My Week in Manga: February 11-February 17, 2013

My News and Reviews

I posted two reviews last week. The first was for Dana Sachs’ novel The Secret of the Nightingale Palace. I didn’t like the main characters which made it difficult for me to enjoy the book, but there were still some parts that I appreciated. I also reviewed Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal, Volume 18: The Sparrow Net. This volume is an important one for both plot and character development. Plus, we get to see Isaku and Dōa fight as a team.

Licensing news! Sean Gaffney has a nice writeup on the New Licenses from Viz and Seven Seas at A Case Suitable for Treatment. Vertical also announced some great titles at Katsucon which will be released this fall: Satoshi Kon’s Tropic of the Sea and Hikari Asada’s Sickness Unto Death. I’m particularly excited for Tropic of the Sea. I hadn’t heard about Sickness Unto Death before, but it looks like it will be an intriguing psychological manga (and it’s only two volumes).

Finally, the Naoki Urasawa Manga Moveable Feast has begun! This month’s Feast is being hosted by Justin at Organization Anti-Social Geniuses. Urasawa is one of my favorite mangaka, so I’m very excited for this particular Feast. Later this week I’ll be taking a look at Pineapple Army, his first work to be published in English.

Quick Takes

Knights of Sidonia, Volume 1 by Tsutomu Nihei. I’ve heard Knights of Sidonia called Nihei’s most accessible work to date, which I think is probably true. His artwork is certainly cleaner and more simplified, but I personally prefer Nihei’s darker, grungier illustrations in Biomega and Blame! So far the story in Knights of Sidonia is fairly straightforward, too. After living alone for years in the depths of the spaceship Sidonia, Nagate is discovered must learn to adapt to a human society that has evolved to survive in space. I find Nihei’s exploration of the course of human evolution one of the more interesting aspects of Knights of Sidonia; I’m particularly curious to learn more about Nagate’s friend Izana, who is neither female or male.

Rurouni Kenshin, Omnibus 7 (equivalent to Volumes 19-21) by Nobuhiro Watsuki. After the completion of lengthy Kyoto arc in the last omnibus,  Rurouni Kenshin is now well into its next story arc. Particularly important in this omnibus is the revealing of Kenshin’s background and past life as an assassin, for which he is still trying to atone. A new group of antagonists have appeared looking for revenge and they’re not afraid to strike out at those who are close to Kenshin. There are a few nice fight scenes, but this section of the story is much slower compared to the flurry of duels that ended the previous arc. I do like that these fighters are slightly more realistic. It’s not so much that they are super-powered but that they have access to technology and weapons that give them an advantage.

Sumo by Thien Pham. I really enjoyed Sumo, Pham’s first solo graphic novel. Scott is a football player whose dreams of playing professionally have crumbled. When he is offered a chance train in Japan to become a sumo wrestler, he takes it. Sumo is a surprisingly quiet and introspective work. Scott is trying to find his place in the world and struggling to reclaim the confidence he once had. Pham weaves three different time periods in Scott’s life together to create a single coherent story. The artwork is simple and stylized but very effective. It is not absolutely necessary to enjoy the work, but it does help to have some basic understanding of the hierarchy system inherent to sumo training halls.

Your Story I’ve Known by Tsuta Suzuki. In addition to a few volumes of A Strange and Mystifying Story, You’re Story I’ve Known is the only other manga by Suzuki currently available in English. I’m rather fond of Suzuki’s artwork. Her characters look like grown, adult men and she is capable of drawing some of the most endearing grins that I have ever seen. Your Story I’ve Known collects four boys’ love stories of varying lengths. There isn’t really a theme to the collection other than the fact that the characters have some actual depth to them. Unfortunately, the translation is problematic in a few places, and at least one scene is nearly incomprehensible. Granted, that may have been just as much Suzuki’s fault as the translator’s. But in the end, I still enjoyed the manga.

Blue Spring directed by Toshiaki Toyoda. Ever since I read Taiyo Matsumoto’s manga Blue Spring, I’ve had a hard time getting it out of my head. When I discovered that there was a live-action adaptation of it, I knew that I had to see it. Toyoda’s film is missing some of the more surreal elements of the original manga, but it still captures a lot of its heart. The film combines bits and pieces of many but not all of the stories included in the Blue Spring manga into a single narrative. It actually works quite well. It’s a violent tale about the disaffected students at an all-boys high school and the ways they find to take control of their realities. As a bonus, the film has a great soundtrack, too.

