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: April 16-April 22, 2012

My News and Reviews

Another week, another couple of reviews. I had the opportunity to review an advanced copy of Patrick W. Galbraith and Androniki Christodoulou’s Otaku Spaces from Chin Music Press. It’s a great volume that lets otaku speak for themselves. The book is easy to recommend. I also reviewed Blade of the Immortal, Volume 8: The Gathering by Hiroaki Samura. This is part of my project to review the entire series, so expect to see another Blade of the Immortal post sometime next month. I’m still loving the Blade of the Immortal.

A quick Aniblog Tourney update: Shameful Otaku Secret! won its first round match which means that it and Experiments in Manga will be facing off in the second round next week. The poll will open on May 1st. If you enjoy participating and voting in these sorts of things, make sure to check out Shameful Otaku Secret!—there’s some great stuff going on over there. I’ve been getting a kick out of discovering new writers to follow from the tournament. I do get the impression that the anime blogging community is larger than the manga blogging community though, so I’m wondering how the manga blogs will fair considering that. There are certainly fewer manga-centric blogs in the tournament.

This week is April’s Manga Moveable Feast! This month we’re focusing on the Viz Signature imprint. The Manga Critic is kind enough to host. My quick takes this week feature manga from the SigIKKI line (basically, titles from Ikki magazine published under the Signature imprint). Wednesday is the start of Experiments in Manga’s monthly giveaway; you’ll have a chance to win the first volume of I’ll Give It My All…Tomorrow (also from Viz Signature). Finally, I’ll be posting an in-depth review of the Dorohedoro, Volume 1 on Friday. Happy Feasting, everyone!

Quick Takes

Children of the Sea, Volumes 1-4 by Daisuke Igarashi. I once gave Children of the Sea a cursory glance in a bookstore and then put it back on the shelf when it didn’t immediately grab my attention. That was a mistake. I’m glad I gave the series another chance because I’ve fallen in love with it. While Igarashi’s artwork is excellent from the very beginning, the story of Children of the Sea develops very slowly and deliberately (with the occasional infodump). I love how Igarashi mixes mythology and legend with reality to create an intriguing and almost mystical tale. The series is still ongoing in Japan. I’m not sure if or when we’ll see more volumes in English, but I really hope that we do.

Dorohedoro, Volumes 1-3 by Q Hayashida. I’m not sure why it took me this long to finally give Dorohedoro a try. I’ll definitely be picking up the rest of this series. Hayashida is a phenomenal artist. Her work is highly detailed and very graphic, perfect for the story’s violence. Dorohedoro is a rather strange manga. It’s goofy in a lot of ways, too, without really being a comedy. The series has a dark sense of humor with great dialogue and memorable characters. Caiman’s head has been transformed by a sorcerer into a lizard’s. With the help of his companion Nikaido, he’s searching for whoever cast the spell on him, killing plenty of other sorcerers along the way. Understandably, the sorcerers aren’t happy about this and so a pair of assassins are sent to take care of him.

House of Five Leaves, Volumes 5-6 by Natsume Ono. My introduction to House of Five Leaves was through the anime adaptation, but my love for the anime easily carries over to the manga. The series is actually my favorite manga created by Ono. I am enjoying seeing a slightly different perspective on the story. Most notable is the addition and development of characters outside of the core members of the Five Leaves. The characters and their relationships with one another are still the most important elements in House of Five Leaves. The plot is almost non-existent but becomes more apparent as characters’ motivations are slowly revealed. I’m really looking forward to the release of final two volumes.

Kingyo Used Books, Volumes 1-4 Seimu Yoshizaki. As a book lover, and a manga lover, I can’t help but be fond of Yoshizaki’s Kingyo Used Books. While one of my life’s dreams is to own a bookstore; reading Kingyo Used Books makes me want to own a manga shop or cafe. The chapters are fairly episodic (although they do frequently feature recurring characters) but they all celebrate the love and importance of reading and manga in people’s lives. Yes, these tales can be a little over dramatic from time to time, but I generally found them to be delightful. The volumes also include extensive notes on the specific titles that are featured in the stories. The only real “problem” is that many of the manga highlighted aren’t available in English and now I want to read them.

