- Posted by Johanna on March 23, 2012 at 3:41 pm
- Category: Manga Reviews
- CREDITS: by Naoki Urasawa; adapted by Akemi Wegmuller
- PUBLISHER: Viz; $12.99 US
We’re either four or six (depending on how you count the two-volume 21st Century Boys, or whether Viz intends to include it as part of this series) books out from the finale of the now-longest manga series I’ve stuck with, and I’m feeling new excitement catching up on events.
The brief opening sequence reminds us of just how mindlessly lethal the Friend is, as well as establishing uncertainty about his identity (again!) and reminding us of the directness of Kanna’s mission to kill the world leader. It’s all conversation, among old men (and a girl) in boring business rooms, but somehow it’s strikingly dramatic. That’s what keeps me coming back to Naoki Urasawa’s work: his artistic skill. Even when I’m crazy ready for events to reveal themselves and frustrated with the length of the story, his detail and character expression are masterful and worth studying.
His digressions are often striking in themselves. For example, an old man, who might be Kenji, and the cop Chono are fishing. I’m not sure why, or how exactly this connects up with the main story, but it’s a great excuse for a conversation that encompasses the value of family memory and the need for vacation and how much more kindly we think of people after they pass.
This volume provides a number of short scenes catching up with characters from various points in the series. Usasawa is assembling his pieces across the board, ready for the final sweep. Except a board game isn’t the right metaphor, since that assumes a known set of rules and a certain mechanical progression. That’s far from what we get with Urasawa. Just when you think you know what’s coming, he’ll digress into bowling or the nature of reproduction in creating art or a new character introduction. I’m never sure who’s truly new and whom I’ve just forgotten about, but in this case, there are at least two: a shady cowboy-looking border smuggler and a tin-pot tiny dictator who fancies himself evil.
The major plot thread contained in this volume involves Chono and his companion trying to get back into Tokyo, which involves obtaining a transit permit in some fashion in a criminal-infested border town. (I just recently rewatched Casablanca, with its story involving missing letters of transit to eventually get the bearers to America, so I couldn’t help but notice the similarities. There’s also an aspect to the scary border fortress that reminded me of Labyrinth, but to say more would spoil a secret.) This segment is another example of how Urasawa takes an aspect of life under wartime occupation (or perhaps more accurate to say life under a tyrant) and spins it out into a vivid portrait, making it clear to the reader what it would be like to live in such devastated circumstances.
There are also surprising connections revealed in flashback, causing me to marvel at how elegantly certain strands come together. I was reminded of the power of the group, seeing true democracy in action as various strangers rallied together with their unique abilities and, more importantly, a willingness to fight for what they wanted. I get the feeling we get Urasawa’s summary of the story late in this volume, in the midst of a thrilling showdown, when one character tells another, “It’s hard being evil. It’s a lot easier being a good guy.” (The publisher provided a review copy.)
- Posted by Johanna on February 25, 2012 at 8:11 pm
- Category: Manga News
Tezuka in English pointed out that I’ve mostly read his “transitional works”. Books like Swallowing the Earth get translated because they’re historically important (in that case, one of his first attempts at manga for adults), but that doesn’t mean they read well, here in a different century. A lot more Tezuka is available in French, including more adventure work not aimed at kids, which might be a better introduction to the non-scholarly U.S. reader.
I’ve realized there is one credited Tezuka work I absolutely adore: Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka. OK, it’s not “authentic” Tezuka, I guess, but by presenting his ideas in a modern context (and thus avoiding the racist and sexist stereotypes which are a huge turn-off) with a more accomplished art style (and thus not causing cognitive conflict between big ideas expressed by cutesy-pie characters, most problematic in Buddha), it’s a lot easier to read and enjoy.
I’d like to see more projects of this type, reworking Tezuka for a modern audience. Eliminate the problems and emphasize the strengths, as Darwyn Cooke did for Will Eisner’s Spirit.
