My Week in Manga: January 23-January 29, 2017

My News and Reviews

The end of the month is approaching which means it’s time for Experiments in Manga’s monthly giveaway. The winner of the most recent giveaway will be announced on Wednesday, so there’s still a little time left to enter for a chance to win the first volume of Kenya Suzuki’s delightful full-color manga series Please Tell Me! Galko-chan. Speaking of manga giveaways, there’s also an opportunity to win a copy of the first omnibus in Kei Sanbe’s Erased over at The OASG.

Elsewhere online, I came the Young Adult Library Services Association’s 2017 Great Graphic Novels for Teens. As usual, the list includes a fair number of manga along with all of the other excellent comics. Ichigo Takano’s Orange (which was also one of my notable manga from 2016) even made the top ten list. Out of the many other manga included as part of YALSA’s larger list, I have in-depth reviews of Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu and Akiko Higashimura’s Princess Jellyfish, Omnibus 1, both of which I loved.

Another list I came across recently was BookRiot’s feature on Japanese speculative fiction in translation. Overall, I think it’s a great list–I’ve previously reviewed three of the books included (Miyuki Miyabe’s The Book of Heroes, Yusuke Kishi’s The Crimson Labyrinth, and Taiyo Fujii’s Gene Mapper) and most of the others I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time or were already high on my list of books to read in the near future.

It’s been a while since I’ve mentioned Kickstarter projects here, but there are a few campaigns for print comics that have caught my eye lately: Maya Kern is looking to print the second volume of the adorable webcomic Monster Pop; Amanda Lafrenais is campaigning to release the second Titty-Time print collection of erotic comics; and Deandra Tan is hoping to release a print edition of her graphic novel Love Debut!.

Quick Takes

Aoharu X Machinegun, Volume 1Aoharu X Machinegun, Volume 1 by Naoe. I picked up the first volume of Aoharu X Machinegun more on a whim than anything else but I ended up enjoying it much more than I expected. On the surface there are a few things about the beginning of Aoharu X Machinegun that are oddly reminiscent of Ouran High School Host Club–Masamune works in a host club and Hotaru, who is often mistaken for a boy, gets wrapped up in his schemes after she needs to earn some money for damaging the club’s property–but the similarities mostly end there. Hotaru has an overly-strong sense of of justice and has a tendency to get into fights because of it. Masamune is the leader of a competitive survival/war game team and has decided the Hotaru should become its third member after her aggressiveness leaves a distinct impression on him. Initially, the team’s second member Tooru, who also happens to be well-known hentai mangaka, is less than thrilled about this. They’re both completely unaware that Hotaru is a girl, too, which could cause some trouble later on. Aoharu X Machinegun is kind of ridiculous but fun. I enjoyed its action and sense of humor and this point would be interested in reading more.

Bakune Young, Volume 1Bakune Young, Volumes 1-3 by Toyokazu Matsunaga. I’ve been meaning to read Bakune Young for quite a while now but the short series is long out-of-print and can be somewhat difficult to find. (Fortunately, it turned out that my library actually owns a complete set.) Reading Bakune Young is quite an experience to say the least. Matsunaga’s artwork, while it’s frequently and deliberately grotesque and at times could even be described as ugly, is tremendous. The story itself is nearly nonsensical, but it does manage to have a bizarre sort of logic to it. The series opens with the titular Bakune Young in a pachinko parlor before he begins targeting yakuza in a killing spree. His rampage quickly escalates and eventually not only the yakuza, but Japanese police, a ninja assassin from the French Foreign Legion, psychics, and even the American military all become involved as the death count increases exponentially. Bakune Young is certainly not for the faint of heart. It’s incredibly violent, viciously dark, and legitimately absurd, but assuming one isn’t bothered by all that, it can also be extraordinarily funny. I suspect Bakune Young is a manga that readers either love or hate without there being much middle ground.

The Encyclopedia of Early EarthThe Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg. I recently read and absolutely loved Greenberg’s The One Hundred Nights of Hero and so immediately made a point to seek out more of her work. The Encyclopedia of Early Earth was Greenberg’s first graphic novel and received great acclaim when it was published. The comic’s premise is simple: a nameless storyteller as travels the world in search of a missing piece of his soul. The graphic novel shares some obvious similarities to The One  Hundred Nights of Hero in its structure, themes, artwork, and setting. Both comics take place in the pre-prehistoric Early Earth and utilize the same mythologies, cosmologies, and pantheons. Both comics, in addition to love, are also about the importance of stories and storytellers; they find inspiration in and retell existing folktales while intertwining them with those of Greenberg’s own making. Otherwise, the two comics aren’t directly related. The Encyclopedia of Early Earth feels less politically-charged than The One Hundred Nights of Hero which may make it more palatable to some audiences but as a result it isn’t nearly as powerful a work overall in comparison. Even so, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth is wonderful.

