My Week in Manga: June 23-June 29, 2014

My News and Reviews

Another three posts last week! It’s the end of June, so I decided to have a Juné Manga Giveaway. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, so there’s still some time left to enter for a chance to win a copy of Momoko Tenzen’s boys’ love one-shot Flutter. Last week I also took a closer look at the two Gengoroh Tagame manga recently published by Bruno Gmünder, Endless Game and Gunji. (And speaking of Bruno Gmünder, more titles for its Gay Manga line have been announced! Look for Mentaiko Itto’s Priapus, Takeshi Matsu’s More and More of You, and Tagame’s Fisherman’s Lodge in English later this year.) Finally, I posted a review of Kaoru Ohno’s historical novel Cage on the Sea which is about the survival and eventual repatriation of the Japanese holdouts on Anatahan Island after World War II. It was a story that was sensationalized in the 1950s,  but Ohno’s thoroughly researched novel is a much more nuanced portrayal of the events and people involved.

Quick Takes

Fairy Tail, Volume 38Fairy Tail, Volume 38 by Hiro Mashima. While the battles and challenges could be entertaining, I’ll admit that I had started to grow a little weary of the Grand Magic Games arc of Fairy Tail. Thankfully, a secondary (which has now become primary) plot was introduced which has much higher stakes than who will be declared the winner of the tournament. The possibility of the world being destroyed by the return of the dragons is a pretty big deal, after all. The lengthy buildup of the Grand Magic Games pays off in this volume though as the tournament reaches its conclusion. Actually, I think it’s one of the better volumes of Fairy Tail to have recently been released. Most of it is devoted to the various battles which are taking place, the Guild members showing just how much they’ve grown and how strong they’ve become in a very dramatic fashion. Friendship, loyalty, and teamwork have always been vital to Fairy Tail, but it really shows in this volume. Even though there is a focus on the action and fighting, there are also some important plot twists and story developments in the thirty-eighth volume, too.

My Love Story!!, Volume 1My Love Story!!, Volume 1 written by Kazune Kawahara and illustrated by Aruko. I absolutely adored the first volume of My Love Story!!—it’s funny and charming, and the characters are incredibly amusing and endearing. Although Takeo is heroic, enthusiastic, loyal, manly, and strong, he’s not traditionally good-looking, so people often overlook his better qualities. He falls in love easily, but all of the girls he likes fall for his attractive best friend Suna instead. (So far, Suna’s turned them all down, though.) But when Takeo saves a girl named Yamato from a groper on the train it seems as though his chance at love has finally arrived, if he isn’t too dense to realize it, that is. Takeo’s developing romance with Yamato is delightful, but his close friendship with Suna is marvelous, too. I’m not sure for how long the creators will be able spin the series’ basic premise without it feeling drawn out, but the manga is currently still ongoing at six volumes in Japan. Regardless, I’m looking forward to the next volume immensely; My Love Story!! is easily one of my favorite manga debuts of 2014.

Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 7Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 7 by Mitsuru Hattori. Bub’s condition continues to decline, so Rea has decided to leave for the ZoMA research facility, hoping that her unusual form of zombism will provide a clue to save him. (Is it sad that an undead cat is actually my favorite character in Sankarea?) Chihiro isn’t about to let her go on her own though, in part because he still feels responsible for Rea and wants to protect her, but also because he’s very interested in visiting the “zombie holy land.” Sankarea is a quirky series which tries to balance horror and romantic comedy. This volume actually succeeds fairly well in that. Chihiro has always expressed interest in zombie girls, and he is very excited to meet more of them at ZoMA, which causes him to reevaluate his relationship with Rea. Does he like her simply because she’s a zombie? Would he still like Rea even if there was a way to revive her? Considering Chihiro’s reactions to the other zombies, I could actually see Hattori going either way with the story. The seventh volume is a solid addition to the series, and ends on a pretty intense cliffhanger.

