My Week in Manga: April 25-May 1, 2011

My News and Reviews

So, last week was the Rumiko Takahashi Manga Moveable Feast. I hope you all had a good time; I know I did! I even managed to devote each of my posts last week to the Feast in one way or another. I took a quick look a several of Takahashi’s manga and anime adaptations of her work. I also posted my second in-depth manga review for April: Mermaid Saga, Volume 1. And as a reminder, April’s manga giveaway, Return of Ranma, is for the first two volumes of Ranma 1/2. The winner will be announced Wednesday, so get your entries in!

Next month’s Manga Moveable Feast will feature Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game. Derik Badman at The Panelists will be hosting.

Quick Takes

7 Billion Needles, Volume 1 by Nobuaki Tadano. Based on Hal Clement’s 1950 novel Needle, the first two volumes of 7 Billion Needles are currently under consideration for the 2011 Eisner Award for Best Adaptation from Another Work. I haven’t read Needle so I can’t say how 7 Billion Needles compares, but I’m always glad to see manga nominated for comics awards. I’m impressed that this is Tadano’s debut work—the artwork, characterization, and pacing of the plot in the first volume are excellent. While mostly serious in tone, there are some great moments of humor. I find it interesting that becoming a host for an alien being actually forces Hikaru to become less alienated from her classmates.

The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography by Tetsu Saiwai. The 14th Dalai Lama isn’t a bad manga by any means, it just wasn’t as good as I was hoping it to be. It doesn’t really seem to have a strong narrative flow to me. Instead, it’s almost as if the manga is simply an illustrated time-line and listing of facts. I think I was hoping for something a little more engaging. However, I did find Saiwai’s simple art style to be very appealing. Also, kudos for the inclusion of a bibliography. The 14th Dalai Lama makes for a fine introduction to the historical events surrounding Tibet and the Dalai Lama. The manga doesn’t focus on any one aspect in depth but provides a broad overview of the situation. I could easily see this book being used as a text in a history class.

20th Century Boys, Volumes 3-6 by Naoki Urasawa. One of Urasawa’s great skills is the ability to give a reader just enough information to be able to follow the story and want to know more about what is happening without seeming to reveal anything about what is actually going on. Some plot elements stretch credibility, but the story is addictive and has great characters. I’m particularly fond of Kenji and Shogun and…well, just about everyone. What I really like about 20th Century Boys is how Urasawa plays with the manga’s chronology and the characters’ memories. The various threads are slowly being brought together and it’s fascinating to watch how the different timelines interact with one another.

Café Latte Rhapsody by Tōko Kawai. This was a sweet and sort of goofy boys’ love one shot. Not goofy as in funny, but more like cute and awkward (very awkward). I initially picked up the manga because the main character, Hajime, works in a bookstore. He has a bubbly and likeable personality. Keito, on the other hand, unintentionally scares people away until they take the time to get to know him. The two turn out to be very good for one another as they both have self esteem issues to work through. I do wonder if Keito is actually in love or if he’s just attaching himself to the first person he feels completely comfortable around. Granted, that can often be the same thing.

Mermaid Forest directed by Masaharu Okuwaki. Last week I read Rumiko Takahashi’s Mermaid Saga and fell in love with it. So I decided to track down another version of the work. It’s not quite as effective as the source material, but Mermaid Forest is a pretty good adaptation and offers some new details. The thirteen episodes (although only the first eleven were aired on television) cover all but one of the stories from Mermaid Saga. Overall, I liked the character designs but didn’t find the animation itself to be particularly notable, although it gets better as the series progresses. They did attempt to tone down some of the blood and violence, particularly in the early episodes, but the visual adjustments aren’t convincing.

The Taste of Tea directed by Katsuhito Ishii. This is such a strange and surreal film. The Taste of Tea has won quite a few awards. I probably didn’t totally get it, but I did enjoy watching it immensely. The cinematography is beautiful and the visuals are marvelous. The Haruno family is made up of some very unique and colorful individuals but they obviously love one another despite their differences. It’s often difficult to say exactly where reality starts and ends and to what extent their stories are true and what is made up. But when all is said and done, it doesn’t really matter. The film is entertaining, touching, and heartfelt. I really like the Harunos—they seem to be a family that would be fun to know in real life.

