Library Love, Part 16

Support manga, support your library!

Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Basara, Volumes 1-5 by Yumi Tamura. After reading only the first five volumes of Basara, I am already convinced that I want to own the entire series. Unfortunately, parts of it are tragically out of print. What’s also unfortunate? My library only has the first five volumes. Basara might be difficult to find but I think it’s worth tracking down. Set in a post-apocalyptic Japan, Basara follows a young woman named Sarasa. She hides the fact that her twin brother Tatara, the “child of destiny” prophesied to save their people from tyrannical imperial rule, has died by taking his place. So far, Basara is a quickly paced series featuring complex characters (including kick-ass women) and a fair amount of violence and tragedy for good measure.

Kaze Hikaru, Volumes 1-3 by Taeko Watanabe. I enjoy a good period manga and I’ve recently developed a particular interest in the Shinsengumi, so it was about time I gave Kaze Hikaru a try. (Plus, it has cross-dressing!) The series was Watanabe’s first foray into historical manga and she put a ton of research and reference work into the story and art. Kaze Hikaru follows Tominaga Sei, a young woman who has disguised herself as a boy in order to join the Mibu-Roshi which will later become the Shinsengumi. What she lacks in skill she makes up for in enthusiasm; for personal reasons, she is determined to become a great swordsman. Like all of the Shinsengumi manga that I’ve read, there are a lot of characters to keep track of in Kaze Hikaru. But I am enjoying Watanabe’s take on the era.

Nana, Volumes 13-15 by Ai Yazawa. I am still absolutely loving this series. (In fact, I finally caved and purchased an entire set. It’s just that good.) The characters and their relationships continue to grow and evolve as the series progresses. Some of them have even closer connections than I initially realized—the lives of the members of Trapnest and the Black Stones all intertwine and have been for quite some time now. Trust issues and jealousy show just how tenuous a relationship can be even when people are deeply in love. Since the beginning the narration of Nana has been somewhat ominous, implying some sort of impending tragic event without yet revealing what has happened. At this point, I’m starting to really worry.

Saturn Apartments, Volumes 3-6 by Hisae Iwaoka. It’s been a while since I’ve read any Saturn Apartments; I had forgotten how much I enjoy this quieter science fiction slice-of-life tale. At first the series seems to be fairly episodic, but as the manga develops an over-arching plot is established. Mitsu continues his training as a window washer of the ring system—a dangerous job, but one that he has come to love. Through his work the likable young man has made many connections and friends. At the same time, the tension between the working class of the lower levels and the upper class residents continues to increase. The sixth volume of Saturn Apartments is particularly excellent. I’m looking forward to seeing how Iwaoka brings everything to a close.

My Week in Manga: February 28-March 6, 2011

My News and Reviews

The Manga Moveable Feast for March is coming up in a couple of weeks (March 20-26), which I believe will be hosted by Linda at Animemiz’s Scribblings. The feast will be focusing on Aria by Kozue Amano. I’ve been meaning to read the series for a while now, so this will be a perfect excuse to finally get around to it.

Arguably the biggest happening in the world of manga last week was the news that Tokyopop will be laying off more of its staff. Brigid Alverson at Robot 6 wrote a passionate response (Tokyopop lays off senior editors) that got quite a few people talking. Daniella Orihuela-Gruber, a freelance editor at Tokyopop, offers a personal response to the news at All About MangaLife of a (Rookie) Editor: Love and Job Security.

A couple of weeks ago, Jason Thompson (Manga: The Complete Guide) wrote a post for io9 that I almost missed about the insane political satire and mahjong manga The Legend of KoizumiThe Legend of Koizumi: Japanese Politics, Mahjon Action and Space Nazis. It’s not currently available (legally) in English, but I hope that one day it will be. I tried to put a bug in Vertical‘s ear last time they were looking for license requests, but I’m not sure it was noticed.

Last week I announced the Have Some Hetalia Winner and posted the Bookshelf Overload for February. Also, a few more resources have been added to the Resources page: Animanga Nation, Anime, Manga and Manhwa Reviews, Animemiz’s Scribblings, and A Life in Panels (which I thought was already listed, but I guess not). And apparently green was the featured color for this week’s manga quick takes.

Quick Takes

Legal Drug, Volumes 1-3 by CLAMP. Currently, Legal Drug is on hiatus; there hasn’t been a new volume released since 2003. The first two volumes are somewhat episodic, although hinting at an overarching plot, while the third volume is primarily devoted to a single story. Things can be a bit confusing at times, and occasionally the plot is a little hard to follow, but I do like the overall story so far. Even more, I like the characters. Though, having only three volumes makes it difficult to really get to know them. But they certainly all have their own distinct personalities, and it’s a lot of fun to watch them interact. I found the artwork to be quite nice as well.