Wolf MagicWolf Magic by Natsuki Zippo. So far, Wolf Magic is the only manga by Zippo to have been released in English. As far as I can tell, Wolf Magic is also Zippo’s first professional work. Especially considering that, it’s a very strong collection of boys’ love manga, and I’d certainly be interested in seeing more from Zippo translated. Wolf Magic opens with “The Water of Love for the Withered Flower” which is about Hanasaki, a florist whose severe appearance is at complete odds with what most people would associate with his profession. However, he still manages to unintentionally catch the eye of Hata. The manga then turns to the various “Wolf Magic” stories which follow Nagase, a young gay man, as he falls in and out of love during high school and then continues to look for “the one” in college. In the process, he develops a surprising relationship with Higuchi. While the two story arcs are unrelated and are quite different from each other, thematically they are very similar. Both Hanasaki and Nagase are searching for love and acceptance and both ultimately find it in unexpected places and ways. Overall, with its attractive artwork and excellent characterizations, Wolf Magic is quite well done.

United States of JapanUnited States of Japan by Peter Tieryas. I’ve often heard United States of Japan described as a spiritual sequel or successor to Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. In some ways that is certainly true–Tieryas’ novel probably would not have existed were it not for Dick’s and makes multiple references to The Man in the High Castle–but the two novels are drastically different from each other in tone and style. The underlying premise, however, is the same. Emerging victorious from World War II, Japan now controls a significant portion of what was once the United States of America. The grim cyberpunk alternate history presented in United States of Japan (complete with mecha battles and graphic torture) can be extraordinarily brutal and gruesome. The lead characters aren’t exactly the most likeable or sympathetic people, either, though they become slightly more so as the novel progresses. Captain Ben Ishimura, whose only talent seems to be hacking and programming, is a censor who comes to the attention of Agent Akiko Tsukino when an illegal video game which imagines America winning the Second World War threatens to embolden resistance against the rule of Japan.

My Week in Manga: January 9-January 15, 2017

My News and Reviews

Last week at Experiments in Manga I posted the Bookshelf Overload for December. It includes a pretty big list of things, in part due to massive holiday sales, so hopefully future months won’t be quite as ridiculous. Another thing that happened last week that was kind of cool was related to a post that I wrote back in 2014. My Spotlight on Masaichi Mukaide is probably one of the most noteworthy things that I’ve ever written and it actually got quite a bit of attention when I posted it. Well, Masaichi Mukaide himself apparently came across it recently and even left a comment.

Probably the biggest manga news from last week was the slew of licenses and other announcements made by Seven Seas. Here’s the list of manga:

Absolute Duo by Takumi Hiiragiboshi and Shinichirou Nariie
Alice & Zouroku by Tetsuya Imai
Captain Harlock: Dimensional Voyage by Leiji Matsumoto and Kouichi Shimahoshi
The Count of Monte Cristo by Moriyama Ena
Cutie Honey a Go Go! by Hideaki Anno and Shinpei Itou
Devilman G by Go Nagai and Rui Takatou
Dragon Half by Ryusuke Mita
Hatsune Miku: Bad End Night by Hitoshizuku-P x Yama and Tsubata Nozaki
Hatsune Miku Presents: Hachune Miku’s Everyday Vocaloid Paradise by Ontama
Magical Girl Special Ops Asuka by Makoto Fukami and Seigo Tokiya
Sleeping Beauty by Yumi Unita
Spirit Circle by Satoshi Mizukami
The Testament of Sister New Devil Storm by Tetsuto Uesu and Fumihiro Kiso
Unmagical Girl by Ryuichi Yokoyama and Manmaru Kamitsuki
Wadanohara and the Great Blue Sea by Mogeko

Seven Seas is getting back into translating novels and has a deluxe edition of Ryo Mizuno’s Record of the Lodoss War: The Grey Witch with illustrations by illustrations by Yutaka Izubuchi in the works, too. Also announced was a full-color edition of Madeleine Rosca’s Hollow Fields and five more illustrated literary classics. (I found Seven Seas release of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass to be quite enjoyable.)

It’s a pretty interesting group of announcements with a fairly wide range of titles to choose from. There’s even a manga from the late ’80s (Dragon Half), and not many of those are licensed any more. I’m particularly curious about Moriyama Ena’s adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo (the cover art is gorgeous), the josei manga Sleeping Beauty by Yumi Unita (whose Bunny Drop left me with extremely conflicted feelings), as well as the number of titles which are part of classic franchises.

