My favorite Pilgrim pieces

August 13, 2010

I think I’m going to have to overcome my aversion to seeing movies in theaters for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, since two of my favorite writers seem to be encouraging me to do so.

First of all, you have to go read this piece by Linda Holmes in NPR’s Monkey See blog, which examines some of the “get off my lawn” responses to the movie:

“Hating Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is perfectly fine. It’s got a style; you sort of embrace it and dig it or you don’t. But when there’s too much effort given to tut-tutting the people you imagine to be enjoying it, or declaring and promising that only narrow categories of losers and non-life-havers and other stupid annoying hipsters could possibly be having a good time when you’re not, it sounds pinched and ungenerous. And, not to put too fine a point on it, a little bit jealous and fearful of obsolescence.”

Then there’s A.O. Scott’s review for The New York Times, who neatly sidesteps the pitfalls that Holmes identifies:

“There are some movies about youth that just make you feel old, even if you aren’t. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” based on a series of sprightly graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, has the opposite effect. Its speedy, funny, happy-sad spirit is so infectious that the movie makes you feel at home in its world even if the landscape is, at first glance, unfamiliar.”

Beyond the fact that I enjoy Scott’s writing enormously, I generally agree with his critical assessments. He also gets extra points for crediting the source material, which seems to be something of a block for people writing about the movie.


Bad manga

August 12, 2010

Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey is celebrating (observing?) Bad Manga Week, so I thought I’d mention a few of my least favorite titles. By way of disclosure, I’ll note that I’ve only read one volume of any of these series, but seriously, why would I read any more than that?

Earthian, written and illustrated by Yun Kouga, Blu: If I had to pinpoint the exact moment when I realized I never needed to consume another piece of romantic fiction featuring an angel, it would be at some point when I was reading Earthian. Now, this is not the worst shônen-ai series I’ve ever read. It’s not even close. But it features a number of things I’ve come to view as deal-breakers: angel romance; iffy anatomy and composition; quasi-religious hogwash; and too many mullets. It’s like Kouga was deeply influenced by some of the aesthetic elements of the Year 24 Group – ambiguous gender roles and an exploration of human nature and love – without being able to construct a coherent story or engaging characters.

Gakuen Prince, written and illustrated by Jun Yuzuki, Del Rey: Remember that “Mack Rangers” episode of Law & Order where this group of entitled private-school boys created a climate of fear at their high school and ended up raping their female classmates because they felt like it and nobody would stop them except for a teacher that they ended up murdering? Reverse the genders and try and pass it off as a romantic comedy, and you’d have something like this horrible comic. I don’t think that the systematic terrorizing of a minority community is appropriate fodder for wacky farce.

Kanna, written and illustrated by Takeru Krishima, Go! Comi: Over the years, Go! Comi published some wonderful, edgy shôjo and some perfectly terrible shônen. Not all of their shônen was awful, but it’s hard to remember the good stuff when creepy titles like Kanna move to the front of one’s memory. It’s about a mysterious little girl and the creepy adult males who are totally, unhealthily obsessed with her.

Tenjho Tenge, written and illustrated by Oh! Great, CMX: My hatred of this series is bimodal. For one thing, it’s a tediously sexed-up comic about dumb-asses who want to be the best fighters in their small pond of bottom-feeders. (There’s also an awful sequence where someone rapes one of their girlfriends to teach the boys a lesson, and she ends up comforting them over the blow to their manhood.) For another, it’s still thrown out by piracy addicts as proof that stateside publishers aren’t going to respect the purity of the artist’s vision and that they must resort to piracy to honor the creator (and see nipples). So it’s disgusting to me in terms of content, and it’s so damned irritating in terms of context that it may be my least favorite licensed manga ever.


