Archives

[Review] Grand Guignol Orchestra by Kaori Yuki

Title: Grand Guignol Orchestra/Ningyou Kyuutei Gakudan

Artist & Writer: Kaori Yuki

# of Volumes: 5

The gothic horror manga by Kaori Yuki takes you on an adventure through an unnamed world that has been overwhelmed by the infestation of guignols. Lucille,a beautiful philomela, leads the Royal Court Orchestra around the country on his quest to rid the small towns of the guignols with his singing. His minuscule band of convicts struggle with their terms of contract but are nonetheless committed to their job.

Kaori Yuki provides us with a type of story that certainly feels different to some of her previous works, most certainly works like Cain Saga, Godchild and Angel Sanctuary. In saying this, I absolutely believe that it does not make the sadness or tragedy in her stories any less potent! Undoubtedly there is something about her work that always contains such a rich power, something in there to evoke feeling from you. Whether that feeling is happiness, sadness, anger or disgust entirely depends on how merciful of a mood she is in.

Lucille’s background is gradually revealed throughout the five volumes while the other band members, Kohaku, Gwindel and Eles, have their pasts revealed either at their entrance or during an arc in which they are given more importance and there is constantly a craving to learn more about them.

If you’re looking for complete and immediate answers to each and every question you can’t help but ask then you would be reading the wrong series. Kaori Yuki is able to pace the story incredibly well but keeping much of the answers you crave to herself for as long as she is able to do so. Despite this there is not a single moment that can be considered dull as she constantly has new twists and turns thrown into an already-captivating story. Some may say that this is far too much; some people tire from having so much darkness and so much complexity consistently throughout a story. I, personally, found that it captivated me that much more but I really do enjoy stories that capture my full attention and make me use my head. If I’m reading something I enjoy, I don’t need any breaks.

The introduction of new characters and antagonists happens a little less frequently as it does in some other of Kaori Yuki’s works; works which are, amongst other things, known for their variety and increasing number of characters. When a new character is introduced you immediately can’t help but have uneasy first impressions of them but are also immediately keen and captivated by them, dying to know more.

A review of Kaori Yuki’s works is, no doubt, incomplete until her art work has been critiqued. Without a doubt she is known for her beautifully art that is kept clean and unchanging throughout the series and Grand Guignol Orchestra is not an exception. The amount of detail hidden throughout the well-drawn work says a lot about the time and energy Kaori Yuki gives her work; certain things will only be noticed after either many hours of staring at the same pages or after numerous readings. Her work is incredibly captivating, done in a style that appeals to most viewers that can tolerate the androgynous appearances, particularly of the men. The delicate appearance of her art certainly draws you in, making you feel safe and comforted if you’re new to Kaori Yuki. If you’re a long time fan of hers then the appearance of her art typically makes you feel fear and unease, knowing full well that she is pulling you into a false sense of safety and security before she, presumably successfully, attempts to rip your heart out.

In Short:

Grand Guignol Orchestra keeps you intrigued and impressed throughout the duration of the series, most certainly with her impressive art style. Typical Kaori Yuki then, correct? Not quite. Once more there are a series of twists and turns that, in Kaori Yuki’s hands, become something beyond anything a reader could expect or even imagine. So while the story and the art is of typical high-quality the series itself is anything but typical.

  • Beautiful, delicate and detailed artwork
  • Bewitching characters
  • Fascinating story-lines and suspense-building twists

Rating: 10/10

[Review] Master of Romance by Sadie

Master of Romance by Sadie

Review by: Kyra, on 3rd March 2009

The regular edition cover for Master of Romance

Only a few months after I’m exposed to this band I’m listening to their first ever full length album Master of Romance. To me, Sadie is an incredible and inspirational band. Putting the things people say aside about them sounding almost exactly like dir en grey, they really are an impressive band in their own right.

It’s become almost natural; every band that is first starting out in the industry sounds like someone else. It’s a fact that some people are going to criticize bands for regardless.

Having listened to dir en grey for a few years I listened to all Sadie’s prior releases with an open mind. The first song was an accident really; having seen a fanvideo with clips from Sadie’s Silent Eve, I was attracted to the simple yet emotional video and looked it up. From then on I’ve heard each of their singles, mini-albums and compilation albums.

Imaginary Creature is an interesting track indeed. Initially, I wasn’t sure what to expect as an opener. Maybe I was expecting something heavy, like some brilliant guitar riff. Perhaps it was the opinion of the ‘dir en grey’ influence that made me think this. Instead I was greeted by something even better. A ballad that starts out slow with piano, stringed-instruments and whispered lyrics, it gradually progresses with intensity and, admittedly, some aggression. With some muted screaming in the background and some banging the lyrics suddenly don’t seem to matter as much as the mood that the song evokes. Imaginary Creature gets a 9/10.

The album truly takes off with Ice Romancer, the latest single before the album. As is true to the style of Sadie this song seems to have a bit of everything in it. It’s the kind of song that would drive you forward throughout your day. With a catchy chorus that starts the song off, a bit of death vocals and Mao’s soothing singing-voice, this sort of song is great to get you moving and it’s a good definition of the kind of style that Sadie plays.

