My Week in Manga: March 24-March 30, 2014

My News and Reviews

Posts last week at Experiments in Manga included a new manga giveaway as well as two new in-depth manga reviews! There’s still time to enter the giveaway, too. Head over to the Battle Angel Alita Giveaway to enter for a chance to win the first omnibus in Yukito Kishiro’s manga series Battle Angel Alita: Last Order. As for the reviews: I took a look at the most recent Moyoco Anno manga to be released in English, Insufficient Direction. It’s an autobiographical manga about her married life with Hideaki Anno and is quite funny. I adore Anno’s work, so was happy to learn a little more about her. I also wrapped up my Manga March Madness project. I was rather pleased that I managed to pull it off. Every weekend in March I reviewed a volume of Takehiko Inoue’s basketball manga Real. Since there were five weekends in March and I started with the first volume in the series, my last review for the project was for Real, Volume 5. I hope I was able to at least begin to express why Real is such a fantastic manga in my reviews, because it really is a phenomenal series.

Speaking of Takehiko Inoue, David Brothers, writing for Comics Alliance back in 2010, had a great article that was recently brought to my attention again—From Samurai to Shooting Hoops: Takehiko Inoue, Art Chameleon. As for other things found online: Nahoko Uehashi (the author of Moribito) won the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Author Award, which is a pretty big deal. As usual, Organization Anti-Social Geniuses had some great manga content last week. I particularly enjoyed What Manga Publishers Can Actually License in The US and Advice on Manga Editing, From Manga Editors. Tokyopop’s Stu Levy participated in a recent “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit. The daughter of Osamu Tezuka opened a drawer of her father’s desk that had been locked since 1985 and found some pretty cool stuff. And finally, I was pointed towards a brief biography of Takashi Nagasaki, who works closely with Naoki Urasawa.

Quick Takes

Berserk, Volume 37Berserk, Volume 37 by Kentaro Miura. I love the early story arcs of Berserk and continue to enjoy the series, so I’m always excited when another volume of the manga is finally released. After reading the thirty-seventh volume, I’m particularly anxious to get my hands on the next installment, whenever that may be. The battle between Guts and the rest of the crew against the sea god and its minions reaches its climax in this volume. They are aided by the merrow, Berserk‘s mermaids. Even though Miura’s version of mermaids is fairly traditional, though perhaps slightly more fish-like, I did like them. The thirty-seventh volume also contains a long flashback to Guts’ past as a young mercenary, which I particularly enjoyed reading. It’s set during a time when magic and the supernatural were more hidden and uncommon in the world, though hints of it could still be seen. The end of the volume also turns towards the current activities of Griffith’s army, which recently hasn’t had much prominence in the manga. After so much action and fighting, which I do enjoy, I’m very glad to see more story and plot development.

Black Sun, Volume 2Black Sun, Volume 2 by Uki Ogasawara. It’s been quite a while since I read the first volume of Ogasawara’s boys’ love manga Black Sun. I had a few issues with the story itself, mostly that the lead characters’ relationship moved a little too quickly from lust to possible love, but overall I thought the manga had good potential. I particularly liked the setting of Black Sun, a medieval fantasy inspired in part by the Crusades. Ogasawara’s artwork was also excellent, with particular attention given to the beautiful details of clothing and weaponry as well as attractive, muscular men. When I read the first volume of Black Sun I didn’t actually realize that it was a first volume. I appreciated it’s somewhat ambiguous ending, but was ultimately glad to discover that there was more to the series. The ending of the second and final volume is much less ambiguous, and much happier than I expected that it would be. Black Sun is part of Digital Manga’s 801 Media imprint, so unsurprisingly there is a fair amount of sex to go along with the plot. And Black Sun actually does have a plot. The relationship between Jamal and Leonard plays out against a backdrop of war and political intrigue.

From the New World, Volume 2From the New World, Volumes 2-3 written by Yusuke Kishi and illustrated by Toru Oikawa. I was very torn over the first volume of the From the New World manga. I absolutely loved its dark tone, but found the blatant, pandering fanservice to be a bit off-putting and out-of-place. Thankfully, the fanservice in the second volume is greatly toned down. The outfits worn by the young women are still fairly ridiculous and revealing, though, especially when compared to the male characters who tend to be covered from head to toe in oversized clothing. The lesbian sex returns in the third volume, but it makes much more sense within the context of the series than it did in the first volume. Part of this is because the worldbuilding has progressed significantly. From the New World suffers a little from large info dumps, but at least all of the information is new to the characters, too, so it’s not as egregious a problem as it could be. I’m still loving the actual story of From the New World. The series atmosphere is creepy and ominous, contrasting magnificently with what is supposed to be a perfect and pristine society. What humanity is willing to give up and the terrible steps that have been taken to maintain that system are now being revealed.

