My Week in Manga: October 14-October 20, 2013

My News and Reviews

It was another two-review week last week. My Blade of the Immortal review project continues with Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal, Volume 26: Blizzard. The volume includes the conclusion to the battle between Manji and Shira and it does not disappoint. The second review posted last week was for Tomoyuki Hoshino’s novel Lonely Hearts Killer. It’s not easy reading, and I didn’t like it quite as well as Hoshino’s collection of short fiction We, the Children of Cats, but I found it to be an intriguing work.

Last week I also had the opportunity to attend a fascinating lecture on queer theory, Japanese literature, and translation. I decided to share some of my random musings on the topics. So far the post seems to have been well received, which makes me pretty happy.

There were a couple of particularly interesting posts by Erica Friedman over at Yuricon last week. Her New York Comic Con report includes more information about One Peace Books’ licensing of Takashi Ikeda’s yuri manga Whispered Words. (I’m looking forward to the release of Whispered Words a great deal.) Also interesting was her post A Very Important Thing About Licensing Manga Fans Don’t Really Understand which explains a few of the complexities involved in licensing manga for English-reading audiences.

Quick Takes

Children of the Sea, Volume 5Children of the Sea, Volume 5 by Daisuke Igarashi. In Japan, the fifth and final volume of Children of the Sea was released three years after the fourth volume was published. The English-language edition of the series likewise followed suit. But the end is finally here! I was actually surprised that the fifth volume was the conclusion of the series. To me it felt as though Igarashi had much more in store for Children of the Sea. I don’t know the circumstances surrounding the series’ end, but I am a little sad that he wasn’t able to develop it further. However, almost everything is tied up satisfactorily plot-wise and the series’ sense of mystery and awe remains intact. Children of the Sea is like modern myth. There is relatively little dialogue and narration in the fifth volume; Igarashi’s artwork really carries the manga at this point. And that artwork is absolutely beautiful. The attention given to the realistic details of the water and sea-life is stunning.

Devil's InfirmaryDevil’s Infirmary by Aco Oumi. Asakura is a physician at an all boys’ school who is not above accepting sexual advances from the students. Things get a little more complicated when Higurashi walks in on Asakura getting a blow job, but Asakura has a few compromising photographs with which to blackmail Higurashi into keeping quiet about it. Supposedly Asakura is in love with Higurashi, but I’m really not convinced. Their relationship is a very inappropriate one and Asakura, though he has a few redeeming qualities, is actually kind of creepy. (But Higurashi’s pretty cute.) At the same time, there are some legitimately funny and occasionally even hilarious moments in Devil’s Infirmary, too. One of Higurashi’s closest friends has a “sparkle problem” that unfortunately brings him unwanted attention from a few of the other students. It’s rather entertaining to see Higurashi try to pose as his boyfriend to deflect some of that interest. And then there’s Asakura’s mother who bribes her gay son into buying her yaoi manga.

Eyeshield 21, Volume 24Eyeshield 21, Volumes 24-27 written by Riichiro Inagaki and illustrated by Yusuke Murata. By this point I am no longer surprised that I enjoy Eyeshield 21. I still don’t have a particular interest in American football (and I doubt I ever will even considering the number of years I spent in marching band), but the characters, comedy, and art in the series are great. These four volumes are devoted to the Kanto Tournament game between the Deimon Devil Bats and the Ojo White Knights, both teams fighting to advance one step closer to the Christmas Bowl. The Devil Bats are considered to have one of the best offenses in the tournament but the White Knights are considered to have the best defense. The White Knights also have Seijuro Shin—as perfect a player as there can be. The game ends up being very close, and therefore very exciting; Inagaki keeps the readers guessing right up to the very last second. Murata’s dynamic artwork continues to be one of the highlights of the series. His creative imagery is a little more restrained in these volumes, focusing more on the action of the game and slightly less on its psychological impact, but it’s definitely still there.

