My Week in Manga: July 27-August 2, 2015

My News and Reviews

The Sparkler Monthly Year 3 Kickstarter campaign ends tonight, so this is one of my last opportunities to give it a shout-out! I actually spent a lot of last week trying to draw attention to the project and the spectacular work being done by the staff and creators of Sparkler Monthly. For example, my most recent giveaway, which is currently underway, is for the second book in Tokyo Demons (one of my favorite series ever, not just one of my favorite Sparkler series) as well as one additional Sparkler goody of the winner’s choice. And for my final in-depth review for the month of July, I featured Heldrad’s delightful Orange Junk, Volume 1, a romantic comedy strongly influenced by shoujo manga. I also posted July’s Bookshelf Overload over the weekend, which I also managed to briefly tie into Sparkler Monthly.

In publishing news, Bruno Gmünder is adding two more volumes of gay manga to its catalog for the 2015 Fall/Winter season—Takeshi Matsu’s Dr. Makumakuran and Other Stories and Gengoroh Tagame’s The Contracts of the Fall—and Breakdown Press will be releasing Ding Dong Circus and Other Stories, 1967-1974 by alt-mangaka Sasaki Maki. Ryan Holmberg, the collection’s translator and editor, recently wrote about Sasaki Maki for The Comics Journal. Also of note, Kodansha has plans to expand its digital distribution. There were also a couple of interesting interviews posted last week: over at Anime News Network Deb Aoki talked with mangaka Miki Yoshikawa in addition to one of Yoshikawa’s editors, and Organization Anti-Social Geniuses spoke with Marlene First, one of the manga editors at Viz.

Quick Takes

Akame ga Kill!, Volume 1Akame ga Kill!, Volume 1 written by Takahiro and illustrated by Tetsuya Tashiro. It seems as though every dark fantasy manga that has been released in English recently has a similar plot—the current ruling government and upper classes of society are staggeringly corrupt and a small group of exceptionally skilled fighters are battling against them. In many of the stories, the twist is that the “bad guys” are really the “good guys,” though it’s not much of a twist anymore since it’s becoming increasingly common. In Akame ga Kill!, that group is a team of assassins who target high-profile nobles and government officials. It’s a decent premise, but I’m not entirely convinced by Akame ga Kill!. Plot developments seem to occur more out of convenience than anything else, and despite delving into their various backstories the characters don’t yet have much depth to them. Takahiro mentions in the postscript that he finds Tashiro’s action scenes particularly eye-catching. I’m not familiar with Tashiro’s other manga, but when comes to Akame ga Kill! I was actually a little disappointed with the fight sequences. Battles happen so quickly that it appears as though nothing happens at all, and on occasion the action is skipped over completely. This conveys impressive speed, but I’d like to actually see the fights.

Let's Dance a Waltz, Volume 2Let’s Dance a Waltz, Volume 2 by Natsumi Ando. If it wasn’t for the series’ unfortunate focus on Himé’s weight loss, I would be really enjoying Let’s Dance a Waltz. The first volume ends with her losing more than forty pounds after two weeks of intensive dance study. I would be willing to begrudgingly move on from this, except that the second volume never lets the reader forget about it. The manga seems to constantly emphasize that someone has to be slim to be of worth. It really is a shame, because I like so many of the other elements of Let’s Dance a Waltz. I love the dancing in the series and Himé’s developing passion for it as a sport. The second volume includes her first contest, which is partly an effort to compel Tango to compete once again. And I love the delicious melodrama surrounding the competitors and the dynamics of their tangled personal relationships. Yūsei cares tremendously for his dance partner Sumiré, but she seems to have feelings for Tango. They both want to see Tango return dance, but that also means that he will become their opponent in the ballroom. Himé is in love with Tango, too, which introduces tension into her friendships with all three of them. There’s so much to like about Let’s Dance a Waltz, but the handling of the weight issues in the series honestly bothers me.

