My Week in Manga: April 11-April 17, 2016

My News and Reviews

As I alluded to a few months ago, I’ve been in the process of trying to purchase a house. Well, I finally made it happen! I signed all of the papers on Friday, so for the foreseeable I’m going to be a little preoccupied getting things ready and moving over to the new place. It’s all sorts of exciting, but it does mean I’ll have significantly less time to devote to other things for a while. And so, I’m back to a reduced posting schedule at Experiments in Manga for the time being. Expect to continue to regularly see My Week in Manga, but there will probably only be one other review or feature most weeks. That all being said, last week I reviewed the recently released Midnight Stranger, Volume 1, a supernatural boys’ love manga with a sense of humor (as well as some pretty great monster designs) by Bohra Naono. I haven’t seen a lot of manga news over the last week, although I’m sure there has been some, but I did want to mention that Viz Media has licensed Kohske and Syuhei Kamo’s Gangsta: Cursed, a prequel series to Gangsta (a manga of which I’m particularly fond.)

Quick Takes

Itazura na Kiss, Volume 7Itazura na Kiss, Volumes 7-8 by Kaoru Tada. It’s been a little while since I’ve read any of Itazura na Kiss, but it’s a pretty easy series to put down and pick up again since nothing of major importance really ever seems to change all that much. I have been enjoying the series, but I’m starting to long for a little more forward momentum and the characters are beginning to wear me down a little. At the same time, while the overall pacing is fairly slow, Tada is expert in changing and moving the story along just enough to keep things interesting. Kotoko and Naoki are now newlyweds, but otherwise their relationship is pretty par for the course. Kotoko is utterly infatuated with Naoki, and Naoki continues to be fairly cold towards her. Thankfully, Kotoko is (slowly) beginning to mature and determine for herself what it is she really wants to do with her life. It can be difficult to tell at times, but Naoki really does love Kotoko and cares for her well-being, he just tends to be a total ass about it which can be tiresome. Granted, it does make it particularly satisfying when he ends up being thrown out of his comfort zone.

The JudgedThe Judged by Akira Honma. Having greatly enjoyed the first two volumes of Honma’s Rabbit Man, Tiger Man boys’ love series, and considering the fact that the third and final volume is unlikely to ever be released in English, I decided to seek out the creator’s other works in translation. I didn’t realize it until I finished reading manga, but The Judged was actually Honma’s first volume to be released as a professional mangaka. The titular story is about a prosecuting investigator and member of the Diet who are navigating a political scandal, while their shared past makes things even more complicated. The Judged also includes Honma’s debut manga “Like a White Phantom” about an initially antagonistic relationship between two young doctors. For the most part, the focus of The Judged is more on the drama and less on the romance. The manga tends to be fairly serious and the relationships aren’t necessarily the most healthy. They’re not always particularly happy relationships, either. Many of the characters have some pretty heavy personal issues do deal with, including physical and emotional abuse.

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, Side: P3, Volume 1Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, Side: P3, Volume 1 by So Tobita. The Persona series is perhaps the most popular subset of the larger Shin Megami Tensei video game franchise. Persona Q is a relatively recent spinoff from 2014 made for the Nintendo 3DS which combines characters from Persona 3 and Persona 4—a player can choose to experience the game from either perspective. Likewise, a reader can choose from either the Side: P3 or Side: P4 manga adaptation which present two different sides of the same story. When it comes to manga adaptations of video games, there seem to be two major types, those that are accessible to anyone and those that are intended to be appreciated by fans of the original. So far, the Side P3 manga would seem to be one of the latter, requiring some prior knowledge of the franchise to fully enjoy the series. Very little is explained about the world or the characters in the manga itself. But for those who are familiar with Persona, the Side: P3 manga can be a fun way to quickly experience or re-experience the story and game of Persona Q, though I’m not sure that it really adds anything new.

