Rescue request day: CMX shôjo orphans

July 9, 2010

It’s Shojo Manga Week over at The Manga Critic, and it’s evolved into Link to The Manga Critic Week here at The Manga Curmudgeon. In honor of both, I wanted to put out a plea for some kind publisher to pick up two of CMX’s shôjo titles that saw only one volume released before DC pulled the plug on the much-loved manga imprint.

Miku Sakamoto’s Stolen Hearts has several things going for it. It’s about an ongoing relationship rather than a potential relationship, which is almost always entertaining. It also explores fashion in its way, which puts it in the same category as Banri Hidaka’s V.B. Rose and Ai Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss (both from Tokyopop). It’s about a tall, menacing-looking boy whose family runs a kimono shop who starts dating a short, innocent looking girl who becomes the shop’s model. There’s a bossy, conniving granny involved, and just about every comic can be improved by the inclusion of a bossy, conniving granny. Here are some of my thoughts on the book, which basically repeat what I just said.

I think the book is still ongoing in Hakusensha’s Hana to Yume, which has given the world a lot of great shôjo manga. CMX was also planning to release Sakamoto’s Nadeshiko Club, another Hana to Yume title about a girl who joins a home economics club filled with hot guys. It staggers me that nobody has picked up this reverse-harem title yet. It ended up being seven volumes long.

We also only saw one volume of Mayu Fujikata’s My Darling! Miss Bancho. This makes me sad, as I was looking forward to reading more of it:

“It’s a likable, well-executed variation on a very common theme, and its clear-headed freshness keeps it from seeming derivative to the point of superfluous. Fujikata also gives good author’s notes in which she expresses pixilated amusement that her editor keeps letting her get away with this stuff.”

Snarky author’s notes are always welcome, especially when they’re the icing on a generally tasty cake. This ongoing title is currently being serialized in Hakusensha’s LaLa DX. I wonder why Hakusensha never started its own stateside manga imprint? In retrospect, it’s probably just as well, as there was never any shortage of outlets for their licenses, but still… they have so many great books.


Playing favorites

July 8, 2010

Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey is running a Half-Time Poll: The Best New Manga of 2010, and it’s illustrative of how much good manga has launched this year, in spite of the various woes the industry has faced. Just about every candidate has at least a couple of votes, which is nice to see. I wanted to post a few more thoughts on my five choices and cite a couple of runners-up, since some of my picks were very close shaves indeed.

All My Darling Daughters, written and illustrated by Fumi Yoshinaga (Viz): This book has garnered a lot of critical acclaim since its release, some of it from me:

“Everything is more complicated than it seems in Yoshinaga’s narrative universe. People are both nicer and meaner than they initially seem, and relationships are more quietly satisfying and functional than an observer might assume. Yoshinaga is deeply interested in the grace notes of interpersonal interaction, even in her slighter works. That’s the source of a lot of the pleasure for me – the apparently minor, digressive moments that get to the heart of her characters.”

I always at least like Yoshinaga’s work, and I usually love it. This book is no exception, and it’s one that I’d recommend to non-manga readers without hesitation, especially if they like slice-of-life stories with complex women characters.

My runner-up for this slot would be Natsume Ono’s Ristorante Paradiso, which I reviewed here. When Ono’s House of Five Leaves is released in print, it will certainly be in my top five if Kate does a similar poll for the second half of 2010.

Bunny Drop, written and illustrated by Yumi Yunita (Yen Press): I’m so delighted to see that this book is tied for the lead in Kate’s poll, as I hope its critical acclaim results in solid sales. It’s from the often-neglected josei category for adult women, so I’m automatically inclined in its favor, and it’s also really, really good:

“Under another creator, this might be fodder for wacky domestic comedy, with the bachelor dad screwing up in ostensibly hilarious ways. (The back-cover text tries to imply that this is the case. Only one sentence ends with a humble period, with the rest sporting exclamation and question marks.) Unita’s approach is in a much lower key, and I think the results are distinctly satisfying.”

