My Week in Manga: May 18-May 24, 2015

My News and Reviews

Well, it was a little later than I initially intended, but I finally finished writing and posted my random musings on TCAF 2015 last week! It’s a long post which includes some of my general thoughts as well as write-ups of the panels that attended while at the festival. Even considering its length, people still seem to like it or at least find parts of it interesting, which makes me happy. Tangentially related to TCAF, I also posted and in-depth review of Wayward, Volume 1: String Theory, the first collection in an ongoing comic series created by Jim Zub and Steve Cummings. (Zub was one of the exhibitors at TCAF, though I picked up Wayward long before that.) The comic is heavily influenced by stories about yokai, but it definitely has its own modern twist on Japan’s myths and legends. String Theory is a great start to the series and I’m looking forward to reading the next volume.

Last week seemed to be oddly quiet on the news and licensing front. I’m sure there must have been some interesting things posted, but at least I didn’t come across very many. However, speaking of yokai, The New York Times recently published the article “Reviving Japan’s Dreaded and Beloved Ghosts” (or, “Pokémon’s Spooky Ancestors” if you try to look it up in the print edition) about some of the recent and forthcoming books being released in North America about the creatures. Vaguely related, Seven Seas announced that it has licensed Yoshihiko Inui’s Tomodachi x Monster, a dark parody manga series about kids and their pet monsters. Otherwise, if I’ve missed some particularly good reading, please do let me know!

Quick Takes

NimonaNimona by Noelle Stevenson. Originally an award-winning webcomic, Nimona was recently released as Stevenson’s debut graphic novel. The comic has been slightly revised for the print edition and additional content, including a new epilogue, has been collected in the volume as well. Nimona is one of my favorite comic releases so far this year. In the beginning it’s silly and very funny. But, while it never loses its humor, the comic does become more serious and even heart-wrenching as it progresses after some of the characters’ personal struggles and backgrounds are fully revealed. Nimona is a young shapeshifter who has decided that she will become the sidekick of Lord Ballister Blackheart, a supervillain whose plans are always being foiled by his arch-nemesis Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. (The two men share a history together and deeply care about each other.) Nimona does manage to convince Blackheart to allow her to join his team, but finds his strict code of ethics frustrating to deal with. Likewise, he often frowns upon her excessively wild nature and propensity towards violence. Despite their differences, over time the two of them grow very close to each other. Nimona is an incredibly delightful and charming comic. I look forward to reading more of Stevenson’s work in the future.

Noragami: Stray God, Volume 4Noragami: Stray God, Volume 4 by Adachitoka. Even though Noragami seems to have been doing fairly well for Kodansha Comics, I haven’t really heard many people talking about the series. Initially I thought that Noragami was primarily going to be a comedy but the last few volumes, though they have their moments of levity, have actually been pretty serious. The fourth volume largely focuses on the plight of Bishamonten, a warrior god (technically goddess in Noragami). Though outwardly very strong and aggressive, she is having difficulty controlling and supporting the numerous shinki under her care. This does strike me as a little strange since Tenjin also has a large number of shinki without there seeming to be any negative consequences, but perhaps Bishamonten’s group is significantly bigger. It is interesting to see the differences in the relationships between the shinki and their respective gods in Noragami. After some strife in the last couple of volumes, Yato and Yuki have managed to forge an impressive partnership. Probably most importantly, they are at a point in their relationship where they can be honest with each other, airing their grievances and sharing their pain. The same cannot be said of Bishamonten and her shinki, which may be the source of their problems. Even though it is out of concern, hiding their true feelings is actually more damaging in the long run.

xxxHolic, Omnibus 5xxxHolic, Omnibus 5 (equivalent to Volumes 13-15) by CLAMP. I’ve come to the realization that I much prefer xxxHolic when it isn’t being tied down with its association toTsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles. Fortunately, even though its connection to the other series continues to solidify in this omnibus, for the most part this portion of xxxHolic remains its own story without too much interference. Oddly enough, it even becomes a food manga of sorts, which I really wasn’t anticipating. Perhaps it’s not so surprising, though. Throughout xxHOlic Watanuki has always been shown to be cooking, making bento and snacks for the people who are important to him. But in the fifth omnibus of xxxHolic the cooking becomes critical to the story itself rather than just being a part of his character. (CLAMP also has a way of making the most mundane thing extraordinarily melodramatic to such an extent that a character’s very life seems to hang by a thread from it.) Watanuki teaches Kohane to cook because he wants to, but then he is hired out to fulfill the wish of one of the shop’s clients by providing instruction to her, too. Though at first he halfheartedly puts up a fight, he takes this task very seriously, eventually uncovering the woman’s true fears and desires. (All through the power of food!) There is also a sense of ominous foreboding in this volume as the series prepares for its finale.

