LaLa DX license requests

December 31, 2010

Hakusensha’s LaLa DX has given the world some charming comics: Natsume’s Book of Friends (Viz), The Lapis Lazuli Crown (CMX), The Palette of 12 Secret Colors (CMX), The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko (Tokyopop), etc. How about some more from that menu?

We could start with Akane Ogura’s Zettai Heiwa Daisakusen. It’s about the engagement of the children of two warring kings, brought together to secure peace between their nations. And they apparently hate each other. It’s up to three volumes and is currently running in the magazine.

All I know about Junai Station is that it’s the debut work of Kei Tanaka and that it’s one volume long, but the cover is adorable.

How many comics about royals going undercover to investigate their arranged betrothed does one magazine need? LaLa DX already had A Tale of an Unknown Country (CMX), and it also had Himitsu no Himegimi Uwasa no Ouji, written and illustrated by Mato Kauta. In this instance, the princess disguises herself as a boy to see just how horrible her intended really is.

And lest we overdose on the lighthearted cuteness, I’ll throw Yuki Midorikawa’s Hiiro no Isu into the mix. Midorikawa is rightly admired for Natsume’s Book of Friends, so it seems like barely a risk to pick up another of her titles. This one’s about a young martial artist trying to solve a royal mystery.

Do you have any particular LaLa DX titles on your wish list?


This year, next year

December 30, 2010

The indefatigable Deb (About.Com) Aoki has rounded up and ranked critics’ choices for the Best Manga of 2010, and it’s a fine and varied list. I’d also like to point you to Deb’s picks for Best Continuing Manga of 2010, since there’s a lot of overlap between her favorites and mine. I’m particularly pleased by her inclusion of Kaoru Tada’s Itazura na Kiss (Digital Manga); I did some catch-up reading on that one over the weekend, and it just gets better as it goes along.

Looking at Deb’s previews of promising manga due in 2011, I can’t help but pick the five that sound best to me, even if some of them counted as my most anticipated in 2010:

and one that wasn’t on Deb’s list, but I’m very eager to read:

Did some of your favorites from this year not make the critics’ round-up or Deb’s list of ongoing series? What about exciting books due in 2011?


The Seinen Alphabet: V

December 29, 2010

“V” is for… well, not very much, when you make a conscious choice to ignore “Vampire” and “Virgin,” but that’s just how I roll.

Vagabond (Viz), written and illustrated by Takehiko Inoue. This is one of those Japanese comics that’s highly regarded both by manga devotees and by comics omnivores, though I think that’s generally true of all of Inoue’s work. Vagabond, which is still running in Kodansha’s Morning, though I believe it’s on hiautus, tells the tale of the “quintessential warrior-philosopher.”

Mizu Sahara adapted a one-volume manga of Makoto Shinkai’s animated film, The Voices of a Distant Star. The manga was originally published in Kodansha’s Afternoon, and it was later published in English by Tokyopop.

Lots of people would love for someone to publish Makoto (Planetes) Yukimura’s Vinland Saga, myself included. This sprawling tale of Vikings is still running in Kodansha’s Afternoon.

“V” is also for Viz, obviously, still barreling along as North America’s major manga publisher. It’s jointly owned by Shogakukan and Shueisha, and Viz makes a great deal of seinen manga available for free online in the form of its SigIKKI initiative.

And nobody should ever overlook Vertical, which initially made its manga name by focusing on classic works by Osamu Tezuka and Keiko Takemiya, but has recently begun publishing more contemporary (but still excellent) works, in addition to its prose fiction and non-fiction catalog.

Update:

On Twitter, Scott Green reminded me of Voyeurs, Inc. (Viz), written and illustrated by Hideo Yamamoto. It follows the misadventures of a group of surveillance experts. It originally ran in Shogakukan’s Young Sunday.


Upcoming 12/29/2010

December 28, 2010

I’m still decompressing upon reentry to normal world as opposed to holiday sparkle world, and, to be honest, looking at this week’s ComicList is roughly akin to trying to read something written in ancient possum. My brain just isn’t there yet. I’ll rely instead on two trustworthy souls, and take their recommendation to seek out a copy of The Secret Notes of Lady Kanako (Tokyopop), written and illustrated by Ririko Tsujita. I’ve been excited about this since Melinda (Manga Bookshelf) Beasi discussed it with Michelle Smith in a recent Off the Shelf column. And Sean (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Gaffney points out that it’s from Hakusensha’s LaLa DX, which is a fine font of manga even by Hakusensha’s generally excellent standards.

