My Week in Manga: December 15-December 21, 2014

My News and Reviews

Last week was another week with two reviews here at Experiments in Manga. My monthly horror manga review project is now underway, so I took a look at Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare, Volume 1, which is a very intriguing start to the series. Next month I’ll start in on the in-depth reviews for Yuki Urushibara Mushishi and continue to alternate between the two series until the review project is completed. Last week I also reviewed The Early Cases of Akechi Kogorō by Edogawa Rampo, which I was very excited to read. The volume collects four of the earliest stories featuring Rampo’s great detective. And over at Manga Bookshelf proper, I and the rest of the Manga Bookshelf bloggers talked a little about the Manga the Year of 2014, noting some of our favorite things from the past year. Like I did last year, later this week I’ll also be posting my own list of notable releases from 2014.

I’m still extraordinarily busy at work as I settle into being the temporary boss of my unit for the next seven months or so, so I’ve been a bit preoccupied and haven’t had a chance to closely follow what’s going on in the mangasphere these days. However, I did still manage to catch a few interesting things to read online. Jason Thompson’s most recent House of 1000 Manga column focuses on Learn English with JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, which I am now determined to track down. J. R. Brown has an introductory post to Boys in Skirts, her series of article and reviews focusing on otokonoko at Mode: Verbose. I also came across a fascinating post about the popularity of the Year 24 Group. I’m not familiar with the author or the blog, but it looks like it should have other promising manga articles as well.

Quick Takes

Angel Sanctuary, Volume 16Angel Sanctuary, Volumes 16-20 by Kaori Yuki. Here it is, the tumultuous conclusion to the epic Angel Sanctuary. By the end of the series, Yuki actually does manage to pull everything together in a way that mostly makes sense and proves that she actually can kill off a main character, something that I had my doubts about. I know a fair number of people who adore Angel Sanctuary, but while there were some things I really liked about the series, overall I found it pretty frustrating. Maybe I just wasn’t paying close enough attention, but more often than not I found Angel Sanctuary to be confusing and difficult to follow with a huge cast of characters, none of whom are exactly who they initially appear to be, and plot twist after plot twist. Granted, that did mean the series was consistently drama-filled. But with a little more editorial guidance, Angel Sanctuary could have been something phenomenal instead of just good. I did appreciate the manga’s core, however. Love is the driving force behind Angel Sanctuary. All of the characters are dealing with love in one way or another; it is the source of tremendous good as well as tremendous evil, but in the end it is shown to be a redemptive force.

Master Keaton, Volume 1Master Keaton, Volume 1 written by Hokusei Katsushika and Takashi Nagasaki and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa. One of the many reasons that I became so enamored with manga was thanks to Urasawa’s series Pluto, so I’m always curious and excited when a new work of his is licensed in English. Admittedly, Master Keaton, while newly translated, is one of Urasawa’s older collaborations that began in the late 1980s. The titular Keaton (technically Hiraga-Keaton) is a half-Japanese, half-English archaeology professor who works as an insurance investigator on the side. He also used to be a member of the British Army’s Special Air Service, which adds survival skills and combat experience to his already impressive and eclectic set of talents. I enjoyed the first volume of Master Keaton. The manga has a nice mix of action and adventure, mystery and detective work, and even a bit of family drama. Occasionally it can be a little heavy on politics and history which interrupts the series’ pacing, but generally the slower parts are interesting, too. It’s also worth mentioning that the book design and production quality of Viz’s release of Master Keaton is particularly nice.

Open Spaces and Closed Places, Parts 1-2Open Spaces and Closed Places, Volumes 1-6 by Saicoink. I don’t remember exactly when or how I first heard about the mini-comic series Open Spaces and Closed Places, but it was recently brought to my attention again when Saicoink released the sixth and final volume. I finally got around to reading the series, and I absolutely loved it. Jirou is the boss of the delinquents at his school. When he isn’t busy getting into fights, he’s pining for Oscar, the president of the student council. Oscar likes Jirou, too, but for various reasons doesn’t feel he can accept his love, and so spends much of his time teasing the other boy instead. It’s a delightful relationship, both adorable and sad at the same time. Soon after Open Spaces and Closed Places begins, fantastical elements are introduced and the series becomes more and more surreal as it goes, culminating in a spectacular dream sequence. Saicoink specifically mentions drawing inspiration from Suehiro Maruo and Usamaru Furuya. While their influence can be seen in Open Spaces and Closed Places, the series isn’t as grotesque or as graphic as some of their works, though its humor is still accompanied by some amount darkness and tragedy. It’s a sinister, strange, and wonderful series.

Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 9Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 9 by Mitsuru Hattori. Sometimes Sankarea is all about its horror, sometimes it’s all about its peculiar romantic comedy, and sometimes it manages to be about both. The ninth volume is generally successful in balancing the series’ two opposing aspects, though the comedy has definitely taken a turn for the serious. Hattori does still find plenty of opportunities to add a bit of fanservice to the manga, this time mostly in the form of dressing Rea up in a variety of revealing costumes and outfits, often for no better reason than she looks cute in them. But even with those largely unnecessary diversions, the plot does continue to move along nicely in the ninth volume. Chihiro and most of the rest of his group have made their escape from ZoMA and return to Japan. Rea is suffering from amnesia though and doesn’t remember Chihiro or their relationship. Often I’m annoyed by the memory loss trope in manga—frequently it’s the result of bad or lazy writing—but for the most part it actually works pretty well in Sankarea. I still like the quirkiness of the characters in Sankarea, but Bub the undead cat remains my favorite by far.

My Week in Manga: December 1-December 7, 2014

My News and Reviews

There were a few different things posted at Experiments in Manga last week. First up was the announcement of the Seven Seas Sampler manga giveaway winner. The post also includes a list of some favorite titles published or soon to be published by Seven Seas. The honor of the first in-depth manga review for December goes to Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 7 by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Even if you’re not particularly interested in Gundam (I’ll readily admit to not being a devotee of the franchise, myself), I’d still highly recommend the series to readers looking for some great science fiction manga. The Origin is consistently great, and Vertical’s edition remains one of the best-looking manga releases in English. Also, over the weekend, I posted November’s Bookshelf Overload for those of you interested in what made it onto my shelves last month. (Granted, it doesn’t all actually fit on my shelves at the moment, thus the “overload.” There are a few strategically placed piles and boxes in my room, too…)

Elsewhere online, Digital Manga has a survey soliciting Tezuka Kickstarter Feedback. According to a recent e-mail newsletter, Digital Manga is expecting to launch a Kickstarter project sometime in 2015 to reprint Unico, Swallowing the Earth, and Barbara, all of which have previously been Kickstarted. Philip of Eeeper’s Choice expresses some of the concerns over these recent developments. Also interesting, a Publishers Weekly article about Digital Manga’s recent Kickstarter efforts notes that Digital Manga is apparently not planning on actually distributing the Tezuka manga outside of direct sales and the library market. This means that individuals who want the manga will either have to back a successful Kickstarter project, or purchase them directly from the publisher. I’ve been extremely busy at work lately (my immediate supervisor retired on Friday, which more or less leaves me in charge of my unit for the time being), so I wasn’t able to follow much more than the Digital Manga drama, but I did see that Viz made a new license announcement: Junji Ito’s Fragments of Horror! And speaking of licenses, Reverse Thieves has compiled a list of all of the manga, light novels, and anime licenses that were announced in 2014.

Quick Takes

Angel Sanctuary, Volume 11Angel Sanctuary, Volumes 11-15 by Kaori Yuki. It took more than half of the series, but Angel Sanctuary has finally grabbed a hold of me. I’ve enjoyed Yuki’s artwork since the beginning, I’ve always liked the series’ exploration of overarching themes of love, destiny, and personal responsibility, and I can certainly appreciate the tremendous amount of research Yuki has put into creating her mythology, but the story itself has been somewhat of an unfocused mess up until this point. Now things are starting to pull together in a very satisfying way though. I’m actually looking forward to reading the conclusion of Angel Sanctuary instead of just feeling obligated to finish the manga. It’s getting really good and the drama is epic. Yuki still has the tendency to be a little haphazard in her narrative structure, but the series has become much easier to follow. It probably helps that her editors wouldn’t allow her to introduce any more new characters. The cast of Angel Sanctuary is huge, and so it’s understandably challenging to present all of their backstories while maintaining the series’ forward momentum. Fortunately, as it approaches its turbulent end, Angel Sanctuary seems to have found its center and drive.

