My Week in Manga: December 24-December 30, 2012

My New and Reviews

Last week was the last full week of the year! I’m looking forward to what 2013 might bring. Today ends the Hikaru no Go/Game Manga Manga Moveable Feast. I had two contributions for the Feast this time around. Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata’s Hikaru no Go is a fantastic series; I was excited to see it selected for the Feast. For my first contribution, I reviewed the first volume of Hikaru no Go. Keeping with the Feast’s game theme, I also posted some random musings on mahjong manga. I love mahjong, and it’s very unlikely any mahjong manga will be licensed in English, but references to the game can be found all over the place in manga. Not related to the Manga Moveable Feast but also posted last week was the final manga giveaway for the year. There’s still time to enter for a chance to win the first volume of Saki Hiwatari’s shoujo science fiction epic Please Save My Earth!

I was also saddened to learn last week that Keiji Nakazawa, survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and creator of Barefoot Gen, passed away from lung cancer at the age of 73. In the past, I reviewed both the first volume of Barefoot Gen and Nakazawa’s autobiography Hiroshima: The Autobiography of Barefoot Gen. Jonathan Clements also recently reprinted his interview with Nakazawa from a few years ago. Nakazawa and his work will be missed.

Quick Takes

Blood Lad, Omnibus 1 (equivalent to Volumes 1-2) by Yuuki Kodama. I wasn’t planning on reading Blood Lad, but I recently heard some good things about the series. For the most part, Blood Lad was a lot of fun. But it’s a pity that the plot hinges on what is probably the weakest element in the entire manga—Yanagi Fuyumi, a human girl who’s fallen into the demon world. Unfortunately, she’s all boobs and no personality. But I do like the rest of the characters, particularly Staz, a vampire who’s obsessed with human, and specifically Japanese, pop culture. I was a little surprised that Blood Lad is a seinen series; it feels more like shounen to me. I’m not in a rush to pick up the next omnibus, but I certainly wouldn’t turn it away, either.

Blue Spring by Taiyo Matsumoto. I sought out Blue Spring specifically for the story “Mahjong Summer,” but I also happen to be a fan of Matsumoto’s work in general. I really liked this collection of loosely related stories about the delinquent, disillusioned, and apathetic students of Kitano High School. The teachers don’t care about what’s going on at the school and the students care even less. They are bored with school and life and seek out ways to occupy themselves before entering adulthood: playing dangerous games, getting involved with gangs and yakuza, showing off and talking shit, and so on. The school itself is rundown and covered with graffiti both inside and out. There’s a touch of the surreal to Blue Spring which is one of the things that makes the manga work so well.

Paradise Kiss, Parts 1-2 by Ai Yazawa. I don’t have a particular interest in fashion which is one of the reasons I haven’t picked up Paradise Kiss until now. It really is a shame I took so long because the series is fantastic. Yazawa excels at writing characters. They all have their histories and faults. They’re not always likeable, but they always come across as real people. I’m particularly fascinated by George in Paradise Kiss. He’s a hard person to read, and there’s a reason for that. He’s manipulative and a bit twisted, but he’s been damaged and hurt in the past, too. After reading part of Nana and now first two-thirds of Paradise Kiss, I am extremely impressed by Yazawa’s work; she is a phenomenal creator.

The Prime Minister’s Secret Diplomacy by Youka Nitta. Embracing Love is one of my favorite boys’ love series, and so I was looking forward to trying another work by Nitta. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I was particularly impressed by The Prime Minister’s Secret Diplomacy. Although I liked the story’s setup—two diplomats navigating their affair and liaisons, taking both personal and political risks in order to do so—I ended up fairly bored with the manga as a whole. And, except for a few brief moments, I wasn’t really feeling any chemistry between the two men, either. Apparently, The Prime Minister’s Secret Diplomacy is the beginning of a series; there’s at least one more volume, but it doesn’t appear to have been licensed in English.

Hikaru no Go, Episodes 1-15 directed by Shin Nishizawa. I love the Hikaru no Go manga, but up until now haven’t seen any of the anime adaptation. I’m enjoying the anime, but the manga is definitely the superior of the two. The art and pacing of the story are better in the manga and the anime isn’t as forgiving if you don’t already understand go. Granted, the anime does teach a little more about the game than the manga does. It even includes short go lessons with professional player Yukari Umezawa (who was also the supervisor for the manga) at the end of each episode. Sai seems to have lost much of his cute side, which made me a little sad; his serious nature is more prominent in the anime.

