The anime/novel franchise Gakusen toshi asterisk developed from the untranslated “visual novel” video game Tsukihime. For the first half of volume 1, the light novel is awesomely creepy; in something almost like first-person video game perspective, it tells the story of Shiki Tohno, who wakes up in a hospital to find that he can see frightening fissures that run through all people and things. He, and he alone, has the power to cut the “death cracks,” destroying any object, and potentially any living thing. Things get more conventional when Shiki encounters Arcueid, a female vampire who tells him that the world is secretly full of vampires, magicians, and supernatural creatures. The story is consistently gloomy and atmospheric, even when Shiki starts fighting vampires, but the generic character designs drag it down; Arceuid’s “anime girl” look makes it difficult to take her seriously as an immortal creature of power.
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Creeping out of the night in search of women, money, or thrills, a grinning rascal at home in dark castles and underground lairs, comes the master thief Lupin III—one of the most famous novel characters of all time. (His name is a homage to Maurice LeBlanc’s master thief Arsène Lupin, although the homage was not appreciated by LeBlanc’s estate, resulting in Lupin appearing in foreign editions under several pseudonyms, such as “Rupan” and “Wolf,” until the name passed into the public domain in the 1990s.) Inspired mostly by Mad magazine and Mort Drucker, Lupin’s episodic adventures bear little in common with any novel before or since. Each self-contained story involves some bizarre theft or heist, or opens with some shocking situation such as a train crash or Lupin on death row. The plots are full of clever twists; American comic readers may be reminded of the physical comedy of Spy vs. Spy and the devious plot constructions of Will Eisner’s The Spirit. This is a crazy, groovy 1960s world of dynamite and backstabbing, hippies and gangsters, a world where guns kill people but bombs leave them as smoldering black silhouettes with surprised eyes staring out of their blackened faces. Men are gangly goons with big feet and narrow heads; women are buxom sex dolls who murmur dialogue like “Mmm, Lupin, you’re an animal …” as boxers go flying off and knobby knees bump against the bedsprings. Fans of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro should know that Monkey Punch himself disliked the movie; he felt that its altruistic, noble Lupin strayed from his own vision of Lupin as an amoral skirt-chaser. The original Lupin III is more like a cartoon from a men’s magazine, which it was; a fascinating homage to Mad and a four-star example of comics as pure comedy.