My Week in Manga: October 1-October 7, 2012

My News and Reviews

Last week was one of the slower weeks here at Experiments in Manga. The winner of the Shojo Beat manga giveaway was announced. The post also includes a list of fan favorite Shojo Beat titles. Shojo Beat is a fairly large imprint, and so it’s nice to have a place to start looking for manga to read. The Bookshelf Overload for September was also posted last week. And for my first in-depth manga review in October, I took a look at Osamu Tezuka’s Message to Adolf, Part 1 published by Vertical. As I’ve mentioned here before, Adolf was the first manga I ever read. It’s still great, and I’m thrilled that the series is available in English again. Finally, Chic Pixel has posted the call for participation for October’s Manga Moveable Feast. Later this month we’ll be taking a look a vampire-themed manga.

Quick Takes

The Drops of God, Volume 4 written by Tadashi Agi and illustrated by Shu Okimoto. The Drops of God is marvelously dramatic even if it isn’t always particularly believable. The characters are so incredibly intense in their love for wine and in their efforts to show each other up. I find the series very entertaining and I learn a lot while reading it, too. While I quite happily drink wine, I actually don’t know much about it; I find The Drops of God to be educational in addition to being a tremendous amount of fun. The artwork is also great—the visual interpretations of the characters’ experiences drinking wine are particularly beautiful. It’s an effective technique that nicely conveys the emotional responses.

House of Five Leaves, Volumes 7-8 by Natsume Ono. I love the House of Five Leaves manga, but ultimately I think I prefer the anime adaptation slightly more. (But that may just be because I encountered it first.) Still, there’s quite a bit in the manga that doesn’t make it into the anime, including additional characters and more explicit backstories. I particularly enjoyed the incorporation of Masa’s brother Bunnosuke, who is only mentioned in passing in the anime. But probably what I like most about House of Five Leaves is the development of Masa and Yaichi’s characterizations and their relationship to each other. Although there is a plot and occasionally even some action, House of Five Leaves is primarily character-driven, and I love these characters.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Volumes 9-12 by Hirohiko Araki. For an action and adventure title, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure frequently comes across a lot like a travelogue. Except instead of charming encounters in foreign lands, the intrepid travelers are constantly facing painful and horrifying death. Even Iggy, the dog, can’t escape attempts on his life. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is often deliberately absurd and outrageous; Araki’s storytelling is both clever and funny without really being a comedy. I’m still loving JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure‘s mix of humor, horror, action, and supernatural powers. The series revels in its own unique style. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is highly entertaining and I am thoroughly enjoying the ride.

Scandalous Seiryo University, Volumes 2-4 by Kazuto Tatsukawa. Despite having “university” in the title, I’m pretty sure this series takes place in a high school. Sometimes I enjoy Scandalous Seiryo University, sometimes I hate it. I’m not fond of rape jokes, but I like the main couple well enough and the supporting cast is great. The fourth volume of the English release actually isn’t a part of the series proper; it’s a side story taking place eight years after Scandalous Seiryo University. It has an entirely different tone than the original series and, surprisingly enough, absolutely no sex. (Sex is a fairly frequent occurrence in the main story.) A few of the characters’ personalities have been completely changed, but I did get a kick out of seeing everyone all grown up.

My Week in Manga: September 17-September 23, 2012

My News and Reviews

Last week was the Shojo Beat Manga Moveable Feast. One of my contributions to the Feast included an in-depth review of Hinako Ashihara’s Sand Chronicles, Volume 1. Sand Chronicles is one of my favorite contemporary shoujo manga series. October’s Feast, currently scheduled to be hosted by Chic Pixel, will focus on vampire-themed manga.

Also this past week, I posted a review of Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide written by husband and wife team Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt and illustrated by Shinkichi. I had previously read and loved the previous two books in the Attack! series, Yokai Attack! and Ninja Attack!. I was not at all disappointed with Yurei Attack! I highly recommend the entire series.

I am a huge fan of Takako Shimura’s manga series Wandering Son. Fantagraphics, the series English-language publisher, is offering a great deal for the next three upcoming releases: a special discounted subscription for volumes four through six is now available. Alternatively, volumes four and five can now be preordered directly from the publisher.

Quick Takes

The Art of Man, Volume 8: Special Edition Japan from Firehouse Publishing. I happened across The Art of Man, a quarterly fine arts journal devoted to the male figure, while looking for examples of Gengoroh Tagame’s work. The Spring 2012 issue focuses on artists (sculptors, painters, illustrators, etc.) of the male form from Japan. The artists spotlighted include Shimamura Saburou, Yujiro, Shozo Nagano, Hideki Koh, Kenya Shimizu, and Naoki Tatsuya. Masahiko Takagi, the curator and director of Japanese Gay Art, a section of Mayumi International, is also highlighted. The best part is that the volume is filled with gorgeous color reproductions of the artists’ work.