Hikaru no Go, Volume 1: Descent of the Go Master

Author: Yumi Hotta
Illustrator: Takeshi Obata

U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781591162223
Released: May 2004
Original release: 1998
Awards: Shogakukan Manga Award, Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize

Hikaru no Go, written by Yumi Hotta and illustrated by Takeshi Obata (who is also the artist for the very popular manga series Death Note), is one of the first manga series that I made a point to collect in its entirety. I had first borrowed Hikaru no Go from my local library, but less than half of the series was available there. But I was so impressed by what I had read, I went and bought myself a complete set of Hikaru no Go, all twenty-three volumes. I was pleased when Hikaru no Go was selected for the December 2012 Manga Moveable Feast because it is a series that I’m quite fond of. I’m not the only one, either. Hikaru no Go received a Shogakukan Manga Award in 2000 and was later awarded an Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize in 2003. Hikaru no Go, Volume 1: Descent of the Go Master was originally released in Japan in 1998. Viz Media first serialized the manga in issues thirteen through sixteen of Shonen Jump before publishing the collected volume in 2004.

While scavenging through his grandfather’s attic, Hikaru Shindo comes across an old go board which he hopes he can sell for some extra cash. Instead, he finds that he must share his consciousness with the ghost attached to the board, Fujiwara-no-Sai, a go master from the Heian period. Although Sai died long ago, his spirit lingers on due to his great love for the game. Even in death he strives to play the Divine Move. But for some reason, he’s stuck with Hikaru, a sixth-grader with absolutely no interest in go. But Hikaru isn’t a bad kid. With the right kind of encouragement—namely Sai agreeing to help him out with his history classwork—Hikaru is happy to allow Sai the opportunity to observe and even play a few games of go. And Hikaru can’t help but be impressed by the intensity of the players he sees, some who are even younger than he is. A spark has been lit in Hikaru. He started paying attention to go for Sai’s sake, but now a small part of him wants to play for his own.

Hikaru no Go has a great, engaging story, but it’s Obata’s artwork that really brings everything together. At it’s very core, Hikaru no Go is a manga about a boardgame. Now, I personally love games, but I still wouldn’t necessarily think that they would make a compelling subject for a manga series. Hikaru no Go shows that they can. Obata’s artwork captures the excitement and drama surrounding go and its players with effective and cinematic panels and page layouts. The character designs are memorable and distinctive without resorting to caricature; even the individuals in groups and crowds each have their own look. Obata also adds some nice touches to Hikaru’s design, often incorporating the number five (pronounced “go” in Japanese) into his clothing choices. And I love Sai’s design, too. He can go from elegant to adorable at a moments notice.

One of the greatest things about Hikaru no Go is that it requires absolutely not prior knowledge of go to enjoy the series. To be completely honest, almost everything I do know about go I initially learned from reading Hikaru no Go. The series even inspired me to give the game a try. Hikaru himself is a complete beginner at the start of the manga. But Hikaru no Go also reveals the “tenacious perseverance and hard work” that is required of players who are serious and passionate about go. The series is even supervised by Yukari Umezawa, a professional go player holding the rank of go-dan at the time of the publication of Descent of the Go Master. As Hikaru learns more about the game, so do the readers, but the technicalities and rules of go never overshadow the story and characters of Hikaru no Go. The series really is a lot of fun; even having read it before I still enjoy it immensely.

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

My News and Reviews

I managed to post the most recent Library Love was last week. Similar in format to my weekly quick takes, I’m trying to feature Library Love posts on a bi-monthly schedule, so you can look forward to the next one sometime in September. I also posted my first in-depth manga review for the month, Shigeru Mizuki’s semi-autobiographical work NonNonBa. It’s a lovely tribute to the woman who inspired his love of yokai. And speaking of Shigeru Mizuki! Another of his semi-autobiographical manga, Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, was honored with the 2012 Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia! Also, Katsuhiro Otomo was inducted into the Eisner Award Hall of Fame.

