My Week in Manga: August 15-August 21, 2106

My News and Reviews

After a somewhat tumultuous year, last week marked the sixth anniversary of Experiments in Manga! Though at one point I was very stressed out about the fate and state of the blog, I’m now honestly looking forward to year seven, even if I’m not able to write as much anymore. Thank you to everyone who has read and supported Experiments in Manga in the past, present, and future!

Elsewhere online, Speculative Fiction in Translation interviewed Tyran Grillo, translator of Yusaku Kitano’s award-winning Mr. Turtle, the most recent offering from Kurodahan Press. And Barnes & Noble posted a list of 8 Great Japanese Books in Translation That Aren’t by Haruki Murakami. It’s a great listI’ve only reviewed one of the novels included (Manazuru by Hiromi Kawakami), but I’m very fond of Keigo Higashino‘s work and several of the other books are very high on my to-be-read pile.

Quick Takes

Forget Me Not, Volume 3Forget Me Not, Volume 3 written by Mag Hsu and illustrated by Nao Emoto. I was taken a little by surprise by how much I enjoyed the first two volumes of Forget Me Not and so I was looking forward to reading the third volume as well. The series delves into the life and past loves of Serizawa, a young man who so far has been shown to have very little luck when it comes to romance. Some of his relationship woes can be credited to the fact that he’s still immature and inexperienced, but that’s starting to become less and less of an excuse for him now that he’s in college. Perhaps because of that, the third volume of Forget Me Not didn’t work quite as well for me as the previous volumes did. It is very clear that the relationships shown in the third volume are heading towards an absolute train wreck. Considering the beginning of the series it’s already a known fact that Serizawa ends up alone and full of regret, but it’s still painful to watch the whole mess unfold. I feel just as badly for the two young women involved as I do for Serizawa. They both like him and he likes them both; Serizawa just hasn’t been able to figure out exactly what that means yet. Apparently, he still has quite a bit of growing up left to do. Despite my frustration with the most recent volume of Forget Me Not, I am curious to see how this unfortunate past ties in with the mystery of Serizawa’s current situation.

Noragami: Stray God, Volume 15Noragami: Stray God, Volumes 15-16 by Adachitoka. Although the series’ quirky humor hasn’t completely disappeared, Noragami has become increasingly dark and dramatic over time. Adachitoka does still find appropriate moments within the series to insert a bit of levity, but for me what makes the manga compelling is its characters. The real heart of the much of the conflict in Noragami–the frequently unpredictable relationships between the various gods as well as the turbulent relationships between the gods and mortalshas once again been thrust to the forefront of the series with the manga’s most recent story arc. One thing that I found particularly interesting about these two volumes of Noragami is that Adachitoka introduces several deities of indigenous origins in addition to recognizing the existence of foreign gods. I’m not sure that they will necessarily have a large role to play in the series (then again, it seems as though they might), but this expansion is marvelous from a worldbuilding perspective, especially as Noragami is currently dealing heavily with the court and political intrigue of the Heavens. Along with that also comes a few tremendous fight sequences. Ocassionally some of the individual actions can be a little difficult to follow amidst the chaos of battle, but overall the scenes are effective and at times even impressive.

Ten Count, Volume 1Ten Count, Volume 1 by Rihito Takarai. Although the art style in Ten Count looked familiar to me, I actually didn’t make the connection at first–Takarai was the artist of the short boys’ love series Seven Days which I loved. Ten Count, however, is a very different manga than Seven Days. Even before it was licensed in English, I was aware of Ten Count. It’s a massively popular boys’ love manga, but the series also has a fair number of detractors and understandably so. Only one volume in and Ten Count is already a deliberately uncomfortable and troubling story with dark psychological elements, dubious ethics, and emotional manipulation. The manga follows Shirotani, a young man with a severe obsessive-compulsive disorder which has remained untreated since it first manifested. After a chance meeting Shirotani catches the attention of Kurose, a clinical psychotherapist who would seem to have some emotional issues of his own. Kurose takes a particular and decidedly unprofessional interest in Shirotani, offering to help Shirotani deal with his condition off-the-record and off-the-clock. Without realizing it, as Shirotani begins to be able to more easily function within society, he has also become more and more reliant on Kurose. Romantic it certainly is not, but at least for the moment I’m part of the group that finds Ten Count compelling and definitely plan on reading more.

