My Week in Manga: June 19-June 25, 2017

My News and Reviews

Last week I posted the Bookshelf Overload for May, a rather lengthy list of manga, comics, and other books that have recently made their way into my home. One reason it was such a long was due to the fact that the Toronto Comic Arts Festival was also held in May and I’m always inspired to pick up a bunch of things while I’m there. Normally I post the Bookshelf Overload feature during the second week of the month rather than the third, but I switched things up this time in order to post my review of Yeon-sik Hong’s manhwa Uncomfortabily Happily closer to its release date.

Elsewhere online, Deb Aoki recently took a look at some of the major trends impacting the North American manga industry for Publishers Weekly–“Nine Reasons Manga Publishers Can Smile in 2017.” Otherwise, I didn’t really come across much in the way of manga news and announcements last week. While it may have in fact been a relatively quiet week, I suspect that I might have just missed things due to the fact that I wasn’t online much. (I’m in the midst of preparing lesson plans for an introduction to taiko course that I’ll be instructing over the summer.) Do let me know if there was anything in particular that you’ve found interesting lately, though!

Quick Takes

Cosmic CommandosCosmic Commandos by Chris Eliopoulos. Every once in a while a comic is directly sent my way that I otherwise would probably have never encountered. Cosmic Commandos, the debut graphic novel of American comics creator and illustrator Eliopoulos, is one such work. In part inspired by his own identical twin sons, Cosmic Commandos follows an unexpected adventure that a pair of twin brothers find themselves caught up in. Jeremy and  his (slightly) younger brother Justin have vastly different personalities, much to Jeremy’s dismay and embarrassment. In fact, Jeremy seems pretty annoyed and bored with a lot in his life, but that soon changes when a cereal box prize turns him into the hero from his favorite video game. Not only that, the monsters and villains from the game are now invading the town, too. However, they are proving to be much more difficult to beat in real life and, like it or not, Jeremy will need to rely on Justin’s help to save the day. Cosmic Commandos is aimed towards younger readers but some of the more subtle jokes and humor will probably be appreciated even more by the adults in their lives. It’s not a comic that I would normally find myself reading, but it was a fun and energetic story. There’s even a sequel in the works, Monster Mayhem, which sounds delightful.

Gangsta: Cursed, Volume 1Gangsta: Cursed, Volumes 1-2 written by Kohske and illustrated by Syuhei Kamo. I was surprised and impressed by how close Kamo’s artwork in Gangsta: Cursed aligns with Kohske’s artwork in Gangsta. This can probably be largely explained by the fact that Kamo is actually one of Kohske’s assistants for the original series, of which I wasn’t previously aware. Gangsta: Cursed primarily takes place before the events of the main series and is set during another time in Ergastulum’s history in which violence against the Twilight population was at a peak. Although there hasn’t been much story yet per se–for the most part the first two volumes of Gangsta: Cursed consist of one brutal action sequence after another–functionally the series serves as the backstory for Marco Adriano, who at that point was known as Spas. Unsurprisingly, considering that this is still Gangsta, his past is a tragic one filled blood and death. Indoctrinated as a young man to hate Twilights above all else, he is part of a group of particularly vicious Hunters known as the Destroyers. They have been instructed to kill all of the Twilights that they can find along with any normal human sympathizers, and they do. However, Spas is beginning to have doubts and seems to be quickly approaching a psychological breakdown.

I Am a Hero, Omnibus 2I Am a Hero, Omnibuses 2-3 (equivalent to Volumes 3-6) by Kengo Hanazawa. I’ll have to admit, although in general I’ve grown somewhat weary of the zombie subgenre, I’m finding I Am a Hero to be a gripping series. It can also be fairly gruesome and outright disturbing at times. Hanazawa has at this point established a good narrative rhythm, allowing both the characters and readers to have moments of respite (even if those moments are still frequently anxiety-inducing) in between intense, action-oriented, near-death experiences. Hideo, the lead of I Am a Hero, continues to be one of the most interesting characters that I’ve recently encountered in a manga, mostly due to the non-sensationalistic portrayal of the numerous mental health issues he deals with on top of simply trying to survive a zombie outbreak. Most everyone he knows has already died or has otherwise succumbed to the devastating infection, but as the series progresses further he does at least temporarily find some allies who can confirm that something terrible is going on in the world and that it’s not just all in his head. How long any of them will last is an entirely different matter though; the death count in I Am a Hero continues to be incredibly high and any survivors aren’t having an easy time of it, either.

