My Week in Manga: May 9-May 15, 2011

My News and Reviews

I’ve been rather lazy (and busy) lately, so the “My News and Reviews” section is going to be brief this week. Last week I posted three reviews, two here at Experiments in Manga and one over at Experiments in Reading. First up was Keigo Higashino’s award-winning novel Naoko which I liked even better than the only other of his works currently available in English, The Devotion of Suspect X (also an award winner). At Experiments in Reading I posted a review of the third (and possibly final) book in Jane Lindskold’s Breaking the Wall series, Five Odd Honors. I mention it here because the magic system is based on mahjong, granted a Chinese version. But still—Mahjong! And finally, my first in-depth manga review for May: Vagabond, Omnibus 1 by Takehiko Inoue based on Eiji Yoshikawa’s epic historical novel Musashi, which I reviewed last month.

Derik Badman at The Panelists will be hosting the Manga Moveable Feast this month. This time around, we’ll be focusing on Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game. The Feast will start on May 22nd and run until May 28th. I’ll be reviewing the first volume published by Viz Media, which is equivalent to the first three volumes released in Japan.

Quick Takes

Afterschool Charisma, Volume 1 by Kumiko Suekane. Somehow, I’m not quite convinced by the clones. They don’t all seem to have the sort of quirks stereotypically associated with their original personalities. Granted, that seems to be part of the point. And Suekane does do some nice things with the concept, like everyone shunning Hitler because of his original even when the clone hasn’t done anything. It would have been nice to have some sort of list of the characters’ historical basis; while I easily identified some of the originals, there were others I had never even heard of before. I didn’t particularly care for the “Almighty Dolly” subplot, though I appreciated its significance. This could turn out to be a really interesting series.

Alice the 101st, Volumes 1-2 by Chigusa Kawai. As a musician, Alice the 101st appeals to me a great deal. It’s a little goofy and over the top on the drama, but it’s actually a pretty realistic portrayal of what it takes to become a professional performer. The characters all have very strong personalities even if they tend to be a little one-note (hehe). Alice himself is extremely spastic which could get annoying, but I found to be generally amusing. The introduction of Georges (and a brief cameo by Robert) in the second volume makes a nice crossover from one of Kawai’s other manga series, La Esperança. I really want to know what is going on between Vick and Max, so I hope another volume is released soon.

Ayako by Osamu Tezuka. One of Tezuka’s darker adult titles, Ayako is not an easy read even if it is hard to look away. Women are not treated well at all and poor Ayako herself seems to be considered more of an object to possess and control rather than an actual person. The Tenges are one messed up family and it’s difficult to feel any sort of sympathy for them. First and foremost they take care of the family and its reputation, even if individual members must suffer for it. The ending did feel a bit forced to me—I was wondering how Tezuka was going to try to tie everything together—but it was somehow appropriate despite the blatant symbolism.

Winter Demon, Volumes 1-4 written by Yamila Abraham, illustrated by Studio Kosaru, Le Peruggine, and Rhea Silvan. I found it a little strange at first that the artist would often change from chapter to chapter, but it was interesting to see the characters captured in different styles while still remaining obvious who was who. The first volume of Winter Demon is probably the weakest, but the series steadily improves as the story progresses. However, I wasn’t entirely convinced by how easily Hakuin seemed to fall for Fuyu even if it made me happy to see them happy together. Two side stories are introduced in the series and eventually Abraham ends up bringing all three together in the final volume, which I liked.

9 Souls directed by Toshiaki Toyoda. Nine inmates, the titular 9 Souls, unexpectedly manage to escape their prison cell. They plan to stick together at least until they find a rumored stash of counterfeit currency. Nine men travelling together are bound to attract some attention, especially when their disguises are limited to dressing in drag or wearing glasses and pasted on facial hair. One by one they find the end to their own story as they try to reconnect with their past lives or start new ones. While the film ends on a serious note, there’s actually a fair amount of humor in 9 Souls. I hadn’t heard of the film before and just picked it up randomly, but I actually quite enjoyed it.

The Book of the Dead directed by Kihachirō Kawamoto. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a stop action animation, so although I had never seen before The Book of the Dead I felt rather nostalgic watching the film. The story, based on a novel by Shinobu Orikuchi, feels a little disjointed and I think I missed some of the finer cultural aspects of the tale since I’m not particularly familiar with 8th century Japan. However, the puppets are both beautiful and creepy as needed for the story. Iratsume, a sought after and young noblewoman, has a vision, mistaking the young man she sees in it for the Buddha. In actuality, he is the soul of an executed prince and he mistakes her for the last woman he saw before his death.