Another: Episode S/0Another: Episode S/0, novel by Yukito Ayatsuji, manga by Hiro Kiyohara. While I was left feeling a little cheated by how some of the major reveals were handled in the horror-mystery novel Another, for the most part I did like the book. And so I was excited when Yen Press licensed both the not-exactly-sequel Another: Episode S (the main action of the novel takes place during the original Another but is only tangentially related) and the short prequel manga Another 0, releasing them together in a single, beautiful hardcover volume. (Out of all the North American manga publishers, Yen Press has had some of the best book designs of late.) Sadly, Episode S has many of the same narrative problems found in Another, namely important reveals that, while they make sense, seem a bit unfair to the readers. I actually really liked the plot twists themselves in Episode S, it’s just that their execution falls short; once again left feeling unsatisfied by the story’s developments. Tonally, Episode S is a little different from Anotherwhile it’s still a ghost story of sorts and there are some marvelously disturbing scenes, the mystery is emphasized far more than the horror. The atmosphere of Another 0, written and illustrated by the creator who helmed the Another manga adaptation, is much closer that of Another. The prequel relies heavily on readers’ familiarity with the original while Episode S largely stands on its own.

Ultimate Conditioning for Martial ArtsUltimate Conditioning for Martial Arts by Loren Landow. From an athletic standpoint, I have found several of the books published by Human Kinetics to be useful resources in supplementing my study of traditional Okinawan karate. Ultimate Conditioning for Martial Arts, one of the publisher’s most recent titles, can technically apply to any martial artist, but the book does tend to be geared more towards athletes and competitors. Landow also assumes that readers already have basic knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and sports training methods. While perhaps not suitable for absolute beginners, Ultimate Conditioning for Martial Arts does provide a good starting point for established martial artists who want to begin incorporating speed, agility, and conditioning work into their training. In addition to providing suggested conditioning exercises and programs, Landow also incorporates an overview of relevant and closely-related topics such as the evaluation and establishment of fitness baselines, warmups and flexibility, rest and recovery, and nutrition. The book includes a generous number of helpful photographs to accompany the descriptions of the specific exercises, but the photographs selected aren’t always the ones that would be most illustrative or useful. Additionally, rather than explaining the particular functions and applications of the individual exercises, Landow tends to broadly generalize and categorize their benefits. This lack of specificity and guidance can make the creation of an individualized conditioning program challenging for someone who has never developed one before. Ultimate Conditioning for Martial Arts groups commonly practiced martial arts disciplines together as either striking and kicking arts or wrestling and grappling arts. Landow suggests specific conditioning exercises for each category but also emphasizes the benefits of using a blended approach when developing a training program. Mixed Martial Arts is the only discipline that’s addressed in-depth but Ultimate Conditioning for Martial Arts is still broadly applicable to other martial arts and a valuable resource, providing a fine overall introduction to conditioning and endurance training.


AnotherAuthor: Yukito Ayatsuji
Translator: Karen McGillicuddy
U.S. publisher: Yen Press
ISBN: 9780316339100
Released: October 2014
Original release: 2009

Another is a horror mystery novel written by Yukito Ayatsuji which was originally serialized in Japan between 2006 and 2009 before being collected into a single volume later that year. The novel was then released again in 2011 in two separate volumes. It is that edition upon which the English translation by Karen McGillicuddy is based. Another was initially released digitally in English by Yen Press in two volumes in 2103, but in 2014 it was published as a single-volume hardcover under the newly established Yen On light novel imprint. In addition to being Ayatsuji’s first novel to be translated into English, Another is probably his most widely-known work, especially outside of Japan. This is in part due to the fact that Another was adapted as a manga series and as an anime series, both of which have been licensed in English, as well as a live-action film. Although I’ve known about Another for a while, it actually wasn’t until I read Ayatsuji’s debut novel The Decagon House Murders that I was inspired to pick it up.

Yomiyama North Middle School’s third-year Class 3 is cursed. For some strange reason, the students of that class and their immediate families seem to be more susceptible to dying. Some years pass by without any casualties while other years see multiple deaths every month. The curse is said to be tied to an incident which occurred twenty-six years ago. A popular student named Misaki died, but the entire class was in such denial that Misaki’s spirit manifested. Now more than two decades later, Misaki’s story has been embellished and retold so many times that it’s difficult to tell how much of it is rumor and urban legend and how much is really true. Koichi Sakakibara recently transferred into Class 3 and isn’t sure what to believe and nobody is being particularly forthcoming about the situation. The curse could just simply be a ghost story, but his classmates and teachers are honestly frightened of something. And soon after Koichi’s arrival, a new series of deaths begin.

Another is a marvelous combination of mystery and horror. The first half of the novel explores the “what” and “why” of the increasingly odd situation while the second reveals the “how” and “who.” As a transfer student, Koichi is an outsider. He isn’t as knowledgeable as the other people involved, and they are reluctant to share information with him, so Koichi is largely left to investigate on his own. Eventually he gains some dubious allies, the most important being a young woman named Mei Misaki who may or may not actually exist. Ayatsuji excels at creating a constant air of uncertainty in Another—he introduces just enough creepiness and doubt that readers, like Koichi, are left questioning everything. While logical analysis is a valid option, the weirdness of the situation and the possibility of supernatural interference makes the more mundane, straightforward answers feel suspect. Additionally, Koichi himself is shown to be a somewhat unreliable narrator, and it’s his perspective of the unfolding events that drives Another.