I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow, written and illustrated by Shunjo Aono (Viz): I haven’t properly reviewed this series yet, but I’ve written about it fairly often, usually to note that it’s one of my favorite series in Viz’s SigIKKI initiative. This should also lead you to conclude that it’s one of my favorite current manga series, period, as I love a lot of those books:

“It’s always possible that the schlub who stars in Shunju Aono’s I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow (Viz) will eventually succeed, or at least that he’ll stop quitting halfway through whatever he happens to be trying, but in the meantime, we can revel in the crushing disappointment. I should also note that the series is really funny and that Aono seems to be trying to eschew the “But isn’t this loser secretly really awesome?” undertones that inform similar schlub-centric comics.”

Natsume’s Book of Friends, written and illustrated by Yuki Midorikawa (Viz): You only have to look at the poll to conclude that a lot of great shôjo launched this year, so picking a single favorite is tough. It’s not impossible, though, especially with this supernatural, episodic charmer from Midorikawa in the running:

“I like the variety that Midorikawa finds in the premise and the mix of comedy and sentiment in the individual episodes. Her view of the relationship between humans and yôkai is complex, and I particularly love the counterpoint between grandmother and grandson. Reiko turned her isolation and otherness into hostility and control. Takashi turns his into generosity of a sort, or at least into enlightened self-interest. And young Reiko is a sly hoot, even if she is nasty, or maybe because she’s nasty.”

I’m not generally interested in anime, but I have watched a couple of episodes of this book’s adaptation, and they are glorious, just what you’d hope the comic would become if given motion and sound. As for the other exemplary shôjo arrivals so far this year, it saddens me to note that both only got one volume out before their publisher, CMX, got its plug pulled by DC. I’ll talk more about Miku Sakamoto’s Stolen Hearts and Mayu Fujikata’s My Darling! Miss Bancho tomorrow when I beg another publisher to rescue them.

Twin Spica, written and illustrated by Kou Yaginuma (Vertical): Are you sick of me writing about this book? Too bad. It’s too good to neglect:

“Yaginuma renders all of Asumi’s difficulties with admirably straightforward delicacy and attention to detail. There’s plausibility to the process Asumi pursues and the examination system itself. There’s also a wonderful earnestness to Asumi’s dreams and her desire to reach out to the people who share them. Factor in the aching sadness that provides underpinnings for Asumi’s quest and you have a moving, unusual finished product.”

Much as I love it, it was locked in a death struggle with runner-up Saturn Apartments (Viz) written and illustrated by Hisae Iwaoka, which offers another gentle and unexpected take on science fiction.

On the subject of excellent manga, take a few moments to go read some great pieces on the best manga you aren’t reading by Brigid Alverson, Robin Brenner and the aforementioned Kate.


Upcoming 6/23/2010

June 22, 2010

The current ComicList might be described as the “Not Dead Yet Edition.”

Cherish these last few CMX releases while you can. This week sees the arrival of the 17th volume (of 19) of Musashi #9, the sixth volume (of seven) of Two Flowers for the Dragon, and the fourth volume (of five) of Venus Capriccio. So close, and yet so far. And the web site is gone, as has been noted previously. Screw you, DC.

Del Rey publishes more than one licensed comic this week, including one that it rescued from another publisher. They continue to wrap up Samurai Deeper Kyo with a collection of the 37th and 38th volumes, and we finally see the second volume of Moyasimon, plus the 11th volume of Fairy Tail.

Eight months after publishing the first volume, which had been in print for ages, Kodansha re-releases the second volume of Akira. They still don’t have a web site.


Upcoming 5/26/2010

May 25, 2010

Before I get into this week’s ComicList, I wanted to do some linkblogging.

There are two pieces celebrating the CMX catalog. Over at Mania, a quartet of writers compiles a list of “20 Must Have CMX Manga.” The Good Comics for Kids crew focuses on tween- and teen-friendly titles in “The GC4K Guide to CMX Manga.” Pieces like this are important, as DC has already dismantled its CMX web site, and all links to title information now go to a listing for the second issue of the Brightest Day mini-series. That strikes me as both telling and tastelessly ironic.

