License request day: Neighborhood Story

July 30, 2010

In observance of this week’s Paradise Kiss Manga Moveable Feast, I thought I’d extract a bit about the title’s prequel, Gokinjo Monogatari, from this more general request for… well, for more Ai Yazawa manga.

“Next is Gokinjo Monogatari, also originally serialized by Shueisha in Ribon. Aside from being a Yazawa creation, Gokinjo Monogatari (or Neighborhood Story) has the added allure of being a prequel to Paradise Kiss. (Okay, maybe “prequel” is the wrong word. That’s reserved for stories set earlier in continuity than the one that spawned them, right? Then again, since it would be published in English after Paradise Kiss, it would technically count as a prequel, right? Sorry. Moving on.) Mikako, the story’s protagonist, is the older sister of Miwako, one of the designers from Paradise Kiss. It follows the lives, loves and ambitions of students at Yazawa Arts, and nobody portrays young artists quite as well as Yazawa. It spanned seven volumes, so it wouldn’t lend itself to easy doubling, but seven is a lucky number. Delcourt has also published Neighborhood Story as Gokinjo: une vie de quartier.

“And since I’m on the subject of Yazawa, I’ll restate something I’m sure I’ve mentioned before. I would really love it if someone published a handsome omnibus of Paradise Kiss. At five volumes, it would be a bit chunky, but the story and style almost beg for high-end packaging, and it would be a great way to introduce the series to readers who may have missed it the first time around. If Tokyopop isn’t up for it, they could always partner with Dark Horse, which seems to be quite interested in repackaging super-stylish manga (mostly by CLAMP) in aesthetically worthy vessels.”


Backflipped: Paradise Kiss

July 29, 2010

The Manga Moveable Feast for Ai Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss is underway. As I sometimes like to do, I’m going to take a second look at a Flipped column I wrote at some point in 2005, I think. So heaven only knows how much freshening it’s going to require. Updates will appear bracketed in italic.

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There’s been a dust-up on the comics internet over the past week or so. It started at The Engine, Warren Ellis’s forum, with a discussion of Tokyopop’s contracts for the creators of its Original English Language manga. What started as a conversation about creators’ rights has spun off far and wide into sometimes heated exchanges over creativity, independence, and risk. It’s charged with generational conflict, creative philosophy, big dreams, and bitter experience. [Man, remember when Ellis was the hot club owner of the nerd internet and all the kids would hang out there? Probably not, but this was the first big controversial deal I remember coming out of The Engine, and it got nasty. This was back when people cared about manga-ka being appropriately compensated before the current post-legal era. Also, I’m older than Warren Ellis, which is depressing, but what can you do? Still, nobody should be older than Warren Ellis except maybe Alan Moore.]

Throw in some sex and wry humor, and it would make a pretty terrific manga. Add some gorgeous art, and you’d have Ai Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss.

Nana, Yazawa’s current series, is getting lots of buzz lately. It’s a perennial best-seller in Japan, with a recently released live-action movie. It’s currently being serialized in Viz’s Shojo Beat, and I like what I’ve seen. But I’ve decided to go the tankoubon route, preferring to consume my manga in digest-sized chunks rather than monthly chapters. [This ended up being not entirely true, as I did intermittently pick up a copy of Shojo Beat every now and then, so I’m not really responsible for the demise of the magazine. I particularly renewed my devotion when Honey and Clover and Sand Chronicles launched. Why is it taking Viz so long to start a Shojo Beat web portal? Do they not think that teen-aged girls and middle-aged gay men like to sample comics online?]

So I’ll have to content myself with frequent readings of Paradise Kiss, which has a lot of things going for it. I can think of ten right off the top of my head:

1. The art. Paradise Kiss is glorious to look at, which is only apt with its high-fashion milieu. Yazawa’s character designs are terrific, richly detailed and endlessly expressive. Settings are vivid and rendered with care. While Yazawa employs some familiar shôjo techniques, her work doesn’t look like any other shôjo title on the shelves. There’s a much higher panel count than average, but pages still have the fluidity and elegance of composition that characterizes the best shôjo. At the same time, it has an edge to it that’s surprising. And while Yazawa clearly adores rendering all kinds of couture, her illustrations are never fashion-spread flat. She may revel in an eye-popping outfit, but she never forgets the person wearing it. [I think Yazawa may have improved slightly between Paradise Kiss and Nana, but she may just have hired a larger staff of assistants to take some of the load off.]

