Sengoku Basara: Samurai Legends, Omnibus 2

Sengoku Basara: Samurai Legends, Omnibus 2Creator: Yak Haibara
U.S. publisher: Udon Entertainment
ISBN: 9781926778594
Released: February 2013
Original release: 2008-2009

Yak Haibara’s four-volume manga series Sengoku Basara 2 is an adaptation of the video game known by the same name. The manga was released in English by Udon Entertainment in two omnibus volumes under the title Sengoku Basara: Samurai Legends. The second omnibus, collecting the third and fourth volumes of Haibara’s Sengoku Basara 2 released in Japan in 2008 and 2009 respectively, was published in 2013. The Sengoku Basara franchise had its beginnings in 2005 as a series of video games but it has since spawned multiple manga and anime series among other things. Samurai Legends was actually my introduction to Sengoku Basara as a whole and it stands fairly well as its own work. Prior exposure to Sengoku Basara isn’t really necessary to enjoy or understand Samurai Legends, although it might not hurt to have some basic knowledge of Japan’s Warring States period upon which it is very loosely based.

In the aftermath of the devastating defeat of the armies of both Kai Takeda and Kenshin Uesugi at Kawanaka Island, very little stands between the forces of Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Masamune Date to prevent them from clashing head on. While there are now fewer contenders vying for control over Japan, the battle for supremacy is still fierce. Toyotomi relies on his own power and strength as well as the skills of his master strategist Hanbei Takenaka, destroying anyone and anything in his path and using fear to rule. Date, too, has an excellent strategist in the talented Kojuro Katekura, but his rise to power has been significantly less destructive, at least when compared to that of Toyotomi. Knowing that they must contend with each other, the two warlords have set their sights on Odawara Castle, a fortress that if conquered will grant the victor an immense advantage in claiming Japan as his own.

Sengoku Basara: Samurai Legends, Omnibus 2, page 209While Samurai Legends is inspired by actual historical figures and events from Japan’s sixteenth-century, the manga, like the rest of Sengoku Basara, makes no attempt at realism or authenticity. Quite the opposite in fact—the series is deliberately over-the-top and anachronistic. The dialogue and trash talk is very contemporary in its style, giving the characters tremendous attitudes with a modern bent. (“Dude, seriously? You wanna dance with me!?”) Additionally, Date’s army is basically portrayed as a bōsōzoku gang, complete with pompadours, although his forces do ride horses instead of motorcycles. And when it comes to actually battling things out, a frequent occurrence in Samurai Legends, the amount of damaged caused and incurred by the overpowered fighters is impressive to say the least, though hardly believable. But that’s part of what makes Sengoku Basara so great. It’s ridiculous and outrageous.

The first omnibus of Samurai Legend moved fairly quickly from one battle to the next. The second omnibus also as plenty of action, but the pacing doesn’t seem quite as frantic. Haibara takes more time to delve into the personal motivations of the primary players in the series’ conflict, revealing what drives them to conquer and unify Japan. While in the end the characters still aren’t particularly subtle or nuanced, this does provide them with more depth. I appreciate it when there is more complex meaning behind a fight than a simple lust for power; the second omnibus clarifies the underlying purpose of the war, making the battles even more thrilling. Samurai Legends is a bombastic series, and a least one major continuity error does slip in amid all of the excitement. However, I’m actually willing to forgive this simply because the manga is so incredibly entertaining otherwise. In the immortal words of Keij Maeda, “As long as you’re having fun, it’s all good.”

Sengoku Basara: Samurai Legends, Omnibus 1

Sengoku Basara: Samurai Legends, Omnibus 1Creator: Yak Haibara
U.S. publisher: Udon Entertainment
ISBN: 9781926778334
Released: April 2012
Original release: 2007-2008

Sengoku Basara, an outrageous reimagining of the people and events of Japan’s Warring States period, is a franchise that started out as a series of video games but expanded to include manga, anime, and radio shows among other media. Although I have been aware of Sengoku Basara for quite some time, I’ve somewhat surprisingly never actually played any of the games. Instead, my first direct experience with the franchise was through Yak Haibara’s manga series known in English as Sengoku Basara: Samurai Legends, an adaptation of the second game, Sengoku Basara 2 (which is also the Japanese title of the manga). The first volume of Udon Entertainment’s Samurai Legends was released in 2012. It’s actually an omnibus collecting the first two volumes of the Japanese edition, published in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Normally, I tend to shy away from video game adaptations, often finding them to be less than satisfying, but I liked Haibara’s artwork and so made an exception for Samurai Legends. I’m glad that I did, because the manga is a tremendous amount of fun.

