He enjoys being a girl

August 27, 2008

Given that the first translated volume shipped four years ago, and that I’ve been intermittently pining for the second volume ever since, it was possible that Ai Morinaga’s Your and My Secret (now at Tokyopop) might not have lived up to expectations. Maybe it was just the fact that I couldn’t get my hands on a copy of the second volume that made me so eager?

I’m happy to say that I liked the second volume slightly better than the first, and I liked the first a lot. It’s now my second favorite manga series that deals with jumbled gender issues among high-school students, and since first place for that category is owned now and for the foreseeable future by Setona Mizushiro’s addictive, disturbing After School Nightmare (Go! Comi), there’s no shame in taking the silver medal.

But back to Secret: the awkwardness escalates slightly this time around as shy-guy Uehara and rose-with-thorns Momoi adapt to life in each other’s bodies. Morinaga builds on elements introduced in the first volume, particularly in the delightfully pansexual romantic quadrangle among Uehara in Momoi’s body, Momoi in Uehara’s, Momoi’s pretty best friend Shiina, and Uehara’s pal Senbongi. Momoi, loving life as a boy, has Shiina as a steady, and Uehara isn’t immune to Shiina’s charms either. Nor can Uehara ignore the persuasive wooing of Senbongi, much as Uehara might wish he could.

Much as I enjoy the sitcom antics of Morinaga’s My Heavenly Hockey Club (Del Rey), the character-driven farce of Secret gives it the edge. There’s a constant emotional ebb and flow, with poor Uehara torn between his desire to get his own body and the nagging rightness of his current situation. Brash hypocrite Momoi continues to amuse, holding Uehara to standards she has no intention of upholding herself. And Morinaga manages to juggle a bunch of potential narrative trajectories and keep them just about equally likely. I’m never quite sure where the series is going, but all of the possibilities that Morinaga has teased are appealing.

It’s over now, so I guess I should move on

August 25, 2008

Have I mentioned lately that I’m fixated on Osamu Tezuka’s Dororo (Vertical)? I have? Well, too bad. I mention the hell out of it in this week’s Flipped over at The Comics Reporter.

Circulatory systems

August 21, 2008

For no other reason than that I felt like it, here are five graphic novels that I think should be in libraries. (Disclaimer: they probably already are, and I’m not coming anywhere near saying that these are the only five graphic novels that would be essential to a well-rounded library collection, but these are the five that came to mind. Also, I’m focusing primarily on stand-alone books, or books that could stand alone even though subsequent volumes have come out, though I could easily do a similar list on series I think are deserving, and probably will at some point.)

Aya, by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie (Drawn & Quarterly): A funny, vibrant look at life in the Ivory Coast of the late 1970s.

Northwest Passage: The Annotated Collected Edition, by Scott Chantler (Oni Press): It’s a marvelous adventure story, wonderfully drawn and meticulously researched, and this sturdy package has some great extras.

The Rabbi’s Cat, by Joann Sfar (Pantheon): Maybe I should just say that every library should have something by Joann Sfar, but this was my first encounter with his work, so it’s always had a special place in my heart. Also, it stars a largely amoral cat.

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms, by Fumiyo Kouno (Last Gasp): Simply one of the most beautiful graphic novels I’ve ever read. It’s that weird alchemy of seemingly contradictory elements coming together in unexpectedly wonderful ways.

Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Bloody Benders, by Rick Geary (NBM): Okay, I could have picked any of the books in Geary’s series, but this is the one I read most recently, so it’s the one I love the most at the moment. (I’m fickle.) Seriously, though, if a library has the budget, it should get all of Geary’s smart, gruesome looks at bygone crimes.

So which make your list?

Upcoming 8/20/2008

August 19, 2008

An intriguing new arrival and a couple of old favorites are the highlights of this week’s ComicList, at least for me:

Del Rey breaks into new territory with the debut of Faust, an anthology of manga-inspired fiction. CLAMP and Takeshi Obata provide illustrations for two of the stories. Perhaps you may have heard of them.

There are only three volumes left of Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare (Go! Comi), and I’m going to miss it terribly when it’s done. The eighth installment of awesomely Freudian teen angst arrives Wednesday, promising “a mountain of new problems.” The thing about this series is that, when blurbs use words and phrases like “heartache” or “the breaking point” or “shocking,” it isn’t hyperbole. Mizushiro delivers.

There are only three (thanks, James!) volumes left of Naoki Urasawa’s Monster (Viz Signature), so I have a little more time to gird myself for the inevitable grief. It took a while for this series to work its way into my heart. The early going, dominated by saintly fugitive Dr. Tenma, was at times laughably simplistic in its moral framework. Over time, though, and as the supporting cast has emerged and evolved, it’s become a tense must-read for me, and I’ve even reached the point where the ensemble is more interesting to me because of the ways Tenma has influenced them. (I still think he’s a goody-goody stick, though.)

Cutting the pie into more pieces

August 14, 2008

The New York Times looks at efforts by Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing to get a cut of the profits generated by film adaptations of its properties. I’m kind of surprised it took them this long, and it will be interesting to see how complex deals for film rights become.

“In exchange for a percentage of the revenues, Simon & Schuster may agree to publish a book long before it is written, based on an assurance from the Gotham Group that it has Hollywood potential.

“Simon & Schuster will also receive money when its children’s books are turned into video games, comic books or other properties.”

Is anyone else feeling that shiver running down the spine?

Essay question

August 14, 2008

According to the Times Online, Britain is making its A-Level examinations more challenging by adding an independent research project. Oh, man, I would love to read the second one cited here:

“Students will work on projects independently, but will be taught research skills by their teachers, who will supervise and mark the projects. Subjects chosen by the 1,700 students who have piloted the project include ‘Can science explain the nature of happiness?’ and ‘Cultural comparison of Japanese Manga and American super-hero comics’.”

