August 2007


This week, I’ll begin my reviews of anime and manga items in the Dublin Library’s collection. And I’m going to start with one of my favorite series, Inuyasha.

On the surface, Inuyasha is a classic shoujo series, complete with a schoolgirl heroine who pulled into an alternate world to fulfil a magic quest, handsome men who aid her in her quest, and romance. InuYashaWhat distinguishes Inuyasha from other entries in the genre are the fine characterizations, and the genuine jeopardies that face our heroine and her friends. Bad things happen to good people in this series, and the characters are frequently forced to overcome their own weaknesses and past deeds as well as facing the monster of the week. 

 Kagome Higurashi, the 15-year-old heroine of the series, is the daughter of a Shinto shrine family. When a demon appears and pulls her into an old well on the shrine grounds, Kagome manifests unexpected spiritual powers, and manages to fight off the demon–only to find herself stranded 500 years in the past, in the time known as the Sengoku-jidai, or Warring States era.  InuyashaAlmost at once, she is recognized as the reincarnation of a famous demon-fighting priestess, Kikyo, who was the guardian of a mystical jewel before her tragic betrayal and death 50 years earlier.  And then she unseals an infamous half-demon boy named Inuyasha, and things get really interesting…

 Kikyo, though a sworn shrine maiden, found her duties as the jewel’s guardian onerus and longed to rid herself of it. She fell in love with a half-demon boy named Inuyasha, and together, they planned to use the jewel to purge him of his demon half so that they could marry. However, they were each betrayed on the eve of the big day, and Kikyo died believing that Inuyasha had murdered her and stolen the jewel. For his part, Inuyasha fell into a 50-year coma, believing that Kikyo had betrayed him.

 He awakens into a world where Kikyo is only a memory among the old people of the village, Kikyo’s young sister is now the aged village priestess, and Inuyasha himself has become a story used to frighten the village children into behaving. 

 When Kagome unseals Inuyasha, and then inadvertantly shatters the sacred jewel, the two of them find themselves bound on a quest to find the fragments and reconstruct the jewel. The jewel, dangerous when whole, is just as potent in pieces, and demons and evil men can use the fragments to wreak great havoc.

Thus begins a long quest that is part adventure, part romance, and distinguished by excellent characterizations and the development of interesting relationships between the characters. Inuyasha is a gruff, foul-mouthed, rude boy who has lived his life as an outcast in both the human and demon worlds. Under the influence of Kagome’s determined kindness, her trust in him, and her friendship, Inuyasha slowly begins to shed his mistrust, revealing his sensitive and noble character (he never does get rid of his potty-mouth, though the English translations of both the manga and anime series have toned down his language considerably to make the work suitable for teens).

 Inuyasha and Kagome are soon joined in their quest by new friends–Miroku, a charming scoundrel of a Buddhist monk who seeks to undo a long-standing curse that will eventually kill him; Sango, a demon-slayer who saw her entire village slaughtered by an evil presence seeking to use the power of the jewel; and Shippo, an orphaned fox-demon cub whose parents were killed for the jewel fragments they possessed.

And then there are the opponents–Inuyasha’s full-demon brother, Sesshoumaru, who hates and resents Inuyasha; Kikyo, whose legacy haunts Kagome and poisons her relationship with Inuyasha; and Naraku, a human-turned-demon who lusts after power and who revels in the corruption of good.

 The anime series drew to a close after 167 episodes and the quest still incomplete; the weekly installments of the manga series are still running in Japan, and at last count, 519 chapters had been published, with no end in sight.

Is Inuyasha suitable viewing for your kids?

InuYashaThere is quite a bit of violence, some of it fairly gory.  There are demons and rotting corpses and various supernatural storylines, some of them fairly frightening for children. Bad things happen to good people, which may distress younger viewers. And there are bawdy jokes and some circumspect mentions of sex and sexuality. The Anime News Network Encyclopedia rates Inuyasha as suitable for teenagers (May contain bloody violence, bad language, nudity), and I agree with this rating. 

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Dublin staff are saying good-bye this week to long-time staff member Jennifer Brutschy.  Jennifer is leaving Dublin for a new job at Extension Services, working on the Bookmobile. Jennifer has worked at the Dublin Library for 19 years.  There are many, many library customers who have gotten to know her and come to depend on her during all these years. She started at Dublin in 1988, first working in Senior Services.  Later, she switched over to adult services and in 1993, when the Library experienced severe cutbacks in both hours and staff, Pat Zahn, the Branch Manager at the time, asked her if she might be interested in working in children’s services.  With such a drastic reduction in staff, no one was left to take it on.  Fortunately, Jennifer was interested.  She quickly restored a program of service to children, bringing back preschool storytime and working with outside performers such as Clara Yen, to enhance the program offerings of the Library. Later she was joined by a part-time librarian, Peggy Tollefson, and for the ensuing years the two of them were the children’s program at Dublin Library, doing storytimes, hosting visits from school classrooms, doing summer reading programs, organizing kid power volunteers, and planning summer events. 

