My Week in Manga: June 6-June 12, 2011

My News and Reviews

I’ve mostly recovered from my trip to St. Louis and was able to post a couple reviews this past week. The first review was for the inaugural volume of the English edition of the Japanese literary journal Monkey Business. It’s a pretty cool collection that includes manga along with short fiction, poetry, and an interview with Haruki Murakami. The second review was for The Twelve Kingdoms, Volume 1: Sea of Shadow a fantasy light novel by Fuyumi Ono. I liked the first volume of The Twelve Kingdoms so well that I bought the rest of the series (well, all of the books that were published in English, anyway) as well as the anime adaptation. Next week is the Wild Adapter Manga Moveable Feast, hosted by Manga Bookshelf. Wild Adapter is one of my favorite series, so I’m looking forward to the Feast. I’ll be reviewing the first volume as well as taking a quick look at Mahjong and Kubota.

I’ve added two publishers (well, a publisher and an imprint) to the Resources page: Kodansha Comics, which has taken over quite a few of Del Rey’s titles and Kodansha licenses, and Digital Manga’s new hentai imprint Project H.

Quick Takes

7 Billion Needles, Volumes 2-4 by Nobuaki Tadano. 7 Billion Needles is a nice, compact, four volume science fiction series. Tadano’s artwork is consistently well done but the plot feels a little hurried in the last two volumes. Some elements, like the subspecies and the Moderator, are introduced without much explanation. I do like Hikaru’s rapport with Horizon and Maelstrom and it doesn’t feel forced. I still haven’t read Hal Clement’s novel Needle, but I’m interested in the source material since I enjoyed the manga. The final volume includes the story “Hikikomori Headphone Girl” which I quite liked; the main character serves as a prototype for Hikaru although the plot is unrelated to 7 Billion Needles.

Finder, Volumes 1-3 by Ayano Yamane. Finder began in a special S&M issue and so understandably the sex is fairly intense and explicit, especially in the first volume. Because Akihito is constantly being abducted by one criminal faction or another there is a fair amount of non-con to begin with. But while there’s plenty of sex, there’s also a fairly well developed plot to go along with it. And I really like Yamane’s artwork; it’s clean and consistent. Her men are definitely lanky bishōnen, but they also have some muscle, which I like to see. Each volume also includes a few unrelated stories; I’m particularly happy to see the characters from “Plants in Love” make repeat appearances.

Iono-sama Fanatics, Volume 1 by Miyabi Fujieda. What a delightful yuri fantasy! It’s too bad the second volume was never published in English, I would really like to read it. Iono is the queen of a small country who has a habit of collecting women. At the moment, she is particularly interested in black haired maidens and so has come to Japan to find some to take home with her. The art is attractive and while Fujieda might overuse chibis, they are absolutely adorable. Iono-sama Fanatics is funny and sweet with charming characters, particularly the titular Iono. Her attendants are completely devoted to her and she adores them in return; I couldn’t help but love her sincere but lighthearted personality.

Itsuwaribito, Volume 1 by Yuuki Iinuma. Do not allow the cuddly tanuki on the cover fool you: there’s some cute in Itsuwaribito but there’s even more bloody violence. Iinuma does some clever things with the concept of lying to do good, but Utsuho’s catch phrases “I was lying” and “I was lying about lying” were pretty obvious and somewhat annoying. I do like his moral ambiguity, though.  His obi is absolutely ridiculous, but it does prove to be useful. I personally preferred the character of Doctor Yakuma, who is introduced towards the end of the first volume, and was very happy to learn that he becomes one of the main protagonists in the series. And Pochi, the aforementioned tanuki, is really cute.

The Lower Depths directed by Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa’s film The Lower Depths is based on Maxim Gorky’s play The Lower Depths. I’m not familiar with the play, but I am familiar with Kurosawa’s films and have liked all of the ones that I have seen so far. The Lower Depths doesn’t really have much of a plot, and most of the film takes place in a single room, but it does make up for it with memorable and interesting characters—a group of tenants living together and their landlords, each with their own story to tell. They form an odd sort of family, and many of them don’t get along all that well, but the arrival of a new lodger allows all of them the opportunity to shake things up a bit.

Woman in the Dunes directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara. Woman in the Dunes is based on a novel by the same name by Kōbō Abe. Abe actually wrote the screenplay, as well, so it’s not too surprising that the adaptation sticks very close to the original material. An amateur entomologist visiting a secluded area to search for beetles finds himself held captive in a village that is slowly succumbing to the sand dunes that surround it. Left at the bottom of a sand pit with the widow who calls it home, they must shovel sand to survive. It sounds rather odd, and it is, but it’s also a fascinating story. Reading the novel and watching the film, I can only cringe thinking how terribly uncomfortable sex must be in such a sandy environment.

