Second chances

February 28, 2010

I mentioned yesterday that Fanfare/Ponent Mon is re-offering Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators in the new Previews catalog, and I felt like I should note some other “offered again” items of note:

  • Dining Bar Akira vol. 1, written and illustrated by Tomoko Yamashita, Netcomics. I’ve heard great things about this boys’-love series.
  • Mail vol. 1, written and illustrated by Housui Yamazaki, Dark Horse. Supernatural sleuthing and a nice mix of humor and horror make this a fine companion series for The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service.
  • Manga: The Complete Guide, written and edited by Jason Thompson, Del Rey. This is a terrific buyer’s guide filled with succinct reviews and informative essays. I can’t tell if this is an updated edition or just a reprint, though.
  • Satsuma Gishiden vol. 1, written and illustrated by Hiroshi Hirata, Dark Horse. This series got a lot of praise but fell off of Dark Horse’s schedule halfway through. Three of its six volumes have been published, the last in March of 2007.
  • Translucent vol. 1, written and illustrated by Kazuhiro Okamoto, Dark Horse. I like this series a lot. It’s a coming-of-age drama about a girl who turns invisible against her will. It was originally serialized in a seinen magazine (Media Factory’s Comic Flapper), but I think it would click with the shôjo audience. Dark Horse just solicited the fourth volume after a long hiatus.
  • As you may have surmised, Dark Horse is re-offering just about all of their first volumes.


    Previews review March 2010

    February 27, 2010

    There’s plenty of interest in the new Previews catalog, as befits that Hallmark Holiday known as “Manga Month,” so let’s dive right in.

    Dark Horse celebrates the month in style, though it passes on the Manga Month logo. Still, they’re releasing the first volume of their omnibus treatment of CLAMP’s beloved Cardcaptor Sakura, and this excites me immoderately. I thought Dark Horse did an absolutely beautiful job with their Clover omnibus, so this qualifies as the month’s “must buy.” (Page 51.)

    CMX will release Miku Sakamoto’s Nadeshiko Club, a shôjo series from Hakusensha’s Hana to Yume, which is a well-known crack mine. (Personally, I find series from Hakusensha’s LaLa slightly crack-ier, but that’s just a matter of personal preference.) This one spins out of the possibly sexist premise of a girl getting dumped for being insufficiently feminine and joining her school’s home economics club to girl up. CMX has demonstrated excellent taste in shôjo, so this one goes right on the “to buy” list. Rando thought: Hakusensha’s trade dress is really boring. (Page 126.)

    Hey, you like Adam Warren’s Empowered, right? He’s writing a one-shot for Marvel, Galacta: Daughter of Galactus, with interior art by Hector Sevilla Lujan and a cover by Warren. I’ll buy anything from Warren, but this does raise the question: who’s this girl’s mother? I really love Warren’s renderings of Marvel stalwarts from the cover image. (Marvel’s insert, page 31.)

    Okay, so maybe Cardcaptor Sakura has some competition for book of the month, as Fanfare/Ponent Mon finally releases Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators. “Twelve insightful short graphic stories into the ‘Hermit Kingdom,’ six by European and six by indigenous creators,” the publisher notes. They’re also offering Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators again, so if you’re sick of hearing people recommend it and not being able to find a copy, now’s your chance. (Page 251.)

    I’ve liked some comics written by Kathryn Immonen, and I think Stuart Immonen is a terrific artist. They collaborate to explore a potentially fascinating story in Moving Pictures (Top Shelf): “During World War II the Nazis pillaged much of Europe’s great art collections. Museum curator Ila Gardner and SS officer Rolf Hauptmann are forced by circumstances to play out an awkward and dangerous relationship in a public power struggle.” Sounds like a winner to me. (Page 292.)

    Cats and comfort food sound like an extremely promising combination, so I’ll take a chance on the first volume of Kenji Sonishi’s Neko Ramen: Hey! Order Up! (Tokyopop). It’s about a “former kitten model” (an actual kitten, apparently, so be at ease) who leaves celebrity behind to become a ramen cook. The only possible down side to this is that it’s a manga based on an anime, which sometimes has mixed results. (Page 297.)

