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.)

License Request Day: Tezuka Appreciation Week edition

December 17, 2010

In observation of Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey’s Tezuka Appreciation Week, I thought I’d devote this week’s license request to a round-up of enticing, as-yet-unpublished-in-English works by the man in the beret.

This is certainly not the first time Osamu Tezuka has been the focus of this feature. Sick as you may be of hearing me say it, I won’t be fully satisfied as a nerd until someone publishes Princess Knight in English.

Among the many wonderful things we can learn from the French is just how much great Tezuka manga there still is to be licensed. Among the horrible things we can learn from the French is how far behind them we are.

Gringo was a finalist for the 2009 Prix Asie.

Sarutobi has been recognized at Angoulême in 2010.

And earlier this year, I was motivated to cherry-pick four other unlicensed Tezuka titles for discussion and pining, including La Femme Insecte, which I love for its cover alone. [Update: Kindly folks on Twitter reminded me that this has been licensed by Vertical and will be published as The Book of Human Insects.]

The comments of that last post drew my attention to one of Tezuka’s works for a younger audience, which I tend to neglect in favor of his deranged and sordid tales for adults. I’m talking about the seven-volume, awesomely titled Rainbow Parakeet.

It’s about a brilliant actor who uses his talents for thievery. The invaluable Tezuka in English summarizes the series as follows:

“In addition to being a cops-and-robbers action manga, the series Rainbow Parakeet is also a thorough examination of theater and film on the part of Osamu Tezuka, who was fascinated by both.”

Our anti-hero is pursued by a determined woman detective, which sounds like a refreshing change of pace. And if all of that hasn’t convinced you, let’s head back to Tezuka in English for this persuasive fact:

“Each story in the manga is based upon a famous play or movie, with a wide range of source material, including Shakespeare, Noh drama, Greek tragedy, Kabuki comedy, film, theater of the absurd, and others. Tezuka was an expert in various types of drama, and therefore wove tremendous amounts of knowledge and thought on the subject into each issue of Rainbow Parakeet.”

It originally ran in Akita Shoten’s Shônen Champion.

For your 2011 Eisner consideration

December 16, 2010

Submissions are being accepted for the 2011 Eisner Awards! I enjoyed cobbling a list of suggested manga nominations last year, so I thought I’d try again.

There could be a number of Japanese works that make it into the Best Short Story category, as both Fantagraphics and Top Shelf published highly regarded collections of short manga. If forced to pick just one story from Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, I think it would have to be “Hanshin/Half-God.” There’s a lot of terrific work in Top Shelf’s AX anthology, but the one that keeps coming to mind would have to be Akino Kondo’s “The Rainy Day Blouse & the First Umbrella.”

Whether or not any Japanese titles show up in the Best Continuing Comic Book Series category is always kind of a crap shoot. If one shows up, there’s a good chance it’s probably by Naoki Urasawa, so I wouldn’t be surprised or at all displeased if we saw 20th Century Boys or Pluto (Viz) in this roster. I would be surprised and delighted if we saw that stalwart, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Dark Horse), written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Housui Yamazaki, take a slot. The same goes for Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece (Viz), which experienced a big push this year and put Oda’s multifaceted gifts on flattering display.

The Best New Series category is tricky for similar reasons. You never know how they’ll define the category, and, hey, it’s not like the rest of the comics industry is hurting for good new titles. But if they want to mix it up with some newly launched (here, at least) manga series, here are four they might consider:

  • Twin Spica (Vertical), Kou Yaginuma’s heartfelt examination of a school for astronauts
  • Bunny Drop (Yen Press), Yumi Unita’s observant take on single fatherhood
  • House of Five Leaves (Viz), Natsume Ono’s alluring tale of an unemployed samurai who falls in with the right/wrong crowd
  • Cross Game (Viz), Mitsuru Adachi’s coming-of-age baseball drama.
  • Technically speaking, neither of the following titles was originally conceived of for kids, but I have no problem putting them forward as likely candidates for the Best Publication for Kids category. Konami Kanata’s Chi’s Sweet Home (Vertical) is charming and funny, and it offers a point-by-point run-through of the responsibilities of pet ownership, which is a great thing to hand a kid. Very few people don’t like Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&! (Yen Press) for the simple reasons that it’s hysterically funny and wide open to just about anyone who cares to read it. It’s the kind of book that I think people want to read with the kids in their lives, which is certainly an enticement for voters.

