My Week in Manga: November 3-November 9, 2014

My News and Reviews

Last week at Experiments in Manga the winner of the Sherlock Bones manga giveaway was announced. As usual, I took the opportunity to compile a list of manga as well, in this case a list of manga available in English that feature detectives or other crime solvers. I also posted two reviews last week. The first review was of No. 6, Volume 9, the final volume of Hinoki Kino’s No. 6 manga adaptation. I’m happy to report that the manga has a much less rushed and much more complete ending than the anime adaptation had. And for something completely different, I also reviewed Ivan Morris’ translation of The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon last week. It may have been written in the tenth and eleventh centuries, but it’s still an engaging and enjoyable work.

Interesting reading found elsewhere online included a look at some of the most completely collected manga series in Japan, many of which have been licensed in English in whole or in part. (I was happy to see some of my personal favorites, like Parasyte and Hikaru no Go on the list.) Brigid Alverson has a nice overview of the current state of the manga industry in North America for School Library Journal. And over at A Case for Suitable for Treatment, Sean Gaffney has a roundup of some of the recent manga licenses from various publishers. There are also two surveys that are going on right now. Viz has its Fall 2014 Anime and Manga Survey and Vertical has its first ever light novel survey. Last but not least, Khursten Santos of Otaku Champloo has an excellent writeup of the Manga Futures conference recently held in Australia.

Quick Takes

Black Jack, Volume 14Black Jack, Volumes 14-17 by Osamu Tezuka. It’s a shame that much of Black Jack has gone out of print. Fortunately, Vertical announced just last week that it will be publishing ebooks of all its Tezuka manga, so readers who missed Black Jack in print will at least be able to read it digitally. Even though Black Jack isn’t my favorite Tezuka manga, I enjoy the series immensely and Black Jack is one of my favorite Tezuka characters. He can be a bit of a bastard, but there’s usually a reason for it and it tends to mostly be a cover for his extraordinary compassion. He’s also amazingly skilled. Some of the stories in Black Jack are fairly improbable although still highly entertaining while others are actually quite realistic. (Tezuka’s medical training comes in very handy for Black Jack.) Plastic surgery, specifically surgeries that are intended to change or hide a person’s identity, are particularly prominent in these final volumes. It provides an interesting contrast to Black Jack himself who rarely denies who he is. The seventeenth volume in Vertical’s edition of Black Jack also includes a handy guide to the publication history of the individual chapters.

Black Rose Alice, Volume 2Black Rose Alice, Volume 2 by Setona Mizushiro. I absolutely loved the first volume of Black Rose Alice and I remained captivated by the second. It’s a strange, dark, and disconcerting series. Mizushiro’s vampires are completely different from any other type of vampire that I’ve come across in fiction. I do like that, but it’s also challenging since readers can’t rely on an already established mythos or assume what it actually means to be a vampire; Mizushiro has to explain it all. I’m not sure that I actually understand everything that is going on with the vampires yet, but I’m assuming that more will be revealed as the series progresses. One thing is certain, though: they are definitely very creepy. In exchange for the life of the young man with whom she is in love, Azusa has entered into an agreement with a nest of vampires. Out of the four vampires, she must choose one to procreate with after which they will both die. The relationship dynamics are bizarre, and honestly a little discomforting, but very compelling as the vampires vie for her affections. It’s not as simple as choosing one of the vampires; in order to fulfill her agreement, she will actually have to come to love them. I’m really looking forward to reading more of Black Rose Alice.