Swan, Volume 13Swan, Volumes 13-15 by Kyoko Ariyoshi. In Japan, Swan lasted for twenty-one volumes, only fifteen of which were released in English. It’s too bad that CMX folded before the series could be completely released. Swan is fantastic, and I’m very glad for the fifteen volumes that were translated. These last three volumes of the English edition follow Masumi as she travels to New York with Leonhardt to continue her study of ballet following the aftermath of the Tokyo World Ballet Competition. It’s the beginning of an important new story arc. Masumi has grown tremendously as a ballerina as well as a person, but her time in the United States presents new challenges. Her foundation is in classical ballet but now she is faced with modern ballet which is completely outside of her experience. She has trouble understanding modern ballet and so struggles greatly with its performance. Also introduced in these volumes are new characters and even a potential new love interest, which offers another set of problems for Masumi to deal with. Swan is a beautiful and surprisingly intense series; I was very impressed by it.

Arakawa2Arakawa Under the Bridge x Bridge, Season 2 directed by Akiyuki Shinbo. I enjoyed the first season of Arakawa Under the Bridge a great deal. I very much enjoyed the second season, too, but for some reason wasn’t quite as taken with it. I’m not really sure why that is though since not much really changed between the two. Arakawa Under the Bridge is still funny and absurd. I still like the humor and the characters. While the first season focused on Rec as he gets to know everyone living along the banks of the Arakawa River, everyone’s personalities and quirks have been well established by the start of the second. Maybe it’s that sense of newness and discovery that the second series lacks. But then again maybe not: the second season introduces new cast members as well as a storyline that provides an ongoing framework for some of the gags. (Ultimately it doesn’t really end up going anywhere, though.) One of the things that particularly amused me about the second season of Arakawa Under the Bridge is that Rec has more or less become a shoujo heroine, complete with flowers and sparkles. Nods to Riyoko Ikeda’s series are right at home alongside references to Fist of the North Star and other “manly” anime.

My Week in Manga: February 17-February 23, 2014

My News and Reviews

Two reviews posted last week! First up was Jeffery Angles’ Writing the Love of Boys: Origins of Bishōnen Culture in Modernist Japanese Literature. It’s a very interesting work examining the portrayal of male-male desire in Japanese literature in the early twentieth century. I discovered Writing the Love of Boys while looking for more information about Edogawa Rampo and his writing. The work even briefly addresses boys’ love manga, which I didn’t realize that it would when I first picked up the volume. The second review from last week was of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 4: Jaburo. I’ll be honest, since I wasn’t already a Gundam fan, I didn’t anticipate that I would be enjoying this series as much as I am. I’ve actually been quite impressed with the manga. Yasuhiko’s artwork is fantastic and the balance between the individual characters’ struggles and the war as a whole has been excellent. And It doesn’t hurt that Vertical’s edition of The Origin is simply gorgeous.

As for interesting things online: Matt Thorn received An unambiguous response from Asano Inio regarding the use of pronouns and has some final thoughts on the whole affair. I had somehow forgotten about Ryan Holmberg’s What Was Alternative Manga? column at The Comics Journal. The latest article examines Shinohara Ushio’s Action Cartooning. In the most recent House of 1000 Manga column, Jason Thompson uses the return of two boxes of manga amounting to 64 Pounds of Porn as a jumping off point to discuss some of the history of the publication of hentai and ecchi manga in English. Manga translator Amanda Haley was interviewed over at Organization Anti-Social Geniuses. In somewhat older news, but Brigid Alverson and Publishers Weekly now have bit more information about it—Digital Manga, Inc. to Publish Tezuka Backlist.

