My Week in Manga: March 21-March 27, 2011

My News and Reviews

I was on vacation for most of last week so I wasn’t around online much, but I did still mange to get a couple of reviews posted. I reviewed Kozue Amano’s Aqua, Volume 1 for the Aria Manga Moveable Feast. Amano’s artwork is lovely, and the story is relaxing. The second review was for Yokai Attack!: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide written by Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt and illustrated by Tatsuya Morino. It’s a fantastic and colorful introduction to traditional Japanese creepy crawlies and supernatural creatures.

And as for other fun stuff online: Jason Thompson’s House of a 1000 Manga recently featured Hinako Takanaga, one of his favorite boys’ love mangaka (who also happens to be one of my favorites as well). On a related note, Jennifer LeBlanc of The Yaoi Review has finished posting her three part interview with Takanaga (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

Since I read both Sundome and Peepo Choo this past week, I’d also like to draw your attention to a couple episodes of Ed Sizemore’s Manga Out Loud podcasts featuring the series: Sundome with Melinda Beasi of Manga Bookshelf and Peepo Choo w/ Erica Friedman, David Welsh, & Melinda Beasi. I really enjoy Manga Out Loud—it’s nice to see (well, hear) such candid conversations about manga, especially regarding potentially controversial series and materials.

Quick Takes

Peepo Choo, Volumes 1-3 by Felipe Smith. Take a few stereotypes to the extreme, add more than enough graphic violence and sex, and finish off by including a few stunningly over-the-top characters, and you might get close to understanding the mind-blowing insanity that is Peepo Choo. It’s not a type of insanity that everyone will be able to appreciate. The story, especially towards the beginning of the series, frequently comes across as cruel and there’s plenty of material at which to take offense. But Smith’s tough-love approach plays out nicely by the end. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with being a walking embodiment of a stereotype if that’s what someone wants to be.

Ristorante Paradiso by Natsume Ono. Older gentlemen, let alone sexy older gentlemen, are not often featured in manga licenses that make their way over to the United States. Fortunately, we’ve at least got Ristorante Paradiso. Ono’s artwork is distinctive and may take a little warming up to, but I’ve fallen in love with it. Nicoletta has traveled to Rome to track down and confront her mother who left her to be raised by her grandparents. In the process, she finds the Casetta dell’Orso, a restaurant owned by her mother’s new husband. Ristorante Paradiso is a charming and romantic glimpse into Nicoletta’s life as she works out her relationship with her mother and her crush on the head waiter, Claudio.

Sundome, Volumes 1-8 by Kazuto Okada. Another series that’s difficult to recommend to just anyone, Sundome is certainly deserving of it’s mature rating. I wasn’t actually that fond of the artwork overall, but it was effective in conveying certain elements of the story. Kurumi’s health problems, never fully explained, are certainly obvious from the beginning just by looking at her. The teens are portrayed as very sexual beings, which may bother some people, but I actually found the characters’ frankness regarding a wide variety of kinks and fetishes to be refreshing. There’s also a fair amount of humor. The exploration of Hideo and Kurumi’s relationship, something they both want and need, is fascinating and compelling.

Antique Bakery directed by Yoshiaki Okumura. It’s been a while since I’ve read Fumi Yoshinaga’s manga series Antique Bakery. I’d forgotten how much I adored the characters, and the anime and voice actors capture them perfectly. I’d also forgotten how funny the series can be. The anime is only twelve episodes, so the story has been condensed and focuses mostly on the four main characters. It may be missing some of the sidestories, but it’s a lovely adaptation. The CG used for background and buildings unfortunately clashes terribly with the hand drawn elements, but I really like the color palette used. The music, featuring plenty of string ensembles, was also a wonderful fit.