Kase-san and Morning GloriesKase-san and Morning Glories by Hiromi Takashima. I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on exactly why, but I find the cover art of the first volume in the Kase-san series to be both cute and slightly off-putting. Fortunately, later volumes don’t seem to have the same issue. It’s also somewhat misleading as the interior illustrations are drawn in a completely different style, but one that I greatly prefer even though the anatomy can occasionally be a bit off. Like many manga, Kase-san and Morning Glories originally started as a one-shot story which is probably why the early part of the series feels very episodic. I’m not sure if the episodic nature of the manga will continue or if the series will develop a larger overarching narrative (which by the end of the first volume it seems that it might), but what I am certain of is that Kase-san and Morning Glories is adorable, light, and fluffy. There’s not much depth to the characters or stories at this point, but they are likeable and charming. The manga is largely seen from the perspective of Yamada, a young woman who loves to garden and who has recently found herself attracted to the titular Kase, one of the tomboyish stars of their school’s track team. Kase likes Yamada, too, but it takes some time for them to realize that their feelings are mutual.

Random Musings: A Moment of Respite in Kohske’s Gangsta

Gangsta is an ongoing manga series created by Kohske that began serialization in Japan in 2011. The collected volumes of the manga are being published in English by Viz Media under its Signature imprint. So far, I have been loving the series.

Although the manga features a large and diverse cast of characters, the story primarily revolves around the Handymen: Alex Benedetto, a former prostitute recovering from involuntary drug use; Nicolas Brown, a deaf Twilight mercenary with incredible physical abilities; and Worick Arcangelo, a gigolo with an exceptionally accurate and vivid memory. Living in the city of Ergastulum, which was created to quarantine and control the superhuman Twilights, the three leads carry out all sorts of odd jobs for the police, the mafia and gangs, and individual citizens, everything from repairing buildings to finding lost cats to assassination hits.

I have been thoroughly enjoying Gangsta ever since it first began being published in English. I like its dark, gritty atmosphere, intense action sequences, and engaging characters with complicated relationships and pasts. However, I only recently caught up with the sixth and most recent volume, released back in May. While reading the volume, I was particularly struck by a short sequence of panels which was part of a larger four-page scene:

Gangsta, Volume 6, page 51

At first glance, Nic could be standing next to anything—a door, a wall, a pillar, or what have you. I was initially so caught up in the subtle changes in his expression from one panel to the next that it actually took me a moment to realize that Nic was in fact leaning up against part of the sound system at Bastard (a club/brothel run by one of the mafia families that the Handymen are on good terms with). Nic may be deaf, but for an all too brief moment he’s enjoying Ally’s performance as she sings. He’s also literally feeling the music.

A bit of a personal side story: Back in my undergraduate days, the symphonic band that I was a part of would go on tour over spring break. There is one performance from my junior year that particularly stands out to me for two reasons. The first being that our lead trumpet player (who was also my roommate for the tour) was hit in the head by a tuba during intermission, didn’t let anyone know there was a problem, proceeded to play through the rest of the concert with a concussion, and ended up in the hospital that night as a result. The second reason (and the reason that I’m even bringing this all up) is that several members of that evening’s audience happened to be deaf. They sat together as a group with a clear view of the stage so that they could see the performance and they held balloons between their hands so that they could more easily feel the different vibrations created by the woodwinds, brass, and percussion.

Likewise, Nic standing near and actually leaning against one of the sound system’s speakers allows him to more fully experience the music of Ally’s performance. When I recognized this was what was happening, I immediately thought back to that concert in my junior year. I love Kohske’s attention to these sorts of details. They can be found throughout the series and bring an added level of realism and nuance to the manga’s characters and story. I also appreciate that Nic’s deafness isn’t used as a gimmick; it is an integral part of who he is as a person and how he experiences and interacts with his environment and the people around him.