June 2, 1582. Akechi Mitsuhide leads a rebellion against Oda Nobunaga, setting fire to Honnou Temple and burning those inside alive. With Nobunaga dead, Japan’s temporary peace is disrupted as warlords once again battle to gain control over the country. The power vacuum is quickly filled by Hideyoshi Toyotomi with the aid of his impressively skilled strategist Hanbei Takenaka. Currently, they’re in the best position to seize complete control, but they aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the recent upheaval. In the east, the young and brash Masamune Date is itching to make his move, his chance encounter with Shingen Takeda’s protegé Yukimura Sanada spurring him on. Meanwhile, further to the west, Takeda is locked at an impasse with the “God of War” Kenshin Uesugi. While the balance of power is shifting swiftly and dramatically, the appearance of the vagabond Keiji Maeda on the field of war only seems to hasten events.

Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings, Volume 1, page 87The Sengoku or Warring States period was an extremely tumultuous time in Japan, lasting from the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries. Conflict was nearly constant as alliances between military factions were repeatedly forged and broken, making for an exciting setting for a franchise like Sengoku Basara. While fairly loose with its interpretation of historical figures and events, one thing is for certain: the action and fighting in Samurai Legends is almost nonstop. It’s also ridiculously over-the-top and over-powered. Characters are incredibly strong and resilient. They each have their own style of fighting and distinctive weaponry that, frankly, are often absurd. I mean, Date fights with three swords in each hand and Takeda’s battle-axe is as big as a horse. And that’s only two examples. Samurai Legends includes anachronisms and is hardly realistic, but the manga’s badassery is bombastic, dynamic, and highly engaging as a result.

Surprisingly enough, there actually is some legitimate history mixed into the raucousness that is Samurai Legends, but the manga was never intended to be a primer or to be taken too seriously. Though I will admit, I do find it much easier to remember who was who historically having been exposed to their highly-fictionalized counterparts. The manga has a very large cast of important and memorable players. Though Date is arguably the lead in the series, every faction involved in the conflict has at least one moment in the series in which it takes precedence. Samurai Legends isn’t particularly subtle or nuanced with its story or characterizations—more often than not it’s just one spectacular fight scene after another—but the manga’s humor and intense drama, exciting action, and sheer audacity have their own charm and appeal. Honestly, I never expected that I would like series as much as I do, but I get a huge kick out of Samurai Legends and find it to to be extraordinarily entertaining.

My Week in Manga: December 2-December 8, 2013

My News and Reviews

I posted two reviews here at Experiments in Manga last week. The honor of the first in-depth manga review for December goes to Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 3: Ramba Ral. The fourth volume in the series is scheduled to be released this month, so I wanted to make sure to catch up with my reviews. Though I wouldn’t call myself a Gundam fan, I’m still really enjoying The Origin manga. The second review was for Ivan Morris’ The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan. Originally published in 1975, the work was recently brought back into print by Kurodahan Press. It’s an extremely illuminating and fascinating volume. I also announced the Fairy Tail Feast Winner last week. In case you’re looking for some epic manga to read, the post also includes a list of series that have had at least thirty volumes published in English.

I’ve come across quite a few manga-related things online recently. Sadly, that includes the news that PictureBox will no longer be releasing any new titles. PictureBox had some fantastic manga releases this year, including the start of the Ten-Cent Manga and Masters of Alternative Manga series. It also released The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame. PictureBox’s closing means that the previously announced anthology Massive: Gay Erotic Manga And The Men Who Make It, originally scheduled for release in 2014, is now in limbo.

In happier news, Manga Bookshelf’s Melinda Beasi was interviewed at Diamond Bookshelf—Understanding Manga: Editor Melinda Beasi Discusses CBLDF Presents Manga. I thought that Manga: Introduction, Challenges, and Best Practices was a great resource when I read it, so it was interesting to hear about some of the behind-the-scenes work that went into it.

And speaking of interesting interviews, Organization Anti-Social Geniuses has been Talkin’ Seven Seas and Manga Business With Conner Crooks. Crooks is the Social Media Manager at Seven Seas, which has been having a very good year. Part 1 and Part 2 of the interview series are currently available. Part 3 should be posted on Tuesday.

Continuing on with the Seven Seas theme, Sean Gaffney took a look at the publisher’s recently announced licenses over at A Case Suitable for Treatment. And if you’re interested in all of the anime, manga, artbook, and light novels that were licensed in 2013 (as well as related successful crowdfunding projects), Reverse Thieves has you covered with All the Titles Fit to License, 2013 Edition.

