My Week in Manga: January 30-February 5, 2017

My News and Reviews

Last week at Experiments in Manga the winner of the Please Tell! Me Galko-chan manga giveaway was announced. The post also includes a fairly comprehensive list of the full-color manga and manhwa that have been released in print in English. (However, I just now realized that I neglected to include manga like Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira and Buronson and Tetsuo Hara’s Fist of the North Star which, while not originally illustrated in full-color, had some full-color editions released in English.) Otherwise it was fairly quiet week, but I am well on my way to completing an in-depth review for February. Happily, my goal to write at least one long-form feature every month so far seems achievable.

I wasn’t actually online much at all last week (things were pretty hectic at work and there are always a fair number of taiko and lion dance performances I’m involved in around Chinese New Year) but there were still a few things that caught my attention: Vic James wrote an essay for about Yukio Mishima and Forbidden ColorsThe One Book That Made Me Move to Japan. (Mishima fascinates me and was actually my introduction to Japanese literature; I’ve reviewed quite a few books by and about him.) The most recent issue of Words without Borders is devoted to international graphic novels. Also, Digital Manga’s Juné imprint announced two new print licenses (Psyche Delico’s Even a Dog Won’t Eat It and Choco Strawberry Vanilla) as well as its upcoming Kickstarter project to publish the first volume of Velvet Toucher’s Eden’s Mercy.

Quick Takes

Bloom into You, Volume 1Bloom into You, Volume 1 by Nakatani Nio. I’ll have to admit, recently I’ve grown a little weary of high school romances. Even so, I was still very interested in reading Bloom into You, one of Seven Seas most recent yuri series. Specifically, I was curious about the manga’s treatment of aromanticism, something which I haven’t seen many series address. Yuu has never fallen in love and so she is glad to meet Nanami, an upperclassmen who likewise has never felt that way about anyone before. Finally Yuu has someone she feels comfortable confiding in about it except that Nanami is now falling in love with her. One of the things that I really appreciate about Bloom into You is how considerate and respectful Nanami is of Yuu’s feelings (an exception being a stolen kiss). It’s also obvious that they both care about each other, even if Yuu hasn’t yet experienced the romantic spark that Nanami has only recently found for herself. The two of them actually communicate, too, so there’s none of the silly misunderstandings that plague so many other series that would easily be solved if the characters would simply talk to each other. I would definitely like so see how Yuu and Nanami’s relationship continues to develop from here.

Franken Fran, Omnibus 3Franken Fran, Omnibus 3-4 (equivalent to Volumes 5-8) by Katsuhisa Kigitsu. Despite what the cover illustrations would seem to imply, Franken Fran isn’t particularly heavy on fanservice. Granted, there is some nudity in the series, but it’s generally more discomfiting than it is titillating. Franken Fran is a manga that delights in making its readers uncomfortable. But although it is frequently gruesome and grotesque, the quirky horror is accompanied by a great deal of humor as well. Kigitsu uses actual medical and scientific phenomenon as inspiration but takes them to such logical and illogical extremes that they become almost unrecognizable. The horror in Franken Fran works as well as it does because there are these little kernels of truth underneath it all. For the most part Franken Fran tends to be episodic although the stories can largely be categorized by recurring types, settings, and characters. For example, there are numerous chapters based in Fran’s school as well as a set of quickly escalating stories about the supposedly superheroic Senitals. More characters are introduced as the series progresses, too, including Fran’s incredibly crass, vulgar, and homicidal older sister Gavril.

Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, Omnibus 5Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, Omnibus 5 (equivalent to Volumes 9-10) by Satoshi Mizukami. It’s been quite a while since the last omnibus of Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer was released. I’m not entirely sure why it took me so long to finally get around to reading it though since there was so much about the series that I enjoyed. The ending of the series was pretty great. It was immensely satisfying to see the Beast Knights pull together for the final battle against Animus as a tightly knit team, surpassing everything that they’d previously accomplished. They are a group of troubled outsiders who have established a tremendous and lasting bond with one another despite, or maybe because of, their differences. As weird a manga as Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer can be–and it can be very weird (which is admittedly something that I like about the series)–it still manages to have a surprisingly deeply resonant core. If it wasn’t already clear, the conclusion of the series’ makes its theme explicit. Underneath the psychic powers and supernatural battles is a story about growing up regardless of how old someone actually is, about survival in the face of the worst that life can throw at somebody, and about forming meaningful connections with others.

