My Week in Manga: October 6-October 12, 2014

My News and Reviews

Last week Experiments in Manga saw the introduction of a new feature—Adaptation Adventures. Basically, the feature is intended to explore and compare different versions of the same story, which I think should be an interesting approach. I specifically had things in mind like the Parasyte anime adaptation that recently began airing  (readers of Experiments in Manga have expressed interest in some sort of Parasyte comparison in the past), but I quickly realized that the feature provides nearly endless options. For the first Adaptation Adventures column, I took a look at Udon Entertainment’s Manga Classics, a line of manga-style graphic novel adaptations of classic literature. I was pleasantly surprised by the Manga Classics editions of Pride & Prejudice and Les Misérables and look forward to seeing future releases. I also posted an in-depth manga review last week of Yaya Sakuragi’s Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love, Volume 4, the last volume in the series. Sakuragi was my introduction to boys’ love manga and I’m always happy to see more of her work available in English. Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love isn’t my favorite Sakuragi manga, but I did enjoy its goofiness.

Elsewhere online, I was extremely happy to see that the one and only Manga Critic (Katherine Dacey) has come out of “retirement” and joined forces with Brigid Alverson at MangaBlog. Kate was one of my major inspirations for starting Experiments in Manga, so I’m very happy to see her return and look forward to reading her commentary. This also means that MangaBlog will be updated more regularly again, which will be great. In other news: Sean Gaffney at A Case Suitable for Treatment has a roundup of Seven Seas recent license announcements. Over at Comics Forum, the most recent Manga Studies column has been posted—Takeuchi Osamu and Manga Expression pt. 1: Tezuka Osamu as Manga Locus by Nicholas Theisen. Also, October’s issue of Sparkler Monthly is now available. It includes the launch of the third and final volume of Tokyo Demons as well as some additional bonus stories for the series. (Since I love Tokyo Demons, I’m particularly excited for and dreading the beginning of the end.)

The New York Comic Con took place over the weekend, and there was plenty of excitement to come out of that. Sean was there this year and has written up some notes on the panels he was able to attend. Vertical is spinning off Vertical Comics as a separate imprint to focus on manga and related material while Vertical continues to release prose and nonfiction. Vertical also licensed more Attack on Titan light novels, which will probably do pretty well. Viz Media also had a few new licenses to announce, as did Kodansha Comics. In addition to several other licenses, Yen Press has rescued Kaoru Mori’s Emma for a deluxe hardcover omnibus release! I only discovered Emma after CMX’s edition went out of print (and became extremely expensive), so I’m thrilled that I’ll finally be able to own the series in such a lovely format. (If you’re curious about Emma, I recommend checking out the archives for the Emma Manga Moveable Feast.)

Quick Takes

Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, Volume 2Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, Volume 2 written by Ryo Suzukaze and illustrated by Satoshi Shiki. I have largely been enjoying Attack on Titan‘s prequel manga Before the Fall, but I think I like it even more now that I have read the first Before the Fall novel that was recently released by Vertical. (My review of that volume can be found here.) Other than both being prequels to Attack on Titan, the stories of the novel and the manga aren’t directly related, but small references are made to the novel’s plot and characters in the manga. Which makes a fair amount of sense since the Before the Fall manga series is based on the second and third Attack on Titan light novels written by Suzukaze. In the second volume of the Before the Fall manga, Kuklo and Sharle have made their escape—Kuklo from the dungeons and Sharle from her overbearing father—but they are now faced with surviving among the common people. They actually make a pretty good life for themselves at first, but then Kuklo becomes obsessed with wanting to see a Titan for himself which, as anyone who is familiar with Attack on Titan will know, is an absolutely terrible idea that probably won’t end well for anyone involved.

My Love Story!!, Volume 2My Love Story!!, Volume 2 written by Kazune Kawahara and illustrated by Aruko. I absolutely adored the first volume of My Love Story!!, so much so that I was actually a little afraid to read the second volume since my expectations had been set so high. However, I am very pleased to report that I also loved My Love Story!!, Volume 2. The entire series just makes me so extremely happy to read. Takeo and Yamato’s love is incredibly pure and sweet and the two of them are utterly endearing and charming together. Misunderstandings do happen on occasion, but forgiveness is quick in coming and no harm is done. My Love Story!! has the potential to be sickeningly sweet, but the romance and characters are handled with such humor and lightheartedness that, at least for me, the manga hasn’t reached that point. There isn’t much nuance or subtlety to the characters—Takeo is a manly many with a sensitive heart, Yamato is adorable and earnest, Suna is cool and aloof—but I like them all so much that I don’t mind. My Love Story!! is ridiculous and over-the-top and I love it. I’m still not sure how the story will be able to be sustained for an entire series now that the basic conceit has been so well-established, but I look forward to finding out.