On to a couple of interesting things I came across online! Over at the Maga UK Anime blog, Helen McCarthy (author of The Art of Osamu Tezuka) has a great article looking at Monkey from The Journey to the West (which I finished reading relatively recently) and his appearances in Japanese film, manga, and anime—Monkeying Around. Library Journal has an interview with Prison Librarian Philip Ephraim on the Positive Effects of Comics. Manga is particularly popular at the prison where he works. Over the weekend PictureBox announced a very exciting license. Currently scheduled for next spring, I’m looking forward to the release of The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame: The Master of Bara Manga a great deal. I am absolutely thrilled to see bara being licensed in English. And finally, don’t forget about the upcoming Clamp Manga Moveable Feast which begins next Monday!

Quick Takes

Bónd(z) by Tōko Kawai. Bónd(z) collects four of Kawai’s boys’ love shorts: “[bónd(z)],” “Situation,” “Kitan Garden,” and “Sakura.” Despite being part of Digital Manga’s 801 imprint, Bónd(z) is actually fairly tame when it comes to graphic sexual content; the most explicit probably being a genital piercing. The first two stories in the collection were my favorite. Coincidentally, they both involved a pair of best friends coming to terms with the fact that their relationship is more than just that. However, Kawai takes two very different approaches with the stories. “Kitan Garden” is a fluffy and somewhat unusual fantasy. “Sakura” is the oldest work and the least accomplished, but it still has its moments.

Get Jiro! written by Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose and illustrated by Langdon Foss. I was both a little hesitant and excited when I learned about Get Jiro! Ultimately I decided to give it a try, and I’m glad that I did. Although not without its problems—several plot elements are rushed or not entirely developed, particularly during the story’s climax—Get Jiro! is great, violent, bloody fun. (There’s even a nod to Akira in there.) Jiro is a phenomenal, and deadly, sushi master who isn’t about to let the other chefs-cum-crime lords in a future Los Angeles boss him around. Get Jiro! takes foodie culture to absurd extremes and has a great potential to offend some readers along the way if they would decide to take the comic too seriously. I had a blast reading it, though.

Hikaru no Go, Volumes 21-23 written by Yumi Hotta and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. Everything that takes place after the seventeenth volume of Hikaru no Go seems to me more like an extended epilogue rather than a part of the main story. However, these final volumes do provide a satisfying conclusion to the series as a whole. I respect that Hotta dared to take a more realistic approach to the ending instead of taking an easier way out. Even if you have no interest in or knowledge of go, I do recommend giving Hikaru no Go a chance. It’s a great series. The characters are so enthusiastic that I found myself easily swept up in their excitement about go and their struggles to become the best players they can.

Olympos by Aki. I was fairly obsessed with Greek mythology in high school, so I was looking forward to reading the omnibus edition of Olympos. The manga isn’t a strict retelling of any of the Greek myths; instead, Aki primarily uses the various gods and settings to create her own tale. Unfortunately, it ends up being too lofty and semi-philosophical for its own good. Occasionally, something interesting or thought-provoking would catch my attention, but for the most part I wasn’t engaged enough that I wanted to make the effort to follow the characters’ circular conversations. However, Aki does nail the capricious natures of the gods and her artwork is gorgeous. Yen Press’ attention to the physical production and quality of the manga makes for a beautiful volume.

The Legend of Korra, Episodes 1-12 created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. I am a huge fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I was very excited when I heard that the creators were returning to that world with The Legend of Korra, taking place about seventy years later. Except for the last five minutes or so of the last episode and a couple of casting choices, I was not disappointed with the new series. I particularly enjoyed the updated setting which shows evolution not only in technology but in bending as well. The Legend of Korra is readily accessible to those who never saw its predecessor, but those who have will appreciate some of the nods and references made to it. 

Tsuritama directed by Kenji Nakamura. Local legends, social anxiety, fishing, and aliens—an odd combination that Tsuritama somehow manages to make work. The first half of the series is a coming-of-age story while the second half spins off into a hunt for aliens. From the very beginning Tsuritama was a strange series, so the shift in direction actually flows pretty well. Some of the quirkiness did seem a bit forced—a few plot and design elements are outlandish without much justification—but I enjoyed Tsuritama immensely. I couldn’t help but watch it with a grin on my face. Visually, the series is a treat with great animation and an appealing style. The story being told can be a bit silly (which I don’t at all consider a bad thing) and Tsuritama looks good doing it.