I’m coherent enough to enjoy the writing of other bloggers, even if I can’t yet conjure the mental acuity to formulate a shopping list. First up are the new inductees to Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey’s Manga Hall of Shame. And, as usual, there’s a lot of overlap between my favorites and the Best Manga of 2010 list at Manga Worth Reading.


License Request Day: Cooking Papa

December 24, 2010

One of the many important things I’ve learned from the entertainment industry is that Christmas is the time of year to make unreasonable demands of higher powers that they are obligated to fulfill if they want people to keep believing in them. We’ve basically got them in a corner, so why not go for the big ask? Why not say, “Hey, someone should throw caution and logic to the wind and publish a 100-plus-volume cooking manga”?

While working on this week’s letter of the Seinen Alphabet, I ran across a mangaka named Tochi Ueyama, who basically only has one title to his credit. This isn’t due to laziness, as he’s been working on it since 1984. 112 volumes have been published to date. It’s called Cooking Papa, and it runs in Kodansha’s Morning.

As near as I can tell, it’s about an average family where the father, a white-collar worker, does the cooking. (The mother, a journalist, isn’t very good at it.) Papa helps their son learn his way around the kitchen. Every chapter includes recipes.

Now, I can hear all the “buts” to the point that they sound like an outboard motor. But it’s way too long! But cooking manga doesn’t have a great commercial track record! But we should pester Viz to publish more Oishinbo instead! But Kodansha isn’t taking that many risks yet!

All of those things are true. But if we all adopt our best Cindy Lou Who miens, perhaps manga’s heart will grow several sizes. It’s Christmas. We’re entitled to expect miracles. TV said so.

What are some of your Christmas Miracle license requests?


Pretty maids all in a row

December 23, 2010

I saw a story on the BBC about these all-girl pop groups that are cropping up in Japan under the sponsorship of just about everyone, from corporations to vegetable growers associations to urban redevelopment committees. And it reminded me of the truth that, when you put four or more attractive people in a row and give them some common purpose, your chances of achieving your aims improve at least slightly, depending on how appealing those four or more young people are.

They can come together by inspiration or design, it really doesn’t matter all that much. Origins in inspiration are obviously more highly regarded than manufacture, but, one or the other, people can still develop attachments to even the most cynically constructed assemblages. If they look good standing in a row, if their types connect in comforting ways, you’re in good shape.

The tale of local-produce promotional singing sensations mentioned above also reminded me of the truth that success replicates, even if you’ll never quite capture the lightning in a bottle that inspired the original. Entire comics companies have been born out of a desire to replicate the grim and gritty success of Wolverine. Intriguing notions become franchises, for better or worse.

In the case of the cast of Kiyohiko Azuma’s Azumanga Daioh (Yen Press), they are the best they are at what they do, and what they do is be funny and cute, particularly funny. Azuma’s ensemble seems to have inspired a host of imitators, temperamentally balanced groups of girls with their weapons set on “charm.” That they will almost certainly never rank any higher than second place, given that it’s unlikely that Azumanga Daioh will ever drop from first, isn’t reason for them not to exist. People didn’t stop writing plays about crazy, southern drunks after Tennessee Williams or musicals about neurotic people after Stephen Sondheim.

Of course, not all of these imitations fully justify their existence. I thought the four cute girl students of Ume Aoki’s Sunshine Sketch (Yen) were totally forgettable, like adorable collectibles rather than proper characters, in spite of their promising art-school setting. The music-club girls of Kakifly’s K-On (Yen) are just better enough that I can see myself spending a few volumes with them.

Yes, there’s the serious one, the loud one, the dingbat, and the rich girl. Yes, there’s the obnoxious teacher who should probably find another career. Yes, they go to the beach and wear kimonos and maid costumes. They basically go through all of the Stations of the Cross. But I enjoyed their company, and I got a reasonable number of chuckles out of their delivery of admittedly familiar situations. I can even abstractly appreciate the thoroughness with which Kakifly has abetted the audience’s wish fulfillment – there isn’t even the silhouette of a male character to present competition.

