My Week in Manga: February 4-February 10, 2013

My News and Reviews

Last week the Blue Exorcist Giveaway Winner was announced. The post also includes a pretty great list of some favorite manga that was read in 2012 by those who entered the giveaway. I also managed to post two reviews last week. The first was for Yaya Sakuragi’s boys’ love manga Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love, Volume 2. Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love isn’t my favorite Sakuragi manga, but I’m still amused and entertained by it. I also reviewed Isuna Hasekura’s Spice & Wolf, Volume 7: Side Colors, a collection of three side stories to the main series. It’s not essential reading, but still a nice addition to the series for fans of Spice & Wolf.

In other news, I finished reading Persona: A Biography of Yukio Mishima by Naoki Inose and Hiroaki Sato. (The book is enormous, so I consider it to be an accomplishment.) I’m planning on posting an in-depth review of Persona next week, but I wanted to mention a section included in the biography called “A Paean to Manga” which briefly explores Mishima’s thoughts and opinions on manga. Mishima actually really like manga. He wasn’t a fan of Shirato Sanpei, but he loved Hirata Hiroshi (which I previously knew) and Akatsuka Fujio and liked Mizuki Shigeru’s yokai stories. He is quoted as saying, “Compared with American comics, Japanese graphic tales are a shade more grim and dark both in eroticism and cruelty. To make up for it, though, they are avant-garde in nonsense.”I thought this was interesting and wanted to share.

Elsewhere, some very exciting developments in comics publishing were revealed last week! Kuriousity interviewed Jen Lee Quick, creator of Off*Beat (among other things) which I really enjoy. The first two volumes of Off*Beat were published by Tokyopop, but the series was left unfinished. Happily, Quick was able to get the rights to her work back. The series will be reprinted, and completed, by the newly established Chromatic Press. For more information about Chromatic Press, check out Brigid Alverson’s exclusive at MTV Geek—Chromatic Press Launches New Manga Magazine, Brings Back Off*Beat. I’m very excited about Chromatic Press and what its trying to do.

A couple more more manga publishing developments that I wanted to mention. At Good E-Reader, Brigid Alverson looks at Gen Manga’s plans for the year—GEN Manga Offers Free E-Books, Prepares to Launch Korean Comics Magazine. And on Twitter, Vertical mentioned in passing that its Keiko Takemiya licenses will be expiring this summer. This means that Andromeda Stories and To Terra… will be going out of print. I’m a huge fan of Takemiya’s work. To Terra… in particular is a fantastic space opera and is definitely worth picking up before it disappears.

Quick Takes

Eyeshield 21, Volumes 1-7 written by Riichiro Inagaki and illustrated by Yusuke Murata. Despite watching every single football game in high school and college (I was in the marching band), I’ve never really been a fan of American football. I picked up Eyeshield 21 mainly because it is illustrated by Murata who many of the artists I follow admire. Sena, a rather timid high school first year, has developed impressive running skills, mostly as a way to flee from bullies. But this also makes him an ideal candidate for the running back of the Deimon Devil Bats, his school’s football club. Eyeshield 21 turned out to be a surprisingly fun, entertaining, and slightly ridiculous series. And yes, Murata’s artwork is great.

Genshiken, Omnibus 2 (equivalent to Volumes 4-6) by Shimoku Kio. I’m continuing to enjoy this otaku slice-of-life series. After nearly burning down one of the university’s buildings at the end of the last omnibus, this volume finds the Genshiken club homeless and assigned to community service as penance. New characters and proclivities are introduced which creates some conflict within the group. I love that most of the Genshiken members are completely comfortable with themselves as otaku. They might occasionally be embarrassed, but they aren’t ashamed. There is one notable exception: Ogiue claims to hate all otaku although she is one herself, but she seems to be coming around. I also am greatly amused by how often porn comes up as part the group’s discussions.

Samurai Legend written by Kan Furuyama and illustrated by by Jiro Taniguchi. Yagyū Jūbei is a famous swordsman who was active during the Tokugawa era in Japan. Although there are few confirmed facts about his life, he has become a popular legendary figure. Samurai Legend is more than two decades old now, but it’s still a great historical one-shot. It was actually the first historical manga on which Taniguchi worked as an artist. His efforts paid off—the manga is filled with dynamic action sequences and believable battles. The characters don’t need superpowers to have amazing and impressive martial skill. Taniguchi also deliberately strives to be as historically accurate as possible in Samurai Legend.

