Vinland Saga, Omnibus 5

Vinland Saga, Omnibus 5Creator: Makoto Yukimura
U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781612624242
Released: October 2014
Original release: 2010-2011
Awards: Japan Media Arts Award, Kodansha Manga Award

Makoto Yukimura’s award-winning manga Vinland Saga, an epic and thoroughly researched work of historical fiction, has quickly become one of my favorite series currently being released in English. I was very happy when Kodansha Comics initially licensed Vinland Saga, but with each new volume that is published my excitement increases. The English-language edition of Vinland Saga is being printed as a series of hardcover omnibuses, each containing two volumes of the manga as originally released in Japan. The fifth omnibus, published by Kodansha in 2014, collects the ninth and tenth volumes of the Japanese edition of the series which were published in 2010 and 2011 respectively. It also includes a section of questions and answers exclusive to the English-language edition in which Yukimura discusses some of the inspirations for and creative processes behind Vinland Saga. I already enjoy Vinland Saga immensely, but greatly appreciate of this sort of bonus material.

Ever since his father was killed in front of his eyes, Thorfinn has devoted his life to one thing–seeking revenge against Askeladd, the man he holds responsible for his father’s death. But when Askeladd takes King Sweyn’s head and doesn’t survive the resulting skirmish, suddenly Thorfinn is left directionless and without purpose. Despondent and empty, he ends up a slave on an expansive wheat farm in Denmark. There he really only goes through the motions of living, suffering silently under the humiliation, discrimination, and torment inflicted by the farm hands and hired guards. It’s not until Einar arrives at the farm that Thorfinn is slowly drawn out of his despondency. Of the two, Einar is much more lively and still chafes at his enslavement. And, unlike Thorfinn, he actually knows a thing or two about farming. As difficult as it will be to achieve, those are skills that could conceivably help them earn back their freedom.

The amount of research and historic detail that Yukimura has put into both the artwork and the narrative of Vinland Saga has always been impressive, and that hasn’t changed with the fifth omnibus. Vinland Saga incorporates the politics and social structures of the time period directly into the story in a very engaging way, making them critical issues that the characters must deal with and which greatly impact their lives. At this point in the series, the manga has largely moved from the battlefield to the wheat field, but it still retains its intensity. Farming, like war, is also a life and death struggle which requires men and women to submit themselves to arduous and unforgiving tasks for the smallest chance of survival. The main difference is that raising crops is a creative act while battle is a destructive one. It seem appropriate then that Thorfinn’s labouring in the fields might actually help to bring him some healing, especially since in his past he was part of a force that would raze farms and villages when needed or convenient.

Much of the fifth omnibus of Vinland Saga is devoted to Thorfinn and Einar and the system of slavery that they are now a part of. A great deal of focus is given to Thorfinn and his psychological development in particular. In addition to historical accuracy, Yukimura also excels at creating realistically complex and well-defined characters in Vinland Saga who change and are affected by the events around them. And in some cases, they are the ones to bring great change to the world in which they exist. One of the characters that has transformed the most is Canute, the younger son of King Sweyn. Out of the entire omnibus, only two chapters show what has become of him, but they leave a tremendous impact. Once a seemingly weak and timid young man he has shown incredible fortitude and strength. Where Thorfinn has lost his purpose, Canute has found his. Canute’s ambitions and his willingness to do anything it takes to forge his kingdom will have far-reaching implications.

Random Musings: Picking My Next Monthly Review Project

Now that I’ve wrapped up my Year of Yuri monthly review project, it’s time for me to decide which manga I’ll focus on next. Like last time, in order to help me choose another monthly manga review project, I wanted to get some input from the readers of Experiments in Manga. So, once again, I’m putting it to a vote. Recently, I’ve been in the mood for horror manga. Using a fairly broad definition of horror, I’ve narrowed down my options to five (technically six) manga series that I would be interested in reviewing. After the fact, I noticed that the horror manga that made the final cut coincidentally all had something in common–the creators all happen to be women. (Well, except maybe for Shin Mashiba, whose gender I’m uncertain of, but whose manga has a shoujo flair to it.) For my next monthly review project, I will be tackling one of the following series:

After School Nightmare by Setona Mizushiro
After School Nightmare, Volume 1Unlike the other completed options on this list, I haven’t actually finished reading After School Nightmare. I initially borrowed the first few volumes of the manga from my local library and on the strength of those volumes alone I sought out and purchased the entire series. So why did I never finish reading it? Honestly, I’m not sure, but I think I might have actually been afraid to since some of the themes are pretty hard-hitting. Published in English by Go! Comi, all ten volumes of After School Nightmare are now out of print, but fortunately they are still relatively easy to find.

