My Week in Manga: June 5-June 11, 2017

My News and Reviews

Last week at Experiments in Manga, I announced the winner of the Anonymous Noise give away. The post also includes a list of manga which have characters who have notable singing voices. I got a particularly kick out of the fact that not all of the manga were necessarily music manga. Also, a bit of a heads up: I’m switching around my usual posting schedule. Normally the second week of the month would be devoted to the Bookshelf Overload feature, but I’ll be posting an in-depth review this week instead–Yeon-Sik Hong’s award winning manhwa Uncomfortably Happily is being released in English by Drawn & Quarterly on Tuesday and I’m working on putting the finishing touches on my write-up. Spoilers: I enjoyed the work immensely.

As for interesting reading elsewhere online: Hitomi Yoshio, a professor and translator, wrote a little about teaching Japanese Literature in Translation. And speaking of Japanese literature in translation, it looks like the second volume of Yu Godai’s Quantum Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner will finally be released sometime later this summer. (I enjoyed the first volume a great deal when it was published three years ago and sincerely hope that the wait between future volumes is much shorter.) I’ve known about the upcoming translation of Kazuki Sakuraba’s A Small Charred Face for a while, but now it’s official–Haikasoru will be releasing the novel in the fall. Sakuraba may best be known as the creator of Gosick, but my introduction to author’s work was through Red Girls: The Legend of the Akakuchibas, which I loved. Finally, I’d like to draw attention a series of fascinating Golden Kamuy Cultural Notes & Video References put together by @zeppelichi on Twitter.

Quick Takes

Blinded by the IceBlinded by the Ice by Saicoink (An Nguyen). In general, I don’t buy very many fan works or doujinshi, generally preferring to support artists’ original comics over their explorations of other people’s creations. However, I do occasionally make exceptions and I was very excited for Saicoink’s Yuri!!! on Ice fan book Blinded by the Ice. In addition to some bonus comics, illustrations, and research notes, the volume focuses on two main stories. The first and longest, Don’t Leave Me This Way, was probably my favorite comic of the two. I enjoyed Makes Me Think of You as well–it’s a charming and sweet holiday story which takes place after most of the events of the original anime series–but Don’t Leave Me This Way is the one that really impressed me. The comic is set in the late seventies and early eighties, featuring an alternative universe in which Victor and Yuri’s relationship must develop over both time and distance due to the fact that Victor is a high-profile athlete for the USSR. The only time the two of them can really meet in person is during competitions and even then it is very challenging and difficult. Blinded by the Ice is fantastic; I love the humor and insight that Saicoink brings to the stories and the time and effort Saicoink put into research really pays off, too.

Delicious in the Dungeon, Volume 1Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 1 by Ryoko Kui. I enjoy tabletop role-playing games (or at least enjoy being present while other people are playing them) and I love food manga, so Delicious in Dungeon was a series that immediately caught my attention. The groups that I’ve played pen and paper RPGs with actually tended to devote a fair amount of attention to the food within the games. Our adventures never quite turned out how it does for Laois and his dungeoning companions, though. When, partially due to hunger, his party is nearly wiped out by a dragon, Laois and the other survivors find themselves facing the prospect of having to launch a rescue mission to save one of their own. There’s just one problem: their supplies are limited and they don’t have any food. And so Laois proposes that they simply find what they need to eat and sustain themselves inside the dungeon itself, something that he’s apparently been wanting to try for a very long time. The others, on the other hand, are much more skeptical. Conveniently, they are all fortunate enough to meet a dwarf who is much more skilled and experienced than Laois when it comes to making monsters palatable. The conceit of Delicious in Dungeon is frankly brilliant. Unsurprisingly, I loved the first volume of the series and definitely plan on reading more.

Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, Volume 1Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, Volume 1 by Haruko Kumota. Although I haven’t actually had the opportunity to watch it yet, Kumota’s manga series Descending Stories was first brought to my attention due to its recent anime adaptation. The excitement surrounding the anime and the licensing of the original manga made Descending Stories one of the debuts I was most looking forward to in 2017; I was not disappointed. Rakugo is a traditional Japanese performance art which isn’t as popular as it once was but still has a devoted following. Familiarity with rakugo isn’t at all necessary to enjoy Descending Stories, but readers who have at least some basic understanding of it will likely get even more out of the series. But while rakugo is an important and interesting part of Descending Stories, it’s the relationships and drama between the characters that really make the manga so engrossing and compelling. Kyoji is an outgoing young man who has recently been released from prison. Curiously, the first thing he does with his freedom is to seek out Yakumo, a famous rakugo artist, and demand to become his apprentice. Up until this point Yakumo has always rejected those who want to study under him, but to everyone’s surprise on a whim takes Kyoji into his household.

