Lip curls, eyes roll, heart reluctantly races

December 31, 2008

I was going to make a New Year’s resolution to try and stop sneering at Oku Hiroya’s Gantz (Dark Horse), but the only way I could fulfill it would be to not read Oku Hiroya’s Gantz at all, and I’m not quite sure I’ll be able to do that.

You guys, seriously… the buckets of manly tears, the lovingly drawn violence, the dialogue (“This isn’t a manga!”), the boob sock bonus shots, the philosophical questions that seem sprung from the reject pile of a junior-high-school literary magazine… It’s like almost everything I came to hate about Marvel and DC’s super-hero comics distilled into an essential oil.

That said there’s a hard-to-fault lack of cynicism to the whole affair, which just about absolves it. Gantz may be disgusting, but it’s not joyless or coy. The ultra-violence is at once inexcusable and genuinely exuberant, and the philosophizing may be half-witted at its absolute best, but it at least reads as sincere.

I don’t believe that Gantz will ever cohere into something artistically successful or remotely meaningful, but it certainly manages to deliver “I cannot believe I just read that” moments with enviable frequency. So I will continue to sneer, and I will refuse to feel badly about it. I mean, a sneer is part of a smile, right?

Coming attractions

December 29, 2008

Some highlights from the January 2009 issue of Diamond’s Previews catalog:

It’s been quite some time since the second volume came out, so it’s good to see the third volume of Mi-Kyung Yun’s beautifully drawn Bride of the Water God listed by Dark Horse (page 60). Soapy doings among the gods, which was really the point of mythological pantheons in the first place, if you ask me.

I can’t remember for the life of me who it was, but someone was really excited that Deux Press had licensed Tetsuzo Okadaya’s The Man of the Tango (or Tango, I guess). It’s listed on page 230, promising hunky men “drawn into the seductive beat of a Latin dance,” etc. Why not?

This month’s “fascinating coss-cultural experiment that could actually tear the internet in half” would have to be Del Rey’s two manga-fied takes on Marvel’s mutants: Wolverine: Prodigal Son, by Anthony Johnston and Wilson Tortosa, and X-Men: Misfits, by Raina Telgemeier, Dave Roman and AnZu. Wait, Telgemeier and Roman are collaborating on the X-Men book? How did I miss that? (Page 267.)

Fanfare/Ponent Mon takes a break from Japanese comics to release Jean Regnaud and Émile Bravo’s My Mommy Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill. It’s received serious Angoulême love in 2008. Here’s my Comics Reporter neighbor Bart Beaty’s take on the book. (Page 281.)

From the stack: Cross X Break 1 and 2

December 28, 2008

Is there a name for the manga category that can be described as shônen-y shôjo done by boys’-love creators who don’t entirely abandon their primary category? Because that’s a mouthful, and there seems to be more and more of it on the shelves. And that’s fine, because a lot of it is reasonably good fun.

Case in point is Duo Brand’s Cross X Break (Go! Comi), which juggles its various influences with a fair amount of skill and still delivers a pretty compelling story. It’s got a sturdy but not-too complicated set-up, largely complex characters, attractive art, and a sampler platter of hunky eye candy.

Young Akito is the studious son of the President of a futuristic version Japan. His louche, scantily-clad older brother, Shinkai, announces between beers that Akito is to study abroad, and the younger sibling finds himself transported to a hostile fantasy landscape. His dishrag friend Yaya is dragged along, and they must navigate a bizarre world with an unforgiving caste system and brutal Warlock enforcers.

In this world, everyone has a place they’re supposed to be and a function they’re supposed to fulfill. Deviate from that and the Warlocks will come down on you with lethal force. Your former caste won’t think very much of you either. Fortunately for Akito and Yaya, they meet a subterranean renegade named Neon who offers to serve as their guide and protector. Akito, demonstrating a high level of smarts for this kind of manga protagonist, is appropriately suspicious of Neon’s intentions and furious at his exile at the hands of his brother.

The two-person team of Duo Brand gives Akito multiple objectives. He’s got to figure out a way home, protect Yaya, decide who to trust, and help the people he meets as they suffer under the brutal control of the Warlocks. They juggle and blend Akito’s agendas well, and they don’t hold back on the nasty when it comes to outlining the social structures of Akito’s new world. There’s some shocking violence and even more shocking cruelty in this fantasy landscape, but it’s balanced nicely by their protagonist’s decency and intelligence, some nice bits of invention, and a lively pace for the story’s underlying mysteries.

The series is easy on the eye, too. Duo Brand has a good design sense that helps to make their fantasy world convincing. Character design is generally strong, and if their costuming choices run to what I’d call “alt-rock Renaissance-fair boutique,” at least they let their characters joke about it. (They do have a weird tendency to obscure character faces with shadows that make them look like they’re wearing giant eye patches, which isn’t entirely helpful.)

My only real quibble would be the lack of women characters of any substance or consequence. Yaya is blandly sweet and kind, but she spends an awful lot of time in victim mode to motivate Akito. It’s not her story, obviously, and she does get a couple of moments when she isn’t completely passive, but she still seemed more like luggage than a character on par with all of the guys.

(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publishers.)

The worst pies in London

December 26, 2008

I don’t really think of myself as a prissy Sondheim purist, but I didn’t care for the movie version of Sweeney Todd. Director Tim Burton seemed to hack the heart right out of the musical.

