Alex + Ada is a new series that has two issues out at the moment. The third issue will be coming out this month on January 15, 2014. Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn came together for this new series and Image Comics is the publisher.
Alex + Ada is the story of a lonely guy that seems to be stuck in this rut in life. The guy is Alex. His grandmother buys him an android, that he names Ada. He seems to be intrigued by the prospect of spending time with Ada, but in these two issues, it hasn’t gone far beyond that.
My primary issue with this series is how similar its premise is to Chobits (an anime and manga series). With these first two issues, I cannot help but think “been there, done that.” I’ll hold out to see where this series goes since you shouldn’t judge a comic book series by one or two issues, but I’m cautious at the moment.
How would you react if one day your entire world was throw upside down? Would you pull yourself together and face this daunting new task, or would you run and hide and pray for it all to end? Would you be strong enough to protect your fiends, or would you be selfish and think only of yourself. Would you have the willpower to see your journey through to the very end, as scary and dismal as it might be, or would you just give up and fade into anonymity as the world around you descended into madness and anarchy?
Goggle "OP Single Hikari to Kage" and feel your heart melt.
These are the questions put forth in the manga “Magic Knights Rayearth,” one of the earlier works by development team CLAMP. While they might be better known for series like “Chobits,” “Cardcaptor Sakura” and the pivotal “X,” Rayearth is a lovely little title (and I do mean little: it’s only 3 volumes) that came and went in the late 1990s with little real fanfare, but which built up a rather sizable following here in the United States, mostly courtesy of Tokyopop.
Introducing Mokona. Yes, THAT Mokona.
Rayearth holds a special place in my heart, because it was one of the first manga I ever read. While nowadays getting manga is as easy as walking into a bookstore, library, or browsing the internet, way back in the late 90s, it was still a very limited, very niche market. While we see Shonen Jump and Yen Press monthly digests with regularity, back then there was pretty much just one magazine, if you could find it: MiXXzine, put out by one Stu Levy, who would eventually introduce manga to hordes of fans and then close shop, leaving a lot of them hanging.
MiXX contained four stories. In addition to Rayearth, there was an early translation of “Sailor Moon” (in which she was named “Bunny,” more accurate than Serena, but also not very serious for a hero), “Parasyte,” which was a violent, gritty story of alien invasions that I also still read and “Iceblade,” a story about an emotionless cop, which I haven’t seen since MiXX vanished. But of the four titles, it was Rayearth that I enjoyed the most, since it was a “MiXX” (hawhaw) of themes that I liked, right down to the JRPG feel of the quest, which appealed to the Final Fantasy/D&D dork inside. (The cute girls didn’t hurt either: I admit to having a huge crush on Hikaru. I was 16. Sue me.)
Can you blame me, she's cute.
So when I found a copy of the Omnibus for sale at this year’s Anime Mid-Atlantic, I had to get it, if only to take a brief trip down memory lane. (Also, I needed to finish the story. MiXX only published 1-2 chapters at a time, and I never got past the first volume of the story by the time the magazine vanished from my local stationery store.)
The story behind Rayearth is rather typical of a girl’s adventure manga. Three middle school students, Hikaru, Umi and Fuu, are pulled from the real world into the magical land of Cephiro by the Princess Emeraude, and tasked with rescuing her from her captor, the priest Zagato. You see, in Cephiro, everything is controlled by willpower, and it was the will of the Princess that kept it functioning orderly. But after her abduction, the world was thrown into disarray, with monsters appearing everywhere, and great heroes attempting to save her, with results almost uniformly in vain. Because the only ones who CAN save her are people summoned from another world- only then can they awaken the legendary gods of Cephiro, the Mashen, and stop the evil of Zagato.
One of these characters is Zagato. Can you guess which?
At least, that’s the story at the beginning. Over three volumes, the manga actually does begin to resemble a fantasy RPG (and for the record, one does exist, for the SNES, and you can find translated ROMs online for it. It’s short and mildly entertaining, moreso if you’re a fan of the source material), with the three main characters openly saying such. There are moments of “leveling up,” plenty of monsters to encounter and fight, and clearly defined “dungeons” and “bosses” to overcome. As the tale unfolds, the three girls must confront new allies, new enemies, and ultimately themselves if they wish to proceed, moving all the way to the battle with Zagato at story’s end. And, in case you’re wondering, there is a twist hidden in there as well, and the ending is somewhat unforseen. Vintage CLAMP, if you ask me, and very welcome.
