My Week in Manga: December 12-December 18, 2016

My News and Reviews

After a slight delay, November’s Bookshelf Overload was posted last week at Experiments in Manga. Last week I also came to the sad conclusion that my feature on Ichigo Takano’s Orange simply isn’t going to happen despite the progress that I’ve made on it and all of my best efforts. I’d like to extend an apology to everyone who was looking forward to that post, myself included. Orange deeply resonated with me and my own experiences and I wanted to share that with others. Specifically, I wanted to write an essay exploring its sensitive, honest, and compassionate portrayal of the very personal challenges surrounding issues of guilt, depression, and suicide. Ironically, it’s partly due to my own mess of anxieties, et al. that I’m having so much trouble lately. Even when I have the inspiration and desire, I’m still having a terribly difficult time actually writing. So, I’m not sure when my long-form features will return–even though I miss writing and sharing them, I’m trying to be kind to myself by giving myself a bit of a break–but I hope that it is sooner rather than later. However, I can at least still commit to regularly posting My Week in Manga, Giveaways, and Bookshelf Overload features! It’s not much compared to my past output, but at least it is something. Oh, and I’ll definitely be posting my list of notable 2016 releases at the end of the month!

Quick Takes

The Boy Who Cried WolfThe Boy Who Cried Wolf by Mentaiko Itto. Bruno Gmünder’s Gay Manga line began in 2013 and the publisher has been slowly but steadily releasing gay erotic manga in English translation ever since. The Boy Who Cried Wolf is the second collection of Mentaiko Itto’s erotic doujinshi to be published by Bruno Gmünder. The volume collects three of Itto’s short manga: “Hamu and the Boy Who Cried Wolf,” “Holy Night,” and “As Swift as Lightning.” As I’ve come to expect from Itto’s work, in addition to uninhibited sex scenes there is also a fair amount of humor to be found in The Boy Who Cried Wolf as well as a great deal of heart. Unlike Priapus, Itto’s previous collection in translation, The Boy Who Cried Wolf is generally more realistic and less fantastic in nature. Granted, as a historical comedy of sorts, “As Swift as the Lightning” deliberately includes its fair share of anachronisms. But Itto actually incorporates some autobiographical elements in “Hamu and the Boy Who Cried Wolf,” a manga about a young man who is initially so deeply closeted that he unintentionally hurts the person he cares most about. However, because this is Itto, the story isn’t nearly as gloomy as that description sounds. The Boy Who Cried Wolf is a great collection of highly entertaining erotic manga. I truly hope that more of Itto’s work will be translated in the future.

In/Spectre, Volume 1In/Spectre, Volume 1 by Chasiba Katase. Although In/Spectre is based on the novel Invented Inference: Steel Lady Nanase by Kyo Shirodaira, Katase seems to have been given plenty of freedom in adapting the story as a manga series. If the note from the original author is to be believed, the currently ongoing In/Spectre manga is actually the more popular of the two renditions. Unsurprisingly, I was primarily drawn to the manga because yokai play a prominent role in the series. Considering the title I thought it might also be a mystery manga which, as it turns out, in some ways it is and in some ways it isn’t. I didn’t find the first volume of In/Spectre to be as engaging as I hoped it would be–at times the pacing can be agonizingly slow–but I am still greatly intrigued by the series. Now that the setting has been established and the rather peculiar characters have been introduced, I’m hoping that future volumes have more energy to them because I really do like the basic premise of the series. In/Spectre largely follows a young woman named Kotoko Iwanaga who has become a god of wisdom to Japan’s yokai. This has its benefits, but it also cost her an eye and a leg. She is responsible for helping to mediate disputes between yokai, but also for keeping the more unruly ones in check when humans are in danger.

Persona 4, Volume 2Persona 4, Volumes 2-5 by Shuji Sogabe. Though I suspect that I would enjoy it, I still haven’t actually played the original Persona 4 video game, so it’s difficult for me to directly compare Sogabe’s manga adaptation. However, I can say that for the most part the manga can stand alone as its own work. However occasionally it does feel as though the characters are being railroaded and the story has only one possible path to take, probably a remnant from the manga’s RPG origins. While overall the artwork is attractive and stylish, the action-oriented scenes and fight sequences can be somewhat lacking in their execution. But I love the themes that Persona 4 deals with, especially those of personal identity and self-acceptance. As the series progresses, concepts of gender and sexuality come into greater play as well which (as always) I find particularly interesting. In general like all of the characters, too. Yosuke can unfortunately be a homophobic ass from time to time, but I absolutely adore Kanji, a tough guy with a good heart who has traditionally feminine interests and hobbies. Much of the character and story development in Persona 4 is ambiguous enough that multiple and sometimes opposing readings and interpretations are possible, some of which are frankly unflattering. Personally, I prefer and am more comfortable with the more positive interpretations.