This scene takes place during Ally’s second public performance as a singer at Bastard. The first was an effectively heartbreaking rendition of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me,” her voice superimposed over the mayhem and death occurring in the streets just outside while Worick, Nic, and others risked their lives to trying save those of the Twilight refugees seeking shelter within the club. Tragically, the violence could not be withheld and ultimately spilled into the club itself. This makes Ally’s later performance even more significant, powerful, and emotionally resonant. Her singing this time is a celebration—it can be seen in the joy and happiness in her face and in the faces of those who are listening—providing healing for the survivors and a moment of peace between the tragedies of the past and the tragedies that will inevitably come.

The entire sequence, and specifically these three panels, capture that feeling and atmosphere astonishingly well. Kohske is remarkably skilled when it comes to pacing in Gangsta. Chaos and violence is balanced by quieter moments, pain and tragedy (of which there are plenty) is alleviated by humor and compassion. Gangsta has a narrative rhythm to it that continues to build tension without becoming unrelentingly bleak. Kohske knows when to push the action and when to hold back to allow the characters and the readers to recover, breathe, and process the ramifications of everything that has taken place.

What is also striking about this four-page scene is that there isn’t a single word of spoken dialogue or narration. Even what it is that Ally is singing is unknown. The scene is an entirely visual experience, relying exclusively on the strength of Kohske’s artwork to convey the emotions and narrative of the manga. It serves to emphasize what is happening in these particular three panels as well, accentuating Nic’s perspective as someone who can see but not hear the world around him. And then he closes his eyes, distancing himself even further from that world and from the people he cares about and who care about him.

In the very next instant, Nic is suddenly gone, off on a mission of his own devising that may very well get him killed. And he hasn’t told Ally or Worick or anyone else who truly matters about his plan. But this moment before he disappears is tremendously important—Nic is fully present as he absorbs with all of his senses Ally’s performance and the jubilation permeating the club, something that he will carry within himself when he leaves. Even while Nic is closing himself off, he still maintains and strengthens his connection to others. The space that he previously occupied is left disconcertingly empty; though initially unnoticed, his absence will be felt.

Nic knows what he’s going to do and what’s coming next even if nobody else does. Elation, sadness, energy, calm, regret, contentment, and a myriad of other things can all be found within this one scene. And the wider implications of it are surprisingly complex considering its simplicity. On the surface, Ally sings while others listen, but underneath it all is a turmoil of emotions and a tangle of intentions. In general I have found Kohske’s Gangsta to be an incredibly engaging manga, but this scene in particular has left a huge impression on me from both a visual and narrative standpoint.

Gangsta, Volume 6, page 51

My Week in Manga: September 21-September 27, 2015

My News and Reviews

Apparently, considering the two in-depth reviews that I posted, Experiments in Manga was all about dynastic struggles and warfare last week. Ken Liu is an author that I’ve started to follow since reading one of his short stories in The Future is Japanese. His debut novel, Grace of Kings, was released this year and I absolutely loved it. It’s the first book in The Dandelion Dynasty, a fantasy epic which is inspired by and reimagines Chinese history and legends, such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms (which I really need to get around to finishing). I also reviewed Aya Kanno’s Requiem of the Rose King, Volume 2. So far, I’m really liking the series which takes its inspiration from William Shakespeare’s plays dealing with the Wars of the Roses. I think the second volume of Requiem of the Rose King improves on the first and is generally a little easier to follow as well. I continue to love the manga’s dark atmosphere and theatrical nature. Fortunately, the wait won’t be quite as long for the release of the next volume.

