My Week in Manga: May 21-May 27, 2012

My News and Reviews

Last week was the Oishinbo and Food Manga Moveable Feast, hosted by Khursten over at Otaku Champloo. Both of my posts last week had something to do with the Feast. First, I reviewed Oishinbo, A la Carte: Ramen & Gyōza, the third thematic Oishinbo collection to be released in English. I’m a foodie, so I really enjoy the series. My second post was Random Musings: Oishinbo and the Romance of Food in which I ramble on a bit about food, couples, and relationships.

Not too long ago, I read and reviewed Otaku Spaces,  written by Patrick W. Galbraith with photography by Androniki Christodoulou. Recently Néojaponisme posted a three part interview with Galbraith about the book and otaku in general. It’s lengthy, but a good read. Elsewhere online, David Letters has an engaging article about Crying Freeman, sex scenes, and such at 4thletter!—Cartoonishly virile, absurdly smooth: The Crying Freeman Story. Finally, RightStuf announced the next book in their print-on-demand manga service, the eighth volume of Bizenghast by M. Alice LeGrow.

Quick Takes

Bus Gamer: 1999-2001, The Pilot Edition by Kazuya Minekura. Toki, Nakajyo, and Kazuo are complete strangers that are hired to work together in a game of corporate espionage taken to the extreme. As far as I know, Minekura hasn’t been able to continue the Bus Gamer series although she has expressed interest in doing so. I’d love to see where she takes things; Bus Gamer has a solid start. The plot is a little bizarre, but I like the characters. I’m particularly fond of Kaz. He has some darkness in his past but has turned out to be very good natured and endearingly flaky. Although it’s only been hinted at so far, each of the young men have their own reasons for participating in what has become a deadly game.

Let Dai, Volumes 6-10 by Sooyeon Won. Dai absolutely terrifies me. Although no longer the leader of the Furies gang, he can still be incredibly violent. He does show brief moments of gentleness, but for the most part he scares the hell out of me (and quite a few of the other people in Let Dai.) And yet, he has this strange allure; people can’t help but be drawn to him, for better or, more often than not, for worse. One of the things that makes Let Dai so compelling, and so difficult to turn away from even though it’s almost traumatizing to read, is the complexity of the characters’ relationships and interactions. Some of the power dynamics are very strange. Occasionally the series can be a little melodramatic and angsty, but the resulting tragedies are very realistic.

Wonton Soup, Volumes 1-2 by James Stokoe. I was recently introduced to some of Stokoe’s current illustrations and was so smitten that I immediately sought out any and all of his published works, which is how I discovered his short series Wonton Soup. Johnny Boyo is famous for his culinary talent but he left that life behind to become a space trucker instead. Wonton Soup is a pretty gimmicky series, one of the characters even comes out and declares it as such, but there are some moments of brilliant entertainment mixed in. I much preferred the first volume to the second simply because it focuses slightly more on Boyo’s crazy cuisine. Ultimately, there’s not much substance to Wonton Soup, but Stokoe’s art is great.

Bodacious Space Pirates, Episodes 1-11 directed by Tatsuo Satō. Don’t let the title or the length of the skirts fool you, Bodacious Space Pirates is not at all the fanservice fest it looks like it might be. Instead, it’s an entertaining coming-of-age space opera that focuses on characters and storytelling. If anything, the story might be a little too innocent; the crew of the Bentenmaru are some of the nicest, most wholesome pirates I’ve ever seen. Still, I’m enjoying the show tremendously. Marika, a first-year in high school, discovers that she is the daughter of a space pirates after her father passes away. Even more surprisingly, she has been selected to succeed him as captain. Bodacious Space Pirates was such a fun, pleasant surprise. I’ll most likely pick up Sentai’s release.