The Seinen Alphabet: D

August 11, 2010

I started this project a while ago, but then I took a break because the manga industry was irritating me. My equilibrium has largely been restored, so let’s resume! In just a minute! After I relate the essence of an interesting conversation I had with Erica (Okazu) Friedman about seinen. She had recently written a piece for The Manga Critic in which she expressed an enduring fondness for seinen, but she noted that the seinen we tend to see isn’t representative of the vast majority of the category, which is much more “Clive Cussler audience” in nature than the art manga we tend to see. I’m not saying I’m dying for Clive Cussler audience manga, but I thought that was worth noting, at least to drive me to confess that I’m not as interested in the macho stuff as I am the off-brand stuff. All that said, “D” is for…

North American publishers Dark Horse and Del Rey (I hate your new web site!) have both published a number of seinen manga titles. Dark Horse in particular is well known for its releases in this category. Before it shifted its priorities primarily to shônen-ai and yaoi, Digital Manga published some nifty seinen titles. DC published a number of excellent seinen series under its CMX imprint, but then they killed the line because they can’t make all the profit off of crappy movie adaptations of Emma starring Jennifer Aniston. Okay, we should all be thankful for that.

I’m never exactly sure where the demarcation point is between gekiga and seinen, though I would assume that gekiga can be viewed as a subset of seinen. Thus, a nod must go to Drawn & Quarterly for publishing a great deal of work by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who helped create gekiga and whose autogiobraphy, A Drifting Life, recently won a few Eisner Awards.

On the licensed front, there are several Viz titles worth mentioning.

Detroit Metal City, written and illustrated by Kiminori Wakasugi and originally serialized in Hakusensha’s Young Animal, is a hilarious parody of death metal, its providers and adherents.

Shirow Miwa’s Dogs, originally serialized in Shueisha’s Ultra Jump, has some amazing art and takes an interesting approach to ultra-violence.

Q Hayashida’s Dorohedoro blends ultra-violence, comedy and the supernatural. It originally ran in Shogakukan’s Ikki magazine and is serialized on Viz’s SigIKKI site.

Fanfare/Ponent Mon has published Jiro Taniguchi’s A Distant Neighborhood about a man who gets the chance to relive his early teens. The comic was originally published in Shogakukan’s Big Comic.

They’ve also published Hideo Azuma’s autobiographical Disappearance Diary, originally published by East Press.

And there’s Doing Time, Kazuichi Hanawa’s autobiography of his stint in prison.

We came this close to not seeing all of it in print, but dedicated fan nagging resulted in Tokyopop releasing all of Minetaro Mochizuki’s amazing survival drama Dragon Head, which originally ran in Kodansha’s Young Magazine.

On the unlicensed front, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Drops of God, written by Tadashi Agi, illustrated by Shu Okimoto, serialized in Kodansha’s Weekly Morning, and profiled in roughly one million news articles.

Kio Shimoku, gifted creator of Genshiken, has a new series in Kodansha’s Afternoon called Digopuri, which is about a newborn and the frazzled adults around her.

Delcourt publishes some awesome manga in French, some of it seinen.

I’m never sure about the magazine Dengeki Daioh, published by Media Works. Most of the resources list it as shônen, but it’s widely described as basically being for perv-y grown men perhaps best represented by the male teacher in Azumanga Daioh, which ran in Dengeki Daioh. And here lie the perils of discussing categories! Does one go with the official publisher line? The on-the-ground reality? Or the general, filtering perception that reaches North American shores?

So, what starts with the letter “D” in your seinen alphabet?

Updated:

Commenter Jim mentioned Naoki Yamamoto’s Dance Till Tomorrow, a seven-volume series published by Viz and originally serialized in Shogakukan’s Weekly Big Comic Spirits. It was serialized in Viz’s Pulp up until its cancellation.


Upcoming 8/11/2010

August 10, 2010

Looking at this week’s ComicList, I’m reminded that Viz publishes some of the best manga for grownups through its Signature line. I’m also forced to ask why they feel the need to release so much of it at once. I obviously don’t have to buy it all at once, but still…

If you enjoyed Natsume Ono’s Ristorante Paradiso (and I did), you should pick up Ono’s Gente, which explores the lives and loves of the bespectacled gentlemen who staff the Casetta dell’Orso.