Quick Takes

Gangsta, Volume 4Gangsta, Volumes 4-6 by Kohske. I intentionally saved up a few volumes of Gangsta to read all at once, but somehow during that time I’d forgotten how much I enjoy the series. I love the diverse cast of characters, the gritty setting, and the action and intrigue of the story. In addition to an escalation in the conflicts between “normals” and Twilights, these particular volumes of Gangsta include significant plot developments as well as more character development. For one, Alex’s memories are slowly returning, revealing small fragments of her past which should have major implications as the series progresses. Her younger brother even enters the scene. While Gangsta can be an extremely violent, brutal, and cruel manga, Kohske remembers to include quieter and more lighthearted moments to provide a contrast to the series’ intensity. Granted, they also serve to emphasize the manga’s tragic turns. Kohske isn’t afraid of killing off characters, either. With all of the battles going on between exceptionally skilled and powerful fighters, it’s probably not too surprising that there will be death, severe injury, and tremendous suffering involved.

Hard RockHard Rock by Akane Abe. Because of my interest in and love of music, I have a tendency to seek out related manga (no matter how tangential), which is how I initially came across the boys’ love one shot Hard Rock. The manga follows four young men who started a band together. However, the volume actually begins with the band’s breakup and not much time is spent on music at all. Instead, Hard Rock focuses on the former bandmates’ changing friendships and relationships. There’s an underlying tangle of crushes, angst, and unrequited love, but relatively little romance, most of the major developments occurring off panel between chapters. With the exception of one page in the epilogue manga, close physical intimacy in Hard Rock is almost nonexistent beyond an occasional kiss or even rarer groping. The young men are just as likely to punch one another as they are to hug. Thus, readers looking for steamy bedroom scenes will probably be disappointed. Personally, I actually liked and appreciated the understated romance; Abe makes it work. Although Hard Rock ended up having very little to do with music, I still enjoyed it quite a bit.

Ultraman, Volume 1Ultraman, Volume 1 by Eiichi Shimizu and Tomohiro Shimoguchi. I’ve watched and enjoyed a little over a dozen episodes of the live-action Ultraman series from the 1960s and so was curious about Shimizu and Tomohiro’s addition to the incredibly successful franchise. Readers who aren’t familiar with the original needn’t fear—the first chapter of the sequel has a tremendous amount of exposition crammed into it. While this does quickly establish the premise of the manga, it’s not the most effective or enjoyable introduction. However, the narrative of the following chapters quickly improves and the volume ends with a great hook. The manga takes place a generation after the end of the Ultraman television series and focuses on Shinjiro Hayata who, as the son of the original Ultraman, has inherited superhuman powers. He becomes the target of an alien attack which leads him to accept the role of the new Ultraman. However, instead of transforming into a powerful giant, Shinjiro uses an exo-suit to enhance his abilities. So far, the Ultraman manga is shaping up to be more serious and a fair amount darker than the original series.

My Week in Manga: August 11-August 17, 2014

My News and Reviews

So, as I briefly mentioned in my anniversary post this morning, my partners and I very recently became parents. We all ended up spending most of last week at the hospital; needless to say I was a bit preoccupied. But everyone is happy, healthy, and at home now, so everything’s good. Thankfully, I already had a couple of posts typed up and ready to go. Otherwise, it would have been a very quiet week here at Experiments in Manga since I didn’t get much reading or writing done at all. (For some reason.)

Anyway, I did somehow manage to post two reviews last week! First up was Denise Schroeder’s wonderful, delightful, and charming short comic Before You Go. The review is the latest installment in my Year of Yuri monthly manga review project, which focuses on manga and other comics with lesbian and yuri elements. Also reviewed last week was Jamie Lynn Lano’s memoir The Princess of Tennis: My Year Working in Japan As an Assistant Manga Artist. It’s a very interesting and informative book about the manga industry and Japan. The book can currently be purchased through Sparkler Monthly’s Distro program.

Despite being rather busy last week, I did come across a few things online that made for interesting reading. At Manga Connection, Manjiorin wraps up her Swan review project. The fourth Manga Studies column at Comics forum has been posted, focusing on Ishiko Junzō and gekiga. Joe McCulloch has a piece on the early work of Ryōichi Ikegami at The Comics Journal. Mangabrog has a translation of a conversation between Usamaru Furuya and Inio Asano. Also highly recommended is Comics Alliance’s interview with Vertical’s Ed Chavez.

