Wandering Son, Volume 7

Wandering Son, Volume 7Creator: Takako Shimura
U.S. publisher: Fantagraphics Books
ISBN: 9781606997505
Released: August 2014
Original release: 2007

The wait between the release of each new volume of the English-language edition of Takako Shimura’s manga series Wandering Son can seem torturous, but without fail I’m exceptionally glad when the next installment is finally available. Wandering Son is a manga that is personally very meaningful to me, so I’m always a little worried that Fantagraphics won’t be able to complete the series, which would be a shame. Fantagraphics’ edition of Wandering Son is beautiful, complete with color pages and hardcover binding. Wandering Son, Volume 7 was originally published in Japan in 2007 while Fantagraphics’ English translation by Matt Thorn was released in 2014. The series concluded in Japan with the fifteenth volume, which means that the English-language release has just about reached the midway point of Wandering Son. I sincerely hope the rest of the series will be able to be published, too.

The seventh graders’ production of a gender-swapped Romeo & Juliet for their school’s cultural festival is over, but there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight for the drama unfolding in the classroom. Although a few of the students were dissatisfied with their own parts and performances, the play was generally well received, resulting in the theater club attempting to scout some of the best talent. This does cause some tension as the members of the various school clubs shift around to follow their personal interests, leaving friends behind in the process. Some friendships are being severely tested while other, more antagonistic, relationships appear to be on the mend. As Shuichi, Takatsuki, and the others grow and mature, their connections to one another change and evolve, too. Puberty continues to progress as well, bringing with it unwanted changes, anxieties over developing bodies, and concerns over physical appearances. What to wear, what not to wear, acne, and skin problems are all legitimate worries, providing opportunities for both teasing and bonding.

Wandering Son is told in a somewhat non-linear, almost fragmented sort of way. Shimura takes individual moments and memories, often from different points in the characters’ lives, and then layers them together, drawing connections between the separate pieces that would not necessarily have been obvious otherwise. This makes it easier for readers to see that the characters, though they all have their own unique perspectives and individual experiences, are dealing with some very similar issues. Their approaches to those issues and how they deal them are often quite different, though. This layering and revealing of parallels, as well as the other narrative and storytelling techniques that Shimura uses, are very effective in building on some of the themes that Wandering Son explores–namely personal identity–by exhibiting the depth and nuance of the series’ sensitive portrayal of the characters as individuals. The realism and authenticity of the characterization in Wandering Son is one of the manga’s greatest strengths.

Another related aspect of the manga that is handled particularly well is the natural changes in the characters’ relationships with one another. Wandering Son has a large cast of both primary and important secondary characters and it’s a close-knit group. When something happens between two of the members, the social dynamics of the entire circle is influenced. Major developments occur when Shuichi and Anna begin dating, helping to trigger some unexpected changes in Chiba and Takatsuki’s relationship which were particularly interesting to see. Chiba is incredibly self-centered and at times exceptionally unlikeable, but she’s also perceptive and seems to be very sure of herself and who she is. Takatsuki, on the other hand, is still working all of that out but is fiercely determined in other ways. It’s because of Takatsuki’s persistence, despite Chiba’s prickliness, that their friendship has a chance of improving–something that everyone would be happy about. It won’t be an easy process, though, and will take some time. Wandering Son excels in capturing the real-life messiness of relationships.

My Week in Manga: September 8-September 14, 2014

My News and Reviews

Two reviews were posted at Experiments in Manga last week. Coincidentally, they both happened to be for works that are a bit disconcerting. First up was my review of Boogiepop and Others, the light novel by Kouhei Kadono which launched the entire Boogiepop franchise. The book is a fantastic mix of science fiction, mystery, and horror with a particularly interesting narrative structure. I’ll definitely be tracking down more of the series to read. The second review was a part of my Year of Yuri monthly review project. I took a look at Erica Sakurazawa’s Between the Sheets, one of the very first josei manga to be released in English. It’s a story about obsessive love and is legitimately disturbing, but in an entirely different way than Boogiepop and Others.

