My Week in Manga: April 27-May 3, 2015

My News and Reviews

Last week was the end of one month and the beginning of another, which means the most recent manga giveaway at Experiments in Manga is currently underway. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, so there’s still a little time to enter for a chance to win Miki Yoshikawa’s Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, Volume 1. An in-depth manga review was posted last week as well. I took a look at Aki’s The Angel of Elhamburg, a bittersweet tragedy which, although it can be difficult to follow in places, is a lovely single-volume manga. And finally, over the weekend, April’s Bookshelf Overload was posted for those who are curious about the manga that made its way into my home last month.

On to other interesting reading and news found elsewhere online! Sparkler Monthly has started a monthly blog and the first post Why do we need “comics for women”? Why not “comics for everyone”? is excellent. Seven Seas announced three new manga licenses last week: Katsuhisa Kigitsu’s Fraken Fran, Wataru Karasuma’s Not Lives, and Ichigo Takano’s Orange (which is also being released digitally by Crunchyroll.) Franken Fran in particular has been a oft-requested title by fans. Organization Anti-Social Geniuses talked with Lissa Pattillo from Seven Seas about the Franken Fran license. Also at OASG is an interview with Hope Donovan, a managing editor at Viz Media. And Mangabrog has posted a translation of a conversation between mangaka Nobuyuki Fukumoto and musician and author Kenji Ohtsuki.

Quick Takes

Cipher, Volume 1Cipher, Volumes 1-6 by Minako Narita. During its time, CMX published some really great manga, including several old-school shoujo series. Cipher is one of those, and probably one of the most eighties manga that I’ve read. The series, set in New York, began serialization in 1984 and includes many references to American pop culture of the time. Anise is trying to make friends with Siva, an up-and-coming actor as well as one of her classmates, when she discovers his secret. He has a twin, Cipher, and they’ve been taking turns pretending to be “Siva.” And so they make a bet: if after two weeks she can tell the two twins apart, they will tell her why they have been sharing an identity. Cipher doesn’t always have the most believable story—for one, I don’t know of any parents who would ever let their child move in with someone they’ve never met even temporarily—but the characters and interpersonal drama are consistently engaging and at times even compelling. So far, I’m loving it. Cipher is often slow-moving, generally focusing on the everyday lives of American teenagers, but a plot twist towards the end of the sixth volume hastens and sets up important character and story developments for the second half of the series.

Junk!Junk! Shushushu Sakurai. If I’m not mistaken, Junk! was the very last manga to be released by DramaQueen before the publisher disappeared. Like Sakurai’s other DramaQueen release, Missing Road, Junk! is a boys’ love manga that incorporates elements of science fiction and action. Also like Missing Road, Junk! is a manga that could have benefited from additional volumes in order to explore some of the complexities of the plot and setting. Reading these manga, Sakurai seems to be overly ambitious when it comes to her stories. However, I think Junk! is the more cohesive, coherent, and successful of the two overall. Even though it’s only a single volume, Junk! has a lot going on in it. A religious cult focused on breeding people together—whether they are male or female—in order to foster the evolution of even stronger humans. A man who holds the key to a closely kept government secret that ensures a person’s survival even in the face a nuclear apocalypse. And, because it is a mature boys’ love title after all, there’s plenty of sex, too, even at inopportune moments. (Seriously, taking time to bang your lover in the middle of a dangerous infiltration mission doesn’t seem to be the wisest decision.)

My Little Monster, Volume 7My Little Monster, Volume 7 by Robico. The last few volumes of My Little Monster left me a little frustrated with the lack of progress in the development of the series’ story and in the relationships of its characters. Fortunately, the seventh volume seems to get things back on track and the manga continues to be a fairly amusing and even endearing series from time to time. Also, I love that after everything that has happened, Nagoya, the pet chicken, continues to make repeated appearances. The cast of My Little Monster is made up of a bunch of oddballs who tend to be socially awkward, but I do like them quite a bit. Part of that social awkwardness means they can be completely oblivious to other people’s feelings, even when those feelings have been clearly and repeatedly stated. To be fair, they’re sometimes oblivious to their own feelings as well. The result is one heck of a mess of tangled and conflicting relationships. The seventh volume of My Little Monster sees some but certainly not all of those relationships sorted out after several confessions of love are made and replies to them eventually given. At this point the series is more than halfway over, so I hope Robico is able to maintain its forward momentum.

Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 11Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 11 by Mitsuru Hattori. I was very curious to see how Sankarea would end since I honestly had no idea which direction Hattori was going to take things. And now that I’ve read the final volume, I’m not entirely convinced that Hattori actually knew, either. From the very beginning Sankarea has been a strange mix of horror and romantic comedy, an offbeat story with offbeat characters. Sometimes the ideal balance between the two genres was there, and sometimes it wasn’t. The finale of Sankarea would seem to demand that Hattori choose one over the other, but instead he attempts to satisfy the requirements of both by employing a series of false endings. I think that ultimately the conclusion of Sankarea would have been more satisfying if Hattori had simply picked one ending and ran with it. Like the rest of the series, the eleventh volume of Sankarea had its cute and sweet moments as well its moments of blood and gore. It also has the return of Rea’s abusive father (legitimately one of the most disturbing elements of the series), trying to put him in a slightly more sympathetic light.  In the end, little Bub the undead cat is probably still my favorite part of the entire series.

My Week in Manga: March 16-March 22, 2015

My News and Reviews

Two more reviews were posted at Experiments in Manga last week. Only one was of a manga, but the other book does include illustrations! I’m a little behind in reviewing the series, but I finally wrote up my impressions of Fumi Yoshinaga’s What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 6. (Just in time for the seventh volume to be released later this week!) There’s some really nice character development for Shiro and, as always, delicious-looking food. The second review posted last week was for Haikasoru’s anthology of short fiction Phantasm Japan: Fantasies Light and Dark from and about Japan which collects twenty-one horror-tinged stories. It has a great range of contributions and authors and is an excellent followup to the The Future Is Japanese anthology.

I’ve been busy at work and the taiko performance season is ramping up, so I’ve not had much time to pay attention to the manga news over the last week or so. (Let me know if I missed something good!) However, I did see that Manga Brog posted a translation of interviews of Inio Asano and Daisuke Igarashi from the magazine Manga Erotics F in 2012. And speaking of Asano, Vertical Comics apparently made a license announcement a couple of weekends ago—an omnibus edition of Asano’s A Girl on the Shore. Asano’s Nijigahara Holograph left a huge impression on me last year, so I’m really looking forward to reading more of his work in English.

Quick Takes

Attack on Titan, Volume 14Attack on Titan, Volume 14 by Hajime Isayama. The cover of the fourteenth volume of Attack on Titan has a Western flair to it (“Western” as in the genre) and, surprisingly enough, so do the contents. I found the introduction of the trappings of the American Old West to be a little bizarre in a setting that has largely been European-influenced, but it is what it is. I never expected there to be a guns-blazing saloon shootout in Attack on Titan, but it is an admittedly exciting scene even if it does feel a little out-of-place. Also somewhat surprising, not a single Titan makes an appearance in the volume except for flashbacks. The series’ focus has shifted from the fight against the Titans to the conflict inside of the walls as humans are pitted against each other. The Survey Corps is in the process of trying to reveal some major conspiracies to the general public, schemes that the Military Police and government would rather not come to light, so things get pretty violent. All in all, even considering the odd Western elements, it’s an excellent volume of Attack on Titan with some great action sequences, character development, and plot progression.

Fairy Tail, Volume 44Fairy Tail, Volumes 44-46 by Hiro Mashima. The Tartaros arc of Fairy Tail continues with these three volumes of the series. Fairy Tail is facing off with a guild of demons which is attempting to eliminate all magic except for its own curses. For the most part, it’s battle after battle without too much story development. Major sacrifices are made by Fairy Tail (sadly, some of them lose their significance and impact when Mashima doesn’t completely follow through with them), and a new antagonist is introduced, the extremely powerful King of the Underworld, Mard Geer. Reading Mashima’s afterwords at the end of each volume, it seems as though he has tried to carefully plan out the important events and battles of Fairy Tail. Even so, it feels as though the series meanders getting from one major plot point to the next, almost as if Mashima is making the story up as he goes instead of having a definite endpoint in mind. However, the fights can be exciting and the characters continue to evolve, or at least power up. I was pleased to see the forty-sixth volume turn the manga’s focus back onto Gray, though, bringing his most recent story arc to a satisfying conclusion.

Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 10Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 10 by Mitsuru Hattori. There have been parts of Sankarea that I’ve really enjoyed, and parts of the series that I really have not, but overall the tenth volume frustrates me more than anything else. Mostly it’s because of the narrative structure and the fact that several important backstories are crammed into the volume. I almost wonder if Hattori realized that he was running out of time to bring the series to a proper conclusion. (There is only one more volume after this one.) It is good to finally find out more about Chihiro’s grandfather and all of his research into bringing the living back to life. And there are some great horror elements to that particular story, as well. I just really wish the revelation hadn’t taken the form of a huge infodump given by a conveniently revived zombie. However, I did like the different art styles that Hattori used to distinguish Chihiro’s memories of his mother and the story about Chihiro’s grandfather from the rest of the manga. And I am curious to see how Sankarea will end. It’s been a strange if somewhat uneven series about zombies and love, part horror manga and part romantic comedy.

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.

My Week in Manga: June 23-June 29, 2014

My News and Reviews

Another three posts last week! It’s the end of June, so I decided to have a Juné Manga Giveaway. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, so there’s still some time left to enter for a chance to win a copy of Momoko Tenzen’s boys’ love one-shot Flutter. Last week I also took a closer look at the two Gengoroh Tagame manga recently published by Bruno Gmünder, Endless Game and Gunji. (And speaking of Bruno Gmünder, more titles for its Gay Manga line have been announced! Look for Mentaiko Itto’s Priapus, Takeshi Matsu’s More and More of You, and Tagame’s Fisherman’s Lodge in English later this year.) Finally, I posted a review of Kaoru Ohno’s historical novel Cage on the Sea which is about the survival and eventual repatriation of the Japanese holdouts on Anatahan Island after World War II. It was a story that was sensationalized in the 1950s,  but Ohno’s thoroughly researched novel is a much more nuanced portrayal of the events and people involved.

Quick Takes

Fairy Tail, Volume 38Fairy Tail, Volume 38 by Hiro Mashima. While the battles and challenges could be entertaining, I’ll admit that I had started to grow a little weary of the Grand Magic Games arc of Fairy Tail. Thankfully, a secondary (which has now become primary) plot was introduced which has much higher stakes than who will be declared the winner of the tournament. The possibility of the world being destroyed by the return of the dragons is a pretty big deal, after all. The lengthy buildup of the Grand Magic Games pays off in this volume though as the tournament reaches its conclusion. Actually, I think it’s one of the better volumes of Fairy Tail to have recently been released. Most of it is devoted to the various battles which are taking place, the Guild members showing just how much they’ve grown and how strong they’ve become in a very dramatic fashion. Friendship, loyalty, and teamwork have always been vital to Fairy Tail, but it really shows in this volume. Even though there is a focus on the action and fighting, there are also some important plot twists and story developments in the thirty-eighth volume, too.

My Love Story!!, Volume 1My Love Story!!, Volume 1 written by Kazune Kawahara and illustrated by Aruko. I absolutely adored the first volume of My Love Story!!—it’s funny and charming, and the characters are incredibly amusing and endearing. Although Takeo is heroic, enthusiastic, loyal, manly, and strong, he’s not traditionally good-looking, so people often overlook his better qualities. He falls in love easily, but all of the girls he likes fall for his attractive best friend Suna instead. (So far, Suna’s turned them all down, though.) But when Takeo saves a girl named Yamato from a groper on the train it seems as though his chance at love has finally arrived, if he isn’t too dense to realize it, that is. Takeo’s developing romance with Yamato is delightful, but his close friendship with Suna is marvelous, too. I’m not sure for how long the creators will be able spin the series’ basic premise without it feeling drawn out, but the manga is currently still ongoing at six volumes in Japan. Regardless, I’m looking forward to the next volume immensely; My Love Story!! is easily one of my favorite manga debuts of 2014.

Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 7Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 7 by Mitsuru Hattori. Bub’s condition continues to decline, so Rea has decided to leave for the ZoMA research facility, hoping that her unusual form of zombism will provide a clue to save him. (Is it sad that an undead cat is actually my favorite character in Sankarea?) Chihiro isn’t about to let her go on her own though, in part because he still feels responsible for Rea and wants to protect her, but also because he’s very interested in visiting the “zombie holy land.” Sankarea is a quirky series which tries to balance horror and romantic comedy. This volume actually succeeds fairly well in that. Chihiro has always expressed interest in zombie girls, and he is very excited to meet more of them at ZoMA, which causes him to reevaluate his relationship with Rea. Does he like her simply because she’s a zombie? Would he still like Rea even if there was a way to revive her? Considering Chihiro’s reactions to the other zombies, I could actually see Hattori going either way with the story. The seventh volume is a solid addition to the series, and ends on a pretty intense cliffhanger.

