Previews review November 2011

It’s kind of an odd month in the Previews catalog from Diamond. There’s a lot of great stuff, but there’s very little immediately exciting debut material. (There is a fair amount of on-the-fence content, and I could certainly use your feedback on that front.) Let’s start with a few new editions of previously published material:

Dororo Complete Edition, written and illustrated by Osamu Tezuka, Vertical, NOV11 1117: If you haven’t read this brilliant, Eisner Award winning piece of supernatural shônen, this will provide an excellent opportunity to pick up all three volumes in one shot. While it makes me sad that Tezuka ended this series early, the material he did finish is just magnificent: scary, sad, funny, bleak, gruesome… the whole package. This is one Tezuka title that I can recommend without any reservation or qualification.

Girl Genius Omnibus Vol. 1: Agatha Awakens, by Phil and Kaja Foglio, Tor Books, NOV11 1104: This web-to-print success story has been around for a while, and I’m glad to see it get some hardcover, prestige treatment. It’s about a mad scientist who learns that she’s even madder and more inventive than she suspected. Spunky, scrappy Agatha finds herself in a million different kinds of steampunk peril, and it’s great-looking, fast-paced fun.

Now, onto some less chunky but still worthy items:

A Treasury of 20th Century Murder: The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti, written and illustrated by Rick Geary, NBM, NOV11 1052: I love these crime histories for their smart writing and great, detailed art, but I tend to wait for them to be available in paperback. It means I have to wait a bit to enjoy Geary’s take on highly controversial cases like this one, but I can be patient.

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 12, written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Housui Yamazaki, Dark Horse, NOV11 0055: On the other hand, I can’t be any more patient with this title than the publication schedule demands, and damnation, does that schedule demand a lot of patience. Still, this is one of my very favorite Japanese comics ever, and I always get giddy at the prospect of enjoying more misadventures of a group of supernatural investigators.

We’ll wrap up with one on-the-fence item that I didn’t feel like wedging into this month’s poll:

Gentlemen’s Agreement Between a Rabbit and a Wolf, written and illustrated by Shinano Oumi, Digital Manga, NOV11 0962: As you know, I always like to investigate unknown boys’-love quantities before investing in them, so I’d appreciate any feedback either on this title or on Oumi’s work in general. This one sounds promising – a workplace romantic comedy about two guys who work for an advertising agency. The whole predator-prey framing is a little on the nose for me, but I’m certainly open to anything about grown-ups with jobs.


Cardcaptor Sakura, Vol. 2

As it was with the first two-volume collection of CLAMP’s Cardcaptor Sakura (Dark Horse), so it is with the second: pretty much pure delight. I may not be the biggest CLAMP fan in the world, but I love this series.

Our titular heroine continues to collect the powerful, magical Clow Cards that give her control of various elements and let her… well… collect more Clow Cards. She protects her friends, wins over dubious rivals, generally enjoys everything about her life, and wages an unstoppable charm offensive in the process. Sakura is a terrific, terrific heroine. I love that CLAMP can portray her as being inexperienced without seeming stupid or clumsy, and that they can portray her as being instinctive and resourceful without eliminating any element of risk.

The already engaging supporting cast is enhanced even more by additional focus on Kaho Mizuki, a knockout of a substitute teacher who has a history with Sakura’s brother and a lot of secrets that may or may not relate to Sakura’s mission. In my experience, CLAMP tends to enjoy portraying enigmatic moments and behaviors without necessarily making them pay off later. (I’m a patient reader, but enigmas are annoying if they don’t ultimately mean something.) Mizuki is a wonderful example of that kind of mystery reaching satisfying closure while being a lot of fun along the way. I hope she comes back, if only for the pleasure of seeing her accurately assess the relationship dynamics of the other characters but being too polite to spoil things for them.

I’m ceaselessly amused and even a little moved by the romantic geometry in evidence. Boys crush on boys. Girls crush on girls. Boys and girls commiserate over their shared crush on the same boy. There’s a school festival, an event that rarely distinguishes itself, but CLAMP even manages to liven up that old saw with emotionally urgent peril and cross-dressing.

