Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 1

Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 1Author: Kouhei Kadono
Illustrator: Kouji Ogata

Translator: Andrew Cunningham
U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781933164205
Released: June 2006
Original release: 1998

After reading Boogiepop and Others, I knew that I needed to read the rest of Kouhei Kadono’s Boogiepop light novel series, or at least all of the volumes that had been released in English. Sadly, out of the more than a dozen volumes, only four of the novels were ever translated and it is unlikely that any others will be. Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 1 is the second Boogiepop novel and the first volume in a two-part story arc. The novel was originally published in Japan in 1998, the same year that the award-winning Boogiepop and Others was released. The English translation of the first part of Boogiepop Returns by Andrew Cunningham was published by Seven Seas in 2006. Seven Seas was also the publisher that released the other three Boogiepop novels available in English as well as some of the Boogiepop manga adaptations (which I have yet to read). Technically, all of those Boogiepop books have gone out of print, but fortunately most of the volumes are still fairly easy to find.

When she was only seventeen, Minahoshi Suiko plummeted from the rooftop of Shinyo Academy. Initially it was believed to have been a suicide, but rumors start circulating among the students that it may have been murder or perhaps something even more sinister, something that is compelling others to follow in Minahoshi’s footsteps. It wouldn’t be the only time that Shinyo Academy has faced inhuman and supernatural influences resulting in tragedy and death. Asukai Jin is a counselor at a local cram school which is attended by several Shinyo Academy students. He seems to be able to look into the hearts of those seeking his aid, offering advice that is uncannily appropriate for each student and their specific situations. The odd ability which allows Asukai to see the flaws of others while being blind to his own has drawn the attention of the same forces a work at Shinyo Academy. The only thing that stands in the way of those forces is the fabled spirit of death Boogiepop, but there are those who are hunting Boogiepop down in order to prevent any sort of interference.

One of the things that I particularly enjoyed about Boogiepop and Others was its narrative structure, and so I was happy to see the first part of Boogiepop Returns use a similar one. Specifically, the story continues to be seen from the perspective of multiple characters, although in this volume the chronology is slightly less disjointed overall. The events in Boogiepop Returns take place both before and after those in Boogiepop and Others. (A handy timeline included in the back of the volume helps to make this all clear.) Although the plots of each novel aren’t directly related, the events of the first are alluded to in the second and both volumes do share some of the same characters. However, the importance of the characters’ individual roles has shifted somewhat. Taniguchi Masaki, for example, was a side character in the first Boogiepop novel; he wasn’t much more than a stepbrother to another important character. But in Boogiepop Returns he is one of the leads in the volume’s ill-fated love story.

The Boogiepop series has a fascinating mix of genres–science fiction, horror, mystery, and even a bit of romance all make an appearance in the novels. There are strong psychological elements and strange and bizarre occurrences, too. I didn’t find the second Boogiepop novel to be quite as dark as the first, but it could still be thoroughly disconcerting and it was consistently engaging. Because Boogiepop Returns is a two-part arc, most of the first volume is spent setting the stage and introducing the major players. At this point the significance of some of the events is still unclear and far more questions have been raised than have been answered. It’s difficult to say just exactly what is going on and perhaps even more challenging to anticipate what will happen next. This will probably either frustrate readers immensely or intrigue them. (As for me, I was intensely intrigued.) Much like Boogiepop and Others, the first part of Boogiepop Returns is peculiar and unsettling. I’m very curious to see how the story will continue to develop in the second volume.

The Summit of the Gods, Volume 4

The Summit of the Gods, Volume 4Author: Baku Yumemakura
Illustrator: Jiro Taniguchi

U.S. publisher: Fanfare/Ponent Mon
ISBN: 9788492444632
Released: October 2013
Original release: 2003
Awards: Angoulême Prize, Japan Media Arts Award

One of my favorite manga series is The Summit of the Gods. The manga, a five-volume series written by Baku Yumemakura and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi, is an adaptation of Yumemakura’s award-winning novel The Summit of the Gods. The manga adaptation itself is also an award-winning work, taking home an Angoulême Prize and a Japan Media Arts Award in addition to winning and being nominated for numerous other awards. The Summit of the Gods, Volume 4 was originally published in Japan in 2003 while the English-language edition was released by Fanfare/Ponent Mon in 2013. It may have taken ten years for the volume to have appeared in translation, but it was definitely worth the wait. The Summit of the Gods is a phenomenal series with fantastic artwork, and engaging story, and marvelously flawed, realistic characters. Even considering some of their incredible talents and abilities, not to mention their enormous personalities, the manga’s characters remain believable and sympathetic.

