The Voynich Hotel (manga review)

Zenko-Anime-smallZenko here!  (For those who don’t know, I’m Akko’s other half.)  Besides helping Akko out with the anime reviews, I’m starting to write reviews of my own, focusing primarily on comparisons of anime and manga versions of a story.  My writing style is vastly different from Akko’s, so if you usually visit his blog for his succinct and analytical critiques, be warned that you will not find it here.


 

Even though I usually write about anime vs. manga comparisons as a sort of specialization within this blog, today I will be talking about a tale that is (currently) only in manga form.  Allow me the bizarre pleasure of introducing you to the strange world of “The Voynich Hotel.”  At only 68 short chapters in all, this relatively quick read is about as addicting as the Mercelo drug being grown in room 303 of the hotel.  It’s weird, it’s dark, it’s oddly endearing.  While recent anime we’ve seen include characters with horrible personalities that sometimes do nice things, most of the characters of “The Voynich Hotel” are nice people who happen to do horrible things.

Alice-Assassin-Meet-The-Voynich-Hotel

Legendary witches, eccentric assassins, high drug dealers, tattooed yakuza, mine-maimed residents, conversational ghosts, corporate demons…sounding interesting?  How about a maid with an eyepatch, a suicidal cook, a rabbit-masked child, a useless robot, a corpse in love, and a serial killer?  This odd mess of a cast comes together for a tale that is part love story, part murder mystery.  But it’s not about romantic moments or crime-solving suspense—rather, it is more of a supernatural slice-of-life and the strange beings that muddle their way to happiness.  Or death.  Or both.

In many ways, the story is as simple as it is bizarre.  You don’t have to think too hard, just let it draw you along through its 68-day stay at the hotel as you get to know the ever-increasing number of characters and their little mysteries, odd connections, or growing relationships.  Like the story, nobody is particularly deep, just strangely intriguing in a low-key yet eccentric way.

New-Eyepatch-The-Voynich-Hotel

Oddly enough, the same could be said about the art style.  It is relatively simplistic, utilizing a lot of straight lines or simple curves as well as bold shadows, making great use of the black and white medium for its dark yet spunky tone.  With expressive faces and weird character designs, the drawings were the first thing that drew me to this manga, so I definitely rank that element highly (even if just by personal taste).

Another element I enjoyed about this manga was its variety of ideas and blend of cultures.  It takes place on an island (somewhere) that is probably technically part of Spain, but many Japanese visit there, and the witch stories seem to be part shamanic part Russian.  It may sound like a mess, but I found it to just make things more interesting.  A lot of the point of the several stories and plots going on is that there are a variety of weird people and odd things, and somehow they will all work out together.  And they do.

While there are many little stories going on throughout the tale, following (as mentioned above) an ever-growing cast, it does, however, manage to keep from being just random.  Rather, some of the moments may be a little random, but everything adds to the story and the character development in some way or another.  It doesn’t explain everything, and it doesn’t have to.  It explains and wraps up what it needs to without going into all the mysteries of the hotel and the island.  It could have easily dragged on by trying to be serious and thorough about everything, but I have to say that I’m glad it doesn’t.  It’s oddly charming, dark humored, and quirky.  It doesn’t need to be anything else.

I’m honestly not sure what else to say, but to recommend a stay at The Voynich Hotel—be charmed by its maids, be haunted by its ghosts, and be wary of the VIP upstairs.

Fair warning: this manga does include some nudity.

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Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou (anime & manga comparison)

Zenko-Anime-smallZenko here!  (For those who don’t know, I’m Akko’s other half.)  Besides helping Akko out with the anime reviews, I’m starting to write reviews of my own, focusing primarily on comparisons of anime and manga versions of a story.  My writing style is vastly different from Akko’s, so if you usually visit his blog for his succinct and analytical critiques, be warned that you will not find it here.