Many people who work in children’s services in public libraries have also found success as an author of children’s books.  Such is the case with Jennifer, who now has 3 picturebooks published: Winter Fox,  Just One More Story, and Celeste and Crabapple Sam. Jennifer’s stories are very different from each other, but all reveal a similarly understated poetic and wise sensibility about how our connections with animals and nature, our own family and friends (even crochety old men), deepen and enrich our human experience.

Jennifer has been a writer and a storyteller, but she would say, I think, that the most rewarding part of her years in children’s services has been working with the kids –she’s been at it long enough now that she has seen children come to her preschool storytime, watched them as they grew up Jennifer Brutschy with Spencerand moved through elementary, middle and high school (helping them find homework materials along the way!) and is surprised (and delighted) to see them come in to say hello and they are all grown up. (Usually, they have gotten alot taller!)  This is a special thing to have offered that kind of continuity and influence in a child’s experience of their public library.  When I asked her once what was the most satisfying part of her job, she said working on the desk—one on one, answering the questions posed to her by the kids who were coming into the library each day.  Jennifer offered kids something they couldn’t resist; she genuinely liked them, she respected them, she was interested in their stories and always willing to listen, commiserate and go to bat for them, if necessary.  They learned this quickly, and flocked to her, asking for her when she wasn’t there and chatting her up when she was.  

Jennifer will be sorely missed by both her colleagues and her many fans in the community.  Her last day at Dublin is Friday, Aug. 24th.  Next week, she will start working full time, out of a Fremont office and riding the Bookmobile all over the County Library service area. You can check up on her at Dublin Bookmobile stops. If you missed getting a chance to say good-bye, please feel free to post a comment here for her to read later.  To Jennifer we say, we salute you, thank you for 19 years of wonderful service to the Dublin community and to the Library and wholeheartedly wish you the best of luck in your new job!     

Hi everyone!

Karin Welss here. The Dublin Library was kind enough to invite me here to write about the hot genres of anime (Japanese animated films and TV shows) and manga (Japanese graphic novels). I’ve been watching anime and reading manga for nearly ten years, and my collection is…large. Very large.

I was pleased to see that the Dublin Library has a fairly large collection of anime and manga, and according to the librarians, these are among the most popular young-adult items.

AnimeAnime series, dubbed into English (and frequently edited for language and content), air regularly on the Cartoon Network and other channels. And many translated manga titles have become bestsellers in the US and Europe. There are shelves of manga at most local bookstores, and my friends in Germany and France report that translated manga are very popular in Europe, as well.

But just what *is* manga and anime? And how do you tell whether it’s appropriate for your kids?

First, a little background. Japanese pop culture is very focused on demographics. For example, for manga, there are separate publication lines aimed at teen girls, teen boys, anime4women in their 20’s, businessmen, sports fans, etc. When I was in Japan three years ago, I noticed a lot of people, old and young, reading manga on the buses and trains.

Successful manga series are often adapted into anime, or cartoon series, which run anywhere from 6 episodes (“Here is Greenwood”) to 300+ episodes and counting (“One Piece” and “Detective Conan”).

Manga/anime directed at teen boys (“shounen”) are typically action-adventure series, featuring a teen-aged hero who becomes stronger and more mature by facing a series of trials. “Bleach” and “Naruto” which are long-running manga series (and also successful anime series), are good examples of this genre. In both cases, the teen-aged heroes have extraordinary abilities (15-year-old Ichigo, the hero of Bleach, has strong spiritual powers, which enable him to become a shinigami, a death god, whose mission it is to battle demons who eat human souls; 13-year-old Naruto is the village outcast, who dreams of becoming a strong ninja and the eventual leader of his village.)

Some of the shounen series feature strong female characters, but more typically, the girls are cast either as romantic interests, victims in need of rescue from villains, or there to anime2cheer on the hero and his buddies. Violence is usually bloodless (magic swords are a staple of the genre) and sexuality may discussed/joked about but sexual relationships are rarely shown on-screen. The typical shounen series hero is a 15-17 year old boy, rough around the edges, with a foul mouth and bad manners, but a kind heart and noble spirit.

Manga/anime directed at teen girls (“shoujo”) is typically more relationship-focused and more overtly romantic. For action-adventure series, the heroine is typically a teen girl sent to an alternate universe where she must save the day (“Inuyasha;” “The Vision of Escaflowne;” “Fushigi Yuugi” are all popular example of this storyline). Alternatively, she stays in the everyday world, but acquires some sort of magic talisman, and a mission to go along with it (“Cardcaptor Sakura;” “Sailor Moon”).  The heroine is usually cheerful, modest, upbeat, and loyal, and overcomes challenges with the help of her friends. There is frequently a beautiful young man (or men) assisting her, with multiple young men often vying for her romantic attention.

A subgenre of shoujo romance manga/anime feature relationships between beautiful young men (genre name: shounen-ai, translated, “boys’ love”), and many shoujo titles may have handsome gay men in supporting roles. The level of sexuality in shoujo isanime3 usually focused on the heroine’s first kiss, but may include tastefully-done sex scenes (esp. in shounen-ai series) where it is implied, in a pan-to-fireplace sort of way, that that sexual activity has taken place.

