Sunday, July 26, 2020

Detective Conan/Case Closed: Episode "ONE" Review

On the night of my birthday in 2014, my family and I had just piled into the car after having a very filling birthday dinner, and a friend from the Detective Conan fan group I was a part of asked if I had heard the news. “What news,” I asked, and he sent me a link from Crunchyroll. It was only just announced a couple weeks prior that they would be releasing episodes of the Conan anime weekly as they aired. To say we were excited was an understatement; Funimation hadn’t touched the series since 2010 with the extremely late release of Movie 5: “Countdown to Heaven” (originally released in 2001) and Movie 6: “The Phantom of Baker Street” (2002). The anime itself hadn’t had any new dubs since 2005 so the fans were living off of scans, fansubs, and what ever country still had them: official manga releases. So here I was, only a fan for three short years and already I was blessed with the ability to see Detective Conan subbed and released the fastest fans could ever imagine: ONLY A FOUR DAY WAIT. Of course, eventually Crunchyroll got the episodes to be released the same day, but it was faster than the fansubs were releasing them at that time. 

Crunchyroll’s timing here was impressive as 2014 was actually the 20th anniversary of the manga. That being said, not much happened that year although there were announcements and start of a “Magic Kaito” anime along with three new chapters of the series, but 2016 was the anime’s year to shine. Starting a mere two years after the manga, the anime has been airing non-stop (not including breaks or reruns). Twenty years of Conan, or more accurately the form most people around the world are familiar with: the anime, so you’d expect sort of a “let’s go big or go home” mood. Most of the surprises that year were a flop, including (in my very objectionable opinion), movie 20: “The Darkest Nightmare”. While not the best movie, I enjoyed it a tad more than movie 13: “The Raven Chaser” (the other movie focusing on the Black Organization). Speaking of the movies, have you ever watched one? You know how after the cold opening, the title is shown and you hear “I’m high school detective: Shinichi Kudo.” or “That’s me, Jimmy Kudo, high school detective.” and the whole story of how Conan came to be gets recapped for you in about 3 or 4 minutes? What if….they actually remade the beginning?

I won’t go too much into it since if you’ve seen the first two episodes or the first two chapters of the series you know essentially how the bulk of the special goes. Episode “ONE” is more for long time fans of the series, but even for a western audience it works well as an entry point. The special adds to the original story beginning with a more recent case that tells the story of Shinichi and Ran at the Beika Aquarium (see Kudo Shinichi Aquarium Case: Part 1” and “Part 2” on Netflix). The story acts as if you already know the characters, but like I said it still works for new fans of the show. For example, there are nods throughout that you might not catch on first watch, but don’t worry too much about looking for those as they don’t affect the story. Anime Original scenes added actually aren’t too bad and for the most part they flow well between the manga scenes.

I absolutely loved the special. I loved the fact that it takes the viewer back to a simpler time. Don’t get me wrong, I love Detective Conan, you know this, but the special hit almost every reason I got into this series. The variety of characters, the art, the music, the fact that Shinichi doesn’t actually die, but a weird side effect has shrunk (or de-aged) him and he might be in way over his head. It was a fun way to relive the series’ start. If I had to choose my favorite scene it’d probably be the montage of Shinichi and Ran’s day in Tropical Land. It begins with my favorite scene from movie 4 (“Captured in Her Eyes” which is actually from the manga!) with Shinichi handing Ran a can of Coke and wanting to show her something. From there we follow them around with their ups and a couple downs while “Unmei no Roulette Mawashite” (the 4th opening by Japan’s count; sung by the well-known group: ZARD) plays in the background, hitting the long time viewers with extreme nostalgia. I’d only started watching Conan less than a decade ago and this song gets me every time. The special follows the manga a little more closely with Shinichi taking pictures of the shady transaction. On the other hand, changes from the manga include characters that were not originally in this chapter or appear much, much later.

The special ends with two things. First we’re given an epilogue that quickly touches on important moments of Conan’s journey up until a certain point. I loved seeing all those great cases reanimated albeit still-framed for some of them. My favorite of these scenes is Conan vs Kaitou Kid. The scene itself always gives me goosebumps, but seeing this scene in the current style and in brilliant 1080 HD was one of my dreams, so I’ll gladly take it.

The second ending is another epilogue that is actually mentioned by Haibara in her first appearance. During her first appearance, she tells Conan after Shinichi disappeared, his house was searched and she noticed his clothes from when he was a child are missing. She also realized that Conan was the intelligent boy her sister mentioned. She puts two and two together and changes his status to dead. I love that we are shown the search in action with the addition of a few details.