My Week in Manga: March 12-March 18, 2012

My News and Reviews

So, I finally got around to my follow-up post about podcasts—Discovering Manga: Podcasts, Part 2. In it I talk about three podcasts that have regular manga content. If you’re interested, please check out the original podcast post, too—Discovering Manga: Podcasts. Also this past week, I posted my first in-depth manga review for the month, Blade of the Immortal, Volume 7: Heart of Darkness by Hiroaki Samura.

And speaking of Blade of the Immortal! Several people have mentioned interest in my reviews for the series, and so I’ve given myself a new goal. Beginning in April, I plan on reviewing one volume of Blade of the Immortal each month. Ideally this will be in addition to my regular in-depth manga reviews which, hopefully, means there will be three manga reviews each month! This will also allow me to catch up to current volume more quickly. It should take me about a year and a half. We’ll see how it goes, so fingers crossed!

There has been some exciting news this past week. The criminal charges have been dropped in the Canada customs case dealing with Ryan Matheson attempting to cross the border with manga on his laptop. His personal statement can be read on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund website. Charles Brownstein, executive director of the CBLDF, also made some comments on lessons learned from the case. This past Thursday, Digital Manga announced on their blog that their account for Kindle publishing had been suspended. Thankfully, after an outpouring of support for the publisher, Amazon reversed their decision and Digital Manga’s Kindle account was restored on Friday.

On to slightly less vexing issues! Booklist has posted a core collection list for Japanese Manga for Adults. It’s a pretty great list with some fantastic selections that I can easily get behind. Also, this week is the Jiro Taniguchi Manga Moveable Feast, hosted by Manga Worth Reading. Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading, and mostly enjoying, a bunch of Taniguchi manga. I’ll have a review of A Zoo in Winter and a slew of Taniguchi manga quick takes later this week.

Quick Takes

Blame!, Volume 1 by Tsutomu Nihei. If you have read and enjoyed Nihei’s more recent manga Biomega, you should probably check out Blame! as well. The two series are quite similar in many ways. The artwork and setting is dark, character designs are appropriately creepy, and action and environment take precedence over dialogue. Killy is a loner with a big gun, making his way up from the depths of the The City searching for anyone possessing Net Terminal Genes. Humans are just barely surviving, fighting amongst themselves and against terrifying creatures. No explanation is given as to what happened to bring humanity to its current state, but that’s not particularly important to the story at the moment.

Dengeki Daisy, Volume 4 by Kyousuke Motomi. Dengeki Daisy can be absolutely ridiculous at times, but I’m still enjoying the series. Probably because that even with all the potential for melodrama, it never takes itself too seriously. Teru is now aware that Kurosaki is Daisy, something that she had suspected, but decides to hide that fact from him because she’s afraid he’ll leave if he knows. More is revealed about the mystery surrounding her brother and his death in this volume as well as some of Daisy’s darker past (at which had previously been hinted). Motomi is very slowly doling out tidbits of information. I want to learn more, but I’m not frustrated yet by how little I actually do know. The character dynamics and interactions are also very interesting to watch.

Kekkaishi, Omnibus 2 (equivalent to Volumes 4-6) by Yellow Tanabe. In the earlier volumes of Kekkaishi it seemed like Tanabe was just making things up as the series went along, but the manga seems to have a settled down somewhat. Granted, there are still some major plot developments and characters that are introduced out of nowhere. I am enjoying Kekkaishi quite a bit. I appreciate that brute strength is not seen to be the ultimate expression of power, but that knowledge and tactics are also extremely important. I also enjoy seeing the innovative ways that Tanabe comes up with to use the kekkai barriers. I certainly never expected them to be used for what amounts to aerial combat; that was pretty cool.

Samurai Deeper Kyo, Volumes 1-2 by Akimine Kamijyo. I had high hopes for Samurai Deeper Kyo. I enjoy stories set in the Tokugawa era. I also thought the series conceit—two souls with vastly different personalities trapped in the same body—sounded interesting. Mibu Kyoshiro, a traveling medicine peddler and a bit of a goofball, fights for control over his body with Demon Eyes Kyo, a vicious killer. And there’s a bounty out for each of them. Despite their potential, I actually found the first couple of volumes Samurai Deeper Kyo to be a bit bland. Like the lead character’s split personality, it seems like the series hasn’t quite decided what it wants to be yet. The humor isn’t quite funny enough for it to be straight comedy, but the drama isn’t quite dramatic enough, either.

