My Week in Manga: December 14-December 20, 2015

My News and Reviews

Only one in-depth review was posted at Experiments in Manga last week. I should be getting back to my regular blogging schedule very soon, though. As for the said review, I took a look at Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare, Volume 7 as part of my monthly horror manga review project. After School Nightmare is an effectively unsettling work, but it’s also engrossing. The seventh volume has some particularly chilling developments and revelations. (And that’s it from me at the moment!)

Quick Takes

Black Rose Alice, Volume 4Black Rose Alice, Volumes 4-6 by Setona Mizushiro. From what I can tell, Black Rose Alice is currently on hiatus in Japan. Fortunately, the first six volumes appear to complete the first major story arc of the manga. While I certainly hope that the Black Rose Alice continues, and I look forward to seeing how it develops, at least readers are provided with some resolution and closure for what could be a long wait. This second half of the first arc deals with the aftermath of Leo’s demise. The relationship dynamics in Black Rose Alice have always been a little peculiar and unnerving, but as they begin to fracture under the strain of the loss of Leo it’s shown just how strong and just how tenuous they can be at the same time. These volumes also include the reappearance of Koya, which throws the situation into even more turmoil, and the revelation of the twins tragic backstory. Emotions run high and the drama is intense as everything seems to be falling apart. Black Rose Alice continues to be dark and creepy and Mizushiro’s vampires are still some of the most unusual ones that I’ve come across.

Itazura na Kiss, Volume 1Itazura na Kiss, Volumes 1-3 by Kaoru Tada. Considering the number of boys’ love titles that Digital Manga releases in print (as well as its recent efforts to translate all of Osamu Tezuka’s works and its foray into hentai) it can be easy to forget that the publisher has other interesting manga in its catalog, too. Itazura na Kiss is one such series, a classic shoujo manga from the nineties which was extremely successful in Japan and elsewhere in Asia. The story is about Kotoko, an academically-challenged young woman in high school who has fallen in love Naoki, another student who is a legitimate genius. He also turns out to be a huge jerk, but every once in a while he shows a warmer, kinder side of himself. So far, I have been enjoying Itazura na Kiss, perhaps more than I expected. Kotoko shows wonderful strength of character and even Naoki’s unpleasant personality has more depth to it than initially appears. Despite the best efforts of their parents who would love to see them married, the romance between the two of them is believably slow to develop. I also like that the story doesn’t get stuck in high school and follows Naoki and Kotoko as they enter college.

Merman in My Tub, Volume 1Merman in My Tub, Volume 1 by Itokichi. Seven Seas has made something of a name for itself as the publisher of monster girl manga, but with Merman in My Tub monster boys are now better represented as well. The basic and appropriately ridiculous premise of Merman in My Tub is that Wakasa, a merman, has become a permanent resident in the bathtub of Tatsumi, a young man who rescued him from a polluted river. His mere presence causes all sorts of problems and inconveniences for Tatsumi, especially when his other aquatic acquaintances begin showing up, too. The series is a largely episodic four-panel comedy manga although there are some small story arcs, recurring characters, and running jokes. There is also plenty of boys’ love tease and innuendo. (In part Itokichi seems to have created the series as an excuse to draw half-naked men.) At the same time, Merman in My Tub makes use of some of the vaguely incestuous little sister/big brother tropes that can be fairly prevalent these days. As a result, though it has its charm, the series sometimes seems a little confused about which audience it’s trying to appeal to.

My Week in Manga: March 2-March 8, 2015

My News and Reviews

And the honor of the first in-depth manga review for the month of March at Experiments in Manga goes to Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki’s Oishinbo, A la Carte: Vegetables which, as is probably fairly obvious, is a food manga about vegetables. I tend to enjoy the Oishinbo, A la Carte collections, finding them to be both educational and entertaining. Vegetables is a good volume, but it does get pretty political. I also posted a list of manga featuring immortals last week as part of the announcement of the UQ Holder! Giveaway Winner. February’s Bookshelf Overload was posted as well, which can mostly be summarized by me yelling “JooooooJoooooo!

I was fairly busy last week, but a few things did catch my eye online. Viz Media’s Shojo Beat imprint announced two new licenses: Bloody Mary by Akaza Samamiya and Honey So Sweet by Amu Meguro. Seven Seas had a pretty big surprise, too—it’s opened a division focused on producing anime and manga themed tabletop games. First up? A deck-building game based on Space Dandy. Tofugu posted a great article about choosing the best yokai books available in English. I’ve reviewed two of the books mentioned—Yokai Attack: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide and The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons: A Field Guide to Japanese Yokai—and have read some of the others, so I can confirm that it’s a worthwhile list. Also, Paul Gravett has a lovely post remembering mangaka Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who passed away over the weekend.

