Library Love, Part 9

Support manga, support your library!

Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Gogo Monster by Taiyo Matsumoto. Even after reading it multiple times, I’m not entirely sure I completely understand Gogo Monster but it is very good. The manga is wonderfully atmospheric, dark, and chilling. There’s something very sinister and innocent about it all at the same time. Some might find Matsumoto’s art to be ugly, but I quite liked it and found it to be very effective. Yuki sees things that others can’t. He’s considered to be a weirdo by most of his class, but a transfer student named Makoto reaches out to him. As the story progresses it becomes more and more difficult to know what to believe. Where does reality end and imagination begin, or was there never really a difference to begin with?

One Piece, Volumes 2-4 by Eiichiro Oda. I really want to like One Piece—I know a lot of people who love the series—but these early volumes simply aren’t clicking for me. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy reading them. They are fun and Oda’s artwork is delightfully bombastic, fitting the story perfectly. But I’m simply not compelled to follow the series for some reason that I haven’t quite been able to identify. I’m just not “getting” it yet. And with a series that’s already over sixty volumes long and still going, I find it a rather daunting prospect to try and pursue One Piece. Still, if my library gets any more of the books, I’ll likely try to hang on for at least a few more volumes.

Travel by Yuichi Yokoyama. Travel is one of those manga that I can easily appreciate without necessarily liking. The artwork is abstract and Yokoyama’s draftsmanship is superb. Personally though, I don’t find the style to be particularly appealing. There is no text in the manga itself, but Yokoyama provides plenty of notes at the end to help guide the reader and provide interpretations for the images. (I actually preferred some of my own interpretations.) One thing in particular that impresses me about Travel is the sense of motion that Yokoyama is able to convey. After finishing the manga, it really feels as if a journey has been completed; Travel is a very apt title.

Yuri Monogatari edited by Erica Friedman. If it wasn’t for my library and the joy of interlibrary loan, I probably would have never had to opportunity to read the first volume of the Yuri Monogatari series. Only two-hundred-fifty copies of the book were printed; even the editor doesn’t have a copy. Yuri Monogatari is the first anthology of original English-language yuri. The first volume collects nine stories that are sexy, sweet, thoughtful, and authentic. My personal favorite was the final contribution in the volume, “The Scales” by Althea Keaton. Although it is highly unlikely, I hope that one day I can own a copy of Yuri Monogatari. It’s a wonderful collection.

My Week in Manga: January 24-January 30, 2011

My News and Reviews

Last week was rather chaotic for me and so between crises at home and hanging out with my folks in Toledo over the weekend, I didn’t get much manga read. But, speaking of Toledo! Currently the Toledo Museum of Art has a temporary exhibit featuring their netsuke collection: Life in Miniature. February will be the last month the exhibit will be on display. If you happen to be near northwest Ohio, you should go see it in addition to their permanent Japanese art collection. And while you’re there, also check out the Toledo Museum of Art Glass Pavilion which is an amazing building designed by the 2010 Pritzker Prize winners Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa.

As for posts last week: I have a review of Keigo Higashino Naoki Prize winning novel The Devotion of Suspect X. The book will be released on February 1 (i.e. tomorrow) by Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press that specializes in mystery, suspense, and thrillers. And as a reminder, my monthly manga giveaway will be ending on Wednesday. You still have a couple of days to enter to win a copy of the first volume of Gantz at Gantz Giveaway.

Quick Takes

The Dreaming Collection (equivalent to Volumes 1-3) by Queenie Chan. I’m glad I picked up this omnibus edition. If I had read the volumes individually, I probably would have never made it to the final volume which was by far my favorite. Plus, there is some nice bonus material in the omnibus collection—an interview and an additional side-story. The Dreaming is one of Tokyopop’s most successful original English-language manga. The Dreaming deals with the disappearances of girls from a boarding school in the Australian bush, reminiscent of the story Picnic at Hanging Rock. It has a wonderfully creepy atmosphere to it.

Thunderbolt Boys Excite, Volumes 1-2 by Asami Tojo. Apparently, Thunderbolt Boys Excite is actually a sequel to a series that hasn’t yet been licensed in English. That’s probably part of the reason the plot makes almost no sense whatsoever. But even if I had read the first series, I’m not sure I would be able to make much sense out of the second one. I did like Tojo’s art, though. Her style is pretty with very bishōnen character designs but still fairly graphic. She creates some really interesting panel layouts, using almost the entire page. The lack of white-space can be a little overwhelming at times, but overall it is quite effective. Occasionally, the the sexy posing defies anatomical reality, which is problematic.