Same DifferenceSame Difference by Nozomu Hiiragi. Tsuburaya and Ozaki are the elite of the elite, and both adored by the women at the company where they work. (So much so that the ladies literally swoon in their presence.) However, Ozaki isn’t used to sharing the attention, and so decides to make Tsuburaya fall in love with him, unintentionally falling for Tsuburaya in the process. Out of the two of them, Ozaki is more muscular and crude while Tsuburaya is more elegant and refined. Despite arguably being the more masculine and aggressive of the pair, Ozaki is often the one being out-maneuvered by Tsuburaya in their seemingly antagonistic relationship. It’s not that Tsuburaya dislikes Ozaki—quite the opposite, actually—it’s just that he has a sadistic streak and enjoys making the other man squirm. Same Difference is definitely played for laughs more than romance. Apparently the manga is actually an ongoing series that’s currently up to three volumes in Japan, which I hadn’t realized while reading it. Unfortunately, only the first volume has been licensed in English at this point. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind reading more of the series. It doesn’t have the most subtle, nuanced, or realistic characters or story, but it’s amusingly ridiculous and doesn’t take itself seriously at all.

My Week in Manga: March 31-April 6, 2014

My News and Reviews

Last week was one of Experiments in Manga’s slower weeks, but there was still some good stuff to be had, if I do say so myself. First up was the announcement of the Battle Angel Alita Giveaway Winner, which also includes a list of some of the cyborg manga available in English. Next came March’s Bookshelf Overload, which was not nearly as an absurd month for preorders as April will be for me. Finally, we get to the really good stuff. The honor of the first in-depth manga review for April goes to Inio Asano’s Nijigahara Holograph, one of my most highly anticipated releases for 2014. It’s a dark and disturbing work, but also very beautiful. Probably one of the best comics that I’ve read so far this year.

As for a few thing found online: Kim Hoang translated an interview of Kaoru Mori from the French site madmoiZelle. Sean Gaffney at A Case Suitable For Treatment investigates some of Japan’s recent manga bestsellers with an eye towards license requests. Akira Himekawa, the creative team behind the various The Legend of Zelda manga, will be featured guests at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May. The most recent Mike Toole Show takes a look at the three incarnations of To Terra… (or Toward the Terra), originally a manga by Keiko Takemiya. And last but not least, I was very excited to see that the Manga Connection blog has been rebooted! (Which reminds me that I really need to do some cleanup and maintenance on my resources page…)

Quick Takes

Bad Teacher's Equation, Volume 2Bad Teacher’s Equation, Volumes 2-3 by Kazuma Kodaka. While I wasn’t blown away by it, I did enjoy the first volume of Bad Teacher’s Equation well enough to track down the rest of the boys’ love manga. I had heard that the series gets better as it goes along, but surprisingly enough, so far I think I actually prefer the slightly more absurd first volume. I seem to like Bad Teacher’s Equation best when it is being particularly ridiculous. The more obviously comedic aspects of the series work better for me than when the story takes a more serious turn. I was also happy to see the feelings that Masayoshi held for his brother Masami dealt with fairly quickly so that the series’ focus could turn elsewhere. The dynamics of that particular relationship were probably the least interesting in the entire series. One of the things that Bad Teacher’s Equation really has going for it is the manga’s large ensemble cast—their interactions can be very entertaining to watch. And as a result, there’s actually some legitimate character development to be seen, too.

Black Jack, Volume 10Black Jack, Volumes 10-13 by Osamu Tezuka. Because of Tezuka’s Star System, it’s not uncommon to encounter a character from another of his series in a different role. Due to that, I was particularly looking forward to the story “Ashes and Diamonds” collected in the tenth volume of Black Jack because it features Hyakkimaru in the role of Dr. Hyakki. (Hyakkimaru is from Dororo, one of my favorite Tezuka manga.) These volumes also reveal more about Black Jack’s unfortunate family situation. According to an editor’s note in the eleventh volume, the edition of Black Jack upon which Vertical’s release was based was initially intended to be a “best of” collection. However, it proved to be so popular that, excepting for a few stories which were deemed objectionable or inappropriate in some way, the edition became a complete collection. In the past I’ve mentioned that I generally prefer the more realistic scenarios in Black Jack, but I’ve come to really enjoy the more fantastical chapters as well. On occasion, aliens, ghosts, and the supernatural all have their own part to play in the series.

