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.)

    Upcoming 8/20/2008

    August 19, 2008

    An intriguing new arrival and a couple of old favorites are the highlights of this week’s ComicList, at least for me:

    Del Rey breaks into new territory with the debut of Faust, an anthology of manga-inspired fiction. CLAMP and Takeshi Obata provide illustrations for two of the stories. Perhaps you may have heard of them.

    There are only three volumes left of Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare (Go! Comi), and I’m going to miss it terribly when it’s done. The eighth installment of awesomely Freudian teen angst arrives Wednesday, promising “a mountain of new problems.” The thing about this series is that, when blurbs use words and phrases like “heartache” or “the breaking point” or “shocking,” it isn’t hyperbole. Mizushiro delivers.

    There are only three (thanks, James!) volumes left of Naoki Urasawa’s Monster (Viz Signature), so I have a little more time to gird myself for the inevitable grief. It took a while for this series to work its way into my heart. The early going, dominated by saintly fugitive Dr. Tenma, was at times laughably simplistic in its moral framework. Over time, though, and as the supporting cast has emerged and evolved, it’s become a tense must-read for me, and I’ve even reached the point where the ensemble is more interesting to me because of the ways Tenma has influenced them. (I still think he’s a goody-goody stick, though.)

    Pantheon highs and lows

    June 26, 2008

    Many theologians have wondered how a benevolent divinity can allow evil in the world. Tapari and Yoshikazu Kuwashima’s Kamisama Kazoku (Go! Comi) offers one possible answer: God’s really busy trying to help his son get laid.

    Samataro, the son of god, is attending an average school with regular humans. Any hopes for a normal life are dashed by the fact that he’s got every educational administrator’s worst nightmare: omnipotent helicopter parents. Even his most off-handed whims are made real by his mom, dad and sisters, with reliably humiliating results for all concerned.

    With its cuddly-cute cover and fun premise, KK sounds like an endearing coming-of-age comedy. Unfortunately, the creators have a penchant for creepy fan service. A lot of it involves Samataro’s hot goddess mom popping up naked. I anticipate future volumes to portray Samataro’s extensive therapy, or at least a belated call to Godchild Protective Services.

    For bonus philosophical points, the creators also address the issue of free will. It turns out the pantheon is pretty much against it if it keeps their golden boy from getting what he wants. To his credit, Samataro is opposed to the undue influence his kinfolk exert on the object of his affection, a blandly pretty newcomer named Kumiko, and the volume ends with his request to be a regular human, free of divine interference. It’s hard not to sympathize with him.

    But it’s even harder to overlook the seedy titillation that seems to be the book’s primary selling point.

    Mercifully, Go! Comi has also rolled out another new series that’s much more to my liking, Takako Shigematsu’s Ultimate Venus. I had been feeling a bit of a void since the conclusion of Shigematsu’s snarky, sparkling Tenshi Ja Nai!! (also from Go! Comi), so this is a welcome addition to the publisher’s roster.

    Shigematsu seems to specialize in stories that feature a spunky everygirl thrown into high-end, high-stakes new social spheres filled with hunky but morally ambiguous boys. This time around, orphan Yuzu moves in with her grandmother, a sexy corporate mogul looking for an heir. Yuzu has been tossed into the deep end of a pool filled with sharks, but she has her late mother’s down-to-earth advice to see her through the tricky spots.

    As Danielle Leigh noted in her review over at Comics Should Be Good, Shigematsu’s skills lie in making shôjo tropes sparkle with fresh energy. Like so many in the shôjo sisterhood, Yuzu has a big heart and an impulsive nature. She also has better-than-average instincts and a rewardingly low tolerance for other people’s crap, and it’s those qualities that really drive the story. Yuzu is a modern Cinderella; she doesn’t want to fit in and make everyone happy. She wants to stick to her own values in a setting where values are vague and shifty at best.

    (Reviews are based on complimentary copies provided by the publisher.)

    Upcoming 6/18/2008

    June 18, 2008

    What evil lurks in the heart of this week’s ComicList? Plenty, thanks to Kazuo Umezu, but it’s the good kind of evil.

    Viz drops two handsomely produced volumes of Umezu’s Cat-Eyed Boy. Fans of Umezu’s deadly roller-coaster ride, The Drifting Classroom, might be surprised at the almost leisurely way the horror unfolds in this series. (I know I was.) But it’s not an unpleasant surprise, and there’s some wonderful material in the first volume, which I received courtesy of Viz. I’ll definitely be seeking out the second. (I’d still heartily recommend The Drifting Classroom, if you haven’t read it yet.)

    I’m such a fan of Yuu Asami’s A.I. Revolution (Go! Comi). I love the beautiful, old-fashioned art, the mix of character-driven stories and high-tech espionage, and the way that Asami’s yaoi donjishi roots show more and more with each successive volume. The hunky boy robots never quite make out with each other, but they always look like they’re on the verge, which makes me giggle. The fourth volume arrives today.

    A new comic by Hope Larson? Yes, please, thank you. The creator of Salamander Dream (AdHouse) and Gray Horses (Oni) delivers Chiggers, via Simon and Schuster. It’s about shifting friendships at summer camp.