I’ve been super busy at work recently (actually, life in general has been pretty busy) so I’ve not been able to keep up with a lot of manga news, but I did catch a couple of license announcements from this year’s YaoiCon. SuBLime has a new slate of digital and print manga to look forward to (I was particularly excited to see a Tomoko Yamashita manga licensed; sadly, I think it’s digital-only at this point) and Digital Manga will be releasing a collection of Kou Yoneda’s No Touching at All side stories, among other things. Also, Mangabrog posted translation of a Q Hayashida interview from a few years ago. As a fan of Hayashida’s Dorohedoro, I was very happy to have a chance to read the interview.

Quick Takes

From the New World, Volume 4From the New World, Volumes 4-5 written by Yusuke Kishi and illustrated by Toru Oikawa. I continue to be completely torn by From the New World. There are parts of the manga that I absolutely love, but there are several things that frustrate me immensely and greatly inhibit my enjoyment of the series. I am not a prude and am generally not offended by fanservice, but the sex scenes in From the New World seem so incredibly out-of-place. I know that sexual relationships are an important aspect of the worldbuilding in From the New World, but the manga does not integrate them very well at all. I can only assume the original novel handles it better. Thankfully, the sex scenes in the manga are relatively rare. Unfortunately, they are very difficult to ignore and are only ever shown when young girls are involved. From the New World does much better with the story’s science fiction and horror elements. It is dark and disturbing, and these two volumes are particularly graphic and violent, as well. Despite my reservations–of which I have quite a few–I do plan on finishing the series. There are only two more volumes after all.

Kinoko Inu: Mushroom Pup, Volume 1Kinoko Inu: Mushroom Pup, Volume 1 by Kimama Aoboshi. The first volume of Mushroom Pup may very well be one of the oddest manga that I’ve read recently. And even though I enjoyed the volume, I’m still not exactly sure what to make of it. Calling Mushroom Pup quirky would be putting it extremely lightly. Hotaru Yuyami writes and illustrates horror books for children, but ever since his beloved dog Hanako died his creative impulse has completely left him. One evening a strange pink mushroom growing in his garden turns into an even stranger intelligent dog-like creature which attempts to help Yuyami get over his loss in some very bizarre ways. (This isn’t even attempted to be explained.) Also invading Yuyami’s life as he tries to grieve is his childhood friend-cum-editor and a mushroom researcher (with an amazing mohawk) who just so happens to be a huge fan of Yuyami’s work. For all of its strangeness, Mushroom Pup is actually rather subdued and even the humor tends to be straight-faced, which in some ways makes it even funnier. At the same time, it’s also a bit melancholy and heartwarming.

Raqiya: The New Book of Revelation, Volume 1Raqiya: The New Book of Revelation, Volumes 1-2 written by Masao Yajima, illustrated by Boichi. One Peace Books doesn’t tend to do much in the way of marketing or press releases, so it seems as though the publisher’s manga appears almost out of nowhere. Raqiya is a five-volume series focused around a young woman named Luna who seems to be the harbinger for the end of days. She has caught the interest of a small but extreme cult of heretical Christians as well as the attention of a secret and heavily armed Catholic organization charged with hunting down such heretics. It’s interesting to see Christianity play such a huge role in a manga, even if it is a highly fictionalized version of the religion. There’s also plenty of destruction and action in Raqiya–explosions, gun fights, car chases, and so on. Boichi’s artwork is effectively dynamic and extremely intense, if occasionally a bit over the top. Raqiya is definitely a violent and extreme manga; Boichi doesn’t hold back. Boichi is a Korean artist now working and living in Japan. His series Sun-Ken Rock has been available digitally, but Raqiya is his first manga to be released in English in print.