Now to address the elephant in the room. There’s a new dub. Is it good? Is it worth watching? Yes. Very much so. Over a year ago, there were rumors about an English dub for Movie 22: “Zero the Enforcer” and well...let’s just say I’m not the biggest fan of that movie, so I put that thought aside. A couple months later, Anime Expo 2019 announced it was going to show that movie with the official premier of the dub. No, I didn’t get in, but I wished I could have. The dub for Episode “One” was produced by the same people who dubbed that. The dub uses the original Japanese names so if you were not a fan of the changes Funimation or Viz use, fear not, Bang Zoom keeps the original names and the actors do a great job. Let me just say: Christina Vee as Ran is definitely my favorite match up; her voiced seemed to just click. Most of the other voices took a while to get used to including Griffin Burns as Shinichi. When I first heard his voice it seemed too young, probably because I’m used to a 50+ year old man playing a 17 year old boy, but as the special went on, Griffin seemed to get more comfortable in the role; everyone did actually. Well, I mean everyone who was on-screen for longer than thirty seconds. Wendee Lee might have been the only one I couldn’t get used to, but the main focus of this is Shinichi before turning into Conan, so she’s only around for the last third of the special. The side characters also were voiced by some great voice actors. Jeannie Tirado played Hiromi, a minor character, but she was amazing despite the short amount of time she was on screen. I haven’t seen many of her other roles, but I hope to see her in more in the future. So to reiterate: the dub is good, it’s definitely worth checking out.

In an age where everything seems to be getting a remake, TMS actually succeeded in making something that people from around the world who grew up with the anime can enjoy and share with new viewers. I only discovered Conan in 2011 and although I consumed the dub in less than a month, I still didn’t have to wait as long as many fans, but that doesn’t make me any less excited for these new releases. I actually did really enjoy Funimation’s dub and I wished for more as I forced myself to continue with the fansubs. Detective Conan sadly isn't quite the hit here in the west as it is in Japan, but the fanbase on this side of the world is determined despite being small. The dub is good and I believe that it can only get better. In September we’re getting a bluray release of “Zero the Enforcer” and I hope “Crimson Love Letter” follows soon after. In this time of quarantine and the lack of new Conan content, I think the fandom is getting a little restless, but these new releases can help.

So to conclude, Episode “ONE” is worth buying and watching whether you have seen the first episodes of Conan or not. It's understandable that Discotek is testing the waters with what could be equated to the “beginning” of Conan, and honestly? It's great to see the series get a second chance that other anime have not. I can only hope the gap of inaccessibility that surrounded Conan before will start to shrink with this and more releases from Discotek, and I thank them for giving the franchise “ONE” more chance.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Komi Can't Communicate Volume 6-7 Review

Hey what's poppin' everyone. Marion here, I hope you've all been reading tons of Sunday during this quarantine super excited about the recent news-- last year, Komi vol. 1 sold over 22k copies according to Bookscan! That's about as much as One Punch-Man sold that same year, and more than any non-Viz graphic novel. It's good to know everyone else around here also likes good manga. So, for all of you, my fellow paragons of taste, I bring to you my next batch of Komi reviews. But before that, I must admit to you that I was thinking while drafting this up, and both Sakaki and I firmly believe Komi and King from OPM would be best friends. Ahem. Now without further ado, it's time for Komi.

Komi Can't Communicate, Volume 6 was a fairly quick read. It doesn't have as much of a long, continuous story thread like the sports or culture festivals, but it does settle into a comfortable rhythm. The Sunday classic, if you will. The broad strokes here are mainly the transition into Winter, and the introduction of Katai-kun. One of the things I appreciate a lot about Oda's work is how he can tell stories that don't express dialogue explicitly in different ways. As part of the introduction to Winter, Komi goes shopping for clothes with her father. As they are both quiet people, there are plenty of gags about them not being able to interact well with others, or how they can almost just sign in order to communicate between themselves. It's charming, because we get plenty of quiet moments, but even with Komi's cute (albeit sometimes limited) facial expressions, little details like blushing or body language help convey that this father-daughter relationship is very healthy and sweet. It helps cement the idea that Komi isn't necessarily worse or incomplete as a human being, for not being able to communicate with words. Her desire to be social and come out of her shell is a more personal thing, which helps spread a message that the most meaningful change comes through the self. It's an idea that I think has been sort of touched on lightly throughout, and hasn't really been formally addressed, but is very much there. Much more so when you take into account the way that Tadano supports Komi, making sure never to force her into situations, but give her the opportunity to engage in them herself. We've seen it before and again, this time most notably in Chapter 81, where he encourages Komi to invite Onemine to a cat cafe! Tadano may be jabbed by his peers for being "too" normal (whatever that means), but that kind of normal isn't quite as common as we'd expect in especially cliquey environments like school or work.

