My Week in Manga: August 25-August 31, 2014

My News and Reviews

The most recent manga giveaway at Experiments in Manga is currently underway, and there is still time to enter for an opportunity to win Nana, Volume 1 by Ai Yazawa. All you have to do is tell me whether or not you’ve ever given a manga a second chance and what your experience was. I also posted two reviews last week. The first was for the third and final volume of Off*Beat by Jen Lee Quick, which I was very happy with. Nearly ten years after the series first began, fans finally have a chance to read its conclusion thanks to the efforts of Chromatic Press. The second review last week was for Keigo Higashino’s most recently translated mystery novel, Malice. I enjoy Higashino’s work tremendously and was not at all disappointed with Malice. The novel will be released in October and is recommended for readers who enjoy smart, clever mysteries. Although it was from a couple of weeks ago, my Spotlight on Masaichi Mukaide has been making the rounds and gaining some attention. I worked pretty hard on it, so I’m extremely pleased that people are finding the post interesting.

Elsewhere online, Organization of Anti-Social Geniuses has an interview with Vertical’s Ed Chavez, discussing the success of Knights of Sidonia. And speaking of Vertical, the Fall 2014′s reader survey and license request form has been launched. Comics Alliance has an interesting interview with Felipe Smith (whose series Peepo Choo was published by Vertical). Yen Press announced some new light novel and manga licenses. And for your enjoyment, one of Kate Beaton’s recent Hark! A Vagrant comics focuses on Natsume Sōseki’s classic novel Kokoro. (I actually really like Kokoro and reviewed it a few years ago.)

Quick Takes

Noragami: Stray God, Volume 1Noragami: Stray God, Volume 1 by Adachitoka. Yato is a god of war that everyone has forgotten, or maybe never even knew about to being with. He has no temples or shrines, no followers or worshipers, but he’s determined to change all of that. Unfortunately, his personality leaves a bit to be desired and even his servants don’t like him; he’s had to resort to doing odd jobs and spreading his name (and number) by graffitiing the walls of bathroom stalls and alleyways. The beginning of Noragami: Stray God is somewhat uneven in tone, but by the end of the first volume it seems to have found a nice balance between the manga’s humor and the more serious aspects of the story. The introduction of the series’ other lead character–Hiyori, a human girl who has a little trouble with her spirit leaving her body after a near-death experience–helps to achieve this balance. She also happens to be a fan of professional wrestling, which actually comes into play in the story instead of just being a character quirk. I quite enjoyed the first volume of Noragami, finding it to be amusing and even a bit charming, and look forward to reading more of the series.

Shattered: The Asian American Comics AnthologyShattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology edited by Jeff Yang, Parry Shen, Keith Chow, and Jerry Ma. The followup anthology to Secret Identities, Shattered collects forty-three short comics and pin-ups from seventy-five contributors. Whereas Secret Identities focused on superhero stories, Shattered also includes other genres of comics–fantasy, science fiction, martial arts, historical, contemporary fiction, and so on. The volume is intended to address and subvert five stereotypical representations of Asians and Asian-Americans in media: The Brute, The Temptress, The Brain, The Alien, and The Manipulator. Although there are some absolute gems in the collection–personal favorites include Tak Toyoshima’s “Occupy Ethnic Foods” and the precursor to Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew’s graphic novel The Shadow Hero–for me Shattered works better in concept than in execution. Many of the comics are either incomplete or feel as though they are pitches for a longer series instead of being finished works in their own right, making for a rather unsatisfying reading experience. However, I did appreciate the wide variety of comics and creators included in the volume.

Shinobu Kokoro: Hidden HeartShinobu Kokoro: Hidden Heart by Temari Matsumoto. Way back when, Shinobu Kokoro: Hidden Heart was one of the first boys’ love manga that I ever read. Had it been my only exposure to the genre, I might have given up on boys’ love because I didn’t enjoy Shinobu Kokoro much at all. And honestly I still don’t, despite there being a few elements that I like. Actually, it might be some of those elements that hinder my enjoyment of the manga. Two of the three couples in Shinobu Kokoro are ninja. When handled well, I generally like ninja. Sadly, they’re not handled particularly well in Shinobu Kokoro, or at least not believably. Subaru is so incredibly naive, I’m not sure how he’s managed to survive. Also because of this, the unbalanced power dynamics in his relationship with the head ninja come across as disconcerting rather than romantic. And it’s surprising that the ninja clan has continued to exist at all since Hiiragi and Asagi find it appropriate to take time to have sex while in the middle of an escape from a difficult mission. The third set of stories is about snow spirits, but I’ve since read better snow spirit stories, too. There is some nice artwork here and there, but overall I wasn’t especially impressed by Shinobu Kokoro.