Naoki Urasawa received roughly a dozen Eisner Award nominations this year and didn’t win a one of them. This shouldn’t stop you from enjoying his comics, particularly 20th Century Boys, which is my favorite of his comics to be licensed to date. The tenth volume arrives Wednesday.

I’ve been looking for an excuse to link to Deb (About.Com) Aoki’s highlights from the “Best and Worst Manga” panel from Comic-Con International, and this is the moment. I do this because I agree with both Christopher Butcher and Shaenon Garrity’s assessments of Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ôoku: The Inner Chambers:

Christopher Butcher: “I love Fumi Yoshinaga. I’ve been waiting for this to come out for a long time and I’m sorry, I didn’t like the translation at all. I’m sorry. I can’t deal with this manga the way it’s written. Everyone speaks like friggin’ Thor. It’s terrible. The story is amazing. I fought my way through the first volume, the second volume was just too much for me with all the “thee’s” and “thou’s””

Shaenon Garrity: “Don’t listen to him. Ignore him. Ooku is awesome.”

Unlike Butcher, I’ve managed to look past the Fakespeare for the brilliant concept and intense emotional connections, but it’s a constant struggle. Maybe it’s as clumsy in the original Japanese? I have no idea, but I’m sticking with it. The fourth volume arrives Wednesday.


Synchronized

August 9, 2010

I’m barely able to form coherent thoughts about Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories (Fantagraphics). It’s an amazing collection of her work, and I hope it just causes an explosion of interest in her work. I’ll try and write something proper about the book later, but a passage from her interview with translator and curator Matt Thorn really struck me. In it, she’s talking about the Tezuka story that made her want to become a manga-ka:

“I sympathized so much with the situation of the hero, that I found myself reading the book as if I were him. I completely synchronized with him.”

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone use that word, “synchronized,” to describe that experience, and I find it really lovely. I also think that Hagio evokes that synchronization with increasing facility over the 40-year span represented in this collection. I mean, she has that knack from her earliest stories, but she just gets better at it until she doesn’t even need words to pull it off. It’s just breathtaking.

You can view some pages over at Amazon, but I hope Fantagraphics post some other samples for preview, because I honestly think seeing anything from the book’s midway point on would convince someone to buy it. Reading Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey’s review will also go a long way towards that.

Huge thanks to Deb (About.Com) Aoki to take time out of her insane Comic Con International schedule to pick up a (signed!) copy for me. I owe her forever.


License request day: More Saika Kunieda

August 6, 2010

As you’ve undoubtedly noticed by now, I can talk about the same titles over and over again if I love them enough. Saika Kunieda’s Future Lovers (Deux) is certainly right up there on the list of books I can and will ceaselessly flog. It belatedly occurred to me that it might be time to start begging for other works by Kunieda to be licensed for publication in English.

In exploring the rest of her catalog, I made a happy discovery that shouldn’t be surprising. Like Natsume Ono and Fumi Yoshinaga, Kunieda isn’t a specialist. She doesn’t just make yaoi. Now, there’s not a thing in the world wrong with just wanting to make one kind of comic, but there’s something about creators who do yaoi and whatever else they please that virtually guarantees I’ll love their work.

Looking at Kunieda’s profile at Baka-Updates, it quickly becomes clear that she’s a candidate for this personal hall of fame. She’s published comics in yaoi, josei, seinen and shôjo magazines, and she’s done a ton of one-shot stories all over the place. Where should one start with the pleading? Working with the assumption that artists get better with experience, maybe I should focus on her most recent work.

There’s Reiko Monogatari, a one-volume comedy seinen that ran in Kadokawa Shoten’s Comic Charge in 2007. It seems to be about a weird, possibly unpleasant little girl.

In the yaoi category, there’s her one-volume 50 x 50 that ran in Libre Shuppan’s Magazine Be x Boy. It’s about co-workers who consider each other hated rivals until they wind up in bed together.

And over in josei-ville, there’s her one-volume Falling in Love Even if I Wake from the Dream, originally published in Akita Shoten’s Miu magazine. It follows the romantic progress of a woman from her schooldays to her marriage.

