Deb Aoki has been running some great reviews by special guests over at About.Com:
That should help you while away a Friday.
I generally don’t read the text pieces in Diamond’s Previews catalog, but the latest issue reveals that the distributor has declared March 21-27 “Women in Comics Week.” I’ll need to collate my thoughts on how Diamond has chosen to celebrate this particular event, so that’s really just a note to me at the moment. Let’s move on to the highlights of this installment, shall we?
The best news of the month is that Simon & Schuster is releasing a volume of new terrific comics by Jimmy Gownley, Amelia Rules! Tweenage Guide to Not Being Popular (page 290): “In Jimmy Gownley’s first original volume in two years, Amelia and company rise and fall through the ranks of nerd, geek – and cheerleader? – in a daring attempt to not be unpopular.”
Should I be excited about Yumi Unita’s Bunny Drop from Yen Press (page 306)? It’s josei, so I feel like I should be. It’s about an immature bachelor who adopts his grandfather’s illegitimate little daughter. In a shônen context, that would probably be super gross, but I think we’re on much safer ground with a josei approach. It was originally published by Shodensha in Feel Young, and it’s been published in French by Delcourt.
There’s no question as to whether or not I should be excited about the arrival of the first print volume of Natsume Ono’s House of Five Leaves (Page 301), one of the inaugural series from Viz’s SigIKKI initiative. It’s a wonderfully odd story of a down-on-his-luck samurai who finds himself mixed up with a gang of seedy but alluring kidnappers. You can sample it online here. If I’m going to be totally honest, the other SigIKKI launch, Seimu Yoshizaki’s Kingyo Used Books, lands somewhere in the middle of the pack in my list of SigIKKI favorites. It’s a strong pack, though, so that’s not really a criticism. It’s a funny, sentimental, episodic look at why and how people love comics. You can sample it online here. (Page 301.)
And now for a quick sampling of new volumes of some terrific series:
The words “final volume” are always a bit bittersweet. While one can eagerly anticipate emotional closure and the tying up of narrative threads, there’s the misty-eyed knowledge that you won’t be paying any new visits to favorite characters and absorbing scenarios. I already mentioned two concluded series yesterday (Kaoru Mori’s Emma and Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket), but here are some other admirable titles that bid farewell in 2009.
Astral Project, written by marginal, illustrated by Syuji Takeya, four volumes published by CMX. This series was always difficult to summarize, and that’s almost always a sign of a series I’ll enjoy. Part mystery, part science fiction, part scathing satire, part romance, part family drama, part primer on obscure jazz appreciation, and so on, Astral Project managed to juggle its many different aims with nothing quite so showy as aplomb. There’s nothing self-congratulatory about the book’s density of ideas; they’re never underlined or followed with exclamation points. They’re just there, emerging and recurring when they can do the most good or spark the most interest. A great and under-appreciated title.
Flower of Life, written and illustrated by Fumi Yoshinaga, four volumes published by Digital Manga. You know what’s weird about Yoshinaga? The bittersweet knowledge that a series will inevitably conclude starts when the license for said series is announced. The certainty of how lovely her comics will be is accompanied by the knowledge that they won’t be nearly long enough. Flower of Life, which follows a group of high-school students through that titular phase, is as funny as it is touching. Every time I post something close to a “Best of” list, I realize that I’ve forgotten something essential, and since the final volume of this series was released in 2009, I hasten to add it to my list of suggested nominees for the Best Publication for Teens Eisner.
Future Lovers, written and illustrated by Saika Kunieda, two volumes published by Deux Press. You wouldn’t think that two volumes were enough to make one particularly mournful of a title’s conclusion, but yaoi series tend to run shorter than those in other categories, and Future Lovers is just that good. It has the distinction of being one of the best comics about gay people I’ve ever read, which is remarkable for a category that doesn’t routinely concern itself with the realities of sexual orientation. It’s also a splendid romance with terrific characters that inhabit a richly realized context of work, family, friends, and personal history.