Fairy Tail, Volume 30Fairy Tail, Volume 30 by Hiro Mashima. With these volumes, Fairy Tail launches into a new story arc. The technique that Mashima uses—a time skip—isn’t all that unusual for a lengthy shounen manga series. What makes it different, and something that I personally haven’t encountered before, is that only part of the cast jumps ahead while most of the main characters are stuck in time. It makes it a little more interesting when returning after seven years that they have to come to terms with the fact that so many of their friends (and enemies) have changed and grown more powerful. The time skip also serves the purpose of “resetting” the story—Fairy Tail is once again one of the weakest guilds and has to fight its way back to the top. But instead of facing off with evil wizards and guilds, this time they’ll be competing in the Grand Magic Games. Honestly, I’m not quite as interested in this particular turn of events, but at least there should be some entertaining trials and competitions as a result.

The Spectral EngineThe Spectral Engine by Ray Fawkes. I am not especially familiar with Ray Fawkes—an award-winning and frequently award-nominated Canadian creator—and so I was unaware of the upcoming release of The Spectral Engine. Happily, a review copy unexpectedly showed up in the mail. Otherwise, I would probably have completely missed it and that would have been a shame. The Spectral Engine is a great graphic novel and I’m glad I had the opportunity to read it. The artwork in particular is excellent, using dark, dripping lines and ink spatter reminiscent of the smoke and grime of the titular engine to effectively create an unnerving atmosphere appropriate for the ghost stories being told. The Spectral Engine weaves together thirteen tragic historic events from many different time periods and locations across Canada. These retellings are paired with their related modern-day hauntings and reports of unexplained phenomena. In many cases the names and lives of the dead have been forgotten, but their stories and legends live on.

AkagiAkagi, Episodes 14-26 directed by Yuzo Sato. While the first half of Akagi had several different mahjong matches, the second half focuses on one: Akagi Shigeru versus Washizu Iwao. It also features a very special and slightly terrifying version of mahjong in which three-quarters of the tiles are transparent (which are beautifully animated). This reveals more of the players’ hands and greatly changing the dynamics of the game. (Though initially a fictional game, Washizu Mahjong sets now really do exist.) The game with Washizu also provides Akagi with something that he’s been looking for—a literal death match. Instead of money, he’s gambling with his blood and therefore his life. Akagi is a fearless and fearsome player and the game is ridiculously intense as a result. There’s skill, and there’s luck, but even more important are the psychological attacks used to provoke and manipulate the other players. Even when most of the tiles can been seen there’s still plenty of room for bluffing . I love mahjong and unsurprisingly I loved Akagi, too.

My Week in Manga: May 27-June 2, 2013

My News and Reviews

In addition to the usual My Week in Manga feature, last week there were three posts here at Experiments in Manga. First off was the opening of the most recent manga giveaway. There’s still time to enter for a chance to win the first omnibus of Umineko: When They Cry. All you have to do is tell me about a manga based on a video game, visual novel, or dating sim. Next up was my review of Leslie Helm’s family memoir Yokohama Yankee: My Family’s Five Generations as Outsiders in Japan. It’s a fascinating and engaging book. And, like all of Chin Music Press’ publications, it’s beautifully designed as well. Finally, for those of you who are interested in my manga-buying habits, the Bookshelf Overload for May was also posted.

Quick Takes

Eyeshield 21, Volumes 20-23 written by Riichiro Inagaki and illustrated by Yusuke Murata. All of the first round games in the Kanto Tournament are covered at least briefly in these volumes, but the game between the Shinryuji Nagas and the Deimon Devil Bats is the one that receives the most attention. This makes sense, since the Devil Bats are the “home” team in Eyeshield 21, but some of the other games are so abbreviated I’m not sure it was necessary to include them at all. Honestly, I would have liked to have seen them played out in more detail and I’m not even a huge football fan. Even so, I’m still enjoying Eyeshield 21. The characters are great and the artwork is fantastic. Overall, it’s simply a fun series.