Over at The Beat, Rich Johnson takes manga’s pulse in an interesting overview. Johnson was DC’s Vice President of Book Trade Sales Sales during the early days of CMX before helping launch Yen Press for Hachette. Over at Robot 6, Brigid (MangaBlog) Alverson examines some of Johnson’s points, finding cause for disagreement. I’m particularly smitten with this passage:

“The graphic novel market boom of the early 2000s was due in part to the fact that publishers started serving the other half of the population. For a long time there were no comics for girls; then suddenly, there were, and the girls bought them. Dismissing their tastes as Rich does (or by complaining about comics being too pink and sparkly) ignores the fact that their money is just as good as any Dark Horse fan’s. Certainly, the opening of the manga market to more literary titles is a welcome development, as is the fact that many indy publishers are now embracing manga. That’s the kind of book I like to read. But the comics market is much bigger than me and my tastes. Girls like to read about schoolgirls with superpowers. You can tell them that’s stupid, or you can publish comics they like (keeping in mind that even genre fans can distinguish between a good comic and a bad one). One of those is a winning business strategy, and one isn’t.”

In the comments, Melinda (Manga Bookshelf) Beasi helps demolish the initial argument about the declining demand for comics for girls and the underestimated relevance of piracy with some page-view figures from scan sites. Those two birds never stood a chance!

Want some manga for grown-ups? Viz provides with the eighth volume of Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, which is my favorite Urasawa title to be released in English so far. It feels like it should be able to save a category, you know?

In the mood for something in the classic vein? Vertical offers the 11th volume of Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack.

Looking for a Japanese take on the comic strip? Tokyopop delivers the first volume of Kenji Sonishi’s Neko Ramen, about a cat who works in a noodle shop.

Wondering if Del Rey is still licensing manga? Well, there’s the debut of Fairy Navigator Runa, written by Miyoko Ikeda and illustrated by Michiyo Kikuta. It originally ran in Kodansha’s Nakayoshi shôjo magazine and is about one of those pesky magical girls.

I might not be finished with my Marvel spite purchases. After seeing some preview pages from the first issue of Secret Avengers, written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Mike Deodato, I have to say that the idea of the Black Widow and Valkyrie fighting side by side is very much to my theoretical taste, as I’ve always liked those two heroines a lot. I do think someone needs to get Deodato a subscription to Vogue as quickly as possible, as he’s been drawing the same “sexy evening dress” since before Heroes Reborn.

Oh, and speaking of Marvel purchases, non-spite category, I entirely agree with this review of the second issue of Girl Comics, particularly for the nice things said about the contributions by Faith Erin Hicks and Colleen Coover. On the whole, I found the second issue to be much stronger than the first. I do totally hate the fact that the Scarlet Witch is painted as the villainess on the cover, but I’m sure that’s an inadvertent jab at my deep, deep bitterness on the subject.


Orphan refugees

May 21, 2010

I know I’m getting my Kübler-Ross all out of order. I started with anger, then moved on to depression, and now I’m going to backtrack to bargaining. These are confusing times. And while it seems kind of ghoulish to be looking for new homes for orphan titles, one does what one feels one must, you know? Everyone has their own unfinished CMX title that they’d most like to see rescued, so I’m going to focus on three.

First up is Usumaru Furuya’s 51 Ways to Save Her, which generated a lot of excitement when it was announced. It’s a survival drama, which is always promising, but more important is the fact that it’s by the gifted, bizarre Furuya. There just isn’t enough of his manga available in English, and while I would have loved to see CMX be the one to rectify that, I’d be equally happy to see Vertical swoop in on a rope, cutlass clenched in its teeth.