For the past several years the legendary Japanese mountain climber Jouji Habu has been illegally living and climbing in Nepal. He has been preparing for more than a decade to attempt something believed by most to be impossible–climbing Mount Everest’s summit via its southwest face solo, in the winter, and without oxygen. Even teams of climbers have failed to reach the summit and return alive using a southwest route under much less stringent conditions than those proposed by Habu for his ascent. His attempt will be so dangerous that he hasn’t even tried to obtain a climbing permit, knowing that it will be denied. As a result, very few people are aware of exactly what it is Habu is about to do. One of those people is Makoto Fukamachi, a photographer and mountain climber whose interest in Habu was originally sparked by a camera that he found which may have belonged to George Mallory. But now Habu is determined to reach the summit of Mount Everest and Fukamachi is determined to record his astonishing feat, following him as far as he possibly can.

The one thing that I found slightly unsatisfying about the previous volume of The Summit of the Gods was the story’s temporary shift of focus off of the actual mountain climbing in the series. In retrospect, it makes sense to have that small break as the fourth volume more than makes up for it–almost the entire manga is devoted to Habu and Fukamachi’s preparations for and the first part of their respective climbs of Mount Everest. And it is awesome, in the traditional sense of the word. Taniguchi’s artwork in The Summit of the Gods can be breathtaking with its stunning landscapes and massive mountain vistas. The scale alone feels intimidating and awe-inspiring. Taniguchi has not only beautifully and realistically captured the snow, ice, and rock of Mount Everest, he has also devoted an impressive amount of attention to the details of mountain climbing and the equipment needed to survive. The Summit of the Gods is a manga series fortunate to have superb artwork as well equally strong writing.

The Summit of the Gods, Volume 4 brings to the forefront not only the physical struggles of the characters but their psychological battles as well. The series is intense. Over the course of the last few volumes it has been made very clear how perilous mountain climbing can be. Even under better conditions than Fukamachi and Habu are now facing it has been shown that the smallest mistake can easily end in injury or death. There is a very real and strong possibility that neither one of the men will survive the climb and the sense of danger is constant. Habu and Fukamachi are each facing the mountain head on and in the process must confront alone their own pasts, failings, and limitations. The loneliness of their climb, the isolation they experience on the mountain as well as in their lives, the sacrifices and risks made to achieve what they have and come as far as they have, all of this and more is exceedingly important to the series. The Summit of the Gods remains a tremendously compelling manga; I look forward to reading the final volume a great deal.

My Week in Manga: October 13-October 19, 2014

My News and Reviews

Only somewhat unintentionally, last week ended up being a yuri-filled week here at Experiments in Manga. My friend Jocilyn was inspired to write a guest review of Takako Shimura’s Sweet Blue Flowers, Volume 1 by Takako Shimura, which is currently only available digitally. (I’m hoping that one day the series will be available in print, but as Jocilyn points out, a few fixes may be needed for that to happen.) As for the manga review that I posted last week, I took a look at Chiho Saito’s Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Adolescence of Utena for my Year of Yuri monthly review project. Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of my absolute favorite anime series and I was quite pleased with Saito’s The Adolescence of Utena, finding it to be an incredibly compelling work in its own right. And speaking of my Year of Yuri project, I only have one more review to go! I haven’t quite decided which manga (or comic) my final review will tackle, so if you have any requests or would like to see something in particular, let me know! I also posted one other (non-yuri) review last week: Monkey Business: New Writing from Japan, Volume 4. Monkey Business is a literary journal featuring a mix of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and even a bit of manga. The stories tend to be a little strange, but that also tends to be something that I enjoy.

Elsewhere online, New York Comic Con articles are still being posted. At Publishers Weekly, Deb Aoki has a general roundup of the manga industry’s presence at NYCC. Justin of Organization Anti-Social Geniuses has a few interesting things from his time at NYCC, including why publishers and fans think it’s worth it to buy manga and an interview with Gen Manga’s Robert McGuire. Vertical also posted a bit more information about the Vertical Comics imprint. Unrelated to NYCC but still interesting reading, at Contemporary Japanese Literature Kathryn Hemmann has an excellent critique of Helen McCarthy’s A Brief History of Manga, specifically addressing the male-centric focus of the work. (I’ve had the volume on my “to be read” pile since its release; I should really get around to actually reading it one of these days) Also, Frederick L. Schodt wrote a bit about the history of his groundbreaking work Manga! Manga!. (Exceptionally good timing, as I am just about to start reading it.) And last but not least, Digital Manga has licensed ninth and final volume of Hinako Takanaga’s The Tyrant Falls in Love! (I mistakenly thought the eighth volume was the series’ end, so I’m doubly happy for this license.)

