My Week in Manga: October 16-October 22, 2017

My News and Reviews

Well, it was a very quiet week at Experiments in Manga last week. I was hoping to post my review of the first omnibus of Takako Shimura’s Sweet Blue Flowers, but a variety of things came up–little dude’s preschool open house, helping family members with their cross-country move, spending most of a day on the road for an out-of-state taiko performance, to name just a few. But never fear! I’ll almost certainly be posting the review later this week instead. I haven’t been online much recently either, but I did catch a couple of thing of interest last week. The first was an announcement from Dark Horse, which will be releasing Kentaro Miura’s official Berserk guidebook in March of next year. The second was Brigid Alverson’s discussion with Akira Himekawa, the two-person creative team behind most of the manga adaptations of The Legend of Zelda.

Quick Takes

Goodnight Punpun, Omnibus 6Goodnight Punpun, Omnibus 6-7 (equivalent to Volumes 11-13) by Inio Asano. It feels like it’s been forever since I’ve read the fifth omnibus of Goodnight Punpun, but in reality it’s only been a few months. Perhaps it seems so long since Goodnight Punpun can be such a hard-hitting, exhausting experience which requires time to fully recover between volumes. (At least, that tends to be the case for me.) Goodnight Punpun is a surreal and extremely dark coming-of-age story. The series is intense, easily earning its explicit content warning with the manga’s portrayal of emotional, psychological, and physical violence. But while much of Goodnight Punpun is incredibly bleak, there are also moments of hope. Granted, that hope can also be extremely painful. Goodnight Punpun worked best for me when it was exploring the inner turmoil of its titular protagonist. I was actually frequently reminded of Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human as the series approached its conclusion. The manga’s second major plot involving the cult wasn’t nearly as compelling or convincing, coming across as superfluous and tangential to me. But having now reached the end of Goodnight Punpun, I find that I want to read it again. The manga has multiple layers to it and I’m fairly certain there are elements that I either missed entirely or didn’t fully appreciate my first time through the series.

Waiting for Spring, Volume 1Waiting for Spring, Volume 1 by Anashin. Although the basic premise of Waiting for Spring makes it seem like the manga’s setup could easily slip into a reverse harem territory, after reading the first volume I don’t think that’s the direction Anashin will be taking with the series. However, it does still look like there will be at least some romantic rivalry involved. If there’s one thing that Mitsuki wants from high school, it’s to finally make some friends. She’s having a difficult time of it, though. The other young women in her class aren’t really hostile towards her, but she hasn’t been able to really connect with them, either. But things start to change when she gets mixed up with and is unexpectedly befriended by the four stars of the men’s basketball team. In general, most of the relationships in Waiting for Spring are very well done. The blossoming romance between Mitsuki and one of the basketball players is very sweet, but I’m particularly enjoying the friendships in the first volume. Mitsuki treats all of the guys like they’re real people. She isn’t blinded by their good looks and athletic talent (though she can still appreciate them) and doesn’t hesitate to give them what for when needed. This is actually something of a novelty for them, but it’s what allows their friendships with her to naturally develop. The already well-established relationships between the four young men are also very entertaining.

Attack on Titan Adventure: Year 850: Last Stand at Wall RoseAttack on Titan Adventure: Year 850: Last Stand at Wall Rose written by Tomoyuki Fujinami and illustrated by Ryosuke Fuji and Toru Yoshii. Growing up, I was a huge fan of the Choose Your Own Adventure series and other types of gamebooks. (I’ve even held onto a few particularly well-loved volumes from my youth.) And so I was very curious about Last Stand at Wall Rose, an interactive novel set during the Battle of Trost which takes place early on in Hajime Isayama’s original Attack on Titan manga. The mechanics of Last Stand at Wall Rose are interesting, incorporating elements of roleplaying games. Since I’m used to standard branching-plot stories, the book wasn’t as linear as I was expecting and in some ways was even more interactive than I thought it would be. Keeping pencil and paper nearby while reading can be very useful. Last Stand at Wall Rose was fun, but I did find some of the formatting and gameplay to be annoying. The most egregious issue was the amount of unnecessary flipping of pages which made the narrative more disjointed than it otherwise would have been. I also almost wish that page numbers hadn’t been included since the novel’s navigation is based on a system of independently numbered story sections rather than pages. (Also of note: Readers of the first printing of Last Stand at Wall Rose will want to refer to the errata posted online.)

