The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Volume 1

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Volume 1Creator: Akira Himekawa
Translator: John Werry
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421593470
Released: March 2017
Original run: 2016

Akira Himekawa is the joint pen name of A. Honda and S. Nagano, two women who have been collaborators for over thirty years. The two-person creative team is probably best known for their work on the manga adaptations of The Legend of Zelda series of video games, although some North American readers may associate Himekawa with the Avatar: The Last Airbender comics as well. Despite being a fan of both franchises, I actually hadn’t made a point to read any of Himekawa’s work until after meeting the two women briefly at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in 2014. Twilight Princess is the most recent entry in Himekawa’s series of The Legend of Zelda adaptations. Initially Twilight Princess was intended to be a children’s series, but when the original 2006 video game it was to be based on became the first in the franchise to be rated for teens, plans for that manga were cancelled. It wasn’t until 2016 that Himekawa would begin serializing Twilight Princess digitally, the first volume subsequently being released in Japan in print later that year. Viz Media’s English-language edition of Twilight Princess debuted in print in 2017.

Link is a young man trying to outrun his past. A year and a half ago he wandered into the border village of Ordon, hiding his personal history in hopes of establishing a new life for himself. Ordon is idyllic, seemingly a perfect place for Link to retreat. The land is said to have been blessed by the spirits and the village is well-known for its bountiful harvests. Although Link arrived as a stranger, he was warmly welcomed by the villagers and has since become an integral part of the community. Link loves Ordon and its people, but there’s always a small part of him that feels like he doesn’t quite belong. He is still plagued by guilt over the tragedies of his past, dealing with a weighty feeling of responsibility which is impossible to ignore. Having experienced disaster before, Link may be one of the few who can prevent it from happening again. Most of the other people in the sacred kingdom of Hyrule are unaware of the looming threat that the long-forgotten Twilight Realm poses. It’s a danger that grows even greater when the ambitions of one man to rule both the light and the dark begin to come to fruition. As the shadows of darkness gather around Ordon, Link will have to face his past and his fears, confronting the possibility that he will once again lose everything that he holds most dear.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Volume 1, page 122Although I’ve played some of the original Twilight Princess, familiarity with the video game is not at all necessary to enjoy Himekawa’s adaptation. At least so far, the series can stand on its own as a work–the manga largely comes across as a freely-developed fantasy rather than a strict reimagining of a video game. Himekawa’s narrative in Twilight Princess is streamlined and quickly paced, incorporating elements of the original game in clever ways. Some of the wonder of having a world to leisurely explore and discover is lost as Twilight Princess is adapted into a different medium, but in exchange the manga emphasizes depth of characterization. As the protagonist, Link is generally the most fully-realized character. I really like Himkeawa’s multi-faceted interpretation of Link in Twilight Princess. While at heart Link is a troubled and brooding hero, he also exhibits happiness and joy and there are moments in the manga when his good-natured goofiness shines through. The Twilight Princess manga, much like the video game itself, is intended for a more mature audience than many of the previous incarnations of The Legend of Zelda. The story tends to be fairly dark and can be strikingly violent at times.

One of the things that I appreciate the most about Himekawa’s work on The Legend of Zelda manga is the creators’ ability to adjust their tone and style to fit the requirements of a given series. Himekawa’s skill and flexibility as artists can be seen as they move from one adaptation to the next, but can also be exhibited within a single manga. In Twilight Princess specifically there is a wonderful contrast between the serene, pastoral setting of Ordon and the ominous darkness and shadowy creatures encroaching upon it. The artwork in Twilight Princess is beautifully executed, ranging from the gorgeous to the grotesque as demanded by the story. In comparison, the storytelling itself isn’t nearly as strong. The first chapter of Twilight Princess in particular suffers from some awkward exposition and Link has a tendency to ask questions that he should already know the answers to having lived in Ordon for so long. Still, I do like the story, characters, and settings of Twilight Princess. In the past, Himekawa’s The Legend of Zelda manga have only been one or two volumes long. I would be surprised if Twilight Princess could end satisfactorily in such a short span, so I hope that the series will be longer to allow the story to unfold more naturally; I enjoyed the first volume of Twilight Princess a great deal and look forward to reading more.

Thank you to Viz Media for providing a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Volume 1 for review.

Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power PlantCreator: Kazuto Tatsuta
Translator: Stephen Paul
U.S. Publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781632363558
Released: March 2017
Original release: 2014-2015
Awards: Manga Open

Although Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant isn’t Kazuto Tatsuta’s first manga, it is very likely the one for which he will be best known. Based on his experiences as a worker at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, the memoir provides an important and highly personal perspective on the ongoing recovery efforts following Japan’s combined earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters of March 2011. Initially submitted as an amateur work, Ichi-F won the Manga Open Grand Prize in 2013 which led to its continuation as a three-volume series published between 2014 and 2015. The English-language edition of Ichi-F was released by Kodansha Comics in March 2017. The entire series, including Tatsuta’s original one-shot, has been collected into a single, massive omnibus formatted to read left-to-right. Also included is an introduction by the journalist Karyn Nishimura-Poupée and an exclusive interview with the creator. A tremendous amount of work from the translator Stephen Paul and others at Kodansha has gone into Ichi-F in an effort to make the manga as accurate and as widely accessible as possible.