There’s just nothing to dislike about this book. It’s got great characters, a fun plot, art that’s just the right kind of cute, and tons of energy and good will. I may never forgive CLAMP for not finishing Legal Drug or for the song lyrics and angel dredge in Clover, but they will always be in the win column thanks to Cardcaptor Sakura.


Upcoming 9/7/2011

As the Manga Bookshelf Pick of the Week can testify, Viz is publishing enough manga this week to choke a horse. It’s even more crowded over at the ComicList than it is at Midtown Comics.

This gives me the opportunity to save another highlight for my own blog: the third three-volume omnibus of Yellow Tanabe’s Kekkaishi (Viz). I’ve been enjoying the heck out of this tale of young exorcists finding their places in the family business, and I fully expect to keep enjoying it, especially since it’s so inexpensive, relatively speaking.

On the shôjo front, there’s the 10th volume of Karuho Shiina’s funky, sweet Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You (also Viz). Spooky-looking but sparkling-on-the-inside heroine Sawako decides to really express her feelings to down-to-earth dreamboat Kazehaya, which could turn out… any number of ways, to be honest.

Ah, but the ComicList offers a seinen option as well! Vertical releases the one-volume Velveteen & Mandala by Jiro Matsumoto. It’s about schoolgirls who cut class to battle zombies in a satirically dystopian future. As I noted in a recent Bookshelf Brief, this didn’t really work for me, but I think that the comic itself isn’t exactly in my taste spectrum. Fans of this kind of thing, and I know you are numerous, should be perfectly content. It originally ran in Ohta Shuppan’s Manga Erotics F, which has given me plenty of manga to enjoy, so I can hardly complain that this fifth-genre magazine doesn’t succeed for me every time.

Speaking of Bookshelf Briefs, this week’s column includes a brief look at a boys’-love title that I read thanks to your crowd-sourced feedback, Puku Okuyama’s Warning! Whispers of Love (DMP).

Elsewhere on the Manga Bookshelf mother ship, where all of our robot limbs wait gleaming in hangars between battles, I contribute a review to the inaugural Going Digital column. A reasonable price and the lack of a physical copy to clutter my shelves entices me to try the first volume of the classic Lone Wolf and Cub (Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima.


Upcoming 8/31/2011

Hey, look up there! It’s the cover to my Pick of the Week! Haven’t seen one of those in a while, have we? Perhaps it bodes well for this week’s ComicList!

A week can’t be all bad when it features a new two-volume collection of Kaoru Tada’s quirky, funny Itazura na Kiss (Digital Manga), can it? Kotoko tries to hang on to the gains she’s made in her relationship with Naoki, and I think we can all guess how well that’s going to go for the poor dear.

Kodansha releases the 10th volume of Koji Kumeta’s sharp, satirical Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, promising lots of field trips and ultimately dispiriting life lessons!

And Viz rolls out a few Signature titles. The one I’m most eager to read is the fourth volume of Q Hayashida’s gritty yet strangely charming horror series, Dorohedoro. That book has really grown on me since its debut.

Sci-fi, romance, satire, and horror… a nice mix, in the end! What looks good to you?


Upcoming 8/3/2011

Given the vagaries of comic distribution timing, I’ve already read two of the titles I’m most eagerly anticipating off of the current ComicList. So I guess I’m not eagerly anticipating them so much as fondly remembering them. Anyway, you might still be undecided, so…

First up was the fourth volume of The Story of Saiunkoku (Viz), Kairi Yura’s lovely adaptation of Sai Yukino’s light novels. It’s entirely possible that I love this series so much that I can no longer see its flaws, but I think it equally likely that there are no meaningful flaws to be seen. This arrival was particularly welcome during the debate over the debt ceiling, as it suggested a world where people go into governance for the right reasons, and the best and brightest are rewarded with responsibility and authority. So, yes, clearly it’s a fantasy, but it’s a lovely and reassuring one, and the creators reinforce its ultimately feminist message by moving their heroine closer to her dream, even if it damages the romantic prospects of the man who loves her. That’s not the kind of conundrum you see every day in entertainment, which makes this series just about priceless.

