Upcoming 12/29/2010

December 28, 2010

I’m still decompressing upon reentry to normal world as opposed to holiday sparkle world, and, to be honest, looking at this week’s ComicList is roughly akin to trying to read something written in ancient possum. My brain just isn’t there yet. I’ll rely instead on two trustworthy souls, and take their recommendation to seek out a copy of The Secret Notes of Lady Kanako (Tokyopop), written and illustrated by Ririko Tsujita. I’ve been excited about this since Melinda (Manga Bookshelf) Beasi discussed it with Michelle Smith in a recent Off the Shelf column. And Sean (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Gaffney points out that it’s from Hakusensha’s LaLa DX, which is a fine font of manga even by Hakusensha’s generally excellent standards.

I’m coherent enough to enjoy the writing of other bloggers, even if I can’t yet conjure the mental acuity to formulate a shopping list. First up are the new inductees to Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey’s Manga Hall of Shame. And, as usual, there’s a lot of overlap between my favorites and the Best Manga of 2010 list at Manga Worth Reading.


Crossing the Pacific either way

December 11, 2010

Here are a couple of articles to enjoy on what I hope is a relaxing Saturday morning for you:

Over at The Comics Journal, Roland Kelts finds a new way to look at an old, old topic, “Manga versus Comics.” Kelts talks to Felipe (Peepo Choo) Smith, agent Yukari Shiina, and Tokyopop’s Stu Levy. (That last source is especially interesting, because I can’t be the only person who assumed the creepy, opportunistic North American publisher in the first volume of Peepo Choo had to be based at least a little on DJ Milky, right?)

“Smith’s is an exceptional story, to be sure, as is the story of Peepo Choo itself—a US-Japan culture clash comedy that both mocks and celebrates fans of comics and manga, illustrated in riveting and sometimes surrealistically violent detail. His achievement would seem many a foreign manga fan’s dream. But the artist remains frustrated by the us-vs-them mentality pervading the manga industry in Japan and overseas.”

It’s a solid article, not least for whatever subtext you may be inclined to add to the formal narrative. (Peepo Choo ran in Kodansha’s Morning Two, a seinen anthology spun off from, yes, Morning.)

So that breaks down some of the stumbling blocks for comics moving westward across the Pacific Ocean. What about in the other direction? At The Hooded Utilitarian, Sean Michael Robinson ponders the difficulties comics about sports have when trying to gain traction with North American audiences, as viewed through the prism of Mitsuru Adachi’s glorious Cross Game (Viz).

“With the exception of some very popular young adult sports fiction in the fifties and sixties, there’s not a very long tradition of sports fiction in America, and certainly little to no tradition of sports comics. In the eyes of many marketing strategists, a general audience uses a genre label as an aid to enter the story, a convenient short hand that serves as a hook on which to hang the other elements of the story. How do you sell a piece of fiction that most easily fits into a genre that doesn’t exist for its target audience?”

Purely based on my own experience, comic books were something you were interested in instead of sports, not in addition to sports. Being a gifted jock isn’t routinely an aspirational thing for comics fans here, I don’t think. Since comics reach a less specific audience in Japan, there’s more crossover between the kids who read them and the kids who admire sports stars or want to be them, possibly since comics are significantly less uncool among kids in Japan and (I suspect) professional jocks aren’t quite as glorified there. Just a theory. And Cross Game is great, and you should buy it.

Oh, and if you’re in the Manhattan area tomorrow (12/12/2010) and want to hear about Kodansha’s plans to release comics in English, swing by the Kinokuniya Bookstore at 2 p.m.


Previews review December 2010

December 9, 2010

Hey, what’s this phone-book thing lying here on my coffee table? Why, it’s the Diamond Previews catalog! Let’s look inside!

Okay, the excitement doesn’t really begin until we reach page 275, specifically the Fantagraphics listings, specifically the debut of Shimura Takako’s Wandering Son. What’s it about?

“The fifth grade. The threshold to puberty, and the beginning of the end of childhood innocence. Shuichi Nitori and his new friend Yoshino Takatsuki have happy homes, loving families, and are well-liked by their classmates. But they share a secret that further complicates a time of life that is awkward for anyone: Shuichi is a boy who wants to be a girl, and Yoshino is a girl who wants to be a boy. Written and drawn by one of today’s most critically acclaimed creators of manga, Shimura portrays Shuishi and Yoshino’s very private journey with affection, sensitivity, gentle humor, and unmistakable flair and grace. Volume one introduces our two protagonists and the friends and family whose lives intersect with their own.”

