My Week in Manga: April 10-April 16, 2017

My News and Reviews

Last week at Experiments in Manga was relatively quiet, but I did post the Bookshelf Overload for March. As mentioned in that post (and I think sometime prior to that as well), I’m currently in the process of changing jobs, so I’ve been a bit preoccupied to say the least. (If you follow me on Twitter, this largely explains my sporadic appearances there.) This week is my last week in my current position, so I’m understandably pretty busy with meetings and tying up loose ends and such. I still plan on finishing up and posting my review of the first volume of Nagabe’s The Girl from the Other Side sometime this week, but it will probably be towards the end.

Over the last week, Seven sees announced a couple more new licenses: Yoshikazu Takeuchi’s Perfect Blue novels (which were the basis for Satoshi Kon’s anime film of the same name) as well as Jin and Sayuki’s manga series Nirvana. Yen Press also had a slew of announcements: Natsume Ono’s ACCA 13 (probably the one I’m most excited about), Kudan Naduka and Nakoto Sanada’s Angel of Slaughter, Matoba’s As Miss Beelzebub Likes, Rihito Takarai’s Graineliers, Afro’s Laid-Back Camp?, Mufirushi Shimazaki’s The Monster Tamer Girls, Koromo’s A Polar Bear in Love, Matcha Hazuki’s One Week Friends, Fuse’s Regarding Reincarnating as Slime light novel (Kodansha Comics has licensed the manga), both the light novel and manga of Carlo Zen’s The Saga of Evil Tanya, Okina Baba’s light novel So I’m a Spider, So What?, Keiichi Shigusawa and Tadadi Tamori’s Sword Art Online: Alternative Gun Gale Online, Abec’s Sword Art Online Artworks artbook, Reki Kawahara and Shii Kiya’s Sword Art Online: Calibur, Mai Tanaka’s Terrified Teacher at Ghoul School, Kakashi Oniyazu’s Though You May Burn to Ash, and Ryousuke Asakura’s Val X Love.

As for crowdfunding efforts, Digital Manga will be launching its most recent Juné Kickstarter sometime later today in an effort to publish print editions of some of Psyche Delico’s manga which were previously only released digitally. (This is in addition to recently announced print licenses of Psyche Delico’s Even a Dog Won’t Eat It and Choco Strawberry Vanilla.) Another Kickstarter project to keep an eye on is Retrofit Comic’s Spring 2017 collection which includes Yuichi Yokoyama’s Iceland. (In general Retrofit Comics releases some great books, but this will be the publisher’s first manga to be translated.) Finally, the wonderful people behind Queer Japan are currently raising funds for the film’s post-production as well as some of the non-profit organizations featured in the documentary.

Quick Takes

Dawn of the Arcana, Volume 7Dawn of the Arcana, Volumes 7-13 by Rei Toma. I enjoyed the first part of Dawn of the Arcana a great deal and so was looking forward to reading the rest of the series. As the manga progresses it becomes less reliant on the standard fantasy tropes that form its base, although it never escapes them entirely. However, even considering this, Dawn of the Arcana is still a satisfying and enjoyable series. The story’s most dramatic plot twist I guessed at long before it was actually revealed, but there were still developments and directions that the story took that managed to surprise me. At times it felt like Dawn of the Arcana was only scratching the surface, as if the manga was only providing a summary version of a much more complicated narrative. The characters and story have depth to them, but not everything is thoroughly and completely explored, much of the more nuanced interpretations being left to the readers to form. I really liked Dawn of the Arcana. It can be heartbreaking–the characters’ struggling with circumstances that have no easy resolutions–but also thrilling as they find ways to take control of their own fates.

Murciélago, Volume 1Murciélago, Volume 1 by Yoshimurakana. I was forewarned about the violence, gore, and otherwise explicit nature of Murciélago, so I was well aware of what I was getting myself into by picking up the manga. Murciélago is ridiculous, absurd, extreme, over-the-top, and a great deal of fun if someone doesn’t have a problem with the series’ aforementioned blood and brutality. Interestingly, the risqué lesbian sex scenes which both open and close the first volume, while being deliberately lewd, scandalous, and outrageous are also entirely consensual and in a way are bizarrely one of the more wholesome aspects of the manga. The lead of Murciélago is Kuroko Koumori, a dangerous, murderous, and lecherous woman who has been sentenced to death for her crimes. Kuroko is a monster and is portrayed as such. (She’s an awful person, but I really like her as a character.) The only reason that she’s still alive is that the police have indefinitely postponed her execution in order to take advantage of her impressive skills as an assassin. So, yeah, Murciélago definitely isn’t a series for everyone, but I certainly plan on reading more of it.

