February 29, 2008
It’s not really a follow-up to the last post, but I ended up doing some comparison shopping this evening. We were up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh at a spot where there’s a Borders basically across the street from a Barnes & Noble. The Borders has had a larger manga section for a while now, and a better selection in general, but I ended up doing all of my shopping across the street. Either B&N had gotten recent releases earlier or had shelved them faster. It was probably the latter.
(The whole area was unusually quiet, which makes me want to always go up on a Friday afternoon instead of the usual Saturday trips. Of course, the weather was awful, so that might have kept people away. There were next to no squatters in evidence, except for one twenty-something in the café at Borders reading a big stack of Shonen Jump titles.)
I also noticed that whoever is picking the licenses for Viz’s Shojo Beat line is doing a really good job. Given my tastes, there are usually a fair number of titles I like, but their current roster of books include a lot of titles I think are just plain good by any comics standard. So… um… good work.
Oh, and lots of people are weighing in on where they shop over at Comics Should Be Good, so go take a look.
February 27, 2008
And now, for no real reason other than I felt like writing about it and the subject kind of came up in the comments following Danielle Leigh’s latest Manga Before Flowers column, a brief look at what I buy where:
At the local comic shop: My most regular purchases at the local comic shop are books that I suspect won’t show up in a chain bookstore (manga that’s rated for mature audiences or books from smaller publishes that don’t seem to have quite achieved bookstore saturation). Most of my comic shop purchases are the result of pre-orders, just because the local shop is primarily focused on super-hero comics so I generally can’t wander in and find something to my taste. They’re very accommodating in terms of pre-orders and re-orders, which compensates for limited use as a place to browse.
At the bookstore: My purchases at Borders, Barnes & Noble, and so on are fairly random. I tend to either buy really mainstream shônen or shôjo titles, because I know they’ll be readily available and I can use my discount card. Sometimes I’ll special-order a particular book from the local Barnes & Noble if I really like it and want to trick them into ordering additional shelf copies. I’ll also buy other books from publishers like Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, and so on, usually based on word of mouth (or blog).
Online: I almost always use Amazon, as I like the discount and the free shipping. Amazon is kind of the “everything else” dumping ground… books I wasn’t sufficiently certain I’d enjoy but was later persuaded to look into via word of mouth (or blog), manga over the $10 point (but never under, because why pay full price when I can get it for 10% off at a brick-and-mortar shop?), stuff that I’d categorize as expensive (like One Thousand Years of Manga) and “when all else fails” books that I can’t find at a comic shop or a chain bookstore. (Yay! Amazon carries Shirtlifter!) Online shopping is convenient and often cheaper, but it still ends up being my court of last resort more often than not.
February 26, 2008
Man, the storm is following the calm this week. Tons of stuff is arriving in comic shops this week (that’s probably already in bookstores) that’s worth a look.
(Dear Borders: Please open a concept store in my area. The area is virtually free of pesky zoning regulations, and big box chains are welcomed with unnerving fervor and gratitude that’s almost pathetic. Just look at the parking lot of the Olive Garden if you don’t believe me. Failing that, please offer a “buy blank for the price of blank minus one,” as I will be in the vicinity of one of your non-concept outlets later in the week and would appreciate a bargain.)
It almost never happens that I come to a manga via the anime, but I’ve seen some episodes of Crayon Shinchan on Cartoon Network and found them hilarious. CMX has picked up the manga, once published by ComicsOne, and will be releasing it in all of its vulgar, adorable glory.
I’ve already gone on about the fifth volume of Kitchen Princess (Del Rey). It shows up in comic shops Wednesday.
Aside from the cheerful bad taste of the acronym you can form from part of its title, I’ve actually heard good things about Kei Azumaya’s All Nippon Airline: Paradise 3000 Feet (Juné).
The tenor has obviously been different, but I’ve also heard really good things about Ulf K.’s Hieronymus B. (Top Shelf). It looks like it should make for a nice change of pace.
