Bizenghast Wins! Last OEL Manga Standing

I was surprised to receive a copy of Bizenghast Book 6, since I’d thought Tokyopop had ended all of their OEL manga print plans. (OEL manga are comics created by non-Japanese creators in the English language but drawn in a manga style. I’m ignoring Princess Ai, of course, since it’s co-created by Stuart Levy, CEO of Tokyopop, so it gets special treatment.)

Bizenghast Book 6 cover
Bizenghast Book 6
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Even though I’ve never read earlier volumes in the series, I figured the longevity deserved recognition, so I’d check it out. And I can see why Bizenghast has found an audience: M. Alice LeGrow has created an involving fantasy world that reuses classic elements with plenty of features the teen audience will find appealing.

This volume starts with a grumpy talking backpack carried by an exotic-looking boy (toned skin, curly dark hair, almond-shaped eyes). His brother has an opinion on everything, ranting while they wander a department store. The dialogue is hip and knowing and full of attitude.

The main story, though, is about Dinah, an orphan in the mysterious town of Bizenghast. She has a mission involving The Mausoleum, something about orders from the Afterlife and helping ghosts. A seed is stolen and a guardian murdered, so she and others need to find out why and who’s responsible. Meanwhile, the town’s going crazy.

Chapters ponder the logic of dreams and introduce the brothers’ sister, who creates talismans to aid in their mystical quest. Various religious aspects and allusions provide some thematic depth to the material. There are horrible sights in a hidden basement and a secret letter from the past, all classic elements of this genre. The mythos underlying this world is full of creepiness, magic, and bigger unknown forces. Everyone seems taken over and turned against Dinah, except for one of the helpers, who has a crush that remains unspoken.

I felt lost much of the time, not knowing what’s happened in the past, and I found the quest familiar and a bit predictable, but I could see the appeal of the characters. The art isn’t particularly manga-esque to my eyes. If it wasn’t presented in this context, it would remind me of some classic fantasy indy comics, perhaps (for example) the work of Teri Sue Wood. The designs and settings are great, full of detail and with a lot of attention paid to appearance.

The combination of exploring dreams and the afterlife with teens who act like teens, shopping and paying attention to clothes, makes this an updated gothic fantasy with particular appeal to younger readers who may be less familiar with the stock elements. No word on whether we should still expect to see Book 7, the concluding chapter, next year.

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11 Comments

  1. The Bizenghast artwork looks amazing, such a great gothic fantasy rendition. The preview looks nice, black and white cleanliness with hints of pop art.
    Thanks for the post.

  2. [...] Johanna Draper Carlson looks at Bizenghast, the long running OEL manga, now reaching its sixth volume. Even though I’ve never read earlier [...]

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful review! Bizenghast 7 is indeed on track for publication next summer. Actually, we haven’t been as vocal about this as we could have been, but Re:Play 3 is going to be out in print this winter, and Kat & Mouse 4 is available in print in September. So while Bizenghast was the first to make it to store shelves in a while, it’s not the last.

    And while they went totally under the radar all around (again, our fault as much as anything else), we did have two OGM volume 1s come out in print earlier this year (Orange Crows and Tantric Stripfighter Trina). It remains to be seen what will happen with volume 2s for several series that launched in 2008/2009, but I’m glad we got those initial volumes out, at least.

  4. Thank you very much for the updates! I should have clarified that I was thinking of continuing OEL series, although I’m pleasantly surprised to hear that Tokyopop is still launching new ones. And I’m eagerly looking forward to Kat & Mouse resuming! I appreciate the corrections.

  5. Johanna Says:

    “…No word on whether we should still expect to see Book 7, the concluding chapter, next year…”

    That reminds me of 3 more last volumes I’d like to see Tokyopop release in English:

    Angel Town (sequel to Angel and Angel Nest)
    The Aromatic Bitters vol. 2 (of 2)
    The Embalmer vol. 5 (of 5) (as the commenter Somniel said on 03.18.2008 12:00 AM, “Odd how we’re kept dangling for nearly a year for the end of a series about closure.”)

    Since they’re so close to the end, Why not wrap these up and get them out of the way (even if only via ebook releases, which is worse than ideal but better than no English translation) instead of leaving them loose ends?

    LillianDP Says:

    “Bizenghast 7 is indeed on track for publication next summer. Actually, we haven’t been as vocal about this as we could have been, but Re:Play 3 is going to be out in print this winter, and Kat & Mouse 4 is available in print in September. So while Bizenghast was the first to make it to store shelves in a while, it’s not the last…”

    Nice to know that B7 will be out soon! :) Could this also mean the chances are good for the other ones I mentioned too?

  6. Wow, Erika Sakurazawa. I haven’t gotten a question about those… ever, I think. But yeah, M-rated josei titles were pretty much a no-go in the US even back in 2003 when everything sold (whereas they did great for TP-Germany), so I doubt you’ll ever see those in English. Alas…

    Good question about The Embalmer, though. Volume 5 didn’t come out in Japan until after our big restructure last year, and unfortunately, as much as we liked her work internally, Mihara has never been a big seller here, so Embalmer hasn’t been on the priority list. But it’s certainly worth considering, if things do conclude in vol. 5.

  7. [...] Johanna Draper Carlson declares Vol. 6 of Bizenghast a [...]

  8. LillianDP Says:

    “Wow, Erika Sakurazawa. I haven’t gotten a question about those… ever, I think…”

    Still, thanks for replying. :)

    “…But yeah, M-rated josei titles were pretty much a no-go in the US even back in 2003 when everything sold (whereas they did great for TP-Germany), so I doubt you’ll ever see those in English. Alas…”

    Now I’m wondering, what might the odds be of us maybe seeing those as classic editions in English ~5-10-15 years from now…? I bet this would depend on how the economy changes, how the publishing industry changes over time, how much competitors like manhua and bédé gain interest here, how many of today’s shôjo Anglophone fans grow up into tomorrow’s josei Anglophone fans, etc…(and if you think this is wild-ass speculation, it sure is and go here for wilder-ass speculation). :)

    Speaking of M-rated josei, I’m also glad to know you’re resuming translations of Suppli. :)

    “…Good question about The Embalmer, though. Volume 5 didn’t come out in Japan until after our big restructure last year, and unfortunately, as much as we liked her work internally, Mihara has never been a big seller here…”

    That actually surprises me. Somehow I’d got the impression that the “Elegant Gothic Lolita” thing (the clothing of which I heard was inspired in part by Mihara’s drawings in some of her other manga) was getting more popular in the U.S. among some girls. In turn, this made me guess that Mihara’s other stuff would be bigger sellers here and that maybe the “Gothic Lolita Complex” chapter of The Embalmer might have offended that crowd enough to make its sales drop a lot. Now I know how wrong that guess was!

    “…so Embalmer hasn’t been on the priority list. But it’s certainly worth considering, if things do conclude in vol. 5…”

    If things do conclude in vol. 5? As if there’s a chance they might not and Mihara might release a vol. 6? Interesting…

  9. [...] there are similar stories, where a girl (rarely a boy) falls into a magical world, such as Bizenghast, Coraline, or The Clarence [...]

  10. [...] have the rights to upload any licensed properties, only those they own. Titles announced include Bizenghast, Dramacon, and Princess Ai, the book written by Tokyopop’s CEO Stuart [...]

  11. [...] was one of the most popular OEL titles from Tokyopop, and the previous volume came out at the end of June 2010. Based on this cover image, [...]

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