Stand Still, Stay Silent, Volume 1Stand Still, Stay Silent, Book 1 by Minna Sundberg. The first book of Sundberg’s ongoing Stand Still, Stay Silent collects the award-winning webcomic’s prologue, first five chapters, and additional bonus content. It’s available in both digital and physical editions, but the hardcover print volume is absolutely gorgeous. Much like Sundberg’s earlier epic A Redtail’s Dream, Nordic influences are a major part of Stand Still, Stay Silent. The comic is stunningly illustrated with beautiful, full-color artwork. Stand Still, Stay Silent is a post-apocalyptic tale of adventure and exploration with an ominous touch of horror and the unknown. At the same time, the comic manages to be lighthearted and humorous. The prologue establishes the comic’s fascinating setting–a seemingly harmless disease which turns out to be fatal quickly spreads across the globe. Ninety years later, Iceland, which was able to completely close itself off from the rest of the world, has become the center of known civilization, but a team has been assembled to see what can be found beyond the relative safety of the Nordic countries. Despite scenes of intense terror and action, the plot of Stand Still, Stay Silent is actually on the slower side; the focus is almost entirely on the characters and their interpersonal dynamics. The character writing, worldbuilding, and humor in Stand Still, Stay Silent is simply fantastic.

My Week in Manga: July 25-July 31, 2016

My News and Reviews

A new review was posted at Experiments in Manga last week! The final review in my (at one point monthly) horror manga review project delves into Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare, Volume 10. I have mixed feelings about the series’ conclusion, but overall there was a lot that I really liked about the manga as a whole. I’m not exactly sure what my next in-depth feature will be (I have a few different ideas for it), but I do plan on writing a brief wrap-up for the horror manga review project. I’m also working on the post for Experiment in Manga’s (sixth!) anniversary which will be coming up later this month.

Also posted last week was Experiments in Manga’s most recent giveaway which offers a chance to win two Sparkler Monthly paperbacks, ebooks, or audio dramas of your choosing. The last few days of the giveaway coincides with the last few days of the Sparkler Monthly Year 4 Kickstarter. The winner of the giveaway will be announced on Wednesday, but the fate of Sparkler Monthly will be determined on Tuesday. There was a surge of support for the campaign over the weekend, but it still has a little ways to go if it’s going to succeed. I wrote a little bit on Twitter about the importance of Sparkler Monthly to me personally and in general; please consider contributing to the campaign in some way if you are at all able and haven’t already!

Speaking of Kickstarters, Czap Books recently launched a campaign to support it’s 2017 Collection. Last year Czap Books released the first volume of Laura Knetzger’s Bug Boys which I adored, and the books in the 2017 Collection all look as though they should be fantastic, too. Other interesting things found online last week include Deb Aoki’s writeup on manga at SDCC 2016 for Publishers Weekly. Audio recordings of some of the panels at SDCC are now available as well. (As are audio ecordings from TCAF 2016; I don’t remember if I previously mentioned those.) I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, but The OSAG introduced the first episode of Translator Tea Time, a podcast featuring two professional manga translators. Also last week, Yen Press slipped in a license announcement for Miyuki Nakayama’s Spirits & Cat Ears and Canno’s A Kiss and White Lily for Her.

