My Week in Manga: October 30-November 5, 2017

My News and Reviews

Last week at Experiments in Manga I announced the winner of the Oresama Teacher giveaway. The post also includes a select list of some of the manga released in English that have notable delinquents (and in some cases ex-delinquents) in them. In licensing news, Dark Horse recently announced that it will be releasing The Flame Dragon Knight, a novel by Makoto Fukami which is based on Kentaro Miura’s manga series Berserk. Also, Yen Press is adding more yuri to its catalog: the manga anthology Eclair and the light novel adaptation of Napping Princess will both be released in English in 2018.

Quick Takes

Yokai Rental Shop, Volume 1Yokai Rental Shop, Volume 1 by Shin Mashiba. I greatly enjoyed Mashiba’s earlier manga series Nightmare Inspector: Yumekui Kenbun and so was very excited when Yokai Rental Shop was licensed. I have been looking forward to giving the manga a try not only because of Mashiba’s involvement but also because yokai play a prominent role. Hiiragi is a public servant who recently learned, on his mother’s deathbed, that he has a half-brother. Initially he’s thrilled, but then he actually meets Karasu, a man who doesn’t hesitate to help his customers realize their darkest desires. So far, Yokai Rental Shop has yet to really distinguish itself from any number of other horror series featuring a supernatural boutique. Additionally, one of the things that made Nightmare Inspector so engaging–the use of a wide variety of illustration styles–is largely missing from Yokai Rental Shop. The major exception to this is how most of the yokai in the spirit district are drawn to be more reminiscent of traditional ink drawings, an artistic touch that I particularly appreciated. While at this point Nightmare Inspector would seem to be the stronger manga of the two, there’s enough about Yokai Rental Shop that interests me that I plan on continuing the short series.

Otomo: A Global Tribute to the Mind Behind AkiraOtomo: A Global Tribute to the Mind Behind Akira edited by Julien Brugeas and Ben Applegate. In 2015, Katsuhiro Otomo won the Angoulême International Comics Festival’s Grand Prix, a prestigious award recognizing comics creators for their lifetime achievements. As part of the celebration, an art exhibition showing work by creators from around the world in a tribute to Otomo was held. A limited-edition catalog of illustrations was also produced at that time, becoming the basis for the Otomo artbook. The English-language edition expands upon the original and includes contributions from more than eighty creatives, resulting in an attractive, oversized, 168-paged hardcover volume. Otomo is probably best known as the creator of Akira, so it isn’t too surprising that most of the artwork in Otomo make reference to either the anime or manga version of that story, but other works like Domu also provide a source of inspiration. There is a fantastic variety and a great range of styles represented in Otomo; some of the individual pieces are truly stunning. Accompanying each illustration is a short biography of the artist. Some also include a section in which the contributors write about their encounters with Otomo and his work. (I wish there were more of these.)

Juni Taisen: Zodiac WarJuni Taisen: Zodiac War written by Nisiosin, illustrated by Hikaru Nakamura. My interest in the Juni Taisen novel largely stemmed from creators associated with it. Nisiosin seems to be something of a cult favorite and has had a fair number of stories translated recently (Juni Taisen is actually the first that I’ve read, however) and Nakamura is the creator of Saint Young Men and Arakawa Under the Bridge (it turns out Nakamura’s contributions to the novel are fairly limited). On top of having notable creators, the physical production and design of Viz Media’s release of Juni Taisen is beautiful. I have also been known to enjoy battle royale-type stories. Sadly, Juni Taisen is rather unsatisfactory as a novel and comes across as superficial, though I suspect the related manga and anime will be more successful. Twelve characters, none of them particularly likeable, are brought together in a battle to the death known as the Zodiac War. The winner will be granted a single wish, although there’s an even greater purpose to the contest. Juni Taisen has potential. The various super powers and abilities of the characters result in tactics and strategies that are interesting and even clever. Unfortunately, the coolness factor is undermined by inconsistent logic, repetitiveness, predictable narrative developments, and a sore lack of worldbuilding and a meaningful context.

A Sky Longing for Memories: The Art of Makoto Shinkai

A Sky Longing for MemoriesCreator: Makoto Shinkai
Translator: Maya Rosewood
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781941220436
Released: June 2015
Original release: 2008

I was introduced to the work of Makoto Shinkai through his animated film 5 Centimeters per Second, which left a huge impression on me. The beautifully melancholic story about lost and unrequited love was simple enough, but the visuals were stunningly gorgeous. A Sky Longing for Memories: The Art of Makoto Shinkai is an artbook that was originally released in Japan in 2008, the year after 5 Centimeters per Second debuted. I was very pleased when Vertical Comics announced its intention to publish an English-language edition. That volume was ultimately released in 2015 with a translation by Maya Rosewood. Vertical hasn’t released very many artbooks, but A Sky Longing for Memories is a good fit for the publisher. Not only has Vertical published other nonfiction works about Japanese film, it has also released two Shinkai manga: 5 Centimeters per Second and The Garden of Words.