Attack on Titan, Volumes 1-2 by Hajime Isayama. The artwork in Attack on Titan is very unpolished which distracts from the story, especially in the beginning. Isayama’s artwork either improves as the series progresses, or I simply started to get used to it; by the end of the second volume I didn’t mind its roughness as much. Admittedly, the crude illustrations do make the titans (monstrous creatures threatening humanity’s very existence) feel particularly wrong and disconcerting, which is certainly effective. Despite my frustrations with the art, I really do want to see where Isayama is taking the story. It is both weird and oddly compelling. I’m also fascinated by the “three dimensional maneuvers” fighting system which has had some significant thought put into it.

Joan, Volumes 1-3 by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Due to unfortunate circumstances surrounding her family, Emily is adopted and raised as Emil, the son of Robert de Baudricourt. Emil finds inspiration in Joan of Arc; Emi’ls visions and intense admiration lead her to continue Joan’s work, who was burned at the stake roughly ten years before. Emil’s story and life actually have many parallels to that of the life of Joan of Arc. It’s an interesting narrative technique and is quite effective; Yasuhiko would use it again in some of his other historically based manga. Yasuhiko’s color artwork in Joan is lovely and atmospheric. The attention to detail given to the castles and architecture as well as the characters’ clothing is marvelous.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Volumes 5-8 by Hirohiko Araki. I wanted to try to avoid using the word “bizarre” when describing JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, but I’m finding it very difficult to do. The series is fantastically strange and has a style all its own. It didn’t take long for Araki to work his way through the major arcana as models for his Stand powers and their users (some of the results are really quite clever); through necessity he has moved on to the Egyptian pantheon for additional inspiration. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has strong elements of horror, but they are used more as accents rather than being the main focus. Araki incorporates a lot of local color into the manga’s settings and backgrounds, making a point to visit the locations he uses when he can. I am still loving this series.

Men of Tattoos by Yuiji Aniya. When I say Men of Tattoos is tragic, I truly mean it. And not only tragic, but dark, brutal, and violent as well. But Men of Tattoos also very, very good. The characters go through terrible things and do terrible things to one another—love and hatred are tied very closely together. Men of Tattoos has an almost traumatizing intensity that sneaks up on the reader. The first chapter begins lightheartedly but the repercussions of the events echo throughout the rest of the story. It is not pretty; I can’t even begin to imagine a happy ending for anyone involved. The final third or so of the volume turns to an entirely different story which is much more benign, but still quite good.

Toward the Terra directed by Osamu Yamazaki. The 2007 Toward the Terra anime series is the second animated incarnation of Keiko Takemiya’s science fiction manga To Terra… that I have seen. It makes for a good adaptation and does well as its own work, too. At twenty-four episodes it has room to breathe and is able to incorporate much of the original. It also expands on the story and characters to some extent. I liked most of the additions, but they do make the narrative pacing a little slow in places, especially towards the beginning and middle of the series. But, much like the manga itself, the series gets better and better as it progresses and the pacing improves. The ending is somewhat different from the original manga, but I was still very happy with it.

My Week in Manga: August 27-September 2, 2012

My News and Reviews

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Manga Moveable Feast concluded last week. I had previously reviewed the first volume of the series for the Feast. This past week, I had some random musings about the inclusion of embalmers and embalming in The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service contrasted with Mitsukazu Mihara’s series The EmbalmerRandom Musings: Dealing with the Dead in The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and The Embalmer. September’s Manga Moveable Feast will focus on Shojo Beat titles. Anna over at Manga Report has already posted the call for participation. Completely unrelated to the Feast, August’s manga giveaway is currently underway. The winner of the Read or Dream giveaway will be announced on Wednesday, but there’s still time to enter!

Quick Takes

20th Century Boys, Volumes 13-16 by Naoki Urasawa. One of my favorite things about 20th Century Boys is the importance placed on memories and the past. Unfortunately, in these volumes, the jumps between the past, present, and future can be a little difficult to follow. The manga also seems to be in danger of losing its direction. Urasawa continues to expand the cast of characters and continues to add new storylines and plot twists, so it is easy to lose track of what has come before. I hope it doesn’t all end up being complexity for complexity’s sake and that Urasawa will be able to tie everything together. 20th Century Boys is still intriguing, and I want to know where things are going.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Volumes 1-4 by Hirohiko Araki. The English release of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is actually the third part of the series as a whole. Also known as Stardust Crusaders, it begins with the Japanese Volume 13. In it, Araki introduces the concept of Stands—supernatural powers and abilities that manifest in a semi-physical form. The Stands fascinate me, especially as many of the ones introduced so far have associations with the major arcana of the tarot. (Tarot happens to be a personal interest of mine.) I am loving JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. It’s a great mix of action-adventure and horror with a ton of weird imagery and a touch of deadpan humor and manly tears. Initially JoJo comes across as a standoffish but likeable jerk; his character quickly grew on me.