Kitchen Princess, written by Natsumi Ando, illustrated by Miyuki Kobayashi, ten volumes published by Del Rey. I have a well-documented lack of resistance for cooking manga, along with equally well-documented weaknesses for sparkly shôjo and desserts of almost every variety. So I was a natural audience member for this title. What surprised me was how emotionally lacerating it would become. It took Ando and Kobayashi a while to really start putting their characters through the ringer, but when they did, it elevated the title from sweet and diverting to something really absorbing and memorable. And it’s hard to go wrong with a comic that offers recipes.
Parasyte, written and illustrated by Hitoshi Iwaaki, eight volumes published by Del Rey. Manga as a category offers a rich vein of substantial, thought-provoking science fiction, and Parasyte is an excellent example. Lots of titles ask what it means to be human, and many ask that question in interesting ways. Parasyte certainly does, and it doesn’t skimp on the blood-soaked, pulse-pounding action in the process. It also doesn’t ignore the pulpy absurdity of its premise, sprinkling rueful humor throughout. And it pays keen attention to the emotional evolution of its characters, whether they’re a human teen-ager or a carnivorous parasite trying to figure out its place in the world.
Now, for two series which both debuted and concluded in 2009 but are worthy of mention all the same:
A Distant Neighborhood, written and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi, two volumes published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon. Does the notion of exploring the middle-aged malaise of a straight man trigger one of your reader defense mechanisms? That’s a perfectly reasonable response, but there are always exceptions to these aversions. It’s about a salaryman who finds himself replaying a critical phase of his own adolescence, and, as Kate Dacey notes, it’s “one of the most emotional, most intimate stories Taniguchi’s ever told.”
The Lapis Lazuli Crown, written and illustrated by Natsuna Kawase, two volumes published by CMX. As I’ve noted previously, someone at CMX has a real knack for finding sweet (but not cloying), cute (but not pandering), quirky (but not outlandish) shôjo titles for its catalog. This year saw the arrival and departure of Kawase’s endearing fantasy about a young girl who wants to learn how to use her rather random magical powers and finds an ally in the prince of her Epcot-ian kingdom. Kawase’s polished art enhances this entirely pleasant romantic fantasy.
So what are some of your favorite concluding series of 2009?
Updated: After School Nightmare, written and illustrated by Setona Mizushiro, ten volumes published by Go! Comi. Maybe it’s a sign of how strong this year was overall, or maybe I’m just an airhead. Whatever the cause, I can’t believe I forgot After School Nightmare on this list, seeing as it’s one of my favorite series of all time. A complex psychological drama, this follows a group of teenagers into a dreamscape where they battle for identity, not to mention the drama this imposes on their waking hours. Excellent in so many ways, this series is worth the price of admission for cute-on-the-outside Kureha’s fascinating character arc and gradual empowerment.
Comics will arrive on Thursday this week, which gives you an extra day to brace yourself for the joy. Let’s look at the current ComicList:
Adam Warren and Dark Horse explore the possibilities of the pamphlet with the Empowered Special: The Wench With a Million Sighs. Expect a lot of alliteration as the “scruple-free storyteller soon reveals how all of Empowered’s many frustrations at work, at home, and even in the bedroom can be conveyed strictly through the vocabulary of her extraordinarily expressive exhalations.”
Prepare for bittersweet emotions aplenty as CMX publishes the final volume of Kaoru Mori’s deeply lovely Emma. Happiness at the arrival will blend with sorrow in the knowledge that this is the last time. Will Emma and William make their way down the aisle, or will societal pressures separate them? Whatever happens, expect mono no aware aplenty.
Fortunately, Del Rey offers choices to lift one’s spirits. There’s the second volume of Nina Matsumoto’s excellent comic fantasy, Yokaiden, and the fourth volume of Koji Kumeta’s dense, often scathingly funny Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei.
