My Week in Manga: February 17-February 23, 2014

My News and Reviews

Two reviews posted last week! First up was Jeffery Angles’ Writing the Love of Boys: Origins of Bishōnen Culture in Modernist Japanese Literature. It’s a very interesting work examining the portrayal of male-male desire in Japanese literature in the early twentieth century. I discovered Writing the Love of Boys while looking for more information about Edogawa Rampo and his writing. The work even briefly addresses boys’ love manga, which I didn’t realize that it would when I first picked up the volume. The second review from last week was of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 4: Jaburo. I’ll be honest, since I wasn’t already a Gundam fan, I didn’t anticipate that I would be enjoying this series as much as I am. I’ve actually been quite impressed with the manga. Yasuhiko’s artwork is fantastic and the balance between the individual characters’ struggles and the war as a whole has been excellent. And It doesn’t hurt that Vertical’s edition of The Origin is simply gorgeous.

As for interesting things online: Matt Thorn received An unambiguous response from Asano Inio regarding the use of pronouns and has some final thoughts on the whole affair. I had somehow forgotten about Ryan Holmberg’s What Was Alternative Manga? column at The Comics Journal. The latest article examines Shinohara Ushio’s Action Cartooning. In the most recent House of 1000 Manga column, Jason Thompson uses the return of two boxes of manga amounting to 64 Pounds of Porn as a jumping off point to discuss some of the history of the publication of hentai and ecchi manga in English. Manga translator Amanda Haley was interviewed over at Organization Anti-Social Geniuses. In somewhat older news, but Brigid Alverson and Publishers Weekly now have bit more information about it—Digital Manga, Inc. to Publish Tezuka Backlist.

Quick Takes

Gangsta, Volume 1Gangsta, Volume 1 by Kohske. Other than having seen some of the artwork and having a rough sense of the series’ premise, I actually didn’t know much about Gangsta going into the first volume. It turns out that the manga is Kohske’s first series and it seems to be doing fairly well for her. At the very least, I can say that I’m definitely interested in reading more of Gangsta. Worick and Nicolas are two “handymen” who are brought in to deal, often quite violently, with people and situations that for one reason or another the authorities would rather avoid. The two men have dark pasts, ties to organized crime, and a very close relationship with each other, but only one volume in the details have mostly just been hinted at. I like Nic and Worick a lot, and am particularly interested in learning more about Nic and his background. At one point a mercenary, he’s an incredibly skilled and powerful fighter. He’s also a “tag” with superhuman abilities, considered to be a monster or freak by many. Worick can hold his own, too, though. They’re both badasses with attitudes. The supporting cast is also pretty great.

Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, Volume 1Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, Volumes 1-2 by Motoro Mase. In order to encourage the population to value life and increase social productivity, the National Welfare Act is passed. During inoculation, 1 out of 1,000 people are randomly injected with a nano-capsule that will kill them sometime between the age of 18 and 24. The day before they are scheduled to die, they receive death papers—Ikigami—so that they can prepare for their last hours. Ikigami follows those people and how they deal and cope with their impending deaths. It’s a grim subject matter, but handled well. The manga manages to show that even seemingly senseless deaths matter and can have a purpose—people can continue to influence others even after they are gone. At this point, Ikigami seems to be largely episodic. However, there is also an overarching framing story that ties everything together. Kengo Fujimoto is one of the government workers responsible for delivering Ikigami to those who are about to die. He struggles to come to terms with his work and the role he plays within the system as he (and therefore the readers) learn more about it.