Quick Takes

Attack on Titan, Volume 13Attack on Titan, Volume 13 by Hajime Isayama. Although I have largely been enjoying Attack on Titan since the beginning of the series, the thirteenth volume is a particularly good installment of the manga. As the series has progressed, mystery on top of mystery and twist on top of twist has been added, which is something that can only be sustained for so long. But with the thirteenth volume it feels as though some progress has actually been made with the plot and some answers are finally being given–or at least some convincing and appropriately disconcerting theories are being offered. The thirteenth volume begins with the aftermath of the Survey Corps’ rescue of Eren. The number of deaths and casualties incurred by the group is severe. Eren must come to terms with just how much ensuring his safety costs and just how much depends on him in the battles to come. The focus of Attack on Titan has shifted from confronting the Titans themselves to confronting the corruption within the government while trying to discover who or what is even behind the existence of the Titans. It’s a particularly effective development–the prospect of fighting Titans has a significantly different psychological impact than that of fighting, and even killing, humans.

A Love Song for the MiserableA Love Song for the Miserable by Yukimura. Many of the boys’ love manga released in English are about high school or middle school students, so it’s always a refreshing to encounter a story about adults. A Love Song for the Miserable is one of those stories. Asada is hoping to work in events planning while Nao is studying to become a patissier. After a chance meeting, the two of them become friends and Asada ends up acting as Nao’s taste tester, developing feelings for the other man in the process. Sadly, Asada would much rather completely ruin any chance of a relationship with Nao than risk the possibility of being rejected after opening up. Their friendship ends badly which puts them both in an awkward position three years later when Asada meets Nao again while on the job. A Love Song for the Miserable captures Asada’s personality and insecurities extremely well and the complexities of his feelings are very realistic. It’s understandable that Asada’s lack of confidence in himself and his jealousy over Nao’s success when his own career is going nowhere would interfere with him developing a stable relationship. Asada has very good reasons for being miserable, and Nao has very good reasons for being upset with him, but they might just be able to make something work.

World Trigger, Volume 1World Trigger by Daisuke Ashihara. In an interesting move, Viz decided to simultaneously release two volumes of World Trigger. It certainly caught my attention, so I guess the gambit was a successful one. There were several things that I liked about World Trigger. For example, I particularly appreciate that strategy and tactics come into play in the fights and that the battles aren’t all about who happens to have the greatest brute strength or power. I also liked Yuma–since he is a Neighbor his perspective is very different from that of the other characters and it shows–although I can easily see how he might get on some readers’ nerves. Other aspects of the manga didn’t work quite as well for me. Right off the bat Border is described as a mysterious organization; the general population seems oddly accepting of its presence and seems to require no further explanation as long as Border continues to fight against the Neighbors, which I found a little difficult to believe. I assume this is probably something the series will explore in the future, but as it is the lack of information is frustrating, especially when other things are over-explained. For the most part I did enjoy the first volume, but the second didn’t do much to retain my attention. Though it has its good points, World Trigger hasn’t quite managed to set itself apart from other series yet and seems a little generic so far.

Monkey Business: New Writing from Japan, Volume 4

Monkey Business: New Writing from Japan, Volume 4Editors: Motoyuki Shibata and Ted Goossen
Publisher: A Public Space
ISSN: 2159-7138
ISBN: 9780615962757
Released: March 2014

The original Monkey Business was a Japanese literary journal was published between 2008 and 2011. 2011 also saw the launch of Monkey Business: New Writing from Japan, the English-language, international edition of the journal. Edited by Motoyuki Shibata, who was also heavily involved with the original Monkey Business, and Ted Goossen, the English-language Monkey Business is released annually and collects a variety of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, essays, and manga. The selections found in the fourth volume of the journal, published in 2014, come from a range of sources, including but not limited to the original Monkey Business and its followup journal Monkey (launched in 2013). In addition to works that had previously been published, some of the contributions selected were specifically commissioned for the fourth issue. I’ve been reading and enjoying the international edition of Monkey Business since its beginning and always look forward to the newest volume.