Quick Takes

Devils' Line, Volume 1Devils’ Line, Volumes 1-2 by Ryo Hanada. I actually didn’t realize it at first, but Devils’ Line is the second work by Hanada to be released in English. The first was the doujinshi Good-bye Geist which overall I enjoyed. However, Devils’ Line is Hanada’s first professional series. In general, I’m liking it, too, except that the artwork is terribly inconsistent. At times it’s absolutely spectacular (the cover illustrations are especially great) but within a few panels it may have lost all sense of scale an anatomy. I can’t quite tell if this is mean to be deliberate or not; if so, the execution is unconvincing. The story isn’t as tight as it could be, but it does have a nice blend of genres, including romance, horror, action, crime, and thriller. And, like Good-bye Geist, the series has a marvelously ominous atmosphere. The plot centers around Tsukasa, who unfortunately seems to be a magnet for both vampires (or “devils”) and sexual assault, and Anzai, a half-vampire working for the police in a unit specializing in devil-related incidents. Vampirism in Devils’ Line has an intensely sexual component to it; the eroticism often associated with vampires in other stories is in this case incredibly dark and violent.

The Ghost and the Lady, Volume 2The Ghost and the Lady, Volume 2 by Kazuhiro Fujita. Admittedly, The Ghost and the Lady is kind of a strange manga series. In part historical fiction and in part supernatural drama, the manga’s disparate elements don’t always perfectly mesh, but I still enjoyed the series a great deal. In The Ghost and the Lady, Fujita mixes together historical facts and legends, reimagining the life of Florence Nightingale and her accomplishments during the Crimean War with a distinctly supernatural flair. It’s clear that Fujita has done a tremendous amount of research for the series; and as the afterword by the series’ translator Zack Davisson points out, more or less every named character in the manga has a historical counterpart. There’s Nightingale herself as well as the people she knew, Grey is based on a famous ghost of the Drury Lane theater, and even historical figures like the Chevalier d’Éon have prominent roles to play. (Speaking of whom, I really need to find a good biography of d’Éon to read.) Despite the presence of the ghosts, the supernatural aspects of The Ghost and the Lady seem to come and go; I do wish that the eidolons had been utilized a little more in the series’ second half because it’s great when they are.

Holy Corpse Rising, Volume 1Holy Corpse Rising, Volume 1 by Hosana Tanaka. As can be safely assumed by provocative cover art, Holy Corpse Rising is a manga series that includes a fair amount of nudity and scantily clad women. However, despite the occasional ridiculousness, the fanservice is largely keeping with the style and tone of the series as a whole, so it doesn’t feel out-of-place; a significant portion of Holy Corpse Rising is intended to be titillating. In general, Tanaka’s artwork is quite attractive, though the women in the series are the most beautiful. They’re also by far the most powerful characters, both in ability and status. The first volume of Holy Corpse Rising serves as an introduction to the war between the Credic Church and the witches. Nikola, a monk who is a specialist in witch lore, is charged with securing the aid of the coven of first witches in the Church’s fight against their descendants. But first Nikola must resurrect them and in the process manages to put himself in some rather compromising situations. So far the first witches each seem to gain their power from a different bodily fluid (tears, blood). And since there are twelve of them, Holy Corpse Rising has the potential to enter some pretty kinky territory.

The One Hundred Nights of HeroThe One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg. I don’t recall exactly what it was that brought The One Hundred Nights of Hero to my attention, but I’m so glad that I read it because it is marvelous; I loved the comic. Greenberg takes inspiration from existing stories and even provides retelling of folktales over the course of the graphic novel. The framework is deliberately similar to that of One Thousand and One Nights and there are stories within stories within stories. In fact, The One Hundred Nights of Hero is about the power of stories and storytellers. It’s also about love and “brave women who don’t take shit from anyone.” At the center of the comic is Cherry and her maid Hero, two women who love each other dearly. Night after night, Hero spins tale after tale in an effort to save their lives. The world of The One Hundred Nights of Hero is an incredibly misogynistic one. While different from our own, in some ways it is also tragically reminiscent. The One Hundred Nights of Hero isn’t always particularly subtle and can at times feel somewhat heavy-handed, but it’s a wonderfully powerful and unabashedly feminist work. I definitely plan on seeking out more of Greenberg’s comics.

Moshi MoshiMoshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto. Despite being an extremely prolific author and one of the most well-known Japanese novelists translated in English, I haven’t actually read any of Yoshimoto’s works until now. The story of Moshi Moshi is told from the first-person perspective of Yoshie, a young woman whose father has recently died. A successful musician, the circumstances surrounding his death are somewhat unclear, but it’s believed that he committed double suicide with a woman who neither she or her mother knows. The novel follows Yoshie as she tries to come to terms with the unexpected loss of her father by reinventing her life in the chic neighborhood of Shimokitazawa. Her mother joins her there, feeling that the ghost of her husband is haunting the family home, and Yoshie herself is plagued with recurring dreams in which her father appears, searching for his phone. Though Moshi Moshi does tend to drag a little in places, I really liked how Yoshimoto handles the themes of love, loss, and the inevitability of change in the novel. I suspect that Moshi Moshi likely isn’t the best introduction to Yoshimoto’s work, but for the most part I did appreciate it.