Previews review April 2011

Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, let’s check out the choice items in the current Previews catalog, shall we?

Eden: It’s an Endless World! vol. 13, written and illustrated by Hiroki Endo, Dark Horse, item code APR 11 0039: It’s been ages since Dark Horse released a volume of this often excellent science-fiction, as it apparently doesn’t fly off of the shelves. I’m glad to see them sticking with it, at least whenever finances permit. It originally ran in Kodansha’s Afternoon.

A Zoo in Winter, written and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi, Fanfare/Ponent Mon, item code APR 11 1049: Taniguchi takes an autobiographical look at his early days as a manga-ka. For my tastes, this isn’t the most promising subject for any comic, but I always admire Taniguchi’s work, even if the specific topic triggers a lukewarm reaction. It originally ran in Shogakukan’s Big Comic.

The Quest for the Missing Girl, written and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi, Fanfare/Ponent Mon, item code APR 11 1050: This is one of Taniguchi’s best pieces of genre work, combining his obsessions with mountaineering and noir, and it’s being offered again for those who missed it the first time around. It originally ran in Big Comic.

Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei vol. 9, written and illustrated by Koji Kumeta, Kodansha Comics, item code APR 11 1084: Of all of the resumptions in this month’s listings from Kodansha, this one fills my heart with the most gladness. It provides often blistering satire of contemporary Japanese culture and has a sprawling cast of insane schoolgirls. It runs in Kodansha’s Weekly Shônen Magazine.

A Treasury of 20th Century Murder vol. 4: The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti, written and illustrated by Rick Geary, NBM, item code APR 11 1110: Gifted cartoon historian Geary takes a look at the highly controversial trial of two accused anarchists.

Chibisan Date vol. 1, written and illustrated by Hidekaz Himaruya, Tokyopop, item code APR 11 1166: I admit to being generally suspect of Tokyopop’s new arrivals, but this one immediately struck me in a positive way: “On the crescent-shaped island of Nantucket lives Seiji, a young Japanese artist pursuing his dreams. This charming, slice-of-life story filled with warmth and pathos follows a cast of fascinating characters on the island.” There are some gorgeous sample pages in the catalog, and the plot sounds right up my alley. It’s running in Gentosha’s Comic Birz. Update: It’s been brought to my attention that Himaruya is also the creator of the very popular Hetalia Axis Powers, also from Tokyopop. I haven’t calculated precisely how this influences my enthusiasm for Chibisan Date, but I suspect it lowers it.

There are new volumes of two great series from Vertical:

  • Chi’s Sweet Home vol. 6, written and illustrated by Konami Kanata, item code APR 11 1205, originally serialized in Kodansha’s Morning.
  • Twin Spica vol. 8, written and illustrated by Kou Yaginuma, item code APR 11 1206, originally serialized in Media Factory’s Comic Flapper.

La Quinta Camera, written and illustrated by Natsume Ono, Viz Media, item code APR 11 1230: I believe I’ve mentioned this one before, and there may have been squeezing involved simply because I’m such a fan of Ono’s work. It’s slice of life about five men that live in an Italian apartment building. It originally ran in Penguin Shobou’s Comic SEED!

In other Viz news, there are new volumes of several series that I love a great deal:

So, those are my picks. What looks good to you? And be sure to help me pick a boys’-love title and vote in this month’s dubious manga poll!

Gods and monsters

It’s time again for you to choose among three dubious debuts in the new Previews catalog! I’m not saying all of these candidates sound awful, but each has enough of a “not for me” vibe emanating off of it to make me suspicious. Let’s begin!

Drifters vol. 1, written and illustrated by Kohta Hirano, Dark Horse: First he pitted the Catholic church against vampires, Nazis, and Great Britain, bathing London in a flood of blood. But Hellsing creator Kohta Hirano still had something crazy up his sleeve when he created his new series, Drifters.

Imagine a world of magic, full of elves and hobbits and dragons and orcs. Inside this world of magic and wonder there is a great war being waged, using warriors from human history as chess pieces in a bloody, endless battle. Hirano’s new concept gathers famous warriors throughout history and puts them on both sides of good and evil, and then turns them loose in a bloody melee of madness.