Ayatsuji is particularly well-known for his inventive stories with dramatic twists. Another definitely falls into that category, the plot taking multiple clever and surprising turns over the course of the novel. However, without spoiling things, there was one major reveal towards the end that left me feeling cheated, especially when most of the other developments were so engaging. Retrospectively, the reveal does fit into the overall narrative, and there were some clues hinting at it scattered throughout the novel, but it isn’t foreshadowed as well as it could have been. As a result, I found it to be very unsatisfying. The revelation is shocking and certainly leaves an impact, but I think that had the information been shared earlier in the novel it could have been used even more effectively. Despite this one notable complaint, I actually quite enjoyed Another. The mystery was intriguing, the horror was disconcerting, and blended together they formed a chilling novel that was highly readable and kept me eagerly turning the pages.

The Decagon House Murders

The Decagon House MurdersAuthor: Yukito Ayatsuji
Translator: Ho-Ling Wong
U.S. publisher: Locked Room International
ISBN: 9781508503736
Released: June 2015
Original release: 1987

Originally published in 1987, Yukito Ayatsuji’s debut novel The Decagon House Murders is credited with sparking a renaissance in Japanese honkaku mystery fiction, a subgenre of classic detective fiction emphasizing logic and fair play. The novel was translated into English by Ho-Ling Wong (the text based off of the Japanese edition from 2007) and released in 2015 thanks to the efforts of Locked Room International, a group which works to publish translations of novels featuring locked room mysteries and impossible crimes. The English edition of The Decagon House Murders also includes an introduction written by Japanese mystery author Soji Shimada, which places the novel within the historical context of Japanese and world mystery fiction, as well as a brief essay by the translator. It was only after reading The Decagon House Murders that I realized why Ayatsuji’s name seemed so familiar to me—he wrote the horror mystery novel Another which was also recently translated and which received both a manga and an anime adaptation. Ayatsuji also happens to be the husband of Fuyumi Ono, the creator of The Twelve Kingdoms which I greatly enjoy.

Located on the currently uninhabited island of Tsunojima is the Decagon House, a peculiar building designed by the eccentric architect Seiji Nakamura, a man believed to have committed a series of murders on the island before taking his own life. The house, the island, and their history provides the perfect setting for some of the more accomplished members of a university mystery club to relax and find some inspiration for their writing during the break before classes resume. But what most of the group doesn’t realize is that Seiji Nakamura was the father of Chiori Nakamura, another club member who recently died as the result of one of their drinking parties. Chiori had a preexisting health condition, but at least one person feels that the club is responsible for her death. On the mainland members are receiving ominous and threatening letters signed with the name Seiji Nakamura and on the island one person after another dies under strange circumstances, and no one but the murderer knows killer’s identity.

The focus of The Decagon House Murders is definitely on its mystery. Character development in the novel is limited, enough to distinguish the individual players and to establish some of their back stories, but not so much that the reader really gets to know them as people. The murderer, whose motivations and meticulous schemes are eventually revealed, is the person who has the most depth as a character. Although there are twists to the story, Ayatsuji’s writing style is likewise straightforward and clean, lacking in heavy description or embellishments. Distraction is kept to a minimum as the facts of the case are laid out one after another, allowing readers the chance to pick up on clues and develop their own theories before everything is explained. At the same time, the members of the group trapped together on the island are themselves struggling to come up with their own solutions before they all end up dead. Ultimately, The Decagon House Murders is primarily about the murderous plot and it its execution.

Ayatsuji’s decision to make a large part of the cast of The Decagon House Murders members of a mystery club is a brilliant one. They are all well-versed in how similar crimes play out in fiction, but now they are faced with an increasingly deadly reality where those rules and expectations don’t necessarily apply; even though they know the possibilities, they can’t anticipate what will actually happen. I, too, am fairly familiar with many of the tropes and tricks used in mysteries about seemingly impossible crimes, however The Decagon House Murders still managed to surprise and satisfy me with its clever twists. I also particularly liked the narrative structure of the novel. At first the chapters alternate between the developing situation on the island and a related investigation occurring on the mainland, but eventually the two connected storylines merge together for the novel’s big reveal. The Decagon House Murders is apparently the first volume in a series of mysteries involving buildings designed by Seiji Nakamura. I have no idea if there are any plans to translate the others, but I would certainly be interested in reading them.