Malice

MaliceAuthor: Keigo Higashino
Translator: Alexander O. Smith and Elye Alexander
U.S. publisher: St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 9781250035608
Released: October 2014
Original release: 1996

Ever since reading The Devotion of Suspect X I have steadily been devouring Keigo Higashino’s other novels available in English. I really enjoy his style of clever and unusual mysteries. I was thrilled to learn that Malice would be the next of his works to be translated. Technically, Malice is the fourth novel in Higashino’s series of books featuring Detective Kyoichiro Kaga. However, in English, it is the first volume of that particular series to be released. (Before Malice only select Detective Galileo novels and Himitsu, published in English as Naoko, had been translated.) But, as with many mystery series, it is not necessary to have read every volume in order to make sense of each installment; Malice holds up very well as its own work. Malice was originally published in Japan in 1996 while the English translation by Alexander O. Smith and Elye Alexander was released by the Minotaur Books imprint of St. Martin’s Press In 2014. When offered an early copy of the novel for review, I leapt at the chance to read it.

Kunihiko Hidaka is a best-selling, award-winning novelist who, soon before he moves from Japan to Canada, is murdered in his home. His body is found in his office behind a door locked from the inside. The house, too, is locked. Only three people are known to have seen Hidaka before his death: Rie Hidaka, his second wife; Osamu Nonoguchi, his friend and fellow author; and Miyako Fujio, the sister of a man who was vilified in one of Hidaka’s novels. All three have alibis and their motives, if they even exist, are unclear at best. Kyoichiro Kaga is one of the police detectives assigned to the investigation of Hidaka’s murder. It just so happens that he knows Nonoguchi. The two men used to be teachers at the same middle school before Kaga left to join the police force and Nonoguchi left to write full-time. Kaga’s intuition and his previous acquaintance with Nonoguchi correctly leads him to believe that something isn’t quite right with the other man’s story. Digging deeper he discovers that Nonoguchi and Hidaka’s relationship was much more complicated than it first appeared.

Higashino takes a different approach in each work, but much like the two Detective Galileo novels in English–The Devotion of Suspect X and Salvation of a Saintwho the murderer is in Malice becomes quite clear early on in the work. It doesn’t take very long at all for Nonoguchi to confess. The real mystery is the reason behind Hidaka’s murder and Nonoguchi’s motives. The confession is really all that the police department needs to close the case, but human curiosity demands to know the reasons why. To some extent, Nonoguchi is counting on this; he needs Kaga to investigate. Nonoguchi leads and misleads the detectives in order to create the narrative that he wants the world to believe about Hidaka and his murder. Malice is extraordinarily clever. Nonoguchi’s novelist mindset enables him to manipulate others in ways that are unexpected and yet completely reasonable. As an author he is quite skilled in creating fictions that people are willing to believe and knows how to play into their expectations.

As a whole, Malice is an extremely engaging mystery, but one of the most interesting and intriguing things about the novel is its structure. I’ve never come across something quite like it before. Some of the chapters are told by Nonoguchi, essentially forming a novel within a novel, while other chapters are devoted to Kaga’s notes on his investigation as well as the interviews he conducts as a part of it. Nonoguchi is an inherently unreliable narrator, freely mixing select facts into the fiction of his written account. Kaga’s task is to tease the truth out of Nonoguchi’s writing. Kaga is working with the same material that is presented to the readers of Malice; it is fascinating to see his thought processes and theories develop in response to the information that Nonoguchi is deliberately providing him. I’ve come to expect smart and clever writing from Higashino and I was not at all disappointed with Malice. I hope to see even more of his work translated, and perhaps even more stories featuring Kyoichiro Kaga, in the future.

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for providing a copy of Malice for review.