Okay, I might have been unable to resist a little copy editing in that blurb. For instance, “new concept” sounds like a rather generous turn of phrase for what sounds like a mash-up of at least five existing properties, so maybe “current concept” would be more apt. I’m not a big fan of body-count balderdash, though the series does sound like it could have some amusing distractions. And it’s a nominee for the current round of Manga Taisho awards, reasonable predictors of manga that could be much worse, at the very least. Drifters is running in Shônen Ganosha’s Young King OURs.

Kannagi vol. 1, written and illustrated by Eri Takenashi, Bandai Entertainment: Nagi’s a strange young girl – and not just because she popped out of a tree! She tells Jin (who’s a perfectly normal high school boy) that she’s a goddess. But is she really? As a matter of fact, she is! Normal girls, even strange ones, don’t come from trees, you know. And soon, the odd pair start living under the same roof together. Thus begins the first volume of a bizarre manga tale that wends it way through both the comical and serious! More or less.

I almost dozed off halfway through typing that paragraph, so generic is the description it provides. Also, that’s less of a skirt than it is a flared cummerbund that’s slipped. Kannagi is running in Ichijinsha’s Comic REX, though it’s apparently on hiatus.

The Diary of a Crazed Family vol. 1, written by Akira and illustrated by wEshica, Tokyopop: A thousand years ago, Enka, the god of destruction, died vowing that its “child” would one day destroy the world. in order to prevent this, “Operation Cozy Family” is implemented in which the children who are potentially prophesied as the “Child of Enka” are forced to live together. This impromptu family contains all children, human and otherwise, as well as an official of the bureau and a self proclaimed goddess who act as the parents of the household. The goal of “Operation Cozy Family” is to discern who the prophecy applies to, as well as to teach them all about the love of family in hopes of convincing the “Child of Enka” not to destroy the world. but with all families, there’s bound to be mishaps and adventure – especially when the fate of the world is at hand!

I confess that my objections to this one are pretty arbitrary: I think the character design of the girl on the cover is annoying, and I’m not a fan of dippy pen names. The plot actually sounds like it could be kind of fun. The series is currently running in Enterbrain’s FB Online.

So which of the above would you like me to order and endure? Please vote in the comments!

Previews review March 2011

The March 2011 edition of the Previews catalog is packed with noteworthy items, so let’s get right down to it.

My pick of the month would be Kaoru (Emma, Shirley) Mori’s A Bride’s Story (Yen Press), page 355:

The newest series from the critically acclaimed creator of Emma, A Bride’s Story tells the tale of a beautiful young bride in nineteenth-century Asia. At the age of twenty, Amir is sent to a neighboring town to be wed. But her surprise at learning her new husband, Karluk, is eight years younger than her is quickly replaced by a deep affection for the boy and his family. Though she hails from just beyond the mountains, Amir’s clan had very different customs, foods, and clothes from what Karluk is used to. As the two of them learn more about each other through their day-to-day lives, the bond of respect and love grows stronger.

Yen Press is proudly publishing Kaori Mori’s beautifully-illustrated tale in a deluxe hardcover edition.

If you’re like me, you would have been sold at “Kaoru Mori.” The series is ongoing in Enterbrain’s fellows!

CLAMP fans will be pleased with the arrival of another handsome omnibus treatment of one of their series, Magic Knight Rayearth, from Dark Horse (page 56). It originally ran in Kodansha’s Nakayoshi and was originally published in English by Tokyopop. Dark Horse’s version will be done-in-one, collecting all three volumes.

DC’s Vertigo imprint offers a new paperback printing of Howard Cruse’s Stuck Rubber Baby, a semi-autobiographical tale of a young gay man coming of age in the turbulent American south of the 1960s (page 130). Monkey See’s Glen Weldon provided a lovely overview of the book.

A new release from Fanfare/Ponent Mon is always worth noting, even if you’ve never heard of the book before. This month, they solicit Farm 54, written by Galit Seliktar and illustrated by Gilad Sliktar:

Farm 54 is a collection of semi-autobiographical stories that address three important periods in the life of the protagonist, Naga, growing up in Israel’s rural periphery… While these Israeli childhood stories take place in the shadow of war an occupation, they also reflect universal feelings, passions, and experiences.

