Monday manga miscellany

July 24, 2006

I’ve never had much luck with manga shopping at Half Price Books. The closest one to where I live usually has a tragic little rolling cart with a handful of titles like Yu-Gi-Oh. This weekend’s impulse visit was happily different. The cart was still tiny and sad, but there were some books from Cocoro’s Hino Horror series and, even better, Japan, Inc.

After reading Hideshi Hino’s Black Cat, I wish I’d grabbed more titles from the series. I like Hino’s spooky, moody style. I’ll just have to content myself with Black Cat and Ghost School for now.

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What’s this? More manga from Fumi Yoshinaga, creator of Antique Bakery? Yes, please! (Found via MangaBlog.) Hasn’t someone licensed Gerard & Jacques too? There have been so many announcements lately that I can’t keep track.

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I really need to take the plunge and try some more manhwa. Does anyone have any recommendations? (And please, I beg of you, don’t suggest Honey Mustard or I’ll think you’re just being cruel.)

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The worst Manga 101 article lead I’ve seen lately? “Holy sushi!” from The Orlando Sentinel.

No article of this type can be all bad if it features an interview with Dawn Rutherford of the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee, and this one’s not bad at all. I find “Bambi-eyed” a nice variation on the customary comment on ocular gigantism. Maybe it’s a meta-comment on the influences Osamu Tezuka drew from Walt Disney?

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In this week’s Flipped, I take a look at some titles from Seven Seas Entertainment. Speaking of Seven Seas and global manga, there’s some interesting conversation on both subjects over at Love Manga.


Another quick creep note

July 22, 2006

Anne Freaks (ADV) is reviewed in the latest Entertainment Weekly. My memory of EW isn’t exactly encyclopedic, but I think this is the first time they’ve ever profiled a manga title. That’s always struck me as kind of odd for a magazine about popular entertainment.

If you’d asked me which manga title would be the first to land on EW‘s pages, I probably wouldn’t have picked Anne Freaks, no matter how much I like it. It gets a B+, described as “a frantic page-turner,” which is fair enough. The blurb is by Jennifer M. Contino.

Also reviewed is Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda, which inexplicably gets a B-. Reviewer Whitney Pastorek says the book is “beautifully illustrated” but “lacks subtlety.”

Oh, and EW gets an exclusive from Warner Brothers, which is a huge scoop, seeing as they’re owned by the same company. Anyway, WB is putting together an animated Justice League feature that might be an adaptation of Identity Crisis. Wasn’t it gross enough when the pictures didn’t move?

Perhaps reporter Jeff Jensen’s plea for “No Gleek, please” is really based on fear of precisely what could happen to that poor monkey.


Yomi thoughts

July 22, 2006

MangaCast has announced the winners of the inaugural Yomi awards. Brigid at MangaBlog and David at Love Manga have given their reactions, and, well, these are a lot more interesting to me than the Eisners, so I’ll throw in my two cents.

I think these awards are such a great idea and long overdue, so thanks to MangaCast for taking the initiative. It will be fun watching them expand over the years. (I’d love to see a category for “Most Improved Publisher,” for example.)

I’ve got no argument with the choices for Best Manga and Best Short. I sometimes feel like Fullmetal Alchemist’s popularity obscures the fact that it’s really, really excellent. It’s got great characters, an engaging and suspenseful story, and a richly realized fantasy landscape that’s full of surprises. In the eight volumes that have been published in English so far, Hiromu Arakawa has yet to miss a beat or hit a lull; the consistency and quality is startling.

I never felt like Sexy Voice and Robo got as much attention as it deserved. Iou Kuroda’s created an imaginative, quirky, complex story that featured the perfect blend of cynicism and warmth. Someone really needs to license more of Kuroda’s work, and soon, but it will probably never happen.

I’m disappointed that Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators didn’t take Best Global Manga. Svetlana Chmakova is undeniably talented, but the ambition and artistry in Fanfare/Ponent Mon’s collection make it one of the best graphic novels of the year, period.

The tough thing about the Best Publisher category is that one could make a case for any of the three winning. Viz clearly has the scope of product to make it a contender (and a lot of that product is excellent). Del Rey shows more care in selecting and producing titles than any other manga publisher. And Dark Horse, despite its roots in the Direct Market, consistently generates a lot of buzz with interesting title choices, including a new emphasis on classic and cutting-edge horror, their not entirely successful but laudable Harlequin initiative, and their standing as the leading purveyor of works by Kazuo Koike.

But Viz is, among many other things, a juggernaut. They’ve built on their existing line with Shojo Beat and Signature, reaching out (or at least more energetically targeting) different audiences. And a lot of their books are great entertainment.

Again, thanks to all the folks at MangaCast for launching this great program, and additional thanks to Ed Chavez for his splendid coverage of the San Diego Comic-Con.


