The Seinen Alphabet: T

December 15, 2010

“T” is for…

Well, first and foremost, it’s for some amazing creators.

Many would argue that there wouldn’t be much of a manga alphabet of any sort without the efforts of Osamu Tezuka. Instead of trying and failing to capture his scope, I’ll just point you to his official site and to the invaluable resource, Tezuka in English. Oh, and I’ll note that the excellent Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey has begun “Tezuka Appreciation Week.”

Tezuka actually appears in the autobiography of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, A Drifting Life (Drawn & Quarterly). Tezuka was initially an inspiration for Tatsumi and later a sort of rival as Tatsumi tried to invest comics with mature themes as he led the development of gekiga. Drawn & Quarterly has made a number of his comics available in English, the most recent example being Black Blizzard.

A great deal of manga published by the gifted, meticulous draftsman Jiro Taniguchi has been made available in English thanks to publishers like Viz (Benkei in New York, Hotel Harbour View) and particularly Fanfare/Ponent Mon, which has published The Walking Man, A Distant Neighborhood, The Ice Wanderer and Other Stories, Summit of the Gods, and…

The Times of Botchan, written by Natsuo Sekikawa and based in part on the life of Soseki Natsume, premiere novelist of the Meiji Era.

Akira Toriyama, best known for shônen hits like Dragon Ball (Viz), has also dabbled in seinen with works like Jiya, serialized in Shueisha’s Weekly Young Jump.

Kei Toume is probably best known to English-reading audiences for her Lament of the Lamb (Tokyopop), which originally ran in Gentosha’s Comic Birz. Other seinen works include Kurogane (Del Rey), Momonchi (Shogakukan’s Big Comic Spirits Special), and her current series, Mahoromi – Jikuu Kenchiku Genshitan (Shogakukan’s Big Comic Spirits).

I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Kan Takahama, even if that’s only her collection of short stories, Kinderbook, and a contribution to Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, both from Fanfare/Ponent Mon.

In addition to being the creator of much-loved shônen fantasy-adventures, Rumiko Takahashi also creates sophisticated seinen comedy like Maison Ikkoku and unique pieces like One-Pound Gospel. Viz also published some outstanding collections of her short stories, Rumic World Trilogy and Rumic Theater, both of which are unfortunately out of print.

There are probably very few mangaka quite like Yoshiharu Tsuge, who was profiled in The Comics Journal Special Edition 2005. Tsuge’s Screw Style was published in The Comics Journal #250.

Moving on from creators, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Tokyopop, one of the foremost English-language publishers of comics from Japan. They’ve published loads of seinen in their day.

Like Tokyopop, French publisher Tonkam has released a ton of seinen over the years.

While less known for manga, Top Shelf did make quite the splash with last year’s collection of alternative manga, AX, and a solicitation for a follow-up has been uncovered.

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (Last Gasp), written and illustrated by Fumiyo Kouno, is one of the finest manga ever to be published in English. It originally ran in Futubasha’s Weekly Manga Action.

Tokyo Zombie (Last Gasp), written and illustrated by Yusaku Hanakuma, is not one of the finest manga ever to be published in English, but it’s stupid in a fun way and an interesting specimen of the “Bad, but Good” school of manga. It originally ran in Seirinkogeisha’s AX.

Tenjo Tenge (CMX), written and illustrated by Oh! Great, is notorious enough that I really don’t need to go into any detail, do I? It’s been rescued from limbo by Viz. It originally ran in Shueisha’s Ultra Jump.

Translucent (Dark Horse), written and illustrated by Kazuhiro Okamoto, is a lovely tale of a young woman with a disease that makes her disappear from time to time. It’s on hiatus, but many of us hope to get more volumes of the series. It originally ran in Media Factory’s Comic Flapper.

Comic Flapper is also home to Twin Spica (Vertical), written and illustrated by Kou Yaginuma. It’s a lovely look at trainee astronauts and easily one of the best new releases of 2010.

