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.

    No josei left behind

    December 19, 2008

    The crew at Manga Recon put their heads together to discuss various manga that should be rescued from licensing limbo, that cold, airless place where a publisher has the rights to a given title, but their efforts aren’t rewarded with audience demand. Sometimes they come back. This year saw the return of Ai Morinaga’s Your and My Secret (rescued from ADV by Tokyopop), Slam Dunk (rescued from Gutsoon by Viz), Black Jack (rescued from Viz by Vertical), and the continuation of books like Parasyte (rescued from Tokyopop by Del Rey). And Aurora’s Deux imprint just saved Cigarette Kisses from Broccoli’s Boysenberry imprint, which has to count as one of the shortest sentences to licensing limbo in history.

    I thought I would focus on one at-risk title in particular, Mari Okazaki’s Suppli (Tokyopop), because I really think it’s something special. Suppli is one of those all-too-rare books about grown-ups… people with demanding jobs and complicated personal lives, kind of like Fumi Yoshinaga’s Antique Bakery. There’s plenty of smart, detailed character development and absolutely gorgeous art in Suppli, but don’t just take my word for it:

  • “The drama plays out like a television show you’d get addicted to, only to be outraged when the network cancels it after a few weeks.” – A.E. Sparrow at IGN
  • Suppli is a promising story with interesting art, but what really makes it work is the emotional authenticity that Okazaki achieves.” — Brigid Alverson at MangaBlog
  • “I used to avoid josei, as I often find entertainment aimed at female audiences (Lifetime movies, Sophie Kinsella novels) dull, formulaic, and obvious. Imagine my surprise when I discovered just how funny and honest ‘chick lit’ could be in a manga-ka’s hands.” – Katherine Dacey at Manga Recon
  • “So while I started out wondering if I was not in the book’s target audience (actually, I guess I’m still not), it quickly drew me in with its nicely-done character drama. I’ll definitely seek out future volumes.” — Matthew J. Brady at Warren Peace Sings the Blues

  • Upcoming 11/12/2008

    November 12, 2008

    For the last couple of months, I’ve tended to avoid the Wednesday experience. It’s not due to any waning in enthusiasm for new comics so much as an unwillingness to deal with the irritating traffic and limited parking a trip to the local comic shop entails.

    But if anything could get me to face the inexplicable gridlock that’s become a signature of the downtown driving experience, it would be the second volume of Matthew Loux’s Salt Water Taffy: A Climb Up Mt. Barnabus (Oni). The first installment was easily one of the most charming books I’ve read all year, and I’m eager to get my hands on part two.

    Tokyopop provides the ongoing crack for the week, with new volumes of Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket and Ai Morinaga’s Your and My Secret available for my reading pleasure.

    He enjoys being a girl

    August 27, 2008

    Given that the first translated volume shipped four years ago, and that I’ve been intermittently pining for the second volume ever since, it was possible that Ai Morinaga’s Your and My Secret (now at Tokyopop) might not have lived up to expectations. Maybe it was just the fact that I couldn’t get my hands on a copy of the second volume that made me so eager?

    I’m happy to say that I liked the second volume slightly better than the first, and I liked the first a lot. It’s now my second favorite manga series that deals with jumbled gender issues among high-school students, and since first place for that category is owned now and for the foreseeable future by Setona Mizushiro’s addictive, disturbing After School Nightmare (Go! Comi), there’s no shame in taking the silver medal.

    But back to Secret: the awkwardness escalates slightly this time around as shy-guy Uehara and rose-with-thorns Momoi adapt to life in each other’s bodies. Morinaga builds on elements introduced in the first volume, particularly in the delightfully pansexual romantic quadrangle among Uehara in Momoi’s body, Momoi in Uehara’s, Momoi’s pretty best friend Shiina, and Uehara’s pal Senbongi. Momoi, loving life as a boy, has Shiina as a steady, and Uehara isn’t immune to Shiina’s charms either. Nor can Uehara ignore the persuasive wooing of Senbongi, much as Uehara might wish he could.

    Much as I enjoy the sitcom antics of Morinaga’s My Heavenly Hockey Club (Del Rey), the character-driven farce of Secret gives it the edge. There’s a constant emotional ebb and flow, with poor Uehara torn between his desire to get his own body and the nagging rightness of his current situation. Brash hypocrite Momoi continues to amuse, holding Uehara to standards she has no intention of upholding herself. And Morinaga manages to juggle a bunch of potential narrative trajectories and keep them just about equally likely. I’m never quite sure where the series is going, but all of the possibilities that Morinaga has teased are appealing.

    Upcoming 7/16/2008

    July 15, 2008

    Just a couple of items jump out at me on this week’s ComicList:

    I’m not generally part of the natural audience for competitive athletics, fictional or otherwise, but I won’t let that keep me from taking a look at Takehiko Inoue’s Real (Viz – Signature), about wheelchair basketball. At MangaBlog, Brigid Alverson picks up an intriguing press release from Viz about a joint PR venture to promote another Inoue hoops book, Slam Dunk. If there were a competition for “most athletic person at Comic-Con International,” there’d be a clear winner. I also wish there was a manga out about professional cheerleading so those poor Laker Girls could feel a bit more purposeful. (Have I mentioned that I can watch Bring It On as many times as it airs on television?)