My Week in Manga: June 11-June 17, 2012

My News and Reviews

Last week I managed to post two reviews. The first was for the second issue of the English-language edition of Monkey Business, a literary journal that originally started in Japan. I’ve really been enjoying Monkey Business; it’s introduced me to a lot of creators, many of which I probably wouldn’t have come across otherwise. It also includes manga! The second review is a part of my Blade of the Immortal project. I’ve managed to review one volume of the series each month for the past four months. It looks like this is a completely reasonable pace for me, even considering the other two in-depth manga reviews I write every month. (For some reason, writing manga reviews is more difficult for me than writing other kinds of book reviews.) Anyway, Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal, Volume 10: Secrets is my latest review.

Also last week, I mentioned that Drawn & Quarterly had licensed Shigeru Mizuki’s GeGeGe no Kitaro. It seemed like it would be a “best of” collection but, if D&Q’s Twitter account is anything to go by, it looks like the release will be starting at the beginning of the series. I hope the title does well for them; I’m really looking forward to it. Elswhere online, Brigid Alverson has an excellent interview with JManga’s business manager Robert Newman about JManga’s Evolving Digital Subscription Service over at Publishers Weekly.

Several months ago, I reviews Haruki Murakami’s excellent oral history Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche. A couple of weeks ago Naoko Kikuchi, one of the Aum Shinrikyo members associated with the attack who was still at large, was arrested. With the arrest of Katsuya Takahashi just last week, the final member that remained has now been found. According to The Asahi Shimbun, his weakness for manga may have helped lead to his capture.

Finally, June’s Manga Moveable Feast will be starting on the 24th! This month we’ll be taking a look at the works of Takehiko Inoue who is a phenomenal mangaka. For my part, I’ll have a quick take on the first couple of volumes of Slam Dunk and an in-depth review of the second Vagabond omnibus.

Quick Takes

Ai Ore!, Volume 1 by Mayu Shinjo. The basic premise of Ai Ore!—a girl who’s often mistaken for a boy and a boy who’s often mistaken for a girl fall for each other—appealed to me quite a bit. Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed. Supposedly, Ai Ore! is intended to be a romantic comedy, but I didn’t find it particularly funny. In fact, I didn’t really enjoy much of the first volume. I’ve been told that the series improves, but at this point I have no desire to continue on to find out. Probably the biggest issue I have with Ai Ore! is that I don’t like the male lead at all and I’m obviously supposed to. I can handle manipulative bastards and unhealthy relationships in my fiction, but Akira is just not working for me.

Hikaru no Go, Volumes 17-20 written by Yumi Hotta and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. These volumes are a turning point in Hikaru no Go. With the seventeenth volume, the series could have easily found a natural place to stop. However, I wasn’t disappointed that it continued since I enjoy Hikaru no Go a great deal. The eighteenth volume features six side stories which are not directly related to the main plot or that show previous scenes from a different point of view. It might be a bit of a filler, but it’s a fun volume nonetheless. I still only barely understand the finer points of go, but the characters’ passion for the game is obvious. It’s thrilling to see how intense they become when playing. With three more volumes to go, I’m looking forward to seeing how Hotta wraps things up.

One Thousand and One Nights, Volumes 1-5 written by Jeon JinSeok and illustrated by Han SeungHee. Changing the female Scheherazade into the male Sehara does defeat some of the purpose of One Thousand and One Night‘s framing story, but I will admit to enjoying the boys’ love overtones it lends to the narrative. Each volume features one of Sehara’s stories in addition to developing the plot and characters of the framing story. JinSeok doesn’t limit himself to tales found in the original One Thousand and One Nights; he draws from other world literature and folklore, as well. The selections do tend towards the unhappy, but I’m a sucker for tragic love stories, so I’m not going to complain too strenuously.

Gin Tama, Collection 2 (Episodes 14-26) directed by Shinji Takamatsu. At this point I still prefer the original manga, but the Gin Tama anime adaptation is steadily growing on me. I prefer the series when it finds new ways of approaching the material instead of strictly adhering to the manga’s version. I also really like the casting. Daisuke Sakaguchi in particular does a fantastic job of voicing Shinpachi; he has an incredibly dynamic range from cool and collected to frantic and freaked out. Gin Tama is a series with humor that often relies on the viewer being familiar with other series to fully appreciate, but there’s still plenty of ridiculousness that can be enjoyed regardless. I know for a fact that I’m missing many of the references, but I still get a kick out of the series’ absurdity.

