My Week in Manga: July 14-July 20, 2014

My News and Reviews

Two reviews were posted at Experiments in Manga last week, one of a manga and one not. The first review was part of my Year of Yuri monthly review project. I took a look at Milk Morinaga’s Gakuen Polizi, Volume 1, which is quite different from her other work currently available in English. The first volume at least is less of a romance and more of a buddy cop story, but it’s still fairly entertaining. (She does promise that more of the drama in the second volume will be romance-related and less crime-related, though.)

My second review last week was of Tokyo Demons, Book 2: Add a little Chaos, a novel written by Lianne Sentar with illustrations by Rem. In case it isn’t clear from the review, I absolutely adore Tokyo Demons. It can get pretty dark and heavy, but it’s a fantastic series. The second volume should be available as an ebook later this month and the print edition is currently scheduled for release in October. (Tokyo Demons is one of Chromatic Press and flagship series, so in the meantime it can also be read online at Sparkler Monthly.)

Once again I wasn’t actually online much last week, but I did catch a few things that other people may be interested in: Over at Comics Forum, Martin de la Iglesia writes about Early manga translations in the West. Kate at Reverse Thieves explains How the Library Became My Go-to Place for Manga and Comics. (I posted a bit about finding manga at the library a little while back, too.) And on Twitter, manga scholar and translator Matt Thorn hints that a project with Moto Hagio is in the works. Let’s hope so!

Quick Takes

Honey DarlingHoney Darling by Norikazu Akira. After reading and enjoying Beast & Feast I decided to track down more manga by Akira available in English. This led me to picking up Honey Darling. The manga isn’t the most realistic or believable, but it is cute, delightful, funny, and very sweet. Chihiro is a young man without any real goals in his life until he takes in a stray kitten. When Shiro falls ill, Chihiro ends up working as the live-in housekeeper for Kumazawa, the vet who treats her, and helping out in the animal clinic. Honey Darling has a lot going for it: nice art, a sense of humor, adorable cats and dogs, amusing and ttractive leads, likeable side characters (including women!), and so on. Ultimately Honey Darling is a boys’ love manga, though. As might be expected, Chihiro and Kumazawa become more than just roommates by the time the manga ends, but the development feels more like Akira fulfilling a requirement of the genre rather than being something that was necessarily called for by story itself. Still, I did enjoy Honey Darling a great deal, the two of them made me happy as a couple, and the manga frequently made me smile.

Lone Wolf and Cub, Omnibus 1Lone Wolf and Cub, Omnibuses 1-2 (equivalent to Volumes 1-5) written by Kazuo Koike and illustrated by Goseki Kojima. One of the first manga to be translated into English, Lone Wolf and Cub wasn’t released in its entirety until Dark Horse picked up the license. Sadly, the first Dark Horse edition was tiny and, while extremely portable, was difficult to read because the text was so small and crowded. Additionally, those original twenty-eight volumes have steadily been going out of print. Thankfully, Dark Horse recently started releasing Lone Wolf and Cub in an omnibus format with a larger trim size. Though quite hefty (each omnibus is around 700 pages and collects about two and a half volumes or so), the reading experience is much improved overall. Lone Wolf and Cub is an excellent series, so I’m very glad that the manga will remain in print for a bit longer. The series is fairly episodic, following the titular Lone Wolf and Cub: Ogami Ittō, who once served as the Shogun’s executioner but who has become an assassin-for-hire out of revenge over the destruction of his family, and his young son Diagorō.

Mail, Volume 1Mail, Volumes 1-3 by Housui Yamazaki. Summer is the time for ghost stories in Japan, so I felt it was appropriate to finally get around to reading Mail. I came across this short series thanks to The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service which shares the same illustrator. Reiji Akiba—detective, exorcist, and the protagonist of Mail—actually briefly appears in the fourth volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service as well. One of the things that particularly struck me about Mail is how often the stories incorporated modern technology such as cell phones and computers. It’s as though traditional ghost stories and urban legends have been updated for a contemporary audience. Occasionally Akiba will present a sort of prologue to the individual chapters, giving the stories an almost Twilight Zone feel to them. Mail can be legitimately creepy and at times a bit bloody, but gore is not at all the focus of the series. In general Mail is episodic, although the final volume adds a recurring character who becomes Akiba’s assistant as a sort of homage to Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack.

Stone Collector, Book 2Stone Collector, Book 2 written by Kevin Han and illustrated by Zom-J. I want to like Stone Collector more than I actually do, but at this point I can’t really say that I’ve been enjoying the manhwa much at all. It’s not all bad. The artwork in particular has moments when it can be impressively dynamic. The character’s facial expressions are great. Even the basic premise of the story isn’t terrible. As a whole though, Stone Collector just isn’t working for me. Though it moves along quickly, the plot is thin and the characters are underdeveloped, almost as if it’s an outline or draft than a finished product. The second half of the second volume of Stone Collector of is devoted to a side story, “Land of Ice.” I was more interested in “Land of Ice” than the main story more because of its tundra setting than anything else, but it still frustrated me and had many of the same problems that Stone Collector proper has. November 2013 was the last time there was a Stone Collector update. I’m not sure if there are plans to release more (it may simply be that “more” doesn’t exist yet), but the story clearly hasn’t reached its conclusion yet.

