My Week in Manga: April 17-April 23, 2017

My News and Reviews

Well, I didn’t manage to post my in-depth manga review for April last week after all. Today I’m starting in a new position at a different library, meaning that last week I spent most of my time tying up as many loose ends as possible at my previous job. This included writing a lot of documentation. And since I was doing so much writing for work, by the time I got home I didn’t want to do anything but read, so that’s what I did. (Which goes to explain why I ended up finishing Cixin Liu’s excellent novel The Three-Body Problem much sooner than I had originally anticipated.) But never fear, I’ll be posting my review of Nagabe’s The Girl from the Other Side later this week in addition to the monthly manga giveaway.

In other news, Seven Seas continued its string of licensing announcements, adding Orikō Yoshino and Z-ton’s light novel series Monster Girl Doctor, Kazuki Funatsu’s Yokai Girls manga, and Saki Hasemi and Kentaro Yabuki’s To Love Ru and To Love Ru Darkness manga to the slate. Recent announcements from Viz Media included Sankichi Hinodeya’s Splatoon manga, a Hello Kitty coloring book, picture books of Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke, as well as the My Little Pony: The Movie artbook. Kodansha Comics had a couple of announcements to make recently, too, such as the upcoming release of full-color hardcover edition of Gun Snark’s Attack on Titan: No Regrets (I’ve previously reviewed the series’ first English-language release) and a hardcover omnibus edition of Yukito Kishiro’s Battle Angel Alita. (The series was originally published in English by Viz Media but has been out-of-print for quite some time.)

I also came across a few other interesting things last week: Over at The OASG, Justin interviewed Mariko Hihara and Kotoyo Noguchi, two independent manga creators in Japan. Noguchi also had some questions to ask in return. Frederik L. Schodt (whose work I greatly enjoy) was recently profiled at The article takes a look at his involvement as an ambassador for manga over the last four decades. Caitlin from I Have a Heroine Problem presented a panel called “Is This Feminist or Not? Ways of Talking about Women in Anime” at Sakura Con 2017 and has made her slides available. A very nicely designed site called Persona Problems offers criticism of Persona 5‘s English localization and delves into translation theory and practice that even people who don’t play the game may find interesting. Finally, the author and designer Iku Okada has started a series of autobiographical essays called Otaku Girl and Proud which explores Japanese gender inequality and identity and how popular culture can impact that experience.

Quick Takes

Dorohedoro, Volume 17Dorohedoro, Volumes 17-20 by Q Hayashida. Despite being one of my favorite ongoing series currently being released in English, I seem to somehow always forget how incredibly much I love Dorohedoro. I tend to forget how tremendously horrific the manga can be, too, mostly because it simultaneously manages to be surprisingly endearing. Hayashida’s story and artwork is frequently and stunningly brutal, gut-churning, and grotesque, but Dorohedoro also carries with it a great sense of humor. Granted, the comedy in Dorohedoro tends to be phenomenally dark. Lately, as Dorohedoro continues to steadily progress along what I believe will be it’s final major story arc, the series has become fairly intense and serious, but it remains exceptionally weird and has yet to completely lose its humor. The plot of Dorohedoro does meander a bit and because it’s been so long since I’ve read the previous volumes I’m sure that I’ve forgotten a few important details as the story takes multiple convoluted turns along the way. Ultimately, it doesn’t seem to really matter though since the world and characters of of Dorohedoro follow and operate under their own peculiar sort of logic; Dorohedoro doesn’t need to make a lot of sense in order to be bizarrely enjoyable.

