Upcoming 1/2/2009

January 2, 2009

A few items from this week’s ComicList:

Most of the post-New Year’s love comes from Del Rey. There’s the second volume of Akira Hiramoto’s Me and the Devil Blues, an odd but successful blend of Faust and Behind the Music that extrapolates wildly on the murky biography of Robert Johnson. Then there’s the seventh volume of Ai Morinaga’s very funny My Heavenly Hockey Club, sports shôjo happily divorced of anything resembling athleticism or romance.

But I feel like pointing a spotlight at the fourth volume of Ryotaro Iwanaga’s Pumpkin Scissors, because I think it’s a fine series that deserves a larger audience. It follows a quirky but good-hearted military group focused on relief and recovery, society’s and their own. The art is a little shaky and the script could be a bit more fluid, but the characters are great, particularly ass-kicking noblewoman Alice Malvin. She’s carrying the family’s military tradition in a thankless, never-ending job, and she’s doing it with a winning blend of idealism and pragmatism.

I have a soft-spot for You Higuri, she of the tawdry, boys’-love flavored costume dramas, so I’m naturally inclined to give her new series, Crown (Go! Comi) a look. It looks like a contemporary take on her usual interests – slightly-too-close siblings and hunky bodyguards.

From the stack: Cross X Break 1 and 2

December 28, 2008

Is there a name for the manga category that can be described as shônen-y shôjo done by boys’-love creators who don’t entirely abandon their primary category? Because that’s a mouthful, and there seems to be more and more of it on the shelves. And that’s fine, because a lot of it is reasonably good fun.

Case in point is Duo Brand’s Cross X Break (Go! Comi), which juggles its various influences with a fair amount of skill and still delivers a pretty compelling story. It’s got a sturdy but not-too complicated set-up, largely complex characters, attractive art, and a sampler platter of hunky eye candy.

Young Akito is the studious son of the President of a futuristic version Japan. His louche, scantily-clad older brother, Shinkai, announces between beers that Akito is to study abroad, and the younger sibling finds himself transported to a hostile fantasy landscape. His dishrag friend Yaya is dragged along, and they must navigate a bizarre world with an unforgiving caste system and brutal Warlock enforcers.

In this world, everyone has a place they’re supposed to be and a function they’re supposed to fulfill. Deviate from that and the Warlocks will come down on you with lethal force. Your former caste won’t think very much of you either. Fortunately for Akito and Yaya, they meet a subterranean renegade named Neon who offers to serve as their guide and protector. Akito, demonstrating a high level of smarts for this kind of manga protagonist, is appropriately suspicious of Neon’s intentions and furious at his exile at the hands of his brother.

The two-person team of Duo Brand gives Akito multiple objectives. He’s got to figure out a way home, protect Yaya, decide who to trust, and help the people he meets as they suffer under the brutal control of the Warlocks. They juggle and blend Akito’s agendas well, and they don’t hold back on the nasty when it comes to outlining the social structures of Akito’s new world. There’s some shocking violence and even more shocking cruelty in this fantasy landscape, but it’s balanced nicely by their protagonist’s decency and intelligence, some nice bits of invention, and a lively pace for the story’s underlying mysteries.

The series is easy on the eye, too. Duo Brand has a good design sense that helps to make their fantasy world convincing. Character design is generally strong, and if their costuming choices run to what I’d call “alt-rock Renaissance-fair boutique,” at least they let their characters joke about it. (They do have a weird tendency to obscure character faces with shadows that make them look like they’re wearing giant eye patches, which isn’t entirely helpful.)

My only real quibble would be the lack of women characters of any substance or consequence. Yaya is blandly sweet and kind, but she spends an awful lot of time in victim mode to motivate Akito. It’s not her story, obviously, and she does get a couple of moments when she isn’t completely passive, but she still seemed more like luggage than a character on par with all of the guys.

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

2008 series conclusions

December 23, 2008

Here, in alphabetical order and without any real comment, are ten series that concluded in 2008 that I really enjoyed:

  • Cat-Eyed Boy, by Kazuo Umezu (Viz)
  • Dororo, by Osamu Tezuka (Vertical)
  • Dragon Head, by Minetaro Mochizuki (Tokyopop)
  • The Drifting Classroom, by Kazuo Umezu (Viz)
  • Emma, by Kaoru Mori (CMX)
  • ES: Eternal Sabbath, by Fuyumi Soryo (Del Rey)
  • Forest of the Gray City, by Uhm JungHyun (Yen Press)
  • Genshiken, by Kio Shimoku (Del Rey)
  • Monster, by Naoki Urasawa (Viz)
  • Train + Train, by Hideyuki Kurata and Tomomasa Takuma (Go! Comi)
  • I know there’s another volume of Emma coming out in 2009, but the core story concluded in 2008. Also, I warned you I would mention Dororo more than once. I could have done the same with Cat-Eyed Boy, but I liked Dororo better.

