My Week in Manga: April 8-April 14, 2013

My News and Reviews

This past week I reviewed We, the Children of Cats, a volume collecting five short stories and three novellas by Tomoyuki Hoshino. It’s a difficult collection, troubling and even disturbing at times, but it’s also mesmerizing and very good. In the preface, Hoshino describes the desire for the stories to “lodge themselves within the bodies” of the readers; with me at least he was successful.

I also reviewed Demon Lair, the twentieth volume in the English-language release of Hiroaki Samura’s award-winning manga series Blade of the Immortal. There’s not much plot development in this volume, but there is plenty of action. Normally, my monthly Blade of the Immortal review would have been posted later this week, but I’ve been shifting my usual schedule around a bit in order to accommodate a guest post which should be ready to go soon.

If you haven’t come across it yet, Brigid Alverson’s article Manga 2013: A Smaller, More Sustainable Market for Publishers Weekly is a must read. Christopher Butcher also posted a followup to the article, The Manga Industry 2012-2013, which is also well worth reading. Curious as to what it’s like to work as a mangaka’s assistant? Jamie Lynn Lano has collected all of her assistant stories into one convenient list—Working as an Assistant on the Prince of Tennis.

Over the weekend, Lori Henderson of Manga Xanadu debuted the first episode of the Manga Dome Podcast. It’s a nice short episode focusing on recent manga news and a few brief reviews. There aren’t many podcasts out there that I know of that focus specifically on manga, so I’m very happy to see the start of a new one. I’ve added Manga Dome to podcast list on the Resources page. (I also removed Otaku USA’s Friday ACE podcast from the list, which is now defunct.)

I’ve written a couple of posts about podcasts in the past which still get quite a few page hits: Discovering Manga: Podcasts and Discovering Manga: Podcasts, Part 2. I’d love to do another podcast post in the future, so if you know of any manga related podcasts that I haven’t yet mentioned, please do let me know!

Quick Takes

Blue Exorcist, Volumes 1-4 by Kazue Kato. After a bit of a rough start (about which I had been warned), I’m starting to really enjoy Blue Exorcist. It’s not my favorite shounen series, but I can definitely understand its wide appeal. Blue Exorcist is a fun manga with likeable characters and solid artwork. Rin Okumura is the bastard son of Satan who decides to become an exorcist after his guardian dies protecting him. The series follows him and his fellow classmates as they begin their exorcist studies. The fact that he’s part demon is something that he tries, unsuccessfully, to keep hidden. Blue Exorcist has some nice, dynamic fights. There is also a good balance between the series’ humor and its darker elements.

Kiss Blue, Volumes 1-2 by Keiko Kinoshita. I absolutely loved this two volume series. It’s certainly more realistic than most of the boys’ love manga that’s out there. The character development in particular is exceptional. Tomosaka and Noda have been best friends for years, but recently Tomosaka has come to the realization that he’s actually in love with Noda. Tomosaka struggles with his feelings, wanting to preserve their friendship while at the same time being torn apart by it. Noda, too, is conflicted and unsure of how to deal with the situation. On top of all this, Tomosaka is being sexually harassed by his manager at work who, it turns out, is caught up in his own unhappy love story. The relationships are all handled very well. Kiss Blue really is excellent.

Saiyuki, Volumes 1-5 by Kazuya Minekura. Loosely based on The Journey to the West, Saiyuki gives the beloved folk heroes new personalities, motivations, and bad-boy attitudes. Quite a few of these earlier volumes are devoted to revealing Hakkai’s tragic backstory, which is substantially different from the original. Of the main characters Hakkai is probably my favorite, so I didn’t mind this too much. (Although if you want to be picky, Gojyo and Hakkai’s stories and personalities seem to be reversed from The Journey to the West.) Minekura incorporates strange anachronisms into the story and magic and mysticism are found alongside science and technology. Saiyuki is kind of ridiculous, but I’ll admit to enjoying it.

Unico by Osamu Tezuka. Unico is the second Tezuka manga to be licensed and produced by Digital Manga through a Kickstarter project. My initial interest in the manga was based on the fact that it was being released entirely in color and that its artwork extends beyond the edge of the page. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to like Unico as much as I did, but it’s really quite wonderful. The stories follow the titular Unico, a unicorn with the power to bring happiness and good luck to those who love him. In addition to using various historical, contemporary, and futuristic settings, the manga is influenced by legends, mythology, and fairy tales. Unico is in turn delightful, heartbreaking, charming, and bittersweet.

