My Week in Manga: July 15-July 21, 2013

My News and Reviews

Last week I posted two in-depth manga reviews here at Experiments in Manga. The first review was for Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal, Volume 23: Scarlet Swords. Now that Manji has made his escape from the dungeons under Edō Castle the series has started to focus a bit more on the Ittō-ryū once again, which I’m happy to see. My second review last week was my contribution to the Yun Kouga Manga Moveable Feast. I took a closer look at Viz Media’s new release of Kouga’s Loveless. I had previously read Loveless when Tokyopop published the first eight volumes years ago, but Viz’s first omnibus quickly reminded me why I find the manga so peculiarly compelling.

Last week was also the San Diego Comic-Con. Seeing as it’s clear across the country from me and it’s unlikely that I’d ever be able to handle such a huge event, I wasn’t in attendance. However, I did pay attention to some of the news and announcements coming out of SDCC. I was most interested in Haikasoru’s plans for a graphic novel adaptation of All You Need Is Kill (I reviewed the original a few years ago), a new translation of Battle Royale (I reviewed the previous translation a few years ago, too), and a collection of essays on Battle Royale. In other news: Viz is relaunching the Viz Kids imprint as Perfect Square; Kodansha is adding more shoujo titles to its catalog, including some Del Rey license rescues; and Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys won its second Eisner Award this year.

Oh! And the next Manga Moveable Feast will soon be upon us! Khursten of Otaku Champloo is hosting August’s Feast early in the month in order to coincide 8/01 (a.k.a. “yaoi day.”) Khursten’s calling it a fujojo fiyaysta and the Feast will be focusing on boys’ love and yaoi. So, join us from August 1 to August 10 for a good time, giveaways, and more!

Quick Takes

Honeydew Syndrome, Volumes 1-2 by New Shoe. I thoroughly enjoyed Honeydew Syndrome, particularly it’s quirky and true-to-life characters. Initially released as a webcomic, the boys’ love series was later collected in print in two volumes with additional bonus content. The first volume focuses on the somewhat awkward relationship between Metis and Josh which only gets its start after Josh hauls out and punches Metis in the face. The second volume partly overlaps with the first—some of the same events are seen from different perspectives—and focuses on their friends. Honeydew Syndrome doesn’t really have a driving plot; instead, it’s much more about relationships (and not just the romantic ones.)

Saiyuki Reload, Volumes 1-3 by Kazuya Minekura. Though the manga changed names, magazines, and demographics, Saiyuki Reload is a direct followup to Minekura’s Saiyuki. While I enjoyed the slightly ridiculous Saiyuki, for some reason Saiyuki Reload doesn’t seem to be clicking as well with me. Despite a few flashbacks delving into Sanzo’s past, these early volumes just don’t feel like they’re going anywhere with either the story or the characters. It’s as if Sanzo and his crew are simply playing their previously established roles; the character development seems to be missing. However, the artwork in Saiyuki Reload is more polished than that in Saiyuki. (It is a more recent series after all.) The action sequences tend to be clearer and easier to follow, too.

Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei: The Power of Negative Thinking, Volumes 9-10 by Koji Kumeta. Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei was originally released in English by Del Rey, but it is one of the series that Kodansha now continues to publish. It’s a slow seller—there hasn’t been a volume released in over a year—but I can understand why. The series tends to be episodic, has a very specific sense of humor, and the sheer number of cultural references it uses makes the series challenging to translate and adapt. Despite the fact that I often find Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei to be hilarious in a darkly absurd way, I can only read a volume or two at a time without it feeling like a chore. But I do like the series and am glad that it’s available.

Here Is Greenwood directed by Tomomi Mochizuki. Based on the shoujo manga series by Yukie Nasu, Here Is Greenwood is a six-episode OVA. Although it is a mix of strict adaptation, new material, and slight re-imaginings of the stories in the original, the anime stays very true to the tone of the manga. I read and enjoyed Here Is Greenwood and I enjoyed the anime as well, but I don’t think that it will hold much appeal to those who aren’t already familiar with the characters. Here Is Greenwood is fairly episodic but the stories all revolve around the perpetually stressed-out high school student Kazuya Hasukawa, his oddball dorm and class mates, and the often absurd situations they find themselves in. The series is quirky and funny and made me laugh on several occasions.

My Week in Manga: April 29-May 5, 2013

My News and Reviews

After a busy week at Experiments in Manga comes a much slower one. But I was out of the state for a conference for work for most of the week, so at least I have an excuse. As you can see from the number of quick takes below, I didn’t get a chance to read nearly as much manga as I would have liked.

Last week I announced the winner of the Loveless manga giveaway. The post also includes a select list of manga license rescues in English. For those of you who have an interest in my absurd manga buying habits, April’s Bookshelf Overload has also been posted. Finally, the first in-depth manga review for May is now available for your reading pleasure. I took a look at Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 1: Activation. You don’t need to be a Gundam fan to enjoy the series. I’m certainly not, and yet I can’t wait for the next volume. Vertical has done a fantastic job with the release, too.

The nominees for the 2012 Shirely Jackson Award have been announced. The award recognizes “outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic.” This year the nominees include Koji Suzuki’s Edge for novel (which I reviewed a couple of months ago) and Project Itoh’s The Indifference Engine for novella (which was included in the anthology The Future is Japanese.)

Elsewhere online, Sheena McNeil completed a four part series looking at gender-bending in Osamu Tezuka’s Princess Knight at Sequential Tart—Part One: Raised as a Prince, Part Two: Which Heart Should Rule?, Part Three: Challenging Gender Roles, Part Four: Discovering Herself. Since I recently held a Loveless giveaway, I thought it would be appropriate to point out Melinda Beasi’s recent Fanservice Friday feature at Manga Bookshelf—Lovesick over Loveless. Finally, The Comics Reporter interviewed Anne Ishii about her work on The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame: The Master of Gay Erotic Manga (the first collection of bara manga to ever be released in English; I’ll be reviewing it later this week.)

Quick Takes

Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei: The Power of Negative Thinking, Volumes 5-8 by Koji Kumeta. Because of its quirky humor the sheer number of cultural references, Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei is a difficult series to recommend to just anyone. Personally I enjoy it, but then I appreciate its absurdity. I also really like Kumeta’s simple, stylized artwork. However, Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei does work better for me in small doses; I find that trying to read a large number of volumes all at once, while still amusing, can be rather tiresome and somewhat repetitive since Kumeta sticks to a very predictable format. Although there are some running jokes, the chapters are largely episodic so the manga is fairly easy to pick up and put down.

Ultra-Gash Inferno by Suehiro Maruo. Unfortunately out-of-print, Ultra-Gash Inferno is one of the very few examples of Maruo’s work available in English. The volume collects nine of Maruo’s ero guro (erotic-grotesque) manga. Most of the stories in Ultra-Gash Inferno are from the early 1980s, but two, including the longest and most involved work, are from the early ’90s. While the stories are dark, violent, and filled with sexual perversion, Maruo’s artwork is gorgeous. His style is visually stunning and disconcerting and the stories are disturbing. It’s meant for mature readers and certainly isn’t for the squeamish or easily offended. Ultra-Gash Inferno is horrifying, gruesome, cruel, and beautiful.

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

My News and Reviews

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

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

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

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

Quick Takes

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

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

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

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