Gin Tama, Collection 1 (Episodes 1-13) directed by Shinji Takamatsu. I’m a fan of Hideaki Sorachi’s original Gin Tama manga, so I was surprised how long it took me to warm up to the anime adaptation. Both series are quirky with plenty of absurd humor. The sheer amount of Japanese cultural references makes them a hard sell for a casual audience since they’re not immediately accessible. Additionally, the first two episodes of the anime require that the viewers already be familiar with the manga in order to make any sense of it at all. But eventually, the anime started to work for me. I found myself laughing at the jokes, even the ones that I already knew, and I genuinely had a good time watching the show.

Wild Adapter, Volume 1

Creator: Kazuya Minekura
U.S. publisher: Tokyopop
ISBN: 9781598169782
Released: February 2007
Original release: 2001

I initially came across Kazuya Minekura’s manga series Wild Adapter while looking for manga with references to mahjong. Later on I learned that the series has some pretty heavy shōnen-ai overtones to it as well, which I was just fine with. So I picked up Wild Adapter, read it, and fell in love with the series. That was also when I belatedly realized that Minekura was also the creator of the popular Saiyuki and Saiyuki Reload manga. I was pretty happy when the Wild Adapter series was selected for the June 2011 Manga Moveable Feast. Wild Adapter is currently six volumes long, all of which have been published in English by Tokyopop, plus a few chapters that have been serialized in Japan for the seventh book. However, due to Minekura’s rather serious health concerns, Wild Adapter and many of her other ongoing series are currently on hiatus. The first volume of Wild Adapter was released in Japan in 2001 while the English edition was published in 2007.

Seventeen-year-old Makoto Kubota is a highly skilled mahjong player and a natural leader, catching the eye of the Izumo syndicate who recruit him to head their youths. The Tojou organization, a rival yakuza group, encroach even more than they have been on Izumo’s territory, trying to take advantage of the newcomer’s inexperience. But Kubota proves to be a dangerous and deadly adversary. When a mysterious new drug known as W.A. hits the streets, both the Izumo and Tojou groups are interested in gaining control of it and its distribution. The police, too, are investigating since a string of bizarre corpses seems to be connected to the drug. For Kubota, the search for W.A. and for more information about it becomes a personal vendetta when he is forced to confront the risks involved head on.

There are several interesting things about Minekura’s artwork in Wild Adapter. Although occasionally seen, very little tone and shading is used, instead black and white starkly contrast with each other. The pages themselves are also black instead of the usual white. This aesthetic decision lends itself to the darker aspects of the story and also emphasises the loneliness and disconnectedness of the characters as the panels are visually separated as well. Minekura is not afraid of silence, either. The technique is used to capture the passage of time but also helps to focus the reader on important dialogue and distinct moments in the individual panels. Minekura’s balance and pacing between dialogue and artwork is excellent. Her character designs, while similar to those in some of her other series, are easily distinguished from one another in Wild Adapter. Close attention is paid to accurate body structures. Although realistic, occasionally the figure work can be vaguely disconcerting.

The first volume of Wild Adapter serves as a prologue to the series as a whole. Tokito, one of the main characters, only makes a brief appearance. Instead, the first volume focuses on and introduces Kubota, the other protagonist, primarily as seen through the eyes of his second-in-command in the Izumo Youths, Komiya. Komiya doesn’t even like Kubota to begin with and is reluctant to serve under a rookie outsider but he comes to admire and even fear Kubota, developing a tremendous sense of devotion. This intimate camaraderie is extremely important to Kubota who keeps everyone at a distance. Even though the first volume of Wild Adapter focuses on Kubota, he still remains much of an enigma. Extraordinarily difficult to read, he is a mess of contradictions; at times he is almost innocent, sweet, and kind but in a moment he can become cruel, brutal, and vicious. As one character describes him, “He’s an odd boy, but an absolute pleasure.” Love him or hate him, Kubota’s intensity and charisma are critical to Wild Adapter.

