My Week in Manga: March 26-April 1, 2012

My News and Reviews

All right, so what sorts of fun things did we have here at Experiments in Manga last week? Well, the monthly manga giveaway has started. You have through Tuesday to enter for a chance two win a copy of the first volume of Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game and to tell me about your favorite sports manga. I also reviewed Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Demon City Shinjuku: The Complete Edition which  collects his debut novel Demon City Shinjuku and its sequel Demon Palace Babylon. If you’re a fan of Kikuchi or the Demon City setting, you probably won’t want to miss out on the omnibus.

I came across an interesting article at CNN’s Geek Out! blog by Christian Sager who looks at manga from the perspective of an American comics fan—What’s up with manga? A comics fan’s deep dive. Although he mentions some of the series that he read in the article, I would have liked to have seen a complete list of the titles he gave a try. While reading Manga Bookshelf I discovered that a Wild Adapter OVA had been announced. I’m a big fan of Wild Adapter so this makes me happy, even if we’ll probably never see it or the rest of the manga licensed. Also at Manga Bookshelf this past week was a great post about Claiming our BL biases.

Quick Takes

Absolute Boyfriend, Volumes 1-6 by Yuu Watase. I’ve mentioned before that I have a soft spot for android stories, so it probably isn’t too surprising that I’m fond of Watase’s Absolute Boyfriend. Sure the series tends to be rather silly and is fairly unrealistic, but that’s what makes it fun. Night is a love figure (yes, that is exactly what it sounds like) created by Kronos Heaven that Riiko accidentally purchased, except that she doesn’t actually have the money to cover the cost. She discovers that she likes having him around though and is determined to pay the company back. The series is mostly escapist fantasy, but its funny and endearing. Night is constantly taking off his clothes which amused me to no end.

Golgo 13, Volume 1: Supergun by Takao Saito. Viz’s thirteen volume release of Golgo 13 selects the “greatest hits” from throughout the series’ original (still ongoing) Japanese run. Supergun collects two stories, “The Gun at Am Shara” from May 1997 and “Hit and Run” from April 1979. The volume also includes a nice section for Golgo 13’s profile and history information. Duke Togo, one of the many pseudonyms for the man also known as Golgo 13, is highly skilled and feared assassin-for-hire. In case there was any doubt how much of a badass he is, Togo doesn’t even actually make an appearance in “Hit and Run” but the mere thought of him has a crime boss scared shitless. Even in “The Gun at Am Shara” he keeps to the shadows, which is certainly appropriate for his character.

Say Please by Kano Miyamoto. Say Please, like Miyamoto’s earlier work Lovers and Souls, has a bit of a melancholic air to it. I didn’t like it quite as well, though. Ryouichi works at a brothel which is how he met Sakura. He becomes captivated with the man and their relationship begins to evolve into something more complicated than client and escort. Sakura is somewhat of an enigma, generally quiet and reserved but more than capable of violence. I like that Miyamoto’s characters have histories and problems outside of the primary romance. In Sakura’s case, he’s a high school teacher that has to keep the fact that he’s gay hidden in order to keep his job. This secret impacts the rest of his life and relationships as well.

In Praise of Shadows: Japanese Avant-Garde Films of the 1990s & 2000s. I will readily admit that I’m not very knowledgeable about film, let alone avant-garde film. I’m pretty sure that a lot of In Praise of Shadows (a screening at the 50th Ann Arbor Film Festival of nine films ranging from three minutes to twenty minutes in length) went way over my head. Still, I was impressed by the amount of time, effort, and skill needed and involved in the creation of these short films. This particular selection featured films that made use of light, shadow, and exposure. While I may not have been able to appreciate them fully due to my lack of expertise, I am still very glad that I had the opportunity to see the films.

SPACE / TIME: Japanese Avant-Garde Films of the 1970s & 1980s. SPACE / TIME was another screening at the 50th Ann Arbor Film Festival, this time featuring ten short films ranging from two minutes to twelve minutes in length exploring the useage of space through movement and the passage of time. Quite a few of the selected films are very rarely seen. There was a Japanese film expert at the theater who was absolutely thrilled by the program; even he had only ever seen about half of the films before. While I enjoyed In Praise of Shadows, I think I liked SPACE / TIME even more. I was amazed by some of the filming techniques used and have no idea how some of the resulting effects were even created.