A Sky Longing for Memories primarily consists of stills and background artwork from four of Shinkai’s projects initially released between 2002 and 2007. Prominently featured are three of his animated films—5 Centimeters Per Second, The Place Promised in Our Early Days, and Voices of a Distant Star—as is the television commercial he created for Shinano Mainichi Shimbun, “Say Something Important.” More than half of A Sky Longing for Memories is devoted to 5 Centimeters Per Second, the volume opening with some of Shinkai’s most visually refined and impressive work. The three sections that follow are dedicated to each of the earlier films and “Say Something Important.” Also included in the volume is a glossary—useful for readers who are unfamiliar with some of the technical terms used in the animation industry—as well as “Makoto Shikai’s Colors,” a section exploring the methods and techniques used by Shinkai, and “Testimonials of Makoto Shinkai’s World,” a collection of brief interviews with Shinkai and ten other members of Shinkai Works.

Although A Sky Longing for Memories can simply be appreciated and enjoyed as a collection of stunning artwork, the volume also provides insight into the creative processes and artistic direction required to achieve such impressive images. Many of the individual pieces are accompanied by brief descriptions of the decisions that were made in their overall design in addition to the specific considerations and techniques used in their creation. It’s unclear who actually wrote much of the text in A Sky Longing for Memories, but from the context it would seem to either be one (or several) of Shikai’s staff members or someone else who was close to the work being done. Either way, I was glad for the inclusion of the various descriptions and explanations; I don’t have a strong background in visual art or design and so found A Sky Longing for Memories to be illuminating and intellectually stimulating as well as beautiful to look at.

One of the key components of Shinkai’s style is his use of color. With this in mind, Vertical has taken great care to faithfully reproduce Shinkai’s artwork in A Sky Longing for Memories; the volume uses thick, glossy paper on which the colors in particular are beautifully presented. Simply put, it’s a gorgeous book of gorgeous illustrations. A Sky Longing for Memories reveals Shinkai not only as a talented artist but also as a skilled director. While he solely handled almost every aspect of Voices of a Distant Star except for the film’s music, by the time 5 Centimeters per Second was produced Shinkai was guiding and coordinating the work of an entire staff. Interestingly, most of the team members were traditionally trained artists from outside of the animation industry who had to learn digital techniques and illustration methods on the job. As can be seen from A Sky Longing for Memories, the result of their combined efforts is spectacular.

Deva Zan: The Chosen Path

Creator: Yoshitaka Amano
Translator: John Thomas
Publisher: Dark Horse
ISBN: 9781616550301
Released: January 2013

Deva Zan: The Chosen Path is Yoshitaka Amano’s debut novel. Amano is known across the globe for his illustrative work and character designs, and in the West particularly for his involvement with Final Fantasy, Vampire Hunter D, and Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: The Dream Hunters. At one time or another, Amano has lent his skills to novels, comics and manga, video games, and animation. Deva Zan is a project that he has been working on for more than a decade. The novel, which includes more than two hundred previously unpublished illustrations and paintings, is the first incarnation of the story to be released. Deva Zan was first and originally published in English by Dark Horse with a translation by John Thomas in 2013. Deva Zan is the first time that Amano has been completely responsible for both a work’s story and art.

At the end of the Edo period lived a hero, a young samurai by the name of Yoshitsugu Kamishiro. While engaged in battle he slips into another world where he discovers his true identity. Though he has no memory of it he is Zan, one of the Twelve Divine Generals and servant to Lady Mariu, the guardian deity of light. The Army of Light fights for creation against the forces of darkness—the Dark Corp—lead by the demon Moma. While Zan was warring in Japan, the battle between darkness and light, order and chaos continued without him. But now that Zan is aware of who he is, he embarks upon a journey of self-discovery through space and time, searching for the other lost generals in an attempt to remember his past. As the Army of Light gathers again, so does the Dark Corps—two sides of an endless conflict which will determine the fate of the world and universe.

Deva Zan isn’t so much an illustrated novel as it is an artbook with accompanying text. The narrative and writing style is impressionistic, consisting of dream-like sequences. Amano seems to have focused on creating an atmosphere rather than establishing a detailed or overly coherent plot. While the story of Deva Zan is interesting, incorporating Hindu and Buddhist elements with philosophical and cosmological implications, on its own it doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression. However, alongside Amano’s illustrations, it does create a nice effect overall. But even so, the story always feels secondary to the artwork. And in fact that was how Amano approached the Deva Zan novel—developing the textual narrative to fit the themes of the artwork rather than the other way around.

