My Week in Manga: November 14-November 20, 2016

My News and Reviews

Nothing except the usual My Week in Manga feature was posted last week at Experiments in Manga. I was hoping to have my random musings on Ichigo Takano’s Orange ready for November, but the month has been particularly stressful and energy-draining so at this point it looks as though December will be far more likely. Hopefully, I’ll have an in-depth feature of some sort to share soon. I also have my list of notable release from 2016 to work on, too!

There is one thing from last week that I’m very excited for–the most recent Sparkler Monthly Kickstarter! The campaign is raising funds to support the print edition of Heldrad’s highly-amusing send-up to shoujo manga Orange Junk. I greatly enjoyed the first volume of Orange Junk, which I’ve previously reviewed, but the series gets even better as it goes along. Never read any of Orange Junk? Give it a try over at Sparkler Monthly and if you like what you see please consider contributing to the Kickstarter!

Quick Takes

Ajin: Demi-Human, Volume 3Ajin: Demi-Human, Volumes 3-8 by Gamon Sakurai. For a variety of reasons, while I’ve continued to stockpile Ajin, I’ve been rather lax when it some to actually reading the manga. The eighth and latest volume in English was released relatively recently, so I figured it was probably about time that I finally got around to catching up with the series. In retrospect, I’m actually kind of glad that I had a whole stack of Ajin to read all at once. The manga generally tends to be very quickly paced so it was nice to be able to move directly from one volume to the next in succession. Ajin is best, both in art and in storytelling, when there’s action going on. Sakurai’s fight sequences are tremendously dynamic and exciting. The use of the demi-humans’ immortality and black ghosts can actually be quite clever at times, too. While the series continues to be exceptionally violent and brutal, it doesn’t seem to be as gruesome and grotesque as it once was when the demi-humans were shown to be the subjects of live experimentation. The story can be a little heavy-handed, especially when it comes to government corruption and the revelation of everyone’s tragic backstories, but the psychological elements do tend to be handled well in spite of this.

Happiness, Volume 1Happiness, Volume 1 by Shuzo Oshimi. I’m not especially interested in vampires and they seem to have been so overdone lately that there often has to be some sort of extra impetus for me to actually pick up a vampire manga. In the case of Happiness, the additional push that was needed came from the fact that Oshimi is also the creator of The Flowers of Evil, a manga series which left a pretty big impression on me. Oshimi is incredibly skilled at establishing the mood and atmosphere of a series. Happiness is about Okazaki, a bullied high school student who survives being attacked by a vampire only to become one himself. The pacing of Happiness is leisurely, showing only the first few days of Okazaki’s new existence as he struggles to adjust to his emerging symptoms. Given how the first volume unfolds, Okazaki’s descent into vampirism can easily be read as a metaphor for puberty and sexual awakening; it will be interesting to see if the manga continues in that direction. Happiness has an underlying sense of eroticism mixed in with its horror which, at least in my opinion, is exactly how a vampire story ought to be. There is also a fair amount of angst in the manga, something that I’ve come to expect from Oshimi’s work.

Kitaro, Volume 2: Kitaro Meets NurarihyonKitaro, Volume 2: Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon by Shigeru Mizuki. I am still absolutely thrilled that more of Mizuki’s Kitaro manga is being released in English. However, I was a little sad that the second volume of Drawn & Quarterly’s new series didn’t include the same sort of bonus activities that were present in the first. Those were fun. But then again, Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon is plenty of fun in and of itself. In addition to an opening essay and a closing set of yokai files by the series’ translator Zack Davisson,  the volume collects seven of Mizuki’s short Kitaro manga, most of which are from the latter part of the 1960s although one is from the late 1970s. Generally when I think of yokai, I think of traditional Japanese folklore. However, the term can also be applied more broadly. In Kitaro, Mizuki doesn’t limit himself and incorporates mythology, urban legends, and popular culture from both within and outside of Japan. For example, in Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon, a descendant of Dracula plays a very important role in one of the stories. Sometimes the results are more cohesive than others, but I particularly enjoy and find it interesting how Mizuki is able to meld seemingly disparate elements and traditions together.