Persona 4, Volume 1

Persona 4, Volume 1Creator: Shuji Sogabe
U.S. publisher: Udon Entertainment
ISBN: 9781927925577
Released: February 2016
Original release: 2009

Shin Megami Tensei is a sprawling multi-media franchise that began as a series of video games in 1987 and has grown to include manga, anime, novels, merchandise, and more. One of the most popular series within Shin Megami Tensei is Persona, which has its own multitude of spin-offs and adaptations. Persona 4 was initially developed as a role-playing game for the PlayStation 2, but the story and characters have inspired multiple other games, novels, anime, and manga series. The first Persona 4 manga was created by Shuji Sogabe, who was also responsible for the earlier Persona 3 manga adaptation. Sogabe’s Persona 4 manga, currently ongoing, has been licensed in English by Udon Entertainment. After a slight delay, the first volume of the series, originally published in Japan in 2009, was released in early 2016. My personal experience with Shin Megami Tensei as a whole is somewhat limited and up until now my knowledge of Persona 4 had largely been earned vicariously through others.

Soji Seta has grown used to transferring from one school to another due to the demands of his parents’ careers, but when they are both sent overseas, Soji is sent to stay with his uncle and young cousin in the small rural town of Inaba. Because Soji has moved so often he doesn’t have many friends and tends to keep his distance from other people. And as a city boy he’s also a bit out-of-place in the countryside. Even so, he’s warmly welcomed by his classmates and is quickly included in their social circles. Only there’s something unsettling about Inaba and Soji finds himself suffering from disorientation and strange dreams. Soon after his arrival, a string of bizarre deaths begin to occur which somehow seem to be connected to a local urban legend. It is said that on rainy nights, staring into the reflection of a television screen will reveal the face of one’s true love. But the truth behind the rumor is even more peculiar. Suddenly, Soji and the others find themselves pulled into another world as they pursue the mysteries surrounding the murders.

Persona 4, Volume 1, page 151Soji would arguably be the main protagonist of the Persona 4 manga (he’s the player character in the original video game, among other things), but except for the initial chapter most of the first volume is actually told from the perspective of Yosuke Hanamura. Like Soji, Yosuke is a transfer student, having moved to Inaba from a large city six months earlier due to his parents’ work. Although his character is more complex than is initially implied, Yosuke tends to be an easygoing and somewhat clumsy goofball. This provides an interesting contrast to Soji’s colder, more reserved personality. Over the course of the first volume they begin to form a close friendship which will likely become one of Soji’s most important relationships. The connection will also be meaningful for Yosuke whose outwardly upbeat attitude hides feelings of discontent, inadequacy, and doubt. I’m looking forward to seeing how their bond evolves as it seems to be something that they both need.

Not having yet played any of the Persona 4 video games, I’m not in a position to comment on Sogabe’s manga as a derivative work, but at this point it does appear to be an adaptation that can largely stand on its own. Some elements of gameplay can still be detected, though for the most part they have been convincingly incorporated into the story itself. In addition to the plot and characters, I find the manga’s settings to be particularly intriguing. Sogabe’s stylish artwork and use of shadows and fog create an effectively disconcerting environment in both Inaba and the TV world. But one of the most fascinating and potential-laden aspects of Persona 4 is that while in that alternate reality, fragments of a person’s psyche can physically manifest to either great benefit or great harm. Persona 4, Volume 1 is the introduction to the series so there is a fair amount of setup, but the sense of mystery and danger has already been well-established. So far, I am intrigued by the Persona 4 manga and am curious to see how it continues to develop.

My Week in Manga: October 5-October 11, 2015

My News and Reviews

Last week was a slower week at Experiments in Manga, but I am steadily coming to terms with the fact that I’m leading an increasingly busy life and that it’s okay to have slow blogging weeks. (Though I still wish I had the time to read and write more.) Anyway, last week I announced the Devils and Realist Giveaway Winner. The post also includes a list of some of the manga available in English that feature demons and devils. I also reviewed Project Itoh’s debut novel Genocidal Organ which is an excellent, intelligent work of near future science fiction. I’ve now read almost everything of Itoh’s that has been translated (I still need to pick up his Metal Gear Solid novel) which makes me a little sad since it’s all so good and I want more.