No. 6 directed by Kenji Nagasaki. No. 6 is an eleven-episode anime based on a series of novels by Atsuko Asano. I’m rather fond of utopian/dystopian fiction, so I was looking forward to No. 6. Shion is an elite member of the city No. 6 who loses his privileges and status when he saves the life of Nezumi, a young fugitive. The relationship between Shion and Nezumi is marvelous; the two grow and change as the series progresses and as Shion learns the truth about No. 6. Although there are some fantastic moments in the last episode, the ending is unfortunately rushed and therefore somewhat disappointing. Still, up until that point I was really enjoying the series. So much so that I plan on giving the manga a try.

My Week in Manga: January 3-January 9, 2011

My News and Reviews

Not much news from me this week, but I did post my first in-depth manga review for January—Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, Volume 2. I enjoyed the first volume of the series, but the second volume is even better. I also posted the Bookshelf Overload for December 2010 which features my New Year’s resolution in addition to the absurd amount of manga I’ve recently managed to acquire. Finally, I’m getting ready for next week’s Manga Moveable Feast hosted by Anna at Manga Report and featuring Karakuri Odette by Julietta Suzuki. I plan on writing an in-depth review for the first volume as well as posting some random musings about androids because, well, I like androids. I’m looking forward to seeing what others have to say about the series, too.

Quick Takes

Cat Paradise, Volumes 3-5 by Yuji Iwahara. So, the plot might get a little convoluted and difficult to follow, and there are plenty of info dumps, but Cat Paradise is still great fun and I really enjoyed it. One of the greatest things about the manga are the cats. Each one is an individual and has their own unique look and personality. Their owners/partners, too, have some great character designs. Most of the pairs have some interesting backstories that are at least hinted at if not fully explored, but the plot gets caught up pretty quickly in the action and fighting. I did see some of the plot twists coming long before they were revealed, but there were some nice surprises as well.

From Up Above by Sakuya Kurekoshi. From Up Above was originally intended to be an ongoing series, but as far as I can tell only this first volume was ever published. It’s a nice setup, but unfortunately it doesn’t work very well on its own; many of the story elements introduced simply don’t have enough time to be thoroughly developed. I found that I was filling in a lot of the plot on my own rather than strictly depending on the information Kurekoshi was providing. I like the supernatural components of the story and I’ve always been fond of human incarnations of natural forces, but From Up Above isn’t quite able to pull it off in one volume.

Old Boy, Volumes 1-8 written by Garon Tsuchiya and illustrated by Nobuaki Minegishi. I watched the film adaptation of Old Boy before I even knew it was based on a manga series. I was very excited when Dark Horse licensed the series which then went on to win an Eisner Award in 2007. Very little violence is actually seen, instead the intense mood comes from the psychological anguish the characters experience. Minegishi’s art fits the tone of the story fantastically well. Much of the story is the characters internally confronting and searching their minds, so panel after panel may pass by without even a hint of dialogue but the art is engaging and up to the task. 

Planetes, Volumes 1-4 by Makoto Yukimura. While technically a four volume series, the fourth collection was actually split into two books for the English edition. The realism and research put into the writing of Planetes is fantastic and it extends beyond technology to the human elements of living and working in space as well. I’m a big fan of science fiction to begin with, but I particularly enjoyed Yukimura’s approach in presenting a feasible near future. I did find the storytelling to be a bit disjointed moving from chapter to chapter but I really liked the characters even if their development was a bit bumpy. Although Planetes is hard science fiction, the family and interpersonal relationships are critical to the story.

You and Harujion by Keiko Kinoshita. There’s a sort of melancholy feel to most of the story and the light, scratchy artwork captures the mood well. However, the ending seems forced to me and the sudden change in the characters’ relationship was abrupt, almost as if Kinoshita suddenly remembered that it was supposed to be a boys’ love work after all. But before that, Senoh working through his thoughts a feelings regarding Harujion was actually handled quite well. He wants to be an important person in the teen’s life and is honestly and genuinely concerned for the boy’s well-being. Harujion, who has lost both of his parents and is faced with his father’s debts after his death, needs someone close.

GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka, Episodes 35-43 directed by Noriyuki Abe and Naoyasu Hanyu. I have now read through the GTO manga series once and watched the anime twice. While I ultimately probably prefer the manga, I really enjoy the anime as well. Some stories are unique to the anime and others have been modified from the original, but they all exhibit the spirit of GTO. Granted, some of the more extreme antics from the manga have been toned down for the anime. The final two episodes of the series seem to come out of nowhere but they tie up everything pretty nicely. The story ends in an entirely different way than the manga but it works even if it is a bit sudden.

Oldboy directed by Park Chan-wook. While Oldboy isn’t my favorite of Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy, it is still a fantastic film. I had seen the movie once before, so I wasn’t taken by surprise by some of the major plot twists that are thrown in. However, I was still able to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the work. The basic premise is the same as that of the manga, although the ultimate reason behind the protagonist’s imprisonment is different. Despite the amount of action and violence involved in the film adaptation, the story is still primarily one huge mind game that is slowly and methodically revealed.