MANGA REVIEW: Franken Fran Omnibus 1 (Vol. 1-2)

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Delightful? Possibly. Depraved? Definitely!

Franken Fran (by Katsuhisa Kigitsu) tells the twisted story of Fran Madaraki, the only “daughter” of the mad Dr. Madaraki, who recently went missing. Thankfully, the good doc taught Fran almost everything he knew, so she has been carrying on in his stead by performing medical miracles for the highest bidder or whoever captures her sympathy. However, Fran’s sympathy should be regarded in the same light as a tiger’s attention, as it’s by no means always a good thing. Fran’s upbringing with the doctor has left her a little warped, and her idea of a happy ending and the ideas of her patients are often worlds apart.

The first thing to understand about Franken Fran is that it is at its core a collection of horror tales. I can see where the suggestive-looking cover or Fran’s whimsical, funny personality could mislead you, but don’t be fooled into thinking you’re purchasing light fare. This manga comes from an incredibly dark moral place where right and wrong have precious little bearing on the outcome. Yes, Fran has a tendency to always punish the guilty, but she has an equally strong record of perpetrating grotesque surgeries and atrocities on the innocent and the ethically neutral who have the misfortune to fall under her care. This book does contain a few genuinely happy endings, but even in those, there is usually some instance of stomach-churning collateral damage or a total mind-screw of a final twist.

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Truly, the only “moral” to be found in Franken Fran is that you should never intentionally seek help from Fran… like, ever. I watch a lot of horror movies and am hard to shock, but after marathoning the 380 pages of utter depravity contained in this two-volume omnibus, I felt morally exhausted. I felt like I needed to put everything else aside and read my Bible for a while. For that reason alone, setting aside this series’ absolutely sick artwork, bizarre plot lines, or gobs of gratuitous gore, I have to warn you that this series is the definition of an acquired taste.

Fran 6With all these warnings out of the way, I can now breathe a little and say that this manga is absolutely stunning and easily my favorite manga release this year. Why? Above all else, the quality of the writing. The sheer originality of some of these stories is breathtaking, especially when it comes to Fran’s radical medical solutions, and some of the final twists take a moment to wrap your head around. It also bases its half-baked ideas on real science; among other things, this volume finally helped me “get” stem cells.

Furthermore, Fran herself is quite an interesting character. Her actions are morally repugnant at times, but there’s almost always solid logic behind them, as well as a genuine desire to do the right thing. She truly wants to help people and puts everything she has into doing that. The problem is that her “unique” upbringing has warped her notion of what an acceptable outcome should look like – you just have to take her as she is and hope she grows in understanding as the series progresses. Seven Seas’ choice to make Fran slur or stretch her words sometimes was a cute touch that helped me “hear” the character a little better, and it went right along with her uncoordinated wobble when she isn’t focused.

The excellent writing is served and complimented by powerful, visceral artwork. We have character models with a variety of ages, backgrounds, and even nationalities, and the backgrounds are straight out of a Hammer horror film. The gold point is in Fran’s grotesque experiments, which literally have to be seen to be believed, but the author does just as impressive work with the finished monsters. I was especially struck by the hulking lab techs who always seem to appear out of nowhere whenever Fran goes into serious mode when it comes to surgery – the brute force they convey gives many of the surprise procedures the desperate helplessness of a rape scene. The change that comes over Fran herself at these moments, transitioning from staggering half-loopiness to frightening intensity, was also perfect.

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Besides the flat-out moral discomfort you get from Fran, really the only negative thing I have to say about the book at all is that the translation sometimes got muddy in the most unfortunate places. It always sounded natural (so, great localization), but the meaning was occasionally unclear, which became a real problem at certain twist endings. I had to re-read the ends to a few chapters and compare Seven Seas’ translation to some online fanslations to make sure I understood what was going on. There might have been some ambiguity in the Japanese as well, I guess, but I hope this will be less of a problem in future volumes.

So, that’s Franken Fran, warts and all. Because this manga is so nasty and so much of a head trip, I’m going to take the unusual step of not recommending it outright despite personally loving it. If you’re unsure, you’ll really just need to read a few pages or take the plunge to purchase it to see what you think. What I can and will say, however, is that this is one of the best-produced, original, and daring manga I have ever read. You can’t beat it for sheer nerve – which makes sense. Fran probably has a lot of sheer nerves lying around in her basement…

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ANIME REVIEW: And Yet the Town Moves (Soremachi)

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Slice-Of-Life Done Right

Sometimes when an anime series doesn’t catch on, it’s not the fault of the series itself, but just a matter of a mismatch with its audience. The 2010 anime And Yet the Town Moves from Sentai Filmworks (known in Japan as Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru, or Soremachi for short) is an excellent case in point. It didn’t make much of a splash here in the United States because it’s such a thoroughly Japanese slice-of-life anime, but that obscurity is a darn shame, because the series is pretty fantastic.

