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.

My Week in Manga: March 4-March 10, 2013

My News and Reviews

Last week I posted two reviews in addition to announcing the winner of the Ayako manga giveaway. The giveaway post also lists all of the manga by Osamu Tezuka that I know of that has been licensed in English. As for the reviews, I took a look at Koji Suzuki’s quantum horror novel Edge and Kindred Spirit, the eleventh volume in Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s Death Note manga series. Suzuki is best known for his horror novel Ring, which has been adapted many times over. Edge was the first of his works that I’ve read. Unfortunately wasn’t particularly impressed by it. I wasn’t particularly impressed with Kindred Spirit, either, but I still plan on finishing the series. There’s only one more volume to go, after all. I also updated the Resources page. Somehow I ended up with a duplicate entry, which I deleted. In its place I added Junbungaku, one of my Japanese literature buddies.

A few fun things found online: Bento Books has launched a new Kickstarter project to publish Daigo Okazaki’s thriller Black Wave, set in the aftermath of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. On Facebook Alexander O. Smith, the translator for the novel, talked a little about the project. He is donating his time to the project and any personal profit that he makes on the book will be donated to help the ongoing earthquake and tsunami recovery efforts in Japan.

March 2013 marks Dark Horse’s 25th year of publishing manga. On the Dark Horse blog, Carl Horn posts about Celebrating 25 Years of Manga. March has been declared manga month at Dark Horse, but I’m not entirely sure what that entails. The call for participation for March’s Manga Moveable Feast has been posted! This time we’ll be focusing on historical manga. Khursten of Otaku Champloo will be hosting the Feast from March 24 through April 1. Check out the links to find out how to participate. As always, I’m really looking forward to the Feast.

On a much sadder note, Toren Smith, a pioneer in the U.S. manga and anime industries, has unexpectedly passed away. Smith’s friend James Hudnall announced the news on his blog. Jonathan Clements posted a wonderfully written tribute to Smith on Manga UK’s blog. Michael Toole also wrote an extensive article honoring Smith at Anime News Network. I am primarily familiar with Smith’s translation work on series like Blade of the Immortal, but he was incredibly influential beyond that. He certainly will be missed.

Quick Takes

I Can’t Stop Loving You, Volumes 1-2 by Row Takakura. Since I enjoy a bit of the supernatural mixed in with my boys’ love, I had hopes for I Can’t Stop Loving You. Unfortunately, I wasn’t particularly impressed by the manga as a whole. Kyouji is training to become an exorcist, but there’s one problem: he can’t see ghosts. Fortunately, his boyfriend Yu can. In part, I Can’t Stop Loving You is supposed to be a comedy, but it’s not really that funny. One of the running gags (before Takakura forgets about it) is that Yu is so strong that he and Kyouji can’t even have sex because he ends up inadvertently injuring him in the throes of passion. I’ll admit I found that funny, but the joke can’t sustain even one volume of this short series.

Rurouni Kenshin, Omnibus 8 (equivalent to Volumes 22-24) by Nobuhiro Watsuki. After the slight lull in the previous omnibus, this collection kicks Rurouni Kenshin‘s pacing up a notch. Kenshin’s past has been revealed and the scene has been set; the series leaps back into duels and confrontations. One of the things I like most about Watsuki’s action sequences is that each individual fighter has his (or her) own martial style. Visually, they are all different and make for engaging combat. I particularly liked the powerful elegance of Enishi’s Watōjutsu. I was also happy to see that both Saitō and Aoshi continue to have important roles in the series. What does seem to have gone missing is the series’ humor. Recently things have been leaning towards the more serious and dramatic.

Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei: The Power of Negative Thinking, Volumes 1-4 by Koji Kumeta. Although I’m enjoying Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, it is a difficult manga to recommend to a general audience because so much of the comedy in the series relies on knowledge of Japanese society and culture. It presents a barrier, although there are plenty of translation notes which explain most of the references being made to help the reader along. I particularly appreciated the literature references, but then I’ve read many of the books being alluded to. The humor in Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei is satirical and rather bleak which is appropriate as the titular character frequently declares “I’m in despair!” over the smallest things.

