My Week in Manga: October 28-November 3, 2013

My News and Reviews

I have been so incredibly busy recently (which is why I don’t have any fun online discoveries to share with you all this week) but I was still somehow able to post a few things here at Experiments in Manga. The most recent manga giveaway is underway and there is still time to enter for a chance to win Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 1 by Mitsuru Hattori. For those of you interested in the absurd amount of manga that make its way onto my bookshelves, October’s Bookshelf Overload was also posted. And finally, I reviewed the second edition of Hedi Varian’s The Way of Taiko. I myself am a taiko player, and there are very few books in English devoted to taiko, so I am very happy to see the volume back in print in a new edition.

Quick Takes

His ArroganceHis Arrogance by Takashi Kanzaki. Despite being part of Digital Manga’s 801 Media imprint, His Arrogance isn’t exceptionally explicit. It’s also not very interesting and I found myself bored with both the story and the characters. Even the artwork, while fairly solid, wasn’t particularly outstanding or noteworthy. Although, occasionally Kanzaki would capture a look of utter adoration that was delightful to see. Ryou’s father established a modeling agency specifically to aid Ryou’s older brother Tomohito in his career. In addition to helping out with the company, Ryou also lives in the dorms with the models. Kazuto is one of those models, one of Ryou’s classmates, and the self-proclaimed rival of Tomohito. I think I would have enjoyed His Arrogance more if Kanzaki would have kept the manga’s focus on Ryou and Kazuto’s relationship. Instead, Ryou’s rather bizarre and vaguely incestuous bond with his brother severely encroaches upon the story. Perhaps it was supposed to be played as comedy, but it just ends up being kind of weird and awkward.

Real, Volume 12Real, Volume 12 by Takehiko Inoue. Many people assume that Inoue’s masterpiece Vagabond would be my favorite of his manga, but that honor probably goes to his series Real. I absolutely love Real, and I’m not even a huge fan of basketball. Although the sport is certainly an incredibly important part of the series, to me Real is much more about the characters themselves, their internal and external struggles, and their development as people. While the previous volume had a particular focus on Nomiya and his tryout for the Tokyo Lightnings, the twelfth volume turns its attention to Togawa and his efforts to become a better team player—something that is extremely difficult for him. Despite of or maybe because of his natural skill as an athlete, Togawa has always been very critical, harsh, and demanding of his fellow players. If there is a theme to Real, Volume 12, I would say that it is change, and specifically the need, desire, and willingness for change. Several of the manga’s characters must make important decisions about who they are and who they want to be in this volume.

Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 3Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 3 by Mitsuru Hattori. The best thing about the third volume of Sankarea? Rea’s father isn’t in it. (That guy is an utter creep.) Hattori also introduces an important new character—Darin Arciento Kurumiya, who is very interested in zombies and therefore very interested in Rea. She also brings along with her a marvelously ridiculous zombie owl. In addition to Kurumiya’s introduction, this particular volume also focuses on Rea and her attempt to return to school after her zombification. There are some challenges, to say the least. Her body continues to decay and fall apart and since she doesn’t really feel pain anymore she has a tendency to overtax herself physically. I was a little surprised to see how toned-down the extraneous fanservice was in this volume. It’s still there, but it’s not nearly as prominent or distracting as it once was. I am honestly enjoying Sankarea much more than I ever expected that I would. It’s a very odd series with very odd characters and I can appreciate its quirkiness. Rea and Chihiro are both weirdos, but they make a cute not-quite-couple.

KajiUltimateSurvivorKaiji: Ultimate Survivor directed by Yūzō Satō. After watching and enjoying Akagi, watching Kaji seemed to be a natural choice. It’s another anime series based on a manga Nobuyuki Fukumoto featuring some exceptionally intense and legitimately life-threatening gambles. But whereas Akagi is calm, cool, and collected, Kaiji is hot-blooded and frenetic. (The actor who voiced Akagi also voiced Kaiji; I was quite impressed by his range and how differently he was able to play the two characters.) Kaiji also has extremely bad luck. His troubles really begin when a friend defaults on a loan that Kaiji agreed to co-sign. A man comes to collect but Kaiji, himself in debt, has no way to repay the loan. But he is given an extraordinary opportunity to clear the debt by participating in a series of absurd and increasingly dangerous gambles. Kaiji is incredibly intense and occasionally disturbing with a huge focus on the psychological aspects of the story and the mental torment and despair of its characters. Even a seemingly simple game of rock-paper-scissors can be a traumatic experience.