Quick Takes

Gangsta, Volume 1Gangsta, Volume 1 by Kohske. Other than having seen some of the artwork and having a rough sense of the series’ premise, I actually didn’t know much about Gangsta going into the first volume. It turns out that the manga is Kohske’s first series and it seems to be doing fairly well for her. At the very least, I can say that I’m definitely interested in reading more of Gangsta. Worick and Nicolas are two “handymen” who are brought in to deal, often quite violently, with people and situations that for one reason or another the authorities would rather avoid. The two men have dark pasts, ties to organized crime, and a very close relationship with each other, but only one volume in the details have mostly just been hinted at. I like Nic and Worick a lot, and am particularly interested in learning more about Nic and his background. At one point a mercenary, he’s an incredibly skilled and powerful fighter. He’s also a “tag” with superhuman abilities, considered to be a monster or freak by many. Worick can hold his own, too, though. They’re both badasses with attitudes. The supporting cast is also pretty great.

Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, Volume 1Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, Volumes 1-2 by Motoro Mase. In order to encourage the population to value life and increase social productivity, the National Welfare Act is passed. During inoculation, 1 out of 1,000 people are randomly injected with a nano-capsule that will kill them sometime between the age of 18 and 24. The day before they are scheduled to die, they receive death papers—Ikigami—so that they can prepare for their last hours. Ikigami follows those people and how they deal and cope with their impending deaths. It’s a grim subject matter, but handled well. The manga manages to show that even seemingly senseless deaths matter and can have a purpose—people can continue to influence others even after they are gone. At this point, Ikigami seems to be largely episodic. However, there is also an overarching framing story that ties everything together. Kengo Fujimoto is one of the government workers responsible for delivering Ikigami to those who are about to die. He struggles to come to terms with his work and the role he plays within the system as he (and therefore the readers) learn more about it.

The Manzai Comics, Volume 1The Manzai Comics, Volume 1 written by Atsuko Asano and illustrated by Hizuru Imai. I discovered The Manzai Comics due to the fact that it is written by the author of No. 6. It’s a five-volume series, but only the first volume was ever released in English. I was actually quite surprised by The Manzai Comics; it’s a rather delightful and amusing manga. And touching, too, as transfer student Ayumu struggles to overcome his hikikomori tendencies and is almost forcefully befriended by his new classmates. One of the major running jokes is that almost everything that Takashi says to Ayumu when taken out of context makes it sound like he’s hitting on him. When he’s talking about “doing it” and so on, he’s talking about becoming a manzai duo, not boyfriends. (Although it may very well be that Takashi is gay; it’s left as an ambiguous possibility.) In some ways, The Manzai Comics is like a boys’ love manga without actually being a boys’ love manga. People who are at least passing familiar with manzai stand-up comedy will probably get a little more out of it than those who aren’t, but that knowledge isn’t at all necessary to enjoy the story as a whole.

Swan, Volume 10Swan, Volumes 10-12 by Kyoko Ariyoshi. I am still absolutely loving Swan. The Second Annual Tokyo World Ballet Competition is drawing to a close, but the passion and intensity of the dancers is as strong as ever. They are all pushing themselves to the breaking point in order to give their very best performances. Ultimately the competition is too much for some of the dancers, both physically and emotionally, as they are confronted with their own limitations. These particular volumes of Swan emphasize the importance of a dancer’s personal strength and abilities, but also the importance of a dancer’s partner and their ability to work with, rely upon, and support each other. This extends beyond the realm of dance and spills over into the rest of their lives, as well. Years have passed since the story first began; it’s marvelous to see how much Masumi has changed and developed as the Swan has progressed, not just as a dancer but as a person. I like her even more now than I did the beginning. She’s gone through a lot of trials, pain, and suffering for her art, but she has also experienced great joy and satisfaction because of it.

Gatchaman CrowdsGatchaman Crowds directed by Kenji Nakamura. I am only vaguely familiar with the Gatchaman franchise and so wasn’t initially intending to watch Gatchaman Crowds, but after hearing nothing but good things about the series I decided to give it a try. I’m glad that I did because I ended up quite enjoying Gatchaman Crowds. Hajime Ichinose is the most recent member of the Gatchaman team, a group of humans and aliens granted superpowers in order to protect the planet from aliens that would do it and the population harm. She’s an extraordinarily vibrant and optimistic young woman, and at first I thought she was going to be terribly annoying, but Hajime turns out to be a fantastic character and is not nearly as naive as one might expect. Her presence on the team has a huge effect on the other members and they all begin to rethink what it means to be Gatchaman and what their roles as superheros should be. Basically, it’s a series about using your skills and talents to the best of your ability no matter who you are and how even dangerous powers (and technology) can be harnessed for good.

