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?


Upcoming 9/15/2010

September 14, 2010

It’s precision vulgarity week on the ComicList! By this I mean that there are a bunch of comics out this week that use shocking, potentially distasteful material to very good effect.

First up is the second volume of Felipe Smith’s Peepo Choo (Vertical). I agreed with Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey on virtually every point regarding the first volume, but especially this one:

“Yet for all its technical virtuosity, there’s a hole at the center of Peepo Choo where its heart should be.”

Smith rectifies that in the second volume, and he endows his ensemble of losers and freaks with a level of sympathy notable in part for its near-total absence the first time around. It’s not that he’s any kinder to his cast. He dangles possibility in their paths only to yank it away. But their pains and disappointments feel more like a properly moving experience than a dazzling exercise in narrative cruelty, and Smith rounds out even the type-iest of members of his cast. The characters in Peepo Choo – the nerd who finally gets to go to his otaku holy land, the creepy jerk who just wants to lose his virginity, the spree killer who yearns to embody American phrases he doesn’t even understand, the smartest girl in class who’s undermined by her own body – all edge closer to a full, possibly crushing understanding of and liberation from their own misery (or at least the teasing promise of liberation).

The book is still brutally violent and creepily sexed up, but there’s nothing clumsy about the application of this kind of content. Smith knows exactly what he’s doing when a character spits a tooth in someone’s eye and another gets aroused watching it happen. I had my doubts that he was going anywhere particularly, peculiarly interesting with this kind of effect based on the first volume, but the tone really clicks this time around, and I’m abidingly curious as to how things will wrap up in the third and final book. For me, good satire, especially satire of individual obsessions and cultural fetishes, has to have a beating heart, something that pushes the reader past pity and into empathy, however limited, with the satire’s objects and victims. Smith makes that leap. (These remarks are based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher. Oh, and Melinda [Manga Bookshelf] Beasi agrees with me, which I always take as a good sign.)

It isn’t nearly as dense or ambitious as Peepo Choo, but the sixth volume of Kiminori Wakasugi’s Detroit Metal City (Viz) is likely to be as coarse and funny as the previous installments. If you’re in the San Francisco area on Saturday, Sept. 18, you can catch the live-action movie adaptation of the death-metal satire, which is supposed to be pretty great.

It’s not on the ComicList, but the shop in my area lists the sixth volume of Adam Warren’s hilarious and smutty super-hero satire, Empowered (Dark Horse), as due to arrive tomorrow. This time around, Warren looks at the often transitory nature of death among the spandex set.

And the 11th volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Dark Horse), written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Housui Yamazaki, is a very welcome arrival indeed. This series takes a satirical look at ghost stories, people who help the dead reach their final reward, and pokes fun at the ambivalent ways we respond to the shuffling off of our mortal coil.

What looks good to you?


Bad manga

August 12, 2010

Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey is celebrating (observing?) Bad Manga Week, so I thought I’d mention a few of my least favorite titles. By way of disclosure, I’ll note that I’ve only read one volume of any of these series, but seriously, why would I read any more than that?

Earthian, written and illustrated by Yun Kouga, Blu: If I had to pinpoint the exact moment when I realized I never needed to consume another piece of romantic fiction featuring an angel, it would be at some point when I was reading Earthian. Now, this is not the worst shônen-ai series I’ve ever read. It’s not even close. But it features a number of things I’ve come to view as deal-breakers: angel romance; iffy anatomy and composition; quasi-religious hogwash; and too many mullets. It’s like Kouga was deeply influenced by some of the aesthetic elements of the Year 24 Group – ambiguous gender roles and an exploration of human nature and love – without being able to construct a coherent story or engaging characters.

Gakuen Prince, written and illustrated by Jun Yuzuki, Del Rey: Remember that “Mack Rangers” episode of Law & Order where this group of entitled private-school boys created a climate of fear at their high school and ended up raping their female classmates because they felt like it and nobody would stop them except for a teacher that they ended up murdering? Reverse the genders and try and pass it off as a romantic comedy, and you’d have something like this horrible comic. I don’t think that the systematic terrorizing of a minority community is appropriate fodder for wacky farce.

Kanna, written and illustrated by Takeru Krishima, Go! Comi: Over the years, Go! Comi published some wonderful, edgy shôjo and some perfectly terrible shônen. Not all of their shônen was awful, but it’s hard to remember the good stuff when creepy titles like Kanna move to the front of one’s memory. It’s about a mysterious little girl and the creepy adult males who are totally, unhealthily obsessed with her.