But, at the same time, I’m not the author’s ideal reader, either. I didn’t read the magazine, then collect the paperbacks, then watch the anime, then download the soundtrack of the anime, then buy the DVDs, then collect the figurines, play the video game, and track down the sexy fan comics, all while discussing with my friends which character I’d ideally like to marry, judging them for their choices. If that sounds like I’m judging the franchise for being cynically commercial, I’m not. Kakifly and company took a successful formula, turned it into something likable, and built a mini empire out of that. It’s better than building an empire based on something awful, right?


The Seinen Alphabet: U

December 22, 2010

“U” is for…

Let’s just get it out of the way: Ultra Gash Inferno, Suehiro Mauro’s legendarily disgusting collection of erotic grotesque tales that was published in English about a decade ago by Creation Books.

Junji Ito’s Uzumaki (Viz) is also kind of disgusting from time to time, but it’s much more conventional horror, though beautifully drawn and very creative at points.

I’ve never read Ultimate Muscle: The Kinnikuman Legacy (Viz), by Yoshinori Nakai and Takashi Shimada under the pen name Yudetamago, though Viz has made it through 27 of the title’s 29 volumes and that it was originally serialized in Shueisha’s Weekly Playboy, which is an awesome name for a manga magazine.

Shueisha also publishes Ultra Jump, a monthly seinen magazine that’s been home to licensed series like Dogs (Viz) and Hayate x Blade (Seven Seas).

On the unlicensed front, I’m not finding a lot that really grabs my attention. Sensha Yoshida’s Utsurun Desu sounds kind of interesting, offering apparently abstract gag manga (which might not translate at all). It originally ran in Shogakukan’s Big Comic Spirits.

There are also some very fine creators in this letter, starting with the adorable, possibly insane Kazuo Umezu. Cat-Eyed Boy (Viz) is one of his seinen works that’s been published in English, and The Drifting Classroom (Viz), while shônen, was packaged like seinen, probably for its insanely high body count. Nobody loves Umezu as much or as well as Same Hat!

You thought I’d start with Naoki Urasawa, didn’t you? He’s great and all, but he didn’t make The Drifting Classroom, so he’s automatically second. Sorry. He has created a lot of excellent manga that’s been or is being published by Viz, like Monster, Pluto, and 20th Century Boys.

Yuki Urushibara only has one series available in English, but it’s an awesome one, Mushishi (Del Rey). I would love to read more of her work.

Tochi Ueyama is one of those manga-ka I’ve never heard of before putting together one of these entries, but he’s creator of the 100-plus volume Cooking Papa, which has run in Kodansha’s Morning since 1984. It’s a cooking manga, as the title strongly suggests, so I want it, in spite of the fact that it’s ridiculously long.


Upcoming 12/22/2010

December 21, 2010

It’s a jam-packed ComicList this week, so much so that I must engage in speculation: if I could only pick one of the thumping stack of Viz Signature titles that are arriving this week, which would it be? Keep in mind that I’ll buy all of them at some point, but that’s a lot of books, you know?

So, to start, I would theoretically postpone purchase of the SigIkki titles on the assumption that I’m up to date on having read them online and thinking that a little more distance between reading them on the web and in a physical book would improve the experience. That’s three out of the mix, and they’re really good, so ouch. And there are still three left.

There’s no shame in losing to Fumi Yoshinaga and Naoki Urasawa, so I’m afraid that Natsume Ono’s charming Gente would have to wait. Much as 20th Century Boys is my favorite Urasawa series, I’m not quite as starved for a new volume of it as I am for the next installment of the final contender…

… the fifth volume of Yoshinaga’s Ôoku: The Inner Chambers. Yes, it’s got some adaptation issues, but I find that it takes fewer and fewer pages for me to adapt myself to them and throw myself into the very beguiling story.

And, just for clarity, here’s the order of choice for all of Signature’s avalanche:

1. Ôoku: The Inner Chambers vol. 5, Fumi Yoshinaga
2. 20th Century Boys vol. 12, Naoki Urasawa
3. Gente vol. 2, Natsume Ono
4. House of Five Leaves vol. 2, Natsume Ono
5. Children of the Sea vol. 4, Daisuke Igarashi
6. I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow vol. 2, Shunji Aono

Vertical isn’t making things any cheaper.

I think the fourth volume of Kanata Konami’s Chi’s Sweet Home is the best yet. Konami really seems to have found a rhythm by this point and a solid handle on the comic potential of human-feline interaction. And I’m really looking forward to how Felipe Smith wraps things up in the third and final volume of the deranged cross-cultural theater-of-cruelty comedy, Peepo Choo.

