My Week in Manga: April 27-May 3, 2015

My News and Reviews

Last week was the end of one month and the beginning of another, which means the most recent manga giveaway at Experiments in Manga is currently underway. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, so there’s still a little time to enter for a chance to win Miki Yoshikawa’s Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, Volume 1. An in-depth manga review was posted last week as well. I took a look at Aki’s The Angel of Elhamburg, a bittersweet tragedy which, although it can be difficult to follow in places, is a lovely single-volume manga. And finally, over the weekend, April’s Bookshelf Overload was posted for those who are curious about the manga that made its way into my home last month.

On to other interesting reading and news found elsewhere online! Sparkler Monthly has started a monthly blog and the first post Why do we need “comics for women”? Why not “comics for everyone”? is excellent. Seven Seas announced three new manga licenses last week: Katsuhisa Kigitsu’s Fraken Fran, Wataru Karasuma’s Not Lives, and Ichigo Takano’s Orange (which is also being released digitally by Crunchyroll.) Franken Fran in particular has been a oft-requested title by fans. Organization Anti-Social Geniuses talked with Lissa Pattillo from Seven Seas about the Franken Fran license. Also at OASG is an interview with Hope Donovan, a managing editor at Viz Media. And Mangabrog has posted a translation of a conversation between mangaka Nobuyuki Fukumoto and musician and author Kenji Ohtsuki.

Quick Takes

Cipher, Volume 1Cipher, Volumes 1-6 by Minako Narita. During its time, CMX published some really great manga, including several old-school shoujo series. Cipher is one of those, and probably one of the most eighties manga that I’ve read. The series, set in New York, began serialization in 1984 and includes many references to American pop culture of the time. Anise is trying to make friends with Siva, an up-and-coming actor as well as one of her classmates, when she discovers his secret. He has a twin, Cipher, and they’ve been taking turns pretending to be “Siva.” And so they make a bet: if after two weeks she can tell the two twins apart, they will tell her why they have been sharing an identity. Cipher doesn’t always have the most believable story—for one, I don’t know of any parents who would ever let their child move in with someone they’ve never met even temporarily—but the characters and interpersonal drama are consistently engaging and at times even compelling. So far, I’m loving it. Cipher is often slow-moving, generally focusing on the everyday lives of American teenagers, but a plot twist towards the end of the sixth volume hastens and sets up important character and story developments for the second half of the series.

Junk!Junk! Shushushu Sakurai. If I’m not mistaken, Junk! was the very last manga to be released by DramaQueen before the publisher disappeared. Like Sakurai’s other DramaQueen release, Missing Road, Junk! is a boys’ love manga that incorporates elements of science fiction and action. Also like Missing Road, Junk! is a manga that could have benefited from additional volumes in order to explore some of the complexities of the plot and setting. Reading these manga, Sakurai seems to be overly ambitious when it comes to her stories. However, I think Junk! is the more cohesive, coherent, and successful of the two overall. Even though it’s only a single volume, Junk! has a lot going on in it. A religious cult focused on breeding people together—whether they are male or female—in order to foster the evolution of even stronger humans. A man who holds the key to a closely kept government secret that ensures a person’s survival even in the face a nuclear apocalypse. And, because it is a mature boys’ love title after all, there’s plenty of sex, too, even at inopportune moments. (Seriously, taking time to bang your lover in the middle of a dangerous infiltration mission doesn’t seem to be the wisest decision.)

My Little Monster, Volume 7My Little Monster, Volume 7 by Robico. The last few volumes of My Little Monster left me a little frustrated with the lack of progress in the development of the series’ story and in the relationships of its characters. Fortunately, the seventh volume seems to get things back on track and the manga continues to be a fairly amusing and even endearing series from time to time. Also, I love that after everything that has happened, Nagoya, the pet chicken, continues to make repeated appearances. The cast of My Little Monster is made up of a bunch of oddballs who tend to be socially awkward, but I do like them quite a bit. Part of that social awkwardness means they can be completely oblivious to other people’s feelings, even when those feelings have been clearly and repeatedly stated. To be fair, they’re sometimes oblivious to their own feelings as well. The result is one heck of a mess of tangled and conflicting relationships. The seventh volume of My Little Monster sees some but certainly not all of those relationships sorted out after several confessions of love are made and replies to them eventually given. At this point the series is more than halfway over, so I hope Robico is able to maintain its forward momentum.

Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 11Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 11 by Mitsuru Hattori. I was very curious to see how Sankarea would end since I honestly had no idea which direction Hattori was going to take things. And now that I’ve read the final volume, I’m not entirely convinced that Hattori actually knew, either. From the very beginning Sankarea has been a strange mix of horror and romantic comedy, an offbeat story with offbeat characters. Sometimes the ideal balance between the two genres was there, and sometimes it wasn’t. The finale of Sankarea would seem to demand that Hattori choose one over the other, but instead he attempts to satisfy the requirements of both by employing a series of false endings. I think that ultimately the conclusion of Sankarea would have been more satisfying if Hattori had simply picked one ending and ran with it. Like the rest of the series, the eleventh volume of Sankarea had its cute and sweet moments as well its moments of blood and gore. It also has the return of Rea’s abusive father (legitimately one of the most disturbing elements of the series), trying to put him in a slightly more sympathetic light.  In the end, little Bub the undead cat is probably still my favorite part of the entire series.

My Week in Manga: April 6-April 12, 2015

My News and Reviews

I posted two reviews last week at Experiments in Manga that featured some of Kodansha Comics’ newest series: Masayuki Ishikawa’s Maria the Virgin Witch, Volume 1, released back in February, and Naoshi Arakawa’s Your Lie in April, Volume 1, which will be released later this month. The main reason I picked up Maria the Virgin Witch was because Ishikawa was the creator of Moyasimon. I really wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did, but now I’m very interested in reading the rest of the series. Your Lie in April caught my attention because it’s a music manga. It has the potential to become rather melodramatic, but I did enjoy the first volume and plan on reading more.

Last week also saw the release of Gamon Sakurai’s Ajin: Demi-Human, Volume 4 from Vertical. I’m actually quoted on the back cover, a blurb taken from my review of the first volume. This is all very exciting, although my legacy will now probably be that of an ignorant reviewer who spouts nonsense about production values and the quality of paper. Although I thought it looked nice, it turns out Ajin is actually printed on one of the cheaper, thinner stocks used by Vertical. Anyway. Lesson learned! I also discovered that a much more flattering quote of mine from a quick take last year was used for the final volume of Tetsuya Tsutsui’s Prophecy, except that it was credited to Manga Bookshelf. So it goes!

Elsewhere online, Lori of Manga Xanadu has recently been putting together some interesting lists of manga. A few weeks ago she featured sewing and fashion manga and last week focused on manga which include books with great power. Organization of Anti-Social Geniuses posted the transcription of the panel with Abigail Blackman on manga editing, lettering, and Japanese nuance. from the Castle Point Anime Con. Geeks OUT! has an exclusive interview with Jiraiya (one of the creators featured in the Massive gay manga anthology) from his recent North American tour. And Zero Comprehension has a brief guide to the official releases of the Golgo 13 manga in English.

In licensing-ish news, Digital Manga has launched another Tezuka Kickstarter for Clockwork Apple and is making plans for its next yaoi Kickstarter. Unrelated, there’s also a Kickstarter project for an original-English boys’ love anthology that looks quite good—Boy, I Love You. Viz Media has licensed the Yo-Kai Watch manga series for its Perfect Square imprint. I don’t often mention anime licenses, but I was very excited to learn that Discotek Media will be releasing Library Wars and Dororo. Finally, Sparkler Monthly has added the reboot of Jennifer Doyle’s excellent webcomic Knights-Errant. (Also, the most recent Sparkler Podcast talks about josei manga and the differences between the Japanese manga industry and the North American comics industry, among other topics.)