The other two titles are CMX’s classic shôjo offerings, Kyoko Ariyoshi’s Swan and Yasuko Aoike’s From Eroica With Love. The most logical target for these titles is Fantagraphics. They’ve tasked shôjo scholar Matt Thorn with establishing a manga imprint, and Dirk Deppey was just bemoaning the fact that Swan would go unfinished. I’m not asking them to start over again, and Swan’s Shueisha origins might be tricky for Shogakukan-affiliated Fantagraphics to navigate, but it would be a lovely gesture to fans of classic shôjo. It would also seem like an enticing opportunity for Fantagraphics to clean up some of DC’s messes and then gloat about it. I’m just saying. Aside from the fact that classic shôjo doesn’t sell very well, it seems like a solution with no down side.

I don’t even know where to start with awesome Hakusensha shôjo like My Darling! Miss Bancho and Stolen Hearts that really just began, but maybe Yen Press would like to beef up its shôjo offerings? They could put those profits from Twilight and Black Butler to really good use.


CMX-cellence

May 20, 2010

Now that I’ve got the negativity out of my system, I wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate some of my favorite CMX titles. I can pick ten with absolutely no difficulty at all. The difficulty is limiting myself to ten.

Astral Project, written by marginal, illustrated by Syuji Takeya: This series is very difficult to summarize, which is almost always indicative of a title I really like. It’s about a young man who is investigating his sister’s apparent suicide and learns the secrets of astral projection. He meets others who can do the same thing, finding romance, friendship, and mystery along the way. There’s some deeply cynical social commentary and a paranoid government subplot, plus a profound fixation on improvisational jazz. In short, it’s a funky, unpredictable series with a lot on its mind.

Chikyu Misaki, written and illustrated by Yuji Iwahara: Misaki and her father move back to the rural hometown of her late mother to learn that the community’s legendary lake monster is real and adorable. Also heading to the snowy hamlet are kidnappers, their vengeful victim, and a raft of stock types who transcend their formulaic origins over three frisky, sharply observed volumes. The art is gorgeous and surprising, and the characters and their interactions are absorbing.

Crayon Shinchan, written and illustrated by Yoshito Usui: This is one of those rare instances where I experienced the anime first. I still prefer the anime, but there’s a lot of crass, sneaky comedy in these comics. The formula is pretty basic but very productive: horrible little Shinchan shocks and mortifies the adults around him with his complete lack of anything resembling a filter. He’s curious about all of the things grown-ups dread discussing with each other, much less with kids.

Emma, written and illustrated by Kaoru Mori: If there’s a consistent caveat in the heaps of abuse DC is receiving for their handling of CMX, it’s gratitude that we got all of Mori’s gorgeous costume drama about a shy maid and the upper-middle-class guy who loves her. Mori ended up weaving a very rich tapestry that looked not just at class but at characters, the people who lived within the Victorian strictures that threatened to keep Emma and William apart. You can read a lot about the series in the Manga Moveable Feast dedicated to it.

Gon, written and illustrated by Masashi Tanaka: Gon’s structure is even simpler than Shinchan’s. A baby dinosaur wreaks anachronistic, wordless havoc on those creatures foolish enough to disturb his naps or disrupt his dinner. The series is beautifully drawn with positively eye-popping levels of detail, and it’s got terrific energy and emotional punch.

Monster Collection: The Girl Who Can Deal With Magical Monsters, illustrated by Sei Itoh, original concept by Hitoshi Yasuda/Group SNE: A comic book based on a card game that was never actually marketed in North America? Shouldn’t that have been just unbearably awful? This one defied all reasonable expectations by being sly, well-written and exciting, and maybe better for the fact that nobody had any idea what the original game was about. Even the frequent fan service is presented with winking good humor, and the characters are unfailingly likable.

Omukae Desu, written and illustrated by Meca Tanaka: I have a well-established fondness for entertainments about people who deal with dead people. This one folds in lots of stupid-funny bureaucracy and some endearing coming-of-age elements. Madoka can see dead people, and this ability lands him a part-time job with the astral agency that helps escort the recently deceased to their next incarnations. As you might expect, many of these spirits have unfinished business. As you might not expect, Madoka’s agency contact is a guy in a bunny suit who is a big believer in his employer’s ridiculous theme days. Fun stuff.

