My Week in Manga: March 30-April 5, 2015

My News and Reviews

An interesting variety of things was posted last week at Experiments in Manga. First of all, I had the privilege and opportunity to announce one of Sparkler Monthly‘s most recent additions, Kôsen’s Lêttera, a three-volume comic that was originally published in Spain. The winner of the Yukarism giveaway was announced last week as well. The post also includes a list of manga that feature reincarnation. As for reviews, I took a look at Akira Arai’s debut novel A Caring Man which shared the inaugural Golden Elephant Award grand prize with Fumi Nakamura’s Enma the Immortal. Whereas Enma the Immortal is historical fiction with fantastical elements, A Caring Man is a contemporary crime thriller that by and large is very believable. Finally, over the weekend I posted March’s Bookshelf Overload, which features a slightly less absurd amount of manga than most months.

Elsewhere online, Organization Anti-Social Geniuses has been posting some great manga-related content, including recording of a panel with manga editor and letterer Abigail Blackman from the Castle Point Anime Convention and a quick interview with editor Brendan Wright about Dark Horse’s upcoming release of Makoto Yukimura’s Planetes. (I’m very excited for this license rescue! I already own Tokyopop’s edition of the series, but Dark Horse’s sounds like it will be great, so I’ll most likely be double-dipping.) And speaking of Dark Horse, the final volume of Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal was released last week. Robot 6 has an interview with Philip Simon reflecting on the manga’s end. Chic Pixel has a guide on how to import manga cheaply from Amazon Japan. Throughout March, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund posted a series of articles, Women Who Changed Free Expression, the last of which focused on the influential 24 Nengumi, or the Year 24 Group, as the female progenitors of shoujo manga.

Anime Boston took place over the weekend. Both Yen Press and Kodansha Comics had some pretty exciting announcements to make. Yen Press has licensed thirteen new manga, some of which will be digital-only releases. The two print releases that particularly caught my attention were the omnibus edition of Yowamushi Pedal, particularly surprising since it’s a sports manga that’s nearly forty volumes lone and still ongoing in Japan, and the yonkoma Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun which, if it’s anywhere near as good as the anime adaptation, should be fantastic. As for Kodansha’s announcements, Attack on Titan, Volume 16 will have a special edition. New licenses include Ninja Slayer Kills, two video game-related manga—Persona Q and Devil Survivor—and Junji Ito’s Cat Diary, which is the one I’m personally most excited for. Also revealed was the status of Vinland Saga, which had temporarily been suspended. Basically, only two more volumes are guaranteed to be released unless sales for the series improve. Vinland Saga is magnificent; if you haven’t already given it a try, this would be the time to do it!

Quick Takes

Barakamon, Volume 2Barakamon, Volumes 2-3 by Satsuki Yoshino. While I largely enjoyed the first volume of Barakamon, I wasn’t particularly blown away by it. Still, I was interested in reading more of the series. I’m glad that I did, because it’s really starting to grow on me. Barakamon does have a little bit of a story to it—the once successful and respected calligrapher Seishuu has moved to a remote island to regain his composure and maybe find some inspiration—but mostly the series is about its characters and their interactions with one another. Even though he’s still a city-boy at heart, Seishuu has started to settle in on the island and isn’t nearly as out-of-place as he once was. The humor seems to now be a little less about the differences between country folk and people from more urban areas (although there still is plenty of that, especially when a couple of Seishuu’s friends and admirers from Tokyo show up) and more about the characters’ individuality and quirkiness. I am glad to see Seishuu relax somewhat and lose a bit of his arrogance from the first volume. In general he’s becoming a much more likeable character, which is probably part of the point of the series.

Cage of Eden, Volume 17Cage of Eden, Volume 17 by Yoshinobu Yamada. Finally! The monsters have returned! Well, technically it’s only one monster (not counting the absolutely terrible people), but it’s a pretty big deal. The dinosaurs and creatures are some of the only things I actually like about Cage of Eden; they’ve been largely missing from the last few volumes, so I was glad to see them back in such a dramatic way. Most of the seventeenth volume is devoted to an intense, and most likely deadly, battle against a man-made, genetic monstrosity. Probably best described as a chimera, the creature is formidable and extremely dangerous. The students make some extraordinarily bad decisions when it comes to confronting the beast, which really makes me wonder how they’ve managed to survive for so long. (Granted, the body count in Cage of Eden is pretty high.) The fight hasn’t concluded by the end of the volume, though I suspect it won’t last too much longer. One of the good things about Cage of Eden suddenly focusing on action is there is less opportunity for the more obnoxious fanservice to interrupt the story. Some of the girls even get to put up a decent fight. (At least at first.)

Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, Omnibus 2Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, Omnibus 2 (equivalent to Volumes 3-4) by Satoshi Mizukami. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer and reading the first omnibus didn’t help much with that, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sadly, I wasn’t nearly as taken with the second omnibus. I still enjoyed it, and I still plan on reading more of the series, but Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer seems to have lost a little of its spark for me. Maybe I’ve just gotten used to its strangeness, but at the same time that’s also what I enjoy most about the series. Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer is just so marvelously weird. At times the manga can be surprisingly dark, too, which I also appreciate. In the second omnibus, a slew of new characters are introduced as the identities of the rest of the Beast Knights are uncovered, although some of them are discovered to already be dead. All of them are rather eccentric with pasts that have some significant pain or sadness to them. The mage who plans on destroying the planet makes several appearances as well, and to some extent his motivations are explained, too. Much like the rest of the series, he’s not quite what one might expect.

Virtuoso di AmoreVirtuoso di Amore by Uki Ogasawara. I was primarily drawn to Virtuoso di Amore for two reasons, the role that music plays in the boys’ love manga and the fact that it was created by Ogasawara. I enjoyed parts of her short and very smutty series Black Sun, currently the only other manga of hers available in English. (Techincally, Chronicle of the Divine Sword was at one point licensed, but I don’t think it was ever actually published.) Virtuoso di Amore follows Kenzo Shinozuka, a failed classical pianist (mostly due to his volatile temper), who has been hired by an aristocrat to live in his manor and play for him every night. His patron is Lorenzo Carlucci who, it turns out, used to attend the same music school as Kenzo. Lorenzo is determined to help Kenzo remake is name as a musician. I really liked the basic premise of Virtuoso di Amore as well as its dark ambiance and fervent drama, but Ogasawara’s storytelling is unfortunately disjointed and occasionally difficult to follow. For example, Lorenzo and Kenzo fall in love, or at least in lust, very suddenly, which makes me think their relationship at school must have been much more involved than is implied elsewhere in the manga.

My Week in Manga: March 24-March 30, 2014

My News and Reviews

Posts last week at Experiments in Manga included a new manga giveaway as well as two new in-depth manga reviews! There’s still time to enter the giveaway, too. Head over to the Battle Angel Alita Giveaway to enter for a chance to win the first omnibus in Yukito Kishiro’s manga series Battle Angel Alita: Last Order. As for the reviews: I took a look at the most recent Moyoco Anno manga to be released in English, Insufficient Direction. It’s an autobiographical manga about her married life with Hideaki Anno and is quite funny. I adore Anno’s work, so was happy to learn a little more about her. I also wrapped up my Manga March Madness project. I was rather pleased that I managed to pull it off. Every weekend in March I reviewed a volume of Takehiko Inoue’s basketball manga Real. Since there were five weekends in March and I started with the first volume in the series, my last review for the project was for Real, Volume 5. I hope I was able to at least begin to express why Real is such a fantastic manga in my reviews, because it really is a phenomenal series.

Speaking of Takehiko Inoue, David Brothers, writing for Comics Alliance back in 2010, had a great article that was recently brought to my attention again—From Samurai to Shooting Hoops: Takehiko Inoue, Art Chameleon. As for other things found online: Nahoko Uehashi (the author of Moribito) won the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Author Award, which is a pretty big deal. As usual, Organization Anti-Social Geniuses had some great manga content last week. I particularly enjoyed What Manga Publishers Can Actually License in The US and Advice on Manga Editing, From Manga Editors. Tokyopop’s Stu Levy participated in a recent “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit. The daughter of Osamu Tezuka opened a drawer of her father’s desk that had been locked since 1985 and found some pretty cool stuff. And finally, I was pointed towards a brief biography of Takashi Nagasaki, who works closely with Naoki Urasawa.