New York Comic Con was last week and there were some exciting license announcements to come out of that. Kodansha Comics will be releasing an Attack on Titan anthology collecting Western creator’s takes on the franchise (considering some of the artists and writers involved, this should be great) and has licensed Hounori’s Spoof on Titan and Hiroki Katsumata’s I Am Space Dandy. Viz Media announced a slew of new print titles: Mitsu Izumi’s 7th Garden, Yūki Tabata’s Black Clover, Izumi Miyazono’s Everyone’s Getting Married, Haruichi Furudate’s Haikyu!!, Tadatoshi Fujimaki’s Kuroko’s Basketball, Keiichi Hikami and Shin Yamamoto’s Monster Hunter, and Mizuho Kusanagi’s Yona of the Dawn. (I was very happy to see more sports manga and josei in that mix!) And Yen Press will be releasing Mikoto Yamaguchi’s Scumbag Loser, Makoto Kedōin and Toshimi Shinomiya’s Corpse Party: Blood Covered, Masafumi Harada, Sung-woo Park, and Red Ice’s Space Dandy, Yuji Iwahara’s Dimension W, and Cotoji’s Unhappy Go Lucky! as well as several new light novels.

Unrelated to NYCC (but still very interesting), manga-translator and yokai expert Zack Davisson was a guest on That Girl with the Curls podcast talking about all sort of things Japan-related. Actually, Davisson has been making the podcast rounds and was recently interviewed at Kaijucast, too, which happens to be featuring yokai all this month. Also of note, Connie at Slightly Biased Manga has posted a nice introduction/guide to all the various Alice in the Country of manga and light novels for anyone who may be intimidated the sheer number of titles involved.

Quick Takes

Devil Survivor, Volume 1Devil Survivor, Volume 1by Satoru Matsuba. Shin Megami Tensei is a huge and popular franchise of video games spanning multiple series and spinoffs which has spawned numerous anime and manga adaptations. Matsuba’s Devil Survivor is one of those, based on a 2009 tactical RPG for the Nintendo DS system. I’m always a little wary of manga adaptations of video games but was still interested in Devil Survivor. Unfortunately, it’s painfully obvious that the manga originated from a game. Although the story has some great mystery and action elements, as well as religious cults, demons, and so on, the original game mechanics are blatant in the story, made even more obvious by the characters’ use of handheld consoles. I’m not completely writing off the Devil Survivor manga, but honestly, I was disappointed with the first volume. I’m hoping that in the future the series will focus more on the story and characters, which have some great potential, and develop into something that takes advantage of the manga medium and feels less like watching someone else play a video game.

No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular!, Volume 4No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular!, Volumes 4-6 by Nico Tanigawa. In general Watamote tends to be fairly episodic, but time does slowly pass; the rhythm of school life drives the series along even if there isn’t much plot or character development per se. However, more and more recurring characters and running jokes are introduced and smaller story arcs form. The basic premise of Watamote is unchanging—Tomoko is an extremely awkward young woman whose social skills (or really the lack thereof) are entirely informed by the video games and manga that she’s interested in, many of which are rather raunchy. Occasionally she makes an effort to fit in with her classmates, but more often than not it backfires in terribly embarrassing ways. Watamote can be very funny in a painful and incredibly crass sort of way. Some but not all of the humor requires the reader to be at least vaguely familiar with Japanese pop culture, especially anime, manga, and video games. But there are copious translation notes available and the manga is usually fairly successful in conveying the basic gist of any given joke.

The Sky Over My SpectaclesThe Sky Over My Spectacles by Mio Tennohji. I will readily admit that I have a thing for glasses; in addition to having to wear them myself, I really like how they look on other people. One of the leads in titular story of The Sky Over My Spectacles has a similar fetish, which is what initially drew the collection of boys’ love manga to my attention. (The Sky Over My Spectacles was actually one of the first boys’ love manga that I ever read.) The four main manga collected in the volume—”The Sky Over My Spectacles,” “Let’s Fall in Love,” “Let’s Meet at 1 p.m.,” and “Tell Me You Love Me with Earnest Eyes”—all tend to be fairly upbeat and even surprisingly cute and sweet. Although there’s a bit of drama to be found, nothing ends in tragedy, which I appreciate. I also enjoy the light sense of humor present throughout the stories in the collection. The titular, and longest, manga is probably my favorite, though. In it, Azuma, whose glasses fetish is infamous, has developed a crush on one of his male, glasses-wearing classmates but then discovers that his feelings remain unchanged even when the glasses come off.

