Just Enough Magic: Flying Witch

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When it comes to stories about witches, it’s quite common (and perhaps even expected) to have magic be prominent. Whether it’s American sitcom classic Bewitched, Archie’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch comic, or an anime and manga like Witch Craft Works, the influence of spells and sorcery is, if not grandiose, at the very least quite large. The anime Flying Witch is a much mellower series in comparison. As a show where just the lightest of touch of the supernatural appears, it makes for a most delightful series.

Adapted by J.C. Staff from the manga by Ishizuka Chihiro, Flying Witch follows the daily life of Kowata Makoto, a teenage witch who moves in with her cousin Kuramoto Kei’s family as part of her coming of age. Residing in Aomori Prefecture in the Tohoku region of Japan, the people there still have a fairly strong connection to nature, and just going back and forth from school is enough to take in the greenery. For the most part, magic doesn’t make much of an impact, but when it shows up it’s just enough to make their world feel a little bit more unusual, and a little bit more wonderful.

Though the show consistently succeeds at its sparse but effective interaction between the human and witch cultures, the most memorable example has to be in the very first episode. Makoto is walking home from school with her new friend, Nao, when she sees an unusual plant. For anyone who’s familiar with stories about witches and wizards this is a red flag. Sure enough when she gives it a hard tug a mandrake pops out and gives its shrill cry.

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As Makoto cradles the demon plant, she cheerfully explains to an aghast Nao that it’s a good thing that they found a young Mandrake because an adult one can literally send people to the hospital or worse. The anime doesn’t stop being this fairly laid-back series, but the result is that the tiniest bit of magic feels that much more amazing.

What also helps Flying Witch is that all of its characters, guys and girls, are extremely charming. Makoto’s older sister Akane is a more experienced witch whose penchant for mischief contrasts delightfully with her younger sibling. The Kuramoto family is entertaining all around, whether it’s the dad’s thick Tohoku accent being indecipherable for Makoto or Kei trying to get his little sister Chinatsu to try more vegetables.

The fanservice in this show also has a deft touch akin to its use of magic, to the point that it might not even be right to call it fanservice. Just to be clear, generally speaking the female characters in this series are all extremely attractive, but Flying Witch never goes out of its way to show them off. When it focuses on Makoto or anyone else, the anime just lets the audience see how nice they look without lingering or leering.

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Another notable aspect of Flying Witch is its focus on Aomori, because it at times feels like a promotion for the prefecture. In fact, it makes me wonder if this is one of the reasons it was adapted from manga to anime. The Tohoku region has in recent years been known more for the Fukushima disaster, and a lot of effort has been put into reviving the region in terms of agriculture, tourism, and more. A series like Flying Witch might be just the thing to really get people to visit Aomori and Tohoku again.

Overall, because of how delightfully mellow yet powerful the show’s humor and characters are, Flying Witch has become one of my favorite anime of the year. When I get the opportunity, I’m definitely going to pick it up, possibly in multiple formats. If you want to check it out, you can find the entire anime on Crunchyroll, and Vertical Comics is releasing the manga in 2017.

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You wa Culture Shock: Peepo Choo Volume 1

Felipe Smith is an American artist who found his way to Japan and became serialized in an actual manga magazine. His resulting comic, Peepo Choo, is a fusion of the two cultures, feeling like both and neither at the same time, but unlike many others actually manages to succeed in creating something unique.

Peepo Choo follows a young otaku, Milton, living in the south side of Chicago. Forced to hide his anime fandom to survive the harsh urban environment, Milton finds reprieve in anime, particularly his favorite title, Peepo Choo and sees Japan as an ideal paradise from which he can escape his life in Chicago. When he wins a ticket to Japan, he sees it as an opportunity to really be himself, but learns that his dreams and reality don’t quite line up.

The first volume of Peepo Choo can create an odd initial impression. The art is very in-your-face. The heavy amount of sexual content and violence can seem out of place even knowing that there are plenty of sexual and violent manga out there, and the way in which it makes fun of geeks can be a turn-off for the geeks reading it. However, there are reasons for all of this, and it’s not simply to offend everyone.

Peepo Choo appears to glamorize sex and violence, but does so in a way that also simultaneously removes much of the fetishism in both. The “Peepo Choo” meta-series itself that Milton so adores resembles superflat artwork crossbred with Pokemon, looking not like anime so much as the impression someone completely unfamiliar with it might get from watching an episode. And while Milton comes across as pathetic, he’s also a very good and righteous person in his own way.

Most, if not all of the characters in Peepo Choo are horribly flawed in different ways. Paralleling Milton is a yakuza member who has so fallen in love with the “American gangsta” aesthetic that he has adopted a wardrobe (cowboy hat included), attitude, and name (“Morimoto Rockstar”) that is a garish parody of the lifestyle, essentially trying to obtain the life that Milton is trying to escape. Supermodel Reiko has an as-of-yet unexplained violent streak to her. Comic book store owner Jody lords it over his customers by telling them how pathetic they are, but is only covering up his own insecurities. Everyone wants to be more than they are, or at the very least feel like there are two conflicting sides to them.

Yet, despite all of these human faults, all of the characters show some degree of goodness and altruism through their otherwise broken personalities. And so while the message one might initially take from Peepo Choo is “hopelessness,” there is also a glimmer of progress and growth in all of them, or at least the potential for such. In a way, it reminds me of Ressentiment, which also has a similar theme of the beauty in ugliness.

