November 30, 2009

This week’s Flipped is up. Just out of curiosity, is negatively reviewing a Tezuka comic a mortal sin or just a venal one? I’m guessing it’s mortal, but I also figure it probably doesn’t matter at this point in my distinguished career. I mean, I’d put Blankets and New Frontier on the list of the Best Books of the ’00s I Couldn’t Force Myself to Finish Reading, and I’ll never repent that, so I’ve probably got a one-way ticket straight to comics hell with my name on it.

As windy as this week’s column may seem, know that it’s the result of judicious editing on my part. I had this whole section mapped out about how, even though Swallowing has a lot of problems, you can see a lot of its ideas put to better use in Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, but then I realized that if one started writing about the ways Urasawa repurposes Tezuka (really, really well, I hasten to note), it would be a five-parter.

Quick requests

November 30, 2009

I know Friday is usually license request day, but when Matt Thorn stops by to list his five favorite manga of the current decade, you make an exception. Two are already being published in English and I’ve already made a plea for another, but that leaves two that sound amazing.

Wandering Son (Hourou musuko), by Takako Shimura, published by Enterbrain in Comic Beam: This one sounds very in the spirit of the Magnificent ‘49ers with its dramatic focus on gender identity and young love. According to Wikipedia, the series “depicts a young boy named Shūichi Nitori who wants to be a girl, and his friend Yoshino Takatsuki, a girl who wants to be a boy. The series deals with issues such as transsexuality, gender identity, and the beginning of puberty.” Comic Beam, as we all know, is a wellspring of terrific comics. Nine volumes have been produced so far.

With Or Without Me (Watashi ga itemo inakutemo), by Ryo Ikeumi, published by Shueisha in Margaret: Going by my awkward translations of the text on Amazon’s French site, this one’s about a young woman whose life changes forever when she runs into an old schoolmate, now a successful shôjo mangaka. From what I can discern, a very dramatic and complicated love triangle ensues over the three volumes of the series. It’s been published in French by Panini as Dites-moi que j’existe, which suggests a certain level of angst, you know?

In other Thorn-related news, the noted manga scholar examines the state of translation and… well… see for yourself.

Thanks in advance

November 27, 2009

If publishers would like to get a head start on making me thankful in 2010, here are five books that would go a really long way towards achieving that:

Fulfillment of any of my license requests would be appreciated, obviously, but these five are hovering at the top of my wish list at the moment.

Links to Great Manga Gift Guides

November 27, 2009

Lots of folks have posted their contributions to the Great Manga Gift Guide with varied approaches and a wide range of books. The easiest way to track them is to check the #gmgg hashtag over at Twitter, but I’ll post links here as often as post-Thanksgiving bloat permits. – Shojo – Shonen – Otaku – Gift Books

AICN Anime

All About Comics

animemiz’s sciribblings

A Radical Interpretation of the Text

Confessions of a Retconned Fangirl

Emily’s Random Shoujo Manga Page

Extremely Graphic

Extremely Graphic – The Adult Alternative



i ♥ manga


Joy Kim


Manga Bookshelf

Manga Maniac Cafe – Boys Love Edition

Manga Maniac Cafe – Fantasy Edition

Manga Maniac Cafe – For the Girls Edition

Manga Widget

Manga Worth Reading

Manga Xanadu


Otaku Ohana

Panel Patter

Poisoned Rationality

Precocious Curmudgeon

Sean Gaffney


The Manga Critic

yuri no boke

2009 Great Manga Gift Guide

November 26, 2009

With Black Friday just around the corner, you may be trying to think up gift ideas for greed season, and some people on your list may be open to receiving the gift of manga. Here are some possibilities for your consideration. I stress that friends don’t give friends comics unless that friend has expressed an interest in receiving them. If friends insist on doing that, they at least keep the receipt.