Triton of the Sea, Omnibus 2Triton of the Sea, Omnibus 2 (equivalent to Volumes 3-4) by Osamu Tezuka. It has been a very long time since I read the first half of Triton of the Sea. So long ago in fact that I had forgot that I hadn’t actually finished the series yet. Fortunately, the manga was pretty easy to pick up again. I seem to like Triton of the Sea best when the story centers its focus on family. In the first omnibus, it was Triton’s relationships with his human family that really captured my attention and in the second it was his experiences as a new father that most delighted me. (It probably didn’t hurt that the baby merfolk were super cute.) Triton of the Sea is also a story of revenge. Triton is determined destroy the Poseidon clan for the sake of his people who have been nearly driven to extinction, his desire for retribution blinding him from seeing other courses of action that might allow the two clans to establish a lasting peace. This of course only serves to continue the cycle of violence that puts him and his loved ones in danger. Triton of the Sea isn’t Tezuka’s strongest or most notable work, but I did appreciate the themes that Tezuka was exploring with the series.

Wandering Island, Volume 1Wandering Island, Volume 1 by Kenji Tsuruta. The premise of Wandering Island is fairly simple: Mikura Amelia is a pilot for an air delivery service based in the Izu Islands that she and her grandfather established together. When he unexpectedly passes away, she understandably takes it pretty hard. While in mourning she discovers package among her grandfather’s belongings with an address on it that shouldn’t exist, leading Mikura to become obsessed with a search for a mysterious, disappearing island. Although there are some wonderful scenes of Mikura in flight, there’s not really much action in Wandering Island. Instead, the manga is rather leisurely paced with a contemplative and melancholic feel to it. Wandering Island is also beautifully illustrated, Tsuruta’s artwork being one of the series’ highlights. I love how Tsuruta is able to capture a sense of place and the people who live there. I’m not sure when or if the second volume of Wandering Island will be published in English (the Japanese edition itself isn’t even scheduled to be released until next month), but I would definitely like to see it translated.

Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains PureHorses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure: A Tale That Begins with Fukushima by Hideo Furukawa. Fukushima has been on my mind lately which reminded me of the fact that I had yet to read Furukawa’s Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure, one of the first major literary responses to the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters associated with March 11, 2011. The work is rather curious, but it’s also worthwhile and powerful. In part it’s a sequel of sorts to Furukawa’s novel Seikazoku (The Holy Family), which hasn’t actually been released in English. However, familiarity with that earlier work isn’t at all necessary. Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure also delves into the history of Fukushima as a whole, both before and after 2011. But perhaps most importantly, it’s an incredibly personal memoir. Though he was away at the time, Furukawa was originally from Fukushima. Soon after the disasters struck, he traveled back to the area in order to witness the aftermath of the events himself. A fair amount of the volume is devoted to Furukawa’s profound experiences while on that trip, combining fiction, history, and biography in a compelling way.

My Week in Manga: March 27-April 2, 2017

My News and Reviews

As regular readers of Experiments in Manga know, on the last Wednesday of every month I host a giveaway of some sort (usually manga-related) for which participants have a week to submit their entries. This time around the monthly giveaway is for the first volume of Coolkyousinnjya’s surprisingly delightful Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. The winner will be announced this coming Wednesday, so you can still enter for a chance to win if you haven’t already. Also later this week, look for another guest review by my friend and fellow yuri manga fan Jocilyn. Elsewhere in the Manga Bookshelf sphere of blogs, The Manga Critic has started a monthly manga review index. There have been similar features in the past, perhaps most notably at MangaBlog, and I’ve always found them incredibly useful and valuable, so I’m glad to see Kate Dacey taking it on. Also in general, I highly recommend the content at The Manga Critic–Kate’s actually one of my major inspirations when it comes to manga blogging.