Sweet Revolution written by Serubo Suzuki and illustrated by Yukine Honami. Tatsuki and Ohta are two transfer students who aren’t nearly as human as they first appear and the young men’s relationship is more complicated than their classmates realize. The first two chapters of Sweet Revolution are told from the perspective of Kouhei, one of their classmates, and have a slightly different tone than the rest of the volume. But then the manga begins to explore the pair’s history and motivations more directly. The storytelling builds quite nicely from there. I particularly enjoyed the supernatural elements in Sweet Revolution. I didn’t realize when I began reading the manga that in part it would be a yokai tale. And, well, I happen to like yokai.

Fist of the North Star: The TV Series, Volume 1 (Episodes 1-36) directed by Toyoo Ashida. While at this point I can safely say that I prefer the Fist of the North Star manga, I’m still getting a kick out of the anime adaptation. Granted, a large part of this first box set is a bit of a grind and rather repetitive. The beginning of the manga started out in a similar way, so I wasn’t entirely surprised. However, the anime has a lot of filler at the beginning. But even so, I enjoyed myself. I can’t help but like Kenshiro, one of the most stoic badasses that I know of. Plus, there’s plenty of over-the-top martial arts in the series. I’m really looking forward to watching more of Fist of the North Star.

The Summit of the Gods, Volume 1

Author: Baku Yumemakura
Illustrator: Jiro Taniguchi

U.S. publisher: Fanfare/Ponent Mon
ISBN: 9788496427877
Released: September 2009
Original release: 2000
Awards: Angoulême Prize, Japan Media Arts Award

The Summit of the Gods, Volume 1 is the first book in a five-volume manga series written by Baku Yumemakura and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi. The series is based on Yumemakura’s award-winning novel The Summit of the Gods published in 1997. The manga adaptation of The Summit of the Gods is an award-winner in its own right, too. A nominee and finalist for numerous awards, The Summit of the Gods manga took home a Japan Media Arts Excellence Award in 2001 and an Angoulême Prize for Artwork in 2005. The Summit of the Gods, Volume 1 was first released in Japan in 2000. The English-language edition was published in 2009 Fanfare/Ponent Mon. The series has also been translated into French and German, among other languages. I first encountered Yumemakura and Taniguchi’s The Summit of the Gods during the Jiro Taniguchi Manga Moveable Feast. It easily became my favorite collaborative work by Taniguchi.

In 1924, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine climbed Mount Everest in an attempt to become the first men to stand on the mountain’s peak. The two men disappeared during the climb, never to return. Whether or not they reached the summit remains a mystery. Nearly seven decades later, Makoto Fukamachi, a Japanese photographer on another failed Everest expedition, discovers a camera in a shady back alley shop in Kathmandu matching the make and model of the one carried by Mallory on his final ascent. In his search for more information about the camera, Fukamachi encounters Jouji Habu, an aloof, legendary Japanese mountain climber who hasn’t been heard from in years. What started out as an interest in the camera evolves into an interest in Habu himself. Fukamachi feels compelled to learn all that he can about Habu, his reason for being in Nepal, and his connection to the camera. His search for answers leads him from Nepal back to Japan where he seeks out those who, for better or for worse, personally knew Habu.

The artwork in The Summit of the Gods is stunning, often bordering on photorealistic. I am not at all surprised that the series has won awards for Taniguchi’s art. Perhaps most striking is the depiction of the mountains themselves. Only small portions of them can ever be seen at any given time, but there is a sense that the mountains continue on far beyond the edges of the page. Taniguchi expertly captures the mountains’ massive presence in The Summit of the Gods. This is critical since they are such an important part of the story. The artwork’s realism also extends to the mountaineering gear and climbing equipment. Taniguchi pay s very close attention to accuracy and details. Every time the climbers attempt an ascent they are risking their lives. It’s difficult to forget this when Taniguchi shows that the only things keeping them “safe” are a rope and a handful of pitons. A single misstep or equipment failure could mean a climber’s death.