Quick Takes

Hero Heel, Volume 2Hero Heel, Volumes 2-3 by Makoto Tateno. Out of the boys’ love manga by Tateno that I have so far read, I think that Hero Heel is probably one of her better works. At least it has some of the most interesting and believable character development. Although that being said, I’m not sure that I’m entirely convinced by the ending, but that might just be because I feel bad for Katagiri. Minami in particular goes through a lot of change as the series progresses. In the first volume he’s almost the villain of the story, blackmailing and forcing his feelings on Sawada. By the end of Hero Heel he’s a much more sympathetic character and has matured significantly. As for Sawada, he comes across as rather harsh from the start, though how much of an asshole he really is isn’t revealed until later. The themes of hero and villain and what it means to be a good person are very prominent in Hero Heel. It’s interesting to see the parallels between the characters that Minami and Sawada play on the superhero show they costar in and their lives off the set.

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: Short Stories, Volume 2Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: Short Stories, Volume 2 by Naoko Takeuchi. For the most part, I think I probably enjoyed the second (and final) volume of Sailor Moon short stories more than I did the first. In general, they don’t rely as heavily on knowledge of the main series; a basic understanding of the Sailor Moon universe is sufficient to follow the short manga in the second collection of stories. Well, at least that’s true for the first two stories. The third short manga “Parallel Sailor Moon” requires a bit more, and even then it’s a really strange, almost nonsensical piece. I much preferred the first two stories in the collection. “Princess Kaguya’s Lover” is the longest and most involved, basically amounting to a one-sided love story between Luna and Dr. Ohzora, an astronomy professor. It has space and astronauts, which I’ll admit to having a fondness for, so that made me happy. (Takeuchi even visited the Kennedy Space Center on a research trip for the story.) “Casa Blanca Memory” is a shorter work featuring Rei, which also made me pretty happy.

Sengoku Basara: Samurai Legends, Omnibus 2Sengoku Basara: Samurai Legends, Omnibus 2 (equivalent to Volumes 3-4) by Yak Haibara. I get a huge kick out of the Sengoku Basara: Samurai Legends manga. I’ve never played Sengoku Basara 2—the video game on which it is directly based (it hasn’t been released in North America)—nor have I seen any of the Sengoku Basara anime (though I may make a point to check it out now), but I do have some familiarity with the Warring States period. Because of the number of characters, battles, alliances, castles and such to keep track of in Samurai Legends, which are all based on historical figures and events, that familiarity has come in handy. Overall, I think the first omnibus of Samurai Legends was a little stronger than the second omnibus. The last half of the series has a few continuity problems in the artwork, and there are some characters who are introduced more because they are a part of the franchise than because they had an important role to play in the manga, but it was still a lot of fun. I really enjoy the series’ over-the-top fights, characters, and dialogue.

Sickness Unto Death, Volume 2Sickness Unto Death, Volume 2 written by Hikari Asada and illustrated by Takahiro Seguchi. Probably because it doesn’t employ nearly as many clichés, the second volume of Sickness Unto Death is much better than the first. Granted, the first volume was needed to set it up the whole scenario; I just think it could have been handled better. But the payoff is mostly satisfying. Even so, the manga still makes me vaguely uncomfortable, and not in the way I think it was intended to. The problem I have with the story of Sickness Unto Death stems from the way Emiru’s case is handled. That Kazuma wants to help and treat her I’m fine with. In fact, there’s some really interesting conflicts of interest and ethical and philosophical questions that arise because of it. At its best, Sickness Unto Death has some marvelously dark psychological elements to it. What particularly bothers me about the series is that Kazuma’s continued “treatment” of Emiru is actually encouraged by his professor, which is highly irresponsible not to mention unprofessional.

My Week in Manga: October 7-October 13, 2013

My News and Reviews

I posted two in-depth reviews last week, one manga and one not. The first review was for Makoto Yukimura’s Vinland Saga, Omnibus 1. I was trying coordinate my review with the manga’s release, but unfortunately there was a delay through some distributors so not all of the books have yet arrived where they should. I’ve been hoping that Vinland Saga would be licensed in English for years. I wasn’t disappointed by the first omnibus and am looking forward the next one a great deal. The second review posted last week was for Laura Joh Rowland’s The Shogun’s Daughter. The novel is the seventeenth volume in her series of Tokugawa-era mystery and crime novels but the first one that I’ve actually read. I was annoyed by parts of the novel but the use of actual Japanese history is quite clever in The Shogun’s Daughter.

As for fun things found online, the most recent column of The Mike Toole Show, “Tiles Against Humanity,” focuses on mahjong anime and manga, particularly Akagi and Kaiji. I’ve professed my love of mahjong here at Experiments in Manga, so I’m always happy to come across others writing about the subject. This past weekend was the New York Comic Con and there were quite a few announcements to come out of it. My Manga Bookshelf cohorts have write-ups of the panels they attended: Melinda’s can be found under the NYCC tag and Sean’s are listed in the NYCC/NYAF category.