Any value-added aspects worth mentioning?

Wandering Son is a sophisticated work of literary manga translated with rare skill and sensitivity by veteran translator and comics scholar Matt Thorn.”

Sold! Wandering Son is up to 12 volumes in serialization in Enterbrain’s Comic Beam, which is clearly one of the most fabulous magazines in human history.

Flipping onward to page 284, we discover that NBM is publishing another of the Louvre comics, produced in partnership with the legendary museum. This one’s called The Sky over the Louvre, written by Bernard Yslaire and illustrated by Jean-Claude Carriere. This one sounds a bit less fanciful than the previous three, Glacial Period, On the Odd Hours, and The Museum Vaults: Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert. This time around, readers are taken “back to the very origins of the Louvre as a museum: the tumultuous years of the French revolution.” I don’t think we have enough comics featuring Robespierre.

Ever onward to page 288! We’ve got sensitive drama and art history, but how to round that out? Why, with gritty, contemporary detective fiction! In this case, I’m talking about the hardcover collection of the first volume of Stumptown (Oni Press), written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Matthew Southworth. It’s about a down-on-her-luck private eye in the Pacific Northwest named Dex who gets the chance to cover a gambling debt by finding the casino owner’s missing granddaughter. Dex is a fun, tough character, and the mystery is twisty and amusingly grimy.

Toward the back of the only part of the catalog I bother to read, we learn that two manga publishers will be launching new series that originated in Hakusensha’s Hana to Yume magazine. This is generally a good sign for a shôjo series.

On page 300, we encounter the first volume of Touya Tobina’s Clean-Freak: Fully Equipped (Tokyopop), which tells the undoubtedly heartrending tale of a mysophobe going on his first school trip. On page 312, we learn of the first volume of Izumi Tsubaki’s Oresama Teacher (Viz), which sees the leader of a girl gang exiled from the city to an isolated school in the countryside. Wackiness presumably ensues.


MMF: The Great Shônen Manga Gift Guide for 2010

December 4, 2010

Daniella (All About Manga) Orihuela-Gruber is picking up the baton of the Great Manga Gift Guide, and I thought I’d take the opportunity of the One Piece Manga Moveable Feast to offer a shônen-flavored version that takes One Piece’s tone and content and creator Eiichiro Oda’s career arc into account. Now, many shônen series are great, but they’re just plain long, so it’s with some reluctance that I would suggest them as a gift when, if the gift is received well, it would require the recipient to spend a ton of money completing a series. That’s very “first hit’s free,” don’t you think? But sometimes that kind of recommendation is unavoidable, and since this list is conceived at least partly with the One Piece admirer in mind, I’m not going to be too rigid about it.

I will be rigid about one thing: use what you know about the recipient to guide your choice of gifts. If you know they like comics, great. If you know you want them to like comics, tread carefully, and pair the comic gift with something you know they actually like. Holidays are always creepy when they’re tinged with evangelism, I think.

It’s widely known that Oda took great inspiration from Akira Toriyama, so it seems reasonable to recommend Toriyama’s Dragon Ball, which is available in bulky, gift-worthy VizBig editions. It offers “a wry update on the Chinese ‘Monkey King’ myth, introduces us to Son Goku, a young monkey-tailed boy whose quiet life is turned upside-down when he meets Bulma, a girl determined to collect the seven ‘Dragon Balls.’ If she gathers them all, an incredibly powerful dragon will appear and grant her one wish. But the precious orbs are scattered all over the world, and to get them she needs the help of a certain super-strong boy…” Less adventure and more jokes can be found in Toriyama’s Dr. Slump (Viz). Toriyama and Oda have collaborated on a Dragon Ball/One Piece crossover called Cross Epoch.

Oda began his career as an assistant to Nobuhiro Watsuki, who was working on Rurouni Kenshin (Viz) at the time. Viz declares, “Packed with action, romance and historical intrigue, Rurouni Kenshin is one of the most beloved and popular manga series worldwide. Set against the backdrop of the Meiji Restoration, it tells the saga of Himura Kenshin, once an assassin of ferocious power, now a humble rurouni, a wandering swordsman fighting to protect the honor of those in need.” It’s also available in VizBig format.

Another of Watsuki’s assistants at the time was Hiroyuki (Shaman King) Takei, who’s currently at work on Ultimo (Viz) with Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee. I found the first volume of Ultimo unsatisfyingly creepy, but Erica (Okazu) Friedman liked it when she reviewed it for About.Com, finding that the series “provides a solid reading experience with characters you want to know more about, in a situation you want to see resolved well.”