Bookshelf Overload: July 2015

Well, it didn’t take me very long at all to get back into the habit of bringing a ridiculous number of books into the house. On top of that, I think I’ve discovered a new addiction: artbooks. I picked up two in July—A Sky Longing for Memories: The Art of Makoto Shinkai (which I reviewed not too long ago) and Yuki Urushibara’s Mushishi artbook (which was recently published in Japan)—and I have an increasingly lengthy list of others that I’m eying. Matthew Meyer’s new yokai guide/artbook The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits: An Encyclopedia of Mononoke and Magic is now available, which I’m very excited about. (His earlier book The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons was great.) July also saw me finally get my hands on the fifth and final volume of The Summit of the Gods by Baku Yumemakura and Jiro Taniguchi which I’ve been looking forward to a great deal. Another release that I was happy to see in July was the most recent paperback from Chromatic Press/Sparkler Monthly: Heldrad’s delightful Orange Junk, Volume 1, which I made a point to review. And since I just happened to mention Sparkler Monthly, I’d of course like to take a moment to give a shout-out to the Sparkler Monthly: Year 3 Kickstarter as it enters its final day!

Manga!
Aquarion Evol, Volume 3 written by Shoji Kawamori, illustrated by Aogiri.
Black Rose Alice, Volume 5 by Setona Mizushiro
The Color Of Love by Kiyo Ueda
Cross Game, Omnibuses 2-8 by Mitsuri Adachi
The Demon Prince of Momochi House, Volume 1 by Aya Shouoto
Fairy Tail, Volume 49 by Hiro Mashima
Let’s Dance a Waltz, Volume 2 by Natsumi Ando
A Liar in Love by Kiyo Ueda
Love Stage!!, Volume 2 by Eiki Eiki
Ludwig B, Volumes 1-2 by Osamu Tezuka
Maid-sama!, Omnibus 1 by Hiro Fujiwara
Maria the Virgin Witch, Volume 3 by Ishikawa Masayuki
My Little Monster, Volume 9 by Robico
My Love Story!!, Volume 5 written by Kazune Kawahara, illustrated by Aruko
Ninja Slayer Kills, Volume 1 by Kotaro Sekine
Noragami: Stray God, Volume 5 by Adachitoka
Say I Love You, Volume 8 by Kanae Hazuki
A Silent Voice, Volume 2 by Yoshitoki Oima
The Summit of the Gods, Volume 5 written by Baku Yumemakura Baku, illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi
Sunny, Volume 5 by Taiyo Matsumoto
Terra Formars, 7 written by Yu Sasuga, illustrated by Ken-ichi Tachibana
UQ Holder, Volume 5 by Ken Akamatsu
What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 9 by Fumi Yoshinaga
xxxHolic, Omnibus 6 by CLAMP
Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, Volume 3 by Miki Yoshikawa
Your Lie in April, Volume 2 by Naoshi Arakawa

Manhwa!
Behind Story, Volume 1 by Narae Ahn
Core Scramble, Volume 1 by Euho Jun
Give to the Heart, Volume 4 by Wann

Comics!
Adventures of a Japanese Businessman by José Domingo
Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann, Kerascoët
Corto Maltese: Beyond The Windy Isles by Hugo Pratt
The Divine by Asaf Hanuka, Tomer Hanuka, and Boaz Lavie
Fantasy Sports, Volume 1 by Sam Bosma
High Crimes written by Christopher Sebela, illustrated by Ibrahim Moustafa
The Hourglass written by Itoshi, illustrated by Aldaria
Lost in the Snow, Volume 1 by Velvet Toucher
Orange Junk, Volume 1 by Heldrad
SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki

Artbooks!
Mushishi Artbook by Yuki Urushibara
A Sky Longing for Memories: The Art of Makoto Shinkai

Novels!
The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji

Anthologies!
The Book of Tokyo: A City in Short Fiction edited by Michael Emmerich, Jim Hinks, Masashi Matsuie
Folk Legends from Tono: Japan’s Spirits, Deities, and Phantastic Creatures edited by Ronald A. Morse
Monkey Business International, Volume 5 edited by Motoyuki Shibata and Ted Goossen