Norwegian Wood directed by Tran Anh Hung. I haven’t actually read Haruki Murakami’s breakthrough novel Norwegian Wood (shocking, I know), so I can’t really compare it with the film’s interpretation of the story. Kenichi Matsuyama, who I happen to enjoy watching, is cast well as the lead in a tale of love, loss, and sexuality set in 1960s Japan. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the soundtrack is quite good. The narrative is somewhat fragmented but the cinematography is lovely and has a slight art house feel to it. Large portions of the film have little dialogue or story development but simply sit with the characters. Overall, it’s a beautiful film although some of the more emotionally climactic scenes are overwrought.

My Week in Manga: March 5-March 11, 2012

My News and Reviews

Last week I announced the King of Thorn for Keeps Winner. Also included in the post is a list of some manga with survival themes that have been licensed in English. There are some great titles on the list and I now have some more reading to do. I also posted a review of The Journey to the West, Volume 4, the final volume in Anthony C. Yu’s complete translation of the Chinese classic. Written in the 1500s, it’s a marvelous tale that continues to inspire creators centuries of later. And don’t forget! March’s Manga Moveable Feast, hosted by Manga Worth Reading and featuring the work of Jiro Taniguchi, will be held next week!

In other news (and the reason this section is so short this week), I spent most of my weekend with the members of Hanayui, a small performance group out of Kodo, and Yoshikazu Fujimoto, one of the preeminent o-daiko players in the world. They joined us on Saturday for a joint concert with Raion Taiko and students from the Great Lakes Taiko Center (of which I am one). In addition to the pieces I was playing, I also worked as part of the stage crew for Hanayui’s performance. On Sunday, they held a couple of workshops for us, including an intensive o-daiko practice with Fujimoto-san. I’ve been playing taiko for just under a year, so it was a wonderful opportunity to meet and to learn from some amazing artists. Even though it was a long and exhausting weekend, I had a fabulous time and it was a fantastic experience.

Quick Takes

Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga, Volume 1 by Koji Aihara and Kentaro Takekuma. I am so incredibly glad that I tracked down a copy of the now out of print Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga because it is a magnificent piece of work. Although a parody of “how to” instructional art books, Aihara and Takekuma provide some legitimate lessons as well. Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga can be rather vulgar, with plenty of sexual and scatological humor, and is definitely aimed at adults. The creators take a look at the various genres and demographics, noting the stereotypes in each (but presenting them in all seriousness). It is absolutely hilarious. Plus, there’s an entire chapter devoted to mahjong manga!

Neko Ramen, Volumes 2-3 by Kenji Sonishi. Although I wasn’t overwhelmed by the first volume of Neko Ramen, I have become quite fond of the series. It’s a solidly funny yonkoma manga featuring Taisho, a cat that makes ramen who, it is revealed, also attempts to make curry on occasion. He’s not particularly successful at either, but for some reason Tanaka is always showing up at the shop to eat. Sonishi has introduced a new character, the pretty boy Akkun, who can apparently eat, and enjoy, anything (and a lot of it). Taisho makes sure to take advantage of this fact. Taisho’s mother also makes a few appearances and she’s marvelous. Only one more volume of the series was published in English by Tokyopop; I’ll probably try to find a copy at some point.

Lovers and Souls by Kano Miyamoto. I was surprised to learn that Lovers and Souls was Miyamoto’s first published work. I found her storytelling to be quite mature with complex characters. From time to time the plot borders on the melodramatic, but Miyamoto never quite crosses that line. Lovers and Souls tends to be serious, and perhaps a bit angsty, but it’s well done. Miyamoto’s artwork, too, is very good. She is particularly skilled in capturing subtle, and not so subtle, changes in facial expressions. Lovers and Souls is also probably the first boys’ love manga that I’ve come across that honestly acknowledges the existence of biphobia, and not in a way that sensationalizes or perpetuates it.

House of Five Leaves directed by Tomomi Mochizuki. Finally, House of Five Leaves has received a Region 1 DVD release! NIS America has done a wonderful job. Unfortunately, there isn’t much extra content on the DVDs, only a trailer and a clean opening and beginning, but the set comes with a beautiful (if all to brief) full-color artbook. The box itself is also lovely and begs to be displayed. I am simply thrilled and delighted to finally be able to watch House of Five Leaves on something other than my crappy laptop with an Internet connection that leaves something to be desired. House of Five Leaves is my favorite anime series and I am extremely happy that I can now say I that own it.