As for the lyrics; in this song I find them rather humorous to be honest. You’d wonder why. Well it’s because JRock vocalists have always been known for their lousy English (or Engrish). In this song a lot of the English lyrics seem to be covered up by death vocals, and since people give such little thought to the lyrics in Japanese death vocals, I honestly find that to be a rather intelligent thing to do. Using rather poetic lyrics though, Mao sings of a very painful love in this song. Ice Romancer gets a 9/10.

Shingai is a little less diverse in style than the previous song. This one is all metal, and with all ranges of demonic-sounding vocals on Mao’s part. This song sounds like something in some of their earlier releases, but just a bit more polished. 8/10.

VIRTUAL FAKEMAN’s chorus reminds me of MAD-ROID for some reason. This song is upbeat and funky. It kind of starts off with dance-like music but the growling and screaming at the beginning makes you think you’re far from having a party. Undeniably though, there’s something I love about it. Whether it’s the impressive guitar riffs or the husky portions of Mao’s vocals, I don’t know, but it makes you move around and just have fun without giving it much thought. This song gets a 7/10.

Scarlet and Ageha no Nakigara blew me away the first time I heard them. The former is a rock track with a slower pace and so much emotion you could probably melt to, and is probably the best damn song on the entire album. With heavy dramatic drums provided by Kei, for once it sounds like it really is the drums and bass driving the song forward, as opposed to the guitars. This ballad is probably one of the most truly romantic tracks on the album; with Mao’s English that really aren’t half bad with singing-vocals you can’t help but fall in love. This song on the album is the first to get a 10/10 from me.

The latter, Ageha no Nakigara, defies any sort of categorization, and that simply makes it all the more interesting. I guess you could call it a ballad of sorts but that’s a little bit too specific and not entirely appropriate anyway. It doesn’t matter: the guitars are beautiful and Mao can apply screams without ruining the whole feel of the song. He truly blends his singing and his harsher screams to make an interesting and refreshing chorus. This song is entirely in Japanese but nonetheless, the emotions come through despite the language barrier some might find.10/10.

Crimson Tear, a previously-released single well-known for its promotional video, is an incredibly cool rock song that screams both rage and pain. Some people found that the low-budget PV ruined the feel of the song but with or without the PV I really really like this song. It’s a little bit raging, all over the place, and full of screaming, but, hey, that’s Sadie for you. This song gets a rocking 8/10.

Kagerou is such a fun and upbeat song with a real swing feeling to it. Or perhaps that’s just what it makes you want to do. There is no doubt that fans would love to bounce around to this song as part of an encore. The slower portions of the song are very melodic, sweet-sounding. The lyrics are similar; sweet and sad. One can imagine that if the if the temp was slowed just a little and the arrangement adjusted slightly it would easily make a poignant ballad. The song is pretty good but somehow I find there’s nothing particularly memorable about it. It’s another fast and heavy track and rather upbeat. I’ll give it an 8/10.

Parasite Scene has a deceptive opener of innocent jazzy keyboard. It soon unleashes the heaviness that is typically Sadie. It’s packed with heavy moody guitars by the well-taught Mizuki and Tsurugi. I was about to compare this to Shingai but the chorus was calling for attention: Mao layers his growling with screaming to make an interesting duet with himself. Sadly, I don’t find the same interesting novelty in the guitars in this song but they bust out some interesting riffs here and there. Parasite Scene gets an 8/10.

This song takes a few listens till you get used to it but once it has grown on you you’ll never stop listening because it really is that good. There’s a reason why Grieving the Dead Soul hit number one on the charts; it rocks. Grieving the Dead Soul has everything you’d hope for from a hard rocking Sadie song; a chorus of ghoulish death vocals, Mao’s trademark sing-scream style, and a refrain that will have you head banging even at your desk. Still, the shining moment is his wrathful screaming, particularly towards the end of the song. The quiet area near the middle of the song substitutes for a solo and is a breather after the two minutes of awesome head-banging that you’d probably been doing without much realization. The best part is probably the lyrics to this song; all the parts in English can be heard clearly, and they’re extremely well-written. It gets a 10/10, despite needing a few listens before you really fall in love with the song.

Swallow Rain is the mid-tempo rock song that ends the album on a lighter but equally emotional level as the rest of the album. The way Mao sings Swallow Rain is the part that stands out most to me, and the rest of the song is equally as emotional. The music leaves a vocalist, or at least a lyricist, which in this case is both Mao, very little and so much to work with at the same time so it’s understandable that he has apparently had some trouble with this song when writing it. 10/10.

That ends Master of Romance. It is easily the kind of album that a Japanese rock fan who appreciates variety can listen to from start to finish each and every time. As though we weren’t aware of it before, in a rock album of twelve tracks, Sadie has reminded us that there are different meanings to ‘romance’.