Quantum Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner, Volume 1

Quantum Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner, Volume 1Author: Yu Godai
Translator: Kevin Frane
U.S. publisher: Bento Books
ISBN: 9781939326003
Released: July 2014
Original release: 2011

Quantum Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner, Volume 1, a novel written by Yu Godai, was originally published in Japan in 2011. The English-language edition of the volume, translated by Kevin Frane, was released in 2014 by Bento Books. It is the first book in a five-volume series which is further divided into three parts. (The first volume consists of the first half of the first part.) Those familiar with the video game series Digital Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner, a spinoff of the Shin Megami Tensei games, will find Quantum Devil Saga to be familiar as well. The series isn’t a novelization of the video games, but it is based on the same original story created by Godai which became the underlying framework for Digital Devil Saga. Although I was aware of Shin Megami Tensei, which has quite a following, and Digital Devil Saga specifically,  I’ve never actually played any of the games myself. Even so, I was still very interested in reading Quantum Devil Saga, Godai’s first written work to appear in English.

The denizens of the Junkyard exist to die in battle only to be born again in a never-ending struggle to reach the promised paradise of Nirvana. The Junkyard is divided into seven territories, one held by the Church of the Arbiters of Karma while the other six are the domain of rival tribes of skilled fighters. Only when one group is able to obtain complete control of the entire Junkyard will the gates to Nirvana be opened. Serph is the leader of the Embryon, a small tribe that has quickly gained strength, numbers, and territory. During the Embryon’s confrontation with the Vanguards tribe, an unidentifiable device appears on the battlefield which dramatically changes the balance of power in the Junkyard, unleashing the combatants’ darker selves and transforming them into demons. Suddenly, the very laws that governed the world in which they live have changed. Established systems have begun to fracture, the cycle of reincarnation is interrupted, and the quest for Nirvana has become deadlier than ever.

Quantum Devil Saga isn’t a video game novelization, nor does it read like one. However, it is quite easy to see how the story and scenario could be suited for or smoothly adapted as a game. The narrative is fairly linear, generally following Serph’s point of view as he and his comrades strive to understand everything that has happened. The way that the transformations are handled and how skills and knowledge are gained in the novel could sometimes be reminiscent of game play or mechanics. The characters fight in a series of battles with increasingly high stakes and difficulty levels, ultimately ending with what cold be considered a boss battle. It’s clearly not the final boss, though, seeing as the first volume concludes with something of a cliffhanger. But none of these similarities are actually bad things and despite them Quantum Devil Saga doesn’t feel overly game-like. It is entirely its own work and exceptionally engaging one at that. The action is exciting and clear, the characters’ philosophical and psychological development is fascinating, and the translation is great, too. Once I started reading Quantum Devil Saga, I didn’t want to put it down.

What made Quantum Devil Saga particularly interesting and intriguing for me was its setting and atmosphere. The world-building of the series is heavily informed by Hindu and Buddhist cosmology and symbolism. (There is also at least one example of Mayan influence, but I found its inclusion to be rather strange given the context of the rest of the novel.) At first it seems as though these concepts are mostly used as a source of aesthetic inspiration, but they actually run fairly deep. However, readers don’t necessarily need to be acquainted with Hinduism or Buddhism to enjoy the story, although those who are will probably get even more out of an already great novel. The overall tone of Quantum Devil Saga is fairly dark. The demonic transformations that the characters are subject to have horrific and unsettling implications. Some of them wholeheartedly embrace their new powers and forms while others are desperate to hold on to the shreds of their humanity. They are forced to face their true selves and struggle with what they see. I enjoyed the first volume of Quantum Devil Saga immensely and can’t wait for the second volume to be released.