Manga Dogs, Volume 1Manga Dogs, Volume 1 by Ema Toyama. Up until now, the only other manga that I’ve read by Toyama is her ongoing series Missions of Love, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Manga Dogs. Turns out it’s a very different series, probably best described as gag manga about making manga and the manga industry. While for me it was never laugh-out-loud hilarious, I was generally amused and consistently entertained by the first volume of Manga Dogs. It’s silly fun. Even though she’s only fifteen, Kanna Tezuka recently made her manga debut. Granted, her series isn’t doing so well and is in danger of cancellation. Her high school has a new major specializing in manga, though it’s incredibly poorly run, which is where three pretty boys attach themselves to her. Fumio Akatsuka, Fujio Fuji, and Shota Ishinomori are more interested in the fame and fortune they associate with successful mangaka rather than the sweat and stress it takes to get there, though. As can be seen with the characters’ names, Manga Dogs has plenty of nods and references to established mangaka, but most of the humor comes from the three young men’s misguided efforts to become famous artists without actually putting in any effort.

Prophecy, Volume 1Prophecy, Volume 1 by Tetsuya Tsutsui. Before reading the first volume of Prophecy I actually didn’t know much about the manga except that Vertical was approached to publish it directly by the author. Prophecy is a mature, chilling, and realistic series dealing with cyber crime, social media, how quickly people can turn on one another, and the terrible things that can be done under the guise of anonymity. A small group of vigilantes are taking matters into their own hands, viciously striking out against those who have trespassed against others online. While their methods are extreme, their motivation is easy to understand and even empathize with; the world can be a cruel, cruel place. It’s an entirely different sort of case than the members Anti Cyber Crimes Division of the Metropolitan Police are usually involved in. Specializing in internet crime, they more commonly deal with copyright and intellectual property infringement. But in this particular war of information, people’s lives are at stake, not just their livelihoods. The first volume of Prophecy was exceptional. In my opinion, it’s one of the strongest series to debut this year. I’ll definitely be picking up the rest of the manga.

My Week in Manga: November 17-November 23, 2014

My News and Reviews

Two reviews were posted last week at Experiments in Manga, and a little something else as well! The first review was for the second part of Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, the third volume in Kouhei Kadono’s Boogiepop light novel series. Boogiepop is a rather peculiar series, but I’ve really been enjoying it. And speaking of series that I enjoy, I also reviewed the fifth omnibus of Vinland Saga by Makoto Yukimura. Vinland Saga is an epic work of historical fiction, and one of my favorite manga series currently being released in English. And, as promised, last week I also posted a poll so that readers of Experiments in Manga can help pick my next monthly manga review project. I’ve narrowed the choices down to five horror manga options, and now it’s up to you to vote. The poll will be open through the end of November.

A few things of note that I encountered online last week: It was brought to my attention that Akino Kondoh’s collection Nothing Whatsoever All Out in the Open is now available to order. Publishers Weekly has a great list of 12 Awesome Comics about Outer Space compiled by Matt White which includes Makoto Yukimura’s Planetes, Chūya Koyama’s Space Brothers, and Yukinobu Hoshino’s 2001 Nights, which are all excellent choices. Finally, Johanna Draper Carlson has a nice recap of the recent Digtial Manga Tezuka Kickstarter debacle/failure over at Manga Worth Reading.

Quick Takes

Angel Sanctuary, Volume 6Angel Sanctuary, Volumes 6-10 by Kaori Yuki. Halfway through the series, and I still find Angel Sanctuary a bit frustrating and confusing. It’s difficult to follow because there is so much going and and there are so many characters, with even more being introduced in these volumes Angel Sanctuary is incredibly ambitious, but I’m afraid that Yuki has bitten off too much to chew; the series would be stronger with a little more focus. Even though it seems like Yuki is making things up as she goes along, her author’s notes would seem to indicate that she actually does have a plan and even the major plot twists were developed well in advance. To the reader, though, it feels like they come out of nowhere. If anything, it should be very clear by this point in the series that you really can’t trust any of the characters. They all have their own ambitions and motivations, so it’s almost impossible for any of them to be considered allies for a long period of time. I can’t deny that Angel Sanctuary is extraordinarily dramatic, and a string of betrayals continues to up the stakes. And even though the story is all over the place, I do still really enjoy Yuki’s gothic artwork.

