Manga Giveaway: Mecha Manga Giveaway (Bokurano)

It’s the end of the month and therefore the start of another manga giveaway here at Experiments in Manga! For July’s giveaway you all have a chance to win the first volume in Mohiro Kito’s manga series Bokurano: Ours as published by Viz Media. As always, the giveaway is open worldwide!

Bokurano: Ours, Volume 1

I don’t know what it is about mecha manga and anime. For some bizarre reason, I never think that I’m going to like it, but I almost always end up enjoying what I pick up. Maybe my reluctance comes from the feeling that there’s just so much of it, giving the impression that the genre has been overdone and is lacking in originality. That’s a somewhat unfair train of thought on my part. Most well-established genres have the problem where a great deal of the media just isn’t very good or particularly notable, but they all have their gems.

Anyway. I recently started reading Mohiro Kito’s Bokurano: Ours, Volume 1, which is one of the more unusual mecha stories that I’ve come across. Granted, I haven’t gotten very far into the series yet, but I am liking its dark atmosphere and prominent psychological elements. Plus, it ran in IKKI, a magazine that publishes some manga that I really love. (And which sadly recently announced that it will be suspending publication in September.)

So, you may be wondering, how can you win a copy of Bokurano: Ours, Volume 1?

1) In the comments below, tell me a little about your favorite mecha manga, if you have one. (Never read mecha? Simply mention that.)
2) If you’re on Twitter, you can earn a bonus entry by tweeting about the contest. Make sure to include a link to this post and @PhoenixTerran (that’s me).

And there it is! Each person can earn up to two entries for this giveaway. As usual, everyone has one week to submit comments. If you prefer or have trouble with the comment form, entries may also be submitted via e-mail to phoenixterran(at)gmail(dot)com. (I will then post the entry in your name.) The giveaway winner will be randomly selected and announced on August 6, 2014. Good luck to you all!

VERY IMPORTANT: Include some way that I can contact you. This can be an e-mail address, a link to your website, Twitter username, or whatever. If I can’t figure out how to get a hold of you and you win, I’ll just draw another name.

My Week in Manga: July 21-July 27, 2014

My News and Reviews

It wasn’t entirely intentional, but last week Experiments in Manga ended up being full of Vertical reviews. (And by full, I mean that two reviews were posted.) The first was of Fumi Yoshinaga’s gay slice-of-life and food manga What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 3. With each volume that is released, I fall in love with the series a little more. I also reviewed Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 6: To War which continues to delve into the pasts of the characters and the war between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon. The volume also features Char quite a bit. (I’ll admit, that made me happy.)

Elsewhere online, The Lobster Dance posted the seventh and final part of “Revealing and Concealing Identities: Cross-Dressing in Anime and Manga.” Kathryn Hemmann, the co-author, has a nice roundup and summary of the multi-part essay, and Leah has some final comments of her own as well. San Diego Comic Con was last week, which means the winners of the 2014 Eisner Awards were named (spoilers: Osamu Tezuka and Hayao Miyazaki were honored) and new manga licenses from Drawn & Quarterly, Kodansha Comics, and Udon Entertainment were announced. Also, the list from the Best & Worst Manga panel has been posted, with more commentary on the choices planned to be posted at a later date.

Quick Takes

9 Faces of Love9 Faces of Love by Wann. As can probably be gathered from its title, 9 Faces of Love is a collection of nine short manhwa dealing with themes of love and the meaning of love. 9 Faces of Love is the second volume in Netcomics’ Manhwa Novella Collection series which is meant to feature short works by prominent Korean creators. I hadn’t previously read any of Wann’s works, but I’d definitely be interested in reading more; I really enjoyed 9 Faces of Love. It’s an excellent collection of short manhwa selected from Wann’s work between 1998 and 2005. Most of the stories deal with romantic love, but a few of them also deal with friendship and familial love. I initially picked up the volume for the android story “Automaton,” which happily ended up being quite good. While they deal with similar themes, there is a nice variety to the stories in 9 Faces of Love. Many incorporate science fiction, fantasy, or horror elements while others are more firmly grounded in reality. Some are sweet, some are sad, and some are actually somewhat disconcerting.