Dictatorial Grimoire, Volume 2: Snow WhiteDictatorial Grimoire, Volume 2: Snow White by Ayumi Kanou. I was intrigued by the first volume of Dictatorial Grimoire. It was a mess, but it was a fun mess. I was less enamored with the second volume, though I do still plan on reading the third and final installment in the series. The story in Snow White is still a mess. This time though, for whatever reason, I found it to be more frustrating than entertaining. So much of Dictatorial Grimoire makes very little sense and Kanou relies heavily on standard tropes and character types. Because of this, the story developments don’t really come as a surprise and readers are left to fill in the actual details themselves as Dictatorial Grimorie progresses from one expected plot point to the next. As might be assumed from the subtitle, Snow White features heavily in the second volume. Sadly, his bustier does not. He does, however, gain a pair of glasses for all of those megane fans out there. (Yes, that would include me.) I also do appreciate that Hiyori, though she’s portrayed as somewhat brainless, is very competent and dependable when it comes to a fight.

Shinobi Life, Volume 1Shinobi Life, Volumes 1-6 by Shoko Conami. Shinobi Life was originally created as a one-shot story but ended up being developed into a thirteen-volume series, seven of which were released in English by Tokyopop. The transition from what was supposed to be a standalone story into an ongoing series is awkward. Story elements are dropped or forgotten (in some cases actually for the better) as the plot is forced into something that wasn’t initially planned. In general, Shinobi Life is a manga that I like much better in concept than I do in execution, although it does improve greatly as the series progresses. I specifically like the time travel elements. However, I’m much fonder of the series when it’s dealing with the past than I am of its contemporary storyline. The art, though not especially original, is pretty, too. All of the adults in Shinobi Life are despicable, so it’s probably not too surprising that the teenage leads have significant personal issues to deal with; their parents don’t make particularly good role models.

My Week in Manga: September 23-September 29, 2013

My News and Reviews

There were a few different things going on at Experiments in Manga last week. First off is the Arisa manga giveaway. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, so you still have a little time to enter for a chance to win the first and eleventh volumes of Natsumi Ando’s Arisa. The most recent Library Love feature was posted last week, too, which is basically a collection of quick takes of manga that I’ve borrowed from my local library. My quest to read all of Edogawa Rampo’s material available in English also continued. This time I took a look at The Edogawa Rampo Reader, which is a nice introduction to his life and work. The volume collects eighteen of his short stories and essays from over a span of thirty years.

A few interesting things found online: Brigid Alverson interviewed Charles Brownstein of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund about its new manga guide which will be released later this year. (I reviewed Manga: Introduction, Challenges, and Best Practices not too long ago and found it to be a great resource.) And speaking of the CBLDF, Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen was recently highlighted as part of the Using Graphic Novels in Education feature. Finally, Vertical made some licensing announcements at Anime Weekend Atlanta: Tetsuya Tsutui’s manga Prophecy (interestingly enough, Tsutui approached Vertical directly about the license) and Shinobu Hashimoto’s biographical novel Compound Cinematics: Akira Kurosawa and I.

Quick Takes

Arisa, Volume 8Arisa, Volumes 8-11 by Natsumi Ando. The true King has been revealed! As has that person’s motivations and back story, which are suitably dark and dramatic. Arisa and its characters are all pretty twisted—the King isn’t the only one with serious issues. The most stable character in Arisa is probably Tsubasa, but sometimes I wonder about her, too. It’s not just anyone who would pretend to be someone else, after all. At times Arisa can be extraordinarily over the top with its action and melodrama, but that’s probably one of the reasons I find the series so absorbing. Some of it comes across as unintentionally ridiculous, though. But for every development that’s laughable, there’s another that is effectively disturbing. Arisa is a series that’s really easy to tear through. Despite all of the twists and turns in its plot (or maybe because of them) the manga reads very quickly. With only one volume left to go in the series, I’m very curious to see how things will play out.

