Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Return to the Labyrinth

Readers: Good God, is she going to talk about Labyrinth AGAIN?! Didn't she JUST write a blog about her David Bowie obsession not two days ago?

Me: Hey! I HAVE to do another one, the fourth and final book came today and I promised myself when I finished the series I'd do a review on it! So shut your cake hole!

Ahem. Welcome to my detailed analysis and review of all four volumes of the manga, Return to the Labyrinth. This blog post will be about volume 1. I'll try and burn out all four of them tonight, but no guarantees.

FWA?! Yes, my dear Hermiones, it's true. There is indeed a manga series that is supposed to take place after the events of the movie. Now you'd think, due to my love of manga and my euphoric obsession with Labyrinth, that nothing would please me more than this. However, after the disappointment from the graphic novel version of Percy Jackson (great dialogue and story, TERRIBLE ART) I was a little more guarded about this. Especially cuz I couldn't freaking find ANYTHING on the internet about the series. No scanlations. The wikipedia entries are sparse and only go the the third volume. It seemed that Labyrinth fans were content to ignore it and pretend it never happened or mock it viciously. So I resigned myself--I had to buy these suckers.

Avast! Spoilers ahead!!!

Return to Labyrinth Volume 1

Ok, the first thing about volume 1 is holy bejesus is the cover art beautiful. I was super excited when I saw it. Sooo lovely! Shojo and yet fantastical, beautiful but with strong colors, and hot holy hell did Kouyu Shurei do a lovely job drawing Jareth.

Then I opened it.

Um...what? Why is Jareth wearing black/red/brightly colored lipstick?! Jareth would never wear lipstick!

Avlbane: What do you call that stuff he wore on his lips in the ballroom scene of the movie?!
Me: Peach shimmer lipgloss. BIG DIFFERENCE.

Anway, as you can see, there is a cover artist, which is Kouyu Shurei and the main artist, which is Chris Lie. I was seriously annoyed at this at first--when someone grabs this, they'll be expecting the beautiful, clearly better art of Shurei and instead get an icky shonen-y style that looks to be more at home with a sci-fi setting than a fantasy setting. Lie gets a little better--but he never does draw women very well and the only real thing I can commend him on are his portrayals of the goblins.

Also, scroll up for a second. See that bespectacled person that looks like a guy that Toby is saying goodbye to? That would be Sarah.


Ok, so the manga starts with basically a recap of the movie. Sarah wishes away her brother, Goblin King gives her 13 hours to solve the Labyrinth, etc etc. The recap ends with the statement that the Goblin King never troubled Sarah again. "Her brother, however, was not so lucky..."

We cut to a scene with fourteen-year old Toby, who is the lead in the school play. He flubs up a line, screws up his blocking, and gets so frustrated, he wishes that the play would end already.

We're already off to a bad start. Surely Sarah would have taught her brother the importance of BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR.

A random sandbag knocks out one of the actors, two of the lights break which cause a fire. We cut to the audience who are all screaming in fear except one guy who looks pretty at ease OH OH IS THAT JARETH?!?!

Even if he's drawn funky, I still love to see him!

He doesn't stick around. Sigh. Sarah shows up and takes Toby home. Sarah is drawn very mousily, almost homely. This doesn't make sense because if anyone has ever seen grown-up Jennifer Connelly, the woman is beautiful. Fortunately, there is a reason for her icky appearance, which we find out later.

So Sarah fixes Toby something to eat and they talk about the play, and Sarah comments on how she used to love acting. Toby asks why she quit, and she says she 'grew up.'

Uhhh...this does not sound like the girl who was perfectly content to stroll around parks in medieval gowns reciting lines from her favorite books and plays who we met in the movie...

Sarah leaves, Toby goes upstairs to play a computer game involving goblins. I am extremely bored.

Here comes one of my first legitimate gripes about the manga. Its portrayal of Karen, Toby's mother and Sarah's stepmother. In the movie, Karen is not a horrible, terrible, emotionally abusive mother. She scolds Sarah from coming home an hour late. She exasperatedly tries to have a reasonable discussion with Sarah who flips out like the drama queen she is and throws a tantrum. She tells Sarah's father in a hurt and upset tone, "She treats me like a wicked stepmother in a fairy story no matter what I do!" These are not marks of a mean and nasty person.

Now we go to manga Karen. Manga Karen is mean, derisive, and just a generally unpleasant person. She snaps at Toby, is completely unsympathetic to the disaster of a play that Toby just suffered through (and it occurs to me that she wasn't even AT her son's play...) and is a genuine bitch. This annoys me GREATLY. Nowhere in the movie was it ever stated or shown that Karen was a mean person. In the one fight she had with Sarah, it was clear Sarah was more in the wrong than Karen, especially as Sarah was acting like a petulant child.

