My Week in Manga: May 29-June 4, 2017

My News and Reviews

The most recent manga giveaway at Experiments in Manga was posted last week. This month everyone participating has a chance to win Anonymous Noise, Volume 1 by Ryoko Fukuyama. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, so there’s still time to enter. Simply tell me about your favorite singer or vocalist from a manga! In other giveaway news, Taneeka Stotts is sponsoring a tremendous Queer Comics Giveaway for Pride Month. I’ve read and/or own a fair number of the comics in the giveaway and they’re all great. Even if you don’t enter or win, the list itself is still well-worth checking out!

As for other interesting things that I’ve recently come across online: Terry Hong (creator of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s BookDragon review blog, which I greatly enjoy) compiled a list of fourteen Japanese thrillers for The Booklist Reader which includes both novels and manga. (I’ve read most of the books on the list and they’re great; here are my in-depth reviews of some of the titles mentioned: The Devotion of Suspect X, Malice, and Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service by Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki, and Nijigahara Holograph by Inio Asano.) Matt Thorn has re-posted an old article from The Comics Journal on The Magnificent Forty-Niners. Also, my Manga Bookshelf cohort Brigid Alverson is now writing for ICv2 as well. Her first post is a roundup of recent manga news.

Quick Takes

Boogiepop Doesn't Laugh, Volume 1Boogiepop Doesn’t Laugh, Volumes 1-2 written by Kouhei Kadono and illustrated by Kouji Ogata. The Boogiepop franchise began as a series of light novels but would eventually expand to include music, a live-action film, an anime, and two short manga series among other things. Boogiepop Doesn’t Laugh is actually the second of the two manga series to be released but it’s an adaptation of Boogiepop and Others, the very first Boogiepop light novel. Although the manga does include a few additional scenes, for the most part it’s a very close adaptation. Like the original novel, the narrative of Boogiepop Doesn’t Laugh is deliberately fragmented–the supernatural mysteries surrounding the serial disappearances of a number of high school girls are explored through multiple perspectives taken from before, after, and during the events. Sadly, the technique isn’t nearly as effective in the manga as it was in the novel and the adaptation never quite reaches the same depth as the original, but the story remains and interesting and curious one. Perhaps obviously what makes the manga stand apart from its predecessor is its artwork. The first quarter or so of the series isn’t especially impressive, but then Ogata switches to a style reminiscent of ink wash paintings which is quite lovely.

Persona 3, Volume 1Persona 3, Volumes 1-3 by Shuji Sogabe. Having read and largely enjoyed what has so far been translated of Sogabe’s Persona 4 manga adaptation, I was looking forward to giving the Persona 3 manga a try as well. (Especially as I’ve actually played some of Persona 3, unlike Persona 4. Granted, I still haven’t actually finished the video game.) I really wanted to like the manga, but I was very disappointed with the first three volumes of Sogabe’s Persona 3. Apparently, it was Sogabe’s first professional manga, which may explain some of the series problems. The Persona 3 manga will likely work best for readers who are already very familiar with the original, and even then I suspect that most would rather just play the game again. The manga has no clear or coherent narrative to it, jumping around in the story and in an out of battles without reason. Considering the number of fight sequences included, it’s particularly unfortunate that conveying action is one of Sogabe’s weakest areas. Characterization is largely lacking in the manga and most of the cast members are never fully or adequately introduced, but at least their designs are attractive enough. Overall, I didn’t enjoy the Persona 3 manga much at all, mostly because it didn’t make much sense at all. Some of the more comedic moments were admittedly amusing, though.

To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts, Volume 1To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts, Volumes 1-2 by Maybe. Before reading To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts I was under the impression that the series used the American Civil War as the foundation of its story. It turns out that’s not really the case, although the worldbuilding and character designs take obvious inspiration from nineteenth-century United States and the setting of the manga is a country recovering from a great war between the North and the South. (I suppose To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts could be some sort of alternative historical fantasy, but for the moment at least it doesn’t read that way to me.) In order to emerge victorious from the war, the North relied on soldiers known as Incarnates–humans who were granted tremendous abilities and battle prowess but at a great cost; they were literally turned into monsters. The metaphor may not be particularly subtle, but how To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts tackles the psychological ramifications and ravages of war is certainly engaging. Now that the conflict is over and an uneasy peace has been established, there is no longer any need for creatures of war and the Incarnate soldiers largely find themselves feared and despised. As the last of their humanity slips from their grasp, the Incarnates ultimately become the targets of the Beast Hunters.