Quick Takes

Gangsta3Gangsta, Volume 3 by Kohske. As can probably be inferred from the cover, much of the third volume of Gangsta delves into the pasts of Nic and Worick, how they met, and their somewhat complicated relationship with each other. In the process more is revealed about the history of Ergastulum and the Twilights, too. Gangsta is a very violent series. Even when Nic and Worick were young they found themselves surrounded by death in a harsh environment of political turmoil. In the case of Nic, he was being kept by a mercenary group hired to act as bodyguards to Worick’s family; he’s done plenty of killing of his own. He apparently has always been somewhat terrifying. The beginnings of Nic and Worick’s exceptionally close connection are seen in this volume. Neither of them come from a good family situation, both of them are seen as socially unacceptable (Nic because he’s a Twilight, Worick because he’s a bastard son), and both of them are physically abused by those who should care about them. Though they get off to a rough start, the two broken young men are able to find some solace in each other’s company. Nic and Worick fascinate me; I’m glad to have gotten more of their backstory in the third volume. I’ve enjoyed Gangsta from the very beginning and continue to do so.

Love Full of ScarsLove Full of Scars by Psyche Delico. Okay. So, Love Full of Scars is a collection of utterly ridiculous and absurd boys’ love stories. The over-the-top humor certainly won’t be to every reader’s taste, but I loved the volume. Though I largely enjoyed all of the short manga included in Love Full of Scars, my favorite was probably the titular story. (It also happens to be the longest, with several chapters devoted to it and side stories of its own.) Kanda is a high school punk who has a crush on Uesaka, the school’s biggest badass. The problem is that every time Kanda tries to confess his feelings, he ends up picking a fight instead. Fortunately, Uesaka is able to see through all of Kanda’s posing. They’re both delinquents so more often than not communicating with their fists and punching each other in the face helps them to solve their differences. The sex in Love Full of Scars, when and if it actually happens, usually ends up being rather awkward and incredibly earnest at the same time. The stories in the collection generally avoid the stereotypical seme/uke dynamics of the boys’ love genre. There is also a bit of a fixation on facial and body hair. And, well, pubic hair, too, for that matter. (Granted, that’s mostly for the sake of gag.) The manga is rough, rude, and raunchy, but I found it to be highly amusing and entertaining.

Tonari no Seki-kunTonari no Seki-kun: The Master of Killing Time directed by Yūji Mutoh. The anime adaptation of Takuma Morishige’s manga series My Neighbor Seki had completely slipped under my radar until Vertical announced that it had licensed the manga. My curiosity was piqued, so I decided to watch the anime while waiting for the manga to be released. The anime was an absolute delight; I wish there was more! I’m definitely looking forward to reading the manga next year. The premise of the series is disarmingly simple. Yokoi and Seki sit next to each other in the back of their high school classroom. But instead of studying, Seki occupies himself at his desk in all sorts of ways, messing around with erasers, shogi pieces, knitting, and so on. The scenarios are actually all very imaginative, creative, and elaborate. Try as she might, Yokoi can’t help but be caught up whatever it is Seki is doing, so she doesn’t get much studying done, either. The anime is much more entertaining than I’ve probably made it sound. Each episode is under eight minutes and they are all very funny. There is very little dialogue in the series. Instead, the narrative relies very heavily on Yokoi’s internal monologue. Yokoi’s voice actress, Kana Hanazawa, does a fantastic job with the role—she is exceptionally dynamic and expressive.

My Week in Manga: May 26-June 1, 2014

My News and Reviews

Last week was a slower week at Experiments in Manga, which is just as well because I spent a long weekend with my family in Ohio for my youngest sister’s high school graduation. I was pretty busy with things there, but I was still able to post a few things here. The most recent manga giveaway, for example. There are still a couple of days left to enter for a chance to win Oishinbo, A la Carte: Japanese Cuisine, too. All you have to do is tell me a little about your favorite food manga (if you have one). May’s Bookshelf Overload was also posted. Interestingly enough, I think I actually bought more comics last month  than manga. (I largely blame TCAF for that.) As for reviews, I took a look at Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 5: Char & Sayla. Char happens to be one of my favorite Gundam characters, so it probably shouldn’t be too surprising that this volume is one of my favorites in the series thus far.

