My Week in Manga: July 29-August 4, 2013

My News and Reviews

The Boys’ Love Manga Moveable Feast, hosted by Khursten of Otaku Champloo, is in full swing. Khursten is doing a fantastic job hosting the Feast; I highly recommend checking out her posts! I myself posted a couple of contributions to the Feast last week. The most recent manga giveaway at Experiments in Manga is for Shiuko Kano’s boys’ love collection Affair. The winner will be randomly selected and announced on Wednesday, so there’s still time to enter! I also devoted my first in-depth manga review of the month to Tomoko Yamashita’s Black-Winged Love. I tried to explain why it’s one of my absolute favorite collections of short manga. (July’s Bookshelf Overload was also posted last week. Although it’s not really a part of the Feast, it does include some boys’ love on the list.) Finally, as you can see below, I spent last week reading a bunch of boys’ love manga by Yugi Yamada. I really enjoy her sense of humor, cranky characters, and bickering (but loving) couples. Oh, and I also watched Gravitation.

Quick Takes

Dry Heat by Yugi Yamada. I don’t think that Dry Heat shows Yamada at her best, but it is still an engaging read. Dry Heat has an odd mix of tones. The story itself is quite serious with a tendency towards the melodramatic, but there is a fair amount of humor included as well. It’s as though Yamada couldn’t quite decide whether the manga should be a comedy or a drama. Sometimes the balance works and sometimes it doesn’t. The plot is a little over the top and stretches believability in places and I can’t say that I was particularly convinced by the romantic interests, but Dry Heat does have some really great moments. Dry Heat is in turns touching, exasperating, and very funny.

Glass Sky by Yugi Yamada. Glass Sky is a great collection of short boys’ love manga ranging from the bittersweet to the almost cheerful with a few laugh out loud moments. The strongest selection in the volume is the titular “Glass Sky.” It’s a rough and intense story, but very, very good. Dealing with bullying and violence, it’s the most sobering story in Glass Sky and is especially shocking since it follows some of the more lighthearted pieces. I was surprised to recognize characters from Yamada’s earlier one-shot manga Laugh Under the Sun in several of the stories in Glass Sky. However, it’s not at all necessary to have read it in order to appreciate their stories. (Although if you have, Glass Sky does provide a little more insight into the characters—Naoki, especially.)

No One Loves Me by Yugi Yamada. I really enjoyed No One Loves Me. It’s  one of my favorite manga by Yamada. Katsuhiro is a subdued and awkward book lover and used book store owner with a particular interest in Czech literature. The much brasher Masafumi is in the sales department of a publishing house but is thrust into a translation project as Katsuhiro’s editor. Their relationship, professional and otherwise, has its ups and downs and is wonderful to watch unfold. No One Loves Me isn’t as outrageously funny as some of Yamada’s other manga, but there’s still plenty of humor. Plus, the incorporation of the love of books into the story is a nice bonus and something that I particularly appreciated.

Open the Door to Your Heart by Yugi Yamada. One of my favorite Yamada manga is Close the Last Door, a short two-volume series. Open the Door to Your Heart is a one-volume side story which slightly overlaps, following the two older Honda brothers. I didn’t like Open the Door to Your Heart nearly as well, but still enjoyed parts of the manga. It was nice to get to know the Hondas better, both the brothers as individuals and the family a whole. What Yamada captures particularly well in Open the Door to Your Heart is the struggle that Sho, the oldest brother, continues to go through trying to fully accept that he has been adopted. This is complicated by the fact that he is in love with his younger brother and that those feelings are returned.

Picnic by Yugi Yamada. Once again, the titular story “Picnic” is probably the strongest manga in this collection. Or, at least it’s one of my favorites. Granted, most of the manga collected in the volume are well done. Picnic tends towards the sillier and sweeter side of things, but there are some genuinely touching moments that balance out the goofier ones quite nicely. Two of the stories feature characters from an earlier manga by Yamada which at this point hasn’t been licensed in English. (They may have also been spun off into their own series, though I’m not certain about that.) The focus of the short manga collected in Picnic is less on the plot more on the characters themselves.

