My Week in Manga: July 2-July 8, 2012

My News and Reviews

I was on vacation for most of last week, which basically meant that I was camping in the backwoods of Ohio with nearly thirty of my relatives. Even with no Internet connection and no cell phone reception, I was able to schedule a few posts for while I was away. First was the announcement of the From Eroica with Love Giveaway Winner, which also includes a short wishlist of out-of-print manga. I also posted June’s Bookshelf Overload. Finally, my review for Haikasoru’s first original anthology The Future Is Japanese is up. I was really looking forward to this release and was ultimately very satisfied with it. Because I was out in the middle of the woods, I’m sure that I missed out on most of the manga news from the past week. If there’s anything particularly exciting that I should know about, please let me know! One thing that I did catch: the call for participation for July’s Manga Moveable Feast focusing on the work of Clamp.

Quick Takes

Rurouni Kenshin, Omnibus 2 (equivalent to Volumes 4-6) by Nobuhiro Watsuki. The more I read of Rurouni Kenshin, the more I find myself enjoying the series. Watsuki does a fantastic job of incorporating historical reality into his historical fantasy. I particularly enjoy the inclusion “The Secret Life of Characters” sections which give some insight into Watsuki’s inspirations and story and character development. I’m liking the series a bit more now that Kenshin’s opponents, while still frequently over-the-top, are more realistic and slightly less bizarre. Kenshin is still easily my favorite character in the series. I was a little unsure of Rurouni Kenshin at first, but now I’m genuinely looking forward to reading more.

Strawberry Panic: The Complete Manga Collection written by Sakurako Kimino and illustrated by Namuchi Takumi. The Strawberry Panic manga has been discontinued in Japan, but this omnibus collects and translates everything that is available (including two chapters which were not previously available in English). The manga was my introduction to the Strawberry Panic franchise, which started out as a series of short stories. It’s a light, fluffy yuri fantasy, but I do enjoy it, even considering that the manga leaves off just as the story really starts to get going. The vaguely Catholic trappings of the all-girls schools are forgotten fairly quickly as the Etoile competition begins takes precedence in the story.

The Summit of the Gods, Volume 3 written by Baku Yumemakura and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi. The third volume of The Summit of the Gods serves very much as a transition. I would have liked to have seen more focus on the mountain climbing, but the volume is important to both plot and character development. It brings some resolution to Fukamachi’s obsession with Habu and provides the setup for the next major arc in the story—Habu’s astounding Everest attempt and Fukamachi’s decision to follow him. Taniguchi’s artwork is fantastic with stunning mountainscapes and detailed Nepalese cityscapes. This series is one of my favorites and I can’t wait for the next volume.

Basilisk directed by Fumitomo Kizaki. The Basilisk anime is an adaptation of the Basilisk manga which in turn is an adaptation of Fūtaro Yamada’s novel The Kouga Ninja Scrolls. The original novel is still my favorite version of the story by far. The anime does expand on some of the characters’ backstories in ways not found in either the manga or the novel, including giving an explicit reason behind the Kouga and Iga clans’ continued feuding. There are also some nice moments between Oboro and Gennosuke. Otherwise, the anime follows the manga very closely. However, the animation isn’t nearly as striking as Masaki Segawa’s artwork in the manga, which isn’t especially surprising but is still too bad. Oboro’s eyes in particular annoyed me.

Library Love: Jiro Taniguchi

Support manga, support your library!

Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Benkei in New York written by Jinpachi Mori and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi. I had a feeling that when the first chapter of Benkei in New York featured a very special dish of haggis, I was really going to enjoy the manga. I wasn’t mistaken. Although the chapters of Benkei in New York are chronological and feature recurring characters, each chapter easily stands on its own. The protagonist, Benkei, is a bit of an enigma. It’s never really explored in the manga why he’s become a killer-for-hire in addition to being an extremely talented art forger. I happen to like revenge stories, even when they’re not especially realistic, so Benkei in New York worked well for me. It’s got a great film noir atmosphere to it.

A Distant Neighborhood, Volumes 1-2 by Jiro Taniguchi. I absolutely loved A Distant Neighborhood and plan on buying a copy of both volumes of the series to own. Accidentally taking the wrong train after a business trip, forty-eight year old Hiroshi Nakahara finds himself heading back to his hometown on the anniversary of his mother’s death. He decides to visit her grave, ends up passing out, and suddenly he’s in the eighth grade again. While he may now be fourteen years old, he still has all the knowledge and vices of an adult. He also knows that at the end of the summer his father will disappear, and he wants to stop it from happening. A Distant Neighborhood is emotionally convincing as Nakahara struggles with his feelings of nostalgia, joy, guilt, and dread.

Icaro, Volumes 1-2 written by Moebius and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi. Icaro frustrated me immensely. I like the premise of the work—Icaro is born with the ability to fly by manipulating the gravitational fields around him and is raised more or less as a science experiment. Taniguchi’s artwork is as wonderful as always and his images of Icaro flying are fantastic. But ultimately I didn’t enjoy Icaro. Moebius mentions in his preface that he “removed the unnecessary.” He either removed too much or not enough. Plot elements are introduced but are never resolved or explained. There’s a love scene between the Lieutenant Colonel and her aide that serves no good purpose. Also, being able to fly doesn’t make a person invincible, Lieutenant Colonel!

