My Week in Manga: June 15-June 21, 2015

 My News and Reviews

I was on vacation last week, much of which was spent in the middle of the woods in the middle of Ohio camping with my family. This meant I had very little Internet access. But even so, I did manage to post two reviews last week. My monthly horror manga review project continued with a review of After School Nightmare, Volume 4 by Setona Mizushiro. This was the first volume in the series that I hadn’t previously read before embarking on the review project. The second review was of Satoshi Wagahara’s prize-winning light novel The Devil Is a Part-Timer!, Volume 1 which is very amusing and silly. But, having watched the anime series last year, I already knew that.

As previously mentioned, I was occupied with other things last week, so I probably missed out on all sorts of interesting reading, news, and announcements. However, there were a few things that came across my radar before I left for Ohio. Kathryn Hemmann at Contemporary Japanese Literature wrote about The Cultural Cross Pollination of Shōjo Manga. And speaking of shōjo manga, Digital Manga’s most recent Tezuka Kickstarter is aiming to publish Storm Fairy. (The project also aims to reprint Unico with better image and color quality, which makes me wonder why Digital Manga didn’t do that for the first printing, but I’ve given up trying to understand Digital Manga’s decision making.) Finally, Udon Entertainment announced a new manga license: Shuji Sogabe’s adaptation of Persona 4.

Quick Takes

Attack on Titan: Junior High, Omnibus 3Attack on Titan: Junior High, Omnibus 3 (equivalent to Volumes 5-6) by Saki Nakagawa. Out of all the various Attack on Titan spinoffs, Junior High is the one that probably has the smallest audience overall and is the one that is the most uneven for me specifically. Sometimes the manga can be a slog to get through, but sometimes it’s absolutely hilarious. At its best, Junior High can actually make me laugh out loud; I keep reading the series for those moments because when Junior High is funny, it is very funny. The manga continues to be a very weird mix of Attack on Titan and a generic school setting with all of the standard tropes that that entails. Sometimes the combination works better than others. This particular omnibus features the school culture festival, a battle of the bands, eating contests and cooking competitions, club activities, lots of cleaning, and school rivalries among other things. I was very pleased to see that characters and storylines from other Attack on Titan spinoffs like No Regrets are now being incorporated into Junior High as well.

Lies Are a Gentleman's Manners, Volume 1Lies Are a Gentleman’s Manners by Marta Matsuo. Since for whatever reason Digital Manga often seems to be hesitant to include “Volume 1” in the title of a new manga, I didn’t initially realize that Lies Are a Gentleman’s Manners is actually an ongoing series in Japan. The first volume stands well enough on its own, but I do hope that any subsequent volumes will be licensed as well. Despite the fact that neither of the leads in this boys’ love manga are particularly likeable—Jonathan, an unscrupulous medical student selling drugs to his fellow classmates, and Paul, his equally unscrupulous (and married) college professor who uses that fact to blackmail him into a relationship—I actually do want to read more. Though some of the situations are unquestionably unsavory, the manga can also be very funny and even sexy on occasion. One of the most interesting things about Lies Are a Gentleman’s Manners is its setting. The manga takes place on America’s modern East Coast among the country’s wealthy, aristocratic upper class. While certainly a fictional representation, some of the social dynamics ring true.

TowerkindTowerkind by Kat Verhoeven. Originally self-published as a series of mini-comics, Towerkind was recently collected and released by Conundrum Press in a single volume. I was not previously familiar with Verhoeven’s work; Towerkind was a TCAF-inspired impulse buy. I’m very glad that I picked it up though because I’m loving this comic to pieces. Towerkind certainly won’t be to everyone’s liking, but there’s just something about the comic that I find oddly compelling. It’s surreal, strange, chilling, and ominous. Verhoeven effectively uses a small format to create a claustrophobic atmosphere that emphasizes the feeling of impending doom experienced by the characters. The volume opens with a foreword by Georgia Webber explaining the importance of the backdrop of Towerkind—Toronto’s first vertical neighborhood of high-rise apartments St. James Town—which helps to set the stage and tone for the comic itself. Towerkind follows a group of children gifted with unexplainable supernatural abilities who live in the towers of St. James Town while what may be the end of the world approaches.