    Upcoming 5/14/2008

    May 13, 2008

    This week’s shipping list isn’t as terrifyingly huge as last’s, which is a welcome development. There are still plenty of items of interest, though. (I’ll appreciate the distraction, because the phone has been ringing off the hook with enthusiastic college students trying to sing the praises of presidential candidates. I’m not used to West Virginia mattering during primary season. While it’s a nice change to be in the national spotlight for reasons not involving a deadly mine collapse or the annual legislative pork report, it’s hard not to by cynical about the intensive wooing underway. Anyway…)

    There’s a long-ish wait between new volumes of Hitoshi Awaaki’s Parasyte (Del Rey), a retro-cool horror series about a boy and his murderous, sentient hand. It’s worth it, though, as this is a smart, twisty horror story. The art isn’t great, but even that shortcoming adds a certain charm to the proceedings. If your appetite for shape-shifting aliens plotting our downfall has been whetted, give it a look.

    As Del Rey goes, I tend to favor their less easily categorized offerings like Love Roma, Genshiken and Mushishi to stuff that’s more in the mainstream shônen or shôjo veins. There have been a couple of recent releases that buck the trend, though. I thought Hiro Mashima’s Fairy Tail was charming, and I’ve really liked what I’ve read of Yuko Osada’s Toto! Brigid Alverson has a review of the first volume.

    It didn’t exactly change my life, but I really enjoyed Takako Shigematsu’s Tenshi Ja Nai!! (Go! Comi). It was a great example of a certain kind of highly polished, amiably trashy, slightly mean-spirited romantic comedy that hit the spot. Shigematsu’s King of the Lamp (Go! Comi) struck me as a throw-away, but the manga-ka’s credit is still good with me. Hence, I’m looking forward to the arrival of the first volume of Ultimate Venus (again, Go! Comi). Bring the trashy, mean polish, Shigematsu.

    Kamisama Kazoku (Go! Comi), by Yoshizaku Kuwashima and Tapari, sounds like it will be neither trashy nor mean, but I’m intrigued all the same. It’s about a boy who just wants a normal life, even though he’s the offspring of a pair of over-protective gods.

    A four-panel comic about a tomboy who carries a coffin around and has a bat for a best friend? What kind of stone need I be made to resist such a thing? Yen Press offers the first volume of Satoko Kiyuduki’s Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro, and it will be mine.

    Upcoming 4/23/2008

    April 22, 2008

    Some highlights from the ComicList for Wednesday, April 23, 2008:

    It’s Go! Comi for the win this week, with new volumes of three of my favorite series arriving simultaneously.

    I’ve almost run out of good things to say about Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare, which is probably one of the best Japanese comics currently in release, and certainly one of the best examples of the shôjo category. The cover of the seventh volume, due tomorrow, is particularly creepy for regular readers of the series.

    While the second volume of Yuu Asami’s A.I. Revolution didn’t have quite the same feeling of discovery I found in the first, it was still a lovely reading experience. It’s got a sweetly old-fashioned feel as it explores the relationship between humans and robots. The robots are hunky, the humans are quirky, the stories are comforting and varied, and the art is gorgeous.

    Train + Train, by Hideyuki Kurata and Tomomasa Takuma, got off to something of a weak start, but it’s become one of my favorites over its six-volume run. Likeable kids Arena and Reiichi get more education than they bargained for as they travel across a teaching planet on the “Special Train,” learning lessons in the form of dangerous missions. I’m not sure Takuma ever fully realizes the visual possibilities of this set-up, but the development of characters and themes is strong.

    Drama, drama, drama

    March 28, 2008

    Over at Comics Should Be Good, Danielle Leigh once again demonstrates her great taste, listing her top five current shôjo series. This reminds me that it’s time to make a few more Great Graphic Novels for Teens nominations.

    The sixth volume of Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare (Go! Comi) features some juicy forward plot motion and some ruthless character development. Back when I used to watch soap operas and participate in that branch of online fandom, many of us would decry what we called “Knight in Shining Armor Syndrome.” Mizushiro thrills me to no end by ripping one of her characters to shreds for indulging in this kind of behavior. Seriously, you won’t find a more psychologically acute melodrama in this category.

    The 19th volume of Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket (Tokyopop) makes me geek out a round of “The Gang’s All Here.” After some extensive focus on individual characters, Takaya rounds everyone up for what feels like the beginning a very satisfying endgame. It’s a testament to the excellent work she’s done developing her cast that I’m delighted to see so many of them return and that their complex dynamics are still so clear and emotionally effective. As usual, threads that previously seemed extraneous are woven into the story’s larger tapestry, which tells me that I should just assume that everything matters. It’s a marvel, and it really shouldn’t be dismissed on the basis of its commercial success.

    “Mature Content” rating be damned. Teens are probably reading Ai Yazawa’s Nana (Viz) anyways, so I’m throwing the ninth volume into the mix. More to the point, if there’s a better portrayal of the fallout of capricious behavior, I can’t think of it. The happy, shiny world of the entire cast has been thrown into disarray by an unexpected turn of events, and friendships, romances and careers are fundamentally changed. Yazawa doesn’t give the material anything resembling a punitive quality, but hard choices and hurt feelings abound, taking the well-crafted soap opera to a higher level. And Yazawa even reveals the secret origin of Trapnest. (I have to watch the movie, as Kate Dacey swears they’ll seem less cheesy. I don’t know how that will alter the reading experience, to be honest.)