License Request Day: Nasu

July 31, 2009

The terrible economy has sent more people than ever out into the yard with shovels and seed packets. Harvest time is fast approaching, and gardeners of every experience level will soon be pondering that universal question, “What the heck am I supposed to do with all of this stuff? Who needs this much eggplant?”

Nasu1Leave it to Iou Kuroda to turn the ubiquitous, easy-to-grow fruit/vegetable into a manga series, Nasu, that I really, really wish someone would license and translate into English. It was originally serialized in Kodansha’s Afternoon magazine and collected in three volumes. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Nasu is a collection of stories, focusing on a returning [DW — does the author maybe mean ‘recurring’?] series of characters, such as Takama, a farmer, and a young girl named Aya Takahashi, who begins the series abandoned by her father and residing in Tokyo with her two younger siblings, and as the manga progresses to its second volume, leaves the city to reside in the countryside with her relatives, near Takama’s farm. Apart from the chapters concerning Takama and Aya, other stories are also featured, such as one telling the chronicles of samurai in the Edo period hunting forbidden eggplant (nasu), another set atop a futuristic Mount Fuji, another tale concerning a truck driver, and also ‘Summer in Andalusia’, the story concerning the professional Spanish bicyclist Pepe Benengeli, from which the film was adapted.”

Nasu2It was also published in French by Sakka, but I can’t find it anywhere on Sakka’s web site. Here are the listings for its three volumes on Amazon France.

Aside from the fact that it sounds awesome, Kuroda is one of those creators who tops my “Please license more work from this person” wish list. This is based on my abiding love for his one work available in English, the splendid Sexy Voice and Robo (Viz), which was originally serialized in current buzz-anthology IKKI. Here’s some critical reaction to that book:


“So multi-layered is this manga that any attempts to explain the story end in ‘Oh, just read it and you’ll see.’ And there’s no reason not to read it—it’s smart enough for picky intellectual comics nerds, thrilling enough for action lovers, and deep enough for those who care about characters, emotions and drama.” Carlo Santos, Anime News Network

Sexy Voice and Robo is a marvelous comic. Kuroda’s singular vision and craft transcend conventional ideas of genre and storytelling. It’s one of the best graphic novels I’ve read all year, and you really should try it, even if you don’t think you like manga.” Me, Comic World News

Nasu3And here’s Shaenon K. Garrity’s image-rich celebration of the book in her Overlooked Manga Festival which, incidentally, is where I first heard about Nasu.

Seriously, I’ve never run into anyone (mostly the web version of “run into,” obviously) who has read Sexy Voice and Robo who doesn’t yearn for more of Kuroda’s work to be licensed and translated. And Viz, since you’re sharing IKKI titles online, why not throw Sexy Voice and Robo into the mix? It’s one of the best things you’ve ever, ever published, so give it a second chance.

From the stack: Tea for Two

July 30, 2009

I should note that just because I tend to prefer yaoi about grown-ups doesn’t mean I never enjoy yaoi about teen-agers. There’s an intensity of emotion and a difficulty in expressing it clearly that’s ascribed to youth, and it’s reliable story fodder. If the creator takes a light, smart touch with that material, the results can be charming. Case in point: the first volume of Yaya Sakuragi’s Tea for Two (Blu). It’s a sweet, silly, opposites-attract story.

teafortwo1Tokumaru is a clumsy jock type. His sister reaches the breaking point with the breakage and insists he join their school’s tea ceremony club to “learn composure and grace if it kills [him]!” The club is run by stoic, dignified Hasune, who may have taken composure a little too far. Nobody who’s read a single chapter of a single yaoi title will be shocked to hear that these very different young men find themselves falling for each other, but Sakuragi does a nice job selling the notion that Tokumaru and Hasune are surprised, and pleasantly so.

Sakuragi also does a nice job establishing the couple’s chemistry. Tokumaru isn’t just a klutz, and Hasune isn’t just frosty. Each has qualities that the other can admire, and each displays a nice sensitivity to the other’s feelings. There’s a bit of a courtship dance, but they’re refreshingly frank about their feelings long before reticence gets a chance to become tiresome. The book is as much or more about sustaining a relationship between two very different people as it is starting one.