- Posted by Johanna on February 25, 2012 at 7:55 pm
- Category: Manga News
As another contribution to this week’s Manga Moveable Feast, Ed and I were joined on the Manga Out Loud podcast by Ed Chavez to discuss Osamu Tekuza’s work for adults and how manga for older readers developed in Japan.
But first, host Ed and I talked briefly about what we’ve read recently. Ed told me more about his reading of Tezuka’s MW, in keeping with the MMF, and Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys Volume 19, which I’m greatly anticipating. In between, I pontificate on cultural-bound works and how hard it is to approach them fresh decades later, and we wonder into talking about Steve Ditko’s work. I also have a few thoughts on the new downloadable SuBLime yaoi.
Listening back to it, I hadn’t realized we were having so much fun and touching on so many different ideas.
- Posted by Ed Sizemore on December 30, 2011 at 1:42 pm
- Category: Manga News
by Ed Sizemore
Looking back over 2011, there were some great manga published. In particular, three significant books were translated into English: Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, Tank Tankuro, and Wandering Son. Only Tank Tankuro by Gajo Sakamoto didn’t make my top ten list. It’s an important children’s manga from pre-World War II. However, it doesn’t age very well. Sakamoto’s unquestioning patriotism and use of stereotypes makes it hard to enjoy.
There were two Tezuka manga published this year, and I desperately wanted to include them in my top ten. However, honesty forbids me. Book of Human Insects is well-written, but I still struggle with a Tezuka story where the villain or villainess wins in the end. Princess Knight is a fun book, but it’s also deeply flawed in its storytelling.
Here are my top ten favorite manga for 2011.
1. Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths by Shigeru Mizuki. Finally, we get a manga by Mizuki in English. A powerful, semi-autobiographic tale of the hardships faced by Japanese troops during World War II, this book is also a needed reminder that not everyone wearing a Japanese uniform supported the Imperial regime. I hope this does well enough to spark interest in his other works, especially GeGeGe no Kitaro.
2. Wandering Son by Shimura Takako. Words fail me when trying to describe the beauty and artistry of this manga. The genius of this series is that Takako doesn’t focus on how ‘strange and unusual’ transgender people are, but rather how ordinary. I want to say this should be required reading for junior high students as a way to help promote understanding. However, I don’t really know if that approach works.
3. A Bride’s Story by Kaoru Mori. My review of the first volume focused too much on my own hang-ups instead of the breathtaking art, wonderful storytelling, and meticulous research. My eyes almost die from ecstasy with each new volume.
4. A Zoo in Winter by Jiro Taniguichi. I feel like Taniguichi is writing his stories for me. His sense of nostalgia, history, and character are almost identical to my own. I immediately identify with his lead characters and sympathize with what they’re going through. Maybe it’s a middle-aged man thing.
5. Stargazing Dog by Takashi Murakami. Everybody and their brother has praised this book and rightly so. It’s as moving as everyone says. It’s a sad story, so best to save it for when you’re ready for a good cry.
6. 7 Billion Needles by Nobuaki Tadano. This series seems to have been overlooked by most people. It deserves a much wider audience. It’s a solid sci-fi story that gets better with each volume and has a terrific ending.
7. 20th Century Boys Volumes 13-18 by Naoki Urasawa. This series has been an amazing roller coaster ride. I’m impressed that Urasawa is able to maintain real suspense over so many volumes. I can’t wait to see how it all wraps up.
8. Twin Spica Volumes 5-10 by Kou Yaginuma. Another great sci-fi series by Vertical that is getting criminally neglected. This is more of a soft sci-fi, where the focus is on the characters and their development over technology and world-building. A very moving story with lead characters you’re constantly rooting for.
9. Yotsuba Volume 10 by Kiyohiko Azuma. This series is pure joy. Yotsuba is the cure for any bad mood. Unfortunately, we have caught up with the Japanese releases, so that means only one or two volumes a year. Azuma needs to write faster.
10. Chi’s Sweet Home Volumes 5-7 by Kanata Konami. Look, it’s a cat manga, so it’s already 90% there for me. It’s well-written and adorable, so I’m totally sold. This is another manga where we’ve caught up to the Japanese release and will have long waits between volumes.