Mermaid Saga, Volume 1

Creator: Rumiko Takahashi
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781591163367
Released: July 2004
Original run: 1984-1994 (Shōnen Sunday)
Awards: Seiun Award

I came to read Mermaid Saga as part of the April 2011 Manga Moveable Feast focusing on the series’ creator Rumiko Takahashi. I’m ashamed to admit it, but before the Feast I had never read any of Takahashi’s works except for Ranma 1/2, which I adore. Mermaid Saga is one of Takahashi’s shortest series and she completed it between 1984 and 1994. Also in 1994, Viz Media began publishing the entire work in three volumes: Mermaid Forest, Mermaid Scar, and Mermaid’s Gaze. In 2004, Viz re-released the series in a smaller sized second edition under the title Mermaid Saga, this time in four volumes. Mermaid Saga, Volume 1 contains all but the last chapter of Mermaid Forest. Once again, the Manga Moveable Feast has given me the excuse to read something I’ve been meaning to get around to for quite some time.

Mermaid Saga is told in a sequence of related short stories. The first volume collects “A Mermaid Never Smiles,” “The Village of the Fighting Fish,” and frustratingly only the first half of “Mermaid Forest.” There is a legend that eating the flesh of a mermaid will bring a human eternal youth and longevity. However, it is just as likely, if not more so, that the person will be poisoned by the flesh, either killing them or transforming them into a monster. Yuta, who has eaten mermaid flesh, is arguably one of the lucky ones. Although immortal, he is tired of the suffering and pain of dying only to return to a life where he is lonely and ostracized. And so he searches for the mermaids, believing that they are the only ones who know how to return his body to normal, allowing him live his life, grow old, and die.

I was happy to find that Takahashi executes dark and creepy in Mermaid Saga just as well as she handles comedic and absurd in Ranma 1/2. Her mermaids are not gentle and kind supernatural beings. Instead, they are vicious and selfish creatures, not only towards humans but towards their own kind as well. (Not unlike humans, actually.) They are also somewhat of a mystery—other than the fact that their flesh and blood has strange and powerful properties when consumed, very little is actually known about the mermaids.Still, whether out of obsession or desperation, mortals pursue the mermaids and immortality. But without complete knowledge or understanding of the circumstances, this can lead to severe and dire consequences for all involved. Unfortunately, because the details regarding mermaids are only slowly revealed, it sometimes feels like Takahashi is making them up as needed for the story rather than having a coherent and consistent vision to begin with. But even if that is the case, the mood remains the same throughout Mermaid Saga and the stories are effectively disconcerting.

I really enjoyed the first volume of Mermaid Saga. My favorite story, despite some over the top dialogue, was “The Village of the Fighting Fish.” The chemistry between Yuta and Rin is excellent and the development of their relationship over such a short period of time is completely believable. While I find Yuta to be the most interesting character at this point, they all have distinctive personalities and well developed backgrounds. This is true for most of the minor and secondary characters as well. I’ve come to expect dynamic and exciting action sequences and fight scenes from Takahashi and Mermaid Saga doesn’t disappoint in that respect either. The art is skillfully done: the backgrounds and landscapes are wonderfully detailed, water and spray look wet, the mermaids are terrifying and beautiful in turn, and the panel and page layouts show effective variation. Overall, I feel that Mermaid Saga is off to an excellent start with engaging stories, art, and characters. I look forward to reading the rest of the series—I may have found a new favorite Takahashi.