My Week in Manga: February 6-February 12, 2012

My News and Reviews

I posted two reviews last week. The first was for Isuna Hasekura’s light novel Spice & Wolf, Volume 5. I’m really enjoying this series, much more than I expected I would. I’m looking forward to the next volume’s release, currently scheduled for June. The second review I posted was for Haruki Murakami’s oral history of the 1995 Tokyo sarin gas attack, Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche. It’s an excellent volume that is an abridged translation of two of Murakami’s books, Underground and The Place That Was Promised.

Reverse Thieves has an great post about The Heroines of Princess Knight. It should help you get in the mood for February’s Manga Moveable Feast featuring “the god of manga” Osamu Tezuka and his works, hosted by Kate Dacey of The Manga Critic. The Feast will be held from February 19 to February 25. For more information, see Dacey’s call for participation. It should be a good time! I plan on reading a bunch of Tezuka manga and should have a couple reviews ready for the Feast.

Quick Takes

Bunny Drop, Volumes 3-4 by Yumi Unita. I really do enjoy Unita’s Bunny Drop. Daikichi is a sweet guy who has really gotten in over his head when he takes in his now deceased grandfather’s six-year-old illegitimate child Rin. The two of them make a cute little family, and Daikichi honestly cares for her well-being, but he is constantly reminded how little he actually knows about raising a kid. He very quickly realizes how difficult it actually is, especially as a single parent. Fortunately for him, Daikichi makes some “daddy friends” and Rin seems to be doing really well. Daikichi’s very lucky to have Rin as opposed some of other child terrors in Bunny Drop, but he manages to handle them pretty well, too.

Death: At Death’s Door by Jill Thompson. Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman was my introduction to comics and I still love the series. Death: At Death’s Door is a retelling of “Season of Mists,” an arc from The Sandman which happens to be one of my personal favorites. In Thompson’s version, the story is seen mostly from the perspective of Dream’s oldest sister Death, who I happen to adore. Thompson contributed to the original The Sandman (although I don’t believe she was involved with “Season of Mists”) and has created several spin-offs from the series. Death: At Death’s Door is a fun, quirky volume that is fairly accessible even to those not familiar with The Sandman. I do think that those who have read “Season of Mists” will get more out of it, though. Personally, I’m quite fond of it.

Love Machine by Amayo Tsuge. Shiro is an experimental android, a model known as an Etowa (Every Time Only With Affection). Designed as a companion and health monitor, the true extent of the capabilities of the new design is unknown. No one anticipated the intensity of the emotional bonds that the Etowa would develop for their masters. Kokuyo, after ending up in the hospital, is given Shiro as much for his own sake as for the android’s designers to have a chance to collect some data. Love Machine appeals to my love of android stories, but it doesn’t really do anything particularly new or unique with the subgenre. Love Machine also includes an unrelated story “My Boyfriend Is a Vampire,” which is cute.

A directed by Tatsuya Mori. A is a documentary over two hours long that takes a look into the inner workings of Aum Shinrikyo and the everyday lives of its members. In 1995 members of Aum, including its leader Shoko Asahara, were involved in the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system. The documentary was filmed while the criminal trials against these members were being conducted. The film primarily follows Aum member Hiroshi Araki who became the organization’s chief spokesperson during this time. Very little background, context, or framing is given and so viewers are left to draw their own conclusions from the film. A, released in 1998, was followed up by another documentary on Aum directed by Mori, A2, in 2001.

The Cat Returns directed by Hiroyuki Morita. From Studio Ghibli comes a charming little tale about Haru, a high school girl with the forgotten ability to talk to cats. After she saves a cat from being hit by a truck, she finds herself the recipient of unwanted thanks from the Cat Kingdom. It turns out that the cat she saved, Lune, happens to be their prince. Haru is whisked away to the Cat Kingdom and will turn into a cat herself if she doesn’t find a way to return home. I enjoyed the variety of character designs for the cats; I particularly liked the secret service/bodyguards. The Cat Returns is an indirect sequel to Whisper of the Heart, which I haven’t seen yet. Both are based on manga by Aoi Hiiragi.

Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion directed by Shunya Itō. Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion is a pink film, more or less softcore pornography intended for theatrical release. So, yes, there is plenty of female nudity as well as a fair amount of violence. The “women in prison” exploitation film was Itō’s debut directorial work and became the first in a series starring the beautiful Meiko Kaji as Sasori (“Scorpion”). After being betrayed during a sting operation by her boyfriend, a narcotics detective, Nami Matsushima is sent to prison. Abused by the guards and fellow convicts, she is determined to escape and seek revenge. The series is alluded to in Sion Sono’s film Love Exposure (one of the characters dresses as Sasori) which is how I learned about the movies.

My Week in Manga: January 16-January 22, 2012

My News and Reviews

This is it folks! Experiments in Manga is hosting the Manga Moveable Feast for the first time ever! This month’s Feast will focus on Usamaru Furuya and his work. I’ve been participating in the Feast since December 2010, but as I just mentioned, this is my first time hosting. I’m anxious and stressed and hope it turns out well. But, I’m also really excited about it all. I encourage everyone to take time to contribute to the Feast, or at least wander around and read some of the submissions and maybe leave a comment or two. Keep an eye on Experiments in Manga and I’ll try to direct you to Feast content that you might have missed. To start you out, I posted the introduction to the Usamaru Furuya Manga Moveable Feast just yesterday. I will also be updating the archive page throughout the Feast.

Somewhat related to the Feast, last week I posted a review of Japan Edge: The Insider’s Guide to Japanese Pop Subculture. I say somewhat related because the book includes excerpts from Furuya’s debut manga Palepoli, but that wasn’t the focus of my review. It is why I tracked down the book, though. Japan Edge is a bit dated and is out of print, but still has value. And completely unrelated to the Feast, I also posted a review of Natsume Sōseki’s coming-of-age novel, Sanshirō. I didn’t like it as well as his masterpiece Kokoro, but I still enjoyed it and found it to be entertaining.

Quick Takes

Genkaku Picasso, Volumes 1-3 by Usamaru Furuya. Genkaku Picasso was originally intended to be a two volume series. It turned into three volumes, each progressively longer than the one before. I’m glad that Furuya had the opportunity to expand on his original idea, because the first volume, while it has its charm, is somewhat weak. The final two volumes are much better and Genkaku Picasso turns out to be a great little series. The manga starts out very episodic, but eventually the overarching plot becomes more important. The longer stories work better; they feel less rushed and Furuya has more time to explore. There’s also a nod to Lychee Light Club in the third volume, which I got a huge kick out of.

Lychee Light Club by Usamaru Furuya. Lychee Light Club was my introduction to Furuya’s work. It is also arguably the most graphic and extreme manga of his currently available in English. After all, it is based off of a Tokyo Grand Guignol theater performance. The manga also takes inspiration from the work Suehiro Maruo. Be prepared for blood and guts and beautifully crafted, but very disturbing imagery. And a dark and disturbing story, too, for that matter. Lychee Light Club is definitely not a manga for everyone, but for its intended audience it is fantastic. I’m really hoping that Vertical will license the prequel, too. (My previously written in-depth review of Lychee Light Club can be found here.)

No Longer Human, Volumes 1-2 by Usamaru Furuya. Osamu Dazai’s novel No Longer Human has three manga adaptations of which I am aware. Furuya’s adaptation is the one I was most interested in, so I was thrilled when Vertical licensed the series. I don’t find Yozo, the protagonist, to be as sympathetic as he was in original novel, but Furuya’s interpretation still works marvelously well. The manga is dark and oppressive, but so was the original. The third and final volume is currently scheduled to be released in February; I’m really looking forward to the conclusion. (If you’re wondering about the changes that Furuya made from Dazai’s original novel, Genji Press has an excellent post—Dehumanizer Dept.)

Short Cuts, Volumes 1-2 by Usamaru Furuya. I quite enjoyed Short Cuts, Furuya’s first series written for a mainstream publication. It’s a gag oriented manga with each chapter, or “cut,” being only a page or two long. Certain characters do make reappearances, and there are a few recurring jokes, but for the most part each cut is fairly self-contained. Copious translation notes are included which is particularly useful in the case of Short Cuts because the manga’s humor frequently depends on knowledge of Japanese culture. However, there are plenty gags that are funny regardless. Personally, I find most of Short Cuts to be hilarious. A warning, though: Furuya can be very vulgar at times. One of my favorite things about Short Cuts is the wide range of art styles that Furuya employs.