You & Me, Etc.You & Me, Etc. by Kyugo. After I finished reading You & Me, Etc., I was extremely surprised to note that the boys’ love manga had been rated mature by the publisher. Honestly, nothing more than a few kisses and perhaps a little bit of cuddling happen in the manga. (The fact that it’s between men shouldn’t make a difference.) I believe You & Me, Etc. is the only manga by Kyugo to have been released in English. You & Me, Etc. is not an especially memorable collection of short boys’ love manga—none of the selections really have any sort of “hook” per se—but the stories are executed very well and it’s a very enjoyable volume. The stories included are quieter with a strong focus on the characters’ relationships and interactions. Some of those relationships aren’t even particularly romantic in nature (which will likely disappoint readers expecting or hoping for something a little steamier from a manga with an “M” rating), but nonetheless they are still very important and most often deal with some sort of love or affection. The volume features three couples (broadly defined) who must navigate and develop their relationships in the face of difficult circumstances, whether it be a life-changing accident, a shared secret, or a death in the family. Based on the volume’s strengths, I would certainly be interested in reading more of Kyugo’s work.

My Week in Manga: January 19-January 25, 2015

My News and Reviews

Last week I posted a review of Chōhei Kambayashi’s award-winning novel Good Luck, Yukikaze. Because I had enjoyed Yukikaze, the first novel in the series, I was looking forward to reading its sequel. Sadly, although there is some tremendously thought-provoking material in Good Luck, Yukikaze, I found it to be incredibly frustrating as a novel. Also posted last week was my first (and what will probably be my most substantial) contribution to the Female Goth Mangaka Carnival: a spotlight on Mitsukazu Mihara. I’ve previously written a little about her manga series The Embalmer, but this time I took a brief look at all of her manga that was released in English and examined some of the recurring themes found in her work.

Speaking of the Carnival, the hosts at The Beautiful World posted an excellent introduction which includes biographical information of the featured artists as well as an overview of gothic fashion and literary themes. Elsewhere online, Mangabrog has translated a conversation between Hiroaki Samura and Masashi Kishimoto. Chromatic Press has some additional comments on making Sparkler Monthly back issues free to read. (Most importantly, the magazine needs 1,000 subscribers by the end of July 2015 to ensure it survives into its third year.) And some great news from France, Jiro Taniguchi and Baku Yumemakura’s manga series The Summit of the Gods (a favorite of mine) is being adapted as an animated film.

Quick Takes

Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of CapricornCorto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn by Hugo Pratt. A portion of Corto Maltese, a seminal comic created by Italian artist Hugo Pratt in 1967, was previously translated into English, however that release was criticized for its use of altered and reformatted page layouts among other things. Under the Sign of Capricorn is technically the third Corto Maltese collection, but it’s the first volume to be released in the series’ new English-language edition from EuroComics, IDW’s newest imprint. The goal is to release the entire twelve-volume series using the original artwork and oversized format over the next few years. Under the Sign of Capricorn is a great looking comic, the high-quality paper and large trim size shows off Pratt’s superb black and white artwork. The titular Corto Maltese is a sea-captain who, though he claims to have no enemies and to live only for himself, frequently finds his life in danger as he tends to side with the underdogs in their battles against those who hold power over them. (He’s a fantastic character.) Under the Sign of Capricorn is a collection of connected adventure stories, many with a slight touch of the supernatural and a lot more humor than I was anticipating. I’m looking forward to reading more of the series.

Noragami: Stray God, Volume 2Noragami: Stray God, Volumes 2-3 by Adachitoka. It took a little while for the first volume of Noragami to settle on its tone, but these two volumes have managed to achieve an excellent balance between the series’ humor and drama. They also explore more of the manga’s worldbuilding and delve more deeply into the mechanics of the gods’ relationships with their shinki. New characters and adversaries have been introduced as well. I initially thought that Noragami might be an episodic series—it certainly has a setup that would lend itself well to that format—but it looks like the manga will have an ongoing and increasingly complex plot. In a series about a low-level god of war who is trying to raise his status and gain followers, it’s not too surprising that other Japanese deities make an appearance in Noragami. However, some of them are portrayed very differently than their traditional counterparts. I was greatly amused by this, but then I already have some knowledge of Japanese religion and mythology. There are translation notes provided for readers who aren’t as familiar, but the delightful incongruities probably won’t be as effective without some prior understanding. However, overall enjoyment of Noragami doesn’t rely on esoteric expertise.

Tough Love BabyTough Love Baby by Shiuko Kano. While it’s not an exceptional boys’ love one-shot, Tough Love Baby was actually fairly solid. This was a pleasant surprise, especially considering my frustrations with some of Kano’s other early works. (And Tough Love Baby is one of her earliest.) Another pleasant surprise—since I’m into that sort of thing—was the somewhat reversible nature of two of the characters. Despite being the secondary couple, I was actually much more interested in the relationship between Tamotsu and Sora than I was in the relationship between Yoshino and Sachi. This was mostly because I ended up particularly liking Sora. (Tamotsu can be a bit of a jerk, though on occasion he does try not to be.) Sora is diminutive throughout high school, but undergoes a tremendous growth spurt upon entering college. Even though he’s much taller than everyone one else, adorable is still the best word to describe him. In some ways, Sora’s story actually parallels Sachi’s. After a three-year absence, Yoshino returns to discover that the cute thirteen-year-old boy he had developed feelings for has grown up to become a juvenile delinquent. Tamotsu is one of Sachi’s friends and a fellow tough guy, but he happens to be in love with Sachi, too. Which brings the story back to Sora, who greatly admires and falls for Tamotsu.

