World War Hulk by Greg Pak & John Romita Jr.

I’ve always enjoyed watching and reading about over-powered super heroes like Superman (DC), Goku (Dragon Ball), Kinnikuman (King Muscle), Monkey D. Luffy (One Piece), and Hulk (Marvel). Monkey D. Luffy and Kinnikuman possess bizarre abilities and strength that can solve almost any situation; Superman and Goku have officially become Gods; and Hulk is the strongest there is. However, out of all of these characters Hulk is the one that stands out to me. He may not be my favourite (that’s for another Recommends blog) but he is the one that I find the most interesting. For this blog I will quickly discuss the above characters and what separates the Hulk from them, and then talk about my favourite Hulk comic, World War Hulk.

god group sheer force group superman goku fluffy ultimate muscle comics manga one piece shonen action

The God Group and the Sheer Force Group (left to right)

There are two groups that I will put the above heroes into: Superman and Goku are in the group I call ‘God Group’ and Kinnikuman and Luffy are in the ‘Sheer Force Group.’ I put Kinnikuman and Luffy in the Sheer Force Group because I feel that their power comes from the will power that emerges as they fight. Luffy has the ability called ‘Haki’ and Kinnikuman has the ability Kinnikuman’s ‘Burning Inner Strength.’ Both abilities provide the user with a huge boost in their strength, speed, awareness, insight, and many other aspects. Whenever a wall is met, these abilities help them break through that wall with sheer will power – a typical trait of Shonen (Japanese comics aimed at boys) characters.

Kinnikuman demonstrating his 'Burning Inner Strength' by catching and throwing a sun.

Kinnikuman demonstrating his ‘Burning Inner Strength’ by catching and throwing a sun.

Superman and Goku are in the God Group. Both have grown in strength over time to become classified as Gods. Superman eventually becomes ‘Superman Prime’ and Goku becomes the fabled ‘Super Saiyan God.’ In these forms they have become something that no one can surpass. What can a God do? Pretty much anything it wants.

Super saiyan god goku dragon ball superman prime DC comics

Super Saiyan God Goku and Superman Prime (left to right)

This brings me to the Hulk, who is unique in that he straddles both groups. He fights with sheer force and solves most problems with it. Hulk has been known to put out flames with a clap of his hands and his lungs are so strong that they enable him to breathe underwater and survive the pressure of deepest parts of the Ocean. However, there are times when the Hulk becomes more than just Sheer Force and becomes Godlike. World War Hulk is the best story to exemplify this. (WARNING: For those of you that have not read Planet Hulk there are spoilers ahead!)

Hulk strongest there is marvel

Hulk Strongest There Is!

World War Hulk is one of those big event stories in the Marvel Universe that basically pits characters against one another. In this case, it’s the Hulk vs. EVERYONE. Before I get onto that, I need to give a little back story to what lead up to this epic war. In the Marvel Universe there is a group named the Illuminati – a group made up of the most intelligent and influential super heroes, such as Black Bolt (King of the Inhumans) Doctor Strange (Sorcerer Supreme) Iron Man (“Genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist” to quote The Avengers film) Mister Fantastic (Leader of the Fantastic Four) Namor (King of Atlantis) and Professor X (Leader of the X-Men).

The Illuminati came up with a plan to get rid of the Hulk in light of death count he had racked up during all of his infamous rages, and in their eyes the only logical and physical way to stop him from continuing to destroy the world, was to send him into space – which they managed to do. However, the spaceship malfunctioned and landed on an alien planet. Unexpectedly, Hulk not only became a great Roman-esque gladiator on that planet, but also it’s saviour by freeing it’s people from a tyrannical ruler and rose to become it’s king. He also met a female alien who would become his bride. Unfortunately, nothing stays perfect for long – especially when you are the Hulk. The ship that Hulk landed in exploded, killing his queen and unborn son, and this sent the Hulk into a new rage – a rage that could only be calmed by seeing the monsters that sent him into space and killed his love: the Illuminati.

Now we finally enter World War Hulk – a story of pure revenge. If you love the Hulk then you should love this. Hulk takes on the most powerful Marvel heroes, all of them jacked up to try and equal his power level, and they all fail. The aliens who have allied themselves with Hulk see him not just as a ruler but also as a God, a saviour, and a destroyer. This is why I love Hulk too, as there is so much more to him than a rage monster. He’s a God – both vengeful and liberating, and he’s also a king, a husband, a father, and just a man – Bruce Banner.

World War Hulk Marvel Comics

King. God. Hulk

World War Hulk is rare in that Bruce sees eye-to-eye with Hulk (bear in mind this is before Banner and the Hulk realise they are the same, so it make sense to refer to them as two individuals). Bruce wants this revenge because he was finally happy and he and the Hulk were finally living a perfect life. He had an empire, a woman who loved him, and a son on the way. There is a scene in World War Hulk between Bruce, Hulk, and Doctor Strange, in which you see the rage in both the Hulk and Bruce… It’s brilliant.

World War Hulk truly shows all of the light and shade of Hulk that people often don’t see in him. We see the God, the Sheer Force, the humble man, and ultimately, we see the hero.