My Week in Manga: May 8-May 15, 2017

My News and Reviews

The Bookshelf Overload for April was posted at Experiments in Manga last week; otherwise, things were pretty quiet. Initially I had an in-depth feature scheduled for this week, but I’ll probably end up pushing that back to next week instead. I spent last Thursday through Sunday in Canada with the family for vacation and the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) which I’ll be writing up like I have in years past. We had a great time, although not everything went exactly as planned.

Speaking of TCAF, Heidi MacDonald, Brigid Alverson, Deb Aoki, and Erica Friedman were apparently all sharing a hotel room for the event. I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, but they took advantage of that fact by recording a podcast in which they (and eventually Robin Brenner and Eva Volin as well) discuss a wide variety of topics including manga, queer comics, food, libraries, and more: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4. I only found out about the details after I got back home, but once again some people had trouble crossing the border between the United States and Canada in order to attend TCAF. In one notable case, Anne Ishii, one of the folks behind Massive and Gengoroh Tagame’s interpreter and translator, was detained for over two hours before eventually being allowed to enter the country.

A few things from elsewhere online last week: Anyone who picked up the Attack on Titan choose-your-own-path book from Kodansha Comics will want know about the corrections and errata that were recently released online. Kodansha also confirmed it would be releasing the Neo Parasyte M manga anthology (a sort of companion volume to Neo Parasyte F which I greatly enjoyed). In other licensing news, although an official public announcement hasn’t been made, The OASG received some confirmation that Udon Entertainment is currently “deep into the localization” of Rose of Versailles and Sugar Sugar Rune. No release dates have been set yet, though. Seven Seas hasn’t mentioned any release dates for its most recent set of licensing announcements, either, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see Okayado’s MaMaMa: Magical Director Mako-chan’s Magical Guidance, Mintarou’s DNA Doesn’t Tell Us, Tekka Yaguraba’s Sorry For My Familiar, Hiroaki Yoshikawa’s Crisis Girls, Tsuina Miura and Takahiro Oba’s High-Rise Invasion, and Coolkyoushinja’s Mononoke Sharing all released first.

A couple of Kickstarters that have recently caught my attention, too. Chromatic Press’ latest campaign is raising funds to print the first volume of Magical How? by Eurika Yusin Gho (aka Eyugho). Though on occasion I’ve mentioned Magical How? on Twitter, I haven’t really wrote much about the comic here at Experiments in Manga. (Or at least not yet.) It’s a pretty fun series though, a sort of magical girl/boys’ love mashup with energetic, full-color artwork and lots of humor. The other project I specifically want to mention is for the second volume of Beyond, a queer speculative fiction comics anthology. If successful, the project will also allow the award-winning first volume (which is great) to be reprinted.

Quick Takes

Captive Hearts of Oz, Volume 1Captive Hearts of Oz, Volume 1 written by Ryo Maruya, illustrated by Mamenosuke Fujimaru. One of the most interesting things about Captive Hearts of Oz is that the English-language release is actually the first time the manga has been published; rather than licensing existing content, the series is a direct collaboration between Seven Seas and the creators. Captive Hearts of Oz is Maruya’s debut work in English, but Fujimaru already has a notable presence due to the numerous Alice in the Country of… manga that have been translated. I suspect that it’s intentional then that Captive Hearts of Oz has a similar vibe to those series. Interestingly, there’s no explicit romance in the series yet although the manga is reminiscent of an otome game. Dorothy has simply been swept into an unfamiliar world where she meets a number of unusual people, many of whom just happen to be attractive young men. Captive Hearts of Oz is a somewhat unusual reimagining of a Western classic which may (or may not) have more depth to it than initially appears. At the very least there’s something dark and mysterious going on, although after only one volume it’s not entirely clear exactly what that is. The narrative is frustratingly disjointed in places, but I am curious to see how Captive Hearts of Oz continues to develop.

Goodnight Punpun, Omnibus 4Goodnight Punpun, Omnibuses 4-5 by Inio Asano. At this point in Goodnight Punpun, the series’ titular protagonist has entered early adulthood and his life largely remains a directionless disaster not entirely of his own making. He’s not completely blameless, though. I find that I have to time my reading of Goodnight Punpun very carefully. The manga has a very pessimistic worldview with which I can very easily identify, so if I’m already feeling mentally or emotionally exhausted, it’s usually a good idea for me to wait to tackle the series. On the other hand, it can sometimes be extremely cathartic to completely acknowledge the unfairness and darkness of the story and its real-life parallels. Either way, Goodnight Punpun is an incredible and powerful work, but it’s also very hard-hitting. Asano seems to be very aware of this and very aware of some of the related criticisms that have been leveled at the series. I, for one, have at times questioned whether or not all of the pain and suffering in Goodnight Punpun ultimately serves a purpose or if the manga is simply reveling in gloom and despair. I’ll admit that I’m still not sure and probably won’t be convinced one way or another until the manga’s conclusion, but Asano does directly recognize those concerns by having the creative work of some of the series’ characters similarly criticized.