My Week in Manga: March 28-April 3, 2016

My News and Reviews

A couple of different things were posted at Experiments in Manga last week. For starters, since it’s the end of one month and the beginning of another, it’s time for another manga giveaway! There’s still an opportunity to enter for chance to win the first omnibus of Akiko Higashimura’s wonderful Princess Jellyfish. I also posted an in-depth review last week of The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa, which is an engaging work in addition to being surprisingly entertaining and humorous. Fukuzawa helped to shape modern-day Japan; I was inspired to pick up his autobiography after reading Minae Mizumura’s The Fall of Language in the Age of English.

Quite a few Kickstarter projects have caught my attention over the last week or so. I’m especially excited to see that Sparkler Monthly has launched a campaign to release the first volume of Jenn Doyle’s Knights-Errant in print. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund launched a project for She Changed Comics, a book that will profile women comics creators from around the world, including Moto Hagio, Machiko Hasegawa, Rumiko Takahashi, the Year 24 Group, and others. There’s an illustration zine inspired by and dedicated to gay manga called Burl & Fur that looks like it will be amazing. As promised, Digital Manga’s most recent classic manga Kickstarter is for a non-Tezuka title—Izumi Matsumoto’s Kimagure Orange Road. Finally, I wanted to take the opportunity to mention the campaign for the North American release of the Skip Beat! anime again. The series needs financial support in order to be dubbed, which is a requirement by the licensor for its release.

Quick Takes

CaramelCaramel by Puku Okuyama. The cover art of Caramel makes it look like a cute and sweet boys’ love one-shot, and at times that’s exactly what it is, but there’s enough about the story and the leads’ relationship that’s dubious and questionable that overall I can’t say that I really enjoyed it all that much. Part of the point of Caramel is the contrast between the two main characters, Roku and Iori, each of whom is childish in his own way. Roku is a successful businessman who is afraid of the dark and picky about his food. Iori has just moved to Tokyo to begin his first year of university, and being younger has had less experience in life and love. I think most of my annoyance with Caramel stems from Roku—I have little patience for and a difficult time sympathizing with adults who exhibit such an astounding lack of self-responsibility, not to mention that he’s an utter creep at first. I have no idea how he even survived before Iori became his roommate and eventual lover. Iori, on the other hand, I found to be much more likeable. He’s the oldest of four siblings and so has developed into a very responsible young adult. Iori also loves to cook and I liked how food was incorporated into Caramel.

Livingstone, Volume 1Livingstone, Volume 1-2 written by Tomohiro Maekawa and illustrated by Jinsei Kataoka. I’m not especially familiar with Maekawa, a respected playwright and director, but I recognized Kataoka as one of the creators of the manga series Deadman Wonderland. One of Maekawa’s short plays provides the inspiration for Livingstone, a largely episodic manga exploring themes of life, death, and the human soul. The series follows Sakurai and Amano who help to collect and preserve psycholiths, stones that are the physical manifestations of human souls after they have left their respective bodies. Though at this point frustratingly incomplete, I find the worldbuilding in Livingstone to be one of the most fascinating aspects of the manga, especially in regards to souls. There are a limited number of souls and the world is beginning to run out so that some people, like Amano, are born without them, which is one reason that the work of psycholith collectors is so important. Additionally, souls that are irrevocably damaged at the end of a person’s life will shatter, leaving behind psychic stains that will continue to contaminate others unless the cycle can be stopped.

Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, Omnibus 3Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, Omnibuses 3-4 (equivalent to Volumes 5-8) by Satoshi Mizukami. I’m definitely behind in reading Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer but I do enjoy the manga. It’s a rather peculiar series with oddball characters who are in the position to either save the world or destroy it—the line between heros and villains can be very thin. Most of the characters have something dark or tragic about their pasts, so their feelings about the world and the other people in it are understandably conflicted. Tragedy isn’t limited to their pasts, either. These two omnibuses include multiple deaths that have great impact, as well as other moments of pain and devastation. But the characters also grow and overcome many of these challenges, becoming stronger mentally and emotionally as well as physically. There are betrayals, both real and imagined, as well as love confessions as friendships and relationships change, some characters drifting apart while others are realizing that people might not be so bad after all. All of this interpersonal drama plays out against the backdrop of a literal battle against monsters as the series ramps up the danger in preparation for its finale.