Fairy Tail, Volume 26 by Hiro Mashima. Although I am vaguely familiar with Fairy Tail, the twenty-sixth volume is the first volume that I’ve actually had the opportunity to read. Even though I haven’t read the previous volumes, I can tell that this particular volume plays a pivotal role in the story with at least one huge plot twist and several possible deaths. (I say possible, because the characters seem to be extraordinarily resilient.) In this volume two guilds of magic users face off, Grimoire Heart and Fairy Tail, so there are plenty of battles to be had and over-the-top magic to be seen. Some of the individual fights have their moments but I wasn’t really wowed by any of them. Others seem to have been skipped over entirely, which was a little disappointing and anticlimactic in a few cases.

Love Share by Aoi Kujyou. Love Share is a collection of short boy’s love manga which all feature the same protagonists—the level-headed Kazushi and his more free-spirited friend and lover Izumi. There is no overarching plot to the volume; each story is a small (and sometimes confusing) glimpse into the two men’s lives at different points in their relationship. What appealed to me most about Love Share was the fluidity of Izumi and Kazuishi’s sexualities. Neither one of them is consigned to being the top or the bottom. Instead, they allow themselves to be caught up in the moment and let things proceed as they will. Both of them are completely capable of taking charge and they do. 

Saiyuki, Volumes 6-9 by Kazuya Minekura. There may be plenty of parallels to The Journey to the West, the Chinese classic on which Saiyuki is very loosely based, but the original story is often nearly unrecognizable. The characters, too, tend to be quite different from their counterparts. I’ll admit though, I get a kick out of Saiyuki. I do find some of the intentional anachronisms that Minekura includes to be rather odd; they don’t always blend very well with the religious and magical aspects of the series. But then again, I seem to have no problem with Sanzo’s revolver or the fact that Jeep turns into, well, a jeep. Although the ninth volume concludes a major story-arc, Saiyuki doesn’t end here—after changing magazines (and demographics), the story continues in Saiyuki Reload.

My Week in Manga: April 15-April 21, 2013

My News and Reviews

Well, I didn’t end up posting any in-depth manga reviews last week, but I did review a couple of novels. The first review was for Tokyo Demons, Book 1: You’re Never Alone by Lianne Sentar. I’m actually so excited about the series that I’ll be writing more about the project later this week; I couldn’t fit it all into one review. I also reviewed Toh EnJoe’s Self-Reference Engine, which may or may not actually be a novel. Whatever it is, I loved it. The book is smart, funny, and clever science fiction.

The 2013 Eisner Award nominees were announced last week. There are some really great comics and creators up for an award this year. Manga nominees include Osamu Tezuka’s Barbara, Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, Shigeru Mizuki’s NonNonBa (which I previously reviewed), and Mari Yamazaki’s Thermae Romae. Katsuya Terada also received a nomination for his work on The Monkey King.

Other interesting things seen online: It appears as though there may be a new manga publisher on the horizon—Kansai Club Publishing. Lissa Pattillo of Kuriousity shared some thoughts on the effort, which is where I first learned of it. Supposedly, Kansai Club will be launching a Kickstarter soon for its first release. Elsewhere, the most recent episode of The Cockpit podcast is devoted to Vertical’s release of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin. Ed Chavez, the marketing director at Vertical, discusses the series’ licensing, production, and promotion efforts among other things. (I’ll be posting my own review of the first volume in the near future.)

Jason Thompson’s always excellent House of 1000 Manga column featured Takako Shimura’s Wandering Son last week. (It’s a series that is personally very important to me.) And as usual, the article is great. Back in March, Tofugu had an entertaining post about common visual tropes used in manga. A followup article was posted last week—Manga Tropes Revisited. Finally, this week is the Kaori Yuki Manga Moveable Feast! The Beautiful World is hosting this month’s Feast and has posted an introduction. Later this week I’ll be reviewing the first volume of Yuki’s Grand Guignol Orchestra as my contribution to the Feast.