Some of the licenses at NYCC that particularly caught my attention include (but are certainly not limited to) Black Rose Alice by Setona Mizushiro, Terra Formars, and the Battle Royale side story Angels’ Border from Viz (which should go nicely with Haikasoru’s recently announced Battle Royale materials); Kodansha picked up two Attack on Titan spin-offs, Before the Fall and No Regrets (yup, the shoujo one) in addition to the Attack on Titan Junior High gag manga and the guidebooks; Vertical is also getting in on the Attack on Titan action, picking up the Before the Fall light novel series, and has also licensed Moyoco Anno’s manga In the Clothes Named Fat.

Quick Takes

Nana, Volume 19Nana, Volumes 19-21 by Ai Yazawa. Wow, this is one heck of a place for Nana to leave off—the tragedy that has been alluded to for so long has finally occurred and it is absolutely devastating. More and more of the series has actually been devoted to the incident’s aftermath and how it continues to affect the characters even years later, but the twenty-first volume is all about its immediate consequences. Heartbreaking only begins to describe it. Nana is a phenomenal series with fantastic characterizations. After Shin’s arrest, both the Black Stones and Trapnest begin to fall apart and the band members’ individual problems start to spin out of control. It’s very dramatic but the progression of the story feels natural and the characters’ development, reactions, and behaviour are all believable. Even if the series is never finished, Nana is well worth reading. I continue to be extremely impressed by Yazawa’s work. I wish her all the best as she continues to recover her health.

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: Short Stories, Volume 1Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: Short Stories, Volume 1 by Naoko Takeuchi. Though it is not my favorite series, I enjoy Sailor Moon and am happy to see it doing so well. Kodansha released the main series in twelve volumes and is collecting the related short stories and bonus manga into two additional volumes. That being said, the short stories don’t really stand on their own very well. Fans of Sailor Moon will definitely be interested in them, but their appeal probably won’t extend very far beyond that. The stories in the first volume all tend towards the sillier, more lighthearted side of the series, focusing more on the characters’ everyday lives and less on their monumental confrontations with those who would destroy humanity. Although, there is a some of that, too. And the Sailor Guardian’s daily lives can be pretty hectic. I found the first volume of short stories to be mostly entertaining, but I would sigh a little bit to myself every time there was a dig at someone becoming “chunky.”

Sengoku Basara: Samurai Legends, Omnibus 1Sengoku Basara: Samurai Legends, Omnibus 1 (equivalent to Volumes 1-2) by Yak Haibara. I tend to be fairly wary of video game manga and so I ended up enjoying the first omnibus of Sengoku Basara: Samurai Legends far more than I ever expected. Samurai Legends is based on Sengoku Basara 2, the second game in the Sengoku Basara series, but no prior knowledge of the franchise is needed to enjoy the manga. Inspired by prominent historical events and figures of the Warring States Period, the story begins with the death of Oda Nobunaga at the burning of Honnou Temple and then follows the resulting power struggle. With marvelously over-the-top and dynamic battles and duels, humorous anachronisms, larger-than-life characters, and attractive artwork and designs, Samurai Legends is a tremendous amount of fun. There’s even a tiny bit of legitimate history, too. Samurai Legends is pretty great; I’ll definitely be picking up the second and final omnibus.

Yuri Monogatari, Volume 3Yuri Monogatari, Volumes 3-4 by Various. Although it was the third Yuri Monogatari collection that was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award, out of these two volumes I actually much prefer the fourth. Yuri Monogatari is an anthology that collects short, lesbian-themed comics from Japan, America, and Europe. I am glad to have discovered Yuri Monogatari for no other reason than the series has introduced me to the work of Althea Keaton—whose contributions continue to be some of my favorites—but I enjoy the other comics included as well. I was particularly fond of Tomomi Nakasora’s “Kissing the Petal” which not only features an endearing lesbian couple but also their close friend Chii, a transman who’s looking for a girlfriend. Yuri Monogatari has a nice mix of speculative fiction as well as pieces that are based in reality. The artwork isn’t always the strongest, but the stories are consistently engaging. Some are sweet while others are more sorrowful, but they’re all generally positive in tone.

Attack on TitanAttack on Titan directed by Tetsurō Araki. I’m not at all surprised that Hajime Isayama’s manga Attack on Titan was selected for an anime adaptation—it almost seems to be begging for it. For people who can’t get past the varying quality of Isayama’s artwork but who are still interested in the series’ story, the anime makes a good alternative and the animation is much more consistent. Some of the events are revealed in a slightly different order—the anime tends to be more chronological and employs fewer extended flashbacks than the manga—but otherwise the anime series is a very faithful adaptation of the original. Established fans of the manga will find things to like, too. It’s very cool to see the three-dimensional maneuvering gear in action, which something that the manga can’t convey to the same extent. The music in the Attack on Titan anime is also suitably epic with sweeping orchestral and choral pieces effectively increasing the drama of the humans’ confrontations with the titans.