One Piece, Season One: Third Voyage directed by Kōnosuke Uda. One Piece is currently in its thirteenth season, which is a bit daunting since I’ve only recently passed the half-way point of the first season. I am still enjoying the anime, although I’m finding the extended fight scenes that last for multiple episodes to be a bit tedious. While I will admit that the fights can be fun, I much prefer the episodes that focus on plot or character development. Of course, sometimes this does include the fighting. After Sanji finally joins Luffy’s crew, most of these episode focus on Nami’s backstory. And like most everyone else’s in the series, hers is pretty tragic. Maybe even more so.

My Week in Manga: December 27, 2010-January 2, 2011

My News and Reviews

My new glasses finally came in! I can see and read again! And since I was still on winter break this past week, I did just that, finishing off the second half of Berserk (which I’m still obsessed with) among other things.  This past week also saw the announcement of the Strawberry Panic Starter Pack Winner and I managed to post my second in-depth manga review for December on the last day of the year—Oishinbo, A la Carte: Japanese Cuisine. That means I have successfully met my goal for in-depth manga reviews for two months in a row. I think I can do this!

Oh, and a happy and healthy new year to you all!

Quick Takes

Apothecarius Argentum, Volumes 1-4 by Tomomi Yamashita. Even though I loved the characters and story of Apothecarius Argentum, for some reason the manga and I never really clicked. The emotional turmoil and romantic tension between Argent and the princess just didn’t seem to be there. But by the fourth volume the series seems to have found its stride, ramping up the court politics and intrigue; I’ll probably pick up the following volumes. What first attracted me to Apothecarius Argentum was the importance of poison in the plot and Argent’s backstory. Forced to eat poison from a young age he is now immune to most but his body has become toxic to the living things around him.

Berserk, Volumes 18-34 by Kentaro Miura. Guts is steadily becoming a more sympathetic character Berserk progresses. The action and fight sequences can be a bit difficult to follow from time to time, but the resulting carnage is readily apparent. This is not a manga series for the faint of heart with plenty of violence and gore. And when it gets dark, it gets very, very dark. Fortunately, with characters like Puck and Isidro around, things are prevented from being too overwhelmingly heavy. In fact, all of the characters are great, having complex personalities and complicated histories. Berserk is still ongoing and I’ll definitely be following it as future volumes are released.

Bunny Drop, Volumes 1-2 by Yumi Unita. I’ve heard so many good things about Bunny Drop that I figured I should give it a try. I was actually quite surprised by how much I liked the series, but it really is a great manga. Daikichi is simply a marvelous character and a great guy. Despite taking Rin in without really thinking it through, he genuinely cares for her and her well-being. It’s really a delight to see their relationship develop and unfold. I can’t help but think he’s lucky she’s so quiet and well behaved—he’s enough out of his depth as it is. In addition to struggling to make things work as an inexperienced, single parent, he also has the mystery of Rin’s past to look into and figure out.

La Esperança, Volumes 1-7 by Chigusa Kawai. Although La Esperança can read a bit like a soap opera at times, the emotional intensity as the characters deal with painful events in their lives is incredibly authentic. Unfortunately, the manga is hindered by its terribly inconsistent artwork. Occasionally the manga exhibits some stunning panels, but most of the art is fairly weak although the style does establish itself nicely by the end of the series. The first and last volumes were probably my favorite and I was impressed by how Kawai was able to pull everything together. And as a musician, I was particularly fond of the incorporation of music into the plot.

GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka, Episodes 10-34 directed by Noriyuki Abe and Naoyasu Hanyu. The animation can leave something to be desired, and the voice acting for the English dub takes a while to settle in, but I do really enjoy the Great Teacher Onizuka anime. The anime is very similar to the manga—the basic plot is the same although liberties are taken with chronology and some of the story details. As ridiculous, inappropriate, and amusing as GTO can be, it also has some brilliant things to say about what it takes and means to be a teacher and the state of the education system. But even when it has something important to say, it never takes itself too seriously.

One Piece, Season One: Second Voyage directed by Kōnosuke Uda. I still haven’t been able to figure out exactly what it is about the One Piece anime, but I can seriously and happily sit down and watch it without stop for hours on end. I enjoy the longer, more involved story arcs better than the one-shot episodes, but even those are highly entertaining. The second season one DVD set finishes up Usopp’s story and recruitment and introduces the incomparable Sanji—cook and fighter extraordinaire—who Luffy is determined to make part of his crew. One Piece is fun and rambunctious and Funimation’s English dub is just about perfect.