My Week in Manga: March 30-April 5, 2015

My News and Reviews

An interesting variety of things was posted last week at Experiments in Manga. First of all, I had the privilege and opportunity to announce one of Sparkler Monthly‘s most recent additions, Kôsen’s Lêttera, a three-volume comic that was originally published in Spain. The winner of the Yukarism giveaway was announced last week as well. The post also includes a list of manga that feature reincarnation. As for reviews, I took a look at Akira Arai’s debut novel A Caring Man which shared the inaugural Golden Elephant Award grand prize with Fumi Nakamura’s Enma the Immortal. Whereas Enma the Immortal is historical fiction with fantastical elements, A Caring Man is a contemporary crime thriller that by and large is very believable. Finally, over the weekend I posted March’s Bookshelf Overload, which features a slightly less absurd amount of manga than most months.

Elsewhere online, Organization Anti-Social Geniuses has been posting some great manga-related content, including recording of a panel with manga editor and letterer Abigail Blackman from the Castle Point Anime Convention and a quick interview with editor Brendan Wright about Dark Horse’s upcoming release of Makoto Yukimura’s Planetes. (I’m very excited for this license rescue! I already own Tokyopop’s edition of the series, but Dark Horse’s sounds like it will be great, so I’ll most likely be double-dipping.) And speaking of Dark Horse, the final volume of Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal was released last week. Robot 6 has an interview with Philip Simon reflecting on the manga’s end. Chic Pixel has a guide on how to import manga cheaply from Amazon Japan. Throughout March, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund posted a series of articles, Women Who Changed Free Expression, the last of which focused on the influential 24 Nengumi, or the Year 24 Group, as the female progenitors of shoujo manga.

Anime Boston took place over the weekend. Both Yen Press and Kodansha Comics had some pretty exciting announcements to make. Yen Press has licensed thirteen new manga, some of which will be digital-only releases. The two print releases that particularly caught my attention were the omnibus edition of Yowamushi Pedal, particularly surprising since it’s a sports manga that’s nearly forty volumes lone and still ongoing in Japan, and the yonkoma Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun which, if it’s anywhere near as good as the anime adaptation, should be fantastic. As for Kodansha’s announcements, Attack on Titan, Volume 16 will have a special edition. New licenses include Ninja Slayer Kills, two video game-related manga—Persona Q and Devil Survivor—and Junji Ito’s Cat Diary, which is the one I’m personally most excited for. Also revealed was the status of Vinland Saga, which had temporarily been suspended. Basically, only two more volumes are guaranteed to be released unless sales for the series improve. Vinland Saga is magnificent; if you haven’t already given it a try, this would be the time to do it!

Quick Takes

Barakamon, Volume 2Barakamon, Volumes 2-3 by Satsuki Yoshino. While I largely enjoyed the first volume of Barakamon, I wasn’t particularly blown away by it. Still, I was interested in reading more of the series. I’m glad that I did, because it’s really starting to grow on me. Barakamon does have a little bit of a story to it—the once successful and respected calligrapher Seishuu has moved to a remote island to regain his composure and maybe find some inspiration—but mostly the series is about its characters and their interactions with one another. Even though he’s still a city-boy at heart, Seishuu has started to settle in on the island and isn’t nearly as out-of-place as he once was. The humor seems to now be a little less about the differences between country folk and people from more urban areas (although there still is plenty of that, especially when a couple of Seishuu’s friends and admirers from Tokyo show up) and more about the characters’ individuality and quirkiness. I am glad to see Seishuu relax somewhat and lose a bit of his arrogance from the first volume. In general he’s becoming a much more likeable character, which is probably part of the point of the series.