A New Season of Young LeavesA New Season of Young Leaves written by Venio Tachibana and illustrated by Akeno Kitahata. Ever since reading the two-volume boys’ love manga series Seven Days (which I loved) I have made a point to seek out more of Tachibana’s work available in English. And so I was very excited when A New Season of Young Leaves was licensed. I’ll admit, at first I was actually a little disappointed with A New Season for Young Leaves. I simply didn’t understand the relationship and odd power dynamics between the super popular Mariya and the socially awkward Nachi. But then about halfway through the volume, during an extensive flashback that explores the evolution of their strange friendship, the manga finally clicked for me. I found it to be incredibly compelling and I immediately wanted to read it again, which I take as a very good sign. I didn’t realize it when I initially began reading A New Season for Young Leaves, but it’s actually the first manga in a series that is at least three volumes long. While there were definitely a few plot lines introduced that were left unresolved, for the most part A New Season of Young Leaves does tell a complete story. But I really do hope more of the series is licensed; I am very curious to see how things continue to develop between Mariya and Nachi and the rest of their classmates.

Attack on Titan: Before the Fall

Attack on Titan: Before the FallAuthor: Ryo Suzukaze
Illustrator: Thores Shibamoto

Translator: Ko Ransom
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781939130860
Released: September 2014
Original release: 2011

Hajime Isayama’s manga series Attack on Titan has become extraordinarily successful not only in Japan but worldwide as well. The series has inspired numerous manga spinoffs, anime, games, and more. Attack on Titan: Before the Fall is the first of three light novels written by Ryo Suzukaze and illustrated by Thores Shibamoto which serve as a prequel to Isayama’s original series. The second and third novels have been adapted as the manga series Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, illustrated by Satoshi Shiki, which is being released in English by Kodansha Comics. The first Before the Fall novel, however, was licensed and released by Vertical in 2014 with an English translation by Ko Ransom. Currently the novel, which was originally published in Japan in 2011, is chronologically the earliest story set in the Attack on Titan universe. I’m fascinated by the Attack on Titan phenomena and the large fanbase that it has developed, not to mention the series itself, so I was very interested in reading the Before the Fall prequel.

Angel Aaltonen may be young, but his ingenuity is impressive. A master craftsman, he and the others at the workshop he is a part of strive to design, create, and improve the weapons used in humanity’s fight for survival against the Titans. Except that Angel has never actually seen a Titan. Neither has most of the human population which seeks safety within a series of enormous walls. But while for a time they may be safe, they are also trapped by their own defenses. Only the members of the Survey Corps and Garrison forces have directly confronted the Titans, gigantic monstrosities that devour humans and bring destruction and terror. Even more dire is the fact no one knows how to stop or defeat the Titans. Angel and many others fear that one day the unthinkable will happen and the walls will fail. They are determined to discover the Titan’s weaknesses before that can happen, but the existing political and religious situation will make that prospect even more difficult than it already is to accomplish.

Most of the stories in Attack on Titan as a whole follow those characters who serve in the military—the people who are on the front lines directly fighting the Titans. Before the Fall, however, focuses on those who work behind the scenes to make those battles possible—the scientists, craftsmen, and engineers. (Granted, by the end of Before the Fall, Angel has become fairly hands-on himself.) It’s an interesting approach, giving a slight spin to an already familiar story, and one that I particularly liked and appreciated. Among other things, Before the Fall shows the development of some of the most iconic technology in Attack on Titan, the three-dimensional maneuvering gear. But as intriguing as the story is in Before the Fall, sadly the writing itself isn’t particularly engaging and the novel ends up being fairly slow going despite several intense action sequences. There were also a few frustratingly obvious oversights made by the characters; I found it difficult to believe that their logic would have been so flawed. Ultimately, I liked the premise of Before the Fall much more than its execution.

Although the writing might not be the best, where Before the Fall excels is in providing Attack on Titan with more thoroughly grounded worldbuilding, backstory, and lore. Suzukaze not only explores the development and creation of the equipment and weapons that will be used to fight the Titans, he also shows the beginning of the unrest between the general population, the military and government, and the religious cults and factions. There is enough of a basic introduction to the world that even readers who aren’t familiar with Attack on Titan should be able to easily follow Before the Fall, but the novel will appeal most to those who already know and enjoy the franchise. Before the Fall doesn’t tend to have the overwhelmingly bleak atmosphere of the original manga series, but it is still definitely a part of Attack on Titan, meaning that there are many casualties and several gruesome and horrifying turns of events. The air of dark mystery generally found in Attack on Titan remains in Before the Fall, as do the desperate punctuations of human hope and determination in the face of annihilation.