Black Jack, Volume 7Black Jack, Volumes 7-9 by Osamu Tezuka. Every once in a while I get the urge to read a bunch of Black Jack. Since the series is fairly episodic, it’s easy to pick up even if it’s been a while since I’ve read any of the manga. There were a couple of things that particularly struck me about these volumes. First of all, Black Jack should really stay away from cliffs as he seems to have a habit of falling off of them. Secondly, since Black Jack is an unlicensed doctor, it probably shouldn’t be too surprising that he would have a tendency to become involved with criminals. Often this works out quite well for him—he is able to demand his high prices and the other parties want to keep things quiet, too. However, on occasion Black Jack’s association with organized crime comes back to bite him and he ends up a little worse for wear. As always, I adore Black Jack as a character. I enjoy how much of a bastard he can be while still maintaining a strong sense of integrity.

Cyborg 009Cyborg 009 written by F. J. DeSanto and Bradley Cramp and illustrated by Marcus To and Ian Herring. Working closely with Ishimori Productions, Cyborg 009 is a single-volume, hardcover graphic novel adapting Shotaro Ishinomori’s Cyborg 009 manga with a Western audience in mind published by Archaia. The comic is in full-color with updated character designs closer to some of the more recent anime adaptations than the original manga. Actually, the artwork was one of my favorite things about the Cyborg 009 graphic novel. Story-wise it would have benefited from either being a little more focused or a little bit longer. As it is, the graphic novel is very compressed and not all of the plot lines introduced are adequately developed. But it is fun and quickly paced, not to mention beautifully presented; hopefully it will encourage readers to seek out the original material. Also of note: the back cover indicates that Cyborg 009 is “Ishimori Universe Book 1.” I know that I’d be very interested in seeing more collaborations between Archaia and Ishimori.

The Day I Become a ButterflyThe Day I Become a Butterfly by Sumomo Yumeka. Although The Day I Become a Butterfly was released under Digital Manga’s Juné imprint, two of the six collected stories aren’t at all boys’ love and a few of the others could be argued not to be as well. Yumeka describes the short manga in The Day I Become a Butterfly as inexplicable (she also admits to not liking them), but I think I would call them poetic. Instead of being straightforward narratives, the stories are quiet and almost impressionistic. They tend to be fairly introspective and melancholy; the desire for acceptance from others is a recurring theme throughout the volume. Yumeka’s artwork is lovely, although some of the character designs seem to be reused from one story to the next. Normally this might not be much of a problem, but because some of the stories in The Day I Become a Butterfly are interrelated it was sometimes confusing when the characters from an unrelated story looked like some of the recurring characters.

AkagiAkagi, Episodes 1-13 directed by Yuzo Sato. I love mahjong and Akagi is one of the mahjong series. I was thrilled when Crunchyroll picked up the anime for streaming. (I hold no illusions—mahjong manga and anime is very niche and unlikely to ever receive a physical release in North America.) Watching Akagi has actually improved my game a bit. It has also taught me how to cheat…not that I would. People who are at least vaguely familiar with mahjong will probably get more out of Akagi than those who aren’t, but it’s not necessary to understand the minutia of mahjong to enjoy the anime. The series can be surprisingly brutal at times and the games are intense—high stakes, crooked cops, yakuza, violence, manipulation. A huge emphasis is put on the psychological elements of the game. Akagi is a brilliant player and absolutely ruthless, both at the table and away from it. He seems to be afraid of nothing and is extremely ballsy. I’m really looking forward to watching the series’ second half.

My Week in Manga: April 15-April 21, 2013

My News and Reviews

Well, I didn’t end up posting any in-depth manga reviews last week, but I did review a couple of novels. The first review was for Tokyo Demons, Book 1: You’re Never Alone by Lianne Sentar. I’m actually so excited about the series that I’ll be writing more about the project later this week; I couldn’t fit it all into one review. I also reviewed Toh EnJoe’s Self-Reference Engine, which may or may not actually be a novel. Whatever it is, I loved it. The book is smart, funny, and clever science fiction.

The 2013 Eisner Award nominees were announced last week. There are some really great comics and creators up for an award this year. Manga nominees include Osamu Tezuka’s Barbara, Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, Shigeru Mizuki’s NonNonBa (which I previously reviewed), and Mari Yamazaki’s Thermae Romae. Katsuya Terada also received a nomination for his work on The Monkey King.