Written by Huw Williams@big_huw on Twitter.

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Cardcaptor Sakura by CLAMP

It gives me HUGE pleasure this week to write about a manga that is so close to my heart I will physically hurt anyone that has a bad word to say about it. (Or maybe just cry a little.)

My first experience of Cardcaptor Sakura or Cardcaptors falls into the ‘Dubbed-Anime-That-You-Watched-as–a-Kid-in-the-90s-and-Didn’t-Know-it-Was-Anime’ category. A category that is also occupied for me – and probably most other people of my generation – by shows like Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Digimon, and Dragon Ball. Cardcaptor Sakura (CCS) belongs to the ‘magic girl’ genre, and on the surface looks a bit like Sailor Moon – its closest contemporary comparison – but for younger girls, as the ages of the main group fall around 10 – 12 years old. Given this, and its ridiculously saccharine appearance, you could be forgiven for dismissing it as typical shŌjo (‘young girl’ in Japanese) fare. However, upon re-watching the anime in it’s original Japanese language format and reading the manga it was based on, I was surprised at the quality of the artistry, the depth of the storytelling, and the how much I connected emotionally with the characters.

Cardcaptor Sakura CLAMP Cardcaptors Manga Shojo Girl's Anime

Cardcaptor Sakura Anime

CCS was serialised in the magazine Nakayoshi between 1996 and 2000, and created by the all-female artist/writer group Clamp. It has since been collected into 12 volumes, and adapted into a 70 episode anime series and two films. I’ll summarise the story as briefly – and spoiler-free-y – as I can: The titular character – Sakura Kinomoto – is the daughter of a single father (her mother is dead) and sister of older brother, Toya (or ‘Tory’ in the English dub of the anime). The story begins with Sakura accidentally releasing a set of magical cards called ‘Clow cards’ that she discovers in a book in her father’s study. This simultaneously releases latent magical abilities within her that are connected to the cards, as well as the story’s mascot – Cerberus (nicknamed ‘Kero’) – who tells her that he is the ‘Guardian’ of the cards and tasks her to collect all of the cards that she set free. Sakura must battle the magical personification of each card’s power – e.g. Water, Wind, Fire, Jump, Fly, Mirror, etc. – in order to capture it, aided by Kero; her best friend Tomoyo Daidouji (‘Madison Taylor’ in the dub) and Chinese transfer student Syaoran Li (‘Li Showron’ in the dub, which borders on the phonetically offensive now that I’m seeing it written down…)

Cardcaptor Sakura CLAMP Cardcaptors Manga Shojo Girl's Anime

Tomoyo Daidouji or ‘Madison Taylor.’

The quirkiness of these sidekick characters is one of the things that set CCS apart from others of its genre. Kero is a street talkin’ dude (apparently from Osaka, which the writers tell you is basically the New York of Japan – or more specifically the Brooklyn of Japan) who can’t get enough pudding and lives in Sakura’s sock drawer.

Tomoyo plays the BFF role with heavy emphasis on the ‘Forever’ part and serves the shŌjo fans well by tailoring Sakura a new combat outfit for every battle. Except when I say ‘combat outfit’ I’m talking bows, fake ears, bells, frills, and hats, oh so many hats… Sakura still kicks major butt though, despite the frilliness of her skirt. (Adorable fact: At the end of every episode of the anime, Kero does a post-credit ‘spotlight’ on each outfit wearing a bow tie and smoking a pipe, which continually begs the question: Just how old is Kero and should we be worried about that sock drawer?)

Cardcaptor Sakura CLAMP Cardcaptors Manga Shojo Girl's Anime

Kero-chan!

Syaoran is basically a middle-aged man trapped in a child’s body. Not literally. He is grumpy, awkward, and so very desperate to be the hero, which makes it even more hilarious to see him get all huffy and jittery when things don’t go his way. At first he looks down on Sakura as though she were a bumbling idiot, but over time he grows to see her as a rival and equal, and then as a true friend. Beyond that, his feelings apparently get so complicated it takes the entire stretch of the manga and two films post-series to sort them out. (Who am I to complain though, I love those films…)

Cardcaptor Sakura CLAMP Cardcaptors Manga Shojo Girl's Anime

Grumpy Syaoran is grumpy.

There’s a lot to love about the central heroine too. Yes, Sakura is clumsy, cutesy, boy-obsessed, and naïve, but she’s also brave, loyal, eager, gutsy, and earnest. For a 10-year-old she also takes on a lot of responsibilities – staying late after school doing extra chores, cooking and cleaning around the house, going shopping with her friends completely un-chaperoned, and of course the small task of collecting all those rogue Clow cards that keep threatening to destroy the city and/or her friends and family. Perhaps this is in fact the reality for every Japanese child.

Cardcaptor Sakura CLAMP Cardcaptors Manga Shojo Girl's Anime

RELEEEEAAASSSE!

