My Week in Manga: July 28-August 3, 2014

My News and Reviews

Another week, another few posts at Experiments in Manga. First up was my most recent manga giveaway. Tell me about your favorite mecha manga (if you have one) for a chance to win the first volume of Mohiro Kito’s Bokurano: Ours. (The winner will be announced on Wednesday, so there’s still time to send in comments!) The first in-depth manga review of August went to In Clothes Called Fat, the most recent manga by Moyoco Anno to have been released in English. I honestly believe it to be one of the best comics of the year. (Well, at least out of those that I’ve read so far.) I also posted July’s Bookshelf Overload over the weekend for those of you who are interested in the manga that I purchase or otherwise receive over the course of a month.

Elsewhere online, Sparkler Monthly is celebrating its first year of publication by offering a free sampler download that includes the first chapter of all of its series—prose, comics, and audio dramas. Deb Aoki has a nice overview of some of the manga happenings at this years San Diego Comic Con over at Publishers Weekly. Jamie Coville has also posted audio for some of the SDCC panels, including a few focusing on manga. (Actually, there are a ton of manga related files on that page from past comic events, too.)

August 1 was 801 Day (aka Yaoi or Boys’ Love Day), and though probably not technically related the most recent Manga Studies column at Comics Forum focused boys’ love research in Japan. (Did you know that Guin Saga‘s Kurimoto Kaoru was also a BL author, editor, and scholar? Now you do!) There have been a few new Fujojocast episodes posted recently, including one specifically for 801 Day. I found episode seven, Give what’s due to Saezuru, which talks about translation, adaptation, and frustrations over publishers’ quality and quality control to be especially interesting. SuBLime made a “new” license announcement—it has gained the digital rights to couple of series that were previously print-only. The announcement is particularly noteworthy because it seems to indicate that SuBLime was able to do this because the Japanese publishers are beginning to trust that fans won’t abuse digital downloads.

Quick Takes

Cowboy Bebop, Volume 1Cowboy Bebop, Volumes 1-3 written by Hajime Yatate and illustrated by Yutaka Nanten. Of the two Cowboy Bebop manga that were released (Cowboy Bebop: Shooting Star being the other), Nanten’s series is the one that is most similar to the anime. This makes a fair amount of sense considering that both the anime and the Cowboy Bebop manga were written by the same group of creators, whereas Shooting Star was really its own thing. The Cowboy Bebop manga is closer in tone to the anime’s more humorous episodes, though there is some seriousness as well. The overarching plot dealing with Spike’s feud with Vicious is largely missing, however the other character’s backstories are all filled in a little bit more. The manga, like the much of the anime, is generally episodic. Most of the stories wouldn’t have been too out-of-place with the anime itself, though for the most part I didn’t find them to be as strong as their televised counterparts. The manga will likely appeal most to those who have seen the anime and would like a chance to spend some additional time with the characters; the manga feels like bonus material and deleted scenes rather than anything substantial.

Deadlock, Volume 1Deadlock, Volume 1 written by Saki Aida and illustrated by Yuh Takashina. Though technically a boys’ love series, not much has happened in the way of romance after the first volume of Deadlock. However, there is a good deal of plot to be found, and I think that it’s a more interesting manga because of that. Yuto Lennix is a drug investigator who was framed for the murder of his best friend and partner. Incarcerated in the Californian state prison system, he has been given the chance to reduce his sentence by helping the FBI to determine the identity of terrorist leader who is believed to be a fellow inmate. That of course is assuming he doesn’t get himself killed first. It’s a somewhat idealized version of prison—everyone is very good-looking for one—but the portrayal of the racial tensions within the system is surprisingly realistic and generally avoids using stereotypes. So far, Deadlock has a fairly large cast. The social dynamics between the prisoners are a very important part of the manga as Yuto learns his place in the hierarchy while he carries out his investigation. Deadlock is currently an ongoing series; I sincerely hope that future volumes will be licensed when they’re released as well.

