My Week in Manga: June 22-June 28, 2015

My News and Reviews

Last week, the most recent manga giveaway at Experiments in Manga was posted. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, so there are still a couple of days left to enter for a chance to win the first volume of Assassination Classroom. All you have to do is tell me about your favorite teacher from a manga. I also posted two reviews last week. The first review was of Yaya Sakuragi’s boys’ love manga Hide and Seek, Volume 2. The series continues to be one of her strongest; I’m really enjoying it. The second review was of Taiyo Fujii’s novel Gene Mapper, the most recent release from the Haikasoru. Gene Mapper is a great example of realistic near future science featuring thought-provoking information and bio-technologies.

Organization Anti-Social Geniuses has been posting some great manga-related content recently, including a conversation with manga translator Amanda Haley about Book Walker and the translation field. A new manga feature at OASG was announced for the summer as well: Shoujo You Should Know, the first column focusing on CLAMP’s short series Wish. And speaking of shoujo manga, Shojo Beat is celebrating its tenth anniversary. Among other thing, the imprint is posting brief interviews with some of its creators. First up was Maki Minami followed by Yun Kouga. Over at Things We Lost at Dusk, Alicia posted and interesting essay about gender, identity, and language, specifically in regards to Moto Hagio’s manga They Were Eleven.

Last but not least, I would like to draw everyone’s attention to Chromatic Press’ Kickstarter project to help support and fund Sparkler Monthly‘s third year. I am a huge fan of Sparkler Monthly and everything else that Chromatic Press is doing. (Experiments in Manga’s Chromatic Press tag is filled with my love, reviews, and features.) The content, creators, and everyone else involved are all fantastic. So, please check out Sparkler Monthly. Most of the comics, prose, and audio, is currently available for free online. And if you like what you see, please consider pledging to the Sparkler Monthly Kickstarter project if you can. Every little bit helps. The work being done at Chromatic Press is spectacular; I sincerely hope that Sparkler Monthly and the publisher’s other efforts are able to continue.

Quick Takes

Awkward Silence, Volume 4Awkward Silence, Volume 4 by Hinako Takanaga. Some of the very first boys’ love manga that I ever read we’re by Takanaga. I soon began counting her among my favorite creators working in the genre and so was quite pleased when Sublime licensed Awkward Silence. The fourth volume in the series was actually released in English quite a while ago, but I only recently realized that I hadn’t actually read it yet, probably because Awkward Silence isn’t particularly memorable. It’s not a bad manga, and there are plenty of things that I like about it—Takanaga’s artwork is great, for one, as are some of the characters—but overall, Awkward Silence somehow manages to come across as generic. For the most part it’s enjoyable and sometimes even sweet, but the series just doesn’t stand out. Initially, I was under the impression that the fourth volume was the end, but apparently it’s an ongoing series. Being something of a Takanaga completist I’ll likely read any subsequent volumes, but otherwise I don’t know that I would feel compelled to seek the series out.

Just So HappensJust So Happens by Fumio Obata. Originally published in the United Kingdom in 2014, Just So Happens was recently released in North America. Yumiko is a designer who left Japan to study and work in London. From time to time she returns to Japan to visit her family, but she is largely satisfied with her life in England. But Yumiko’s most recent trip to Japan is different. Her father unexpectedly died in a mountain climbing accident and she wants and needs to be there for his funeral. In part drawing inspiration from the imagery and symbolism of Noh theater, Just So Happens is a beautiful and subtle work about family, grief, identity, and coming to terms with past decisions. Obata’s watercolor illustrations are absolutely lovely and very effective in conveying the work’s quiet, introspective atmosphere. The story itself is fairly simple and is emotionally resonant without being overly dramatic. Much like Yumiko, Obata is himself a Japanese artist who has made England his home, so while the graphic novel isn’t necessarily autobiographical, Just So Happens still feels very personal.

Servamp, Volume 1Servamp, Volumes 1-2 by Strike Tanaka. From my admittedly limited exposure, my impression of manga originating from Comic Gene is that they tend to have a lot of style without necessarily making a lot of sense. So far, that seems to be the case with Servamp as well. The first two volumes are entertaining, even enjoyable, but I’d be hard pressed to actually explain everything that is going on in the manga. Granted, Mahiru, the series protagonist, doesn’t really know what’s going on either, and the characters who do aren’t being particularly forthcoming. Mahiru likes to keep things simple, which basically means that he ends up doing up anything and everything himself rather than involving other people. And so he’s more or less taken on the responsibility of saving the world, or at least saving humans from the vampires who would kill them all. Mahiru does have some help though, namely an exceptionally lazy but supposedly extremely powerful vampire known as Sleepy Ash, as well as a few other allies. Though it has yet to be seen just how far those allies can really be trusted.