Anyway, we continue. Toby makes another stupid wish at school while an owl watches from a window (Hi Jareth!) and is caught accidentally cheating on a test. He is sent to the guidance counselor's office where who do we meet, but Jareth who is posing as the counselor! Ha ha!

...he's drawn really weird. The real Jareth would look sooo much hotter in a suit.

Plus Manga Jareth is wearing old lady glasses.

They discuss all the bad luck that's happened to Toby over the course of his life (all of which stemmed from a stupid wish). Toby whines that his life sucks, Jareth gets all offended that Toby isn't eternally grateful for granting his wishes (sound familiar?) and then promptly jumps out the window.

Why does he jump out the window? ...I don't know.

We go to a new scene where we see a queen-type woman lounging on a throne. A tiny robot pours something into a cup, she glances into it, and I believe makes something akin an evil laugh. Ladies and gentleman, I believe we've met our villain. She calls a henchman named Esker to 'pay a visit' to Toby.

At this point, my inner Jareth/Sarah fangirl is impatient. Shush, fangirl, you're going to have to wait for a while.

Okay, so bad stuff CONTINUES to happen to Toby, and then a goblin steals his history homework and he chases after it.

A goblin stole his history homework? I think I'm going to try that one on my History 152 professor. Although this may explain why my socks keep going missing...

So you guessed it, by chasing the goblin through his closet Toby winds up in the Labyrinth. He then meets a wingless fairy named Hana who is riding...something that appears to be Ludo's species...a yeti? Hana explains how she lost her wings which is too boring for me to relate and Toby gets the bright idea of climbing the Labyrinth walls to solve it that way.

I'm not going to slight him this, because honestly, I'd have tried the same thing. It doesn't work though, naturally, the wall pretty much kicks his ass. Boy, it must suck to lose to a wall. We then get a random conversation with a 'bricklayer' goblin that's supposed to be reminiscent of Sarah's first conversation with Hoggle but really is super tedious. Toby enters the Labyrinth.

Cut to Esker the minion, who unleashes some kinda weird water beast to track down Toby.

Cut to Toby who has found the goblin that stole his homework. The goblin is named Skub and is kind of cute. Skub and Toby make friends. The group of them trot around some more in the Labyrinth and then the water beasty thing attacks them. Toby defeats it...somehow...I dunno, it was kind of confusing, he like led it into mud? Whatever, GET TO JARETH ALREADY, I'M BORED. The captain of the guard, Candlewic, finds them and arrests Toby.

Okay, new character. A girl(?) named Moppet, who wakes up, puts on a goblin mask and goes about her day. She apparently is a servant of the mayor...wait, since when does the Goblin City need a mayor? Don't they already have a king? Jareth does not strike me as the type to share power...

Moppet's life kind of sucks. But she runs into Sir Didymus! Hey Sir Didymus! Who is approximately there for seven panels. Yay.

And then FINALLY we get to Jareth who is busy being sexy on his throne. Well, as sexy as he can be the way he's drawn. He's playing with his crystals (every time you see a DING, insert 'that's what she said. DING.) and he drops one and it shatters. He looks sad. Must be sad losing one of your balls. (DING.) Moppet delivers a letter, he gives her a letter to send back, we catch a glimpse of his wrist which appears to be burned. Moppet leaves, passes by Candlewic, sighs dreamily over him...

Wait, wait, WAIT, I call bullshit. She just delivered a letter to JARETH and she's sighing over a goblin captain of the guard who appears to be the love child of Andre the Giant and the Incredible Hulk?! WHAT?!

If there was a legitimate plot-related reason for this crush, I could forgive it. But ESPECIALLY when we find out Moppet's backstory, it makes absolutely no sense. Sigh.

Geez, she even accidentally bumps into Jareth whilst drooling over Candlewic and quickly hurries off. You have JARETH right behind you and you're crushing on Candlewic? What?!?!

Stupid, stupid, STUPID.

Back to Toby, who is in goblin jail. There he meets Moppet, whose duties apparently include feeding the prisoners. ...K. He gets tried by a goblin jury and is found guilty by the mayor Spittledrum. Sentence is death. Moppet interrupts the hearing by saying that Spittledrum has a visitor, and lo and behold, it's Jareth! Thank God, every time he's not in the scene I start losing consciousness due to sheer boredom. Jareth says casually that he wants the boy Spittledrum arrested sent to his castle. Spittledrum, who just sentenced Toby to death, sputters a bit, and Jareth comments airily that if Spittledrum has indeed harmed Toby, the only thing he'd be mayor of is an oubliette.