2. The plot. Stripped to its bones, the plot of Paradise Kiss sounds like magic-girl manga. An average schoolgirl is swept into a world of creation and illusion, surrounded by mysterious, exotic people, finding hidden strengths and romance along the way. In this case, though, it’s cranky, middling student Yukari discovering the transformative power of style and passion. The exotics are student designers at Yazawa School for the Arts, who want leggy Yukari to model for them in a competition. As Yukari spends more and more time with the designers of Paradise Kiss, she questions her priorities. Her world view expands, and she finds the courage to chart her own course in life. It’s really that simple, but Yazawa fleshes it out with poignant emotional detail. [There’s also the prince-bad boy dyad of love interests, which is very popular in some magic-girl stories. Will Yukari connect with the ostensibly ideal but possibly dull guy from her class, or will she make it work with the hot, conceited bisexual clothing designer? Oh, we all know the answer to that before Yazawa even tells us, don’t we?]

3. Yukari. Nicknamed Caroline by her new friends, Yukari isn’t always the most agreeable tour guide. She’s short-tempered, sarcastic, and given to hysterics. She makes bad choices and acts rashly. But she learns, taking responsibility for her actions and doing her best to stick to her decisions. Over the course of the manga’s five volumes, she goes from pretty kid to lovely person, and it’s a pleasure to watch it unfold.

4. Miwako. At first glance, the reader might be justified in cringing at the sight of wide-eyed, childlike Miwako and wince at her tendency to refer to herself in the third person. But before you can write her off as another cutesy kewpie doll, it becomes evident that there are all kinds of layers under the ribbons and curls. She’s got a heart of gold and a spine of steel, and her friendship with Yukari is genuinely touching. Her relationship with ill-tempered punk Arashi is equally surprising. Their connection is conflicted, but it’s very layered and mature. In spite of her doll-like appearance and demeanor, she carries a lot of the book’s emotional weight like a champ. [While I like Arashi and Miwako’s moments of conflicts and connection, I actually think I prefer the bits where George willfully triggers Arashi’s gay panic. I love seeing fictional gay guys’ egos get the better of them to the point that they actually believe someone of George’s impeccable standards would be attracted to them.]

5. Isabella. I was initially a bit annoyed by the suspicion that Isabella, the elegant transvestite, would stay too far in the background, looking lovely and composed and not doing much of anything. And while it’s true that she gets the least amount of time in the spotlight, well, somebody has to be the grown-up in this crowd. Isabella is the quiet, reassuring eye of a storm of self-reinvention, and it makes perfect sense. Isabella has already reinvented herself to her own satisfaction, so who better to nurture her works-in-progress friends?

6. Hiro. In many other shôjo stories, Hiro would be the… well… hero. He’s handsome, popular, studious, and kind. It’s a testament to the appealing weirdness of the Yazawa Arts crowd that Hiro is left spending most of his time on the margins, worrying over Yukari’s well-being and future. But there’s something compelling about his decency, and I found myself rooting for him every time he appeared. He isn’t the flashiest character, but he strikes a chord.

7. The faces. When characters cry in Paradise Kiss, their soulful eyes don’t glisten with aesthetically pleasing tears. They cry ugly, faces contorted with frustration and sorrow. When they laugh, you can hear it. A blush isn’t just a flattering flutter of shadow across the cheekbones. Yazawa’s characters feel big and show it, which brings readers even further into their emotional states.

