My Week in Manga: November 2-November 8, 2015

My News and Reviews

Keeping this short and sweet because boy do I have a lot of stuff going on right now! Last week at Experiments in manga the Barakamon manga giveaway winner was announced. The post also includes a list of manga with prominent countryside settings for anyone interested in exploring some of what has been published in English. As for the first in-depth manga review of the month, I took a look at Junji Ito’s Cat Dairy: Yon & Mu which I found to be highly entertaining. I expected that I would at least like the manga, but I absolutely loved its weird mix of not-exactly-horror and comedy.

A few things of interest that I came across online last week: The most recent Sparkler Podcast focuses on what it’s like Working in the Manga Industry. (The podcast is currently only free for Sparkler Monthly members. Non-members can either purchase it now, or simply wait a few weeks.) Over at Anime New Network, Deb Aoki has been talking to the folks at Kodansha about the upcoming Attack on Titan anthology and bridging the gap between American comics and manga. Finally, Seven Seas slipped in a new license announcement: Monster Musume: I ♥ Monster Girls, a yonkoma spinoff from Okayado’s main series.

Quick Takes

My Little Monster, Volume 10My Little Monster, Volume 10 by Robico. The last few volumes of My Little Monster have been getting progressively more serious to the point where, overall, the tenth seems to hardly have any humor at all. This is quite a change from the beginning of the series where the manga’s balance leaned more towards comedy and the more humorous aspects of the interactions between its oddball characters. I did really like this volume, though. Basically, Haru’s past and present are now colliding and the results are appropriately dramatic as everyone involved deals with the fallout. There are hurt and conflicted feelings, and many complications and frustrations. For one, Haru’s family circumstances are more fully explained, showing how the intense antagonism between him and his brother came about and just how awful a person their father is. A significant portion of My Little Monster, Volume 10 actually explores the story through the perspective of Haru’s brother Yuzan, which I was glad to see. He’s still not particularly pleasant, but being able to better understand his and Haru’s situation makes him less of an enigma and a much more sympathetic and interesting character.

Suikoden III: The Successor of Fate, Volume 6Suikoden III: The Successor of Fate, Volumes 6-11 by Aki Shimizu. I still haven’t played any of the Suikoden games, although based solely on the manga adaptation of the third, it’s likely a to be franchise that I would enjoy. I liked the first five volumes of Shimizu’s Suikoden III, but the final six cemented my appreciation for the manga–it’s a solid epic fantasy series with both magic and military might. Although it is a video game adaptation and in a few places the RPG mechanics can be seen if one is looking for them, the manga stands very well on its own and doesn’t really feel too game-like. The second half of the series more fully delves into the antagonist’s backstory which was needed as his motivations are much more complicated than would initially appear. One of the things I like the most about the Suikoden III manga is that nothing is strictly good or evil, the characters and their actions are more nuanced than that. Under the weight of war and inherited responsibilities they must all try to hold onto their ideals while at the same time making compromises in order to protect what and who they love. Enemies become allies and in some cases even friends, but it is a hard journey.

Taimashin: The Red Spider Exorcist, Volume 2Taimashin: The Red Spider Exorcist, Volume 2 written by Hideyuki Kikuchi and illustrated by Shin Yong-Gwan. Although all six volumes of Taimashin have been translated into English, only the first two were released in print; the other four volumes are only available digitally. It’s been a long while since I’ve read the first volume in the series, but I do distinctly recall liking it, or at being enthralled by Akamushi Fujiwara, the titular Red Spider Exorcist who may be a human, a demon, or something else entirely. Reading the second volume, Akamushi still fascinates me and is probably my favorite part of the manga. For the most part I would classify Taimashin as a horror manga although, as I’ve come to expect from Kikuchi’s works, it also has distinct elements of science fiction and fantasy. While it doesn’t always make a lot of sense, the manga can be both thrilling and creepy. This is actually something else that I associate with Kikuchi–he writes these bizarrely engaging stories with ominous atmospheres that end up being all over the place. Taimashin‘s artwork fits the story and characters particularly well, ranging from Akamushi’s otherworldly beauty to scenes that are frankly grotesque.