On March 11, 2011 a massive earthquake centered off of the northeast coast of Japan triggered a devastating tsunami which ultimately lead to multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Many people in Fukushima were required to evacuate and have yet been able to return to their homes due to the radiation levels in the area. Cleanup and recovery work, including the decommissioning of the plant, continues to this day and will continue for quite some time. Most of the people directly involved in the work are from the Fukushima area but others like Tatsuta (a pen name taken from the region for purposes of anonymity) are outsiders drawn by the promise of high wages, personal curiosity, and altruism. Despite the need for workers, it took Tatsuta more than a year after the disaster to secure clearance for employment at Ichi-F, one of the local names for the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Initially he was assigned to a shelter where he helped to manage a rest area for the construction workers, but eventually he would become one of those construction workers himself, at one point even serving on a team working inside one of the plant’s reactor buildings.

Ichi-F, page 39Ichi-F is primarily about the day-to-day lives and work of those employed at the nuclear power plant but Tatsuta also addresses some of the related recovery efforts and the issues caused by them in the Fukushima region as well as the some of the complications surrounding the publication of his memoir. In part the manga was created in response to the misleading, sensationalistic, and often inaccurate way that Fukushima and the surrounding areas are portrayed in the media. This is not to say there haven’t been problems with the decommissioning and cleanup–even Tatsuta’s account reveals social conflicts and questionable employment practices, not to mention that exposure to high levels of radiation is inherently dangerous–but some of Fukushima’s poor representation is due to ignorance and fearmongering. In fact, excepting the radiation concerns, much of the work outlined in Ichi-F, while being incredibly important, is outright mundane. Tatsuta explains in detail the safety procedures and regulations intended to protect the workers at the plant, showing just how difficult, time-consuming, and challenging the cleanup efforts are. Careful vigilance, caution, and concerted effort are absolutely necessary, especially to counter desensitization to the dangers involved, and there is always room for improvement.

Tatsuta’s own personal experiences while working in Fukushima are what inform Ichi-F. As such, it cannot provide a comprehensive look at the disaster and recovery efforts as a whole, but it does offer an individual perspective critical to the larger context. Tatsuta is an insider telling a story that’s often left untold because it isn’t particularly dramatic or exciting–the manga is a thorough, informative account of the work being done to decommission the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The manga can be a bit text-heavy at times, and the way that it has been modified to read left-to-right occasionally interrupts the narrative’s visual flow, but the memoir is both fascinating and accessible. Ichi-F is also the story of the people involved in the cleanup and the close relationships that Tatsuta develops while in Fukushima. What in many ways started out as just a job ends with Tatsuta caring deeply about and for his colleagues at the plant, the locals and residents of Fukushima, and the area itself. While the lasting effects of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima are tragic and some areas remain incredibly hazardous, conditions are slowly improving and recovery and revitalization is happening partly thanks to the efforts of Tatsuta and the other workers shown in Ichi-F.

Gatesmith, Volume 1

Gatesmith, Volume 1Creator: Jen Lee Quick
Publisher: Chromatic Press
ISBN: 9781987988079
Released: July 2016
Original run: 2014-2015

My introduction to the work of Jen Lee Quick was through her comic Off*Beat. The first two volumes of the series were originally published by Tokyopop after which the comic sadly languished unresolved until it was rescued by Chromatic Press, becoming one of the publisher’s flagship titles. After completing Off*Beat with Chromatic Press, Quick began working on a second comic series with the publisher called Gatesmith. The origins of Gatesmith actually date back to Quick’s Tokyopop days as well, but the ideas for comic have significantly changed since then. At least one thing has remained the same though–Gatesmith is a dark fantasy Western drastically different from Off*Beat. Gatesmith began serialization in Chromatic Press’ digital magazine Sparkler Monthly in 2014. The first volume concluded in 2015 and the serialized content was subsequently collected as an ebook along with an exclusive epilogue comic and the short prequel comic “Hungry.” A small print run of Gatesmith, Volume 1 was released in 2016. As a fan of Quick’s work, I was very happy to snag a copy.