    Milestone alert! Our long, national disappointment is finally over as Tokyopop releases the second volume of Ai Morinaga’s Your and My Secret. Given the publisher’s ongoing cost-cutting measures, I suppose it’s possible that we may not see the third volume from them, but progress is progress. If only they’d gone with the alternate version of the title, My Barbaric Girlfriend.

    Upcoming 5/29/2008

    May 29, 2008

    Some highlights from this week’s ComicList:

    It’s a good week for fans of Ai Morinaga, with the fifth volume of My Heavenly Hockey Club coming from Del Rey and the first volume of The Gorgeous Life of Strawberry Chan arriving via Media Blasters. I’m a fan of Ai Morinaga, so it’s a good week for me. (In fairness, I don’t really know anything about Gorgeous Life other than that it’s by Morinaga, but that’s good enough for me. Seriously, Media Blaster’s web site bugged the crap out of me after about two seconds, so I stopped digging.)

    She can even make dumb, old jokes work for me. In the fourth volume of My Heavenly Hockey Club, she even pulls off the “dimwits put on glasses before undertaking a studious endeavor” and pulls it off. I swear I giggled.

    Other than those, it’s a light week for me, which is fine, as I’ve hoarded a stack of comics to take with me on vacation. Packing will be like a game of Tetris.

    Upcoming 3/19/2008

    March 18, 2008

    Before I get into this week’s releases, let me just note that there could not be a worse time for Anime News Network to experience server problems than on the day when there’s news to be read about a new series called “Detective Puppy,” as was noted at MangaBlog. Since this is manga, chances are only about 50-50 that the comic will actually feature an adorable canine solving crimes, but I must know more. (As an example of this kind of misleading cuteness bait-and-switch, Penguin Revolution = cute + funny – actual penguins.)

    Okay, I’ll shift my focus to the nearer future, as in Wednesday.

    My pick of the generally strong week is the second volume of Keiko Tobe’s With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child (Yen Press). In addition to having the really admirable intentions, the first volume combined documentary and dramatic elements quite well.

    It’s a strong week for Del Rey, or perhaps more accurately for me as a reader of Del Rey titles. There are new volumes of Fuyumi Soryo’s sci-fi psychodrama, ES: Eternal Sabbath, Ai Morinaga’s screwball sports-manga parody, My Heavenly Hockey Club, and Tomoko Ninomiya’s funny and charming look at music students, Nodame Cantabile.

    Fans of Andi Watson’s Glister (Image) should definitely give Princess at Midnight (also Image) a look. It was originally published in the first Mammoth Book of Best New Manga, and Image is releasing it as a stand-alone with some additional material.

    Oni offers the second trade paperback collection of Maintenance, a funny look at custodians at a mad-scientist think tank, written by Jim Massey and drawn by Robbi Rodriguez.

    Tokyopop ensures high placement on the month’s sales chart with the release of the 19th volume of Natsuki Takaya’s extremely moving, often emotionally raw fantasy-romance, Fruits Basket. The story itself is still going strong, even if Takaya has been forced to resort to members of the student council for her cover subjects.

    Fruits Basket might get edged out of the top sales spot by the 16th volume of Hiromu Arakawwa’s Fullmetal Alchemist. I’ve almost gotten used to bestsellers also being really entertaining comics. At least in this context.

    Secret secrets

    March 15, 2008

    There are plenty of reasons to be happy that Tokyopop has rescued Ai Morinaga’s Your and My Secret from the licensing limbo to which it was consigned after ADV published a single volume in 2004. Among them is a glorious new opportunity to nitpick. I can’t read Japanese, so I can’t comment on the quality of a translation, but now I can look at two English versions of the same script side by side and be a great big nerd about it.

    On the whole, I marginally prefer Tokyopop’s version, translated by Yuya Otake and adapted by Jay Antani, edited by Paul Morrissey with assistance from Jessica Chavez and Shannon Watters. (ADV’s was translated by Kay Bertrand with supervision by Javier Lopez. I can’t really pick out any specific credits for editing and adaptation.) Both are solid, but Tokyopop’s script seems slightly more conversational; it flows just a little bit better.

    Tokyopop’s reproduction of the art is cleaner on the whole, and I think the lighter paper helps as well. Tokyopop’s lettering is a bit easier on the eyes, though ADV’s use of varied type weights does a better job of communicating the emotional content of scenes. On the flip side, I prefer the simplicity of ADV’s cover and logo design. ADV also gets points for providing translation notes.

