Upcoming 12/2/2010

November 30, 2010

This week’s ComicList is dominated by the one and only Osamu Tezuka.

I’ve been reading Tezuka’s Ayako (a review copy provided by the publisher, Vertical), and it’s intriguing. Tezuka is viewing the turbulent, post-World War II period in Japanese history through the lens of a troubled family of landed gentry trying to hold onto their resources, if not their dignity. As the publisher notes, the book is “[u]nusually devoid of cartoon premises yet shot through with dark voyeuristic humor.”

Of the crazy Tezuka available in English, it’s the most realistic in terms of the events it portrays. The narrative certainly relies on extremities of human cruelty, greed, and depravity, but people don’t turn into dogs or display implausible aptitudes for disguise and sexual irresistibility or scheme to destroy all men. Admirable as Tezuka always is, even when modeling relative restraint, I’m finding I miss the extremities… the moments when I ask myself if I really just read that and going back a few pages to make sure. I suspect Ayako is a book that will require a couple of readings to really absorb what it’s trying to convey.

It ran in Shogakukan’s Big Comic from January 1972 to June 1973.

Elsewhere in comics, Brandon Graham’s terrific King City (Image) reaches its conclusion with its 12th issue. It looks really great in pamphlet form, I have to say.

What looks good to you this week?

One Piece MMF: Day Two Links

November 30, 2010

The Reverse Thieves argue that, in One Piece, Nakama are Stronger than Justice.

Sam (A Life in Panels) Kusek continues his Straw Hat/Lantern Corps mash-up with a new look for that awesomely compassionate reindeer, Tony Tony Chopper.

ABCBTom gets political with a look at Baroque Works and Collective Action Problems.

The latest of animemiz’s scribblings contemplates matters … of epicness and greatness… Waters 7 to Thriller Bark.

Erica (Okazu) Friedman sidles up to the podium for the catchy number known as MMF: Un, Deux, Trois; the Friend’s Waltz in One Piece.

MMF: Un, Deux, Trois; the Friend’s Waltz in One Piece

November 29, 2010

By Erica (Okazu) Friedman

One Piece is like Dickens’s Oliver Twist, or Frank Herbert’s Dune. Something you know about, something you know you ought to read, because it’s clearly insanely popular around the world, but somehow intimidating and maybe even off-putting precisely because it’s so popular.

Aside from the sheer number of volumes, there’s the art. It’s so…screwball. It’s hard to take a story about a rubber pirate with enormous goofy grins and elongated limbs seriously. And even setting the lead character aside (which you cannot do, not even for a second,) there are his enemies – clowns, zombies, angels… the list of goofy goes on and on. It’s totally understandable to not know where to start or why you should even bother. Many of the other MMF reviews are going to explain that to you – I’m not going to try and convince you that the goofy art is to distract the target audience of young boys from the incredible writing and character development. I’m not going to dwell on the sheer emotional bombardment of Nami’s or Robin’s (or Zorro’s or Usopp’s or Sanji’s or Franky’s or Chopper’s) backstories. I’m not going to talk about the craft of storytelling that is expressed in One Piece in such a refined manner that you don’t even notice it. I won’t write about how Oda is, in my opinion, the best writer in manga today.

What I’d like to do, instead, is talk about a theme that is so beaten to death in shounen manga it’s a cliche of a cliche – friendship. Is there a shounen manga (especially a Shonen Jump manga) series that doesn’t trot out friendship and teamwork as a key element? And yet. And yet. In One Piece it’s more than that.

There is a character who appears in Chapter 129. That’s pretty far into the series. His name is Mr. 2 Bon Clay. The “Mr. 2” appellation lets you know that he’s one of the bad guys of this arc, a member of the Baroque Works. His appearance is… distressing. He looks like a badly shaven man wearing garish and poorly applied make-up, swans on his shoulders and stubbly, naked legs that protrude awkwardly from a very ugly pantaloons. His long jacket proclaims in Japanese おかま道, Okama Way – the path of the cross-dresser. He is clearly meant as a figure of ridicule and gender misalignment. Only…he’s not. Mr. 2 is never made fun of. His powers are not slandered as being “effeminate.” He’s dealt with by Luffy the exact same way Luffy deals with everything and everyone else – 1) Can I eat it? Yes/No. 2) If I can’t eat it, is it funny? Yes/No 3) If it’s funny, does it want to be my friend? Yes/No.