The fourth issue of the international edition of Monkey Business collects twenty-three works, mostly short stories, contributed by creators from Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The earliest work was originally published in 1845 while the most recent contributions were released for the first time in this particular volume. Quite a few of the artists and authors are returning to Monkey Business, including some of my personal favorites. I’m always glad to see more of Toh Enjoe’s work translated and I was not at all disappointed with his bizarre short story “A Record of My Grandmother.” I’ve also become rather fond of Keita Jin’s short stories and very much enjoyed “The Girl Behind the Register Blows Bubbles.” Some selections like Hiromi Kawakai’s “People from My Neighborhood” and Sachiko Kishimoto’s “The Forbidden Diary” are continuations from previous volumes of Monkey Business. I particularly look forward to reading those authors from one issue to the next. I also really enjoyed Masatsuga Ono’s short story, “The Man Who Turned Into a Buoy.” This actually surprised me a bit as I usually struggle with Ono’s work. Another favorite was Gen’ichirō Takahashi very strange story “Demon Beasts.”

Other returnees to Monkey Business include Stuart Dybek with the short story “Naked,” Hideo Furukawa with “The Bears of Mount Nametoko,” Yoko Hayasuke with “Eri’s Physics,” Mina Ishikawa with “The Lighthouse on the Desk” (which is a collection of tanka poems), Mieko Kawakami with the story “The Little Girl Blows Up Her Pee Anxiety, My Heart Races,” Taki Monma with “White Socks,” and Richard Powers with “The Global Distributed Self-Mirroring Subterranean Soul-Sharing Picture Show,” a fascinating essay about Haruki Murakami’s fiction and brain science. The two manga contributions included in the fourth volume of Monkey Business are also from artists who have been a part of the journal in the past. Brother and Sister Nishioka adapt Bruno Schulz’ story “Tailors’ Dummies” (it’s nice to see them branch out from works by Franz Kafka) and Fumiko Takano illustrates a highly abstract adaptation of “The Little Match-Girl” by Hans Christian Anderson. A translation of Anderson’s original story is also included, which is particularly helpful for those readers who are not familiar with it when trying to make narrative sense of Takano’s rendition.

While it’s wonderful to see so many returning creators to Monkey Business, I also greatly appreciate that the journal always includes someone or something new. “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey”, the fourth volume’s opening work by Craft Ebbing & Co., is probably the most unusual–a series of photographs of an art piece with accompanying narration. Of all the newcomers to this issue of Monkey Business, I particularly enjoyed Brian Evenson’s short story “The Punish” and the tangentially related “A Message to My Japanese Readers,” a collection of short essays by Evenson and three other authors (Laird Hunt, Denis Johnson, and Salvador Plascencia). Other short stories from authors new to the journal include Doppo Kunikida’s “Unforgettable People,” Kenji Miyazawa’s “The Restaurant of Many Orders” (previously I had only read examples of his poetry), David Peace’s “After Ryūnosuke, Before Ryūnosuke” and Hyakken Uchida’s “The Sarasate Disk.” Overall, I don’t feel that the fourth volume was quite as diverse as previous issues of Monkey Business. However, it’s still a solid collection. Many of the stories tend toward the slightly strange, bizarre, and absurd, but that’s a sort of fiction that I happen to enjoy.

Guest Post: Sweet Blue Flowers, Vol. 1

Earlier this year my good friend Jocilyn Wagner contributed a review of Hiroki Ugawa’s Shrine of the Morning Mist, Volume 1 to Experiments in Manga. She was recently inspired to do so more manga blogging and to write another review, and so I’m happy to welcome Jocilyn back to Experiments in Manga! This time she’ll be taking a look at the Digital Manga Guild edition of Sweet Blue Flowers, Volume 1 by Takako Shimura.

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Easily Shimura Takako’s most well-known manga endeavour, Sweet Blue Flowers is an unforgettable bildungsroman of the classic Japanese girl’s school (minus the dorm boarding). The story focuses on two heroines: Manjoume Fumi and Okudaira Akira. Childhood friends who were separated for elementary and junior high and by coincidence have moved into the same neighborhood together for high school. The girls, who don’t at first recognize each other, are reintroduced when Akira (called “Aki” in this version) saves the timid Fumi from train molestation. Although the two attend different schools, their close friendship and shared interest in acting cause Fumi to find excuses to attend theatre club at Aki’s much more wealthy/prestigious school.