Lychee Light Club directed by Masahiro Takada. I was very intrigued when I first heard that a Lychee Light Club anime was being made. It turned out to be nothing like the manga by Usamaru Furuya upon which it is based. The Lychee Light Club anime is primarily a gag comedy. The manga wasn’t without humor, but it was of a very different type. The anime does require familiarity with the original story and characters in order to fully appreciate it and most of the jokes being made. I was vaguely amused, though, and I don’t regret the twenty-four minutes it took to watch the entire series. (It’s only eight episodes long, each of which are only three minutes.) But in the end the series is largely forgettable.

My Week in Manga: February 11-February 17, 2013

My News and Reviews

I posted two reviews last week. The first was for Dana Sachs’ novel The Secret of the Nightingale Palace. I didn’t like the main characters which made it difficult for me to enjoy the book, but there were still some parts that I appreciated. I also reviewed Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal, Volume 18: The Sparrow Net. This volume is an important one for both plot and character development. Plus, we get to see Isaku and Dōa fight as a team.

Licensing news! Sean Gaffney has a nice writeup on the New Licenses from Viz and Seven Seas at A Case Suitable for Treatment. Vertical also announced some great titles at Katsucon which will be released this fall: Satoshi Kon’s Tropic of the Sea and Hikari Asada’s Sickness Unto Death. I’m particularly excited for Tropic of the Sea. I hadn’t heard about Sickness Unto Death before, but it looks like it will be an intriguing psychological manga (and it’s only two volumes).

Finally, the Naoki Urasawa Manga Moveable Feast has begun! This month’s Feast is being hosted by Justin at Organization Anti-Social Geniuses. Urasawa is one of my favorite mangaka, so I’m very excited for this particular Feast. Later this week I’ll be taking a look at Pineapple Army, his first work to be published in English.

Quick Takes

Knights of Sidonia, Volume 1 by Tsutomu Nihei. I’ve heard Knights of Sidonia called Nihei’s most accessible work to date, which I think is probably true. His artwork is certainly cleaner and more simplified, but I personally prefer Nihei’s darker, grungier illustrations in Biomega and Blame! So far the story in Knights of Sidonia is fairly straightforward, too. After living alone for years in the depths of the spaceship Sidonia, Nagate is discovered must learn to adapt to a human society that has evolved to survive in space. I find Nihei’s exploration of the course of human evolution one of the more interesting aspects of Knights of Sidonia; I’m particularly curious to learn more about Nagate’s friend Izana, who is neither female or male.

Rurouni Kenshin, Omnibus 7 (equivalent to Volumes 19-21) by Nobuhiro Watsuki. After the completion of lengthy Kyoto arc in the last omnibus,  Rurouni Kenshin is now well into its next story arc. Particularly important in this omnibus is the revealing of Kenshin’s background and past life as an assassin, for which he is still trying to atone. A new group of antagonists have appeared looking for revenge and they’re not afraid to strike out at those who are close to Kenshin. There are a few nice fight scenes, but this section of the story is much slower compared to the flurry of duels that ended the previous arc. I do like that these fighters are slightly more realistic. It’s not so much that they are super-powered but that they have access to technology and weapons that give them an advantage.

Sumo by Thien Pham. I really enjoyed Sumo, Pham’s first solo graphic novel. Scott is a football player whose dreams of playing professionally have crumbled. When he is offered a chance train in Japan to become a sumo wrestler, he takes it. Sumo is a surprisingly quiet and introspective work. Scott is trying to find his place in the world and struggling to reclaim the confidence he once had. Pham weaves three different time periods in Scott’s life together to create a single coherent story. The artwork is simple and stylized but very effective. It is not absolutely necessary to enjoy the work, but it does help to have some basic understanding of the hierarchy system inherent to sumo training halls.

Your Story I’ve Known by Tsuta Suzuki. In addition to a few volumes of A Strange and Mystifying Story, You’re Story I’ve Known is the only other manga by Suzuki currently available in English. I’m rather fond of Suzuki’s artwork. Her characters look like grown, adult men and she is capable of drawing some of the most endearing grins that I have ever seen. Your Story I’ve Known collects four boys’ love stories of varying lengths. There isn’t really a theme to the collection other than the fact that the characters have some actual depth to them. Unfortunately, the translation is problematic in a few places, and at least one scene is nearly incomprehensible. Granted, that may have been just as much Suzuki’s fault as the translator’s. But in the end, I still enjoyed the manga.