Luffy cheerfully proclaims Mr. 2 to be his friend. And then it all goes wrong. Luffy and his crew are attacked by the very Baroque Works that Mr. 2 works for. It’s all over for the Mugiwara Pirates! Until Mr. 2 does something unexpected. Unthinkable in a comic book “for children”… Mr. 2 sacrifices himself to save Luffy and the others. In the middle of a battle against his own people, Mr. 2 defects to save his *friend.*

Now, I don’t want you to mistake this sentiment. Mr. 2 is not suffering from low self-esteem on account of his gender identity. In fact, as he sings in his wonderful image song, because he is both man and woman he is the STRONGEST!


But I’m a man who is a woman
So I’m the strongest (the strongest)
The strongest (strongest!)

Mr. 2 is not lost, alone, desperate for a friend and pathetically glad to have Luffy’s acceptance. Hell no, he is the STRONGEST and when someone as funny and strong as Luffy is his friend, that means something. He’s a man and woman of his word.

So, why does Mr. 2 react the way he does? Because he can see that Luffy is someone who will go to the mat for him. And Luffy does. Luffy, standing on top of Arlong Park has put himself and every member of his crew on the line to redeem Nami. And again, when Luffy leads to the team to Alabaster because Vivi wants to save her country…and again when Robin has been taken to Enies Lobby in a scene so filled with emotion that I can’t even type about it without choking up. Luffy is just that kind of guy – and so is Mr. 2. Mr. 2 is all Swan Lake, until he’s busting someone’s ass with Swan Kenpo. Mr. 2, a character that in any other series would be unlovable, unloved, mocked, tormented and ridiculed is, in One Piece, a paragon of friendship. And when he returns from the dead (which they all do, this *is* a shounen manga, after all,) he still values that friendship above all other loyalties.

And that, my friends, is why he – and his good friend Luffy – are the STRONGEST.

I can’t make you want to read One Piece. I won’t try.

I’ll just say this – Mr. 2, a minor side character in a series slammed chockful of minor side characters, is awesome. One Piece is so good that it is totally worth reading 52 volumes until you find out just how awesome he is.

One Piece MMF: Day One Links

November 29, 2010

ABCBTom upped the game with five parts of “a paper on One Piece for the Graphic Engagement seminar on the politics of comics at Purdue University.” Here they are, with more to come:

  • Why One Piece?
  • What is shounen?
  • The Shounen Formula
  • One Piece‘s Formula
  • East Blue Arc
  • Sean (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Gaffney looked at the stories within the stories, the mini-arcs Oda sometimes creates in the chapter title pages:

  • MMF: One Piece
  • Sam (A Life in Panels) Kusek takes a fusion approach, crossing the streams of Viz and DC:

  • One Piece MMF: Introduction Piece, so you know what I’m up to…
  • In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night (Luffy D. Monkey’s Green Lantern)
  • Rob (Panel Patter) McMonigal learns a universal truth: “If I hadn’t been sold on the series by then, clown pirates hooked me.”

  • One Piece Volume 1
  • And last but not least, Khursten (Otaku Champloo) Santos takes a lovely look at the hurdles and rewards of getting into a 50+ volume series:

  • #10 One Piece by Eiichiro Oda

  • MMF: Setting sail

    November 28, 2010

    Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece (Viz) is a shônen manga about pirates. As a child, Luffy D. Monkey grows up in a seaside village that serves as a sort of off-duty destination for a group of pirates led by Red-Haired Shanks. Enthralled by the Red-Haired Pirates’ tales of adventure, Luffy determines to become a pirate himself, even after he encounters a less benevolent group of pirates.

    Since this is shônen manga, where dreams are nothing if not big, Luffy determines not only to become a pirate, but to become the king of the pirates and find the legendary treasure, the titular “One Piece.” Of course, Luffy has a bit of a handicap for a seafarer. He consumed one of the mysterious “devil fruits” that give those who consume them amazing, often bizarre powers but rob them of the ability to swim a stroke. And, if shônen is about big dreams, it’s also about overcoming obstacles. And an innate tendency to drown is certainly an obstacle for a pirate.

    Shônen manga is also about making friends, more often than not, and Luffy is a gregarious sort. While he starts with a raft and a souvenir hat from Shanks, he quickly acquires the beginnings of a crew and a sturdy ship for them to sail. He’ll need both as he sets off into increasingly dangerous waters and encounters with formidable rivals. But Luffy and crew are no slouches; they can hold their own in tough spots.