And Yet the Town Moves follows the daily life of Hotori Arashiyama, a loveable dingbat of a high school girl who lives in a small Japanese town, dreams of becoming a detective, and works part-time as a waitress in a maid café. The series also features her family, her teachers, her boss, and her friends: a brainy but slightly arrogant cutie (Tatsuno / “Tattsun”), a cool and rockin’ upperclassman (Kon), a boy who secretly crushes on her (Sanada), and a ping-pong champ (Haribara). Together they… just live normal lives, really. Just funnier than ours.


On the surface, it sounds like a less-than-inspired entry into the “cute girls doing cute things” genre, but that stereotype and even the summary I just gave start to break down when you start looking at the details. With the exception of Tattsun, none of these girls are breathtakingly pretty, and poor buck-toothed Haribara is ugly as sin. The maid café where Hotori and Tattsun work is actually a run-down regular café the elderly owner thought she’d spice up by wearing uniforms. Despite occasional flashes of surprising brilliance, Hotori is mostly dumb as a rock and whines a lot. Wannabe-badass Kon is secretly a mama’s girl.

All of these characters, and the town itself, are just very real. This is not the cute-washed Japan of most girl-group anime, nor a self-absorbed otaku geek-fest, nor a stylized samurai epic, nor a whimsical Miyazakified Japan of Disney-level purity. This is how people really live, and how people really are: flawed but generous at their cores, living a life that can be funny not because of the environment itself but because of people’s reactions to it. That level of comfort with everyday life and confidence in finding what’s hilarious about it are the qualities that make And Yet The Town Moves special.


With that said, this same realism might have hurt its chances on this side of the Pacific because the series is just so Japanese. I consider myself fairly well-versed in at least most surface aspects of Japanese culture, but this show pulled out puns, folklore, superstitions, and random little customs and traditions that I’d never even heard of. The style of humor is also very typically Japanese, which won’t deter dedicated anime fans but might raise the hurdle a bit for more casual viewers.

Speaking of humor, the plotting of the episodes deserves major credit for the way it contributes to the slow-burn comedy. Virtually all of the comedy can be tied to two concepts: a meandering common thread that leads to unexpected results, or an escalation of something that should be simple and low-key into something epic. The “common thread” is announced by our very philosophical narrator at the beginning of each episode and repeated at the end, at which point his abstract point has often taken on very funny concrete implications in the lives of the characters.


And Yet the Town Moves was produced by studio Shaft, which also produced Maria Holic. Fans of the latter will definitely see some correlation in the humor styles and in some characters (esp. math teacher Mr. Moriaki and MH’s Father Kaneda), but Town is much gentler in its humor compared to the dark, biting parody of the yuri genre presented in Maria Holic. Another commonality with Maria Holic is that Town sometimes introduces strange science-fiction elements into its otherwise grounded story, much of which can be attributed to Hotori’s overactive imagination, but not all.

Other stuff worth mentioning include the visuals and the music. As I mentioned, this is a Shaft anime (which produced Maria Holic, Monogatari, etc.), and their reputation for beautiful artwork does not fail them here. The town itself is vibrant and well-realized, and the variety of character models is a great breath of fresh air. While the background music is seldom anything to write home about, the opening and ending tunes do deserve special recognition. The ending, “Meizu Sanjou!”, is not exactly contagious, but it is funny and captures the series’ humor well. The opener, “Downtown,” is a beautiful, jazzy earworm that uses trumpets and glitz to great effect while capturing the visual beauty of the art style and animation. (Watch it below.)

Altogether, And Yet the Town Moves is 110% worth your time. It’s visually gorgeous, laugh-out-loud funny, and genuinely sweet without ever dipping into cheap sentimentalism, melodrama, or five-cent whimsy. It’s a slice of life done right, which is a rare and beautiful thing. Be sure to check it out.


The Cost of Illegal Streaming

Anime Obscura tries not to duplicate / reblog content for the most part, but I thought this was too well-researched (and important!) not to share. We all know that illegal torrenting costs the anime industry a lot of money, but how much are we talking about, exactly? Jenbae over at GoBoiano crunched the numbers to find out.

While the number is difficult to pin down exactly, it’s something to the tune of $33 million per year (by the most conservative estimate) and may reach as high as $132 million per year. That’s a staggering amount of money that will never go toward making second seasons of your favorite series or improving the quality of existing ones. If you want to support the anime industry — and I mean helping it continue to exist, not creating gifs or memes — then please take advantage of the many ways to stream anime legally (described elsewhere on this site) or make a rental or purchase.

So, that’s today’s PSA. Thanks for reading, and back to our regularly scheduled nonsense!