Cage of Eden, Volume 17Cage of Eden, Volume 17 by Yoshinobu Yamada. Finally! The monsters have returned! Well, technically it’s only one monster (not counting the absolutely terrible people), but it’s a pretty big deal. The dinosaurs and creatures are some of the only things I actually like about Cage of Eden; they’ve been largely missing from the last few volumes, so I was glad to see them back in such a dramatic way. Most of the seventeenth volume is devoted to an intense, and most likely deadly, battle against a man-made, genetic monstrosity. Probably best described as a chimera, the creature is formidable and extremely dangerous. The students make some extraordinarily bad decisions when it comes to confronting the beast, which really makes me wonder how they’ve managed to survive for so long. (Granted, the body count in Cage of Eden is pretty high.) The fight hasn’t concluded by the end of the volume, though I suspect it won’t last too much longer. One of the good things about Cage of Eden suddenly focusing on action is there is less opportunity for the more obnoxious fanservice to interrupt the story. Some of the girls even get to put up a decent fight. (At least at first.)

Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, Omnibus 2Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, Omnibus 2 (equivalent to Volumes 3-4) by Satoshi Mizukami. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer and reading the first omnibus didn’t help much with that, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sadly, I wasn’t nearly as taken with the second omnibus. I still enjoyed it, and I still plan on reading more of the series, but Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer seems to have lost a little of its spark for me. Maybe I’ve just gotten used to its strangeness, but at the same time that’s also what I enjoy most about the series. Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer is just so marvelously weird. At times the manga can be surprisingly dark, too, which I also appreciate. In the second omnibus, a slew of new characters are introduced as the identities of the rest of the Beast Knights are uncovered, although some of them are discovered to already be dead. All of them are rather eccentric with pasts that have some significant pain or sadness to them. The mage who plans on destroying the planet makes several appearances as well, and to some extent his motivations are explained, too. Much like the rest of the series, he’s not quite what one might expect.

Virtuoso di AmoreVirtuoso di Amore by Uki Ogasawara. I was primarily drawn to Virtuoso di Amore for two reasons, the role that music plays in the boys’ love manga and the fact that it was created by Ogasawara. I enjoyed parts of her short and very smutty series Black Sun, currently the only other manga of hers available in English. (Techincally, Chronicle of the Divine Sword was at one point licensed, but I don’t think it was ever actually published.) Virtuoso di Amore follows Kenzo Shinozuka, a failed classical pianist (mostly due to his volatile temper), who has been hired by an aristocrat to live in his manor and play for him every night. His patron is Lorenzo Carlucci who, it turns out, used to attend the same music school as Kenzo. Lorenzo is determined to help Kenzo remake is name as a musician. I really liked the basic premise of Virtuoso di Amore as well as its dark ambiance and fervent drama, but Ogasawara’s storytelling is unfortunately disjointed and occasionally difficult to follow. For example, Lorenzo and Kenzo fall in love, or at least in lust, very suddenly, which makes me think their relationship at school must have been much more involved than is implied elsewhere in the manga.

My Week in Manga: November 10-November 16, 2014

My News and Reviews

Last week I posted two reviews at Experiments in Manga. The first review of was of Ajin: Demi-Human, Volume 1 written by Tsuina Miura and illustrated by Gamon Sakurai. It’s a manga with a rather dark atmosphere that deals with immortals, which is right up my alley. The first volume was a good start to the series; I’m looking forward to seeing how it continues to develop. The second review was of The Legend of Bold Riley, created by Leia Weathington and illustrated by a number of different artists. The review was actually the final review in my Year of Yuri project, so over the weekend I posted a wrap-up for the project as a whole. Later this week, most likely on Friday, a poll will go live so that readers of Experiments in Manga can vote to help me select my next monthly review project.

I came across a few fun and interesting things elsewhere online last week, too. Mangabrog has a translation of a conversation between Katsuhiro Otomo and Takehiko Inoue from 2012. Kate Beaton posted the second part of her collection of comics based on Natsume Sōseki Kokoro (a novel that I’ve reviewed in the past). The Ceiling Gallery posted “Girl Talk”, an article about “the life, friends and music of manga author Okazaki Kyoko” which is well worth reading. Anna Madill, a professor at The University of Leeds, is currently conducting research into boys’ love fandom. If you’re an English-speaking boys’ love fan, please consider assisting her research by completing a brief BL Fandom Survey.