Random Musings: Mahjong, Kubota, and Wild Adapter

The very first thing we learn about Makoto Kubota in Kazuya Minekura’s Wild Adapter, even before we know his full name, is that he is an exceptionally talented mahjong player. For someone that is difficult to read, knowing this can provide some insight into his character. The qualities Kubota exhibits as a skilled mahjong player are demonstrative of his character and personality as a whole. I’ve been seriously playing mahjong, specifically riichi mahjong (which is the variant in Wild Adapter), for a little over a year now. I love the game but am admittedly still very much a beginner. As such, I have a tremendous amount of admiration for those players that do possess great skill.

Kubota’s mastery of the game is one of the many reasons that he captures the interest of the Izumo syndicate. While on the surface mahjong may at first appear to be mostly about luck, there is actually a huge amount of strategy involved, especially as players become more skilled. In many ways, you have to make your own luck. Mahjong requires mental flexibility, the willingness to change strategies, quick thinking, and the ability to make accurate deductions from limited information. Kubota is shown to exhibit these qualities throughout Wild Adapter. He is extremely intelligent and as I previously mentioned, difficult to read. Having a good “poker face” is valuable in mahjong because it keeps the other players guessing. Playing mind games and thereby manipulating the behavior of your opponents is a valid technique that of course has applications outside of mahjong as well. Kubota keeps everyone around him guessing, even those closest to him, and reveals very little information about himself. He is also exceptionally observant of others and his surroundings. So, while they might not be able to read him, he can easily read other people and anticipate their actions. He also makes it very clear early on in Wild Adapter that he is more than willing to play dirty, and not just at mahjong.

At one point in Wild Adapter, Jun Sekiya, one of the leaders of Izumo’s rival syndicate Tojou, makes a mahjong reference when he states “Riichi. Our ultimate wild card.” While the meaning behind his statement is fairly clear in context, and I knew what he was talking about, most people are probably not familiar with the term “riichi.” Riichi gives riichi mahjong its name and is one of the rules that sets it apart from all other variants. Under certain conditions, players may declare riichi when they only need one more tile to win the hand. It provides an opportunity to gain more points, sometimes incredibly so, but it also severely limits the players’ options for the rest of the hand. And so, Sekiya’s ominous declaration of “riichi” means that he is close to winning, but it also means that he is locked into one course of action. When riichi is declared in mahjong, there is always a perceptible change in mood at the table. Things get tense and people get nervous, especially if riichi is called early on in a hand. Opponents play even more carefully than they already have been and are very cautious with their discards.

Mahjong is both an offensive and a defensive game. It is very rare that any one player will be able to win every hand in a given match (I’ve certainly never seen it happen). Keeping that in mind, players have to constantly weigh the potential risks and benefits of their actions. Skilled players like Kubota are incredibly adept at this, knowing when to play aggressively and when to take a more conservative approach. Kubota’s aptitude for mahjong clearly makes him an extremely formidable opponent away from the table, too.

This post is part of the Wild Adapter Manga Moveable Feast.

My Week in Manga: June 13-June 19, 2011

My News and Reviews

I don’t have much to say news-wise about this past week, but I did post a couple of reviews. Oishinbo, A la Carte: Sake happens to be my first in-depth manga review for June. I love food and I love manga, so Oishinbo is a great match for me. The second review I wrote in part for the Japanese Literature Book Group—Kōbō Abe’s novel The Woman in the Dunes is a rather strange, but still compelling, story.

This week starts the Wild Adapter Manga Moveable Feast! I’ve been looking forward to this Feast since I love Kazuya Minekura’s Wild Adapter. Below, I have a few quick comments on the series as a whole. Later this week I’ll be talking a little bit about mahjong (it’s related, I promise) and will be reviewing the first volume in the series.

And one last thing! The dates and location for the next MangaNEXT manga convention have been announced: February 24-26, 2012 at the Sheraton Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey. MangaNEXT is the only manga specific convention that I know of, so I’m going to make a concerted effort to get there in February. Believe it or not, I’ve never actually been to any sort of convention before.

