My Week in Manga: April 3-April 9, 2017

My News and Reviews

Last week at Experiments in Manga the winner of the Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid manga giveaway was announced. The post also includes a list of some of the manga available in print in English which feature dragons. Also posted last week was a guest review by my friend Jocilyn. She was inspired to write about Canno’s Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl, Volume 1, the most recent yuri manga to be released by Yen Press. As mentioned previously, I’m currently working on my own in-depth review of the first volume of The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, A Rún by Nagabe. It looks like I should be on track to post it sometime next week.

Elsewhere online, Seven Seas has completely revamped its website, adding new features like browsing by genre, launching a newsletter, and so on. It looks great and what’s more, there will be a regular survey which provides readers an opportunity to give feedback and submit license requests. As part of the launch of the new website, Seven Seas also announced a few new licenses: Touki Yanagimi and Youhei Yasumura’s Anti-Magic Academy: The 35th Test Platoon, Shin Mashiba’s Yokai Rental Shop (I loved Mashiba’s Nightmare Inspector, so I’m really looking forward this one), and an omnibus of Fumiyo Kouno’s In This Corner of the World (Kouno is the creator of Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms which is also excellent).

In other publishing news, some of Kodansha Comics digital-only titles were recently called digital-first, so there may yet be hope for print editions of some of the manga. I missed (or maybe forgot about) the initial announcement, but Titan Comics will be releasing Ravina the Witch? by Junko Mizuno in English later this year. (Ravina the Witch? was originally released in French in 2014.) In sadder news, Bruno Gmünder recently announced its bankruptcy (again). I’m not entirely sure what this will mean for the publisher’s past and future comics releases, including the Gay Manga line, but they might not stay in print long. (I’ve featured some of Bruno Gmünder’s releases here before; I’ll be sad to see them go if the publisher folds.)

As for a few of the interesting Kickstarters that I’ve discovered lately: Emily Cheeseman is raising funds to release the print edition of Gawain and the Green Knight, a beautiful webcomic that she’s been working on since 2015. I wasn’t previously familiar with the work of Elise Schuenke, but Living Space looks like it should be another great queer-themed comic. And speaking of queer-themed comics, the initial campaign for the Tabula Idem tarot anthology wasn’t successful but the creative team has revised and relaunched the project. Finally, anyone interested in Weird Al may be curious about Kelly Phillips’ comic memoir Weird Me about her experiences as the webmaster of a Weird Al fan site in her teens. (Weird Al’s music was a major touchstone for me growing up.)

Quick Takes

Dissolving ClassroomDissolving Classroom by Junji Ito. Lately there has been a resurgence in manga by Ito being released in English. In many cases they’ve actually been re-releases, but there have been a few newly-translated manga being published as well, Dissolving Classroom from Vertical Comics being the most recent example. I love Ito’s brand of horror manga and Dissolving Classroom was originally serialized in a josei magazine, so the volume was an obvious candidate for one of my most anticipated releases of the year. As expected, I thoroughly enjoyed the manga, but Dissolving Classroom didn’t end up leaving as strong of an impression on me as some of Ito’s earlier works. The loosely connected stories in Dissolving Classroom follow the demise of the people who meet Yuuma, a young man whose constant apologizing will literally make a person’s brain melt, and his incredibly creepy little sister Chizumi. Neither of the siblings are quite what they initially seem. Yuuma in particular comes across as a troubled but largely benign individual; very few people actually realize what’s going wrong before it’s too late. Dissolving Classroom is bizarre but certainly not the strangest manga that Ito has created. The visuals aren’t as shockingly memorable as some of Ito’s other series either, but they are still successfully disconcerting.