As for other interesting things I’ve come across recently: Chic Pixel’s Anne Lee has posted a really fantastic list of bibliographic resources for those curious about the academic study of boys’ love. (I’ve read quite a few books and articles myself, and even reviewed Jeffery Angles’ Writing the Love of Boys: Origins of Bishōnen Culture in Modernist Japanese Literature at Experiments in Manga a few years ago.) And if that’s not enough of BL studies for you, J. R. Brown has posted the slides from her Anime Boston panel “Boys’ Love, Otome Culture, and Gender” which covers everything from the origin of shoujo manga to gay comics and more. On their own the slides are fairly informative, but I’m looking forward to seeing the annotated version, too.

Also at Anime Boston, Viz Media made quite a few licensing announcements. Some were digital-only while others were digital-first or print-only. Here’s a quick list of the books that will eventually make their way into print: Kenta Shinohara’s Astra Lost in Space, Abi Umeda’s Children of Whales (I’m particularly curious about this series), an omnibus edition of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s Death Note collecting the entire series and a bonus epilogue in a single volume, Nisioisin’s Hikaru Nakamura’s novel Juni Taisen: Zodiac Warriors (I’m not familiar with the novel, but the creators involved have certainly caught my attention), Kenji Taira’s Naruto: Chibi Sasuke’s Sharingan Legend, Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu’s The Promised Neverland (which is supposed to be fantastic), a collection of nine Junji Ito stories and accompanying material selected by Ito himself called Shiver (always glad to see more Ito being released in English), Maki Enjoji’s SP Baby, and Sui Ishida’s artbook Tokyo Ghoul Illustrations.

A couple of Kickstarter projects recently launched which may be of interest as well: All the Anime/Anime Limited is joining forces with Studio 4°C to create a home video release of Masaaki Yuasa’s directorial debut Mind Game. Digital Manga has entered the fray again with a campaign to release more of Osamu Tezuka’s manga in printAmbassador Magma, Dust 8, The Euphrates Tree, Metamorphose, Say Hello to Bookila, The Thief Inoue Akikazu, Wonder 3, and Yakeppachi’s Maria. It looks as though the print runs will be very limited and Kickstarter may be the only way to get a hold of some of the titles. (I have to admit, I certainly have my qualms about Digital Manga’s business practices in general and over-reliance on crowdfunding specifically. The quality of Digital Manga’s releases has really gone downhill over the last few years, too. Honestly, I’ve lost most of my confidence in the company as a publisher, but it’s managed not to completely go under yet.)

Quick Takes

Dawn of the Arcana, Volume 1Dawn of the Arcana, Volumes 1-6 by Rei Toma. I generally enjoy epic fantasy of the shoujo variety, so I’m not entirely sure why it’s taken me so long to finally get around to reading Dawn of the Arcana. So far, I’m enjoying the manga tremendously. Nakaba is a princess who has been married off to a prince of the neighboring kingdom despite her questionable ancestry in a half-hearted attempt to secure peace between the two countries. But instead, gifted with the ability to see both into the past and into the future, Nakaba may find herself in the unlikely position of leading a revolution. Dawn of the Arcana does come across as a rather typical example of high fantasy–all the way down to the heroine’s fiery red hair–but even though it hasn’t really made itself stand out yet, the manga is a solid series. I greatly enjoyed the manga’s mix of court and political intrigue, action, and complicated interpersonal relationships. Much like the story, the artwork tends to be somewhat standard although attractive. Toma’s backgrounds are generally fairly sparse, but the details put into things like the characters’ clothing is lovely. I definitely look forward to reading more of Dawn of the Arcana in the very near future.

Hana & Hina After School, Volume 1Hana & Hina After School, Volume 1 by Milk Morinaga. I believe that Morinaga is currently the most well-represented yuri manga creator available in English. So far, five of Morinaga’s manga have been translated, the most recent being Hana & Hina After School. Interestingly, in Japan the manga was serialized in a magazine aimed at a general audience rather than one specifically catering to yuri fans. The titular Hana and Hina are two young women working part time at a store specializing in cute character goods even though their high school forbids its students from holding jobs. The story follows their relationship as they become friends and slowly realize that their feelings may evolve into something else. Like most of Morinaga’s other manga that I’ve read, Hana & Hina After School tends to be rather cute and sweet. The series is enjoyable and pleasant even if it is at times a little silly and somewhat unbelievable. However, the end of the first volume does introduce some sobering concerns when Hina is confronted by a few of her classmates homophobia, an unfortunate reality that many yuri manga tend to gloss over or ignore entirely in favor of pure fantasy. (Granted, that fantasy is important to have, too.)