Welcome to the N.H.K., Volume 5Welcome to the N.H.K., Volumes 5-8 by Kendi Oiwa. Having already read the original Welcome to the N.H.K. novel by Tatsuhiko Takimoto and having already seen the Welcome to the N.H.K. anime series (which, it turns out, was based on both the novel and Oiwa’s manga adaptation), I am already quite familiar with the story and characters Welcome to the N.H.K., but I somehow managed to forget just how dark and hard-hitting it can be. Ostensibly Welcome to the N.H.K. is a comedy, and it can be quite funny in a painful sort of way, but it deals with some pretty heavy subject matter including (but not limited to) drug use, self-harm, suicide, and mental illness. The second half of the series, while at times outrageous, tends to fall on the more serious side of things. Although I’ve always considered Welcome to the N.H.K. to be Satou’s story, the manga also places particular emphasis on Misaki’s story. It’s been a while since I’ve read or watched them, but I believe the manga actually has a unique ending that’s different from both the novel and the anime. All three version of Welcome to the N.H.K. are very good.

My Week in Manga: June 1-June 7, 2015

My News and Reviews

Happy June, everyone! I’ve been super busy (I seem to say that a lot, don’t I?) but was still able to post a few things here at Experiments in Manga last week. The winner of the Ema Toyama Twosome manga giveaway was announced. That post also includes a list of manga available in English that feature novelists and other writers. The honor of the first in-depth manga review for the month of June goes to Masayuki Ishikawa’s Maria the Virgin Witch, Volume 2. Ishikawa seems to be trying to do a lot with such a short series (it’s only three volumes), maybe a bit too much. Even if he’s not able to successfully pull everything off, I still find Maria the Virgin Witch to be an intriguing series and want to read the rest of it. Finally, over the weekend I posted the Bookshelf Overload for May. I had a pretty big haul of manga and comics last month; I largely blame TCAF.

Elsewhere online there’s been some interesting reading to be found. Justin interviewed Kate Dacey (aka The Manga Critic) over at Organization Anti-Social Geniuses. Kate was one of my biggest manga blogging inspirations, so I’ve been very happy to see her recent return. Sean Kleefeld brought my attention to a panel on the history of manhwa. Drawn & Quarterly recently released the massive anthology Drawn and Quarterly: Twenty-Five Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics, and Graphic Novels. Joe McCulloch specifically looks at the volume’s manga content. Mangabrog has a translation of a conversation between Naoki Urasawa and Hisashi Eguchi. Last but not least, two licensing announcements were made last week that I’m very excited about: Viz Media is finally releasing a print edition of One-Punch Man by ONE and Yusuke Murata and Drawn & Quarterly is releasing more of Shigeru Mizuki’s GeGeGe no Kitaro! (I loved the publisher’s first Kitaro collection.)

Quick Takes

Welcome to the N.H.K., Volume 1Welcome to the N.H.K., Volumes 1-4 by Kendi Oiwa. Originally published in print by Tokyopop, Viz Media recently announced that it would be releasing Welcome to the N.H.K. digitally in the very near future. Tatsuhiko Takimoto’s original Welcome to the N.H.K. light novel was fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed the anime adaptation, too. It was only a matter of time before I read Kendi Oiwa’s manga adaptation, though I am a little surprised that it’s taken me this long to get around to it. It has been a while since I’ve read or watched the other versions of Welcome to the N.H.K., but so far the manga is closer to the anime than it is to the novel, except that it seems a little more streamlined and perhaps even a little raunchier. Satou is a college dropout and hikikomori who has been targeted by Misaki, a young woman who is determined to rehabilitate him despite her own oddities and personal issues. In some ways, the more recent Watamote is reminiscent of Welcome to the N.H.K. Both series feature protagonists who are extremely socially awkward and both series can be hilarious, but they can also be somewhat depressing and painful to read at times, too. But, I am enjoying the manga version of Welcome to the N.H.K. a great deal.

xxxHolic: Rei, Volume 3xxxHolic: Rei, Volume 3 by CLAMP. Initially, I felt that it wasn’t necessary to have read xxxHolic in order to enjoy xxxHolic: Rei. However after reading the third volume, I feel I need to revise that opinion. It’s still not absolutely necessary to have read xxxHolic, but Rei makes a lot more sense and is much more meaningful if a reader has that background. I’ve actually not finished reading the entirety of xxxHolic, so while I was able to get the basic gist of what was going on in Rei, I did feel I was missing out on some important context while reading the third volume. However, I really like what CLAMP is doing with the series and I’m looking forward to reading the part of xxxHolic where Rei ties in directly. Rei has developed a marvelously ominous atmosphere that has a surreal, dreamlike quality to it. CLAMP’s high-contrast artwork in the series is great, too. At first, Rei felt directionless as though CLAMP didn’t really know what to do with the series, but the third volume begins to bring everything together in a way that actually makes sense. Of course, this also means the Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles connection is becoming more pronounced as well, which can sometimes feel forced.