Spring Fever by Yugi Yamada. Spring Fever collects two unrelated stories by Yamada: the titular “Spring Fever” and “Wildman Blues.” The beginning of “Spring Fever” is delightfully funny before taking quite a serious turn. Yusuke is constantly falling head-over-heels for the most unlikely candidates only to be rejected again and again. This time the object of his desire happens to be an older man—a divorcé with a young son. “Wildman Blues” ties in with “Glass Sky” (and by extension Laugh Under the Sun.) Yamada once again turns her attention to Naoki. Despite all the heartache and anguish she puts him through, Yamada seems to have a fondness for the character. I’ve come to really like him, too. “Wildman Blues” provides a very satisfying conclusion to his story.

Gravitation directed by Bob Shirohata. The thirteen-episode Gravitation anime is much more even-keeled than Maki Murakami’s original manga series. The darker moments aren’t quite as dark and the humor, while still ridiculous, isn’t quite as outrageous. The anime adapts a little more than half of the manga series. I personally preferred the manga’s earlier storyline anyway, so I didn’t have a problem with the anime stopping where it did. The anime compresses and streamlines the plot of Gravitation. As a result, Shuichi and Yuki’s relationship seems a bit rushed, but for the most part the adaptation is really well done. I did wish there was a little more variety in the music, though.

My Week in Manga: April 15-April 21, 2013

My News and Reviews

Well, I didn’t end up posting any in-depth manga reviews last week, but I did review a couple of novels. The first review was for Tokyo Demons, Book 1: You’re Never Alone by Lianne Sentar. I’m actually so excited about the series that I’ll be writing more about the project later this week; I couldn’t fit it all into one review. I also reviewed Toh EnJoe’s Self-Reference Engine, which may or may not actually be a novel. Whatever it is, I loved it. The book is smart, funny, and clever science fiction.

The 2013 Eisner Award nominees were announced last week. There are some really great comics and creators up for an award this year. Manga nominees include Osamu Tezuka’s Barbara, Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, Shigeru Mizuki’s NonNonBa (which I previously reviewed), and Mari Yamazaki’s Thermae Romae. Katsuya Terada also received a nomination for his work on The Monkey King.

Other interesting things seen online: It appears as though there may be a new manga publisher on the horizon—Kansai Club Publishing. Lissa Pattillo of Kuriousity shared some thoughts on the effort, which is where I first learned of it. Supposedly, Kansai Club will be launching a Kickstarter soon for its first release. Elsewhere, the most recent episode of The Cockpit podcast is devoted to Vertical’s release of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin. Ed Chavez, the marketing director at Vertical, discusses the series’ licensing, production, and promotion efforts among other things. (I’ll be posting my own review of the first volume in the near future.)

Jason Thompson’s always excellent House of 1000 Manga column featured Takako Shimura’s Wandering Son last week. (It’s a series that is personally very important to me.) And as usual, the article is great. Back in March, Tofugu had an entertaining post about common visual tropes used in manga. A followup article was posted last week—Manga Tropes Revisited. Finally, this week is the Kaori Yuki Manga Moveable Feast! The Beautiful World is hosting this month’s Feast and has posted an introduction. Later this week I’ll be reviewing the first volume of Yuki’s Grand Guignol Orchestra as my contribution to the Feast.

Quick Takes

Attack on Titan, Volumes 3-4 by Hajime Isayama. For the most part I am enjoying Attack on Titan. However, its unevenness in art and storytelling can be a bit jarring. At times the manga is genuinely thrilling while at other times it seems to be just a little off. Granted, the effect is disconcerting and does add to the dark, oppressive atmosphere of the manga. A significant portion of the fourth volume is a flashback devoted to the military training of the young soldiers. It was interesting to see this and it was a great way to get to know some of the trainees better, but it may have been more effective earlier on in the series since so many of those characters are already known to end up dead.