Library Love, Part 17

Support manga, support your library!

Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Arisa5Arisa, Volumes 5-7 by Natsumi Ando. As ridiculous and unbelievable as Arisa can be, I’ll have to admit that I actually am rather enjoying the series. The number of plot twists that Ando works into the manga is astounding. I know that they’re coming, but I have no idea where Arisa is going. I’ve learned not to stress out about it and just sit back and enjoy the absurdity as it develops. However, I can’t help but wonder where all the adults are in all of this. Occasionally a teacher, parent, or guardian is seen, but none of them seem very involved in the students’ lives at all. But then again, that might be part of the point of the series. The students in class 2-B have issues (they have a lot of issues) and King Time began in part because their needs and concerns weren’t being addressed elsewhere. More and more of their secrets are being revealed, but I’m not sure we’re any closer to actually learning who the King really is. Arisa continues along its dark and twisted path and I can’t help but be oddly mesmerized by the whole thing.

Cowa!Cowa! by Akira Toriyama. Cowa! had completely slipped under my radar until just recently. It’s a shame that I didn’t read it sooner because it is a terrific and highly enjoyable manga appropriate for kids as well as adults. The first few chapters are fairly episodic and start out with Paifu, a young half-vampire/half-werekoala, and his best friend and ghost José Rodriguez getting into all sorts of trouble. But then the manga develops a continuing story—Paifu’s hometown of Batwing Ridge is suffering from an epidemic of the Monster Flu. It’s up to Paifu, José, their not exactly friend Apron, and Maruyama, a grumpy ex-sumo wrestler, to save the day. Together they travel in search of the cure and it ends up becoming quite an adventure. There’s action and danger, bad guys and monsters. The interactions between Maruyama and the youngsters are simply marvelous. The manga is a lot of fun and funny, too. It may be silly at times, but it’s also heartwarming and has a good message. Cowa! is an absolute delight and definitely worth a look.

Slam Dunk, Volume 7Slam Dunk, Volumes 7-10 by Takehiko Inoue. I am a huge fan of Inoue’s manga. While Slam Dunk isn’t my favorite of his series, I still find it to be a great manga. Slam Dunk was Inoue’s breakthrough work and is immensely popular and influential. The basketball games in Slam Dunk are extremely well done, but so far what appeals most to me about the series is the characters. I particularly enjoy all of the delinquents that show up in the series and on Shohoku’s basketball team. The guys are just as capable in a fist fight as they are on the court. Granted, Sakuragi still has a lot to learn about basketball. He has some natural ability and potential, but I’m not sure anyone has actually taken the time to explain all the rules to him. Realistically, this is somewhat unbelievable, but it does provide a certain amount of humor. In general, Slam Dunk is much more comedic than Inoue’s other manga available in English. However, there’s still some seriousness and plenty of heartfelt passion in the series, too.

Time LagTime Lag written by Shinobu Gotoh and illustrated by Hotaru Odagiri. I didn’t realize it at first, but Odagiri is also the artist for Only the Ring Finger Knows, which I quite enjoyed. Time Lag is a slightly older work, and not quite as memorable, but still enjoyable and rather sweet. Satoru and Shirou used to be very close growing up, but after junior high they’ve grown apart despite Satoru repeatedly professing his love for the other young man. Satoru can’t seem to figure out what went wrong, but when a letter from Shirou arrives three years late he may have one last chance at setting things right. However, complicating matters even further is a love-triangle involving Seichii, another classmate. Plots that revolve around a giant misunderstanding often annoy me, but in the case of Time Lag I think it was handled very well. Some of the smaller misunderstandings were still frustrating, though. Granted, those deliberately created by Seichii and his jealousy make a fair amount of sense in the context of the story and the resulting drama is understandable.

Library Love, Part 15

Support manga, support your library!

Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Ju-On: Video Side by Miki Rinno. I haven’t actually seen any of the the films in Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On franchise, but I believe that Ju-On: Video Side is an adaptation of the first direct-to-video Ju-On movie, also known as The Curse. The manga opens with a woman being murdered by her husband as their young son looks on. Because of the violence and deaths associated with the house, the property is difficult to sell. Despite being warned against it, the Murakami family moves in. Their lives are quickly consumed by horrifying incidents and bizarre accidents. Anyone even remotely connected to the household is at risk as the vengeful spirits take out their anger on the living.

Nana, Volumes 9-12 by Ai Yazawa. I continue to be impressed by Yazawa’s Nana. I have a feeling that this will be a series that I end up buying to have a copy of my own. It’s just that good. The characterization in Nana is phenomenal. As the series progresses, the characters continue to evolve and grow. They are all multi-layered and their relationships are complex. While the interpersonal drama is still extraordinarily important in Nana, these particular volumes start to focus on Trapnest and Black Stones as bands a bit more. The two groups and their members are revealed to be very closely linked. Complicating matters further, they’re harassed by paparazzi. Their careers get in the way of love and romance as they lose some control over their own lives to their music labels.

The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon. I was happy to discover that all the praise The Nao of Brown has received was well-deserved: Dillon’s artwork is gorgeous and the storytelling is mature. Nao Brown is half-Japanese and half-English, living in London with Purely Obsessional OCD. She is plagued by violent thoughts and is afraid that one day she actually will hurt someone, which makes leading a normal life and developing healthy relationships with other people difficult. But then she meets Gregory, a burly washing machine repairman who reminds her of one of her favorite anime characters. The two of them hit it off pretty well, but not without some problems.

Slam Dunk, Volumes 3-6 by Takehiko Inoue. I am much more familiar with Inoue’s later seinen works Vagabond and Real than I am with Slam Dunk, his immensely popular breakthrough series. Although there are some similar themes to be found in all three series, Slam Dunk is more obviously humorous than the other two. It’s great fun. I’m very fond of Hanamichi as a protagonist. He’s a sort of delinquent with a heart of gold. Actually, the delinquent aspects and Hanamichi’s gang are some of my favorite parts of Slam Dunk. Of course, the basketball is good, too, and really the focus of the series. By this point, Hanamichi finally gets the chance to play in a real game. Even though he’s still a new player and makes plenty of mistakes, he also shows an impressive amount of potential.

Vagabond, Omnibus 3

Creator: Takehiko Inoue
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421522456
Released: April 2009
Original release: 2000-2001
Awards: Japan Media Arts Award, Kodansha Manga Award, Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize

The third volume in Viz Media’s omnibus release of Takehiko Inoue’s manga series Vagabond collects the seventh, eighth, and ninth volumes of the original edition. Those volumes were initially published in Japan between 2000 and 2001 and then in English by Viz Media between 2003 and 2004. The third omnibus was released by Viz Media in 2009. Inoue’s Vagabond is based on Eiji Yoshikawa’s epic historical novel Musashi, which is a retelling of the life of the legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. In addition to being an extraordinary adaptation, Vagabond has also earned Inoue a Japan Media Arts Award, a Kodansha Manga Award, and a Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize among other honors. Because March 2013’s Manga Moveable Feast celebrates historical manga, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to dig into Vagabond again.

Along his journey to determine and prove his worth as a swordsman, Musashi confronted Inshun, the second-generation master of the Hōzōin spear technique. Musashi nearly lost his life in the resulting encounter and was forced to retreat. Ashamed that he ran away from the battle, Musashi has been developing his mind and body in the nearby mountains. Surprisingly enough, he is training under the guidance of In’ei, Inshun’s master. Musashi struggles to conquer the fear that the battle with Inshun has instilled in him. As for Inshun, never before having the opportunity to experience mortal combat, he looks forward to the chance to fight Musashi again. Although their goals may be similar, both young men have their own reasons for seeking to become stronger and more powerful.

One of the prominent themes in this particular omnibus of Vagabond is fear and, more specifically, how the characters deal with that fear. Both Musashi and Inshun have their own personal demons to face, but they confront their fears in very different ways. Musashi tends to approach things head on while Inshun subconsciously attempts to bury much of his past. These differences not only influence their personalities, but their martial abilities and fighting styles, as well. Becoming a skilled fighter and following the way of the sword isn’t just about brute strength, a lesson that Musashi is still trying to learn and master. Strategy, awareness, and mental clarity and preparedness are also extremely important. For a fighter, a strong mind is just as crucial as a strong body, especially when dealing with matters of life and death.