So Pretty / Very RottenSo Pretty / Very Rotten: Comics and Essays on Lolita Fashion and Cute Culture by Jane Mai and An Nguyen. I don’t have a particular interest in fashion, so if it wasn’t for the fact that I make a point to follow the work of Nguyen (aka Saicoink) I might not have gotten around to reading So Pretty / Very Rotten for quite some time. That would have been a shame because So Pretty / Very Rotten is both a terrific and fascinating work. I was certainly aware of Lolita culture previously, but I can confidently say that I have a much better understanding of it and even appreciation for it after reading So Pretty / Very Rotten. The volume examines numerous topics related to Lolitas–history, culture, fashion, identity, gender, expression, community and more–through approachable and accessible essays, both personal and academic (the Lolita lifestyle is one of the areas of Nguyen’s research), as well as through comics and illustrations. It’s a mix that works quite well. The essays are informative and the comics are cute and engaging, effectively demonstrating the concepts addressed through visual narratives. So Pretty / Very Rotten also includes an interview with and essay by Novala Takemoto, a prominent figure in Lolita culture who is probably best known in North America as the creator of Kamikaze Girls.

The Whipping Girl by Nuria Tamarit. I’m not entirely certain, but I believe that The Whipping Girl is the first published solo comic by Tamarit, an illustrator from Valencia, Spain. Even if it’s not, I certainly hope that there will be more in the future if for no other reason than Tamarit’s striking artwork is gorgeous. Color pencils are prominently used to illustrate The Whipping Girl and the effect is lovely. Writing-wise, the work isn’t quite as strong; The Whipping Girl feels like it ends rather abruptly, even considering that it’s a short comic to begin with, but it’s still an enjoyable tale. The story largely follows Agape, the whipping girl of Prince Dalibor. He’s a bit of a jerk, intentionally behaving improperly in order to get back at Agape who is generally much more capable than he is. She finally gets so fed up with the whole situation that she decides to make a run for it. Neither she nor Dal are able to anticipate the complete extent of the repercussions of her actions, and both are surprised to discover how close their bond really is. Overall, The Whipping Girl is a very satisfying comic with beautiful artwork, expressive characters, and a great sense of humor. Agape in particular is a delight, an intelligent, strong-willed young woman with an attitude.

My Week in Manga: September 26-October 2, 2016

My News and Reviews

Although it is now October, there is still time to participate in September’s manga giveaway. This time around everyone has a chance to win Yona of the Dawn, Volume 1, the beginning of Mizuho Kusanagi’s shoujo fantasy epic! I came across a few interesting things online last week that I’d like to share: “Strip!”: The Manga Art of Anno Moyoco” at (once upon a time, I hosted the Moyoco Anno Manga Moveable Feast); The Lobster Dance posted The Sparkling World of 1970s Shojo Manga, Part 8 which focuses on the influence of The Rose of Versailles on Ouran High School Host Club and Haken no Osukaru; and Anne Ishii, manga translator and one of the founders of Massive, was featured on the fifteenth episode of Hey, Cool Job. There were a couple of license announcements from Viz Media that caught my eye, too: Ryoko Fukyuama’s manga Anonymous Noise will be released by Shojo Beat, and Haikasoru will be publishing the next three novels in Yoshiki Tanaka’s Legend of the Galactic Heroes!

Quick Takes

Goodnight Punpun, Omnibus 2Goodnight Punpun, Omnibuses 2-3 (equivalent to Volumes 3-6) by Inio Asano. The first omnibus of Goodnight Punpun was tremendous and left a huge impression on me. Likewise, the second and third omnibuses are incredibly well done. Goodnight Punpun is not always an easy series to read and can actually be pretty depressing and emotionally devastating. The direction of the story can often be anticipated simply by expecting that the most awful thing will happen at any given point. There are moments of joy, but for the most part the manga is a surreal and incredibly dark coming-of-age story. The worldview is extraordinarily pessimistic and bleak; most of the characters are miserable or broken in some way, and more than a few are frankly terrible people. And yet, I continue to find Goodnight Punpun to be a remarkable and compelling work even while it’s deliberately uncomfortable and heart-breaking. I find that I can empathize and even identify with most of the characters in at least some small way, which can actually be a little terrifying. Although Punpun is the series’ lead the second omnibus of Goodnight Punpun spends a fair amount of time delving into his uncle’s unfortunate past and one of the major perspectives explored in the third omnibus is that of his mother. Artistically, Asano portray’s Punpun and his immediate family more abstractly than the other characters except for during the more sexually-charged scenes, making them even more unsettling than they already are. I’m not entirely sure where Asano is going with the series or what sort of point he will ultimately make with all of the philosophical gloom, but I am willing to find out.