Boogiepop at Dawn

Boogiepop at DawnAuthor: Kouhei Kadono
Illustrator: Kouji Ogata

Translator: Andrew Cunningham
U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781934876060
Released: August 2008
Original release: 1999

Technically, Boogiepop at Dawn is the sixth volume in Kouhei Kadono’s series of Boogiepop light novels illustrated by Kouji Ogata, however it serves as a prequel to the entire work. Seven Seas jumped to releasing Boogiepop at Dawn after publishing the first three Boogiepop novels in English—Boogiepop and Others and Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 1 and Part 2. It was a decision that made sense: the entire series wasn’t able to be translated, Boogiepop at Dawn ties in directly with the early novels, and the volume was partially the basis for the Boogiepop Phantom anime. Boogiepop at Dawn was originally published in Japan in 1999 while Andrew Cunningham’s English translation was released by Seven Seas in 2008 (two years after the first three books). I discovered the Boogiepop franchise late, after the novels and manga available in English had already gone out of print, but I have still been thoroughly enjoying the series and looked forward to reading Boogiepop at Dawn

As an agent working for the secretive Towa Organization, Scarecrow is responsible for finding other humans who, like him, have extraordinary psychic and physical abilities and strengths. The Towa Organization is very interested in these remarkable people; by controlling them it hopes to control the course of human evolution. Scarecrow’s search is made easier by the fact that he poses as Kuroda Shinpei, a private detective; he is able to continue his primary investigation while working more mundane cases. Scarecrow meets Kirima Nagi, a young woman who has been hospitalized with an undiagnosed but painful condition, while searching for evidence against another Towa agent whose loyalty has been called into question. Nagi has the potential to become one of those exceptional, highly-evolved people he is searching for, but instead of reporting her to the Towa Organization, Scarecrow decides to go against his orders, saving her life by risking his own and triggering a sequence of events that will leave multiple people dead.

Boogiepop at Dawn, page 7Although Boogiepop at Dawn is a prequel, it really is intended to be read by those who are already familiar with Boogiepop in general and with the first few volumes of the series specifically. But for those readers who are, Boogiepop at Dawn is spectacular and a very satisfying addition. Ostensibly the volume is the origin story of Boogipeop—a supernatural entity in conflict with the Towa Organization who is also keeping watch over the super-evolved humans, destroying them when necessary—and to a small extent it is. But Boogiepop actually makes very few appearances in the volume. However, Boogiepop at Dawn does provide an extensive background for another of the series’ primary characters, Nagi, and explains the purpose of the Towa Organization. Many of the other protagonists and antagonists from the earlier Boogiepop novels make a showing as well, which ties everything together very nicely. I was particularly pleased to learn more about Nagi’s father, Kirima Seiichi, an author of peculiar importance to the series whose story hasn’t been fully revealed until now.

Boogiepop at Dawn is a collection of four closely connected narratives with an additional framing story that bookends the volume. Most of the stories focus on Nagi, either directly or tangentially. Much like the other Boogiepop novels, Boogiepop at Dawn employs elements from a number of different genres, but it may safely be called speculative fiction as a whole. All melded together in the volume are bits of mystery and detective work, horror, action and martial arts, the supernatural, and science fiction. Boogiepop at Dawn is engaging and at times chillingly dark with heavy psychological components. The individual stories are seen from different perspectives, at various points following Scarecrow, Seiichi, a serial murderer, and an assassin. Boogiepop is mostly a presence in the background, but an important one nonetheless. Boogiepop at Dawn is also similar to the earlier volumes of the series in that it does not adhere to a strictly chronological structure, but it’s fascinating to seen the beginnings of the plot threads that will become so entangled in the other novels.

Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 2

Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 2Author: Kouhei Kadono
Illustrator: Kouji Ogata

Translator: Andrew Cunningham
U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781933164236
Released: October 2006
Original release: 1998

Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 2 is the third volume in the Boogiepop light novel series written by Kouhei Kadono and illustrated by Kouji Ogata. It is also the third out of four Boogiepop novels to have been released in English. Translated by Andrew Cunningham, the second part of Boogiepop Returns was published by Seven Seas in 2006. In Japan, the volume was released in 1998, the same year as the first two books in the series. Boogiepop Returns is actually a two-part story, and so after reading the first novel in the arc I was particularly anxious to read the second. With all of the setup and steadily increasing tension in the first part, the story needed a conclusion and the final volume of the arc promised to deliver just that. Boogiepop is kind of an odd series which freely mixes the surreal with the real, making use of multiple genres in the process. But it’s also a series that I find peculiarly appealing because of that and because of its willingness to explore the more troubling aspects of the psyche.