The look of the book supports the story. The protagonists are lanky and masculine, though they still look like they could be in high school. Sakuragi has more fun with Tokumaru’s facial expressions for the simple fact that he allows himself to have them more often than Hasune does, but she manages to work in some nice slyness and subtext into Hasune’s looks. The book is also reasonably sexy, whether or not the characters are having sex at the time.

There are two bonus stories. I adored the short piece about a fateful meeting between Tokumaru’s and Hasune’s sisters, which provides witty, opposites-repel counterpoint to the main story. The other back-up didn’t work as well for me. In it, the guy who provides sweets and cakes for the tea club, Keigo, makes a classic relationship blunder. Keigo, it’s natural to have a crush on the wrong person, but I beg you, hold out for someone who isn’t quite so high-maintenance.

Oh, look… they’re waving good-bye!

July 29, 2009

There’s another very noteworthy title in this week’s ComicList, and I didn’t want to bury it under a review of another book, or vice versa. The book is neglected enough as it is, and I didn’t want to contribute to that.

parasyte8It’s the final volume of Hitoshi Iwaaki’s horror demi-classic Parasyte (Del Rey), and there are lots of reasons to be excited by its arrival. First of all, there’s the fact that it got here at all. Parayste is one of those sort-of rescues, originally published by Tokyopop. That out-of-print version is lovingly recalled by Shaenon K. Garrity in one of her much-missed installments of the Overlooked Manga Festival. Sincere appreciation should be extended to Del Rey for giving the series another opportunity to reach new readers.

I’m devoted, but lazy, so I’ll just point you to my Flipped column on the book:

“The thing that I like best about Parasyte is that it reminds me that spooky schlock and thoughtful storytelling aren’t mutually exclusive. A story can use shock tactics but not lose its hold on the reader or the authority of its underlying message. Humans and parasites may not be able to peacefully coexist on Iwaaki’s pages, but art and pulp are living in perfect harmony.”

I’m toying with various ideas about how to further promote Parasyte appreciation, so check back on, say, Thursday of next week. Because we know what happens to the inattentive and/or careless.


From the stack: Kimi ni Todoke

July 28, 2009

This week’s ComicList is kind of lean, so I’ll focus on one particular release. It’s Karuho Shiina’s Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You (Viz), and it’s hilarious and delightful.

kiminitodokeYou remember that girl who crawled out of the well in The Ring, right? Sawako Kuronuma bears an uncanny resemblance to that creepy character, and the coincidence hasn’t escaped her classmates’ notice. Sawako is a sweet, optimistic girl, but her spooky, slump-shouldered bearing is completely at odds with what’s inside. Remember that bit in Addams Family Values when Wednesday tried to smile? It’s like that, except that Sawako is really trying to be genial.

As high-school students are a cowardly and superstitious lot, rumors fly about Sawako. They think she communes with ghosts and can curse those around her. Even the teachers are wary of her. Hell, even puppies get skittish in her presence. It probably doesn’t help that the kanji that constitute her family name also translate into “black swamp.”

So Sawako takes it upon herself to try and clear up what she believes to be simple misunderstandings. She meets with limited success until Kazehaya, the most popular boy in class, starts treating her with the same cheerful courtesy he extends to everyone. The tide begins to turn for Sawako, and she starts making other friends. And while she still looks and acts like she crawled out of a well, she’s sparkling with happiness on the inside.

It’s that disconnect – Sawako’s frightening mien wrapped around the open heart of a true shôjo princess – that makes the book so funny and endearing. Also delightful is the fact that Sawako never once entertains the notion of changing her appearance; she just wants to introduce her classmates to the girl on the inside. Shiina has a real gift for constructing scenarios that allow you can to root for Sawako and still giggle at the ways her efforts can backfire. Shiina’s illustrations hit all the right notes, from funny-creepy to sparkly-sweet, sometimes in the same panel.

Kimi ni Todoke is off to a wonderful start. It’s a great look at an offbeat kid trying to find happiness on her terms. Sawako is undeniably naïve, but she’s naïve in the best possible way. She believes the best of people, that they’ll accept truth and overlook appearance. And Shiina lets her be right often enough to balance out the laughs that come from the moments when Sawako is wrong.

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


July 27, 2009

Comic-Con International 2009 is over, and many people have provided engaging coverage of the event’s panels, products, and people. To find the best round-up of manga-related links, you need only visit Brigid Alverson’s MangaBlog (as always). You might want to start here and here. The number of license announcements seems lean to me, but there are some eye-catchers.