For me, Deva Zan works much better as an artbook than as a novel. I’ll admit, I have always enjoyed Amano’s illustrations. Deva Zan is a great and varied collection presented nicely as an oversized, hardcover volume. The individual pieces exhibit a range of styles and techniques. Some are complete, finished works while others, though no less arresting, seem to be concept sketches and designs. Amano is just as skilled working in vibrant, almost garish color palettes as he is in more muted and monochromatic schemes. His illustrations are striking and ethereal, whether he is portraying a stylized fantasy world or dealing in the abstract. Although reading Deva Zan was intriguing and I appreciate Amano’s involvement in all aspects of the work, I find that I’m just as happy flipping through the volume to linger on the artwork alone.

My Week in Manga: September 17-September 23, 2012

My News and Reviews

Last week was the Shojo Beat Manga Moveable Feast. One of my contributions to the Feast included an in-depth review of Hinako Ashihara’s Sand Chronicles, Volume 1. Sand Chronicles is one of my favorite contemporary shoujo manga series. October’s Feast, currently scheduled to be hosted by Chic Pixel, will focus on vampire-themed manga.

Also this past week, I posted a review of Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide written by husband and wife team Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt and illustrated by Shinkichi. I had previously read and loved the previous two books in the Attack! series, Yokai Attack! and Ninja Attack!. I was not at all disappointed with Yurei Attack! I highly recommend the entire series.

I am a huge fan of Takako Shimura’s manga series Wandering Son. Fantagraphics, the series English-language publisher, is offering a great deal for the next three upcoming releases: a special discounted subscription for volumes four through six is now available. Alternatively, volumes four and five can now be preordered directly from the publisher.

Quick Takes

The Art of Man, Volume 8: Special Edition Japan from Firehouse Publishing. I happened across The Art of Man, a quarterly fine arts journal devoted to the male figure, while looking for examples of Gengoroh Tagame’s work. The Spring 2012 issue focuses on artists (sculptors, painters, illustrators, etc.) of the male form from Japan. The artists spotlighted include Shimamura Saburou, Yujiro, Shozo Nagano, Hideki Koh, Kenya Shimizu, and Naoki Tatsuya. Masahiko Takagi, the curator and director of Japanese Gay Art, a section of Mayumi International, is also highlighted. The best part is that the volume is filled with gorgeous color reproductions of the artists’ work.

Attack on Titan, Volumes 1-2 by Hajime Isayama. The artwork in Attack on Titan is very unpolished which distracts from the story, especially in the beginning. Isayama’s artwork either improves as the series progresses, or I simply started to get used to it; by the end of the second volume I didn’t mind its roughness as much. Admittedly, the crude illustrations do make the titans (monstrous creatures threatening humanity’s very existence) feel particularly wrong and disconcerting, which is certainly effective. Despite my frustrations with the art, I really do want to see where Isayama is taking the story. It is both weird and oddly compelling. I’m also fascinated by the “three dimensional maneuvers” fighting system which has had some significant thought put into it.

Joan, Volumes 1-3 by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Due to unfortunate circumstances surrounding her family, Emily is adopted and raised as Emil, the son of Robert de Baudricourt. Emil finds inspiration in Joan of Arc; Emi’ls visions and intense admiration lead her to continue Joan’s work, who was burned at the stake roughly ten years before. Emil’s story and life actually have many parallels to that of the life of Joan of Arc. It’s an interesting narrative technique and is quite effective; Yasuhiko would use it again in some of his other historically based manga. Yasuhiko’s color artwork in Joan is lovely and atmospheric. The attention to detail given to the castles and architecture as well as the characters’ clothing is marvelous.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Volumes 5-8 by Hirohiko Araki. I wanted to try to avoid using the word “bizarre” when describing JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, but I’m finding it very difficult to do. The series is fantastically strange and has a style all its own. It didn’t take long for Araki to work his way through the major arcana as models for his Stand powers and their users (some of the results are really quite clever); through necessity he has moved on to the Egyptian pantheon for additional inspiration. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has strong elements of horror, but they are used more as accents rather than being the main focus. Araki incorporates a lot of local color into the manga’s settings and backgrounds, making a point to visit the locations he uses when he can. I am still loving this series.