MPD-Psycho, Volumes 7-9 written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Shou Tajima. I’m still not quite sure I understand everything that’s going on in MPD-Psycho, but I’m still completely fascinated by it. The artwork, too, while vaguely disconcerting is enthralling; it helps emphasize the creepy qualities of the story. I would really like to know what’s going on, so I hope that Dark Horse publishes another volume soon. The series is up to fifteen volumes in Japan, but the the last volume in English was released almost two years ago. Towards the end of last year I heard that Dark Horse planned to resume publishing, but I haven’t seen anything since then.

Natsume’s Book of Friends, Volumes 1-3 by Yuki Midorikawa. It’s been a while since I read the first volume of Natsume’s Book of Friends; I had forgotten how much I enjoy the series. It was first recommended to me because I liked Yuki Urushibara’s series Mushishi. Both series are primarily episodic, although Natsume’s Book of Friends has more recurring characters. They also both have a sort of nostalgic, melancholy feel to them. Natsume’s Book of Friends tends to have a bit more humor than Mushishi and is more approachable and straightforward for younger readers. But that doesn’t mean older readers won’t enjoy it, too. I know that I certainly do.

Saturn Apartments, Volume 2 by Hisae Iwaoka. Mitsu continues learning more about himself and his father in this second volume of Saturn Apartments. I’m enjoying watching as he allows himself to grow closer to the people he works with. I’m not entirely sure why, but I absolutely adored the entire conversation revealing Tamachi’s obsession with eggs. It’s amusing to watch everyone hang out and rib on each other. I’m glad the Mitsu is beginning to feel like part of the group, but I do still worry about him. There’s still a fair amount of mystery surrounding his father’s accident; I’m particularly interested in learning more about this aspect of the story.

Berserk directed by Naohito Takahashi. I am more or less obsessed with Kentaro Miura’s manga series Berserk, so it was only a matter of time before I picked up the anime as well. The storyline has been streamlined and focused but there were definitely parts that I missed. Some of the emotional impact is reduced, but there were still moments that gave me chills. Susumu Hirasawa’s soundtrack is great. Overall, it’s a fantastic adaptation; the most important aspects and themes of the story remain intact although the supernatural elements are downplayed (at least until the end). The anime does end rather abruptly; it probably could have used one or two more episodes to tie everything together better.

Saturn Apartments, Volume 1

Creator: Hisae Iwaoka
U.S. Publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421533643
Released: May 2010
Original release: 2006

I’ve been aware of Hisae Iwaoka’s near future slice-of-life manga series Saturn Apartments for a while now. Considering my proclivity for science fiction, it is somewhat surprising that I took so long to get around to reading it, especially since I’ve heard very good things about the series. But when Saturn Apartments was the only manga to make the top ten list of the American Library Association’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens in 2011, I couldn’t ignore it any longer. The first collected volume of Saturn Apartments was originally published in Japan in 2006. The English edition of the book was published by Viz Media’s lovely Signature imprint in 2010. I have enjoyed just about every manga released by Signature, increasing the odds even more that I would like Saturn Apartments.

In the near future, the entire earth has been set aside as a nature preserve. The human population has completely removed itself from the planet, now living inside a ring encircling the Earth 35,000 meters above the surface. Most people live in the lower levels of the complex, the middle levels are primarily devoted to public works, while the elite, rich, and powerful inhabit the upper levels. Mitsu lives in the lower levels. A recent junior high school graduate, he has chose to become a window washer like his father before him. Cleaning the outside of the ring is a dangerous and demanding occupation. In fact, Mitsu’ father was lost in an accident while working a job. No one seems to know exactly what happened on that day, but the event affected the entire community.

Iwaoka’s artwork is quite distinctive and I became rather fond of it. I wouldn’t call the art pretty, some might even call it ugly, but it is cute and lovely in its own way. The characters have large heads with small but expressive facial features. While everyone has very similar, stocky body types, it is easy to tell the characters apart. It’s also nice to see such a wide range of ages done in Iwaoka’s style, from toddlers to older adults. The world-building in Saturn Apartments is also very well done—something that the artwork helps emphasize and capture. The differences between those living in the crowded and dirty lower levels and those living in the pristine and luxurious upper levels are made clear simply by looking at their setting. The backgrounds are wonderfully detailed without being too cluttered, really adding to the sense of place. The Saturn Apartments and its environments are just as important to the story as the characters.

I wasn’t wowed or blown away by the first volume of Saturn Apartments, but I did enjoy it. So far the series has a quiet charm and has more depth to it than I first realized. There is a sadness and loneliness to the story that is effective but not overwhelming. Humanity has been literally separated from its origins, making individuals’ struggles to establish and maintain meaningful connections and relationships more vital than ever. Saturn Apartments takes a closer look at these relationships—it’s about people. Particularly important, and who ties much of the first volume together, is Mitsu’s father, a character that only appears in flashbacks and as part of other people’s memories. It is obvious that he has impacted the lives of others and his disappearance greatly affected those around him. Mitsu, who feels abandoned, needs to learn about his father and through others is able to begin to better understand parts of his life. I am looking forward to following Mitsu further in the next volume of Saturn Apartments.