Quick Takes

Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, Omnibus 1Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, Omnibus 1 (equivalent to Volumes 1-2) by Satoshi Mizukami. I really wasn’t sure what to expect from Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, but I ended up enjoying the first volume immensely. One morning, college student Amamiya Yuuhi wakes up to discover a talking lizard in his bed, requesting his help to protect a princess destined to save the world from an evil mage bent on destroying Earth by using a giant hammer floating in space. Despite his initial reluctance to get involved in the whole mess, Yuuhi decides to become her knight because of one simple fact: The only reason Samidare (who need little protection) wants to save the world is so that she can destroy it herself. Much like its title, Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer is kind of strange. Both the characters and story are quirky, a little goofy, and rather bizarre. The manga is also quite a bit darker than it first appears; the characters are all revealed to have twisted pasts and tragedies to work through. It’s particularly interesting to see protagonists who are closer to being supervillians than superheros. I’m still not entirely sure where Lucifer and Biscuit Hammer is heading, but I’m really looking forward to reading more of the series and finding out.

My Japanese Husband Thinks I'm Crazy!My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy by Grace Buchele Mineta. A companions of sorts to her blog Texan in Tokyo, My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy! is a collection of autobiographical comics and essays about Mineta’s life in Japan, her work as a freelancer, and her intercultural marriage. I’ll admit, I haven’t actually read much of Texan in Tokyo, but the comics made me laugh, so I decided to pick up the book. Some of the material collected is new to the volume while other material comes directly from the blog. My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy! is a wonderfully amusing and at times even enlightening collection. The main “characters” are Mineta herself, her salaryman husband Ryosuke, and Marvin—a talking rabbit who’s a figment of her imagination, the result of “stress, coffee, and loneliness from being a freelancer in Tokyo.” The comics are sweet, charming, and short, generally only a single page consisting of a few panels. Many of the comics are personal in nature, but some of Minata’s experiences are certainly shared by other foreign residents and visitors to Japan. My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy! is a fun way to learn little tidbits about Japan and Japanese culture.

Yakuza in Love, Volume 1Yakuza in Love, Volumes 1-3 by Shiuko Kano. Despite being one of the boys’ love creators with the most manga published in English, which I assume would be an indicator of her popularity, I generally find Kano’s work to be fairly hit-or-miss with me. Sadly, Yakuza in Love largely falls into the miss category. The short series is one of Kano’s earliest works, and it shows. The pacing is all over the place and frequently rushed, the action is difficult to follow, the sex and supposed romance doesn’t always mesh with the story, the plot doesn’t distinguish itself from any other generic yakuza-themed boys’ love manga, and she can’t quite seem to decide if she’s going for comedy or drama. She probably should have stuck with the humor—as a whole, Yakuza in Love simply doesn’t work as well when it takes itself too seriously. It wasn’t all bad, though. Just perhaps a little too ambitious. The best part of Yakuza in Love is actually all of the extras at the end which take up the last half of the third volume. Kano relaxes and just has fun with her characters, actually giving them more depth while parodying her own story. As a result, the extras end up being much more enjoyable.

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kunMonthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun directed by Mitsue Yamazaki. Based off of an ongoing yonkoma manga series by Izumi Tsubaki, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is an absolutely delightful twelve-episode anime series. The titular Nozaki is a tall, stoic, and slightly oblivious high school student who, despite what most people would assume from his appearance, also happens to be a published shoujo mangaka. Sakura has a crush on Nozaki, but when she tries to confess her love to him she somehow winds up as one of his assistants instead. Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is a very funny and enjoyable series which freely plays around with shoujo manga tropes and character types. Nozaki finds inspiration for his manga from the other students at school, usually in slightly unexpected ways. He’s also amassed a handful of assistants in addition to Sakura, all with their own quirks and relationship problems which provide plenty of material for Nozaki to work with which eventually ends up in his manga. For the most part the anime tends to be fairly episodic, though there are several recurring characters and running jokes. Overall, the series is a tremendous amount of fun with a large cast of likeable characters.