My Week in Manga: August 12-August 18, 2013

My News and Reviews

Two reviews, and some big news! First up was my review of Blade of the Immortal, Volume 24: Massacre by Hiroaki Samura. As you might suspect from the title, it’s a rather bloody volume. It also features what I think is one of the best visually executed battles in the series. I also reviewed Yukio Mishima’s novel Forbidden Colors which is a bit twisted but extremely engrossing and very good. Like his earlier novel Confessions of a Mask, it deals with homosexual themes and includes autobiographical elements.

As for the big news! Over the weekend Experiments in Manga celebrated it’s third anniversary and I wrote quite a lengthy post about it. If you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, here’s the really important bit: I am delighted to announce that in the very near future Experiments in Manga will be joining the Manga Bookshelf network of blogs!

I was traveling quite a bit last week (a couple of my friends were getting married), so I’m a little out of touch when it comes to some of the most recent manga news. However, there is one thing that I want to be sure to pass along. I personally don’t read much manga digitally, but Organization of Anti-Social Geniuses has a fantastic post looking at all the legal ways to read digital manga in 2013.

Quick Takes

The Last of the Mohicans by Shigeru Sugiura. The Last of the Mohicans is the first volume in editor Ryan Holmberg’s Ten-Cent Manga series, exploring classic manga influenced by popular culture and comics from the United States. In addition to the manga itself, the volume also includes an article by Sugiura and an extensive essay by Holmberg which puts The Last of the Mohicans into context. For me, this was probably the greatest appeal of the volume. I more or less enjoyed the manga, but I valued to an even greater extent learning about its history and Sugiura’s influences. I don’t know that The Last of the Mohicans will necessarily entice casual manga readers, but for those interested in comics history it’s great.

Math Girls Manga, Volume 1 written by Hiroshi Yuki and illustrated by Mika Hisaka. Based on the Math Girls series of novels, the manga focuses a little more on the romance and a little less on the math, but it still can teach a thing or two about it. Unfortunately, errors slipped into the English edition and some of the mathematical symbols are missing. Seeing as Math Girls is about, well, math, this is somewhat problematic. But if you can ignore that, Math Girls is a rather delightful and charming manga. Math lovers in particular will appreciate it, but as with the novels it’s possible to skip over the math-intensive sections and just enjoy the story. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of the Math Girls manga, but I suspect there won’t be another volume released anytime soon.

Strawberry Chan, Volumes 1-2 by Ai Morinaga. I picked up Morinaga’s Strawberry Chan manga on a whim. The series consists of two volumes, The Gorgeous Life of Strawberry Chan and The Super Cool Life of Strawberry Chan. The manga is fairly episodic and each chapter is very short. The titular Strawberry Chan is a small pet frog owned by Taro Akiyoshi, a sadistic high school student who delights in tormenting him. Despite his cruelty, Strawberry Chan adores his master. And then there’s Taro’s roommate who’s legitimately in love with Strawberry Chan and a masochistic classmate who just wants Taro to abuse him instead of the frog. Strawberry Chan is utterly ridiculous, random, and all sorts of wrong. I loved it.

Three Wolves Mountain by Bohra Naono. So far, only two of Naono’s manga have been released in English. Yokai’s Hunger largely frustrated me but I thoroughly enjoyed Three Wolves Mountain; it’s easily my favorite manga out of the two. It’s an odd mix of comedy, drama, and the supernatural, but Naono makes it work this time. Kaya Susugi is a cafe owner by day and a grave keeper by night who ends up taking in Tarou and Jiro Tsukihara, two werewolf brothers. Susugi is used to being alone but becomes very close with both of the brothers, but especially with Jiro who has fallen in love with him. I wasn’t expecting Three Wolves Mountain to become such a family affair, but parents, siblings, and even cousins all have their role to play in the story. Three Wolves Mountain is great stuff.

Math Girls

Author: Hiroshi Yuki
Translator: Tony Gonzalez
U.S. publisher: Bento Books
ISBN: 9780983951308
Released: November 2011
Original release: 2007

Math Girls began as a series of stories that the author, Hiroshi Yuki, posted on his website. After receiving a good deal of positive feedback and encouragement to release Math Girls as a book, the novel was published in Japan in 2007. It went on to become a bestseller and the first in a series. There has even been a manga adaptation. In 2011, Math Girls as translated by Tony Gonzalez was the first book to be released by the newly established Japanese literature publisher Bento Books. Math Girls will appeal to those who already love mathematics. It’s been a long time since I’ve seriously studied the subject (AP Calculus, way back in high school), but I do enjoy it. If the sigma notation on the cover makes you want to run away in terror, then Math Girls is probably not for you. On the other hand, if it makes you grin a little (or maybe roll your eyes depending on how much of a romantic you happen to be), Math Girls is probably worth seeking out.

Math Girls follows an unnamed second-year high school student (equivalent to an eleventh-grader) who enjoys playing around with math whenever he can get a chance. In part because of his love for math, he attracts the attention of two very different girls: Miruka, whose knowledge of math and natural brilliance exceeds even his own, and Tetra, who is only beginning to truly understand math but who is earnest in her efforts. For better or for worse, the complexities of mathematics are nothing compared to the complexities of relationships. He agrees to tutor Tetra in math; she wants to learn, but she also has other motives for spending time with him. On the other hand, Miruka is constantly showing him a thing or two about mathematics and can be a bit possessive. Mathematics is important to all three students and it is through math that they become important to each other.

The protagonist’s love of math, and thereby the author’s love as well, is apparent from the very start of Math Girls. Couched in a light romance, the math is really the heart of the novel. Flipping through the book might be daunting for some readers as very few pages are without some sort of graph, formula, or math problem. I do agree with Yuki’s note at the beginning of the book: skip over the math if you need to, but try to follow what you can. It’s worth it and is actually part of the story. I found myself learning a few things as I read and was reminded of how much I delighted in math. However, some of the problems can be quite advanced. I probably wouldn’t recommend Math Girls to most readers who haven’t had at least some precalculus, advanced algebra, or trigonometry although some of the math included is below that level.

Mathematics is often compared to a spoken language in Math Girls which is entirely appropriate. Math can be used as a form of expression. In fact, the protagonist of Math Girls frequently describes his feelings in the terms of the language he loves and knows best—mathematics. The execution of this is both brilliant and effective. Math Girls provides a fun and engaging way to learn and review mathematical concepts. It may very well be the only novel that I’ve read that contains an index. Yuki has also included an annotated list of recommended readings, many of which are available in English. I’m not sure that Math Girls will necessarily win mathematics any new fans, but the characters’ joy as they explore and discover new and old ideas is infectious. If you already love math, there is a good chance that you will love Math Girls. To paraphrase Tetra, I may not have understood half of it, but what I did understand was wonderful.