Kodansha Comics lists new volumes of several of the series it picked up from Del Rey (pages 296 and 297):

  • Fairy Tail vol. 13, written and illustrated by Hiro Mashima
  • Rave Master volumes 33-35, written and illustrated by Hiro Mashima
  • Shugo Charai vol. 10, written and illustrated by Peach-Pit
  • Arisa vol. 2, written and illustrated by Natsumi Ando
  • Negima! vol. 29, written and illustrated by Ken Akamatsu
  • Ninja Girls vol. 5, written and illustrated by Hosana Tanaka

Speaking of comebacks, if the recent Manga Moveable Feast piqued your interest in Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen, Last Gasp rolls out new printings of the first two volumes (page 297).

If you’re interested in seeing people do amazing things with the form of comics (and don’t care much about story or character), Picturebox unleashes more work by Yuichi (Travel, New Engineering) Yokoyama in the form of Garden (page 308). Being of somewhat more conventional tastes, I think I’ll hold off on this one.

Update: Over at Robot 6, Sean T. Collins interviews Yokoyama and shares several preview pages of Garden.

I may not be able to show suck restraint with Gajo Sakamoto’s Tank Tankuro from Presspop, Inc. (page 308):

The roots of Astro BoyTank Tankuro pioneered robot manga during the pre-World War II period in Japan. First published in 1934, Tank Tankuro was one of the most famous manga characters of the era. Tankuro is said to be the first robot ever to appear in Japanese comics. He and his villain, Kuro Kabuto, famous among Japanese SF fans for his resemblance to Darth Vader, laid the foundations for such manga greats as Tezuka, Sugiura, and Fujiko.

Christopher (Comics212) Butcher is very excited about this, which is almost always a good sign.

And, because someone who is not me but clearly has every right for their dreams to come true demanded it, Viz releases a new edition of Oh!great’s Tenjo Tenge which, they promise, is “Finally UNCENSORED!” It’s about dorks who like to fight, with plenty of fan service to help keep your interest (page 333). I wish I could find a copy of the cover image, because it positively screams “Not for me.”


From the stack: The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service vol. 11

I always feel a little badly about my follow-up with reviews, as I tend to focus on early volumes of manga series with mostly cursory remarks on later installments unless my opinion changes materially or I feel the book is underappreciated. While my opinion of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Dark Horse) hasn’t changed, I did want to highlight the fact that the eleventh volume, written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Housui Yamazaki, is pretty extraordinary, even by the standards of this uniformly excellent series.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, first of all, you really should be. The premise is simple at its core and extremely portable in terms of the kinds of stories Otsuka and Yamazaki tell. It’s about a group of unemployable students at a Buddhist university who combine their unique talents to form a side business dedicated to helping misplaced corpses with their unfinished business. Their various skills include hacking (with computers as opposed to cleavers), embalming and autopsy, channeling a foulmouthed alien entity, detecting dead bodies, and actually speaking to the deceased to find out how they ended up where they ended up.

It’s witty and gruesome, and Otsuka uses the episodic nature of the series to explore not only the ways humans respond to death, but contemporary culture as a whole. The satire is generally just the right kind of sly, which I think results in part from Yamazaki’s open, friendly cartooning. Yamazaki can certainly pull off grisly visuals, but he seems fond of the ways people look different from one another in age, size and shape. Even the terrible people who wander in and out of the narrative have that certain vulnerability you get from the fact that they look distinct, that you could imagine seeing them in your world.

The stories tend to run a few chapters each, but my favorite arcs tend to be longer. The second volume tells a single story, and it’s a glorious mystery with supernatural elements. The eleventh volume includes what I think is the second-longest story arc in the series, and it never flags. Otsuka packs it with both solid plot and smart embellishments.

It’s about mysterious happenings at an elite private school that center around a spooky little girl with an unsavory past named Chihaya. She has a connection to Sasayama, the retired detective/civil servant who often drags our heroes into worthwhile (but unprofitable) scenarios. Chihaya is an amazing character – steely, secretive, and purposeful, but entirely credible as a kid. I would love it if she got a spin-off or at least returned for another big, meaty arc.