- Posted by Johanna on December 6, 2011 at 7:51 am
- Category: Manga Reviews
- PUBLISHER: Viz; $12.99 US
20th Century Boys Book 18
by Naoki Urasawa
Kanna’s rebel group has gone even further underground. Their planned action is known by the ruling class, but Kanna refuses to call off the mission, because dreaming of that achievement is all that keeps her group together. Superhero-ish Otcho (think a grizzled old Japanese version of Wolverine) is trying to find her, busting in doors of places they used to hang out.
I’m unsure what I can or should say about this series at this time. It’s not as though anyone’s going to start reading with the 18th book, since characters long before established are meeting in new combinations and the suspense keeps building and building and building. (Release, please!) Yet it’s a significant series and quite impressive that it’s still going in translation. It amazes me that Urasawa created and maintained it in such depth for so long.
The art is too accomplished for me to praise it sufficiently. 20th Century Boys is like reading a movie, with atmospheric settings and dramatic expressions. The linework is marvelous, and Urasawa takes full advantage of the ability to create whatever place or situation he can imagine, from a post-plague militaristic society to the transformative power of a catchy song or a crazy old man with a guitar mistaken for a space alien.
I have the impression that there are some very subtle messages about responsibility for yourself and others running through this series, but I’d have to reread a lot of the volumes to be sure. It’s referenced in the debate Kanna and Otcho have about how to proceed, and the old man’s contradictory statements about singing, contrasted with the dementedly loyal disc jockey.
I did feel very sorry and sympathetic for Kanna. She’s tired of being responsible for everyone else’s hopes. She’s past feeling, and she’s overwhelmed and cynical at such a young age. Poor thing. It’s not going to get any better for her. But maybe there’s still hope for the future.
I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow Book 4
by Shunju Aono
Along similar lines, this series about a middle-aged man who wants to draw manga provides the exhausted breath of a promise of a fresh start… or does Shizuo really just need to find a new way to see himself and gain attention?
When we left off with Book 3, Shizuo’s editor had quit the magazine just before Shizuo was supposed to make his manga debut. His new editor is a younger woman, and she has very different opinions about what she wants to see. He reminds her of a situation she’s not happy with in her own life, and she’s blunt in her unfavorable reactions to his work.
Shizuo starts wishing he was a kid again… until he remembers his life was miserable then, too. At some point, he should figure out that the problem is him, that wishing for things to change or magically be another age isn’t a useful coping mechanism. But he’s still got a good deal of growing up to do. I hope that his new editor pointing out how his manga is just begging for approval of his choices — a trap it’s easy for creators to fall into — will shake him up enough to get better work from him.
Aono’s art resembles the slightly primitive style of a newcomer, reflecting the story content in design. His characters are simple and flat, giving them a more universal role as a representative of their type as well as a particular incarnation.
Saturn Apartments Book 4
by Hisae Iwaoka
After I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow, Saturn Apartments seems so delicately drawn, with its fine lines and cluttered detail, well-suited to symbolizing the future, even if it is a down-at-heels, lower-class one. That’s what the two series have in common — the need to work hard to even have a hope of achieving your dream. Sometimes, simply surviving is enough.
Mitsu has more ambition than that, though, working with the experienced Jin to study for the technician test. Mitsu’s got a number of co-workers he learns from, either in terms of dedication to the work or specific skills to assist him in his job. A dangerous situation that puts one cleaner in the hospital reminds us that this grunt work has life-or-death consequences.
Even after the immediate danger is over, there are ramifications to clean up — bills, resentful co-workers who blame those involved, family decisions, long-term fears of what years spent working means to one’s body. How much responsibility do we have for the decisions of those close to us? It’s a difficult question that provides some depth to this slice-of-life science fiction story, combined with a generational transition that shows time passing.
Then Mitsu is given a new worker to train, so he has to take charge of someone; in spite of his unwillingness to confront someone older than he is, he’s needed to prevent the rookie cleaner from making serious mistakes. It’s another example of how he’s growing up.