51waysOf greatest interest to me is Usumaru Furuya’s 51 Ways to Save Her, which was snatched up by CMX. Furuya’s Palepoli strips from Viz’s out-of-print Secret Comics Japan still amaze me, so I’m thrilled to see more of his work headed for English release. 51 Ways was originally published by Shinchosa. It’s a disaster drama, but I suspect that anything by Furuya will defy simple categorization.

The other highlight from CMX’s roll-out is Sato Fujisawa’s Nyankoi!, a Flex Comix property. I know next to nothing about it except for the fact that it’s got an awesome premise for a cat-lover: a guy who’s allergic to felines falls in love with a girl who dotes on them and must do 100 good deeds for cats or face the wrath of the local cat-god.

bakumanOn the Viz front, there are two new Shonen Jump titles, one by the creative team behind Death Note. Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata reunited for Bakuman, about two students who dream of becoming successful manga-ka. Here’s the Wikipedia entry, and here’s Shueisha’s entry for the book.

Providing nightmares for vegans and animal rights activists is one possible side effect of Toriko by Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro, about a guy who hunts down rare beasts for finicky chefs. Okay, so I won’t be finding any useful recipes from this one, but cooking manga is cooking manga. Here’s the Wikipedia entry, and here’s Shueisha’s page.

artoftezukaI’m not sure if this was announced first at the convention or if I just missed it when mentioned elsewhere, but I’m also looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of Helen McCarthy’s The Art of Osamu Tezuka from Abrams ComicArts. By the way, I take total credit for Tezuka’s Eisner win, as I spent weeks passive-aggressively suggesting people vote for Tezuka’s Dororo.


July 24, 2009

I’m taking a week off from the license requests. Sometimes you just have to try and catch up with what’s actually available, and Viz isn’t making it easy with all of the freebies on its SIGIKKI and Shonen Sunday sites. It’s the end of the week, and I’m kind of fried, so I’ll take a look at the presumably more lighthearted shônen fare of the latter.

First of all, I have to say that I like the way Viz is assembling these animated trailers. They look nice; Kate Dacey used the one for Daisuke Igarashi’s Children of the Sea in a recent post, and it’s very effective. Second, I don’t really have anything to add to what I’ve already said about Rumiko Takahashi’s Rin-Ne; it’s solid entertainment, but it has yet to change my life. Third, I still don’t like reading comics on a computer, but Viz’s platform is simple enough to use and readable in scale and resolution, at least on my screen.

Now, on to the new series:

ssarataArata: The Legend, by Yuu Watase: Here’s how smart I am. My eyes passeded over the creator credit not once but twice before I started reading this, and one of my reactions to the comic was, “That’s kind of weird to have a Yuu Watase knock-off in a shônen magazine.” Of course, it is Watase, and it does seem kind of weird for her work to be in a shônen magazine, but weird in a nice way. I always like it when women branch into shônen and the less frequent phenomenon of men creating shôjo (though the only one I can think of who’s been licensed and published is Meca Tanaka), and Watase is very popular and has always been able to spin solid fantasy-adventure tales.

In this one, a young man must pretend to be a young woman to fulfill his clan’s obligation to provide princess-protectors to his nation. The ruse goes badly wrong in some unexpected ways, and, judging by the series description, further drastic twists are pending. There’s not much else I can say about it at the moment, other than it’s wonderfully drawn, like all Watase series, and that I already like it loads better than her last licensed outing, Absolute Boyfriend (Viz). That’s good enough for a start.

sshydeandcloserHyde and Closer, by Haro Aso: This one reminded me a lot of Akira Amano’s Reborn! (Viz), though I’m much more favorably inclined to a magical legacy than someone being destined to a life of organized crime. Lead character Shunpei Closer devotes a lot more energy to avoiding conflict and embarrassment than he’d ever expend just sucking it up and facing what life throws at him. His aversion techniques won’t be of much use when sorcerers around the globe learn that they can gain enormous power by killing him. Fortunately, his missing grandfather left Shunpei some protection in the form of a cigar-smoking, bourbon-drinking teddy bear. You read that correctly. Stuffed-animal mayhem ensues, which is both adorable and disturbing. I’m not sure how well the premise will hold up, but it’s hard to resist the stuffing-soaked action.