FukuFuku: Kitten Tales, Volume 1FukuFuku: Kitten Tales, Volumes 1-2 by Kanata Konami. Before there was Chi’s Sweet Home there was FukuFuku Funyan, Konami’s cat manga which started in the late 1980s. The series featured an elderly woman and her cat FukuFuku. More recently, Konami created FukuFuku: Kitten Tales, a spinoff of FukuFuku’s first series which, as can be accurately assumed by the manga’s title, shares stories from the loveable feline’s youth. While Konami’s artwork in FukuFuku: Kitten Tales is black-and-white rather than being full-color and the manga is only two-volumes long rather than being twelve, the series is otherwise very similar in format to Chi’s Sweet Home. It’s actually been quite a while since I’ve read any of Chi’s Sweet Home, but FukuFuku: Kitten Tales feels like it might be a little more episodic as well. However, it is still an incredibly cute series. Each chapter is only six pages or so but manages to tell a complete story, accurately portraying the everyday life and antics of a kitten. FukuFuku: Kitten Tales isn’t especially compelling or creative as far as cat manga goes, but it is an adorable series which consistently made me smile and even chuckle from time to time.

Magia the Ninth, Volume 2Magia the Ninth, Volume 2 by Ichiya Sazanami. I enjoyed the first volume of Magia the Ninth immensely. I’m not really sure I could call it a good manga per se, and I don’t think I would necessarily recommend it broadly, but personally I got a huge kick out of it. That being said, I can’t say that I’m surprised that the series only lasted two volumes. (I don’t know for certain, but I get the feeling that Magia the Ninth was cancelled.) What did surprise me was how well Sazanami was able to pull everything together to conclude the manga in a coherent (and almost satisfying) fashion when obviously it was intended to be a series on a much grander scale. To be honest, Magia the Ninth probably would have done much better for itself if the manga had had that level of focus from the very beginning. Magia the Ninth is a strange and somewhat goofy little series about demons, magic, and music. While the series wasn’t always the most comprehensible, it’s stylishly drawn, has tremendous energy, and even manages to effectively incorporate legitimate music history into the story. Magia the Ninth may not have lived up to its potential, but I had fun with it.

The Prince in His Dark Days, Volume 2The Prince in His Dark Days, Volumes 2-3 by Hico Yamanaka. More and more of The Prince in His Dark Days seems to revolve around Itaru, but at this point I would still consider Atsuko, who is serving as Itaru’s double, to be the real lead of the manga. Unfortunately, Atsuko is casually threatened with sexual violence on a regular basis in the series which frankly makes me uncomfortable. In general, the power dynamics in The Prince in His Dark Days tend to be fairly disconcerting. It doesn’t really help when other characters’ try to play it off as a joke, either. If anything, it only seems to emphasize the fact that so many of them are unrepentant jerks. I know that I’m supposed to empathize with some of their personal struggles, but I find it difficult to spare a lot of sympathy for entitled assholes. However, the themes that Yamanaka explores in The Prince in His Dark Days are of tremendous interest to me, most notably those of gender expression and sexual identity. I also appreciate the manga’s melancholy mood and the slow blossoming of love in unexpected places. There’s only one volume left in The Prince in His Dark Days and despite some of my reservations about the series I am curious to see how it ends.

The Three-Body ProblemThe Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. If my memory serves me right, The Three-Body Problem is actually the first contemporary Chinese novel that I’ve read. It initially came to my attention when it became the first work in translation to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel. Interestingly, when The Three-Body Problem was translated into English by Ken Liu, the order of the chapters was restored to what the author originally intended and a few additional changes were made in consideration of some of the real-world scientific advances that had developed since the novel was first published in China. As a novel that leans heavily on hard science, I found The Three-Body Problem to be fascinating. (At one point in my life, I actually considered going into theoretical physics.) But what makes The Three-Body Problem so compelling are the social aspects of the narrative. In particular, China’s Cultural Revolution and the characters’ responses to it play a critical role in the story’s development. The Three-Body Problem is the first book in a trilogy, Remembrance of Earth’s Past, and so while largely being a satisfying novel on its own, it’s obviously only the beginning of a larger work. I definitely plan on reading the rest.

My Week in Manga: November 28-December 4, 2016

My News and Reviews

November may have come and gone, but there’s still time to enter November’s manga giveaway for a chance to win the first volumes of Shuzo Oshimi’s Happiness, Hiroyuki Takei’s Nekogahara: Stray Cat Samurai, Hico Yamanaka’s The Prince in His Dark Days, and Tomo Takeuchi’s Welcome to the Ballroom. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, so get those entries in! Other than the monthly giveaway, last week continued to be rather quiet at Experiments in Manga. Happily though, I was able to make some progress on my feature for Ichigo Takano’s Orange.

