My Week in Manga: March 7-March 13, 2016

My News and Reviews

I was finally able to post February’s Bookshelf Overload at Experiments in Manga last week, a few days later than I originally intended, but at least it’s up. I’ve been intentionally decreasing the number of new manga and other things that I’m buying at the moment, which means that I’ll be happily digging into my backlog and catching up on older series. I also posted an in-depth review last week, though perhaps it’s more of a summary. Either way, Mechademia, Volume 10: World Renewal contains some interesting material for those looking for a more scholarly approach to the study of manga, anime, and other Japanese popular culture. The volume also includes “Nanohana,” a short manga by Moto Hagio, and a story by Tomoyuki Hoshino called “Good Morning.” I am very fond of both creators’ work, so that made me especially happy to see.

Interesting things found online last week: Viz Media will apparently be releasing a new volume of Haikyu every month after it’s debut in July until the English edition catches up with the Japan’s releases, which is rather impressive. Yokai scholar and manga translator Zack Davisson wrote a great piece for The Comics Journal called Confessions of a Manga Translator. (Some of the comments are worth reading, too.) VICE has an interview with Gengoroh Tagame, who will also be participating in the Queer Japan documentary. (The Kickstarter campaign for the project ends very soon and could use some additional support; if it at all interests you, please consider contributing!) Graham Kolbeins, the filmmaker behind the documentary was recently interviewed as well.

Quick Takes

Alice in the Country of Clover: Cheshire Cat Waltz, Volume 1Alice in the Country of Clover: Cheshire Cat Waltz, Volumes 1-4 by Mamenosuke Fujimaru. With the extraordinary number of retellings, spinoffs, and sequels to Alice in the Country of Hearts, it can be somewhat daunting to know where to start. Fortunately, I have people looking out for me; Cheshire Cat Waltz was one of the series that was repeatedly recommended by multiple individuals. Although it still has the same vaguely ominous atmosphere (which I like), the Country of Clover is actually a slightly different setting than the Country of Hearts. Even the personalities of the characters that are shared between the two are somewhat changed as they adapt to their modified roles. I found Boris, the Cheshire Cat, an especially interesting character in the first manga series, so it probably makes sense that I would enjoy a series where he plays a leading role. Admittedly, the pairings in the various Alice in the Country of manga that I’ve read certainly shouldn’t be lauded as examples of healthy relationships. Boris, as sweet and considerate as he can sometimes be, is also very possessive. The story is engaging, though, and Cheshire Cat Waltz is surprisingly steamy as well.

Behind Story, Volume 2Behind Story, Volumes 2-3 by Narae Ahn. I enjoyed the first volume of Behind Story more than I thought I would, so I wanted to be sure to read more of the boys’ love manhwa. At the time, I didn’t even know how long the series was, and I wasn’t able to find out much about the creator, either. It turns out Behind Story is only three volumes, was Ahn’s debut series, and was originally published online. The final two volumes of Behind Story take place three years after the first. Johann has survived his teacher’s attempted murder-suicide, but his life is still a complicated mess; he’s more or less forced transfer out of school, leaving Taehee—one of the very few people who legitimately cared for him and his well-being—behind with no way to contact him. Eventually the two of them do reunite, but they’ve both changed over the years and neither are sure what direction their relationship will take in the future. Behind Story is a fairly solid debut with interesting characters and a story that, for the most part, moves beyond the genre’s standard tropes. The series’ ending does perhaps wrap up a little too quickly and nicely and could have used a little more development, but overall the manhwa is enjoyable.

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, Volume 1Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Volume 1 by Izumi Tsubaki. I absolutely loved the anime adaptation of Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, so I was very happy when Yen Press announced that it would be releasing the original manga series. The success of four-panel manga can be rather hit-or-miss in the North American market as their comedy is often firmly situated within a Japanese sense of humor and context. A few of the jokes in the first volume of Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun I may not have immediately understood if I hadn’t already seen the anime (which was able to more fully expound on things due to its format) but overall the manga and its gags are largely accessible and very funny. The series revolves around Nozaki—a relatively successful shoujo mangaka who has a difficult time convincing many of his high school classmates of that fact due to his large stature and seemingly stoic nature—and the various students who become his assistants or the inspiration for his characters. The manga is good-natured fun, much of the humor the result of the differences between the characters’ personalities and how most other people actually perceive them. I especially appreciate the series’ willingness to play with gender roles and expectations.