Nekogahara: Stray Cat Samurai, Volume 1Nekogahara: Stray Cat Samurai, Volume 1 by Hiroyuki Takei. Best known as the creator of Shaman King (which I somewhat surprisingly haven’t actually read yet), one of Takei’s most recent manga series is Nekogahara. Story-wise, it’s a fairly familiar tale of a ronin wandering the country, doing good deeds while trying to outrun past tragedies. There are numerous manga, novels, anime, and film that follow a similar premise. What makes Nekogahara stand out from all of those is that all of the principal players are literally cats. Granted, they’re cats dressed in kimono, carrying swords, and so on. Humans exist in Nekogahara, too, more or less as the daimyo, though they are generally discussed rather than seen. The lead of Nekogahara is Norachiyo, a scarred tom who was once a kept cat but who is now living his life as a stray. He is an extremely capable fighter and legend has it that he once even killed a person. Both the story and the visuals of Nekogahara rely on chanbara tropes. The actual flow of movement and action can sometimes be difficult to discern, but overall the artwork and character designs are rather stylish. Nekogahara is played fairly straight, but the characters’ more cat-like behaviors do bring levity to the manga.

The Black Cat Takes a Stroll: The Edgar Allan Poe LecturesThe Black Cat Takes a Stroll: The Edgar Allan Poe Lectures by Akimaro Mori. Bento Books doesn’t release very many titles, but the publisher’s books tend to be interesting so I make a point to keep an eye out for them. The Black Cat Takes a Stroll is one of Bento Books most recent releases. In addition to being the first volume in Mori’s Black Cat series, it was also the winner of Japan’s inaugural Agatha Christie Award for mystery fiction. The book collects six largely episodic but related short stories featuring the Black Cat, a young but respected professor specializing in aesthetic truth, told from the perspective of his personal assistant, a female graduate student whose research focuses on Edgar Allan Poe. I really wanted to like The Black Cat Takes a Stroll more than I actually did. I love the series’ basic concept and all of the literary and cultural references found in the stories. Sadly, the mysteries come across as trying too hard to be intellectual or overly academic and their solutions are frequently convoluted and coincidental. In addition to that, despite having a few charming and endearing quirks (such as his fondness for strawberry parfaits), the Black Cat tends to be infuriating more than anything else, misusing his intelligence in a way that is deliberately cryptic and intentionally manipulative of both the narrator and readers.

Kitaro, Volume 1: The Birth of Kitaro

Kitaro, Volume 1: The Birth of KitaroCreator: Shigeru Mizuki
U.S. publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
ISBN: 9781770462281
Released: May 2016
Original release: 1966-1968

In 2013, comics publisher Drawn & Quarterly released Kitaro a volume collecting stories from Shigeru Mizuki’s most well-known and beloved manga series GeGeGe no Kitaro. I absolutely loved the collection and so I was thrilled when Drawn & Quarterly announced that it would be publishing more of Mizuki’s GeGeGe no Kitaro in English as part of its Enfant line of kids comics. The Birth of Kitaro, released in 2016, is the first of seven planned Kitaro volumes with stories selected, with input from Mizuki, by the manga’s translator and yokai scholar Zack Davisson. The Birth of Kitaro collects seven stories originally published in Japan between 1966 and 1968, an essay about the history of Kitaro as well as an additional guide to yokai written by Davisson, and an utterly delightful section devoted to yokai-themed activities such as a word search, a maze, and several matching games among other fun challenges.

The tales in The Birth of Kitaro begin with the origin story of Kitaro, a powerful and mostly benevolent yokai boy. (“The Birth of Kitaro” also explains why his father, Medama Oyaji, is a disembodied/embodied eyeball.) The chapter was first published in the influential alternative manga magazine Garo. The other six stories chosen for the collection were created with a slightly younger audience in mind and were serialized in Shonen Weekly and as well as the magazine’s special edition. The second chapter, “Nezumi Otoko versus Neko Musume,” introduces one of the series’ primary recurring characters. Nezumi Otoko, one of Kitaro’s yokai friends even though he is a bit of jerk, tends to either cause trouble or get himself into trouble, needing to be chastised or rescued by Kitaro depending on the circumstances. The other stories included in The Birth of Kitaro are “Nopperabo,” “Gyuki,” “Yokai of the Mountain Pass,” “Makura Gaeshi,” and “Hideri Gami.”

The Birth of Kitaro, page 43As much as I loved Drawn & Quarterly’s original Kitaro collection, I think that I may love The Birth of Kitaro even more. All of the stories selected for the volume are a little bit creepy, a little bit scary, and a little bit gross, but they are also a great deal of fun and can be rather funny, too. I had actually forgotten just how amusing Mizuki’s Kitaro manga could be; the mix of scariness and silliness in the series is marvelous. Mizuki has a terrific sense of humor and comedic timing, perfectly balancing the chuckles with the chills and thrills in the manga collected in The Birth of Kitaro. The horror and the humor work together to create an incredibly enjoyable read. It also doesn’t hurt that Kitaro is a likeable lead to begin with, and that the supporting characters like Nezumi Otoko and Medama Oyaji, with their distinctive personalities and entertaining interactions, add a tremendous amount to enjoy in the series as well.