As often seems to be the case recently for me, I had seen the anime a few years ago, watched it again recently, then took up the manga and read through all 85 chapters of what Crunchyroll Manga has to offer of “Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou.”  Like its English title of “The Kawai Complex Guide To Manors And Hostel Behavior,” the Japanese title bears a pun, at the same time meaning “we’re all from/of Kawai Manor” and “we’re all pitiful.”

Misfit Freaks and Awful People

What happens when a masochist, a drunk, a man-eater, a bookworm, and a freak-magnet live together under the same roof?  Well, apparently a lot of insane antics and a few sweet ones.  Today’s comparison covers the odd story of a boarding house’s weird, lewd, trouble-making tenants and the house’s pleasant yet mischievous manager.  Our newcomer protagonist finds himself once again the freak-magnet as he becomes essentially the bullied youngest sibling in a family of bad personalities.  His only bright spot in the house is his cute, book-loving sempai—who’s also taciturn, cold, and absent minded.  His earnest pursuit of her is fraught with crushing failures, many of which are deliberately caused by bitter (or bored) members of the household who take delight in ruining the innocence of youthful romance.  And yet…well, I’d love to say, “and yet, they are still a family,” but quite frankly, it’s slow to come to the surface.  It’s in there, hidden somewhere among the bondage rope, saké bottles, makeup, and piles of books.  Somewhere there are giant bubbles, water fights, a few rescues, and when you’ve had a bad day, your favorite meal is waiting for you at dinner.

Kawaisou-Chaos
“Chaos Living Room”

Art Style and Character Portrayal

In initial comparisons, the anime fairly accurately portrays the chapters it covers in the manga, so there isn’t really anything concrete that it differs in.  Ah, but it does differ—in feel.  Here is one where I will actually talk about the difference in character design and drawing style.  While many anime adjust the drawing style to be a little better proportioned and slicker, this is an interesting example of their simplifying the character designs.  Personally, I thought this choice robbed the characters and their facial expressions of a certain charm.  The girls had a particular beauty and cuteness to them in the manga (when they aren’t being horrible to each other) that the anime completely skipped out on.  The basics were there, but not the eye-catching moments of delicate appeal and graceful lines.  This is particularly marked in Mayumi, the drunk OL (office lady) who has horrible luck with men.  In the anime when she gets dressed up, she looks like she’s trying too hard.  In the manga, she really is beautifully charming, and it emphasizes her innocent longing deep down for a man that won’t be a jerk and fraud.

Manga-vs-Anime-Kawaisou-Ritsu-Mayumi
Ritsu and Mayumi, manga vs. anime. Which style do you prefer?

The facial expressions, too, were quite striking in the manga.  I would sometimes stop reading just to look at them and enjoy the great portrayal of a particular emotion or a complex mix of ones.  The original manga artist really has a talent for faces, and it really added to my enjoyment of reading the manga.  It added a certain extra element that made the characters more intriguing than I found them to be in the anime, which did not take advantage of these facial expressions.  Consequently, the anime’s more straight-forward approach to the characters’ portrayals left them as somewhat flat—awful people with a few endearing moments.  Having watched the anime twice before reading the manga, I still did not grow attached to the characters—rather, they were somewhat entertaining to watch, but still with the distance of “I wouldn’t actually like to know these people.”  The manga, however, gave glimpses of deeper character that really does slowly unfold as the manga progresses past the point in the story where the anime leaves off.  While most of them are still a freaks that the average person would stay clear of, the manga does portray them in a way that there is something about those freaks that makes one want to know more.

The Adults of Kawaisou

Something essential to the story that goes across both the anime and manga is the fact that, with the exception of the house manager Sumiko, the adults of the house are terrible or useless people in some way or another, while the two high school students are relatively normal, decent people.  Sumiko and Shiro (the masochist) are the only ones perhaps to provide any real sort of advice or wisdom (though Shiro’s is often then hard accept gratefully as he usually can’t help but finish it with something reminding you abruptly of his more off-putting tendencies).  Other than this, there are no good adult role-models.  The adults in this tale are children.  I will say, though, that the anime finishes up before the story starts to go into this aspect with an interesting look at the hopes, dreams, accomplishments, and unwanted pasts of the three child-adult tenants.