Tenjho Tenge, written and illustrated by Oh! Great, CMX: My hatred of this series is bimodal. For one thing, it’s a tediously sexed-up comic about dumb-asses who want to be the best fighters in their small pond of bottom-feeders. (There’s also an awful sequence where someone rapes one of their girlfriends to teach the boys a lesson, and she ends up comforting them over the blow to their manhood.) For another, it’s still thrown out by piracy addicts as proof that stateside publishers aren’t going to respect the purity of the artist’s vision and that they must resort to piracy to honor the creator (and see nipples). So it’s disgusting to me in terms of content, and it’s so damned irritating in terms of context that it may be my least favorite licensed manga ever.


Synchronized

August 9, 2010

I’m barely able to form coherent thoughts about Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories (Fantagraphics). It’s an amazing collection of her work, and I hope it just causes an explosion of interest in her work. I’ll try and write something proper about the book later, but a passage from her interview with translator and curator Matt Thorn really struck me. In it, she’s talking about the Tezuka story that made her want to become a manga-ka:

“I sympathized so much with the situation of the hero, that I found myself reading the book as if I were him. I completely synchronized with him.”

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone use that word, “synchronized,” to describe that experience, and I find it really lovely. I also think that Hagio evokes that synchronization with increasing facility over the 40-year span represented in this collection. I mean, she has that knack from her earliest stories, but she just gets better at it until she doesn’t even need words to pull it off. It’s just breathtaking.

You can view some pages over at Amazon, but I hope Fantagraphics post some other samples for preview, because I honestly think seeing anything from the book’s midway point on would convince someone to buy it. Reading Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey’s review will also go a long way towards that.

Huge thanks to Deb (About.Com) Aoki to take time out of her insane Comic Con International schedule to pick up a (signed!) copy for me. I owe her forever.


Misjudging books by their cover blurbs

July 15, 2010

Library Wars: Love and War: In the near future, the federal government creates a committee to rid society of books it deems unsuitable. The libraries vow to protect their collections, and with the help of local governments, form a military group to defend themselves–the Library Forces! (Viz)

Doesn’t that sound awesome? A tough heroine fighting the forces of censorship! It could still become awesome, but the first volume trades in some plot devices that put it at a distinct disadvantage, at least with me. Kasahara, a young trainee in the Library Forces, has decided to join that august body in part because one of its members “stepped in to protect her favorite book from being confiscated in a bookstore when she was younger.” That’s still not problematic, as there’s nothing wrong with pursuing a career because of the inspiration of someone you admire. Unfortunately, Kasahara refers to that mysterious figure as a “prince” and layers dippy, ill-conceived romantic notions on her otherwise totally admirable ambition.

I’ve got to tell you that this kind of thing – a person falling madly in love with someone they don’t know anything about based on a brief, largely forgotten encounter during their formative years – gets on my nerves. I can get over it, as I did with Kitchen Princess (Del Rey), but the first volume of Library Wars doesn’t fill me with confidence. Kasahara isn’t very bright, and she doesn’t work very hard at her training. I’m inclined to side with her bright, hard-working rival when he suggests that she doesn’t really deserve the preferential treatment and opportunities for advancement she receives. (She hasn’t even bothered to learn the shelving system!)

Maybe future volumes will focus less on dumb mooning and more on information specialists promoting the free exchange of information and ideas by any means necessary. I’ll give Library Wars another volume, but Kasahara needs to get her dopey act together. Good intentions only go so far.

(Library Wars: Love and War was based on a novel by Hiro Arikawa and adapted by Kiiro Yumi.)

Code:Breaker: Rei seems like an affable transfer student to everyone around him, but quirky high school beauty Sakura sees his true face as a terrifying vigilante—a “nonexistent” Code:Breaker who cannot be touched by the law. And since Sakura has just witnessed the effects of his deadly blue flame, she’s slated to be the next to burn! (Del Rey)

Doesn’t that sound just too generic for words? It’s not, largely because high school beauty Sakura is actually quirky, and she’s tougher and smarter than Kasahara by a wide margin. All of the boys in Sakura’s school view her as a delicate flower they’d love to protect, in spite of the fact that she’s better versed in the martial arts than all of them combined. She’s too busy thinking about things that matter to be offended by their condescending entreaties, which makes for some pretty funny moments.

One of the things that matter, at least in Sakura’s considered opinion, is an apparent mass murder that she witnesses while riding the bus home from school. She goes to investigate, but there’s no evidence. When a new boy, Rei, shows up in class, she recognizes him from the massacre and looks into the mystery, putting herself in danger in the process.