Quick Takes

Berserk, Volume 37Berserk, Volume 37 by Kentaro Miura. I love the early story arcs of Berserk and continue to enjoy the series, so I’m always excited when another volume of the manga is finally released. After reading the thirty-seventh volume, I’m particularly anxious to get my hands on the next installment, whenever that may be. The battle between Guts and the rest of the crew against the sea god and its minions reaches its climax in this volume. They are aided by the merrow, Berserk‘s mermaids. Even though Miura’s version of mermaids is fairly traditional, though perhaps slightly more fish-like, I did like them. The thirty-seventh volume also contains a long flashback to Guts’ past as a young mercenary, which I particularly enjoyed reading. It’s set during a time when magic and the supernatural were more hidden and uncommon in the world, though hints of it could still be seen. The end of the volume also turns towards the current activities of Griffith’s army, which recently hasn’t had much prominence in the manga. After so much action and fighting, which I do enjoy, I’m very glad to see more story and plot development.

Black Sun, Volume 2Black Sun, Volume 2 by Uki Ogasawara. It’s been quite a while since I read the first volume of Ogasawara’s boys’ love manga Black Sun. I had a few issues with the story itself, mostly that the lead characters’ relationship moved a little too quickly from lust to possible love, but overall I thought the manga had good potential. I particularly liked the setting of Black Sun, a medieval fantasy inspired in part by the Crusades. Ogasawara’s artwork was also excellent, with particular attention given to the beautiful details of clothing and weaponry as well as attractive, muscular men. When I read the first volume of Black Sun I didn’t actually realize that it was a first volume. I appreciated it’s somewhat ambiguous ending, but was ultimately glad to discover that there was more to the series. The ending of the second and final volume is much less ambiguous, and much happier than I expected that it would be. Black Sun is part of Digital Manga’s 801 Media imprint, so unsurprisingly there is a fair amount of sex to go along with the plot. And Black Sun actually does have a plot. The relationship between Jamal and Leonard plays out against a backdrop of war and political intrigue.

From the New World, Volume 2From the New World, Volumes 2-3 written by Yusuke Kishi and illustrated by Toru Oikawa. I was very torn over the first volume of the From the New World manga. I absolutely loved its dark tone, but found the blatant, pandering fanservice to be a bit off-putting and out-of-place. Thankfully, the fanservice in the second volume is greatly toned down. The outfits worn by the young women are still fairly ridiculous and revealing, though, especially when compared to the male characters who tend to be covered from head to toe in oversized clothing. The lesbian sex returns in the third volume, but it makes much more sense within the context of the series than it did in the first volume. Part of this is because the worldbuilding has progressed significantly. From the New World suffers a little from large info dumps, but at least all of the information is new to the characters, too, so it’s not as egregious a problem as it could be. I’m still loving the actual story of From the New World. The series atmosphere is creepy and ominous, contrasting magnificently with what is supposed to be a perfect and pristine society. What humanity is willing to give up and the terrible steps that have been taken to maintain that system are now being revealed.

Swan, Volume 13Swan, Volumes 13-15 by Kyoko Ariyoshi. In Japan, Swan lasted for twenty-one volumes, only fifteen of which were released in English. It’s too bad that CMX folded before the series could be completely released. Swan is fantastic, and I’m very glad for the fifteen volumes that were translated. These last three volumes of the English edition follow Masumi as she travels to New York with Leonhardt to continue her study of ballet following the aftermath of the Tokyo World Ballet Competition. It’s the beginning of an important new story arc. Masumi has grown tremendously as a ballerina as well as a person, but her time in the United States presents new challenges. Her foundation is in classical ballet but now she is faced with modern ballet which is completely outside of her experience. She has trouble understanding modern ballet and so struggles greatly with its performance. Also introduced in these volumes are new characters and even a potential new love interest, which offers another set of problems for Masumi to deal with. Swan is a beautiful and surprisingly intense series; I was very impressed by it.