UQ Holder!, Volume 1UQ Holder!, Volumes 1-2 by Ken Akamatsu. Technically a sequel of sorts to Negima!: Magister Negi Magi (or at least set in the same universe), UQ Holder! seems to stand completely on its own and requires no knowledge of the earlier series. (Which is a good thing seeing as I haven’t read it.) So far I am fairly underwhelmed by UQ Holder!, though there are a few things I like about the series. Akamatsu’s fight and action sequences can be fairly entertaining, for one. Also, I tend to enjoy manga that explore the repercussions of immortality, which UQ Holder! is set up to do. Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite followed through on that potential yet, despite a wide variety of different types of immortals and immortality being introduced (vampires, genetically modified humans, cursed beings, and many others). In general, the story of UQ Holder! is lacking a clear direction with far too many different genre elements, tropes, and cliches being forced to share the same series. It doesn’t help that the goals and motivations of the series’ protagonist are left deliberately vague as well; Akamatsu tries to make a joke of it, but it either doesn’t quite work or just isn’t funny.

Between the Sheets

Between the SheetsCreator: Erica Sakurazawa
U.S. publisher: Tokyopop
ISBN: 9781591823230
Released: May 2003
Original release: 1996

Between 2003 and 2004, Tokyopop published six manga by Erica Sakurazawa, some of the very first josei manga to be released in English. More than a decade later josei has still yet to establish a firm foothold in North America, though things seem to be improving and publishers continue to make an effort. Most of the josei that I have read I have thoroughly enjoyed. I wish that there was more available in English, but in the meantime I make the point to support what is currently available and to track down those titles, like Sakurazawa’s, that have gone out of print. The first of Sakurazawa’s manga to be translated was Between the Sheets, which was originally published in Japan in 1996. The volume was not my introduction to her work but out of all of Sakurazawa’s manga that I have so far read, I feel that it is one of the strongest in terms of storytelling. Between the Sheets was initially brought to my attention due to the elements of same-sex desire that play a critical role in the manga’s story.

Minako and Saki are extraordinarily close friends. They frequently hang out together, enjoying the bars and party scene where Saki, despite having a boyfriend, is constantly on the lookout for men. But when Saki and Minako share a drunken kiss in order to convince an undesirable suitor that they’re a couple and to leave them alone, Minako finds her feelings for her best friend beginning to change. Minako had always admired and cared deeply for Saki, but now her love has turned obsessive. She wants to be with Saki. In some ways she wants to be Saki. Saki views Minako as an extremely important person in her life but nothing more than a friend while Minako wants to be everything for Saki: her lover, her protector, her one and only. Convinced she knows what’s best for Saki, Minako will do anything to get closer to her and to drive others away, including sleeping with Saki’s boyfriends.

Frankly, Between the Sheets is an exceptionally disturbing and even horrifying work. Minako’s obsession with Saki creates an ominous and foreboding atmosphere. Each turn of the page seems as though it could reveal some sort of horrible tragedy worse than what has already occurred. Minako’s feelings become self-destructive and her way of dealing with them hurt not only herself but Saki and the men in their lives as well. Often in fiction and romance one person’s utter devotion to another is held as an ideal. However, Between the Sheets takes a much more realistic approach to this sort of extreme, obsessive desire. Minako’s fixation on Saki becomes all-consuming. It’s not flattering and it’s not romantic. In fact, it can hardly even be called love anymore. Her friendship with Saki has evolved into something much darker and much more dangerous. The damage done may be irreparable.

Because of its subject matter Between the Sheets can be a tough and uncomfortable read; it is not at all a feel-good story and there is very little happiness to be found. The characters are entangled in a web of lies, cheating, and betrayal. Unpleasant emotions like hatred, anger, and jealously overshadow those of adoration, love, and affection. However, Sakurazawa handles the intensity of those feelings in a believable way. That realism is probably one of the reasons that Between the Sheets is so troubling. Minako appears to be normal and innocent, her twisted way of thinking hidden safely from view. Sakurazawa’s artwork reflects this–on the surface nothing seems amiss. If readers weren’t privy to Minako’s inner thoughts, they might never suspect the unhealthiness of her state of mind. But eventually her actions and their tragic consequences cannot be ignored and make it quite clear to everyone involved how unbalanced she has become.