For the House fan in your life: Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack (Vertical). Decades before Hugh Laurie’s fictional physician was saving lives and alienating people, Tezuka’s outlaw surgeon was wrestling with bizarre maladies and guaranteeing that just about nobody liked him any better for it. You can pick up any volume of this series and not worry about being lost, since it’s all largely episodic. If you know someone with a taste for the medically gruesome and interpersonally abrasive, look no further.

For the foodie in your life: Oishinbo (Viz), written by Tetsu Kariya and illustrated by Hanasaki Akira. Aside from its microscopic attention to Japanese food and drink, this series lets you subdivide the recipient’s interests even further. Do they tipple? Try the Sake volume. Do they hold forth on buying locally and sustainably grown produce? There’s a volume for that. When you ask what they want for lunch, is their answer always “Sushi”? Do they blanch at the idea of a low-carbohydrate diet? Voila! As with Black Jack, there’s no real order to any of these volumes, so you can pick at random.

For the comic strip fan in your life: Kiyohiko Azuma’s Azumanga Daioh (Yen Press). I think I recommended this in a previous gift guide, but it’s still awesome, and Yen Press is coming out with a freshened translation and production in December, so I think I’m allowed to repeat myself. This massive tome collects Azuma’s very funny strips about a group of classmates making their way through high school, and it’s a great mix of the recognizable and the absurd.

For the autobiography buff/young artist/cultural historian in your life: Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life (Drawn & Quarterly). Tatsumi was one of the progenitors of gritty, grown-up comics in Japan, and the story of his evolution as an artist (and the associated evolution of comics publishing in Japan) is fascinating. For bonus points, Tatsumi opens a window on the economic and cultural evolution of postwar Japan as a whole.

For the fan of films in limited release in your life: Jiro Taniguchi’s A Distant Neighborhood (Fanfare/Ponent Mon). So you’re thinking of buying a graphic novel for someone you know who likes to read but isn’t entirely familiar with the whole “words and pictures” category. You know that Asterios Polyp is brilliant, but it’s so dense with visual reference that the recipient might not make it past the title page. Stitches is great, but it’s non-fiction and a big downer. But you’re determined. So why not try this beautifully drawn, undemanding tale of a middle-aged guy who gets the chance to relive his adolescence? It’s flipped, so there’s no barrier there, and the story should be very familiar from a number of similar examples. It’s smart but not too literary, it’s only two volumes long but still hefty enough to count as a decent gift, and the publisher deserves your money.

For the freak in your life: Junko Mizuno’s Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu (Last Gasp). Do you have a friend who’s forlornly waiting for the next installment of Prison Pit? Do you want to help them pass the time? Then really, anything by Mizuno qualifies for recommendation, but Pelu is her newest available-in-English work. I don’t know if this book is remotely appropriate for anyone not wholly conversant in alternative comics, but man, how could such people not love it? I certainly do. I think it’s my favorite comic of 2009.

For the Death Note fan in your life: Motoro Mase’s Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit (Viz). In her review of the series, Johanna Draper Carlson astutely noted the crossover potential between this series and the shônen mega-hit. Death Note has been over for a while, and many members of its audience may have reached the recommended age for this largely winning tale of government-sponsored murder. Try and keep it out of the hands of Glenn Beck fans, though, as they’ll turn it into a book of prophecy.

For the environmentalist in your life: Daisuke Igarashi’s Children of the Sea (Viz). Have you ever noticed how some pro-nature stories can be really preachy and shrill and have next to no attractive drawings in them? Do you know of someone who enjoys tales with this kind of message and want to support them in their interests, but you’re still scarred by Captain Planet and don’t know where to turn? Look no further than Igarashi’s gorgeous, seaside fable.

For the young fan of romantic fantasy in your life: Natsune Kawase’s The Lapis Lazuli Crown (CMX). If I had a teen-aged daughter (or son), I’d absolutely support them in just about whatever they chose to read. I’d probably voice my opinion about Black Bird, but I wouldn’t stop them from reading it. And my expression of that opinion might possibly spoil their fun in reading Black Bird, but I certainly couldn’t be held responsible for their overreaction to harmless, well-intended remarks that are entirely within my rights to state. And while they could spend their allowance on anything they wanted, they’d find this two-volume charmer in their stockings.