All You Need Is KillAll You Need is Kill adapted by Nick Mamatas, illustrated by Lee Ferguson and Fajar Buana. A few years ago I read Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need Is Kill light novel and greatly enjoyed it. So I was rather curious when Haikasoru announced a graphic novel adaptation, the release conveniently timed to coincide with the Hollywood film adaptation Edge of Tomorrow. (Granted, I was much more interested in Takeshi Obata’s All You Need Is Kill manga which has now also been licensed.) Sadly, I was rather disappointed with the graphic novel. I’m not sure that anyone who hasn’t read the original would be able to follow the comic very easily or make sense of the importance of some of the scenes that were included. For example, I loved the umeboshi eating contest in the novel, but in the comic it’s difficult to realize that that’s what’s going on or why it matters. Romantic elements are introduced at the end more as an afterthought in an effort to neatly tie things together, but it’s a little too late by that point. For the most part the artwork was decent, but the battle suit design left something to be desired. I did like the color palette used, though. My copy of the graphic novel also had a printing error. At least I’m assuming it was an error–one of the signatures was repeated. Though, I suppose that does emphasize the plot’s time loop.

Crimson WindCrimson Wind by Duo Brand. A follow-up to White Guardian, Crimson Wind starts out as a sequel but really ends up being more of a prequel. The majority of the manga explores the backstories of General Sei and Baron Touri and their relationship with each other. Except for his attractive character design, I didn’t like Touri much at all in White Guardian and I like him even less in Crimson Wind. He’s a rapist and possessive, resorting to drugging the object of his desire when coercion and force isn’t enough to get what he wants. It’s not at all romantic even though Sei ends up falling for him. Most of the court intrigue and politics that made White Guardian interesting have been dropped in Crimson Spell; only the dubious love story remains. I would have much rather have seen the tale of how Sei became disillusioned and unhappy with the kingdom he pledged his life to protect. I may not have enjoyed the main story of Crimson Wind, however I really liked the short side story “Never Ever” which concludes the volume and features two completely different character who actually care for and respect each other.

Showat: A History of Japan, 1939-1944Showa: A History of Japan, 1939-1944 by Shigeru Mizuki. With this volume of Showa: A History of Japan the manga begins to cover history that I’m a little more familiar with–the Pacific War. While the factual recounting of the events that led up to the war and the war itself is well told, what makes the series particularly engaging is the incorporation of Mizuki’s own experiences as a student and eventually as a drafted soldier during the time period. The artwork in Showa: A History of Japan easily slips between photorealism and more stylized drawings to very good effect. Mizuki’s illustrations of naval and sea battles are particularly impressive and he uses some very interesting two-page layouts for many of them. He conveys the reality of war but doesn’t glorify it or the numerous deaths, treating the combatants of both sides of the conflict with respect. Mizuki’s Eisner-winning, semi-autobiographical Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths (also available from Drawn & Quarterly), which deals with a similar time period and story, makes an excellent companion to this volume of Showa: A History of Japan.

Terra Formars, Volume 1Terra Formars, Volume 1 written by Yu Sasuga and illustrated by Ken-ichi Tachibana. I have a peculiar love for Mars, and so when a manga has anything to do with the planet, however slight, it immediately catches my attention. I was looking forward to Terra Formars and really liked its basic premise. Efforts to terraform Mars using moss and cockroaches over hundreds of years has largely been successful, but now humans have a bit of a bug problem to deal with seeing as the cockroaches have evolved into a sentient race. Genetic experimentation has also allowed human and insect DNA to be combined, creating humans with bug-inspired superpowers. (Admittedly ridiculous, but kind of cool.) Terra Formars is an extremely violent and action-heavy manga requiring a tremendous amount of suspension of disbelief from it readers. There were parts of the manga that I loved, like the fight sequence paired with biblical verses about locusts. However, I really dislike the design of the cockroaches (inspired by Homo erectus), and not just because they’re unintentionally reminiscent of racist caricatures. They seem more mammalian than insectoid and feel out-of-place art-wise. At this point I’m torn over the series, but I’ll probably give it another volume or two to see what direction it takes.

GinTamaGin Tama, Episodes 50-74 directed by Shinji Takamatsu. It’s been a while since I’ve watched any of the Gin Tama anime, but I do like the series. I was in the mood for some absurd humor and antics, and so ended up binging on the first half of the second season. Like the manga which it more-or-less follows, the anime is mostly episodic. Occasionally there will be a set of episodes that form a larger story arc, but generally once someone is familiar with the characters and recurring jokes it doesn’t much matter in which order the anime is watched. Gin Tama is a series rife with parodies of and references to other pop culture media. (Mostly but not exclusively Japanese pop culture.) I’ve always been highly amused by Gin Tama, but the more manga that I read and the more anime that I watch the more of references I catch and appreciate. My interest in Japanese history has come in handy, too, since there are plenty of nods to historical figures and events in Gin Tama as well. For a comedy series, at times Gin Tama can also be surprisingly touching.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 6: To War