And Viz has decided against pacing themselves this week, churning out manga I really like in a great flood. The situation is so serious that I have to resort to the bulleted list.
Beauty Pop vol. 6, by Kiyoko Arai: ACK! Get that horrible child off of the cover!
Gin Tama vol. 5, by Hiroaki Sorachi: Really, really smart comedy about really, really dumb characters. Many try to pull this kind of thing off, but few succeed.
High School Debut vol. 2, by Kazune Kawahara: I thought the first volume had tons of potential, and I’m assured that Kawahara realizes that potential in really interesting ways.
Honey and Clover vol. 1, by Chica Umino: Sweet and hilarious stuff about a group of art students.
Nana vol. 9, by Ai Yazawa: I’m a selfish ass, so I’m just glad that this book is coming out more often. It looks as though things get even more uncomfortable in this volume, which is just as it should be in soap opera.
Naruto vol. 28, by Masashi Kishimoto: I’m pretty much a Naruto newbie, so when Viz sent this volume my way, I was curious to see how it functioned as a starting point for someone who was basically ignorant of everything that went before. It works well, and it’s a very entertaining comic in its own right. Also, Sakura splits the earth open with her fist and does a variety of other impressive things, and I am instantly smitten.
But seriously, was that level of quantity and quality strictly necessary?
February 25, 2008
Tom Spurgeon has very kindly agreed to host a continuation of my Flipped columns at The Comics Reporter. The first one is up today, allowing me once again to fawn over some of my favorite series for a different audience. (Is today Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Appreciation Day, or is it just a coincidence?)
February 24, 2008
The blessing and curse of Bravo is that, if you miss an episode of one of the network’s original programs, you simply aren’t trying very hard. It’s almost as easy as finding an airing of the Law and Order franchise. (The curse part is when they decide everyone wants to see The Real Housewives of Orange County over and over.)
I’m still obsessively fascinated with Project Runway, and I’ve enjoyed the fourth season quite a bit. The contestants represent a really interesting mix of points of view, and they seem to have focused more on creative endeavor rather than attention-hogging drama.
I thought the reunion show was really weird. It was like if Harold Pinter wrote a sketch comedy about a competitive reality program. Maybe it was the editing and the odd, long silences, or the fact that the lack of actual inter-contestant bitchery kind of forced them to re-frame things in ways that were dramatic enough to fill an hour. And while it’s really fun to see the customary reality-show demographic reversed (one straight guy among a sea of gays instead of the other way around), the “is Kevin really straight” clip package struck me as too much. (Seeing pictures of Michael Kors in all of his 1980s finery with a giant, golden man-perm was priceless, though.)
Judging by the photos I’ve seen from the final Fashion Week shows, I hope Christian wins, though I find him obnoxious. I’ve found other finalists obnoxious and overconfident before, but Christian’s clothes are innovative but still seem like they’d translate into something a person might actually wear. His ego actually seems to be commensurate with his talent, with is a nice change of pace. (I’ve seen a few knowledgeable sources tar him as too derivative of Alexander McQueen, which could certainly work against him.) Rami’s clothes are beautiful, but they look too mature to me. It’s like he’s always dressing a high-end fund-raiser at a country club. I think both he and Jillian should have long careers as designers, because they’re both very talented, but I can’t see either of them winning.
February 22, 2008
Viz is marching on Australia and New Zealand with the help of Madman Entertainment, according to the press release below. Glancing through the catalog at Madman’s web site, I see a couple of Viz properties there already, though not from Shueisha. Madman already has a similar distribution deal with Tokyopop. But this bulks up Madman’s manga offerings rather substantially, given that a bunch of Viz’s best-selling titles are part of the package.
