Just because it’s Sunday doesn’t mean we should neglect our fitness regimens. Take a tip from the girls of Makoto Kobayashi’s Club 9 (Dark Horse).
Just because it’s Sunday doesn’t mean we should neglect our fitness regimens. Take a tip from the girls of Makoto Kobayashi’s Club 9 (Dark Horse).
I was listening to Morning Edition on NPR the other day and was surprised to hear that sales of French wine (and consumption in French households) are experiencing a steep decline. Now, my tastes (and budget) run more to inexpensive Italian table whites and reds from California, but I like the idea of French wine and I dislike the idea of it being in peril. So I’ll devote this week’s license request to a particular comic that has a history of boosting wine sales.
The manga in question is Kami no Shizuku (“The Drops of God”), written by Tadashi Agi (the pseudonym for wine-loving siblings Yuko and Shin Kibayashi) and illustrated by Shu Okimoto and originally published by Kodansha in its Morning magazine. Like the marvelous Oishinbo, it’s about a guy with a strong palate and daddy issues. To inherit his father’s wine collection, novice oenophile Kanzaki Shizuku must track down 13 exquisite wines before his rival can.
Reuters’ Sophie Hardach describes it as “’The Da Vinci Code’ set in a Tokyo bar.” And while comparisons to a Dan Brown novel aren’t automatically encouraging, the idea of a mystery centered around wine seems intuitively entertaining. (Side note: why didn’t the Vatican ever condemn Brown’s books because they’re awful?) Hardach goes on to describe the manga’s economic impact:
“‘The minute it was translated into Korean, we had calls from three importers,’ said Basaline Granger Despagne, whose family has grown wine near France’s Dordogne river for 250 years. Their Chateau Mont Perat 2001 Bordeaux appears early on in the manga.
“‘When it was translated into Chinese, people called us from Taiwan saying, “I bought some Mont Perat and sold 50 cases in two days because of the manga”,’ she said in a phone interview.”
The book has been covered in The Daily Mail, The New York Times, and Decanter. It’s being published in French as Les Gouttes de Dieu by Glénat (who also publishes
its spin-off another wine manga, Sommelier). Ed Chavez (who knows from eduholic manga) was kind enough to send me a couple of volumes in Japanese, which was just enough to make me really want to see it in English.
And yes, the fact that so many volumes are available in French and the wine industry is still in trouble doesn’t support my argument that publication in English could give French wine a boost. But I will make any argument, however specious, that serves my own ends.
(Updated to note that I’ve no idea what I was thinking with that first image and link, but both have been fixed thanks to the aforementioned Mr. Chavez. Thanks, Ed!)
In my look at last week’s ComicList, I pointed to some of those “release not confirmed by Diamond” items that induce salivation, running the risk of being premature. Examples include the fourth volume of Fumi Yoshinaga’s Flower of Life (DMP) and the Ramen and Gyoza volume of Oishinbo (Viz – Signature). I didn’t make it to the comic shop last week, being in the unexpectedly moist American Southwest, but it seems that both of those books are actually arriving this week (confirmed by both this week’s ComicList and the new arrivals email from my local comic shop). So, apologies for being premature, but I encourage you to commence squeezing.
I’m a bit confused that the list includes the second volume of Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys (Viz – Signature), as I swear I bought it over a month ago in a bookstore. The third volume isn’t scheduled for release until June 18, but at least you can all mark your calendars, because the series is brilliant.
In terms of other new volumes of exciting series, there’s the seventh volume of Yuki Urushibara’s Mushishi (Del Rey). Mushishi is one of those series from Kodansha’s mine of great translated manga, Afternoon, and the series has earned her the Excellence Prize at the Japan Media Arts Festival and the Kodansha Manga Award.
I generally like episodic crime dramas and procedurals. The genre isn’t usually appointment television viewing for me, but it doesn’t need to be. There’s almost always one airing at any given hour of the day or night, so catching an episode of this or that doesn’t demand careful scheduling.
The quantity of choices lets me be picky, too. I tend to avoid procedurals that make me endure a bunch of subplot drama about the investigators. I have a very “Get back to work” attitude towards forensic scientists, detectives and their ilk. (The original Law & Order is usually perfect for this. The only times we find out anything about a character’s personal life is when they’re about to leave, which only happens every couple of years. On the flip side, I haven’t read a Patricia Cornwell novel in years because of all the intolerable whining. Solve something, for pity’s sake.)