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 6: To WarCreator: Yoshikazu Yasuhiko
Original story: Yoshiyuki Tomino and Hajime Yatate

U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781939130204
Released: June 2014
Original release: 2010

While I don’t necessarily consider myself to be a fan of the massive Gundam franchise as a whole, I do think that it’s safe at this point to call myself a fan of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s manga series Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin. This actually doesn’t surprise me too greatly as I already knew that I enjoyed other manga by Yasuhiko. The Origin is a retelling and expansion of the original 1979 anime series Mobile Suit Gundam which Yasuhiko also worked on. Part of The Origin was initially released in English by Viz Media, but the series is now being published by Vertical in a deluxe, hardcover format based on the Japanese collector’s edition of the manga. Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 6: To War was originally published in Japan in 2010 while the English translation was released in 2014. Due to licensing restrictions, the bonus content in this particular volume is fairly limited–only two color pieces by Yasuhiko, one of which is the basis for the cover art. Otherwise, To War easily meets the high standards of quality set by the previous volumes.

After the death of the anti-Federation leader Zeon Zum Deikun the political situation on Side 3 was thrown into turmoil as House Zabi and House Ral maneuvered for dominance. Caught up in the power struggle were Deikun’s two young children–Casval and Artesia–who ultimately were forced to live in exile, hiding who they really were. But now Casval has taken on another identity in order to seek his revenge against House Zabi, enrolling in Zeon Academy’s Space Force Officer Training School as Char. While at the academy he manages to befriend Garma, the youngest scion of House Zabi, the two of them becoming rivals in the classroom as well as out in the field. At the same time, tension continues to mount between Side 3 and the Earth Federation, the cries for independence growing louder and more violent. As the situation becomes more volatile all-out war between the two factions becomes increasingly more likely. House Zabi has already begun developing mobile suits for use in battle; the Federation is steadily falling behind technologically in the arms race which will determine the fate of humanity.

By this point in The Origin it has been well established just how incredibly capable Char is, both physically and mentally. He is extraordinarily calculating and a master manipulator, taking advantage of events as they develop and influencing the people around him, often without them realizing entirely what is happening. Char’s relationship with Garma is one of the main focuses of To War. Although it is already known that it will end very poorly for Garma, it’s interesting to see the complexities of their friendship–if that’s what it can really be called. There are moments in To War when Char seems to exhibit genuine kindness and affection towards Garma, but at the same time he never wavers from his ultimate goal and desire for revenge, aiming for the complete destruction of House Zabi. Perhaps what Char is really showing is arrogance and pity. Either way, the scenes are striking because there are no witnesses to Char’s actions; they serve as examples of the very few incidences in which Char’s behavior has not been carefully and completely crafted and calculated for a very specific purpose.

Though they are certainly an important part of The Origin, the developing relationship between Garma and Char and Char’s personal vendetta and war against House Zabi are actually small pieces of a much larger story. Yasuhiko’s multilayered approach to The Origin–showing how the private struggles of the individual characters dovetail with the more far-reaching events and the unstoppable progress of the war–is one of the things that makes the series so effective. In addition to the continued characterization, Yasuhiko also pays close attention to technological advances and weapons development in The Origin and what those mean for the impending war. To War also includes the first mobile suit battle between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon, a critical turning point in its crusade for independence and domination. The gears of war will continue to turn and the personal and political machinations behind it will continue to advance in the next volume, Battle of Loum, as more is revealed about the characters and their pasts.

What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 3

What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 3Creator: Fumi Yoshinaga
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781939130402
Released: July 2014
Original release: 2009

As a fan of Fumi Yoshinaga’s manga, food, and stories with a queer bent to them, I was extraordinarily happy when her series What Did You Eat Yesterday? was licensed for release in English. The third volume of What Did You Eat Yesterday? was originally published in Japan in 2009 while the English-language edition was released by Vertical in 2014. I have been thoroughly enjoying the series so far and its mix of gay slice-of-life and recipes, so I was very much looking forward to reading the third volume. Personally, I like the series best when Yoshinaga focuses on the characters, but I would be lying if I tried to say that I didn’t also like all of the food found in the manga, too. What Did You Eat Yesterday? is most effective when Yoshinaga is able to combine and balance those two major aspects of the series. The ideal balance isn’t always achieved, but even when it isn’t What Did You Eat Yesterday? always has intriguing characters, delicious food, and just the right touch of humor to accompany it all.