My Week in Manga: June 2-June 8, 2014

My News and Reviews

Three posts last week! The first was the announcement of the Oi, Oishinbo! manga giveaway winner, which also includes a list of some of the food manga that has been licensed in English. And speaking of food manga, last week I reviewed Fumi Yoshinaga’s What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 2. I’m really enjoying the series and am thrilled that it’s being released in English. I also reviewed Blade of the Immortal, Volume 29: Beyond Good and Evil by Hiroaki Samura, which is pretty much the beginning of the end of the series. I love Blade of the Immortal, so I’m interested to see how Samura will wrap everything up and who, if anyone, will survive its conclusion.

Things have been a bit hectic in my life lately, so I’ve not been able to pay attention to all of the news and announcements recently, but I did catch a few things on Vertical’s Twitter account. Apparently, its warehouse is down to the last 24 copies of Message to Adolf, Part 1 and it may or may not be reprinted. So, if you want a copy, you should probably grab it sooner rather than later. Adolf was my introduction to Osamu Tezuka, and it remains one of my favorite works by him. Also, Vertical was at AnimeNEXT and made a new license announcementDream Fossil: The Complete Short Stories of Satoshi Kon. Though it wasn’t perfect, I enjoyed Kon’s Tropic of the Sea a great deal, so am looking forward to this collection as well as the other Kon manga announced by Dark Horse a couple of months ago.

Quick Takes

Monster Soul, Volume 1Monster Soul, Volume 1 by Hiro Mashima. For readers intimidated by the length of Fairy Tail or Rave Master, Mashima’s two-volume Monster Soul sets a much lower bar for entry to his work. During the Human-Monster War, the Black Airs were an elite group of exceptionally powerful monsters. Now that the war is over, and the monsters have lost, they mostly try to keep to themselves. But with human poachers, a ghost with an agenda, and another monster picking a fight, trouble seems to find them anyway. Monster Soul is somewhat episodic, but Mashima does seem to be developing some sort of underlying plot. Since the series is only two volumes long though, it probably can’t be particularly convoluted or in-depth. That being said, I’m not entirely sure what direction Monster Soul will be taking. The story moves along very quickly, there are numerous fights, and the characters are boisterous. I wasn’t blown away, but the first volume of Monster Soul could be entertaining.

Otomen, Volume 16Otomen, Volumes 16-18 by Aya Kanno. I’m not sure that Otomen really needed to be eighteen volumes long, but I enjoyed every volume of it. The series just makes me so incredibly happy. It can be ridiculous and eyeroll-worthy at times, usually deliberately so, but I love it. The characters, while they don’t have much depth, are incredibly endearing. Kanno plays around with gender roles and expectations in Otomen, that’s one of the major points of the series, but never in a denigrating way. The not-so-subtle message of Otomen is that it is just fine to be whoever it is you are. These final three volumes find Asuka and many of the others in their last year of high school. They begin drifting apart for various reasons, the biggest being the influence of Asuka’s mother, and it is heartbreaking to see. Kanno has never hesitated to make use of well-worn tropes and plot developments in Otomen—frequently the series verges on parody because of that—but I was a little unsure about the memory loss arc. Ultimately though, the series ends in a very satisfying way.

The Seven Deadly Sins, Volume 1The Seven Deadly Sins, Volumes 1-2 by Nakaba Suzuki. Back in my undergrad days I took a fantastic course that focused on the use and portrayal of the seven deadly sins in music and literature, and so Suzuki’s The Seven Deadly Sins manga immediately caught my attention. At first, I was a little uncertain about The Seven Deadly Sins. It took a few chapters to really grow on me, and when present Meliodas’ lecherous tendencies still seem more like a tired cliché rather than any sort of legitimate character development, but the series has great potential. The Seven Deadly Sins are a group of extremely talented warriors who may be the only ones capable of stopping the Holy Knights from destroying Britannia. It isn’t yet known why the group goes by “The Seven Deadly Sins,” or what sins the members have committed to earn their monikers, but I’m assuming that will be revealed sometime in the future. The Holy Knights are the ones being framed as the series’ villains, but the Sins aren’t entirely good, either, which I appreciate. With interesting characters and epic battles, I’m looking forward to reading more.