    I don’t actually think Kumiko Suekane’s Afterschool Charisma is a good comic, but I find it addictively ridiculous. Viz has been serializing the tale of clones of famous historical figures on its SigIKKI site, and now it’s releasing a print version. It’s probably worth the price of purchase just for the thrill of watching the clone of Sigmund Freud torment his classmates. “Daddy. Daddy. Daddy!” (Page 303.)

    You all already known how awesome librarians are, right? But did you know that there’s an action-packed shôjo manga that celebrates that awesomeness? It’s Kiiro Yumi’s Library Wars: Love and War, original concept by Hiro Arikawa, and Viz will release the first volume: “In the near future, the federal government creates a committee to rid society of books it deems unsuitable. The libraries vow to protect their collections, and with the help of local governments, form a military group to defend themselves – the Library Forces!” SOLD. This is an example of the crack-iness of Hakusensha’s LaLa anthology. See what I mean about the trade dress? (Page 305.)

    If Cardcaptor Sakura isn’t quite enough CLAMP for you, Yen Press accommodates with the first two volumes of the super-group’s Kobato. It’s about a girl who tries to have a wish granted by mending the wounded hearts of people she meets and “fill a magical bottle with the suffering she has relieved.” This sounds like the kind of CLAMP manga that can be injected directly into a vein. (Page 308.)

    Oh, and that Twilight graphic novel is due. (Page 309.)

    And there are plenty of new volumes of noteworthy series:

  • 20th Century Boys vol. 9, written and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa, Viz, page 303
  • Black Jack vol. 11, written and illustrated by Osamu Tezuka, Vertical, page 300
  • Children of the Sea vol. 3, written and illustrated by Daisuke Igarashi, Viz, page 303
  • Detroit Metal City vol. 5, written and illustrated by Kiminori Wakasugi, page 303
  • The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service vol. 11, written by Eiji Otsuka, illustrated by Housui Yamazaki, Dark Horse, page 53
  • Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture vol. 2, written and illustrated by Masayuki Ishikawa, Del Rey, page 244
  • One Piece vols. 49-53, written and illustrated by Eiichiro Oda, Viz, page 305

  • To hold us over until we get Sukeban Deka

    February 26, 2010

    At A Case Suitable for Treatment, manga Twitterati Sean Gaffney makes a plea for Yoshiki (Skip Beat!) Nakamura’s Tokyo Crazy Paradise. His logic is irrefutable:

    “Is it too long? Not really. At 19 volumes, it’s shorter than Skip Beat. Does it have a naive and romantically dense yet strong and spunky heroine? Why yes, yes, it does. Does it feature lots of hot bishonen guys, including a brooding male lead who teases the heroine out of love and is too serious for its own good? Yep, it’s got that too. Does it have chain whip fights? Oh, you bet it does!”

    He’s going to put me out of business.


    License request day: Freesia

    February 26, 2010

    Looking back on my roster of license requests, I’m noticing a tendency towards the sparkly or the introspective. Those are certainly my two favorite kinds of comics, but I feel like I’m neglecting ultra-violent manga. I mean, if the category is going to get marginalized in popular media for its sexed-up bloodshed, there might as well be more of those comics available in English, right?

    In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that this wasn’t my original intent. I was looking through a list of titles serialized in Shogakukan’s IKKI anthology with the notion of maybe cobbling together a list of comics that might be added to Viz’s SigIKKI site. I saw one title, Freesia, and thought to myself, “Why, that’s one of my favorite botanicals! I wonder what it’s about?”

    Okay, so Freesia, written and illustrated by Jiro Matsumoto, will not be posted on the SigIKKI site any time soon. There are nipples and hunting knives on page two, and while Viz is to be admired for expanding its catalogue with edgier titles, it seems unlikely that this is going to be one of their online loss leaders. Still, the series sounds kind of awesome in a Dark Horse kind of way.

    Like Motoro Mase’s Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit (published in English by Viz, originally serialized in Shogakukan’s Weekly Young Sunday), Freesia spins out of a really misguided government program. Due to recessionary pressures, Japan closes down most of its prisons and passes a law that allows the victims of crime to take revenge on the people who hurt them. Since not everyone is equipped for that sort of therapeutic activity, a thriving sector of “Vengeance Proxy Enforcer firms” pops up in the entrepreneurial landscape.