Spittledrum takes off to stop the execution. I get annoyed cuz Jareth isn't in the scene anymore.

He comes back pretty quickly though, and he and Toby have a proper introduction. They become pretty good chums and Jareth suggests Toby clean up and join him for dinner. Then there's a really weird line.

Jareth: Why don't you clean yourself up and join me and a few guests for dinner? I'll see that you get home by morning. That's not unreasonable, is it?

Toby: I guess that's all right.

Jareth: You can go clean up in there. I'll send for some fresh clothes. Go ahead, I won't peek. *next panel is a creepy smirk*


Did Jareth just hit on that fourteen-year-old boy? NOT OKAY!

Inner voice: Course not. He prefers drugging fifteen year old girls with hallucinogenic peaches and hitting on THEM.

Me: Shut up, you.

So then we see all across the kingdom, various inhabitants of the Labyrinth and Goblin City receiving invitations to a ball that Jareth is hosting. Then we cut to the ball sequence, where we several cameos (Didymus, Ludo, Hoggle) we're introduced to our villainess, whose name is Mizumi, and her two daughters Moulin and Drumlin. Then Jareth makes a big announcement that he's retiring and his new heir is...wait for it...Toby. GASP.

And so ends volume 1.

Things I liked: The many, MANY references to the original movie, one of the Dark Crystal, and even the fandom as a whole. Toby commenting on the tightness of the pants he's given when he changes. The attempt at making an original, alternate story to the original Labyrinth.

Things I disliked: The art as a whole. The portrayal of Jareth...this will be more apparent as we go on. Y'all should know, David Bowie played a HUGE role in designing Jareth. He commented that it was always his impression that Jareth was rather reluctantly the ruler of the Labyrinth, and would probably be a lot happier in Soho, London or Brooklyn. He had several ideas about Jareth which Brian Froud and Jim Henson incorporated. This portrayal of Jareth is probably the most common in fanfics and webcomics, since there's so much respect for Mr. Bowie. I feel the manga series really minimized Bowie's contributions to Jareth. I'll explain more as the backstory (manga version at least) for Jareth is revealed.

Posting review of volume 2 tomorrow! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Timeline Chronicling My Love of David Bowie

2006--One of my friends burns her entire iTunes collection for me on CD because she is horrified at the fact that I have never heard of The Cure or Motion City Soundtrack. She is determined to fix my music taste.

Me: Hey, I like this 'Rebel Rebel' song. And this 'Changes' song is cool too! David Bowie? Hm, interesting, he's kinda weird though.

2008--I receive a mix tape of oldie hits. 'Diamond Dogs' and 'Space Oddity' is on there and I listen to it sporadically.

2009--I discuss movies with my suitemate.

Suitemate: Here's some anime you guys are welcome to borrow. OH! Have you seen Labyrinth?!

Chester (first roommate): Nope never seen it.

Me: What's it about?

Suitemate: Oh it's amazing! It's got David Bowie in REALLY tight pants!

Me: ...oh. Cool.

Suitemate: He's wearing a ton of makeup and has serious 80's hair, but it super sexy!

Me: ...Right.

*suitemate leaves*

Chester: So what should we watch?

Me: Let's watch Pretear, that Labyrinth movie sounds really weird.

2010--I transfer to my new college and meet Avlbane.

Avlbane: You've seriously never seen Labyrinth? That was one of the movies of my childhood.
Me: I've heard of it, but I've yet to sit down and watch it.

Avlbane: You seriously should.

*few months later*

Me: I feel like a movie. Let's see what's on YouTube...hey, that Labyrinth movie is up here. *begins to watch*

*hour after movie*

Me: Holy crap was that awesome. David Bowie, tight pants, all that glitter...HOW IS THAT EVEN ATTRACTIVE?!

*several days later*

Me: OMG I LOVE THIS MOVIE SO MUCH! DAVID BOWIE, YOU ARE SO FREAKING EPIC! *proceeds to read Labyrinth fanfics, read Labyrinth webcomics, write Labyrinth fanfics, borrow the movie from Avlbane and conveniently forget to return it, listen to the David Bowie music I already had obsessively and download album after album after album until my iPod is pretty much a mobile shrine to David Bowie*

Avlbane: ...I've created a monster.

And so it was.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Reconciling Feminism with Shojo Manga

When I say I'm a feminist, I get a lot of reactions. Disgust, incredulity, surprise, an eye-roll...(the eye-roll is the most common). The surprise I think comes from feminism clashing with my other interests. Interests like trashy romance novels, rom coms, and most especially, shojo manga.

