My Week in Manga: May 25-May 31, 2015

My News and Reviews

Last week was the last week of May, which means the most recent giveaway at Experiments in Manga is currently underway. There are still a couple of days left to enter for a chance to win an Ema Toyama Twosome, i.e. the first volume of both Missions of Love and Manga Dogs. I also posted a couple of in-depth reviews last week. The first review was of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 8: Operation Odessa, which is the first volume to take place after the series’ extended flashback arc. It’s not my favorite volume in the series, but Kai gets his moment in the spotlight which I was happy to see. The second review was of Kazuki Sakuraba’s award-winning novel Red Girls: The Legend of the Akakuchibas, which I enjoyed immensely. Sakuraba is probably better known as the creator of Gosick, but Red Girls is a fantastic multi-generational epic.

I was actually at a conference for work most of last week, so I wasn’t able to keep up with news and announcements to quite the same extent that I’m usually able to. However, I still did come across some interesting reading. Aya Kanno, for example, has recently had some interviews posted. Over at Barnes & Noble’s Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Brigid Alverson talked with Kanno about defying expectations and Rebecca Silverman’s interview of Kanno was posted at Anime News Network. A couple of weeks ago I reviewed the first volume of Wayward which I quite enjoyed, so I found Katriel Page’s essay about how Rori embodies liminality to be particularly interesting. And over at Organization Anti-Social Geniuses, Justin wants you all to Meet the Man Who’s Translated a Thousand Manga Chapters—Dan Luffey.

Quick Takes

Cipher, Volume 7Cipher, Volumes 7-11 by Minako Narita. Despite being twelve volumes in Japan, for some reason the English-language edition of Cipher was collected in eleven. (It is the complete series, though.) I thoroughly enjoyed the first part of the series, and the sixth volume ends with a fairly dramatic twist, so I was anxious to read the manga’s conclusion. Cipher and Siva, being nearly inseparable growing up and at one point even sharing an identity, are now living apart with the entire country between them. Wracked with guilt, Cipher has moved from New York to Los Angeles, leaving his girlfriend Anise behind along with his twin brother. In general, this second half of Cipher tends to be somewhat more believable than the first, though there are still plenty of parts that aren’t especially realistic. However, Narita does an excellent job of exploring the emotional fallout and the changes in the characters’ relationships with one another that come about as a result of both Cipher and Siva learning to live their lives as individuals and each becoming his own person. New characters are introduced who play a very important role in this evolution, including Cipher’s Los Angeles roommate Hal and Siva’s fellow model Alex. In the end, Anise’s story ends up being secondary to that of the brothers, but she shows growth and development as well.

Cry to the MoonCry to the Moon by Various. I discovered Love Love Hill relatively recently, but the collective releases some great comics, so I’ve been making a point to pick up its anthologies. Cry to the Moon, based on the theme of delinquents and animals, is the most recent Love Love Hill comics anthology. The volume includes contributions from eight different creators. I was especially looking forward to Saicoink’s “To My Dear White Dove: A Quiet Love,” a sort of alternate universe side story to her series Open Spaces and Closed Places (which I absolutely love), but I enjoyed the other works that were collected as well. Cry to the Moon has a nice variety of comics that range from the comedic to the bittersweet to the tragic. Many of the stories are based in reality while a few of them incorporate more fantastical elements. Some are only a few pages while others are more lengthy and involved. But no matter the length or the tone of the story, each of the comics collected in Cry to the Moon exhibits heart. What I love about anthologies is the opportunity to experience the different art styles and storytelling techniques of the creators involved. I also appreciate that the individual creators are given space in Cry to the Moon to write about their influences and inspirations for their stories and how they decided to interpret the anthology’s theme.

The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Volume 3The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Volume 3 by Hiromu Arakawa. I am largely enjoying The Heroic Legend of Arslan, it’s a great fantasy story with exciting battles and interesting worldbuilding, but I do wish that the characters and plot had a little more complexity and nuance to them. By the end of the third volume, I have some hope that this will eventually happen as the series continues to develop, but right now it’s just not quite there. Characterization in the manga tends to be painted with a fairly broad stroke and heavy hand. Some of the humor, while amusing, doesn’t always mesh well with the overall tone of the series, either. However, there are other things that The Heroic Legend of Arslan is doing well. I particularly like the series’ approach to action scenes and battles. There are plenty of examples of extraordinarily strong fighters showing off their incredibly powerful skills, but strategy and tactics are also incredibly important to how a battle plays out in the end. In the third volume, Arslan and his small contingent of supporters face off against more than a thousand soldiers, but thanks to careful planning, psychological manipulation, and effective use of the geographical terrain, for the most part they are able to come through unscathed.

