My Week in Manga: March 18-March 24, 2013

My News and Reviews

Last week I posted two reviews. The first was for Jeff Backhaus’ debut novel Hikikomori and the Rental Sister. It’s sort-of-kind-of like an American version of Welcome to the N.H.K., but without the humor. Overall, I found it to be an absorbing read. The second review I posted last week was for Fantagraphics’ release of The Heart of Thomas by Moto Hagio. It’s a historically influential manga, but even today it’s still a fantastic read. I loved it and am thrilled that it’s available in English.

On the topic of important and classic manga, the latest Reverse Thieves’ Speakeasy podcast features Old Fashioned, Classic Manga in English—what’s been previously published, and what they’d love to see released. If you give it a listen, do be prepared for some very fast talking. They also hope to have more manga-centric episodes in the future.

Elsewhere online: Jason Thompson posted A Quick and Dirty History of Manga in the US as part of his House of 1000 Manga column. Michael Gombos, the director of Asian licensing at Dark Horse takes a look at Blade of the Immortal at the Dark Horse blog. And over at Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, Zack Davisson talks a bit about Mizuki Shigeru’s Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan which he is translating for Drawn & Quarterly.

Speaking of historical manga, this week is the History Manga Moveable Feast, hosted by Khursten at Otaku Champloo! Khursten has a post to get things started. As part of my contribution to the Feast, all of the quick takes below feature historical manga of some sort or another. Later this week I’ll also be posting a review of the third omnibus of Vagabond, by Takehiko Inoue. This month’s manga giveaway will most likely feature historical manga as well.

Quick Takes

The Legend of Kamui, Issues 14-37 by Sanpei Shirato. In 1987 and 1988, Viz and Eclipse published thirty-seven issues of an edited version of Shirato’s Kamui Gaiden. The first thirteen issues were subsequently released in two trade volumes. The remaining issues, making up the “The Sword Wind” story arc, were never collected. I’m very glad that I was able to track them down. Shirato’s artwork in The Legend of Kamui is marvelous with dynamic fight sequences and beautiful landscapes. Because of how the series was edited, occasionally the story can be a bit disorienting as it jumps around. Kamui almost becomes a side character in his own series during “The Sword Wind” as much of the story follows Utsuse, one of his pursuers.

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths by Shigeru Mizuki. Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths was the first manga by Mizuki to be released in English, earning an Eisner award in the process. The story, about a Japanese infantry unit during World War II, is semi-autobiographical in nature. The manga actually starts out rather lighthearted and humorous, but things get very real, very fast. In the end there really isn’t anything funny about the devastating consequences of war. The artwork reflects this as well. Mizuki often uses cartoonish illustrations, but when he really wants to drive a point home he can easily slip into a more realistic style. The shifts in tone and style are extremely effective in conveying Mizuki’s anti-war message.

Rurouni Kenshin, Omnibus 9 (equivalent to volumes 25-28) by Nobuhiro Watsuki. After a brief detour following Sanosuke, the ninth and final omnibus volume in Rurouni Kenshin provides a very satisfying conclusion and epilogue to the series. The omnibus begins when the characters are at their lowest, making their final rally even more compelling. Kenshin and his allies come together one last time like never before. Every fighter (except, unfortunately, for the women), gets the opportunity to show off his stuff during his own final boss battle. Watsuki mentions at one point that Enishi is the complete opposite of Shishio, the previous arc’s antagonist. Personally, I much preferred Enishi and this final arc. 

Wild Rock by Kazusa Takashima. Wild Rock was actually one of the first boys’ love manga that I ever read and I’m still rather fond of it. The story, while surprisingly sweet, is a fairly simplistic variation on the theme of star-crossed lovers from feuding families; what really sets Wild Rock apart is its prehistoric setting. Granted, it’s a very clean, pretty, and pleasant version of prehistory. But, hey, attractive guys in loincloths! The first story focuses on Yuuen and Emba. Their respective tribes are fighting over hunting ground, but the two young men end up falling in love after Emba saves Yuuen’s life. The second story is actually a flashback featuring their fathers as young men. Wild Rock may not be a particularly believable or deep manga, but it has nice art and I do enjoy it.