Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 6: To War

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 6: To WarCreator: Yoshikazu Yasuhiko
Original story: Yoshiyuki Tomino and Hajime Yatate

U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781939130204
Released: June 2014
Original release: 2010

While I don’t necessarily consider myself to be a fan of the massive Gundam franchise as a whole, I do think that it’s safe at this point to call myself a fan of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s manga series Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin. This actually doesn’t surprise me too greatly as I already knew that I enjoyed other manga by Yasuhiko. The Origin is a retelling and expansion of the original 1979 anime series Mobile Suit Gundam which Yasuhiko also worked on. Part of The Origin was initially released in English by Viz Media, but the series is now being published by Vertical in a deluxe, hardcover format based on the Japanese collector’s edition of the manga. Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 6: To War was originally published in Japan in 2010 while the English translation was released in 2014. Due to licensing restrictions, the bonus content in this particular volume is fairly limited–only two color pieces by Yasuhiko, one of which is the basis for the cover art. Otherwise, To War easily meets the high standards of quality set by the previous volumes.

After the death of the anti-Federation leader Zeon Zum Deikun the political situation on Side 3 was thrown into turmoil as House Zabi and House Ral maneuvered for dominance. Caught up in the power struggle were Deikun’s two young children–Casval and Artesia–who ultimately were forced to live in exile, hiding who they really were. But now Casval has taken on another identity in order to seek his revenge against House Zabi, enrolling in Zeon Academy’s Space Force Officer Training School as Char. While at the academy he manages to befriend Garma, the youngest scion of House Zabi, the two of them becoming rivals in the classroom as well as out in the field. At the same time, tension continues to mount between Side 3 and the Earth Federation, the cries for independence growing louder and more violent. As the situation becomes more volatile all-out war between the two factions becomes increasingly more likely. House Zabi has already begun developing mobile suits for use in battle; the Federation is steadily falling behind technologically in the arms race which will determine the fate of humanity.

By this point in The Origin it has been well established just how incredibly capable Char is, both physically and mentally. He is extraordinarily calculating and a master manipulator, taking advantage of events as they develop and influencing the people around him, often without them realizing entirely what is happening. Char’s relationship with Garma is one of the main focuses of To War. Although it is already known that it will end very poorly for Garma, it’s interesting to see the complexities of their friendship–if that’s what it can really be called. There are moments in To War when Char seems to exhibit genuine kindness and affection towards Garma, but at the same time he never wavers from his ultimate goal and desire for revenge, aiming for the complete destruction of House Zabi. Perhaps what Char is really showing is arrogance and pity. Either way, the scenes are striking because there are no witnesses to Char’s actions; they serve as examples of the very few incidences in which Char’s behavior has not been carefully and completely crafted and calculated for a very specific purpose.

Though they are certainly an important part of The Origin, the developing relationship between Garma and Char and Char’s personal vendetta and war against House Zabi are actually small pieces of a much larger story. Yasuhiko’s multilayered approach to The Origin–showing how the private struggles of the individual characters dovetail with the more far-reaching events and the unstoppable progress of the war–is one of the things that makes the series so effective. In addition to the continued characterization, Yasuhiko also pays close attention to technological advances and weapons development in The Origin and what those mean for the impending war. To War also includes the first mobile suit battle between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon, a critical turning point in its crusade for independence and domination. The gears of war will continue to turn and the personal and political machinations behind it will continue to advance in the next volume, Battle of Loum, as more is revealed about the characters and their pasts.

What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 3

What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 3Creator: Fumi Yoshinaga
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781939130402
Released: July 2014
Original release: 2009

As a fan of Fumi Yoshinaga’s manga, food, and stories with a queer bent to them, I was extraordinarily happy when her series What Did You Eat Yesterday? was licensed for release in English. The third volume of What Did You Eat Yesterday? was originally published in Japan in 2009 while the English-language edition was released by Vertical in 2014. I have been thoroughly enjoying the series so far and its mix of gay slice-of-life and recipes, so I was very much looking forward to reading the third volume. Personally, I like the series best when Yoshinaga focuses on the characters, but I would be lying if I tried to say that I didn’t also like all of the food found in the manga, too. What Did You Eat Yesterday? is most effective when Yoshinaga is able to combine and balance those two major aspects of the series. The ideal balance isn’t always achieved, but even when it isn’t What Did You Eat Yesterday? always has intriguing characters, delicious food, and just the right touch of humor to accompany it all.