There were a few things that I found to read online last week that were particularly interesting, too: Manga Therapy is writing and hosting a series of posts for Mental Health Month, including Lauren Orsini’s article about Mushishi as a metaphor for mental illness. FanboyNation had an interview with Tokyopop. Brigid Alverson interviewed Akira Himekawa for Comic Book Resources. And finally, Revealing and Concealing Identities: Cross-Dressing in Anime and Manga, Part 3 was posted at The Lobster Dance. I’m sure there were plenty of other interesting articles and new to be found last week, but as I mentioned I was rather occupied with traveling, helping out at home, and visiting with family. If I missed anything major, please do let me know!

Quick Takes

Fujosports!Fujosports! by Various. The most recent anthology from the Love Love Hill collective, Fujosports! collects six sports-themed comics with a female-gaze. These aren’t necessarily the sports you might be expecting, though: logging competitions, roller derby, free-form rollerblading, Turkish oil wrestling, field hockey, and competitive dodge-ball. All of the stories tend to be generally upbeat and optimistic, but the artists’ styles are distinct. As might be expected from the “fujo” in the title, the anthology includes a bit of bromance and boys’ love potential, but there’s some girls’ love, too, and plenty of general team bonding. Each comic is followed by a short freetalk by the creators, which is a very nice addition and makes the stories even more personable Fujosports! is a cute, sweet, and humorous collection. Every contribution in the anthology left me with I huge grin on my face, or at least a smile. Simply put, Fujosports! is a lot of fun; I’m really glad that I picked it up.

Gangsta, Volume 2Gangsta, Volume 2 by Kohske. I enjoyed the first volume of Gangsta so much that I immediately went out and preordered the second. The series is quickly becoming one of my favorite manga currently being released. Gangsta has plenty of action in addition to a wide range of interesting characters (both women and men, young and old), many of whom have dark, tragic pasts. More characters are introduced in the second volume, some of them even manage to survive to the end of it, and the larger, overarching plot continues to develop. The Three Laws binding the Twilights (should they actually choose to follow them) are directly lifted from Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, nearly word-for-word. While this certainly emphasizes the inhuman characteristics of the Twilights, I did find it to be an odd choice. Still, the Three Laws provide excellent narrative frameworks for robot and android stories, so I’m willing to reserve my judgement and wait to see how Kohske uses them Gangsta.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Volume 1The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Volumes 1-2 by Akira Himekawa. After meeting Akira Himekawa at TCAF, I realized that although I was familiar with some of their work, I hadn’t actually read much of their manga. Granted, only The Legend of Zelda has been licensed for print release in English so far. I actually happen to be a fan of the Zelda video games, so I wasn’t surprised that I’m enjoying the manga series, too. Ocarina of Time was the game which inspired Himekawa to pursue The Legend of Zelda manga. The Ocarina of Time manga is accessible even to those who haven’t played the game, but those who have will be able to appreciate the nods to the original more. The manga follows the same basic plot as the video game, though Himekawa adds a few touches of their own. The Ocarina of Time manga is definitely an adventure story aimed at younger readers, there’s more action than there is nuanced character or plot development, but it’s fun.

K-20: The Fiend with Twenty FacesK-20: The Fiend with Twenty Faces directed by Shimako Satō. K-20 is a live-action film based on the novels of Soh Kitamura (which sadly haven’t been translated into English) which were in turn inspired by the works and characters of Edogawa Rampo, specifically his famous detective Akechi Kogorō and his nemesis “Twenty Faces.” Akechi’s young assistant Kobayashi also has a role to play. It was because of this Rampo connection that I decided to watch the film in the first place, but even those unfamiliar with the references will be able to enjoy the movie. Packed with action and stunts, a little bit of romance, a great cast, and a large dose of humor, K-20 was extremely entertaining. The film is set in the late 1940s in an alternate history in which the Second World War was never fought but in which a strict hierarchical class structure is enforced. The story follows Endo Heikichi, an acrobat who is arrested for being the master thief K-20 after being set up, and his attempts to prove his innocence, basically by becoming as skilled as K-20 himself.