My Week in Manga: September 17-September 23, 2012

My News and Reviews

Last week was the Shojo Beat Manga Moveable Feast. One of my contributions to the Feast included an in-depth review of Hinako Ashihara’s Sand Chronicles, Volume 1. Sand Chronicles is one of my favorite contemporary shoujo manga series. October’s Feast, currently scheduled to be hosted by Chic Pixel, will focus on vampire-themed manga.

Also this past week, I posted a review of Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide written by husband and wife team Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt and illustrated by Shinkichi. I had previously read and loved the previous two books in the Attack! series, Yokai Attack! and Ninja Attack!. I was not at all disappointed with Yurei Attack! I highly recommend the entire series.

I am a huge fan of Takako Shimura’s manga series Wandering Son. Fantagraphics, the series English-language publisher, is offering a great deal for the next three upcoming releases: a special discounted subscription for volumes four through six is now available. Alternatively, volumes four and five can now be preordered directly from the publisher.

Quick Takes

The Art of Man, Volume 8: Special Edition Japan from Firehouse Publishing. I happened across The Art of Man, a quarterly fine arts journal devoted to the male figure, while looking for examples of Gengoroh Tagame’s work. The Spring 2012 issue focuses on artists (sculptors, painters, illustrators, etc.) of the male form from Japan. The artists spotlighted include Shimamura Saburou, Yujiro, Shozo Nagano, Hideki Koh, Kenya Shimizu, and Naoki Tatsuya. Masahiko Takagi, the curator and director of Japanese Gay Art, a section of Mayumi International, is also highlighted. The best part is that the volume is filled with gorgeous color reproductions of the artists’ work.

Attack on Titan, Volumes 1-2 by Hajime Isayama. The artwork in Attack on Titan is very unpolished which distracts from the story, especially in the beginning. Isayama’s artwork either improves as the series progresses, or I simply started to get used to it; by the end of the second volume I didn’t mind its roughness as much. Admittedly, the crude illustrations do make the titans (monstrous creatures threatening humanity’s very existence) feel particularly wrong and disconcerting, which is certainly effective. Despite my frustrations with the art, I really do want to see where Isayama is taking the story. It is both weird and oddly compelling. I’m also fascinated by the “three dimensional maneuvers” fighting system which has had some significant thought put into it.

Joan, Volumes 1-3 by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Due to unfortunate circumstances surrounding her family, Emily is adopted and raised as Emil, the son of Robert de Baudricourt. Emil finds inspiration in Joan of Arc; Emi’ls visions and intense admiration lead her to continue Joan’s work, who was burned at the stake roughly ten years before. Emil’s story and life actually have many parallels to that of the life of Joan of Arc. It’s an interesting narrative technique and is quite effective; Yasuhiko would use it again in some of his other historically based manga. Yasuhiko’s color artwork in Joan is lovely and atmospheric. The attention to detail given to the castles and architecture as well as the characters’ clothing is marvelous.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Volumes 5-8 by Hirohiko Araki. I wanted to try to avoid using the word “bizarre” when describing JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, but I’m finding it very difficult to do. The series is fantastically strange and has a style all its own. It didn’t take long for Araki to work his way through the major arcana as models for his Stand powers and their users (some of the results are really quite clever); through necessity he has moved on to the Egyptian pantheon for additional inspiration. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has strong elements of horror, but they are used more as accents rather than being the main focus. Araki incorporates a lot of local color into the manga’s settings and backgrounds, making a point to visit the locations he uses when he can. I am still loving this series.

Men of Tattoos by Yuiji Aniya. When I say Men of Tattoos is tragic, I truly mean it. And not only tragic, but dark, brutal, and violent as well. But Men of Tattoos also very, very good. The characters go through terrible things and do terrible things to one another—love and hatred are tied very closely together. Men of Tattoos has an almost traumatizing intensity that sneaks up on the reader. The first chapter begins lightheartedly but the repercussions of the events echo throughout the rest of the story. It is not pretty; I can’t even begin to imagine a happy ending for anyone involved. The final third or so of the volume turns to an entirely different story which is much more benign, but still quite good.

Toward the Terra directed by Osamu Yamazaki. The 2007 Toward the Terra anime series is the second animated incarnation of Keiko Takemiya’s science fiction manga To Terra… that I have seen. It makes for a good adaptation and does well as its own work, too. At twenty-four episodes it has room to breathe and is able to incorporate much of the original. It also expands on the story and characters to some extent. I liked most of the additions, but they do make the narrative pacing a little slow in places, especially towards the beginning and middle of the series. But, much like the manga itself, the series gets better and better as it progresses and the pacing improves. The ending is somewhat different from the original manga, but I was still very happy with it.

