My Week in Manga: March 2-March 8, 2015

My News and Reviews

And the honor of the first in-depth manga review for the month of March at Experiments in Manga goes to Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki’s Oishinbo, A la Carte: Vegetables which, as is probably fairly obvious, is a food manga about vegetables. I tend to enjoy the Oishinbo, A la Carte collections, finding them to be both educational and entertaining. Vegetables is a good volume, but it does get pretty political. I also posted a list of manga featuring immortals last week as part of the announcement of the UQ Holder! Giveaway Winner. February’s Bookshelf Overload was posted as well, which can mostly be summarized by me yelling “JooooooJoooooo!

I was fairly busy last week, but a few things did catch my eye online. Viz Media’s Shojo Beat imprint announced two new licenses: Bloody Mary by Akaza Samamiya and Honey So Sweet by Amu Meguro. Seven Seas had a pretty big surprise, too—it’s opened a division focused on producing anime and manga themed tabletop games. First up? A deck-building game based on Space Dandy. Tofugu posted a great article about choosing the best yokai books available in English. I’ve reviewed two of the books mentioned—Yokai Attack: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide and The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons: A Field Guide to Japanese Yokai—and have read some of the others, so I can confirm that it’s a worthwhile list. Also, Paul Gravett has a lovely post remembering mangaka Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who passed away over the weekend.

Quick Takes

Black Rose Alice, Volume 3Black Rose Alice, Volume 3 by Setona Mizushiro. After a brief detour into lighter territory in the second volume, the third volume Black Rose Alice has taken a definite turn for the darker again. The series can be legitimately disconcerting and oddly provocative at the same time. Alice is getting to know all of the vampires in the nest a little better, but it’s Leo who is in the lead for her affections. The twins are somewhat immature and Dimitri is intentionally trying to not get involved with her, so Leo seems to be Alice’s obvious choice for procreation. Going through with it will lead to both of their deaths, so she is taking her time in making the decision, wanting to feel confident that her choice is the correct one. However, time is not on Leo’s side; his death is already imminent. Alice is unaware of this, though she does notice him acting out-of-character. Black Rose Alice is a strange and disturbing series. As a whole the vampire mythology that Mizushiro has created continues to be unlike any other that I’ve encountered. There is a very dark eroticism to the story as well. Occasionally there are more humorous moments, but they only serve to emphasize the underlying horror of the series.

My Little Monster, Volume 4My Little Monster, Volumes 4-6 by Robico. The third volume back-pedaled from the progress that the story and characters had made in the first two volumes and now with these three it seems as though My Little Monster is stuck in some sort of mire. I still like the characters, most of whom are quirky or weird in one way or another, but I find it immensely frustrating that the series just isn’t going anywhere. Actually, other than the awkward romance, I’m not entirely sure what the overarching story is even supposed to be at this point. However, there is definitely one heck of a love polygon going on. But even with so many unrequited feelings, there doesn’t seem to be as much drama as would be expected. In some ways, that’s actually a little refreshing. It’s nice that the characters can enjoy one another’s company even considering the romantic rivalries. I am glad to see that Haru’s volatile and frequently violent emotional state hasn’t been romanticized, although occasionally it is used for a bit of humor. In part, My Little Monster is intended to be a comedy, but these volumes are generally a bit more serious overall. There are still some genuinely funny and endearing moments, though.