My Week in Manga: April 25-May 1, 2011

My News and Reviews

So, last week was the Rumiko Takahashi Manga Moveable Feast. I hope you all had a good time; I know I did! I even managed to devote each of my posts last week to the Feast in one way or another. I took a quick look a several of Takahashi’s manga and anime adaptations of her work. I also posted my second in-depth manga review for April: Mermaid Saga, Volume 1. And as a reminder, April’s manga giveaway, Return of Ranma, is for the first two volumes of Ranma 1/2. The winner will be announced Wednesday, so get your entries in!

Next month’s Manga Moveable Feast will feature Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game. Derik Badman at The Panelists will be hosting.

Quick Takes

7 Billion Needles, Volume 1 by Nobuaki Tadano. Based on Hal Clement’s 1950 novel Needle, the first two volumes of 7 Billion Needles are currently under consideration for the 2011 Eisner Award for Best Adaptation from Another Work. I haven’t read Needle so I can’t say how 7 Billion Needles compares, but I’m always glad to see manga nominated for comics awards. I’m impressed that this is Tadano’s debut work—the artwork, characterization, and pacing of the plot in the first volume are excellent. While mostly serious in tone, there are some great moments of humor. I find it interesting that becoming a host for an alien being actually forces Hikaru to become less alienated from her classmates.

The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography by Tetsu Saiwai. The 14th Dalai Lama isn’t a bad manga by any means, it just wasn’t as good as I was hoping it to be. It doesn’t really seem to have a strong narrative flow to me. Instead, it’s almost as if the manga is simply an illustrated time-line and listing of facts. I think I was hoping for something a little more engaging. However, I did find Saiwai’s simple art style to be very appealing. Also, kudos for the inclusion of a bibliography. The 14th Dalai Lama makes for a fine introduction to the historical events surrounding Tibet and the Dalai Lama. The manga doesn’t focus on any one aspect in depth but provides a broad overview of the situation. I could easily see this book being used as a text in a history class.

20th Century Boys, Volumes 3-6 by Naoki Urasawa. One of Urasawa’s great skills is the ability to give a reader just enough information to be able to follow the story and want to know more about what is happening without seeming to reveal anything about what is actually going on. Some plot elements stretch credibility, but the story is addictive and has great characters. I’m particularly fond of Kenji and Shogun and…well, just about everyone. What I really like about 20th Century Boys is how Urasawa plays with the manga’s chronology and the characters’ memories. The various threads are slowly being brought together and it’s fascinating to watch how the different timelines interact with one another.

Café Latte Rhapsody by Tōko Kawai. This was a sweet and sort of goofy boys’ love one shot. Not goofy as in funny, but more like cute and awkward (very awkward). I initially picked up the manga because the main character, Hajime, works in a bookstore. He has a bubbly and likeable personality. Keito, on the other hand, unintentionally scares people away until they take the time to get to know him. The two turn out to be very good for one another as they both have self esteem issues to work through. I do wonder if Keito is actually in love or if he’s just attaching himself to the first person he feels completely comfortable around. Granted, that can often be the same thing.

Mermaid Forest directed by Masaharu Okuwaki. Last week I read Rumiko Takahashi’s Mermaid Saga and fell in love with it. So I decided to track down another version of the work. It’s not quite as effective as the source material, but Mermaid Forest is a pretty good adaptation and offers some new details. The thirteen episodes (although only the first eleven were aired on television) cover all but one of the stories from Mermaid Saga. Overall, I liked the character designs but didn’t find the animation itself to be particularly notable, although it gets better as the series progresses. They did attempt to tone down some of the blood and violence, particularly in the early episodes, but the visual adjustments aren’t convincing.

The Taste of Tea directed by Katsuhito Ishii. This is such a strange and surreal film. The Taste of Tea has won quite a few awards. I probably didn’t totally get it, but I did enjoy watching it immensely. The cinematography is beautiful and the visuals are marvelous. The Haruno family is made up of some very unique and colorful individuals but they obviously love one another despite their differences. It’s often difficult to say exactly where reality starts and ends and to what extent their stories are true and what is made up. But when all is said and done, it doesn’t really matter. The film is entertaining, touching, and heartfelt. I really like the Harunos—they seem to be a family that would be fun to know in real life.