Showa3Showa: A History of Japan, 1944-1953 by Shigeru Mizuki. This third and penultimate volume of Showa: A History of Japan addresses the time period of that era that I already knew the most about—the end of the Pacific War and the following occupation of Japan by Western forces. Even so, there were things that I learned reading the manga that I never knew before. Showa: A History of Japan continues to be told using two closely intertwined narratives. Mizuki outlines the larger developments of the war and Japan’s reconstruction, but he also incorporates the story of his own experiences and the experiences of his family. It’s this personal touch that makes Showa: A History of Japan especially compelling and hard-hitting as it drives home the tragedy of war and the dire circumstances faced by the soldiers and civilians on both sides of the conflict. Part of the third volume deals with some of the same events found in Mizuki’s Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, so I was already familiar with some of the story, but that didn’t make its impact any less effective. This volume reveals how Mizuki survived during war against all odds as well as how he survived after the war (another difficult feat), including his beginnings as a kamishibai and manga artist.

A Silent Voice, Volume 1A Silent Voice, Volume 1 by Yoshitoki Oima. If the volumes that follow the first are anywhere near as strong, A Silent Voice is likely one of the best series to be released this year. (At least in print; technically, the manga started being officially released digitally on Crunchyroll last year.) The first volume of A Silent Voice is both powerful and heartbreaking. The story follows Shoya, a somewhat unlikeable young man and a terrible bully. He learns that his actions have consequences not only for others but for himself as well when he decides to make Shoko, a deaf transfer student, his next target. A Silent Voice doesn’t sugarcoat school bullying, showing just how vicious and cruel kids can be and how quickly they can turn on one another. Perhaps even more tragic is that some of the teachers do very little to put an end to it or to discourage the behavior. In some cases, they seem to even encourage it, or at least allow the bullying to flourish. There is a stunning lack of empathy from almost every character in the series. The majority of A Silent Voice, Volume 1 takes place during Shoya and Shoko’s middle school years. This actually occurs six years before the start of the manga, establishing the complicated nature of Shoya’s feelings toward Shoko and the exploring developments that led him to become the person he now is.

My Week in Manga: July 8-July 14, 2013

My News and Reviews

Last week I posted two reviews. The first was for The Vast Spread of the Seas, the third novel in Fuyumi Ono’s fantasy series The Twelve Kingdoms. I’ve really been enjoying reading The Twelve Kingdoms and this volume was no exception. I also reviewed Jen Lee Quick’s Off*Beat, Volume 1. Originally published by Tokyopop, the recently established Chromatic Press has rescued the series and I couldn’t be happier. The new Chromatic editions also include some additional bonus content as well.

Elsewhere online: Xavier Guilbert has published his interview with Taiyo Matsumoto from the 2013 Toronto Comic Arts Festival. The most recent episode of the Comic Books Are Burning In Hell podcast focuses on Suehiro Maruo. Kodansha Comics is offering two digital samplers containing the complete first chapters of many of its series. The Real sampler collects chapters from Kodansha’s “real-life” manga: Arisa, Bloody Monday, Danza, Genshiken, Genshiken: Second Season, I Am Here, Kitchen Princess, Missions of Love, and Vinland Saga. The Unreal sampler includes chapters from Kodansha’s fantasy, science fiction, and supernatural series: @ Full Moon, Attack on Titan, Cage of Eden, Fairy Tail, Mardock Scramble, Ninja Girls, No. 6, Sankarea: Undying Love, and Until the Full Moon.

Finally, this week is the Yun Kouga Manga Moveable Feast! Melinda Beasi of Manga Bookshelf is hosting this round and has already posted a marvelous introduction. For my contribution to the Feast I’ll be reviewing the first Loveless omnibus later this week. Loveless was originally published in English by Tokyopop, but Viz Media rescued the license last year (which made me very happy.) Although I enjoy Loveless, I haven’t actually read any of Kouga’s other manga. I look forward to seeing what everyone else has to say about her work.