Everyone's Getting Married, Volume 1Everyone’s Getting Married, Volume 1 by Izumi Miyazono. While josei manga have recently become more common in translation (a trend that I would love to see continue), there still aren’t all that many to be found. I’ve generally enjoyed the josei manga that I’ve read in the past and I like to show my support for new releases, so I made a point to try Everyone’s Getting Married. Asuka is well-admired for her successful career, but what she really wants in life is to get married and become a housewife. When her boyfriend of five years unexpectedly dumps her, she suddenly finds herself looking for a new long-term relationship. That proves to be more difficult than she expected and unfortunately for her most likely candidate is Ryu, a man who has made it very clear that he has no interest in marriage. I’ve growing a little weary of high school romances, so I found Everyone’s Getting Married to be a wonderfully refreshing change of pace; I enjoyed reading about adults and their lives and relationships for once. I also like Asuka a great deal. She’s independent, knows what she wants out of life, and is willing to work hard for what is important to her. I’m looking forward to reading more about her and reading more of Everyone’s Getting Married.

Ghost in the Shell, Volume 1.5: Human-Error ProcessorGhost in the Shell, Volume 1.5: Human-Error Processor by Masamune Shirow. While I had previously read the first and second volumes of Ghost in the Shell, I had never actually read the manga’s third volume, something that I didn’t realize until Kodansha Comics recently re-released the entire series in a deluxe, hardcover edition. Even though it was the third volume of Ghost in the Shell to be collected and released, the events of Human-Error Processor take place between the first and second volumes (thus being numbered 1.5). The episodic chapters focus almost entirely Section 9 and the cases that group is investigating. A few intriguing new characters are introduced, but sadly the Major only makes the occasional guest appearance. Out of the three Ghost in the Shell volumes, Human-Error Processor is the most straightforward and easy to follow. While that’s something that I would generally welcome, the volume was somehow less interesting as a result even if it was more readable. As with the previous volumes in the series, some of the most interesting parts of the world-building in Human-Error Processor are actually only found in the footnotes instead of being directly incorporated into the manga.

NightlightsNightlights by Lorena Alvarez. It was the bold, vibrant colors and gorgeous illustrations of Nightlights that initially caught my attention. Alvarez is a Columbian illustrator; Nightlights is her first comic and my introduction to her work. Nightlights is about a little girl, Sandy, whose imagination takes flight at night. She gathers together small, mysterious, glowing lights and uses them to create anything that she can dream of. Come the day, she spends her time alone drawing what she has seen. It’s an innocent enough premise, but Nightlights can actually be pretty dark and some of the comic’s themes are fairly heavy. Nightlights could be described as an all-ages comic, but some younger readers might find it scary in places. There is also a depth and nuance to the comic and its narrative that only more mature readers will likely pick up on. Although the stories are notably different, Nightlights actually reminded me a little bit of the animated film The Secret of Kells which I likewise greatly enjoyed. Each in their own way the works are fairytale-like, telling stories about imagination, creation, and the unknown. Nightlights was a beautiful comic and I sincerely hope to see more work from Alvarez in the future.

Gone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life UnstrungGone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung by Min Kym. In 2010, Kym’s Stradivarius was stolen from her in a London cafe. The violin was an integral part of her identity, not just as a musician but as a person, and its loss was devastating. Her burgeoning career as a soloist came to a sudden halt. The violin was recovered three years later, but circumstances didn’t allow Kym to reclaim the instrument as her own. Ultimately she had to put it up for auction, losing it once again. In part, Kym’s memoir Gone was written in an attempt to process these traumatic events, rediscover who she is, and move forward with her life. Telling her side of the story she recounts growing up as a child prodigy–as the youngest daughter, her family’s devotion to her talent as a violinist was at odds with their South Korean heritage–her development as a musician, and her relationships with the Stradivarius and the people around her. Gone is an incredibly heartfelt and personal memoir but it can be somewhat discursive; Kym’s style of writing is very informal and at times even chaotic. Her voice as an author isn’t as clear as her voice as a violinist, but her passion and pain resonates throughout Gone. Complementing the release of Kym’s memoir is a companion album available from Warner Classics.

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

My News and Reviews

Last week at Experiments in Manga I posted the Bookshelf Overload for January–it was kind of a strange month for manga and other media acquisitions for me, but it wasn’t as absurd as December so at least my wallet’s a little happier. I also managed to finish my draft for February’s in-depth review, so I should have that cleaned up and posted sometime later this week.

Last week I came across a few interesting things online related to queer manga, comics, and other media. Massive has now released Jiraiya’s Two Hoses in English, a manga telling the story of “The Greatest Couple,” characters who were initially designed for the company as part of its launch. (Massive has released Jiraiya’s Caveman Guu manga, too, which was subsequently collected in the excellent anthology Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It.)