Edgeward is a western frontier town undergoing a transformation as its residents slowly build it into a successful mining city. But Edgeward is also the home to numerous strange happenings, phenomena which some people attribute to the area’s large deposits of mythrilite, a promising but potentially dangerous new energy source which hasn’t yet been thoroughly studied. Modernization can carry along with it tremendous risks, but there seems to be something even more primal, ancient, and bizarre at work in Edgeward. On the outskirts of town, strange lights can be seen in the middle of the desert. Peculiar trees spontaneously emerge where no tree has any right growing. Rumors circulate about monsters and creatures of legend roaming about. Ranchers are losing livestock and are uncertain whether or not to blame humans or something much more diabolical. Whatever it is that is going on in Edgeward may very well have a greater meaning and far-reaching impact than anyone realizes.

Gatesmith, Volume 1, page 72The setting of Gatesmith, while beautiful, is also a harsh and frequently brutal one. Survival is certainly not guaranteed in such an unforgiving environment. The comic opens with an attack on a covered wagon that leaves everyone directly involved in the incident dead and the violence in the story doesn’t end there. At this point virtually everything is unknown in Gatesmith, and the unknown is very apt to get someone killed. Gatesmith, Volume 1 offers very few answers as Quick layers mystery upon mystery. In the series, myth, folklore, and the supernatural are closely intertwined with scientific, social, and technological progress. The anxieties surrounding the changing times are very real and sometimes manifest in unexpected ways. When humans are attempting to deal with things that they don’t completely comprehend or understand trouble naturally follows, but it’s not always the inhuman that people have to worry about–unintentionally or not, civilization can be just as destructive and isn’t necessarily always a positive force. Tremendous resilience and adaptability will be required of any of the characters who hope to reach the end of Gatesmith alive.

Gatesmith is off to an incredibly intriguing start with its first volume; I am intensely curious to see how the comic continues to develop from here. However, part of what makes Gatesmith so appealing and engrossing is also what makes the comic somewhat frustrating. Quick is working with several storylines and a marvelously diverse cast of characters, but this early on in the series the connections between them all are not immediately clear. With the many strange occurrences and often stranger characters involved in Gatesmith, the ultimate direction and drive of the story is somewhat obscured at the moment and the worldbuilding hasn’t yet been established in its entirety. What has been revealed so far is enticing and tantalizing, though. Gatesmith is an interesting blend of genres. Quick draws on traditions of Westerns, folklore, horror, and other speculative fiction without relying heavily on preexisting elements or well-worn tropes, combining them together in striking ways. Currently Gatesmith is on a break as Quick concentrates on a few other creative projects, but I hope to see more of the weirdly wonderful and wonderfully weird Western soon.

Vinland Saga, Omnibus 8

Vinland Saga, Omnibus 8Creator: Makoto Yukimura
Translator: Stephen Paul
U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781682335406
Released: December 2016
Original release: 2014-2015
Awards: Japan Media Arts Award, Kodansha Manga Award

For a time it seemed as though the fate of the English-language edition of Makoto Yukimura’s epic award-winning manga series Vinland Saga was in question. Happily though, Kodansha Comics has been able to continue releasing the series. While the seventh omnibus reached a satisfying conclusion to one of the series’ major story arcs, it was still obvious that Yukimura had more to tell. I honestly believe that Vinland Saga is one of the strongest manga currently being released in English. It is also a personal favorite of mine, so I was thrilled when the eighth hardcover omnibus was finally released in 2016, collecting the fifteenth and sixteenth volumes of the original Japanese edition published between 2014 and 2015. Unlike the past few omnibuses of Vinland Saga, there is no additional content directly relating to the series (I was sad not to see the continuation of the “Ask Yukimura” section), but it does include an extensive preview of Kazuhiro Fujita’s The Ghost and the Lady, another historically-inspired manga available from Kodansha.

Finally free from his life of slavery but still bound by the violence of his past, Thorfinn travels back to Iceland in order to briefly reunite with his family before setting into motion his plans for the future. Accompanied by Einar, Leif, and “Bug-Eyes,” Thorfinn intends to colonize Vinland in an attempt to create a peaceful settlement far removed from the wars and violence seemingly inherent to the Norse way of life. But before that they must first secure the resources and supplies needed for the venture and support from others will be hard to come by–Thorfinn has very little to offer a potential investor except for ideals and his own life. Initially it seemed that they could secure the aid of Halfdan, a wealthy landowner who was already planning to become a relative of Leif’s by marrying his son to the widow of Lief’s brother, but then the wedding doesn’t go quite as planned. Thorfinn and the others may very well have gained themselves a few new enemies when they flee Iceland with Gudrid, the runaway bride.