Blue Spring directed by Toshiaki Toyoda. Ever since I read Taiyo Matsumoto’s manga Blue Spring, I’ve had a hard time getting it out of my head. When I discovered that there was a live-action adaptation of it, I knew that I had to see it. Toyoda’s film is missing some of the more surreal elements of the original manga, but it still captures a lot of its heart. The film combines bits and pieces of many but not all of the stories included in the Blue Spring manga into a single narrative. It actually works quite well. It’s a violent tale about the disaffected students at an all-boys high school and the ways they find to take control of their realities. As a bonus, the film has a great soundtrack, too.

My Week in Manga: January 28-February 3, 2013

My News and Reviews

I’ve mostly recovered from hosting the Manga Moveable Feast in January and it looks like things will be getting back to a more normal schedule here at Experiments in Manga. This past week I posted January’s Bookshelf Overload. There were quite a few nice deluxe hardcover releases last month. Speaking of nice, hardcover releases: I also posted the first in-depth manga review of February—Osamu Tezuka’s Message to Adolf, Part 2. I am absolutely thrilled that this series is available in English again. I sincerely think it’s one of Tezuka’s best works. January’s manga giveaway was also posted last week. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, so there’s still time to enter for a chance to win Blue Exorcist, Volume 1 by Kazue Kato.

On to other fun things online! Sublime Manga, Viz Media’s boys’ love imprint, is celebrating its first anniversary with a great sale at Right Stuf and some fantastic license announcements. I am absolutely thrilled that Sublime will be releasing Tetuzoh Okadaya’s The Man of Tango and est em’s Tableau Numéro 20 in print later this year. On Twitter, Digital Manga is hinting that its next Kickstarter project will have something to do with Ishinomori Shotaro, which would be very exciting indeed. In other release news, the third issue of the English-language edition of the Japanese literary journal Monkey Business has been sent off to the printers. I really enjoyed the first two volumes, so I’m very excited to read the next one as well.

Elsewhere online, Kuriousity posted a great interview with Digital Manga’s newer hentai manga imprint, Project-H Books—Handling Hentai: An Interview With Project-H. Noah Berlatsky of The Hooded Utilitarian (among other places) wrote an essay on The Ethics of Scanlation for the Center for Digital Ethics & Policy. It’s a fantastic summary of some of the issues and different perspectives involved. On Facebook, Vertical shared a breakdown of its recent reader survey. Finally, the call for participation for the Naoki Urasawa Manga Moveable Feast has been posted. Justin at Organization Anti-Social Geniuses will be hosting be hosting the Feast later this month.

Quick Takes

Girl Friends, Omnibus 2 by Milk Morinaga. As much as I enjoyed the first Girl Friends omnibus, I think the second collection is even better. The first half of the series was told largely from Mari’s perspective; this time Akko’s point of view has become more prominent. At this point, Mari is trying to suppress her feelings for Akko, hoping that they can at least remain friends. Akko, on the other hand, is reassessing their relationship, trying to work out the differences between friendship and love. Eventually the two young women must navigate their budding romance together. Girl Friends really is a wonderful series and certainly one of the most realistic yuri manga that I have read.

The One Trick Rip-Off + Deep Cuts by Paul Pope. If you’ve never read any of Pope’s work, the newly released, hardcover anthology The One Trick Rip-Off + Deep Cuts is a fantastic introduction. It collects his longer work The One Trick Rip-Off (originally published by but now out of print from Dark Horse) as well as fourteen shorter comics, including the manga and manga-influenced work he created for Kodansha in Japan. The collection exhibits a nice variety of styles and genres from the more realistic to the more fantastical. The selected works span nearly a decade of Pope’s career. There is an appealing quirkiness to many of Pope’s characters and stories. At other times there is a sense of poetic lyricism. I loved The One Trick Rip-Off + Deep Cuts; it’s a marvelous volume.

Rurouni Kenshin, Omnibus 6 (equivalent to Volumes 16-18) by Nobuhiro Watsuki. This omnibus sees the conclusion of the lengthy Kyoto arc of Rurouni Kenshin as well as its aftermath. The duels between Kenshin and his allies and Shishio and his faction continue, ultimately ending in a violent showdown against Shishio himself. Some of the duelists’ techniques and powers are over-the-top and logically ridiculous, but they do make for some exciting and dramatic fights. I particularly liked how Watsuki was able to end the conflict with Shishio in such a way that Kenshin was still able to remain true to his vow. Kenshin and the others may have dealt with the immediate threat, but they haven’t made it through unscathed.