Off*Beat, Volume 3

Off*Beat, Volume 3Creator: Jen Lee Quick
Publisher: Chromatic Press
ISBN: 9780991946648
Released: August 2014
Original run: 2013-2014

Nearly a decade after the series first began it’s finally here–the third and final volume in Jen Lee Quick’s Off*Beat. The first two graphic novels in the series were published by Tokyopop in 2005 and 2006, but the planned third volume never materialized and the first two volumes went out of print. For years fans were left languishing with one heck of a cliffhanger and with little hope of ever seeing the ending of Off*Beat. But then along comes a brand new publisher, Chromatic Press, to save the series, reprinting new editions of the first two volumes in 2013 and serializing the third in its digital multimedia magazine Sparkler Monthly. Off*Beat, Volume 3 made its debut in the first issue of Sparkler Monthly in 2013, reaching its conclusion in the ninth issue in 2014. The collected print edition of Off*Beat, Volume 3, which includes additional material not serialized online, was published later in 2014. As a long time fan of Off*Beat, I am absolutely thrilled to finally have the completed series.

With the next stage of the Gaia Project about to begin, Colin must make a decision. He knows that Tory has been spying on him–he even has one of Tory’s many notebooks recording his activities as proof–and despite Colin being drawn to the other young man, Tory seems to be lacking the attunement that Colin is hoping to find in another person. Though somewhat reluctant, Colin is preparing himself to end his strange relationship with Tory. As for Tory, what started out as a dubious obsession with his neighbor has grown into genuine affection. Although he is still intensely curious about the top-secret Gaia Project, he has begun to care less and less about it and more and more about Colin. He can’t seem to help himself. And so when Colin disappears without a word, Tory momentarily finds himself at a loss before applying all of his investigative skills into searching for him. He has very few clues to work with, but if nothing else Tory is meticulous and determined.

I really love the slow, natural development of Tory and Colin’s awkward relationship over the course of Off*Beat. It takes them all three volumes to recognize and come to terms with their complicated feelings for each other and matters are made even more difficult by Colin’s peculiar circumstances. They both have to figure out what to do about Colin’s devotion to the Gaia Project and how that will impact their budding relationship. One of the things that is never called into question in Off*Beat is the legitimacy of Colin and Tory’s liking each other–something about the series that makes me extraordinarily happy. If the two young men can somehow find a way to make their relationship work despite the strangeness of their situation, they have the ready support of family, friends, and classmates. That they would even be interested in another person romantically is what the drama stems from; a big deal is never made over the fact that they both happen to be guys. Their close relationships with the other characters in the series are another very important part of Off*Beat as well.

Off*Beat reaches a very satisfying conclusion with the third volume and yet at the same time it is open-ended enough that readers are left imagining all of the possibilities presented by the last few pages. Quick’s ending, like real life, is messy and complicated, but most of the plot threads are tied up in some fashion. Which is not to say that all of the questions have been answered–more has been revealed about the Gaia Project, but there is still plenty about it and about Colin himself that remains hidden and unknown even by the series’ end. The needed speculation may frustrate some readers, but I found it to be a believable and engaging aspect of the story. Despite all of the curious mysteries and top-secret projects, the characters’ relationships and feelings are both realistic and authentic. They all have their quirks, flaws, and strengths. It’s this beautifully strong human element in Off*Beat that really makes the series work. With the final volume of Off*Beat I find that I love the series more than ever. I am so incredibly happy to have finally been able to see the completion of such a wonderful story.

Manga Giveaway: Nana Giveaway

It’s that time again! Time for Experiments in Manga’s monthly manga giveaway! This month everyone will have a chance to win the first volume of Ai Yazawa’s fantastic series Nana as published by Viz Media. The series may not be finished, and it might never be, but it’s still well worth reading. The first volume actually stands very well on its own, too. As always, this giveaway is open worldwide!

Nana, Volume 1

Many, many years ago, before Experiments in Manga even existed, I read the first volume of Ai Yazawa’s Nana. I enjoyed it well enough, but didn’t initially get around to reading much beyond that. However, I kept seeing other people write about the series, expressing their love for the manga. And so a couple of years ago I decided to try reading the series again. And it floored me. (In a good way.) Who knows why at first Nana didn’t grab me? Maybe it was just bad timing, or maybe I was in a bad mood the day I read it. But I’m so glad that I gave the series a second look–it’s a tremendous work deserving all of the praise that has been bestowed upon it. Nana isn’t the only series that I’ve had a similar experience with. Take CLAMP’s X, for another example. I didn’t like the first volume at all, but gave the series a second chance when Viz began to release the beautiful omnibus edition. For whatever reason, the second time around X hooked me. Granted, in the case of X, it’s one of those manga that’s so bad it’s good as opposed to something like Nana which is just damn good.