The Manzai Comics, Volume 1The Manzai Comics, Volume 1 written by Atsuko Asano and illustrated by Hizuru Imai. I discovered The Manzai Comics due to the fact that it is written by the author of No. 6. It’s a five-volume series, but only the first volume was ever released in English. I was actually quite surprised by The Manzai Comics; it’s a rather delightful and amusing manga. And touching, too, as transfer student Ayumu struggles to overcome his hikikomori tendencies and is almost forcefully befriended by his new classmates. One of the major running jokes is that almost everything that Takashi says to Ayumu when taken out of context makes it sound like he’s hitting on him. When he’s talking about “doing it” and so on, he’s talking about becoming a manzai duo, not boyfriends. (Although it may very well be that Takashi is gay; it’s left as an ambiguous possibility.) In some ways, The Manzai Comics is like a boys’ love manga without actually being a boys’ love manga. People who are at least passing familiar with manzai stand-up comedy will probably get a little more out of it than those who aren’t, but that knowledge isn’t at all necessary to enjoy the story as a whole.

Swan, Volume 10Swan, Volumes 10-12 by Kyoko Ariyoshi. I am still absolutely loving Swan. The Second Annual Tokyo World Ballet Competition is drawing to a close, but the passion and intensity of the dancers is as strong as ever. They are all pushing themselves to the breaking point in order to give their very best performances. Ultimately the competition is too much for some of the dancers, both physically and emotionally, as they are confronted with their own limitations. These particular volumes of Swan emphasize the importance of a dancer’s personal strength and abilities, but also the importance of a dancer’s partner and their ability to work with, rely upon, and support each other. This extends beyond the realm of dance and spills over into the rest of their lives, as well. Years have passed since the story first began; it’s marvelous to see how much Masumi has changed and developed as the Swan has progressed, not just as a dancer but as a person. I like her even more now than I did the beginning. She’s gone through a lot of trials, pain, and suffering for her art, but she has also experienced great joy and satisfaction because of it.

Gatchaman CrowdsGatchaman Crowds directed by Kenji Nakamura. I am only vaguely familiar with the Gatchaman franchise and so wasn’t initially intending to watch Gatchaman Crowds, but after hearing nothing but good things about the series I decided to give it a try. I’m glad that I did because I ended up quite enjoying Gatchaman Crowds. Hajime Ichinose is the most recent member of the Gatchaman team, a group of humans and aliens granted superpowers in order to protect the planet from aliens that would do it and the population harm. She’s an extraordinarily vibrant and optimistic young woman, and at first I thought she was going to be terribly annoying, but Hajime turns out to be a fantastic character and is not nearly as naive as one might expect. Her presence on the team has a huge effect on the other members and they all begin to rethink what it means to be Gatchaman and what their roles as superheros should be. Basically, it’s a series about using your skills and talents to the best of your ability no matter who you are and how even dangerous powers (and technology) can be harnessed for good.

No. 6, Volume 4

No. 6, Volume 4Creator: Hinoki Kino
Original story: Atsuko Asano

U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781612623580
Released: December 2013
Original release: 2012

Hinoki Kino’s manga series No. 6 is an adaptation of a series of nine science fiction novels written by Atsuko Asano. The fourth volume of the No. 6 manga was originally published in Japan in 2012. The English-language edition of No. 6, Volume 4 was released by Kodansha Comics in 2013. My introduction to No. 6 was actually through the anime adaptation, but I have been enjoying the manga’s rendition of the story as well. I have had a fondness for dystopian fiction ever since I was introduced to the genre in high school and so I am particularly pleased that a manga series like No. 6 is being released in English. I did find the first volume to be a little rushed and disjointed in places, but each subsequent volume has continued to improve and the series has settled into an excellent pace. The characters and world-building have also been developing rather nicely. Because the series keeps getting better, I was looking forward to reading the fourth volume.