(All books are priced at $12.99 US and were provided by the publisher for review.)
- Posted by Johanna on October 17, 2011 at 4:03 pm
- Category: Shopping Guide
I wasn’t able to do a weekly post either of the last two weeks, and there won’t be one this week, either. I’m not sure it’ll be missed, given the lack of comment on my last one, but there have been a number of great reads out the last two weeks that I wanted to be sure you knew about. Short and sweet, since the changing comic world means more ways and timetables on which to get books:
* Amelia Rules! The Meaning of Life… and Other Stuff (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $10.99) is a strong contender for my best-of-year list.
* Volume 3 is the latest Archie Archives (Dark Horse, $49.99) to arrive.
* The last Bloom County collection comes out with Volume 5 (IDW Publishing, $39.99), although Outland will follow.
* Bubbles and Gondola (NBM, $16.99) gave me a unique perspective on being an artist and loneliness.
* You don’t need me to tell you how good Kate Beaton’s Hark A Vagrant (Drawn and Quarterly, $19.95) is, since so many others have already done so.
* The latest Modern Masters volume covers Frazer Irving (TwoMorrows Publishing, $15.95).
* Pope Hats #2 (AdHouse Books, $6.95) — Don’t worry if you haven’t seen the first one, you can still appreciate Ethan Rilly’s amazing cartooning in this one.
* Stargazing Dog (NBM, $11.99) is heartbreaking, as are most good dog stories.
* The Strange Talent of Luther Strode #1 (Image Comics, $2.99) was MUCH too raw and violent for squeamish little me, but it’s very well-done. The concept — kid who loves superhero comics really gets powers — is common, but the execution here is exceptional.
* Mike Dawson’s Troop 142 (Secret Acres, $20) is a realistic portrait of a week of Boy Scout camp, with all the horrible things teenage males do to each other. Great cartooning, too, especially with the distinct characters.
* Two Generals, one of my Best of 2010, is now out in paperback (Emblem Editions, $19.99).
* It was a pleasure to see raw autobiographical cartooning from the female perspective, as seen in Jennifer Hayden’s Underwire (Top Shelf Productions, $9.95).
* Kevin Keller’s story continues in Veronica #209 (Archie Comics, $2.99), which has a variant cover choice.
* Viz Media has three great manga: Cross Game Volume 5 ($14.99), Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys Volume 17 ($12.99), and my favorite, Bakuman Volume 7 ($9.99).
- Posted by Johanna on October 10, 2011 at 7:31 am
- Category: Manga Reviews
- PUBLISHER: Viz
Here are my thoughts on the latest volumes of a bunch of favorite Viz Manga titles.
Bakuman Book 7
story by Tsugumi Ohba, art by Takeshi Obata, $9.99, out now
This series demonstrates the virtue of sticking with a story that shows promise, since it’s gone from an intriguing premise with some serious problems to one of my most-anticipated manga reads. It’s just so involving, with its struggling protagonists and their goal of becoming successful manga-ka.
Of course, purporting to show the behind-the-scenes of making manga is catnip to manga readers. Many comic readers have dreamed of making their own, and this allows them to live that life vicariously. It’s impressive that it’s so dramatic and emotion-packed, but when you think about these kids, putting out serialized chapters and graphic novels while still in high school, that’s a setup fraught with possibility. Heck, one of them has already risked his life to make their business successful, even though the sacrifice doesn’t turn out as they expected.
The guys are struggling to find a new manga concept that will be successful while clashing with a sometimes-oblivious new editor more concerned about his future with the company than what’s best for them. They’re no longer convinced that he knows what they need or is skilled as an editor, so they challenge him while seeking their own path. At the same time, they’re working to get into college, so they can then coast for a few more years while making comics.
I’m impressed by how dense this feels because of all the text. I’m more story-driven than art-driven in my reading, so I enjoy how much conversation goes on, between the characters debating their choices and laying out rules for making manga. Don’t get me wrong, the visuals are extremely impressive in how exciting they make everyday life. The artist is even paid a compliment early on when the creators are talking about how “the best manga artist is one who can draw ordinary everyday life in an interesting way.”