House of Five Leaves, Volume 1

Creator: Natsume Ono
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421532103
Released: September 2010
Original release: 2006

My introduction to Natsume Ono and her work was through the 2010 anime adaptation of her series House of Five Leaves. Since then, I have been devouring her other works available in English, so far all a part of Viz Media’s Signature line, but House of Five Leaves remains my favorite. Ono completed House of Five Leaves in eight volumes which were initially published in Japan between 2006 and 2010. It was also in 2010 that Viz Media began releasing the English translation of the series. Currently, the first four volumes are available; the fifth volume is scheduled to be published in December 2011. Although I haven’t been reviewing the individual volumes as they have been released, I have been reading them, and rereading them, as soon as I have a copy available. But because Ono was the focus of November 2011’s Manga Moveable Feast, I decided to be a little more vocal in my love for House of Five Leaves.

Akitsu Masanosuke is a highly skilled swordsman although most people wouldn’t expect it to look at him. Often they are surprised to discover that he’s even a samurai at all. He’s extremely shy, embarrasses easily, and is not even close to being intimidating. Masa’s unfortunate personality makes it difficult for him to keep a job. His lord let him go as a retainer and no one wants to hire a timid bodyguard, and so Masa wanders Edo as a hungry rōnin looking for work. At least until he meets Yaichi, who is looking for a samurai in name only. Yaichi, perfectly capable of defending himself, simply needs a bodyguard for show. Preferably one that is easily controlled. Masa is glad to have the work, not realizing at first that Yaichi happens to be the leader of a kidnapping group known as Five Leaves. Despite his misgivings, Masa slowly finds himself drawn into their circle.

One of the most distinctive aspects of Ono’s manga is her art. I have never mistaken her illustrations for anyone else’s, nor have I ever taken another artist’s work to be hers. Admittedly, Ono’s style is not one that everyone will appreciate. I wouldn’t describe it as pretty, but the loose, deliberate lines have a certain attractive elegance to them. I have become quite fond of Ono’s artwork. The style seems to be particularly well suited to the story of House of Five Leaves, especially in the portrayal of the characters and their personalities. The droopy-eyed melancholy fits Masa’s timidity perfectly while at the same time the artwork also easily embodies Yaichi’s lazy, slightly unsettling intensity. My only real complaint about the art in the first volume of House of Five Leaves is that it is difficult to discern what is happening in the few action-oriented sequences.

House of Five Leaves is not a quickly paced manga by any means. It’s strength lies in its characters and their interactions, and especially in the relationships developed between Masa and the members of Five Leaves. Probably most important is Masa and Yaichi’s strange sort of friendship. Yaichi is fascinated and intrigued by Masa and his unusualness. In return, Masa admires Yaichi’s confidence and is curious about him. Yaichi is a charismatic, enigmatic, and intensely private man. Not even the members of Five Leaves know much about him. At this point in House of Five Leaves, not much is known about any of the characters yet, but Yaichi is the most guarded. The groundwork for the story has been established in this first volume and the major players have been introduced. Masa still isn’t quite sure what he’s gotten himself mixed up in or who these people are, but that will all be revealed as the series progresses.

My Week in Manga: November 7-November 13, 2011

My News and Reviews

Okay, here we go! I posted a couple of reviews last week. The first was Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Yashakiden: The Demon Princess, Volume 1 courtesy of Digital Manga. I had some problems with the first volume, but I do plan on reading more of the series. The second review I posted was the first in-depth manga review for November, Death Note, Volume 10: Deletion. After a few bumpy middle volumes, the series is starting to get really good again.

Ed Sizemore of Manga Worth Reading and my favorite podcast Manga Out Loud is saying goodbye to reviewing manga to the same extent that he’s doing now. I understand his decision but am still sad and will definitely miss his voice. My best wished go out to Ed and his future pursuits.

Over on, Ron Hogan has an interesting essay about Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 and why those who read speculative fiction might get more out of it than those who don’t—Genre in the Mainstream: Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. I’m currently reading 1Q84 and should have a review of my own posted within the next couple of weeks.

