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

My News and Reviews

Last week I posted two reviews. The first was for The Vast Spread of the Seas, the third novel in Fuyumi Ono’s fantasy series The Twelve Kingdoms. I’ve really been enjoying reading The Twelve Kingdoms and this volume was no exception. I also reviewed Jen Lee Quick’s Off*Beat, Volume 1. Originally published by Tokyopop, the recently established Chromatic Press has rescued the series and I couldn’t be happier. The new Chromatic editions also include some additional bonus content as well.

Elsewhere online: Xavier Guilbert has published his interview with Taiyo Matsumoto from the 2013 Toronto Comic Arts Festival. The most recent episode of the Comic Books Are Burning In Hell podcast focuses on Suehiro Maruo. Kodansha Comics is offering two digital samplers containing the complete first chapters of many of its series. The Real sampler collects chapters from Kodansha’s “real-life” manga: Arisa, Bloody Monday, Danza, Genshiken, Genshiken: Second Season, I Am Here, Kitchen Princess, Missions of Love, and Vinland Saga. The Unreal sampler includes chapters from Kodansha’s fantasy, science fiction, and supernatural series: @ Full Moon, Attack on Titan, Cage of Eden, Fairy Tail, Mardock Scramble, Ninja Girls, No. 6, Sankarea: Undying Love, and Until the Full Moon.

Finally, this week is the Yun Kouga Manga Moveable Feast! Melinda Beasi of Manga Bookshelf is hosting this round and has already posted a marvelous introduction. For my contribution to the Feast I’ll be reviewing the first Loveless omnibus later this week. Loveless was originally published in English by Tokyopop, but Viz Media rescued the license last year (which made me very happy.) Although I enjoy Loveless, I haven’t actually read any of Kouga’s other manga. I look forward to seeing what everyone else has to say about her work.

Quick Takes

Dog X Cat, Volume 1Dog X Cat, Volumes 1-3 by Yoshimi Amasaki. Junya and Atsu have been friends since they were young. They’re in college now and their friendship becomes a little more complicated when Junya lets it slip that he’s actually in love with Atsu. Dog X Cat might not have the most original plot—I’ve seen the friends becoming lovers storyline many a time—but the two young men have a charming relationship with each other and a lot of sex. (Dog X Cat is part of Digital Manga’s more explicit 801 imprint, after all.) Some chapters are told from Junya’s perspective while others are from Atsu’s. It’s nice to see both sides of their story. Dog X Cat is an ongoing series; the fourth volume is scheduled to be released in English in 2014.

Mardock Scramble, Volume 5Mardock Scramble, Volumes 5-7 by Yoshitoki Oima. I’ve read Tow Ubukata’s original Mardock Scramble, but somehow managed to forget how pivotal child and sexual abuse was to the plot. The manga handles it fairly well and hasn’t turned it into something titillating. One thing that I didn’t forget from the novels was the lengthy casino scene. In particular, nearly two hundred pages worth of Blackjack which sorely tried my patience. Although some of the finer details and plot complications are glossed over in Oima’s adaptation, I much preferred reading the two volumes of manga covering the same material. This left one volume for Oima to bring everything to a quickly paced, action-packed close. For the most part, Oima’s interpretation of Mardock Scramble largely succeeds.

No. 5, Volume 1No. 5, Volumes 1-2 by Taiyo Matsumoto. Only two volumes of No. 5 were ever released in English in print. However, the entire series is now available digitally (on a platform I can’t use). I’ve come to love Matsumoto’s work in general and I particularly enjoy No. 5. The story follows Number Five, a member of the Rainbow Council of the International Peackeeping Forces, a small group of people with superhuman abilities. He’s fallen in love and gone rogue and now his teammates must hunt him down. While Number One and the rest of the Rainbow Council try to maintain control of the situation, there are others who are making the argument that the group is obviously dangerous and should no longer exist.

Black Lagoon, Episodes 13-24 directed by Sunao Katabuchi. Although I still enjoyed the second half of Black Lagoon anime, for some reason that I can’t identify I didn’t like it quite as much as the first. The anime follows the manga fairly closely, but takes a few of its own liberties while keeping the same tone as the original. I do think that I still prefer the manga slightly more than the anime, but the anime is entertaining as well. Additionally, the action is a little clearer and easier to follow in the anime. And I continue to be impressed by the sound design. The Black Lagoon anime tends to be violent and bloody and even the protagonists aren’t really “good guys.” They can be just as vicious as the other people they come up against.