V. B. Rose, Volume 1 by Banri Hidaka. As I’m not particularly interested in weddings or wedding dresses, I wasn’t particularly expecting to enjoy the first volume of V. B. Rose. I was surprised by how much I ended up liking it. Ageha’s older sister is getting married which ultimately leads to Ageha helping out at the bridal shop Velvet Blue Rose when one of her sister’s dress designers injures his hand. The story in the first volume is fairly self-contained, which makes me wonder how Hidaka manages to stretch it out for fourteen volumes. Also, Yukari and Mitsuya (the designers) are totally a couple and are absolutely adorable together; no one will be able to convince me otherwise. Even if it is all in my imagination. Which it is.

Whisper of the Heart directed by Yoshifumi Kondō. Whisper of the Heart is a predecessor of sorts to The Cat Returns; both are based on manga by Aoi Hiiragi. As a librarian, I enjoyed seeing an old school library complete with card catalog and check out cards. The story simply couldn’t have happened in the same way with today’s computerized libraries and privacy concerns. Shizuku is a bookworm, so I couldn’t help but to feel some affinity with her. Her love of books and the library was endearing to me. However, I did find that I had little patience for all of the junior high school love drama. They’re all just so terribly earnest. I think it was supposed to be nostalgic, but it mostly made me roll my eyes. Still, the film did make me smile and even laugh on a few occasions.

My Week in Manga: May 2-May 8, 2011

My News and Reviews

Last week was one of the slow weeks at Experiments in Manga. I announced the manga giveaway Return of Ranma Winner and posted April’s Bookshelf Overload. One thing that I’ve noticed about the last few months is that I have posted quite a few book reviews and that many of the other features haven’t been, well, featured. I still have the goal of completing two in-depth manga reviews per month but will now also make an effort to vary the rest of the content on the site so that the literature reviews won’t overshadow the other material quite so much.

Some changes have occurred over on the Resources page. I’ve removed the links to Tokyopop and Blu since they’re no longer valid. As for additions, In Spring it is the Dawn and Three Steps Over Japan are now listed in the New and Reviews section.

Quick Takes

Apothecarius Argentum, Volumes 4-8 by Tomomi Yamashita. Apothecarius Argentum gets better and better with each volume. This is somewhat problematic since only the first eight of eleven volumes managed to make it to publication before CMX went defunct. And the eighth volume ends with one heck of a cliffhanger! I like how the characters actually seem to be developing and maturing in a natural way instead of remaining the same over a long period of time. Argent is adamant about finding a way to detoxify his body even though he realizes that what he truly desires, a relationship with the princess, can never come to pass. Also, I think this is the first manga I’ve read that has a frank discussion about abortion.

Biomega, Volumes 2-4 by Tsutomu Nihei. As I mentioned in my in-depth review for Biomega, Volume 1, it’s really Nihei’s art that carries this series. For as much action as there is, there seems to be very little character or plot development to go along with it. To be honest, I’m not completely sure what’s going on story-wise most of the time. To some extent, I don’t really care since I’m usually happily distracted by the illustrations although I do have a difficult time telling some of the characters apart at first glance. But overall the art is wonderfully dark and creepy and though it might be odd to describe it as such, beautifully disconcerting. Buildings and cityscapes a given great amount of detail and attention.

Iron Wok Jan, Volumes 5-17 by Shinji Saijyo. I find Iron Wok Jan to be an incredibly amusing series. Plus, if you’re paying attention, you might actually learn something about Chinese cuisine and cooking. Things can occasionally get violent and bloody in the kitchen, so it’s not a manga I’d recommend to vegans or those with weak stomachs. All of the chefs and trainees are extremely serious about food and cooking. With Jan around competitions frequently turn into all out battles and he’ll do anything it takes to win. Saijyo captures the often maniacal intensity of the characters perfectly with exaggerated artwork. Granted, Kiriko and Celine’s… ahem…well-endowed figures seem like they should get in the way of cooking.