Post it, college-bound Brit! Post it now!


August 13, 2008

Over at Sporadic Sequential, John Jakala is hosting a conversation about what comics possess literary merit. There are some fine suggestions, some you’d expect and some that you wouldn’t. For my own purposes, I’m going to focus on the coming-of-age novel. I know there are a ton of coming-of-age stories in graphic and prose media, and not all of them are even remotely literary, but three did come to mind as bumping up from entertainment (nothing wrong with that) to literature.

  • Genshiken, by Kio Shimoku (Del Rey): The lives and loves of a group of college geeks in a club that celebrates manga, anime, games, collectibles, and cosplay.
  • Paradise Kiss, by Ai Yazawa (Tokyopop): An unhappy grind finds herself through association with a group of oddball student designers.
  • Ohikkoshi, by Hiroaki Samura (Dark Horse): College students steadfastly avoid facing the future in the ways that college students do.
  • I think the shared element that gives these books a literary quality, at least by my standards, is the almost melancholy way the characters are nostalgic for their present station in life. They’re moving on to the next stage, but they’ve reached that transition point where they appreciate the current moment, partly because it’s about to end. There’s something lovely and wistful and thoughtful about that.

    Upcoming 8/13/2008

    August 12, 2008

    You would think that the comics pick of the week would be a gimme. I mean, Fanfare/Ponent Mon is releasing Hideo Azuma’s Disappearance Diary. In fact, you generally only need to type “Fanfare/Ponent Mon is releasing…” to guarantee pick-of-the-week standing. And Disappearance Diary is an excellent, unusual comic book that’s absolutely well worth your time and money. (I reviewed the book here.) So it’s a lock, right? But…

    It’s also generally true that you can begin a pick-of-the-week sentence with “NBM is releasing a new installment of Rick Geary’s Treasury of…” and feel reasonably confident that you won’t be easily contradicted. So we also have Geary’s Treasury of 20th Century Murder: The Lindbergh Child to greedily anticipate. (Seriously, if you haven’t treated yourself to any of Geary’s Treasury of Victorian Murder books, you need to be nicer to yourself. Much, much nicer.)

    More often than not, you can begin a pick-of-the-week sentence with “New from First Second is…”, though not if that sentence finishes with “Life Sucks.” Eddie Campbell (collaborating with Dan Best) seems like a much safer bet, and I will certainly pick up a copy of The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard at some point.

    Okay, moving on from the pick-of-the-week face-off, we reach the eye-catching oddity. First of all, Viz seems to be publishing its own Gantz equivalent, with Rei Hiroe’s Black Lagoon. I admit that the price point ($12.95) was what first caught my eye, because it made me think they’d added something to the Signature imprint. But no, it’s a rated-“Mature” book about mercenaries with characters named things like “Revy Two Hand,” which triggers both my curiosity and my Not for Me Alarm.

    Lastly, a return to my comfort zone. I very much enjoyed the first volume of Uhm JungHyun’s Forest of the Gray City, originally from ICE Kunion. Yen Press has picked up the manhwa consortium’s catalog, and the second volume of Forest arrives Wednesday. It has a very josei feel to it, featuring a working woman who takes in a hunky male boarder to pay off some of her debts. It’s got lovely art and a smart, sexy vibe overall.

    Yes, that again

    August 11, 2008

    For a change of pace, I thought I’d devote this week’s Flipped (over at The Comics Reporter) to commercially successful manga. Short version: Fruits Basket isn’t selling boatloads of copies because it’s without artistic merit, y’know.

    Head, shoulders, knees and toes

    August 8, 2008

    I’m really excited about the upcoming arrival of Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack from Vertical, but I shouldn’t let that excitement lead me to neglect Dororo, another Tezuka title currently in release. I know it’s not Tezuka’s masterwork; it’s not even close. But there are a lot of things I really love about it that became even clearer as I read the second volume.

    First (though not foremost) is Tezuka’s ability to render graphic violence in a way that’s exactly to my taste. When something horrible happens, which is fairly often, it’s undeniably horrible, but it isn’t exploitatively so. It’s like Tezuka’s tone dispenser is perfectly calibrated. (By “tone” I mean mood, not weird hexagonal eyeball screens.) Adventurous moments, ones featuring protagonist Hyakkimaru dishing out pointy, sharp-edged justice, are allowed to look cool. A group of hapless villagers being murdered is rendered with the appropriate tonal effects in mind – shock, disgust and sadness.

    But that’s just a smaller reflection of the thing I really love about Tezuka – his ability to shift his highly stylized approach in illustration to suit a wide range of narrative beats but to still keep the visual feel of the book coherent. There’s the aforementioned violence and adventure, but there’s also low comedy, unspeakable cruelty, tense secrets, immense sadness, lush landscapes, and even moments of peace. There’s great visual variety, but it all fits together.

    It’s not just in the visuals that seemingly incompatible elements can cohere. In Dororo, Tezuka hops back and forth between lively quest adventure and dysfunction and sorrow. Loss pervades the whole thing, and it isn’t trivialized. But it’s side by side with moments that are undeniably fun and exciting. And they fit.

    I’m a little sad that there’s only one more volume. There’s a twist in the second volume that begs to be rendered at leisure, even in addition to the book’s basic premise. For those who have forgotten, Hyakkimaru is hunting the demons who claimed various parts of his body at birth. A supporting character suggests that limb recovery is all well and good, but it doesn’t really constitute a life’s purpose so much as a project. I was just amazed when I read that sequence, because it seems really audacious. A lot of shônen protagonists have essentially selfish motives, and to see one called on that in the midst of a perfectly sound shônen character arc was perfectly Tezuka to me.

    (Comments based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)