With his father recovering from an illness, Shiro finds himself spending more time with his family than he has in a long while. Though it’s better than when he first came out to them, his parents are still coming to terms with their son’s homosexuality and their relationship can sometimes be a little strained. Granted, some of that uncomfortableness has very little to do with the fact that Shiro is gay and more to do with the fact that the entire family is made up of people with strong personalities. While Shiro is out to his family and close friends, he’s still closeted at work which, along with his incredible self-consciousness, occasionally gets him into trouble. Things are a little easier for him at home in the kitchen where he can relax and focus on what he really loves: cooking gourmet meals on a tightly kept budget. His boyfriend Kenji, who is much more open about his own sexuality, is always an appreciative audience for Shiro’s meals. It’s a good thing, too. The two of them have been living together for a few years now and food usually helps to smooth over some of the bumps in their relationship.

Generally in What Did You Eat Yesterday? the kitchen is Shiro’s domain. Kenji will gladly help out when asked and given direction, acting as a sort of sous-chef, but for the most part it’s all Shiro. However, in the third volume Kenji gets to take the lead for a chapter while Shiro is off visiting his folks for the New Year. He makes instant ramen. (Granted, with a bunch of extra trimmings.) In a delightful twist, it’s treated in the manga as though he’s having an affair. Instant ramen actually happens to be one of my comfort foods, but I’ve only recently begun trying to dress it up a bit. In addition to the food and its preparation being sumptuously drawn, one of the great things about What Did You Eat Yesterday? (at least I think it’s a great thing) is that the recipes included in the stories are detailed enough that they can be followed and produce results. After only three volumes there are already plenty of recipes that I’m interested in attempting from the series. A variation on Kenji’s ramen has been added to that growing list.

Food is certainly an important part of What Did You Eat Yesterday?, but so are the characters and their relationships. Family is a particularly prominent theme in the third volume. Shiro is on fairly good terms with his parents, but very little is actually known about Kenji’s family at this point. It’s unlikely that the two of them will have their own kids which will have implications for them later in life, something that is made all the more clear as Shiro deals with his parents as they age. What Did You Eat Yesterday? has one of the most realistic portrayals of a devoted, long-term gay couple that I’ve encountered in a manga (or comics in general). Honestly, when it comes right down to it, Kenji and Shiro’s relationship isn’t all that dissimilar from the heterosexual couples in the series, though they do face some particular challenges unique to their situation. Like any pair, they have their disagreements and small spats, but they also care about each other a great deal. Shiro in particular isn’t always the most overtly demonstrative with his affection, but often it’s the little things that really make a relationship work.

My Week in Manga: July 14-July 20, 2014

My News and Reviews

Two reviews were posted at Experiments in Manga last week, one of a manga and one not. The first review was part of my Year of Yuri monthly review project. I took a look at Milk Morinaga’s Gakuen Polizi, Volume 1, which is quite different from her other work currently available in English. The first volume at least is less of a romance and more of a buddy cop story, but it’s still fairly entertaining. (She does promise that more of the drama in the second volume will be romance-related and less crime-related, though.)

My second review last week was of Tokyo Demons, Book 2: Add a little Chaos, a novel written by Lianne Sentar with illustrations by Rem. In case it isn’t clear from the review, I absolutely adore Tokyo Demons. It can get pretty dark and heavy, but it’s a fantastic series. The second volume should be available as an ebook later this month and the print edition is currently scheduled for release in October. (Tokyo Demons is one of Chromatic Press and flagship series, so in the meantime it can also be read online at Sparkler Monthly.)

Once again I wasn’t actually online much last week, but I did catch a few things that other people may be interested in: Over at Comics Forum, Martin de la Iglesia writes about Early manga translations in the West. Kate at Reverse Thieves explains How the Library Became My Go-to Place for Manga and Comics. (I posted a bit about finding manga at the library a little while back, too.) And on Twitter, manga scholar and translator Matt Thorn hints that a project with Moto Hagio is in the works. Let’s hope so!