Scum's Wish, Volume 1Scum’s Wish, Volumes 1-2 by Mengo Yokoyari. I wasn’t initially planning to pick up Scum’s Wish, but after reading a few positive reviews of the series I decided to give it a try after all. The cover art of the first volume is deliberately provocative, but the manga isn’t nearly as salacious as it might imply. In fact, the series can actually be surprisingly contemplative. Scum’s Wish is a manga about unrequited love. Almost every character in the series is pining for someone with whom an involved romance would seem to be impossible or at least inadvisable, resulting in a complex web of personal relationships fraught with loneliness and anguish. (There is one heck of a love polygon going on in Scum’s Wish and nearly everyone who is introduced is connected to it somehow.) Hanabi is in love with Narumi, her childhood friend who now also happens to be her homeroom teacher. Mugi is in love with Akane, a music instructor who used to be his tutor. Recognizing that they are suffering under very similar circumstances and hoping to ease some of the pain, Hanabi and Mugi agree to find comfort in a relationship together. Neither one of them is in love with the other, but they are both aware of and take advantage of that fact.

Deep RedDeep Red by Hisashi Nozawa. Although perhaps best known as a screenwriter, Nozawa was also recognized as an accomplished novelist. Deep Red, which earned Nozawa an Eiji Yoshikawa Prize in 2001, is his first novel to be released in English. Kanako is the only survivor of the mass murder of her family, simply because she happened to be away on a school trip when her parents and two younger brothers were killed. Understandably, their deaths have left a great wound, but Kanako isn’t the only one left troubled and hurt–the life of Miho, the daughter of the murderer, has also been irrevocably changed. At times, Deep Red is uncomfortably voyeuristic and there’s a peculiar fixation on Kanako’s body and sex life with her boyfriend. I was never entirely convinced by Kanako as a character, either. However, Deep Red does provide an interesting psychological exploration of hate, anger, and misplaced revenge. The novel is instantly engaging. However, the middle portion of the narrative is repetitive and does drag a fair bit; I admittedly started to lose my interest and patience with the story. But once Kanako becomes obsessed with and decides to pursue Miho, Deep Red picks up speed again and the novel’s ending is very satisfying.

My Week in Manga: January 23-January 29, 2017

My News and Reviews

The end of the month is approaching which means it’s time for Experiments in Manga’s monthly giveaway. The winner of the most recent giveaway will be announced on Wednesday, so there’s still a little time left to enter for a chance to win the first volume of Kenya Suzuki’s delightful full-color manga series Please Tell Me! Galko-chan. Speaking of manga giveaways, there’s also an opportunity to win a copy of the first omnibus in Kei Sanbe’s Erased over at The OASG.

Elsewhere online, I came the Young Adult Library Services Association’s 2017 Great Graphic Novels for Teens. As usual, the list includes a fair number of manga along with all of the other excellent comics. Ichigo Takano’s Orange (which was also one of my notable manga from 2016) even made the top ten list. Out of the many other manga included as part of YALSA’s larger list, I have in-depth reviews of Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu and Akiko Higashimura’s Princess Jellyfish, Omnibus 1, both of which I loved.

Another list I came across recently was BookRiot’s feature on Japanese speculative fiction in translation. Overall, I think it’s a great list–I’ve previously reviewed three of the books included (Miyuki Miyabe’s The Book of Heroes, Yusuke Kishi’s The Crimson Labyrinth, and Taiyo Fujii’s Gene Mapper) and most of the others I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time or were already high on my list of books to read in the near future.

It’s been a while since I’ve mentioned Kickstarter projects here, but there are a few campaigns for print comics that have caught my eye lately: Maya Kern is looking to print the second volume of the adorable webcomic Monster Pop; Amanda Lafrenais is campaigning to release the second Titty-Time print collection of erotic comics; and Deandra Tan is hoping to release a print edition of her graphic novel Love Debut!.