Arakawa2Arakawa Under the Bridge x Bridge, Season 2 directed by Akiyuki Shinbo. I enjoyed the first season of Arakawa Under the Bridge a great deal. I very much enjoyed the second season, too, but for some reason wasn’t quite as taken with it. I’m not really sure why that is though since not much really changed between the two. Arakawa Under the Bridge is still funny and absurd. I still like the humor and the characters. While the first season focused on Rec as he gets to know everyone living along the banks of the Arakawa River, everyone’s personalities and quirks have been well established by the start of the second. Maybe it’s that sense of newness and discovery that the second series lacks. But then again maybe not: the second season introduces new cast members as well as a storyline that provides an ongoing framework for some of the gags. (Ultimately it doesn’t really end up going anywhere, though.) One of the things that particularly amused me about the second season of Arakawa Under the Bridge is that Rec has more or less become a shoujo heroine, complete with flowers and sparkles. Nods to Riyoko Ikeda’s series are right at home alongside references to Fist of the North Star and other “manly” anime.

Black Sun: Enslaved King

Creator: Uki Ogasawara
U.S. publisher: Digital Manga
ISBN: 9781934129272
Released: November 2008
Original run: 2007 (Hertz)

Uki Ogasawara’s Black Sun: Enslaved King was originally published in Japan in 2007. Digital Manga released the English translation in 2008 through their division 801 Media which specializes in explicit yaoi titles. Black Sun is no exception—the sex is uncensored and frequent. Other than having seen Black Sun in 801’s catalog, I am unfamiliar with Ogasawara and her work. Currently, she only has one other title available in English (that I know of), Virtuoso di Amore which is also yaoi and is published by DramaQueen. I was very happy to see Black Sun appear in my review list from Digital Manga so that I could give Ogasawara a try.

In exchange for the lives of those under his command at Gerun Fortress, Monastic Knight and Prince Leonard de Limbourg offers up his own during the surrender. Although unheard of, the enemy general Jamal Jan accepts. But instead of killing Leonard, Jamal rapes him in front of his men and takes him back to the Empire as his personal bed accessory and slave. Isaac, Jamal’s adjutant and former lover, is deeply concerned by the developing situation; the Sultan is a man who does many things out of sheer amusement, but he cannot allow such a blatant display of insubordination from one of his most successful commanders to go unpunished.

Black Sun is not about love, despite what some of the characters may try to tell themselves. Instead, it is very much a story about lust and power—both emotional and physical (and there’s nothing wrong with that). Jamal and Leonard’s relationship is troubling, as well as it should be. Jamal’s intentions and true feelings toward Leonard are difficult to discern, especially towards the beginning—he could just be spoils of war or he could be something more—but the fact is that Leonard is a prisoner and forced into a situation with very few options and none of them good. Even considering the war and despite Jamal being for the most part a good person, he is the only one who can be blamed. His character is brash and lusty and he doesn’t hide it but even he has to deal with the consequences of his actions. Although, because of his military importance and the Sultan’s favoritism, he still manages to get away with more than he should. The camaraderie the begins to develop between Leonard and Jamal seems to come too easily, basically amounting to Stockholm syndrome, but fortunately Leonard is at least confused by this. Personally though, I prefer the pairing of Jamal and Isaac.

Ogasawara’s artwork in Black Sun is definitely its highlight; I can easily forgive some of the problems in plot and characterization for the sake of her very attractive art. Beautiful details are given to uniforms and other clothing as well as to such things as weaponry. Ogasawara’s male physiques are fantastic—it’s really nice to see some men with actual muscles in yaoi—and she shows this off to great advantage by finding more or less legitimate excuses to have Jamal seen shirtless for a large part of the book. Occasionally, Ogasawara’s fight sequences can be difficult to follow, but overall the art is simply marvelous.

Mostly, Black Sun is eye-candy although it does have potential to be more. While the basic plot is solid, some interesting elements are introduced but don’t really go anywhere, like characters’ back stories and hints of deeper political machinations. Unfortunately, since some relationships are not thoroughly explained, the plot feels a bit disjointed and characters’ actions can be confusing. There may or may not eventually be a sequel to Black Sun (I’ve seen conflicting reports) which could help address some of these issues. Although Black Sun certainly sets itself up for a second volume, I almost hope there isn’t one. Not because I didn’t enjoy the book, because I did. I simply like the story as it is—Ogasawara avoids a trite, happy ending and events happen as they should. But saying that, I still wouldn’t mind seeing some more of Ogasawara’s work available in English.

Thank you to Digital Manga for providing a digital copy of Black Sun for review.