Guin Saga, Episodes 1-13 directed by Atsushi Wakabayashi. The Guin Saga anime adaptation is so incredibly epic and overly dramatic that it’s almost embarrassing, but I’m enjoying it immensely. The score is also suitably epic—but then I’d expect no less from Nobuo Uematsu. I’ve only read the first Guin Saga light novel, which takes up only three episodes of the anime, so I’m not sure how the adaptation compares to the original. But it it feels like the anime is only scratching the surface of a much deeper and more complex story. And there is an unfortunate tendency to pause in the middle of fight scenes to allow characters to make grand speeches. The animation is pretty, but perhaps too colorful for the story.

The Guin Saga, Book One: The Leopard Mask

Author: Kaoru Kurimoto
Illustrator: Naoyuki Kato

Translator: Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781932234817
Released: December 2007
Original release: 1979
Awards: Seiun Award

The Leopard Mask is the first book in Kaoru Kurimoto’s epic light novel series The Guin Saga. Kurimoto began the series in 1979 and as of the author’s death in 2009, she had published one hundred forty-seven Guin Saga novels, making it one of the longest works written by a single author. So far, only the first five novels of The Guin Saga, consisting of the first major story arc, have been released in an English translation. The Guin Saga, Book One: The Leopard Mask, translated by Alexander O. Smith with the assistance of Elye J. Alexander, was first released by Vertical as a hardcover in 2003 and then in a paperback edition in 2007. The English releases include the wonderful illustrations by Naoyuki Kato. In Japan, The Guin Saga is a very popular and highly influential work. I have seen numerous authors, mangaka, and creators cite Kurimoto and the series as a source of inspiration for their own work, including Kentaro Miura and his manga series Berserk. Additionally, The Guin Saga received a Seiun Award in 2010 for Japanese Long Fiction.

Twin brother and sister Remus and Rinda are the last remaining members of the royal house of Parros. Wandering the extremely dangerous Roodwood on their own in an attempt to escape their pursuers from the Mongauli army, they come across a fierce and frightening warrior. The man is nearly naked, wearing only a loincloth and a strange mask shaped like head of a leopard that seems to have been magically affixed to his own and which he is unable to remove. He has no memories of who he is, where he comes from, or why he is injured and alone in the Roodwood. He remembers two words: Guin, which he believes to be his name, and Aurra, which remains a complete enigma to him. But no matter who Guin really is, he may be the only chance for the twins survival.

At least for me, the most interesting character by far is Guin, even though hardly anything at all is known about him. The mystery shrouding Guin and his past intrigues me, not to mention his form and martial capabilities. One thing that did bother me, and something that Remus comments on about halfway through the novel, was that for someone claiming to be an amnesiac, Guin tends to remember some fairly important information when it’s convenient for the story. I have a feeling and hope that this may be further explained in later volumes. I found the twins to be slightly annoying; Rinda especially comes across as somewhat of a spoiled brat. I liked most of the side characters, particularly Istavan and Orro, even if he did gain and lose his accent from one appearance to another. Towards the end of The Leopard Mask, Kurimoto does some really nice things with the character of the Black Count, who is more complex than he might first appear. Characterization in the novel is mostly based on the character’s actions and reactions rather than really getting to know their thoughts or feelings.

The Leopard Mask is a good hook for the rest of the series, introducing the world and characters, but it doesn’t stand as well on its own; it really seemed more like a prologue to me. The prose can be overly dramatic at times, but that is more an indication of the genre rather than the fault of the translators. (In fact, I think that Smith and Alexander did a fine job with the translation.) It’s almost as if the story would be best read aloud or performed. The action and fight sequences are particularly well done and exciting. Kurimoto does have a tendency to “rewind” the chronology from scene to scene and sometimes it can be difficult to get a good sense of the passage of time. The best descriptions in the text are reserved for Guin as well as for the other freakish and bizarre things in The Leopard Mask. Overall, the world has a very dark atmosphere to it. While I eventually enjoyed The Leopard Mask, I wasn’t really taken with the book until close to the end. However, I’m still looking forward to giving book two of The Guin Saga, Warrior in the Wilderness, a try.