Vagabond, Omnibus 3

Creator: Takehiko Inoue
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421522456
Released: April 2009
Original release: 2000-2001
Awards: Japan Media Arts Award, Kodansha Manga Award, Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize

The third volume in Viz Media’s omnibus release of Takehiko Inoue’s manga series Vagabond collects the seventh, eighth, and ninth volumes of the original edition. Those volumes were initially published in Japan between 2000 and 2001 and then in English by Viz Media between 2003 and 2004. The third omnibus was released by Viz Media in 2009. Inoue’s Vagabond is based on Eiji Yoshikawa’s epic historical novel Musashi, which is a retelling of the life of the legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. In addition to being an extraordinary adaptation, Vagabond has also earned Inoue a Japan Media Arts Award, a Kodansha Manga Award, and a Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize among other honors. Because March 2013’s Manga Moveable Feast celebrates historical manga, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to dig into Vagabond again.

Along his journey to determine and prove his worth as a swordsman, Musashi confronted Inshun, the second-generation master of the Hōzōin spear technique. Musashi nearly lost his life in the resulting encounter and was forced to retreat. Ashamed that he ran away from the battle, Musashi has been developing his mind and body in the nearby mountains. Surprisingly enough, he is training under the guidance of In’ei, Inshun’s master. Musashi struggles to conquer the fear that the battle with Inshun has instilled in him. As for Inshun, never before having the opportunity to experience mortal combat, he looks forward to the chance to fight Musashi again. Although their goals may be similar, both young men have their own reasons for seeking to become stronger and more powerful.

One of the prominent themes in this particular omnibus of Vagabond is fear and, more specifically, how the characters deal with that fear. Both Musashi and Inshun have their own personal demons to face, but they confront their fears in very different ways. Musashi tends to approach things head on while Inshun subconsciously attempts to bury much of his past. These differences not only influence their personalities, but their martial abilities and fighting styles, as well. Becoming a skilled fighter and following the way of the sword isn’t just about brute strength, a lesson that Musashi is still trying to learn and master. Strategy, awareness, and mental clarity and preparedness are also extremely important. For a fighter, a strong mind is just as crucial as a strong body, especially when dealing with matters of life and death.

Another point that is emphasized through Inshun and Musashi’s conflict is the need to be able to see and understand not only the details of a situation but also that situation as a whole. This is something that is reflected nicely in Inoue’s artwork. In Vagabond, Inoue uses a detailed, realistic style which works superbly with the story’s realistic approach to traditional martial arts. I love the attention that Inoue devotes to the characters’ physical presences—their feet, stances, and grounding. At the same time he conveys the intensity of their mental and emotional states through their facial expressions, eyes, and demeanor. Inoue’s focus on these and other details doesn’t overwhelm the larger picture; instead, it enhances it. Vagabond is a great adaptation but the cohesive vision that Inoue brings to both the story and the art makes it a marvelous work in its own right. I certainly look forward to reading more.

Manga Giveaway: Historical Manga Giveaway (Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths)

March has been a rough month for me at work and elsewhere, so I’ll be a little relieved once it’s finally over. But what’s really great about March nearing its end? The time has come for the monthly manga giveaway here at Experiments in Manga! To coincide with March’s Manga Moveable Feast, which focuses on historical manga, this month I will be giving away a new copy of Shigeru Mizuki’s semi-autobiographical, award-winning work Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths as published by Drawn and Quarterly. As always, the giveaway is open worldwide!

Because historical manga is such a broad topic, Khursten, the host for this month’s Feast, has come up with three broad categories of historical manga to help participants focus: autobiographies and biographies (which is fairly straightforward), historical retellings and reimaginings (“stories that have some historical basis”), and period pieces (stories that “try to capture the culture and the ‘spirit’ of the period they wish to portray.”) It’s probably not too surprising, but I enjoy reading manga from all of these categories. Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, although fictionalized, is an example of the first category. As for retellings, I’m particularly fond of Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond (which itself is based on a historical novel) and Osamu Tezuka’s Message to Adolf. I’ve previously professed a love for “samurai manga” (series like Satsuma Gishiden and so on) which often amount, at least in part, to Edo era period pieces.

So, you may be wondering, how can you win Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths?

1) In the comments below, tell me about your favorite historical manga. If you don’t have a favorite, or have never read historical manga, you can mention that.
2) For a second entry, simply name a historical manga that hasn’t been mentioned yet by me or by someone else.
3) If you’re on Twitter, you can earn a bonus entry by tweeting about the contest. Make sure to include a link to this post and @PhoenixTerran (that’s me).

It’s as easy as that! Each person can earn up to three entries for this giveaway. You have one week to submit your comments. If you have trouble leaving comments (Blogger sometimes has issues), or if you would prefer, you can e-mail me your entries at phoenixterran(at)gmail(dot)com. I will then post the comment in your name. The winner will be randomly selected and announced on April 3, 2013. Good luck to you all!

VERY IMPORTANT: Include some way that I can contact you. This can be an e-mail address, link to your website, Twitter username, or whatever. If I can’t figure out how to get a hold of you and you win, I’ll just draw another name.

Contest winner announced—Manga Giveaway: Historical Manga Winner

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.