There is also a wide variety of anime and manga aimed at adults, though fewer of these titles have been translated into English. Some of it is sexually explicit in nature, some of it extremely gory (such as “Berserk,” a blood-drenched but engrossing tale of a mercenary company in late-medieval Europe), but often, the dividing line between YA and adult anime/manga are the maturity of the characters, and the depths of story and characterization.

Adult manga and anime series often have heroes and heroines thrust into ethically-gray areas, where the stakes are high, and there are no easy answers. Sexuality is frankly discussed, and sometimes (but not always) there’s onscreen nudity.

One excellent adult-oriented anime series released recently on DVD in North America is “Black Lagoon,” where an average-Joe office worker/mid-level manager is kidnapped by modern-day pirates while on a business trip to the South China Sea. Realizing that his employer has set him up and betrayed him, the hero chooses to throw his lot in with the anime5pirates, but soon realizes that he’s becoming a stranger to himself, even as he tries to hold on to his ideals.

Another excellent series, aimed at 20-something women (“josei” genre), is “Story of Saiunkoku,” which is set in a fantasy kingdom that resembles ancient China. The heroine is the highly-intelligent daughter of noble family, who yearns to become a government official despite the fact that women are forbidden to take the Imperial civil exams. Weathering the distractions thrown her way by politics, court intrigues, and a bevy of gorgeous suitors, the heroine persists in pursuing her dream of a career in government service. Unlike shoujo series, the focus of “Saiunkoku” is on the heroine’s growth as a career woman, rather than her romantic entanglements.

So, how do you tell if an anime title on sale at Best Buy or Circuit City is appropriate for your kids?

There are a lot of anime/manga-oriented websites, but my personal favorites are:

– the Anime Encyclopedia (http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php), which offers plot summaries, genres, age ratings, and episode guides for nearly every anime series ever made

– the Manga Encyclopedia (http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/manga.php), which offers the same information for manga series.

The Anime News Network site also offers up-to-date reviews of new anime and manga releases in all genres.

In future weeks, I’ll be reviewing various anime and manga titles in the Alameda County Library collection.

Until next time!
Karin

Karin Welss is a local author, long-time Dublin resident and a member of the Friends of Dublin Library.  She writes under the name Michaela August (for works co-authored with Marian Gibbons) and under her own name.  Her latest novel is TWIST OF HONOR, a historical romance.  Other than writing historical romances, karin-welss.jpgworking in the software industry, and volunteering with the Dublin Friends, Karin’s avocation happens to be anime and manga.  Her interest in anime and manga date back to the late ’90s, when she  watched “The Vision of Escaflowne” at a friend’s house and found herself hooked.    She has graciously offered to contribute an occasional column to this blog, reviewing various anime and manga series. Meanwhile, you can find out more about her novels at her website http://www.michaela-august.com.

Karin will be posting her first column in the next few days, so watch for it!

Is your child getting ready to start kindergarten?  From the Boston Public Schools comes this wonderful website, Countdown to Kindergarten.  Though much of the information at this site is specific to the Boston schools, there are some tips that are universal. In the spirit of “you are your child’s first teacher” the site includes a page of monthly activities with ideas to help you ready your child for this momentous change in his/her young life.  Prepared by a group of parents, childcare providers and teachers, what is their simplest advice?grade-school.jpg  “Cuddle up together with a good book or two every day.”

If would like some reading suggestions to calm potential anxieties about school,  check out the booklist “Off to School” now available at the Library’s website, www.aclibrary.org

 Why, you may ask, is Dublin Mayor Janet Lockhart adorning a rather large poster currently sitting in the rotunda of the Library?  It’s all part of a “peel, stick and win” challenge between the Mayors of Dublin, Pleasanton and San Ramon to see which city’s residents will bring in the most postcards or magnets covered with those pesky stickers you find on your fruits at the grocery store.  mayor-poster.jpgIt turns out those stickers are a real problem for the wastewater treatment process, clogging up the screen at the Water Recycling Plant.  Whichever city turns in the most postcards covered with stickers — well, that City will be declared the “greenest” city. And the winning mayor gets to supervise the other 2 mayors while they clean the screen that catches those produce stickers and other bits of plastic before the wastewater enters the treatment plant.

 So, Dublin residents, you can help your city win this challenge, by turning in your magnet or postcard covered in produce stickers to the Dublin San Ramon Services District office.  We have postcards here at the Library, if you haven’t gotten yours yet!  Bottom line: those stickers need to go in the trash, not in the garbage disposal or down the toilet!  If you have any questions, call Sue Stephenson, Community Affairs Supervisor for the Dublin San Ramon Services District at (925) 875-2295.

  Take a look at reading game winners David and Molly Eisenstadt having a picture with magician, Norman Ng!  Today is Molly’s 4th birthday and she got an added treat, winning her final prize for playing the reading game, Get a Clue @ the Library, and seeing a fantastic magic show with Norman Ng.   Happy Birthday, Molly!mandd.jpg

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