My Week in Manga: June 24-June 30, 2013

My News and Reviews

As I’m posting this I am at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in Chicago and have been for the last several days. I was hoping to pick up an early copy of Manga: Introduction, Challenges, and Best Practices from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund while I was here, but unfortunately the books were lost in the mail and never made it to the conference center. Even though I kept very busy in Chicago, I still somehow managed to post two reviews last week. The first was for Yoshitaka Amano’s debut novel Deva Zan: The Chosen Path, which for me worked better as an artbook than as a novel. I’m a long-time fan of Amano’s artwork. I also reviewed Takako Shimura’s long-delayed Wandering Son, Volume 4 from Fantagraphics. I was sad to see some of the editing errors that made it through even after the delay (scattered typos and the description on the back cover is actually for volume five), but I am glad to finally have the book in my hands. And Shimura’s work is as wonderful as always. I should also mention that Experiments in Manga’s June manga giveaway is currently under way. There’s still time to enter for a chance to win both a copy of No. 6, Volume 1 and Attack on Titan, Volume 5!

Quick Takes

Knights of Sidonia, Volumes 2-3 by Tsutomu Nihei. While I thoroughly enjoyed the first volume of Knights of Sidonia, I wasn’t really blown away by it. Still, I was interested enough in the series to stick it out for a least a couple more volumes to see how things would develop. And now after reading the next two volumes I can honestly say I can’t wait for more of Knights of Sidonia. Nihei is pulling things together very nicely; there were some great twists and worldbuilding in these two volumes. The Gauna are marvelously creepy adversaries and the human society on the Sidonia has its own mysteries and secrets. I’m also starting to really dig the cleaner, more simplified artstyle that Nihei uses for this series.

Mardock Scramble, Volumes 2-4 by Yoshitoki Oima. When I read Tow Ubukata’s Mardock Scramble, a trilogy of strange cyberpunk-ish novels, I was convinced that a visual adaptation of the story would be fantastic. The original Mardock Scramble is a massive work, so I am actually quite surprised and impressed by how coherent Oima’s manga adaptation manages to be. She sticks to the story’s highlights, particularly focusing on the more action-oriented sequences and battles. After four volumes, the manga adaptation is about halfway through the original work. Due to the constraints of the medium, some of the elements found in the novels have been glossed over, but the major themes are still there. The world of Mardock Scramble is an odd one, but I like Oima’s interpretation of it.

Words of Devotion, Volumes 1-2 by Keiko Konno. Although they are extremely close, Tachibana and Otani aren’t always the best at communicating with each other. Some of their acquaintances joke around and suspect that they might actually be more than just friends, but the two young men can’t quite admit their own feelings aloud to each other let alone tell anyone else. Tachibana and Otani’s rocky relationship is already established before the first volume begins. They have trust and control issues, insecurities and jealousies, but there is no question that they care about each other. The second volume actually serves as a prequel, largely exploring Tachibana and Otani’s highschool days.

Mardock Scramble, Volume 1

Creator: Yoshitoki Oima
Original story: Tow Ubukata

U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781935429531
Released: August 2011
Original release: 2010

When I learned that Kodansha Comics was publishing the English edition of Yoshitoki Oima’s manga adaptation of Tow Ubukata’s award-winning Mardock Scramble, I was very interested. I read the original work earlier this year when it was published by Haikasoru. There were some things I loved about it and some things I most definitely didn’t. But what occurred to me at the time I read it was that the story would make a fantastic basis for a visual adaptation, which is why I am happy to get the chance to read Oima’s manga and see what could be done with it. The first volume of Oima’s Mardock Scramble was originally published in 2010, seven years after the publication of Ubukata’s series. The English edition of the manga was released by Kodansha in 2011. Oima’s Mardock Scramble is currently at five volumes and is still ongoing. I’m interested to see how the nearly seven hundred pages of source material is incorporated into the series.

Rune Balot thought she wanted to die. But when Shell Septinos inexplicably takes her in off the streets, and just as inexplicably kills her, she discovers that might not be quite the case. Rescued by Dr. Easter and Oeufcoque, private investigators who are trying to pin a series of murders of young women to Shell, Balot finds her body and life restored using an illicit technology known as Mardock Scramble 09. Her life is still far from perfect, and Shell still wants her dead, but suddenly she is more powerful than she has ever been before. At least physically. Balot’s natural talent, skill, and ability to adapt to the new technology and the new body that she has been given is nothing short of impressive.

For the most part I liked Oima’s character designs although those for Shell and Dr. Easter were frustratingly similar. However, Oima did capture Easter’s eccentricity quite well with his gestures and facial expressions. This made me happy because Dr. Easter is a personal favorite of mine from the novel. The city landscapes are marvelously detailed and can actually be a bit overwhelming at times. This does seem appropriate though since Balot also finds her environment to be overwhelming as she is getting used to her new powers. However some of the other panels are completely lacking any sort of background at all. It works well in some cases and makes the reader focus on the characters since there is nothing else, but the difference is jarring and breaks up the cohesiveness of the artwork as a whole. One thing that I did particularly like seeing was Oima’s visual representation of Balot’s powers and how she learns to use and focus them. I thought the portrayal of her ability to sense and connect with the object around her was handled very well.