With his father recovering from an illness, Shiro finds himself spending more time with his family than he has in a long while. Though it’s better than when he first came out to them, his parents are still coming to terms with their son’s homosexuality and their relationship can sometimes be a little strained. Granted, some of that uncomfortableness has very little to do with the fact that Shiro is gay and more to do with the fact that the entire family is made up of people with strong personalities. While Shiro is out to his family and close friends, he’s still closeted at work which, along with his incredible self-consciousness, occasionally gets him into trouble. Things are a little easier for him at home in the kitchen where he can relax and focus on what he really loves: cooking gourmet meals on a tightly kept budget. His boyfriend Kenji, who is much more open about his own sexuality, is always an appreciative audience for Shiro’s meals. It’s a good thing, too. The two of them have been living together for a few years now and food usually helps to smooth over some of the bumps in their relationship.

Generally in What Did You Eat Yesterday? the kitchen is Shiro’s domain. Kenji will gladly help out when asked and given direction, acting as a sort of sous-chef, but for the most part it’s all Shiro. However, in the third volume Kenji gets to take the lead for a chapter while Shiro is off visiting his folks for the New Year. He makes instant ramen. (Granted, with a bunch of extra trimmings.) In a delightful twist, it’s treated in the manga as though he’s having an affair. Instant ramen actually happens to be one of my comfort foods, but I’ve only recently begun trying to dress it up a bit. In addition to the food and its preparation being sumptuously drawn, one of the great things about What Did You Eat Yesterday? (at least I think it’s a great thing) is that the recipes included in the stories are detailed enough that they can be followed and produce results. After only three volumes there are already plenty of recipes that I’m interested in attempting from the series. A variation on Kenji’s ramen has been added to that growing list.

Food is certainly an important part of What Did You Eat Yesterday?, but so are the characters and their relationships. Family is a particularly prominent theme in the third volume. Shiro is on fairly good terms with his parents, but very little is actually known about Kenji’s family at this point. It’s unlikely that the two of them will have their own kids which will have implications for them later in life, something that is made all the more clear as Shiro deals with his parents as they age. What Did You Eat Yesterday? has one of the most realistic portrayals of a devoted, long-term gay couple that I’ve encountered in a manga (or comics in general). Honestly, when it comes right down to it, Kenji and Shiro’s relationship isn’t all that dissimilar from the heterosexual couples in the series, though they do face some particular challenges unique to their situation. Like any pair, they have their disagreements and small spats, but they also care about each other a great deal. Shiro in particular isn’t always the most overtly demonstrative with his affection, but often it’s the little things that really make a relationship work.

My Week in Manga: July 14-July 20, 2014

My News and Reviews

Two reviews were posted at Experiments in Manga last week, one of a manga and one not. The first review was part of my Year of Yuri monthly review project. I took a look at Milk Morinaga’s Gakuen Polizi, Volume 1, which is quite different from her other work currently available in English. The first volume at least is less of a romance and more of a buddy cop story, but it’s still fairly entertaining. (She does promise that more of the drama in the second volume will be romance-related and less crime-related, though.)

My second review last week was of Tokyo Demons, Book 2: Add a little Chaos, a novel written by Lianne Sentar with illustrations by Rem. In case it isn’t clear from the review, I absolutely adore Tokyo Demons. It can get pretty dark and heavy, but it’s a fantastic series. The second volume should be available as an ebook later this month and the print edition is currently scheduled for release in October. (Tokyo Demons is one of Chromatic Press and flagship series, so in the meantime it can also be read online at Sparkler Monthly.)

Once again I wasn’t actually online much last week, but I did catch a few things that other people may be interested in: Over at Comics Forum, Martin de la Iglesia writes about Early manga translations in the West. Kate at Reverse Thieves explains How the Library Became My Go-to Place for Manga and Comics. (I posted a bit about finding manga at the library a little while back, too.) And on Twitter, manga scholar and translator Matt Thorn hints that a project with Moto Hagio is in the works. Let’s hope so!