Much like Fukamachi, Habu absolutely fascinates me. He is by far the most developed character in The Summit of the Gods, Volume 1. This is understandable since he’s the subject of such an intense investigation. Habu is revealed to be an extremely passionate man and is frequently described as a climbing genius. It is that genius and seriousness that drives rifts between him and his fellow climbers. Socially, he is extremely brash and awkward. It is not until well into the first volume of The Summit of the Gods that a softer side of Habu is seen when Buntarou Kishi, a young climber who greatly admires Habu, is introduced. As unlikeable as Habu can be, I still find his story to be a compelling one. He keeps his distances and doesn’t express himself well, he’s blunt and insensitive, but he’s also honest and fervent. His characterization is exceptionally well done. I have now read The Summit of the Gods, Volume 1 several times and I still find it to be a tremendous and breathtaking work.

My Week in Manga: July 2-July 8, 2012

My News and Reviews

I was on vacation for most of last week, which basically meant that I was camping in the backwoods of Ohio with nearly thirty of my relatives. Even with no Internet connection and no cell phone reception, I was able to schedule a few posts for while I was away. First was the announcement of the From Eroica with Love Giveaway Winner, which also includes a short wishlist of out-of-print manga. I also posted June’s Bookshelf Overload. Finally, my review for Haikasoru’s first original anthology The Future Is Japanese is up. I was really looking forward to this release and was ultimately very satisfied with it. Because I was out in the middle of the woods, I’m sure that I missed out on most of the manga news from the past week. If there’s anything particularly exciting that I should know about, please let me know! One thing that I did catch: the call for participation for July’s Manga Moveable Feast focusing on the work of Clamp.

Quick Takes

Rurouni Kenshin, Omnibus 2 (equivalent to Volumes 4-6) by Nobuhiro Watsuki. The more I read of Rurouni Kenshin, the more I find myself enjoying the series. Watsuki does a fantastic job of incorporating historical reality into his historical fantasy. I particularly enjoy the inclusion “The Secret Life of Characters” sections which give some insight into Watsuki’s inspirations and story and character development. I’m liking the series a bit more now that Kenshin’s opponents, while still frequently over-the-top, are more realistic and slightly less bizarre. Kenshin is still easily my favorite character in the series. I was a little unsure of Rurouni Kenshin at first, but now I’m genuinely looking forward to reading more.

Strawberry Panic: The Complete Manga Collection written by Sakurako Kimino and illustrated by Namuchi Takumi. The Strawberry Panic manga has been discontinued in Japan, but this omnibus collects and translates everything that is available (including two chapters which were not previously available in English). The manga was my introduction to the Strawberry Panic franchise, which started out as a series of short stories. It’s a light, fluffy yuri fantasy, but I do enjoy it, even considering that the manga leaves off just as the story really starts to get going. The vaguely Catholic trappings of the all-girls schools are forgotten fairly quickly as the Etoile competition begins takes precedence in the story.

The Summit of the Gods, Volume 3 written by Baku Yumemakura and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi. The third volume of The Summit of the Gods serves very much as a transition. I would have liked to have seen more focus on the mountain climbing, but the volume is important to both plot and character development. It brings some resolution to Fukamachi’s obsession with Habu and provides the setup for the next major arc in the story—Habu’s astounding Everest attempt and Fukamachi’s decision to follow him. Taniguchi’s artwork is fantastic with stunning mountainscapes and detailed Nepalese cityscapes. This series is one of my favorites and I can’t wait for the next volume.

Basilisk directed by Fumitomo Kizaki. The Basilisk anime is an adaptation of the Basilisk manga which in turn is an adaptation of Fūtaro Yamada’s novel The Kouga Ninja Scrolls. The original novel is still my favorite version of the story by far. The anime does expand on some of the characters’ backstories in ways not found in either the manga or the novel, including giving an explicit reason behind the Kouga and Iga clans’ continued feuding. There are also some nice moments between Oboro and Gennosuke. Otherwise, the anime follows the manga very closely. However, the animation isn’t nearly as striking as Masaki Segawa’s artwork in the manga, which isn’t especially surprising but is still too bad. Oboro’s eyes in particular annoyed me.

Library Love: Jiro Taniguchi

Support manga, support your library!

Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Benkei in New York written by Jinpachi Mori and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi. I had a feeling that when the first chapter of Benkei in New York featured a very special dish of haggis, I was really going to enjoy the manga. I wasn’t mistaken. Although the chapters of Benkei in New York are chronological and feature recurring characters, each chapter easily stands on its own. The protagonist, Benkei, is a bit of an enigma. It’s never really explored in the manga why he’s become a killer-for-hire in addition to being an extremely talented art forger. I happen to like revenge stories, even when they’re not especially realistic, so Benkei in New York worked well for me. It’s got a great film noir atmosphere to it.