In case you’re looking for more giveaways, Manga Test Drive’s annual holiday giveaway is currently underway. (Also, if you’re looking for some great manga reviews, Manga Test Drive is well-worth checking out.) As for other interesting things online: Vertical has posted its novel survey which includes the opportunity to make a license request; Justin at The OASG has compiled a list of Princess Jellyfish‘s chapter title pop culture references; and the final part of The Sparkling World of 1970s Shojo Manga has been posted at The Lobster Dance.

Quick Takes

Interviews with Monster Girls, Volume 1Interviews with Monster Girls, Volume 1 by Petos. I’ve come to associate monster girl manga with Seven Seas and so initially I was a little surprised to learn that Interviews with Monster Girls was actually being released by Kodansha Comics. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with another publisher giving a recently but immensely popular niche some attention! Tetsuo Takahashi, a high school biology teacher, has both a personal and professional interest in demi-humans. He has always wanted to meet one but has never had the opportunity until he suddenly and unexpectedly encounters not one but four demi at his school. Three are students–an energetic vampire, a lonely dullahan, and a meek yuki onna–while the fourth is both a succubus and one of the school’s math teachers. One thing that’s different in Interviews with Monster Girls from many of the other monster girl manga that I’ve read is that the demi don’t seem to be a separate species from humans but are instead a sort of spontaneous, rare genetic mutation. So far, Interviews with Monster Girls is fairly innocuous. The story tends to be fairly quiet and even introspective with touches of humor, focusing on the daily lives, troubles, and worries of the young demi women.

Magia the Ninth, Volume 1Magia the Ninth, Volume 1 by Ichiya Sazanami. I had previously read and enjoyed Sazanami’s earlier series Black Bard which would have been enough to interest me in Magia the Ninth but when I heard that the series was about magic-wielding, demon-hunting, bishonen composers I knew that I wouldn’t be able to resist it. The manga follows Takeru, a young man whose parents were killed by demons. He wants revenge and so seeks the aid of  the magia, a group of people imbued with the souls of classical composers who use musical masterpieces as exorcism tools. Specifically, he tries to convince Beethoven to make him his apprentice. Honestly, at times Magia the Ninth is barely coherent. The worldbuilding is a mess and the story nearly nonexistent. The manga is a spectacle without being spectacular but even so, I absolutely loved the first volume. It’s an absurd but highly entertaining and energizing manga. And due to my classical training, I’m in a position to appreciate Sazanami’s nods to the personal quirks and histories of the original composers. Apparently Magia the Ninth is actually only two volumes long. I don’t know if Sazanami planned it to be that short or if the series was canceled early (which wouldn’t surprise me), but I definitely plan on reading the second half.

Prison School, Omnibus 3Prison School, Omnibus 3-5 (equivalent to Volumes 5-10) by Akira Hiramoto. I’m not sure if Prison School could be any more different than Me and the Devil Blues, currently the only other manga by Hiramoto to have been licensed in English. The only immediate similarity between the two series is Hiramoto’s exceptional artwork. Many people will find Prison School appalling and rightly or at least understandably so, especially if they’re expecting something more akin to Hiramoto’s earlier work. Prison School is blatant in its highly sexualized and fetishized characterizations, story, and illustrations. The fanservice is frequently so extreme as to be grotesque. But it’s all done deliberately–Prison School is so absolutely ridiculous and over-the-top that it’s impossible to take seriously. While it’s not exactly a parody, it is a romantic comedy of sorts. Assuming someone isn’t simply outright offended by the manga, Prison School is legitimately funny and at time even hilarious. It’s definitely not for everyone, but I’ll admit to enjoying the series. These particular omnibuses conclude the first major story arc and begin the second which delves more deeply into the pasts of several characters.