    Freesia follows an agency full of variously disturbed enforcers, some of whom seem to have specifically useful skills when it comes to assassination. Here are links to Shogakukan’s listings for the first six volumes. If you click on the button with the magnifying glass under the cover image in the listings for the first six volumes, you can look at some sample pages, though I don’t recommend you do it at work:

  • Volume 1
  • Volume 2
  • Volume 3
  • Volume 4
  • Volume 5
  • Volume 6
  • It’s also been published in its entirety in Spanish by Ivrea, and I think there’s also a live-action movie.

    I have no idea if Dark Horse is able to license Shogakukan titles, but they do seem like the most natural habitat for manga with lots of brutality and nudity. Just have the shrink wrap and the “Mature Content” stickers at the ready.


    Birthday book: The Saga of the Bloody Benders

    February 25, 2010

    It’s sometimes a little tricky to recommend a particular birthday book when the creator’s body of work is so strong overall, and that’s the case with Rick Geary. I could go with Dark Horse’s hardcover collection of the charming The Adventures of Blanche, but I first became familiar with his work in the context of his excellent true-crime comics, so I’ll dip into that well.

    But even with that set of boundaries, which one should I choose? They’re all good, and they don’t need to be read in any particular order. I could throw the titles into a hat and pick one at random, but one volume has managed to inch ahead in my mental Geary library: The Saga of the Bloody Benders.

    Geary’s approach to true crime has always got some added value to it, as he takes the time to explore historical and cultural circumstances that either influenced or provided context for the atrocity in question. This tale of an opportunistic family of cutthroats in Kansas is no exception. And there’s just something creepy about such a nest of vipers occupying those wide open spaces (even wider and more open then than now) in the midst of so much homesteader optimism.

    A distinguishing characteristic of The Bloody Benders is that I feel like it netted more effusive critical attention than Geary’s Treasury of Victorian Murder books had up to that point. The quality of the reviews was as admiring as always, but the number of them was higher, which was gratifying to see. Here’s a representative snippet from Tom (The Comics Reporter) Spurgeon:

    “The story stays with you. Something about the way Geary delineates the proportions of the living area gives the recurring crimes a horrifying intimacy, and when the nature of what’s going on is revealed as the narrative progresses the thoroughness with which the Benders cleave to murder and atrocity astonishes.”

    The book also made the Young Adult Library Services Association’s 2008 list of Great Graphic Novels for Teens.


    From the stack: Ultimo vol. 1

    February 25, 2010

    Stan Lee created the template for a lot of comics I loved for a very long time. Beyond that, he was a very prominent figure in those comics, at least in terms of the tone that Marvel put forward. He was the cheesy ringmaster in the text pieces, the company’s head cheerleader. Even when I was six, he never seemed as young to me as he seemed to feel, but there was a weird charm to that. So what if he was using made-up lingo that would seem out of date and awkward coming out of the mouths of people 20 years younger? He didn’t convey any cynicism to me, though whether that was because my radar for such things hadn’t yet developed, I can’t say.

    He still doesn’t really convey any cynicism to me, though his bombast does strike me as even more awkward now than it did then. (It’s kind of like seeing snippets of Hef with a trio of girlfriends a quarter of his age, though it’s nowhere near as creepy.) Time hasn’t really seemed to pass for Lee, at least in terms of his enthusiasm for trying new things. He’s continually busy, tinkering around with DC’s characters in those “Just Imagine” books a few years ago, hosting a reality show, animating Pamela Anderson, and so on. So it’s unsurprising that he would eventually get around to manga.

    The result is Ultimo (Viz). Lee provided the concept, and the story and art were executed by Hiroyuki (Shaman King) Takei, with inking support from Daigo and painting duties executed by Bob. It’s serialized in Viz’s Shonen Jump over here and as Karakuridôji Ultimo in Shueisha’s Jump SQ in Japan. That kind of exposure indicates that it clearly isn’t just a vanity project or a courtesy to a comic-book legend. It’s a serious commercial effort by all concerned.

    And Lee is even more present in the narrative as he was in those old Marvel Comics. He provides the introduction. There’s a photo of him in a yukata. He even inspires a character, Dunstan, who sets the whole plot in motion. And still, somehow, none of this is creepy, except for possibly an end-note interview where Lee urges readers to “buy as many copies of Ultimo as [they] possibly can.” Keep your collector’s speculative mentality to yourself.