My Week in Manga: December 23-December 29, 2013

My News and Reviews

Last week I posted a review of Hinoki Kino’s manga No. 6, Volume 4. The series has been getting better with each installment and things are starting to get really good. I also wrote a little bit about some of the manga, comics, and fiction releases that for me were particularly Notable in 2013. It’s not exactly a “best of” list, and it isn’t exactly a list of my favorite manga of the year, either. Basically it’s a list of interesting releases from 2013. And speaking of 2013, there’s still time to enter the last manga giveaway of the year! Check out the 4-Koma for You manga giveaway for a chance to win the omnibus edition of Kiyohiko Azuma’s yonkoma manga Azumanga Daioh.

Quick Takes

FairyTail, Volume 33Fairy Tail, Volume 33 by Hiro Mashima. It’s the second day of the Grand Magic Games and it’s still not looking good for the two Fairy Tail teams, although some of their members have surprising victories. Unfortunately, considering their prior string of defeats, it’s not enough to make much of a difference this early in the tournament. There are some great battles and moments of humor in this volume, but I still don’t find the tournament arc to be as compelling as the arcs that came before it. New characters continue to be introduced; I particularly enjoyed the addition of Bacchus, a powerful wizard from the Quatro Cerberus guild. Personality-wise, he can be a bit of a drunken jerk and isn’t always particularly likeable. What caught my interest is that his style of magic is based on Piguaquan, a legitimate Chinese martial art. Not too surprising considering his name, Bacchus combines this with Zui Quan, or “drunken fist.” Granted, it’s the fictionalized version of drunken fist that requires the practitioner to actually be intoxicated, but this is fitting and meshes well with the existing magic systems in Fairy Tail.

SmugglerSmuggler by Shohei Manabe. Originally released in English by Tokyopop, Smuggler is now available in a new edition from One Peace Books. I missed the manga the first time around, and since it also received a live-action film adaptation, I was particularly curious to read it. Kinuta is a failed actor who has accumulated a fair amount of debt. In order to pay back what he owes he has been smuggling and illegally dumping cargo outside of Tokyo. What he didn’t initially realize was that he was helping to transport and dispose of dead bodies for the yakuza. And now that he does know, Kinuta owes the mob his life as well as his money. When a job goes terribly wrong and an extraordinarily dangerous assassin escapes on his watch, Kinuta suddenly finds himself pulled even deeper into Japan’s underworld. Smuggler is a dark and violent manga, quickly paced, and unrelenting. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. Smuggler held my interest, and there were some marvelously gut-wrenching scenes, but in the end I can’t say that the manga left much of a lasting impression on me.

Swan, Volume 4Swan, Volumes 4-9 by Kyoko Ariyoshi. I am still completely in love with Swan and am astounded that it has taken me this long to actually get around to reading it. The series is incredibly well done—it’s just so intense and passionate, not to mention beautifully drawn. I’m also learning a bit more about ballet and its history as I read, which I count as a bonus. There are quite a few themes being addressed in these particular volumes. One of the themes that is especially prominent deals with sacrifice and what people are willing to give up in order to pursue what the truly love. It’s not always an easy decision. As someone who was deeply involved in the performing arts (in my case music, not dance), it’s a conflict with which I can personally identify. The characters in Swan all have to struggle to find the balance between their lives as dancers and their relationships with other people. Matters of love and romance complicate things greatly, but they also serve as a source of inspiration for creative expression. Swan piles on the drama and it’s fantastic.

Wolfsmund, Volume 2Wolfsmund, Volume 2 by Mitsuhisa Kuji. While the first volume of Wolfsmund was violent and intense, the second volume is arguably even more so. In response to the rebellion gaining strength and numbers, the questioning of those trying to cross through the Wolf’s Maw at Sankt Gotthard Pass has become even more invasive and thorough. The gate’s overseer Wolfram—who is almost always shown with a terrifyingly pleasant smile on his face—seems to take particular delight in this. In order to get the information he needs, he’s more than willing to order the death or torture of a person no matter who they are. Cruelty isn’t limited to Wolfram. Even the rebellion’s heroes are capable of terrible deeds. I am a fan of dark historical manga, so Wolfsmund is right up my alley. Wolfsmund is definitely for mature readers. Considering its brutal nature (women and girls in particular suffer greatly in this volume) it’s not a series that I would recommend to just anyone. That being said, I am looking forward to the next volume.