Dorohedoro by Q Hayashida
Dorohedoro, Volume 2Dorohedoro is a very strange and weird manga, but one that I enjoy immensely. It’s a series that somehow manages to be both gruesome and charming all at the same time. Dorohedoro is violent and graphic, dark and grimy, but also incredibly goofy with an exceptionally black sense of humor and a cast of absurdly quirky characters. I’ve previously reviewed the first volume of Dorohedoro, so this option will include in-depth reviews of the remaining volumes currently available in English as well as any future volumes that are released.

Mushishi by Yuki Urushibara
Mushishi, Volume 1 Mushishi was one of the first manga series that I made a point to collect in its entirety, but because it was released before I started blogging at Experiments in Manga, I’ve never really written much about it. I love the series (the anime adaptation is a favorite, too), and find its quiet, contemplative creepiness to be especially appealing. Mushishi was initially published by Del Rey manga and is out of print (some of the volumes are now very expensive), but happily the entire series is now available digitally from Kodansha Comics.

Nightmare Inspector: Yumekui Kenbun by Shin Mashiba
Nightmare Inspector, Volume 1Nightmare Inspector began serialization in a shoujo magazine, but when it folded the manga was moved to a shounen monthly. Initially it seems to be episodic, but by the end of the series a heartrending overarching story emerges. With its dark, melancholic atmosphere, Nightmare Inspector is a manga that I am particularly fond of. I wrote a little about the series as a whole for the Horror Manga Moveable Feast a few years ago, but I’ve always wanted to go back and revisit Nightmare Inspector again in order to really dig into the individual volumes.

Tokyo Babylon/X by CLAMP
Tokyo Babylon, Omnibus 1The first time I tried reading X, I didn’t actually like it much at all and gave up after only one volume. But then I tried reading it again when the omnibus edition was released and promptly became hooked. Tokyo Babylon, to which X is a sequel of sorts, also took a while to really grow on me. So I’ve been wondering if, like X, I might appreciate Tokyo Babylon more if I gave it a second chance. This option will include in-depth reviews of the two Tokyo Babylon omnibuses from Dark Horse as well as the six X omnibuses from Viz Media.

So, what’ll it be? My fate is in your hands.

(The poll will be open through the end of November!)

Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 2

Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 2Author: Kouhei Kadono
Illustrator: Kouji Ogata
Translator: Andrew Cunningham
U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781933164236
Released: October 2006
Original release: 1998

Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 2 is the third volume in the Boogiepop light novel series written by Kouhei Kadono and illustrated by Kouji Ogata. It is also the third out of four Boogiepop novels to have been released in English. Translated by Andrew Cunningham, the second part of Boogiepop Returns was published by Seven Seas in 2006. In Japan, the volume was released in 1998, the same year as the first two books in the series. Boogiepop Returns is actually a two-part story, and so after reading the first novel in the arc I was particularly anxious to read the second. With all of the setup and steadily increasing tension in the first part, the story needed a conclusion and the final volume of the arc promised to deliver just that. Boogiepop is kind of an odd series which freely mixes the surreal with the real, making use of multiple genres in the process. But it’s also a series that I find peculiarly appealing because of that and because of its willingness to explore the more troubling aspects of the psyche.

A year ago a young woman committed suicide under the influence of an entity known only as the Imaginator. Her life was ended when, being pursued by Boogiepop, the Imaginator failed to change the world through her. But now the Imaginator has returned to inspire yet another person, this time with much greater success. Asukai Jin, with the Imaginator as a catalyst, has begun to use his unique abilities to not only read the hearts of other people but to manipulate them as well. Meanwhile, the mysterious Towa Organization also has a vested interest in the direction humankind is taking. Spooky E, a synthetic human and one of its agents, is actively hunting Boogiepop in order to prevent the spirit’s interference with the organization’s affairs. In an effort to draw Boogiepop out, he has arranged for the love-besotted Taniguchi Masaki to serve as a decoy by impersonating Boogiepop. Masaki didn’t initially realize he was being used as a pawn, and even if he had there was very little he could do to stop the developing crisis.