For the hardcore Japanophile in your life: Koji Kumeta’s Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei (Del Rey).This is one of the densest licensed comics from Japan you’re likely to find on a bookstore shelf. It’s packed with cultural references, scrupulously annotated in extensive end notes. It’s also very, very funny. I only get about a third of the jokes, and I still think it’s hilarious. Plus, I enjoy reading the annotations, so it’s really like getting two books in one. If you know someone who loves, loves, loves Japan and is still willing to giggle at its foibles, this is the gift for them.

Over at Okazu, Erica Friedman is tracking the various gift guides that will be unleashed upon an unsuspecting world over the next week or so.

The Shôjo-Sunjeong Alphabet: G

November 25, 2009

“G” is for…

What are some of your favorite shôjo and sunjeong titles that start with the letter “G”?

Pick five

November 24, 2009

Some people are surprised by the complete exclusion of comics from Japan from the A.V. Club’s list of the best comics of the ’00s. In the midst of all of the semantic discussion of when decades begin and end in the comments over at The Beat, the Club’s Noel Murray explains:

“There’s no manga largely because most of us only dabble in manga (at best), and if we even tried to acknowledge it we’d likely come off underinformed. (I did consider DRIFTING LIFE, though.)”

Moving on.

So for fun, why not pick five manga titles you think merit inclusion in such a list? Don’t overthink it. Just toss out the first five that pop into your head. I’ll start:

  • Sexy Voice and Robo by Iou Kuroda, Viz
  • MW by Osamu Tezuka, Vertical
  • Swan by Kyoko Ariyoshi, CMX
  • Antique Bakery by Fumi Yoshinaga, DMP
  • Planetes by Makoto Yukimura

  • Upcoming 11/25/2009

    November 24, 2009

    Time for a look at this week’s ComicList:

    CMX expands its line of endearing shôjo with the debut of Asuka Izumi’s The Lizard Prince. It’s about the complications that arise when a princess falls in love with a prince who occasionally turns into a lizard, and I really enjoyed the review copy that CMX sent. It’s one of those romantic series that’s more about sustaining a relationship in the face of obstacles than the advent of a romance. Strong-willed Princess Canary and softie Prince Sienna know they love each other; it’s just petty details like her reptile-averse mother, his mysterious background, and his not-entirely-controllable transformations that keep their happiness from being absolute. Part of the charm of the series is that Canary and Sienna really seem to enjoy tackling problems and working through them. Izumi’s art is very attractive, and she’s got a cheerful sense of humor that makes the stories breeze by.

    This one’s been in bookstores for over a month, but if you confine your graphic novel purchases to specialty shops, this is the week you can pick up Masayuki Ishikawa’s Moyasimon (Del Rey). Country boys Tadayasu and Kei enroll in agricultural college in the big city, where weirdness awaits. Tadayasu can see and speak to bacteria (or at least hear their chirpy prattle), making him an object of particular interest to the professor and handful of fellow students who know of his ability. Hard science and low comedy combine as Tadayasu and Kei learn about the power of bacteria and their sometimes disastrous impact on the digestive system. The series gets off to a solid if not riotous start, and I’ll certainly stick around to see how it develops. [Update: Johanna Draper Carlson has a theory on why it took so long for this book to reach shelves, along with a review.]

    Fanfare/Ponent Mon delivers two titles this week. There’s the second and final volume of Jiro Taniguchi’s A Distant Neighborhood, which I reviewed here. It’s very likable stuff, beautifully drawn by Taniguchi.

    There’s also the English-language debut of Willy Linhout’s Years of the Elephant. It’s about the aftermath of a young man’s suicide and the devastating impact on his family. According to the publisher, “The book was initially intended as self therapy to help Linthout deal with the loss of his son however, the originally modest project unleashed a flood of reactions and therapists now use the book as a recognised aid for coping with grief.” I picked it up at SPX, and I will duly move it to the top of the pile of things to read.