Madara, Volume 1Madara, Volumes 1-5 written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Shou Tajima. Apparently, Madara was one of CMX’s debut manga. I’ve been discovering some fantastic series from CMX. Sadly, Madara is not one of them. I initially became interested in the series because the creators are also responsible for the extraordinarily dark and graphic MPD-Psycho. The premise of Madara also appealed to me—a young man prophesied to be king fighting demons to restore the body that his father tried to destroy—but that’s probably because it’s so similar to Osamu Tezuka’s Dororo. Except that Dororo is actually good. Madara comes across as a fairly generic sword-and-sorcery RPG more than anything else. (The series actually did go on to inspire several video games, and even an anime.) It also seems as though Otsuka and Tajima are just making things up as they go. There’s not much of an ending, either. Small glimmers of Tajima’s stunning art style (which I love) can be seen, especially towards the end of the series, but the illustrations in Madara are tragically lacking in comparison. Granted, it is a much earlier series. Here’s a fun fact about Madara, though: the series was created in a left-to-right format.

Sonny Leads, Volume 1Sonny Leads, Volume 1 written by Richard Mosdell and illustrated by Genshi Kamobayashi. Sonny Leads holds a black belt in karate but he’s unsatisfied with his progress and so has come to Japan to further his training. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does, and he’s in for a bit of a culture shock, too. Both Mosdell and Kamobayashi are karateka and instructors. Their knowledge of and passion for karate definitely comes through in Sonny Leads. I especially like Kamobayashi’s artwork. Particular attention is given to the proper and realistic presentation of karate forms and stances as well as to more subtle details like the appearance of the knuckles developed and used for punches and strikes. As with most of Manga University’s publications, there’s also a strong educational element present in Sonny Leads—it’s possible to learn a bit of Japanese language and culture while reading it. A very interesting essay about high school karate clubs as well as a directory to the various karate organizations in Japan are also included in the volume. I’m not sure that Sonny Leads will have much general appeal, but as a karateka myself I’d be curious to see more of the series.

My Week in Manga: May 20-May 26, 2013

My News and Reviews

Last week was the Yumi Tamura Manga Moveable Feast, hosted at Tokyo Jupiter. For my contribution to the Feast, I reviewed Tamura’s Chicago, Volume 1: The Book of Self and Chicago, Volume 2: The Book of Justice. Chicago was the first of Tamura’s manga to be officially released in English. The series had great potential, so it was shame that Tamura prematurely ended it after only two volumes. Anna of Tokyo Jupiter also took a look at Beauty and Grit in Tamura’s Chicago, with a particular focus on the use of music in the series.

While paging through the August 2013 issue of Otaku USA I came across a review for Manga: Introduction, Challenges, and Best Practices. I don’t know how I missed the fact that this book was being published; there currently seems to be very little information about it available. It’s being edited by Manga Bookshelf‘s Melinda Beasi for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Contributing authors include Katherine Dacey, Shaenon Garrity, Sean Gaffney, Ed Chavez, Erica Friedman, and Robin Brenner. The book is being funded by a gift to CBLDF from The Gaiman Foundation. I might have just heard about Manga: Introduction, Challenges, and Best Practices, but I’m already very excited for its release.

I recently came across two manga review projects while wandering around on the Internet. The anime blog The Cart Driver has begun a series of Manga Driver posts focusing on, but not limited to, great manga series that haven’t yet been adapted into anime. The queer literature blog I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? has a new intern exploring LGTBQ Teen Manga. Aaron’s list of manga to review includes boys’ love and yuri as well as manga from other genres. (The reviews can be found by browsing the blog’s manga tag.)

I mentioned a few months ago that Vertical’s contract for Keiko Takemiya manga will soon come to an end, meaning that her two series To Terra… and Andromeda Stories will sadly be going out of print. (Additionally, any remaining stock that Vertical has after the cutoff dates will be destroyed.) Right Stuf has a little more information and is currently offering the manga at 40% off. To Terra… in particular is a fantastic series. If you haven’t already read Takemiya’s manga, this would be a good time to pick them up for a great price before they’re gone for good.