My Week in Manga: November 18-November 24, 2013

My News and Reviews

I’ve never run a poll before, so I’m probably more excited about this than I should be, but you all currently have the opportunity to vote on my next monthly manga review project. I’ve narrowed it down to five different options—a mix of individual series and thematic collections—and am letting readers decide which manga I will be focusing on next. Check out the post for all the details. The poll will run through the end of November, so please come and vote!

Last week I posted my review of Hinoki Kino’s manga No. 6, Volume 3. I am very happy to be able to say that the series continues to improve. I’m really looking forward to the next volume. And for your reading pleasure, here are a couple of interesting articles that I happened across online last week: A Short History Of Japanese Sign Language (with a fascinating connection to manga) and Are Comics Too Hot For Apple?, about the impact of Apple’s inconsistent policies when it comes to digital comics, including manga.

Quick Takes

Darkside BluesDarkside Blues written by Hideyuki Kikuchi and illustrated by Yuho Ashibe. I think I’ve suspected it for a while, but reading Darkside Blues seems to confirm it—Kikuchi may have some great ideas and settings for his stories, but he can’t quite seem to focus long enough to pull them all together into something coherent. Darkside Blues features many of the elements that I’ve come to expect from Kikuchi’s work: a mix of near-future technology, magic, and bizarre horror; evil organizations bent on taking over the world, crushing those that would stand in their way; a tall, dark, and handsome (well, androgynously beautiful) anti-hero. I’m fairly certain the manga is related to Kikuchi’s Demon City universe, or at least it makes reference to it. There are some great scenes here and there, but the story as a whole is a mess and doesn’t make much sense. Kikuchi claims that the story is complete, but it feels like a small part of something much larger. However, I did like Ashibe’s artwork, and so will probably look into tracking down Bride of Deimos because of that.

Fairy Tail, Volume 32Fairy Tail, Volume 32 by Hiro Mashima. Now that the preliminaries are over, the Grand Magic Games proper have begun. Eight teams will be competing in the Games which consists of a mix of event challenges and battles. The teams themselves represent guilds that have been encountered in the series before as well as a few new ones. One thing that irked me a little was that there are actually two teams from Fairy Tail participating. That in itself didn’t bother me, but the fact that it was played up as a surprise (to both the readers and the characters) was unconvincing. Also, it has been established that Fairy Tail has always been one of the weakest guilds to participate in the Games, so I find it a little difficult to believe that not one but two teams made it past preliminaries this year. That annoyance aside, the event challenge in this volume was actually pretty interesting. I appreciate that the players have to put some actual thought and strategy into it instead of simply relying on who can out-magic the other. Magical skill certainly helps, but being clever is important, too.

I'll Be Your SlaveI’ll Be Your Slave by Miki Araya. I’ll admit it. I laughed. Several times. Out loud, even. I’ll Be Your Slave is so incredibly ridiculous, and intentionally so, that I just couldn’t help it. Moriya is having a difficult time finding the perfect model for his project when he happens across Ouno, a beautiful but extraordinarily lazy teenager. Fortunately, Ouno’s job will basically amount to him sitting around and looking pretty. He’s easily tired and loses interest in things quickly, but if he doesn’t want to put the effort into doing something he simply lets someone else do it for him. (This even includes walking from place to place.) Moriya is more than willing to pamper Ouno. Mopping up sweat? Check. Foot massages? Check. Sex? Sure, why not! I’ll Be Your Slave is definitely more of a comedy than it is a romance. The humor is great and the over-the-top reaction shots—complete with dramatic poses and bursts of sparkles—are hilarious. The characters admittedly don’t have much depth to them, but that’s also part of what makes the manga so funny.

