My Week in Manga: March 6-March 12, 2017

My News and Reviews

Every month I post a Bookshelf Overload feature which takes a quick look at some of the manga and other media that make their way onto my shelves at home. And so last week I published February’s Bookshelf Overload. As I mentioned in that post, I’m currently working on an in-depth review of Kazuto Tatsuta’s Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. I expect that it should be ready to post later this week (that’s my intention anyway), but I’m also incredibly busy right now getting ready to change jobs. Taiko performance season is also steadily ramping up, and the Lion Dance troupe is still getting regular performance requests, so I’ve had a bunch of extra rehearsals and less downtime in general, too. Still, the writing is slowly but surely happening!

Despite being so busy and not being online as much as usual, I did come across a few interesting reads last week. Jennifer Robertson (who I’ve actually briefly met before) recently wrote for Salon about Japan’s long history of blurred sexualities and gender-bending. Brian Hibbs takes his annual look at the BookScan numbers for comics and graphic novels for The Beat. The analysis includes a section specifically devoted to the manga being released in English. Finally, in what I think is terrific news, more of Yen Press’ digital-only titles will now be getting print editions, too! Look out later this year for Homura Kawamoto and Toru Naomura’s Kakegurui: Compulsive Gambler, Higasa Akai’s The Royal Tutor, and Sakurako Gokurakuin’s Sekirei. Finally, a Kickstarter campaign was launched to publish anime director Yasuhiro Irie’s manga Halloween Pajama in English.

Quick Takes

Ghost in the Shell, Volume 1The Ghost in the Shell, Volume 1 by Masamune Shirow. It’s been a long time since I’ve read Shirow’s The Ghost in the Shell. The series was actually among one of the first manga that I encountered. My introduction to the franchise was through Mamorou Oshii’s animated film Ghost in the Shell which probably remains my favorite interpretation of the story and characters. I actually often find the manga to be very difficult to follow. Shirow has some great, thought-provoking and intriguing ideas, but the flow of the story can be extremely disjointed at times. A live-action American Ghost in the Shell film will soon be hitting theaters, so it makes sense that Kodansha Comics would take advantage of the opportunity to re-release the original The Ghost in the Shell manga in a beautifully-produced deluxe hardcover edition. This “definitive” version is being presented in right-to-left format with Japanese sound effects for the first time. I’m fairly certain there are more color pages included, too, but the volume does lack some of the additional textual content found in previous English editions. The controversial lesbian sex scene has also been excluded at the creator’s request which does cause some slight narrative confusion.

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, Volume 5Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Volumes 5-6 by Izumi Tsubaki. I love Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun so incredibly much. This series, along with My Love Story!!, is something that I can always count on to make me happy. I find myself constantly smiling while reading Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun and on more than one occasion have even caught myself laughing out loud. At this point the manga series is far enough along that almost all of the content is new to me. (My introduction to Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun was through the anime adaptation which is likewise an absolutely wonderful series.) There are new scenarios and even new characters–Nozaki’s younger brother and his judo teammates have become more prominent as one example–but those that were previously established are never forgotten. The good-natured humor in Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun remains consistent throughout the manga. Most of the hilarity is the result of the fact that none of the characters quite manage to be on the same page as any of the others and the ridiculousness that ensues because of it. The quirky characters themselves are incredibly endearing, too, even if they’re not particularly nuanced.

Ten Count, Volume 2Ten Count, Volume 2-3 by Rihito Takarai. Well now, that escalated quickly. From the very first volume Ten Count presented itself as a dark psychological drama, but if anything its intensity only increases as the series progresses. The relationship between Shirotani and Kurose is an incredibly unhealthy one which only becomes more troubling as sexual elements are introduced to it. Kurose, whether or not he realizes it or intends to be, is abusive, manipulative, and controlling. He pushes Shirotani, often without consent or consideration, to his limits and beyond. Shirotani does have some personal breakthroughs but heartbreaking glimpses into his past and into his current emotional and mental states reveal a man who is conflicted and struggling with his own self-worth. Frankly, I find Ten Count to be disturbing and unsettling, verging on psychological horror rather than romance. At this point I can’t really envision things turning out well. (Honestly, I’d probably feel disappointed or even somewhat betrayed if Takarai manages some sort of romanticized happy ending.) To me Ten Count is still immensely engrossing, but I certainly can’t blame anyone who would want to avoid the series.

Dragnet GirlDragnet Girl by Yasujiro Ozu. I recently had the opportunity to see Ozu’s silent film Dragnet Girl in a theater narrated by a professional benshi and accompanied by music cued by a prominent local DJ. There was even a brief lecture beforehand which I wasn’t expecting but found interesting. I enjoyed the production as a whole immensely–it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime events–but I also specifically enjoyed the film itself. (I really ought to seek out more of Ozu’s work.) Dragnet Girl is a gangster film which largely follows Tokiko and her boyfriend Joji, a retired boxing champion and current small-time crime boss. Hiroshi, a promising young hoodlum, joins the boxing gym and their gang. His older sister Kazuko worries about him and so tries to convince Joji to make her brother leave. Some romantic entanglements and turmoil ensue, but eventually Tokiko and Joji decide to leave their life of crime together but only after they pull off one last heist for the sake of Kazuko. Dragnet Girl is available from Criterion, collected together with two more of Ozu’s silent crime films, Walk Cheerfully and That Night’s Wife. It won’t quite be the same as watching it “live,” but it’s wonderful that there’s a home release readily available at all.