Black Jack, Volumes 4-6 by Osamu Tezuka. I really do adore Black Jack as a character. He can be an utter bastard, but he’s also incredibly compassionate underneath his harsh exterior. An unparalleled surgeon, he wields his skill as he chooses. Well, except when he’s blackmailed into it. But then again, he’s just as likely resort to extortion. Perhaps because of Tezuka’s medical background, a lot of attention is given to the actual operations that Black Jack performs. Although there are recurring characters in Black Jack, generally the individual stories stand alone. As with any work, some stories are stronger than others. Personally, I prefer the more plausible scenarios, although the more fantastical ones can still be enjoyable.

Eyeshield 21, Volumes 15-19 written by Riichiro Inagaki and illustrated by Yusuke Murata. In these volumes, the Deimon Devil Bats continue to advance in the fall Tokyo tournament, hoping to reach and play in the Christmas Bowl at the end of the year. I’ll admit, the artwork in Eyeshield 21 is still what appeals to me most about the series. I love Murata’s dynamic action sequences and the ridiculous imagery that often accompanies them: tidal waves, knights in armor, steam engines, etc. Each team has a visual theme that coincides with their team name, mascot, or style of play. So the Bando Spiders have spiders and webs, the Kyoshin Poseidon have water motifs, and so on. It’s really a lot of fun.

Laugh Under the Sun by Yugi Yamada. I picked up Laugh Under the Sun primarily because I tend to enjoy Yamada’s boys’ love manga. Also, it has boxing! After seriously injuring an opponent, Sohei has been reluctant to return to the ring. For the last ten years he’s managed to get by on his good looks, but he’s tired of having no direction in his life. His more successful friend Chika (who is in love with Sohei although Sohei is oblivious to it), encourages him to take up boxing again. He does, but it’s not easy—the younger boxers at the gym don’t respect Sohei much and his confidence is lacking. Laugh Under the Sun isn’t particularly deep or complicated but it is an enjoyable one-shot with a bit of romance and humor to go along with the fighting sports.

Limit, Volumes 3-4 by Keiko Suenobu. After their bus crashes on a school trip, five high school girls struggle to survive the accident and each other while waiting to be rescued. When another survivor happens upon the group, the power dynamics shift dramatically, setting off an extreme backlash from some of the members. Honestly, I didn’t like these volumes quite as much as I did the first two; some of the characters’ actions weren’t as nearly as convincing. At the same time, they are all under a tremendous amount of stress and so maybe it shouldn’t be too surprising that some of their behaviors are less than rational. Still, Limit is intense and I’m very interested in seeing how Suenobu wraps everything up in the final two volumes.

My Week in Manga: October 31-November 6, 2011

My News and Reviews

This is the time of month my entries on Experiments in Manga probably tend to be a little boring for most people. I announced the winner of the Sugar Sugar Rune giveaway (Manga Giveaway: Happy Hollowe’en! Winner) and posted the October 2011 Bookshelf Overload. To help make things a little more interesting, I’m starting up my Library Love feature again. It’s been awhile since I’ve posted one. Basically, it’s similar to my weekly quick takes except that it focuses specifically on manga that I’ve borrowed and read from the library. I think I’ll try to make it a monthly feature. Anyway, here’s Part 7!

I know that some of my readers were excited to hear about Viz Media’s entry into the boys’ love genre with their new imprint SuBLime. Deb Aoki has posted further information about the venture over at Manga. Part 1 is a transcript of the SuBLime panel and question and answer session that was held at Yaoicon. Part 2 features interviews with two of SuBLime’s editors: Leyla Aker (who is also vice-president of publishing at Viz) and Jennifer LeBlanc (whose blog The Yaoi Review may be familiar to some of you).

Also, completely unrelated, Takehiko Inoue has started work on Vagabond again! The series had been put on hold due to his health concerns among other factors. I’m very happy to see he’s working on the series again and hope this means he’s feeling better, too.—Takehiko Inoue Now Drafting Return of Vagabond Manga.

And as a heads up! The Natsume Ono Manga Moveable Feast will be held from November 13 to November 20. The Feast is being hosted by Alexander Hoffman of Manga Widget. I thought it was going to be later this month, so I was caught a little off guard. Still, I’ll should have a small bunch of Ono quick takes ready for next week as well as an in-depth review of the first volume of House of Five Leaves (my introduction to and favorite series by Ono).