Sweetness and Lightning, Volume 2Sweetness and Lightning, Volume 2 by Gido Amagakure. I really enjoyed the mix of food and family present in the first volume of Sweetness and Lightning and so was looking forward to reading more of the series. The second volume continues in very much the same vein with perhaps just a little less melancholy. Granted, there are still a few heartwrenching moments, it’s just that there are plenty of heartwarming moments to go along with them. Inuzuka’s skills as a single dad and as a cook continue to slowly grow as the series progresses. One of his most recent stumbling blocks is trying to find a way to incorporate green peppers and other bitter vegetables into meals and have them be acceptable to his young daughter Tsugumi. The father-daughter relationship between Inuzuka and Tsugumi is one of my favorite relationships in Sweetness and Lightning and is one of the main reasons I enjoy the series so much. The dynamic is very sweet in addition to being portrayed very realistically–sometimes there are smiles and sometimes there are tears, sometimes there is laughter and joy and sometime there is yelling and frustration, but most importantly there’s always love. All of the good food doesn’t hurt things, either.



Black Bard

Black BardCreator: Ichiya Sazanami
U.S. publisher: One Peace Books
ISBN: 9781935548386
Released: November 2013
Original release: 2011-2012

Ichiya Sazanami’s Black Bard was originally published in Japan between 2011 and 2012 in three individual volumes. The English-language edition of Black Bard, released in 2013 by One Peace Books, is a single-volume omnibus with newly created cover art. I wasn’t previously familiar with Sazanami’s work and for good reason—Black Bard was not only his debut manga in English, it was also his first series to be released in Japan after winning the Media Factory Manga Award in 2011. Black Bard was initially serialized in Media Factory’s manga magazine Monthly Comic Gene which is frequently described as publishing shōnen manga for a shōjo fanbase. I haven’t been following the magazine or Sazanami very closely, but the licensing of Black Bard caught my attention for a couple of reasons: one, I generally tend to find One Peace Books’ offerings rather interesting, and two, I can’t resist the combination of music and magic.

Traveling from town to town is a somewhat sullen young man, a wandering minstrel known only as Black Bard. He is famous for his wonderful singing voice; it would not be an exaggeration to call his performances magical. Black Bard enjoys the freedom (and coin) his songs have allowed him as well as the happiness he is able to bring to others through them. Even so, he tries to keep his distance and there are very few people who would dare to call Black Bard their friend. There is Snow-Snow, a young huntress who greatly admires Black Bard and his knowledge of the world, and Windy, a traveling merchant and beast man who first met him when they were children, but Black Bard even discourages their friendship. But now that a powerful organization is interested in Black Bard, his magic song, and the past he’s tried to keep hidden, he needs friends more than ever. Not that he would admit it.

The music aspect of Black Bard was definitely one of the major draws of the manga for me. Black Bard describes himself as a mere musician, but there is undeniably magic in his song. He claims not to cast enchantments, but his music does affect others even when he is not deliberately trying to do so. Of course there are the times that Black Bard very intentionally uses the power of his music to alter reality and manipulate other people. Somewhat surprisingly, by the end of the series Black Bard has almost turned into a battle manga. Music is a significant part of those fights. But in addition to a form of magic, music’s role in Black Bard is also of a more traditional sort. The power of music, both magical and otherwise, provides comfort and brings people together. It is used as a way to convey stories and express emotion, and as a way to keep legends and history from being forgotten.

While it isn’t without its flaws, I had a tremendous amount of fun reading Black Bard. Admittedly, the world building is a mess and the story is all over the place, but I can’t deny that I enjoyed the manga. At first Black Bard seems to be episodic, but once Windy and Snow-Snow make their appearance the story starts to focus in on the Black Bard’s mysterious past. Granted, some of that backstory would have been more effective had it been revealed earlier in the manga and some things are never adequately explained. As the manga progresses, the references to Alice in Wonderland become increasingly prominent. However, those references don’t actually add much to Black Bard except to lend a few names and influence some of the character designs. In general, Black Bard is very attractive art-wise and is an entertaining mix of silliness and drama. I know that I would certainly be interested in reading more of Sazanami’s work.