My Week in Manga: May 8-May 15, 2017

My News and Reviews

The Bookshelf Overload for April was posted at Experiments in Manga last week; otherwise, things were pretty quiet. Initially I had an in-depth feature scheduled for this week, but I’ll probably end up pushing that back to next week instead. I spent last Thursday through Sunday in Canada with the family for vacation and the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) which I’ll be writing up like I have in years past. We had a great time, although not everything went exactly as planned.

Speaking of TCAF, Heidi MacDonald, Brigid Alverson, Deb Aoki, and Erica Friedman were apparently all sharing a hotel room for the event. I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, but they took advantage of that fact by recording a podcast in which they (and eventually Robin Brenner and Eva Volin as well) discuss a wide variety of topics including manga, queer comics, food, libraries, and more: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4. I only found out about the details after I got back home, but once again some people had trouble crossing the border between the United States and Canada in order to attend TCAF. In one notable case, Anne Ishii, one of the folks behind Massive and Gengoroh Tagame’s interpreter and translator, was detained for over two hours before eventually being allowed to enter the country.

A few things from elsewhere online last week: Anyone who picked up the Attack on Titan choose-your-own-path book from Kodansha Comics will want know about the corrections and errata that were recently released online. Kodansha also confirmed it would be releasing the Neo Parasyte M manga anthology (a sort of companion volume to Neo Parasyte F which I greatly enjoyed). In other licensing news, although an official public announcement hasn’t been made, The OASG received some confirmation that Udon Entertainment is currently “deep into the localization” of Rose of Versailles and Sugar Sugar Rune. No release dates have been set yet, though. Seven Seas hasn’t mentioned any release dates for its most recent set of licensing announcements, either, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see Okayado’s MaMaMa: Magical Director Mako-chan’s Magical Guidance, Mintarou’s DNA Doesn’t Tell Us, Tekka Yaguraba’s Sorry For My Familiar, Hiroaki Yoshikawa’s Crisis Girls, Tsuina Miura and Takahiro Oba’s High-Rise Invasion, and Coolkyoushinja’s Mononoke Sharing all released first.

A couple of Kickstarters that have recently caught my attention, too. Chromatic Press’ latest campaign is raising funds to print the first volume of Magical How? by Eurika Yusin Gho (aka Eyugho). Though on occasion I’ve mentioned Magical How? on Twitter, I haven’t really wrote much about the comic here at Experiments in Manga. (Or at least not yet.) It’s a pretty fun series though, a sort of magical girl/boys’ love mashup with energetic, full-color artwork and lots of humor. The other project I specifically want to mention is for the second volume of Beyond, a queer speculative fiction comics anthology. If successful, the project will also allow the award-winning first volume (which is great) to be reprinted.

Quick Takes

Captive Hearts of Oz, Volume 1Captive Hearts of Oz, Volume 1 written by Ryo Maruya, illustrated by Mamenosuke Fujimaru. One of the most interesting things about Captive Hearts of Oz is that the English-language release is actually the first time the manga has been published; rather than licensing existing content, the series is a direct collaboration between Seven Seas and the creators. Captive Hearts of Oz is Maruya’s debut work in English, but Fujimaru already has a notable presence due to the numerous Alice in the Country of… manga that have been translated. I suspect that it’s intentional then that Captive Hearts of Oz has a similar vibe to those series. Interestingly, there’s no explicit romance in the series yet although the manga is reminiscent of an otome game. Dorothy has simply been swept into an unfamiliar world where she meets a number of unusual people, many of whom just happen to be attractive young men. Captive Hearts of Oz is a somewhat unusual reimagining of a Western classic which may (or may not) have more depth to it than initially appears. At the very least there’s something dark and mysterious going on, although after only one volume it’s not entirely clear exactly what that is. The narrative is frustratingly disjointed in places, but I am curious to see how Captive Hearts of Oz continues to develop.