sskekkaishiKekkaishi, by Yellow Tanabe: This series has been around for a while, and it’s much admired by various people with excellent taste (most notably John Jakala). So what we have here is an under-appreciated title that’s already got a lot of volumes in circulation; it’s a smart move of Viz to give potential readers a low-risk entry point to the series. The whole concept of free chapters on line is smart, but especially for books with an imbalance of critical regard and sales. I very much liked the first chapter about dueling families of demon hunters. Young Yoshimori Sumimura is destined to be his family’s leader, but he’s got no love for their traditional profession. He’ll have to come around and live up to his potential. Tanabe has assembled a clear, concise mythology and a solid emotional foundation for the characters. The art is terrific, particularly the action sequences, and there are lots of fun, funny touches. I particularly liked the cranky grandparents of the warring clans, and I immediately started ‘shipping them, which is always a good sign. This is definitely the hit of the site for me.

ssmaohjuvenileremixMaoh: Juvenile Remix, original story by Kotaro Isaka, story and art by Megumi Osuga. I got a bit of a Death Note (Viz) vibe from this one, in that it seems intent on providing thrills with an added layer of moral complexity. It stars Ando, a high-school student who’s gone to some pains to conceal his psychic ability. He can make people around him say things he’s thinking. That’s an odd and narrow enough super-power to make me suspect that the creators have something interesting in mind. Ando meets Inukai, the oddly charismatic leader of a local vigilante group that’s trying to restore order to the rather raucous streets of the city. Ando is intrigued by Inukai’s desire to change the world for the better, but vigilantism has a dark side. As Death Note proved, you’re unlikely to go broke telling morally ambiguous tales starring hot guys. Count me as intrigued.

Left behind, but not neglected

July 23, 2009

Are you feeling envious of all the folks assembled at Nerd Ground Zero? One way you can pass the time not spent obsessively watching blogs and Twitter for updates is to check out the now-live Viz portals for Shonen Sunday and SIGIKKI, reading free manga and pitying the poor souls at the convention center with their limited wireless and hand-held devices. (And yes, SIGIKKI had already posted a hefty quantity of Children of the Sea, but they’ve added chapters of four more series.)

From the stack: Johnny Hiro

July 23, 2009

For me, the cake of Fred Chao’s Johnny Hiro (AdHouse Books) is the relationship between the titular protagonist and his fetching girlfriend, Mayumi. As a bonus, Chao slathers plenty of icing on the cake.

untitledJohnny and Mayumi are young, in love, and living in New York City. That means they work too hard, live in a kind of crappy apartment, and never seem to have enough money at the end of the month. But they have each other and all of the affection, support and loyalty one could hope for; they also have cats. Those things go a long way to compensate for the overworked, underpaid grind.

They also have distractions. Johnny is sort of a mayhem magnet. Simple errands can thrust him into the thick of a swarm of knife-wielding kitchen ninjas. A night at the opera can end at sword-point, surrounded by laid-off IT guys who’ve taken up the way of the samurai to avenge their failed dot-com. Peaceful slumber can be disturbed by a hauntingly familiar, dauntingly large lizard that’s eye-level with their walk-up.

Other similarities to Spider-Man aside – he’s got the beautiful girlfriend, the Manhattan setting, and the struggling 20-something thing down – Johnny isn’t exceptional or adventuresome. He’s tenacious, though, and he’s developed a resigned acceptance to the nuttiness. (He’s a little more prone to being starstruck, though, as evidenced by the eclectic celebrity cameos Chao throws into the mix.) I’m crazy about Mayumi; as Chao draws her, she’s lovely in the way real people are lovely as opposed to more conventional comic-book arm candy.

So basically, what we’re dealing with here is a loving, functional couple dealing with the occasional outburst of genre mash-up, based on whatever Chao pulls out of the pop-culture junk drawer. The results are generally terrifically entertaining, and I don’t think there are nearly enough loving, functional couples at the center of popular entertainments. It doesn’t always work perfectly; some of Chao’s pet pop culture isn’t always mine, and some of the celebrity cameos end up feeling a little strained. Overall, though, it’s crisp, warm-hearted, smart entertainment.