    I’m fond of Lee, I really am, and nothing here changes that. He’s got the same huckster sense of fun with just enough sincerity underneath. But fondness aside, part of me was hoping that Ultimo would be a train wreck. This isn’t because I wish ill to anyone involved, but because the combination of Lee and manga enticingly suggests a lot of ways things could go wrong. (I think every generation deserves its Broadway musical version of Carrie, don’t you?)

    Sadly, Ultimo is competent, mildly odd action shônen about fighting robots. Given Takei’s participation, it would have been competent and mildly odd without Lee’s participation. In my experience with Takei’s work, he’s given to unsettling character designs that straddle the line between cute and creepy, and that’s in evidence here. Unfortunately, it’s the most interesting aspect of the book.

    Anyway, here’s the plot: a long time ago, Dunstan decides to create powerful robotic dolls that would answer the eternal question: “Who’d win? Good or evil?” The dolls re-emerge in the present day and align themselves with reincarnated versions of the people they knew back in the feudal era. They fight. And we seem to be set to meet a bunch of other robotic dolls that personify a variety of gradations of good and evil. That’s about it, aside from some teen-angst garnish about our hero, Yamato.

    The battle between good and evil is ubiquitous in action shônen, and the interest comes from the ways the creators dress it up. Stripping the concept down to an action-figure version doesn’t doing anything to enhance the core idea. Yamato’s woes are kind of generic, though I always feel at least a little bit sympathetic for reincarnated characters of a certain type. The poor bastards never stood a chance, what with the centuries-old destinies to replay and other people’s unfinished business.

    As I noted, Takei’s character designs bring the most to the table in terms of the actual comic. He doesn’t seem inclined to do straight-up cool, throwing in some kind of unsavory note to each aspect, and his robotic dolls are very much in that vein. They’re delicate and monstrous at the same time, and the unnerving experience of looking at them helps compensate for the fact that they don’t really have much in the way of personality.

    Basically, my problems with Ultimo are my problems with generic action shônen. I can recognize the competence of its execution without being particularly interested in the characters or outcomes. Aside from the novelty of watching Lee interface with manga outside the narrative is the best reason to read the book, and that doesn’t add up to much.

    (This review is based on a review copy provided by the publisher.)


    Brush with studliness

    February 24, 2010

    I set aside my absolute conviction that I sound like a complete dork when recorded on any media to participate in an Inkstuds podcast guest-moderated by Deb (About.Com) Aoki. Deb was ringleader of a panel that included myself, Chris (Comics212) Butcher and Ryan (Same Hat!) Sands. It was fun, though you can quite clearly tell that it’s my first podcast and that I have no skills in that area. (The real reason I don’t attend many conventions is a morbid dread that I might be asked to participate in a panel, because the only thing worse than being recorded for posterity is sitting in front of a room full of people who expect me to say something interesting or useful instead of stuttering and sweating.)

    The topic was manga for indie/alternative comics fans, which doesn’t necessarily mean indie manga, as I think Ryan pointed out. Difficult-to-demographically-categorize manga might be more accurate, but that’s a mouthful. (And that doesn’t even get into the whole question of what one means by indie/alternative comics, which is its own whole continuum.)

    I did want to highlight something Chris and Deb discussed, and that’s the fact that you can sample a lot of manga that indie/alternative comics fans might like at Viz’s SigIKKI site, which serializes stories from Shogakukan’s IKKI magazine. My favorites are Daisuke Igarashi’s Children of the Sea (a beautifully drawn contemporary environmental fable), Natsume Ono’s House of Five Leaves (a delicate twist on samurai/crime drama), Shunju Aono’s I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow (barbed but sweet comedy about a 40-something loser), and Hisae Iwaoka’s Saturn Apartments (slice-of-life science fiction). The first two volumes of Children of the Sea are already available in print, and I think the other three are on Viz’s publishing schedule sometime in the next three or four months.

    IKKI is one of those magazines that seems like it’s less for a specific age or gender demographic than for people who like comics. Others include Enterbrain’s Comic Beam, Ohta Shuppan’s Manga Erotics F, and Kodansha’s Afternoon, Morning, and Morning 2. When I’m trawling for license requests, it never surprises me to find that a series I want originally appeared in one of these anthologies. I also strongly suspect that Akane Shinsha’s Opera could be a veritable gold mine of the kinds of boys’ love titles I really like, though that’s a purely cosmetic impression based on the issue that Chris sent me.


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