As you may have noticed, Sumiko is an exception to the child-adults.  The manager of Kawaisou is my hero.  I want to be her when I reach her age!  (In fact, in look alone I wouldn’t be too far off….)   Though a woman of advancing middle-age, she is youthful in soul, fun, sweet, mischievous, but with the best heart for everyone in the house.  At the same time, though, she knows how to keep them in line.  Sayaka, the man-eater college student who’s apparently horrifying without her makeup, bears a respectful fear of Sumiko and will not cross the line when Sumiko warns her.  Sumiko is the one who prepares your favorite dinner when you’ve had a bad day, she’s the one who will listen to your confusions and frustrations, and she’s the one who will appreciate you more than anyone.  If anyone makes this pack of freaks feel like a family, it is Sumiko.  (Though, I will add that Shiro the masochist does create many fun activities for the whole group that does bring them together and brings them joy.)

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Sumiko, my hero

In Conclusion

So, what do I recommend?  Quite frankly, if you liked the anime at all, I recommend the manga—and do start from the beginning!  The impression it gives is a little different, and this grows as intriguing moments and subtle hints to the inner-workings of characters develop and begin to reveal depth.  By chapter 85, it has gone some interesting places as characters learn more about themselves and each other as they clash and even grow closer.

And if you started with the manga?  Don’t even bother with the anime.  I honestly cannot think of anything that the anime does better or in a positively different way.  By comparison, it is a dull representation of the story.  Stick with the manga, and let’s look forward to what will continue to unfold in this odd tale of misfit freaks and awful people who clamor and fight their way through life together as housemates.

Kawaisou-Renaissance
Kawaisou Renaissance: a windy incident with the laundry turned hilarious. This was splendid in both versions.

Kimi to Boku (You and Me) – Anime and Manga Comparison

Zenko-Anime-smallZenko here!  (For those who don’t know, I’m Akko’s other half.)  Besides helping Akko out with the anime reviews, I (very) occasionally write my own.  Ok, so really just one so far, but I’ve been encouraged to write about anime and manga comparisons, so here I am.  (And with my own blog writer name now, too!)  My writing style is vastly different from Akko’s, so if you usually visit his blog for his succinct and analytical critiques, be warned that you will not find it here.

A Leisurely Stroll Through High School Life

Today, I will discuss the anime and manga of “Kimi to Boku” or “You and Me.”  I binged both seasons of the anime a few years ago, then recently found that I was curious about it again since I had forgotten almost everything but a few little scenes that I thought were funny.  I’m ever so glad we watched it.  Inspired by the curiosity of how the characters’ lives continued after the stories portrayed in the anime, I took up the manga, of which I finished all that was available in short order (through chapter 70, which is the first chapter of volume 15).

The story is one of growing up, looking back at childhood, making the most of the present, and slowly coming face to face with the unknowns of the future.  Full of silly antics, playfully idiotic enthusiasm, the grumpiness of growing pains, and little touches of really sweet romance, the story maintains an endearingly down-to-earth quality.  It is definitely slice-of-life with a somewhat slow pace, so don’t come looking for long story arcs of drama with succinct conclusions.  Rather, visit “Kimi to Boku” for an entertaining stroll through high school life, punctuated by little moments of character relationship progression.

Kimi-to-Boku-Group-Shot

Manga vs. Anime

So, let’s get down to comparisons!  Assuming that the manga I read online included all the chapters properly, only the first episode of season 2 was anime-only.  In general, the anime faithfully portrays the chapters that it turned into episodes, although they did switch the order of some stories (or even scenes within a story), and also skipped over a few chapters.  Some of the order change seemed to be for storytelling and pacing reasons.