My Week in Manga: April 18-April 24, 2011

My News and Reviews

It is time for the Rumiko Takahashi Manga Moveable Feast! The feast begins today and will end on Sunday. Rob McMonigal at Panel Patter will be hosting. Rob has also been running a spotlight on Takahashi that is worth checking out. There is also a fantastic Takahashi fansite, Rumic World, that has a ton of great information available about Takahashi and her works. As for me, I spent all last week immersing myself in Takahashi manga and anime in order to prepare for the Manga Moveable Feast. So, all of my quick takes feature Takahashi. My manga giveaway for this month (starting on Wednesday) will be the first two volumes of Ranma 1/2. And on Friday, I’ll be posting an in-depth review of the first volume of Mermaid Saga. I’ll should also mention a review that I previously posted for Ranma 1/2, Volume 1: Battle of the Sexes.

As for last week’s posts, I reviewed Eiji Yoshikawa’s epic historical novel Musashi and Isuna Hasekura’s light novel Spice & Wolf, Volume 3. I’m really enjoying the Spice & Wolf series more than I thought I would; I absolutely adore Lawrence and Holo. Musashi is the basis for numerous films as well as Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond. I promised myself I would read the novel before starting the manga series, and now I have. It’s a very long book, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Quick Takes

InuYasha, Omnibus 1 (equivalent to Volumes 1-3) by Rumiko Takahashi. I’m not sure if it’s because I saw the anime before I read the manga, but I think I actually prefer the anime in this case. Granted, I’ve not read or seen enough of InuYasha to be able to know for sure. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the manga because I did. It’s certainly not my favorite work by Takahashi, though. Although, some things do make more sense in the manga than they do in the anime. However, the manga feels like it’s rushing from battle to battle without taking time to really develop the characters or story. It reads very, very quickly which is both a good and a bad thing. The yōkai are varied and their fights are entertaining.

Mermaid Saga, Volumes 1-4 by Rumiko Takahashi. Mermaid Saga is one of Takahashi’s shortest series. It’s also dark, creepy, disconcerting, and utterly fantastic. If you couldn’t tell, I loved it. Eating the flesh of a mermaid potentially grants the gift of immortality, but those who aren’t so lucky die a painful death or are transformed into monstrous “lost souls” from the poison. But even life as an immortal may be more of a curse than a blessing. Yuta has been alive for five hundred years, dying and returning to life dozens of times, and is tired of his lonely existence. As he searches for a way to return to normal he occasionally comes across other immortals, each with their own tragic history. Messing around with life and death never ends well.

Ranma 1/2, Volumes 2-14 by Rumiko Takahashi. Oh, Ranma 1/2, how I adore you. This series is one of the first manga I fell in love with and collected in its entirety. It was also my introduction to Takahashi. Some of the humor is going to be hit and miss simply due to personal preference—I, for one, can barely stand the principal. Still, I am impressed by how long Takahashi can keep the joke going without it feeling too repetitive. Ranma 1/2 is absurd and ridiculous and a tremendous amount of fun. Even though I had previously read the series, I still found it to be amusing. Full of gender swapping, not to mention species swapping, and an abundance of crazy and insane martial arts, I can’t help but love it.

InuYasha: Season 1, Episodes 1-19 directed by Masashi Ikeda and Yasunao Aoki. Although I enjoyed the anime from the beginning, initially it felt too episodic to me. But as the series progresses an overarching plot is introduced. This is what I needed to really invest myself in the story. Although I really like the Higurashi family and appreciate when they get some screen time, I greatly prefer the episodes that take place during the Warring States period over those that take place during the modern era. Actually, I like most of the characters—their strong personalities make for some great interactions. While I might not continue reading the manga, I’ll probably be watching more of the anime.

Urusei Yatsura, Episodes 1-4 directed by Mamoru Oshii. I don’t even remember when or where I got this DVD, but fortunately the Manga Moveable Feast reminded me that I owned it. It’s really too bad that I took so long to finally watch it, because it has some very funny stuff in it. In fact, I found myself maniacally giggling out loud on several occasions. I’ve only seen these four episodes (out of one hundred ninety five) but I can safely say I would like to see more. It’s a weird and strange story about obnoxious aliens that intend to invade Earth but are stopped when they are defeated in a game of tag by a lecherous high schooler. Some of the aliens stick around and hijinks ensue.