The Sleep of ReasonThe Sleep of Reason: An Anthology of Horror edited by C. Spike Trotman. Edited by the same person who has been coordinating the new Smut Peddler anthologies, The Sleep of Reason collects twenty-six short horror comics. Some of the creators (like Jason Thompson and Carla Speed McNeil, among others) I was already familiar with, but there were plenty of other contributors whose work I was encountering for the very first time. That’s one of the things I love about anthologies like The Sleep of Reason—they introduce me to new artists that I want to follow. I also love being exposed to so many different styles of art and storytelling. There is some blood, death, and gore in The Sleep of Reason, but the collection isn’t a splatter fest and relies much more heavily on the psychological aspects of horror rather than on violence. As with any anthology, some of the stories are stronger than others. I’m not sure that I even completely understood some of them, but they all were eerie, disconcerting, and creepy. The Sleep of Reason is a great collection; definitely recommended for fans of horror.

My Week in Manga: April 14-April 20, 2014

My News and Reviews

There were two in-depth reviews posted at Experiments in Manga Last week. The first review was of Torajiro Kishi’s manga Maka-Maka: Sex, Life, and Communication, Volume 1 as a part of my Year of Yuri review project. Maka-Maka is definitely a mature title and there’s quite a bit of sex and physical intimacy, but I think it’s one of the best adult-oriented yuri manga to have been released in English. Sadly, it’s very out-of-print. The second review was of The Black Lizard and Beast in the Shadows, a collection of two of Edogawa Rampo’s better known short novels of suspense. I though they were pretty great, but then again I tend to be rather fond of Rampo’s works.

As for a few other interesting things: Jason Thompson takes a look at the mahjong manga The Legend of Koizumi in the most recent House of 1000 Manga column. (Ed Chavez apparently wanted to license the series. It’s unlikely to ever actually happen, but we can dream!) Yen Press had quite a few license announcements of its own to make, including the establishment Yen On, an imprint specifically devoted to light novels. Dark Horse also announced some exciting licenses—more manga by CLAMP and Satoshi Kon. Toh EnJoe won the Philip K. Dick Award Special Citation for his work Self-Reference Engine, one of my favorite books released last year. And speaking of awards, the 2014 Eisner Award Nominees have been announced. Manga up for an Eisner Award include The Heart of Thomas, The Mysterious Underground Men, Showa: A History of Japan, 1926–1939, The Summit of the Gods, Volume 4, and Utsubora: The Story of a Novelist in the Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia category and The Strange Tale of Panorama Island in the category for Best Adaptation from Another Medium.

Quick Takes

Bad Teacher's Equation, Volume 4Bad Teacher’s Equation, Volumes 4-5 by Kazuma Kodaka. Bad Teacher’s Equation has come a long way since its first volume. The series was nearly a decade in the making, so it probably shouldn’t be too surprising that it underwent some significant evolution in both artwork and storytelling, including some unexpected plot developments. In the series’ afterword, Kodaka notes that Bad Teacher’s Equation “mirrored the history of boy’s love comics throughout the ’90s” and that it was her first foray into the genre. It started out as a comedy, but by the end of the series, while there is still a fair amount of humor, it has become much more serious and even addresses some of the challenges that face same-sex couples in a more realistic fashion. I particularly enjoyed the fourth volume because of this and because of its focus on Masami and Toru’s relationship. They are the most consistently believable couple in Bad Teacher’s Equation. Although I wasn’t always convinced by Masayoshi and Atsushi’s relationship in the series, for the most part I did really like how things played out for them in the final volume.