Karakuri Odette, Volume 6 by Julietta Suzuki. Ever since the January 2011 Manga Moveable Feast I’ve been waiting for the sixth and final volume of Karakuri Odette to be released. It’s a charming series, so I was glad that Tokyopop was able to finish it before disappearing. The sixth volume is less episodic than some of the previous books and finishes up the plot arc from volume five. It provides a more or less satisfying conclusion to the series although things are left pretty open ended. I was a little disappointed that Chris and Professor Yoshizawa, two of my favorite characters, didn’t make much of an appearance. Asao is definitely in there, though. Art-wise, Suzuki provides some fantastic facial expressions and (over)reactions that are delightful to behold. The final volume is a nice little goodbye.

Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, Volume 1 by Hiroshi Shiibashi. Rikuo is one-quarter yokai and the grandson of Nurarihyon, who wants him to become the next leader of the Nura Clan of yokai. Normally human, Rikuo temporarily transforms into a yokai on occasion. I would like to see more tension developed between the human and yokai Rikuos; right now they seem to fairly oblivious of each other. For the most part I enjoyed Shiibashi’s artwork, although Kiyotusugu’s character design really bugs me for some reason that I haven’t been able to identify. Even though I don’t feel a tremendous desire to rush out to pick up the next volume, I still think the series has potential and is off to a good start. Also, I really like the covers.

Biomega, Volume 1

Creator: Tsutomu Nihei
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421531847
Released: February 2010
Original run: 2004-2009 (Ultra Jump)

It was the gorgeous cover of the first volume of Biomega that caught my eye and made me pick it up for a closer look. I didn’t recognize the title or the creator, Tsutomu Nihei. I ended up putting the book back on the shelf, but for the next few weeks my mind kept wandering back to it. And then I discovered that one of the plot elements was at least vaguely connected to Mars and any remaining self-restraint I had collapsed (I have a thing for Mars). I soon found a copy of Biomega, Volume 1 in my possession. I was very pleased with my decision when one of the guys at my favorite comic store was elated by my choice. Biomega was actually one of the store’s featured selections at the time, he liked it so much. So, satisfied with my purchase, I happily took it home. And then promptly finished reading it that night.

In the year 3005, the N5S virus was introduced into the Earth’s atmosphere, the disease quickly spreading throughout the population. Most of the infected transform into grotesque, inhuman “drones” while a very select few, known as accommodators, are able to adapt to the virus, making them a valuable commodity. Zoichi Kanoe is a synthetic human, designed to be stronger, faster, and more resistant to the virus than his counterparts. Along with Fuyu, a highly sophisticated artificial intelligence, he has been sent by Toa Heavy Industry to the city of 9JO to locate and retrieve any surviving accommodators. But Toa isn’t the only group searching for accommodators, and while Zoichi has some significant advantages, he most definitely isn’t invincible.

It’s not something that I always mention, but Viz Media’ production values for Biomega are great. Plenty of gutter space is given so none of the art or text ends up lost in the binding. The quality of the printing is consistent and excellent throughout, particularly important for Biomega because there is a lot of ink on these pages. The artwork is dark, both literally and figuratively, the white space being overwhelmed by shading, helping to create a fairly ominous atmosphere that is highly appropriate for the story. The immense, sweeping architecture and city landscapes manage to convey a sense of claustrophobia despite their size, their obvious decay only adding to the environment’s grimness. Nihei’s character designs are also marvelous and fit his setting nicely. Eyes tend to be set widely apart which I found disconcerting at first, but the style eventually grew on me. The once human creatures are twisted and creepy but are occasionally beautiful in their nightmarishness. One of the things that really impressed me about the artwork was Nihei’s ability to not only convey action, but also the tremendous speed at which things were happening.

It is the artwork that really carries the first volume of Biomega; there is very little dialogue and while the basic premise and characters have been introduced, not much development has had a chance to occur yet. For the most part, the art handles this task admirably, though there were occasions that I was slightly confused by who was supposed to be who (story-wise, visually everyone is quite distinctive) and what exactly their purpose in the Biomega world was. However, I do think that this will be revealed and further explored in subsequent volumes. The plot is vaguely repetitive so far, mostly consisting of Zoichi riding around and shooting things, but he’s pretty badass while doing it, so I’m all right with it. Some of the weaponry seems a little over the top but that does mean there are some massive explosions and phenomenal scenes of destruction, which is always fun. I know that I’m certainly looking forward to reading the second volume, anyway.