Said "Uber Wizard Guru Clef." Think Yoda, with better hair.
The real issue at heart when looking at this series is pacing. Though I never noticed it when I was reading it digest-style, it moves too fast at times in omnibus form, and the story seems very rushed. Interesting allies appear only once, leave indelible marks on the main characters, and then vanish, only to be mentioned causally again later in the story, if at all. (Seriously, why make Guru Clef seem so uber-awesome, then forget he existed?) Progression from normal girls into Magic Knights also seemed to move too quickly, almost like the story was taking place in a single afternoon, rather than across days (though judging time in Cephiro is extremely difficult as well). While this is fine for something plainly geared at teenage girls, it inevitably leaves the manga feeling a bit forced at times, not quite inaccessible to adults, but also lacking that special something. Given the subject matter and the interesting nature of both Cephiro as a world governed by willpower, and the girls as outsiders forced to survive there, I felt that not enough time was given to exploration and discovery, and everything they needed to progress was plainly there when they needed it. The story was so linear, it almost handicapped it from reaching its full potential, and potential did it have!
However, Rayearth is not a bad manga by any stretch. While not as developed or possessing the same impact as later titles like “X” or “xXxholic,” it still offers a glimpse into how CLAMP progressed from doujinshi artists into the team they are today. Each of the girls serves as a blueprint for the protagonists in many of their future series (Hikaru and “Cardcaptor” Sakura are inherently the same at times), and it is easy to see where CLAMP started to build their roots as mangaka and storytellers.
While this series has been out of print for a while now, it’s well worth the time to track it down and give it a read. While not perfect, it is at its core entertaining and lighthearted, and a lovely diversion for a summer afternoon. There have also been two anime series devoted to the material, both of which allow for more time exploring the characters and the expanded story of Cephiro than the original manga did
Ah, so you have returned I see. Well, welcome once again to the archive. This week I, the curator, have quite a good series for you to consider taking a look at. The series name is To aru Kagaku no Railgun and what a fun, bombastic series this is.
To aru Kagaku no Railgun, A Certain Scientific Railgun, is a spin off manga and anime series from the series To aru Majutsu no Index, A Certain Magical Index. To aru Kagaku no Railgun was produced by J.C.Staff and directed by Tatsuyuki Nagai, a man who has worked on such series as both seasons of Honey and Clover, Chobits, Witch Hunter Robin, Ninja Scroll, and the relatively recent hit series, and one of my favorites, Toradora! Returning to To aru Kagaku no Railgun, the series originally aired in Japan from January to August of 2010 with an OVA, original video animation, coming out in October of the same year. Funimation has just announced it has obtained the license for both Index and Railgun, which I am ecstatic about. I will be sure to come back and talk about Index sometime in the future… depending on how long it actually takes for me to sit down and watch the series.
The setting of To aru Kagaku no Railgun is a pretty fun one. We find ourselves in Academy City, an entire metropolis dedicated to the study and training of super human individuals and their powers. These super humans are often referred to as Espers or Power Users and are ranked according to their abilities. Level zeros are people with no power; level one has people with power but nothing too impressive, and so on so forth. As you rise through the ranks, you eventually reach rank five where, currently, only seven people stand.
With several hundred power users in one location, a few are undoubtedly going to stir up some trouble. This is where Judgment comes into play, a student run organization which works with local police forces to take down and nullify disruptive power users. However, recently Judgment’s job has become tougher and much more deadly as renegade powers users have some how gotten stronger. With rumors of a mysterious thing known as a “Level Upper” going around, could our heroines be getting in too deep?