Quick creep note

July 21, 2006

I’m probably over-reacting, but there’s an interesting reference to manga in the review of Azumi by Manohla Dargis in The New York Times (free registration required).

“Adapted from the manga of the same title, this 2003 action flick tracks the blood-spurting adventures of its title character, a young female assassin who wields a lethally mean sword.”

What’s interesting to me is that Dargis and her editors don’t feel the need to trot out a definition of manga, which strikes me unusual. Maybe it’s because manga is in the dictionary now? Or because it has sufficient cultural currency in general?


The stacks

July 21, 2006

The American Library Association’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens committee has added some new entries to their list of nominees (found via MangaBlogCast). As usual, there are some great additions, some that don’t inspire much of a reaction either way, and some that make me blink my eyes in complete bafflement while thinking that surely they won’t make the final cut.

I mean, House of M? None of the critical response indicated that this was one for the ages. (I admit that the fact that it’s an Avengers: Disassembled follow-up drastically colors my sight-unseen assessment of its worthiness.)

But the great stuff is really great. Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting seems like it should be a lock for the final roster, and I’m delighted to see J.P. Stassen’s Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda get a nomination. It’s nice to see books like Deogratias, La Perdida and Pyonyang: A Journey in North Korea on the list. The nominators obviously respect their audience and want to encourage them to read challenging, complex material.

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of fun stuff on display as well. Raina Telgemeier’s adaptation of Ann M. Martin’s The Baby-Sitters Club has received a nomination, as has Yuu Watase’s Absolute Boyfriend. (I tend to lose track of what’s been nominated when, so if I’m covering old territory or nominees from previous rounds, I apologize.) Amelia Rules! is always a delight, and the Super Heroes collection should represent the series well.

From a purely selfish point of view (and what other point of view do I ever adopt?), seeing pet titles like Fruits Basket, Nana and Antique Bakery listed here makes me do the happy dance. On the flip side of that, where the heck is Fullmetal Alchemist? It’s a great coming-of-age fantasy-adventure. Of course, it isn’t like it needs the added attention. (Ditto Naruto.)

There’s a surprising amount of shônen-ai and yaoi in evidence, but these nominations represent some of the better books in the category. La Esperanca is a surprisingly involving character study and very pretty to look at. You Higuri takes another slot on the list with Gorgeous Carat. (I’m crazy about Higuri, but I’m not sure eroticized torture scenes scream “young adult” to me. But it’s been a long time since I was in high school, and I don’t really know what the kids are up to these days.)

There’s an unfortunate dearth of Oni books. Scott Pilgrim, Northwest Passage and Polly and the Pirates are all several orders of magnitude more worthy of attention than stuff like Absolute Batman: Hush, which is just a horribly written story on so many levels, or the drippy Socrates in Love.

But these are still just nominations, and I’m sure there will be additions (and deletions) before the final list comes out in Midwinter 2007. I think this is a great effort, and it will be fascinating to see the recommendations that finally emerge.


Kidney-shaped dirty pool

July 20, 2006

I finished listening to Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. (I don’t have too much of a commute to and from work, and I couldn’t bear to bring it into the house, so it took a while.) For the most part, it was just sort of garden-variety terrible in a best-seller way – overstated and improbable, but kind of amusing partly because of those qualities.

But just before it ends, Picoult folds in two narrative twists. One could be predicted roughly from the beginning, and it doesn’t really matter anyways. Seminal as the revelation should be, it doesn’t have any meaningful impact on the characters because no character really respects any other character’s viewpoint.

You’d never see the other twist coming in a million years because you can’t imagine an author making the moral quandary that’s driven the rest of the book so thoroughly irrelevant. The book never really achieved any kind of depth or urgency, despite the hot-button material, but the finale takes deus ex machina to a completely insane place. (You know that fake-out ending in The Swinger where the lovers crash their vehicles into each other and die? Imagine if the movie had ended there, and you’ll get some sense of what I’m talking about. Come to think of it, scratch that, because it would have been awesome if The Swinger had ended that way.)

I’ve read lots of comics and books and seen lots of movies and television shows and plays, so I know that I’ve run across many misguided shock endings in my years as an entertainment consumer. And I’m sure, upon reading or watching these shock endings, I’ve asked myself, “So what the hell was the point of all the build-up if you were just going to yank the rug out from under it?” But often it’s a case of things sort of spinning out of control rather than what appears to be deliberate narrative derailment. Some creator has said, “And then, wouldn’t it be cool if…”, and nobody around them had the presence of mind to say, “Well, no.”

In Picoult’s case, it seems deliberate. It doesn’t smack of desperation – a wild stab at an ending, any ending, because nothing else came to mind. It really seems like she thought this turn of events would be fitting closure to what came before and, well, no.