Quick Takes

Dog X Cat, Volume 1Dog X Cat, Volumes 1-3 by Yoshimi Amasaki. Junya and Atsu have been friends since they were young. They’re in college now and their friendship becomes a little more complicated when Junya lets it slip that he’s actually in love with Atsu. Dog X Cat might not have the most original plot—I’ve seen the friends becoming lovers storyline many a time—but the two young men have a charming relationship with each other and a lot of sex. (Dog X Cat is part of Digital Manga’s more explicit 801 imprint, after all.) Some chapters are told from Junya’s perspective while others are from Atsu’s. It’s nice to see both sides of their story. Dog X Cat is an ongoing series; the fourth volume is scheduled to be released in English in 2014.

Mardock Scramble, Volume 5Mardock Scramble, Volumes 5-7 by Yoshitoki Oima. I’ve read Tow Ubukata’s original Mardock Scramble, but somehow managed to forget how pivotal child and sexual abuse was to the plot. The manga handles it fairly well and hasn’t turned it into something titillating. One thing that I didn’t forget from the novels was the lengthy casino scene. In particular, nearly two hundred pages worth of Blackjack which sorely tried my patience. Although some of the finer details and plot complications are glossed over in Oima’s adaptation, I much preferred reading the two volumes of manga covering the same material. This left one volume for Oima to bring everything to a quickly paced, action-packed close. For the most part, Oima’s interpretation of Mardock Scramble largely succeeds.

No. 5, Volume 1No. 5, Volumes 1-2 by Taiyo Matsumoto. Only two volumes of No. 5 were ever released in English in print. However, the entire series is now available digitally (on a platform I can’t use). I’ve come to love Matsumoto’s work in general and I particularly enjoy No. 5. The story follows Number Five, a member of the Rainbow Council of the International Peackeeping Forces, a small group of people with superhuman abilities. He’s fallen in love and gone rogue and now his teammates must hunt him down. While Number One and the rest of the Rainbow Council try to maintain control of the situation, there are others who are making the argument that the group is obviously dangerous and should no longer exist.

Black Lagoon, Episodes 13-24 directed by Sunao Katabuchi. Although I still enjoyed the second half of Black Lagoon anime, for some reason that I can’t identify I didn’t like it quite as much as the first. The anime follows the manga fairly closely, but takes a few of its own liberties while keeping the same tone as the original. I do think that I still prefer the manga slightly more than the anime, but the anime is entertaining as well. Additionally, the action is a little clearer and easier to follow in the anime. And I continue to be impressed by the sound design. The Black Lagoon anime tends to be violent and bloody and even the protagonists aren’t really “good guys.” They can be just as vicious as the other people they come up against.

My Week in Manga: June 24-June 30, 2013

My News and Reviews

As I’m posting this I am at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in Chicago and have been for the last several days. I was hoping to pick up an early copy of Manga: Introduction, Challenges, and Best Practices from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund while I was here, but unfortunately the books were lost in the mail and never made it to the conference center. Even though I kept very busy in Chicago, I still somehow managed to post two reviews last week. The first was for Yoshitaka Amano’s debut novel Deva Zan: The Chosen Path, which for me worked better as an artbook than as a novel. I’m a long-time fan of Amano’s artwork. I also reviewed Takako Shimura’s long-delayed Wandering Son, Volume 4 from Fantagraphics. I was sad to see some of the editing errors that made it through even after the delay (scattered typos and the description on the back cover is actually for volume five), but I am glad to finally have the book in my hands. And Shimura’s work is as wonderful as always. I should also mention that Experiments in Manga’s June manga giveaway is currently under way. There’s still time to enter for a chance to win both a copy of No. 6, Volume 1 and Attack on Titan, Volume 5!

Quick Takes

Knights of Sidonia, Volumes 2-3 by Tsutomu Nihei. While I thoroughly enjoyed the first volume of Knights of Sidonia, I wasn’t really blown away by it. Still, I was interested enough in the series to stick it out for a least a couple more volumes to see how things would develop. And now after reading the next two volumes I can honestly say I can’t wait for more of Knights of Sidonia. Nihei is pulling things together very nicely; there were some great twists and worldbuilding in these two volumes. The Gauna are marvelously creepy adversaries and the human society on the Sidonia has its own mysteries and secrets. I’m also starting to really dig the cleaner, more simplified artstyle that Nihei uses for this series.