Not Enough TimeNot Enough Time by Shoko Hidaka. Because I’m enjoying her ongoing series Blue Morning so much, and to make the wait for the next volume a little easier, I’ve made a point to read more of Hidaka’s manga. Not only was Not Enough Time Hidaka’s debut in English, it was also her first volume of boys’ love manga to be released in Japan. Even though it’s an early work, Hidaka’s storytelling and nuanced characterizations were already quite excellent. Her artwork is lovely, too. Not Enough Time is a collection of six short boys’ love manga, some of which share a few recurring characters while others are completely unrelated. One lead couple consists of two high school students, but all of the other romances in the volume are between adult men. The basic settings and overall scenarios of the stories collected in Not Enough Time aren’t particularly unusual or unique. What makes them stand out is Hidaka’s willingness to allow the relationships to be complicated and messy; the endings aren’t always wrapped up happily or neatly. Instead, there is a sense of ambiguity and the feeling that characters’ lives continue on well after the manga has concluded. I thoroughly enjoyed the collection.

xxxHolic: Rei, Volume 2xxxHolic: Rei, Volume 2 by CLAMP. After two volumes, I’m not yet convinced that CLAMP knows exactly where Rei is going as it feels a bit aimless. I find that I’m much less interested in the episodic stories of the series than I am in its underlying plot. Only ominous hints are given as to what is going on, just enough to keep the manga engaging. Watanuki is as clueless as the readers are at this point (if not more so), though he is becoming increasingly suspicious about his precarious situation. Both Yuko and Domeki obviously know what is what, but they either can’t or won’t tell him. Rei may be somewhat haphazard story-wise, but I really do enjoy the series’ striking artwork. It might not be absolutely necessary to have read xxxHOlic to follow Rei, but I do get the feeling that the manga will be more meaningful to those who have at least passing familiarity with the original series. (I should actually get around to finishing xxxHolic one of these days, especially now that it’s back in print; I’ve only ever read the first few volumes or so.) I’m very curious to see how Rei ties back into xxxHolic proper, or if it ever does. The third volume of Rei has been released in Japan, but apparently the series is currently on hiatus.

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

My News and Reviews

Happy (belated) Chinese New Year, everyone! It’s already been a busy season for me with multiple lion dance and taiko performances for the lunar new year over the last few days (with more to come!), but was I still able to get some reading and writing in, too. Last week was another two-review week at Experiments in Manga, except this time both in-depth reviews were actually of manga. First up was my review of Ken Niimura’s collection of short manga Henshin, which I enjoyed immensely. Niimura is actually a Spanish artist, but Henshin was first released online by the now sadly departed Ikki manga magazine. The second review was of Gamon Sakurai’s Ajin: Demi-Human, Volume 2. I had enjoyed the first volume, but things are starting to get really good with the second. Hopefully the trend continues.

So, earlier this year I wrote a quick take of Under the Sign of Capricorn, the first release in the new English-language edition of Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese comics. Much to my surprise, I ended up getting a brief mention in an Italian article about Americans’ responses to the comic. (I’ll admit, that was pretty cool.) Elsewhere online, Vertical’s survey for recommendations for Spring 2016 manga licenses is currently underway. Viz Media announced two new manga licenses of its own: Eiichi Shimizu and Tomohiro Shimoguchi’s Ultraman and Kohei Horikoshi’s My Hero Academia. And speaking of Viz, Hope Donovan, one of the publisher’s manga editors, was interviewed over at Panels. I also want to mention Purity, a new Kickstarter project featuring some fantastic creators. Described as a “post-yaoi anthology,” it’s a collection of comics from artists whose work has been influenced in some way by the boys’ love genre.

Quick Takes

BattleAngelAlitaLastOrder5Battle Angel Alita: Last Order, Omnibus 5 (equivalent to Volumes 13-15) by Yukito Kishiro. First of all, I just want to say that I absolutely love the cover of this omnibus; the Space Karate team as a group of rock stars is just about perfect. This may also very well be my favorite installment of Last Order that I’ve read so far. It features epic, over-the-top battles and action as well as some additional backstory. In particular, more about Zazie is revealed. Also, Sechs (who is still one of the characters I like best) plays a major role and gets to be a badass in addition to being an occasional source of comic relief. Although the styles of martial arts in Last Order are fictional, I appreciate that Kishiro actually incorporates small kernels of traditional teachings to create the super-evolved combat forms found in the series. The Space Karate team is prominently featured in this omnibus. As a karateka myself, I get a kick out of the characters and I particularly enjoyed seeing the progression of their tournament fights. Kishiro’s cyborgs and genetically modified creatures allow for some pretty incredible and entertaining combat feats and techniques that otherwise would be impossible.

Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma, Volume 2Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma, Volumes 2-4 written by Yuto Tsukuda and illustrated by Shun Saeki. While the fanservice certainly hasn’t disappeared from Food Wars!, each volume seems to tone down the overly sexually suggestive imagery a little more. Personally, I generally found the over-the-top reaction shots amusing rather than offensive. They’re becoming more and more ridiculous and absurd, however they may still present a barrier for some people. But to the creators’ credit, at least there’s eye-candy in Food Wars! for all sorts of readers–nudity and bare skin isn’t limited to just one gender. And then there’s the eye-candy for the foodies, too; the dishes in the series are gorgeously drawn. Saeki’s artwork in Food Wars! really is one of the highlights of the series. I’m liking the characters and their designs as well. Plenty more have been introduced in these volumes, all with their own personality quirks and culinary specialties. Which, of course, presents plenty of opportunities for some fantastically epic battles and competition in the kitchen. I also like that Soma isn’t the only student at Totsuki Institute who doesn’t come from a rich, high-class background.

RestartRestart by Shoko Hidaka. Since I’m loving Hidaka’s ongoing series Blue Morning, I figured that I should probably look into her other boys’ love manga that have been released in English. Restart is a collection of manga that includes some of her earliest professional work, including the titular “Restart”–her first story to be published in a magazine. Most of the stories follow Tadashi and Aki, two male models who end up in a relationship with each other. Tadashi is the older and more experienced professional of the two, but his popularity is fading while Aki’s star begins to rise, which understandably causes some tension and frustration. A tangentially related story features a fashion photographer and another young model who has yet to really break into the industry. The other short manga shares no connection with the others. It’s about a college student who was never able to confess his feelings because the young man he was in love with went missing. However, over time he finds himself growing closer to his crush’s younger brother. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I didn’t find Restart to be as compelling overall as Blue Morning but even Hidaka’s early manga exhibit solid story-telling and well-developed characters.

My Week in Manga: December 29, 2014-January 4, 2015

My News and Reviews

Happy New Year, everyone! Things are already off to a good start at Experiments in Manga. The last manga giveaway of 2014 is currently underway and there’s still time to enter for a chance to win No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular!, Volume 1 by Nico Tanigawa. All you have to do is tell me a little about some of your favorite otaku. The honor of the first in-depth manga review of the year, and in fact the very first post of 2015, goes to Hiroaki Samura’s Vigilance, the thirtieth and penultimate volume of Blade of the Immortal. I still love the series after all this time, and this installment has some particularly nice fight sequences. Finally, December’s Bookshelf Overload was posted over the weekend as well.

There were a few interesting things from Vertical this week, including a roundup of the happenings of 2014 and what fans can look forward to from the publisher in 2015. Another enlightening read from Vertical’s Tumblr account tackles sports, sports fiction, and sports manga and the challenges it presents to the North American market. Also, in case you missed it, Vertical is now on and is answering all sorts of questions there. Last but not least, thanks to the success of its release of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Vertical is looking into publishing more Gundam manga. If you’re interested and haven’t already, be sure to take Vertical’s Gundam survey which will be open through the end of today.

Elsewhere online, Khursten has made a manga resolution for the year to feature josei more at Otaku Champloo. Organization Anti-Social Geniuses debuted a new feature, Inside the Industry, with Inside the Manga Industry with Lillian Diaz-Przybyl. The Hairpin has an excellent interview with Anne Ishii who, among other things, is the translator and one of the editors of the newly released Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It (which I recently reviewed; it’s great).

