My Week in Manga: May 25-May 31, 2015

My News and Reviews

Last week was the last week of May, which means the most recent giveaway at Experiments in Manga is currently underway. There are still a couple of days left to enter for a chance to win an Ema Toyama Twosome, i.e. the first volume of both Missions of Love and Manga Dogs. I also posted a couple of in-depth reviews last week. The first review was of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 8: Operation Odessa, which is the first volume to take place after the series’ extended flashback arc. It’s not my favorite volume in the series, but Kai gets his moment in the spotlight which I was happy to see. The second review was of Kazuki Sakuraba’s award-winning novel Red Girls: The Legend of the Akakuchibas, which I enjoyed immensely. Sakuraba is probably better known as the creator of Gosick, but Red Girls is a fantastic multi-generational epic.

I was actually at a conference for work most of last week, so I wasn’t able to keep up with news and announcements to quite the same extent that I’m usually able to. However, I still did come across some interesting reading. Aya Kanno, for example, has recently had some interviews posted. Over at Barnes & Noble’s Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Brigid Alverson talked with Kanno about defying expectations and Rebecca Silverman’s interview of Kanno was posted at Anime News Network. A couple of weeks ago I reviewed the first volume of Wayward which I quite enjoyed, so I found Katriel Page’s essay about how Rori embodies liminality to be particularly interesting. And over at Organization Anti-Social Geniuses, Justin wants you all to Meet the Man Who’s Translated a Thousand Manga Chapters—Dan Luffey.

Quick Takes

Cipher, Volume 7Cipher, Volumes 7-11 by Minako Narita. Despite being twelve volumes in Japan, for some reason the English-language edition of Cipher was collected in eleven. (It is the complete series, though.) I thoroughly enjoyed the first part of the series, and the sixth volume ends with a fairly dramatic twist, so I was anxious to read the manga’s conclusion. Cipher and Siva, being nearly inseparable growing up and at one point even sharing an identity, are now living apart with the entire country between them. Wracked with guilt, Cipher has moved from New York to Los Angeles, leaving his girlfriend Anise behind along with his twin brother. In general, this second half of Cipher tends to be somewhat more believable than the first, though there are still plenty of parts that aren’t especially realistic. However, Narita does an excellent job of exploring the emotional fallout and the changes in the characters’ relationships with one another that come about as a result of both Cipher and Siva learning to live their lives as individuals and each becoming his own person. New characters are introduced who play a very important role in this evolution, including Cipher’s Los Angeles roommate Hal and Siva’s fellow model Alex. In the end, Anise’s story ends up being secondary to that of the brothers, but she shows growth and development as well.

Cry to the MoonCry to the Moon by Various. I discovered Love Love Hill relatively recently, but the collective releases some great comics, so I’ve been making a point to pick up its anthologies. Cry to the Moon, based on the theme of delinquents and animals, is the most recent Love Love Hill comics anthology. The volume includes contributions from eight different creators. I was especially looking forward to Saicoink’s “To My Dear White Dove: A Quiet Love,” a sort of alternate universe side story to her series Open Spaces and Closed Places (which I absolutely love), but I enjoyed the other works that were collected as well. Cry to the Moon has a nice variety of comics that range from the comedic to the bittersweet to the tragic. Many of the stories are based in reality while a few of them incorporate more fantastical elements. Some are only a few pages while others are more lengthy and involved. But no matter the length or the tone of the story, each of the comics collected in Cry to the Moon exhibits heart. What I love about anthologies is the opportunity to experience the different art styles and storytelling techniques of the creators involved. I also appreciate that the individual creators are given space in Cry to the Moon to write about their influences and inspirations for their stories and how they decided to interpret the anthology’s theme.