First let me begin by saying that feminist shojo IS out there. It does exist. It's harder to find and it might not even be that good, but I promise it's real. Also let me say that not all shojo is inherently anti-feminist. There are many manga-ka out there that try and present well-rounded heroines that don't necessarily NEED their hot bishonen counterpart to complete them.

But trust me, it's not the norm. Like this manga for example...
Stepping on Roses Barefoot, which is about a girl who literally sells herself into marriage to a guy who bullies her and emotionally abuses her. She falls in love with another guy, almost runs away with that guy, then realizes that guy is psycho (ties her up and sets their room on fire so they can die together) so she goes back to her husband who continues to treat her horribly. But don't worry. She 'changes' him.

Or some of Arina Tanemura's early works, almost all of which feature an extremely dumb heroine who basically need to be physically, emotionally, or sometimes even spiritually saved by the hot guy.

Here is the basic rundown of any shojo manga plot.

Girl: I am a happy high school student, who is cheerful but a little thick, and I want to fall in love! La la la la!
Boy: I am the confident, suave, devilishly good-looking boy (who might be just a little dangerous) who is going to sweep you off your feet! *sweeps*
Girl: Oh! *swoons* How DARE you sweep me off my feet! I am filled with righteous anger!
Boy: Oh, you'll be in love with me soon enough.
Girl: Never!
Boy's Ex: I am here to be a monkey wrench!
Girl: How dare you be a monkey wrench!
Girl's Close Guy Friend: I've always loved you!
Girl: I don't know what to do!
Boy: I love you!
Girl: I love you too!

And everyone lives happily ever after. Give or take a few variations.

So why do I keep buying these things? Why am I on volume four of Stepping on Roses Barefoot with every intention of buying the next one?

I think it's probably along the same line of thinking as to why I read trashy 'historical' smut, Johanna Lindsey and the like. I don't read those things for the plot. I read them for the sex.

I don't read shojo manga seriously. I read it for the pretty artwork and the cheesy romance.

This also brings forth a theory I've had for a while that I might actually be a Twilight fan if it had debuted as shojo manga rather than a book...or hell, even a trashy romance novel. (That would require it to have legitimate sex though, not a freaking fade to black...damn cop-outs.) I probably would have read it. I probably would have still hated Edward and been a Jacob fan. But I wouldn't loathe it with the ever burning passion I do now. That's because I expect more out of books. Not to say that I haven't been surprised by the depth of certain manga series--but when I start reading Marmalade Boy or something by Rie Takada I'm honestly letting my brain take a break.

I am not expecting a shojo romance (and would be horrified if someone attempted it with me.) Nor do I read Marmalade Boy and think, 'Boy, I sure wish life were more like a shojo manga!'

Because frankly, my life doesn't need any more complications.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My Favorite Webcomics

Look, I wasn't always a webcomic geek. It was Avlbane's fault, really.

I've never been much of a comic book person. Nope. The closest I got to comics were manga, generally shojo. Fluffy, formulaic shojo manga that had repetitive plots, brainless heroines, and attractive love interests. Easy to get into, easy to get out of. Not to say that there isn't manga out there that is deep and thought provoking. I haveoften been verypleasantly surprised by the depths of certain storylines. But I didn't actively seek it out inmy manga. I was okay with shelving my feminist principles and enjoying brain fluff.

I think the reason I never became a comic book geek is thatevery time I enter a comic book store, I feel like I need to have a PHD in comics to be able to join any fandom. The history of each consecutive comic book 'verse, story, is just so lengthy and complex, I'm completely out of my depth. I didn't read anything beyond Archie comics when I was younger, so I have no past experience whatsoever. Comic books intimidate me.

Now this is a different story for Avblane. She is what I like to term, a total comic geek. She knows the difference between Marvel and DC and Darkhorse, she can and has give me the complete backstories and conceptual ideas of Iron Man, the X-Men, while I stare at her glassy-eyed. I'd make fun of her for it, but she brings up my Labyrinth obsession and then I shut up.

Now webcomics. Like I said, I lived a blissfully free webcomic-existence before I met Avlbane. Then she sent me a link to one. And then another. And then amonster was created. I now LOVE webcomics--I love that talented artists and storytellers have a medium in which to convey their creativity without a publishing house telling them what to do.

Avlbane has a crap ton of webcomics she keeps up with, and sadly, has gotten me addicted to a few of them. I also have found several I adore on my own. Either way, she's a bitch for dragging me into another way of being a geek. But here are a few of my favorite webcomics for your enjoyment.