My Week in Manga: October 10-October 16, 2016

My News and Reviews

I was a little preoccupied last week, dealing with some unexpected developments at work and home, so I wasn’t online much at all. However, I did still manage to post September’s Bookshelf Overload in which I reveal the manga, comics, books, and anime that I picked up last month. Also, a few weeks ago I mentioned the short story “The Mud God” which is tangentially related to a commission that Jenn Grunigen wrote for me. Well, it’s now freely available to read online!

Quick Takes

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, Volume 2Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Volumes 2-4 by Izumi Tsubaki. My introduction to Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun was through the anime series which I adored. Because I loved the anime, it only made sense for me to seek out the original manga as well. Unsurprisingly, I enjoyed the first volume immensely. Despite that, it’s actually been quite a while since I’ve read any of Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, which just means that I had the chance to fall in love with the series all over again. And I did, wholeheartedly. The series’ comedy is largely based on the characters and their personalities. The characters themselves are all a little odd but they are also incredibly endearing. Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun plays around with expectations, so the personality quirks of the characters intentionally defy stereotypes and are deliberately unexpected. In part, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is also a romantic comedy. The cast is fairly large and there could be any number of couples among the members except for the fact that most of the characters are completely oblivious of or misinterpret their own feelings. No one is actually together in the sense that they are dating in Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun (at least not yet), but in many cases they might as well be. The various relationships in Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun are close ones and are yet another major source of the manga’s good-natured humor.

The Prince and the Swan, Volume 2The Prince and the Swan, Volumes 1-2 by April Pierce and Gareth C.J. Wee. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake, itself based on Russian folklore, has been the inspiration and basis for countless other works. One of the more recent retellings that I’m aware of is the webcomic The Prince and the Swan which began in 2013. I discovered the comic while at the 2016 Toronto Comics Arts Festival where the second print volume was making its debut; I couldn’t pass up Swan Lake reimagined as a queer fairytale. Knowledge of the ballet’s story isn’t at all necessary to enjoy The Prince and the Swan although readers who are familiar with it will be in a better position to appreciate the changes made for the comic. The basic premise of the story remains the same, but in the case of The Prince and the Swan Odette is now Odet, a prince who suffers from a curse that transforms him into a swan during the day. The other lead character in the comic is Prince Siegfried who is reluctantly preparing for his coronation and marriage as king. A chance encounter between the two men will change the course of both of their lives. The pacing of The Prince and the Swan seems a little slow at first, but the artwork, characterization, and storytelling quickly improve and gain confidence as the comic progresses. I look forward to seeing how The Prince and the Swan continues to develop.

Say I Love You, Volume 15Say I Love You, Volume 15 by Kanae Hazuki. One would think that after fifteen volumes Say I Love You would no longer surprise me, but I continue to be impressed by its honesty and authenticity. I do wonder if the recently introduced Aoi twins will continue to play a role in the series as most of the main characters are graduating high school in pursuit of their individual futures. While I was initially a little unsure of the addition of prominent new characters so late in the series, I ended up really liking them and their story arcsI’d now hate to see them discarded so soon. (Granted, Kai still has another year to go before he graduates, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the twins will continue to make appearances.) The fifteenth volume of Say I Love You would have been a natural ending point for the series. As many of the characters are preparing to go their separate ways, either by immediately entering the workforce or by continuing their education, a fair amount of time is devoted to introspection and reflection on the past. Mei in particular has changed significantly since the beginning of the series, but all of the characters have grown and matured as individuals. The characterization in Say I Love You has always been one of the series’ strong points. It will be interesting to see where the manga goes from here as both the story and characters move beyond high school.

Run, Melos! and Other StoriesRun, Melos! and Other Stories by Osamu Dazai. I forget exactly when it was that I first learned of Dazai’s short story “Run, Melos!” but it’s more or less a staple of the Japanese education system so references to the work are fairly common in Japanese popular culture. I’ve been wanting to read to story for quite some time but was under the mistaken impression that it wasn’t actually available in English. However, I recently discovered that it had indeed been translated as part of the Kodansha English Library series… which was only ever released in Japan. Thanks to the power of inter-library loan, I was finally able to read “Run, Melos!” along with six of Dazai’s other works of short fiction: “A Promise Fulfilled,” “One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji,” “Schoolgirl,””Cherry Leaves and the Whistler,” “Eight Scenes of Tokyo,” and “One Snowy Night.” I had previously read another translation of Schoolgirl but the other stories were all new to me. Normally when I think about Dazai it’s his tragic novel No Longer Human that immediately comes to mind; I had actually forgotten how humorous some of his stories can be. Even though there is still a fair amount of melancholy to be found, this humor is much more apparent in Run, Melos! and Other Stories. Overall, the volumes a charming collection of stories mostly set in early twentieth-century Japan (the exception to that being “Run, Melos!” itself) with surprisingly relatable characters.