I haven’t had a chance to actually listen to it yet, but the most recent ANNCast focused on LGBT representation in manga and anime with guests Erica Friedman, Jason Thompson, and Valerie Complex. Friedman also visited the University of Michigan back in January to discuss queer manga. The recording of her presentation Alt Manga, Queer Manga: Telling Our Own Stories is now available to watch on YouTube.

There were a few Kickstarter campaigns that caught my attention last week as well. First and foremost, Chromatic Press is raising funds to release the final volume of Lianne Sentar’s series Tokyo Demons in print, produce a revised edition of the first novel, as well as reprint the other books in the series. It isn’t a secret that I am a huge fan of the series, so I definitely want to see the project succeed. Tabula Idem is a great-looking tarot-themed queer comics anthology with an accompanying queer-themed major arcana tarot deck. I’m not very familiar with most of the artists involved, but Kaiju (whose comics I greatly enjoy) is contributing the cover illustration. Pamela Kotila has also launched a campaign to print the second volume of the webcomic Spidersilk. Though I haven’t actually read it yet, I recently picked up the first volume so this project seems to be aptly-timed.

Quick Takes

The Ancient Magus' Bride, Volume 4The Ancient Magus’ Bride, Volumes 4-6 by Kore Yamazaki. It’s been a little while since I’ve read The Ancient Magus’ Bride but that’s not because I don’t like the manga. In fact, it’s quite the opposite–The Ancient Magus’ Bride is actually one of my favorite series currently being released in English. I simply wanted to have a whole stack of volumes to read all at once. (Also worth noting: The first printing of Volume 6 is even accompanied by a special booklet with an additional comic!) Somehow, I had managed to forget just how much I enjoy The Ancient Magus’ Bride. I love its moody atmosphere and setting, beautiful artwork, and intriguing characters. Elias remains something of an enigma although parts of his past have now been revealed. He isn’t particularly happy about this development, though. Likewise, more is known about Chise, too, although she is still hesitant to share. The relationship dynamics in The Ancient Magus’ Bride are somewhat peculiar but remain compelling. Most of the characters in the manga are struggling with some sort of heartbreaking loneliness or feelings of isolation. To see them slowly drawing closer together, forming bonds of friendship, family, and love is immensely satisfying.

Mr. Mini MartMr. Mini Mart by Junko. Although the boys’ love manga Mr. Mini Mart was released in English first, my introduction to Junko’s work was through the series Kiss Him, Not Me. Because I was enjoying that series, I made a point to track down a copy of Mr. Mini Mart which for a time had gone out-of-print. (It’s more-or-less back in print again, but the manga seems to only be available directly from Juné Manga’s online store.) I forget why I initially passed on Mr. Mini Mart but I’m very glad that I finally got around to reading it. Mr. Mini Mart collects two boys’ love stories. Most of the volume is devoted to the titular “Mr. Mini Mart” but a short, unrelated one-shot manga “Young Scrubs” is included as well. It’s not nearly as good, though. “Mr. Mini Mart” is wonderful and surprisingly sweet. The story follows the high-school-aged Nakaba who, after an unfortunate incident in middle school, has been living as a shut-in. He gets finally gets out of the house when his uncle gives him a job at his store, but Nakaba has a difficult time getting along with his coworker Yamai and his abrasive personality. I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for a sensitive tough guy and it turns out that Yamai is an amazing example of one and is just a great person in general.

The Seven Princes of the Thousand-Year Labyrinth, Volume 1The Seven Princes of the Thousand-Year Labyrinth, Volume 1 written by Yu Aikawa and illustrated by Haruno Atori. I really wanted to like the first volume of The Seven Princes of the Thousand-Year Labyrinth more than I actually did. The basic premise is intriguing. A group of some of the kingdom’s most noteworthy, and in some cases most notorious, citizens wake up to find themselves trapped together in an elaborately booby-trapped castle. (The exception is the protagonist Ewan whose only distinguishing characteristics are his trusting nature, inherent kindness, and the fact that he’s from the kingdom’s most remote island.) The assumption is that whoever manages to survive the ordeal will become the kingdom’s emperor and reigning lords. There is a ton of potential in this set up, but The Seven Princes of the Thousand-Year Labyrinth simply didn’t work for me. Mostly I think it’s because the characters all come across as types rather than well-rounded individuals. What’s more is that they don’t even feel like they should all be a part of the same series; I found this lack of cohesiveness to be frustrating. The artwork is pretty, though, if not especially distinctive and there are plenty of plot twists, too.

