My Week in Manga: September 26-October 2, 2016

My News and Reviews

Although it is now October, there is still time to participate in September’s manga giveaway. This time around everyone has a chance to win Yona of the Dawn, Volume 1, the beginning of Mizuho Kusanagi’s shoujo fantasy epic! I came across a few interesting things online last week that I’d like to share: “Strip!”: The Manga Art of Anno Moyoco” at (once upon a time, I hosted the Moyoco Anno Manga Moveable Feast); The Lobster Dance posted The Sparkling World of 1970s Shojo Manga, Part 8 which focuses on the influence of The Rose of Versailles on Ouran High School Host Club and Haken no Osukaru; and Anne Ishii, manga translator and one of the founders of Massive, was featured on the fifteenth episode of Hey, Cool Job. There were a couple of license announcements from Viz Media that caught my eye, too: Ryoko Fukyuama’s manga Anonymous Noise will be released by Shojo Beat, and Haikasoru will be publishing the next three novels in Yoshiki Tanaka’s Legend of the Galactic Heroes!

Quick Takes

Goodnight Punpun, Omnibus 2Goodnight Punpun, Omnibuses 2-3 (equivalent to Volumes 3-6) by Inio Asano. The first omnibus of Goodnight Punpun was tremendous and left a huge impression on me. Likewise, the second and third omnibuses are incredibly well done. Goodnight Punpun is not always an easy series to read and can actually be pretty depressing and emotionally devastating. The direction of the story can often be anticipated simply by expecting that the most awful thing will happen at any given point. There are moments of joy, but for the most part the manga is a surreal and incredibly dark coming-of-age story. The worldview is extraordinarily pessimistic and bleak; most of the characters are miserable or broken in some way, and more than a few are frankly terrible people. And yet, I continue to find Goodnight Punpun to be a remarkable and compelling work even while it’s deliberately uncomfortable and heart-breaking. I find that I can empathize and even identify with most of the characters in at least some small way, which can actually be a little terrifying. Although Punpun is the series’ lead the second omnibus of Goodnight Punpun spends a fair amount of time delving into his uncle’s unfortunate past and one of the major perspectives explored in the third omnibus is that of his mother. Artistically, Asano portray’s Punpun and his immediate family more abstractly than the other characters except for during the more sexually-charged scenes, making them even more unsettling than they already are. I’m not entirely sure where Asano is going with the series or what sort of point he will ultimately make with all of the philosophical gloom, but I am willing to find out.

Princess Princess Ever AfterPrincess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill. Originally released online as a webcomic, O’Neill’s Princess Princess (not to be confused with Mikiyo Tsuda’s manga Princess Princess which is a completely different work) has now been collected in its entirety along with a new epilogue by Oni Press in a slim but beautiful hardcover edition titled Princess Princess Ever After. The comic is an absolute delight, suitable for younger readers but still enjoyable for adult audiences. After the dashing and daring Amira rescues from a tower the kind and thoughtful Sadie (with her permission first, of course), the two princesses travel together on an adventure aiding those they come across are in need of a bit of extra help. Eventually they must confront Sadie’s older sister who is the one who locked Sadie in the tower to begin with and who is an even bigger challenge than the ogre they faced while on their journey. Princess Princess Ever After is an incredibly sweet, adorable, and charming comic. Although Sadie and Amira encounter plenty of danger along the way, there really isn’t any question that they’ll get their happy ending. The comic is a lighthearted fairytale with a number of lovely twists on some of the standard tropes, most notably the romantic pairing of two princesses, neither of whom is the stereotypical damsel-in-distress, but there’s more to the story than just that. O’Neill’s artwork in Princess Princess Ever After is colorful, energetic, and cute, fitting the tone of the comic perfectly. While it’s nice to have a self-contained story, it’s almost a shame that the comic is so short and moves along so quickly; I would love to read more about Amira, Sadie, and their adventures together.

That Wolf-Boy is Mine!, Volume 1That Wolf-Boy is Mine!, Volume 1 by Yoko Nogiri. Though it’s not necessarily a new trend, ayakashi and yokai seem to be fairly prominent in many of the supernatural shoujo manga that are being licensed of late. I’m not especially bothered by this since I have a particular interest in yokai and tend to enjoy the subgenre. The presence of pretty spirit boys doesn’t hurt anything, either. But when I can easily name a half-dozen ongoing series with a similar elements (not to mention those that have already been completed), I do start to wonder what a new series has to offer that is different or unique. One of the most recent examples of a series of this type is Nogiri’s That Wolf-Boy Is Mine! from Kodansha Comics. After only one volume it hasn’t really set itself apart from other manga with ayakashi themes and it seems fairly typical for the genre, and yet it’s a very enjoyable beginning to a series. The story plays out pretty safely in the first volume and there are no real surprises, although there are hints that things might be more than they initially seem. The characters are generally likeable and endearing as well; I’m especially fond of the titular wolf-boy and his easygoing nature. While many of the characters are close to being “types,” they do have a bit more depth to them than may first appear. However, I would like to see a bit more development in the characters and their relationships as the series progresses. I do suspect that Nogiri will deliver, though. So, while I wasn’t blown away by the beginning of That Wolf-Boy Is Mine! by any means, I did like it. The manga is off to a good start and has potential. Even if Nogiri doesn’t move beyond well-worn tropes, I’m still interested in reading more of the series.