Quick Takes

Attack on Titan, Volumes 3-4 by Hajime Isayama. For the most part I am enjoying Attack on Titan. However, its unevenness in art and storytelling can be a bit jarring. At times the manga is genuinely thrilling while at other times it seems to be just a little off. Granted, the effect is disconcerting and does add to the dark, oppressive atmosphere of the manga. A significant portion of the fourth volume is a flashback devoted to the military training of the young soldiers. It was interesting to see this and it was a great way to get to know some of the trainees better, but it may have been more effective earlier on in the series since so many of those characters are already known to end up dead.

Black Jack, Volumes 4-6 by Osamu Tezuka. I really do adore Black Jack as a character. He can be an utter bastard, but he’s also incredibly compassionate underneath his harsh exterior. An unparalleled surgeon, he wields his skill as he chooses. Well, except when he’s blackmailed into it. But then again, he’s just as likely resort to extortion. Perhaps because of Tezuka’s medical background, a lot of attention is given to the actual operations that Black Jack performs. Although there are recurring characters in Black Jack, generally the individual stories stand alone. As with any work, some stories are stronger than others. Personally, I prefer the more plausible scenarios, although the more fantastical ones can still be enjoyable.

Eyeshield 21, Volumes 15-19 written by Riichiro Inagaki and illustrated by Yusuke Murata. In these volumes, the Deimon Devil Bats continue to advance in the fall Tokyo tournament, hoping to reach and play in the Christmas Bowl at the end of the year. I’ll admit, the artwork in Eyeshield 21 is still what appeals to me most about the series. I love Murata’s dynamic action sequences and the ridiculous imagery that often accompanies them: tidal waves, knights in armor, steam engines, etc. Each team has a visual theme that coincides with their team name, mascot, or style of play. So the Bando Spiders have spiders and webs, the Kyoshin Poseidon have water motifs, and so on. It’s really a lot of fun.

Laugh Under the Sun by Yugi Yamada. I picked up Laugh Under the Sun primarily because I tend to enjoy Yamada’s boys’ love manga. Also, it has boxing! After seriously injuring an opponent, Sohei has been reluctant to return to the ring. For the last ten years he’s managed to get by on his good looks, but he’s tired of having no direction in his life. His more successful friend Chika (who is in love with Sohei although Sohei is oblivious to it), encourages him to take up boxing again. He does, but it’s not easy—the younger boxers at the gym don’t respect Sohei much and his confidence is lacking. Laugh Under the Sun isn’t particularly deep or complicated but it is an enjoyable one-shot with a bit of romance and humor to go along with the fighting sports.

Limit, Volumes 3-4 by Keiko Suenobu. After their bus crashes on a school trip, five high school girls struggle to survive the accident and each other while waiting to be rescued. When another survivor happens upon the group, the power dynamics shift dramatically, setting off an extreme backlash from some of the members. Honestly, I didn’t like these volumes quite as much as I did the first two; some of the characters’ actions weren’t as nearly as convincing. At the same time, they are all under a tremendous amount of stress and so maybe it shouldn’t be too surprising that some of their behaviors are less than rational. Still, Limit is intense and I’m very interested in seeing how Suenobu wraps everything up in the final two volumes.

My Week in Manga: March 25-March 31, 2013

My News and Reviews

Last week was March’s Manga Moveable Feast, hosted by Khursten at Otaku Champloo and focusing on historical manga. I particularly enjoyed Khursten’s post on Manga and Memories. As for my contributions to the Feast, I reviewed the third omnibus in Takehiko Inoue’s award-winning manga series Vagabond. Based on a historical novel which is in turn based on the life of the legendary Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, Vagabond is a great series. The most recent manga giveaway at Experiments in Manga has also been posted. Come tell me about your favorite historical manga for a chance to win Shigeru Mizuki’s semi-autobiographical Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths.