I’m forced to wonder if my reaction to the conclusion doesn’t indicate that Picoult might have made me care even a little bit about her cast, at least enough to think that they deserve better, more conscientious treatment from their creator than they received. I think she didn’t. My Sister’s Keeper is one of those novels where, if anyone who mattered was able to communicate their feelings honestly and directly, there would have been no story.


On the bright side…

July 19, 2006

Okay, so David Taylor has found the week’s horrible article on manga and anime, and it is indeed awful, but random web searching has yielded this surprisingly wonderful story from the Anchorage Daily News. It was published on the eve of a big anime and manga convention in Anchorage, and while it isn’t perfect, it is packed with some gems of insight:

“Like most subcultures, the anime/manga world is like a Russian nesting doll, a community that contains communities which themselves contain other communities.”

So true, and it’s a very elegant way of communicating a concept that often escapes reporters writing about manga and anime fandom. And there’s even a sidebar that provides a glossary of terms.

I would totally go to Alaska for a manga convention.


Manga-related reading

July 18, 2006

There’s a wonderful interview with Del Rey’s Dallas Middaugh (conducted by Dirk Deppey) over at The Comics Journal. Middaugh has considerable experience in and knowledge of the manga publishing industry, and he’s a really engaging conversationalist. The combination of these qualities results in memorable quotes like these:

On Random House’s cautious entry into the manga market and the resulting hit ratio:

“Those titles went on to sell in good quantities, and bookstores responded appropriately, so even though we were beginning with just a fraction of the output that Tokyopop and Viz were offering, we entered the market with an immediate clout that might not have been available otherwise.”

On offering a diverse line of titles:

“If we only bring over titles that we know there is a demand for, how will the readers be exposed to anything new?”

On the possibility of a “manga bust”:

“It happened a little over a year ago, but it was relatively minor, didn’t make that much of a bump and didn’t really get noticed by many people outside the industry itself. What you have to understand is that the novelty around manga has largely worn off; it’s still got a respectable rate of growth in sales, but not the 150-percent rate that you saw three or four years ago. It’s now largely perceived as a category of book sales like any other, like mysteries or cookbooks.”

He and Deppey talk about super-heroes, age ratings, Diamond, scanlations… I could go on, but you should really just go read it yourself. (Extra points to Deppey for adding relevant links to the text, not just to archival TCJ material but to other sites as well.) Or you could buy the print edition of TCJ that’s due out tomorrow and also enjoy interviews with such individuals as :01’s Mark Siegel, Top Shelf’s Chris Staros, Fred (Megatokyo) Gallagher, Chynna (Strangetown) Clugston, and many others.

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I can’t really do justice to the excellence of Naughty Ninja’s thoughtful examination of Ai Yazawa’s Nana over at Bento Physics. Again, just go read it. It’s spectacular. And go read Brigid’s response over at MangaBlog.

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Oh, I’m so relieved. I thought there was some kind of… I don’t know… estrangement, or something. It was unnerving, because they had seemed to be so in synch, and then… well… nothing. But not to worry… they’re back together and as close as they ever were.


Embracing the technology of five years ago

July 17, 2006

Oh, high-speed, wireless internet, how did I ever live without you?

Well, okay, I managed fine, but it did make surfing easier over the weekend.

I had lots of fun checking out the Hikaru No Go anime at Toonami Jetstream. It seems like a solid adaptation of the manga, and there’s some nice voice work. (As I may have mentioned, voices are often the death of an anime for me. None of the voices in the HNG clip made me want to die… or kill.) Of course, the last thing I need is another excuse to waste time on the web, but hey, I have to check these things out. It’s my responsibility as a nerdy blogger.

The high-speed also made putting together this week’s Flipped a whole lot easier, what with e-mails and web pages to sift through to try and find the manga highlights of this week’s San Diego Comic-Con International. Multiple windows used to send my computer into a state of deep malaise and lethargy, but it was positively sprightly this time around. (To be honest, MangaCast has been doing such a good job covering manga at SDC-CI that my efforts are entirely superfluous, but likely superfluity has never stopped me before.)


Probably pointless pesto follow-up

July 15, 2006

Because I know you’re all dying from suspense, I’ll let you know that the pesto risotto turned out really well.

What I ended up doing was leaving the onions out of the risotto and using a couple of extra cloves of minced garlic instead. With the pesto, I cut way back on the oil, just adding enough to make it a thick paste rather than a sauce. Then, when I added the last of the chicken stock to the rice, I added the pesto paste as well so it would break down in the stock as it was all getting incorporated.

I probably should have stopped the cooking a little earlier so the risotto was a little soupier, but it tasted really good. We had it with grilled chicken.


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