A Distant Neighborhood, Volumes 1-2 by Jiro Taniguchi. I absolutely loved A Distant Neighborhood and plan on buying a copy of both volumes of the series to own. Accidentally taking the wrong train after a business trip, forty-eight year old Hiroshi Nakahara finds himself heading back to his hometown on the anniversary of his mother’s death. He decides to visit her grave, ends up passing out, and suddenly he’s in the eighth grade again. While he may now be fourteen years old, he still has all the knowledge and vices of an adult. He also knows that at the end of the summer his father will disappear, and he wants to stop it from happening. A Distant Neighborhood is emotionally convincing as Nakahara struggles with his feelings of nostalgia, joy, guilt, and dread.

Icaro, Volumes 1-2 written by Moebius and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi. Icaro frustrated me immensely. I like the premise of the work—Icaro is born with the ability to fly by manipulating the gravitational fields around him and is raised more or less as a science experiment. Taniguchi’s artwork is as wonderful as always and his images of Icaro flying are fantastic. But ultimately I didn’t enjoy Icaro. Moebius mentions in his preface that he “removed the unnecessary.” He either removed too much or not enough. Plot elements are introduced but are never resolved or explained. There’s a love scene between the Lieutenant Colonel and her aide that serves no good purpose. Also, being able to fly doesn’t make a person invincible, Lieutenant Colonel!

The Ice Wanderer and Other Stories by Jiro Taniguchi. The Ice Wanderer and Other Stories collects six short manga by Taniguchi, all but one with a focus on man’s relationship with nature, and particularly the wilderness. The first two stories, the titular “The Ice Wanderer” and “White Wilderness,” are inspired by the work of Jack London. Personally, I’ve never been a huge London fan, but Taniguchi does a great job with the material. While they weren’t my favorite stories in the volume, they were both very good. Taniguchi’s winter landscapes are simply marvelous. Because so many of the stories deal with the wild, Taniguchi has plenty of opportunities to illustrate untamed terrains from high mountains to deep ocean.

The Quest for the Missing Girl by Jiro Taniguchi. After his best friend and fellow mountaineer dies in a climbing accident, Shiga vows to protect his wife and daughter. More than a decade later, Megumi has gone missing. Leaving his mountain refuge, Shiga travels to the city to find the girl. Living in the mountains has made him tough but the city holds its own sorts of dangers. As Shiga searches for Megumi he must also come to terms with the feelings of shame he holds over her father’s death. The pacing in The Quest for the Missing Girl is fairly slow, but the finale more than makes up for that. Parts of the ending are unbelievable but I don’t really care because, frankly, it’s awesome.

The Summit of the Gods, Volumes 1-2 written by Baku Yumemakura and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi. This is another series that I’ll definitely be picking up. The Summit of the Gods is a five volume award-winning manga adaptation of Yumemakura’s award-winning novel by the same name. Taniguchi’s illustrations are breathtaking and the attention he has given to the details is stunning. While in Nepal, the photographer and mountain climber Makoto Fukamachi happens across a camera that may have belonged to George Mallory. He becomes obsessed with learning more about it and the man who currently possesses it, Jouji Habu. My favorite parts of the manga are the actual climbs, but I find the rest of the story to be very engaging as well.

The Times of Botchan, Volumes 1-4 written by Natsuo Sekikawa and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi. I’m almost ashamed to say that I didn’t really enjoy The Times of Botchan. Taniguchi’s art is superb, but I had a difficult time really engaging with Sekikawa’s script. Although I appreciate what Sekikawa was trying to do, showing the times and inspirations of Meiji era literati, the vignettes were simply too fragmented for me. There is also a lot of name dropping; the English edition really could have done with some cultural notes. I’m fairly knowledgeable about Japanese literature and I still regularly felt lost. I did really like all of the judo bits that worked their way into the story, though.

Tokyo Is My Garden by Frederic Boilet and Benoit Peeters, with the collaboration of Jiro Taniguchi. I found Tokyo Is My Garden to be an interesting project. Taniguchi’s involvement was mostly limited to the grey tones in the artwork. I enjoyed Boilet’s illustrations, and for the most part I enjoyed the story, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to like the lead character David Martin. I’m not sure what it was about him that rubbed me the wrong way, but he irritated me. Maybe I was just jealous of a gaijin living in Tokyo who, when his life seems to be falling apart, somehow manages to pull everything together again. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the love story that is a major part of Tokyo Is My Garden, either. But at the same time, I was happy with how things turn out.