And if you’ve never much cared for Marvel’s comics, I don’t know how meaningful this will be for you, but I’m really, really enjoying Secret Avengers. Last issue, Valkyrie, the Asgardian chooser of the slain, kicked the asses of a whole bunch of ninjas. That will either light a spark in your soul or not. The eighth issue comes out Wednesday, written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Mike Deodato.

What looks good to you?

Update: Major omission alert!

Drawn & Quarterly gets its gekiga on with Oji Suzuki’s A Single Match, a “collection of hauntingly elliptical short stories.”


Apple of their eyes

December 20, 2010

With all the recent talk of new digital initiatives and anti-piracy efforts, I was interested to see this piece by Caleb Goellner at Comics Alliance:

“The consortium [of Japanese publishers and publishing trade organizations] basically says that Apple isn’t doing enough to defend against their material being pirated and sold through various apps for the iPhone and iPad. Apple says it’s impossible to check for all copyrighted material as it screens each submitted app, but the group says it’s unconvinced.”

If you do an app search, you’re almost certain to find an app that trades in pirated content at or near the top of your search results, just like pirated versions of popular manga will top results of any Google search you conduct. These apps usually aren’t free, so the app creators are making at least some marginal profit off of pirated works, which I think just about everyone not actively doing that sort of thing agrees is uncool. So it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me for these publishers to ask for Apple to step up, at least in the case of aggregation apps, particularly when some of the apps undoubtedly in question trade in nothing but pirated material.

Your thoughts?


From the stack: Akayko

December 19, 2010

I’m not going to claim that I’ve loved everything of Osamu Tezuka’s that I’ve read. Pinocchio remodels are right after Peter Pan tales in the list of things that make me lose patience, so I’ve only sampled Astro Boy (Dark Horse). Swallowing the Earth (DMP) had a crazy verve that couldn’t quite compensate for its ultimate clumsiness.

Ayako (Vertical) adds another to the roster of Tezuka works that I just can’t fully endorse, and I’m still figuring out why that is. It’s a sprawling, serious-minded saga of familial disintegration, which can promise all kinds of good times, but those fail to materialize in this case. Tezuka is on his almost-best behavior here, and while it makes me feel rather shallow for saying so, I wish he’d worn the lampshade a bit more often.

The weird and marvelous thing about Tezuka is that the puckish quality of his storytelling – the human tempura, the pansexual masters of disguise, the just-a-trunk warriors – doesn’t diminish its force. He can still make moving and persuasive arguments about morality, family and leadership without resorting to austerity. It seems that, without those flights of fancy, his gruesome assessment of selfishness and cruelty becomes almost exhausting, even rote.

The title character is the illegitimate daughter of the patriarch of a family of landed gentry trying to hold onto their property after the end of World War II. Ayako is the fulcrum of all of the family’s greedy, sexy secrets, and she suffers accordingly as her extended clan vent their frustrations, ambitions and shame on her. Given the structure of her life, it’s hard to imagine how she could emerge as a proper character, and she really doesn’t. She’s an acre of family land where the bodies are buried.

With her rendered somewhat useless in terms of specific reader empathy, who’s left? Ayako’s half-siblings seem united only in their willingness to abdicate anything like responsibility or conscience. Her prisoner-of-war older brother is spying for the occupying forces. Her sister is dabbling with the socialists, politically and emotionally. Even her amateur sleuth youngest brother is unwilling to translate his curiosity and surprisingly developed sense of justice into sustained action.

But that’s the point, I think – that moral compromise is kind of an incurable cancer, and that people, no matter what they were like at the beginning, are doomed once they take that wrong step. A tale like that can have compelling moments, but I think that progressive decay as a narrative structure becomes exhausting after a while. It certainly does here. It’s a harangue at the characters and the culture they inhabit, not an argument in which the audience can engage, which is usually the nature of Tezuka’s morality plays.

Since I’m (obviously) still working out my thoughts on this piece, I’ll point you to a couple of better-argued pieces on Ayako (which I didn’t let myself read until after writing the above). First up is Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey, whose evaluation tracks with my own. Then, there’s Alexander (Manga Widget) Hoffman, who finds a lot to admire in the work.

(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)


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