Honestly, I’ll take any of them, but perhaps those who are a bit more familiar with Kunieda’s body of work might point me in a more specific direction? Can you confirm or deny that she’s awesome, no matter what she undertakes? I always like to be able to focus my greed.


Couples, cute and otherwise

August 5, 2010

In celebration of the overturning of Proposition 8, I thought I’d throw out a question: what are some of your favorite same-sex couples in comics? I’ll start.

The thing that I love best about straight-laced Kento and sly, cynical Akira in Future Lovers, beyond their opposites-attract charm, is the fact that their romance doesn’t exist in a void. They deal with work and family as a part of the nuts and bolts of their relationship. They’re adorable together, but they also feel very real thanks to the rounded lives creator Saika Kunieda has given them.

There really isn’t anything I don’t like about bubbly Rica and worldly Miho in Rica Takashima’s Rica ‘tte Kanji!? It’s an unabashedly happy story of young love and emerging identity, which still seems all too rare a specimen in any medium.

So, which pairings make you happy?


Previews review: August 2010

August 5, 2010

There are only two really eye-catching debuts in the August 2010 edition of Diamond’s Previews catalog, but they’re pretty choice.

First is Osamu Tezuka’s Ayako from Vertical:

“Set in the aftermath of World War II, Ayako focuses its attention on the Tenge clan, a once powerful family of landowners living in a rural community in northern Japan. The war and the American occupation have begun to erode the fabric that binds them all together. And when the family seems to have completely fallen apart, they decide to turn their collective rage on what they believe to be the source of their troubles – the newet member of the Tenge family, the youngest sister Ayako.”

This will be a done-in-one 704-page collection of the three-volume series that ran in Shogakukan’s Big Comic in 1972 and 1973. (Page 326.)

Ages after Short Cuts and Secret Comics Japan, Viz returns to Usumaru Furuya with Genkaku Picasso:

“Hikari Hamura, nicknamed Picasso because of his natural artistic abilities, survived a horrible accident, but his friend Chiaki wasn’t so lucky. Suddenly, Chiaku appears in front of him and tells him in order to keep living he must help the people around him. Can Hikari save people with his sketchbook and a 2B pencil?”

This three-volume series originally ran in Shueisha’s Jump SQ in 2008 and will be released in Viz’s Shonen Jump imprint. (Page 329.)


Upcoming 8/4/2010

August 3, 2010

We’ll take a focused look at Tokyopop’s contributions to this week’s ComicList, since they’re releasing new volumes of two of my favorite series.

First up is the ninth volume of V.B. Rose, written and illustrated by Banri Hidaka. It’s about a talented young woman who goes to work for a high-end bridal shop and enters into a tricky romance with the lead designer. I’m very taken with Hidaka’s illustrations, and I like the characters a lot. The book overall, with its appreciation of the transforming power of fashion, reminds me of a kinder, gentler Paradise Kiss, which was recently the subject of a Manga Moveable Feast. It’s not as deep or moody, but it’s got a lot of potent emotional content and some serious sparkle working in its favor. V.B. Rose originally ran in Hakusensha’s Hana to Yume. Hakusensha is a mighty font of shôjo joy.

Ai Morinaga’s funny, sneaky Your and My Secret just about catches up to Japanese release with its sixth volume, which is kind of strange, since this was a series that was originally licensed by ADV, then abandoned, then picked up by Tokyopop and put out at something of a trickle, and the creator took a break from the series for a while. Anyway, it’s about a timid boy and an obnoxious girl who trade bodies and find themselves surprisingly open to the new romantic possibilities. Morinaga has a twisted sense of humor, and I enjoy her comics (like My Heavenly Hockey Club from Del Rey) a lot. This series is running in Mag Garden’s Comic Blade line, which has generally escaped my scrutiny but looks like it runs some endearingly weird books.