And when I say heroines, I mean heroines. The four main characters of this series are girls, which gives this series a unique twist that I will discuss in just a bit. Our central character is Misaka Mikoto, one of seven level five power users in Academy City. Her electric powers usually take the form of a railgun when she flicks coins at her enemies… yes, this girl can kill you with a penny. Next is Kuroko Shirai, a level four, teleportation power user who is a member of Judgment. Her partner, Kazari Uihara, is a low-level power user who typically acts as support, giving Kuroko directions and tactical information. Lastly is Ruiko Saten, a level zero with a kind heart and a great amount of courage. I really have to say, I like all of these characters. Each of them is multifaceted and handles situations presented to them as a normal girl would. Misaka tends to act tsundere, feeling she has to hide her love of cute, girly things because of the expectations people have of a level five. However, this is used just enough to be funny, but not enough to where you are beaten over the head with it, as is often the case. My only really problem I have with these main characters is with Kuroko. This character is fun to watch when she is in combat, warping all around, throwing needles, you get a real sense for why she is in Judgment. Yet, outside of Judgment her character often descends into the perverted friend stereotype. In the first episode, she and Misaka are taking showers in the girls’ locker room and suddenly, Kuroko warps into Misaka’s shower and starts feeling her up. This and other tactics Kuroko uses tend to just drag the story down and really take away from what would be an insightful, cool character. One could make the argument that this makes her human because she has perverted desires like normal humans, yet I challenge you to find someone who, if they had teleportation powers, would go around warping off their best friend’s underwear… considering the audience I am writing to, that might be easier than I first imagined.
This problem with the characters aside, To aru Kagaku no Railgun is a beautiful anime. The coloring is bright and warm, yet goes dark and shadowy when situations call for it. The music also plays to the atmosphere of the show. A really catchy theme brings viewers in, while fight scenes have bombastic techno fun. Serious scenes get a range of songs, and you have that typical fun music for the slice of life aspects of the show. Overall the music does what it needs to do to make the series exceptional.
Before I move into the negatives of the series, which I do have a one, I want to talk about one thing To aru Kagaku no Railgun gives anime fans. One of the things that really divides most anime is the division of Shonen and Shojo, essentially boy and girl anime. Shonen is your Dragon Ball Z, Bleach, Naruto, Gundam etc. Shojo is your girly, slice of life, cute series such as Fruits Basket and Cardcaptor Sakura. To aru Kagaku no Railgun is one of the few series I have seen that bridges the gap between these two ideas. With awesome visuals, characters going into battle with other power users, and general awesome things occurring on a regular basis, boys can easily find something they can latch onto. However, with the series dominated by female characters several episodes do occur where the characters have deep conversations, girly moments, and adorable fun times. Yet it does not end there. To aru Kagaku no Railgun gives us noticeably one if not arguably several strong, female role models, something that both sexes can study and appreciate.
As much as I have praised To aru Kagaku no Railgun, everything in life must face the grindstone and though what I am about to point out is minor in probably every aspect, it is still something I feel must be pointed out. I have to say, the thing that really bugs me about To aru Kagaku no Railgun is how it sometimes crowbars in To aru Majutsu no Index. Yes this is petty, but it disrupts the flow of the narrative and therefore hurts the story. For example, during one of the episodes, the girls talk about urban legends and the subject of a boy with the power to cancel out power user abilities. Misaka eventually stumbles across Touma, the main character of Index and the boy with the power to cancel out abilities. After some conversation, Misaka and Touma fight and eventually end with Misaka chasing Touma after he tried to fake losing. Now, along with the narrative, this was used to introduce the main characters to the rumor of the “Level Upper” however, I feel this connection could have been made without having Misaka and Touma fight for no real reason. This time could have been better spent on discussion, or character development, or something more important than a meaningless fight which just served to plant a giant neon sigh which reads, “HEY FANS, THESE SERIES ARE CONNECTED. LOOK, LOOK, DO YOU SEE!?!” The connection could have easily been made by just referencing the rumor of the man with power nullification and maybe flashing to Touma sneezing or something. Simple, easy, and does not disrupt the series individuality. However, this is a minor thing so it does not matter too terribly much.
To aru Kagaku no Railgun is a very good series with memorable characters, good music and artwork, and a plot with some serious intrigue and funny moments. As I said above, both To aru Majutsu no Index and To aru Kagaku no Railgun have been licensed by Funimation so do expect to see them in America sometime in 2011. Be on the look out for this wonderful series. Well I think that is all the time we have today. Thank you for stopping by the Archive and do come again.