Boogiepop and Others

Boogiepop and OthersAuthor: Kouhei Kadono
Illustrator: Kouji Ogata

U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781933164168
Released: January 2006
Original release: 1998
Awards: Dengeki Novel Prize

Boogiepop and Others is the first volume in a series of light novels written by Kouhei Kadono and illustrated by Kouji Ogata. The novel was originally released in Japan in 1998 after winning the Dengeki Game Novel Prize (now known simply as the Dengeki Novel Prize). Boogiepop and Others has been credited with igniting the light novel trend in Japan. Whether that is true or not, the novel has inspired more than a dozen other volumes in the Boogiepop novel series as well as other books, short stories, manga, music, a live-action film adaptation, an anime, and more. Out of the fairly large franchise, four of the light novels–including Boogiepop and Others–two short manga series, the anime, and the film have been released in English. The English-language edition of Boogiepop and Others, translated by Andrew Cunningham, was published by Seven Seas in 2006. Although I had been aware of the Boogiepop Phantom anime series for quite some time, Boogiepop and Others was actually my introduction to the franchise and is set before the events of the anime.

No one is entirely sure who or what Boogiepop is, but there are several rumors and theories among the students of Shinyo Academy. Stories are told about a spirit of death, an assassin who can kill instantly and painlessly. When a number of female students at Shinyo Academy go missing, many naturally assume that Boogiepop must have had something to do with their disappearances. Others believe Boogiepop to be nothing more than a myth or urban legend, but they can’t deny that something very strange and very wrong is going on at their school. Most of the missing girls are written off as runaways by the police and their cases are quickly dropped. And so a few of their classmates take it upon themselves to investigate since they can’t rely on the adults to pursue the matter. But it’s already too late. Some of the girls who have disappeared have lost their lives and there will be even more deaths before those who are responsible can be stopped. If they can be stopped. Any survivors will be left struggling to comprehend everything that occurred at Shinyo Academy.

Boogiepop and Others isn’t told from a single point of view, within a single time frame, or even through a single narrative. Instead, each chapter is seen from the perspective of a different student. Some of the characters are directly involved with the events unfolding at Shinyo Academy while others are only tangentially related. However, none of them know everything about what is going on, though they may have their suspicions. There’s Takeda Keiji, who becomes one of the people closest to Boogiepop, Suema Kazuko, who once was almost the victim of a serial killer herself, Saotome Masami, a deceptively unassuming underclassman, Kimura Akio, one of several boyfriends of one of the missing students, and Niitoki Kei, the president of the discipline committee. They each have their own story to tell, and each version of the events is accurate, but the complete truth can only be understood when all of the individual accounts have been completely disclosed and are then considered and taken together as a whole.

The narrative structure of Boogiepop and Others is actually quite effective in creating and sustaining the mystery and mood of the novel. It’s a slow build as little by little information is revealed and connections are made between characters and their stories. Piecing together everything is an incredibly engaging part of the novel. At times, Boogiepop and Others can be legitimately creepy and disconcerting. The elements of horror in the novel are just as strong as those of science fiction and mystery. Several of the characters are dealing with extreme mental and psychological disturbances and unfortunate family circumstances in addition to the apparent supernatural occurrences. Personally, I preferred Kadono’s exploration of the more reality-based issues over the more outrageous ideas, but in combination even those could be oddly compelling in their strangeness. I thoroughly enjoyed Boogiepop and Others, perhaps even more than I initially anticipated. I definitely plan on reading more of the series.

My Week in Manga: September 1-September 7, 2014

My News and Reviews

There were three posts of note at Experiments in Manga last week in addition to the usual My Week in Manga feature. First of all, the winner of the Nana manga giveaway has been announced. The post also includes a short list of manga that people gave a second chance only to discover that they enjoyed them better than they did the first time they read them. I also posted August’s Bookshelf Overload, revealing how out of hand things can get when it comes to the number of manga I obtain over the course of a month. The first in-depth manga review of the month was also posted, the honor going to Hinoki Kino’s No. 6, Volume 8, the series penultimate volume. As a bonus, the first print run of the volume also includes sixteen color pages!

A few things of note from elsewhere online: The Beautiful World, which hosted the Kaori Yuki Manga Moveable Feast a while back, has issued a call for participation for a blog carnival to feature female goth mangaka in January. Sean has a nice roundup of some of the recent license announcements at A Case Suitable for Treatment. And Anna at Manga Report checks out Sparkler Monthly, which is currently running a membership drive for its second year. Please consider subscribing if you can; Sparkler Monthly has some great content and I hope for its continued success.