Swan, Volume 1Swan, Volumes 1-3 by Kyoko Ariyoshi. While I appreciate and admire dance and dancers, and even watch dance performances from time to time, I’ve never had a particular interest in ballet. That’s probably the primary reason that it took me so long to get around to reading Swan. (It’s also out of print and some of the volumes can be a little hard to find.) But, I kept hearing how wonderful Swan was, so I finally made a point of seeking it out. I should have done it sooner, because it really is a fantastic series. I may not be a dancer but I am a trained musician; there are many parallels between the two arts seen in Swan with which I can personally identify. The importance of basics. The grueling practices that push the body, mind, and soul to their breaking points. The good-natured competition and the vicious rivalries. The passion, drama, frustration, and desire that go hand in hand with creative expression. The complete joy experienced with success and the utter despair felt at failure. Swan is incredible; I can’t wait to read more.

Yashakiden: The Demon Princess, Volume 3

Author: Hideyuki Kikuchi
Illustrator: Jun Suemi

Translator: Eugene Woodbury
U.S. publisher: Digital Manga
ISBN: 9781569701478
Released: November 2010
Original release: 2007

Yashakiden: The Demon Princess is a series of vampire novels written by Hideyuki Kikuchi and illustrated by Jun Suemi. The novels take place in Kikuchi’s Demon City Shinjuku setting, of which I am particularly fond. The third volume of Digital Manga’s English-language release of Yashakiden, translated by Eugene Woodbury, is actually an omnibus edition collecting the third and fourth volumes of the original Japanese series. The omnibus edition published in 2010 is based on the 2007 release of the novels (which may have also been an omnibus release, but I’m not certain.) However, the third and fourth novels in Yashakiden were originally written in 1989 and 1990 respectively. Digital Manga’s omnibus also includes “A Vampire Tale Like No Other,” an essay written by Yoshiharu Sasagawa about Demon City Shinjuku, Yashakiden, and Kikuchi’s work in general.

Despite the best efforts of Aki Setsura and Doctor Mephisto, two of Shinjuku’s most terrifying and capable residents, Princess and her entourage of Chinese vampires are slowly gaining control of Demon City. Setsura was severely injured and is still recovering, Mephisto continues to act strangely, and many of their allies have either been killed or taken hostage. To makes matters even worse, the vampires’ influence continues to spread as more and more of Shinjuku’s leadership fall victim to their fangs. The situation has gotten so bad that forces outside of Demon City Shinjuku are threatening and preparing to interfere. Setsura and Mephisto still present enough of a problem on their own for Princess and her plans that she has released Kazikli Bey, yet another powerful and deadly vampire, from his imprisonment. As the volatile situation in Shinjuku becomes more complicated, the city is drawn even closer to the brink of chaos and destruction.

Frankly, Yashakiden frustrates me. Although Kikuchi has a ton of great ideas, and I continue to love Demon City Shinjuku as a setting, he hasn’t been able to pull everything together into a cohesive whole quite yet. I find that I often know what’s going on without really understanding why. Some of the individual scenes and scenarios in Yashakiden are exciting and have great execution, particularly the action sequences, but I’m frequently at a loss as to how they are all connected to one another. Kikuchi’s writing style in Yashakiden is very sparse with little extensive description. In fact, it is so direct and to the point that I often felt that I was missing out on crucial information. Occasionally, the narrative would seem to contradict itself which would leave me confused even after several re-readings. As unadorned as Kikuchi’s writing in Yashakiden is, it can also be very unfocused.

