JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Part 1: Phantom Blood, Volume 3

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Part 1: Phantom Blood, Volume 3Creator: Hirohiko Araki
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421578804
Released: August 2015
Original release: 1988

Although I had been previously aware of the manga series for some time, my real introduction to Hirohiko Araki’s multi-generational shounen epic JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure was in 2012 through the standalone spinoff Rohan at the Louvre. I then proceeded to read the third story arc Stardust Crusaders, at the time the only other part of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure to have been released English. It wasn’t until 2015 that Phantom Blood, the very beginning of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure was translated, published in a beautiful hardcover edition under Viz Media’s Shonen Jump imprint. When Phantom Blood was originally collected in Japan it was released in five volumes between 1987 and 1988. However, in 2002 it was re-released in three volumes which is what Viz Media’s edition is based on. Phantom Blood, Volume 3, published in English in 2015, is largely equivalent to the fourth and fifth volumes of the original Japanese release.

Having arrived in Wind Knights Lot in pursuit of his adoptive brother Dio, Jonathan Joestar must first successfully defeat two of Dio’s strongest undead minions and then traverse a town with a population that is steadily being turned into a hoard of zombies before he even has the chance to confront his brother. The Dark Knight Blueford, who is filled with hatred for the world and loyalty to Dio, is determined to take JoJo’s life. The other knight, Tarukus, is also exceptionally skilled when it comes to dealing out death and takes great delight in it. Should JoJo and his allies manage to survive their encounter with these two undead foe, they face an even more formidable adversary in Dio. Having used an ancient stone mask to turn himself into a vampire, Dio has gained untold strength and powers. Fortunately, JoJo is a quick and talented study—under the tutelage of Baron Zeppeli he has been able to begin to master Hamon energy, the only thing other than the sun itself that can harm to Dio.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Part 1: Phantom Blood, Volume 3, page 147JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure truly is a bizarre series; Phantom Blood makes this very clear from the very start. From the characters’ weird anatomy and disproportionate musculature to the story’s strange mix of melodrama, horror, and fantastic martial arts, Phantom Blood doesn’t just strain readers’ suspension of disbelief, the manga completely shatters it. Entire backstories are revealed in the time it takes for characters to tumble down cliff sides; combatants continue to live on after suffering injures that even the undead couldn’t survive; fights quickly escalate to unbelievable extremes, opponents continuously outdoing and outmaneuvering one another. Although the “why” of what’s going on is sometimes questionable, even considering Araki’s pseudo-scientific explanations, most everything is blatantly narrated by the participants and observers, so it’s fairly easy to at least follow the “what” of all of the strangeness. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is admittedly ridiculous and absurd, but that’s part of what makes the series so entertaining.

Phantom Blood is a relatively short series, especially when compared to the later story arcs of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. While Phantom Blood is a complete story in its own right, if often feels even more like a prologue to the rest of the series, laying the groundwork for all of the weirdness and machismo to come. Phantom Blood introduces the noble Joestar family—Jonathan in particular being especially gallant and large-hearted, even towards his enemies—but even more important is the introduction of Dio, an extraordinary villain. As Araki points out in the volume’s author notes, what make Dio so terrifying isn’t his impressive powers or brute strength, it’s his stunning ability to control others. Dio is arrogant but extremely charismatic, gaining many willing followers and easily manipulating those who aren’t. Phantom Blood is frequently gruesome and grotesque, with over-the-top violence, outrageous story developments, and audacious, larger-than-life characters. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a peculiar work, but I’m definitely looking forward to reading the next arc, Battle Tendency.

Oishinbo, A la Carte: The Joy of Rice

Oishinbo, A la Carte: The Joy of RiceAuthor: Tetsu Kariya
Illustrator: Akira Hanasaki

U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421521442
Released: November 2009
Original release: 2005
Awards: Shogakukan Manga Award

At well over one hundred volumes, Oishinbo is one of the most successful and long-running food manga in Japan, winning the Shogakukan Manga Award in 1987. Written by Tetsu Kariya and illustrated by Akira Hanasaki, Oishinbo first began serialization in 1983 and is still ongoing although currently the manga is on indefinite hiatus following a controversy of its depiction of the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster. Between 2009 and 2010, Viz Media released seven volumes of Oishinbo, A la Carte under its Signature imprint, becoming the first food manga that I ever read. Oishinbo, A la Carte is a series of thematic anthologies collecting chapters from throughout the main Oishinbo manga. Oishinbo, a la Carte: The Joy of Rice was the sixth collection to be released in English in 2009. However, The Joy of Rice was actually the thirteenth volume of Oishinbo, A la Carte to be published in Japan in 2005.