Love Exposure directed by Sion Sono. In my opinion, Love Exposure is an absolutely brilliant film totally worth the nearly four hour needed to watch it. I enjoyed it immensely and was thoroughly engaged throughout. Love Exposure is intense and bizarre to say the least, dealing with themes of religion, love, lust, cults, sex, and violence. The sheer number of genres that Love Exposure incorporates is impressive. Comedy, drama, martial arts, psychological thriller, crime, horror, romance…I could keep going. And it’s all used to create a unique but somehow coherent story, often absurd and over-the-top, but always engrossing. Usamaru Furuya appears as Miyanishi and pulls off a cool, creepy persona very well.

Noriko’s Dinner Table directed by Sion Sono. I didn’t realize until after I started watching Noriko’s Dinner Table that it is actually the sequel to Sono’s film Suicide Club, which I haven’t actually seen yet. Noriko’s Dinner Table takes place before, during, and after the events depicted in Suicide Club. While the references to the earlier film will certainly be more meaningful for someone who has seen it, Noriko’s Dinner Table actually stands fairly well on its own. It’s a strange but intense film. Much if not all of the camera work is done by hand and the narrative uses a lot of voice-over work, making the film feel very personal. Usamaru Furuya shows up as “the man in the cafe.” Despite being unnamed, it’s not an insignificant role; you can’t miss him.

Zoo by Various. An adaptation of Otsuichi’s horror short story anthology by the same name, Zoo is a collection of five film shorts. A different director and creative team worked on each story. I didn’t find them to be quite as compelling as their original counterparts. I think the difference is that it’s not as easy to get into the characters’ heads. But Zoo is still an excellent adaptation and stays very true to the original. Usamaru Furuya worked on the screenplay, storyboard, and character design for “Hidamari no Shi” (also known as “Song of the Sunny Spot”), the only animated short in the collection. The other stories include “Kazari and Yoko,” “Seven Rooms,” “So Far,” and the titular “Zoo.”

My Week in Manga: January 9-January 15, 2012

My News and Reviews

I posted two reviews last week. The first was The Kouga Ninja Scrolls by Fūtaro Yamada. The novel was the basis for Basilisk and Shinobi: Heart Under Blade (see the quick take below) among other things. The second review was of Ryū Mitsuse’s Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights, considered to be one of the greatest Japanese science fiction novels. I was so excited for this release that I bought the book in hardcover rather than waiting for a paperback edition. Also, the dust jacket glows in the dark, which is just cool. I had a particularly difficult time writing the review, but am very happy with how it turned out.

On to some fun stuff online! Digital Manga’s Kickstarter project to bring back Osamu Tezuka’s Swallowing the Earth was successful and so they’ve recently announced their next project to publish Tezuka’s Barbara in English. No Flying No Tights has another excellent list to peruse, this time focusing on must have anime titles for the uninitiated. And finally, Blog of the North Star has started a series of posts featuring mixed martial arts manga. Pay attention, there’s some great stuff, and three posts so far—Hopes for 2012: For chrissakes SOMEONE license an MMA manga, MMA Manga Top Contenders: Holyland, MMA Manga Top Contenders: Shamo.

And please remember! This coming Sunday, January 22, the Usamaru Furuya Manga Moveable Feast begins! This will be my first time hosting the Feast, so I hope you’ll all stop by and maybe even contribute. I’m nervous, but looking forward to it.

Quick Takes

Cromartie High School, Volumes 6-12 by Eiji Nonaka. The absurdity continues. Each chapter is rather short, but Nonaka starts to string more of them together as the series progresses. I think I actually preferred the shorter, but recurring jokes rather than the longer arcs, but they are still pretty amusing, too. Nonaka is parodying more than just juvenile delinquent manga with Cromartie High School, there are plenty of references to music and other pop culture as well. Only the first twelve volumes of a seventeen volume series made it into English translation. Fortunately, because the manga doesn’t have much an overarching plot, this isn’t too much of an issue. It would be nice to see the series finished, though.