A year ago a young woman committed suicide under the influence of an entity known only as the Imaginator. Her life was ended when, being pursued by Boogiepop, the Imaginator failed to change the world through her. But now the Imaginator has returned to inspire yet another person, this time with much greater success. Asukai Jin, with the Imaginator as a catalyst, has begun to use his unique abilities to not only read the hearts of other people but to manipulate them as well. Meanwhile, the mysterious Towa Organization also has a vested interest in the direction humankind is taking. Spooky E, a synthetic human and one of its agents, is actively hunting Boogiepop in order to prevent the spirit’s interference with the organization’s affairs. In an effort to draw Boogiepop out, he has arranged for the love-besotted Taniguchi Masaki to serve as a decoy by impersonating Boogiepop. Masaki didn’t initially realize he was being used as a pawn, and even if he had there was very little he could do to stop the developing crisis.

Despite the title being Boogiepop Returns, the real Boogiepop actually plays a very small albeit very important role in the two novels and is mostly relegated to the edges of the narrative while the other players take center stage. Granted, when Boogiepop finally does make an entrance during the second volume’s finale, it’s pretty spectacular. But until then the story largely follows the more mundane characters, the seemingly normal teenagers who have been caught up in the battle over the fate of humanity and who frequently are the victims of the supernatural and superhuman forces at work. At the same time, they are also dealing with their own personal issues and troubled relationships. In many ways I actually found these smaller struggles to be more emotionally immediate than the novel’s grander schemes, probably because they’re more relatable and the more realistic elements help to ground the stranger aspects of the Boogiepop series.

The doomed love story between Masaki and the girl he likes, Orihata Aya, has always been an important part of Boogiepop Returns but it become especially prominent in the second volume. It is because of his love for her that he “becomes” Boogiepop, his feelings and the burgeoning romance becoming closely entwined with the larger events of the novel. The second part of Boogiepop Returns has some fantastic fights and action sequences, but the  novel also has deeper contemplative and philosophical aspects to it as well. Employing the trappings of science fiction and the supernatural, the Boogiepop novels explore thought-provoking themes of free will, personal identity, the individual’s place within society, sacrifice, and what it truly means to be human. The characters are all damaged or suffering in some way but it’s how they choose to live their lives despite that pain that makes them who they are and makes Boogiepop Returns such an interesting and at times even compelling story.

Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 1

Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 1Author: Kouhei Kadono
Illustrator: Kouji Ogata

Translator: Andrew Cunningham
U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781933164205
Released: June 2006
Original release: 1998

After reading Boogiepop and Others, I knew that I needed to read the rest of Kouhei Kadono’s Boogiepop light novel series, or at least all of the volumes that had been released in English. Sadly, out of the more than a dozen volumes, only four of the novels were ever translated and it is unlikely that any others will be. Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 1 is the second Boogiepop novel and the first volume in a two-part story arc. The novel was originally published in Japan in 1998, the same year that the award-winning Boogiepop and Others was released. The English translation of the first part of Boogiepop Returns by Andrew Cunningham was published by Seven Seas in 2006. Seven Seas was also the publisher that released the other three Boogiepop novels available in English as well as some of the Boogiepop manga adaptations (which I have yet to read). Technically, all of those Boogiepop books have gone out of print, but fortunately most of the volumes are still fairly easy to find.

When she was only seventeen, Minahoshi Suiko plummeted from the rooftop of Shinyo Academy. Initially it was believed to have been a suicide, but rumors start circulating among the students that it may have been murder or perhaps something even more sinister, something that is compelling others to follow in Minahoshi’s footsteps. It wouldn’t be the only time that Shinyo Academy has faced inhuman and supernatural influences resulting in tragedy and death. Asukai Jin is a counselor at a local cram school which is attended by several Shinyo Academy students. He seems to be able to look into the hearts of those seeking his aid, offering advice that is uncannily appropriate for each student and their specific situations. The odd ability which allows Asukai to see the flaws of others while being blind to his own has drawn the attention of the same forces a work at Shinyo Academy. The only thing that stands in the way of those forces is the fabled spirit of death Boogiepop, but there are those who are hunting Boogiepop down in order to prevent any sort of interference.

One of the things that I particularly enjoyed about Boogiepop and Others was its narrative structure, and so I was happy to see the first part of Boogiepop Returns use a similar one. Specifically, the story continues to be seen from the perspective of multiple characters, although in this volume the chronology is slightly less disjointed overall. The events in Boogiepop Returns take place both before and after those in Boogiepop and Others. (A handy timeline included in the back of the volume helps to make this all clear.) Although the plots of each novel aren’t directly related, the events of the first are alluded to in the second and both volumes do share some of the same characters. However, the importance of the characters’ individual roles has shifted somewhat. Taniguchi Masaki, for example, was a side character in the first Boogiepop novel; he wasn’t much more than a stepbrother to another important character. But in Boogiepop Returns he is one of the leads in the volume’s ill-fated love story.