The Joy of Rice collects eight stories and one essay in which rice, an important staple of Japanese diet and cuisine, is featured. In “A Remarkable Mediocrity,” the wrath of a wealthy businessman and gourmand who made his fortune dealing in rice is able to be appeased by the simplest of dishes. “Brown Rice Versus White Rice” examines how people can be mislead even when they make an effort to eat healthily. The structure of rice and how proper storage can make a difference when it comes to cooking it are the focus of “Live Rice.” Yamaoka, Oishinbo‘s protagonist, makes a case against the importation of foreign rice into Japan in “Companions of Rice.” In “The Matsutake Rice of the Sea,” a wager between friends over a rice dish becomes more important than they realize. Kariya opines about the eating manners of Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans in his essay “The Most Delicious Way to Eat Rice.” A debate on the proper way to eat rice is central to “No Mixing” as well. Rice takes a supporting role in “The Season for Oysters,” but once again takes the spotlight in the three-part “Rice Ball Match.”

Oishinbo, A la Carte: The Joy of Rice, page 215Because Oishinbo, A la Carte compiles various stories together by theme rather than by chronology, the series can feel somewhat disjointed. Having read nearly all of the Oishinbo, A la Carte collections available in English, for the most part I’ve gotten used to and even expect this, but it seemed to be particularly glaring in The Joy of Rice. From story to story it’s often difficult to anticipate the status of the characters’ relationships with one another and those relationships are often very important to understand. For example, “A Remarkable Mediocrity” is one of the earliest episodes to be found in Oishinbo proper—it’s a little awkward to have the chapter that originally introduced several of the established recurring characters appear so late in A la Carte. Admittedly, the point of Oishinbo, Al la Carte is to highlight specific foods or themes; only a basic understanding of the underlying premise of Oishinbo and of its characters is absolutely necessary. The translation notes help greatly, but it can still make for an odd reading experience.

The Joy of Rice examines the place of rice within Japanese culture and cuisine, addressing both social and scientific aspects of the grain. Like the other volumes in Oishinbo, A la Carte, The Joy of Rice places a huge emphasis on organically and locally produced food, railing against pesticides, herbicides, and the use of antibiotics in agriculture. The series is not at all subtle about the stance it takes, and Yamaoka can frankly be a jerk about it at times. Initially I was hoping that The Joy of Rice would explore the different varieties of rice found and used in Japan, but the volume instead focuses on the significance of rice in the lives of the country’s people—the nostalgia and memories associated with it and the pure enjoyment and complete satisfaction that it can bring—which was ultimately very gratifying. However, my favorite story in The Joy of Rice, “Rice Ball Match,” uses rice to delve into Japanese culinary culture and history as a whole, which was an excellent way to round out the volume, bringing all of the manga’s themes together in one place.

Hide and Seek, Volume 3

Hide and Seek, Volume 3Creator: Yaya Sakuragi
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421579689
Released: March 2015
Original release: 2014

Yaya Sakuragi has had quite a few of her boys’ love manga translated and released in English: Tea for Two; Hey, Sensei?; Stay Close to Me; Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love; and, most recently, Hide and Seek. Hey, Sensei? was actually my introduction to boys’ love, and I tend to enjoy Sakuragi’s work, so I’ve made a point to read and collect it all. As for Hide and Seek, the third and final volume was originally published in Japan in 2014. The English-language edition was released in 2015 by Sublime Manga, the boys’ love imprint associated with Viz Media. Hide and Seek is technically a spinoff of Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love, but it stands completely on its own. However, readers familiar with Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love will likely appreciate the references made to the earlier series. Tea for Two is even more distantly related to Hide and Seek, the connection between the two being made indirectly through Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love. It’s not at all necessary to have read Tea for Two or Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love to enjoy Hide and Seek, but I do like how all three series are linked together.

It has been years since Shuji has been in a serious relationship. Although he’s still on good terms with his ex-wife, his marriage was a failure and he hasn’t done much more than casually play around since the divorce. But now, somewhat unexpectedly, Shuji finds himself in what may very well become something more long-term, and with another man no less. The relationship between Shuji and the young doctor Saji has had a few bumps along the way, and both of the men still occasionally feel insecure, but for the most part they’ve been able to move past the major drama. That doesn’t mean everything has been completely worked out, though. As grown adults, Shuji and Saji each have their own family responsibilities and careers to take into consideration. Shuji has his daughter Chii to look after and the business at his candy store isn’t as good as it once was while Saji is having a difficult time convincing his grandfather to allow him to take over the family’s local clinic. So, there are still a few matters that Shuji and Saji will need to address before their relationship can go much further.