Other interesting things seen online: It appears as though there may be a new manga publisher on the horizon—Kansai Club Publishing. Lissa Pattillo of Kuriousity shared some thoughts on the effort, which is where I first learned of it. Supposedly, Kansai Club will be launching a Kickstarter soon for its first release. Elsewhere, the most recent episode of The Cockpit podcast is devoted to Vertical’s release of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin. Ed Chavez, the marketing director at Vertical, discusses the series’ licensing, production, and promotion efforts among other things. (I’ll be posting my own review of the first volume in the near future.)

Jason Thompson’s always excellent House of 1000 Manga column featured Takako Shimura’s Wandering Son last week. (It’s a series that is personally very important to me.) And as usual, the article is great. Back in March, Tofugu had an entertaining post about common visual tropes used in manga. A followup article was posted last week—Manga Tropes Revisited. Finally, this week is the Kaori Yuki Manga Moveable Feast! The Beautiful World is hosting this month’s Feast and has posted an introduction. Later this week I’ll be reviewing the first volume of Yuki’s Grand Guignol Orchestra as my contribution to the Feast.

Quick Takes

Attack on Titan, Volumes 3-4 by Hajime Isayama. For the most part I am enjoying Attack on Titan. However, its unevenness in art and storytelling can be a bit jarring. At times the manga is genuinely thrilling while at other times it seems to be just a little off. Granted, the effect is disconcerting and does add to the dark, oppressive atmosphere of the manga. A significant portion of the fourth volume is a flashback devoted to the military training of the young soldiers. It was interesting to see this and it was a great way to get to know some of the trainees better, but it may have been more effective earlier on in the series since so many of those characters are already known to end up dead.

Black Jack, Volumes 4-6 by Osamu Tezuka. I really do adore Black Jack as a character. He can be an utter bastard, but he’s also incredibly compassionate underneath his harsh exterior. An unparalleled surgeon, he wields his skill as he chooses. Well, except when he’s blackmailed into it. But then again, he’s just as likely resort to extortion. Perhaps because of Tezuka’s medical background, a lot of attention is given to the actual operations that Black Jack performs. Although there are recurring characters in Black Jack, generally the individual stories stand alone. As with any work, some stories are stronger than others. Personally, I prefer the more plausible scenarios, although the more fantastical ones can still be enjoyable.

Eyeshield 21, Volumes 15-19 written by Riichiro Inagaki and illustrated by Yusuke Murata. In these volumes, the Deimon Devil Bats continue to advance in the fall Tokyo tournament, hoping to reach and play in the Christmas Bowl at the end of the year. I’ll admit, the artwork in Eyeshield 21 is still what appeals to me most about the series. I love Murata’s dynamic action sequences and the ridiculous imagery that often accompanies them: tidal waves, knights in armor, steam engines, etc. Each team has a visual theme that coincides with their team name, mascot, or style of play. So the Bando Spiders have spiders and webs, the Kyoshin Poseidon have water motifs, and so on. It’s really a lot of fun.

Laugh Under the Sun by Yugi Yamada. I picked up Laugh Under the Sun primarily because I tend to enjoy Yamada’s boys’ love manga. Also, it has boxing! After seriously injuring an opponent, Sohei has been reluctant to return to the ring. For the last ten years he’s managed to get by on his good looks, but he’s tired of having no direction in his life. His more successful friend Chika (who is in love with Sohei although Sohei is oblivious to it), encourages him to take up boxing again. He does, but it’s not easy—the younger boxers at the gym don’t respect Sohei much and his confidence is lacking. Laugh Under the Sun isn’t particularly deep or complicated but it is an enjoyable one-shot with a bit of romance and humor to go along with the fighting sports.