Quick Takes

Jazz, Volumes 1-4 written by Tamotsu Takamure and illustrated by Sakae Maeda. The relationship between Naoki and Narusawa is extraordinarily unhealthy and abusive. While this certainly makes for intense drama, it is not at all romantic. I wouldn’t even call it a love story, even though the manga presents itself as such. The first two volumes handle the situation in an interesting way, focusing on the turmoil of the characters’ emotions. Unfortunately, the last two volumes don’t seem to work as well once they’ve fallen in “love” with each other. Things don’t work perfectly for them, and they certainly still have their ups and downs, but I have a hard time believing in their relationship.

Ohikkoshi by Hiroaki Samura. Blade of the Immortal is one of my favorite manga series and so I was interested in reading other manga by Hiroaki Samura. Ohikkoshi is the only other of his works currently available in English and I’m very glad that Dark Horse published it. It’s a delightfully quirky, absurd, and odd manga. The titular “Ohikkoshi,” a peculiar romantic comedy with over-the-top tendencies, is followed by two unrelated short stories: the bizarrely ludicrous “Luncheon of Tears Diary” and the autobiographical “Kyoto Super Barhopping Journal.” Samura has no problem with breaking the fourth wall, often to hilarious effect. While this collection doesn’t really present opportunities for epic battles, Samura’s artwork remains wonderfully kinetic.

The Other Side of the Mirror, Volumes 1-2 by Jo Chen. While marketed as and often called manga, technically The Other Side of the Mirror is a manhua from Taiwan. I am a huge fan of Jo Chen’s artwork and so when I learned that she wrote a comic, I decided to pick it up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as good as I was hoping it would be. While the artwork is quite nice, the narrative is a mess. The story has potential and there are some lovely moments, but overall it’s fairly muddled. I much preferred the short stories included in the two volumes. Maybe Chen just wasn’t ready yet for a longer, more involved work (“The Other Side of the Mirror” was one of her first comics.) I do like the illustrations, though.

Wild Adapter, Volumes 1-6 by Kazuya Minekura. Although Kubota and Tokito are the series main characters, each volume of this manga features a secondary character around whom the story is framed. It’s an interesting narrative technique and it actually works quite well. The character and personalities of the young men are slowly revealed through the others’ perspectives. And while the exact nature of their relationship is never explicitly stated or revealed and is the subject of much speculation, it is obvious that it is a very close and intimate one. Wild Adapter is unfinished at six volumes (and a few chapters), the series having been put on hiatus due to Minekura’s health. I really do hope to see more in English, but now that Tokyopop is no more it is unfortunately unlikely.

Bullet Ballet directed by Shinya Tsukamoto. Goda, a successful commercial director, is completely taken aback by the suicide of his girlfriend of ten years. He can’t comprehend why she killed herself and has no idea where she even got the gun. He becomes obsessed with obtaining a gun of the same make and model—a desire that consumes him. But after reaching his goal his life becomes more complicated. In the process, he becomes entangled with a local gang and things can’t possibly end well for any of them. Filmed in black and white, Bullet Ballet is a visually interesting film even if it can be difficult to follow at times. I also happened to really like Chu Ishikawa’s industrial styled soundtrack

Tiger & Bunny, Episodes 8-12 directed by Keiichi Satou. The animation quality seems to be a little inconsistent in these later episodes, and the plot as well, but it is still a very fun series. I am very much enjoying Tiger & Bunny and I like the characters immensely. While the main plot is developing nicely, I particularly enjoy the side stories that feature a particular hero. In these episodes, we get a chance to learn a bit more about Origami Cyclone and Dragon Kid. I do wish Lunatic wasn’t pushed into the background so soon, though. There will be at least fifteen episodes to the series, but I hope to see more than that. I have a hard time believing everything will be able to be wrapped up satisfactorily in such a short period of time.