    Tokyopop makes me really happy by continuing its slow-but-appreciated roll-out of new volumes of Ai Morinaga’s Your and My Secret, in this case the fifth, a license originally held by ADV then left to limbo. It’s more mistaken-identity comedy about a horrible girl and a meek boy who switch bodies and alternately recoil at or revel in the consequences. For bonus points, this volume features a school trip to Hokkaido, one of my very favorite settings for manga and a place I hope to visit someday.

    I’m intrigued by This Ugly Yet Beautiful World just based on its title. It’s a manga adaptation by Ashita Morimi of an apparently popular anime by Gainax/Konomini Project. It sounds like your standard “dweebs meet amnesiac space princess” fare, but it’s got a great title. (Seriously, does Japan have an agency that deals with amnesiac space princesses? They could use one.)

    Compounded gratitude

    November 23, 2009

    I’m clearly in sync with Kate Dacey, which is always reassuring. Here’s her opening line from this week’s Shipping News post:

    “I’m not one for gratitude journals or other exercises in forced thanksgiving…”

    And here’s an early sentence from this week’s Flipped column:

    “I can’t say that it makes me particularly contemplative in the intended way, and I’m relieved that there’s no tradition in my family of going around the table and expressing individual gratitude before we can gorge.”

    We’re even grateful for some of the same things!

    Quick comic comments

    November 23, 2009

    I had a fruitful trip to the bookstore the other day, so I thought I’d celebrate by cranking out a couple of quick reviews:

    Cat Paradise volume 2, written and illustrated by Yuji Iwahara, Yen Press: After a fairly straightforward introductory volume, I was a bit surprised at how meta things got this time around. As the student council and their loyal cats continue to protect the world from demonic forces, Iwahara focuses on council member Tsukasa, who is a creepy little dork. He likes girls a lot, but he likes them in a patronizing way. This allows that thing where a creator can sort of mock a character that leers and condescends and teases while still featuring the leering and condescension and teasing. The criticism of the character, if that’s actually the intent instead of just giving part of the demographic a gateway character, is pretty thickly veiled. So the fan service is at a higher level than it was the first time around, and there’s also an increase in what might be called irrevocable violence. (Soft-hearted cat lovers beware.) I’m also of two minds on heroine Yumi. On one hand, it’s believable that she’s not a warrior by inclination and that she’d find these dangerous situations terrifying. (And I like that her milder nature leads her to question the council’s decisions and methodology.) On the other, she has a tendency to simper that can be a little grating. Still, there’s a lot to like in the series, particularly Iwahara’s concept of napping as a super-power.

    V.B. Rose volume 4, written and illustrated by Banri Hidaka, Tokyopop: After three volumes told largely from heroine Ageha’s perspective, it’s nice to spend one getting the point of view of her love interest, wunderkind gown designer Yukari. In a lot of romantic fiction, you only get the protagonist’s point of view, and the feelings of the object of that character’s desire are left opaque. That’s a perfectly fair approach, as it allows the creator to increase reader identification with the protagonist. After all, that’s how we all approach romantic entanglements, wondering if our feelings are reciprocated until the moment when we find out for good or ill. While Ageha, with her exuberance and excitability, is more than character enough to carry the romantic tension, it’s nice to see Hidaka reveal that Yukari is almost as complicated and not just a love object. (I say “almost” because Ageha has enjoyed three volumes of focus, and it’s unfair to expect Yukari to catch up so quickly.) For bonus points, Hidaka gives us more scenes with Ageha’s frighteningly poised friend Mamoru and her deceptively adorable brother. This sibling dynamic isn’t anything new, but I always enjoy it. And nice as it is to have a well-developed central couple, it’s even better to have them in the middle of an engaging crowd of friends and family.