What really bothered me was the fact that nobody seemed consistently capable of acting while singing, or doing their individual equivalents of singing. In my experience, you can get away with not singing very well in a Sondheim musical, but if you can’t act a song, you are deeply, deeply screwed, as is your audience. And while there is no scenario in which it would be fair to Helena Bonham Carter to compare her to Angela Lansbury or Patti LuPone, she’s who Burton cast as Mrs. Lovett, so compare her I must.

Her reedy singing voice would almost be excusable if she’d brought an ounce of life or wit to the performance, but she was in full powdery corpse mode, which bore a striking resemblance to laziness. Johnny Depp’s voice was a bit better, but I grew weary of him scooping his way into every held note, which, combined with persistent flatness, made him sound like the lead singer from a B-list ’80s alternative band. Don’t get me wrong; I loved those bands. They were the soundtrack of my college years. But I don’t want to hear them singing Sondheim any more than I want to suffer through the Kiri Te Kanawa West Side Story ever again.

What really, really bugged me was how the intricacy of Sondheim’s language was slurred away by the vocal shortcomings of Bonham Carter and Depp. “A Little Priest,” one of the best and most bracing duets in musical theater, was painful to watch, drained of energy and wit for the sake of that blue-filtered style that Burton imposed on just about everything.

Look, Burton does what he does, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve loved as many of his movies as I’ve hated, and I haven’t been indifferent to any of them, which isn’t a bad track record for any director. But this was just plain awful.

Quote of the day

December 25, 2008

“Hello. I’m… Tohru Honda. Okay? What’s your name?”

— from the 21st volume of Fruits Basket, by Natsuki Takaya, who kills me over and over.

2008 continuing series

December 24, 2008

Here, in alphabetical order and without any real comment, are ten series that continued through 2008 that I really enjoyed:

  • After School Nightmare, by Setona Mizushiro (Go! Comi)
  • Empowered, by Adam Warren (Dark Horse)
  • Fruits Basket, by Natsuki Takaya (Tokyopop)
  • Gon, by Masashi Tanaka (CMX)
  • Hikaru no Go, by Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata (Viz)
  • Kitchen Princess, by Natsumi Ando and Miyuki Kobayashi (Del Rey)
  • The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, by Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki (Dark Horse)
  • Mushishi, by Yuki Urushibara(Del Rey)
  • Nana, by Ai Yazawa (Viz)
  • Suppli, by Mari Okazaki (Tokyopop)
  • Okay, so it looks an awful lot like what last year’s list would have been, but some good books just stay good, you know?

    2008 series conclusions

    December 23, 2008

    Here, in alphabetical order and without any real comment, are ten series that concluded in 2008 that I really enjoyed:

  • Cat-Eyed Boy, by Kazuo Umezu (Viz)
  • Dororo, by Osamu Tezuka (Vertical)
  • Dragon Head, by Minetaro Mochizuki (Tokyopop)
  • The Drifting Classroom, by Kazuo Umezu (Viz)
  • Emma, by Kaoru Mori (CMX)
  • ES: Eternal Sabbath, by Fuyumi Soryo (Del Rey)
  • Forest of the Gray City, by Uhm JungHyun (Yen Press)
  • Genshiken, by Kio Shimoku (Del Rey)
  • Monster, by Naoki Urasawa (Viz)
  • Train + Train, by Hideyuki Kurata and Tomomasa Takuma (Go! Comi)
  • I know there’s another volume of Emma coming out in 2009, but the core story concluded in 2008. Also, I warned you I would mention Dororo more than once. I could have done the same with Cat-Eyed Boy, but I liked Dororo better.

    2008 series debuts

    December 22, 2008

    Here, in alphabetical order and without any real comment, are ten series that debuted in 2008 that I really enjoyed (and continue to enjoy):

  • Black Jack, by Osamu Tezuka (Vertical)
  • Dororo, by Osamu Tezuka (Vertical)
  • Fairy Tail, by Hiro Mashima (Del Rey)
  • High School Debut, by Kazune Kawahara (Viz)
  • Honey and Clover, by Chica Umino (Viz)
  • Real, by Takehiko Inoue (Viz)
  • Sand Chronicles, by Hinako Ashihara (Viz)
  • Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro, by Satoko Kiyuduki (Yen Press)
  • Ultimate Venus, by Takako Shigematsu (Go! Comi)
  • Your and My Secret, by Ai Morinaga (Tokyopop)
  • I realize that Your and My Secret actually debuted in English years ago, but a first volume came out in 2008, so I’m counting it. I also realize that Sand Chronicles and Honey and Clover may technically be seen as debuting in 2007, since they’re serialized in Shojo Beat, but I wait for the trades. And, yes, I also realize that, if I do a list of series that concluded in 2008 that I really enjoyed, I may be robbing myself of Dororo, but I can always list it again, because it’s my blog and I am capricious that way.

    Y’know, it was actually kind of hard to limit that list to ten.


    December 22, 2008

    Flush with the thrill of trimming the dog’s toenails without removing any actual toe, I directed my excess energy to writing a Flipped column inspired by Tom’s “five memorable comics moments of 2008” query.

    Quote of the day

    December 21, 2008

    “Man, Kiri’s dad was amazing!! He can do all those amazing cuts even when he’s drunk.”

    From volume nine of Kiyoko Arai’s Beauty Pop