The Ice Wanderer and Other Stories by Jiro Taniguchi. The Ice Wanderer and Other Stories collects six short manga by Taniguchi, all but one with a focus on man’s relationship with nature, and particularly the wilderness. The first two stories, the titular “The Ice Wanderer” and “White Wilderness,” are inspired by the work of Jack London. Personally, I’ve never been a huge London fan, but Taniguchi does a great job with the material. While they weren’t my favorite stories in the volume, they were both very good. Taniguchi’s winter landscapes are simply marvelous. Because so many of the stories deal with the wild, Taniguchi has plenty of opportunities to illustrate untamed terrains from high mountains to deep ocean.

The Quest for the Missing Girl by Jiro Taniguchi. After his best friend and fellow mountaineer dies in a climbing accident, Shiga vows to protect his wife and daughter. More than a decade later, Megumi has gone missing. Leaving his mountain refuge, Shiga travels to the city to find the girl. Living in the mountains has made him tough but the city holds its own sorts of dangers. As Shiga searches for Megumi he must also come to terms with the feelings of shame he holds over her father’s death. The pacing in The Quest for the Missing Girl is fairly slow, but the finale more than makes up for that. Parts of the ending are unbelievable but I don’t really care because, frankly, it’s awesome.

The Summit of the Gods, Volumes 1-2 written by Baku Yumemakura and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi. This is another series that I’ll definitely be picking up. The Summit of the Gods is a five volume award-winning manga adaptation of Yumemakura’s award-winning novel by the same name. Taniguchi’s illustrations are breathtaking and the attention he has given to the details is stunning. While in Nepal, the photographer and mountain climber Makoto Fukamachi happens across a camera that may have belonged to George Mallory. He becomes obsessed with learning more about it and the man who currently possesses it, Jouji Habu. My favorite parts of the manga are the actual climbs, but I find the rest of the story to be very engaging as well.

The Times of Botchan, Volumes 1-4 written by Natsuo Sekikawa and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi. I’m almost ashamed to say that I didn’t really enjoy The Times of Botchan. Taniguchi’s art is superb, but I had a difficult time really engaging with Sekikawa’s script. Although I appreciate what Sekikawa was trying to do, showing the times and inspirations of Meiji era literati, the vignettes were simply too fragmented for me. There is also a lot of name dropping; the English edition really could have done with some cultural notes. I’m fairly knowledgeable about Japanese literature and I still regularly felt lost. I did really like all of the judo bits that worked their way into the story, though.

Tokyo Is My Garden by Frederic Boilet and Benoit Peeters, with the collaboration of Jiro Taniguchi. I found Tokyo Is My Garden to be an interesting project. Taniguchi’s involvement was mostly limited to the grey tones in the artwork. I enjoyed Boilet’s illustrations, and for the most part I enjoyed the story, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to like the lead character David Martin. I’m not sure what it was about him that rubbed me the wrong way, but he irritated me. Maybe I was just jealous of a gaijin living in Tokyo who, when his life seems to be falling apart, somehow manages to pull everything together again. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the love story that is a major part of Tokyo Is My Garden, either. But at the same time, I was happy with how things turn out.

The Walking Man by Jiro Taniguchi. The Walking Man is such a lovely manga. You might not expect it from a collection of eighteen short comics about a man going on walks, but it is simply a joy. With relatively little dialogue, the reader must follow along with him on his paths in silence. The utter pleasure which he clearly feels during his explorations is almost inspiring. Reading The Walking Man made me want to slow down, take a look around, and really experience and pay attention to even the tiniest details of my surrounding environment. Taniguchi, too, devotes attention to the smallest details in his artwork, whether the man is traveling through the city or through more rural or wooded areas.

This post is a part of the Jiro Taniguchi Manga Moveable Feast.

Manga Giveaway: King of Thorn for Keeps

It’s time for Experiments in Manga’s monthly manga giveaway! This month you can enter for a chance to win a brand new copy of the first volume of Yuji Iwahara’s King of Thorn as was published by Tokyopop. The contest is open world-wide, so I hope you’ll take the opportunity to enter!

I was probably in middle school, or maybe even younger, when I first became interested in survival stories. I have yet to grow out of that particular fondness which is why manga like King of Thorn, where the characters’ struggle to survive is an important part of the plot, appeal to me. Survival stories can be found in just about any genre or flavor. You have survival “games” in manga like Koushun Takami and Masayuki Taguchi’s Battle Royale in which characters face off against each other for the right to live. In manga like Dragon Head, by Mochizuki Minetaro, characters struggle not only against each other but against apocalyptic and catastrophic conditions. Characters pit themselves against nature itself in manga like Baku Yumemakura and Jiro Taniguichi’s The Summit of the Gods. But no matter what the genre, they do what it takes to survive. It can be both terrifying and inspiring.

So, you may be wondering, how can you win King of Thorn, Volume 1?

1) In the comments below, tell me about your favorite survival manga. If you don’t have one, you can just mention that.
2) To earn a second entry in the giveaway, simply name a survival manga that hasn’t been mentioned yet by me or by someone else.
3) If you’re on Twitter, you can earn a bonus entry by tweeting about the contest. Make sure to include a link to this post and @PhoenixTerran (that’s me).

So that’s it! Each person can earn up to three entries for this giveaway. You have one week to submit your comments. If you have trouble leaving comments, or if you would prefer, you can e-mail me your entries at phoenixterran(at)gmail(dot)com. I’ll then post the comments in your name. The winner will be announced and randomly selected on March 7, 2012.

VERY IMPORTANT: Include some way that I can contact you. This can be an e-mail address, link to your website, Twitter username, or whatever. If I can’t figure out how to get a hold of you and you win, I’ll just draw another name.

Contest winner announced—Manga Giveaway: King of Thorn for Keeps Winner