I also adore the goofy Eiji Nizuma, the young competitor who’s already hit his success. He’s asked to judge a manga contest by the editors, and his exaggerated focus on exactly what he likes is great. There’s a lot of discussion about gag manga, what they need, and how a kid audience reacts to them, which gave me plenty of background on a genre I previously wasn’t all that familiar with.
Cross Game Book 5
by Mitsuru Adachi, $14.99, out October 11
Speaking of shonen manga favorites, here’s the latest issue of this sports competition story. This double-length volume (printed as books 10 and 11 in Japan) shows Ko and his team in a regional tournament.
I’m very impressed by the artwork — the closeups on player’s expressions, the skewed panels during key action sequences, the isolated elements of an action from player to stance to ball to swing to result — but I admit, having read the previous volume over the summer, I didn’t recall details on who any of the players were. I recommend reading the series in large chunks to keep the drama high and the cast straight.
This is a book for those willing to wallow in the details of the game — sometimes, I’d rather just know who wins and then get back to the character development. That’s why Viz double-sizes these books, I think. Here, the entire first half of the book is all one game. If released at traditional size, it’d take much too long for the American patience to move events along. But as it is, the second half provides the characterization I was looking for, as the cast deals with the playoff’s outcome.
There are some new developments as well. A noodle shop is moving in, and the daughter resembles what Wakaba would have looked like if she’d lived to that age. (Subtle comment on the expectations of appearance for girls of a certain age, or just a storytelling shortcut?) When the summer festival takes place (which coincides with the anniversary of Wakaba’s passing), the new girl’s looks cause quite the reaction among her neighbors.
This event demonstrates one of Adachi’s best tactics. He doesn’t have the characters tell the reader what they’re thinking; instead, he juxtaposes panels in such a way that it’s clear to us what’s going on. We’re smarter than they are, which gives us an investment in seeing them realize what we already understand. (Although at times, I do wish that everyone wasn’t quite so clueless about Ko and Aoba ending up together, since it can feel like it’s being dragged out just to fill out the series.)
My favorite sequence is a wordless two-pager where the pet cat, chasing a fly, bounces around the house. It’s funny but also meaningful in its symbolism. Plus, the cat is adorable.
The Story of Saiunkoku Book 5
art by Kairi Yura, story by Sai Yukino, $9.99, out November 1
Switching gears, if I’m to wallow in character detail, I’d much rather do so in this historical shojo. For some reason, I can keep the various pretty boys here separate much more easily than I can the baseball teammates, probably because the guys here don’t all dress alike.
The normally sturdy Shurei has caught a cold, and everyone’s falling over themselves to help her recover. That means plenty of men assembled to help look for a missing child, conveniently, while the Emperor pines over the sleeping, ailing Shurei.
She’s got to get better so she can take the Imperial Civil Exam. A lot is riding on her — beyond her life-long dreams of becoming a civil servant, she’s also the first woman to be allowed to take the exam, and her performance has the potential to change expectations for her entire society. Of course, she’s more fixated on others than herself, so it isn’t a surprise when she takes a boy, come to the city to take the exam, under her wing. The boy, however, has his own surprises, including a kind of multiple personality.
The story can be jumpy and often we’re told more than we’re shown, but I enjoy the wackiness of everything moving so quickly. Somehow, this book includes gangsters, a spoiled rich kid with a crush on Shurei, and the city’s most well-known courtesan, all who come together in a bizarre mob-style showdown. (And several of whom have known Shurei for years, although we’ve never heard of them before.) This book does change genres quickly. Much like the weather in certain areas, if you don’t like a chapter, just wait a bit, and you’ll have something different soon. I do think I’m ready for her to get back with the Emperor soon, though, because I love their fumbling romance, as we’re reminded in the side story included in this volume.