Click, Volume 1Click, Volumes 1-4 by Youngran Lee. The basic premise of Click is fairly absurd—Joonha’s family has a strange genetic mutation which causes their bodies to change sex shortly after they reach puberty. Of course, this was never actually mentioned to Joonha and so he’s understandable concerned when at the age of sixteen all of a sudden he seems to have turned into a girl. At first, I thought that Click was going to be a comedy, but that’s not entirely the case. There are humorous elements, Joonha’s parents, for example, are a rather unusual pair and their scenes are generally played for laughs, but the manhwa is much more about the drama (and melodrama). It might not be the most realistic series, but there’s actually some interesting exploration of gender, gender roles, and gender identity in Click. Joonha isn’t a particularly pleasant person and on top of that he’s a misogynistic jerk, too. His sex change is a rather traumatic event for him and he’s now stuck in between genders. His body is female, and he tries to live as a girl, but his personality and way of thinking hasn’t really changed that much.

Drifters, Volume 3Drifters, Volume 3 by Kohta Hirano. I’m still not sure that I entirely understand what the underlying plot of Drifters is supposed to be, but I’m not entirely certain that it matters much at this point, either. At least not to me. I enjoy Drifters for the series’ outrageous characters and battles more than any sort of coherent story. I also appreciate Hirano’s use of historic figures in the series, although it does help to have at least some vague idea of who they are outside of the manga. Admittedly, Hirano’s interpretations are extraordinarily liberal and irreverent. Most of the characters exhibit varying degrees of insanity and there’s not much subtlety or nuance to their characterizations, either. So far, Drifters has been a very violent series. The third volume is no exception to this and battle after battle is fought. I have noticed some continuity errors in the artwork which can be distracting or confusing, especially when they occur in the middle of a fight scene. (Past volumes had this same problem, too.) In the end, Drifters still doesn’t make much sense yet, but I continue to find it to be highly entertaining.

Fairy Tail, Volume 37Fairy Tail, Volume 37 by Hiro Mashima. It’s the final day of the Grand Magic Games, the results of which will literally determine the fate of the world. The danger of course is that Mashima may have over-hyped the Games’ finale; the victory of the guild that ultimately wins is described as being impossible and highly unusual. But if there’s going to be a tournament arc, that’s certainly one way of making it crucial to the development of the story. I consider it to be a good thing. While the Grand Magic Games were diverting, for a while there they didn’t seem to have much of a point except to serve as an excuse to have high-powered wizards doing battle. And there’s plenty of fighting in the thirty-seventh volume, including several confrontations that occur simultaneously. Sadly, compared to previous battles, I didn’t find them to be especially engaging. The most interesting fight is the one between Erza and two other extremely skilled and strong women, Kagura and Minerva, which has several scenes which are particularly dramatic. Mashima does have to cheat and mislead readers with the artwork a bit to achieve some of those moments, though.

SamuraiFlamencoSamurai Flamenco directed by Takahiro Omori. Samurai Flamenco is an anime series that celebrates superheros and superhero shows. It uses a strange mix of silliness bordering on parody and seriousness, but it somehow works. Samurai Flamenco begins very realistically, with Hazama acting as a vigilante. He’s not particularly competent at first, but he makes up for that with his enthusiasm, passion, and belief in justice. It also helps that other people are drawn to him and his cause. On the surface, the middle portion of the series seems like a very typical superhero show with monsters and evil organizations. The villains’ character designs are frankly ridiculous. But then the anime returns to a more serious approach and the final episode pulls everything together perfectly. I did enjoy the humor of the series but I probably appreciated the more realistic examination of what it means to be a superhero even more. I quite enjoyed Samurai Flamenco and found the characters, all of whom are just a little bit strange, to be both likeable and interesting.

My Week in Manga: February 3-February 9, 2014

My News and Review

Last week I announced the winner of the Vinland Saga manga giveaway. The post also includes a list of the manga with memorable snowy scenes that were mentioned during the contest. (Just in case you haven’t had enough snow where you are this winter.) And speaking of Makoto Yukimura’s Vinland Saga, I also reviewed the second omnibus of the manga. I’m really loving the series and enjoyed the second volume even more than I did the first. Over the weekend I reviewed Mieko Kanai’s award-winning novel Oh, Tama! which I greatly enjoyed. I know quite a few people who find it to be a boring work, but I found it to be delightfully low-key with a quirky sense of humor.