My Week in Manga: December 13-December 19, 2010

My News and Reviews

Some of you lovely readers are already aware of my glasses frame crisis, but I’ve been using a very old prescription for the last week (I think it’s from 2002, if not before). Because of this, I didn’t do as much reading as I would have liked because my eyesight is terrible and it gives me a headache. Also, apparently all the manga I read had to have a pink cover this week. However, I did discover that watching TV didn’t cause too much of a problem as long as I wasn’t expected to read subtitles. So, I ended up watching a lot of English dubbed anime. And speaking of anime: Crunchyroll is now available on the Roku player, woohoo!

This past week I posted my first in-depth manga review for December—I was very excited to see the publication of Yaya Sakuragi’s Stay Close to Me and hope more of her work is licensed in English. I also posted my first entry in my Finding Manga series where I gave some tips on finding and buying manga through Half.comFinding Manga: on All About Manga, Daniella Orihuela-Gruber has been gathering together the 2010 Great Manga Gift Guides. It’s a great list of great lists, so you should check it out.

Finally, I meant to mention this last week but forgot. Over on Experiments in Reading I have a review posted for the anthology Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories about People Who Know How They Will Die. It’s a great collection and worth a read. Machine of Death includes the story “Prison Knife Fight” by Shaenon K. Garrity who is a freelance manga editor for Viz among other very cool things. The only explicitly Japan-related story (yakuza!) is “Improperly Prepared Blowfish” by speculative fiction author Gord Sellar who is currently living South Korea. 

Quick Takes

Cardcaptor Sakura, Omnibus 1 (equivalent to Volumes 1-3) by CLAMP. Dark Horse’s omnibus reprints of CLAMP’s work have been of extremely high quality and the first gorgeous volume of Cardcaptor Sakura is no exception. Once upon a time I had seen a few episodes of the anime adaptation that I really enjoyed, so I was excited to finally get a chance to read the original story. So far, the manga is utterly delightful. I was afraid the cuteness might be overwhelming, but it’s balanced nicely against the more serious elements of the story. There is also plenty of humor, and I enjoy watching the interactions and the developing relationships between the characters. I’ll definitely be following this series.

Hate to Love You, by Makoto Tateno. In the United States, Tateno is primarily known for her boys’ love works and Hate to Love You was her first foray into the genre. Despite being the sons of rival real estate agencies, Masaya and Yuma became childhood friends although by the time they reach high school they’ve grown apart. But their constant fighting about their fathers’ businesses, which they stand to inherit, can’t hide the fact they still harbor feelings for one another. “Hate to Love You” wasn’t bad, but I found the unrelated bonus story “You Can’t Call It Love” to be more memorable. It’s not a pleasant story, in fact it’s rather dark and disturbing, but it is more emotionally potent.

Hayate X Blade, Omnibus 1 (equivalent to Volumes 1-3) by Shizuru Hayashiya. Hayate X Blade is one of the few yuri-ish manga that I’m familiar with in English translation. It’s a bombastic action comedy that doesn’t always make a lot of sense but it is a lot of fun. I’m not entirely sure what the point of the Sword Bearer program is, other than being an excuse to have cute girls fight one another, but I’m okay with that. Not to mention the fact that I’ve developed a huge crush on Ayana (as well as a few others). I’m really enjoying this manga. It may be a bit ridiculous at times, which in this case is not a bad thing. It’s funny, has great art, and the girls are all unique in looks and personalities.

The Lily and the Rose, by Dany & Dany. The Lily and the Rose is the first work that Dany & Dany, a pair of Italian manga creators, wrote specifically with a United States audience in mind. Their artwork is quite accomplished and distinctive; I’ve never confused their style for anyone else’s. Christophe and Alain fell in love as schoolmates, but Christophe chose the priesthood over his friend. With Christophe gone, Alain is left with nothing but a burning desire to kill the man who murdered his mother. Seven years later the two meet again under less than ideal circumstances—Alain has been charged with catching Christophe in a scandal, creating one if necessary.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Second Season directed by Tatsuya Ishihara. I read and thoroughly enjoyed the first Haruhi Suzumiya light novel so I figured I’d give the anime a try as well. The second season is based on some of the later books. The animation team does some really cool things with color and lighting, especially in the “Endless Eight” sequence of episodes. Although the speculative fiction elements of the story are marvelous, Kyon is really what makes this series work for me. Although outwardly resigned to being the only “normal” person in the SOS Brigade, his inner dialogue and griping is hilarious.