8. The complexity. Those emotional states aren’t cut and dried. Yukari embarks on an ill-advised romance with suave, bisexual George, the creative force behind Paradise Kiss and owner of a set of designer emotional baggage. While a lot of shôjo romances make mileage out of those standby traumas – Does he love me? Does he even know I’m alive? – Paradise Kiss asks harder questions. Yukari is swept away by George’s charm even as she’s repelled by his arrogance. She doesn’t wonder if George loves her so much as if he loves her enough, and she isn’t proud of what she’s doing to herself to be with him. It’s not a question of “will-they/won’t-they”; it’s more “should they?” [By “complexity,” I also mean “sadness,” because things don’t end the way you might expect them to in a manga of this category. There’s real disappointment and pain, though everything ends up being for the best, which is a really rare argument for a shôjo manga-ka to make.]

9. The words. I wonder sometimes if I don’t give enough credit to the translators and adaptors who work in the manga industry. Part of it comes from my complete inability to read Japanese, so I’m reluctant to single out that part of the process when I can’t make any kind of informed comparison. But the group responsible for the English-language of Paradise Kiss has given readers a sharp, layered script. The characters have distinct voices. The comedy has punch, and the drama is rich with memorable turns of phrase.

10. Holes in the fourth wall. I’m usually a big fan of the fourth wall, and I can find coy meta references a little irritating. But Yazawa has a real facility for these moments, when her characters wink at the audience. They make for some delightful levity, and given the hyper-dramatic nature of her cast, they make a weird kind of sense. Instead of undermining the world of the manga, they contribute to its charm and even its coherence. (And if Yazawa didn’t indulge in them, I’d have been deprived of the exchange where Isabella tells George that he’s failing to live up to the manga hero standard.)

So if, like me, you’re waiting for the trade on Nana, you should really consider wiling away the weeks with Paradise Kiss. It’s an engrossing, unconventional shôjo.

[I sort of neglected George in this, didn’t I? One would conclude that I don’t like him, or that he ranks eleventh or lower. I don’t really dislike George, but he always felt more like a catalyst in terms of this particular story. To my thinking, this is because he’s the character with the clearest view of what his future will be like. He’s written the interviews and can hear the glowing reviews in his head. There are variables in this future, and I don’t think he’s biding his time with Yukari. I genuinely believe that he’s open to a future with her, but I also believe he recognizes the possibility that she won’t be a part of the future he imagines for himself. He feels for her, but she’s not one of the givens of his future. I think that’s a fascinating stance for a character to assume, but it doesn’t make him immediately likable, if that makes any sense.
[I’m sure there’s fan fiction that features George’s future romantic misfortunes, and there’s probably stacks of doujinshi that features a full range of possible boyfriends for him. I’d be willing to read them, especially if they believably portray him getting his heart broken.]


Guest review: Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime

July 28, 2010

By Erica (Okazu) Friedman

Is there anything more delicious than a really juicy story?

Tohko Amano, self-styled “Book Girl,” doesn’t think so. And to indulge her passion for delicious snacks, she’s grabbed underclassman Konoha Ionue to write for her. Indulge she does, as she *actually* eats what she reads.

As a member of the Book Club, Konoha rapidly becomes used to Tohko’s idiosyncracies, foibles, habits and other words that mean “Tohko’s a strange bird.” But Konoha was totally unprepared to find himself writing love letters for a first-year student… or to find that the recipient of these love letters doesn’t actually exist.

Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime is a series of slightly too many plot twists strung together like beads, to form a complete, eccentric whole. Sketch-like illustrations add to the atmosphere of reading one of Konoha’s handwritten “snack” stories.

Fans of the Suzumiya Haruhi novel series are likely to find the combination of Konoha’s sarcastic, not-quite-milquetoast personality and Tohko’s overbearing weirdness (and the subtle tension between them) to be a familiar – and entertaining – formula. Fans of books about books, such as the Dante Club, or Name of The Rose and fans of the ROD series are also likely to find this series worth a read.

As a fan of all of the above, I personally found the novel engaging from the first word to the last – something I can honestly say about very, very few light novels – heck about very few *anything* these days.

The subject matter, as the title suggests, is grim in places, but I can’t think of too many teens for whom this would be a traumatic read… and the subtext of the story is about redemption and being weird yet functional, in a totally honest-to-yourself way. Although the age rating is 15+ because of the subject of suicide, I myself would have enjoyed it at a much earlier age.

