My Week in Manga: May 2-May 8, 2011

My News and Reviews

Last week was one of the slow weeks at Experiments in Manga. I announced the manga giveaway Return of Ranma Winner and posted April’s Bookshelf Overload. One thing that I’ve noticed about the last few months is that I have posted quite a few book reviews and that many of the other features haven’t been, well, featured. I still have the goal of completing two in-depth manga reviews per month but will now also make an effort to vary the rest of the content on the site so that the literature reviews won’t overshadow the other material quite so much.

Some changes have occurred over on the Resources page. I’ve removed the links to Tokyopop and Blu since they’re no longer valid. As for additions, In Spring it is the Dawn and Three Steps Over Japan are now listed in the New and Reviews section.

Quick Takes

Apothecarius Argentum, Volumes 4-8 by Tomomi Yamashita. Apothecarius Argentum gets better and better with each volume. This is somewhat problematic since only the first eight of eleven volumes managed to make it to publication before CMX went defunct. And the eighth volume ends with one heck of a cliffhanger! I like how the characters actually seem to be developing and maturing in a natural way instead of remaining the same over a long period of time. Argent is adamant about finding a way to detoxify his body even though he realizes that what he truly desires, a relationship with the princess, can never come to pass. Also, I think this is the first manga I’ve read that has a frank discussion about abortion.

Biomega, Volumes 2-4 by Tsutomu Nihei. As I mentioned in my in-depth review for Biomega, Volume 1, it’s really Nihei’s art that carries this series. For as much action as there is, there seems to be very little character or plot development to go along with it. To be honest, I’m not completely sure what’s going on story-wise most of the time. To some extent, I don’t really care since I’m usually happily distracted by the illustrations although I do have a difficult time telling some of the characters apart at first glance. But overall the art is wonderfully dark and creepy and though it might be odd to describe it as such, beautifully disconcerting. Buildings and cityscapes a given great amount of detail and attention.

Iron Wok Jan, Volumes 5-17 by Shinji Saijyo. I find Iron Wok Jan to be an incredibly amusing series. Plus, if you’re paying attention, you might actually learn something about Chinese cuisine and cooking. Things can occasionally get violent and bloody in the kitchen, so it’s not a manga I’d recommend to vegans or those with weak stomachs. All of the chefs and trainees are extremely serious about food and cooking. With Jan around competitions frequently turn into all out battles and he’ll do anything it takes to win. Saijyo captures the often maniacal intensity of the characters perfectly with exaggerated artwork. Granted, Kiriko and Celine’s… ahem…well-endowed figures seem like they should get in the way of cooking.

Karakuri Odette, Volume 6 by Julietta Suzuki. Ever since the January 2011 Manga Moveable Feast I’ve been waiting for the sixth and final volume of Karakuri Odette to be released. It’s a charming series, so I was glad that Tokyopop was able to finish it before disappearing. The sixth volume is less episodic than some of the previous books and finishes up the plot arc from volume five. It provides a more or less satisfying conclusion to the series although things are left pretty open ended. I was a little disappointed that Chris and Professor Yoshizawa, two of my favorite characters, didn’t make much of an appearance. Asao is definitely in there, though. Art-wise, Suzuki provides some fantastic facial expressions and (over)reactions that are delightful to behold. The final volume is a nice little goodbye.

Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, Volume 1 by Hiroshi Shiibashi. Rikuo is one-quarter yokai and the grandson of Nurarihyon, who wants him to become the next leader of the Nura Clan of yokai. Normally human, Rikuo temporarily transforms into a yokai on occasion. I would like to see more tension developed between the human and yokai Rikuos; right now they seem to fairly oblivious of each other. For the most part I enjoyed Shiibashi’s artwork, although Kiyotusugu’s character design really bugs me for some reason that I haven’t been able to identify. Even though I don’t feel a tremendous desire to rush out to pick up the next volume, I still think the series has potential and is off to a good start. Also, I really like the covers.

Biomega, Volume 1

Creator: Tsutomu Nihei
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421531847
Released: February 2010
Original run: 2004-2009 (Ultra Jump)

It was the gorgeous cover of the first volume of Biomega that caught my eye and made me pick it up for a closer look. I didn’t recognize the title or the creator, Tsutomu Nihei. I ended up putting the book back on the shelf, but for the next few weeks my mind kept wandering back to it. And then I discovered that one of the plot elements was at least vaguely connected to Mars and any remaining self-restraint I had collapsed (I have a thing for Mars). I soon found a copy of Biomega, Volume 1 in my possession. I was very pleased with my decision when one of the guys at my favorite comic store was elated by my choice. Biomega was actually one of the store’s featured selections at the time, he liked it so much. So, satisfied with my purchase, I happily took it home. And then promptly finished reading it that night.

In the year 3005, the N5S virus was introduced into the Earth’s atmosphere, the disease quickly spreading throughout the population. Most of the infected transform into grotesque, inhuman “drones” while a very select few, known as accommodators, are able to adapt to the virus, making them a valuable commodity. Zoichi Kanoe is a synthetic human, designed to be stronger, faster, and more resistant to the virus than his counterparts. Along with Fuyu, a highly sophisticated artificial intelligence, he has been sent by Toa Heavy Industry to the city of 9JO to locate and retrieve any surviving accommodators. But Toa isn’t the only group searching for accommodators, and while Zoichi has some significant advantages, he most definitely isn’t invincible.

It’s not something that I always mention, but Viz Media’ production values for Biomega are great. Plenty of gutter space is given so none of the art or text ends up lost in the binding. The quality of the printing is consistent and excellent throughout, particularly important for Biomega because there is a lot of ink on these pages. The artwork is dark, both literally and figuratively, the white space being overwhelmed by shading, helping to create a fairly ominous atmosphere that is highly appropriate for the story. The immense, sweeping architecture and city landscapes manage to convey a sense of claustrophobia despite their size, their obvious decay only adding to the environment’s grimness. Nihei’s character designs are also marvelous and fit his setting nicely. Eyes tend to be set widely apart which I found disconcerting at first, but the style eventually grew on me. The once human creatures are twisted and creepy but are occasionally beautiful in their nightmarishness. One of the things that really impressed me about the artwork was Nihei’s ability to not only convey action, but also the tremendous speed at which things were happening.

It is the artwork that really carries the first volume of Biomega; there is very little dialogue and while the basic premise and characters have been introduced, not much development has had a chance to occur yet. For the most part, the art handles this task admirably, though there were occasions that I was slightly confused by who was supposed to be who (story-wise, visually everyone is quite distinctive) and what exactly their purpose in the Biomega world was. However, I do think that this will be revealed and further explored in subsequent volumes. The plot is vaguely repetitive so far, mostly consisting of Zoichi riding around and shooting things, but he’s pretty badass while doing it, so I’m all right with it. Some of the weaponry seems a little over the top but that does mean there are some massive explosions and phenomenal scenes of destruction, which is always fun. I know that I’m certainly looking forward to reading the second volume, anyway.