    If there’s a category that’s hard to pin down, it would probably be Best Publication for Teens, partly because I don’t think teens really like being told “We know you’ll like this.” So I’ll go with two that are rated “Teen,” because I’m lazy like that. Cross Game has pretty much everything you could ask for from a coming-of-age novel: joy, sorry, confusion, comedy, great characters, and completely recognizable slices of life. Yuki Midorikawa slices up a more supernatural life with Natsume’s Book of Friends (Viz), but it has hearts and smarts in common with Adachi’s baseball comic.

    Not much has changed as far as my Best Humor Publication recommendations go, at least in relation to Koji Kumeta’s Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei (Del Rey). The aforementioned Yotsuba&! is routinely one of the funniest comics I read, and Kiminori Wakasugi’s Detroit Metal City (Viz) has a lot of vulgar high points.

    Unless there’s some utterly arcane bit of rules of which I’m unaware, there’s no reason on Earth for AX not to snag a Best Anthology nomination. It’s everything an anthology or collection is supposed to be, isn’t it? Purposeful, varied, significant, with bonus points for being frequently entertaining and nicely produced.

    Nominees in the Best Archival Collection apparently need to focus on work that’s at least 20 years old, so I suspect that might disqualify A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, but there’s plenty of material to choose from. Osamu Tezuka’s Ayako (Vertical) is perhaps not my favorite of his works, but there’s always Black Jack from the same publisher. There’s also Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s Black Blizzard (Drawn & Quarterly), which offers a worthwhile glimpse into his earlier, long-form works.

    Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material — Asia opens its own can of worms for me in terms of recommendation, because what I’d suggest would depend on what’s nominated elsewhere. I’m always for spreading the wealth, if possible. Assuming there’s an absence of comics from Japan in the other categories, I’d say these five are essential, though: A Drunken Dream an Other Stories (Fantgraphics), AX (Top Shelf), Bunny Drop (Yen Press), Twin Spica (Vertical), and Cross Game (Viz).

    It’s unfortunate that the Best Writer/Artist categories are divided into Humor and Drama, because the greats balance both. I would love to see Fumi Yoshinaga nominated, possibly in the humor side of the equation. Still, her year included All My Darling Daughters (Viz), new volumes of Ôoku: The Inner Chambers (Viz), and Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy (Yen Press), which seems like a perfectly reasonable excuse to nominate her for an award she’s deserved for years. I’d feel fairly secure in placing Moto Hagio in the Drama category, since that is the essential nature of the short stories collected in A Drunken Dream and Other Stories. They aren’t entirely void of humor, but…

    Chi’s Sweet Home’s qualifications for Best Publication Design may not be immediately obvious, but the care with which its reading orientation was flipped and color was added to each page are worth noting, especially in the ways that they opened the book up to a larger audience. There seem to be a lot of gorgeous, immense package jobs this year, slip-cased volumes that you could use as an ottoman, and there’s some snazzy design for books that doesn’t really enhance the actual comic in question, but the design for Chi’s Sweet Home served the product and was subtly beautiful at the same time. [Update: I’m reliably informed that the book was in color before it was flipped and translated.] The cover designs for 7 Billion Needles were perhaps less cumulative work, but their style and texture are real winners.

    What did I miss? What books and creators would you recommend for Eisner consideration?

    I believe the imaginary children are the future

    December 15, 2010

    For those who care about such things, which I hope is all of you, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly has passed its Youth Healthy Development Ordinance Bill, which Tom (The Comics Reporter) Spurgeon rightly describes as “extremely depressing and… deeply unnecessary.” Kevin Melrose has additional details at Robot 6.

    The must-read piece on the legislation comes from Roland Kelts, writing for The Comics Journal:

    “In other words: When the welfare of real children is at stake, the government turns the other cheek. But if you dare illustrate gay or trans-generational love, watch your back. Watch what you draw is akin to watch what you think. Brave new world?”

    Here’s hoping Tokyo gets a swift economic kick in response to this.