For example, the Cafeteria Cinderella story pretty much happens all at once in the manga, whereas they let it stretch over both seasons of the anime (with, of course, unrelated episodes in between).  The impression the anime gives, though, is that she was around for a while and Yuuki just lackadaisically never talked to her after his initial fascination of her unruly hair, only to be prodded into some sort of action by her sudden departure.  In the manga, however, the timeline is drastically shortened, which places more emphasis on the brief burst of impact she had on him and his almost impulsive decision to give her the plates when she leaves.  In many ways, it tells a different story about Yuuki’s character.  (In my personal opinion, I lean toward the shorter version portrayed in the manga.  What do you think?)

Awkward Mystery Explained

One of the first things I noticed and found particularly interesting upon starting the manga was that the primary elements of the show that I found to be awkwardly put in actually had a full and legitimate reason to feel that way.  Of what do I speak?  Well, two things, actually.  First, four out of five of our main characters have known each other since kindergarten, and they seem to look back on that time a lot, comparing things they learned about life then with their life now as they learn something similar or from a different perspective.  It’s great that they’ve known each other for so long, but the focus on kindergarten felt oddly far back to look and to dwell on.  Second, there seemed to be an odd focus on Azuma-sensei, as if he were more part of the story than his screen time.  Then, when his own childhood friend (Akira) is introduced, there’s almost this feeling that he is better known or more familiar than the couple of episodes in which he makes an appearance.

Kimi to Boku manga page
Page from chapter 3 “Children World” showing Azuma-sensei and Akira in high school, visiting the boys’ kindergarten.

Well, folks, it turns out that originally the manga artist had a four-panel story going that was about four kindergarteners (our very same heroes of the present) and a couple of high schoolers (the teacher and his friend), and sometimes their stories overlapped!  Case solved.  The manga includes a few of these tales from the past and connects them in the first several chapters, but then the references to it eventually dwindle to a more natural reminiscence of particularly notable moments (such as Kaname’s crush on his kindergarten teacher).  This also brings up one of the few times that the anime changed a whole scene and actually simplified it.  When Akira first shows up in the manga, he is not only unnamed, but one cannot see his face, and it’s an entertaining reveal when it turns out to be the childish shorty from the high school part of the four-panel manga, now all grown up!  In the anime, as I said, they simplified it because there was no antecedent for him, but there was that lingering flavor of “you should know him,” that I was tasting and not understanding.  Really, I just find it interesting to note.  I love it when things suddenly make sense.  I love understanding and reasons for things.

Storytelling in Love

Ok, moving on to the main element I wanted to talk about: storytelling in love.  Four out of the five boys (sorry, Shun-chan) face romantic encounters that bear a certain bittersweetness.  They are just very real-life moments of talking with the girl, often without any great change in their relationship but for some impression or impact on the boy in particular.  The portrayal of each of these scenes in the manga is rather straight-forward, showing only the actions of the moment, hearing the words spoken and the acknowledged words of the heart as each boy learns something about himself.  They are touching moments, but simply executed.

The anime, however, chose to portray these with a little more impact.  They don’t change any of the particulars, but instead present the moment with an overlay of simile or imagination.  The shots of these silent images cut in during the conversation, and show glimpses into the boys’ thoughts, feelings, and inclinations as these relationships grow, change, or fade away.  At first, they seem a little jarring or unexpected, but then they really begin to add to the storytelling.  Afterwards, I looked back on the first ones that I found more awkwardly done, and they, too, included many notes of added meaning.

At the risk of spoilers, if you haven’t watched the anime, I’d like to briefly discuss each one.

Kimi-to-Boku-Storytelling

For Yuuta, he and the girl (Takahashi), are alone on a train, both passengers in life.  In Japan, strangers do not interact on the train, but he and Takahashi are here together, though distant.  Ever the observer, he watches her as she sits slightly facing him (she is the one who liked him in the first place, after all).  As the conversation in real life continues, on the train he moves closer to her, and begins to reach out to touch her face.  His desire to interact with her more directly translates into action in the real world as well, and he is able to make a small but impactful gesture of compassion and encouragement.  Though their somewhat faux relationship is brief, they are no longer strangers on the train, and may interact again in the future.

