not be bad porn in itself.

I also had a look at the To-Love-Ru anime adaptation and it just didn’t work for me at all. Even though the animation looks pretty good in the OVAs and the colors are nice, the lineart of the characters just can’t live up to Yabuki’s abilities, and in a series that hinges entirely on how well the artist can draw boobs, this is pretty much a dealbreaker as far as I’m concerned. The anime slows down a lot of scenes massively in an attempt to give more weight to the emotional moments, but it comes off as tone-deaf in a series where the character arcs play second fiddle to the fanservice. It’s a lot easier to read something stupid when it’s light and fluffy and doesn’t take itself seriously or take up much of your time.

I know that the anime series has a number of filler episodes and changes up certain events, but the first episode of the OVA, which would be about 26 episodes deep into the anime, was covering the same events as right where I stopped reading the manga. That’s about eight hours worth of anime compared to less than four hours of manga, which is a time investment I just can’t possibly see myself making into a series like this.

Overall, I didn’t dislike To-LOVE-Ru, though it couldn’t hold my attention through to the end. In Shounen Jump terms, I would say that it had about two successful years with me before it dropped into consideration for cancellation with my interests. There’s another manga series called Yomeiro Choice, which is very similar to To-LOVE-Ru in terms of tone, sci-fi elements, pacing, and fanservice, but as I read To-LOVE-Ru, I kept thinking not only of how Yomeiro Choice one-ups it with the quality of its fanservice, but was also more inventive and memorable all-around, and I figured I wouldn’t have much reason to come back to To-LOVE-Ru knowing that it had such fierce competition.

Digibro’s Media Journal Year One Finale

[Bandcamp’s new embed thing isn’t working with me, so go here:]

This is it! The end of the first year of Digibro’s Media Journal, and the effective end of the current format of the series. Above is a brief podcast with my thoughts on the yearlong project, and below is the final ordered list of all media that I took in this year.

The June stuff is in bold. Note that a great number of the ratings have been changed since the items were originally listed.

Continue reading

Digibro Never Shuts Up Episode 8

Another regular ep with me and Brandon Tolentino. We talk about The Hobbit movie at length, and continue to discuss our ongoing cultural exchange. At the end I somehow end up giving a ten-minute history lesson about Noitamina.

What’s in this ep:

Opening: Goblins Dance by Ensiferum
0:33 – Introduction
1:20 – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
16:45 – The past 2 weeks
21:40 – The Cultural Exchange status
22:20 – Describing the Virginia Beach area/Local Heroes
32:46 – Manga issues
34:45 – The bar for entry with comics
38:35 – Shaders everywhere!
40:45 – Runaways
44:00 – Blood: Night of the Beasts
45:00 – Show, don’t tell
48:36 – Money effecting media experience
54:45 – Whole new avenues of anime for Brandon
56:13 – A bunch of facts about NoitaminA
1:12:16 – Our schedules
1:15:30 – Ending: Outrun by Trial of the Golden Witch

Digibro Never Shuts Up Episode 5

This episode came out so well, I didn’t even have to edit it! Tonight, Brandon Tolentino joins me for a cultural exchange. He introduces me to the world of American comics, and I introduce him to the world of anime and manga! The irony that he’s Asian isn’t lost on me!

The whole episode is very focused, so I didn’t write a program (sorry ak). There is a point around 20 mins in where I spend 10 minutes talking about Akira though, so if that gets boring, just skip to 30 minutes in. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

It’s Not My Fault That I’m Not Popular!

I was attracted to this manga by my love of dark circles under the eyes of girls; but make no mistake: Kuroki Tomoko isn’t cute. If she were, this manga wouldn’t work. Sure, she’s probably attractive to some of us who read this, but that’s a statement about us in itself—that like her, we’re so desperate, we’d go for a girl like her. That’s the kind of person Tomoko is—she knows which boys are cute, but she’s so desperate that when she thinks someone might be interested in her, no matter what they look like, “it could probably work.”

This brand of relatable comedy makes the manga stand out in a world where, after the popularity of stuff like Welcome to the NHK and Genshiken, and then other things like Nogizaka Haruka and Ore no Imouto, stories about otaku and loners have become way too common and, for me, boring.

Continue reading

Oh Anime And Your Mysteries

You’ve probably encountered this situation: finding out about an anime, manga, or other part of the culture, and having no way of accessing or understanding it. These are situations that lead some people to learn Japanese or go to Comiket or figure out how to use IRC. I feel a sense of desperation when I know about something like the manga Kesson Shoujo, which no one anywhere can get their hands on; or, to a lesser extent, see a show I like with only one translated episode and know that I can’t comprehend it raw.

These situations are part of why I’m not a completionist. When I got into anime, everything was mysterious this way, because at that time I could only either watch anime on TV (which may or may not have a new episode each week and might abruptly stop airing), or on DVD (when I didn’t have any money to complete shows). I got used to anime being a strange and mysterious entity which I could spend years catching glimpses of before ever seeing in full. Some people have an easy time of getting into things and finishing those things, with only a few pieces that tease them. (For instance, a Gundam fan who easily watches all the shows, only to be irked when they realize that the coolest-looking video game hasn’t been released in their country.) But me, I get into so much that half of all the shit I’m interested in is unavailable or out of reach.

I recently encountered one such example in the form of Kirarin Revolution. I happened to be on Manga Fox, it happened to have just been updated, and I randomly started reading it, surprised to find that I really enjoyed it. For one volume. Then I was snowed out.

According to Manga-Updates, there are no scanslated chapters of Kirarin. This is obviously not true. The first seven chapters on MangaFox are a nice solo effort whose origins seem untraceable. After that, it shifts over to possibly the worst scan job that I’ve ever witnessed. Here’s a page from chapter eight.

Besides the obvious terrors, it's also flipped. And this is the actual size.

There’s no way in hell I’m reading this, so I gave up. Then find out that Kirarin Revolution had a whopping 153-episode anime adaption, so I looked for that. A sub group called Twilight-Paradise had subbed 100 or so episodes before they folded and later re-emerged as a J-drama sub group that no longer hosts their episodes of Kirarin Revolution anywhere. Moreover, all of the torrents that I found were dead. (I have now, however, found that Bakabt has a living torrent of the episodes. Don’t know why I didn’t think to look there before). While searching, I found stream sites that had the show, except the videos don’t exist, most likely as a result of Megaupload’s demise.

Finding the 100 subbed episodes on bakabt proves that it always pays to keep looking for something if you know that it exists in some form, but I can’t get my hopes up that the rest of the episodes will be subbed, nor the rest of the manga scanned in a way that’s readable. There’s also a chance that the anime isn’t as good as the manga. It could end up that I got a one-volume glimpse of something I liked, while the other fifteen volumes remain a mystery to me for years to come.