Quick Takes

Black Rose Alice, Volume 3Black Rose Alice, Volume 3 by Setona Mizushiro. After a brief detour into lighter territory in the second volume, the third volume Black Rose Alice has taken a definite turn for the darker again. The series can be legitimately disconcerting and oddly provocative at the same time. Alice is getting to know all of the vampires in the nest a little better, but it’s Leo who is in the lead for her affections. The twins are somewhat immature and Dimitri is intentionally trying to not get involved with her, so Leo seems to be Alice’s obvious choice for procreation. Going through with it will lead to both of their deaths, so she is taking her time in making the decision, wanting to feel confident that her choice is the correct one. However, time is not on Leo’s side; his death is already imminent. Alice is unaware of this, though she does notice him acting out-of-character. Black Rose Alice is a strange and disturbing series. As a whole the vampire mythology that Mizushiro has created continues to be unlike any other that I’ve encountered. There is a very dark eroticism to the story as well. Occasionally there are more humorous moments, but they only serve to emphasize the underlying horror of the series.

My Little Monster, Volume 4My Little Monster, Volumes 4-6 by Robico. The third volume back-pedaled from the progress that the story and characters had made in the first two volumes and now with these three it seems as though My Little Monster is stuck in some sort of mire. I still like the characters, most of whom are quirky or weird in one way or another, but I find it immensely frustrating that the series just isn’t going anywhere. Actually, other than the awkward romance, I’m not entirely sure what the overarching story is even supposed to be at this point. However, there is definitely one heck of a love polygon going on. But even with so many unrequited feelings, there doesn’t seem to be as much drama as would be expected. In some ways, that’s actually a little refreshing. It’s nice that the characters can enjoy one another’s company even considering the romantic rivalries. I am glad to see that Haru’s volatile and frequently violent emotional state hasn’t been romanticized, although occasionally it is used for a bit of humor. In part, My Little Monster is intended to be a comedy, but these volumes are generally a bit more serious overall. There are still some genuinely funny and endearing moments, though.

Not Enough TimeNot Enough Time by Shoko Hidaka. Because I’m enjoying her ongoing series Blue Morning so much, and to make the wait for the next volume a little easier, I’ve made a point to read more of Hidaka’s manga. Not only was Not Enough Time Hidaka’s debut in English, it was also her first volume of boys’ love manga to be released in Japan. Even though it’s an early work, Hidaka’s storytelling and nuanced characterizations were already quite excellent. Her artwork is lovely, too. Not Enough Time is a collection of six short boys’ love manga, some of which share a few recurring characters while others are completely unrelated. One lead couple consists of two high school students, but all of the other romances in the volume are between adult men. The basic settings and overall scenarios of the stories collected in Not Enough Time aren’t particularly unusual or unique. What makes them stand out is Hidaka’s willingness to allow the relationships to be complicated and messy; the endings aren’t always wrapped up happily or neatly. Instead, there is a sense of ambiguity and the feeling that characters’ lives continue on well after the manga has concluded. I thoroughly enjoyed the collection.

xxxHolic: Rei, Volume 2xxxHolic: Rei, Volume 2 by CLAMP. After two volumes, I’m not yet convinced that CLAMP knows exactly where Rei is going as it feels a bit aimless. I find that I’m much less interested in the episodic stories of the series than I am in its underlying plot. Only ominous hints are given as to what is going on, just enough to keep the manga engaging. Watanuki is as clueless as the readers are at this point (if not more so), though he is becoming increasingly suspicious about his precarious situation. Both Yuko and Domeki obviously know what is what, but they either can’t or won’t tell him. Rei may be somewhat haphazard story-wise, but I really do enjoy the series’ striking artwork. It might not be absolutely necessary to have read xxxHOlic to follow Rei, but I do get the feeling that the manga will be more meaningful to those who have at least passing familiarity with the original series. (I should actually get around to finishing xxxHolic one of these days, especially now that it’s back in print; I’ve only ever read the first few volumes or so.) I’m very curious to see how Rei ties back into xxxHolic proper, or if it ever does. The third volume of Rei has been released in Japan, but apparently the series is currently on hiatus.

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: August 4-August 10, 2014

My News and Reviews

There were two reviews at Experiments in Manga last week in addition to the announcement of the Mecha Manga Giveaway Winner, which also includes a list of some of the mecha manga that has been licensed in English at one point or another. (Considering how many have been released in English, it’s not a comprehensive list. Instead it focuses on some favorites.) As for the reviews, I recently read Fuyumi Ono’s The Twelve Kingdoms, Volume 4: Skies of Dawn. Sadly, this was the last volume in the series to be translated into English. The Twelve Kingdoms is a great series of fantasy novels, all of which are worth tracking down. Keeping with last week’s unintentional theme of reviewing fourth volumes of epic series, I also took a look at Vinland Saga, Omnibus 4 by Makoto Yukimura. Vinland Saga is one of my favorite manga series currently being released and this volume hasn’t changed that.