For Yuuki, the Cafeteria Cinderella is older, more mature, no-nonsense, and a woman of mystery to him.  Their silent image overlay presents them in black formal attire against a mundanely utilitarian, white brick wall—an interesting mismatch between them and their surroundings.  She faces away from him as if to walk away while he watches her.  Their interaction is brief, distant, and demonstrates a certain contrast, just as they are from two very different places in life and in personality.

Let’s skip to Kaname next.  The sun is officially setting on his long-standing admiration and love of the woman several years older than himself.  Kaname is rather practical and not prone to flights of fancy, so perhaps it is no surprise that there is no new setting for his silent image overlays, only the road on which he has been walking with her as the sun goes down and the distance between them lengthens as he remains silent.  It is melancholy, yet memorable.

Finally, I’ve saved the strongest storytelling bit for last: Chizuru and Mary.  His silent overlay is more involved, appears more than once, and tells a story of his hopes, wishes, surprising innocence, and patient persistence.  For the energetic, usually cheerful, and fun-loving boy of youthful idealism, what imaginary setting could be better than a small bit of beach with warm sand and a brightly shining sun?  But it’s not just the backdrop, his interactions there are interesting.  As his feelings for Mary begin to dawn on him, she appears in this beautiful world, bushy hair, school uniform and all, bare feet in the sand as though she had been there longer than he had realized.  When he consciously chooses to put her happiness before his own and helps her give a gift to her crush, the Mary on that little piece of idyllic beach now holds a paper in front of her face.  The paper has on it the simply-drawn, generic face that is commonly drawn with just a few Japanese letters in the arrangement of two eyes, a nose, and a mouth.  Chizuru begins to feel that his one and only is someone he hasn’t met yet, her face unclear to him.  But as he begins to walk away in the real world, Mary returns and shows him thanks and kindness.  Suddenly, the paper with the generic face is tossed aside, and Chizuru knows that it is Mary that he loves.  Some time later, when things are awkward between them, the Mary on the beach begins to wander and avoid him, almost as she is doing in real life.  Chizuru begins to move the chair he had been sitting on as he gazed at her, but she continues to avoid him.  Eventually, he goes to her where she is on the beach, and gives her the chair, just as he has always met her where she is, tried to put her at ease, and now he patiently waits for her.

Chizuru projects a personality of flashiness, rebellion, playboy tendencies, and even cheerful idiocy, but in actuality, he is pretty much none of it.  As a person, he has good character and is surprisingly innocent.  He is at his most mature when it concerns Mary (well, for the most part), and when it comes down to it, he is kind, considerate, patient, and utterly devoted.  He still blunders through things, makes foolish decisions, and really is a cheerful idiot (that part is true), but his good qualities make him very endearing.  In my opinion, their slowly progressing relationship is the highlight of both the anime and the manga.

A few more comments to wrap this up…

As an anime, “Kimi to Boku” overall faithfully brings the tales of the manga to the screen while enhancing the storytelling through added moments of simile.  It’s pace occasionally strays into sleep-inducing, but Chizuru in particular seems to keep it going as a point of comedy and as the only character whose story particularly seems to progress.  If you enjoy the manga, I recommend a watch of the anime for the storytelling additions and the excellent cast.

As a manga, “Kimi to Boku” does struggle to find its voice for the first few chapters, but once it knows who to focus on and what to tell, it charmingly (though somewhat simply) builds the characters, their relationships with those about them, and their understanding of the world and themselves.  If you enjoy the anime, I highly recommend the manga to continue the tale of the boys as they continue to grow.

Both versions take a somewhat poetical view of high school life, highlighting both the fun memories and the struggle of youthful feelings, but I believe that it balanced it well enough to keep from being either downright goofy or downright sappy (though, if I were to say, it errs nearing the sappy side of things).  They present some good goofballery and slapstick, then peer inside the hearts of characters for the bit of character drama that grounds the story and pulls it along.

Kimi-to-Boku-Animated-Group