Quick Takes

AliveAlive by Hajime Taguchi. Gen Manga publishes independent manga, mostly focusing on the seinen demographic. Often, Gen’s releases are the first time the creator’s doujinshi have received any sort of “official” publication. Alive is a collection of over a dozen short manga of varying lengths by Hajime Taguchi. There’s not really a central theme to the volume, and the stories aren’t related to each other, but they all tend to be fairly melancholy. A few of the tales have some fantastical or surreal elements to them–a pair of glasses that obscures everything the wearer dislikes, a bizarre frog-like creature that talks, and so on–but most of the manga in the collection tend to be realistic, slice-of-life stories. Alive primarily explores the emotional lives of the stories’ characters. Love, heartbreak, self-confidence, guilt, personal growth, and loss are all present within the manga. Generally Alive focuses on the darker aspects of the human psyche and experience, but there are glimpses happiness as well. As with any collection, some stories are stronger than others, but as a whole Alive is a satisfying and somewhat unusual read.

The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Volume 1The Heroic Legend of Arslan by Hiromu Arakawa. Based on a series of fantasy novels by Yoshiki Tanaka, Arakawa’s The Heroic Legend of Arslan is one of several adaptations that have been made. Although the animated film had previously been released in English, Arakawa’s manga was actually my introduction to The Heroic Legend of Arslan. The first volume feels a bit like a prologue, introducing the characters and setting the stage for the story which will be the series’ real focus. Arslan is the young prince of Pars, mostly ignored by his parents but hoping to be seen as worthy by them. His chance to prove himself comes when the kingdom of Lusitania invades Pars, bringing war and destruction with it. In the first volume alone there have already been several battles and betrayals. Blood and death will not be strangers to Arslan, though it seems he would much prefer to find peaceful solutions to the fighting. So far, I’m enjoying The Heroic Legend of Arslan. It’s shaping up to be a solid fantasy series and the setting, which is influenced by historical Persia, is particularly interesting. I certainly look forward to reading more of the series to see how it develops.

Kokoro Connect, Volume 1 Kokoro Connect, Volume 1 written by Anda Sadanatsu, illustrated by CUTEG. I tend to enjoy series that involve body-swapping of some sort (it often provides clever opportunities for the exploration of personal identity), so I was curious about the Kokoro Connect manga, especially after hearing good things about the anime. In most of the body-swapping series that I’ve been exposed to generally only two people are involved, usually of the opposite gender. Kokoro Connect, however, involves five high school students–two boys and three girls–who one day begin to spontaneously switch places in all sorts of different combinations. This means that there are plenty of comedic possibilities for the series, but for the most part Kokoro Connect seems to be taking a more serious approach, addressing some of the more sobering implications of involuntarily swapping places with another person. The group does seem to be handling the whole situation remarkably well so far, though. There is a half-hearted attempt to begin to explain the whole swapping phenomenon, but it’s not especially compelling at this point.

Rabbit Man, Tiger Man, Volume 2Rabbit Man, Tiger Man, Volume 2 by Akira Honma. It might not be the most believable boys’ love series out there, but I was amused by and rather enjoyed the first volume of Rabbit Man, Tiger Man. While there is still plenty of humor in the second volume of the series, the manga has really started to take a turn for the serious. The yakuza plotline has become more prominent, introducing a significant amount of danger to the story. However, the delightful awkwardness between the series’ two leads still remains. Nonami and Uzuki are complete opposites in personality and demeanor. (They would be the titular tiger and rabbit.) It’s actually rather funny and sweet to see how hard the rough, tough yakuza boss has fallen for the meek, diminutive surgeon. I do think that I probably enjoyed the first volume of Rabbit Man, Tiger Man slightly more than the second, but I definitely want to read the third and final volume. Sadly, there’s no indication that it has or will be licensed. This is particularly frustrating since the second volume ends on one heck of a cliffhanger.