1. Girls With Slingshots
I found this on feministing--they were interviewing the artist and I was intrigued. This comic is just pure fun.
Premise: It's about an English major, her friends, and her pet talking cactus. Don't ask. Just trust me. The main character, Hazel, is strangely unlikable for the longest time--but she sort of grows on you and grows as a person. This strip deals with friendship, partying, love, sex, cats, ghost cats, and it never takes itself too seriously. I highly recommend it--just be warned, it straddles the lines between PG13 and R, meaning it can get pretty raunchy.
Art style: Light and fun, just your basic cartoony sorta style.
Update Status: About once every two or three days.

Ahem. If you don't like yaoi or gratuitous sex comics, I'd skip this one. Cuz this is kind of nothing but a beautifully drawn yaoi-fest. But if you're like me, and like a comic for more than just SEXYTIMES!!! then you might enjoy the interesting characters, the convoluted relationships, and the intriguing motivations of each one.
Premise: A brothel, its patrons, and the various interactions of each. I promise it's deeper than that, though. Just be warned, this is a graphic comic. Avlbane warned me, and I was like, 'Yeah, haha, whatever,' and started reading this at my university's library, which was not a smart idea. Pretty sure the librarians now think I'm a porn freak. Also, if you buy the printed version, that is WAY WAY WAY more graphic but also way way way more infinitely awesome.
Art style: Manga undertones, but it has a lovely romantic, almost victorian painting kind of style. Its attention to detail is magnificent--the backgrounds and settings are just as elaborate and beautiful as the characters themselves.
Update status: Every Wednesday!

Strangely enough, my older brother introduced me to this bit of fluffy cuteness.
Premise: A famous popstar decides to marry a fan holding a 'Marry Me' sign on a whim, and all the crazy hijinks that follow. Better than it sounds, I promise.
Art style: Kinda manga-y but with definite western overtones. Very bright, very fun sort of style.
Update Status: Technically complete. However, it is in the midst of a rather entertaining bonus story. The only downside to this is it doesn't update regularly--practically once every six months, I'm not even joking. Still, it's good enough to be worth the wait.

The very first webcomic I found all on my own! *is proud* I love the quirkiness of this one--any girl who is a part of a male-dominated fandom can really relate to the main character.
Premise: An attractive geeky comic book fangirl falls for a guy who works at a comic store, so she opens her own comic shop to get close to him.
Art style--Pretty much pure manga, with a touch of western, especially when doing parodies of other famous comics.
Update status--Completely sporadic. But worth the

These are possibly my favorite, favorite, FAVORITE webcomics EVER!!! I put them both together because GND is a spin-off of Roommates--and it's honestly really difficult to pick between the two. The styles are very different. Roommates has a slightly more epic storyline, with a more serious overarching plot than GND, but I prefer the art style of GND and the very dry yet slapsticky humor of GND, very reminiscent of Bill Watterson.
Premise: Jareth of "Labyrinth" and Erik of "Phantom of the Opera" are roommates in a very strange apartment complex. Just upstairs, Sarah of "Labyrinth" roommates with Christine of "Phantom of the Opera". Across the hall, Javert of "Les Miserables" and Commodore Norrington of "Pirates of the Caribbean" are also roommates. Fourth walls are broken, hilarity ensues, mischief is caused as Jareth and Erik try and reconcile being the proverbial losers of their various fandoms while still hoping to get the girl. Sarah and Christine just want a little peace from their stalkers. Also traipses into the fandoms of Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Pan's Labyrinth, Sweeney Todd, Repo! The Genetic Opera, Legend, and much, much, MUCH more. I haven't even scratched the surface of the fandoms they honor!
Art style: Roommates art style has greatly matured from where it started. It's gotten a lot crisper and neater, although I've never had a complaint about how she drew Jareth and Erik. How Sarah looks now is a good example though. I would say the entirety of Roommates is pretty much manga inspired, but obviously she has her own taste to it. Pika's (of GND) art style is very professional (I believe she IS a professional artist as a matter of fact) and varies between this great cartoony style that's kinda manga-y but not totally, to a realistic beautiful style (for serious moments and hardcore fluff!). It's generally absolutely fabulous, and her style has developed a little too, though on a much more subtle level.
Update status: Roommates updates I believe every weekend, and generally GND updates every Wednesday, usually first thing in the morning. I must say, Teahouse and GND just MAKE Wednesday the best days of my week...

So there you have it! These are my favorite webcomics, the ones I have bookmarked and check constantly for updates. I hope you enjoyed, and tune in next time for my spiel on how I reconciled my feminism with shojo manga!