Rurouni Kenshin, Omnibus 3 (equivalent to Volumes 7-9) by Nobuhiro Watsuki. I’m still enjoying Rurouni Kenshin‘s more realistic aspects over its more outrageous elements (although they can admittedly be fun). I appreciate that Watsuki continues to include his own interpretations of historical events and figures in Rurouni Kenshin. I also like Watsuki’s tendency of turning antagonists into allies of sorts. It creates interesting interactions and character dynamics as their relationships change as the manga progresses. Kenshin is still my favorite character, but I’ve become particularly fond of Saitō Hajime as well. The third omnibus is the beginning of one of the longer story arcs as Kenshin leaves Tokyo for Kyoto.

The Tyrant Falls in Love, Volumes 5-6 by Hinako Takanaga. Morinaga and Souichi’s relationship is so intenesly messed up and their communication skills are terrible. It’s no wonder there are so many misunderstandings, but it does seem appropriate for their characters. I am impressed that Takanaga has been able to drag out the development of their relationship for so long without their encounters becoming monotonous. They are mostly variations on a theme and could be somewhat repetitive but they continue to be engagin. The best moments are when Souichi happens reaches out to Morinaga completely of his own free will, whether he means to or not. There are two more volumes in the series and I’m very interested in seeing how things will be resolved.

Rohan at the Louvre

Creator: Hirohiko Araki
U.S. publisher: NBM Publishing
ISBN: 9781561636150
Released: February 2012
Original release: 2010

I was very excited when NBM Publishing announced the 2012 release of the English edition of Rohan at the Louvre by Hirohiko Araki. Originally published in 2010 in French and Japanese, Rohan at the Louvre is a part of the “Louvre Collection,” a series of individual graphic novels commissioned by the Louvre that feature the museum and its collections as part of the story. The effort is meant to bridge the gap between the comics world and the museum world, showing readers and visitors the artistic merits of each. Rohan at the Louvre is the fifth graphic novel, and the first manga, to be included in the series. Rohan is a character from Araki’s manga JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, who is first introduced in the series’ fourth part, Diamond is Unbreakable. (Unfortunately, this arc hasn’t been licensed in English.) Since then, Rohan has continued to appear in a number of stand alone works, such as Rohan at the Louvre, as well as in other JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure side stories and spin-offs.

Rohan Kishibe has an ability known as “Heaven’s Door” which allows him to manipulate memories and read a person like the pages of a book, both literally and figuratively. While he was seventeen and still trying to break into the industry as a mangaka, he meets a troubled young woman named Nanase. After taking an interest in his art, she tells him a story about the darkest, most evil painting to have ever been created. Ten years later Rohan has become a successful and world famous artist. One day he is reminded of Nanase’s story. Following the rumor to Paris and the Louvre Museum, Rohan hopes to catch a glimpse of the mysterious painting or to at least establish if it even exists. What he discovers at the museum is not at all what he was expecting to find. The resulting incident leaves four people missing and Rohan shaken, the only person left to tell the tale.

I adore Araki’s artwork in Rohan at the Louvre. Unlike most manga, Rohan at the Louvre is completely in color. In fact, it’s the occasional lack of color, or when Araki switches to grey, that especially draws the readers’ attention to a particular panel or page element. Araki primarily uses three major color palettes for the three different parts of the story: Rohan’s memories of his youth, his journey to the Louvre, and his search for the mysterious painting. Araki’s striking color work is marvelously effective, adding another level to his artistry. While the color emphasizes the fantastic, Araki’s line and figure work tends toward the realistic, creating an interesting and engaging contrast. His faces in particular, with their dark eyelashes and full lips, are beautiful. Fairly frequently the characters seem to be posed rather than falling naturally into their positions, but at the same time the resulting images are sensual and arresting. Araki’s illustrations are meant to be looked at and appreciated not just as part of the story but as art.

Although I didn’t find the story of Rohan at the Louvre to be quite as strong as its artwork, I still enjoyed it a great deal. The narrative starts out well but the ending seems to tie everything up a little too nicely and easily after all hell breaks loose. Still, I can’t say I didn’t like it because I did. I particularly enjoyed seeing the changes in Rohan’s characterization at different ages. As a seventeen-year-old he is still young and impressionable as well as slightly self-conscious while at twenty-seven he is significantly more arrogant, sure of himself, and wiser to the world. I like Rohan and I like the story he tells. The translation does occasionally come across as awkward—I would find myself having to puzzle over small sections and there is a particularly disruptive typo towards the end of the book—but overall it doesn’t detract too much from the manga as a whole. I am very glad that I picked up Rohan at the Louvre; I have already reread the volume several times. The artwork is phenomenal and the lead is both engaging and intriguing.