Goodnight Punpun, Omnibus 4Goodnight Punpun, Omnibuses 4-5 by Inio Asano. At this point in Goodnight Punpun, the series’ titular protagonist has entered early adulthood and his life largely remains a directionless disaster not entirely of his own making. He’s not completely blameless, though. I find that I have to time my reading of Goodnight Punpun very carefully. The manga has a very pessimistic worldview with which I can very easily identify, so if I’m already feeling mentally or emotionally exhausted, it’s usually a good idea for me to wait to tackle the series. On the other hand, it can sometimes be extremely cathartic to completely acknowledge the unfairness and darkness of the story and its real-life parallels. Either way, Goodnight Punpun is an incredible and powerful work, but it’s also very hard-hitting. Asano seems to be very aware of this and very aware of some of the related criticisms that have been leveled at the series. I, for one, have at times questioned whether or not all of the pain and suffering in Goodnight Punpun ultimately serves a purpose or if the manga is simply reveling in gloom and despair. I’ll admit that I’m still not sure and probably won’t be convinced one way or another until the manga’s conclusion, but Asano does directly recognize those concerns by having the creative work of some of the series’ characters similarly criticized.

So Pretty / Very RottenSo Pretty / Very Rotten: Comics and Essays on Lolita Fashion and Cute Culture by Jane Mai and An Nguyen. I don’t have a particular interest in fashion, so if it wasn’t for the fact that I make a point to follow the work of Nguyen (aka Saicoink) I might not have gotten around to reading So Pretty / Very Rotten for quite some time. That would have been a shame because So Pretty / Very Rotten is both a terrific and fascinating work. I was certainly aware of Lolita culture previously, but I can confidently say that I have a much better understanding of it and even appreciation for it after reading So Pretty / Very Rotten. The volume examines numerous topics related to Lolitas–history, culture, fashion, identity, gender, expression, community and more–through approachable and accessible essays, both personal and academic (the Lolita lifestyle is one of the areas of Nguyen’s research), as well as through comics and illustrations. It’s a mix that works quite well. The essays are informative and the comics are cute and engaging, effectively demonstrating the concepts addressed through visual narratives. So Pretty / Very Rotten also includes an interview with and essay by Novala Takemoto, a prominent figure in Lolita culture who is probably best known in North America as the creator of Kamikaze Girls.

The Whipping Girl by Nuria Tamarit. I’m not entirely certain, but I believe that The Whipping Girl is the first published solo comic by Tamarit, an illustrator from Valencia, Spain. Even if it’s not, I certainly hope that there will be more in the future if for no other reason than Tamarit’s striking artwork is gorgeous. Color pencils are prominently used to illustrate The Whipping Girl and the effect is lovely. Writing-wise, the work isn’t quite as strong; The Whipping Girl feels like it ends rather abruptly, even considering that it’s a short comic to begin with, but it’s still an enjoyable tale. The story largely follows Agape, the whipping girl of Prince Dalibor. He’s a bit of a jerk, intentionally behaving improperly in order to get back at Agape who is generally much more capable than he is. She finally gets so fed up with the whole situation that she decides to make a run for it. Neither she nor Dal are able to anticipate the complete extent of the repercussions of her actions, and both are surprised to discover how close their bond really is. Overall, The Whipping Girl is a very satisfying comic with beautiful artwork, expressive characters, and a great sense of humor. Agape in particular is a delight, an intelligent, strong-willed young woman with an attitude.

My Week in Manga: December 15-December 21, 2014

My News and Reviews

Last week was another week with two reviews here at Experiments in Manga. My monthly horror manga review project is now underway, so I took a look at Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare, Volume 1, which is a very intriguing start to the series. Next month I’ll start in on the in-depth reviews for Yuki Urushibara Mushishi and continue to alternate between the two series until the review project is completed. Last week I also reviewed The Early Cases of Akechi Kogorō by Edogawa Rampo, which I was very excited to read. The volume collects four of the earliest stories featuring Rampo’s great detective. And over at Manga Bookshelf proper, I and the rest of the Manga Bookshelf bloggers talked a little about the Manga the Year of 2014, noting some of our favorite things from the past year. Like I did last year, later this week I’ll also be posting my own list of notable releases from 2014.

I’m still extraordinarily busy at work as I settle into being the temporary boss of my unit for the next seven months or so, so I’ve been a bit preoccupied and haven’t had a chance to closely follow what’s going on in the mangasphere these days. However, I did still manage to catch a few interesting things to read online. Jason Thompson’s most recent House of 1000 Manga column focuses on Learn English with JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, which I am now determined to track down. J. R. Brown has an introductory post to Boys in Skirts, her series of article and reviews focusing on otokonoko at Mode: Verbose. I also came across a fascinating post about the popularity of the Year 24 Group. I’m not familiar with the author or the blog, but it looks like it should have other promising manga articles as well.