Quick Takes

Genshiken: Second Season, Volume 4Genshiken: Second Season, Volumes 4-6 by Shimoku Kio. For some reason, I don’t find the second season of Genshiken to be as engaging as the original manga series. I haven’t quite been able to identify why yet, though I suspect it may be because most of the newer characters haven’t seen much development in the recent volumes and the characters from the first “season” feel like they’re invading the new series. I think Genshiken works best for me with an ensemble cast. While there are still plenty of characters in the manga as well as regular plot tangents, lately the story has primarily focused on just a few. Admittedly, the two characters who are getting the most attention, namely Madarame and Hato, happen to be my favorites in the series. Hato in particular is marvelous. He’s going through some significant personal turmoil over his cross-dressing and love of boys’ love, which has a tremendous impact on the rest of the story and characters. And apparently just about everyone is in love with Madarame. But as interesting as the increasingly convoluted relationships in the series are, at this point what I really want is to know more about the other club members.

Last Man, Volume 1: The StrangerLast Man, Volume 1: The Stranger by Bastien Vivès, Michael Sanlaville, and Balak. Despite France being one of the world powerhouses of comics creation, relatively few French comics have been translated into English, especially when compared to the number of manga available. Last Man, which is in part inspired and heavily influenced by shōnen battle manga, has been very well received in France. And now, thanks to First Second, it’s available in English. (I believe Last Man may actually the first comic in translation that has been released by First Second.) Adrian is a young boy who has been training hard for his first fighting tournament, but when his teammate gets sick, it looks like he won’t be able to compete. Enter Richard, the titular stranger and a physically imposing man, who also needs a partner in order to compete. They make a peculiar pair: Adrian hasn’t quite mastered the magic and special techniques of his martial style, and Richard relies completely on his fists and strength. He also doesn’t appear to actually know the rules of the tournament, which poses a bit of a problem. So far, Last Man is delightfully engaging; I’m really looking forward to reading more of the series.

Missing RoadMissing Road by Shushushu Sakurai. Before quietly disappearing, DramaQueen released two final manga by Sakurai, Junk! and Missing Road. What particularly caught my attention about these two manga was the fact that they were science fiction—a genre that I’ve rarely seen in translated boys’ love manga. Missing Road specifically was described as “an epic sci-fi adventure of love, loss, and redemption.” Sadly, although some of Sakurai’s ideas certainly had great potential and I did like the setting, Missing Road doesn’t quite live up to that promise. The manga would have been more successful from a narrative standpoint if Sakurai could have expanded the story over the course of multiple volumes. As it is, she tries to cover too much ground in a single installment and many of the manga’s elements feel underdeveloped or truncated as a result. There are important close and intimate relationships, but Missing Road isn’t really a love story and is instead more about brutal war and revenge. Most of the sex is of a violent nature and rape occurs on several different occasions. The English-language edition was actually censored (with permission from Sakurai) for fear of United States child pornography laws.

Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, Omnibus 3Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, Omnibus 3 by CLAMP. With this omnibus, I have entered into territory that I previously didn’t have the opportunity to read before Tsubasa originally went out-of-print in English. At this point, I’m still enjoying the series. It’s not always the most emotionally compelling manga (although admittedly it can sometimes be heart-wrenching), but Tsubasa is definitely a solid adventure tale. The manga’s premise allows CLAMP to very creative and develop world after world, each one different from the ones preceding and following it and each with its own challenges and dangers to be faced. Nods to other CLAMP manga and characters are still prevalent, and I assume this will likely be true for the entire series. This particular omnibus prominently features RG Veda, which I haven’t actually read, so I probably don’t appreciate the references as much as someone who has. It looks like the alternate version of Seishirō from Tokyo Babylon and X will be an important antagonist in Tsubasa as well. The series Tsubasa most directly crosses over with is xxxHolic. This connection actually works very well for Tsubasa, but I find it somewhat distracting when reading xxxHolic.