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.