Tekkon Kinkreet: Black and White (Viz), written and illustrated by Taiyo Matsumoto, is an amazing comic that follows the tragic-absurd adventures of two homeless kids who function as superheroes in a crumbling urban landscape. It originally ran in Shogakukan’s Big Comic Spirits.

Big Comic Spirits was also home to 20th Century Boys (Viz), written and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa. This may be my favorite Urasawa title, which is saying something.

I know I left some licensed, translated titles off of this list, but surely I hit the high points, right? I’ll be equally cherry-picky with the unlicensed ones, because this is getting ridiculously long.

You know how you always hear how there’s this tonnage of manga about mahjohng? Well, one of those titles is Ten, written and illustrated by Nobuyuki Fukumoto. It’s about a great player who helps out his friends by subbing for them in important matches, then letting the people he defeated beat him up to help vent their disappointment. It ran in Takeshobo’s Kindai Maajan Gold for about 13 years and was collected in 18 volumes.

I’m always interested in seeing more examples of romance comics targeted at adult men, and Fumi Saimon’s Tokyo Love Story sounds like a good example. It originally ran in Shogakukan’s Big Comic Spirits.

And while it’s probably completely unmarketable in North America, I think I would possibly kill for someone to publish Tetsuko no Tabi, written by Hirohiko Yokomi and illustrated by Naoe Kikuchi. It’s “based upon the real life hobby of Hirohiko Yokomi, a travel writer in Japan who has visited every train station in Japan over the past 15 or so years.” It ran in Shogakukan’s IKKI and was collected in six volumes.

What starts with “T” in your seinen alphabet?

From the stack: Genkaku Picasso vol. 1

December 14, 2010

Between my fondness for Usumaru Furuya’s “Palepoli” strips in Viz’s Secret Comics Japan and my abiding love of episodic “psychic helper” manga, Genkaku Picasso (also from Viz) seemed likely to be a slam dunk. It’s not.

It’s about a high-school student who suffers a near-death experience and resumes life with the ability to see traumatic auras around his classmates, then capture their distress on his sketch pad. If he wants to continue to fend off premature death, he has to help these shrouded people with their issues. He’s the self-isolating type, so this isn’t a natural set of responsibilities for him, but at least he’s got the nagging, tiny ghost of a dead friend to prod him into doing the right thing.

There aren’t many surprises in the various adolescent traumas that our hero must confront, so the book’s interest is reliant on Furuya’s ability to layer compelling weirdness onto things like eating disorders, over-identification with pop idols, and daddy issues. There are some intermittent flourishes, some dollops of lurking nastiness, but the kids are on the dull side, and their woes need more verve than Furuya seems inclined to provide.

In fact, I sometimes found myself wondering if Furuya hadn’t determined on creating a satire without having any particularly novel observations on his subject other than “these are things that routinely happen in these stores.” The chapters sort of ramble through a set number of pages, not in an idiosyncratic, arrhythmic way, but in a “I have 20 pages of story to fill 50 pages of magazine” manner. I invariably lost interest before each tale’s conclusion, and I ended up concluding that, with Furuya, less may be more. He seems at his strongest when he’s being concise.

Part of the book’s problem might be that the protagonist, Hikari “Picasso” Hamura, isn’t especially pleasant company. He’s crabby when engaged, which can be a fun quality in a fictional character, and I wanted to like the fact that he doesn’t yearn for his classmates’ approval like so many of his shônen peers. But Hamura needs to be dragged into things too much, and he carps too much about how difficult his lot is. Beyond being annoying, it doesn’t read as organic. It feels more like a vamp, and a routine one at that.

The apparent time-killing gives me occasion to actively look for things that annoy me, even though I find Genkaku Picasso to be drawn very well. By volume’s end, I was improbably put out with Hamura’s pouty, blush-bruised lips. I know that the lips should barely have registered, that I had been given time to fixate on something minor and off-putting while so little was actually happening, and that it was less about the lips themselves than the fact that I’d had so little else to fill in the gaps of a rather lazy satire of a familiar formula.