Shion’s close friend Safu has been arrested by the Security Bureau of No. 6 and taken to the Correctional Facility, which may very well mean her death. Rat has known about Safu’s predicament for some time, but it’s something that he has been keeping a secret from Shion, concerned that he would put his own life at risk in order to rescue Safu. Rat is soon proven correct when, by chance, Shion discovers that Safu has been taken. Shion is prepared to do anything that he can to save her, even if that means doing it alone. But, despite his reservations, Rat isn’t about to let that happen. Infiltrating the Correctional Facility won’t be easy. Both Shion and Rat have been classified as dangerous criminal fugitives by No. 6’s authorities which severely limits their movements outside of West Block. Simply getting information about what is happening in No. 6 is a difficult task which will require all of the connections and influence that the two young men can muster. They are at a definite disadvantage and their situation is nearly impossible, but Rat and Shion are determined to come out of it alive however unlikely.

While the previous volume or so took time to further establish the relationships between the characters in the manga, No. 6, Volume 4 ratchets up the pace again, moving the plot forward quite handily. This is not to say that Kino has forgotten the series’ main players for the sake of the story. In fact, there are some absolutely wonderful character moments in the fourth volume. These are critical for the development of both the plot and the characters themselves. It is quite clear by this point in the manga that Shion and Rat deeply care about each other. But in No. 6, Volume 4 Shion is forced to confront just how vicious Rat can be, something that he has been avoiding. Rat has never hesitated to intimidate or threaten other people and is a master manipulator. Though up until now he has largely (but not completely) kept his overt violence in check, when given a reason and opportunity he can be absolutely terrifying. Rat’s actions in this volume are nominally for Shion’s sake, but he also has an intense, deep-seated hatred and anger towards No. 6 which lends to his brutality.

West Block has always been a violent place, but at least its residents are honest and forthright about it. They hold no delusions as they often literally have to fight to survive. On the other hand, there’s No. 6. The city is presented as a perfect society even though it is anything but. Granted, most of No. 6’s citizens are completely unaware that anything untoward is going on and those who do suspect find themselves conveniently disappeared. Because of this, No. 6 is actually the more terrifying of the two places. What exactly is going on in No. 6 has yet to be made clear. There have been some hints, and Shion and the others have uncovered a few clues, but even some of No. 6’s highest ranking officials aren’t privy to that information. All that is known is that some sort of terrible experiment is being conducted on the city’s population. However, the goal, purpose, and motivation behind that experiment hasn’t been revealed yet. With plenty of questions remaining to be answered and the story increasing in intensity, I’m definitely looking forward to reading the next volume of No. 6.

No. 6, Volume 3

No. 6, Volume 3Creator: Hinoki Kino
Original story: Atsuko Asano

U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781612623573
Released: October 2013
Original release: 2012

Hinoki Kino’s No. 6 manga is one of two adaptations available based on Atsuko Asano’s series of science fiction novels No. 6. My introduction to the story was through the anime series, but I am very glad to see the manga being released in English as well. No. 6, Volume 3 was originally published in Japan in 2012. The English-language edition was released by Kodansha Comics in 2013. Although the manga and the anime both share the same character designs and basic story, they are both different interpretations of the original novels. The manga, which is currently still an ongoing series, actually began serialization before the anime adaptation began airing. I quite enjoyed the No. 6 anime—except for its rushed original ending—which is why I was particularly interested in reading Kino’s manga. I felt the first volume was a bit uneven, but the second volume improved in both world-building and pacing, so I was looking forward to reading the third.

Even though at one point he was considered to be among No. 6’s elite, Shion is now a fugitive hiding outside of the city in West Block. Currently he is living with Rat who has already saved Shion’s life on several occasions and who himself is listed as a violent criminal by No. 6. Fortunately, the city seems to have very little interest in what is going on outside of its walls, so the two young men should at least be safe for the time being. In fact, Shion seems to be adapting surprisingly well to life in West Block, although his kindheartedness and naivety still have a tendency to get him into trouble. Inside the city, Shion’s mother is still afraid for her missing son’s safety and Shion’s childhood friend Safu wants to do anything that she can to find him. The risks involved in searching for Shion are not small and both of the women are under close surveillance by the authorities. A single mistake could lead to their arrest or convenient disappearance.