Finally, the manga blog Manga Weekend is hosting a Manga Olympics for Bloggers (MOB). Unfortunately, I won’t be able to participate due to my personal and work schedules. I’ll be doing a lot of traveling in June; it’ll be tough enough just to keep Experiments in Manga’s posts on schedule. I do plan on keeping my eye MOB, though, and hope to discover some new manga blogs in the process.

Quick Takes

Heroes Are Extinct!!, Volumes 1-3 by Ryoji Hido. I was taken completely by surprise by how entertaining and funny Heroes Are Extinct!! was. Sentai fans in particular will appreciate the series, but others should enjoy it, too. Heroes Are Extinct!! begins as a fairly standard parody but as it progresses Hido incorporates inter-galactic politics and court intrigue as well. Grand Galactic General Cassiel of the Bazue Empire has been charged with conquering Earth, but is disappointed by the lack of heroes. (He may have watched a little too much Earth television as a child.) With no suitable foe present, he begins training the Earth Force Terra Rangers to make his invasion a little more interesting.

MPD-Psycho, Volume 10 written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Shou Tajima. At the end of 2011 the tenth volume of MPD-Psycho was released by Dark Horse after a two year hiatus. Since then there has been no word if any later volumes will be published. There were some pretty big plot reveals in volume ten, so I sincerely hope that more of the series will be seen in English. The manga isn’t without its problems, but I do find it engaging overall. MPD-Psycho is a graphic, violent, and dark series with an increasingly strange and convoluted plot. Clones, bizarre murders, cults, eugenics, and secret organizations all play important roles even when it’s not immediately clear what those roles are. Tajima’s creepy art style suits the disconcerting story nicely.

Only Serious About You, Volumes 1-2 by Kai Asou. Although Only Serious About You is a boys’ love series, it’s just as much about Nao trying to raise his young daughter Chizu as a single parent as it is about his developing relationship with Yoshi, an openly gay man who freqents the restaurant where Nao works. The initial circumstances surrounding the two men getting together seemed a little forced to me. (Coming down with a fever seems to be a really big deal in Japan.) However, their bond develops very realistically from there. Only Serious About You is a charming and sweet manga. With its emphasis on family and cooking, it’s also one of the most domestic boys’ love stories that I’ve read.

Sunny, Volume 1 by Taiyo Matsumoto. I have become rather fond of Matsumoto’s work and so was excited when Viz announced it would be publishing his most recent manga series Sunny, and in a beautiful hardcover edition no less. The manga follows a group of kids living in a children’s home who either don’t have families or have been separated from them for one reason or another. The narrative isn’t straightforward; instead, Sunny is more a collection of impressions. Many of the vignettes are rather melancholic—none of the kids’ situations are anywhere close to being ideal. But there are moments of cheerfulness and genuine caring as well. Although some might find it ugly, I really enjoy Matsumoto’s artwork. His color pages in particular are lovely.

Dear Brother, Episodes 1-20 directed by Osamu Dezaki. Dear Brother is a thirty-nine episode anime adaptation from the early 1990s based on Riyoko Ikeda’s classic yuri manga. Nanako Misonoo is a first year at Seiran Academy, an elite all-girls school. There she is caught up in the drama surrounding three of the most popular girls in the school. As the series progresses the relationships between the characters are revealed to be incredibly complicated. They can also be very tragic, angst-ridden, and twisted. At times the Dear Brother anime is almost ponderous in its pacing while at other times it’s marvelously melodramatic. I’m really looking forward to watching the second half of the series.

Library Love, Part 11

Support manga, support your library!

Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Emma, Volumes 1-3 by Kaoru Mori. Emma is a series that has sadly gone out of print and is becoming progressively more difficult to find. Fortunately for me, my library has the entire series. The artwork is simpler in Emma than in Mori’s later manga, but Mori still devotes attention to even the smallest details. Of particular note is the amount of historical research put into Emma; it portrays Victorian-era London in a very realistic way. There is an overarching story to the series, but these first few volumes of Emma felt fairly episodic to me. The series focuses on the eponymous Emma,  a maid, who falls in love with William Jones, the son of a wealthy merchant, and the difficulties that their class differences bring them. 