What you wouldn’t expect of such an innocent and well-meaning manga/anime is for it to be subject to any form of censorship. Yet, when the anime was shipped to the US to be dubbed, it was so heavily hacked up that certain key subplots and character dynamics were either gone or drastically altered. This was more than just removing cigarettes and violence, as was the case for other shows; it completely changed the way the English-speaking audience viewed it. In the interests of keeping this as spoiler-free as possible, I won’t go into too much detail, but let’s just say that certain relationships between certain characters were put firmly back in the closet. Things like this may seem small, but they had a detrimental effect overall. As a show that is so much more than the sum of its parts, this harsh editing sucked out a lot of the fun minor details that fleshed the show and its characters out into real, loveable people. In short, if you’re going to watch the anime, don’t waste your time watching it dubbed.

The theme song is still pretty good though:

Written by Hannah Collins.

Shaman King by Hiroyuki Takei

My first experience of Shaman King was in the yearly 00s when the anime aired on Fox Kids/Jetix. To be honest, I wasn’t completely taken by it at first as it seemed a little slow and the narrator of the show bugged me a little. However, I put this down to humble beginnings; I persevered and – as I love stories based on friendship and teamwork – grew to become a huge fan.

Shaman King is set on an alternate version of our world where humans called ‘Shamans’ can see and communicate with ghosts. Shamans were once highly respected in the communities in which they lived, but over time as technology and mankind grew Shamans were forgotten until they became just stories of the past. However, the Shaman community still thrived in secret. The story of Shaman King revolves around two young boys Morty (or Mantra in the original Japanese Manga) and Yoh Asakura. Morty, a small and weak boy who has a keen interest in spirits and ghosts, acts as the narrator. Yoh is acts as the hero of the story and is a Shaman. Morty and Yoh become good friends – connected by their love of spirits and the fact that they can both see spirits when most others can’t. This isn’t new to Yoh who has been born into a strong lineage of Shamans, but Morty has always been confused as to why he can see spirits. Yoh early on becomes Morty’s guide to the spirit world.

Shaman King Manga Volume Cover

Shaman King Manga Volume Cover

As the story plays out we are introduced to a number of characters who are either human, Shaman, spirit, zombie etc. and the world they live in is fleshed our as we learn the rules of being a Shaman. Shamans have the ability to work with/control spirits and tend to work together with them. Through this collaboration a Shaman can master a number of abilities with the two most reoccurring being: the ability to fuse with a spirit to provide themselves with the strength and skill of that spirit; and the ability to implant a spirit into an object to transform it into a powerful weapon. There are countless others, but I will let you discover these for yourself.

The title comes from the Shaman Tournament that is set every 500 years. In this tournament all Shamans that enter have a chance of becoming the ‘Shaman King.’ Once King, this Shaman will become one with The Great Spirit and during this 500 year rule they will shape the entire world. Many people enter the tournament to change the world for the better, but others enter to test themselves against other Shamans.

Shaman King Manga Page

Shaman King Manga Page

Shaman King is truly epic. The fight scenes are crazy, the characters are hilarious, and the world they live in is amazing. Now, all I’m going to say about the end of the anime of Shaman King is that it is so open ended that it’s screaming for another series, but do we loyal fans get one? Do we heck!

Years pass since I watch the anime and I suddenly feel the urge to revisit the world of Shaman King. However, after reading up on the differences between the anime that I watched and its original manga, I decided to give the manga a go instead. This turned out to be a good call as the manga is just like the show… but TIMES TEN. It’s way more detailed and fleshed out than the show – Yoh’s backstory is so much deeper than just a guy who wants to be Shaman King and there are more supporting characters – Shaman and spirit alike. The biggest change though was the ending. In the manga we actually get a proper ending, and one that is completely different to the anime. I’m not going to spoil anything of course, but all I will reveal is that the final ‘boss’ uses a technique that involves him creating a Sun, speeding up its life cycle so it becomes a Super Nova, which then collapses to create a Black Hole, which he then uses try and defeat the heroes. Now if that doesn’t make want you to read Shaman King, I don’t know what will.

For me there is more to Shaman King than just the action and comedy though. Shaman King is also an education in folklore. From Japanese Samurai to Chinese Warriors, First Nation (Native American) Spirit Animals to Aztec Gods, many myths and legends appear in Shaman King and their cultures are writ large in the design and abilities of the spirits.

Asakura Hao Shaman King

Asakura Hao

Shaman King also has one of the most interesting villains I have ever read. Hoa (or Zeke in the English translation) is a powerful foe, and the majority of the Shaman King story is about how to defeat him. Hoa is a Shaman who reincarnates every 500 years to take part in the Shaman Tournament. We join the story during his third attempt to claim the throne, and he becomes more powerful with each reincarnation. He wishes to become Shaman King to destroy all the humans in the world, and leave only Shamans, as he believes that humans are destroying the world with greed and technology. His strength is terrifying, his goal is logical but cold, and his skills are intricate. However, he does have a strong and empathetic human side, which is why he is one of my favourite villains of all time.

Upon starting this review I thought my nostalgia was blinding me and when I really thought about it Shaman King was maybe just a standard shonen manga about fighting to win. Revisiting it though, I have reminded myself how creative and crazy the world of Shaman King really is, and if you have a love for all things mystic, mythological, and mighty fun, then pick up Shaman King. You will not be disappointed.

Written by Huw Williams.