TomieTomie by Junji Ito. Although uncommon, license rescues aren’t particularly rare, but Ito’s horror series Tomie is one of the very few manga to have been released in English by three different publishers. Most recently, Viz Media has collected the entire series in a single, massive tome with over seven hundred forty pages. The translation used is the same as the one in Dark Horse’s Museum of Terror series which I own, but I couldn’t resist the deluxe, hardcover treatment the volume received to match Viz’s other recent re-releases of Ito’s manga. Tomie was actually Ito’s award-winning professional debut and began serialization in 1987 in a shoujo magazine. The manga is largely episodic although there may be several chapters devoted to a single story arc and later stories sometimes make passing references to earlier ones. What ties the series together is the presence of Tomie, a beautiful young woman who is seemingly immortal. Time and again men fall desperately in love with Tomie and are eventually overcome by a desire to murder and dismember her. Not only does Tomie survive, she regenerates and multiplies, and so the horror continues. While not as mind-bendingly bizarre as some of Ito’s later works, Tomie is still weird, horrifying, gruesome, and grotesque.

Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu

Junji Ito's Cat Diary: Yon & MuCreator: Junji Ito
U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781632361974
Released: October 2015
Original release: 2009

Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu was one of the manga releases I was most looking forward to in 2015. Junji Ito is primarily known for horror manga–his Uzumaki is one of my personal favorites in the genre–but in 2008 he had the opportunity to serialize an autobiographically-inspired manga based on his experiences living in a house with two cats. The result was Junji Ito’s Cat Diary, ultimately collected in a single, slim volume and published in Japan in 2009. The English-language edition of the manga released by Kodansha Comics in 2015 also includes the contributions made by Ito and his wife (Ayako Ishiguro) to the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake relief anthology Teach Me, Michael! A Textbook in Support of Feline Disaster Victims. I thoroughly enjoy Ito’s brand of unusual horror and I, too, happen to have the privilege of feline companionship, so I was very interested in Junji Ito’s Cat Diary. I expected it to be a manga that I would enjoy and I wasn’t disappointed; I absolutely loved it.

J-kun is the proud owner of a new house in pristine condition from floor to ceiling and he’s looking forward to living there with his soon-to-be wife A-ko. What he didn’t initially realize was that by inviting her to live with him he would also become host to two more guests: Yon and Mu. J-kun is convinced that Yon, one of A-ko’s family’s cats, is cursed. He’s a strange-looking feline with skull-like markings that would seem to confirm J-kun’s suspicions. Mu, on the other hand, is an adorable kitten with a pedigree and cute enough to melt even J-kun’s dog-loving heart. And so begins J-kun’s trials and tribulations as a keeper of cats, slowly falling under their spell as he grieves the loss of his perfectly-kept house. He warms up to both Yon and Mu, but they don’t quite exhibit the same amount of warmth in return, more often than not preferring A-ko’s company. But J-kun is determined–one day he, too, will enjoy Yon and Mu’s love and affection.

Junji Ito's Cat Diary: Yon & Mu, page 31Junji Ito’s Cat Diary is immensely entertaining. Ito has kept his signature style used when drawing horror manga and has applied it to a collection of stories that are closer to being gag manga. The illustrations can be intentionally grotesque and creepy, with an emphasis on J-kun’s exaggerated expressions as he reacts (and overreacts) to the events occurring in his household and the horrors of pet ownership. A-ko, too, is drawn in such a way that her disconcerting appearance adds to the atmosphere of horror in the manga. For the most part, the cats are simply cats (at least when J-kun isn’t hallucinating from lack of sleep); it’s the humans who come across as maniacal. Junji Ito’s Cat Diary looks like it should be a horror manga and has all of the genre’s visual stylings, but it really isn’t. The humor is even funnier because of this deliberate disconnect between the actual stories being told and how they are being portrayed.