Yen Press has given this series a fetching YA-novel look, and without the baggage of an a priori anime or manga fandom, this series has a good chance of just being appreciated for what it is – good teen lit.

I’d recommend this book highly to any book-y teen or precocious pre-teen or any adult that isn’t turned off by the idea of reading teen lit.

Bottom line – I enjoyed the heck out of this book and eagerly await the next one in the series.


Upcoming 7/28/2010

July 27, 2010

There’s a perfectly mammoth volume to this week’s ComicList, and a lot of it looks really good. I’ll just take things as they come in alphabetical order.

It’s a big week for Del Rey, which has revised its web site and is now seemingly impossible to navigate in terms of finding information about specific books. Let’s head over to the Random House site instead. There you can find details on the omnibus collection of the last three volumes of Mushishi, written and illustrated by Yuki Urushibara. I love this episodic series of environmental folklore stories. It’s been the subject of a Manga Moveable Feast, hosted by Ed Sizemore at Manga Worth Reading. I’m a little bit behind on Koji Kumeta’s very enjoyable satire, Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, which sees its seventh volume released on Wednesday. And I was pleasantly surprised by the oh-so-formulaic-sounding Code: Breaker, written and illustrated by Akimine Kamijyo.

You can call pretty much any book from Fanfare/Ponent Mon either “eagerly awaited” or “long-awaited.” Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators has been in the pipeline for years, and it’s finally due in comic shops, which is very exciting. It features “[twelve] insightful short graphic stories into the “Hermit Kingdom”, six by European and six by indigenous creators, including award winning Park Heung-yong and “Best Manga 2006” artist Vanyda.” I’m equally excited about the second volume of The Summit of the Gods, written by Baku Yumemakura and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi. It’s about mysteries and manly mountain climbers circling around Mt. Everest, and it’s very beautifully drawn. (I know I pre-ordered both of these, yet they don’t seem to be arriving at my local comic shop, which I hope is just a function of warehouse weirdness at Diamond and not something… ahem… local.)

I’m surprised by how much I’m liking Marvel’s Secret Avengers, written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Mike Deodato. It’s always nice to see super-heroes behaving like well-intentioned professionals, and this may be the first time that the “proactive super-team” concept has actually worked. I’m not entirely sold on Deodato’s mildly cheesecake-y art, and Valkyrie’s braids are completely insane, but it’s a minor quibble.

Comics by Osamu Tezuka are always a welcome pleasure, and that certainly includes his episodic medical melodrama, Black Jack, about a mercenary surgeon dealing with more bizarre maladies than House could ever have imagined. The 12th volume arrives Wednesday.

Viz offers quite the mixture of titles from along the quality spectrum, so I’ll focus on the good and/or promising. Personal highlights include the 20th volume of Hikaru no Go, written by Yumi Hotta and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, and the fifth volume of Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You, written and illustrated by Karuho Shiina. On the confirmed debut front is Bakuman, written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by the aforementioned Obata. This one’s by the creators of Death Note, which is still selling tons of copies ages after the series concluded. That series was about using a notebook to rule the world. This one’s about using a sketch pad to make lots of money: “verage student Moritaka Mashiro enjoys drawing for fun. When his classmate and aspiring writer Akito Takagi discovers his talent, he begs Moritaka to team up with him as a manga-creating duo. But what exactly does it take to make it in the manga-publishing world?” If anyone should know, it’s these two.


Link of the day

July 27, 2010

Over at The Comics Journal, Shaenon Garrity has published a perfectly gorgeous interview with Moto Hagio:

MH: In America, comics were always seen as a boys’ thing?

SG: Yes, or at least that was the case for many years.

MH: So now there’s a great big market opening up.

It’s really the only thing you need to read today.


