Manga Giveaway: Seven Seas Sampler

The end of the month draws near, so it’s once again time for another manga giveaway at Experiments in Manga! As is tradition, November’s giveaway features multiple volumes. This month you will all have a chance to win a sampling of some of Seven Sea’s manga releases, both old and new: A Centaur’s Life, Volume 1 by Kei Murayama; Dictatorial Grimoire, Volume 1: Cinderella by Ayumi Kanou; Gakuen Polizi, Volume 1 by Milk Morinaga; and Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl, Omnibus 1 written by Satoru Akahori and illustrated by Yukimaru Katsura. And as always, the giveaway is open worldwide!

A Centaur's Life, Volume 1Dictatorial Grimoire, Volume 1: CinderellaGakuen Polizi, Volume 1Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl, Omnibus 1

It used to be that I didn’t pay much attention to Seven Seas. It had a smallish catalog and I wasn’t particularly interested in most of the series it was publishing at the time. But with the success of Monster Musume and the various Alice series, Seven Seas has really taken off in recent years. And increased sales mean even more manga licenses. Seven Seas has been making a particular point to diversify its offerings lately. It has helped revive interest in yuri manga in English. A range of genres are being released, including slice-of-life, comedy, fantasy, horror, mystery, and science fiction among others. There are otome manga as well as quirky shounen series.  Ecchi and fanservice manga features heavily, but there are more wholesome titles, too. Seven Seas really is trying to have a little something of everything and a little something for everyone. I might not personally be interested in every license the publisher picks up, but I do like seeing the variety of works. You’ve caught my attention, Seven Seas. Now show me what you can do.

So, you may be wondering, how can you win a Seven Seas Sampler?

1) In the comments below, tell me a little about your favorite manga released or licensed by Seven Seas if you have one. (If you don’t have a favorite or haven’t read any of Seven Seas manga, just mention that.)
2) If you’re on Twitter, you can earn a bonus entry by tweeting, or retweeting, about the contest. Make sure to include a link to this post and @PhoenixTerran (that’s me).

It’s as easy as that. Each person can earn up to two entries for this giveaway. As usual, participants will have one week to submit comments. Entries can also be sent via e-mail to phoenixterran(at)gmail(dot)com which I will then post in your name. The giveaway winner will be randomly selected and announced on December 3, 2014. Happy feasting!

VERY IMPORTANT: Include some way that I can contact you. This can be an e-mail address in the comment form, 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: November 17-November 23, 2014

My News and Reviews

Two reviews were posted last week at Experiments in Manga, and a little something else as well! The first review was for the second part of Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, the third volume in Kouhei Kadono’s Boogiepop light novel series. Boogiepop is a rather peculiar series, but I’ve really been enjoying it. And speaking of series that I enjoy, I also reviewed the fifth omnibus of Vinland Saga by Makoto Yukimura. Vinland Saga is an epic work of historical fiction, and one of my favorite manga series currently being released in English. And, as promised, last week I also posted a poll so that readers of Experiments in Manga can help pick my next monthly manga review project. I’ve narrowed the choices down to five horror manga options, and now it’s up to you to vote. The poll will be open through the end of November.

A few things of note that I encountered online last week: It was brought to my attention that Akino Kondoh’s collection Nothing Whatsoever All Out in the Open is now available to order. Publishers Weekly has a great list of 12 Awesome Comics about Outer Space compiled by Matt White which includes Makoto Yukimura’s Planetes, Chūya Koyama’s Space Brothers, and Yukinobu Hoshino’s 2001 Nights, which are all excellent choices. Finally, Johanna Draper Carlson has a nice recap of the recent Digtial Manga Tezuka Kickstarter debacle/failure over at Manga Worth Reading.

Quick Takes

Angel Sanctuary, Volume 6Angel Sanctuary, Volumes 6-10 by Kaori Yuki. Halfway through the series, and I still find Angel Sanctuary a bit frustrating and confusing. It’s difficult to follow because there is so much going and and there are so many characters, with even more being introduced in these volumes Angel Sanctuary is incredibly ambitious, but I’m afraid that Yuki has bitten off too much to chew; the series would be stronger with a little more focus. Even though it seems like Yuki is making things up as she goes along, her author’s notes would seem to indicate that she actually does have a plan and even the major plot twists were developed well in advance. To the reader, though, it feels like they come out of nowhere. If anything, it should be very clear by this point in the series that you really can’t trust any of the characters. They all have their own ambitions and motivations, so it’s almost impossible for any of them to be considered allies for a long period of time. I can’t deny that Angel Sanctuary is extraordinarily dramatic, and a string of betrayals continues to up the stakes. And even though the story is all over the place, I do still really enjoy Yuki’s gothic artwork.

Barakamon, Volume 1Barakamon, Volume 1 by Satsuki Yoshino. Seishuu Handa is a young, award-winning calligrapher who, after handling a critique of his work quite poorly, has been encouraged by his father to at least temporarily retire to the remote Gotō Island. Thus begins Barakamon, a fairly low-key comedy that’s part slice of life and part gag manga. Much of the humor either revolves around Seishuu, a city boy, being so out-of-place in the countryside, or Naru, a young, energetic troublemaker who’s grown rather attached to “Sensei.” Though generally amusing, Barakamon is never quite as funny as I actually want it to be. I’ll admit though, since I grew up in a rural village myself, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit satisfied when Seishuu gets shown up by the island’s residents, especially because he thinks so little of them to begin with. I can appreciate Seishuu’s struggles as an artist, too, though I can’t say that I like him very much as a person, yet. But, I suspect that’s what Barakamon is in part about–Seishuu becoming a better person after some much-needed self-reflection. While no means exceptional in art or story, I did largely enjoy the first volume of Barakamon and plan on continuing the series for a least another few volumes.

Smut Peddler 2014Smut Peddler 2014 by Various. After being revived in 2012, Smut Peddler is back again in 2014 with a second collection of short, erotic comics. Some of the contributors are new to Smut Peddler while others are returning to the series. Smut Peddler 2014 includes twenty-five comics from thirty-two artists and writers. Although some of the individual comics are phenomenal, overall I think the first collection is the stronger of the two. Even so, Smut Peddler remains one of the best series for diverse, sex-positive, lady-friendly, queer-friendly, kink-friendly erotic comics. There’s straight sex, and queer sex. There’s modest sex and flamboyant sex. Sweet sex and spicy sex. Sex with humor and sex with solemnity. And there’s everything in between, too. With the inclusion of a few science fiction and fantasy tales, there’s also alien and inter-species sex, which is always fun. I was particularly pleased to see how many transgender and/or nonbinary narratives were included in the 2014 edition of Smut Peddler. The sheer variety of genres, styles, characters, and stories found in Smut Peddler is one of the highlights of the series. The fact that the creators are just as diverse as their comics makes it even better.

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.