My Week in Manga: December 9-December 15, 2013

My News and Reviews

Last week I posted the first review in my new monthly review project, A Year of Yuri. This project will focus on comics and manga with yuri and lesbian themes. For this month’s review, I took a closer look at June Kim’s debut graphic novel 12 Days which was even better than I remembered it being. It’s a beautiful work that addresses the complexities of grief, family, love, and loss.

Also last week, I wrote a post that focused on how to find manga in libraries—Finding Manga: Library Love. The post is sort of a combination of two of my semi-regular features—Finding Manga and Library Love. (I’ve actually decided to retire Library Love, so the post was also a way for me to give the feature a nice send-off.) It’s a pretty long post; if you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, you can always just skip to the quick tips at the end.

As for interesting things found online: The Pew Research Center coincidentally posted its report on How Americans Value Public Libraries in Their Communities the same day I was expressing my own love of libraries; over at Geekscape, Kari Lane discussed yaoi with Jennifer LeBlanc, SuBLime’s editor; and Erica Friedman talked about some of the differences between the U.S. and Japanese comic book industries on Quora.

Quick Takes

Fake FurFake Fur by Satomi Yamagata. For a boys’ love manga, Fake Fur is surprisingly realistic in its portrayal of Yamashita—a young man who in high school is just starting to come to terms with his sexuality and homosexuality. The manga follows him as he becomes aware that he is in love with his close friend Kubo and how he handles the aftermath of that realization and his changing relationships. Fake Fur deals with both physical and romantic desire and how those two aspects of love can often be in conflict with each other. In some cases, sex and physical pleasure is used as a replacement for true affection. For Yamashita and several of the other characters in Fake Fur, this is something that is both comforting and heartbreaking. On the other hand, for better or for worse, physical intimacy can naturally lead to emotional intimacy. After all, a sexual relationship is still a relationship. In Fake Fur Yamashita and the others grapple with this, hoping to find love but also recognizing that there is more than one way to be close to another person.

Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 4Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 4 by Mitsuru Hattori. The covers for the English-language edition of the Sankarea manga tend to focus on the horror elements of the series. While that horror is certainly a part of Sankarea, I still see it as more of a romantic comedy than anything else. Granted, it is a very strange romantic comedy with even stranger characters. I like the series best when it’s focusing on the relationship between Chihiro and the recently zombified Rea, which has some interesting developments in this volume. For one, Rea continues to become more zombie-like, her cravings for flesh barely being held in check by her natural inhibitions. However, I was less impressed with the mostly unnecessary scene between Chihiro and Rea’s mother in which she drunkenly and nakedly propositions him. Apparently the volume’s fanservice quota needed to be met somehow. My favorite part of this volume was actually the side-comic “I Am Also…A Zombie…” which is told from the perspective of Chihiro’s pet cat (and zombie) Bub. Bub is the greatest.

Showa1Showa: A History of Japan, 1926-1939 by Shigeru Mizuki. Originally published in Japan as an eight-volume series, Drawn & Quarterly’s edition of Showa: A History of Japan is being released in four, two-volume omnibuses. Japan’s Showa era, corresponding to Emperor Hirohito’s reign, lasted from December 25, 1926 to January 7, 1989. In the introduction to the first volume of Showa, Frederik L Schodt describes the Showa era as one of “the most tumultuous, violent, and tragic” periods in Japan’s history. There are actually two intertwining stories contained in Mizuki’s Showa: the factual history of the country as a whole at that time and Mizuki’s personal history as someone who lived through it. Mizuki’s artwork also reflects these two different portrayals of the Showa era. The illustrations range from the highly detailed and realistic, based on news and photographs from that period, to the more free-form and cartoonish. Showa is an informative read. I’m personally more familiar with the late Showa era, so I appreciated being able to learn more about early Showa in such an engaging format.

The World Exists for Me, Volume 1The World Exists for Me, Volumes 1-2 written by Be-Papas and illustrated by Chiho Saito. The literal translation of the Japanese title for The World Exists for Me would actually be The World of S and M. Though I’m sure it was intentionally chosen, it’s a rather peculiar title for a rather peculiar manga. Only two volumes were ever published, but I get the feeling that The World Exists for Me was originally conceived of as a much longer work. The ending comes very suddenly and very little, if anything, is actually resolved. The series definitely had some potential—I found its use of time travel, destiny, and historical figures and events to be interesting—but the story never quite pulls together as something particularly coherent. It’s a bit of a mess, really. While it can be enjoyable, it doesn’t really make much sense at all. The World Exists for Me was developed by the same creators involved with the Revolutionary Girl Utena manga. Some similarities can be seen between the two series, but I much prefer Utena.