I’m still looking forward to Furuya’s Lychee Light Club, due out from Vertical in April. It promises a much higher degree of adolescent perversion without any filter necessitated by placement in a shônen magazine while still being able to twist shonen conventions into knots. Maybe it was overly optimistic to expect that from Genkaku Picasso?

Upcoming 12/15/2010

December 13, 2010

Yen Press rules the anticipatory roost this week, at least in my neck of the woods.

Fumi Yoshinaga’s Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy arrives fashionably late to the Best of 2010 mixer, I suspect. I haven’t read it yet myself, but it’s by Yoshinaga, but it seems to be in her “irresistibly, effortlessly charming” mode. Some early responses are available from Johanna (Manga Worth Reading) Draper Carlson and Manga Bookshelf’s Off the Shelf duo of Melinda Beasi and Michelle Smith. The book inspired Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey (who reviews the book here) to host a contest, asking readers to name their favorite culinary comics.

Still on the topic of irresistibly charming comics, Yen will also release the ninth volume of Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&!, which really requires no additional endorsement beyond just saying that it will soon be available for sale. Kind of like new Yoshinaga manga, come to think of it.

I don’t really know anything about it qualitatively, but there’s something about the cover of Yuuki Iinuma’s Itsuwaribito (Viz) that would probably make me pick it up in a store and browse a few pages. I suspect it’s the cheerful woodland creature.

What looks good to you?

Random Sunday question

December 12, 2010

If you could just pick one title for Kodansha to announce this afternoon, what would it be? My choice indicates a propensity for gluttony about a certain kind of manga. Perhaps two kinds of manga.

Crossing the Pacific either way

December 11, 2010

Here are a couple of articles to enjoy on what I hope is a relaxing Saturday morning for you:

Over at The Comics Journal, Roland Kelts finds a new way to look at an old, old topic, “Manga versus Comics.” Kelts talks to Felipe (Peepo Choo) Smith, agent Yukari Shiina, and Tokyopop’s Stu Levy. (That last source is especially interesting, because I can’t be the only person who assumed the creepy, opportunistic North American publisher in the first volume of Peepo Choo had to be based at least a little on DJ Milky, right?)

“Smith’s is an exceptional story, to be sure, as is the story of Peepo Choo itself—a US-Japan culture clash comedy that both mocks and celebrates fans of comics and manga, illustrated in riveting and sometimes surrealistically violent detail. His achievement would seem many a foreign manga fan’s dream. But the artist remains frustrated by the us-vs-them mentality pervading the manga industry in Japan and overseas.”

It’s a solid article, not least for whatever subtext you may be inclined to add to the formal narrative. (Peepo Choo ran in Kodansha’s Morning Two, a seinen anthology spun off from, yes, Morning.)

So that breaks down some of the stumbling blocks for comics moving westward across the Pacific Ocean. What about in the other direction? At The Hooded Utilitarian, Sean Michael Robinson ponders the difficulties comics about sports have when trying to gain traction with North American audiences, as viewed through the prism of Mitsuru Adachi’s glorious Cross Game (Viz).

“With the exception of some very popular young adult sports fiction in the fifties and sixties, there’s not a very long tradition of sports fiction in America, and certainly little to no tradition of sports comics. In the eyes of many marketing strategists, a general audience uses a genre label as an aid to enter the story, a convenient short hand that serves as a hook on which to hang the other elements of the story. How do you sell a piece of fiction that most easily fits into a genre that doesn’t exist for its target audience?”