Men of Tattoos by Yuiji Aniya. When I say Men of Tattoos is tragic, I truly mean it. And not only tragic, but dark, brutal, and violent as well. But Men of Tattoos also very, very good. The characters go through terrible things and do terrible things to one another—love and hatred are tied very closely together. Men of Tattoos has an almost traumatizing intensity that sneaks up on the reader. The first chapter begins lightheartedly but the repercussions of the events echo throughout the rest of the story. It is not pretty; I can’t even begin to imagine a happy ending for anyone involved. The final third or so of the volume turns to an entirely different story which is much more benign, but still quite good.

Toward the Terra directed by Osamu Yamazaki. The 2007 Toward the Terra anime series is the second animated incarnation of Keiko Takemiya’s science fiction manga To Terra… that I have seen. It makes for a good adaptation and does well as its own work, too. At twenty-four episodes it has room to breathe and is able to incorporate much of the original. It also expands on the story and characters to some extent. I liked most of the additions, but they do make the narrative pacing a little slow in places, especially towards the beginning and middle of the series. But, much like the manga itself, the series gets better and better as it progresses and the pacing improves. The ending is somewhat different from the original manga, but I was still very happy with it.

The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga

Author: Helen McCarthy
U.S. publisher: Abrams ComicArts
ISBN: 9780810982499
Released: October 2009
Awards: Harvey Award

The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga by Helen McCarthy has been sitting on my shelf since it won the 2010 Harvey Award for Best American Edition of Foreign Material. I had flipped through it several times but had never read the book in its entirety. Since February 2012’s Manga Moveable Feast focused on Tezuka and his works, it seemed an appropriate time to finally get around to doing so. The Art of Osamu Tezuka is a handsome volume published by Abrams ComicArts in 2009. It’s large red cover with the iconic Astro Boy is instantly recognizable. Also included with the book is “The Secret of Creation,” a behind-the-scenes DVD documentary of Tezuka at work. The Art of Osamu Tezuka is a combination of biography, art book, and catalog of major works printed in full color. Katsuhiro Otomo, the creator of the Akira manga and anime, wrote the foreword. Although Tezuka is a very important figure in manga, I actually knew very little about him and his work, so I was looking forward to reading The Art of Osamu Tezuka.

Osamu Tezuka was born on November 3, 1928 in Toyonaka to his parents Yutaka and Fumiko. Growing up in Takarazuka with his two younger siblings Hiroshi and Minako, Tezuka’s parents encouraged the creativity and imaginations of their children. Tezuka became an accomplished artist at a very young age. He attended medical school with the intention of becoming a doctor, but abandoned the pursuit with his family’s blessing when he realized it would mean giving up what he really loved—storytelling and art. Eventually moving to Tokyo, Tezuka became a very successful and very prolific mangaka, one of the first to coordinate teams of assistants to manage huge workloads. He also became involved with animation and founded his own studio, constantly experimenting with new techniques and developing innovative ways to produce shows more quickly and cost effectively. On February 9, 1989, Tezuka died of stomach cancer at the age of sixty, leaving behind a lasting legacy that has influenced generations.

After a brief preface, the first chapter of The Art of Osamu Tezuka follows Tezuka’s family history and early life. Tezuka’s “star system” is explained in the second chapter, something I never quite understood until now. Basically, Tezuka had a set of characters that he would use like actors, who would sometimes portray themselves and sometimes take on other, often typecast, roles. In chapters three through seven, McCarthy takes a look at Tezuka’s career and life decade by decade, beginning with the 1940s and ending with the 1980s, particularly noting developing themes and influences. Each of these chapters includes a section devoted to the major works that began their release in that decade. The only thing unfortunate about this is that some series with multiple iterations, like Astro Boy, end up appearing in several chapters without much cross-reference. The final two chapters are devoted to Tezuka’s unfinished works and his lasting influence, respectively. Also included in The Art of Osamu Tezuka is a bibliography, an index, and a list of works by Tezuka that as of 2009 had been translated into English, French, Spanish, Italian, and German.

The Art of Osamu Tezuka consists of numerous mostly self-contained summaries and short essays, generally only a page or so in length, accompanied by hundreds of images. The book is structured in such a way that readers can either peruse the volume from beginning to end, providing a comprehensive synopsis of Tezuka and his work, or simply pick and choose subjects, titles, or images that interest them without causing too much confusion. Compared to his total output, very little of Tezuka’s work is currently available in English. I knew the man was prolific, but I had no concept of just how astoundingly prolific he was until reading The Art of Osamu Tezuka. I also didn’t realize that he would revisit already completed works, often rewriting or redrawing them for later editions and republication. The Art of Osamu Tezuka is a fantastic introduction to Tezuka and a wonderful overview of his career, making the volume very easy to recommend.