The relationship between Rat and Shion has always been an important part of the No. 6 manga. This hasn’t changed with No. 6, Volume 3, but the volume also further develops the relationships between them and the other characters. The pacing of the third volume is happily a bit slower than the first two which allows more time for Kino to better explore those relationships. Particularly telling is Rat’s interactions with Dogkeeper and how different they are from his interactions with Shion. Rat normally doesn’t hesitate to manipulate and intimidate other people and is more than willing to resort to violence. It’s his way of distancing himself from others in an attempt to avoid being hurt or taken advantage of. There is a small amount of kindness to be found in Rat’s personality, but he keeps it very well hidden. Shion is Rat’s complete opposite in this and seems to be made up of nothing but kindness, though he certainly has become less of a pushover than he once was.

It’s not only that Shion, Rat, and the others have different personalities, it’s that they have completely different worldviews and ways of thinking. This is a sources of strife in their relationships, but from this conflict comes subtle changes in their attitudes. Shion has an effect on those around him and he in turn is slowing changing as well. As an outsider in West Block, Shion asks questions that no one else would think to ask; he’s not as naive as he first appears, simply more open-minded and optimistic. Those used to living in the harsh environment of West Block have lost that idealism, and in time Shion may lose it as well as he is confronted with the terrible reality of West Block and the truth behind No. 6. He is strangely accepting of his own situation and exile, but when it comes to those he cares about he feels compelled to protect them at any cost, even if it puts him in danger. Each volume of the No. 6 manga continues to improve; I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where Kino takes things next.

No. 6, Volume 2

No. 6, Volume 2Creator: Hinoki Kino
Original story: Atsuko Asano

U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781612623566
Released: August 2013
Original release: 2011

My introduction to Atsuko Asano’s No. 6 was through the anime adaptation of the original novels. I enjoyed the setting and characters, but was disappointed in the anime’s rushed, original ending. Asano’s No. 6 novels are unlikely to be released in English, so I was glad when Kodansha licensed Hinoki Kino’s manga adaptation of the series. The second volume of the No. 6 manga, originally published in Japan in 2011, was released in English in 2013. Although Kino’s character designs are based on the same ones used for the anime and many of the underlying elements are the same (they are both adaptations of the No. 6 novels after all), Kino’s version of the story is different. The first volume of the manga was a little too quickly paced for my taste, but for the most part I still enjoyed it. However, I did have hopes that the second volume would slow down a bit after the first volume‘s rush to establish the characters, story, and setting.

After barely escaping from the holy city of No. 6, Shion is now a fugitive hiding in West Block, a dangerous area outside of the city walls and No. 6’s dumping grounds. Although he is out of immediate danger, he still has a lot to learn about West Block if he hopes to survive there. The violent and bleak conditions outside the city are very different from the peaceful and pampered life that Shion led in No. 6. The only reason he’s made it this far is thanks to the help of Rat, the young man whose life Shion once saved as a boy. The two make an unusual pair. Shion is altruistic and slow to doubt people, characteristics which could get him into big trouble in West Block, while Rat only looks out for himself and is much more wary of others. Saving Shion’s life was a way for Rat to repay his debt, but in the process he has begun to open up to another person. For the time being Rat persists in watching over the other young man, but he is also capable of turning on Shion at any moment.

One of my favorite things about the No. 6 anime was the relationship between Rat and Shion. I’ve happily found this to be the case with the manga as well. Even though it’s only the second volume, there has already been some very nice character development. Both Shion and Rat are beginning to change due to the circumstances surrounding Shion’s escape from No. 6 and their continued association with each other. As Shion is faced with the harsh realities of living in West Block and Rat’s seemingly uncaring attitude, he is learning to stand up for himself and what matters to him. In turn, Shion is also influencing Rat to a much greater extent than either of them at first realize. When it comes to Shion, Rat finds himself acting out of character and letting his guard down. It understandably bothers and worries him, but it’s also rather touching from an outsider’s perspective. I’m really enjoying watching their relationship evolve in No. 6.