Sakura’s tough, principled approach to life pretty much carries the book. She never cringes, and she has a really firm grasp on right and wrong. Rei’s vigilantism offends her notions of order and justice, and I’m looking forward to seeing their philosophical back-and-forth. Code:Breaker could become as bland as its premise suggests, as much more promising manga has gone off the rails by the second volume, but I think I’ll enjoy this one as long as Sakura’s spine endures.

(Code:Breakers was written and illustrated by Akimine Kamijyo and debuts from Del Rey in late July. These remarks are based on a review copy.)


Upcoming 7/14/2010

July 13, 2010

It’s a momentous, manga-influenced week for the ComicList! Let’s take a look.

I can’t do any better than Oni in describing the sixth and final volume of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s wonderful Scott Pilgrim Series, Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour:

“It’s finally here! Six years and almost one-thousand pages have all led to this epic finale! With six of Ramona’s seven evil exes dispatched, it should be time for Scott Pilgrim to face Gideon Graves, the biggest and baddest of her former beaus. But didn’t Ramona take off at the end of Book 5? Shouldn’t that let Scott off the hook? Maybe it should, maybe it shouldn’t, but one thing is for certain — all of this has been building to Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour!”

O’Malley could be said to embody one version of the dream of creators who list manga among their influences. He’s got a hugely successful series, critically and commercially, with a major movie adaptation about to hit theatres. Another enviable outcome went to Felipe Smith, who first saw print as one of Tokyopop’s Original English Language manga creators with MBQ. He then went on to secure a spot in Kodansha’s Morning Two line-up with Peepo Choo. The three-volume series is now being released in English by Vertical, and the first volume arrives in comic shops tomorrow.

I read a review copy from the publisher, and I wish I liked the book’s narrative as much as I like the story behind the comic. It falls into the category of comics that aren’t really for me. It’s about a young American otaku who wins a dream trip to Japan. The kid has romanticized Japan beyond all proportion, picturing it as an Eden of manga- and anime-loving cosplayers who can all get along by virtue of their shared love for a particular character. Little does the kid know that he’s going to be mixed up with vicious gangsters, assassins, brutal teen starlets, and the far-less-idyllic reality of indigenous otaku.

Smith shows terrific energy as a creator, and I appreciate his satirical intent, but Peepo Choo is a little coarse for my tastes. I know that’s weird to say, given how much I love Detroit Metal City and Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu, but Peepo Choo doesn’t quite have the precision with which those books use their gross-out material. The vulgarity doesn’t say as much as it could, and the satire is a little too broad to be as effective as I’d like. Still, this book should have no trouble finding an audience of comic fans who like to see their hobby tweaked and their fandoms punked, and it’s amazing that Smith has been published in a highly regarded manga magazine by a major Japanese publisher.

Over at the Manga Bookshelf, Melinda Beasi is running a mid-season poll on the year’s best new manhwa so far. I’m hoping that I can include Youngran Lee’s There’s Something About Sunyool (Netcomics) on this list, as it looks really promising. Here’s what Melinda had to say:

“Born the illegitimate child of a big-time politician, Sunyool has been accepted officially into her father’s household as an adult and thrown straight into negotiations for arranged marriage. While the premise seems rife with cliché, the execution (so far) is anything but. What could easily be a typical rags-to-riches or fish-out-of-water story actually appears more likely to be a thoughtful, wry look at two young people from vastly different backgrounds learning to make a life together within the cold world of politics. Sunyool’s smart (occasionally cruel) sense of humor and self-awareness make her a very appealing female lead, while her pragmatic young husband is still a bit of a mystery.”

I also might have to pick up a copy of the Young Avengers Ultimate Collection (Marvel), written by Alan Heinberg and penciled by various people, mostly Jimmy Cheung, just so I can have all those stories in one convenient package. I really enjoyed the first issue of Avengers: The Children’s Crusade that came out last week, mostly for the adorable gay super-hero boyfriends being adorable with each other, and also because a Marvel character finally suggested that there might be more to the Scarlet Witch’s behavior than her just having a bad case of babies rabies and not being able to handle her powers because, well, chicks. Also, no one suggested killing the Scarlet Witch, though her fair weather friend Ms. Marvel seems like she’d be more than happy to do so. Shut up, Ms. Marvel.


CMX-cellence

May 20, 2010

Now that I’ve got the negativity out of my system, I wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate some of my favorite CMX titles. I can pick ten with absolutely no difficulty at all. The difficulty is limiting myself to ten.