My Week in Manga: February 15-February 21, 2016

My News and Reviews

Last week was another one-review week at Experiments in Manga, but I should hopefully be back to the normal swing of things again soon. (Though it does seem as though one review per week is the new normal… ) As for the review itself, I took a look at the first omnibus of Planetes, an excellent series about space exploration and development by Makoto Yukimura. I don’t tend to double-dip when it comes to manga (Planetes was originally released in English by Tokyopop), but Dark Horse has done such a nice job with the new edition that I couldn’t help myself. I really enjoy Planetes and am very glad to see it back in print.

In licensing news, Jay’s manga adaptation of the BBC’s television series Sherlock will be released in English by Titan. Elsewhere online, Kodansha Comics posted an interview with Hiro Mashima and Viz Media’s Shonen Jump posted an interview with Kohei Horikoshi. The OASG hosted an interesting light novel roundtable in which my Manga Bookshelf cohort Sean Gaffney participated. And the Toronto Comic Arts Festival announced its second wave of featured guests, which includes Shintaro Kago and Faith Erin Hicks among other great artists.

Quick Takes

Chiro: The Star Project, Volume 1Chiro: The Star Project, Volume 1 by HyeKyung Baek. I picked up Chiro mainly for two reasons. The first was that the manhwa is one of Netcomics most recent releases. (Technically, it could even be considered a license rescue; Udon Entertainment published a few volumes of the series back in the day, which I also counted in its favor.) The second reason was that at some point Chiro apparently begins to play with gender in interesting ways. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen in the first volume and there is nothing else that does happen in the first volume that would convince me to read any further. No matter what directions the series might eventually take, I really did not like the beginning of Chiro at all. The lead is incredibly self-conceited and self-absorbed and her actions frequently make no logical sense whatsoever. The plot, too, seems to be lacking any real direction at this point and ends up being a mess of unfortunate cliches and tropes. At times I think Baek is intentionally attempting to be off-the-wall and absurd, but the humor and the series as a whole just isn’t working for me.

Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma, Volume 5Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma, Volumes 5-8 written by Yuto Tsukuda and illustrated by Shun Saeki. I tend to enjoy food manga, so it doesn’t really surprise me that I find Food Wars! to be entertaining. The fanservice is admittedly and purposefully ridiculous. People frequently lose their clothing not only figuratively but literally as their reactions to tasting exquisite food are nearly orgasmic. And there are plenty of delectable dishes to go around—these particular volumes bring to a conclusion the challenges of the school’s cooking camp and the beginning of the Fall Classic competition. One danger of a tournament-style manga like Food Wars! is the sheer number of characters that are introduced over the course of the series. Fortunately, Tsukuda and Saeki have so far managed to create a cast made up of characters who, while not necessarily being particularly nuanced or deep, are distinctive in their personalities and designs. Perhaps even more important is that they each have their own dramatic and over-the-top style of cooking. It’s especially interesting seeing the different approaches to cuisine pitted against one another.

Horimiya, Volume 1Horimiya, Volume 1 written by Hero, illustrated by Daisuke Hagiwara. Because I knew quite a few people who were very excited when Horimiya was first licensed I wanted to make a point to give the manga a try even though I didn’t really know much about it except for the fact that it was adapted from a webcomic. They were right to be excited—Horimiya is a delightfully sweet and charming series. The basic premise is similar to any number of other manga featuring a high school romance with quirky characters, but both the leads and Hagiwara’s execution of the story are so wonderful that I didn’t at all mind. At school, Hori presents herself as fashionable and upbeat, but she’s a bit frustrated with her family situation which requires her to be something of a homebody. Miyamura is a classmate whose reserved nature and social awkwardness hides the fact that he’s liberally tattooed and pierced. Neither of them are quite like the other expected but they fall into an easy and natural friendship with each other. I’m really looking forward to reading more of Horimiya. It’s cute, funny, and has a ton of heart.