Ubel Blatt, Omnibus 1Übel Blatt, Omnibus 1 (equivalent to Volumes 2-3) by Etorouji Shiono. Although there was a fair amount that bothered me about the initial omnibus of Übel Blatt, the series still showed some potential and I was curious to see where it might go. I am happy to be able to say that the most recent omnibus is an improvement. There’s still gratuitous nudity and sexual content, but it doesn’t seem nearly as out-of-place as it was at the beginning of the series. The fact that many of women are dressed in ridiculously revealing and impractical clothing is even lampshaded at one point when Peepi celebrates the fact that she gets to wear “normal clothes.” In general, the female characters actually are treated a little better and are slightly more developed as individuals in Übel Blatt, Omnibus 1, but sadly not to the extent that I really want to see. To be fair, though, most of the characters seem to lack depth. The action sequences and artwork remain fairly strong, and I do largely like the lead, but for the most part Übel Blatt just isn’t connecting with me. This does surprise me somewhat as I usually really enjoy dark fantasy and tales of revenge.

My Week in Manga: August 19-August 25, 2013

My News and Reviews

Well, the biggest news from last week (at least for me and Experiments in Manga) is that I have officially joined the Manga Bookshelf family of blogs. I posted an introductory post for new readers and anyone else interested in learning a little more about me or Experiments in Manga. I’m still getting used to WordPress, and I still have some cleaning up to do, so if you notice anything amiss, I’d appreciate you letting me know!

I also posted a review of Edogawa Rampo’s collection of short stories Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Originally released in 1956, the volume was Rampo’s English-language debut. I had previously read and enjoyed Rampo’s novella Strange Tale of Panorama Island which is why I sought out more of his work. (And on a related note: Suehiro Maruo’s The Strange Tale of Panorama Island is also marvelous.)

I also had the opportunity to help out manga critic Jason Thompson last week (who I credit as one of the major reasons I became so interested in manga.) If you’re in Vancouver, Washington this coming Sunday, Jason is presenting “Manga Hell: The Worst Manga Ever Translated” at Kumoricon. It should be pretty great. I was able to provide some images of choice pages from Kazuo Koike and Ryoichi Ikegami’s notorious manga series Wounded Man. (I first learned about Wounded Man thanks when it was selected for Kate Dacey’s Manga Hall of Shame.)

On to a few interesting things found online! I either completely missed this when it was first announced or simply forgot about it, but Bento Books has licensed five novels from Hayakawa Publishing: Hiroko Minakawa’s Pleased to Dissect You, Yuka Nakazato’s Silver Wings of the Campanula, Yu Godai’s, Quantum Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner, Volume 1, Akimaro Mori’s The Black Cat Takes a Stroll, and Issui Ogawa’s Many Many Sheep. It’s an intriguing mix of fantasy, science fiction, and mystery and quite a change of pace from Bento’s first release Math Girls.

In other licensing news, Sean Gaffney has a roundup of the Japan Expo announcements from this weekend. Finally, if you have the time I recommend giving the most recent ANNCast episode a listen—Super Manga Pals Forever. The always marvelous Deb Aoki and Rebecca Silverman join host Zac Bertschy to talk about the manga they’ve been reading and discuss the use of rape and taboos as plot elements in entertainment media. (Warning: Spoilers for the ninth volume of Yumi Unita’s Bunny Drop if by some chance you haven’t been spoiled already.)

Quick Takes

Attack on Titan, Volume 6 by Hajime Isayama. Despite the issues that I have with the art in Attack on Titan, which admittedly has been improving, I continue to be utterly absorbed and engaged by the story. The sixth volume picks up right where the fifth volume left off with the appearance of a new, seemingly intelligent, but still incredibly dangerous titan. It’s mostly one long action sequence as the titans tear through the ranks of the Survey Corps. Unsurprisingly, there are quite a few messy deaths. However, there’s a bit of character development as well. In particular, more is reveled about the members of the Special Operations Squad charged with guarding Eren who are also responsible for killing him should he get out of hand. The ending sets things up nicely for some major plot reveals in the next volume. Fortunately Kodansha has sped up the series release, so it won’t be too long of a wait to find out what happens next.