    2008 series debuts

    December 22, 2008

    Here, in alphabetical order and without any real comment, are ten series that debuted in 2008 that I really enjoyed (and continue to enjoy):

  • Black Jack, by Osamu Tezuka (Vertical)
  • Dororo, by Osamu Tezuka (Vertical)
  • Fairy Tail, by Hiro Mashima (Del Rey)
  • High School Debut, by Kazune Kawahara (Viz)
  • Honey and Clover, by Chica Umino (Viz)
  • Real, by Takehiko Inoue (Viz)
  • Sand Chronicles, by Hinako Ashihara (Viz)
  • Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro, by Satoko Kiyuduki (Yen Press)
  • Ultimate Venus, by Takako Shigematsu (Go! Comi)
  • Your and My Secret, by Ai Morinaga (Tokyopop)
  • I realize that Your and My Secret actually debuted in English years ago, but a first volume came out in 2008, so I’m counting it. I also realize that Sand Chronicles and Honey and Clover may technically be seen as debuting in 2007, since they’re serialized in Shojo Beat, but I wait for the trades. And, yes, I also realize that, if I do a list of series that concluded in 2008 that I really enjoyed, I may be robbing myself of Dororo, but I can always list it again, because it’s my blog and I am capricious that way.

    Y’know, it was actually kind of hard to limit that list to ten.

    Upcoming 10/8/2008

    October 7, 2008

    Quick, general observation about this week’s ComicList: if I was a retailer and had to deal with the unholy crap-load of variant covers and repeat printings from Marvel, I think I’d just bag it all and convert my space into a Tim Hortons franchise.

    I may have mentioned, just casually, in passing, that I’m kind of fond of Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare (Go! Comi). Or I may have mentioned it so often that your temples throb at the repetition. I’ll just note that the ninth volume arrives tomorrow, which leaves just one more, and the withdrawal process is going to be very ugly indeed. Gird yourselves.

    But there’s always new crack arriving, and it’s always better when it’s classic Tezuka crack. I swear that the first volume of Black Jack (Vertical) has been on the ComicList three times now, but I don’t really care. Some things bear repeating, like the phrase “a genius surgeon who never acquired his license due to his clashes with the medical establishment.”

    In composing the last two Flipped columns, I think I should be complimented for my restraint in highlighting only one goofy series about a school club and the surly girl who doesn’t really want to be a member. Of course, nothing’s to stop me from pointing towards Kiyoko Arai’s very funny Beauty Pop (Viz) in the confines of my own blog. The ninth volume of this makeover comedy arrives Wednesday.

    And if I haven’t mentioned it lately, Hikaru No Go (Viz), written by Yumi Hotta and drawn by Takeshi Obata, is one of my very favorite shônen series, partly because it’s about a board game and is still riveting, partly because I love Obata’s illustrations, and partly because the characters are great. The thirteenth volume arrives Wednesday. (Is it weird or just coincidental that two of my favorite shônen series – Hikaru and Fullmetal Alchemist – are both written by women?)

    Opportunism knocks

    September 29, 2008

    The demise of Minx gives me the chance to talk about some of my favorite comics in this week’s Flipped: shôjo that features real girls in the real world.

    Upcoming 9/24/2008

    September 24, 2008

    So the big question posed by this week’s ComicList is, “Will there be another ‘Category 5 S**tstorm’ over this year’s Best American Comics collection from Houghton Mifflin?” It’s hard to say, though I find it difficult to believe that most people didn’t get that sort of thing out of their systems last year. And 2008 editor Lynda Barry and series editors Jessica Abel and Matt Madden did at least try to include a Batman comic in the mix, even if DC couldn’t accommodate them.

    But why dwell? It’s an interesting week otherwise, with Del Rey launching the intriguing-sounding Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney, from CAPCOM.

    I enjoyed the first volume of Takako Shigematsu’s Ultimate Venus (Go! Comi), maybe not quite as much as Shigematsu’s Tenshi Ja Nai!!, but that set a pretty high bar for nasty shôjo comedy. Still, I’m looking forward to the second installment.

    And while I’m hopelessly behind on any kind of reading, it’s hard to imagine a world where one couldn’t safely recommend manga by Osamu Tezuka. Vertical once again obliges the audience for such comics with the first volume of Black Jack, featuring hyperactive medical madness. (I will admit to wishing I could see what Chip Kidd would have done with the cover design, but it’s also hard to imagine a book that wouldn’t look better if Kidd designed it.)