My Week in Manga: January 11-January 17, 2016

My News and Reviews

It was entirely unintentional, but last week was apparently the week for sevens—both of my in-depth manga reviews last week were for the seventh installment of their respective series. They both happen to be manga currently licensed by Kodansha Comics, as well, which was also a coincidence.  On Wednesday, I reviewed the seventh omnibus of Vinland Saga by Makoto Yukimura. The series continues to be magnificent. The seventh omnibus might be the last of the series to be released in English, which would truly be a shame. The volume does bring to a close one of the series’ major story arcs, but I really hope more of Vinland Saga will be able to be translated. The second review, part of my monthly horror manga review project, was of Yuki Urushibara’s Mushishi, Volume 7. Mushishi continues to be one of my favorite manga. I’m really enjoying my reread of the series and the opportunity to write about it in more detail. One other thing I wanted briefly to mention was a Kickstarter project to help Yamakiya Taiko, a wonderful youth taiko ensemble from Fukushima, raise money to defray the cost of their upcoming trip to the United States in March. I’ll actually be playing with the group a bit while they’re in Michigan, so I especially hope that the campaign succeeds.

Quick Takes

Core Scramble, Volume 1Core Scramble, Volume 1 by Euho Jun. I’ve been slowly making my way through Netcomics’ new series which is what brought Core Scramble to my attention. That and the promise of boys’ love mixed with science fiction, fantasy, and action. At this point, romance doesn’t seem to be the priority of Core Scramble, though there is some sexual harassment thrown in. Chaeun is a fairly average soldier—one of many fighting in a war against swarms of extra-dimensional monsters invading the planet—but he has developed a knack for surviving situations that many seasoned veterans would consider hopeless. His tenacity has impressed his comrades as well as those who would like to take advantage of the invasion for their own purposes. The first volume of Core Scramble spends quite a bit of time establishing the series’ setting, explaining how the world’s magic, science, and inter-dimensional portals function and interact. Infodumps are a regular occurrence and break up the flow of the story itself, but I suspect that this shouldn’t be as much of an issue for the series’ later volumes. Granted, there are only two more.

Deep Dark FearsDeep Dark Fears by Fran Krause. What started out as a project to illustrate all of his irrational fears eventually evolved into an ongoing series of  online comics in which Krause would not only draw his own fears but the fears submitted by his readers as well. Just over a hundred of those comics have now been brought together in the print collection of Deep Dark Fears, about half of them being newly published while the other half were selected by Krause as some of his favorites from online. While the subject matter can be disturbing and occasionally even grotesque, the comics themselves are actually quite charming. Krause doesn’t comment on or judge any of the fears but simply presents them as they are, irrational but still discomfiting whether they be based on known falsehoods learned as children or overactive imaginations as adults. Deep Dark Fears is a great collection of short comics about strange and bizarre fears. Some are only a single panel long while others may be a few pages, but they all leave an impression. I’m not sure if Krause has plans for additional print collections, but the series continues to grow online.

Witchcraft Works, Volume 3Witchcraft Works, Volumes 3-7 by Ryu Mizunagi. Although I quite enjoyed the first two volumes of Witchcraft Works, I recently realized that I had fallen behind in actually reading the series. After catching up I can say that there are still things that I like about the manga, but I also find myself slightly less enamored with it than I once was. Primarily, I continue enjoy the reversal of stereotypical gender roles. If it wasn’t for that, I think the series would have bored me fairly quickly, even despite its other entertaining quirks. With the seemingly endless of author’s notes, it’s obvious that Mizunagi has put plenty of thought into the world of Witchcraft Works, but it isn’t always incorporated well into the story itself which is unfortunate. This seems to especially be a problem during the series’ battle and action-oriented story arcs where it feels like the characters spend more time explaining things they already know to one another rather than fighting, though they do eventually get around to that, too. Witchcraft Works is a great looking manga, though, Mizunagi’s visual style working wonders with all of the magic and mayhem. But ultimately, I think what I want is a little more substance to accompany all the spectacle.