Katai, as a character whose quirk is essentially being Komi-but-male, is very endearing. There is some ripe social commentary to be broken down when it comes to how Komi and Katai are perceived so incredibly differently. For starters, if we completely ignore causes for why both these characters have trouble speaking, and look directly at the effects through their social interaction, we can see that Komi and Katai are seen as archetypes, specifically the Yamato Nadeshiko, and a Delinquent, respectively. A yamato nadeshiko is the quintessential Japanese beauty, who is perfect in every way and beloved by all. Even when Komi fails to get words out, people misunderstand and assume with the best of intentions. When Katai fails to speak, his nervousness comes off as aggression, and a conscious unwillingness to empathize or engage. I think it's because for men, there might be an expectation to be proactive, whereas women might be expected to be reactive. Part of the reason that Komi is so beloved by everyone in the class is the fact that she is conventionally attractive, but doesn't go out of her way to interact with people. She might possibly have opinions, ideas, or experiences that people wouldn't like or agree with, but the distance set by her inability to speak has made her a presence similar to an idol or pop star, where it's established as normal to idealize and not interact personally. It was a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy until Tadano showed up, because now matter how much grit she could muster, it was impossible to find anyone who would mutually step up to speak to her as an equal. For Katai,even though he is physically fit and probably attractive, he feels more willing to brush off others and settle for being socially distant because he can't respond normally. But without a proper explanation, this is where the miscommunication alienates him from having friends.High schoolers are not the smartest or emotionally mature folks out there. Surface level interactions are probably the peak that most people endure in their day-to-day. In a manga where the main male lead's name translates to "Ordinary Person-Person," it's expected that people are beholden to stereotypes or prejudices without even realizing. That's what makes Oda's narration and seeing everyone's inner thoughts such an entertaining experience. Komi and Katai both don't realize that the other is suffering from the same problem, and that's what makes us want to root for them and be friends. It's really sad and almost frustrating to see Katai's reputation self-destruct, but that's also what makes Tadano reaching out to him that much more satisfying.

And on that day, CHADano's harem grew +1

From Volume 6 into Volume 7, the story chugs along as Winter continues and we move to Christmas, Komi's birthday, and ushering in the New Year. I think my favorite chapter is 89. It's a brief, 11 page vignette where Komi is invited to build snowmen by Najimi and Tadano, presumably a day or several after her birthday celebration. It's rife with tender moments like Komi's mom providing some hot soup, Najimi gesturing that they want to build a snowman twice as big as they are, and Komi making a smaller snowman companion for the one that Tadano set by a sill of her house. The chapter is almost entirely void of words save for incidental things like SFX, punctuation, and little asides to help the characters emote. It was a very cute chapter that gave me heartburn.

We must protect this smile at all costs.

Aside from that, I really enjoyed seeing Komi's family again, and her grandmother's playful side. There's really not much I could point out and say something other than "I liked this, it was good." Being able to see what everyone else did for New Year's was good, the gags with Najimi calling at the worst possible time were absolutely golden--especially getting Yamai salty that she's gonna miss out on hanging with Komi, and Nakanaka getting interrupted during a time-limited event in a mobile game that's definitely not FGO. The comedic timing was perfect, which is to be expected at this point considering how many chapters are composed almost like typical 4-koma manga. The highlights for the second half, however, were definitely the ice skating trip, where Komi and Katai got to bond a little more, and Tadano's cold. I find it pretty cute and funny how Komi still hasn't really gotten the memo, and her confusion over what looks like Katai flirting with Tadano. The aside that these three learned how to ice skate but Oda Tomohito himself still hasn't is also pretty cute. The final chapter, with Komi nursing Tadano, was the right amount of fluff to warm all our hearts after all the snow and cold environments from these two volumes. It's always endearing and satisfying to see this main pair grow closer and more comfortable together, and Komi's decision to hold Tadano's hand for a bit while he was sleeping can be taken as an outward display of affection (of course, that's what everyone immediately wants), but also an innocent desire to support someone who has--up to this point--been by her side to help support her wholeheartedly. Komi may not be the most proactive person, but her progress since volume 1 is palpable. Tadano shrugged off his mistake of dialing the wrong number, but Komi realized the context and decided to visit, make sure he's hydrated, well fed, and getting some proper rest. It's extremely easy to see a character like Komi and immediately infantilize her or treat her like an ideal, just like her classmates. But I think that seeing these decisive moments for her peppered alongside all of CHADano's hard social carries helps distinguish her as a character that can be a real person, actively trying to change their life through their efforts. Again, that's what makes us root for her. It may be a slow burn, but progress is progress, and that makes every little step that Komi takes worth celebrating as we follow her on this journey.

One day, this will be real. And it will be glorious.