I’m also not crazy about properties with big, recurring super-villains. These baddies are all geniuses, which is fair enough, but the protagonists are supposed to be geniuses too, and repeated failure makes them look dumb. (It also leads them to take things personally, which triggers my first aversion. Quit whining and get back to work.)
Fire Investigator Nanase (CMX), written by Izo Hashimoto and illustrated by Tomoshige Ichikawa, features personal drama and a big bad, but neither of these elements overwhelm the meat of the series – intriguing arson investigations.
As a young trainee, Nanase inadvertently saved a serial arsonist known as “Firebug.” Years later, the creepy killer has developed a protective streak towards Nanase and mentors her through a series of suspicious and deadly fires. Nanase lost her parents to fire, and she’s fostering a child who suffered a similar fate. She’s understandably conflicted about the guidance she’s getting from a natural enemy, but he’s helping her avenge other arson victims and expose criminals. It’s a familiar dynamic, but Hashimoto and Ichikawa execute it well. And it’s impossible not to like Nanase. She’s smart, dogged, ethical and still a bit innocent.
Ichikawa’s illustrations are competent but a bit by-the-manual shônen, but they’re energetic and they serve the story. It feels like there’s something more that could be done with the rendering of fire; those sequences get the job done, but I didn’t get the sense of fire as a destructive entity.
Overall, though, the book has all of the makings of an enjoyable procedural. The cases move quickly, and the suspects and their motivations are credibly rendered. The various elements – drama, science, investigation, and the symbiosis of Nanase and Firebug – are all nicely in balance.
With her new job as tourism ambassador for Takarazuka, Japan, it seems like as good a time as any to call for English release of the adventures of Osamu Tezuka’s Princess Knight. The series is described by Frederik L. Schodt in Dreamland Japan as “the progenitor of the modern girls’ manga format,” a “sweet story with romance and adventure and a hodgepodge of elements from medieval pageantry, Christianity, and Greek mythology.”
It’s about a girl, Sapphire, who must pretend to be a boy so that she can inherit the throne of her kingdom, lest it fall into the wrong hands. Born with two hearts – a boy’s and a girl’s – she adopts a secret identity to fight crime. Kodansha published a bilingual edition of the three-volume series that’s out now out of print. (I could only find one volume listed on Amazon, used, and it starts at $48.) And Viz published a short sample in an issue of Shojo Beat, but it feels like something that should be readily available in English.
Here are some reasons why:
Now, don’t get me wrong. I want classic shôjo by Moto Hagio, Keiko Takemiya, Riyoko Ikeda and other legendary creators just as much, if not more. But Princess Knight seems like such an important building block.
It’s available in French from Soleil.
Anyway, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, it’s a sort of “best of” sampler of a long-running, much-loved culinary manga. Viz is publishing the A la Carte collections, which focus on a particular aspect of cuisine. In this case, it’s sake and some lesser beverages, like champagne.
Many have noted what we might call the “hometown pride” of these stories, written by Tetsu Kariya and illustrated Akira Hanasaki. I don’t really find it problematic; I sort of expect a culture to favor its indigenous cuisine. And since Kariya reserves most of his teasing for the French, who are no slouches in the culinary pride arena themselves, it reads more to me like entertaining trash talking than anything more sinister. (I kind of wish there was a bande-dessinée response. “Oh, non, vous n’avez fait!”)
On the beverage front, Kariya seems to have a grand time smacking around the drops of god. Champagne is perfectly lovely, intrepid food journalist Yamaoka insists, unless you try and eat anything with it. Beaujolais nouveau is little more than a French prank that the Japanese have fallen for hook, line and sinker. After such flat dismissals of another culture’s beverages of choice, you’d expect sake to be swaddled in adoration, right?
Well, no, and that’s when the volume goes from amusingly snarky to downright fascinating. Yamaoka is trying to convince a co-worker of the virtues of sake, which she dismisses as booze for old men, by taking her to a small, local brewery. Sake, he insists, can be transcendent if it’s made properly. Unfortunately, profit-mongering corporations and nonexistent oversight have lined the nation’s liquor up for every manner of abuse. Alas, the small, local brewery is about to be forced to make the same kind of grocery-store swill Yamaoka abhors, unless our heroes can help the owners secure a loan.