My Week in Manga: February 24-March 2, 2014

My News and Reviews

Last week ended up being surprisingly busy here at Experiments in Manga. The most recent manga giveaway was posted, and there’s still some time left to enter for a chance to win a copy of the new edition of Shohei Manabe’s Smuggler. All you have to do is tell about your favorite assassin in manga. Last week I also posted my review of Hinoki Kino’s manga No. 6, Volume 5. I already knew going into the series that I liked the characters and story, having seen the No. 6 anime, but each volume of the manga is progressively stronger than the last. Over the weekend, I posted February’s Bookshelf Overload for those of you who are interested in that sort of thing. Also over the weekend, I reviewed Real, Volume 1 by Takehiko Inoue. I honestly believe Real to be one of the best manga currently being released in English. The review is part of what I’m calling “Manga March Madness.” Each weekend in March I will be posting a review for another volume of Real. At least that’s the plan. We’ll see if I can pull it off or not.

On to other interesting thing online! The Guys with Pencils podcast posted the second part of their interview with TCAF-founder Chris Butcher. Organization Anti-Social Geniuses has some Advice on Manga Lettering, From Manga Letterers. Khursten Santos wrote about The Silence on Josei Manga on Otaku Champloo, and had some feedback and followup to the post show up on Tumblr. Finally, the Comics Book Legal Defense Fund has an interesting article about the impact government regulations can have on creative freedom—History Repeats Itself: How Korean Manwha Met the Same Fate as American Comics

Quick Takes

Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, Volume 1Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, Volume 1 written by Ryo Suzukaze and illustrated by Satoshi Shiki. Set some seventy years before the main events of Hajime Isayama’s original Attack on Titan manga, Before the Fall is based on a series of light novels by Ryo Suzukaze (which Vertical will begin releasing later this year). Despite having a different author than the original manga, Before the Fall fits right in with Isayama’s worldbuilding and the tone set by Attack on Titan—there is still plenty of fear and darkness. The most striking difference, which didn’t come at all as a surprise, is that the artwork in Before the Fall is much stronger overall. The story follows Kuklo, a young man who, due to the unusual circumstances of his birth, is feared, abused, and reviled by those around him. It’s not pretty. People who have read the original Attack on Titan will have a slightly better understanding of the world than those who haven’t, but so far Before the Fall seems to stand quite well on its own. Before the Fall has a lot of potential; I look forward to seeing how it develops.

I Give to YouI Give to You by Ebishi Maki. As far as I can tell, I Give to You is Maki’s first and currently only boys’ love manga. It’s not a typical boys’ love story, either. The focus is very much on the characters themselves and their personal struggles and less on romance. The manga addresses what it means to be normal and lead a normal life, which isn’t an option for either of the leads. Ryoichi is being pursued by debt collectors after his ex-boyfriend defaults on a loan they co-signed together. He takes shelter from a storm in a teahouse run by Ren, another young man with a past he’d like to put behind him. The two are very different—despite his financial worries, Ryoichi tends to be fairly warm and happy-go-lucky while Ren is cooler and much more reserved. In the beginning, it’s Ryoichi who needs help and acceptance from Ren, but by the end of I Give to You their roles have almost completely reversed. The evolution of their relationship happens so slowly and naturally over the course of the manga that I was quite impressed with how it was handled. I would definitely be interested in reading more of Maki’s manga.

Knights of Sidonia, Volume 6Knights of Sidonia, Volumes 6-7 by Tsutomu Nihei. For most of Knights of Sidonia, it has been the Gauna who have been adapting and evolving by adopting human strategies, techniques, and even form. In these volumes, it’s the humans who have begun to apply the abilities and characteristics of the Gauna to their own technologies, creating terrifying and powerful human-Guana hybrids in the process. Understandably, not everyone is comfortable with these developments, but humanity is running out of options if it wants to survive. Knights of Sidonia has this odd mix of comedy and creepiness that somehow works. Although by this point in the series he has largely been accepted by the rest of the population of Sidonia and even has a few romantic interests, Nagate continues to be incredibly awkward socially. Because of this he still has a tendency to unintentionally create quite a commotion, often with humorous results. At the same time, Knights of Sidonia is also a horror manga. The Gauna, and now the hybrids as well, have very disconcerting designs that can be both grotesque and beautiful.

Ral Ω Grad, Volume 1Ral Ω Grad, Volumes 1-4 written by Tsuneo Takano and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. The primary reason I decided to read Ral Ω Grad was because I’m a fan of Obata’s artwork. Ral Ω Grad is a loose adaptation of the 2006 video game Blue Dragon. The manga definitely has a fantasy RPG feel to it—a young hero with special abilities fights against the destruction of the world by gathering together a party of other gifted individuals around him—but familiarity with Blue Dragon isn’t at all necessary to understand what’s going on. Generally, Ral Ω Grad manages to be vaguely entertaining even though it’s breaking no new ground. I found that I enjoyed the series more when I approached it as a parody rather taking it too seriously. (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t intended to be a parody, though…) Ral’s motivation for saving the world? Because he loves women. And boobs. Consequently, there’s fanservice and groping aplenty, but Ral spends quite a bit of his time running around mostly naked, too. In the end, the series’ highlight really is Obata’s artwork, which is consistently excellent. The story, sadly, is less engaging.