Quick Takes

Honey DarlingHoney Darling by Norikazu Akira. After reading and enjoying Beast & Feast I decided to track down more manga by Akira available in English. This led me to picking up Honey Darling. The manga isn’t the most realistic or believable, but it is cute, delightful, funny, and very sweet. Chihiro is a young man without any real goals in his life until he takes in a stray kitten. When Shiro falls ill, Chihiro ends up working as the live-in housekeeper for Kumazawa, the vet who treats her, and helping out in the animal clinic. Honey Darling has a lot going for it: nice art, a sense of humor, adorable cats and dogs, amusing and ttractive leads, likeable side characters (including women!), and so on. Ultimately Honey Darling is a boys’ love manga, though. As might be expected, Chihiro and Kumazawa become more than just roommates by the time the manga ends, but the development feels more like Akira fulfilling a requirement of the genre rather than being something that was necessarily called for by story itself. Still, I did enjoy Honey Darling a great deal, the two of them made me happy as a couple, and the manga frequently made me smile.

Lone Wolf and Cub, Omnibus 1Lone Wolf and Cub, Omnibuses 1-2 (equivalent to Volumes 1-5) written by Kazuo Koike and illustrated by Goseki Kojima. One of the first manga to be translated into English, Lone Wolf and Cub wasn’t released in its entirety until Dark Horse picked up the license. Sadly, the first Dark Horse edition was tiny and, while extremely portable, was difficult to read because the text was so small and crowded. Additionally, those original twenty-eight volumes have steadily been going out of print. Thankfully, Dark Horse recently started releasing Lone Wolf and Cub in an omnibus format with a larger trim size. Though quite hefty (each omnibus is around 700 pages and collects about two and a half volumes or so), the reading experience is much improved overall. Lone Wolf and Cub is an excellent series, so I’m very glad that the manga will remain in print for a bit longer. The series is fairly episodic, following the titular Lone Wolf and Cub: Ogami Ittō, who once served as the Shogun’s executioner but who has become an assassin-for-hire out of revenge over the destruction of his family, and his young son Diagorō.

Mail, Volume 1Mail, Volumes 1-3 by Housui Yamazaki. Summer is the time for ghost stories in Japan, so I felt it was appropriate to finally get around to reading Mail. I came across this short series thanks to The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service which shares the same illustrator. Reiji Akiba–detective, exorcist, and the protagonist of Mail–actually briefly appears in the fourth volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service as well. One of the things that particularly struck me about Mail is how often the stories incorporated modern technology such as cell phones and computers. It’s as though traditional ghost stories and urban legends have been updated for a contemporary audience. Occasionally Akiba will present a sort of prologue to the individual chapters, giving the stories an almost Twilight Zone feel to them. Mail can be legitimately creepy and at times a bit bloody, but gore is not at all the focus of the series. In general Mail is episodic, although the final volume adds a recurring character who becomes Akiba’s assistant as a sort of homage to Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack.

Stone Collector, Book 2Stone Collector, Book 2 written by Kevin Han and illustrated by Zom-J. I want to like Stone Collector more than I actually do, but at this point I can’t really say that I’ve been enjoying the manhwa much at all. It’s not all bad. The artwork in particular has moments when it can be impressively dynamic. The character’s facial expressions are great. Even the basic premise of the story isn’t terrible. As a whole though, Stone Collector just isn’t working for me. Though it moves along quickly, the plot is thin and the characters are underdeveloped, almost as if it’s an outline or draft than a finished product. The second half of the second volume of Stone Collector of is devoted to a side story, “Land of Ice.” I was more interested in “Land of Ice” than the main story more because of its tundra setting than anything else, but it still frustrated me and had many of the same problems that Stone Collector proper has. November 2013 was the last time there was a Stone Collector update. I’m not sure if there are plans to release more (it may simply be that “more” doesn’t exist yet), but the story clearly hasn’t reached its conclusion yet.