My Week in Manga: August 25-August 31, 2014

My News and Reviews

The most recent manga giveaway at Experiments in Manga is currently underway, and there is still time to enter for an opportunity to win Nana, Volume 1 by Ai Yazawa. All you have to do is tell me whether or not you’ve ever given a manga a second chance and what your experience was. I also posted two reviews last week. The first was for the third and final volume of Off*Beat by Jen Lee Quick, which I was very happy with. Nearly ten years after the series first began, fans finally have a chance to read its conclusion thanks to the efforts of Chromatic Press. The second review last week was for Keigo Higashino’s most recently translated mystery novel, Malice. I enjoy Higashino’s work tremendously and was not at all disappointed with Malice. The novel will be released in October and is recommended for readers who enjoy smart, clever mysteries. Although it was from a couple of weeks ago, my Spotlight on Masaichi Mukaide has been making the rounds and gaining some attention. I worked pretty hard on it, so I’m extremely pleased that people are finding the post interesting.

Elsewhere online, Organization of Anti-Social Geniuses has an interview with Vertical’s Ed Chavez, discussing the success of Knights of Sidonia. And speaking of Vertical, the Fall 2014’s reader survey and license request form has been launched. Comics Alliance has an interesting interview with Felipe Smith (whose series Peepo Choo was published by Vertical). Yen Press announced some new light novel and manga licenses. And for your enjoyment, one of Kate Beaton’s recent Hark! A Vagrant comics focuses on Natsume Sōseki’s classic novel Kokoro. (I actually really like Kokoro and reviewed it a few years ago.)

Quick Takes

Noragami: Stray God, Volume 1Noragami: Stray God, Volume 1 by Adachitoka. Yato is a god of war that everyone has forgotten, or maybe never even knew about to being with. He has no temples or shrines, no followers or worshipers, but he’s determined to change all of that. Unfortunately, his personality leaves a bit to be desired and even his servants don’t like him; he’s had to resort to doing odd jobs and spreading his name (and number) by graffitiing the walls of bathroom stalls and alleyways. The beginning of Noragami: Stray God is somewhat uneven in tone, but by the end of the first volume it seems to have found a nice balance between the manga’s humor and the more serious aspects of the story. The introduction of the series’ other lead character—Hiyori, a human girl who has a little trouble with her spirit leaving her body after a near-death experience—helps to achieve this balance. She also happens to be a fan of professional wrestling, which actually comes into play in the story instead of just being a character quirk. I quite enjoyed the first volume of Noragami, finding it to be amusing and even a bit charming, and look forward to reading more of the series.

Shattered: The Asian American Comics AnthologyShattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology edited by Jeff Yang, Parry Shen, Keith Chow, and Jerry Ma. The followup anthology to Secret Identities, Shattered collects forty-three short comics and pin-ups from seventy-five contributors. Whereas Secret Identities focused on superhero stories, Shattered also includes other genres of comics—fantasy, science fiction, martial arts, historical, contemporary fiction, and so on. The volume is intended to address and subvert five stereotypical representations of Asians and Asian-Americans in media: The Brute, The Temptress, The Brain, The Alien, and The Manipulator. Although there are some absolute gems in the collection—personal favorites include Tak Toyoshima’s “Occupy Ethnic Foods” and the precursor to Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew’s graphic novel The Shadow Hero—for me Shattered works better in concept than in execution. Many of the comics are either incomplete or feel as though they are pitches for a longer series instead of being finished works in their own right, making for a rather unsatisfying reading experience. However, I did appreciate the wide variety of comics and creators included in the volume.

Shinobu Kokoro: Hidden HeartShinobu Kokoro: Hidden Heart by Temari Matsumoto. Way back when, Shinobu Kokoro: Hidden Heart was one of the first boys’ love manga that I ever read. Had it been my only exposure to the genre, I might have given up on boys’ love because I didn’t enjoy Shinobu Kokoro much at all. And honestly I still don’t, despite there being a few elements that I like. Actually, it might be some of those elements that hinder my enjoyment of the manga. Two of the three couples in Shinobu Kokoro are ninja. When handled well, I generally like ninja. Sadly, they’re not handled particularly well in Shinobu Kokoro, or at least not believably. Subaru is so incredibly naive, I’m not sure how he’s managed to survive. Also because of this, the unbalanced power dynamics in his relationship with the head ninja come across as disconcerting rather than romantic. And it’s surprising that the ninja clan has continued to exist at all since Hiiragi and Asagi find it appropriate to take time to have sex while in the middle of an escape from a difficult mission. The third set of stories is about snow spirits, but I’ve since read better snow spirit stories, too. There is some nice artwork here and there, but overall I wasn’t especially impressed by Shinobu Kokoro.