My Week in Manga: November 28-December 4, 2011

My News and Reviews

It took two weeks, but it looks like I’m nearly completely recovered from my headache of doom. I still wasn’t able to read for very long periods of time last week, but at least I could start to watch things again. Subtitles are still a bit of a strain though, as I discovered while watching Toward the Terra. Last week I posted the November 2011 Bookshelf Overload as well as a review of Osamu Dazai’s breakthrough novella Schoolgirl. Also, don’t forget about my latest manga giveaway, Give Me Some Gin Tama! Enter for a chance to win the first three volumes of Gin Tama.

And now, I am absolutely thrilled to report that the House of Five Leaves anime has finally been licensed for a Region 1 DVD release! I cannot begin to express how incredibly happy this makes me—NIS America News. And other news that I’m happy about—Jen Lee Quick to Resume OffBeat. This news is actually a bit old, but I just recently found out about it. I’m really looking forward to seeing the final volume of this series. Also of note, Brigid Alverson of MangaBlog (as well many, many other awesome sites) has been named as one of the judges for this year’s Eisner Awards—Judging time! And finally, Deb Aoki has a post on 12 Cooking Manga Good Enough to Eat. It’ a great list with some great manga on it. And if you like food manga (like I do), keep an eye out for the February 2012 Manga Moveable Feast to be hosted by Khursten Santos of Otaku Champloo which will feature Oishinbo and other food manga.

Quick Takes

Cardcaptor Sakura, Omnibus 2 (equivalent to Volumes 3-6) by CLAMP. There is definite potential that Cardcaptor Sakura could be too sugary sweet, but CLAMP skillfully balances the adorably cute with more serious themes of love and loss. I find Cardcaptor Sakura to be an incredibly enjoyable series to read. The characters are all very likeable. Even the secondary characters play important roles in the story and have very distinct personalities. I’m particularly fond of Yamazaki and his delightful tendency to make up completely ridiculous origin stories for just about anything. This omnibus marks the halfway point for the series and I’m eagerly awaiting Dark Horse’s next omnibus release scheduled for next year.

Hero Heel, Volume 1 by Makoto Tateno. Works by Tateno tend to be fairly hit-or-miss with me, and so I was somewhat surprised by how much I liked this first volume of Hero Heel. Minami has been working as an actor for three years and has yet to really make a name for himself. Although he’s not particularly enthusiastic about it, his agent convinces him to audition for a superhero show and he lands the heroic lead. His attitude starts to change when he realizes how talented and serious his openly gay coworker Sawada is about his work. Unfortunately, Minami’s admiration and curiosity turn into unwelcome infatuation. Tateno creates an interesting dynamic between Sawada and Minami and I’d like to see where things might go next.

King of Wolves written by Buronson and illustrated by Kentaro Miura. I wasn’t particularly impressed by Japan, another manga that Miura and Buronson worked on together, so I didn’t have high expectations for King of Wolves. The manga turned out to be kind of fun though, even if I couldn’t bring myself to take it too seriously and it was fairly predictable. The narrative does have some issues, particularly with pacing and flow. Some plot developments, like Iba’s domination of the north, are done and over so quickly that it makes me wonder why they were even included to begin with. It feels like the creators were simply shoving too much story into a single volume.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Season 2, Part 2 (Episodes 41-51) directed by Seiji Mizushima. Fullmetal Alchemist really is a fantastic series. I was very glad to see the Elric brother’s father finally introduced and all the disparate story elements are tied together nicely by the final episodes. Fullmetal Alchemist has a complex, engaging story and great, well-rounded characters. The good guys have their flaws and the bad guys have their admirable points. The series does a wonderful job exploring the grey areas of science, religion, morality, ethics, philosophy, war, revenge, and more. The characters are forced to repeatedly confront and take responsibility for their past mistakes.

Hetalia: Axis Powers, Season 2 directed by Bob Shirohata. Hetalia is probably not for the easily offended. Fortunately, I’m not at all easily offended so I quite often find it to be hilarious. I think the second season of Hetalia is even more consistently funny than the first. Even though the accents can sometimes be shaky, I really love the English dub of the series. The second season features more antagonism between Britain and France and other repeat appearances from the established cast. And Canada, oh Canada! finally gets a bit of screen time. One of the things I like best about Hetalia is that I actually do learn a bit of world history along the way in spite of (and sometimes because of) all the crazy antics.