Quick Takes

Aoharu X Machinegun, Volume 1Aoharu X Machinegun, Volume 1 by Naoe. I picked up the first volume of Aoharu X Machinegun more on a whim than anything else but I ended up enjoying it much more than I expected. On the surface there are a few things about the beginning of Aoharu X Machinegun that are oddly reminiscent of Ouran High School Host Club–Masamune works in a host club and Hotaru, who is often mistaken for a boy, gets wrapped up in his schemes after she needs to earn some money for damaging the club’s property–but the similarities mostly end there. Hotaru has an overly-strong sense of of justice and has a tendency to get into fights because of it. Masamune is the leader of a competitive survival/war game team and has decided the Hotaru should become its third member after her aggressiveness leaves a distinct impression on him. Initially, the team’s second member Tooru, who also happens to be well-known hentai mangaka, is less than thrilled about this. They’re both completely unaware that Hotaru is a girl, too, which could cause some trouble later on. Aoharu X Machinegun is kind of ridiculous but fun. I enjoyed its action and sense of humor and this point would be interested in reading more.

Bakune Young, Volume 1Bakune Young, Volumes 1-3 by Toyokazu Matsunaga. I’ve been meaning to read Bakune Young for quite a while now but the short series is long out-of-print and can be somewhat difficult to find. (Fortunately, it turned out that my library actually owns a complete set.) Reading Bakune Young is quite an experience to say the least. Matsunaga’s artwork, while it’s frequently and deliberately grotesque and at times could even be described as ugly, is tremendous. The story itself is nearly nonsensical, but it does manage to have a bizarre sort of logic to it. The series opens with the titular Bakune Young in a pachinko parlor before he begins targeting yakuza in a killing spree. His rampage quickly escalates and eventually not only the yakuza, but Japanese police, a ninja assassin from the French Foreign Legion, psychics, and even the American military all become involved as the death count increases exponentially. Bakune Young is certainly not for the faint of heart. It’s incredibly violent, viciously dark, and legitimately absurd, but assuming one isn’t bothered by all that, it can also be extraordinarily funny. I suspect Bakune Young is a manga that readers either love or hate without there being much middle ground.

The Encyclopedia of Early EarthThe Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg. I recently read and absolutely loved Greenberg’s The One Hundred Nights of Hero and so immediately made a point to seek out more of her work. The Encyclopedia of Early Earth was Greenberg’s first graphic novel and received great acclaim when it was published. The comic’s premise is simple: a nameless storyteller as travels the world in search of a missing piece of his soul. The graphic novel shares some obvious similarities to The One  Hundred Nights of Hero in its structure, themes, artwork, and setting. Both comics take place in the pre-prehistoric Early Earth and utilize the same mythologies, cosmologies, and pantheons. Both comics, in addition to love, are also about the importance of stories and storytellers; they find inspiration in and retell existing folktales while intertwining them with those of Greenberg’s own making. Otherwise, the two comics aren’t directly related. The Encyclopedia of Early Earth feels less politically-charged than The One Hundred Nights of Hero which may make it more palatable to some audiences but as a result it isn’t nearly as powerful a work overall in comparison. Even so, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth is wonderful.

Wolf MagicWolf Magic by Natsuki Zippo. So far, Wolf Magic is the only manga by Zippo to have been released in English. As far as I can tell, Wolf Magic is also Zippo’s first professional work. Especially considering that, it’s a very strong collection of boys’ love manga, and I’d certainly be interested in seeing more from Zippo translated. Wolf Magic opens with “The Water of Love for the Withered Flower” which is about Hanasaki, a florist whose severe appearance is at complete odds with what most people would associate with his profession. However, he still manages to unintentionally catch the eye of Hata. The manga then turns to the various “Wolf Magic” stories which follow Nagase, a young gay man, as he falls in and out of love during high school and then continues to look for “the one” in college. In the process, he develops a surprising relationship with Higuchi. While the two story arcs are unrelated and are quite different from each other, thematically they are very similar. Both Hanasaki and Nagase are searching for love and acceptance and both ultimately find it in unexpected places and ways. Overall, with its attractive artwork and excellent characterizations, Wolf Magic is quite well done.

United States of JapanUnited States of Japan by Peter Tieryas. I’ve often heard United States of Japan described as a spiritual sequel or successor to Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. In some ways that is certainly true–Tieryas’ novel probably would not have existed were it not for Dick’s and makes multiple references to The Man in the High Castle–but the two novels are drastically different from each other in tone and style. The underlying premise, however, is the same. Emerging victorious from World War II, Japan now controls a significant portion of what was once the United States of America. The grim cyberpunk alternate history presented in United States of Japan (complete with mecha battles and graphic torture) can be extraordinarily brutal and gruesome. The lead characters aren’t exactly the most likeable or sympathetic people, either, though they become slightly more so as the novel progresses. Captain Ben Ishimura, whose only talent seems to be hacking and programming, is a censor who comes to the attention of Agent Akiko Tsukino when an illegal video game which imagines America winning the Second World War threatens to embolden resistance against the rule of Japan.