It’s already out, but I always like to link to appreciative reviews of Mari Okazaki’s gorgeous Suppli, like this one by Johanna (Comics Worth Reading) Draper Carlson of the recent collection of the fourth and fifth volumes. If the josei category is under-appreciated in general, Suppli is massively and specifically under-appreciated. It was on hiatus for ages, and Tokyopop just resumed publication of this wonderful office-lady comedy-drama that originally ran in Shodensha’s Feel Young.


The movie I wasn’t watching

August 2, 2010

Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t really watch very many movies that randomly results in me seeing ones from the competent-to-awful end of the quality rainbow. The Proposal certainly could have been worse, and it certainly could have been better.

Right up front I’ll say that I almost always like Sandra Bullock. I haven’t seen every movie she’s made, because some of them look perfectly terrible, and there’s not that much free time in life, but she’s a comforting presence. She’s fine here as a brittle book executive who faces deportation to Canada because she’s let her visa paperwork lapse. Because that’s what demanding executives do… put major aspects of their professional life in jeopardy because they’re so bad with details.

She tries to bully her executive assistant, Ryan Reynolds, into marrying her so she can get back on the citizenship track. It isn’t quite that simple. He wants to be a book editor, so he’s got his own set of demands, and he also wouldn’t mind a little payback for putting up with three years of her bitchery. He brings her along to a family weekend in Alaska so they can prep for the upcoming interview with the mysteriously vindictive immigration agent who suspects their motives. (The agent is played by the guy who’s really good at playing off-their-meds crazy people and mild-mannered racist conspirators on Law and Order. Updated: I should have mentioned his name; that was just lazy of me. He’s Denis O’Hare, and he’s a very accomplished actor beyond his ability to bat kook clean-up on police procedurals.)

In Alaska, we meet Reynolds’s controlling father, played by Craig T. Nelson, who wants his son to give up this damned fool book editor dream and come back to Alaska to run the family empire. There’s also Reynolds’s mother, played Mary Steenburgen, looking composed and beautiful and just slightly quirky enough to keep you alert, which is what you hire Mary Steenburgen to do, because there’s really nobody better at it. And… sigh… there’s Betty White, forced to move through a bunch of “rapping granny” set pieces where old people are portrayed as being hilarious because they don’t sit in chairs and talk sentimentally about “the war.” I love Betty White, don’t get me wrong, but the nicest thing I can say about her character here is that she looks younger than her son. Props to Nelson for not succumbing to a Botox-addicted culture of youth, but wow, dude looks rough.

Here’s why the movie is just kind of competent for me. It feels like it was originally written to be about a woman and her gay male assistant concocting a sham marriage instead of a woman and her straight male assistant falling in unlikely love. It doesn’t seem like anyone made much effort to shift the narrative from straight-gay frenemy picture to opposites-attract romance. I have no idea if this actually happened, but that’s how it reads on screen, particularly Reynolds’s relationship with his parents. He resents his father for not supporting who he is, and his mother is angry at her husband’s inflexibility for necessitating so much distance from their son.

I’m not really sure what to make of Reynolds. Lots of reviews talked about the great chemistry he and Bullock had in this movie, and I didn’t really see it. They were amiable enough together, but Bullock can muster chemistry with just about anyone. Also, Reynolds’s eyes are kind of strange in that emotion doesn’t seem to reach them all the time. They’re a little dead. On an unrelated but gross note, there’s a line at the end where some background character urges Reynolds to “show [Bullock] who’s boss,” which almost manages to undo the fact that the rest of the movie didn’t totally degrade Bullock’s character for being a competent if aggressive professional.

As everyone knows, he’ll be playing Green Lantern in a big action movie. I don’t really have an opinion about this, because super-hero movies are almost always boring, and I’ve never had much interest in Green Lantern to begin with, unless we’re talking about the dive-y, bear-friendly bar in Washington, D.C. Speaking of Green Lantern’s trip to cinemas, I think that’s pretty much one of the big two accomplishments of DC’s Diane Nelson, which is among the big comic stories Tom Spurgeon identifies for the next few months. Well, that and hacking away at DC’s imprints and product variety, but that’s a topic for another day.


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