Quick Takes

Fairy Tail: Ice Trail, Volume 2Fairy Tail: Ice Trail, Volume 2 by Yuusuke Shirato. When I first started reading Ice Trail, a spinoff of Hiro Mashima’s Fairy Tail which follows Gray Fullbuster before he joins the guild, I had assumed that it would be a somewhat longer series. Gray is probably one of the most popular characters in Fairy Tail, but Ice Trail ends up only being two volumes long. It’s a fun and even cute series that introduces some original characters in addition to incorporating, either directly or indirectly, cast members from Fairy Tail. Readers already familiar with Fairy Tail will probably get the most out of Ice Trail, but the series doesn’t require much previous knowledge of the original story and characters to follow what is going on. The second volume concludes Gray’s search for the Fairy Tail guild, having heard that it was home to a number of great wizards. As Gray journeys to Magnolia, he more or less unintentionally forms a three-person adventure party with another boy named Pauz, a wizard whose magic is based on books and paper (a type of magic which unsurprisingly I loved) and the young thief Doronbo, who was probably my favorite character out of the entire mini-series. Although initially their relationships were somewhat antagonistic, by the end of Ice Trail the three have become close friends, keeping with the tradition and themes of Fairy Tail as a whole.

Genshiken: Second Season, Volume 7Genshiken: Second Season, Volumes 7-8 by Shimoku Kio. It’s admittedly been a little while since I’ve read the original Genshiken manga, but there do seem to be quite a few parallels between the two series. Granted, Second Season is probably much closer to being a continuation of Genshiken proper rather than an entirely separate series. One similarity that particularly struck me reading these two volumes is that both Genshiken and Second Season start as series about otaku and their hobbies but soon evolve into series that’s more about the relationships between the members of the club and inevitably romance. At this point in Second Season, Hato is coming to terms with his feelings for Madarame and is beginning to dress as a woman more frequently. (Just how closely those two things are related to each other is debatable.) As Hato starts making the moves on Madarame, the rest of Madarame’s real-life harem is thrown into turmoil. And of course everyone on the sidelines has their own pairings that they’re rooting for, treating it almost like a game which creates even more drama. Madarame himself isn’t really sure what to do with the situation and has his own conflicted feelings to work out. I won’t lie—I like Hato and Madarame together, so I’m very curious to see where this is all heading.

A Redtail's DreamA Redtail’s Dream by Minna Sundberg. I don’t remember exactly when the webcomic A Redtail’s Dream was first recommended to me, but never got around to reading it until now. Which is a complete and utter shame. I had actually forgotten about it but recently came across it again while looking for a different comic entirely. The collected edition of A Redtail’s Dream includes the entire series in a single, massive volume along with additional bonus content, commentary, and cultural notes not found online. A Redtail’s Dream is an absolutely gorgeous comic. Drawn over the course of two years, each chapter is illustrated using a different color palette and the results are simply beautiful. The comic is strongly influenced by Finnish mythology (Sundberg was born in Sweden, but was raised and lives in Finland), but familiarity with those stories and legends is not at all necessary to appreciate and enjoy Sundberg’s epic. A Redtail’s Dream follows Hannu and his beloved dog Ville who are given the responsibility of rescuing the souls of their friends, family, and neighbors when a young spirit fox accidentally causes their village to slip into a dream realm which is dangerously close the land of the dead. Hannu is actually fairly antisocial, so it’s interesting (and amusing) to see him crankily take on the role of the hero when he’d much rather just be left alone.

Seven StoriesSeven Stories by Hiroshi Mori. Outside of Japan, Mori is probably best known as the creator of The Sky Crawlers, which was adapted as an anime film directed by Mamoru Oshii in 2008, and his debut novel The Perfect Insider, which was even more recently adapted as an eleven-episode anime series. Inside of Japan, Mori is an extremely prolific, well-known, and popular author. (Apparently, Mori also wrote the novelization of Moto Hagio’s Heart of Thomas, which I didn’t even know existed; I’d love to read that.) It wasn’t until recently that any of Mori’s writing was translated into English, thanks to the efforts of Breakthrough Bandwagon Books. As can be safely assumed by the title, Seven Stories collects seven of Mori’s short works, some of which are representative of his earliest short stories and most of which can be generally categorized as mysteries with some interesting twists: “The Girl Who Was the Little Bird,” “A Pair of Hearts,” “I’m In Debt to Akiko,” “Silent Prayer In Empty,” “Kappa,” “The Rooftop Ornament of Stone Ratha,” and “Which Is the Witch?” (The last two stories are actually from Mori’s S&M series which is a continuation of sorts of The Perfect Insider.) The collection also includes an essay by the editor and translator, providing additional background information and context for the stories which I greatly appreciated. The translation tends to be more literal and academic than literary, but the dry humor present in some of the stories still comes through quite well.