From the stack: Alice the 101st

July 26, 2010

Back when Digital Manga was switching from being an edgy, seinen-focused publisher to a purveyor of boys’-love and yaoi, one of their first Juné titles was Chigusa Kawai’s La Esperança. It’s seven volumes of exceedingly chaste romance between two of the moodiest boys you’re ever likely to find at a private school somewhere in the more scenic parts of Europe that’s kind of like a high-end Epcot. The lack of physicality to the romance may be explained by the fact that it was originally serialized in Shinshokan’s Wings magazine, which seems to traffic more in suggestion than explication. (It also traffics in awesome comics like Fumi Yoshinaga’s Antique Bakery and Flower of Life. And it traffics in cheese-cart casts of attractive men, offering varieties designed to maximize the chance of reader enchantment.)

Digital Manga’s new Kawai title, Alice the 101st, seems even less romantically inclined, but it gets off to a very nice start thanks to the creator’s engaging characters and gorgeous art.

It’s about an elite music school, also in one of the more scenic parts of Europe, because Kawai loves her grand arches and spires, and she draws the hell out of them. She also likes her youthful characters, and they end up looking even cuter against the imposing hallways and elegant chambers of scenic Europe. The most cherubic member of the student body is Aristide Lang, who lags far behind his classmates in terms of technique or fundamentals. He can’t even read music. (Kate Dacey, who knows from technique and classical repertoire, shares some thoughts on the title’s musicality in her review.)

So why is he here? Well, his father was a gifted violinist, and Aristide does seem to have some innate talent, though it only emerges on certain pieces of music. Some of his teachers are understandably frustrated, and his classmates are alternately intrigued and annoyed that this late-coming amateur made the cut, even motivating the school to make a special admission and add one to their usual 100-student limit. On the whole, even Aristide doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing there, just that important adults in his life wanted it for him. That’s a realistic note.

I like that Kawai isn’t particularly unkind to the people who find Aristide’s presence annoying. They’re kind of jerky as a rule, but it seems like Kawai understands their point. None of them turn from detractors to cheerleaders in the first volume, and there’s a nice sequence illustrating one of Aristide’s teachers progressing from derision to acceptance. It seems clear that the teacher more or less resigns himself to Aristide’s presence rather than entirely bowing to the boy’s hidden brilliance. It’s clever stuff.

And Aristide does have his advocates. There’s his nerdy room-mate (a four-eyes without the glasses), and an older student who takes a teasing interest in the kid he calls “Alice.” (One of the best jokes in the series, at least for me, was the fact that the older student gave up the violin for the viola. The horror!) The cadre of friends and foes will undoubtedly offer plenty of friend-maybe-more geometry, with various students taking sides and gazing with innocent longing at their peers.

Kawai also created a one-volume boys’-love vampire series, written by Isaya Takamori and published in English as I Want to Bite (DokiDoki). I’m not going to run out and track down vampire yaoi, but I’m sure it has its audience (which probably doesn’t include me), and I’m sure it at looks great.


The news so far

July 23, 2010

Updated: Awesome as the two titles below sound, Yen Press pulled into the lead of winning Comic Con International by announcing the following license:

Yes, they will be publishing Kaoru (Emma) Mori’s Otoyomegatari, which moves Yen into the august group of publishers who have fulfilled one of my license requests. Others include Vertical and NBM.

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Updated again: But the Mori book still holds the top spot. Brigid (Robot 6) Alverson reports on a couple of upcoming books by Shigeru (GeGeGe no Kitaro) Mizuki from Drawn & Quarterly. At least one has been published in French by Cornélius. With the other, I’m not sure what the original Japanese title might have been or how it might have been translated. Sounds dramatic, though. Updated: It was confirmed for me that the second book has also been published in French.

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They may not have been on my wish list, but Comic Con International has already yielded two really interesting-sounding licenses, so we’ll take the week off from requests in favor of pointing you towards more information on these announcements.

Vertical will be publishing Usumaru Furuya’s Lychee Light Club. Brigid Alverson has the details at Robot 6. Maybe this will do really well, and someone will decide to rescue Furuya’s 51 Ways to Save Her. Think of the headline puns!

Brigid also has details and some preview pages of Masahiko Matsumoto’s Cigarette Girl, due out from Top Shelf, who seems to want to give Drawn & Quarterly a run for their gekiga money. Competition is healthy!