The book runs on affection – Johnny and Mayumi’s affection for each other, Chao’s affection for New York, and Chao’s affection for the sci-fi and fantasy tropes he folds into his stories. I’m still surprised (and disappointed) that this book didn’t survive in pamphlet form, but I’m thrilled that Chao and AdHouse provided a handsome collection of the published and unpublished issues of what was supposed to be a six-issue series.

(I periodically nominate something I’ve read for the Young Adult Library Services Association’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, and I did that with Johnny Hiro. Anyone can nominate a title here, provided they aren’t nominating their own work or something published by their employer.)

From the stack: Dogs Prelude Vol. 0

July 22, 2009


I suspect that Shirow Miwa is as much of a fan of Cowboy Bebop as I am. Miwa’s Dogs Prelude Vol. 0 shares a lot of that anime’s best qualities – vivid characters, an engaging look, and a lightness of touch that keeps the noir elements from going overboard. If anything, Miwa does a slightly better job on that last front.

dogs0That isn’t to suggest that Miwa’s milieu is a pleasant one. The book’s linked short stories are set in a futuristic dystopia full of sometimes terrible people doing what they need to do to get by. Like all good noir casts, the characters all have dark and painful secrets to tote around as they navigate these murky waters. Fortunately, Miwa doesn’t seem inclined to dwell. He doesn’t exactly minimize the suffering on display, but he doesn’t put it on a pedestal either.

I felt for Mihai, the aged killer looking for a quieter dotage. I enjoyed laughing at the misfortunes of Badou, the one-eyed snoop who can’t seem to make it through a day without inspiring gun-toting thugs to chase him down. Resilient, rough-trade Heine’s attempts to rescue an innocent prostitute offered a nice mix of mayhem and sentiment.

dogsbI was largely unmoved by the tale of Naoto, the young girl raised to be a killer by the man she believes murdered her parents. It’s in that segment that Miwa comes closest to flat, straight-faced noir, and while it’s executed well, it lacks the dollops of quirky, what-the-hell humor that characterize the rest of the book.

The most consistent and engaging quality of the book comes from Miwa’s illustrations. He’s prodigiously gifted with action sequences and character design, and it’s in drawing that his light touch really shines. He favors thin, elegant line work instead of the thick marker of despair so many cartoonists bust out when crafting a noir tale. Miwa isn’t afraid to go over the top with both violence and comedy, but it’s all anchored with subdued, dilapidated settings that don’t feel ostentatiously dystopian and, of course, the well-written, likeable cast. The look of the book is sleek, stylish, and frequently silly; it’s a great mix.

As the rather complicated title indicates, this volume of Dogs serves as a precursor to the evidently more structured ongoing series that launches in August. I’ll definitely check in if only to bask in Miwa’s gorgeous drawings, and I’m guessing I’ll stay for the quirky characters and cleverly conceived scenarios.

Birthday Book: Doonesbury

July 21, 2009

mayjuneThe Comics Reporter notes that today is the 61st birthday of Garry Trudeau, creator of the essential, still-vibrant Doonesbury. I don’t talk about comic strips as much as I probably should, but I’ve loved them longer than I’ve loved comic books, and Doonesbury is one of my all-time favorites.

It’s hard to point to a specific Doonesbury collection, because all of them have something significant to recommend them. I’m disappointed to see how much of the Doonesbury catalog seems to be out of print. I remember a visit to my older sister’s house during my teen-aged years when I saw a neat row of slim Doonesbury paperbacks like Ask for May, Settle for June, As the Kid Goes for Broke, Do All Birders Have Bedroom Eyes, Dear? and lots of others.

The strip has always struck just the right blend of topical satire and ongoing, multi-generational soap opera for me. Trudeau can deal with challenging subjects – war, AIDS, divorce, unemployment, you name it – with grade, humor, and a wonderfully consistent tone. There’s really no such thing as a “very special Doonesbury.” They’re all pretty much special because of the affection and intelligence Trudeau applies, regardless of specific subject matter.

As I said, it’s said to me that there doesn’t seem to be a big, hulking Doonesbury collection that spans the strip’s history. The closest to that seems to be the Flashbacks: Twenty-Five Years of Doonesbury (Andres and McMeel), but it’s 15 years old and only 331 pages, so I’m not sure how comprehensive it can be. The publisher also lists it as “out of stock.” Why are some these great, ambitious strips so intermittently available in collected form?