Quick Takes

Blue Morning, Volume 1Blue Morning, Volumes 1-5 by Shoko Hidaka. I’ve been meaning to read Blue Morning for a while but have only now gotten around to it. The benefit of this is that I had five volumes that I could read all at once. The drawback, of course, is the long wait until the sixth volume is released. I loved Blue Morning. It’s a moody, slow-burning boys’ love series with beautiful, elegant artwork and well-developed, subtly nuanced characters. A dramatic period piece, the manga takes place during Japan’s Meji era in which the country’s social, political, and economic structures underwent great change. The story focuses on Akihito Kuze who, after being orphaned, is suddenly thrust into Japan’s peerage as a viscount at the age of ten. Tomoyuki Katsuragi, the Kuze family steward, becomes his tutor and guardian. As he grows Akihito ends up developing feelings for Katsuragi and their relationship undergoes an intense evolution and power reversal. The romantic elements of Blue Morning are important, but much of the plot is actually focused on the political maneuverings of both Katsuragi and Akihito to raise the family’s status, though the each of the men have their own reasons for doing so.

KnightsSidonia10Knights of Sidonia, Volumes 10-12 by Tsutomu Nihei. I decided to save up a few volumes of Knights of Sidonia since they read so quickly and I wanted to enjoy a larger chunk of the story. But even though there are quite a few major developments in these particular volumes, including the introduction of an important new character, somehow it just feels like Nihei is stalling for time and that there wasn’t actually much forward movement in the series. Even so, it was still an enjoyable read and I still like the manga. Knights of Sidionia remains a rather peculiar series, a combination of horror, science fiction and, of all things, romantic comedy. Sidonia’s hero Tanikaze, despite being incredibly awkward socially, has managed capture the romantic interest of quite a few of the other characters, basically amassing one of the most unusual harems that I’ve ever come across in manga. And while he has all sorts of domestic challenges to deal with now that his house has five residents more or less living there, he’s also one of humanity’s best pilots in the fight for survival against the Gauna. The war is entering a new stage, new technology has been developed, and the Gauna continue to gain new abilities.

Say I Love You, Volume 4Say I Love You, Volume 4 by Kanae Hazuki. Four volumes in, Say I Love You continues to set itself apart from many of the other shoujo manga series that are currently being released with its very realistic approach to young adult relationships, romance, and sexuality. The characters show a believable mix of maturity and immaturity, at times handling themselves extraordinarily well and at other times ending up a mess of confused emotions. This volume also introduces a new character, Kai, whom I’m particularly looking forward to seeing more of. In the afterword Hazuki mentions that she believes that manga “isn’t just for showing the nice side of things,” a belief that I think comes through in Say I Love You. There are the wonderful moments between characters as they grow closer, but every relationship has its ups and downs and Hazuki isn’t afraid to show the emotional pain and turmoil experienced by her characters as part of that growth. Regret, jealousy, selfishness, and uncertainty all have a role to play as do happiness, affection, altruism, and confidence. None of the characters are perfect and they all make mistakes as they navigate new and sometimes surprising relationships.

Ping Pong: The AnimationPing Pong: The Animation directed by Masaaki Yuasa. Taiyō Matsumoto’s breakout manga was a five-volume series from the mid-1990s called Ping Pong. I’ve become a fan of Matsumoto’s work and would love to read Ping Pong, but it’s probably unlikely to ever be licensed. However, the eleven-episode anime adaptation made me very happy. The style of animation is somewhat unusual, reminiscent of Matsumoto’s loose but deliberate lines and uses a variety of palettes ranging from monochrome to pastel to vivid colors. I was particularly impressed by the series’ sound design and effective use of music. Smile and Peco are close friends and the strongest members of their school’s table tennis club but they both approach the game very differently. On its surface, Ping Pong is a fairly straightforward tale about competitive table tennis, but the series has prominent psychological elements and more depth than it might appear at first glance. Peco and Smile aren’t the only important players in Ping Pong; the protagonists and antagonists of the series are in constant flux. I enjoyed the Ping Pong anime immensely; I’ll definitely be picking up the physical release this summer.