My Week in Manga: January 9-January 15, 2017

My News and Reviews

Last week at Experiments in Manga I posted the Bookshelf Overload for December. It includes a pretty big list of things, in part due to massive holiday sales, so hopefully future months won’t be quite as ridiculous. Another thing that happened last week that was kind of cool was related to a post that I wrote back in 2014. My Spotlight on Masaichi Mukaide is probably one of the most noteworthy things that I’ve ever written and it actually got quite a bit of attention when I posted it. Well, Masaichi Mukaide himself apparently came across it recently and even left a comment.

Probably the biggest manga news from last week was the slew of licenses and other announcements made by Seven Seas. Here’s the list of manga:

Absolute Duo by Takumi Hiiragiboshi and Shinichirou Nariie
Alice & Zouroku by Tetsuya Imai
Captain Harlock: Dimensional Voyage by Leiji Matsumoto and Kouichi Shimahoshi
The Count of Monte Cristo by Moriyama Ena
Cutie Honey a Go Go! by Hideaki Anno and Shinpei Itou
Devilman G by Go Nagai and Rui Takatou
Dragon Half by Ryusuke Mita
Hatsune Miku: Bad End Night by Hitoshizuku-P x Yama and Tsubata Nozaki
Hatsune Miku Presents: Hachune Miku’s Everyday Vocaloid Paradise by Ontama
Magical Girl Special Ops Asuka by Makoto Fukami and Seigo Tokiya
Sleeping Beauty by Yumi Unita
Spirit Circle by Satoshi Mizukami
The Testament of Sister New Devil Storm by Tetsuto Uesu and Fumihiro Kiso
Unmagical Girl by Ryuichi Yokoyama and Manmaru Kamitsuki
Wadanohara and the Great Blue Sea by Mogeko

Seven Seas is getting back into translating novels and has a deluxe edition of Ryo Mizuno’s Record of the Lodoss War: The Grey Witch with illustrations by illustrations by Yutaka Izubuchi in the works, too. Also announced was a full-color edition of Madeleine Rosca’s Hollow Fields and five more illustrated literary classics. (I found Seven Seas release of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass to be quite enjoyable.)

It’s a pretty interesting group of announcements with a fairly wide range of titles to choose from. There’s even a manga from the late ’80s (Dragon Half), and not many of those are licensed any more. I’m particularly curious about Moriyama Ena’s adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo (the cover art is gorgeous), the josei manga Sleeping Beauty by Yumi Unita (whose Bunny Drop left me with extremely conflicted feelings), as well as the number of titles which are part of classic franchises.

Quick Takes

Devils' Line, Volume 1Devils’ Line, Volumes 1-2 by Ryo Hanada. I actually didn’t realize it at first, but Devils’ Line is the second work by Hanada to be released in English. The first was the doujinshi Good-bye Geist which overall I enjoyed. However, Devils’ Line is Hanada’s first professional series. In general, I’m liking it, too, except that the artwork is terribly inconsistent. At times it’s absolutely spectacular (the cover illustrations are especially great) but within a few panels it may have lost all sense of scale an anatomy. I can’t quite tell if this is mean to be deliberate or not; if so, the execution is unconvincing. The story isn’t as tight as it could be, but it does have a nice blend of genres, including romance, horror, action, crime, and thriller. And, like Good-bye Geist, the series has a marvelously ominous atmosphere. The plot centers around Tsukasa, who unfortunately seems to be a magnet for both vampires (or “devils”) and sexual assault, and Anzai, a half-vampire working for the police in a unit specializing in devil-related incidents. Vampirism in Devils’ Line has an intensely sexual component to it; the eroticism often associated with vampires in other stories is in this case incredibly dark and violent.