Princess Princess Ever AfterPrincess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill. Originally released online as a webcomic, O’Neill’s Princess Princess (not to be confused with Mikiyo Tsuda’s manga Princess Princess which is a completely different work) has now been collected in its entirety along with a new epilogue by Oni Press in a slim but beautiful hardcover edition titled Princess Princess Ever After. The comic is an absolute delight, suitable for younger readers but still enjoyable for adult audiences. After the dashing and daring Amira rescues from a tower the kind and thoughtful Sadie (with her permission first, of course), the two princesses travel together on an adventure aiding those they come across are in need of a bit of extra help. Eventually they must confront Sadie’s older sister who is the one who locked Sadie in the tower to begin with and who is an even bigger challenge than the ogre they faced while on their journey. Princess Princess Ever After is an incredibly sweet, adorable, and charming comic. Although Sadie and Amira encounter plenty of danger along the way, there really isn’t any question that they’ll get their happy ending. The comic is a lighthearted fairytale with a number of lovely twists on some of the standard tropes, most notably the romantic pairing of two princesses, neither of whom is the stereotypical damsel-in-distress, but there’s more to the story than just that. O’Neill’s artwork in Princess Princess Ever After is colorful, energetic, and cute, fitting the tone of the comic perfectly. While it’s nice to have a self-contained story, it’s almost a shame that the comic is so short and moves along so quickly; I would love to read more about Amira, Sadie, and their adventures together.

That Wolf-Boy is Mine!, Volume 1That Wolf-Boy is Mine!, Volume 1 by Yoko Nogiri. Though it’s not necessarily a new trend, ayakashi and yokai seem to be fairly prominent in many of the supernatural shoujo manga that are being licensed of late. I’m not especially bothered by this since I have a particular interest in yokai and tend to enjoy the subgenre. The presence of pretty spirit boys doesn’t hurt anything, either. But when I can easily name a half-dozen ongoing series with a similar elements (not to mention those that have already been completed), I do start to wonder what a new series has to offer that is different or unique. One of the most recent examples of a series of this type is Nogiri’s That Wolf-Boy Is Mine! from Kodansha Comics. After only one volume it hasn’t really set itself apart from other manga with ayakashi themes and it seems fairly typical for the genre, and yet it’s a very enjoyable beginning to a series. The story plays out pretty safely in the first volume and there are no real surprises, although there are hints that things might be more than they initially seem. The characters are generally likeable and endearing as well; I’m especially fond of the titular wolf-boy and his easygoing nature. While many of the characters are close to being “types,” they do have a bit more depth to them than may first appear. However, I would like to see a bit more development in the characters and their relationships as the series progresses. I do suspect that Nogiri will deliver, though. So, while I wasn’t blown away by the beginning of That Wolf-Boy Is Mine! by any means, I did like it. The manga is off to a good start and has potential. Even if Nogiri doesn’t move beyond well-worn tropes, I’m still interested in reading more of the series.

The Paper Menagerie and Other StoriesThe Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu. My introduction to the work of Liu was through his short story “Mono no Aware” which was collected in the anthology The Future Is Japanese. That story was enough to convince me to seek out more of his work. This turned out to be a wise decision as his debut novel The Grace of Kings was one of my favorite books from 2015. However, at least for the moment, Liu is probably best known and recognized for his shorter works which frequently earn him awards and accolades. Although The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is Liu’s second book to be published, it is his first compilation of short stories and novellas to be released. It’s an exceptional and well-thought out collection, bringing many of Liu’s award-winning stories together with some of his personal favorites. Normally when it comes anthologies of short stories I find that their quality and strength can significantly vary from one to the next. However, all fifteen examples of Liu’s work in The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories (which includes “Mono no Aware”) are excellent. Some are certainly more powerful pieces than others, but they are all engaging, meaningful, and thought-provoking. One of the things that particularly impressed me about The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is Liu’s ability to work in a variety of styles and genres. As a whole the collection tends to be fairly serious in tone and can be broadly described as speculative fiction, and Liu frequently incorporates aspects of Chinese and Asian culture and history, but there is still tremendous range among the individual stories. Even the stories which share common elements or themes are ultimately different from one another, offer fresh perspectives, and are each remarkable in their own way.