The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Volume 3The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Volume 3 by Hiromu Arakawa. I am largely enjoying The Heroic Legend of Arslan, it’s a great fantasy story with exciting battles and interesting worldbuilding, but I do wish that the characters and plot had a little more complexity and nuance to them. By the end of the third volume, I have some hope that this will eventually happen as the series continues to develop, but right now it’s just not quite there. Characterization in the manga tends to be painted with a fairly broad stroke and heavy hand. Some of the humor, while amusing, doesn’t always mesh well with the overall tone of the series, either. However, there are other things that The Heroic Legend of Arslan is doing well. I particularly like the series’ approach to action scenes and battles. There are plenty of examples of extraordinarily strong fighters showing off their incredibly powerful skills, but strategy and tactics are also incredibly important to how a battle plays out in the end. In the third volume, Arslan and his small contingent of supporters face off against more than a thousand soldiers, but thanks to careful planning, psychological manipulation, and effective use of the geographical terrain, for the most part they are able to come through unscathed.

Showa3Showa: A History of Japan, 1944-1953 by Shigeru Mizuki. This third and penultimate volume of Showa: A History of Japan addresses the time period of that era that I already knew the most about—the end of the Pacific War and the following occupation of Japan by Western forces. Even so, there were things that I learned reading the manga that I never knew before. Showa: A History of Japan continues to be told using two closely intertwined narratives. Mizuki outlines the larger developments of the war and Japan’s reconstruction, but he also incorporates the story of his own experiences and the experiences of his family. It’s this personal touch that makes Showa: A History of Japan especially compelling and hard-hitting as it drives home the tragedy of war and the dire circumstances faced by the soldiers and civilians on both sides of the conflict. Part of the third volume deals with some of the same events found in Mizuki’s Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, so I was already familiar with some of the story, but that didn’t make its impact any less effective. This volume reveals how Mizuki survived during war against all odds as well as how he survived after the war (another difficult feat), including his beginnings as a kamishibai and manga artist.

A Silent Voice, Volume 1A Silent Voice, Volume 1 by Yoshitoki Oima. If the volumes that follow the first are anywhere near as strong, A Silent Voice is likely one of the best series to be released this year. (At least in print; technically, the manga started being officially released digitally on Crunchyroll last year.) The first volume of A Silent Voice is both powerful and heartbreaking. The story follows Shoya, a somewhat unlikeable young man and a terrible bully. He learns that his actions have consequences not only for others but for himself as well when he decides to make Shoko, a deaf transfer student, his next target. A Silent Voice doesn’t sugarcoat school bullying, showing just how vicious and cruel kids can be and how quickly they can turn on one another. Perhaps even more tragic is that some of the teachers do very little to put an end to it or to discourage the behavior. In some cases, they seem to even encourage it, or at least allow the bullying to flourish. There is a stunning lack of empathy from almost every character in the series. The majority of A Silent Voice, Volume 1 takes place during Shoya and Shoko’s middle school years. This actually occurs six years before the start of the manga, establishing the complicated nature of Shoya’s feelings toward Shoko and the exploring developments that led him to become the person he now is.

My Week in Manga: April 27-May 3, 2015

My News and Reviews

Last week was the end of one month and the beginning of another, which means the most recent manga giveaway at Experiments in Manga is currently underway. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, so there’s still a little time to enter for a chance to win Miki Yoshikawa’s Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, Volume 1. An in-depth manga review was posted last week as well. I took a look at Aki’s The Angel of Elhamburg, a bittersweet tragedy which, although it can be difficult to follow in places, is a lovely single-volume manga. And finally, over the weekend, April’s Bookshelf Overload was posted for those who are curious about the manga that made its way into my home last month.

On to other interesting reading and news found elsewhere online! Sparkler Monthly has started a monthly blog and the first post Why do we need “comics for women”? Why not “comics for everyone”? is excellent. Seven Seas announced three new manga licenses last week: Katsuhisa Kigitsu’s Fraken Fran, Wataru Karasuma’s Not Lives, and Ichigo Takano’s Orange (which is also being released digitally by Crunchyroll.) Franken Fran in particular has been a oft-requested title by fans. Organization Anti-Social Geniuses talked with Lissa Pattillo from Seven Seas about the Franken Fran license. Also at OASG is an interview with Hope Donovan, a managing editor at Viz Media. And Mangabrog has posted a translation of a conversation between mangaka Nobuyuki Fukumoto and musician and author Kenji Ohtsuki.