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Volumes 1-11 written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Housui Yamazaki. Even though I had previously read much of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, I had forgotten how funny the series is. Granted, it’s very dark humor, which isn’t to terribly surprising from from a manga with so many supernatural horror elements. But all of the horror and gore is balanced by a cast of likeable, quirky characters. One of the things I like best about The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is that the creators take inspiration from real life events, mixing them with traditional Japanese ghost stories and urban legends. The series is mostly episodic, with stories generally ranging from one chapter to an entire volume in length.

Phoenix, Volumes 1-3 by Osamu Tezuka. Phoenix was considered by Tezuka to be his life’s work. Unfortunately, much of the series is now out of print in English. (Thank goodness for libraries.) Phoenix is a mixture of historical fiction and science fiction. Each volume alternates between the past and the future, slowly converging towards the present. The themes of death and rebirth and the cyclical nature of life echo throughout the manga. The stories in each volume stand alone, but they also reflect and mirror one another. I actually haven’t read much of Tezuka’s science fiction before, so I found that to be particularly fascinating. I can see the influence his work has had on later mangaka.

Yuri Monogatari, Volume 2 by Various. I wasn’t quite as taken with the second volume of Yuri Monogatari anthology as I was with the first, but I still found it to be an enjoyable collection. (And it’s much easier to find.) The series is a collection of yuri-themed stories published in English. The stories range from the realistic to the fantastic. Once again, Althea Keaton’s contribution was particularly strong. But my favorite work in this anthology was Beth Malone’s “Night Out.” Yuri Monogatari features many of the same creators who contributed to the first volume as well as a few newcomers, which was nice to see. For some reason, toasters (yes, the kitchen appliance) came up in multiple stories, which was a little odd but kind of fun.

Random Musings: Dealing with the Dead in The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and The Embalmer

Out of all the unusual talents that the characters in Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki’s horror manga The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service hold, the skill that is considered to be the strangest also happens to be one of the more realistic. Keiko Makino is an embalmer, an oddity in Japan where bodies are generally cremated soon after death, largely rendering their preservation unnecessary. In fact, the only other embalmer that I have ever encountered in a manga as a main character is Shinjyurou Mamiya from Mitsukazu Mihara’s series The Embalmer. (Granted, there are several important secondary characters in both of these series who are also embalmers.)

Because Makino and Mamiya share the same profession, they also happen to share a few other things in common. It is now possible to study mortuary science in Japan, but both Makino and Mamiya traveled abroad to America in order to study embalming. I’m not sure if Makino’s school is ever specifically mentioned in The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, but Mamiya attended the Pittsburgh College of Mortuary Science (a real place, although it’s now known as the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science). Mamiya and Makino also both have ties to American military bases in Japan. Mamiya’s father was an embalmer in the American military and their family lived on a base for a time. In Makino’s case, her skill as an embalmer is occasionally called upon by the Americans when they are shorthanded. Because there are so few embalmers in Japan and because embalming is an unfamiliar process there, both Makino and Mamiya are seen as rather odd and strange. They, and their profession, are often misunderstood and in some cases even reviled.

Embalming primarily serves three functions: the preservation of a body over time (slowing its decomposition), the restoration of a body’s appearance, and the sanitization and disinfection of a body to help prevent the spread of disease. All three of these functions are seen to varying degrees in both The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and The Embalmer, but for vastly different purposes. Generally, Makino is mostly concerned with preservation—the corpses need to last long enough for their souls to finally be put to rest—and public health (or at least the health of her and her cohorts). One the other hand, Mamiya places an emphasis on the actual restoration of the body. For the most part, embalming in The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is done for the corpse’s sake while embalming in The Embalmer is done for the sake of the loved ones left behind. It’s an interesting distinction between the two series, basically amounting to revenge versus comfort. Both approaches bring closure but in very, very different ways. After all, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is a supernatural horror manga and The Embalmer is a more realistic, psychological drama.