Is Peepo Choo going to be uplifting, or is it going to be a heel to the face of fans? Honestly, as of Volume 1 I cannot tell. The story can easily go in either direction, and while I hope for the former I can’t make any guarantees.

Pick up Peepo Choo Volume 1 if you feel like something different. It’s not like any manga you’ve ever seen, and it also goes to show that perhaps the way to achieving that manga dream is to do something unique.

Thanks to Vertical Inc.’s Ed Chavez for providing this copy.

Talk About Kitty Cats: Vertical Vednesday

In about 12 hours there is going to be a Vertical Vednesday. It’s been a while since I’ve actually had the opportunity to go to a Vertical Vednesday, but today I will correct that mistake. I also apologize for telling people about this at the last second.

A Vertical Vednesday is a roughly monthly or bi-monthly meeting in Manhattan with Ed Chavez, the marketing director of manga and Japanese popular culture book publisher Vertical Inc. In terms of manga, their releases include Black Jack and To Terra. This latest VV is going to focus mainly on the English adaptation of Chi’s Sweet Home, the comic about an adorable kitten, but also other recently licensed stuff. If you are able to go, I highly recommend it, as Ed is literally the most knowledgeable person in regards to manga that I know. You’re bound to learn something.

The plan is to meet in front of Kinokuniya NYC (6th Ave between 40th and 41st streets) and then move to a location that can fit the size of the crowd. See you there!

Ed Chavez Double Feature (Neither Feature by Me): Interview + Vertical Vednesday

Ed Chavez has announced a new Vertical Vednesday set for this Wednesday, January 13 at Kinokuniya NYC’s Cafe Zaiya (6th ave between 40th and 41st sts in Manhattan), where he will be discussing a new Tezuka title acquisition by Vertical Inc (publishers of To Terra and the upcoming Chi’s Sweet Home), as well as the state of the industry as the new year unfolds.

Now normally I would be telling you about how insightful Ed Chavez is in regards to the manga industry without actually being able to give you examples, but luckily for all of us the Reverse Thieves posted their interview with the man today, and you will get to see how his mind works. Among the topics are Chi’s Sweet Home, the pros and cons of flipping manga, and the nature of translation itself. It’s a really good interview that I recommend everyone read. It’s also quite long, so get comfortable before you start delving into his mind.

The Return of the Vertical Vednesday: Licenses and Licensing

There hasn’t been one for a while, but Vertical Inc. and Ed Chavez are back to lay down some information for anyone willing to listen tomorrow, December 2nd.

For those who have never heard of Vertical Vednesdays or haven’t read my previous posts announcing them, Vertical Vednesdays are very casual informational sessions where the marketing director Ed Chavez engages in a conversation with the audience to teach and discuss various aspects of manga, whether it’s trends in Japan, the history of manga genres, or technical details. A lifelong fan and even a former editor at an actual manga publisher in Japan (Kodansha), Ed is a fount of knowledge and I advise anyone who gets the chance to have a listen or at least find a summary of one of the Vednesdays online.

This time around the topic is “Licenses and Licensing,” which might not exactly sound exciting, but Ed promises to get into some of the nitty gritty of what the licensing process actually is, a detail that most manga fans including myself do not have a comprehensive image of.

When: Wed. Dec. 2, 2009
Where: Kinokuniya NYC (6th Ave between 40th and 41st st., Manhattan)

Vertical Vednesday July 29, 2009: Light Novels

To the otaku in the New York City area eager to learn a thing or three about the media we love so very much, I must inform you that there is once more a “Vertical Vednesday” tomorrow, July 29. The topic? Light novels, something that has had a great degree of difficulty penetrating the US market, partially due to how they tend to get bunched in with the manga section. It’s a subject I personally do NOT have much knowledge on, so I will be eager to listen, and if you’ve never heard Vertical Inc. marketing director Ed Chavez speak about manga, etc. in person, then you owe it to yourself to attend. I’ll let Vertical explain it better.

Once again, the plan is to meet at the Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya in Manhattan, located between 40th and 41st St on 6th Ave at 6:30pm. From there, we may move to a different location, so get there on time! Also, this time we will have special guests Ronald Kelts from Japanimerica and possibly Ioannis (Yani) Mentzas, editorial director of Vertical.

Seats are limited, so if you plan to come, RSVP Ed Chavez one way or another.

July 8th Vertical Vednesday: Sports Manga

Vertical Vednesday, courtesy of Vertical Inc and Ed Chavez, is back for another informative around. This time, the topic is a genre of manga that doesn’t achieve much success in America for a a number of reasons, Sports Manga.

Sports Manga has a very long history and some of the most beloved titles in Japan are sports-themed ones, such as Ashita no Joe, Touch, Attack No. 1, Ace o Nerae!!, Kyojin no Hoshi, and even Eyeshield 21. Also, given my previous experiences with Vertical Vednesdays, if you attend you’ll get the chance to chime in on what YOU think are the steps to getting Sports Manga accepted more readily in the US by both regular folks and manga readers.

Like last time, we’ll be meeting up at around 6 to 6:30 at Kinokuniya on 6th Ave between 41st and 40th in Manhattan, and then depending on the size of the group will either stay there or find another location nearby to sit.

Topics covered so far in previous Vertical Vednesdays are Seinen, Josei, and Yankii.