My Week in Manga: May 29-June 4, 2017

My News and Reviews

The most recent manga giveaway at Experiments in Manga was posted last week. This month everyone participating has a chance to win Anonymous Noise, Volume 1 by Ryoko Fukuyama. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, so there’s still time to enter. Simply tell me about your favorite singer or vocalist from a manga! In other giveaway news, Taneeka Stotts is sponsoring a tremendous Queer Comics Giveaway for Pride Month. I’ve read and/or own a fair number of the comics in the giveaway and they’re all great. Even if you don’t enter or win, the list itself is still well-worth checking out!

As for other interesting things that I’ve recently come across online: Terry Hong (creator of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s BookDragon review blog, which I greatly enjoy) compiled a list of fourteen Japanese thrillers for The Booklist Reader which includes both novels and manga. (I’ve read most of the books on the list and they’re great; here are my in-depth reviews of some of the titles mentioned: The Devotion of Suspect X, Malice, and Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service by Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki, and Nijigahara Holograph by Inio Asano.) Matt Thorn has re-posted an old article from The Comics Journal on The Magnificent Forty-Niners. Also, my Manga Bookshelf cohort Brigid Alverson is now writing for ICv2 as well. Her first post is a roundup of recent manga news.

Quick Takes

Boogiepop Doesn't Laugh, Volume 1Boogiepop Doesn’t Laugh, Volumes 1-2 written by Kouhei Kadono and illustrated by Kouji Ogata. The Boogiepop franchise began as a series of light novels but would eventually expand to include music, a live-action film, an anime, and two short manga series among other things. Boogiepop Doesn’t Laugh is actually the second of the two manga series to be released but it’s an adaptation of Boogiepop and Others, the very first Boogiepop light novel. Although the manga does include a few additional scenes, for the most part it’s a very close adaptation. Like the original novel, the narrative of Boogiepop Doesn’t Laugh is deliberately fragmented–the supernatural mysteries surrounding the serial disappearances of a number of high school girls are explored through multiple perspectives taken from before, after, and during the events. Sadly, the technique isn’t nearly as effective in the manga as it was in the novel and the adaptation never quite reaches the same depth as the original, but the story remains and interesting and curious one. Perhaps obviously what makes the manga stand apart from its predecessor is its artwork. The first quarter or so of the series isn’t especially impressive, but then Ogata switches to a style reminiscent of ink wash paintings which is quite lovely.

Persona 3, Volume 1Persona 3, Volumes 1-3 by Shuji Sogabe. Having read and largely enjoyed what has so far been translated of Sogabe’s Persona 4 manga adaptation, I was looking forward to giving the Persona 3 manga a try as well. (Especially as I’ve actually played some of Persona 3, unlike Persona 4. Granted, I still haven’t actually finished the video game.) I really wanted to like the manga, but I was very disappointed with the first three volumes of Sogabe’s Persona 3. Apparently, it was Sogabe’s first professional manga, which may explain some of the series problems. The Persona 3 manga will likely work best for readers who are already very familiar with the original, and even then I suspect that most would rather just play the game again. The manga has no clear or coherent narrative to it, jumping around in the story and in an out of battles without reason. Considering the number of fight sequences included, it’s particularly unfortunate that conveying action is one of Sogabe’s weakest areas. Characterization is largely lacking in the manga and most of the cast members are never fully or adequately introduced, but at least their designs are attractive enough. Overall, I didn’t enjoy the Persona 3 manga much at all, mostly because it didn’t make much sense at all. Some of the more comedic moments were admittedly amusing, though.

To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts, Volume 1To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts, Volumes 1-2 by Maybe. Before reading To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts I was under the impression that the series used the American Civil War as the foundation of its story. It turns out that’s not really the case, although the worldbuilding and character designs take obvious inspiration from nineteenth-century United States and the setting of the manga is a country recovering from a great war between the North and the South. (I suppose To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts could be some sort of alternative historical fantasy, but for the moment at least it doesn’t read that way to me.) In order to emerge victorious from the war, the North relied on soldiers known as Incarnates–humans who were granted tremendous abilities and battle prowess but at a great cost; they were literally turned into monsters. The metaphor may not be particularly subtle, but how To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts tackles the psychological ramifications and ravages of war is certainly engaging. Now that the conflict is over and an uneasy peace has been established, there is no longer any need for creatures of war and the Incarnate soldiers largely find themselves feared and despised. As the last of their humanity slips from their grasp, the Incarnates ultimately become the targets of the Beast Hunters.

My Week in Manga: December 12-December 18, 2016

My News and Reviews

After a slight delay, November’s Bookshelf Overload was posted last week at Experiments in Manga. Last week I also came to the sad conclusion that my feature on Ichigo Takano’s Orange simply isn’t going to happen despite the progress that I’ve made on it and all of my best efforts. I’d like to extend an apology to everyone who was looking forward to that post, myself included. Orange deeply resonated with me and my own experiences and I wanted to share that with others. Specifically, I wanted to write an essay exploring its sensitive, honest, and compassionate portrayal of the very personal challenges surrounding issues of guilt, depression, and suicide. Ironically, it’s partly due to my own mess of anxieties, et al. that I’m having so much trouble lately. Even when I have the inspiration and desire, I’m still having a terribly difficult time actually writing. So, I’m not sure when my long-form features will return–even though I miss writing and sharing them, I’m trying to be kind to myself by giving myself a bit of a break–but I hope that it is sooner rather than later. However, I can at least still commit to regularly posting My Week in Manga, Giveaways, and Bookshelf Overload features! It’s not much compared to my past output, but at least it is something. Oh, and I’ll definitely be posting my list of notable 2016 releases at the end of the month!