Barakamon, Volume 1Barakamon, Volume 1 by Satsuki Yoshino. Seishuu Handa is a young, award-winning calligrapher who, after handling a critique of his work quite poorly, has been encouraged by his father to at least temporarily retire to the remote Gotō Island. Thus begins Barakamon, a fairly low-key comedy that’s part slice of life and part gag manga. Much of the humor either revolves around Seishuu, a city boy, being so out-of-place in the countryside, or Naru, a young, energetic troublemaker who’s grown rather attached to “Sensei.” Though generally amusing, Barakamon is never quite as funny as I actually want it to be. I’ll admit though, since I grew up in a rural village myself, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit satisfied when Seishuu gets shown up by the island’s residents, especially because he thinks so little of them to begin with. I can appreciate Seishuu’s struggles as an artist, too, though I can’t say that I like him very much as a person, yet. But, I suspect that’s what Barakamon is in part about—Seishuu becoming a better person after some much-needed self-reflection. While no means exceptional in art or story, I did largely enjoy the first volume of Barakamon and plan on continuing the series for a least another few volumes.

Smut Peddler 2014Smut Peddler 2014 by Various. After being revived in 2012, Smut Peddler is back again in 2014 with a second collection of short, erotic comics. Some of the contributors are new to Smut Peddler while others are returning to the series. Smut Peddler 2014 includes twenty-five comics from thirty-two artists and writers. Although some of the individual comics are phenomenal, overall I think the first collection is the stronger of the two. Even so, Smut Peddler remains one of the best series for diverse, sex-positive, lady-friendly, queer-friendly, kink-friendly erotic comics. There’s straight sex, and queer sex. There’s modest sex and flamboyant sex. Sweet sex and spicy sex. Sex with humor and sex with solemnity. And there’s everything in between, too. With the inclusion of a few science fiction and fantasy tales, there’s also alien and inter-species sex, which is always fun. I was particularly pleased to see how many transgender and/or nonbinary narratives were included in the 2014 edition of Smut Peddler. The sheer variety of genres, styles, characters, and stories found in Smut Peddler is one of the highlights of the series. The fact that the creators are just as diverse as their comics makes it even better.

My Week in Manga: October 27-November 2, 2014

My News and Reviews

October is finally over, and I somehow managed to survive! I’ve been extremely busy at work which bled over into the rest of my life and has interfered with a lot of things that I would otherwise rather be doing. I’m really hoping that my stress levels and schedule settle down a bit in November, but my immediate supervisor is retiring in December and I’ll be taking on some more responsibilities in my unit (at least temporarily), so we’ll see how that goes! Anyway, I was somehow able to keep on top of my posts here at Experiments in Manga. The most recent manga giveaway is currently in progress and there’s still time to enter for a chance to win Sherlock Bones, Volume 1. Since this past Friday was Hallowe’en, I decided it would be appropriate to review Junji Ito’s manga Uzumaki: Spiral into Horror. It’s been deservedly called a masterpiece, and the deluxe omnibus edition is especially nice. And over the weekend, I posted October’s Bookshelf Overload for those of you interested in what made it onto my bookshelves last month. I’m sure there was plenty of interesting reading to be found online, but I’m afraid I’ve been so busy I haven’t been able to pay much attention recently. Let me know if I missed something particularly good!

Quick Takes

Angel Sanctuary, Volume 1Angel Sanctuary, Volumes 1-5 by Kaori Yuki. It’s pretty clear after reading the first few volumes of Angel Sanctuary that this manga is going to be epic, for better or for worse. Angel Sanctuary has a huge cast (most with multiple names and multiple identities) and easily enough material for several completely different and unrelated series. So much is crammed into the early volumes that I’m afraid that Yuki might be trying to do too much at once with the manga. Though he is initially unaware of it, Setsuna is the reincarnation of the angel Alexiel, fated to suffer for her past deeds life after life. This causes significant problems for him—other angels and demons are searching for Alexiel,  some to reawaken her soul and some to completely destroy her. But even more problematic is Setsuna’s incestuous love for his younger sister Sara. So far the story is somewhat confusing and difficult to follow, albeit with moments of brilliance. However, I do consistently enjoy Yuki’s gothic artwork, tragic melodrama, and gender play. Many of Yuki’s angels also happen to be sexist assholes, completely capable of murder, deception, and greed, which is certainly an interesting take on the celestial beings.

The Flowers of Evil, Volume 10The Flowers of Evil, Volumes 10-11 by Shuzo Oshimi. Several years have passed since the incident in Kasuga’s hometown and his tumultuous relationship with Nakamura. The time has now come for him to face everything that he has done in his past and to confront how his actions have affected the people in his life—his family, his former classmates, his girlfriend, and most importantly himself. Up until now, he has been unable to move on with his life. His past, though he tries to hide it or run away from it, still defines who he is. The finale of The Flowers of Evil is a very effective exploration of personal identity and responsibility. Oshimi’s artwork, while never awful, has improved tremendously since the beginning of the series. This is particularly important for the last two volumes of The Flowers of Evil since large portions of the manga are completely without dialogue or narration; the art must be strong enough to carry the story entirely on its own, and it succeeds in that. The Flowers of Evil is a surprising series, ending with a very different tone and in a very different place than where it first began. It was quite a journey and it was worth every page.