Less rewarding was the fourth volume of Julietta Suzuki’s Kamisama Kiss (Viz). I generally like this series very much for the evenhanded approach Suzuki takes with her male and female protagonists. She treats them with equal respect, and she gives each specific strengths which make their relationship much more interesting than some victim-rescuer dynamic would be. That balance slips a bit this time around, which is disappointing, though hardly fatal. I still like the characters a lot, but certain complications screw up their dynamic and make it depressingly… conventional. (Misunderstanding! Secrecy! Alienation!) I count on Suzuki’s quirky good sense to reassert itself next time around.

In other Viz news, this week sees the delivery of the third volume of Kazue Kato’s very promising Blue Exorcist, the eighth volume of Yuki Midorikawa’s lovely Natsume’s Book of Friends, and the second volume of Mayu Shinjo’s sure-to-be-repulsive Ai Ore!

Oh, and in the category of things I’m still eagerly anticipating, there’s the second volume of CLAMP’s Cardcaptor Sakura (Dark Horse). I can’t believe I’ve yet to see this series in a Barnes & Noble.

What looks good to you?


Tallies for June 2011

It’s time for the results show, just like on American Idol or Dancing with the Stars! Well, partly, because only one poll depends on popular votes. So the other half is more like when Tom Colicchio decides who gets knifed on Top Chef, except I’m not an icon to the bear community. (I don’t honestly think Colicchio is either, and how would Andy Cohen know if Colicchio is or not? I just don’t see him doing exit interviews at the Green Lantern.) Anyway, thanks to your votes and input, I’ve managed to complete my Previews order.

First up, we’ll discuss this month’s Boys’ Love Blind Date. Now, as I strongly suggested, I eliminated Only Serious about You, as it sounds exactly like something I’d really enjoy, so no vetting was necessary, and I just ordered it. While A Fallen Saint’s Kiss would probably offer valuable insights into adult novelties, the power dynamics might negate that value by making me wish for death. A similar problem taints Private Teacher, and it doesn’t even sound smutty, so why risk it? This leaves Mr. Tiger and Mr. Wolf as this month’s choice. Characters with animal ears don’t do a single thing for me as a reader (see also: angel wings), but there does seem to be a likelihood that this book may be funny and/or cute.

Moving on to the infinitely more dangerous, fully crowd-sourced Dubious Manga Selection, it is my duty to report that the majority of comments were in favor of Mardock Scramble. This is actually kind of a relief. I can’t honestly imagine any way that Tales of the Abyss won’t be crushingly boring, and reports indicate that Bloody Monday is actually pretty good, as these things go. There’s a giddy, frightening uncertainty to Mardock Scramble. It could be interesting and provocative. It could be dull and formulaic and pandering. It could be so deliriously awful that I may require hypnotherapy to recover from the reading experience. I just don’t know, and that’s the fun of these polls, at least for me.

To wrap things up, I noticed an omission in my Previews overview post:

Gate 7 vol. 1, written and illustrated by CLAMP, Dark Horse Comics, item code JUN11 0039: I have a mixed history with CLAMP titles, but I’m kind of high on them at the moment, still coasting on my overwhelmingly positive reaction to Cardcaptor Sakura. Here’s the skinny on Gate 7:

“Chikahito Takamoto has always read about the beauty and mystique of Japan’s ancient capital city, Kyoto. Now, two years into high school, he’s finally visiting there for real. But wandering the grounds of Kyoto’s legendary Shinto shrine of Kita no Tenmangu, he chances upon a mystery that his guidebooks didn’t prepare him for – two handsome men and an attractive woman, all strangely-garbed, wielding powers…and fighting monsters! The two men treat poor Chikahito with suspicion – but the girl seems to like him. They aren’t worried about what Chikahito’s just seen, because they have the power to erase his memory…except for some reason, that power doesn’t work! And why does the girl kiss him before sending him away? One thing’s for sure: Chikahito is going to be seeing a lot more of these three strangers…”

Hardly untraveled territory for CLAMP or a hundred other mangaka, but I’m hoping for lots of lovingly drawn scenery and some gender-neutral romantic geometry. These do not seem like unreasonable expectations.


