My Week in Manga: October 28-November 3, 2013

My News and Reviews

I have been so incredibly busy recently (which is why I don’t have any fun online discoveries to share with you all this week) but I was still somehow able to post a few things here at Experiments in Manga. The most recent manga giveaway is underway and there is still time to enter for a chance to win Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 1 by Mitsuru Hattori. For those of you interested in the absurd amount of manga that make its way onto my bookshelves, October’s Bookshelf Overload was also posted. And finally, I reviewed the second edition of Hedi Varian’s The Way of Taiko. I myself am a taiko player, and there are very few books in English devoted to taiko, so I am very happy to see the volume back in print in a new edition.

Quick Takes

His ArroganceHis Arrogance by Takashi Kanzaki. Despite being part of Digital Manga’s 801 Media imprint, His Arrogance isn’t exceptionally explicit. It’s also not very interesting and I found myself bored with both the story and the characters. Even the artwork, while fairly solid, wasn’t particularly outstanding or noteworthy. Although, occasionally Kanzaki would capture a look of utter adoration that was delightful to see. Ryou’s father established a modeling agency specifically to aid Ryou’s older brother Tomohito in his career. In addition to helping out with the company, Ryou also lives in the dorms with the models. Kazuto is one of those models, one of Ryou’s classmates, and the self-proclaimed rival of Tomohito. I think I would have enjoyed His Arrogance more if Kanzaki would have kept the manga’s focus on Ryou and Kazuto’s relationship. Instead, Ryou’s rather bizarre and vaguely incestuous bond with his brother severely encroaches upon the story. Perhaps it was supposed to be played as comedy, but it just ends up being kind of weird and awkward.

Real, Volume 12Real, Volume 12 by Takehiko Inoue. Many people assume that Inoue’s masterpiece Vagabond would be my favorite of his manga, but that honor probably goes to his series Real. I absolutely love Real, and I’m not even a huge fan of basketball. Although the sport is certainly an incredibly important part of the series, to me Real is much more about the characters themselves, their internal and external struggles, and their development as people. While the previous volume had a particular focus on Nomiya and his tryout for the Tokyo Lightnings, the twelfth volume turns its attention to Togawa and his efforts to become a better team player—something that is extremely difficult for him. Despite of or maybe because of his natural skill as an athlete, Togawa has always been very critical, harsh, and demanding of his fellow players. If there is a theme to Real, Volume 12, I would say that it is change, and specifically the need, desire, and willingness for change. Several of the manga’s characters must make important decisions about who they are and who they want to be in this volume.

Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 3Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 3 by Mitsuru Hattori. The best thing about the third volume of Sankarea? Rea’s father isn’t in it. (That guy is an utter creep.) Hattori also introduces an important new character—Darin Arciento Kurumiya, who is very interested in zombies and therefore very interested in Rea. She also brings along with her a marvelously ridiculous zombie owl. In addition to Kurumiya’s introduction, this particular volume also focuses on Rea and her attempt to return to school after her zombification. There are some challenges, to say the least. Her body continues to decay and fall apart and since she doesn’t really feel pain anymore she has a tendency to overtax herself physically. I was a little surprised to see how toned-down the extraneous fanservice was in this volume. It’s still there, but it’s not nearly as prominent or distracting as it once was. I am honestly enjoying Sankarea much more than I ever expected that I would. It’s a very odd series with very odd characters and I can appreciate its quirkiness. Rea and Chihiro are both weirdos, but they make a cute not-quite-couple.

KajiUltimateSurvivorKaiji: Ultimate Survivor directed by Yūzō Satō. After watching and enjoying Akagi, watching Kaji seemed to be a natural choice. It’s another anime series based on a manga Nobuyuki Fukumoto featuring some exceptionally intense and legitimately life-threatening gambles. But whereas Akagi is calm, cool, and collected, Kaiji is hot-blooded and frenetic. (The actor who voiced Akagi also voiced Kaiji; I was quite impressed by his range and how differently he was able to play the two characters.) Kaiji also has extremely bad luck. His troubles really begin when a friend defaults on a loan that Kaiji agreed to co-sign. A man comes to collect but Kaiji, himself in debt, has no way to repay the loan. But he is given an extraordinary opportunity to clear the debt by participating in a series of absurd and increasingly dangerous gambles. Kaiji is incredibly intense and occasionally disturbing with a huge focus on the psychological aspects of the story and the mental torment and despair of its characters. Even a seemingly simple game of rock-paper-scissors can be a traumatic experience.

Manga Giveaway: Sankarea Giveaway

The end of October approaches as does Hallowe’en, so I thought it would be appropriate to feature a horror manga for this month’s giveaway. As such, this month you all will have a chance to win a copy of the first volume of Mitsuru Hattori’s Sankarea: Undying Love as published by Kodansha Comics in English, the third volume of which was just released this week. Granted, Sankarea is really more of a strange romantic comedy than straight up horror…but it has zombies, so I’m going to count it! As always, the giveaway is open worldwide.

Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 1

Over the last few years, zombies have become incredibly popular in the United States. They’ve become so popular in fact, that I’ve actually become rather bored with them. (Planning for the zombie apocalypse with family and friends can still be an entertaining thought experiment, though.) With more and more zombie stories out there, it becomes more and more important that creators find a way to distinguish their work in some way. In the case of Sankarea, Hattori has not only created a rather odd sort of hydrangea zombie, but he has also made her the primary romantic interest of the series, too. It’s an unusual take on the zombie genre, and I can certainly appreciate him trying to doing something a little offbeat and different.

So, you may be wondering, how can you win a copy of Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 1?

1) In the comments below, tell me about any run-ins you’ve had with zombies in manga. (Never encountered a manga zombie? Just mention that.)
2) For a second entry, answer the following question: Do you prefer slow-moving zombies or fast-moving zombies in your fiction?
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).

That’s all there is to it! Each person can earn up to three entries for this giveaway and has one week to submit comments. Entries may also be sent via e-mail to phoenixterran(at)gmail(dot)com and I will post them in your name. The giveaway winner will be randomly selected and announced on November 6, 2013. Good luck to you all!

VERY IMPORTANT: Include some way that I can contact you. This can be an e-mail address, a 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: Sankarea Giveaway Winner

My Week in Manga: August 26-September 1, 2013

My News and Reviews

I only posted one review last week, but that wasn’t the only thing going on at Experiments in Manga. The review was for Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 2: Garma. The third volume is scheduled to be released later this month and I realized that I hadn’t reviewed the second one yet. If you enjoy science fiction manga the series is definitely worth checking out, even if you’re not a Gundam fan. What else was going on at Experiments in Manga? I posted August’s Bookshelf Overload for those interested in the absurd amounts of manga I manage to collect. My most recent manga giveaway is currently in progress as well; there’s still time to enter for a chance to win the first Blood Lad omnibus. Since Experiments in Manga is now part of the Manga Bookshelf team, I’ve also started to participate in some of the group features: Pick of the Week and Manga the Week of.

Elsewhere online, Dan Kanemitsu wrote an opinion piece for CBLDF about the recent ban of Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen manga in Japan—The Inconvenience of Barefoot Gen. Happily, the ban has since been lifted. (In the past I reviewed both the first volume of Barefoot Gen and Nakazawa’s autobiography for the Barefoot Gen Manga Moveable Feast.) Sean Kleefeld at Kleefeld on Comics has put together some pie charts based on Alex Woolfson’s survey of the readers of his Young Protectors comic—Who Reads Yaoi Webcomics?. I found the results and demographics to be very interesting. Finally, Ng Suat Tong posted Island of Sex, Panorama of Empire at The Hooded Utilitarian, an in-depth analysis of Suehiro’s Maruo’s The Strange Tale of Panorama Island manga and Edogawa Rampo’s original novella. (In the past, I reviewed the manga and the novella separately.)

Quick Takes

Blue Is the Warmest ColorBlue Is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh. Originally published in French in 2010, Blue Is the Warmest Color has only recently been released in English. The graphic novel has won several awards as has its film adaptation. It’s a beautiful comic and a beautiful love story. Maroh’s artwork is wonderful. I particularly liked her use of color; much of the graphic novel is illustrated with muted tones with blue as an accent color.Clementine is in high school when she completely falls for Emma. She must come to terms with her identity and sexuality—something that is at first difficult for her to fully embrace and something even more difficult for many of her friends and her family to accept. Although the ultimate ending of Clementine and Emma’s story is known from the very beginning of Blue Is the Warmest Color, Clementine’s death still seems to come rather suddenly. Blue Is the Warmest Color is tragic and bittersweet, but it is also a lyrical exploration of love and desire.

Bunny Drop, Volume 7Bunny Drop, Volumes 7-9 by Yumi Unita. Parts of Bunny Drop were spoiled for me early on but I wanted to see how things played out and how Unita handled it all. These volumes actually do a great job showing Rin’s developing relationship with her mother as well as her struggle with her feelings for Daikichi and his response to them. But then along comes a huge plot reveal in the fifty-fourth chapter that attempts to smooth everything over and make it okay. (Honestly, I was kind of pissed off about it.) It’s as though Unita was trying to find an easy way out after backing herself into a corner. Unfortunately it doesn’t really work, contradicts earlier parts of the story, and even negates previous character developments. In part due to poor planning, the twist is neither satisfying nor believable. Perhaps if Unita had taken the time to show the intervening two years and how Daikichi’s feelings evolved it would have been more convincing. Even though I found the ending of Bunny Drop to be disappointing, I still plan on picking up the final volume of short stories.

Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 2Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 2 by Mitsuru Hattori. I’m a little surprised by how much I’m liking Sankarea. At least I can say that I enjoyed the second volume more than the first. I even chuckled out loud a few times while reading it. I hope the series continues to improve. At this point Sankarea is definitely more of a romantic comedy than it is a horror story. The horror elements are still there though, as are the nods to zombies in popular culture. But it’s Rea’s father who remains the creepiest part of the series. In one delightful scene, Chihiro even calls him out on it directly to his face. And even though Sankarea is a comedy, I’m glad to see that Danichiro’s disturbingly unhealthy relationship and obsession with his daughter isn’t seen as funny. On the other hand, Rea’s relationship with Chihiro—as weird as it is and as weird as they both are as individuals—is almost charming. Sankarea is kind of a strange series, but then so are hydrangea zombies.

Wolfsmund, Volume 1Wolfsmund, Volume 1 by Mitsuhisa Kuji. Very few historical manga with a European setting have been licensed in English, and so I was intrigued by Vertical’s acquisition of Wolfsmund. I was even more interested when I learned that Kuji was once an assistant for both Kentaro Miura and Kaoru Mori, whose work I love. (I particularly noticed Mori’s influence in how Kuji draws many of the character’s eyes in Wolfsmund.) Wolfsmund takes place in 14th-century Switzerland and is a retelling of sorts of the legend of William Tell. So far the story has focused on those attempting to illicitly cross through the Sankt Gotthard Pass, generally unsuccessfully but not without putting up a fight. While Wolfsmund isn’t overly graphic—most of the gorier moments are implied rather than actually seen—it is a violent and brutal manga. Very dark and very intriguing, I’m looking forward to the next volume of Wolfsmund a great deal.

Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 1

Creator: Mitsuru Hattori
U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781612623511
Released: June 2013
Original release: 2010

Mitsuru Hattori’s Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 1 was originally published in Japan in 2000. The manga was licensed in English by Kodansha Comics and released in 2013. The English release caused a small amount of controversy among some fans of the series as Kodansha used a significantly different cover than was used for the original Japanese edition. Personally, I like the English cover which emphasizes the series’ horror and zombie elements, downplaying the romantic comedy aspects. Granted, this does mean that unsuspecting readers unfamiliar with Sankarea may be surprised by the series’ less serious nature and fanservice. To be honest, I wasn’t planning on reading Sankarea; lately, I’ve become a little burned out on zombie fiction, even if the manga promised to be an atypical take on the subgenre. But when a review copy of the first volume unexpectedly showed up on my doorstep, I figured I may as well give Sankarea a try.

Furuya Chihiro is obsessed with zombies. In fact, he loves them. When his beloved pet cat Bub is hit by a car, he decides to try to reanimate the corpse by following the instructions in an obscure tome he found. Unfortunately, the book is falling apart and difficult to read; Chihiro’s attempts at bringing Bub back to life have all ended in failure. He’s about to give up when he meets Sanka Rea, the daughter of a prominent local family who insists on helping him. She also makes him promise to bring her back as a zombie should she ever die. It’s an odd request, but Rea feels trapped in a life where she is expected to be the perfect daughter. Chihiro and Rea develop an odd sort of friendship as they try to revive Bub, but it becomes even stranger when it looks like Chihiro might actually need to make good on his promise to her. He might not have much interest in the living, but the undead are another matter entirely.

Sankarea leans more towards dark romantic comedy than it does towards horror. The creepiest part of the manga actually isn’t dead cats or Chihiro’s zombie fetish, it’s Rea’s over-controlling and abusive father. Fortunately, their relationship doesn’t seem to be played for laughs. It does, however, serve as the catalyst for Rea’s despair and her desired and ultimate transformation. Wanting to become a zombie is an absurd way to escape her circumstances, which is where some of the humor in Sankarea comes from even if Rea’s situation isnt’ all that funny in and of itself. Chihiro, too, is rather absurd and a bit of a space case. Although he admits what he’s doing is shady at best, it becomes very clear that he hasn’t thoroughly considered all of the implications of bringing someone or something back from the dead. Since he’s such a zombie aficionado, I would think he would be a bit more concerned, but it doesn’t seem that he has put much thought into what would happen should he actually succeed. But this, too, is a source of amusement.

It’s probably not too surprising, but Chihiro and Rea are easily the most interesting characters in Sankarea, mostly because they are a bit odd and just a little off from what would be considered normal. (The undead little Bub is pretty great, too, though.) Chihiro’s older cousin Ranko does at least share a passing interest in zombies with him, but after only one volume it seems that she’s included in the series to provide a little extra fanservice more than anything else. Yasutaka and Mogi, two of Chihiro’s friends and classmates, haven’t gotten to do much yet either except be astounded at how their weirdo buddy somehow manages to make friends with all these cute girls and amazed that it hasn’t occurred to him to care. Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 1 is an unusual take on zombies with a few nods to some of the classics. It has yet to be seen just how much trouble Chihiro’s abnormal but earnest proclivities will get him in. I’ll admit, I actually am a little curious to find out.

Thank you to Kodansha for providing a copy of Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 1 for review.