Free!: Eternal SummerFree!: Eternal Summer directed by Hiroko Utsumi. I rather enjoyed the first season of Free! and was pleasantly surprised to discover that in addition to its goofiness the anime series actually had some substance to it. And so I was looking forward to watching its second season, Eternal Summer. A lot of the humor and drama in the second season comes from the introduction of several new characters. It was a little strange to have best friends suddenly appear when I’m pretty sure they weren’t even hinted at in the first season, but I ended up really liking the additions to the cast. Although most of the characters see some development, most striking is how much Rin has changed from the first season. His anger and angst is mostly gone and he’s become fairly chill, although he’s still very passionate about swimming. It’s a passion that he shares with the other swimmers in the anime, but each has his own approach and way of expressing it. They really don’t always make the best, wisest, or most mature decisions, though. (Not that I would expect that teenagers would.) Driving the narrative of Eternal Summer is the characters’ struggles and searches for their dreams and futures. The season provided a very satisfying conclusion to Free!.

Grand Guignol Orchestra, Volume 1: Overture

Creator: Kaori Yuki
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421536361
Released: October 2010
Original release: 2009

For the Kaori Yuki Manga Moveable Feast, I decided to take a look at Overture, the first volume in Grand Guignol Orchestra, the most recent of Kaori Yuki’s manga series to be released in English. The first volume of Grand Guignol Orchestra was originally published in Japan in 2009. Overture was subsequently released in English in 2010 by Viz Media under its Shojo Beat imprint. Although Yuki has had several of her works licensed in English, the only other manga of hers that I have read is Godchild. It took a while for that series to grow on me, but I ultimately enjoyed its dark, Gothic horror. However, I never quite got around to pursuing more of Yuki’s manga until Grand Guignol Orchestra was released. What particularly appealed to me about Grand Guignol Orchestra and convinced me to pick it up was its fantastical use of music.

As members of the Queen’s unofficial Grand Orchestra, Lucille, Kohaku, and Gwindel tour the countryside, journeying to places that the official orchestra wouldn’t dare. With the outbreak of the virus that causes Galatea Syndrome—transforming people into violent, doll-like zombies known as guignols—traveling is a dangerous endeavor. But it is the responsibility of the Grand Orchestra, even the unofficial one, to seek out and destroy the guignols and investigate the often bizarre circumstances surrounding the spread of the disease. The highly trained and capable musicians use their musical talents and a bit of combat training to annihilate the threat to the general population. Unfortunately, their people skills can be somewhat lacking and their help isn’t always welcomed by the people they are trying to aid. Guignols aren’t the only ones who pose a danger to the orchestra and its members.

Yuki’s artwork is one of the highlights of Grand Guignol Orchestra. She describes the series’ setting as taking place in the Middle Ages with a French flair to it (and with some very obvious anachronistic deviations.) The attention given to the costume designs with all their layers and frills is particularly marvelous. The guignols themselves also have a great design and are suitably creepy with their haunted eyes and cracking skin. In general, the artwork creates an excellent atmosphere for the Gothic tale. Unfortunately, it often seems at odds with the humor that Yuki attempts to introduce into the series. Although somewhat entertaining and a relief from the wonderfully melodramatic plot, the more comedic aspects of the series don’t seem to mesh quite yet with its darker elements. At times Grand Guignol Orchestra is deadly serious while at others it’s purposely ridiculous. The result can be awkward.

Considering how many elements there are in Grand Guignol Orchestra that I actually really like, I am very surprised that I didn’t enjoy the first volume more. I love the destructive and redemptive power granted to music in the series and get a huge kick out of the ability to take out zombies with a tuning fork. I also like the gender-bending aspects of the story and characters. Lucille, much to his dismay, is mistaken for a woman more often than not, but is generally happy to use this to his advantage. He’s not the only character who plays with gender, either. Overture is very much an introductory volume. Although the deliciously tragic pasts of the musicians have been hinted at, very little is actually known about them at this point and will be revealed later on in the series. But if I had to judge by the first volume alone, I would have to say that I appreciate and enjoy Grand Guignol Orchestra more in concept than I do in execution.