The Boogiepop series has a fascinating mix of genres—science fiction, horror, mystery, and even a bit of romance all make an appearance in the novels. There are strong psychological elements and strange and bizarre occurrences, too. I didn’t find the second Boogiepop novel to be quite as dark as the first, but it could still be thoroughly disconcerting and it was consistently engaging. Because Boogiepop Returns is a two-part arc, most of the first volume is spent setting the stage and introducing the major players. At this point the significance of some of the events is still unclear and far more questions have been raised than have been answered. It’s difficult to say just exactly what is going on and perhaps even more challenging to anticipate what will happen next. This will probably either frustrate readers immensely or intrigue them. (As for me, I was intensely intrigued.) Much like Boogiepop and Others, the first part of Boogiepop Returns is peculiar and unsettling. I’m very curious to see how the story will continue to develop in the second volume.

Boogiepop and Others

Boogiepop and OthersAuthor: Kouhei Kadono
Illustrator: Kouji Ogata

Translator: Andrew Cunningham
U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781933164168
Released: January 2006
Original release: 1998
Awards: Dengeki Novel Prize

Boogiepop and Others is the first volume in a series of light novels written by Kouhei Kadono and illustrated by Kouji Ogata. The novel was originally released in Japan in 1998 after winning the Dengeki Game Novel Prize (now known simply as the Dengeki Novel Prize). Boogiepop and Others has been credited with igniting the light novel trend in Japan. Whether that is true or not, the novel has inspired more than a dozen other volumes in the Boogiepop novel series as well as other books, short stories, manga, music, a live-action film adaptation, an anime, and more. Out of the fairly large franchise, four of the light novels—including Boogiepop and Others—two short manga series, the anime, and the film have been released in English. The English-language edition of Boogiepop and Others, translated by Andrew Cunningham, was published by Seven Seas in 2006. Although I had been aware of the Boogiepop Phantom anime series for quite some time, Boogiepop and Others was actually my introduction to the franchise and is set before the events of the anime.

No one is entirely sure who or what Boogiepop is, but there are several rumors and theories among the students of Shinyo Academy. Stories are told about a spirit of death, an assassin who can kill instantly and painlessly. When a number of female students at Shinyo Academy go missing, many naturally assume that Boogiepop must have had something to do with their disappearances. Others believe Boogiepop to be nothing more than a myth or urban legend, but they can’t deny that something very strange and very wrong is going on at their school. Most of the missing girls are written off as runaways by the police and their cases are quickly dropped. And so a few of their classmates take it upon themselves to investigate since they can’t rely on the adults to pursue the matter. But it’s already too late. Some of the girls who have disappeared have lost their lives and there will be even more deaths before those who are responsible can be stopped. If they can be stopped. Any survivors will be left struggling to comprehend everything that occurred at Shinyo Academy.

Boogiepop and Others isn’t told from a single point of view, within a single time frame, or even through a single narrative. Instead, each chapter is seen from the perspective of a different student. Some of the characters are directly involved with the events unfolding at Shinyo Academy while others are only tangentially related. However, none of them know everything about what is going on, though they may have their suspicions. There’s Takeda Keiji, who becomes one of the people closest to Boogiepop, Suema Kazuko, who once was almost the victim of a serial killer herself, Saotome Masami, a deceptively unassuming underclassman, Kimura Akio, one of several boyfriends of one of the missing students, and Niitoki Kei, the president of the discipline committee. They each have their own story to tell, and each version of the events is accurate, but the complete truth can only be understood when all of the individual accounts have been completely disclosed and are then considered and taken together as a whole.

The narrative structure of Boogiepop and Others is actually quite effective in creating and sustaining the mystery and mood of the novel. It’s a slow build as little by little information is revealed and connections are made between characters and their stories. Piecing together everything is an incredibly engaging part of the novel. At times, Boogiepop and Others can be legitimately creepy and disconcerting. The elements of horror in the novel are just as strong as those of science fiction and mystery. Several of the characters are dealing with extreme mental and psychological disturbances and unfortunate family circumstances in addition to the apparent supernatural occurrences. Personally, I preferred Kadono’s exploration of the more reality-based issues over the more outrageous ideas, but in combination even those could be oddly compelling in their strangeness. I thoroughly enjoyed Boogiepop and Others, perhaps even more than I initially anticipated. I definitely plan on reading more of the series.