Nonfiction!
The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits: An Encyclopedia of Mononoke and Magic by Matthew Meyer
The Science of Attack on Titan by Rikao Yanagita

Anime!
Children Who Chase Lost Voices directed by Makoto Shinkai

Video Games!
Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom

Orange Junk, Volume 1

Orange Junk, Volume 1Creator: Heldrad
Publisher: Chromatic Press
ISBN: 9781987988031
Released: July 2015

Orange Junk, created by Mexican artist (and architecture student) Heldrad, is an ongoing comic series strongly influenced by shoujo manga. The series had its beginnings back in 2010 and eventually became one of the most well-loved comics hosted online at Inkblazers (previously known as Manga Magazine). Sadly, Inkblazers closed in early 2015. Happily, Orange Junk was quickly picked up by the publisher Chromatic Press to be featured in its online multimedia magazine Sparkler Monthly. And now, less than a year later, the first volume of Orange Junk has been collected and released both digitally and in print. While I was vaguely aware of Orange Junk before its debut in Sparkler Monthly, I didn’t have any extensive knowledge about its plot or characters. (Really, I recognized it more by name than anything else.) However, the release of the collection of the first four chapters and additional bonus content provided the perfect opportunity to be introduced to the unabashed shoujo delight that is Orange Junk.

Louise Barton is the oldest child of a family that at one point was very wealthy. She lived in comfort, had plenty of time and opportunity to pursue her hobbies, and was generally happy and content with her lot in life. But then her father’s company went bankrupt and her family is now struggling to pay back the debt and make ends meet. Louise, her younger brother, and both of their parents are still adjusting to their new circumstances. One of the greatest challenges for Louise is that she must attend a public school for the first time. Starting over as a transfer student, she has no friends and an unfortunate lack of academic aptitude. Not to mention that she’s also already managed to get on the bad side of Bruce Daniels, a classmate notorious for his temper and getting into fights. But not everything is bad in the eleventh grade. Andrew Grey, another transfer student and one of the cutest guys in the school, is in her class, too. And when the three of them get thrown together, things take an unexpected turn or two.

Orange Junk, Volume 1, page 34Out of all of the stories that have so far appeared in Sparkler Monthly, Orange Junk is the one that is probably the most stereotypically “shoujo,” except that in most cases Heldrad has deliberately taken frequently found tropes and stereotypes and given them a bit of twist. This is especially apparent in the characterizations of the series’ lead trio. Bruce is athletic and constantly getting into fights, but he’s also the smartest student in class. Drew may have the looks that make many of the girls swoon, but he’s also a complete airhead (with occasional moments of wisdom) and an otaku to boot. Almost everyone assumes that Louise has great connections and great grades, but her social life is lacking and she’s absolutely terrible at math. Even the underlying drama of the comic—Louise’s family losing their wealth and status—seems to be less commonly seen than a downtrodden heroine suddenly coming into a fortune of some sort. Orange Junk isn’t necessarily a shoujo manga parody, but it does approach being one at times. Either way though, the comic is very funny.

In the author’s notes, Heldrad explains why the series is named Orange Junk. “Orange” because it conveys a sense of energy and “junk” because the comic is akin to junk food. It’s a title that actually fits the series quite well. Orange Junk is fantastically energetic and the chemistry between its characters is great. Louise and Bruce’s interactions are particularly entertaining to watch. They both have strong personalities that frequently clash with each other—Louise is one of the few people who can actually stand up to Bruce—but they begin to establish an awkward sort of friendship over the course of the comic that is absolutely adorable. Ultimately, Orange Junk is a romantic comedy that’s not to be taken too seriously. Although many of the relationships evolve naturally, the comic has its fair share of silliness and melodrama, and there are plenty of developments that inspire incredulity. But that’s really all part of Orange Junk‘s charm. If the first volume is any indication, the rest of the series should be a tremendous amount of fun.