Quick Takes

The Boy Who Cried WolfThe Boy Who Cried Wolf by Mentaiko Itto. Bruno Gmünder’s Gay Manga line began in 2013 and the publisher has been slowly but steadily releasing gay erotic manga in English translation ever since. The Boy Who Cried Wolf is the second collection of Mentaiko Itto’s erotic doujinshi to be published by Bruno Gmünder. The volume collects three of Itto’s short manga: “Hamu and the Boy Who Cried Wolf,” “Holy Night,” and “As Swift as Lightning.” As I’ve come to expect from Itto’s work, in addition to uninhibited sex scenes there is also a fair amount of humor to be found in The Boy Who Cried Wolf as well as a great deal of heart. Unlike Priapus, Itto’s previous collection in translation, The Boy Who Cried Wolf is generally more realistic and less fantastic in nature. Granted, as a historical comedy of sorts, “As Swift as the Lightning” deliberately includes its fair share of anachronisms. But Itto actually incorporates some autobiographical elements in “Hamu and the Boy Who Cried Wolf,” a manga about a young man who is initially so deeply closeted that he unintentionally hurts the person he cares most about. However, because this is Itto, the story isn’t nearly as gloomy as that description sounds. The Boy Who Cried Wolf is a great collection of highly entertaining erotic manga. I truly hope that more of Itto’s work will be translated in the future.

In/Spectre, Volume 1In/Spectre, Volume 1 by Chasiba Katase. Although In/Spectre is based on the novel Invented Inference: Steel Lady Nanase by Kyo Shirodaira, Katase seems to have been given plenty of freedom in adapting the story as a manga series. If the note from the original author is to be believed, the currently ongoing In/Spectre manga is actually the more popular of the two renditions. Unsurprisingly, I was primarily drawn to the manga because yokai play a prominent role in the series. Considering the title I thought it might also be a mystery manga which, as it turns out, in some ways it is and in some ways it isn’t. I didn’t find the first volume of In/Spectre to be as engaging as I hoped it would be–at times the pacing can be agonizingly slow–but I am still greatly intrigued by the series. Now that the setting has been established and the rather peculiar characters have been introduced, I’m hoping that future volumes have more energy to them because I really do like the basic premise of the series. In/Spectre largely follows a young woman named Kotoko Iwanaga who has become a god of wisdom to Japan’s yokai. This has its benefits, but it also cost her an eye and a leg. She is responsible for helping to mediate disputes between yokai, but also for keeping the more unruly ones in check when humans are in danger.

Persona 4, Volume 2Persona 4, Volumes 2-5 by Shuji Sogabe. Though I suspect that I would enjoy it, I still haven’t actually played the original Persona 4 video game, so it’s difficult for me to directly compare Sogabe’s manga adaptation. However, I can say that for the most part the manga can stand alone as its own work. However occasionally it does feel as though the characters are being railroaded and the story has only one possible path to take, probably a remnant from the manga’s RPG origins. While overall the artwork is attractive and stylish, the action-oriented scenes and fight sequences can be somewhat lacking in their execution. But I love the themes that Persona 4 deals with, especially those of personal identity and self-acceptance. As the series progresses, concepts of gender and sexuality come into greater play as well which (as always) I find particularly interesting. In general like all of the characters, too. Yosuke can unfortunately be a homophobic ass from time to time, but I absolutely adore Kanji, a tough guy with a good heart who has traditionally feminine interests and hobbies. Much of the character and story development in Persona 4 is ambiguous enough that multiple and sometimes opposing readings and interpretations are possible, some of which are frankly unflattering. Personally, I prefer and am more comfortable with the more positive interpretations.

Stand Still, Stay Silent, Volume 1Stand Still, Stay Silent, Book 1 by Minna Sundberg. The first book of Sundberg’s ongoing Stand Still, Stay Silent collects the award-winning webcomic’s prologue, first five chapters, and additional bonus content. It’s available in both digital and physical editions, but the hardcover print volume is absolutely gorgeous. Much like Sundberg’s earlier epic A Redtail’s Dream, Nordic influences are a major part of Stand Still, Stay Silent. The comic is stunningly illustrated with beautiful, full-color artwork. Stand Still, Stay Silent is a post-apocalyptic tale of adventure and exploration with an ominous touch of horror and the unknown. At the same time, the comic manages to be lighthearted and humorous. The prologue establishes the comic’s fascinating setting–a seemingly harmless disease which turns out to be fatal quickly spreads across the globe. Ninety years later, Iceland, which was able to completely close itself off from the rest of the world, has become the center of known civilization, but a team has been assembled to see what can be found beyond the relative safety of the Nordic countries. Despite scenes of intense terror and action, the plot of Stand Still, Stay Silent is actually on the slower side; the focus is almost entirely on the characters and their interpersonal dynamics. The character writing, worldbuilding, and humor in Stand Still, Stay Silent is simply fantastic.

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.