Tiger & Bunny, Episodes 1-7 directed by Keiichi Satou. Initially, I had no intention of watching Tiger & Bunny—superheros generally aren’t my thing. But then just about everyone I know started raving about the series and I started to feel left out. So I watched it and had a fantastic time. The show is a lot of fun; there’s a reason it already has a significant fan following. It’s somewhat episodic (but that is changing), and the existence of super powered humans is only halfheartedly explained, but the character interactions are great. That being said, for me it is the characters that carry the anime, particularly Tiger. I find him adorkable, but if you don’t like him, you probably won’t like the show, either.

My Week in Manga: December 27, 2010-January 2, 2011

My News and Reviews

My new glasses finally came in! I can see and read again! And since I was still on winter break this past week, I did just that, finishing off the second half of Berserk (which I’m still obsessed with) among other things.  This past week also saw the announcement of the Strawberry Panic Starter Pack Winner and I managed to post my second in-depth manga review for December on the last day of the year—Oishinbo, A la Carte: Japanese Cuisine. That means I have successfully met my goal for in-depth manga reviews for two months in a row. I think I can do this!

Oh, and a happy and healthy new year to you all!

Quick Takes

Apothecarius Argentum, Volumes 1-4 by Tomomi Yamashita. Even though I loved the characters and story of Apothecarius Argentum, for some reason the manga and I never really clicked. The emotional turmoil and romantic tension between Argent and the princess just didn’t seem to be there. But by the fourth volume the series seems to have found its stride, ramping up the court politics and intrigue; I’ll probably pick up the following volumes. What first attracted me to Apothecarius Argentum was the importance of poison in the plot and Argent’s backstory. Forced to eat poison from a young age he is now immune to most but his body has become toxic to the living things around him.

Berserk, Volumes 18-34 by Kentaro Miura. Guts is steadily becoming a more sympathetic character Berserk progresses. The action and fight sequences can be a bit difficult to follow from time to time, but the resulting carnage is readily apparent. This is not a manga series for the faint of heart with plenty of violence and gore. And when it gets dark, it gets very, very dark. Fortunately, with characters like Puck and Isidro around, things are prevented from being too overwhelmingly heavy. In fact, all of the characters are great, having complex personalities and complicated histories. Berserk is still ongoing and I’ll definitely be following it as future volumes are released.

Bunny Drop, Volumes 1-2 by Yumi Unita. I’ve heard so many good things about Bunny Drop that I figured I should give it a try. I was actually quite surprised by how much I liked the series, but it really is a great manga. Daikichi is simply a marvelous character and a great guy. Despite taking Rin in without really thinking it through, he genuinely cares for her and her well-being. It’s really a delight to see their relationship develop and unfold. I can’t help but think he’s lucky she’s so quiet and well behaved—he’s enough out of his depth as it is. In addition to struggling to make things work as an inexperienced, single parent, he also has the mystery of Rin’s past to look into and figure out.

La Esperança, Volumes 1-7 by Chigusa Kawai. Although La Esperança can read a bit like a soap opera at times, the emotional intensity as the characters deal with painful events in their lives is incredibly authentic. Unfortunately, the manga is hindered by its terribly inconsistent artwork. Occasionally the manga exhibits some stunning panels, but most of the art is fairly weak although the style does establish itself nicely by the end of the series. The first and last volumes were probably my favorite and I was impressed by how Kawai was able to pull everything together. And as a musician, I was particularly fond of the incorporation of music into the plot.

GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka, Episodes 10-34 directed by Noriyuki Abe and Naoyasu Hanyu. The animation can leave something to be desired, and the voice acting for the English dub takes a while to settle in, but I do really enjoy the Great Teacher Onizuka anime. The anime is very similar to the manga—the basic plot is the same although liberties are taken with chronology and some of the story details. As ridiculous, inappropriate, and amusing as GTO can be, it also has some brilliant things to say about what it takes and means to be a teacher and the state of the education system. But even when it has something important to say, it never takes itself too seriously.

One Piece, Season One: Second Voyage directed by Kōnosuke Uda. I still haven’t been able to figure out exactly what it is about the One Piece anime, but I can seriously and happily sit down and watch it without stop for hours on end. I enjoy the longer, more involved story arcs better than the one-shot episodes, but even those are highly entertaining. The second season one DVD set finishes up Usopp’s story and recruitment and introduces the incomparable Sanji—cook and fighter extraordinaire—who Luffy is determined to make part of his crew. One Piece is fun and rambunctious and Funimation’s English dub is just about perfect.