Ze, Volume 7Ze, Volumes 7-9 by Yuki Shimizu. Despite it being a series that I tend to enjoy, it’s actually been a few years since I’ve read any of Shimizu’s supernatural boys’ love manga Ze. Although there is some dubious content (which doesn’t really surprise me much at this point), these three volumes reminded me what it is about Ze that I like so much: Shimizu has a knack for creating fascinatingly intense and complex relationship and power dynamics. The seventh and eighth volumes explore the backstories of Kotoha and Konoe; I was very satisfied with the explanation of their peculiar relationship and personalities. (Granted, most of the characters and relationships in Ze are pretty strange.) Ze, Volume 8 focuses on Shoui and Asari. Most of the story arcs have been two volumes long, but perhaps because their relationship has been developing in the background over the course of the series, the eighth volume is the only one specifically devoted to the couple. These three volumes are also very important in setting up the next and what I believe is the final story arc which will reveal more of Waki’s tragic history. I had forgotten how much of an asshole he can be, so I am curious to find out what made him the person he is.

My Week in Manga: May 28-June 3, 2012

My News and Reviews

The most recent manga giveaway is underway here at Experiments in Manga. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, so there’s still some time to enter. Plus, there aren’t many entries yet, so the odds are really good! Stop by the Read or Die Giveaway and tell me about your favorite bibliophile for a chance to win. I know that at least a couple of people enjoy my Bookshelf Overload posts, which is one of the reasons I keep writing them. If you’re one of those people, May’s Bookshelf Overload is now available for viewing. Over the weekend I posted my review of Matthew Meyer’s book The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons: A Field Guide to Japanese Yokai. It’s a fantastic volume with great artwork that any yokai lover should enjoy. Be sure to check out his website for examples of his art, too. I haven’t been this excited about a book in a very long time; I absolutely loved it.

Quick Takes

Basilisk, Volumes 1-5 by Masaki Segawa. This manga series is an adaptation of Fūtaro Yamada’s semi-historical novel The Kouga Ninja Scrolls. I had previously read and enjoyed the novel, which is probably one of the reasons I didn’t appreciate the manga as much in the beginning—I missed having a lot of the background information the novel included. However, by the end of the series I was completely engaged. I’ve often heard the basic premise of the story described as “Romeo & Juliet…with ninja,” which is accurate up to a point. The large cast of ninja, each with their own special abilities, provide plenty of opportunities for intense battles and underhanded assassination attempts.

Brody’s Ghost, Books 2-3 by Mark Crilley. I believe Brody’s Ghost is planned to be a six volume series, so this brings us to the halfway point. Volumes two and three follow Brody as he gets his life back together while he undergoes training to gain control over his emerging supernatural powers. He’s also given some real motivation to pursue the Penny Murderer, something that was previously lacking. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen of the series so far, but I have no idea when the next book is due to come out! I’ll definitely be picking it up once it does, though. One thing I really like about Brody’s Ghost is the extra material that Crilley includes at the end of each volume which explores his creative processes and decisions.

Gerard & Jacques, Volumes 1-2 by Fumi Yoshinaga. After a very uncomfortable beginning, Gerard & Jacques eventually turns into an great historical drama. Despite the title being Gerard & Jacques, the focus is really on Gerard. He is certainly the most thoroughly developed character in this short series, but Yoshinaga doesn’t slack off when it comes to writing the other characters, either. Even the secondary characters have their defining moments. The story itself ranges from the heavy and dark to the light and comedic which can be jarring, but enjoyable. I’m not particularly interested in the French Revolution but it serves as a good backdrop for the series and ultimately becomes very important to the plot as well.