Another point that is emphasized through Inshun and Musashi’s conflict is the need to be able to see and understand not only the details of a situation but also that situation as a whole. This is something that is reflected nicely in Inoue’s artwork. In Vagabond, Inoue uses a detailed, realistic style which works superbly with the story’s realistic approach to traditional martial arts. I love the attention that Inoue devotes to the characters’ physical presences—their feet, stances, and grounding. At the same time he conveys the intensity of their mental and emotional states through their facial expressions, eyes, and demeanor. Inoue’s focus on these and other details doesn’t overwhelm the larger picture; instead, it enhances it. Vagabond is a great adaptation but the cohesive vision that Inoue brings to both the story and the art makes it a marvelous work in its own right. I certainly look forward to reading more.

My Week in Manga: November 26-December 2, 2012

My News and Reviews

Although it wasn’t a particularly busy week at Experiments in Manga, I did have three posts in addition to the usual My Week in Manga. November’s Bookshelf Overload was posted over the weekend. There were some really lovely deluxe manga and box sets released in November. The most recent Library Love feature was also posted. I took a quick look at some of the manga that I borrowed from my local library: Black Blizzard, Here Is Greenwood, Nana, and Peace Maker Kurogane. Also, November’s manga giveaway is currently in progress. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, so there’s still time to enter for a chance to win the first four volumes of Harold Sakuishi’s Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad. Simply tell me about your favorite music-themed manga. I also want to mention a marvelous feature on Takehiko Inoue that CNN released as part of its “Human to Hero” feature—How ‘Slam Dunk’ Manga Artist Brings Characters to Life.

Quick Takes

13th Boy, Volume 1 by SangEun Lee. I’m not entirely sure what to make of 13th Boy, and I have no idea where Lee is taking the story, but I did enjoy the first volume—it was delightfully quirky. The manhwa could have been a fairly straightforward romantic comedy, except for the fact that it incorporates a bit of magic, destiny, and a sentient cactus. (Yes, you read that correctly, a sentient cactus.) Hee-So Eun dated Won-Jun Kang, the boy she fell in love with at first sight, for less than a month before he broke up with her. What she can’t seem to understand is why, and so she’s more determined than ever to prove to him that they should be together. But a mysterious boy in her class, Whie-Young Jang, keeps getting in the way.

Finder, Volumes 4-6 by Ayano Yamane. If I understand correctly (and I very well may be wrong), Finder was originally intended to end with the fifth volume, but its popularity was such that Yamane was able to publish more. The sixth volume mostly focuses on Akihito’s everyday life as he tries to get his feet back under him after his traumatic experiences in Japan and Hong Kong’s underworld. It was still a great volume with quite a bit of action, but I did miss the intense, dark drama and complicated character interactions that Fei Long’s presence brought to the previous volumes. The fairly extensive crossover between the Finder series and Yamane’s “In Love” short manga did make me very happy, though.

Real, Volumes 10-11 by Takehiko Inoue. I honestly believe that Real is one of the best manga series currently being published in English. I first read Real after borrowing the series from the library, but it is such a great series that I had to have a set of my own. I really can’t recommend this series enough. Inoue’s artwork is fantastic and his characters are marvelously complex. The series’ realism is phenomenal. All of the characters are struggling with their own limitations and searching for their place in the world. There are triumphs and there are failures, but how the characters deal with them is what makes the series so compelling, powerful, and even inspiring. I can hardly wait for the next volume.

Reiko the Zombie Shop, Volumes 1-6 by Rei Mikamoto. Action-packed, gory fun is probably the easiest way to describe Reiko the Zombie Shop. It reminds me a bit of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, which is not at all a bad thing; granted Reiko the Zombie Shop was published first. I actually preferred the shorter one-shot stories in the series over the longer more involved plot arcs. Although the longer stories have some advantages: there’s more time to get a feel for the characters (of course, Mikamoto doesn’t hesitate to kill most of them off, anyway), and there’s a wider variety of zombies and powers displayed. Only six of the eleven volumes were released in English, ending on a cliffhanger, but the series is entertaining.