Sengoku Basara: Samurai KingsSengoku Basara: Samurai Kings, Season 2 directed by Kazuya Nomura. While I was entertained by the first season of Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings, I really enjoyed the second season. While there are still fantastically outrageous fights and action sequences, there’s also more focus on the characters and their characterization and on battle strategies and tactics. Personally, I appreciate the added context this gives the series. The characters, who continue to be magnificently and ridiculously overpowered, come across as a bit more human since their pasts and motivations are clearer. Their confrontations carry more emotional weight because of this as well. Miyamoto Musashi makes an appearance in this season, too. I was greatly amused by the fact that he fights with a giant oar. (Legend has it that Musashi once forgot to bring a sword with him to a duel and so carved a bokken out of the oar he used to get there; this why his weapon choice in Samurai Kings is simply perfect.) Samurai Kings is a tremendous amount of fun. Based on a video game that’s nominally based on actual events and historic figures, it’s wonderfully absurd and irreverent.

Tokyo Demons, Book 2: Add a Little Chaos

Tokyo Demons, Book 2: Add a Little ChaosAuthor: Lianne Sentar
Illustrator: Rem

Publisher: Chromatic Press
ISBN: 9780993861109
Released: October 2014

For some very silly reasons, most of which are now unclear to me, initially I was hesitant to read Tokyo Demons, a trilogy of novels written by Lianne Sentar and illustrated by Rem. But after finishing the first volume, You’re Never Alone, I was hooked. I immediately went out and devoured all of the bonus content and side stories that I could find. Honestly, I hadn’t been so excited and captivated by a series in a very long time. Soon after, Tokyo Demons became one of the flagship titles for Chromatic Press. Tokyo Demons, Book 2: Add a Little Chaos was originally serialized online between 2012 and 2014. Later in 2014 it underwent final revisions and was collected into a single volume along with two additional side stories which delve further into the pasts of some of the characters. Despite my obsession with the series, for the most part I was able to restrain myself from reading Add a Little Chaos until the novel was completed. It was a difficult wait, and so I was thrilled when the second book was finished so that I could read it.

Kiyoshi has been rescued and Core’s attack on the Byakko gang at Kiseki was able to be fended off, albeit not without casualties. The survivors who have taken refuge with the Church and sided against Core are still in danger though. Under the influence of Pitch, a powerful and highly addictive drug that he was forced to take, and due to the trauma of his kidnapping, Kiyoshi is no longer the person he once was physically, mentally, or emotionally. In fact, after being caught up in something with even graver implications than the simple drug war it initially seemed to be, everyone has changed. Ayase, Jo, Sachi, and all of their friends and allies are fighting for their lives and none of them are unaffected by the violence surrounding them. They are doing all that they can with the limited information that they have to fight against Core and save the others of their group who are still caught within its grasp. Working with the Church’s resources, members of Byakko, and contacts within the police force, as well as with some unexpected aid from within Core itself, they may have a chance. But everyone has their own agendas and it’s becoming more and more difficult to know who and what can be trusted.

As with many second volumes in a trilogy, the situation the characters find themselves in quickly escalates from bad to worse in Add a Little Chaos. Tokyo Demons has always been fairly hard-hitting, dealing with heavy themes like psychological and physical abuse and violence, but Add a Little Chaos goes to some very dark places. I have come to care about all of the characters in Tokyo Demons immensely, many of whom are broken and damaged people with tragic pasts, horrible presents, and grim futures. They are all so incredibly desperate to be strong and to protect themselves and the ones that they care about the most. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to see them go about it in the wrong ways, even when they’re doing the best that they can and what they believe to be right. Some of them are able to find a few brief moments of comfort with one another that they cling to only to have them ripped away by the chaos enveloping them. With layers upon layers of loyalty and betrayal, each revelation in Tokyo Demons is shocking and gut-wrenching, not only for the characters who have to deal with the immediate consequences, but also for the readers who can do nothing but witness it all happen.