My Week in Manga: December 21-December 27, 2015

My News and Reviews

I think I’m finally getting back to my regular posting schedule. I get the week between Christmas and New Year’s off of work which is letting me catch up on a few things. (Sort of. Life has still been rather hectic of late.) Last week I posted an in-depth review of one of Chromatic Press’ most recent paperbacks, Jessica Chavez’s debut novel Dead Endings, illustrated by Irene Flores. The novel has a fantastic combination of horror, mystery, and snark, making it both fun and frightening. I’m looking forward to reading its sequel a great deal. And because the end the 2015 is fast approaching, last week I also posted my annual list of notable manga, comics, and novels of the year.

Quick Takes

Apple and HoneyApple and Honey / His Rose Colored Life by Hideyoshico. I wasn’t previously familiar with Hideyoshico’s work, but after reading the boys’ love collection Apple and Honey and its sequel/spinoff His Rose Colored Life, I sincerely hope that more is translated. In addition to the unrelated three-part story “Shades of Summer at the End of the World,” Apple and Honey introduces Natsuki and Komano who are the focus of His Rose Colored Life. Hideyoshico’s characterization is excellent—the characters have depth and the development of their relationships are entirely believable. Komano is this lovable outgoing goofball while Natsuki is much more reserved and unsure of himself. I was especially impressed by the sensitive portrayal of Natsuki’s anxieties and insecurities. While he desperately wants to be loved, he is also terrified of it, having been repeatedly hurt in the past; it’s hard for him to accept that it’s okay for him to be happy. (Natsuki also gets bonus points for majoring in information science which I hold a degree in but have never before seen in a manga.) Komano and Natsuki together make a wonderful couple, nicely balancing each other’s personalities.

Lone Wolf and Cub, Omnibus 3Lone Wolf and Cub, Omnibuses 3-5 (equivalent to Volumes 6-12) written by Kazuo Koike and illustrated by Goseki Kojima. The omnibuses are rather chunky, but I am so glad that Dark Horse is releasing Lone Wolf and Cub in a larger trim size; the previous edition was so small as to be nearly unreadable with my bad eyesight. Plus, it’s nice to be able to see Kojima’s excellent artwork more clearly. Lone Wolf and Cub is a fantastic series. Although there is an ongoing story to the manga, the individual chapters tend to be somewhat episodic. Ogami Itto was once the shogun’s official executioner but after being framed as a traitor he has become an assassin seeking revenge. Accompanying him on his journey is Diagoro, his now three-year-old son who has known nothing but a life filled with death. Lone Wolf and Cub is a violent series. Ogami is an incredibly skilled and resourceful warrior, surviving multiple attempts on his own life even as he is hired to end those of others. But he is also a father. Some of the most compelling chapters in the manga examine the depth of Daigoro and Ogami’s bond more closely.

Milkyway Hitchhiking, Omnibus 2Milkyway Hitchhiking, Omnibus 2 (equivalent to Volumes 2-3) by Sirial. I’m not entirely certain, but I believe that with the second omnibus Milkyway Hitchhiking is complete. (Because the manhwa is a series of largely unrelated stories, it can be difficult to tell.) Whether or not it is actually finished, Milkyway Hitchhiking continues to be a beautiful series. The full-color artwork is gorgeous, Sirial changing art styles and color palettes to better suit the mood of each of the stories. The manhwa ranges from brightly colored, upbeat tales to those that are more somber and melancholy. Some are based in reality while others incorporate elements of horror, science fiction, or fantasy. The only thing that really ties the individual stories in Milkyway Hitchhiking together is the presence of the Milkyway, a space-time cat. Although she’s the titular character, Milkyway Hitchhiking isn’t necessarily about Milkyway herself. She frequently has an important role to play, however the focus of the series is much more on the stories of the people she encounters.