    If this all sounds like pretty standard adventure comics for boys, it doesn’t factor in Oda’s comedic idiosyncrasy or his facility for surprising drama. One Piece has big battle set pieces, but it doesn’t have the conventional storytelling rhythms of the genre. Oda rarely asks his audiences to endure any sequence that overstays its welcome. His ability to build appealing, sympathetic and diverse characters is matched by his sure hand with moving the narrative around though a number of different perspectives. Storylines can run for a number of volumes, but they never feel too long, since Oda can jump around with point of view so easily.

    The series is insanely commercially successful in Japan. According to Anime News Network,

    “The market survey firm Oricon reports that the 60th volume of Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece pirate manga sold 2,094,123 copies between its first official day of sales (November 4) and November 7. It is the first book to sell over 2 million copies in its first week of sales since Oricon began reporting its book ranking charts in April of 2008. This volume topped the previous first-week sales record held by the 59th volume, which sold 1,852,541 copies in August.”

    Oda seems to be making a hobby of new sales milestones. The series has a successful anime adaptation, and there have been a number of special book products supporting the franchise. But it’s hard not to conclude that its commercial success comes from genuine fondness. For all of Oda’s playing around with tone and narrative, it’s ultimately an old-fashioned, good-natured property. It’s perhaps not surprising that Oda cites Akira (Dragon Ball) Toriyama as an inspiration.

    One Piece has run in Shueisha’s Weekly Shônen Jump since 1997, and it’s part of the line-up of Viz’s Shonen Jump magazine, along with titles like Naruto and Bleach. It’s not nearly as popular in North America, though Viz did give it a run of accelerated release recently, allowing it to close in on its Japanese release schedule, not unlike the “Naruto Nation” initiative of a few years back. Perhaps some of the pieces that are posted this week will explore some of the reasons why the series isn’t a North American smash proportional to its hometown popularity.

    I’ll post daily link updates starting tomorrow, and I’ll update this blog page regularly as well. Please email me when you’ve posted something for the feast, and, if you’re on Twitter, use the #MMF hashtag if you think of it. I’m looking forward to reading and hearing everyone’s thoughts about this series!

    MMF begins tomorrow

    November 27, 2010

    Just as a reminder, the Manga Moveable Feast focusing on Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece (Viz) begins tomorrow and runs through Saturday, Dec. 4. Click here for details! Luffy? Any additional thoughts?

    License request day: Rainbow

    November 26, 2010

    I stumbled across this title while putting together this week’s letter in The Seinen Alphabet, and I felt the need to beg further, since it sounds really interesting. It’s called Rainbow: Risha Nokubo no Shichinin, written by George Abe and illustrated by Masasumi Kakizaki. Quoth Wikipedia:

    “The story is set in the 1950s and focuses on six junior delinquents aged sixteen to seventeen that are sent to the Shōnan Special Reform School. They learn to cope with the atrocities and unfairness they encounter there.”

    “The manga follows the boys’ lives during their time in the school and the years after they leave.”

    A period piece that takes an unflinching look at the juvenile justice system and its consequences? It would be like printing money! Or maybe not, but why not dream big?

    For another disadvantage, it’s 22 volumes long, having run for about 7 years in Shogakukan’s Young Sunday, until it was canceled, and then in Big Comic Spirits.

    Blog of the North Star thought very highly of the anime, though it may not have garnered a massive audience. Still, there is an anime, and it was legally available on FUNimation, so that’s a point in its favor.

    It shared 2006 Shogakukan Manga Award honors with Kaiiji Kawaguchi’s A Spirit in the Sun (Shogakukan), which sounds kind of like Forrest Gump with earthquakes. I could be wrong about that.


    November 25, 2010

    To celebrate Thanksgiving in the laziest way possible, I thought I would mention some ongoing comics that debuted (if only in print and in English) in 2010 so far for which I am grateful. And there’s still more than a month left.

    And here are some stand-alone works that made the year sparkle.

    The manga industry may be correcting itself, but we’re still getting great books, don’t you think? The images above are all linked to commentary of varying lengths. And added thanks to everyone who makes the comics blogosphere and twitterverse such a delightful place to visit.

    The Seinen Alphabet: R

    November 24, 2010

    “R” is for…

    Real (Viz), written and illustrated by Takehiko Inoue. Why not start with this best? This gorgeous, moving tale of wheelchair basketball players is one of the very best Japanese comics being published in English. It’s running in Shueisha’s Weekly Young Jump.