The setting of two close-knit girls’ schools often lends itself to a Yuri manga and Sweet Blue Flowers positively embraces the plot line. As the story opens, Fumi (tall and bashful) is recovering from her separation with Chizu, Fumi’s first love, a cousin who’s getting married. Enter in the dashing heartbreaker Sugimoto Yasuko who’s been recently cast against her will as the swoon-worthy Heathcliff. Yasuko is immediately smitten of Fumi and Fumi is quick to return her feelings (…perhaps too quick?). Despite being easily embarrassed and a worrier, Fumi manages to confide the relationship and her sexuality in Aki. The level-headed Aki doesn’t really understand why this would be a problem but ponders the issue while Fumi, who’s assumed it will come between them slips into fear-induced avoidance of her. When Aki’s finally able to snag Fumi aside she asks her, “What can I do to support you?”

Sweet Blue Flowers is as wonderful and poignant in English as it is in Japanese. The story is moving and rapturous. I’m really hopeful DMP can publish Sweet Blue Flowers in print…

But now I think I have a better understanding of why they might not. Compared to Fantagraphics’ Wandering Son, this version of Aoihana is frankly an embarrassment that in no way lives up to the beauty of the original and really shouldn’t be printed as is. It’s in desperate need of an English adapter and some real copy editing. As a Shimura fangirl, I really want to see Aoihana in print, so just in case the project leader is listening, the following is a substantial critique. The optimist should stop reading here. :)

The biggest problem in my mind is that bizarrely, instead of how it’s always been rendered “Ah-chan” in both the original manga AND the anime near and dear by now to the hearts of North Americans, this version replaces all the Ah-chans with “Aki.” To be fair, Aki is more of a fleshed out name than Ah-chan, but it’s really a boy’s name and it doesn’t suit Akira’s character, besides which it’s not a name Shimura-sensei chose. Part of what makes Aoihana so cute is that the Okudaira siblings have their names reversed: that is to say, Akira is usually though not always a boy’s name and Shinobu is similarly a girl’s name occasionally used for boys. Perhaps the idea here with “Aki” was to emphasize that her name doesn’t fit the image? Yet I think Shimura-sensei would argue that’s exactly why she’s always been called Ah-chan (to make up for/ignore the more masculine Akira). Put simply, Akira is always called Ah-chan because she’s ridiculously cute and her role in the story is to be the best friend and onee-chan from Fumi’s childhood, thus someone you’d want to give a cute nickname to like “Ah-chan.” Perhaps because she’s given a bit more wisdom than other characters or because of her future role in the story, the DMG team chose to call her Aki. At any rate, it feels like an awkward and unnecessary change that will stick out painfully to most fans of the work.

Additionally, there’s just too much left untranslated in terms of signage with parenthetical notes given instead that really detract from the flow of the reading. As far as I can tell, all the signs and documents are left untranslated (even ones that couldn’t possibly be hurt by replacement with English such as the heading card in the photo album scrapbook that reads “Christmas Party” or the words on the cake for Chizu’s party) which comes off looking like the typesetter just couldn’t be bothered/too inexperienced to handle the job. For the none-Japanese reader it’s too much work to constantly be hunting for marginalia. Shimura’s penmanship isn’t all that legible anyway (most were drawn with marker), so if you can read Japanese, leaving the signs as is doesn’t necessarily help things–except in the case of one of her school gateway engravings, it doesn’t exactly have a “Shoudo” quality. Perhaps the concept here is to give the English reader a sense that they’re really in Kamakura, but that’s actually doing Shimura-sensei a disservice as the gorgeous well-researched setting she’s drawn is more stark and striking than most mangaka can muster.

sweet blue flowers snippita

Add to this a lot of really tiring typographical errors such as “Pap” for “Pat” and “Beautiful is Youth” “Hasegawwa” and “Fajisawa”, really detract from the reading experience. The emanga version of Sweet Blue Flowers is very welcome and we love you for it, but please consider further editing before sending it to the printer.

In terms of the digital file, it’s definitely topknotch. Emanga allows you to choose from among seven or eight major formats as well as offering you the option of reading your books through their proprietary online reader. I was really happy to be able to get Sweet Blue Flowers in PDF since it looks and functions the best on the iPad. It’s not always the most annotation friendly, but since manga is an artistic medium it makes sense to use an Adobe format to access it. Unfortunately, once you’ve chosen to download the file in one format, you’re stuck with only that single file type and you’d need to repurchase it from emanga to get it in a different format (DRM is kinda evil like that). I had no trouble downloading the file and it opens great on all my devices. Given their many options for downloading, their pricing system that’s free from points and rentals and their interface with Amazon, I’d highly recommend emanga over some other digital manga sites I’ve tried (except when it comes to editing).