Mizuki’s Kitaro manga is steeped in yokai lore which I love. Other readers picking up The Birth of Kitaro may not be as familiar with Japan’s mysterious monsters and phenomena, but the volume is still very approachable and accessible. The stories themselves provide an entertaining introduction to yokai (from time to time even Kitaro must do a bit of research in order to effectively confront and deal with troublesome spirits) and for readers who are curious to learn more, Davisson’s “Yokai Files” are an informative addition to the volume. The Birth of Kitaro is an excellent all-ages manga, suitable for younger readers who enjoy a bit of a scare and supernatural excitement while still being entertaining and appealing for adults. It’s also a wonderful overall package, with fun and games, the manga itself, and background information all together in one place. The new Kitaro series in English is off to a fantastic start with The Birth of Kitaro; I can’t wait for the next volume to be released.

Thank you to Drawn & Quarterly for providing a copy of The Birth of Kitaro for review.


KitaroCreator: Shigeru Mizuki
U.S. publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
ISBN: 9781770461109
Released: August 2013
Original release: 1967-1969

Over the last few years I have become increasingly interested in yokai—Japan’s supernatural beings and monsters of myth and legend. When it comes to yokai manga the most influential creator in Japan is Shigeru Mizuki. His most famous series GeGeGe no Kitaro is considered a classic and continues to inspire others. I was absolutely thrilled when Drawn & Quarterly announced that GeGeGe no Kitaro had been licensed in English. Kitaro, released in 2013, collects stories from the first few volumes of Mizuki’s GeGeGe no Kitaro published in Japan between 1967 and 1969. Also included in Drawn & Quarterly’s Kitaro is an excellent introduction by Matt Alt (one of the co-authors of Yokai Attack!) and a yokai glossary by Zach Davisson, both of which are particularly useful for readers who aren’t familiar with Kitaro or yokai, but which should also be interesting for those who are more knowledgeable.

“It is said that when the crow caws thrice, and the frog responds twice, the appearance of Kitaro is imminent.” Kitaro of the Graveyard, a one-eyed yokai in the form of a young boy whose ways are mysterious and who wields great spirit powers. Generally a friendly sort of fellow, Kitaro helps protect people from more malicious yokai although unscrupulous humans might find themselves on the losing end of an encounter with him as well. Sometimes working alone and sometimes enlisting the help of other yokai, Kitaro’s adventures take him all over Japan, everywhere from its most densely populated cities to its most remote islands and beyond. It is part of Kitaro’s mission to defeat evil yokai. The spirits and monsters that he faces will take all of the esoteric knowledge and supernatural skills he has to vanquish them, not to mention a little luck.

The stories in Kitaro tend to be episodic and vary in length—most are around fifteen pages while the longest could easily be collected as their own graphic novels. Although the stories aren’t directly related, many share recurring characters. The most notable are Kitaro himself, his father Medama Oyaji—an eyeball with a body who resides in Kitaro’s empty eye socket and enjoys a good teacup bath—and Nezumi Otoko—a half-human, half-yokai troublemaker and sometimes friend. Mizuki was inspired by more than just Japanese folklore when creating Kitaro. In addition to traditional yokai and his own imagination, popular culture and more modern kaiju were also important influences. Even monsters from Western literature, film, and mythology make an appearance. As a result, Kitaro is a lively amalgamation of sources.

I found Kitaro to be utterly delightful. Although it is a horror manga dealing with powerful supernatural creatures and featuring some legitimately creepy scenarios, Kitaro is also very funny and even cheerful in tone. Kitaro does seem to gain abilities as is convenient to the story, but it is still amusing to see how he manages to get out of precarious situations. It can be a bit silly at times, and on occasion deceptively simple and straightforward, but Kitaro is also a great deal of fun. Because of its episodic nature there isn’t much plot or character development, but Mizuki’s creations are still memorable. I particularly appreciate all of the different traditions he draws from to create a tale that is distinctly his own. I loved Kitaro and enjoyed the volume immensely. I sincerely hope that Drawn & Quarterly will be able to release more of the series.