Giveaway: Sparkler Monthly Giveaway

The end of July quickly approaches, as does the end of the Sparkler Monthly: Year 3 Kickstarter. The campaign hasn’t quite reached its goal yet, but I desperately want it to succeed. With that in mind, hoping to draw more attention to the project, this month’s giveaway will be a little different than usual. I happen to have an extra copy of Tokyo Demons, Book 2 to give away, but that’s not all I’m offering. The winner of the contest will also be able to choose one item (physical/print or digital) from the Sparkler Online Shop! (Yes, a Year+ gift subscription to the magazine, which also includes a free ebook, is a completely valid option.) As always, the giveaway is open worldwide!

Tokyo Demons, Book 2: Add a Little Chaos

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Sparkler Monthly and Chromatic Press. I’m fairly obsessed with Tokyo Demons and I adore Off*Beat, and so when those two series became the flagship titles for the newly established publisher in 2013, I knew it was time to pay attention. It was the right decision. I honestly haven’t been disappointed by a single thing that I’ve read (or listened to) that has been released in Sparkler Monthly. (Just take a look at the Chromatic Press tag for my in-depth reviews and features of a small selection of the content.) Sparkler Monthly is a multimedia magazine that includes prose, comics, and audio, and I devour it all. I love the range of formats and genres, the diverse stories and characters; the variety found in Sparkler Monthly is one of its greatest strengths, and more is constantly being added.

The work the creators and staff are doing through Sparkler Monthly is phenomenal. It would be tragic if they can’t garner the support to continue. So please, if you haven’t already, give the fantastic stories of Sparkler Monthly a try. Almost everything is available online for free, so there’s no excuse! And if you like what you see and/or hear, please consider donating to the Kickstarter campaign, too.

So, you may be wondering, how can you win a copy of Tokyo Demons, Book 2 AND one other Sparkler goody of your choice?

1) In the comments below, name one of your favorite Sparkler Monthly stories and write a little about why you like it. (Never experienced Sparkler? Now’s the time to check it out!)
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).

That’s all there is to it! Each person can earn up to two entries for this giveaway and has one week to submit comments. Entries can also be sent to me via email at phoenixterran(at)gmail(dot)com if you have trouble with the comment form or if you would prefer. I will then post the comments here in your name. The giveaway winner will be randomly selected and announced on August 5, 2015. Good luck and happy reading!

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: July 20-July 26, 2015

My News and Reviews

I posted one in-depth manga review last week, Sengoku Basara: Samurai Legends, Omnibus 2 by Yak Haibara. It’s the final omnibus in the series, collecting the third and fourth volume of Haibara’s Sengoku Basara 2 manga adaptation. I get a huge kick out of Sengoku Basara. It’s incredibly over-the-top but actually does manage to incorporate some legitimate history. Samurai Legends stands fairly well on its own, too, so no previous knowledge of the franchise is necessary. The other post last week (other than the usual My Week in Manga feature, of course) was something a little different: I was tagged in a game of manga tag, so I had an excuse to talk a bit about my collection. It was fun, so I hope others found it interesting.

Otakon was last week and there were some pretty great licenses announced. Viz Media picked up Inio Asano’s Goodnight Pun Pun as well as Takeshi Obata’s artbook Blanc et Noir and Keiko Ishihara’s The Heiress and the Chauffeur. Vertical will be releasing Riichi Ueshiba’s Mysterious Girlfriend X, Ryo Hanada’s Devil’s Line, and Kaori Ozaki’s The Gods Lie. (Ozaki is also the creator of Immortal Rain, which I love, so I’m especially excited for this one.) Kodansha Comics has plans to publish Yui Sakum’s Complex Age, Nao Emoto’s Forget Me Not, and most notably Leiji Matsumoto’s classic manga Queen Emeraldas! Also of note, Sekai Project, which primarily releases visual novels, has a new manga publishing initiative, starting with Satoru Sao, Takumi Yanai, and Daisuke Izuka’s GATE.