Kingyo Used Books Book 4
by Seimu Yoshizaki, $12.99, out October 18
Stepping into the pages of this manga bookstore and meeting several of their varied customers is always relaxing. It’s nice to spend time, even if fictional, with those who share my interests in manga, even if they’re reading books I’ve never heard of before.
My favorite is the first chapter, about a tutor trying to help his student, a boy who claims he doesn’t like manga because he hasn’t yet found the right one for him. Really, he’s putting on an attitude of being uncaring because his ability to make his own choices hasn’t been respected. I wish this story had gone on longer, because I felt like there were connections still to be made. I also wanted to know more about the speech one of the booksellers makes, about the virtues of horror manga, since I don’t care for that genre myself. I got just a glimpse of what its appeal could be, but there seemed more to be said.
Yoshizaki sketches her characters economically, but with enough hints that you can understand the personalities and what they’re looking for quickly. Sometimes the manga is almost incidental, as mention of a title shared between two old men remembering their protestor days in the 60s, or sometimes it’s essential, as with the story of a guy with a crush on a girl who loves manga. Their shared enjoyment of Ranma ½ is adorable, especially when he geeks out and buys the whole series.
The followup chapter explores another area of fandom, as a stereotypical geek sounds off at the handsome men at the bookstore. He needs his hobby to give him purpose, and having them “invade” when they already have so much else going for them makes him jealous. He shows up again later as an amateur investigator, helping a kid stop an arsonist attacking used book stores. That was a fun story, and it reminded me of one of the things I like about Yoshizaki’s art — how well she draws people discovering a moment of happiness or peacefulness. In this case, it’s both, as a stressed kid enjoys a manga (by Moto Hagio) that relaxes him enough that he drifts off into a nap.
I was astounded to be reminded of the age of manga in the last chapter. I think of it as dating back to the 80s, when it first came to the U.S., or to the 60s, when thinking about some of Vertical’s Tezuka reprints, but one story here involves manga first released in the 20s and 30s, which makes it older than superhero comics. (I know, I should know that, but it didn’t really sink home until now.) The message of that story, about how manga can follow and support people throughout their lives, is something we only dream of for American comics. We’re closer, but there’s still a way to go.
20th Century Boys Book 17
by Naoki Urasawa, $12.99, out October 11
I’m finding this series really frustrating lately, as I want to know more about what happens next, and Urasawa is instead giving us flashbacks. Except they’re too skilled to be called that, really, as he draws portraits of life under plague. Families are split apart by death and villainy while survivors suffer in concentration camps. Urasawa is clearly building an epic, and there are still plenty of volumes to go, but I miss the core cast and I’m ready for the last big showdown.
Here, we get some new kid characters — a brother and sister made aware that Kanna’s resistance group has a spy in their midst — and the question of whether the resistance should call off their action or force ahead even if the overlords know their plans.
Also frustrating is the way that the cliffhanger from Book 15 is still the cliffhanger for this book, in a new form. If Urasawa’s work weren’t so darn well-drawn, I’d suggest that two volumes is an excruciating amount of time to make readers wait to find out what happened, but at least there are plenty of really pretty drawings of really ugly things — murders, sewers — to watch while we wait.
By focusing on the end, I’m probably approaching this in a way that’s completely wrong, culturally. I can’t even imagine what this would be like reading serialized.
(The publisher provided most of the above as review copies.)
- Posted by Johanna on August 24, 2011 at 2:38 pm
- Category: Manga News
Since today’s the day the latest volume of Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys mega-series comes out, I thought it might also be a good time to share with you this amazing piece of merchandise related to the series.
Michael Crawford’s Captain Toy site has a comprehensive writeup by Jeff Parker (probably not the comic writer) of this limited-edition release of a figure of the Friend. The Hong Kong company Hot Toys put out a number of exclusive figures to celebrate their 10th anniversary, and this was one of them. Parker’s piece is super-detailed, and I found it very interesting, especially since he wasn’t previously familiar with the manga, and I’m not very familiar with toy collecting. He’s also got a bunch of good pictures. There’s one of the accessories after the cut, but it contains a spoiler if you’re not caught up on the manga series. Read the rest of this entry »