In addition to character development, the second volume of the No. 6 manga also reveals more about No. 6 and West Block. As Shion experiences West Block first hand, nearly getting killed in the process, the readers are also introduced to the world in which he now lives through the people he meets—the children who are starving, the marketplace vendors who are quick to pull guns on thieves, the prostitutes and pimps. Everyone is struggling to get by in any way that they can. It also reveals in part why Rat has the personality that he does. To survive in West Block requires people to place their own needs above those of others. Simply trusting another person means taking a huge risk. It’s a hard lesson for Shion with his innocent nature and privileged upbringing. The second volume of No. 6 does build and improve on the first in its pacing, characterization, and world-building. I can honestly say that I’m looking forward to the next volume of Kino’s adaptation.

No. 6, Volume 1

Creator: Hinoki Kino
Original story: Atsuko Asano

U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781612623559
Released: June 2013
Original release: 2011

Hinoki Kino’s manga adaptation of No. 6 is the second adaptation of Atsuko Asano’s nine-volume series of science fiction novels to be released in English. The first, and my introduction to No. 6, was the 2011 anime adaptation directed by Kenji Nagasaki. While I largely enjoyed the anime, the rushed and fumbled ending left me disappointed. The first volume of the No. 6 manga was originally published in Japan in 2011, a few months before the anime began airing. Kodansha’s English-language edition of No. 6, Volume 1 was released in 2013. It’s highly unlikely that Asano’s original novels (which are really what I would like to read) will ever be licensed in English, and so I was intrigued when Kodansha announced that Kino’s manga adaptation would be published. Since the series is still currently being serialized in Japan, I’m hoping that the story will have a properly executed ending this time around.

On the surface, the city of No. 6 appears to be an ideal, utopic society. The crime rate is negligible. Medical and technological advancements offer its citizens unprecedented comfort and care. Shion is among the elite of the elite. Identified at a young age as a prodigy with a particular affinity for medicine and ecology, he and his mother have their every need provided for by the city. But when Shion saves the life of a young fugitive named Rat, helping him to escape, Shion is stripped of his status and special privileges. He has seen a brief glimpse of the darker side of No. 6. Four years later he’ll see even more when he stumbles upon a pair of bizarre deaths and he becomes the perfect scapegoat for the supposed murders. With his own life now in danger, Shion has a decision to make: flee No. 6 and the only life he knows or remain in a city that no longer considers him human.

The first volume of No. 6 does a nice job of establishing the series’ two main protagonists: Shion and Rat. Although the two young men share an important connection with each other, they come from very different backgrounds and have very different personalities. Shion is intelligent but sheltered and there’s a certain innocence about him. He comes across as a bit naive and socially awkward, but he is intensely curious and searches for the significance behind things. Even though most of Rat’s past hasnt’ been revealed, it is quite clear by the end of the first volume of No. 6 that he has had a much rougher time of it. He is quick-witted but world-weary and cynical. The underlying meaning of a situation isnt’ nearly as important to him as is the immediate reality. It’s simply a matter of survival. In part because they are so different, Rat and Shion find themselves drawn to each other.

After only one volume, No. 6 has yet to really distinguish itself from other dystopian fiction. It’s a fairly standard set up with a seemingly perfect society that’s not quite everything it appears to be. The manga itself often feels very rushed in places and lacking in details in others. There were a few scenes that had I not previously seen the anime would have left me momentarily confused. In the afterword Kino admits to having had to cut much more from the manga than was ideal in order not to surpass page limits. Even so, No. 6, Volume 1 provides the needed introduction to the story and outlines the world in which it takes place. I hope that now that the stage has been set that the manga will have room to breath and slow down a little. It is a different version of the story than was seen in the anime; I’m looking forward to seeing where Kino takes it.