Tenjo Tenge, Omnibus 1 (equivalent to Volumes 1-2) by Oh!Great. Tenjo Tenge was originally published by CMX manga in a heavily edited version which was never released in its entirety. However, the license was rescued by Viz Media and released in a non-censored, “full contact” edition. The manga is certainly deserving of its mature rating: Tenjo Tenge is violent and has plenty of fanservice. I’ve been told Tenjo Tenge gets better as it progresses, but right now neither the characters nor plot interests me enough for me to continue with the series. There were some really nice fighting bits, and legitimate martial arts philosophy and strategy were worked into the story, too, which I liked. There was also a hint of the supernatural. Even so, Tenjo Tenge didn’t really grab me.

My Week in Manga: January 7-January 13, 2013

My News and Reviews

Last week I posted the most recent edition of Library Love, a recurring feature in which I take a quick look at the manga that I’ve been reading from my local library. I also reviewed Frederik L. Schodt’s newest work Professor Risley and the Imperial Japanese Troupe. It’s a fantastic book and very easy to recommend, especially if you’re interested in Japanese history and/or 19th-century popular culture. And speaking of Frederik L. Schodt, The Japan Times Online recently posted a great interview with him—Frederik Schodt: Japan’s pop culture ambassador to the world.

This week I’ll be gearing up for the Moyoco Anno Manga Moveable Feast which will be hosted here at Experiments in Manga. The Feast will begin on Sunday, January 20. If you haven’t seen the Call for Participation, please do check it out. I’d love to see as many people as possible contribute to the Feast. I hosted the Usamaru Furuya Manga Moveable Feast last year which I think was fairly successful. I hope that I can manage to pull it off again! I really appreciate everyone who has helped to get the word out about the upcoming Feast.

Quick Takes

Danza by Natsume Ono. I’m a fan of Ono and so was very excited to see Danza licensed. Danza is a collection of six of her short manga, originally serialized in Morning Two. I quite enjoyed the volume. Thematically, all of the stories in Danza feature male-bonding and relationships of one sort or another (fathers and sons, coworkers, brothers, and so on.) I didn’t find Danza to be particularly stunning, profound, or life-changing, but it was a very satisfying collection overall. The stories range from the delightfully charming to the melancholic and bittersweet. Ono also tries her hand at science fiction (specifically time travel), a genre I haven’t seen her work in before, which was interesting to see.

Garden Dreams by Fumi Yoshinaga. Garden Dreams was the only work by Yoshinaga currently available in English that I hadn’t read yet. It’s a collection of four closely connected stories (although they might not appear to be related at first) surrounding the life and tragic loves of Baron Victor Bianni as well as the young man who becomes his personal bard. The artwork in Garden Dreams is fairly sparse, with very little use of backgrounds. This was a little disappointing since the manga takes place in a historical setting which I would have loved to have actually seen. But her characters are all attractive and their designs are all easily distinguished. Garden Dreams isn’t Yoshinaga’s strongest work, but it was still enjoyable. I particularly liked the manga’s trick ending.

Rurouni Kenshin, Omnibus 5 (equivalent to Volumes 13-15) by Nobuhiro Watsuki. A continuation of the long Kyoto story arc, the fifth omnibus of Rurouni Kenshin begins a sequence of duels as Kenshin and his allies begin to face Shishio and his underlings head on. These volumes are fairly action-packed and battle heavy, which I enjoyed. Granted, some of the fights can be rather ridiculous and over the top, but they’re exciting, too. Occasionally Watsuki’s action sequences can be difficult to follow, but many of the duels feature some very cool moves and techniques. I was very pleased to see Okinawan kobudō (which I study) show up. There’s also a fight in a library and even a cross-dresser in this omnibus for good measure.

Umineko: When They Cry, Episode 1: Legend of the Golden Witch, Volume 1 written by Ryukishi07, illustrated by Kei Natsumi. The first volume of Yen Press’ edition of Umineko collects the first two volumes of the original Japanese release. The manga is based on a series of visual novels (none of which I have played). Perhaps I would have a better opinion of the manga if I was more familiar with the franchise, but Umineko just isn’t working for me. Eighteen characters stuck on an island bickering over inheritance issues and I don’t care about or like a single one of them. Nearly 400 pages pass before anything even remotely interesting happens in the manga. Granted, the big revel is suitably and effectively shocking, but I’m not sure that the buildup was worth it.