So, you may be wondering, how can you win a copy of Nana, Volume 1?

1) Have you ever given a particular manga or series a second chance? If so, tell me about your experience in the comments below. If not, simply mention that and tell me why.
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).

There you have it! Each person can earn up to two entries for this giveaway and has one week to submit comments. If you prefer or have trouble with the comment form, entries may also be sent via e-mail to phoenixterran(at)gmail(dot)com. (The entry will then be posted in your name.) The giveaway winner will be randomly selected and announced on September 3, 2014. Best of luck!

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: August 18-August 24, 2014

My News and Reviews

Last week–last Monday, to be exact–Experiments in Manga celebrated its fourth anniversary. I’ve taken to writing what usually ends up being a rather lengthy anniversary post every year in which I reflect on the past three-hundred-sixty-five days, and this year was no different. I also posted a review last week of The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan, Ivan Morris’ classic study of Heian-era Japan and The Tale of Genji. The work was originally published in 1964 and it’s still a great read. Finally, for something a little different, I posted a Spotlight on Masaichi Mukaide who, in the late 1970s, became one of the first Japanese comics artists to be released in English. I rather enjoyed investigating this bit of comics history; I hope other people find it interesting as well.

While working on my random musings about Masaichi Mukaide, I discovered that the three short manga currently believed to be the earliest manga to have been translated into English (Akasegawa Genpei’s “Sakura Illustrated,” Shirato Sampei’s “Red Eyes,” and Tsuge Yoshiharu’s “The Stopcock”) are available online to read digitally. Another interesting piece of reading that I came across last week was Ryan Holmberg’s article on manga, art history, and Seiichi Hayashi at The Comics Journal. Elsewhere online, Sean at A Case Suitable for Treatment looks at some of the latest offerings from Crunchyroll Manga and Justin at Organization Anti-Social Geniuses was able to get some of the manga publishers to weigh in on their approaches to the last pages of manga volumes.

Quick Takes

Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma, Volume 1Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma, Volume 1 written by Yuto Tsukuda and illustrated by Shun Saeki. Soma Yukihira wants nothing more than to surpass his father in the kitchen, but his goal of becoming the ultimate chef becomes a little more difficult when his father closes up the family restaurant for three years. In the meantime, Soma is expected to transfer into the most elite and competitive culinary school in Japan. The other students aren’t very welcoming of the son of a low-end family restaurant, so it’s entirely up to the arrogant and uncouth Soma to prove that his cooking is just as impressive as their high-class cuisine. Overall, the artwork in Food Wars is great. The illustrations of the food in particular are incredibly sumptuous. And then there are the reaction shots–those who taste Soma’s cooking often fall into nearly orgasmic ecstasy which is accompanied by highly sexualized imagery. This does include such things as young women being molested by tentacles, which will certainly not appeal to every reader. Personally, I was for the most part rather amused by the ridiculous levels and absurdity of the occasional fanservice.

The Prince of Tennis, Volume 1The Prince of Tennis, Volumes 1-3 by Takeshi Konomi. While recently reading The Princess of Tennis, a memoir written by one of Konomi’s assistants, I came to the realization that I had never actually read any of The Prince of Tennis. The series is one of the most successful and popular sports manga in Japan, growing into a fairly substantial franchise. The Prince of Tennis is an oddly addictive series–I tore through the first seven volumes very quickly–but to some extent it’s also a bit frustrating. There is virtually no story or character development, simply game after game of tennis and middle school trash talk. Some of the most important games, the ones that actually impact the characters’ growth (what little there is) happen almost entirely off-page. All of the players are very strong to begin with, so there hasn’t been much evolution in their performance or skill levels, either. But the various games are interesting and entertaining, if a little over-the-top. There are a lot of good-looking characters of various types, too, which is probably a large part of the series’ appeal. I’m not in a rush to read more, but I did enjoy the first seven volumes.