Yashakiden was originally planned to be four volumes long. It quickly became clear to Kikuchi and his editors that four novels weren’t going to be enough; he kept adding new characters and plot developments. I’m not sure how much of Yashakiden Kikuchi had planned out in advance. It frequently seems as though he’s making things up as he goes. Ultimately, the series ended up being eight volumes long. With Yashakiden: The Demon Princess, Volume 3 the story has reached its midway point. Overall, the volume is better balanced than those preceding it. As Kikuchi states in the author’s notes, the story is beginning to “gel.” Yashakiden isn’t as blatantly sexualized or grotesque as it once was. Although those elements still exist, they are better incorporated into the plot as a whole. As much as Yashakiden frustrates me, there is still enough in the series that intrigues me; I’ll probably continue on with the series for at least a little while longer.

Vampire Hunter D, Volume 1

Creator: Saiko Takaki
Original story: Hideyuki Kikuchi

U.S. publisher: Digital Manga
ISBN: 9781569708279
Released: November 2007

My introduction to the works of Hideyuki Kikuchi was through Vampire Hunter D, Volume 1, Saiko Takaki’s manga adaptation of Kikuchi’s light novel of the same name. I first read Vampire Hunter D, Volume 1 after borrowing it from my local library; later, Digital Manga would send me a copy as part of a Kikuchi care package. It seemed appropriate to give Vampire Hunter D, Volume 1 another, closer look for the October 2012 Manga Moveable Feast which focused on vampire manga. The Vampire Hunter D manga adaptation is an interesting project. Coordinated by Digital Manga with Kikuchi’s direct involvement, the goal is for each volume of the original Vampire Hunter D series of novels to be adapted. (So far, six of the more than twenty novels have received the treatment.) Takaki was personally selected by Kikuchi to work on the project and is responsible for illustrating and adapting the novels as manga. Vampire Hunter D, Volume 1 was simultaneously released worldwide in 2007.

After nearly annihilating themselves in a nuclear holocaust, the remnants of human society now struggle to survive in a world filled with mutants and monsters, the most powerful of which is a race of vampires known as the Nobility. But even the Nobility’s reign of terror can’t last forever; thousands of years later the vampires themselves are now also in decline. Even though their control over the world is slipping away, the Nobility are still extremely dangerous and are a threat to what is left of humankind. Doris Lang, a beautiful young woman from the frontier town of Ransylva, has been bitten by one of the Nobility, putting her life at great risk. To save herself, she hires a vampire hunter known only as “D.” Although appearing as a young man, D is a dhampir—the son of a human mother and one of the Nobility. Reviled by both vampires and humans, D is in an unusual position. His heritage grants him superhuman skills and power, making him an ideal vampire hunter and nearly as dangerous as the Nobility.

Takaki’s artwork in Vampire Hunter D is well-suited for the story. It’s darkly beautiful, striking, and yet disconcerting. (Although, perhaps, not always as horrifying as I might hope.) At times the art is vaguely reminiscent of the work of Yoshitaka Amano, the illustrator for the Vampire Hunter D novels. Great care has been taken with the character designs, especially D’s. He is the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome—easily the prettiest character in the manga. I particularly liked the attention given to the details of his attire. A brooding anti-hero who rarely smiles, the more terrifying side of D’s dhampir nature is rarely seen. It’s easy to forget how dangerous he really is as he plays the part of the “good guy” well. But occasionally there is a glimpse of fangs and malice as he struggles to control his desires.

While I wasn’t overly impressed by Vampire Hunter D, Volume 1 when I read it for the first time, the manga has grown on me after subsequent readings. Since I haven’t yet read the original Vampire Hunter D novel, I can’t comment on how the manga compares or even how it works as an adaptation. However, I do think it is fairly successful as its own work. The story is quickly paced but there are leaps and potential inconsistencies in the plot that require readers to fill in what happened themselves. (This is actually something I’ve seen in other works by Kikuchi, so it wouldn’t surprise me if this issue comes directly from the source material.) Still, there is plenty that I like about Vampire Hunter D, Volume 1: it’s post-apocalyptic setting, D himself, the mix of traditional vampire lore and advanced technology, the interesting powers granted to the mutants. In the end, I do want to read more of the Vampire Hunter D manga and maybe even give the original novels a try.