Image offers the third issue of Brandon Graham’s excellent King City, originally published in tankoubons by Tokyopop, now released in pamphlet form. Here are a few preview pages over at Comic Book Resources.
A press release that arrived in my in-box yesterday describes Yuki Yoshihara’s Butterflies, Flowers (Viz) as a gateway to josei for shôjo fans. “As shojo manga readers mature and their interests expand,” Director Brand Marketing Candace Uyloan notes, “we are delighted to be able to offer titles that are aimed at a grown up audience.” Works for me. Of course, Chica Umino’s excellent Honey and Clover has been serving a similar purpose for a while now, straddling the border between shôjo and josei with quirky aplomb. The art-college romantic comedy reaches its eighth volume this week.
Just based on Taiyo Matsumoto’s well-deserved reputation as a person who makes great comics, I expect that his GoGo Monster (Viz) might make a strong showing on some “Best of” lists this year. I haven’t read it yet myself, but if it’s anywhere near as good as Tekkonkinkreet, it will be very good indeed. I’m hoping there will be a copy at the bookstore today when I go to pick up Red Snow.
There’s a fair amount of interesting new stuff in the September 2009 edition of Diamond’s Previews catalog, along with a positively crippling number of new volumes of ongoing series that I simply must have. Let’s go in page order, shall we?
Dark Horse continues its CLAMP collection project with the Chobits Omnibus Edition, a 720-page trade paperback priced at $24.95 (page 44).
It’s always unnerving when I read a quote from myself in something like this or on a book cover, because I sound even dorkier excerpted than I do in context, but I’m always happy to sing the praises of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Jousui Yamazaki (page 50). The tenth volume solicitation seems to hint at the participation of zombies, but you should all buy it anyway. It’s not like it’s vampires.
CMX should have put some kind of sad-face emoticon after “Final Volume!” in their solicitation for the tenth volume of Kaoru Mori’s Emma. It’s back to focusing on the leads for the big finish (page 123).
I really liked the first volume of Nina Matsumoto’s Yokaiden (Del Rey), so I’m glad to see the listing for the second installment (page 248).
Digital Manga Publishing busts out the old-school shôjo with the first volume of Kaoru Tada’s Itazura Na Kiss (page 251). As the heroine seems to be something of an academic underachiever, I’d put good money on there being a scene where she’s late for school and runs out the door with a piece of toast hanging out of her mouth. That is not a criticism.
I’ve been meaning to read Makoto Tateno’s Yellow for ages, as it sometimes shows up on those lists of yaoi titles gay guys might like. DMP offers the first volume of an omnibus version of the series, just in time for the arrival of the first volume of Yellow 2 (page 253).
If I didn’t already own all of the single issues, I would probably buy The More Than Complete Action Philosophers trade paperback from Evil Twin, written by Fred Van Lente and illustrated by Ryan Dunlavey. Actually, I’ll probably buy it anyway, because those comics are great, and I’d love to have them all bundled up (page 257).
Oh, glorious day! Tokyopop finally releases the fifth volume of Ai Morinaga’s pointed and hilarious Your and My Secret. The body-switching, pansexual love quadrangle continues (page 292).
Vertical gets in on the act with the eighth volume of Osamu Tezuka’s addictive Black Jack (page 300). I want a “Pinoko’s Most Unnerving Moments” edition. Though honestly, that would be all of them.
Viz has been inching me towards financial ruin for ages now, but they really give it their best effort this time around. There are the second volumes of Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ôoku: The Inner Chambers and Daisuke Igarashi’s Children of the Sea, the third volume of Kiminori Wakasugi’s Detroit Metal City, and the sixth volume of Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, all on page 305.
Last, but certainly not least, Yen Press delivers the second volume of Yuji Iwahara’s Cat Paradise (page 310). For those of you who skipped the first installment, it’s about a school that lets you bring your cat. Charming as that sounds, many of the cats and their owners pursue extracurricular activities that involve fighting big, horrible demons. Fun stuff.