Vinland Saga, Omnibus 8, page 50From the beginning, many of the women in Vinland Saga have been strong, memorable characters (Thorfinn’s sister and mother in particular are marvelous), but for the most part the focus of the series has been on the stories of the men. However, with the eighth omnibus there is a notable change in the manga with he introduction of Gudrid who becomes one of the main characters of Vinland Saga. In fact, a great deal of the plot currently directly revolves around her. I absolutely adore Gudrid. Like Thorfinn, she is struggling against the constraints of what is considered acceptable by the culture and traditions of their society. She has absolutely no interest in marriage or in behaving like a “proper” woman; her heart has always been set on exploring the world around her and expanding her horizons. Gudrid repeatedly proves that her worth is equal to or even greater than that of a man. Eventually, her persistence and brashness pays off although the circumstances surrounding her becoming a sailor are admittedly less than ideal.

Gudrid isn’t the only great female character to be introduced in the eighth Vinland Saga omnibus. Among others, there is also Astrid, Halfdan’s wife, and Hild, a young woman who proves once more that Thorfinn can never truly escape his past misdeeds. While many of the previous omnibuses have been battle-oriented, the eight omnibus tends to pay more attention to the characters themselves and their relationships. However, there are still a few excellent action sequences and Yukimura’s artwork continues to be dynamic and dramatic even when physical violence is not as prominent. For example, Halfdan exudes an aura of intensity and power–the way he is drawn and visually framed is frequently reminiscent of the way King Canute was portrayed, emphasizing his status and influence. This, of course, makes it even more satisfying when Astrid calmly, quietly, and fearlessly puts her husband in his place. (I really hope to see more of Astrid in the future.) Vinland Saga remains an incredibly well-done manga. With a growing cast of fantastic, complex characters, an engrossing story exploring themes of freedom and violence, and excellent artwork, I can’t wait to read more.

Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko

Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu KanekoAuthor: Misuzu Kaneko, David Jacobson
Illustrator: Toshikado Hajiri

Translator: Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi
Publisher: Chin Music Press
ISBN: 9781634059626
Released: September 2016

Misuzu Kaneko, who in the 1920s was a well-known author of poetry for children, almost faded into obscurity after her early death at the age of twenty-six only to have her work rediscovered in 1982. Since then her poetry has been met with great admiration and acclaim. Despite having her work translated into nearly a dozen different languages, Kaneko is relatively unknown in English. Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko, published by Chin Music Press in 2016, is a beautifully illustrated and crafted children’s book created by a multi-national team with members hailing from Japan, the United States, and Canada in an effort to bring Kaneko’s work to a larger audience. Before reading Are You an Echo? I was unaware of both Kaneko and her poetry. After reading the volume I can only hope that more of her work will be translated in the future–the book is a marvelous introduction.

Are You an Echo? consists of two main parts. The first is a biographical narrative written by David Jacobson, a journalist and editorial consultant at Chin Music Press, which outlines both the life of Kaneko and the history of her work and its rediscovery by Setsuo Yazaki, another poet who also provides the foreword to the book. Although Are You an Echo? is meant for a young audience, Jacobson is honest and touches upon some of the sadder aspects of Kaneko’s story such as her unhappy marriage, unfortunate illness, and eventual decision to end her own life. However, the topics are handled with gentleness and sensitivity. Several of Kaneko’s poems are incorporated directly into the narrative while the second part of Are You an Echo? is specifically devoted to a selection of her work. The poems are presented in both their original Japanese and in an English translation jointly composed by Michiko Tsuboi and the poet Sally Ito.

Are You an Echo?, page 5The format is somewhat unusual for a children’s book, but I feel the decision to include a biography along with a selection of Kaneko’s work in a single volume is ultimately a good one. Are You an Echo? not only introduces Kaneko’s poetry, it also places it within a greater context. Jacobson’ s narrative is easily accessible and the story of how Kaneko and her work have come to positively influence the lives of so many people is a wonderful one. Hajiri’s illustrations are likewise captivating. The artwork is colorful without being garish and has a gentle softness to it that complements both Jacobson’s text and Kaneko’s poetry. Hajiri depicts scenes from Kaneko’s life and imagination and provides a lovely visual accompaniment to and interpretation of her work.

Twenty-five of Kaneko’s surviving five-hundred-twelve poems are included in Are You an Echo?. The translators have taken obvious care in rendering Kaneko’s work into English. Kaneko wrote in a feminine form of Japanese which doesn’t have a direct equivalent in English, but Ito and Tsuboi have successfully crafted a translation that reads well and captures the feelings and intentions of the originals. The poems collected in Are You an Echo? are utterly delightful. One of the things that I found most striking about Are You an Echo? is the tremendous empathy that Kaneko exhibits through her work. Though a touch of melancholy can frequently be found, the poems embody the natural curiosity, wonder, and earnestness of the children for whom she was writing. Kaneko’s poetry is immensely charming and deeply compassionate; I am so incredibly glad to have encountered it. While the book may be intended and suited for younger readers, there is still plenty for adults to enjoy and appreciate about it, too. Are You an Echo? is a treasure.

Thank you to Chin Music Press for providing a copy of Are You an Echo? for review.