Penguin Revolution, written and illustrated by Sakura Tsukuba: Any shôjo series starring a girl who un-ironically declares her desire to become a civil servant is bound to get my attention. Alas, plucky Yukari must first make it through high school and work as a talent agent before she can settle into civil service. The talent agency focuses on young male idols, all of whom are forced to cross-dress during their down time to throw the press off their trails. That applies to their handlers, too. This is the kind of goofy, mildly romantic shôjo that’s very much to my taste. Warning: no actual penguins appear in this manga.

Presents, written and illustrated by Kanako Inuki: There isn’t enough shôjo horror, if you ask me, or at least enough shôjo horror that doesn’t involve obnoxious supernatural boys with lots of hair and patriarchal attitudes. Presents shows what happens when bad things happen to horrible people, which can be delightfully diverting. Mistress of Ceremonies Kurumi is probably supposed to look innocently adorable, but just looking at her gives me the shivers.

Swan, written and illustrated by Kyoko Ariyoshi: It’s probably impossible to calculate the good karma points that will go to whoever decided to try and publish this ballet masterpiece in English. We all know the conventional wisdom that classic shôjo doesn’t sell, and I don’t think Swan ever flew off of the shelves either, but wow, was it bliss. It follows the often brutal career trajectory of a gifted young ballerina and the troupe of dancers who try to put Japan on the global dance map.

There are at least five other titles that were serious squeakers for inclusion on this list, or would have been if more volumes had been published. I think just looking at these ten titles makes you realize what the folks behind CMX were able to accomplish during their too-short run. What were your favorite CMX titles? Feel free to mention them in the comments, or just heap abuse on DC, because that isn’t going to get old here for a while.


I need a break

May 18, 2010

Among manga bloggers, myself included, it’s widely believed that the only times DC executives encounter the letters “CMX” in a row is when they get a particularly crappy tray of tiles during a game of Scrabble. Back in the days when Paul Levitz was in charge, you could make bank that he would barely mention DC’s manga imprint during his nine-part year-end interviews with ICv2. When they launched the Minx imprint, Karen Berger acted over and over again like DC was inventing comics for teen-aged girls, resolutely ignoring the manga market until enough people asked “What the hell is she talking about?” And even when forced to admit that there were all kinds of comics for teen-aged girls, she never noted the fact that her employer published some of them. When Diane Nelson took over for Levitz, it surprised absolutely no one that CMX was not among her talking points, probably because DC didn’t have the right to repackage CMX properties in other media, so who cares? We need a goddamn Green Lantern franchise with legs, and we need one now.

The popular gallows humor was that ignorance was bliss. The imprint may not have gotten any marketing support or recognition from their corporate masters, but perhaps they were so far off the radar that they were immune from scrutiny entirely and that they could just quietly go on publishing interesting, entertaining comics from Japan. Alas, this trend came to an end today. Someone at DC remembered CMX long enough to realize that they could save money by axing it.

Now, if you ask me, this move seems driven at least as much by timely opportunism as by economic realities. There’s that hideous ICv2 white paper that has manga limping towards the care home, along with layoffs at Viz and the uncertain state of other publishers. So DC could just pull the plug and point obliquely at the general state of affairs and pretend to be vaguely regretful. I’m sure economic realities played a part, and possibly a significant part, but it’s easy to interpret the imprint’s history as DC just not giving a shit.

So, yeah, I don’t really think much of DC, but I haven’t for a long time, and CMX was pretty much the last tether of interest the publisher held for me. And it was not an insignificant tether, because Asako Suzuki and Jim Chadwick did terrific work picking titles and presenting them. They did the best they could in the face of what seemed like limited resources and corporate indifference. Hell, they did better than you could possible imagine people would under those conditions.

But seriously, fuck DC. I think I’ll buy a copy of that new Avengers comic just out of spite. I probably won’t read it, but I’ll buy it.


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