Tokyo Demons is a complex and multilayered series; many of the seemingly independent storylines which were introduced in the first volume are now beginning to crash together in Add a Little Chaos and additional plot developments have been set into motion. Tokyo Demons also features a large and diverse cast of extremely complicated characters. Their even more complicated connections to one another are critical to the story as well. How they deal with their own personal struggles impacts the people around them as well as the larger conflict in which they find themselves. Even considering all of the superhuman elements and psychic abilities involved in Tokyo Demons, what make the series so compelling and engaging are its believably flawed, exceptionally nuanced, and constantly evolving characters and the constantly shifting dynamics of their relationships. From the beginning of the series alone I could tell that the scope of Tokyo Demons was going to be huge. If anything the story only continues to expand with Add a Little Chaos and increase in its intensity. I am still absolutely loving Tokyo Demons and am both looking forward to and dreading its conclusion.

Gakuen Polizi, Volume 1

Gakuen Polizi, Volume 1Creator: Milk Morinaga
U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781626920309
Released: June 2014
Original release: 2013

I greatly enjoyed the first two manga series by Milk Morinaga to be released in English–Girl Friends and Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink–and so was happy to see Seven Seas license one of her most recent series: Gakuen Polizi. The first volume of Gakuen Polizi was originally published in Japan in 2013 while Seven Seas’ edition was published in 2014. Currently, Morinaga is likely the best-represented yuri creator in English in that she now has the most titles available in translation. Granted, considering how few yuri manga have been released, especially when compared to other genres, that really isn’t too difficult. Still, her work has generally been well-received. Gakuen Polizi is a bit different from Morinaga’s other manga in English. She describes it as a “high school police drama” which is more or less accurate. The series has more of a buddy cop feel to it than it does romance or drama and is inherently more comedic as well.

Ever since she was young, Sasami Aoba has wanted to be a champion of justice, dreaming of crushing evil and helping the weak, and now she finally has her chance as an assistant police officer. Specifically, Sasami has been assigned to Hanagaki Girls’ High School as one of its polizi–a young undercover cop sent to investigate issues at problem schools. The only thing is Hanagaki doesn’t actually seem to have any problems. There’s no bullying, the students and staff are all very pleasant, and even the school’s newspaper has difficulty finding juicy material to report on. Hanagaki is actually the second assignment for Sasami’s partner Sakuraba Midori. Before Sasami’s arrival, and because the school is so peaceful, Sakuraba has had plenty of time on her hands, quite a bit of which she would spend distracting herself by drawing yaoi manga. But now with the less-experienced and overly eager Sasami constantly on the verge of blowing their cover as polizi, Sakuraba has more than enough to worry about.

Gakuen Polizi is kind of a strange mashup of genres. Since nothing much happens in the way of crime at Hanagaki, there’s not much for Sasami and Sakuraba to be doing in regards to police work. The series is generally lighthearted and often silly, especially towards its beginning. At first the cases at the school are fairly inconsequential–a dog with a penchant for stealing things, small squabbles between classmates, and so on. The second half takes a more serious turn, dealing with gropers and stalkers, but even then the humor in Gakuen Polizi is a prominent feature. Most of the comedy revolves around Sasami. She is very enthusiastic and passionate, but somewhat lacking in common sense. Sakuraba, in stark contrast, is more serious and reserved. According to the afterword, readers should expect more romance-related drama to come in the series, but there is very little of that to be seen in the first volume of Gakuen Polizi, though a chemistry between Sasami and Sakuraba has begun to develop.

It is fairly obvious that Morinaga is personally having a lot of fun with Gakuen Polizi. I found the first volume to be entertaining, but readers approaching the manga hoping for a series similar to Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink or Girl Friends will most likely be disappointed. Though Gakuen Polizi has the potential for some drama and romance, so far the series tends towards the absurd and ridiculous. Morinaga’s artwork and character designs are cute, with particularly dynamic facial expressions that add to the series’ silliness. While I like the characters in Gakuen Polizi, I’m not attached to them in the same way that I was to the characters in Morinaga’s other manga. I do find Sasami, Sakuraba, and their friends to be amusing though. Gakuen Polizi isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. The emphasis is definitely more on the series’ comedy than it is on its believability. Overall, Gakuen Poilizi, Volume 1 was largely an enjoyable, fluffy read. Although I may not be desperate for more, I do look forward to reading the next volume.