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.

My Week in Manga: May 28-June 3, 2012

My News and Reviews

The most recent manga giveaway is underway here at Experiments in Manga. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, so there’s still some time to enter. Plus, there aren’t many entries yet, so the odds are really good! Stop by the Read or Die Giveaway and tell me about your favorite bibliophile for a chance to win. I know that at least a couple of people enjoy my Bookshelf Overload posts, which is one of the reasons I keep writing them. If you’re one of those people, May’s Bookshelf Overload is now available for viewing. Over the weekend I posted my review of Matthew Meyer’s book The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons: A Field Guide to Japanese Yokai. It’s a fantastic volume with great artwork that any yokai lover should enjoy. Be sure to check out his website for examples of his art, too. I haven’t been this excited about a book in a very long time; I absolutely loved it.

Quick Takes

Basilisk, Volumes 1-5 by Masaki Segawa. This manga series is an adaptation of Fūtaro Yamada’s semi-historical novel The Kouga Ninja Scrolls. I had previously read and enjoyed the novel, which is probably one of the reasons I didn’t appreciate the manga as much in the beginning—I missed having a lot of the background information the novel included. However, by the end of the series I was completely engaged. I’ve often heard the basic premise of the story described as “Romeo & Juliet…with ninja,” which is accurate up to a point. The large cast of ninja, each with their own special abilities, provide plenty of opportunities for intense battles and underhanded assassination attempts.

Brody’s Ghost, Books 2-3 by Mark Crilley. I believe Brody’s Ghost is planned to be a six volume series, so this brings us to the halfway point. Volumes two and three follow Brody as he gets his life back together while he undergoes training to gain control over his emerging supernatural powers. He’s also given some real motivation to pursue the Penny Murderer, something that was previously lacking. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen of the series so far, but I have no idea when the next book is due to come out! I’ll definitely be picking it up once it does, though. One thing I really like about Brody’s Ghost is the extra material that Crilley includes at the end of each volume which explores his creative processes and decisions.

Gerard & Jacques, Volumes 1-2 by Fumi Yoshinaga. After a very uncomfortable beginning, Gerard & Jacques eventually turns into an great historical drama. Despite the title being Gerard & Jacques, the focus is really on Gerard. He is certainly the most thoroughly developed character in this short series, but Yoshinaga doesn’t slack off when it comes to writing the other characters, either. Even the secondary characters have their defining moments. The story itself ranges from the heavy and dark to the light and comedic which can be jarring, but enjoyable. I’m not particularly interested in the French Revolution but it serves as a good backdrop for the series and ultimately becomes very important to the plot as well.

Twin Spica, Volumes 9-10 by Kou Yaginuma. For such a gentle seeming series Twin Spica can also be incredibly heart-wrenching. The manga has always had a melancholic air to it as the characters struggle to accept their pasts while striving to achieve their dreams. Even years after the Lion disaster people are still having to deal with the consequences of the shuttle’s crash. As graduation draws closer for Asumi and her friends at the space school they’ve all come to realize how important they are to one another. They also know that soon the time will come when they have to say goodbye. I’m really looking forward to reading the final two volumes in Vertical’s release of the series.

Welcome to the N.H.K. directed by Yūsuke Yamamoto. I loved Tatsuhiko Takimoto’s original Welcome to the N.H.K. novel and I must say, the anime adaptation is excellent. Although the humor is still there, I didn’t find the anime to be as outrageously funny as the novel. But even with the anime’s more serious tone there are moments of hilarity which are needed to keep the series from becoming too depressing. The anime stays true to the novel while expanding parts of the storyline and characterizations. The plot arc dealing with the pyramid scheme was a little tedious, but for the most part the changes made for the anime worked very well. The characters may sometimes be extreme, but they’re very human, too.

The Kouga Ninja Scrolls

Author: Fūtaro Yamada
Translator: Geoff Sant
U.S. publisher: Del Rey
ISBN: 9780345495105
Released: December 2006
Original release: 1958

The Kouga Ninja Scrolls is the first book in a series of novels about supernatural ninja written by Fūtaro Yamada. The novels have inspired numerous other stories and adaptations by other creators. In the case of The Kouga Ninja Scrolls, it is the basis for Basilisk, both the manga and the anime series, and the live action film Shinobi: Heart Under Blade, as well as other adaptations. The cover art for Del Rey’s 2006 release of the novel, translated by Geoff Sant, happens to be the work of Masaki Segawa, the artist for the Basilisk manga. Although the edition of The Kouga Ninja Scrolls on which Del Rey’s release is based was published in 2005, the novel was originally written in 1958. The Kouga Ninja Scrolls and the following novels became immensely popular in Japan. Yamada, who wrote mystery novels in addition to books featuring ninja, won a number of awards for his work.

The Kouga and the Iga ninja clans’ blood feud has lasted for four hundred years. After the Tokugawa shogunate was established, the ninja were forced to stop their fighting. But when a dispute over the succession threatens to tear the Tokugawa apart, the dictated truce between the clans is lifted. Ten Iga ninja and ten Kouga ninja, each group representing one of the potential successors’ factions, will be pitted against each other in a clash to the death. The surviving clan will determine who the next shogun will be. But even though the clans’ rivalry has persisted for centuries, not every ninja still has the desire to fight—in particular, Gennosuke, the heir of the Kouga clan, and Oboro, the heir of the Iga. Torn between their love for each other and their loyalty to their families, they would do anything to end the feud. But Oboro and Gennosuke’s destiny has already been put into motion; they have no other choice but to meet each other in battle.

After four hundred years of secrecy and inbreeding, both the Kouga and Iga clans have produced ninja with incredible skills and abilities. In some cases, they are barely recognizable as human anymore. Often the capabilities that make the ninja so powerful are also the cause of their ultimate downfall. The ninja’s individual abilities border on magic, but Yamada has a pseudo-physiological explanation for each and every one of them. Their powers are extreme but natural extensions of what the human body is capable of. Some of the ninja’s peculiar abilities are rather disgusting even if they are effective, while others are just plain cool. My personal favorite was probably Kisaragi Saemon and his unique way of being able to impersonate another person.

The story of The Kouga Ninja Scrolls is frequently described as Romeo and Juliet with ninja. Personally, I find the comparison somewhat superficial. The Kouga Ninja Scrolls is definitely its own story. On the surface it appears to be only a set up to allow Yamada to write fantastic and thrilling battles, but the story also addresses deeper matters of loyalty, responsibility, duty, and passion. Yamada makes great use of historical figures in The Kouga Ninja Scrolls and also incorporates historic documents and poetry into the novel. I particularly appreciated that the control of information was give such an important role in the story—an aspect of ninjutsu often overlooked in popular culture. The tone of the narrative is told from a modern perspective. I did find this to be slightly distracting from the setting, but it does read well. I enjoyed The Kouga Ninja Scrolls and wish more of Yamada’s work was available in English.