The Walking Man by Jiro Taniguchi. The Walking Man is such a lovely manga. You might not expect it from a collection of eighteen short comics about a man going on walks, but it is simply a joy. With relatively little dialogue, the reader must follow along with him on his paths in silence. The utter pleasure which he clearly feels during his explorations is almost inspiring. Reading The Walking Man made me want to slow down, take a look around, and really experience and pay attention to even the tiniest details of my surrounding environment. Taniguchi, too, devotes attention to the smallest details in his artwork, whether the man is traveling through the city or through more rural or wooded areas.

This post is a part of the Jiro Taniguchi Manga Moveable Feast.

A Zoo in Winter

Creator: Jiro Taniguchi
U.S. publisher: Fanfare/Ponent Mon
ISBN: 9781908007049
Released: June 2011
Original release: 2008

A Zoo in Winter is the most recent work by Jiro Taniguchi to be published in English. Originally released in Japan in 2008, the English edition was published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon in 2011. Taniguchi, an accomplished artist who has been nominated for and has won a number of awards, has been on my radar for quite some time. While A Zoo in Winter is not the first manga by Taniguchi that I have read (that honor goes to his short story “Summer Sky,” collected in the anthology Japan: As Viewed by 17 Creators, also published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon), it was the first full-length work of his that I had the opportunity to read. Taniguchi and his work is the focus of March 2012’s Manga Moveable Feast. I chose to examine A Zoo in Winter more closely for several reason, but primarily because it is semi-autobiographical. Additionally, Taniguchi often collaborates with other creators, but he both authored and illustrated A Zoo in Winter. I also thought that as a single volume A Zoo in Winter would provide a good introduction to Taniguchi and his work.

Eighteen-year-old Mitsuo Hamaguchi began working at Watanabe Commercial, a cloth accessories wholesaler in Kyoto, with the hope of becoming a product designer. But because that work is now done outside of the company, he is never given the opportunity. Instead, he spends most of his free time drawing, frequently visiting the nearby zoo to practice his sketch work. After an unfortunate incident with the boss’s daughter, Hamaguchi finds that continuing to work at the firm would be uncomfortable at best. And so he visits a friend in Tokyo who happens to know Shiro Kondo, a successful mangaka who is looking for another assistant. Hamaguchi is quickly put to work and is soon swept into a new way of life with long, hard hours and perpetually looming deadlines. Under Kondo and the other assistants’ care and guidance, Hamaguchi’s skills continue to improve. Eventually he would like to strike out and create a manga of his very own, but he’s discovering it to be much more difficult than he imagined.

Although he is the main character, Hamaguchi is frequently overshadowed by the other, more vibrant people in his life. He tends to be quite and reserved, but this makes him charmingly awkward. He is easily embarrassed, deals with youthful jealousy and competitiveness, and regularly broods. Hamaguchi is still very much a teenager and still has room to grow and mature. One of the recurring themes in A Zoo in Winter is the need for a person to have drive in order to do well and that that drive may take on many different forms. For much of A Zoo in Winter Hamaguchi lacks that focus and intense desire. Although he is shown to be a hard worker and is devoted to what he is doing, it is not until he finds his source of inspiration that he finally comes alive and finds the joy in creation. Hamaguchi’s development as a person and as a character in A Zoo in Winter is convincing and is handled naturally.

A Zoo in Winter is a quiet story. Some people may even find it boring, but I think its realism is what makes it work so well. While there may not be thrilling action sequences there is still plenty of interpersonal drama as Hamaguchi finds his place in the world. His relationships with other people and his own self-discovery provide much of the driving force behind the story. Taniguchi’s artwork, particularly his backgrounds, is also realistic and detailed. His draftsmanship is really quite impressive. Reading A Zoo in Winter gives a genuine sense of stepping back into the Tokyo of the late 1960s. My only complaint about the English edition of A Zoo in Winter is with how it has been flipped. Some of the individual panels, instead of being mirrored like the rest, remain as they were originally drawn. This means that the flow of images and dialogue can occasionally be awkward or difficult to follow. But it’s fairly easy overlook this flaw because other than that, A Zoo in Winter is an excellent volume. It’s a wonderful tale of a mangaka’s early beginnings and personal growth.