Mardock Scramble, Volumes 2-4 by Yoshitoki Oima. When I read Tow Ubukata’s Mardock Scramble, a trilogy of strange cyberpunk-ish novels, I was convinced that a visual adaptation of the story would be fantastic. The original Mardock Scramble is a massive work, so I am actually quite surprised and impressed by how coherent Oima’s manga adaptation manages to be. She sticks to the story’s highlights, particularly focusing on the more action-oriented sequences and battles. After four volumes, the manga adaptation is about halfway through the original work. Due to the constraints of the medium, some of the elements found in the novels have been glossed over, but the major themes are still there. The world of Mardock Scramble is an odd one, but I like Oima’s interpretation of it.

Words of Devotion, Volumes 1-2 by Keiko Konno. Although they are extremely close, Tachibana and Otani aren’t always the best at communicating with each other. Some of their acquaintances joke around and suspect that they might actually be more than just friends, but the two young men can’t quite admit their own feelings aloud to each other let alone tell anyone else. Tachibana and Otani’s rocky relationship is already established before the first volume begins. They have trust and control issues, insecurities and jealousies, but there is no question that they care about each other. The second volume actually serves as a prequel, largely exploring Tachibana and Otani’s highschool days.

Mardock Scramble, Volume 1

Creator: Yoshitoki Oima
Original story: Tow Ubukata

U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781935429531
Released: August 2011
Original release: 2010

When I learned that Kodansha Comics was publishing the English edition of Yoshitoki Oima’s manga adaptation of Tow Ubukata’s award-winning Mardock Scramble, I was very interested. I read the original work earlier this year when it was published by Haikasoru. There were some things I loved about it and some things I most definitely didn’t. But what occurred to me at the time I read it was that the story would make a fantastic basis for a visual adaptation, which is why I am happy to get the chance to read Oima’s manga and see what could be done with it. The first volume of Oima’s Mardock Scramble was originally published in 2010, seven years after the publication of Ubukata’s series. The English edition of the manga was released by Kodansha in 2011. Oima’s Mardock Scramble is currently at five volumes and is still ongoing. I’m interested to see how the nearly seven hundred pages of source material is incorporated into the series.

Rune Balot thought she wanted to die. But when Shell Septinos inexplicably takes her in off the streets, and just as inexplicably kills her, she discovers that might not be quite the case. Rescued by Dr. Easter and Oeufcoque, private investigators who are trying to pin a series of murders of young women to Shell, Balot finds her body and life restored using an illicit technology known as Mardock Scramble 09. Her life is still far from perfect, and Shell still wants her dead, but suddenly she is more powerful than she has ever been before. At least physically. Balot’s natural talent, skill, and ability to adapt to the new technology and the new body that she has been given is nothing short of impressive.

For the most part I liked Oima’s character designs although those for Shell and Dr. Easter were frustratingly similar. However, Oima did capture Easter’s eccentricity quite well with his gestures and facial expressions. This made me happy because Dr. Easter is a personal favorite of mine from the novel. The city landscapes are marvelously detailed and can actually be a bit overwhelming at times. This does seem appropriate though since Balot also finds her environment to be overwhelming as she is getting used to her new powers. However some of the other panels are completely lacking any sort of background at all. It works well in some cases and makes the reader focus on the characters since there is nothing else, but the difference is jarring and breaks up the cohesiveness of the artwork as a whole. One thing that I did particularly like seeing was Oima’s visual representation of Balot’s powers and how she learns to use and focus them. I thought the portrayal of her ability to sense and connect with the object around her was handled very well.

As an adaptation, I think that Oima’s Mardock Scramble is off to a good start. For some reason, I found the naming conventions (everything is an egg reference) to be much more distracting in the manga than it was in the novels. It’s something that couldn’t really be changed though without running the risk of angering established fans of Mardock Scramble, so new readers simply have to put up with it. Since I have read the novels and therefore have a pretty good background in what’s going on in Mardock Scramble, it’s a little difficult for me to give my impressions of the manga alone. However, I do think the manga has good potential as its own series. At this point, there are certainly more questions than answers—it is only the first volume after all—but Oima does a decent job introducing the most important story elements even if it feels like a lot of the details are glossed over. If someone hasn’t read the original Mardock Scramble this might not be as noticeable, although some information seems to come out of nowhere and nothing’s thoroughly explained. Still, I’m interested in seeing how Oima will continue to handle things and plan on reading more of the Mardock Scramble manga.