Monster, Episodes 28-39 directed by Masayuki Kojima. These episodes include the University of Munich Library arc which has some of the most epic scenes in the entire story. I was really looking forward to seeing this part, and was not disappointed. At this point, the story also reveals quite a bit more about Johan and just how disconcerting he really is. Some plot threads are introduced in this section that don’t really go very far (this was the case in the manga as well), so I was surprised to see them included while some of the arguably more pertinent scenes were significantly compressed or dropped entirely. Had I not previously read the manga, I think I may have been confused by some of what was going on, but overall this is still an excellent adaptation.

One Piece, Season One: First Voyage directed by Kōnosuke Uda. I wasn’t particularly taken by Romance Dawn, the first volume of the One Piece manga, but I saw so much love for the series during the Manga Moveable Feast that I haven’t given up on it yet. It only took me a few episodes of the anime to get me hooked. Oda’s manga works fantastically well in adaptation and his artwork was just asking to be animated. (Although almost everyone seems to have bizarrely long arms. Luffy, okay that makes sense, but Nami, too?) The English voice cast is simply perfect and I loved the use of music for dramatic purposes, especially in the early episodes.

One Piece, Volume 1: Romance Dawn

Creator: Eiichiro Oda
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781569319017
Released: June 2003
Original run: 1997-ongoing (Weekly Shōnen Jump)

One Piece by Eiichiro Oda is an extremely popular series in both Japan and the United States. It is also a long running series. Publication of the collected volumes began in 1997 in Japan; the manga is currently up to sixty volumes and it’s still going. The English translation by Viz Media first began in 2003 and the fifty-fifth volume was released in October 2010. Despite the manga’s popularity, I’m actually not very familiar with it at all, although I have seen bits and pieces of a few of the anime episodes. I was surprised to discover that my local library currently only has the first volume of the series, Romance Dawn, although there are plans to purchase more of the books. I was happy when One Piece was selected for the Manga Moveable Feast because it gave me an excuse to finally get around to reading a well-loved series that I’ve heard so much about.

Ever since he was small, Monkey D. Luffy has been determined to become King of the Pirates. This is a rather ambitious and daunting proposition since just about every other pirate out there is after the same thing. Starting out with nothing more than a rowboat, Luffy heads off to assemble his pirate crew. But he does have one advantage. After eating a gum-gum fruit his body gained rubber-like properties, making him difficult to injure and virtually impervious to bullets. Luffy is also a bit odd and shows absolutely no fear; understandably, some people think he’s not quite right in the head. Undeterred, he throws himself wholeheartedly into his quest and the first person he targets to recruit is none other than the dreaded pirate hunter Roronoa Zolo. He might take some convincing though—who ever heard of a bounty hunter teaming up with a pirate?

Oda’s artwork in One Piece is energetic and bombastic, nicely pairing with the absurdity of the manga’s story. Character designs are cartoonish with exaggerated facial features and expressions. I absolutely adore Luffy’s ecstatic grins, for one. So far, the more over-the-top and extreme designs are reserved for the series’ villains. Sound effects play a pretty substantial role in Oda’s work and are often quite prominent. There is plenty of silliness in both the story and the art (frequently, I was reminded of Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball) and even the more serious parts have a fair bit of levity. Even considering the joyful ridiculousness of the manga, I can’t quite get over the fact that Luffy, having eaten the fruit of the gum-gum tree, will never be able to swim. Though, seeing as the fruit basically turns his body into rubber (which Oda uses to great effect), I’m assuming that he can at least float.

Romance Dawn was fun, but it didn’t make much of a lasting impression on me. I enjoyed the manga, but I wasn’t really grabbed by it. Not that I would turn away subsequent volumes, I just don’t see myself investing in such a lengthy series based on the first volume alone. However, as with most series, some story arcs are just going to be better than others. Romance Dawn provides the backstory for two of the main protagonists in the series, Luffy and Zolo, which I quite enjoyed. However, I was less engaged by the story that connected the two. A third protagonist, Nami, also makes a brief appearance in this volume, but little is actually known about her yet other than she is quite capable and cunning. I do like the characters and so far the manga is entertaining. While I might not feel compelled right now to go out and read every single volume of One Piece, I do think it would be worth pursuing some of the later books to see if it can capture my interest.