My Week in Manga: April 27-May 3, 2015

My News and Reviews

Last week was the end of one month and the beginning of another, which means the most recent manga giveaway at Experiments in Manga is currently underway. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, so there’s still a little time to enter for a chance to win Miki Yoshikawa’s Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, Volume 1. An in-depth manga review was posted last week as well. I took a look at Aki’s The Angel of Elhamburg, a bittersweet tragedy which, although it can be difficult to follow in places, is a lovely single-volume manga. And finally, over the weekend, April’s Bookshelf Overload was posted for those who are curious about the manga that made its way into my home last month.

On to other interesting reading and news found elsewhere online! Sparkler Monthly has started a monthly blog and the first post Why do we need “comics for women”? Why not “comics for everyone”? is excellent. Seven Seas announced three new manga licenses last week: Katsuhisa Kigitsu’s Fraken Fran, Wataru Karasuma’s Not Lives, and Ichigo Takano’s Orange (which is also being released digitally by Crunchyroll.) Franken Fran in particular has been a oft-requested title by fans. Organization Anti-Social Geniuses talked with Lissa Pattillo from Seven Seas about the Franken Fran license. Also at OASG is an interview with Hope Donovan, a managing editor at Viz Media. And Mangabrog has posted a translation of a conversation between mangaka Nobuyuki Fukumoto and musician and author Kenji Ohtsuki.

Quick Takes

Cipher, Volume 1Cipher, Volumes 1-6 by Minako Narita. During its time, CMX published some really great manga, including several old-school shoujo series. Cipher is one of those, and probably one of the most eighties manga that I’ve read. The series, set in New York, began serialization in 1984 and includes many references to American pop culture of the time. Anise is trying to make friends with Siva, an up-and-coming actor as well as one of her classmates, when she discovers his secret. He has a twin, Cipher, and they’ve been taking turns pretending to be “Siva.” And so they make a bet: if after two weeks she can tell the two twins apart, they will tell her why they have been sharing an identity. Cipher doesn’t always have the most believable story—for one, I don’t know of any parents who would ever let their child move in with someone they’ve never met even temporarily—but the characters and interpersonal drama are consistently engaging and at times even compelling. So far, I’m loving it. Cipher is often slow-moving, generally focusing on the everyday lives of American teenagers, but a plot twist towards the end of the sixth volume hastens and sets up important character and story developments for the second half of the series.

Junk!Junk! Shushushu Sakurai. If I’m not mistaken, Junk! was the very last manga to be released by DramaQueen before the publisher disappeared. Like Sakurai’s other DramaQueen release, Missing Road, Junk! is a boys’ love manga that incorporates elements of science fiction and action. Also like Missing Road, Junk! is a manga that could have benefited from additional volumes in order to explore some of the complexities of the plot and setting. Reading these manga, Sakurai seems to be overly ambitious when it comes to her stories. However, I think Junk! is the more cohesive, coherent, and successful of the two overall. Even though it’s only a single volume, Junk! has a lot going on in it. A religious cult focused on breeding people together—whether they are male or female—in order to foster the evolution of even stronger humans. A man who holds the key to a closely kept government secret that ensures a person’s survival even in the face a nuclear apocalypse. And, because it is a mature boys’ love title after all, there’s plenty of sex, too, even at inopportune moments. (Seriously, taking time to bang your lover in the middle of a dangerous infiltration mission doesn’t seem to be the wisest decision.)

My Little Monster, Volume 7My Little Monster, Volume 7 by Robico. The last few volumes of My Little Monster left me a little frustrated with the lack of progress in the development of the series’ story and in the relationships of its characters. Fortunately, the seventh volume seems to get things back on track and the manga continues to be a fairly amusing and even endearing series from time to time. Also, I love that after everything that has happened, Nagoya, the pet chicken, continues to make repeated appearances. The cast of My Little Monster is made up of a bunch of oddballs who tend to be socially awkward, but I do like them quite a bit. Part of that social awkwardness means they can be completely oblivious to other people’s feelings, even when those feelings have been clearly and repeatedly stated. To be fair, they’re sometimes oblivious to their own feelings as well. The result is one heck of a mess of tangled and conflicting relationships. The seventh volume of My Little Monster sees some but certainly not all of those relationships sorted out after several confessions of love are made and replies to them eventually given. At this point the series is more than halfway over, so I hope Robico is able to maintain its forward momentum.

Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 11Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 11 by Mitsuru Hattori. I was very curious to see how Sankarea would end since I honestly had no idea which direction Hattori was going to take things. And now that I’ve read the final volume, I’m not entirely convinced that Hattori actually knew, either. From the very beginning Sankarea has been a strange mix of horror and romantic comedy, an offbeat story with offbeat characters. Sometimes the ideal balance between the two genres was there, and sometimes it wasn’t. The finale of Sankarea would seem to demand that Hattori choose one over the other, but instead he attempts to satisfy the requirements of both by employing a series of false endings. I think that ultimately the conclusion of Sankarea would have been more satisfying if Hattori had simply picked one ending and ran with it. Like the rest of the series, the eleventh volume of Sankarea had its cute and sweet moments as well its moments of blood and gore. It also has the return of Rea’s abusive father (legitimately one of the most disturbing elements of the series), trying to put him in a slightly more sympathetic light.  In the end, little Bub the undead cat is probably still my favorite part of the entire series.

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  1. AshLynx says

    I really like Cipher, definitely the most 80s thing out there (except for its hilariously awful OVA, which can be found on youtube, and is just a bunch of 80s covers and that I only recommend on the basis of being pretty hilarious). Though I do think it has a bit of problem portraying America, it’s very clearly from a Japanese perspective (I don’t know anyone who calls their parents by their first name, except maybe step-parents, since I didn’t meet my step-dad until I was around 20). Minako Narita especially seems to think that NYC is way too safe (even the bad parts) and that drug dealers are all too happy to lose customers and that parents let their kids roam free range all the time (in an era without cell phones, mind you). Though I am impressed that she realizes that American schools have cafeterias and lockers. Still, her NYC seems to be the exact opposite of Banana Fish’s NYC in some ways, though I imagine the difference between the characters being regular high schoolers vs gangsters goes a long way towards that. Though they’re both pretty 80s NYCs (though to different degrees)
    But she definitely goes all 80s in the series, I just love it! Hairstyles, Sex Wax jackets, 80s bands constantly mentioned in the side columns, I find it oddly charming. It was made during the 80s too, she was clearly loving living in that era and I find the 80s charming myself (I wasn’t born until the tail end of the 80s, so I never really experienced it first hand)
    I really wish it had done well enough for the spin-off, Alexandrite (a character you might not have met yet), to have come out here too. And I wish more companies would release older shojo like this (really, it seems anything pre-00s counts as “old” now, so let’s just go with that, but I really want 80s and especially 70s shojo). I almost find it strange that during the early 00s, it was easier to release older shojo like Basara or Banana Fish or Please Save My Earth, did the bubble help that a lot or something? Now we almost never see licenses for anything older than 5 years (not counting ongoing things), I miss that :(

    • Ash Brown says

      I’m really liking Cipher and look forward to finishing the series, hopefully next week. A bit soap opera-y in places, but immensely fascinating (and so, so eighties!). I’ll have to check out the OVA at some point, too. :D

      NYC in Cipher is a surprisingly wholesome place, especially when compared to a series like Banana Fish (which I really need to reread again soon!). All the points that you mention struck me as a little odd as well. But, as you also mention, Cipher gets some things right that most other manga I’ve read tend to get wrong!

      There’s just something about decades-old shoujo manga that I love. I’ve enjoyed just about every series that I’ve read from the 70s, 80s, and early 90s. Fortunately (?), I’m just now delving into CMX’s treasure trove, so that will keep me happy for a little while. As unlikely as it is to ever happen, I would love to see more “classic” shoujo licensed.

  2. For what it’s worth, the Sankarea anime is a million times better than the crappy manga. It takes the implicit concept – the mono no aware of being a zombie/having a zombie girlfriend – and makes that the focus of the story over the much weaker comedic elements. In fact, the lousy parts of the anime are when they chose to stay more faithful to the manga. There are parts of the anime that are incredibly moving…something which really isn’t true of the manga, and especially not its horrid ending.

    • Ash Brown says

      That’s good to know, thanks! There were parts of the manga that I really liked, but it sounds as though I would actually enjoy the anime adaptation much more than the original in this case.

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