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, Volumes 1-3 by Mahiro Maeda. I absolutely love the Gankutsuou anime and so was interested in seeing a slightly different imagining of the story. The manga starts out very similarly to the anime but soon goes off in its own direction, focusing more on the Count than on the younger generation. Some of the characterizations and story elements have also been changed. However, it did seem to me that the manga ended rather abruptly, just as the dénouement was about to begin. I certainly prefer the anime over the manga, but the manga does provide details not found in the anime, such as a more explicit exploration of who/what Gankutsuou is and the Count’s time imprisoned at the Chateau d’If. See the anime first, but the manga is also intriguing.

Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise directed by Hiroyuki Yamaga. Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise was a complete bomb at the box office when it was first released in 1987, but it has since been highly acclaimed and critically well received. The story follows Shirotsugh Lhadatt, a cadet in the space force only because his grades weren’t good enough to get into the navy. The space force is the joke of the military and no one really takes it seriously, including most of its members. Unexpectedly, Shiro volunteers to be the first man sent into space and the space force suddenly has a real purpose. The pacing is slow and deliberate and animation is fantastic. I really enjoyed it.

Shinobi: Heart Under Blade directed by Ten Shimoyama. Based on Fūtaro Yamada’s novel The Kouga Ninja Scrolls, the live action film Shinobi: Heart Under Blade continues the tradition of supernatural ninja. The Kouga and the Iga ninja clans have been fighting each other for centuries but a truce enforced by the Tokugawa shogunate has resulted in a temporary peace. When the truce is lifted, the clans find themselves once again at war, including Gennosuke and Oboro. They are the heirs of the rival clans, but they have fallen in love with each other. The ending is quite different from that of the novel, but is still very satisfying. The ninja battles are also highly entertaining.

My Week in Manga: January 2-January 8, 2012

My News and Reviews

It’s the first full week of the month, so as to be expected it’s a slower/less interesting week (for most people) here at Experiments in Manga. I announced the Manga Giveaway: Magical Girl Mania Winner, which also includes a list of some magical girl manga that has been translated into English. I also posted the Bookshelf Overload for December and did some updating and clean up on the Resources page. Normally, the next Library Love entry would have been posted last week, but since I’m busy preparing for the Usamaru Furuya Manga Moveable Feast to be held at the end of January, it looks like Library Love will have to wait until next month. But, if things keep progressing as smoothly as they have been (I’m working hard!), that should be the only post that I miss this month. Go me! I promise I’ll make up for it with a slew of posts during the Feast.

Quick Takes

Cromartie High School, Volumes 1-5 by Eiji Nonaka. I am really enjoying Cromartie High School. A ridiculous parody of yankī manga, the series is hilarious in a very deadpan, straight-faced sort of way. There’s not much of a continuing storyline or complicated plot although there are certainly plenty of running jokes. The artwork is deliberately reminiscent of Ryoichi Ikegami’s, which makes it even funnier. Cromartie High School is notorious for the number of juvenile delinquents and badasses in its student body. Supposedly Takashi Kamiyama (the only honor student at the school) is the main character, although he once didn’t make an appearance in the manga for two months straight during its serialization.

Expired Seafood: Stories Inspired by Mature Lovers by Various. I don’t remember how I first found out about Expired Seafood, but I’m glad I picked up a copy when I did since unfortunately it’s already gone out of print. If you ever wished the gentlemen of Gente and Ristorante Paradiso would start making eyes at each other rather than at the ladies, Expired Seafood is probably up your alley and worth trying to find. This original-English boys’ love (well, oyaji love) anthology collects eight comics and four pinups ranging from cute, sweet, goofy, and charming to tastefully raunchy. What the stories share in common is the love of older men in love (generally, with each other). After each comic, the creator is given space for a bit of freetalk and a chance to gush, which was a nice touch.

Goth directed by Gen Takahashi. Out of the three versions of Goth (the original novel, the manga, and the film), the film is the most different from the other two. Out of the original six stories, the film focuses on two. The film is deliberately slow in its pace, perhaps too slow for some viewers, and the amount of dialogue is minimal. The story is dark, but visually the film makes use of a lot of light and the color white, creating a very disconcerting effect. It is difficult to really get inside of the characters’ mindsets in the film, which is what made the novel so compelling. Still, the film has its own striking aesthetic and creepy atmosphere. The novel is still the best of the three versions, though.