My Week in Manga: December 7-December 13, 2015

My News and Reviews

Okay! Last week I submitted my promotion dossier at work, which means I’ll be able to start paying more attention to Experiments in Manga again. I still have a few other life things preoccupying me at the moment, but I’m hoping to get back to my normal posting schedule by the beginning of the new year if not before. That being said, I only posted one in-depth review last week. Soji Shimada’s classic mystery novel The Tokyo Zodiac Murders was recently re-released in English, which seemed as good an excuse as any to get around to reading it. According to this interview with Shimada, if The Tokyo Zodiac Murders does well, the next book in the series might be translated, too, which I would definitely like to read.

As for other interesting things found online: Seven Seas’ ten-day licensing spree has now wrapped up. (The new license tag on Seven Seas’ tumblr is probably still the easiest place to see them all at once.) Out of all the announced titles the one I’m most curious about is Ichiya Sazanami’s Magia the Ninth which features master composers as demon hunters with music-based magic. (Sazanami is the creator of Black Bard which I likewise couldn’t resist because of the combination of music and magic.) And in case you need to catch up on all of the anime, manga, and light novel licenses announced in 2015, Reverse Thieves has you covered. Also of note, Manga Brog has translated an excerpt of an interesting interview of Kentaro Miura, the creator of Berserk.

Quick Takes

Captain Ken, Volume 1Captain Ken, Volumes 1-2 by Osamu Tezuka. I think that I’ve mentioned here before that I happen to have a particular fascination with Mars, which was one of the primary reasons that I was interested in reading Captain Ken. Of course, it didn’t hurt that series was also created by Tezuka. (Though granted, I would love to see more classic manga that isn’t by Tezuka released in English.) Captain Ken is basically a western in space—Mars has been deliberately developed to be reminiscent of the American Southwest, the primary mode of transportation is by (robotic) horse, and the Martians have met with the same tragic fate as the Native Americans. The series is an odd mashup of science fiction and western genre tropes and American history, including references to World War II and the dropping of the atomic bomb. (The portrayal of Americans, perhaps justifiably, isn’t especially flattering.) Captain Ken explores the same themes of anti-war and anti-discrimination found in many of Tezuka’s other manga. Overall, it’s an entertaining adventure story with a rather bittersweet ending.

Cross Game, Omnibus 6Cross Game, Omnibuses 6-8 (equivalent to Volumes 12-17) by Mitsuru Adachi. I still don’t have much of an interest in baseball when it comes to real life, but I’m completely invested in the sport when it comes to Cross Game. I’ve come to care tremendously about the characters in the series and, because baseball is incredibly important to so many of them, by proxy the baseball is important to me as well. Cross Game‘s last three omnibuses focus on the final year of high school baseball for Ko and his classmates. In fact, the eighth omnibus is almost entirely devoted to a single game—the last opportunity for the Seishu team to make Wakaba’s dream of seeing them play at summer Koshien a reality. They’ve worked hard as a team and have several players who are individually impressive as well, but that never guarantees a win. I’ve watched the Cross Game anime series, which turns out to have been a very faithful adaptation, so I knew how things would end. Even so, the manga is incredibly engaging and has a ton of heart. I never expected to be so taken with a baseball manga, but Cross Game is excellent.

U Don't Know MeU Don’t Know Me by Rakun. After a somewhat dubious beginning, I ended up really enjoying U Don’t Know Me. Plot-wise there’s a lot packed into this one-volume boys’ love manhwa and the characterization is quite good as well. Seyun and Yoojin are childhood friends who have only recently come to realize that they share feelings for each other which are much more lustful in nature. While the manhwa is primarily about Seyun and Yoojin and the evolution of their friendship into a romance, their relationships with their friends and families are also extremely important to the story. Context is provided for their love for earch another and the implications of that love. My favorite part of U Don’t Know Me was actually the response of the boys’ parents upon discovering their sons’ intimate relationship. Initially they were shocked and upset, but they ultimately give their love and support and are very involved in ensuring the well-being of both young men. The realistic portrayal of this sort of positive acceptance seems to be something of a rarity in boys’ love, so it makes me particularly happy when I see it.