The Paper Menagerie and Other StoriesThe Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu. My introduction to the work of Liu was through his short story “Mono no Aware” which was collected in the anthology The Future Is Japanese. That story was enough to convince me to seek out more of his work. This turned out to be a wise decision as his debut novel The Grace of Kings was one of my favorite books from 2015. However, at least for the moment, Liu is probably best known and recognized for his shorter works which frequently earn him awards and accolades. Although The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is Liu’s second book to be published, it is his first compilation of short stories and novellas to be released. It’s an exceptional and well-thought out collection, bringing many of Liu’s award-winning stories together with some of his personal favorites. Normally when it comes anthologies of short stories I find that their quality and strength can significantly vary from one to the next. However, all fifteen examples of Liu’s work in The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories (which includes “Mono no Aware”) are excellent. Some are certainly more powerful pieces than others, but they are all engaging, meaningful, and thought-provoking. One of the things that particularly impressed me about The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is Liu’s ability to work in a variety of styles and genres. As a whole the collection tends to be fairly serious in tone and can be broadly described as speculative fiction, and Liu frequently incorporates aspects of Chinese and Asian culture and history, but there is still tremendous range among the individual stories. Even the stories which share common elements or themes are ultimately different from one another, offer fresh perspectives, and are each remarkable in their own way.

The Dandelion Dynasty, Book 1: The Grace of Kings

The Grace of KingsAuthor: Ken Liu
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781481424271
Released: April 2015

Ken Liu is a multi-award-winning author and translator (in addition to being a lawyer and software programmer), probably best known for his short fiction. I was aware of Liu’s work for quite some time before I actually read any of it. His award-winning short story “Mono no Aware”—one of my favorite contributions in the anthology The Future Is Japanese—was my introduction to his fiction and Liu quickly became an author who I made a point to follow. And so I was very interested to learn about his debut novel The Grace of Kings. Published in 2015 by Simon & Schuster’s new speculative fiction imprint Saga Press, the novel is the first of three books planned for Liu’s series The Dandelion Dynasty. Often described as a silkpunk fantasy epic, the novels are heavily inspired by Chinese history and the historical legends surrounding the Han dynasty, such as the extremely influential Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

The islands of Dara were once made up of seven independent kingdoms which were constantly at war with one another. Generations passed before one of the kings was finally able to conquer the others, for the first time uniting the lands to form a single empire. The newly-coronated emperor intended to establish a lasting peace among the lands of Dara, but power has a way of corrupting its wielder and his vision was ultimately overshadowed by his ruthlessness. There were great undertakings made for the good of the empire, but there was also great suffering. As the emperor ages and approaches the end of his life, the stirrings of rebellion begin. Two very different men will be caught up in the resulting wars, becoming leaders in the conflicts as the empire disintegrates: Kuni Garu, a seemingly carefree, small-time gangster, and Mata Zyndu, the last in a long line of legendary warriors and generals. Whether through fate, luck, or the will of the gods, together the two of them are destined to help shape and reshape Dara as it enters into a new era.

Over the course of The Grace of Kings, Kuni Garu and Mata Zyndu emerge as two of the most pivotal characters in the unfolding epic, but they are really only a small part of a much greater whole. Much like the historical legends that influence the novel, there are dozens upon dozens of named characters who play a significant role and whose actions, even those that seem inconsequential, will have a tremendous impact on the way events develop. Liu has established a complex world filled with differing cultures and traditions which are in conflict with one another. Government administration, politics, economics, commerce, social structures, history, religion, mythology, geography, agriculture, philosophy, education, innovation, technology and so much more have all been taken into consideration in the creation of The Dandelion Dynasty. And none of it exists in a vacuum. The interplay and intricate connections among all of these different aspects of Dara has been captured remarkably well; a simple change in one that may initially appear to be insignificant can trigger a chain reaction which has unexpected and far-reaching ramifications in the others.