Purely based on my own experience, comic books were something you were interested in instead of sports, not in addition to sports. Being a gifted jock isn’t routinely an aspirational thing for comics fans here, I don’t think. Since comics reach a less specific audience in Japan, there’s more crossover between the kids who read them and the kids who admire sports stars or want to be them, possibly since comics are significantly less uncool among kids in Japan and (I suspect) professional jocks aren’t quite as glorified there. Just a theory. And Cross Game is great, and you should buy it.

Oh, and if you’re in the Manhattan area tomorrow (12/12/2010) and want to hear about Kodansha’s plans to release comics in English, swing by the Kinokuniya Bookstore at 2 p.m.

License Request Day: Soil

December 10, 2010

What’s that great old definition of madness again? Repeating unproductive behaviors with the expectation of a different outcome? Fair enough, but nobody ever said that madness didn’t overlap with fandom in the Venn Diagram of Nerd, did they?

So, yes, it would be foolish, probably, to think it too likely that some publisher would snatch up the work of a creator whose other major title has already bombed in translation. And if no one has listed to my pleas for someone to rescue Atsushi Kaneko’s Bambi and Her Pink Gun (two of six volumes published by Digital Manga), why would they rush out to publish Kaneko’s Soil?

A commenter mentioned this title earlier this week, and, all factors to its detriment aside, I would like for someone to license and publish it because of all of the factors in its favor.

  • First of all is the sheer pleasure of those two volumes of Bambi. Lots of creators try to transcend juvenile, exploitative material and turn it into something more interesting and purposeful, but very few of them succeed, and I felt like Kaneko achieved that.
  • Secondly, there is the fact that Soil originally ran in Enterbrain’s Comic Beam, which was also the home to Bambi, and Astral Project, and Emma, and Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu, and The Strange Tale of Panorama Island, and Wandering Son, and Thermae Romae, and a bunch of other glorious things that give life joy and meaning. Here’s the link to Comic Beam’s web site.
  • Lastly, it’s a mystery. I don’t think there are enough mysteries in comic-book form, and I almost always enjoy reading them. Admittedly, it’s an odd-sounding mystery about the disappearance of a seemingly normal from a seemingly perfect rural town, but that sounds like it’s right in Kaneko’s wheelhouse.
  • On the down side, it’s already at ten volumes. That’s also an up side for people who cherish the idea of ten volumes of Kaneko comics. I have no idea who might publish the series, to be honest. CMX is gone. DMP doesn’t seem like it’s interested in this kind of manga any more. Tokyopop has published a bit of Comic Beam manga in the past, but they’ve had to scale back. Vertical would be a good choice, but they’re already making good choices, and their slate might be as full as they can allow it to be at the moment. Maybe Dark Horse might provide a good home for the series? But Dark Horse is not without its own history of putting series on hiatus, so we might just be setting ourselves up for a case of Bambi II: Abandonment Boogaloo.

    Discussion of lamented publishers and unfinished series leads me to conclude with a question. What series would you like to see liberated from the limbo of either a publisher-induced hiatus or the unfortunate and total conclusion of that publisher’s efforts? Well, two questions, really: just out of curiosity, do you have a manga magazine that’s sort of your fantasy subscription? You’re crazy about a lot of the manga that comes from it and you’d totally subscribe if you could read Japanese? Comic Beam is one of mine.

    One Piece MMF: Appendix I

    December 9, 2010

    Here’s a round-up of some posts on One Piece that arrived shortly after the conclusion of the Manga Moveable Feast:

    Jammer’s AniMovie Blog begins to unravel “The Threads of One Piece.”

    Connie (Slightly Biased Manga) compares One Piece and Dragon Ball.

    Sam (A Life in Panels) Kusek thinks Usopp looks a little jaundiced and asks you to vote for your favorite Straw Hat Lantern.

    The gracious Ed (Manga Out Loud) Sizemore hosted a One Piece podcast with me, Erica (Okazu) Friedman and Sean (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Gaffney.


    DeBT (Sunday Comics DeBT) marvels at the sometimes astonishing displays of violence in One Piece.