Save

Save

My Week in Manga: March 7-March 13, 2016

My News and Reviews

I was finally able to post February’s Bookshelf Overload at Experiments in Manga last week, a few days later than I originally intended, but at least it’s up. I’ve been intentionally decreasing the number of new manga and other things that I’m buying at the moment, which means that I’ll be happily digging into my backlog and catching up on older series. I also posted an in-depth review last week, though perhaps it’s more of a summary. Either way, Mechademia, Volume 10: World Renewal contains some interesting material for those looking for a more scholarly approach to the study of manga, anime, and other Japanese popular culture. The volume also includes “Nanohana,” a short manga by Moto Hagio, and a story by Tomoyuki Hoshino called “Good Morning.” I am very fond of both creators’ work, so that made me especially happy to see.

Interesting things found online last week: Viz Media will apparently be releasing a new volume of Haikyu every month after it’s debut in July until the English edition catches up with the Japan’s releases, which is rather impressive. Yokai scholar and manga translator Zack Davisson wrote a great piece for The Comics Journal called Confessions of a Manga Translator. (Some of the comments are worth reading, too.) VICE has an interview with Gengoroh Tagame, who will also be participating in the Queer Japan documentary. (The Kickstarter campaign for the project ends very soon and could use some additional support; if it at all interests you, please consider contributing!) Graham Kolbeins, the filmmaker behind the documentary was recently interviewed as well.

Quick Takes

Alice in the Country of Clover: Cheshire Cat Waltz, Volume 1Alice in the Country of Clover: Cheshire Cat Waltz, Volumes 1-4 by Mamenosuke Fujimaru. With the extraordinary number of retellings, spinoffs, and sequels to Alice in the Country of Hearts, it can be somewhat daunting to know where to start. Fortunately, I have people looking out for me; Cheshire Cat Waltz was one of the series that was repeatedly recommended by multiple individuals. Although it still has the same vaguely ominous atmosphere (which I like), the Country of Clover is actually a slightly different setting than the Country of Hearts. Even the personalities of the characters that are shared between the two are somewhat changed as they adapt to their modified roles. I found Boris, the Cheshire Cat, an especially interesting character in the first manga series, so it probably makes sense that I would enjoy a series where he plays a leading role. Admittedly, the pairings in the various Alice in the Country of manga that I’ve read certainly shouldn’t be lauded as examples of healthy relationships. Boris, as sweet and considerate as he can sometimes be, is also very possessive. The story is engaging, though, and Cheshire Cat Waltz is surprisingly steamy as well.

Behind Story, Volume 2Behind Story, Volumes 2-3 by Narae Ahn. I enjoyed the first volume of Behind Story more than I thought I would, so I wanted to be sure to read more of the boys’ love manhwa. At the time, I didn’t even know how long the series was, and I wasn’t able to find out much about the creator, either. It turns out Behind Story is only three volumes, was Ahn’s debut series, and was originally published online. The final two volumes of Behind Story take place three years after the first. Johann has survived his teacher’s attempted murder-suicide, but his life is still a complicated mess; he’s more or less forced transfer out of school, leaving Taehee—one of the very few people who legitimately cared for him and his well-being—behind with no way to contact him. Eventually the two of them do reunite, but they’ve both changed over the years and neither are sure what direction their relationship will take in the future. Behind Story is a fairly solid debut with interesting characters and a story that, for the most part, moves beyond the genre’s standard tropes. The series’ ending does perhaps wrap up a little too quickly and nicely and could have used a little more development, but overall the manhwa is enjoyable.

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, Volume 1Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Volume 1 by Izumi Tsubaki. I absolutely loved the anime adaptation of Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, so I was very happy when Yen Press announced that it would be releasing the original manga series. The success of four-panel manga can be rather hit-or-miss in the North American market as their comedy is often firmly situated within a Japanese sense of humor and context. A few of the jokes in the first volume of Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun I may not have immediately understood if I hadn’t already seen the anime (which was able to more fully expound on things due to its format) but overall the manga and its gags are largely accessible and very funny. The series revolves around Nozaki—a relatively successful shoujo mangaka who has a difficult time convincing many of his high school classmates of that fact due to his large stature and seemingly stoic nature—and the various students who become his assistants or the inspiration for his characters. The manga is good-natured fun, much of the humor the result of the differences between the characters’ personalities and how most other people actually perceive them. I especially appreciate the series’ willingness to play with gender roles and expectations.