Hide and Seek, Volume 3, page 68Although Hide and Seek tends to be more serious, mature, and realistic, especially when compared to its immediate predecessor Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love, at the same time there is still plenty of humor and lightheartedness to the series. For example, the major dilemma in the first chapter of Hide and Seek, Volume 3 revolves around Shuji “manning up” in order to cuddle, with delightful results. Shuji’s love of costume and roleplay comes up again, too, which has been something of a running joke in both Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love and Hide and Seek. I’ve really enjoyed seeing the relationship between Shuji and Saji develop as the series has progressed; they’re adorable and surprisingly sweet together, even considering (or perhaps even because of) their drastically different personalities. It’s obvious that they each care tremendously for other person. What makes their relationship work, and one of the things that I particularly love about Hide and Seek, is their willingness to push through their initial fear and embarrassment over expressing themselves and actually communicate with each other.

Seeing as I had enjoyed Sakuragi’s earlier works, I was fairly confident that I would like Hide and Seek, too. What I didn’t anticipate was just how much the series would end up appealing to me; I think it may now even be my favorite Sakuragi manga. I find this to be a little surprising because, although Saji is a type of character that I’m usually fond of, in general Shuji wasn’t. But over the course of Hide and Seek I came to really like and care about him. He has evolved from simply being supporting comic relief in Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love into a fully fledged, well-developed character in his own right. Much of Hide and Seek, Volume 3 is devoted to his family circumstances, which are revealed to be a little different than readers (and Saji, for that matter) were initially led to believe. Chii’s mother and her current boyfriend play a greater role, but the series implies and is open-ended enough that there is room for Saji, Shuji, and Chii to form a trio as well. Perhaps it’s optimism and wishful thinking on my part, but it makes me extremely happy that by the end of Hide and Seek, Chii may very well have gained two caring families.

Genocidal Organ

Genocidal OrganAuthor: Project Itoh
Translator: Edwin Hawkes
U.S. Publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421542720
Released: August 2012
Original release: 2007

Although Genocidal Organ was the third novel by Project Itoh to be translated and released in English, in Japan the book was actually his debut work as an author. My introduction to Itoh’s fiction was through the award-winning Harmony, his first novel to be translated into English, which I greatly enjoyed and found to be an intelligent, thought-provoking work of science fiction. I was also greatly impressed by his two short stories: “The Indifference Engine,” collected in The Future is Japanese, and “From Nothing, With Love,” found in Phantasm Japan. Thus, reading Genocidal Organ, released by Viz Media’s Haikasoru imprint in 2012 with a translation by Edwin Hawkes, was an obvious choice for me. The publication of Genocidal Organ in Japan in 2007 established Itoh as a talented author to watch out for. Sadly, he died two years later at the age of thirty-four from cancer. But Itoh and his work haven’t been forgotten. In 2014 it was announced that three of his novels, including Genocidal Organ, were to be adapted as feature-length animated films.

Ever since the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, American citizens have more or less willingly given up their privacy and freedoms in order to feel safer from perceived terrorist threats. Much of the world has followed suit and there are very few places left where a person isn’t closely monitored and recorded, the immense amounts of data and metadata collected being saved indefinitely, waiting to be complied at a moments notice. In order to maintain this life of extreme hyper-surveillance there are people who must deal in death. Clavis Shepherd is one such man, an assassin who is a part of the Special Operations of the United States Military. He has killed countless people in service of his country—men, women, even children—but his recent missions have all had one target in common, an American linguist by the name of John Paul. Time and again the man seems to manage to slip away just before Shepherd’s unit arrives, leaving behind one developing country after another devastated by civil war and genocide.

Genocidal Organ is a novel that is absolutely saturated with death. It’s something that Clavis cannot escape in either his personal or professional life, whether he’s asleep or awake. Killing other people is his job and aided by modern science and medicine he is largely able to accept that, but his work is still tremendously damaging psychologically. But it’s not until Clavis had to make the decision whether or not to remove his mother from life support after she was in an accident that mortality really became personal to him. From there, his mental stability begins to steadily unravel as he is haunted by all of the death that he has seen and the death for which he has been responsible. Genocidal Organ can be horrific and tragic, gruesome and visceral. Clavis has been both a participant in and a witness to some truly terrible things—war and genocide that lay waste to entire countries and populations and all that accompanies that devastation. And, as an assassin for the government, he knows that he’s not an innocent bystander in how events unfold.