As someone who tends to enjoy Ito’s work and as someone who tends to like cat comics, I was already in a position to particularly appreciate Junji Ito’s Cat Diary. It may certainly not work for everyone, though–the manga is a weird mix of horror and comedy, the grotesque and the adorable–but I loved it. In general, the stories in Junji Ito’s Cat Diary are less about Yon and Mu’s antics and more about J-kun’s reactions to their behavior and his changing relationships with the two cats. Yon and Mu are actually very normal as cats go; the humans in the manga are the ones who come across as eccentric and a bit odd. Junji Ito’s Cat Diary is hilarious but at the same time the manga maintains and oddly disconcerting and even ominous atmosphere. Ito simply excels at taking the mundane and transforming it into something truly devious and bizarre. I’m not sure, but perhaps I should be concerned by how much I can identify with the stories found in Junji Ito’s Cat Diary.

Gyo: The Death-Stench Creeps

Gyo: The Death-Stench CreepsCreator: Junji Ito
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421579153
Released: April 2015
Original run: 2002

Gyo: The Death-Stench Creeps is a short, two-volume horror manga series created by Junji Ito. Originally published in Japan in 2002, Gyo has had several English-language releases by Viz Media. It was first translated between 2003 and 2004, a slightly updated second edition was released between 2007 and 2008, and most recently, published in 2015, was the deluxe hardcover omnibus. In addition to Gyo, the omnibus also collects two of Ito’s short horror manga: “The Sad Tale of the Principal Post” and “The Enigma of Amigara Fault.” The deluxe edition of Gyo is very similar in design to the recent omnibus of Ito’s manga Uzumaki; the two volumes look great on the shelf together. Uzumaki was actually my introduction to Ito’s work, and I consider it to be one of the best horror manga that I’ve read. Despite Gyo having been released in English three times, and despite the fact that I’ve been meaning to read more of Ito’s manga, the series’ deluxe omnibus is actually the first that I’ve read since Uzumaki.

While vacationing in Okinawa, Tadashi and his girlfriend Kaori witness the harbinger of what will eventually become a plague overrunning the entirety of Japan—a small, rotting fish walking on land with what appear to be mechanical legs. Accompanying it is an overwhelming and nauseating stench. Soon, countless fish and other sea creatures begin streaming out of the ocean. The only things that they have in common are the bizarre appendages and the sickening smell. Kaori and Tadashi cut their vacation short and return to Tokyo, but Kaori in particular is traumatized by the events in Okinawa and soon the creatures begin to be found in the city as well. No one knows where the walking fish originated or how they evolved; of much greater concern is the death and disease caused by their presence on land. And things are only getting worse with the passage of time.

Gyo: The Death-Stench Creeps, page 66The back cover of the omnibus describes Gyo as Ito’s “creepiest masterpiece of horror manga ever.” Admittedly, some of the artwork in Gyo is fantastically creepy, not to mention gruesome and grotesque. Ito is an extremely skilled illustrator, creating images that are horrifying and nightmare-inducing. And as a whole, Gyo can be exceptionally gross. However, the manga’s story ends up being so utterly ridiculous that I would be hard pressed to call it a masterpiece, especially when compared to his earlier work Uzumaki. Whereas Uzumaki is surreal and bizarre, Gyo is so absurd as to be ludicrous, and only increasingly so as the manga progresses. I simply can’t take Gyo seriously; I can only read the series as a comedy, whether or not it is actually intended as such. The manga is perhaps closer to being a cult classic, which I suppose might make it a masterpiece of a different sort, but that’s something that could be argued either way. If nothing else, though, Gyo is a brilliantly outrageous spectacle.