If you liked the whole “travel by water” notion and were particularly taken with the aesthetic of Water Seven, I would strongly suggest you take a look at Kozue Amano’s Aria (Tokyopop), which follows gondoliers on Mars. It’s the absolute tonal opposite of One Piece, but manga fans cannot live on crazy hyperactivity alone, and Aria and its prequel, Aqua, are really beautiful.

If the goofy humor and occasional satirical bent of One Piece are to your liking and you’d like a slightly more mature (sometimes just coarser) take on them, I’d recommend Hideaki Sorachi’s Gin Tama (Viz). It’s about a swordsman-for-hire living in a world that’s been handed over to greedy, corrupt aliens. Like One Piece, it veers from flat-out goofy to surprisingly serious, and Sorachi does some entertaining world building.

If you like Oda’s distinct, detail-packed artwork, give Yuji Iwahara’s Cat Paradise (Yen Press) a look. It’s your basic Hellmouth story – plucky young people must fend off demon invasion while keeping up with Algebra – with the bonus of helpful, heroic felines. It’s not Iwahara’s best work, but his pages are always easy on the eye.

And now we start with shônen I’d recommend under any circumstances, first being Osamu Tezuka’s three-volume Dororo (Vertical). It’s disappointingly short, as Tezuka abandoned it much earlier than he had intended, but it’s creepy, funny, sad and wonderful. The lead character’s father sold his son to demons, part by part, and the kid has to kill all of the demons to get his body back. He hooks up with a young thief along the way.

Far and away the best new shônen I read this year and one of the best sports manga I’ve ever read is Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game (Viz), which I reviewed here. Beyond being really good in every way, it’s a big, fat package that makes it very gift-worthy.

What if you just like stories about pirates? Well, you can’t go wrong with Ted Naifeh’s Polly and the Pirates (Oni). A proper schoolgirl is shocked to discover that she’s got a pirate-queen legacy to live up to in this completely charming, hilarious comic.

Chris Schweizer’s Crogan’s Vengeance (Oni) takes a more scholarly approach to how pirates actually plied their trade, but it doesn’t downplay the adventure in the process. It’s a smart romp, which I reviewed here.


Upcoming 10/27/2010

October 26, 2010

It’s time for another look at the week’s ComicList!

Tokyopop has a bunch of titles coming out, and my pick of that lot would be the tenth volume of Banri Hidaka’s V.B. Rose, a romantic comedy about a budding designer of accessories working in a high-end bridal shop.

Random House’s Del Rey manga imprint may be on its last legs, but it’s releasing a healthy volume of titles all the same. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first volume of Akimine Kamijo’s Code Breaker, so I’ll be looking for the second.

I’ve also been surprised by how much I’ve been enjoying Marvel’s Secret Avengers series, so I’ll also grab a copy of the sixth issue, which features a visit from the Master of Kung Fu.

I have no excuse for not yet sampling Beasts of Burden from Dark Horse, and perhaps the Beasts of Burden/Hellboy One-Shot isn’t the best introduction to the series, but I think I’ll grab it all the same, just because I know my comic shop will probably have a copy handy.

What looks good to you?


Chiming in

October 14, 2010

Melinda (Manga Bookshelf) Beasi comes up with a fun feature, “3 Things Thursday.” The inaugural focuses on a category near and dear to my heart, shôjo manga. Melinda asks for folks to contribute their three favorite current shôjo series and three of their all-time favorites. Easy as pie!

Here are my current favorites (as of this moment, mind you, and depending at least partly on what I’ve been reading lately):

Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You (Viz), written and illustrated by Karuho Shiina: very funny look at an outwardly ominous young woman coming out of her shell without sacrificing her individuality.

Natsume’s Book of Friends (Viz), written and illustrated by Yuki Midorikawa: really charming supernatural, episodic storytelling about a kid who sees demons and tries to help them.

V.B. Rose (Tokyopop), written and illustrated by Banri Hidaka: great character interaction and romance set in a high-end wedding-dress salon.

And now for the “classics.”

Fruits Basket (Tokyopop), written and illustrated by Natsuki Takaya: this was a best-seller for the simple reason that it was brilliantly written and really plumbed some serious emotional depths.

Imadoki! Nowadays (Viz), written and illustrated by Yuu Watase: a fun, frisky, fish-out-of water story that’s probably my favorite work by the prolific, uneven Watase.

Paradise Kiss (Tokyopop), written and illustrated by Ai Yazawa: it’s criminal that this tale of first love and high fashion is out of print. Criminal.


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.


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