Pineapple Army

Author: Kazuya Kudo
Illustrator: Naoki Urasawa

U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9780929279398
Released: December 1990
Original run: 1986-1988

I was very excited when Naoki Urasawa was selected as the subject of February 2013’s Manga Moveable Feast. One of the major reasons that I developed an obsession with manga is thanks to Urasawa and his series Pluto, a reimagining of one of Osamu Tezuka’s most popular Astro Boy stories. After reading Pluto, I immediately started to look for more of his work, which led to my discovery of Pineapple Army—his first work to be published in English. Viz Media released ten issues of Pineapple Army between 1988 and 1989 before publishing a collected volume in 1990. Pineapple Army, written by Kazuya Kudo and illustrated by Urasawa, is an eight volume series in Japan, originally serialized between 1986 and 1988. The English-language edition of Pineapple Army selects ten stories from throughout the series’ original run.

Jed Goshi is a formidable man. He’s an ex-marine, an ex-mercenary, a Vietnam war hero, an explosives expert, an exceptionally capable strategist, and an incredibly skilled combatant. Goshi now lives in New York City where he is a part of the Civilian Defense Forces, instructing amateurs in military tactics and teaching people how to fight for themselves. Often the cases he takes on are those that have little chance of success: four orphaned girls threatened by organized crime, a cowardly father and son being targeted by an assassin, a young woman in Latin America trying to rescue her kidnapped father, and so on. Even when Goshi is on vacation or out on a date he can’t seem to avoid being drawn into some sort of conflict. Events don’t always play out well but one thing is certain: Goshi is very good at what he does.

Pineapple Army is one of Urasawa’s earliest professional works. While the influence of other artists like Katsuhiro Otomo is fairly obvious, especially in the character designs, the beginnings of Urasawa’s own personal style can also be seen. Urasawa’s semi-realistic illustrations work well for Pineapple Army. Although there is plenty of action, the manga is very character driven. The realism of Urasawa’s artwork helps to keep even the more outrageous elements of the story grounded and the characters, particularly Goshi, believable (at least for the most part). He excels in creating memorable and expressive faces. Urasawa’s action sequences are great, too, everything from hand-to-hand combat to flying bullets and exploding grenades. The scenes are dynamic—at times even cinematic—clear, and easy to follow.

For the most part, the ten stories collected in Pineapple Army stand fairly well on their own. Still, it can be ocassionally awkward as the overarching plot of the series is obscured and some of the side characters are taken out of context. However, it’s Goshi who is the most important to Pineapple Army. Each story reveals a little more of his past and who he is as a person. I want to know more, though. Goshi is an appealing character. He has principles and a strong sense of justice. While he is capable and willing to resort to violence, he’s not a warmonger. It is very clear that he cares about people. But even so, Goshi has not been able to return to a normal civilian life. The same goes for most of the other war veterans that Goshi encounters in Pineapple Army, often as antagonists. I originally picked up Pineapple Army because of Urasawa’s involvement, but I’ve come to appreciate it for Kudo’s writing as well. Sadly, I doubt that any more of the series will ever be released in English, but I’m glad to have at least this one volume.

Moyoco Anno Manga Moveable Feast: A Final Farewell

© Moyoco Anno

We have now officially reached the conclusion of the Moyoco Anno Manga Moveable Feast!

As a sort of bonus review, I took a look at Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators which includes Anno’s short manga “The Song of the Crickets.” I’m calling it a bonus because I reviewed the volume as a whole as opposed to focusing on Anno’s contribution. “The Song of the Crickets” is a mere six pages long, but it’s a beautifully illustrated period piece.

At All About Manga, Daniella Orihuela-Gruber has a great post about Moyoco Anno’s Study of the Bitch, looking at Anno’s portrayal of women in Happy Mania, Sakuran, and Sugar Sugar Rune:

There is something about how Moyoco Anno portrays women in her manga. Put simply, each and every female character is a bitch. While this may seem like a derogatory way to say it, it is simply how Anno sees all women. To her, women are fierce, fighting bitches, not simpering little things who take life as it comes.

This week’s My Week in Manga video from Melinda Beasi at Manga Bookshelf is a special edition focusing on Moyoco Anno’s work. It’s just a little over ten minutes long and well worth a watch/listen. Melinda discusses Anno’s approach to love and romance (or lack of romance) in her manga and specifically how Sugar Sugar Rune fits into that approach and how it compares to her other works.

Anna at Manga Report gave Happy Mania a second chance for the Feast, and discovered a new appreciation for the series:

Shigeta’s antics didn’t really sit very well with me the first time I tried this series, but in the intervening years I’ve read a bunch more manga, and right now I find a manga about a woman finding unhappiness through her pursuit of men much more interesting than a more typical manga that is going to head towards a happy ending after a series of wacky misunderstandings.

Last but not least, Sarah at Nagareboshi Reviews digs into Sakuran and finds it to be a great introduction to Anno’s work: 

Sakuran is a beautiful heartbreaking manga. It is open in its depiction of life in Yoshiwara and the character of Kiyoha is someone readers will both despise and admire, often at the same time. That’s good; polarizing figures are often the most interesting to read about. Add to that Anno’s matchless artistic style and it’s clear we have yet another fantastic release from the people at Vertical Inc.

If I have missed any contributions to the Feast, or if there are still posts being written, please do let me know. This may be the last roundup, but I would be happy to include links to any and all remaining contributions on the archive page.

And finally, I would like to everyone again: those who helped spread the word about the Feast, those who contributed posts, and those of you who quietly enjoyed the Feast from the sidelines. (Readers are important, too!) I couldn’t have pulled of the Moyoco Anno Manga Moveable Feast on my own. I hope you all enjoyed the Feast as much as or even more than I did hosting it.

Please join us all for February’s Feast which will be hosted by Organization Anti-Social Geniuses between February 17 and February 24. The focus of the Feast will be on Naoki Urasawa and his work. Urasawa is one of the reasons I became obsessed with manga, so I’m particularly looking forward to the upcoming Feast.