The phenomenal Sparkler Monthly is currently running a membership drive for its second year, and there are some fantastic incentives. I highly recommend checking the project out and contributing if you’re able. Lori at Manga Xanadu has a nice post looking back at the first year of Sparkler Monthly and looking forward to Sparkler Monthly Year Two. For some of my own reviews and random musings on the excellent content being released by Sparkler Monthly, check out the Chromatic Press tag. (Actually, I’ll be posting a review of Denise Schroeder’s Before You Go later this week, too.)

Elsewhere online, ICv2 has a two-part interview with Viz Media’s Leyla Aker and Kevin Hamric looking at What’s Selling, Where, and Why as well as focusing On Specific Products and Programs. Justin at Organization Anti-Social Geniuses has a fun post about The Curious Case of Last Pages For US Manga Editions. Also, Mangabrog has translated some of Takehiko Inoue’s interviews from back when Vagabond was on hiatus.

Quick Takes

Black Rose Alice, Volume 1Black Rose Alice, Volume 1 by Setona Mizushiro. I’ll admit, even though I have enjoyed the other manga by Mizushiro that I have read and despite the very good things that I’ve heard about Black Rose Alice, I was still a little hesitant to read the series. Mostly because I’ve become a little weary, and therefore wary, of vampire stories. But the vampires in Black Rose Alice are so different that I’m actually hesitant to even call them vampires. Either way, the first volume was phenomenal. It’s creepy and disconcerting, tragic and chilling. Dimitri is a rising star, an operatic tenor with a beautiful voice and a handsome face who is astounded when a stranger tells him he is to blame for a sudden wave of suicides. The deaths in the story have tremendous emotional impact, which is particularly impressive since the characters have just been introduced. The characterization in Black Rose Alice is excellent, especially that of Dimitri, and the artwork is lovely and atmospheric. I am a little sad to see early 20th-century Vienna already left behind as a setting in exchange for modern-day Tokyo, but I’m very curious to see where the story goes from here. I’ll definitely be picking up more of Black Rose Alice.

Blank Slate, Volume 1Blank Slate, Volumes 1-2 by Aya Kanno. I first read Blank Slate several years ago and recall really liking it. Upon rereading, it’s honestly not as good as I remember it being, though the art is pretty great. Even considering the flaws in its execution, I actually still really like the series. Apparently the story that Kanno originally planned was much longer and more complicated. Quite a few things changed plot-wise as well as character-wise when she shortened the series; the transition isn’t as smooth as it could have been. Blank Slate would have benefited from at least another volume or two so that all of the backstory that’s crammed into the second volume could have been more fully developed. Though in its way it is thrilling, there are so many plot twists and major reveals towards the series’ end that it’s almost absurd. Some of the characters are shown to be so different from who they were when they were first introduced that it’s almost difficult to believe the changes, but that does make their betrayals rather effective. And I do like that the completely amoral and nearly emotionless Zen, the series lead, remains a villain throughout despite a tragic past that is supposed to make him more sympathetic.

How to Be HappyHow to Be Happy by Eleanor Davis. I wasn’t previously familiar with Davis’ work, but after experiencing How to Be Happy I certainly want to read more of it. How to Be Happy is a collection of her short comics, some no longer than a page. Though her black and white illustrations are effective, Davis’ color work is especially striking. She exhibits a wide variety of styles in How to Be Happy, evoking a number of different moods. However, all of the comics come across as being at least a little surreal. Many, perhaps most, of the stories tend towards the melancholy and somber, but others have an underlying and almost hidden sense of humor and joy. As Davis points out in her author’s note, the book actually isn’t about how to be happy. And yet, I found reading the volume to be a wonderfully cathartic and thought-provoking experience. I would even go as far as to call it inspiring. Though she often employees fantastical elements, what Davis really seems to be doing in How to Be Happy is exploring the nature of life and reality through her short narratives. How to Be Happy is a beautiful, strange, and wondrous collection and one that I can definitely see myself returning to again.

Midaresomenishi: A Tale of Samurai LoveMidaresomenishi: A Tale of Samurai Love by Kazuma Kodaka. Although Midaresomenishi is self-described as a romantic epic, there’s not very much at all that is romantic about this boys’ love manga. Instead it’s an extremely dark tale with a focus on violence, sexual and otherwise. Truly terrible things happen in it. Blood, death, and sadism take precedence over affection and love. There is very little happiness to be found in Midaresomenishi, and what little there is is fleeting. Shirou is a young samurai who takes great pleasure in killing, but that is nothing in comparison to the joy that Sougetsu, a powerful and decadent master of bandits, takes in sexually dominating others. In order to protect the life of his younger brother Fujimura, Shirou allows himself to be subjugated by Sougetsu. What he doesn’t realize is that while Fujimura is alive, he has become a sexual plaything for Sougetsu’s underlings. There actually is some doomed love and strong familial bonds in Midaresomenishi, but for the most part the manga’s focus is on the more unpleasant relationships. Midaresomenishi doesn’t work for me as a love story, there’s simply too much force and coercion, but as a violent tragedy it is fairly successful.