The Grace of Kings recounts over two decades of Dara’s history and legends, following the people involved in the wars resulting from the collapse of the empire and the attempts made to establish a new order among the chaos. The story is told in short chapters, many of which at first don’t seem to be directly related, but they slowly build upon each other as more and more connections form. The Grace of Kings becomes increasingly complex as it progresses but the novel is still easy to read and follow, showing how the actions of a single person can dramatically change the course of history. The world of The Grace of Kings is so incredibly well-realized that it can be imagined how events would have turned out if any particular person’s decisions were made differently. Very few of the characters act maliciously without good reason and none could be described as evil for evil’s sake; what they do they do because they believe it to be right. But even so, sometimes the consequences are heartbreakingly tragic. The Grace of Kings is the beginning of a spectacular epic; the magnificent worldbuilding and diverse cast of believably flawed characters greatly impressed me.

The Future Is Japanese: Science Fiction Futures and Brand New Fantasies from and about Japan

Editor: Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington
Publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421542232
Released: May 2012

I have been impatiently waiting for The Future Is Japanese: Science Fiction Futures and Brand New Fantasies from and about Japan, edited by Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington, ever since the anthology was first announced. I already adore Viz Media’s Japanese speculative fiction imprint Haikasoru and will buy and read anything it publishes. However, I was particularly excited about The Future Is Japanese because it is Haikasoru’s first original publication. (I also hope that it isn’t the last.) I was thrilled when the book was finally released in 2012. The anthology collects thirteen stories from creators both East and West (primarily Japanese and American). All but two of the stories were being published for the first time. Just looking at the table of contents I was very pleased with what I saw. Most of the contributors to The Future Is Japanese are already award-winners in their own rights; those whose works with which I wasn’t already familiar I at least recognized by name. As an added bonus, the book’s cover illustration is by Yuko Shimizu, one of my favorite artists. The Future Is Japanese had a lot going for it from the very start.

After a foreword by Masumi Washington and an introduction by Nick Mamatas, The Future Is Japanese begins strongly with Ken Liu’s short story “Mono no Aware,” a meditation on impermanence wrapped in a science fiction tale of humanity’s survival at the edge of space. The next two stories were probably my least favorite in the collection although there were moments in each that I enjoyed tremendously. “The Sound of Breaking Up” by Felicity Savage starts as one story and ends up being an entirely different one. This frustrated me because I was more interested in the first. David Mole’s mecha tale “Chitai Heiki Koronbīn” ends too abruptly for my taste and seemed like it should be the introduction to a longer work. (Granted, one that I would like to read.) These are followed by “The Indifference Engine” by Project Itoh which explores war, hatred, and prejudice. Originally published in 2007, the story confirmed the fact that I want to read everything written by Itoh. The next story was one of my personal favorites in the anthology, “The Sea of Trees” by Rachel Swirsky, a haunting tale about death, ghosts, and letting go. Toh EnJoe’s story “Endoastronomy,” which follows next, has a philosophical and intellectual bent to it, something I enjoy about and have come to expect from his work.

The next selection, “In Plain Sight” by Pat Cadigan deals with the complications caused by artificial and augmented realities. The Future Is Japanese continues with “Golden Bread” by Issui Ogawa. I happen to be fond of Ogawa’s longer works and was not disappointed with his short story. Next is Catherynne M. Valente’s contribution, “One Breath, One Stroke” which is about yokai that live close to the human world. Written in a delightful but fragmented style, the work creates more of a mood rather than a cohesive story. Ekaterina Sedia’s near future and slightly melancholic tale “Whale Meat” follows. Next in the anthology is a selection from the extremely prolific Hideyuki Kikuchi. I actually preferred “Mountain People, Ocean People” over many of the other works of his that I have read. Following next is “Goddess of Mercy” by Bruce Sterling, one of the longer stories in the collection it is about the pirates and darkness that settle on Tsushima island after Japan is destroyed. The Future Is Japanese concludes with “Autogenic Dreaming: Interview with the Columns of Clouds” by TOBI Hirotaka. Originally published in 2009, the story won a Seiun Award in 2010. A complex story featuring a digitization project that has unexpected consequences, “Autogenic Dreaming” particularly appealed to my information science background.

As with most short story collections, how much a reader will enjoy each individual work in The Future Is Japanese will depend on personal preferences. Although I wasn’t blown away by the anthology, personally I found The Future Is Japanese to be a very satisfying read. The short story can be a difficult form to master, but even the works that I found problematic had their strong points. The stories do all tend to be serious in tone, but the collection covers a nice range of speculative fiction from fantasy to science fiction to horror. The Future Is Japanese also has a good balance between Western and Japanese authors. Appropriately enough for the anthology’s theme, even the Western works show Japanese influence, whether stemming from the writers’ personal interests or from the creators having lived in or visited Japan. Overall, The Future Is Japanese is a solid anthology that was well worth the wait.