The Ghost and the Lady, Volume 2The Ghost and the Lady, Volume 2 by Kazuhiro Fujita. Admittedly, The Ghost and the Lady is kind of a strange manga series. In part historical fiction and in part supernatural drama, the manga’s disparate elements don’t always perfectly mesh, but I still enjoyed the series a great deal. In The Ghost and the Lady, Fujita mixes together historical facts and legends, reimagining the life of Florence Nightingale and her accomplishments during the Crimean War with a distinctly supernatural flair. It’s clear that Fujita has done a tremendous amount of research for the series; and as the afterword by the series’ translator Zack Davisson points out, more or less every named character in the manga has a historical counterpart. There’s Nightingale herself as well as the people she knew, Grey is based on a famous ghost of the Drury Lane theater, and even historical figures like the Chevalier d’Éon have prominent roles to play. (Speaking of whom, I really need to find a good biography of d’Éon to read.) Despite the presence of the ghosts, the supernatural aspects of The Ghost and the Lady seem to come and go; I do wish that the eidolons had been utilized a little more in the series’ second half because it’s great when they are.

Holy Corpse Rising, Volume 1Holy Corpse Rising, Volume 1 by Hosana Tanaka. As can be safely assumed by provocative cover art, Holy Corpse Rising is a manga series that includes a fair amount of nudity and scantily clad women. However, despite the occasional ridiculousness, the fanservice is largely keeping with the style and tone of the series as a whole, so it doesn’t feel out-of-place; a significant portion of Holy Corpse Rising is intended to be titillating. In general, Tanaka’s artwork is quite attractive, though the women in the series are the most beautiful. They’re also by far the most powerful characters, both in ability and status. The first volume of Holy Corpse Rising serves as an introduction to the war between the Credic Church and the witches. Nikola, a monk who is a specialist in witch lore, is charged with securing the aid of the coven of first witches in the Church’s fight against their descendants. But first Nikola must resurrect them and in the process manages to put himself in some rather compromising situations. So far the first witches each seem to gain their power from a different bodily fluid (tears, blood). And since there are twelve of them, Holy Corpse Rising has the potential to enter some pretty kinky territory.

The One Hundred Nights of HeroThe One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg. I don’t recall exactly what it was that brought The One Hundred Nights of Hero to my attention, but I’m so glad that I read it because it is marvelous; I loved the comic. Greenberg takes inspiration from existing stories and even provides retelling of folktales over the course of the graphic novel. The framework is deliberately similar to that of One Thousand and One Nights and there are stories within stories within stories. In fact, The One Hundred Nights of Hero is about the power of stories and storytellers. It’s also about love and “brave women who don’t take shit from anyone.” At the center of the comic is Cherry and her maid Hero, two women who love each other dearly. Night after night, Hero spins tale after tale in an effort to save their lives. The world of The One Hundred Nights of Hero is an incredibly misogynistic one. While different from our own, in some ways it is also tragically reminiscent. The One Hundred Nights of Hero isn’t always particularly subtle and can at times feel somewhat heavy-handed, but it’s a wonderfully powerful and unabashedly feminist work. I definitely plan on seeking out more of Greenberg’s comics.

Moshi MoshiMoshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto. Despite being an extremely prolific author and one of the most well-known Japanese novelists translated in English, I haven’t actually read any of Yoshimoto’s works until now. The story of Moshi Moshi is told from the first-person perspective of Yoshie, a young woman whose father has recently died. A successful musician, the circumstances surrounding his death are somewhat unclear, but it’s believed that he committed double suicide with a woman who neither she or her mother knows. The novel follows Yoshie as she tries to come to terms with the unexpected loss of her father by reinventing her life in the chic neighborhood of Shimokitazawa. Her mother joins her there, feeling that the ghost of her husband is haunting the family home, and Yoshie herself is plagued with recurring dreams in which her father appears, searching for his phone. Though Moshi Moshi does tend to drag a little in places, I really liked how Yoshimoto handles the themes of love, loss, and the inevitability of change in the novel. I suspect that Moshi Moshi likely isn’t the best introduction to Yoshimoto’s work, but for the most part I did appreciate it.

Random Musings: Notable in 2016

The end of 2016 has come and, as promised, I have compiled my annual list of notable releases of some of the works published within the last twelve months. All of the caveats from previous years still apply–to qualify a book must have been released in 2016 and I must have read it in 2016. (And I certainly haven’t read everything that’s been published this year.) Additionally, this year I’ve specifically decided to focus on debuts rather than continuing series (with one exception) and am limiting the list to one book per publisher in order to make it more manageable for myself. This is not a “best of” list or a list of favorites (that would be a much longer feature). It’s not even a list of all of the noteworthy releases from the past year, otherwise I’d probably never finish writing (2016 was an excellent year for manga in particular). What this list is is a subset of releases from the last year that, for one reason or another, left the most significant impressions on me.