My Week in Manga: November 18-November 24, 2013

My News and Reviews

I’ve never run a poll before, so I’m probably more excited about this than I should be, but you all currently have the opportunity to vote on my next monthly manga review project. I’ve narrowed it down to five different options—a mix of individual series and thematic collections—and am letting readers decide which manga I will be focusing on next. Check out the post for all the details. The poll will run through the end of November, so please come and vote!

Last week I posted my review of Hinoki Kino’s manga No. 6, Volume 3. I am very happy to be able to say that the series continues to improve. I’m really looking forward to the next volume. And for your reading pleasure, here are a couple of interesting articles that I happened across online last week: A Short History Of Japanese Sign Language (with a fascinating connection to manga) and Are Comics Too Hot For Apple?, about the impact of Apple’s inconsistent policies when it comes to digital comics, including manga.

Quick Takes

Darkside BluesDarkside Blues written by Hideyuki Kikuchi and illustrated by Yuho Ashibe. I think I’ve suspected it for a while, but reading Darkside Blues seems to confirm it—Kikuchi may have some great ideas and settings for his stories, but he can’t quite seem to focus long enough to pull them all together into something coherent. Darkside Blues features many of the elements that I’ve come to expect from Kikuchi’s work: a mix of near-future technology, magic, and bizarre horror; evil organizations bent on taking over the world, crushing those that would stand in their way; a tall, dark, and handsome (well, androgynously beautiful) anti-hero. I’m fairly certain the manga is related to Kikuchi’s Demon City universe, or at least it makes reference to it. There are some great scenes here and there, but the story as a whole is a mess and doesn’t make much sense. Kikuchi claims that the story is complete, but it feels like a small part of something much larger. However, I did like Ashibe’s artwork, and so will probably look into tracking down Bride of Deimos because of that.

Fairy Tail, Volume 32Fairy Tail, Volume 32 by Hiro Mashima. Now that the preliminaries are over, the Grand Magic Games proper have begun. Eight teams will be competing in the Games which consists of a mix of event challenges and battles. The teams themselves represent guilds that have been encountered in the series before as well as a few new ones. One thing that irked me a little was that there are actually two teams from Fairy Tail participating. That in itself didn’t bother me, but the fact that it was played up as a surprise (to both the readers and the characters) was unconvincing. Also, it has been established that Fairy Tail has always been one of the weakest guilds to participate in the Games, so I find it a little difficult to believe that not one but two teams made it past preliminaries this year. That annoyance aside, the event challenge in this volume was actually pretty interesting. I appreciate that the players have to put some actual thought and strategy into it instead of simply relying on who can out-magic the other. Magical skill certainly helps, but being clever is important, too.

I'll Be Your SlaveI’ll Be Your Slave by Miki Araya. I’ll admit it. I laughed. Several times. Out loud, even. I’ll Be Your Slave is so incredibly ridiculous, and intentionally so, that I just couldn’t help it. Moriya is having a difficult time finding the perfect model for his project when he happens across Ouno, a beautiful but extraordinarily lazy teenager. Fortunately, Ouno’s job will basically amount to him sitting around and looking pretty. He’s easily tired and loses interest in things quickly, but if he doesn’t want to put the effort into doing something he simply lets someone else do it for him. (This even includes walking from place to place.) Moriya is more than willing to pamper Ouno. Mopping up sweat? Check. Foot massages? Check. Sex? Sure, why not! I’ll Be Your Slave is definitely more of a comedy than it is a romance. The humor is great and the over-the-top reaction shots—complete with dramatic poses and bursts of sparkles—are hilarious. The characters admittedly don’t have much depth to them, but that’s also part of what makes the manga so funny.

Swan, Volume 1Swan, Volumes 1-3 by Kyoko Ariyoshi. While I appreciate and admire dance and dancers, and even watch dance performances from time to time, I’ve never had a particular interest in ballet. That’s probably the primary reason that it took me so long to get around to reading Swan. (It’s also out of print and some of the volumes can be a little hard to find.) But, I kept hearing how wonderful Swan was, so I finally made a point of seeking it out. I should have done it sooner, because it really is a fantastic series. I may not be a dancer but I am a trained musician; there are many parallels between the two arts seen in Swan with which I can personally identify. The importance of basics. The grueling practices that push the body, mind, and soul to their breaking points. The good-natured competition and the vicious rivalries. The passion, drama, frustration, and desire that go hand in hand with creative expression. The complete joy experienced with success and the utter despair felt at failure. Swan is incredible; I can’t wait to read more.