My Week in Manga: April 4-April 10, 2016

My News and Reviews

In case anyone was wondering just how much I was looking forward to seeing Akiko Higashimura’s Princess Jellyfish released in English, I apparently ended up devoting an entire week to it at Experiments in Manga. (Sort of.) First was the announcement of the winner of the Princess Jellyfish giveaway, which also includes a list of upcoming manga releases that I and the giveaway participants are especially looking forward to. (Yes, Princess Jellyfish was mentioned multiple times, and not just by me.) The honor of the first in-depth manga review for April goes to the first Princess Jellyfish omnibus which I (unsurprisingly) loved. I’m enjoying the manga immensely, but I’m especially looking forward to getting to the point in the series where the anime adaptation left off. Princess Jellyfish even got a specific mention in March’s Bookshelf Overload, which was posted over the weekend.

There were a few manga-related things caught my eye last week. Brigid Alverson’s article on the state of the North American manga industry, which focuses on the impact of a few of the top-selling series, is now free to read at Publishers Weekly. The translation and quality of Digital Manga’s original release of the first volume of Kou Yoneda’s Twittering Birds Never Fly drew a fair amount of criticism from fans, so much so that the publisher decided to completely revise and re-release it. Apparently 200 of the 223 pages were redone in some fashion. The new edition should be available sometime in late May or early June. Also, Vertical launched it’s most recent licensing and readership survey for anyone who might have any manga or light novel requests. And last but certainly not least—Kodansha Comic’s will be releasing more of Vinland Saga!

Quick Takes

Beyond: The Queer Sci-Fi & Fantasy Comic AnthologyBeyond: The Queer Sci-Fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology edited by Sfé R. Monster. A fair number of independent queer comics anthologies have been released relatively recently, but I’m always happy to see more. Beyond collects twenty works from twenty-seven creators. I was previously familiar with a few of the contributors, but most of them were actually new to me. Overall, it’s a strong, well-thought-out collection.  The anthology shows a wonderful range of stories and characters, but I was especially happy to see a wide variety of diverse trans identities represented. While many of the works in Beyond include some romantic elements, romance isn’t at all at the forefront of the collection. Instead, the stories tend towards science fictional and fantastical adventures—space exploration, battles against monsters, survival in strange worlds, and so on—in which queer characters are not only the protagonists but the heroes of their stories. A second Beyond anthology focusing on urban fantasy and post-apocalyptic worlds is currently in the works; I’m looking forward to it a great deal and will definitely be picking it up.

Goodnight Punpun, Omnibus 1Goodnight Punpun, Omnibus 1 by Inio Asano. The first omnibus of Goodnight Punpun is one of the manga that has left the greatest impression on me so far this year, though I have difficulty coherently explaining why I find it so extraordinary. The series has been described as a surreal and dark coming-of-age story, which is accurate but doesn’t quite capture the intense experience of actually reading the manga. Punpun is the titular character, an elementary school student who, along with the rest of his family, is portrayed as a bird-like creature. This perhaps slightly softens the blows of the story. In addition to dealing with the normal sorts of problems associated with getting older, Punpun’s family is also violently falling apart. And if growing up wasn’t terrifying enough, most of the adults in Goodnight Punpun seem to be on the verge of insanity if they haven’t already succumbed to it. Although there are wonderful moments of hope and humor, the worldview presented in Goodnight Punpun is a pessimistic one and Punpun is learning some very hard truths. Goodnight Punpun is heart-wrenching, but very good.

Paradise Residence, Omnibus 1Paradise Residence, Volume 1 by Kosuke Fujishima. Oh My Goddess! has been one of the mainstays of the North American manga industry, so it’s probably no too surprising that one of Fujishima’s most recent series, Paradise Residence, was licensed. I’m not entirely sure if the series is being released in an omnibus edition or not, but the first volume from Kodansha Comic’s also includes Volume 0 as bonus material at the end. I would actually recommend reading Volume 0 first as some of the jokes and characterization in Volume 1 make much more sense with more context. This is important because the humor, which can be legitimately if inconsistently funny, tends to be based on the characters’ personalities. Despite some of the more outrageous scenarios in Paradise Residence, the comedy is actually fairly subdued. Paradise Residences is a largely episodic manga about dorm and school life at an all-girls boarding school. At times Paradise Residence can be a really sweet and charming series, but every once in a while some nonsensical fanservice is thrown in that’s more distracting than anything else.