As an adaptation, I think that Oima’s Mardock Scramble is off to a good start. For some reason, I found the naming conventions (everything is an egg reference) to be much more distracting in the manga than it was in the novels. It’s something that couldn’t really be changed though without running the risk of angering established fans of Mardock Scramble, so new readers simply have to put up with it. Since I have read the novels and therefore have a pretty good background in what’s going on in Mardock Scramble, it’s a little difficult for me to give my impressions of the manga alone. However, I do think the manga has good potential as its own series. At this point, there are certainly more questions than answers—it is only the first volume after all—but Oima does a decent job introducing the most important story elements even if it feels like a lot of the details are glossed over. If someone hasn’t read the original Mardock Scramble this might not be as noticeable, although some information seems to come out of nowhere and nothing’s thoroughly explained. Still, I’m interested in seeing how Oima will continue to handle things and plan on reading more of the Mardock Scramble manga.

Mardock Scramble

Author: Tow Ubukata
Translator: Edwin Hawkes
U.S. Publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421537641
Released: January 2011
Original release: 2003
Awards: Nihon SF Taisho Award

Mardock Scramble by Tow Ubukata was originally released in Japan in 2003 as a three volume series, granted with a month of one another. Also in 2003, Mardock Scramble won Ubukata the 24th annual Nihon SF Taisho Award. The three books—The First Compression, The Second Combustion, and The Third Exhaust—were published in an English translation by Viz Media’s Japanese speculative fiction imprint Haikasoru as a single, massive tome. Haikasoru’s edition of Mardock Scramble was released in 2011 with a translation by Edwin Hawkes. Mardock Scramble is the first of Ubukata’s novels to be made available in English although at least two of his manga series, the first three volumes of Pilgrim Jäger and the entirety of Le Chevalier d’Eon, have seen publication in English. The manga adaptation of Mardock Scramble is scheduled for English release in August 2011 from Kodansha Comics and an anime adaptation was released in 2010.

Rune-Balot was fifteen when she was murdered by her benefactor Shell-Septinos. Balot’s life was a difficult one; she was abused as a child and forced into prostitution. A part of her wanted to die, but another part wanted to live. Two PIs investigating Shell at the time of Balot’s death were able to rescue her. Eager to prove their usefulness to society, they initiated the life preservation program Mardock Scramble 09. Balot’s body is combined with highly advanced and normally illegal technology, giving her her life back along with super human abilities. She, who had been powerless for so long, could now fight back. Along with the support of the PIs, Dr. Easter and Oeufcoque, who have some interesting capabilities of their own, Balot is eager to get her revenge. But shell isn’t completely defenseless. His extremely powerful and brutal bodyguard Boiled, who also happens to be Oeufcoque’s old partner, is more than prepared to nullify Balot’s existence.

I find Mardock Scramble difficult to classify. It’s definitely speculative fiction, and most likely science fiction although it doesn’t always feel that way. I’ve also seen the series referred to as cyberpunk, which almost fits. But whatever it is, Mardock Scramble is a lot of fun. For the most part. The action sequences and gun fights are exciting and easy to follow; the characters are likeable and interesting, each with their own quirks and unique personalities. The frequent egg puns and references were a bit odd, but fit well with the vague strangeness of the story. The technology might not always be believable, but some of it is, and even if it’s not it’s still pretty cool. I didn’t quite understand some of the worldbuilding; the bizarre legal and law enforcement system is still a mystery to me, which is unfortunate since it’s fairly important to the story.

I am very glad the Haikasoru decided to publish Mardock Scramble as a single volume, otherwise I’m not sure I would have finished the series and that would have been a pity. I loved the first book, enjoyed much of the second, and thought the action packed ending of the third was great. But in the middle of the quickly paced story, there’s a lengthy scene that takes place in a casino that slows things down tremendously. I didn’t mind this at first, and even enjoyed it and found it interesting to some extent. But after one hundred eighty pages of Blackjack, I was getting impatient. Maybe if it was a gambling game that I actually cared about, like Mahjong, I would have been okay. But I don’t give a damn about Blackjack, even if it was necessary for the story. Overall though, I did enjoy Mardock Scramble: I liked the quirky characters, I liked their captivating backstories, I found the twisting plot to be entertaining. And Hawkes’ translation is fantastically smooth. With the creativity displayed by Ubukata in Mardock Scramble, I wouldn’t mind exploring some of his other works.