Quick Takes

Angel Sanctuary, Volume 16Angel Sanctuary, Volumes 16-20 by Kaori Yuki. Here it is, the tumultuous conclusion to the epic Angel Sanctuary. By the end of the series, Yuki actually does manage to pull everything together in a way that mostly makes sense and proves that she actually can kill off a main character, something that I had my doubts about. I know a fair number of people who adore Angel Sanctuary, but while there were some things I really liked about the series, overall I found it pretty frustrating. Maybe I just wasn’t paying close enough attention, but more often than not I found Angel Sanctuary to be confusing and difficult to follow with a huge cast of characters, none of whom are exactly who they initially appear to be, and plot twist after plot twist. Granted, that did mean the series was consistently drama-filled. But with a little more editorial guidance, Angel Sanctuary could have been something phenomenal instead of just good. I did appreciate the manga’s core, however. Love is the driving force behind Angel Sanctuary. All of the characters are dealing with love in one way or another; it is the source of tremendous good as well as tremendous evil, but in the end it is shown to be a redemptive force.

Master Keaton, Volume 1Master Keaton, Volume 1 written by Hokusei Katsushika and Takashi Nagasaki and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa. One of the many reasons that I became so enamored with manga was thanks to Urasawa’s series Pluto, so I’m always curious and excited when a new work of his is licensed in English. Admittedly, Master Keaton, while newly translated, is one of Urasawa’s older collaborations that began in the late 1980s. The titular Keaton (technically Hiraga-Keaton) is a half-Japanese, half-English archaeology professor who works as an insurance investigator on the side. He also used to be a member of the British Army’s Special Air Service, which adds survival skills and combat experience to his already impressive and eclectic set of talents. I enjoyed the first volume of Master Keaton. The manga has a nice mix of action and adventure, mystery and detective work, and even a bit of family drama. Occasionally it can be a little heavy on politics and history which interrupts the series’ pacing, but generally the slower parts are interesting, too. It’s also worth mentioning that the book design and production quality of Viz’s release of Master Keaton is particularly nice.

Open Spaces and Closed Places, Parts 1-2Open Spaces and Closed Places, Volumes 1-6 by Saicoink. I don’t remember exactly when or how I first heard about the mini-comic series Open Spaces and Closed Places, but it was recently brought to my attention again when Saicoink released the sixth and final volume. I finally got around to reading the series, and I absolutely loved it. Jirou is the boss of the delinquents at his school. When he isn’t busy getting into fights, he’s pining for Oscar, the president of the student council. Oscar likes Jirou, too, but for various reasons doesn’t feel he can accept his love, and so spends much of his time teasing the other boy instead. It’s a delightful relationship, both adorable and sad at the same time. Soon after Open Spaces and Closed Places begins, fantastical elements are introduced and the series becomes more and more surreal as it goes, culminating in a spectacular dream sequence. Saicoink specifically mentions drawing inspiration from Suehiro Maruo and Usamaru Furuya. While their influence can be seen in Open Spaces and Closed Places, the series isn’t as grotesque or as graphic as some of their works, though its humor is still accompanied by some amount darkness and tragedy. It’s a sinister, strange, and wonderful series.

Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 9Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 9 by Mitsuru Hattori. Sometimes Sankarea is all about its horror, sometimes it’s all about its peculiar romantic comedy, and sometimes it manages to be about both. The ninth volume is generally successful in balancing the series’ two opposing aspects, though the comedy has definitely taken a turn for the serious. Hattori does still find plenty of opportunities to add a bit of fanservice to the manga, this time mostly in the form of dressing Rea up in a variety of revealing costumes and outfits, often for no better reason than she looks cute in them. But even with those largely unnecessary diversions, the plot does continue to move along nicely in the ninth volume. Chihiro and most of the rest of his group have made their escape from ZoMA and return to Japan. Rea is suffering from amnesia though and doesn’t remember Chihiro or their relationship. Often I’m annoyed by the memory loss trope in manga—frequently it’s the result of bad or lazy writing—but for the most part it actually works pretty well in Sankarea. I still like the quirkiness of the characters in Sankarea, but Bub the undead cat remains my favorite by far.