Elswhere online, Viz posted an interview with Canadian comics creator Faith Erin Hicks talking about many things, including her love of manga. (Also, her comics are great and well-worth checking out.) Organization Anti-Social Geniuses interviewed Kurt Hassler from Yen Press’ at Anime Expo. (All those manga recently licensed for digital release? There is a possibility we’ll be seeing them in print!) Graham Kolbeins of MASSIVE posted an impassioned but thoughtful explanation of how online piracy negatively impacts creators of gay manga. Deb Aoki has posted the audio and transcript of the gay manga panel from TCAF earlier this year. (It’s was a great panel that I only touched upon briefly in my TCAF roundup, so I’m glad it’s now available for anyone to read/listen to!) Finally, I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to an excellent post by Christopher Butcher about “othering” in the comics industry: Shifts and Living History

Quick Takes

Incredible KintaroThe Incredible Kintaro by Naomi Guren. In Japanese folktales, Kintaro is a young boy with incredible strength who, among other things, runs around in the mountains with his trusty axe wearing nothing but a bib and wrestling bears. Those legends partly inspire The Inncredible Kinato, except that the youth is now a virile bishōnen. He does still spend a lot of time with very little clothing on and his junk hanging out, though. Currently, Kintaro is working as a janitor in order to protect his childhood love and friend Makoto. After his grandfather dies, Makoto is serving as the acting principal at the private high school where he is also a student, becoming a target of all the other men who would like to take control of the institute. And since the school’s motto is “Heart, Lust, Body,” that means it’s his virginity that’s at stake. The Incredible Kintaro is an intentionally ludicrous boys’ love manga. Makoto finds himself in all sorts of dubious situations, the teachers coming up with some rather creative scenarios to win his body if not his heart. The characters are shallow, so The Incredible Kintaro must rely on its bizarre premise and sense of humor to carry the story. Readers will need a high tolerance for the absurd to really enjoy the volume.

Johnny Wander, Volume 1Johnny Wander, Volume 1-3 written by Ananth Panagariya and illustrated by Yuko Ota. I was first introduced to the online comic Johnny Wander through several of the strips devoted to the cats in the character’s lives. They were hilarious and I was hooked. Johnny Wander isn’t always about cats, though. Actually, it really isn’t about anything. Johnny Wander is a sequence of short, one-page, autobiographically-inspired comics. Although there are recurring characters, scenarios, and even the occasional running joke, most of the individual comics stand completely on their own merits. They’re brief glimpses into somewhat nerdy, after-college, daily life and they’re very funny. The cast consists of family, friends, and roommates (and cats). The setting is made up of the various cities and apartments (some of which are kind of sketchy even if they’re fondly remembered) in which they’ve lived. It’s incredibly ordinary and wonderful at the same time. Johnny Wander is entertaining, delightful, and charming, made up of the types of stories and jokes that people who know each other well will reminisce about, and tell and retell over the years. I really do love this series, and it just recently began updating again!

Noragami: Stray God, Volume 5Noragami: Stray God, Volume 5 by Adachitoka. Although it hasn’t completely disappeared, at times I miss the quirky humor that was fairly prevalent in the early volumes of Noragami. But I must say, the drama in recent installments has been increasingly intense and engaging. The fifth volume in particular is an especially excellent addition to the series, and it ends on one heck of a cliffhanger. Although not everything has yet been revealed, the fifth volume delves into the unfortunate history between Yato and Bishamonten, which turns out to be much more complicated than many realize. Importantly, with Bishamonten finding it difficult to control her numerous shinki, it seems as though the two of them are now facing a very similar situation. It didn’t end well the first time, which ignited their current feud and Bishamonten’s desire for vengeance, and it looks like they are now on the brink of another tragedy. Kugaha is manipulating the entire situation, successfully igniting a confrontation between Yato and Bishamonten in the hopes that she will die in the process. The intrigue in Noragami has reached new heights and the battles between gods has become even more perilous; I need to know what happens next.