    There are a couple of pages in particular where it’s really fascinating to look at them side by side and compare choices, tone, and other elements. ADV fairly consistently translates sound effects and keeps the kanji in place with a few exceptions. One example in particular helps to communicate a sight gag, and it looks like it would have been impossible to leave both kanji and English in place and still be able to read it. Tokyopop’s approach is inconsistent. Sometimes, they leave kanji untranslated, and thy replace it entirely with English at others. I appreciate the added nuance of ADV’s amendments, but I like the less cluttered visuals of the Tokyopop pages.

    The sequence contains a fairly major plot development that communicates a lot about the characters, and it’s such a funny reversal that I’m reluctant to spoil it. But at some point, after my scanning skills improve, I’ll definitely try and post scans of both sets of pages, because I’m a big nerd and think it’s really interesting.

    (As an aside, it would be great if publishers supplemental translation materials on cultural references and alternate readings on the web. If they don’t feel like popping for the extra pages in a print version, and many don’t, it would be a nice extra feature and would drive more traffic to their web sites.)

    (As another aside, hey, who’s publishing Morinaga’s The Gorgeous Life of Strawberry Chan?)

    Upcoming 3/12/2008

    March 12, 2008

    First, I must reveal how pitifully easy it is to manipulate me. Echo has a new home! Echo has a new home! Well played, Pedigree. You make Grant Morrison look like Mark Millar.

    Okay, now we will move on to this week’s comics, before I become dehydrated from the tears a dog-food company has wrung out of me.

    Fortunately, my pick of the week is a wonderful piece of satire that will surely cleanse the palate. It’s the third volume of Adam Warren’s racy, funny Empowered (Dark Horse). For those of you just tuning in, a young super-heroine gets by with a little help from her friends, in spite of a singularly unreliable costume and the sexist contempt of just about everyone else in her line of work. Here’s my review of the first volume.

    Kaoru Mori’s Emma (CMX) concludes with the seventh volume. After the absorbingly languid pace of the previous six books, this one felt almost hyperactive by comparison. It’s still lovely and extremely moving, though.

    I really loved the classic feel of the first volume of Yuu Asami’s A.I. Revolution (Go! Comi), so I’m really looking forward to reading the second. A young girl helps prototype robots learn about human behavior in smart, sensitively conceived stories.

    Maintenance (Oni) is one of the few series I still buy in pamphlet form, and the ninth issue arrives today. Custodians at a mad-scientist think tank encounter a wide range of mangled genre ambassadors, making for observant, odd workplace comedy. The first trade paperback is available, and the second is on its way. Here’s my review of the first issue.

    Suppli (Tokyopop) is a great change of pace, following a twenty-something advertising exec as she tries to cobble together a new personal life after the end of a lengthy relationship. The art is lovely, and the observations are sharp and specific, and I’m looking forward to the second digest. Here’s my review of the first.

    I already have the first volume of Ai Morinaga’s Your and My Secret, from way back in the days when ADV published it. Now Tokyopop has rescued the series from licensing limbo, and I might just love Morinaga enough to buy it all over again just to add one more to the sales column (and to spare myself a hunt through my shelving “system”). Kate Dacey summarizes all the reasons you should give it a try over at Manga Recon.

    Pop art

    February 10, 2008

    While sharing his terrific cover for the next issue of Shojo Beat, Bryan Lee O’Malley makes me feel good about my taste in manga by saying the following:

    “As well as Nana (the best thing ever), Shojo Beat also puts out one of mine and Hope’s new favorite manga: BEAUTY POP by Kiyoko Arai! I realize these shojo titles can kind of blur together after a while… flower this, beauty that, something pop, but this is the one about the best hairdresser in Japan!! I urge you to start picking it up.”

    There are some really good manga about girls who don’t really give a damn that they’re surrounded by handsome boys. Ai Morinaga’s My Heavenly Hockey Club (Del Rey) is reliably hilarious, and I really need to read more of Bisco Hatori’s Ouran High School Host Club (Viz), but I think Beauty Pop is probably my favorite of this subgenre.

    This is in spite of the fact that I only like about a third of the large supporting cast and would welcome an incongruous serial killer plot that took out another third of it. (On the plus side, there’s snack-obsessed nail artist Kei and lanky, apologetic massage therapist Kenichiro. On the DIE, DIE NOW end of things lurk pronoun-challenged aromatherapist Iori, and particularly Chisami, the painfully shrill little sister of the lead boy. Aside from being too stupid to live, Chisami refers to herself in the third person, which I almost always find affected and hate a lot.)

    The price of admission for the book is consistently paid by lead character Kiri Koshiba, the most unsentimental shôjo heroine I’ve ever seen. As just about everyone around her panders and flails for status and attention, Kiri is all self-contained focus. She’s a doer instead of a talker, and she has a marvelous sense of perspective and justice. Her pure, effortless coolness can carry me through the most idiotic of plot arcs, and Beauty Pop certainly has its share of those.

    In the sixth volume, she runs afoul of a grasping piece of egotistical trash and, pushed to her limit, stares him down and says, “You’re despicable.” No tears or shouting, just a flat declaration of sublime disdain. Her cold fury is as imposing as the bellowing rage of a dozen other manga characters combined.