Despite the title being Boogiepop Returns, the real Boogiepop actually plays a very small albeit very important role in the two novels and is mostly relegated to the edges of the narrative while the other players take center stage. Granted, when Boogiepop finally does make an entrance during the second volume’s finale, it’s pretty spectacular. But until then the story largely follows the more mundane characters, the seemingly normal teenagers who have been caught up in the battle over the fate of humanity and who frequently are the victims of the supernatural and superhuman forces at work. At the same time, they are also dealing with their own personal issues and troubled relationships. In many ways I actually found these smaller struggles to be more emotionally immediate than the novel’s grander schemes, probably because they’re more relatable and the more realistic elements help to ground the stranger aspects of the Boogiepop series.

The doomed love story between Masaki and the girl he likes, Orihata Aya, has always been an important part of Boogiepop Returns but it become especially prominent in the second volume. It is because of his love for her that he “becomes” Boogiepop, his feelings and the burgeoning romance becoming closely entwined with the larger events of the novel. The second part of Boogiepop Returns has some fantastic fights and action sequences, but the  novel also has deeper contemplative and philosophical aspects to it as well. Employing the trappings of science fiction and the supernatural, the Boogiepop novels explore thought-provoking themes of free will, personal identity, the individual’s place within society, sacrifice, and what it truly means to be human. The characters are all damaged or suffering in some way but it’s how they choose to live their lives despite that pain that makes them who they are and makes Boogiepop Returns such an interesting and at times even compelling story.

My Week in Manga: November 10-November 16, 2014

My News and Reviews

Last week I posted two reviews at Experiments in Manga. The first review of was of Ajin: Demi-Human, Volume 1 written by Tsuina Miura and illustrated by Gamon Sakurai. It’s a manga with a rather dark atmosphere that deals with immortals, which is right up my alley. The first volume was a good start to the series; I’m looking forward to seeing how it continues to develop. The second review was of The Legend of Bold Riley, created by Leia Weathington and illustrated by a number of different artists. The review was actually the final review in my Year of Yuri project, so over the weekend I posted a wrap-up for the project as a whole. Later this week, most likely on Friday, a poll will go live so that readers of Experiments in Manga can vote to help me select my next monthly review project.

I came across a few fun and interesting things elsewhere online last week, too. Mangabrog has a translation of a conversation between Katsuhiro Otomo and Takehiko Inoue from 2012. Kate Beaton posted the second part of her collection of comics based on Natsume Sōseki Kokoro (a novel that I’ve reviewed in the past). The Ceiling Gallery posted “Girl Talk”, an article about “the life, friends and music of manga author Okazaki Kyoko” which is well worth reading. Anna Madill, a professor at The University of Leeds, is currently conducting research into boys’ love fandom. If you’re an English-speaking boys’ love fan, please consider assisting her research by completing a brief BL Fandom Survey.

Quick Takes

Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, Omnibus 1Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, Omnibus 1 (equivalent to Volumes 1-2) by Satoshi Mizukami. I really wasn’t sure what to expect from Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, but I ended up enjoying the first volume immensely. One morning, college student Amamiya Yuuhi wakes up to discover a talking lizard in his bed, requesting his help to protect a princess destined to save the world from an evil mage bent on destroying Earth by using a giant hammer floating in space. Despite his initial reluctance to get involved in the whole mess, Yuuhi decides to become her knight because of one simple fact: The only reason Samidare (who need little protection) wants to save the world is so that she can destroy it herself. Much like its title, Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer is kind of strange. Both the characters and story are quirky, a little goofy, and rather bizarre. The manga is also quite a bit darker than it first appears; the characters are all revealed to have twisted pasts and tragedies to work through. It’s particularly interesting to see protagonists who are closer to being supervillians than superheros. I’m still not entirely sure where Lucifer and Biscuit Hammer is heading, but I’m really looking forward to reading more of the series and finding out.

My Japanese Husband Thinks I'm Crazy!My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy by Grace Buchele Mineta. A companions of sorts to her blog Texan in Tokyo, My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy! is a collection of autobiographical comics and essays about Mineta’s life in Japan, her work as a freelancer, and her intercultural marriage. I’ll admit, I haven’t actually read much of Texan in Tokyo, but the comics made me laugh, so I decided to pick up the book. Some of the material collected is new to the volume while other material comes directly from the blog. My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy! is a wonderfully amusing and at times even enlightening collection. The main “characters” are Mineta herself, her salaryman husband Ryosuke, and Marvin–a talking rabbit who’s a figment of her imagination, the result of “stress, coffee, and loneliness from being a freelancer in Tokyo.” The comics are sweet, charming, and short, generally only a single page consisting of a few panels. Many of the comics are personal in nature, but some of Minata’s experiences are certainly shared by other foreign residents and visitors to Japan. My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy! is a fun way to learn little tidbits about Japan and Japanese culture.