From the stack: Ten Questions for the Maidman

I think Adam Warren has done tremendous work turning Empowered into something much greater than the sum of its parts. This trend continues with the second series special, Ten Questions for the Maidman. I’m always impressed with the ways that Warren can stretch a single, seemingly unpromising joke several times farther than what would be the snapping point for lesser writers.

Adam Warren is joined on artistic duties by Emily Warren, who provides painted pages for the titular interview that are sprinkled throughout the comic. They’re attractive, but they reinforce for me how essential Adam Warren’s creative control is to the property. One of the reasons Maidman is a great joke is the character’s routinely masculine body language. He’s just a guy who happens to fight crime in a frilly maid’s costume, as stolid and solid as your average caped vigilante.

In the interview pages, Emily Warren overlays Maidman’s body language with a certain coyness that, to my way of thinking, undermines the deadpan genius of the character, which is articulated in Maidman’s responses to the fatuous interviewer for a super-hero version of Inside Edition or Entertainment Tonight. The amusing cognitive dissonance is lost when Maidman is actually behaving in ways that are consistent with his appearance. It’s just not as funny, and it almost seems to contradict what the character is saying in his feature sequences. His shtick seems more about playing on the perceptions opponents impose on him, not about actively triggering those perceptions. It’s funnier when it’s the villain’s gay-panic paranoia at work rather than being a response to Maidman’s active provocation.

Still, this is an entirely welcome expansion on the Empowered universe, focusing on one of the funnier and more subversive supporting characters while still giving the title character some moments to shine. I hope Adam Warren keeps this specials coming, as they help to pass the time between new volumes of the main series by being perfectly entertaining in their own right.


Upcoming 6/8/2011

As we noted over in the current Pick of the Week at Manga Bookshelf, this is a positively crushing week for new releases from Viz. As it is at Midtown, so it is with the ComicList. As a result, I’m limiting my Viz picks to one, but it’s a doozy.

Yes, at long last, it’s time for the 57th volume of Eiichiro Oda’s smashing pirate adventure, One Piece. When we last joined would-be greatest-pirate-in-the-world Luffy, he was desperately trying to save his older but considerably less ambitious brother from execution. Along the way, he inadvertently staged a massive prison break and raised pirate-navy tensions to perhaps their highest pitch in the history of the series. An alternate title to this book could be “How to Succeed in Chaos without Really Trying.” As always, I’m enjoying it enormously, but I miss the heck out of the rest of Luffy’s crew and am eager for their return.

Vizalanche aside, there are a couple of pamphlets I’m eager to purchase. First is Adam Warren’s second Empowered Special which asks Ten Questions for the Maidman from Dark Horse. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the series, Maidman is one of the few peer superheroes who treats our titular heroine with anything resembling courtesy and respect. I fully expect another outing packed with equal parts satire and sincerity, plus a reasonable amount of equal-opportunity cheesecake.

There’s unlikely to be any cheesecake in Veronica 207, the first issue of the Kevin Keller miniseries created by Dan Parent for Archie Comics. Kevin, as you may recall, is Riverdale’s first openly gay character. As Brigid (MangaBlog) Alverson noted in this piece for Publishers Weekly, Kevin is one of the reasons that Archie has reasserted its relevance over the past couple of years and become, dare I say it, kind of cool for possibly the first time in its sturdy but fairly safe-and-steady history. I just like comics about gay people, provided they aren’t Chick Tracts.

What looks good to you?


Welcome mat

The mighty Manga Bookshelf blogging battle robot expands as frequent contributor Michelle Smith brings Soliloquy in Blue into the fold!

To mark the occasion, Kate Dacey and I joined Michelle and Melinda Beasi for their latest Off the Shelf discussion. I used the opportunity to examine the sparkly, goodhearted bundle of joy that is CLAMP’s Cardcaptor Sakura (Dark Horse). It’s probably the first CLAMP title that I’ve loved without reservation or blemish, and I can’t believe I have to wait almost two months for the next omnibus to ship.



Recent events force me to hold a runoff in my most recent dubious manga poll. What say you? Drifters (Dark Horse) or Kannagi (Bandai Entertainment)? They tied for second in the first round.