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February 22, 2008
This was kind of weird. I’m used to seeing the “filled with sex and violence” and “monsters and superheros that seem to dominate” charges against manga in pieces in U.S. media outlets, but in The Daily Yomiuri? I’m always in favor of people saying nice things about Tomoko Ninomiya’s Nodame Cantabile (Del Rey), but the negative context for that praise seems strange to me in a Japanese newspaper.
February 21, 2008
I was working on a long-ish piece, and it was going pretty well. I took a quick break to do some blog hopping and noticed that Danielle Leigh had done a terrific job covering almost exactly the same material in her column at Comics Should Be Good. So it’s back to the keyboard.
Speaking of manga for grown-ups, I finally got around to reading the second volume of Hiroki (Eden: It’s an Endless World!) Endo’s Tanpenshu (Dark Horse). Overall, I found the content of the two books to be excellent overall, but I think I’ve developed an allergy to anything Endo writes about organized crime. The two-part “Platform” just made me tired. Why are creators so fascinated with mobsters, and why do so many of their otherwise admirable sensibilities go out the window when they dramatize them? I’ve seen Endo pose a thousand interesting questions about the human experience in his science fiction and slice-of-life stories, but pieces like “Platform” read as depressingly literal. I’m thrilled that Dark Horse is committed to delivering more Eden, but Endo’s gangster stuff leaves me utterly cold.
On the brighter side of Dark Horse, the opening story of the sixth volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (written by Eiji Otsuka, illustrated by Housui Yamazaki) left me slightly giddy. Anyone who can craft a funny, creepy, strangely sweet story around the privatization of the postal service has won me as a lifelong fan.
February 20, 2008
I have an easily documented history of mocking the culinary philosophy of Sandra Lee, or at least her zealous enthusiasm for its outcomes. I can’t deny that there’s truth in her claim that adding something real to something packaged can change the outcome for the better. Next time you make brownies from a mix, try replacing some of the water with good coffee that you’ve brewed and cooled, or add a tablespoon of real vanilla extract to a packaged cake mix. You probably won’t, as Lee swears, camouflage the formulaic origins completely, but the result is more complex and satisfying.
It’s true of comics as well, and it’s appropriate that one of the most striking examples I’ve come across recently is the next volume of Natsumi Ando and Miyuki Kobayashi’s Kitchen Princess, due this week from Del Rey. It took a couple of volumes for this series to grow on me, and it took the most recent installment for it to become manga crack.
Here’s the story so far: a plucky orphan (I know) enrolls in an elite private school (bear with me) to find the boy (yes, there’s always at least one) who gave her hope when all seemed lost. She overcomes the snobbishness and resentment of her upper-crust classmates (that crowd again) and catches the eye of the school’s cutest boys (insert feuding bishônen here) with her good heart and nigh-supernatural skills as a pastry chef. (If this were shônen manga, she’d want to become the world’s greatest creator of sweets and set about crushing all rivals when not recruiting them to her entourage, but it’s shôjo, so she wants to use desserts to make people happy, smooth the course of young love, reconcile broken families, and heal the sick.)
So how could a series so transparently formulaic become anything but pleasant, predictable fluff? The secret ingredient is cynicism. (There are spoilers after the cut, so be warned.)
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February 19, 2008
One more and I’ll stop for the day, I promise. I was sipping some Starbucks Italian Roast from my Thermos travel mug when I read this article in The New York Times about product placement in fiction aimed at girls aged 8 and up. I feel like I should find this trend more disturbing than I do, but it seems more like a formalization of something that’s always been around anyways.
Of course, if an author radically reframes his or her narrative – undermining a critical plot twist or sidestepping a central theme, say — to get a mention of a specific brand into it, that’s bad. And if the story itself is just a crappy vehicle to squeeze advertisers, I suspect that the audience in question is smart enough to spot that and opt out of something that doesn’t offer any entertainment value.
I guess I just assume that kids are smart enough to know when they’re being sold to, which is pretty much constantly, so I consequently assume that they can make value judgments on what the proper ratio of content to pitch is.