My Week in Manga: August 18-August 24, 2014

My News and Reviews

Last week—last Monday, to be exact—Experiments in Manga celebrated its fourth anniversary. I’ve taken to writing what usually ends up being a rather lengthy anniversary post every year in which I reflect on the past three-hundred-sixty-five days, and this year was no different. I also posted a review last week of The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan, Ivan Morris’ classic study of Heian-era Japan and The Tale of Genji. The work was originally published in 1964 and it’s still a great read. Finally, for something a little different, I posted a Spotlight on Masaichi Mukaide who, in the late 1970s, became one of the first Japanese comics artists to be released in English. I rather enjoyed investigating this bit of comics history; I hope other people find it interesting as well.

While working on my random musings about Masaichi Mukaide, I discovered that the three short manga currently believed to be the earliest manga to have been translated into English (Akasegawa Genpei’s “Sakura Illustrated,” Shirato Sampei’s “Red Eyes,” and Tsuge Yoshiharu’s “The Stopcock”) are available online to read digitally. Another interesting piece of reading that I came across last week was Ryan Holmberg’s article on manga, art history, and Seiichi Hayashi at The Comics Journal. Elsewhere online, Sean at A Case Suitable for Treatment looks at some of the latest offerings from Crunchyroll Manga and Justin at Organization Anti-Social Geniuses was able to get some of the manga publishers to weigh in on their approaches to the last pages of manga volumes.

Quick Takes

Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma, Volume 1Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma, Volume 1 written by Yuto Tsukuda and illustrated by Shun Saeki. Soma Yukihira wants nothing more than to surpass his father in the kitchen, but his goal of becoming the ultimate chef becomes a little more difficult when his father closes up the family restaurant for three years. In the meantime, Soma is expected to transfer into the most elite and competitive culinary school in Japan. The other students aren’t very welcoming of the son of a low-end family restaurant, so it’s entirely up to the arrogant and uncouth Soma to prove that his cooking is just as impressive as their high-class cuisine. Overall, the artwork in Food Wars is great. The illustrations of the food in particular are incredibly sumptuous. And then there are the reaction shots—those who taste Soma’s cooking often fall into nearly orgasmic ecstasy which is accompanied by highly sexualized imagery. This does include such things as young women being molested by tentacles, which will certainly not appeal to every reader. Personally, I was for the most part rather amused by the ridiculous levels and absurdity of the occasional fanservice.

The Prince of Tennis, Volume 1The Prince of Tennis, Volumes 1-7 by Takeshi Konomi. While recently reading The Princess of Tennis, a memoir written by one of Konomi’s assistants, I came to the realization that I had never actually read any of The Prince of Tennis. The series is one of the most successful and popular sports manga in Japan, growing into a fairly substantial franchise. The Prince of Tennis is an oddly addictive series—I tore through the first seven volumes very quickly—but to some extent it’s also a bit frustrating. There is virtually no story or character development, simply game after game of tennis and middle school trash talk. Some of the most important games, the ones that actually impact the characters’ growth (what little there is) happen almost entirely off-page. All of the players are very strong to begin with, so there hasn’t been much evolution in their performance or skill levels, either. But the various games are interesting and entertaining, if a little over-the-top. There are a lot of good-looking characters of various types, too, which is probably a large part of the series’ appeal. I’m not in a rush to read more, but I did enjoy the first seven volumes.

The Princess of Tennis: My Year Working in Japan as an Assistant Manga Artist

The Princess of TennisAuthor: Jamie Lynn Lano
Publisher: Jamie Lynn Lano
ISBN: 9781499797527
Released: July 2014

The Princess of Tennis: The True Story of Working As a Mangaka’s Assistant in Japan by Jamie Lynn Lano is just that—a memoir written by someone fortunate enough to live the dream of so many aspiring artists. Very few non-Japanese creators have had the opportunity to work within the manga industry as an assistant or as a lead mangaka. Fewer still have written about their experiences to any great extent. In addition to working as an assistant to Takeshi Konomi (the creator of the exceptionally popular The Prince of Tennis), during her time in Japan Lano was also freelance writer, a columnist for Asahi Weekly, a host for a Japanese children’s television program, and an avid blogger. The Princess of Tennis is based on “Working As an Assistant on The Prince of Tennis,” a series of posts which can be found on her blog Living Tall in Japan. (Lano is over six feet tall, so the site is aptly named.) I had previously read some of Lano’s story online, but was happy to see it collected and expanded upon in book form with The Princess of Tennis.

After graduating with a degree in media arts and animation, Lano moved to Japan where she taught English for a few years. In 2008, Konomi Takeshi put out a call looking for assistants for a new manga series. Unlike many other mangaka, he was also considering applications from artists who had little or no experience in the industry. Lano was a huge fan of his series The Prince of Tennis and considered Konomi to be one of her idols. And so, after some encouragement from her friends, she applied for the position, never thinking that she would actually be hired. But she was. And she ended up working with Konomi, his editors, and a small group of other assistants for more than a year. (And on the sequel to The Prince of Tennis, no less!) It was a dream come true for Lano, but as enthusiastic as she was the job wasn’t always a easy. Working as an assistant on a series that she loved certainly had its perks, but it was also a challenging and exhausting experience that required long, grueling hours.

The Princess of Tennis is a personal story that is told with heart and honesty. Lano’s style is very informal, almost diary-like. Although there is some self-reflection from the very beginning of the memoir, she generally focuses on what she was feeling at the time she is describing rather than providing a detailed analysis of the situation after the fact. Lano is a self-proclaimed fangirl, something comes through in the bubbly way she writes. She makes liberal use of exclamations points (and other punctuation), employs all-caps to indicate excitement or for emphasis, and the occasional emoticon even makes an appearance in the text. She also includes very cute illustrations at the beginning of each chapter, a few delightful bonus comics towards the end of the volume, and photographs throughout the book. Lano’s enthusiasm and gratitude for the opportunity to work as a manga assistant is obvious even when things, and people, become rather difficult to deal with. The Princess of Tennis is friendly and approachable in tone, making for an entertaining as well as informative read.

In The Princess of Tennis, Lano offers an insider’s look into the Japanese manga industry and into the creative process of making manga. At first she is so excited about working as an assistant for Konomi (and understandably so) that Lano tends to overlook the downfalls of the position. The Princess of Tennis almost seems like an account that couldn’t possibly be true. Initially more time is spent participating in media events and festivals than slaving away at the drawing table. But as the volume progresses and reality and frustrations set in, The Princess of Tennis becomes much more like what I’ve come to expect based on the stories from other creators in the trade. The Princess of Tennis also offers a glimpse into what it is like to live in Japan as a foreigner and the challenges associated with that. And because Lano is revealing the details of her personal life in The Princess of Tennis there is also the drama of interpersonal relationships, romantic and otherwise, to take into consideration. While she has held onto some secrets for the privacy and sake of the other people involved, Lano is very open and forthcoming in The Princess of Tennis, providing a unique perspective on the manga industry and on Japan.