Quick Takes

Honey DarlingHoney Darling by Norikazu Akira. After reading and enjoying Beast & Feast I decided to track down more manga by Akira available in English. This led me to picking up Honey Darling. The manga isn’t the most realistic or believable, but it is cute, delightful, funny, and very sweet. Chihiro is a young man without any real goals in his life until he takes in a stray kitten. When Shiro falls ill, Chihiro ends up working as the live-in housekeeper for Kumazawa, the vet who treats her, and helping out in the animal clinic. Honey Darling has a lot going for it: nice art, a sense of humor, adorable cats and dogs, amusing and ttractive leads, likeable side characters (including women!), and so on. Ultimately Honey Darling is a boys’ love manga, though. As might be expected, Chihiro and Kumazawa become more than just roommates by the time the manga ends, but the development feels more like Akira fulfilling a requirement of the genre rather than being something that was necessarily called for by story itself. Still, I did enjoy Honey Darling a great deal, the two of them made me happy as a couple, and the manga frequently made me smile.

Lone Wolf and Cub, Omnibus 1Lone Wolf and Cub, Omnibuses 1-2 (equivalent to Volumes 1-5) written by Kazuo Koike and illustrated by Goseki Kojima. One of the first manga to be translated into English, Lone Wolf and Cub wasn’t released in its entirety until Dark Horse picked up the license. Sadly, the first Dark Horse edition was tiny and, while extremely portable, was difficult to read because the text was so small and crowded. Additionally, those original twenty-eight volumes have steadily been going out of print. Thankfully, Dark Horse recently started releasing Lone Wolf and Cub in an omnibus format with a larger trim size. Though quite hefty (each omnibus is around 700 pages and collects about two and a half volumes or so), the reading experience is much improved overall. Lone Wolf and Cub is an excellent series, so I’m very glad that the manga will remain in print for a bit longer. The series is fairly episodic, following the titular Lone Wolf and Cub: Ogami Ittō, who once served as the Shogun’s executioner but who has become an assassin-for-hire out of revenge over the destruction of his family, and his young son Diagorō.

Mail, Volume 1Mail, Volumes 1-3 by Housui Yamazaki. Summer is the time for ghost stories in Japan, so I felt it was appropriate to finally get around to reading Mail. I came across this short series thanks to The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service which shares the same illustrator. Reiji Akiba–detective, exorcist, and the protagonist of Mail–actually briefly appears in the fourth volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service as well. One of the things that particularly struck me about Mail is how often the stories incorporated modern technology such as cell phones and computers. It’s as though traditional ghost stories and urban legends have been updated for a contemporary audience. Occasionally Akiba will present a sort of prologue to the individual chapters, giving the stories an almost Twilight Zone feel to them. Mail can be legitimately creepy and at times a bit bloody, but gore is not at all the focus of the series. In general Mail is episodic, although the final volume adds a recurring character who becomes Akiba’s assistant as a sort of homage to Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack.

Stone Collector, Book 2Stone Collector, Book 2 written by Kevin Han and illustrated by Zom-J. I want to like Stone Collector more than I actually do, but at this point I can’t really say that I’ve been enjoying the manhwa much at all. It’s not all bad. The artwork in particular has moments when it can be impressively dynamic. The character’s facial expressions are great. Even the basic premise of the story isn’t terrible. As a whole though, Stone Collector just isn’t working for me. Though it moves along quickly, the plot is thin and the characters are underdeveloped, almost as if it’s an outline or draft than a finished product. The second half of the second volume of Stone Collector of is devoted to a side story, “Land of Ice.” I was more interested in “Land of Ice” than the main story more because of its tundra setting than anything else, but it still frustrated me and had many of the same problems that Stone Collector proper has. November 2013 was the last time there was a Stone Collector update. I’m not sure if there are plans to release more (it may simply be that “more” doesn’t exist yet), but the story clearly hasn’t reached its conclusion yet.

Sengoku Basara: Samurai KingsSengoku Basara: Samurai Kings, Season 2 directed by Kazuya Nomura. While I was entertained by the first season of Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings, I really enjoyed the second season. While there are still fantastically outrageous fights and action sequences, there’s also more focus on the characters and their characterization and on battle strategies and tactics. Personally, I appreciate the added context this gives the series. The characters, who continue to be magnificently and ridiculously overpowered, come across as a bit more human since their pasts and motivations are clearer. Their confrontations carry more emotional weight because of this as well. Miyamoto Musashi makes an appearance in this season, too. I was greatly amused by the fact that he fights with a giant oar. (Legend has it that Musashi once forgot to bring a sword with him to a duel and so carved a bokken out of the oar he used to get there; this why his weapon choice in Samurai Kings is simply perfect.) Samurai Kings is a tremendous amount of fun. Based on a video game that’s nominally based on actual events and historic figures, it’s wonderfully absurd and irreverent.