Thank you to Digital Manga for providing a copy of Vampire Hunter D, Volume 1 for review.

Demon City Shinjuku: The Complete Edition

Author: Hideyuki Kikuchi
Illustrator: Jun Suemi

Translator: Eugene Woodbury
U.S. publisher: Digital Manga
ISBN: 9781569702086
Released: July 2011
Original release: 2007

Demon City Shinjuku: The Complete Edition collects two of Hideyuki Kikuchi’s early novels: his debut, Demon City Shinjuku, written in 1982, and its sequel written six years later in 1988, Demon Palace Babylon. Digital Manga’s English translation by Eugene Woodbury published in 2011 is based on the 2007 Japanese omnibus release of the novels. Although there aren’t very many of them considering the length of Demon City Shinjuku: The Complete Edition, the illustrations by Jun Suemi are also included in Digital Manga’s release. Up until now, the only novels that I had read by Kikuchi are from his series Yashakiden: The Demon Princess. So far my favorite part of that series has been its setting, Demon City Shinjuku, which is why I was particularly pleased to have received a review copy of Demon City Shinjuku: The Complete Edition from Digital Manga. I was interested in learning more about Demon City Shinjuku’s origins.

The World Federation’s president is on the verge of death, thanks to the efforts of the sorcerer Reba Ra. Ra’s thirst for power has led him to attempt to create a new demon realm out of the world by using the president’s life as a catalyst. The only man that could have stopped the sorcerer is dead, but Ra didn’t realize that the man had had a son. At fifteen years old, Kyoya Izayoi is an unlikely hero, but has undergone intense training in the martial and spiritual art of nenpo. Naturally talented and under his father’s tutelage, he has become an extremely skilled practicioner. The responsibility of saving the world has now fallen to him. To find Ra, he must enter the remains of Shinjuku. Devastated by a bizarre, massive earthquake, it is now known as Demon City Shinjuku and is home to both dangerous criminal elements the paranormal. Even if Kyoya can deal with the immediate crisis, Demon City has the tendency to attract trouble.

To be perfectly honest, Demon City Shinjuku doesn’t have much of a plot. Demon Palace Babylon starts with a bit more, but falls apart at the end. Instead, the setups seem to be more of an excuse for Kikuchi to have Kyoya run around and explore Demon City, encountering and dealing with various supernatural elements along the way. As I have already admitted, I happen to like Demon City Shinjuku, so the lack of plot didn’t bother me too much. Demon City Shinjuku allows Kikuchi to throw whatever he wants into a story. Advanced technology works alongside magic and mysticism. For every zombie, demon, or monster there is a cyborg, psychic, or mutant. Kikuchi draws from established legends and history and joins them with his own creations. But once again, I find that I am more enamored with the setting of Demon City Shinjuku than I am with the story being told.

Demon City Shinjuku: The Complete Edition reads quickly but a reader should be careful not to rush through. Kikuchi’s style is very informal and sparse; important details may only be mentioned once in passing, making them easy to miss. Demon City Shinjuku: The Complete Edition will probably appeal most to established fans of Kikuchi or the Demon City setting. As some of Kikuchi’s earliest published work, both Demon City Shinjuku and Demon Palace Babylon serve as a sort of precursor or prototype for his later novels and characters. While Kyoya only appears in these two works (which I’m fine with since he’s a bit of an arrogant jerk and I didn’t like him much) other characters that are introduced do return. Perhaps most important is Doctor Mephisto, who plays a major role in Yashakiden as well as in many of Kikuchi’s other novels. And then of course there is Demon City Shinjuku itself, which Kikuchi returns to repeatedly in his works. I was happy for the opportunity to learn more about Kikuchi’s and the city’s beginnings.

Thank you to Digital Manga for providing a copy of Demon City Shinjuku: The Complete Edition for review.