Orange, Omnibus 1The first manga published in English in 2016 which really made me take note was Ichigo Takano’s Orange. It’s a heartwarming but bittersweet story which deals with some very heavy topics including crippling guilt, regret, depression, and suicide. Orange resonated very strongly with my own personal experiences as someone who is both challenged by and knows others who struggle with similar issues. The manga can be heartbreaking, but Takano’s approach is immensely compassionate and life-affirming.

Goodnight Punpun, Omnibus 1Inio Asano’s Goodnight Punpun is likewise a heartwrenching manga that deals with very serious and troubling subject matter. However, in the case of Goodnight Punpun, that exploration ends up being incredibly dark and surreal. I find the series to be remarkably compelling and the artwork is spectacular, but it’s certainly not what I would call light reading. The tragic coming-of-age story that Asano presents is deliberately uncomfortable and even the humor tends to be extremely bleak.

The Gods LieDevastating coming-of-age stories were apparently a theme for me in 2016 because The Gods Lie by Kaori Ozaki fits into that category as well. The Gods Lie was actually one of my most anticipated releases of the year and I was not disappointed. The manga is a beautiful, emotionally resonate work with a story that is both skillfully told and drawn. Ozaki addresses themes of abandonment, desperation, and death, recognizing that solutions to bad situations aren’t always easy or clear.

What Is Obscenity?Although the subject matter of Rokudenashiko’s autobiographical manga What Is Obscenity?: The Story of a Good for Nothing Artist and Her Pussy is also quite serious—a portrayal of the circumstances surrounding her multiple arrests on obscenity charges—the volume itself is charmingly funny, sweet, and surprisingly upbeat. Rokudenashiko’s work as an artist and activist is both inspiring and empowering. I personally feel that What Is Obscenity? was one of the most important releases from 2016.

Kitaro, Volume 1: The Birth of KitaroA few years ago, Drawn & Quarterly released a collection of Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro manga which I loved, so I was thrilled when a multi-volume Kitaro series was announced. Beginning with The Birth of Kitaro, the series has been specifically curated to appeal to younger readers although the manga is still a tremendous amount of fun regardless of age. Not very many classic manga are licensed in English these days, but with my particular interest in yokai, I’m glad that the influential Kitaro is one of them.

Attack on Titan AnthologyKodansha Comics was the manga publisher that impressed me most overall in 2016 with the expansion of the range of its offerings. One of the most interesting releases actually wasn’t a manga but an original collection of Western comics inspired by Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan. Like any anthology, some of the contributions to Attack on Titan Anthology are stronger than others, but some are incredible. As a whole, the volume is a fantastic collection compiling a wide variety of styles and genres.

Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu KanekoAnother remarkable multinational effort from 2016 was Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko from Chin Music Press. The children’s book, beautifully illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri, combines a biography written by David Jacobson with a selection of Kaneko’s poetry translated by Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi. Kaneko is relatively unknown in English but her work is utterly delightful, charming, and compassionate. Are You an Echo? is a lovely book and a treasure.

Human ActsTechnically, Han Kang’s Human Acts won’t be released in North America until 2017, but the English translation was first published in 2016. The novel was honestly one of the best books that I read all year. It was also one of the most devastating and haunting. Beautifully written by Kang and elegantly translated by Deborah Smith, Human Acts shows how past tragedies have long-lasting and far-reaching effects on the present and future. The novel is intensely personal, political, and powerful.

The Paper Menagerie and Other StoriesThe Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is the second book by Ken Liu to have been published. (Liu’s first book, The Grace of Kings, was actually on last year’s list of notable releases.) The collection brings together fifteen of Liu’s short stories and novellas, a combination of award-winning works and the author’s personal favorites. The volume is consistently compelling and thought-provoking—as good speculative fiction should be—each story providing a distinctive and meaningful perspective.

Tokyo Demons: Know What You WantAs many people know, Lianne Sentar’s Tokyo Demons is one of my obsessions, so I would be remiss to not mention it here. 2016 was a great year for fans of the series: Know What You Want, a provocative collection of mature side stories, was released in print, the third book finished its serialization online with an extremely satisfying conclusion, and the beginnings of the sequel series Tokyo Ghosts began to make its appearance. I’m very glad for the opportunity to see the story and characters continue to change and evolve.