Unrelated to the Feast, I also posted a review of The Infernal Devices, Volume 1: Clockwork Angel, HyeKyung Baek’s graphic novel adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s novel of the same name. Now, I actually haven’t read the original novel, although I am somewhat familiar with the series (one of my sisters loves the books.) I do get the feeling that the graphic novel will be better appreciated by someone who has read The Infernal Devices. To that end, I have invited a housemate who has read the original novel to submit a guest post to Experiments in Manga with her impressions of the graphic novel adaptation. It should be posted sometime in the near future, so be on the look out for it! I’d also like to thank Manga Critic’s Kate Dacey once again for sending along a review copy of Clockwork Angel for me to read.

Quick Takes

Emerald and Other Stories by Hiroaki Samura. Published under the title Sister Generator in Japan, Emerald and Other Stories collects seven short manga works as well as several illustrations by Samura. All of the stories except for one feature women in lead roles. I was very excited about the collection for several reasons. First and foremost, I am a fan of Samura’s work. Emerald and Other Stories also includes a brief mahjong manga “Low-Grade Strategy: The Mirror Play” which won’t mean much to people unfamiliar with the game, but I got a kick out of it. I really enjoyed the collection as a whole, too. Samura’s shorter works can be odd, dark, quirky, and rather weird, which I appreciate, and I love his artwork.

Eyeshield 21, Volumes 11-14 written by Riichiro Inagaki and illustrated by Yusuke Murata. As much as I’m enjoying Eyeshield 21, I still don’t really care about American football. But the manga is a lot of fun. It’s filled with great, likeable characters (even those who are complete asses) and Murata’s artwork is fantastic. His fluid, exaggerated style fits the exaggerated characters well. At this point in the story, the Devil Bats have returned from their training in America and the fall tournament has begun. The manga moves through most of the games fairly quickly. Sometimes only a page or two is spent on each, just enough time for the teams to leave an impression. But then the Devil Bats face-off with the Kyoshin Poseidons and several volumes are devoted to their rivalry.

Gakuen Heaven by You Higuri. Because I’ve enjoyed some of Higuri’s past work, I picked up Gakuen Heaven on a whim out of a bargain bin for a mere pittance. I’m not convinced that it was worth it. The manga is the first volume in a series of adaptations of the dating sim game Gakuen Heaven: Boy’s Love Scramble. Probably not surprisingly, the characters and story are one cliche and trope after another and nothing creative is done with them. To some extent, the direction that plot takes was left up to reader polls. The artwork in Gakuen Heaven isn’t terrible, but like the rest of the manga it is very generic. The detail and sensuality found in the artwork of Higuri’s other manga is nowhere to be found.

Hero Tales, Volumes 1-5 written by Jin Zhou Huang, illustrated by Hiromu Arakawa. I was unfortunately very disappointed by Hero Tales. A Chinese-influenced fantasy with strong wuxia underpinnings (which I liked), the manga unfortunately ends up feeling very derivative and fails to distinguish itself. The characters have very little depth to them and even more problematic, the story itself frequently doesn’t make any sense as plot developments are either skipped over entirely or come out of nowhere. Arakawa’s artwork is nice, and there are some decent fight sequences and martial arts, but even this can’t save the manga. I did, however, very much enjoy the end-of-volume comics following Arakawa and her assistants around China as they gather reference materials for the series.

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade directed by Hiroyuki Okiura. I’ve been meaning to watch Jin-Roh for a while now. I’m glad that I finally got around to it; I really should have seen it sooner. Set in an alternate history of Japan, the anime follows Kazuki Fuse, a member of the military police’s elite special unit. He comes under investigation when he fails to shoot a young suicide bomber before she detonates her charge. Although there are several key action sequences and firefights, the pacing of the story is rather slow and deliberate. Personally, I don’t consider this at all to be a bad thing and was thoroughly engaged for the entire movie. The animation and overall atmosphere of the film were excellent.