Yakuza in Love, Volume 1Yakuza in Love, Volumes 1-3 by Shiuko Kano. Despite being one of the boys’ love creators with the most manga published in English, which I assume would be an indicator of her popularity, I generally find Kano’s work to be fairly hit-or-miss with me. Sadly, Yakuza in Love largely falls into the miss category. The short series is one of Kano’s earliest works, and it shows. The pacing is all over the place and frequently rushed, the action is difficult to follow, the sex and supposed romance doesn’t always mesh with the story, the plot doesn’t distinguish itself from any other generic yakuza-themed boys’ love manga, and she can’t quite seem to decide if she’s going for comedy or drama. She probably should have stuck with the humor–as a whole, Yakuza in Love simply doesn’t work as well when it takes itself too seriously. It wasn’t all bad, though. Just perhaps a little too ambitious. The best part of Yakuza in Love is actually all of the extras at the end which take up the last half of the third volume. Kano relaxes and just has fun with her characters, actually giving them more depth while parodying her own story. As a result, the extras end up being much more enjoyable.

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kunMonthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun directed by Mitsue Yamazaki. Based off of an ongoing yonkoma manga series by Izumi Tsubaki, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is an absolutely delightful twelve-episode anime series. The titular Nozaki is a tall, stoic, and slightly oblivious high school student who, despite what most people would assume from his appearance, also happens to be a published shoujo mangaka. Sakura has a crush on Nozaki, but when she tries to confess her love to him she somehow winds up as one of his assistants instead. Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is a very funny and enjoyable series which freely plays around with shoujo manga tropes and character types. Nozaki finds inspiration for his manga from the other students at school, usually in slightly unexpected ways. He’s also amassed a handful of assistants in addition to Sakura, all with their own quirks and relationship problems which provide plenty of material for Nozaki to work with which eventually ends up in his manga. For the most part the anime tends to be fairly episodic, though there are several recurring characters and running jokes. Overall, the series is a tremendous amount of fun with a large cast of likeable characters.

Random Musings: Wrapping Up the Year of Yuri Monthly Review Project

BlueAlthough I’ve continued to review the new volumes of the series as they are released, last year I wrapped up my Blade of the Immortal monthly review project. Because I enjoyed the project, which took me nearly two years to complete, I started to look for a new one to take its place. Ultimately, I decided I wanted readers of Experiments in Manga to have some input in which manga I would tackle next and so put it up for a vote. Out of the five options that I narrowed it down to, by far the most popular choice was what I called “Year of Yuri.”

Over the course of twelve months, I reviewed twelve different comics and manga with yuri and/or lesbian themes. My intention was to feature a wide variety of genres, demographics, and styles. I think I was fairly successful in that. Most of the stories were based in reality, but there was a bit of fantasy, too. Some were erotic while others were very chaste. There were first loves and failed loves, healthy relationships and relationships that did more harm than good, humor and nostalgia, lightheartedness and seriousness, stories about school girls and stories about grown women, and more.

Whereas the Blade of the Immortal project focused on a single series, the Year of Yuri project allowed me to explore a range of titles which was interesting to do. Granted, with only twelve reviews, I could only begin to scratch the surface of the entire realm of possibilities. But hopefully I featured at least one manga or comic that sparked someone’s interest. I enjoyed having a project to work on from month to month and had fun selecting the comics and manga that I would review. Now that my Year of Yuri monthly review project has concluded, I’ll once again be turning to the readers of Experiments of Manga to help choose my next project. Another poll will be opened in the very near future, so stay tuned!

The links to all of my Year of Yuri manga reviews can be found below. I have also conveniently added a Year of Yuri tag to all of the reviews to pull them all together and for even greater ease of access. While I’ll no longer be focusing on yuri and lesbian comics as part of a monthly review project, I will continue to read and review them, so expect to see more quick takes and in-depth reviews in the future. I hope you all enjoyed this project as much as I did!

Year of Yuri reviews:
12 Days by June Kim
Before You Go by Denise Schroeder
Between the Sheets by Erica Sakurazawa
Blue by Kiriko Nananan
Gakuen Polizi, Volume 1 by Milk Morinaga
Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink by Milk Morinaga
The Legend of Bold Riley created by Leia Weathington
Maka-Maka: Sex, Life, and Communication, Volume 1 by Torajiro Kishi
Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Adolescence of Utena by Chiho Saito
S.S. Astro: Asashio Sogo Teachers’ Room, Volume 1 by Negi Banno
Sweat & Honey by Mari Okazaki
Whispered Words, Omnibus 1 by Takashi Ikeda