Highlights:

Imaginary Creature

Ice Romancer

Scarlet

Ageha no Nakigara

Grieving the dead soul

Swallow Rain

[Review] Totally Captivated by Hajin Yoo

Title: Totally Captivated

Artist & Writer: Hajin Yoo

# of volumes: 6 volumes (additional material also released)

Modelesque Mookyul Eun graces the cover of Totally Captivated: volume 1

Synopsis:

Totally Captivated follows commitment-phobic Ewon Jung, a warm-hearted college student working hard to get by in life, one that has actually just become more difficult. As payback for his infidelity Ewon is forced by ex-boyfriend, Jiho, into a job, working hard for no pay and no benefits. Now working for Jiho’s new lover, Mookyul Eun, a Mafia leader who insists he’s a legitimate business man, Ewon’s days are filled with enduring dangerous situations, running errands and, not to mention, the more-than-just-occasional sexual harassment from Mookyul. 

Review:

I first came across Totally Captivated in a comic store here, and I won’t even begin to tell you how difficult it is to come across great titles in terms of manga and manhwa here. Strangely enough, when rummaging through the boxes  the thing that enticed me to pick up Totally Captivated was not that I recognized it as a BL title. The delicate artwork and vivid colours are what really stood out to me.

Even briefly looking through it each character leaves an impression on the reader. After some time I had gotten tired of reading manga/manhwa in which someone would show up and I need to ask myself, ‘who is this again?’ due to everyone looking so similar or some of the more minor characters looking so sketchy. Not here though; each and every person, whether a major or minor character, stood out as someonememorable. Whether it was in the details or the bit of personal style they were each given you always remembered who they were. The details and symbolism in this was quite impressive; I could probably spend ten minutes decoding the cover artwork symbolism alone.

The characters in this story, either in terms of appearance or personality, all seem to be very appealing. Now if this means their personalities and appearance combined are liked or disliked, it again tends to depend on the reader. The reason for this is simple; each character is as realistic as possible, and just like real people we’re forced to decide just what our views of that person are despite everything, including their faults.

Ewon Jung is probably the most complex character, or at least the one I found most interesting through each volume, and this is probably because, like any other person, there are plenty of layers to him. Ewon’s warm and friendly nature makes him naturally loved by a lot of people and gives him the ability to get along with just about everyone. But even through that he doesn’t let people get too close to the real him.

From a young age he learned to do everything himself, becoming independent, and learning the meaning of hard work and good education from his insistence that it will help to make him happy in the future. This attitude means that he doesn’t let himself get attached to anything and doesn’t fall in love; fearing that he would lose everything. So he closes off his heart, keeping people from getting too close, knowing that it would hurt more if he got attached, and stimulates the end of all his relationships with infidelity in hopes of getting abandoned for that reason and no other.

For me, that was something extremely impressive to find in this manhwa since when I first started reading it I didn’t expect something so in-depth, with a carefully calculated difference between what Ewon says and does, versus how he feels and what he keeps to himself. The subtle details of Ewon’s personality are something that you’re always discovering.

Mookyul, on the other hand is quite opposite, but he’s also extremely unexpected. As a natural leader he is bold and aggressive, with his quick temper intimidating everyone and keeping their work organized. Even though going against him would be suicide we often find that his employees truly are loyal to him for reasons other than the fact that he scares him; he actually has a very generous and understanding side to himself. Of course, this is a side of him that they had only learnt of upon devoting themselves to working well for him, but nonetheless most continue to work hard because they’re able to see sides of him that he cannot show when it comes to business.

Life growing up was no harder for Ewon as it was for Mookyul, and the thing that got Mookyul through was the memory of the young boy from his elementary school that reminded him that he would never be alone. This same memory motivated him in the same way Ewon was motivated with to work hard. It’s only after the two of them meet, and Mookyul realizes the importance of the other that things start to progress, so to speak, and that Ewon slowly learns to realize that he has always wanted someone to love, and someone to love him back.

The storyline, to me, seems to be one of the more unique ones. Most people go into mafia-related BL stories with at least a few presumptions and whether those are good things or bad things often depend on peoples tastes. Totally Captivated is not much different, but it’s certainly not because it follows a mafia-BL equation.

While gang-related troubles certainly do show up, this story deals most of all with the people involved, rather than just the business that Mookyul is in. At its core, the story deals with its characters sorting their own lives out. Due to Ewon’s fear of commitment and Mookyul’s brash and insistent attitude there is always some back and forth between the characters which can make things both complicated and exhilarating to read, pushing one to prepare to turn the next page while still engrossed in the previous one.

For a manhwa that can definitely deal with some very grave situations and compelling feelings, the humour in there certainly helps to keep things light at times. Even amongst the terrifying situations, the sadder or more touching moments, or the romantic ones, there’s always going to be a bit of humour in there which makes the whole thing quite a laid-back read all together.

In Short:

This story keeps your heart beating fast from beginning to end with the suspense, a real need to find out what happens with hope that things will work out in some way. In the end this well-drawn and well-thought story evolves into something far more important and way more fulfilling than some other romantic comedy.

  • Unique and detailed art style

  • Interesting plot

  • Well-rounded realistic characters

  • Believable and heated chemistry

Totally Captivated, until the end, really did leave me just that.

Rating: 9/10