Sengoku Basara: Samurai KingsSengoku Basara: Samurai Kings, Season 2 directed by Kazuya Nomura. While I was entertained by the first season of Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings, I really enjoyed the second season. While there are still fantastically outrageous fights and action sequences, there’s also more focus on the characters and their characterization and on battle strategies and tactics. Personally, I appreciate the added context this gives the series. The characters, who continue to be magnificently and ridiculously overpowered, come across as a bit more human since their pasts and motivations are clearer. Their confrontations carry more emotional weight because of this as well. Miyamoto Musashi makes an appearance in this season, too. I was greatly amused by the fact that he fights with a giant oar. (Legend has it that Musashi once forgot to bring a sword with him to a duel and so carved a bokken out of the oar he used to get there; this why his weapon choice in Samurai Kings is simply perfect.) Samurai Kings is a tremendous amount of fun. Based on a video game that’s nominally based on actual events and historic figures, it’s wonderfully absurd and irreverent.

My Week in Manga: March 10-March 16, 2014

My News and Reviews

I managed to post three in-depth reviews last week, and two of them were for manga! First up was my review of Mieko Kanai’s delightful novel Indian Summer. Technically, it’s the third book in her Mejiro series, following Oh, Tama!, which I also recently read and enjoyed. However, Indian Summer was actually her first novel to be translated in English. As part of my Year of Yuri review project, I took a look at the omnibus edition of Milk Morinaga’s manga Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink. So far it has been my favorite yuri manga by Morinaga to have been released in English. It’s very cute, sweet, and romantic. And to wrap things up, over the weekend I posted the next review in my “Manga March Madness” project which focuses on Takehiko Inoue’s wheelchair basketball series Real. It was the third week in March, so I reviewed Real, Volume 3. I still think that Real is one of the best comics currently being released in English.

Quick Takes

HeartHeart written by Blair Butler and illustrated by Kevin Mellon. At one point Oren “Rooster” Redmond was a run-of-the-mill office worker. Bored with his job, he decides to take control of his life. Following in the footsteps of his older brother he starts by becoming an amateur MMA fighter. After months of grueling training he finally has the opportunity to go pro, but that’s when the hard work really begins. Heart follows the rise and fall of Rooster and the sacrifices that he makes. There’s too much face punching, blood, and machismo to call Heart sentimental, but it is a very human story. Rooster’s fights both in the cage and internally with himself are also representative of anybody’s struggle to accept themselves for who they are. Sometimes, no matter how hard someone tries or how much they improve, it will simply never be enough. It’s how someone deals with that fact that really determines who they are as a person. Heart is a great comic and one that I personally found to be inspirational, and not just because I’m a martial artist.

Prince of Cats, Issue 1Prince of Cats, Issues 1-4 by Kori Michele Handwerker. Prince of Cats is an ongoing webcomic that is free to read, however the print edition of the series includes some bonus content not available online. I knew going into Prince of Cats that the comic was a queer love story, but what I didn’t realize is that the series also features a transgender character, which I was rather pleased to discover. Handwerker hand paints each page of the comic and the watercolors are beautiful. The story itself is also lovely, focusing on the relationship between Lee and Frank who were once very close but who are starting to drift apart. Despite the high school drama, Prince of Cats tends to be quiet and subdued but very realistic (with the exception of talking cats, of course.) I could easily empathize with the characters and the portrayal of growing up in a conservative, rural area. It’s hard enough trying to fit in to begin with, let alone while also being a member of a minority (of any sort). I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of Prince of Cats.

Sherlock Bones, Volume 4Sherlock Bones, Volume 4 written by Yuma Ando and illustrated by Yuki Sato. In previous volumes of Sherlock Bones the answer to the various mysteries were known from the beginning. The challenge was simply to find evidence to prove who was guilty. However, in the fourth volume Sherdog and Takeru actually have to do some legitimate investigation and sleuthing. Granted, in all but one case the readers are already aware who the culprit is. I’m still enjoying Sherlock Bones more than I expected I would. The silliness of the premise is a bit at odds with the seriousness of many of the crimes (homicide, accidental and otherwise, is the one that is most frequently encountered), but for the most part it somehow works; Sherlock Bones can be unexpectedly entertaining. I would like to say that I will be extremely disappointed if Meowriarty doesn’t make another appearance in the series. As if Sherlock Holmes as a small puppy wasn’t ridiculous enough, Moriarty as a bruiser of a cat is marvelously absurd. Also, Sherdog needs an arch-nemesis.

Stone Collector, Volume 1Stone Collector, Book 1 written by Kevin Han and illustrated by Zom-J. Stone Collector is Gen Manga’s first manhwa series, but it reads from right to left, which is a little odd. I was rather surprised when I saw the first volume of Stone Collector; I’m used to the smaller trim sizes used by Gen Manga and hadn’t realized that Stone Collector was going to be so much larger. The oversized format shows off Zom-J’s artwork, which is very clean and fairly dynamic with great facial expressions. Frequently, I found that I was vaguely reminded of Kohta Hirano and especially Hellsing. Some of the battle sequences in Stone Collector are a little difficult to follow, and the lack of backgrounds often made it seem more like a storyboard than a fully realized comic. More attention is given to the fights and monsters than is given to a completely comprehensible plot or well-developed characters. However, it is a quickly paced, action-packed series. I could see a film adaptation of Stone Collector actually doing quite well.