Twin Spica, Volumes 9-10 by Kou Yaginuma. For such a gentle seeming series Twin Spica can also be incredibly heart-wrenching. The manga has always had a melancholic air to it as the characters struggle to accept their pasts while striving to achieve their dreams. Even years after the Lion disaster people are still having to deal with the consequences of the shuttle’s crash. As graduation draws closer for Asumi and her friends at the space school they’ve all come to realize how important they are to one another. They also know that soon the time will come when they have to say goodbye. I’m really looking forward to reading the final two volumes in Vertical’s release of the series.

Welcome to the N.H.K. directed by Yūsuke Yamamoto. I loved Tatsuhiko Takimoto’s original Welcome to the N.H.K. novel and I must say, the anime adaptation is excellent. Although the humor is still there, I didn’t find the anime to be as outrageously funny as the novel. But even with the anime’s more serious tone there are moments of hilarity which are needed to keep the series from becoming too depressing. The anime stays true to the novel while expanding parts of the storyline and characterizations. The plot arc dealing with the pyramid scheme was a little tedious, but for the most part the changes made for the anime worked very well. The characters may sometimes be extreme, but they’re very human, too.

Welcome to the N.H.K.

Author: Tatsuhiko Takimoto 
Translator: Lindsey Akashi
U.S. publisher: Tokyopop
ISBN: 9781427802569
Released: October 2007
Original release: 2005

Tatsuhiko Takimoto’s novel Welcome to the N.H.K. was first published in Japan in 2002. The English translation by Lindsey Akashi was based off of the 2005 Japanese edition of the novel and was released by Tokyopop in 2007. I don’t remember exactly how I first learned about Welcome to the N.H.K. but somehow I gained the impression that it was one of the best books to come out of Tokyopop’s short lived Pop Fiction line. Perhaps surprisingly, I was aware of the novel Welcome to the N.H.K. before I was aware of either the twenty-four episode anime adaptation or the eight volume manga series (also published by Tokyopop) which was based on the novel. Both the manga and the anime are much easier to come by—the Welcome to the N.H.K. novel is unfortunately long out of print and hard to find. And when you do come across a copy it tends to be rather expensive. I count myself lucky to actually own the book.

Satou Tatsuhiro is a twenty-year-old hikikomori—a young recluse who has shut himself away from the world. His family doesn’t know it yet, but he has dropped out of college and is living off of the allowance they send to him. Satou rarely leaves his small, cluttered apartment except for food, but even going to buy groceries is an ordeal for him. Normally he sleeps for sixteen hours, waking up long enough to eat, drink, and maybe throw together a concoction of over-the-counter drugs in an attempt to make himself feel better before falling back to sleep again. And so it is more by chance than anything else that he happens to meet a girl named Misaki, who is just a little odd herself. She is determined to make Satou her “project” and cure him of his hikikomori ways. Satou’s not entirely sure what to make of that or what to do about her. However, the two fall into a strange sort of friendship whether they mean to or not.

As he reveals in the afterword, Tatsuhiko Takimoto himself is a self-proclaimed hikikomori (or NEET, a more socially acceptable term). I wasn’t aware of this fact until after reading Welcome to the N.H.K. Inevitably, Takimoto drew on his own experiences and feelings as a hikikomori while writing the novel, lending to the authenticity of the main character. Understandably, it was a difficult task for the author to write the book. Takimoto imagines readers’ responses to Welcome to the N.H.K. as “It’s really funny. But it made me cry a little, too.” I completely agree with the sentiment. If it wasn’t for the humor, the novel would be terribly depressing. Welcome to the N.H.K. is in turn funny, even hilarious, and heartbreaking. Even so, while the humor may often be self-denigrating, Takimoto is never cruel.

The translation and adaptation work of Welcome to the N.H.K. is exceptional. It reads incredibly naturally, even considering the occasional end note. I was particularly impressed because significant sections of the novel are nearly stream-of-conscious, a style of writing that can be difficult to pull off well. Welcome to the N.H.K. nails it. The entire story is told directly from Satou’s perspective regardless of his current state of mind. This includes both his good and bad trips. Although Welcome to the N.H.K. can be a bit silly or goofy, it is also dealing with some very serious and mature issues and themes: drug use, sexual fantasies (including lolicon and erotic video games), religion, abuse, and suicide, just to name a few. It can be an uncomfortable experience for the reader—the story proceeds innocently enough only to repeatedly turn around to hit you hard in the gut when you’re not expecting it—but Welcome to the N.H.K. is a fantastic novel. I was glad to discover that it was just as good if not better than I was led to believe.