Once upon a time, June 2009 to be exact, Digital Manga published Osamu Tezuka’s Swallowing the Earth. Since then, the book has gone out of print. However! Digital Manga has created a Kickstarter project to bring the manga back. I’m particularly excited about this venture because if it succeeds it could establish a workable publishing model to bring niche manga to English-reading audiences.

And finally, this week is the Natsume Ono Manga Moveable Feast! I’ve got a bunch of quick takes here for you featuring some of Ono’s works (plus a couple that are completely unrelated). Later this week I’ll also be posting an in-depth manga review of House of Five Leaves, Volume 1. I am quite fond of Ono’s manga, so I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone’s contributions to the Feast.

Quick Takes

The Drops of God, Volume 1 written by Tadashi Agi and illustrated by Shu Okimoto. While I like the drink, I am not by any means a wine connoisseur. Still, I enjoyed The Drops of God probably even more than I expected to. I will admit, I’m actually a little jealous of the characters and their passion for wine. For them, it’s not just a drink but a way to express themselves. The characters’ experiences and the mental images elicited while drinking are brilliantly captured in Okimoto’s artwork. It makes me envious that I’ve never had such visceral and emotional reactions to wine. The Drops of God reminds me a lot of Oishinbo, which I don’t think is a bad thing. I’m looking forward to reading more.

Gente: The People of Ristorante Paradiso, Volumes 1-3 by Natsume Ono. Ono has a superb talent for drawing marvelously sexy…pardon me, distinguished…older gentlemen. I don’t think that Gente always stands very well on its own, but as a companion series to Ono’s one-shot Ristorante Paradiso, it’s wonderful. The manga is a series of short stories and vignettes featuring characters from Ristorante Paradiso. It’s really nice to be able to get to spend more time with them and learn a little bit more about their pasts and personalities. The first two volumes take place before for the events of Ristorante Paradiso while the final volume takes place during the same time period and perhaps a little bit after.

House of Five Leaves, Volumes 2-4 by Natsume Ono. As much as I enjoy all of Ono’s work, House of Five Leaves is my favorite series by her. I saw the anime adaptation before the manga was available in English, so it’s difficult for me not to compare the two. The fourth volume is the first volume with a significant amount of unique content, including a character that doesn’t even appear in the anime. However, the heart of the story remains the same. The manga reveals some of the characters’ backstories in greater depth and explores their personal turmoils in more detail. In particular, the vicious side of Yaichi’s nature is shown more than it is implied. I’m greatly anticipating the release of the rest of the series.

La Quinta Camera: The Fifth Room by Natsume Ono. La Quinta Camera was Ono’s breakthrough work. It was originally published as a webcomic before being picked up by a publisher. The manga is a slice of life story focusing on the lives of four men who share an apartment in Italy and their relationships with the constantly changing tenant of the fifth room which is rented out to exchange students. Each chapter, six in all, brings a new student and reveals just a little bit more of the residents’ lives. Some of the tenants are only there briefly while others stick around even after they’ve moved out, but they all leave a lasting impression on the men. I prefer Ono’s later work but I did enjoy La Quinta Camera. Although it’s fiction, the manga has a charming sense of authenticity to it.

Dragon Head directed by George Iida. While I can safely say that I, for the most part, prefer the Dragon Head manga, the live-action film is not that bad of an adaptation. It just doesn’t translate the character’s struggles with fear quite as well. Nobuo’s descent into madness seems a bit rushed at the beginning (granted, it happens pretty quickly in the manga, too), but that is somewhat understandable since there was a lot of material to fit into a two hour movie. Certain plot details of the story have been changed, some for the better, and an excellent job was done making the whole film coherent. The special effects are pretty decent and the devastated Tokyo landscape was particularly well done.

House of Five Leaves directed by Tomomi Mochizuki. House of Five Leaves may very well be my favorite anime series; I am absolutely crushed that a Region 1 DVD set hasn’t been licensed. I’m glad that I can at least stream the series, but watching the show on my laptop is less than ideal. It’s a story that profoundly resonates with me for some reason and I continue to think about the series long after I’ve finished watching it. It’s not a anime that will work for everyone. It has a sort of art house feel to it, retaining much of Ono’s style, and the drama relies entirely on the characters. The music also creates an odd, but I think effective, sort of atmosphere, mixing traditional Japanese instruments with modern beats and what sounds a lot like a French tango.