First and foremost, Genocidal Organ is Shepherd’s own personal narrative as he struggles to come to terms with his role as an assassin, but his story is couched in a much larger one dealing with global policy and international politics. Itoh has successfully incorporated many different genre styles in order to create a compelling and cohesive novel. In addition to all of the action and espionage, there are also the mysteries surrounding Paul as the “King of Genocide,” and an exceptionally strong philosophical and intellectual bent to the story as Genocidal Organ examines the worth of life and cost of freedom. Itoh presents an incredibly insightful perspective of the Untied States as a world power. Although it is perhaps more critical and frank than most American authors would likely attempt, the perspective is one that still feels surprisingly authentic. (It’s also very clear that Itoh was particularly well-versed in Western literature and popular culture.) Ultimately, though at times heavy-handed, Genocidal Organ is a fascinating and engaging novel of the near future; I remain convinced that Itoh was an author of exceptional talent.

Requiem of the Rose King, Volume 2

Requiem of the Rose King, Volume 2Creator: Aya Kanno
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421580906
Released: September 2015
Original release: 2014

Aya Kanno has had several of her manga series released in English in the past—Soul Rescue, Blank Slate, and Otomen—all of which were quite different from one another. One of the things that I appreciate most about Kanno is the versatility apparent in the range of her work. I was especially looking forward to her most recent series Requiem of the Rose King and was thrilled when Viz Media licensed for an English-language release. The manga is loosely inspired by William Shakespeare’s historical plays Henry VI (in its various parts) and Richard III which are in turn a dramatization of England’s Wars of the Roses. As a fan of Shakespeare and as a fan of Kanno, I was very interested in seeing her interpretation. Although upon initial reading the first volume of Requiem of the Rose King could occasionally be somewhat confusing—visions, nightmares, and reality all bleeding into one another—I loved its dark atmosphere, theatrics, and dramatic nature. I was very glad when Requiem of the Rose King, Volume 2, initially published in Japan in 2014, was translated into English in 2015.

The bloody struggle for England’s throne continues. The Lancasters executed King Richard II for treason and has now ruled the country for three generations. However, there are many who still view the Lancasters as usurpers and who support the House of York’s claim to the throne. Richard, the Duke of York, is poised to become the next monarch after King Henry VI is captured and coerced into relinquishing the crown in order to end the bloodshed. But then Queen Margaret takes command of the King’s military forces, unwilling to let power to slip from her and her family’s hands. The resulting conflict does not go well for the Duke and with this turn of events the dynastic war escalates. During this time, both Henry and the Duke’s youngest son Richard are imprisoned in a tower, unaware of the battle’s progress and the changing tides of war. Richard is utterly devoted to his father and wants to see him crowned as England’s king. Thus, the Duke’s death on the battlefield will set into motion a tragic series of events for his son and for the entire kingdom as the darkness that resides within Richard is unleashed.

Requiem of the Rose King, Volume 2, page 96In part, the first two volumes of Requiem of the Rose King have been a prologue to the rest of the series. The stage, characters, and mood have now been fully set for the unfolding drama and tragedy. There is a huge psychological element to Requiem of the Rose King. Kanno draws parallels between Henry and Richard which emphasize that, especially in regards to their mental states. Both men are touched by madness, but it manifests in vastly different ways. Henry’s insanity seems to be fairly benign although it does cause significant political turmoil. It also provides a way for him to escape from his responsibilities as a ruler and to avoid a very violent reality. Richard’s madness, on the other hand, is the result of facing that same reality head on. He becomes utterly consumed by rage and a desire for vengeance. Compared to Henry’s passivity and what could be described as harmlessness, Richard takes on a much more active and venomous role. The contrast between Henry and Richard and light and dark extends beyond their characterizations and is captured visually as well; Richard’s black hair and clothing consistently set him apart from everything else.

Anno’s Richard is both a tragic and terrifying figure. The beginning of Requiem of the Rose King shows the creation of a monster—a young man who is forcefully taking ownership of his own destiny after being irrevocably scarred emotionally and psychologically. Since his birth, Richard has been labeled as a demon child and a harbinger of death. He initially struggles against this stigma, but has now begun to embrace his own darkness. His father, the one person he loved and admired the most is dead; his mother has abandoned him multiple times; Richard sees very little incentive to retain his humanity if everything he truly cares about will be torn from him and he is already viewed as an abomination. The second volume of Requiem of the Rose King is defining for Richard. Among the chaos, violence, and death of war, he loses what little innocence and hope that he might have had. Although many of the surrounding circumstances were beyond his control, ultimately the choice to become a villain is his own. He is driven by despair, madness, and rage, willing to do anything to ensure his own future and the downfall of the Lancasters and anyone else who would stand in his way.