Quick Takes

Cage of Eden, Volume 1 by Yoshinobu Yamada. Part of the problem that I have with Cage of Eden is probably the result of having just recently read a couple of very good survival manga. I may have enjoyed the series a little more if I hadn’t. But then again, there are plenty of things that would annoy me about Cage of Eden regardless. The worst offense is probably the dialogue. This is manga, the text should be working to enhance the artwork, not describing every single detail that I can obviously see right there on the page. I don’t care about any of the characters at this point. They can just go ahead and get eaten by dinosaurs for all I’m concerned. Actually, the dinosaurs and other creatures are kinda cool. Go, team dinosaurs!

Close the Last Door, Volumes 1-2 by Yugi Yamada. One of the things that I like best about the works by Yamada that I’ve read so far is that the characters’ relationships are complicated and messy. There are no simple solutions and they all have to face the problems that they create for themselves in their lives. Nagai has been in love with his younger coworker Saitou for years. After acting as the best man at Saitou’s wedding, Nagai finds himself drowning his sorrows at a bar along with Honda, an ex-boyfriend of the bride. Things get more complicated from there. I liked Close the Last Door quite a bit. I also found it extremely amusing that Nagai’s moments of fantasizing/agonizing while in the office break room were constantly being interrupted.

Code:Breaker, Volumes 1-2 by Akimine Kamijyo. Only the first two volumes of this series have been published; I’m not sure if Kodansha plans on continuing it where Del Rey left off or not. I thought the first volume was significantly better than the second, but I would still really like to see where this series is going. Sakurakouji is one of the better female characters I’ve come across recently in a shōnen series. For starters, she’s not stupid or there just to be ogled (although there is some inexplicable boob gropage in volume two). I particularly like the fact that she is an accomplished martial artist. She is also definitely her own person. The story is told from her perspective, but the focus is really on Ogami at this point.

Dengeki Daisy, Volumes 1-3 by Kyousuke Motomi. I had heard good things about Dengeki Daisy, but I was still pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the first few volumes of the series. Sure, there is some silliness and a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is needed, particularly in the first volume. But, there are also some really interesting elements. The series seems to be less about the potential romance between Kurosaki and Teru, although that is certainly an important aspect, and more about the mystery surrounding the death of Teru’s brother Souchirou and his work. Many of the characters in Dengeki Daisy have some sort of connection to Souchirou. I want to know what happened and why Kurosaki feels so conflicted and guilty.

Guin Saga, Episodes 14-26 directed by Atsushi Wakabayashi. The English dub of the Guin Saga anime was never its strong point but it’s especially uneven in the second half. Malius in particular is simply terrible. (And for a minstrel, he really can’t sing.) However, ignoring that, I have been enjoying Guin Saga in all its epic glory. Although there is still some fighting, the second half moves away from the battlefield and deals more with court politics. The series still feels like a watered down version of a more complex narrative, but I’m just happy to have any version of such an influential story available in English. They did find a decent stopping place, but it’s obvious that there is plenty more story to go.

My Week in Manga: October 3-October 9, 2011

My News and Reviews

The winner for Experiments in Manga’s latest manga giveaway was announced last week—Manga Giveaway: Hikaru no Go Giveaway Winner. As part of the contest I asked people to tell me about the manga that inspires them. There were some great responses, so I hope you’ll take the time to check them out. I also posted the September 2011 Bookshelf Overload, if anyone cares about that particular feature.

There are a few links I’d like to point out this week. First is an essay posted on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund website that was written by Melinda Beasi of Manga BookshelfVoicing an Opinion: Manga Bookshelf’s Melinda Beasi Talks Canada Customs Case. Beasi’s arguments are very well stated and I support them fully. I also read an interesting interview with Sean Michael Wilson, who edited the first volume of AX: Alternative Manga among other things—From Scotland to Japan. There was also an nice look at Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond that I came across—‘Vagabond’: Takehiko Inoue creates a samurai masterpiece. Vagabond is a fantastic series and I highly recommend it. I’ve reviewed the first omnibus volume as well as Eiji Yoshikawa’s novel Musashi on which the series is based.