As for news and interesting reading seen online this week: The fourth issue of the international edition of Monkey Business will be released later this month. I quite enjoy Monkey Business, so I’m looking forward to it. Seven Seas answered a question about some of the decisions that go into licensing manga for omnibus release over on its Tumblr. At Organization Anti-Social Geniuses, Justin posted a great List of Where You Can Buy Anime/Manga in 2014. Hooded Utilitarian’s Ng Suat Tong writes about some of the best online comics criticism of 2013, including some great articles on manga that I hadn’t previously come across.

Quick Takes

Dictatorial Grimoire, Volume 1: CinderellaDictatorial Grimoire, Volume 1: Cinderella by Ayumi Kanou. I have a feeling that Dictatorial Grimoire may very well be one of those manga that is so bad that it’s good. The story is admittedly a bit of a mess and sometimes doesn’t even make a whole lot of sense. However, I can’t deny that I had fun reading the manga. It’s all sorts of ridiculous. (I’m not sure that all of it is entirely intentional, though.) Otogi Grimm is the descendant of the Brothers Grimm which turns out to be a rather dangerous thing to be. The Brothers made a pact with demons offering up the lives of their descendants in exchange for the stories that formed the basis of their famous fairy tales. Many of those demons—such as the progenitor’s of Cinderella and Snow White—are now after Otogi in one way or another. He does seem to maintain some control over them, though it’s never explained how he learned, developed, or perhaps inherited this power. I did love that Cinderella is a complete masochist, although that fact is used mostly as a gag rather than for any meaningful characterization. I was, however, amused.

Fairy Tail, Volume 34Fairy Tail, Volume 34 by Hiro Mashima. The thirty-fourth volume of Fairy Tail gets off to a good start with the conclusion of Natsu’s confrontation with the Saber Tooth Guild. Then it’s back to the Grand Magic Games for the third day of competition. After a nice buildup to the day’s challenge event, called Pandemonium, Erza’s epic battle is largely reduced to a two-page spread. More time is spent on what basically amounts to target practice for the other teams than on what could have been a glorious combat sequence; it was extremely disappointing. Some of the other fights in this volume fare better, but others are completely rushed through. I’m more interested in the plots going on behind the scenes than I am in the tournament itself, but it seems that to some extent Mashima has given up on the Grand Magic Games. Even the event challenges, which were initially interesting because they required some actual thought and strategy to be put into them in addition to magic and martial skill, have become little more than all-out brawls in this volume. That, too, was a rather disappointing development.

Manic LoveManic Love by Satomi Yamagata. Manic Love is a prequel of sorts to Yamagata’s Fake Fur; it delves deeper into the back story of Maki Sonoda, an important side character. Yamagata jokes in the afterword that she had challenged herself to write a manga that was half nude scenes, so there’s quite a bit of sex in Manic Love. But it’s actually handled quite tastefully and the sex scenes are an important part of the manga and the themes with which Yamagata is working. As was the case with Fake Fur, Manic Love explores the relationship between romantic love and sexual desire and how they can influence each other. Sex is used as a form of communication and connection between the characters in addition to being something that they enjoy. One of the things that I particularly liked about Manic Love is that each chapter it told from a different characters’ point of view. Maki is in what is probably best described as a sort of love triangle, but it’s one without hard feelings or anger. It’s interesting to be able to see that unusual relationship from multiple perspectives, including one from someone who is outside of that triangle entirely.

My Week in Manga: December 23-December 29, 2013

My News and Reviews

Last week I posted a review of Hinoki Kino’s manga No. 6, Volume 4. The series has been getting better with each installment and things are starting to get really good. I also wrote a little bit about some of the manga, comics, and fiction releases that for me were particularly Notable in 2013. It’s not exactly a “best of” list, and it isn’t exactly a list of my favorite manga of the year, either. Basically it’s a list of interesting releases from 2013. And speaking of 2013, there’s still time to enter the last manga giveaway of the year! Check out the 4-Koma for You manga giveaway for a chance to win the omnibus edition of Kiyohiko Azuma’s yonkoma manga Azumanga Daioh.