Toward the Terra directed by Hideo Onchi. Toward the Terra is based on Keiko Takemiya’s award-winning manga series, published in English as To Terra… I was actually impressed by how much of the original story was able to be included in the anime adaptation. Granted, there were some plot developments in the movie that I only understood because I had already read Takemiya’s manga series. But, I do like the story and the anime catches most of the highlights. A utopian society has been established in order to protect the Earth but a new race of humans with psychic powers, known as the Mu, have evolved, posing a danger to the system. Also, Nozomi Entertainment’s remastered version of the film both looks and sounds great.

My Week in Manga: November 14-November 20, 2011

My News and Reviews

Not much news from me today; I’ve been spending most of my time reading Haruki Murakami’s most recent novel 1Q84 in order to have a review ready for later this week. It’s a long book. Although I’ve been busy reading, I also managed to post two reviews last week. The first was my second in-depth manga review for November, Natsume Ono’s House of Five Leaves, Volume 1. The review was part of the Natsume Ono Manga Moveable Feast, which was held last week. There were some great contributions for a great creator, so you should check it out! I also reviewed Otsuichi’s Shirley Jackson Award nominated short story collection Zoo. If I wasn’t an Otsuichi fan before, I certainly count myself as one now.

Oh! There is one bit of news I want everyone to know about. Bento Books‘ first release, Math Girls by Hiroshi Yuki will be going on sale this Wednesday. Appropriately enough, it’ll be Fibonacci Day. 

Quick Takes

Gin Tama, Volumes 15-23 by Hideaki Sorachi. No matter how bad of a mood I’m in, reading Gin Tama always makes my day a little better. It’s often goofy and absurd and frequently makes me laugh out loud. Sorachi makes fun of himself, the series, current events, popular culture, and even historical figures. The number of references and nods in Gin Tama is astounding. Some are fairly obvious, but I know I’m not catching them all. The cast of characters is huge, but they all get a chance to shine. It saddens me greatly that Viz Media ended the English publication of the series with the twenty-third volume; Gin Tama has reached forty volumes and is still going in Japan. Guess I’ll just have to start watching the anime.

I’ll Give It My All…Tomorrow, Volumes 1-2 by Shunju Aono. Shizuo Oguro is a loser, a likeable loser, but a loser nonetheless. He quits his job at the age of forty and decides to become a manga creator. Except that he doesn’t really have the talent or discipline to succeed. But that doesn’t keep him from trying. I’ll Give It My All…Tomorrow is a slice of life story with short story arcs that hold together well on their own. Perhaps because of this I don’t feel compelled to rush out and read more of the series, I’m not dying to know what happens next, but I really did enjoy these first two volumes quite a bit. I’ll Give It My All…Tomorrow has a subdued, self-effacing humor to it that is wonderfully effective. Plus, Shizuo gets into a fistfight with God.

Only the Ring Finger Knows written by Satoru Kannagi and illustrated by Hotaru Odagiri. So, I may have called Only the Ring Finger Knows major plot twist long before it was actually revealed (granted, there was a fair amount of foreshadowing), but I didn’t really mind because the turn of events made me happy. Senior Yuichi Kazuki is considered by most of the high school to be a perfect man—smart, popular, handsome, and nice to everyone. Everyone, that is, except junior Wataru Fujii after it is discovered that they both wear matching rings. Wataru suddenly finds himself the subject (and source) of a number of rumors, and he’s not too happy with how Kazuki is treating him, either.

To Terra…, Volumes 1-3 by Keiko Takemiya. To Terra… won the first Seiun Award that was given for manga in 1978 and went on to win the Shogakukan Manga Award the following year. After reading the first volume, I wasn’t sure why, but after finishing the series I was convinced. If you like old school space opera, which I do, To Terra… is a great example. The manga starts out a little slow, but quickly picks up the pace once the intense struggle for survival begins between the humans and the Mu—humans with mutations that give them a range of psychic abilities for which they are feared and reviled. It’s sometimes difficult to say whose actions are right and whose are wrong; each side in the conflict has legitimate justifications.

Yawara!: A Fashionable Judo Girl, Episodes 1-21 directed by Hiroko Tokita. I am really loving this series. It’s got great writing, is genuinely funny, and has wonderful characters. Yawara! is based on the manga series by the same name, created by Naoki Urasawa—easily one of my favorite mangaka. The manga by Urasawa that has been translated into English tend to be more serious than not, so I was curious to see how one of his series with a more comedic bent would turn out. Very well, as a matter of fact. Yawara is a judo prodigy, having been trained by her grandfather since she was very young. Despite her talent, she doesn’t really care about judo and would much rather lead the life of an ordinary girl.