Finally, there have been some blogs added to the Resource page, so give them a look: Chou-Dori, Nagareboshi Reviews, OtakuStew, Read About Comics.

Quick Takes

Don’t Blame Me, Volumes 1-2 by Yugi Yamada. Don’t Blame Me is the first of Yugi Yamada’s works that I’ve read. It took a little while for the artwork to grow on me, but the story telling is excellent from the beginning. Don’t Blame Me doesn’t end with everything tied up nicely. Relationships are messy, complicated, and far from perfect. Yamada does a very nice job portraying this while still crafting a very satisfying ending. Additionally, Don’t Blame Me doesn’t just focus on the potential romance between the lead couple. Instead, there is a whole cast of characters that play an important part in the story. It’s nice to see everyone’s interactions and developing relationships.

Kekkaishi, Omnibus 1 by Yellow Tanabe. I really enjoyed my first taste of Kekkaishi; its a lot of fun. A few things make it stand out for me among shōnen fighting series. First and foremost are the two main characters. Both are very strong in their own ways and complement each other nicely. Yoshimori may be more powerful, but his rival and potential love interest Tokine is more knowledgeable, practiced, and generally more competent than her younger neighbor. They are both well-rounded characters, especially Yoshimori. Another thing I really like about Kekkaishi is the magic system used. Tanabe comes up with some really creative uses and applications for the cuboid force fields that Yoshimori and Tokine can create.

Kiichi and the Magic Books, Volumes 1-5 by Taka Amano. As a librarian, I feel a certain affinity for Kiichi and the Magic Books. Mototaro reminds me a bit of Ginko from Mushishi, which is not a bad thing at all. The series starts out as a solid little fantasy, but ends up going in some strange directions. While there were some elements I really liked—especially the power granted to books and librarians—ultimately, I’m not sure I completely got or was really convinced by the world’s mythology. Still, I enjoyed the manga, particularly the earlier volumes. I think Kiichi and the Magic Books will probably appeal more to younger readers than older audiences, but there’s good stuff to be found and the artwork is nice.

Kurozakuro, Volumes 1-2 by Yoshinori Natsume. I haven’t figured out exactly why, but Kurozakuro is surprisingly entertaining for such a mediocre series. There’s really nothing that makes it stand out story-wise or art-wise in these first two volumes and I’ve seen most of the plot elements before. Even the message the series is sending seems to be mixed. Mikito finally has the power to stand up for himself, but is basically told that he has to remain an underdog or die. However, I do like the change in art style between the dream sequences and reality, although the more abstract dream style occasionally bleeds over. Kurozakuro is only seven volumes, so it might be worth pursuing to see how and if it might improve.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Season 2, Part 1 (Episodes 29-40) directed by Seiji Mizushima. While I have seen the first season of Fullmetal Alchemist several times, this is the first time I’ve watched the second season. Much of this season is spent exploring the homunculi and their origins. I’m still not sure if there’s a deeper meaning to naming them after the seven deadly sins or not, but the symbolism certainly has the potential to be significant. There were a few twists thrown in that I probably should have seen coming but didn’t. Even if they were somewhat unexpected, they still make a lot of sense in the context of what came before. We learn more about Scar and his brother in these episodes, too.

Seven Samurai directed by Akira Kurosawa. Seven Samurai was the first film by Akira Kurosawa that I ever saw and it remains my favorite. If you’ve never seen Seven Samurai before, you should really take the three and a half hours to watch it. Not only is it a good film, it’s also a highly influential one. The premise is fairly simple: a group of samurai is hired by a farming village to protect it from bandits. But first the villagers will have to find samurai willing to fight for them for very little pay and no glory. Fortunately, they come across the charismatic Shimada and are able to win him over to their cause. Soon, more samurai follow, each for their own reasons. That’s when the real battle starts.