My Week in Manga: February 18-February 24, 2013

My News and Reviews

Last week was the Naoki Urasawa Manga Moveable Feast. Organization Anti-Social Geniuses did a great job hosting. For my contribution to the Feast, I reviewed the first of Urasawa’s works to be released in English: Pineapple Army. The volume collects ten stories from the eight-volume series Pineapple Army written by Kazuya Kudo and illustrated by Urasawa that focuses on the exceptionally capable Jed Goshi, a Japanese-American Vietnam war veteran. As promised, I also posted a review of Persona: A Biography of Yukio Mishima by Naoki Inose and Hiroaki Sato. It is easily the most comprehensive single-volume work on Mishima currently available in English. It’s a huge volume, but well worth the effort it takes to read it if, like me, you have an established interest in Mishima.

I’ve made a few updates to the Resources page. The Manga Critic has now been absorbed by Manga Bookshelf and so no longer has its own entry. I did come across a newish blog that looks to be quite interesting, What Is Manga?, which is described as “a regular interrogation of what Japanese “comics” are and are not.” A couple of publisher websites have also disappeared: Bandai Entertainment and Icarus Comics. However, I did add Drawn and Quarterly (which was missing for some reason) and the newly established Chromatic Press to the list.

Elsewhere online, Gen Manga has launched a Kickstarter project for the print run of Sorako, one of the magazine’s stronger stories. A fascinating conversation between Igarashi Daisuke (Children of the Sea, etc.) and Taiyo Matsumoto (Tekkon Kinkreet, etc.) made its way onto Tumblr. The newest installment of Jason Thompson’s House of 1000 Manga focuses on Kingyo Used Books which unfortunately (but probably not surprisingly) has been canceled in English. I was also  sad to learn about the passing of Donald Richie, an influential writer and lover of Japan.

Quick Takes

Cyborg 009, Volume 7 by Shotaro Ishinomori. There is something about Cyborg 009 that makes me really happy to read it. Volume seven concludes part five of the series, which features the showdown between the zero-zero cyborg prototypes and the Myutos cyborgs. Initially I wasn’t overly impressed by the Myutos cyborgs. Their designs are inspired by Greek mythology, which seemed to be a rather strange and not entirely convincing combination. However, I quickly got over it and just enjoyed the story and its nearly non-stop action. The fights don’t just boil down to who happens to have the better or stronger superpower. Cleverness, teamwork, and character are just as important.

Eyeshield 21, Volumes 8-10 written by Riichiro Inagaki and illustrated by Yusuke Murata. Eyeshield 21 is definitely not the most realistic sports manga. Although there are a few serious-minded themes, Inagaki and Murata revel in the more absurd and humorous elements of the series. I think that’s really what makes the series work for me. That and Murata’s dynamic and engaging artwork. These three volumes wrap up the America story arc with the Deimon Devil Bats facing off against the NASA Aliens. Eventually the team ends up in the United States for a few days of utterly ridiculous summer training. Yes, Eyeshield 21 is over-the-top and hardly believable, but it is highly entertaining.

Rabbit Man, Tiger Man Volume 1 by Akira Honma. After rescuing the life of Nonami, a yakuza boss, timid Uzuki suddenly discovers that he’s caught the attention of a very dangerous man. Admittedly, the basic premise of the manga isn’t particularly original; I’ve read plenty of other boys’ love stories with a similar setup. Even so, Rabbit Man, Tiger Man has a nice mix of humor and drama and I’m quite fond of the characters. I particularly liked Nonami. He’s a tough guy, but he also has a very sweet nature. His underling Taka is pretty great, too. I actually quite enjoyed this first installment of Rabbit Man, Tiger Man. I’ll most likely be picking up the next volume at some point.

VS Aliens by Yu Suzuki. In addition to being one of Gen Manga’s debut stories, VS Aliens was also the first story in the magazine to be collected in its entirety in a single volume. Unlike a few of the other Gen Manga collections, there is no additional material included in VS Aliens that didn’t originally appear during its initial serialization. One day, Kitaro is approached by Segawa, one of his classmates, who seems to be convinced that another girl in their class, Sakuma, is an alien. Not wanting to hurt either of the girls’ feelings, Kitaro tries his best to figure out what’s going on. But that may turn out to be a little more difficult than he realizes. VS Aliens is a rather silly manga but an enjoyable piece of fluff and an amusing, quick read.