My Week in Manga: April 30-May 6, 2012

My News and Reviews

I had a taiko performance this past weekend which meant I was kept pretty busy all week with extra rehearsals. I didn’t get a chance to watch anything since I wasn’t at home much, but thankfully manga is fairly portable. Experiments in Manga had the usual set of end/beginning of the month posts during the week. I announced the Give It Your All Giveaway Winner. The post also includes a list of manga licensed in English that feature mangaka as characters. The bookshelf overload for April was also posted. And, just to mix things up a little bit, the latest Library Love has been posted. I also updated the Resources page to include two new blogs: Sequential Ink, which I thought I had already added long ago, and Matt Talks About Manga, which one of my manga buddies just recently started.

I’d like this opportunity to congratulate Shameful Otaku Secret!, the blog matched with Experiments in Manga in the second round of the Aniblog Tourney, for advancing to the third round! Overall, the tournament was less traumatic than I thought it was going to be. I received some constructive criticism, some not so constructive criticism, a few compliments, and even gained a couple of new readers. Some people loved Experiments in Manga while others absolutely hated it. Probably even more people didn’t really care much either way. And I’m perfectly okay with that.

Probably the biggest bit of manga news from last week is that Right Stuf has teamed up with Tokyopop to publish the third volume of Hetalia for the first time ever in English. They are also offering the first two volumes as part of their newly established print on demand service. If Hetalia does well, they hope to expand the service to include other out of print manga as well. This is very exciting news for manga publishing and I hope they are successful. Right Stuf posted a YouTube video explaining the project and shows off the final product. Brigid Alverson also has a great interview with Right Stuf’s director of marketing and communications about the project over at MTV Geek—Hetalia Manga Rescue: What Happened, and What Might Happen Next.

Quick Takes

Hikaru no Go, Volumes 13-16 written by Yumi Hotta and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. Even though the stress and drama surrounding the pro test is over, Hotta is still able to find interesting ways to keep the series steadily moving forward as Hikaru begins his new career. The foreshadowing is a little heavy handed, but that doesn’t make Sai’s fate any less heartbreaking once it finally comes to pass. I was very happy to see Isumi return as a character. Isumi is important to Hikaru’s story and development, but the series also lets him take the lead briefly while exploring the world of Chinese Go—introducing some fantastic secondary characters in the process. I hope we’ll see them return as well.

R.O.D: Read or Die, Volumes 1-4 written by Hideyuki Kurata and illustrated by Shutaro Yamada. Read or Die started as a light novel series, but the manga is also written by the same author. I love the conceit of the Read or Die universe so much that I like the manga more than I probably should. Papermasters are bibliophiles who love books and are loved by books in return to such an extent that they have gained supernatural control over paper itself. Yomiko Readman, also known as “The Paper,” is an agent of the ominous British Library and is an extremely talented papermaster. It’s a pity that the manga doesn’t quite live up to its premise, with a plot that is all over the place and occasionally incoherent. The first volume could almost belong to an entirely different story.

Reversible, Volume 1 by Various. I had high hopes for what was supposed to be the first volume of the Reversible boys’ love anthology series. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. The title of the anthology is somewhat misleading—so far, there are no reversible couples to be found (which makes me very sad). Perhaps the name is supposed to reflect the a variety of stories? Except, there really isn’t much variety contained. Reversible collects eleven stories, many of which are the creators’ debuts in English. The selections are either short, standalone manga or the beginning of a longer story. None of them were particularly noteworthy. As far as I know, there are no immediate plans for the release of a second volume.

Rurouni Kenshin, Omnibus 1 (equivalent to Volumes 1-3) by Nobuhiro Watsuki. Rurouni Kenshin is such a popular and successful manga that new adaptations are still being made of it. Kenshin is a wandering swordsman during the Meiji era. Although he once worked as an assassin during the final days of the Tokugawa shogunate, he wants nothing more than to live peacefully and atone for the lives he has taken. I really like Kenshin as a character. He’s easily my favorite part of the series up to this point. Although I’m not particularly riveted by the manga as a whole yet, I do appreciate the story’s historical basis and inspiration. Some of Kenshin’s more outrageous opponents seem a bit odd and out of place considering the more realistic aspects of the manga, but I am liking the series.