Awkward Silence, Volumes 1-3 by Hinako Takanaga. I tend to be fond of Takanaga’s boys’ love manga and so was happy when SuBLime picked up one of her ongoing series. Normally, I’m annoyed by manga where the plot hinges on a problem that would immediately be solved if the characters would just talk to one another. But in the case of Awkward Silence I didn’t mind as much because there is a very good reason that the characters don’t—Satoru has a difficult time expressing himself. It’s an integral part of his character and integral part of the story. One of the points of the series is that he and his boyfriend Keigo learn to overcome this. Their relationship is really quite sweet. Beginning with the third volume Awkward Silence starts to focus more on two of the secondary characters. (At least they started out as secondary characters.) Personally, I don’t find their relationship to be nearly as interesting. While still enjoyable, it feels more generic. Unlike the main couple, so far it’s missing something to really set it apart.

Saiyuki Reload, Volumes 4-6 by Kazuya Minekura. Although I was a little disappointed with the first three volumes of Saiyuki Reload, much preferring the earlier series Saiyuki, I think that Minekura has started to find her stride again. These volumes finish up the long flashback/backstory segement which included a look at Gojyo and Hakkai’s past when they were living together. (I’m a sucker for Hakkai, so I rather enjoyed that.) From there, Saiyuki Reload starts in on a new story arc, giving the plot the focus and direction that it needed. While the first few volumes of the series didn’t seem to be going anywhere, with the introduction of Hazel things are starting to get a bit more interesting. Sanzo and crew are faced with several moral conundrums and suddenly their journey west has some urgency behind it again. And speaking of The Journey to the West—the influences of the original work can definitely be seen. They aren’t always particularly prominent and Minekura is often very free with her interpretations, but The Journey to the West can still be found in there somewhere.

Tough, Volumes 1-6 by Tetsuya Saruwatari. Only six volumes of Tough were ever released in English. The series is actually a translation of Saruwatari’s Kōkō Tekken-den Tough and shouldn’t be confused with its sequel series which in Japan was called Tough. The fights are by far the best thing about Tough. Although the martial arts are taken to the extremes there are some legitimate styles and techniques being used. The manga is ultimately over-the-top, although dubious plausibility is maintained. Tough is violent and frequently brutal. The fighters deliver and sustain immense amounts of damage. Saruwatari doesn’t hesitate to show the resulting blood and broken bones. The few women, too, are shown to be martially capable. (Unfortunately they don’t make much of an appearance after the first volume.) The story, on the other hand, is nearly nonexistent and the attempts at humor fall flat. For the most part the plot is just an excuse to have men beat each other to a pulp. The actual fights are much more interesting than the weak justifications behind them.

X, Omnibus 6 (equivalent to Volumes 16-18) by CLAMP. Well, here it is, what is very likely to be the last volume of X. The series went on hiatus in 2003 and it doesn’t seem that CLAMP will be returning to it anytime soon. I read the first volume of X a few years ago but didn’t think much of it. I gave the series another try when Viz began to release the omnibus volumes and I’ve been hooked ever since. There are many fans frustrated by the series’ lack of ending, waiting for the final battle which may never come; I suppose I can now be counted among them. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed X in all of its epic, melodramatic, twisted, and tragic glory even if it can be a bit ridiculously excessive at times. CLAMP also uses some of the most intriguing page layouts that I’ve seen. They are very effective in conveying the emotional and dramatic moments in the story, of which the series has more than its fair share. Love and death are very closely intertwined in X and there is plenty of heartbreak to be had.

FujikoMineLupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine directed by Sayo Yamamoto. This series has style—the animation is distinctive but appealing, the jazz-influenced soundtrack fits it perfectly, the storytelling is mature and has both darkness and levity. Familiarity with the Lupin III franchise isn’t necessary to enjoy the series; The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is a different take on the characters and story and can stand alone. Fujiko Mine is a thief and femme fatale. She is very much in charge of her sexuality and is more than willing to use it to get what she wants. It shouldn’t be too surprising, but nudity is a fairly frequent occurrence in the anime, but it is handled tastefully and artistically. In the last four episodes, things take a surprising turn for the strange when the revelation of Fujiko’s backstory really beings. Up until that point the series seemed largely to be an episodic collection of the various heists with which Fujiko was involved. There were hints of what was to come and most everything is tied together rather nicely in the end.