Limit, Volumes 3-4 by Keiko Suenobu. After their bus crashes on a school trip, five high school girls struggle to survive the accident and each other while waiting to be rescued. When another survivor happens upon the group, the power dynamics shift dramatically, setting off an extreme backlash from some of the members. Honestly, I didn’t like these volumes quite as much as I did the first two; some of the characters’ actions weren’t as nearly as convincing. At the same time, they are all under a tremendous amount of stress and so maybe it shouldn’t be too surprising that some of their behaviors are less than rational. Still, Limit is intense and I’m very interested in seeing how Suenobu wraps everything up in the final two volumes.

My Week in Manga: February 13-February 19, 2012

My News and Reviews

Two reviews for you all this past week! I took a look at the penultimate volume of the “The Marches Episode,” The Guin Saga, Book Four Prisoner of the Lagon by Kaoru Kurimoto. The more I read of The Guin Saga, the more I like the series, so I’m sad to be getting close to the end of the portion of the series that’s available in English. I also reviewed Takako Shimura’s Wandering Son, Volume 2—my first in-depth manga review for February. I love Wandering Son very much and can’t wait for the next volume to be released by Fantagraphics.

This week is the Osamu Tezuka Manga Moveable Feast, hosted by Kate Dacey at The Manga Critic!  I’ve got a bunch of Tezuka quick takes for you here. (I was actually hoping to have more, but my folks came to visit me this weekend; I spent most of my time hanging out with them and eating good food instead of reading manga.) Later this week I’ll have reviews up for The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga by Helen McCarthy and the first volume of Tezuka’s Dororo, which happens to be a personal favorite of mine.

Quick Takes

Black Jack, Volumes 1-3 by Osamu Tezuka. Black Jack is one of Tezuka’s most beloved characters, and I have to admit I’m rather fond of the rogue doctor myself. The series also allows Tezuka to make good use of his medical background, having studied to become a doctor himself at one point. In fact, Tezuka (as a character) repeatedly appears in Black Jack as a doctor. Although there are recurring characters, each chapter of Black Jack stands alone as its own story. The tales all reveal a little bit about Black Jack and his background, but they aren’t told in chronological order which can occasionally be confusing. He can come across as a bit of a bastard at times, but a loveable one.

The Book of Human Insects by Osamu Tezuka. The Book of Human Insects is one of Tezuka’s darker manga intended for adult audiences. Toshiko Tomura is an incredible mimic, a genius that can quickly and effectively copy and make use of the skills and talents of her targets. This has allowed her to win multiple awards in various disciplines and has propelled her into the media’s spotlight. But even with all of the attention she has gained, she remains a mystery. And despite all of her accomplishments, she seems to lack a true identity of her own. I quite enjoyed The Book of Human Insects. It’s shorter and more focused than many of Tezuka’s other adult works. I was particularly struck by Tezuka’s use of panels and page layouts in this volume.

Princess Knight, Parts 1-2 by Osamu Tezuka. Historically, Princess Knight is an important series in the development of shōjo manga. I didn’t enjoy the series as much as I was hoping or expecting to, but I still like the series quite a bit. And the lead, Sapphire, is delightful, as are many of the other characters in the cast. But, holy cow, Tezuka hardly stops to let the readers catch their breath. He introduces plot point after plot point, storyline upon storyline, before ever really resolving or thoroughly developing the events that have already been set in motion. Princess Knight is fun, but dizzying with the amount of material that Tezuka crams into the short series. Somehow though, it remains coherent.

Swallowing the Earth by Osamu Tezuka. Despite some of the weighty issues that Tezuka addresses in Swallowing the Earth—racism, economic disparity, crime, etc.—I find it difficult to take the manga seriously as a whole. Part of this is due to the goofy nature of Gohonmatsu Seki, one of the major characters. He’s a drunkard, but I do like the guy. And Swallowing the Earth is entertaining even if it is a rather strange manga. It’s an interesting mix of seriousness and silliness. Tezuka does have a habit of going off on story tangents that don’t immediately appear to tie back into the main plot, but eventually they always do. Swallowing the Earth was recently brought back into print by Digital Manga through a Kickstarter project.