    Red Colored Elegy (Drawn & Quarterly), written and illustrated by Seiichi Hayashi. This gekiga title originally ran in the legendary Garo magazine and follows aimless youths as they try and navigate social turmoil and new sexual freedoms. It’s one of those books that I’m glad are available in English without really having any fondness for them.

    Red Snow (Drawn & Quarterly), written and illustrated by Susumu Katsumata. This gorgeous collection of short gekiga stories takes a bleak, magical-realist look at rural life. I believe many of them ran in Garo.

    Reiko the Zombie Shop (Dark Horse), written and illustrated by Rei Mikamoto. This 11-volume series about a nubile necromancer for hire hasn’t been published in English in its entirety. It originally ran in Bukansha’s Horror M. Correction: Reiko is actually a josei title. Someone remind me when I get to “R” in The Josei Alphabet in some misty, far-flung future era.

    R.O.D.: Read or Die (Viz), created by Shutaro Yamada based on the light-novel series by Hideyuki Kurata. It’s about the agents of the British Library’s Special Operations Division. It originally ran in Shueisha’s Ultra Jump. The anime adaptation is gorgeous. Even my husband likes it. I love that there are comics about action librarians, but I generally wish I liked them better.

    R.O.D.: Read or Dream (Viz), written by Kurata and illustrated by Ran Ayanaga. It’s a prequel related story to Read or Die about the Paper Sisters Detective Company, and it also ran in Ultra Jump.

    Robot is a Range Murata-curated anthology of experimental color comics, originally published by Digital Manga Publishing, then picked up by Udon. Update: Udon stopped publishing the series after the fifth issue, apparently.

    Remote (Tokyopop), written by Seimaru Amagi and illustrated by Tetsuya Koshiba. It’s about a new detective in the Unsolved Crimes Division, Special Unit B, and originally ran in Kodansha’s Young Magazine.

    On the unlicensed front, I’m most interested in Rideback, written and illustrated by Tetsuro Kasahara. My interest comes mostly from the fact that it was originally published in Shogakukan’s IKKI, which has generated a lot of interesting manga.

    Rainbow: Risha Nokubo no Shichinin, written by George Abe and illustrated by Masasumi Kakizaki, also sounds promising as it won a Shogakukan Manga Award. This period tale of reform school boys spent most of its run in Shogakukan’s Big Comic Spirits.

    I’m perfectly aware that there are other titles that start with this letter that have been licensed and published in English, but looking at their covers makes me tired. Feel free to mention them in the comments.

    What starts with “R” in your seinen alphabet?

    Upcoming 11/24/2010

    November 23, 2010

    The last time I wrote about 7 Billion Needles (Vertical), Nobuaki Tadano’s manga homage to Hal Clement’s Needle, I neglected to mention the retro cover design, which is terrific. You know that smell that used paperback stores have? The look of the book evokes that smell, and the proportions of the book support it. The contents of the book don’t quite evoke that pulpy nostalgia, but they hint at it, and they’ve got their own charms.

    In the second volume, Tadano inches forward with his meta approach to the tale of two warring aliens who crash on Earth and proceed to mess up the life of an isolated high-school girl and threaten the people around her. If Ultimo (Viz) is kind of a bland, accidentally creepy look at the endless battle between good and evil, 7 Billion Needles seems intent to play with the construct in ways that are perversely endearing. These moments aren’t the meat of the book, but they are the spice, and they’re welcome. They enliven what might otherwise be a standard, well-executed bit of violent angst.

    And it is well-executed, even without the twists on the formula. This time around, Hikaru confronts a trauma from her past. With the encouragement of her new friends, she goes to the village where she spent her childhood and confronts the reason she’s shut herself off from the people around her. Of course, the ostensibly heroic entity sharing her body and the monstrous being they battle complicate the sentimental journey with plenty of menacing action.

    This series really is a pleasant surprise. Of the four series Vertical has debuted this year, my expectations were probably lowest for 7 Billion Needles, but it’s smarter and more interesting than I had anticipated. Go read Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey’s review for a thoughtful take on the book.

    So what else is due this week? There’s the seventh issue of Secret Avengers (Marvel), a very enjoyable spin-off of a comics franchise I’ve long found really horrible, so that’s nice. It’s also one of the only successful attempts I’ve ever seen to make super-heroes “proactive.”

    There’s also the debut of Kakifly’s K-On (Yen Press), a well-liked four-panel comedy about a high-school music club. It originally ran in Houbunsha’s Manga Time Kiara Carat.

    What looks good to you?