Quick Takes

FairyTail, Volume 33Fairy Tail, Volume 33 by Hiro Mashima. It’s the second day of the Grand Magic Games and it’s still not looking good for the two Fairy Tail teams, although some of their members have surprising victories. Unfortunately, considering their prior string of defeats, it’s not enough to make much of a difference this early in the tournament. There are some great battles and moments of humor in this volume, but I still don’t find the tournament arc to be as compelling as the arcs that came before it. New characters continue to be introduced; I particularly enjoyed the addition of Bacchus, a powerful wizard from the Quatro Cerberus guild. Personality-wise, he can be a bit of a drunken jerk and isn’t always particularly likeable. What caught my interest is that his style of magic is based on Piguaquan, a legitimate Chinese martial art. Not too surprising considering his name, Bacchus combines this with Zui Quan, or “drunken fist.” Granted, it’s the fictionalized version of drunken fist that requires the practitioner to actually be intoxicated, but this is fitting and meshes well with the existing magic systems in Fairy Tail.

SmugglerSmuggler by Shohei Manabe. Originally released in English by Tokyopop, Smuggler is now available in a new edition from One Peace Books. I missed the manga the first time around, and since it also received a live-action film adaptation, I was particularly curious to read it. Kinuta is a failed actor who has accumulated a fair amount of debt. In order to pay back what he owes he has been smuggling and illegally dumping cargo outside of Tokyo. What he didn’t initially realize was that he was helping to transport and dispose of dead bodies for the yakuza. And now that he does know, Kinuta owes the mob his life as well as his money. When a job goes terribly wrong and an extraordinarily dangerous assassin escapes on his watch, Kinuta suddenly finds himself pulled even deeper into Japan’s underworld. Smuggler is a dark and violent manga, quickly paced, and unrelenting. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. Smuggler held my interest, and there were some marvelously gut-wrenching scenes, but in the end I can’t say that the manga left much of a lasting impression on me.

Swan, Volume 4Swan, Volumes 4-9 by Kyoko Ariyoshi. I am still completely in love with Swan and am astounded that it has taken me this long to actually get around to reading it. The series is incredibly well done—it’s just so intense and passionate, not to mention beautifully drawn. I’m also learning a bit more about ballet and its history as I read, which I count as a bonus. There are quite a few themes being addressed in these particular volumes. One of the themes that is especially prominent deals with sacrifice and what people are willing to give up in order to pursue what the truly love. It’s not always an easy decision. As someone who was deeply involved in the performing arts (in my case music, not dance), it’s a conflict with which I can personally identify. The characters in Swan all have to struggle to find the balance between their lives as dancers and their relationships with other people. Matters of love and romance complicate things greatly, but they also serve as a source of inspiration for creative expression. Swan piles on the drama and it’s fantastic.

Wolfsmund, Volume 2Wolfsmund, Volume 2 by Mitsuhisa Kuji. While the first volume of Wolfsmund was violent and intense, the second volume is arguably even more so. In response to the rebellion gaining strength and numbers, the questioning of those trying to cross through the Wolf’s Maw at Sankt Gotthard Pass has become even more invasive and thorough. The gate’s overseer Wolfram—who is almost always shown with a terrifyingly pleasant smile on his face—seems to take particular delight in this. In order to get the information he needs, he’s more than willing to order the death or torture of a person no matter who they are. Cruelty isn’t limited to Wolfram. Even the rebellion’s heroes are capable of terrible deeds. I am a fan of dark historical manga, so Wolfsmund is right up my alley. Wolfsmund is definitely for mature readers. Considering its brutal nature (women and girls in particular suffer greatly in this volume) it’s not a series that I would recommend to just anyone. That being said, I am looking forward to the next volume.