Astral Project, written by marginal, illustrated by Syuji Takeya: This series is very difficult to summarize, which is almost always indicative of a title I really like. It’s about a young man who is investigating his sister’s apparent suicide and learns the secrets of astral projection. He meets others who can do the same thing, finding romance, friendship, and mystery along the way. There’s some deeply cynical social commentary and a paranoid government subplot, plus a profound fixation on improvisational jazz. In short, it’s a funky, unpredictable series with a lot on its mind.

Chikyu Misaki, written and illustrated by Yuji Iwahara: Misaki and her father move back to the rural hometown of her late mother to learn that the community’s legendary lake monster is real and adorable. Also heading to the snowy hamlet are kidnappers, their vengeful victim, and a raft of stock types who transcend their formulaic origins over three frisky, sharply observed volumes. The art is gorgeous and surprising, and the characters and their interactions are absorbing.

Crayon Shinchan, written and illustrated by Yoshito Usui: This is one of those rare instances where I experienced the anime first. I still prefer the anime, but there’s a lot of crass, sneaky comedy in these comics. The formula is pretty basic but very productive: horrible little Shinchan shocks and mortifies the adults around him with his complete lack of anything resembling a filter. He’s curious about all of the things grown-ups dread discussing with each other, much less with kids.

Emma, written and illustrated by Kaoru Mori: If there’s a consistent caveat in the heaps of abuse DC is receiving for their handling of CMX, it’s gratitude that we got all of Mori’s gorgeous costume drama about a shy maid and the upper-middle-class guy who loves her. Mori ended up weaving a very rich tapestry that looked not just at class but at characters, the people who lived within the Victorian strictures that threatened to keep Emma and William apart. You can read a lot about the series in the Manga Moveable Feast dedicated to it.

Gon, written and illustrated by Masashi Tanaka: Gon’s structure is even simpler than Shinchan’s. A baby dinosaur wreaks anachronistic, wordless havoc on those creatures foolish enough to disturb his naps or disrupt his dinner. The series is beautifully drawn with positively eye-popping levels of detail, and it’s got terrific energy and emotional punch.

Monster Collection: The Girl Who Can Deal With Magical Monsters, illustrated by Sei Itoh, original concept by Hitoshi Yasuda/Group SNE: A comic book based on a card game that was never actually marketed in North America? Shouldn’t that have been just unbearably awful? This one defied all reasonable expectations by being sly, well-written and exciting, and maybe better for the fact that nobody had any idea what the original game was about. Even the frequent fan service is presented with winking good humor, and the characters are unfailingly likable.

Omukae Desu, written and illustrated by Meca Tanaka: I have a well-established fondness for entertainments about people who deal with dead people. This one folds in lots of stupid-funny bureaucracy and some endearing coming-of-age elements. Madoka can see dead people, and this ability lands him a part-time job with the astral agency that helps escort the recently deceased to their next incarnations. As you might expect, many of these spirits have unfinished business. As you might not expect, Madoka’s agency contact is a guy in a bunny suit who is a big believer in his employer’s ridiculous theme days. Fun stuff.

Penguin Revolution, written and illustrated by Sakura Tsukuba: Any shôjo series starring a girl who un-ironically declares her desire to become a civil servant is bound to get my attention. Alas, plucky Yukari must first make it through high school and work as a talent agent before she can settle into civil service. The talent agency focuses on young male idols, all of whom are forced to cross-dress during their down time to throw the press off their trails. That applies to their handlers, too. This is the kind of goofy, mildly romantic shôjo that’s very much to my taste. Warning: no actual penguins appear in this manga.

Presents, written and illustrated by Kanako Inuki: There isn’t enough shôjo horror, if you ask me, or at least enough shôjo horror that doesn’t involve obnoxious supernatural boys with lots of hair and patriarchal attitudes. Presents shows what happens when bad things happen to horrible people, which can be delightfully diverting. Mistress of Ceremonies Kurumi is probably supposed to look innocently adorable, but just looking at her gives me the shivers.

Swan, written and illustrated by Kyoko Ariyoshi: It’s probably impossible to calculate the good karma points that will go to whoever decided to try and publish this ballet masterpiece in English. We all know the conventional wisdom that classic shôjo doesn’t sell, and I don’t think Swan ever flew off of the shelves either, but wow, was it bliss. It follows the often brutal career trajectory of a gifted young ballerina and the troupe of dancers who try to put Japan on the global dance map.

There are at least five other titles that were serious squeakers for inclusion on this list, or would have been if more volumes had been published. I think just looking at these ten titles makes you realize what the folks behind CMX were able to accomplish during their too-short run. What were your favorite CMX titles? Feel free to mention them in the comments, or just heap abuse on DC, because that isn’t going to get old here for a while.