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.

License request day: GeGeGe no Kitaro

November 20, 2009

You know what yôkai are, right? Mysterious, morally ambiguous sort-of-demons that crop up all over Japanese folklore? Chances are you do, even if you don’t automatically identify them by that term, because they’re all over manga. One of the reasons for that ubiquity is the subject of today’s license request, suggested by Kate Dacey.

According to Wikipedia, Shigeru Mizuki’s GeGeGe no Kitaro gets the credit for pushing yôkai into the pop-culture spotlight, at least in terms of manga. It was originally created for the manga rental market in 1959, then serialized in the late 1960s in some of Kodansha’s shônen magazines. It ended up being nine volumes long, and it’s been republished in other formats, as will happen with really popular series.

Our hero, Kitaro, is one of those supernatural types that just want everyone to be friends, Casper the friendly yôkai, if you will. He uses a wild arsenal of weapons and body parts to protect humans from the schemes of his kinfolk, aided by his father, a disembodied eyeball. There’s also his rat-like companion who hasn’t bathed in over 300 years and, for balance, a cat girl, plus lots of other yôkai, including an elderly landlady type. Among the things that almost always make comics better are elderly landlady types.

Three volumes of the series were published as a part of the defunct, possibly cursed Kodansha Bilingual Comics initiative. I say “possibly cursed” because, well-intentioned as the effort may have been, it’s left some really terrific-sounding comics in licensing limbo. Doraemon, [Update: KBC can’t be blamed for that one.] Sazae-San, Section Chief Kôsaku Shima, and others are hanging out in this foreboding realm, so it’s hard not to view Kodansha Bilingual Comics with some superstition. (Of course, it’s also handy to trawl through their catalog and find entries for this feature.)

The series has been published in French as Kitaro le repoussant by Editions Cornélius. Pika Edition has published Mizuki’s two-volume Yôkai : Dictionnaire des monstres japonais. This is not to be confused with Kodansha International’s Yôkai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide, by Matt Alt and Hiroko Yoda, but if you can’t read French or Japanese, it might be a good starting point. (It shows up as a result for Mizuki when you search on Amazon.)

Gift ’til it hurts

November 19, 2009

I’m glad The New York Times is devoting more coverage to comics and graphic novels, I really am. It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that their reportage consisted of recycled, rah-rah press releases from Marvel and DC. Now we get a weekly graphic book best seller list (which, say what you will, is no more opaque or arcane in its methodology than most of the other ones) and a fair number of meaty pieces from George Gene Gustines.

What we don’t get, at least not yet, is much qualitative discussion of comics from Japan. When you walk into the average bookstore and see at least half of the graphic-novel shelf space devoted to these comics, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect at least some coverage of the category beyond sales figures supplemented by sometimes carelessly written plot summaries (which are better than no content descriptions at all, obviously, but only just). At the same time, I don’t really want to force anyone to write about something that doesn’t interest them, because the outcome from that sort of thing never serves anyone very well.

But I must admit to a certain degree of irritation when I saw this Gift Guide of 2009 Graphic Novels and didn’t see a single comic from Japan. After venting on Twitter, Erica Friedman (@Yuricon) sagely suggested that manga bloggers just do it themselves. I’ll be posting mine on Thanksgiving Day (just in time for Black Friday), and I would be happy to link to anyone else’s suggestions or host yours if you don’t have a blog of your own. Just drop me a line at davidpwelsh at yahoo dot com if you’d like to throw out some recommended manga for the nerds (or non-nerds) in all of our lives.

Quote of the day

November 18, 2009

“Eve’s cleavage and measurements also concern her.”

(From an article in the Fond du Lac Reporter on wary response to graphic-novel renderings of scripture, one recent example in particular.)

Monkey business

November 18, 2009

During last week’s round of perfectly justified disdain over the latest list of comics you can use to convert your female significant other to the one true hobby, Neil Gaiman also turned a year older, and I almost posted something in the Birthday Book category about how people who like comics should really read his Sandman series (Vertigo) when they get a chance, but is it really the first comic you’d hand to someone who’s never read a comic before? (Sandman almost always shows up on these lists, and it could be a good choice with the right victim. If the unwashed is into prose fantasy, chances are that person may have read one of Gaiman’s novels, and noting that Gaiman has also written a highly regarded, widely available comic book that covers many of his usual themes seems like one of the fairer conversion gambits out there.) I decided not to write it, because it seemed like too much work and not in the spirit of the Birthday Book shout-out, but I remained sorely tempted to simultaneously sing the title’s praises and express skepticism about comics evangelism, because how often do you get to do both at once?

Over at NPR’s excellent Monkey See blog, Glen Weldon has done precisely what I’d kind of thought about doing last week, but with much more rigor than I would have managed:

“But here’s the thing you don’t often hear about Gaiman’s series, which ran for 75 issues, helped establish and grow the marketplace for comics aimed at adults, and remains one of the most literate, imaginative and intricately plotted accomplishments in long-form comics storytelling out there:

“Its barrier-to-entry is remarkably high.”

Good stuff.