Quick Takes

Cipher, Volume 1Cipher, Volumes 1-6 by Minako Narita. During its time, CMX published some really great manga, including several old-school shoujo series. Cipher is one of those, and probably one of the most eighties manga that I’ve read. The series, set in New York, began serialization in 1984 and includes many references to American pop culture of the time. Anise is trying to make friends with Siva, an up-and-coming actor as well as one of her classmates, when she discovers his secret. He has a twin, Cipher, and they’ve been taking turns pretending to be “Siva.” And so they make a bet: if after two weeks she can tell the two twins apart, they will tell her why they have been sharing an identity. Cipher doesn’t always have the most believable story—for one, I don’t know of any parents who would ever let their child move in with someone they’ve never met even temporarily—but the characters and interpersonal drama are consistently engaging and at times even compelling. So far, I’m loving it. Cipher is often slow-moving, generally focusing on the everyday lives of American teenagers, but a plot twist towards the end of the sixth volume hastens and sets up important character and story developments for the second half of the series.

Junk!Junk! Shushushu Sakurai. If I’m not mistaken, Junk! was the very last manga to be released by DramaQueen before the publisher disappeared. Like Sakurai’s other DramaQueen release, Missing Road, Junk! is a boys’ love manga that incorporates elements of science fiction and action. Also like Missing Road, Junk! is a manga that could have benefited from additional volumes in order to explore some of the complexities of the plot and setting. Reading these manga, Sakurai seems to be overly ambitious when it comes to her stories. However, I think Junk! is the more cohesive, coherent, and successful of the two overall. Even though it’s only a single volume, Junk! has a lot going on in it. A religious cult focused on breeding people together—whether they are male or female—in order to foster the evolution of even stronger humans. A man who holds the key to a closely kept government secret that ensures a person’s survival even in the face a nuclear apocalypse. And, because it is a mature boys’ love title after all, there’s plenty of sex, too, even at inopportune moments. (Seriously, taking time to bang your lover in the middle of a dangerous infiltration mission doesn’t seem to be the wisest decision.)

My Little Monster, Volume 7My Little Monster, Volume 7 by Robico. The last few volumes of My Little Monster left me a little frustrated with the lack of progress in the development of the series’ story and in the relationships of its characters. Fortunately, the seventh volume seems to get things back on track and the manga continues to be a fairly amusing and even endearing series from time to time. Also, I love that after everything that has happened, Nagoya, the pet chicken, continues to make repeated appearances. The cast of My Little Monster is made up of a bunch of oddballs who tend to be socially awkward, but I do like them quite a bit. Part of that social awkwardness means they can be completely oblivious to other people’s feelings, even when those feelings have been clearly and repeatedly stated. To be fair, they’re sometimes oblivious to their own feelings as well. The result is one heck of a mess of tangled and conflicting relationships. The seventh volume of My Little Monster sees some but certainly not all of those relationships sorted out after several confessions of love are made and replies to them eventually given. At this point the series is more than halfway over, so I hope Robico is able to maintain its forward momentum.

Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 11Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 11 by Mitsuru Hattori. I was very curious to see how Sankarea would end since I honestly had no idea which direction Hattori was going to take things. And now that I’ve read the final volume, I’m not entirely convinced that Hattori actually knew, either. From the very beginning Sankarea has been a strange mix of horror and romantic comedy, an offbeat story with offbeat characters. Sometimes the ideal balance between the two genres was there, and sometimes it wasn’t. The finale of Sankarea would seem to demand that Hattori choose one over the other, but instead he attempts to satisfy the requirements of both by employing a series of false endings. I think that ultimately the conclusion of Sankarea would have been more satisfying if Hattori had simply picked one ending and ran with it. Like the rest of the series, the eleventh volume of Sankarea had its cute and sweet moments as well its moments of blood and gore. It also has the return of Rea’s abusive father (legitimately one of the most disturbing elements of the series), trying to put him in a slightly more sympathetic light.  In the end, little Bub the undead cat is probably still my favorite part of the entire series.