Gyo is certainly not a manga that will appeal to every reader, even those who are already fans of horror manga. Though disconcerting and disgusting, especially the illustrations, the plot of Gyo is too silly to be truly terrifying. Taken alone, the art is superb, but the ridiculous nature of the story creates a weird disconnect. However, I can’t deny that I was entertained by the progressively over-the-top, illogical, and random developments in the manga: sentient gas, a circus out of the middle of nowhere, characters who are oddly oblivious or overly accepting of what is going on around them, and so on. (Though, it is rather sweet how Tadashi sticks beside Kaori through to the very end.) Assuming that one can find it palatable to begin with, Gyo is a very strange manga that is difficult to look away from as Ito presses further and further into territory that is beyond believing. I kept turning the pages to see just how far he would be able to take things. Gyo may very well be one of those manga that’s so good simply because it’s so bad; whether that’s deliberate or not, I’m not sure.

Uzumaki: Spiral into Horror

Uzumaki: Spiral into HorrorCreator: Junji Ito
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421561325
Released: October 2013
Original run: 1998-1999

Junji Ito’s Uzumaki, originally released in Japan between 1998 and 1999, is one of the most well-known horror manga series to have been translated into English. Viz Media has actually published three different English-language editions of Uzumaki, not counting its initial serialization in the monthly manga magazine Pulp. The first edition, published as three individual volumes, was released between 2001 and 2002. These volumes were reissued in a second edition between 2007 and 2008. And then, in 2013, Uzumaki was released by Viz in a deluxe, single-volume hardcover omnibus complete with color pages and gorgeous production values and design. (Though I had previously read and enjoyed the series, it was the spectacular omnibus edition that finally convinced me that Uzumaki was a manga that I needed to own.) An emphasis should be placed on the “gore” of gorgeous—Uzumaki, while it has deservedly been called a masterpiece of horror, is most definitely not a work intended for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.

Kurouzu-cho is a small, quiet seaside village under a curse. It’s manifestation starts with the Saito family. First, Mr. Saito begins acting strangely, developing an unhealthy obsession with spirals. This leads to his demise and in turn his wife understandably becomes terrified of spirals as well, her complex becoming just as severe as her husband’s. In the end, their son Shuichi is the only one left in the family and his girlfriend Kirie Goshima is his only ally. Already uncomfortable with Kurouzu-cho, the fate of his parents convinces Shuichi that the town is contaminated with spirals, though most people believe this to be his own form of insanity. But stranger and stranger things begin to happen in Kurouzu-cho. Kirie becomes witness to so many bizarre occurrences and horrifying deaths that she can’t deny that something is very, very wrong with the town. Tragedy after tragedy befalls Kurouzu-cho, its inhabitants, and anyone unfortunate enough to enter the immediate area as events both figuratively and literally spiral out of control.

At first, Uzumaki seems as though it’s a series that is mostly episodic. Each chapter is largely told and seen from Kirie’s perspective and explores an individual incident involving spirals in some way. But as the manga continues, the stories become more and more closely tied to one another, eventually forming a single, coherent narrative. As previously mentioned, Uzumaki is very graphic, the images that Ito creates, while mesmerizing, can be extraordinarily disturbing and gruesome. But there is more going on in the manga than gore and body horror; there is also a very strong, and very dark, psychological element to Uzumaki which makes the entire series especially effective in its terror. Uzumaki is bizarre and surreal but at the same time is completely convincing in its unnatural horror. It’s hard to believe that something so benign as a simple shape—a spiral—could be so terrifying, but Ito accomplishes the seemingly impossible with Uzumaki. It’s an exceptionally disconcerting work.

Although the imagery in Uzumaki is frequently disturbing, grotesque, and even nauseating, almost as frightening are the characters’ reactions—or, in many cases, their non-reactions—to the terrible events surrounding them. Shuichi is one of the very few people who seem to be completely aware of what is happening in Kurouzu-cho, but he is barely able to maintain his own sanity and becomes increasingly haunted and withdrawn. Surprisingly, hidden within the nightmare that is Uzumaki, there is actually a love story of sorts, granted a tragic one considering the nature of the manga. Despite everything, Kirie is always there to support and look out for Shuichi and his well-being. And even when Shuichi is nearly catatonic and barely able to function within society, he repeatedly risks his life to save hers. But in the end, Uzumaki is ultimately an incredible work of horror. There are things that I’ve seen in the manga that I will never be able to unsee. And I will never be able to look at spirals in quite the same way again.