It’s probably not too surprising, but there is more of a focus on embalming in The Embalmer than there is in The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. This does make a fair amount of sense seeing as Makino is part of ensemble cast while Mamiya is a primary protagonist. The Embalmer explores many different aspects of embalming, including Mamiya’s training and schooling. Of the two series, The Embalmer comes across as a more serious portrayal of the profession. Embalming plays a critical role not just as part of Mamiya’s life but as a part of the entire series. In The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Makino’s skills almost come across as a gimmick, which is keeping perfectly in line with the tone of the series as a whole. Often her knowledge of embalming is somehow applied to an entirely different trade, such as serving as a makeup artist on a film set. Although the depiction of embalming isn’t as thorough in The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, the realistic aspects of the profession are still incorporated into the manga. While the group doesn’t always take full advantage of her knowledge, Makino and her skills are vital assets to the Kurosagi team.

The Embalmer and The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service are two completely different series, but their inclusion of embalmers and embalming creates some fascinating parallels. I find it incredibly interesting how similar themes can be used in entirely different ways to create manga that are so divergent but that still share crucial elements.

This post is a part of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Manga Moveable Feast.

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Volume 1

Author: Eiji Otsuka
Illustrator: Housui Yamazaki

U.S. publisher: Dark Horse
ISBN: 9781593075552
Released: August 2006
Original release: 2002

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is a horror manga series written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Housui Yamazaki, both of whom have worked on other horror-like manga—MPD Psycho and Mail, respectively. The first volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service was originally published in Japan in 2002, the English-language edition being released by Dark Horse in 2006. The series is currently ongoing and is available through volume fifteen in Japan; Dark Horse has so far released twelve volumes. I initially started reading The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service for two reasons. The series was first brought to my attention because the covers are so distinctive and striking and they caught my eye. But perhaps more importantly, I was already familiar with Otsuka’s work on MPD Psycho (which interestingly enough, end us up crossing over with The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service) and wanted to read more of his manga. Because The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service was selected for August 2012’s Manga Moveable Feast, I wanted to revisit the series.

Kuro Karatsu may not know it, but he is haunted or perhaps even possessed by a ghost. What he does know is that the dead can speak to and through him. After being roped into volunteering to pray for suicides found in the Aokigahara forest along with a few other students from his Buddhist university, Kuro discovers that he is not the only one with a unique skill. Makoto Numata, a tough guy with a sensitive soul, is a dowser. Except, instead of finding water, he is able to find dead bodies. The cute and petite Keiko Makino studied embalming and mortuary science in America, a profession with very little demand in Japan. Yuji Yuta is a relatively quite guy, but the alien he channels through a sock puppet is more than foulmouthed enough to make up for it. And then there’s the mastermind Ao Sasaki who has brought them all together. She is determined to find a profitable scheme that will put all of their talents to good use. And thus, the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is born—a group of nearly unemployable students putting the dead to rest on their own terms.

Although I have read The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service before, I had forgotten how funny the series actually is. It’s not so much a horror manga as it is a supernatural-horror-mystery manga with a heavy dose of a very dark sense of humor. Which isn’t to say the horror element isn’t an important part of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, because it certainly is. The series just somehow manages to be very good-natured about it, mostly due to the quirkiness of its cast and great dialogue. While the first volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service doesn’t show the development of the group’s friendship, it is obvious from their interactions with one another and their banter that they all get along well. I find their relaxed, nonchalant attitude when dealing with the dead to be very amusing. They act as though nothing is out of the ordinary. Sure, death is a natural part of life, but normally corpses don’t move of their own volition. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service doesn’t let that phase them, though.

The first volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service collects four different stories. While the stories do make small references to one another and continue to reveal more about the characters and their histories, they all stand completely on their own. As might be expected from a horror series, many of the stories end up being fairly gruesome and rather disturbing. Although Yamazaki shows some restraint in the artwork, there is still plenty of blood and guts in The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. Frankly though, the gore and corpses tend to be less terrifying than most of the living that Kuro and the others end up having to face on behalf of the dead. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is a strange mix of humor and horror—both psychological and grotesque—but Otsuka and Yamazaki make it work. The manga is entertaining, engaging, and has a great cast of characters. I really enjoyed my reread of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Volume 1.