Can the local brewery be saved from ruthless corporate forces? More importantly, can sake as it was meant to be be saved from those same forces? Never fear, for the foodie-journalist equivalent of Mystery, Inc. is on the case! They don’t quite put on a show in someone’s barn to save Japan’s national beverage, but they come hilariously close in the multi-chapter story that follows. The heightened charms of the story aside, it has really interesting things to say about the importance of preserving cultural traditions and looking to dedicated, artisanal producers to do that. It’s even reasonably fair to the money men who have their eyes fixed on the bottom line.
As someone who keeps at least one eye on the resurgence of locally grown, sustainably produced foods and the associated embrace of food quality, this volume really struck a nice chord with me. While 90% of the Food Network’s programming seems to be reaching for the can opener and dumbing down everything Julia Child hoped popular culinary education could be, it’s nice to pick up a comic that cares so passionately about food and the way it’s made.
I’m not really sure how comics have managed to keep Rick Geary to themselves. It’s not that I expecting him to move away from the medium; I’m just surprised that the admiration for his work hasn’t cracked beyond the comics audience and into wider venues. Where’s the interview on NPR or a spot in a group profile in the Times? I’ve never met him, so I have no idea if those sorts of things interest him in the slightest, but it seems like comics-friendly journalists are missing one of the medium’s best creators.
I’m most familiar with Geary’s non-fiction work, specifically his Treasury of Victorian and XXth Century Murder, published by NBM. They’re terrific, meticulous accounts of gory and intriguing crimes from bygone eras, combining true-crime detail with great art and insightful observations of those eras. I’m less familiar with his fiction works, so Dark Horse’s collection of The Adventures of Blanche was a welcome arrival. Geary always demonstrates a sly sense of humor in his true-crime comics, but he applies it with a freer hand here.
When readers first meet Blanche, she’s a contented grandmother in a small town, but we learn in short order that she wasn’t always so provincial. She left the family farm to study piano in New York, then moved to Hollywood to conduct for the budding motion picture industry, then found herself in Paris, providing musical direction for an avant-garde performance piece at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. Any of those experience would qualify as an adventure, but Geary raises the stakes by folding in secret societies, labor unrest, and international espionage. Curious and compassionate, Blanche is game for just about anything her unexpectedly adventurous life throws at her.
Her story is told through letters home, with Geary illustrating the events. As usual, he revels in the detail of time and place, folding in tidbits of history without derailing the adventurous aspects of the book. Like his heroine, he’s an efficient, engaging storyteller. And Blanche is the perfect kind of heroine for these kinds of stories. She’s modest but not prudish, inquisitive but not foolhardy, and just sure enough of herself to get in trouble (and plucky enough to get herself out).
Maybe Geary’s sterling track record of smart, snappy comics has led to him being taken a bit for granted. He makes it look easy.
The quantity of really good product in this week’s ComicList has forced me to flee to an undisclosed location. Okay, not really, but I will be on the road, and I’m not really sure how much connectivity I’ll enjoy. I’ve got some posts lined up, but tweeting and email may be at a minimum. Now, let’s move on to the haul:
Johnny Hiro vol. 1, by Fred Chao, AdHouse: Charming genre mash-up comics grounded by a wonderful romantic relationship between young lovers trying to make their way in the big city. It includes three stories that saw print as singles and two that didn’t.
The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Serice vol. 9, by Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki: More afterlife adventures with the otherwise unemployable. One of the most reliably entertaining and smart series out there.
Flower of Life vol. 4, by Fumi Yoshinaga, DMP: I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think this is Yoshinaga’s funniest series. It’s a smart, endearing look at high-school students with all of the customary Yoshinaga flourishes – great characters, quirky twists, marvelous dialogue, and stylish art.
Fullmetal Alchemist vol. 18, by Hiromu Arakawa, Viz: One of my favorite shônen series keeps plugging along.
Oishinbo vol. 3, by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki, Viz: The A la Carte collection has offered an introduction to Japanese cuisine and sampled sake and other libations, and now it moves on to noodles and dumplings. I always like carbs after drinking too much.
Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka vol. 3, by Naoki Urasawa, Viz: I can’t wait to find out more about Urasawa’s take on Astro Girl. The brief introduction in volume 2 was very, very promising.
That’s pretty much the entirety of this week’s Flipped. No, seriously.