Otsuka and Yamazaki have a great time with the social discord of the school setting and the ways little girls can be awful to each other, particularly at the elite levels. They also poke smart fun at the state of journalism and public perceptions of crime and youth. And they give their core cast some great moments. Corpse-finding Numata gets some surprising time in the spotlight, with his slacker-dope persona revealing some unexpected but totally logical nuances. Hacker Sasaki doesn’t get as much panel time, but she has a few terrific bits that remind readers of why she’s the brains of the operation.

The second arc in the book isn’t as good, but that’s mostly a matter of comparison. In an average volume, its look at the seedy underbelly of a beloved institution would be entirely welcome, and it’s not unwelcome here. It just can’t compete with Chihaya’s tightly written, sharply observed plight. If you want to give it a more charitable reading, start at page 171, then pick up at the beginning.

I mentioned this series as a worthy contender for an Eisner nomination, and I’ll happily restate that, particularly based on the strength of this volume. It’s a great comic, and I’d love it if more people gave it a chance.

For your 2011 Eisner consideration

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?

    Upcoming 11/10/2010

    It’s one of those neat ComicList weeks where all kinds of interesting comics from throughout the space-time continuum are due to land.

    Sean (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Gaffney tweeted about this book, and it has a definite allure for me as a person who read a lot of Archie comics in the back seat of the station wagon on long drives to various vacation destinations during his childhood. It’s Dark Horse’s Archie Firsts collection, which promises “first issues, first appearances, and other milestones, collected for the first time in one hardcover volume!”

    I was a huge fan of Scott Chantler’s Northwest Passage (Oni Press), so it would stand to reason that I should pick up a copy of his Two Generals (McClelland and Stewart), which promises “poignant graphic memoir that tells the story of World War II from an Everyman’s perspective.” I’m not a history buff, per se, but Chantler is phenomenally talented.

    The first volume of Lars Martinson’s Tōnoharu (Top Shelf) was very intriguing, so I’m looking forward to Martinson’s second look at a fish out of water teaching English in rural Japan.

    Erica (Okazu) Friedman is crazy about Hayate X Blade (Seven Seas), written and illustrated by Shizuru Hayashiya, and that’s reason enough to seriously consider the purchase of the first omnibus collection of the series.

    And I am crazy about Kou Yaginuma’s Twin Spica (Vertical), and I would never consider delaying in the purchase of the fourth volume. This is easily one of the great series debuts of 2010.

    What looks good to you?

    Upcoming 10/27/2010

    It’s time for another look at the week’s ComicList!

    Tokyopop has a bunch of titles coming out, and my pick of that lot would be the tenth volume of Banri Hidaka’s V.B. Rose, a romantic comedy about a budding designer of accessories working in a high-end bridal shop.

    Random House’s Del Rey manga imprint may be on its last legs, but it’s releasing a healthy volume of titles all the same. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first volume of Akimine Kamijo’s Code Breaker, so I’ll be looking for the second.

    I’ve also been surprised by how much I’ve been enjoying Marvel’s Secret Avengers series, so I’ll also grab a copy of the sixth issue, which features a visit from the Master of Kung Fu.

    I have no excuse for not yet sampling Beasts of Burden from Dark Horse, and perhaps the Beasts of Burden/Hellboy One-Shot isn’t the best introduction to the series, but I think I’ll grab it all the same, just because I know my comic shop will probably have a copy handy.

    What looks good to you?

    Upcoming 10/20/2010

    Goodness, but it’s a dense ComicList this week!

    Dark Horse continues to work its way through some of CLAMP’s most-loved back catalog. This week, it’s the first omnibus volume of Cardcaptor Sakura, originally published in English by Tokyopop and with an associated, legendarily butchered anime dub, if I remember correctly.

    I liked the first volume of Chigusa Kawwai’s Alice the 101st (DMP) quite a bit. It’s about kids at a music school in Epcot Europe, and the second volume arrives Wednesday.

    I’m also very fond of Konami Kanata’s Chi’s Sweet Home (Vertical), a slice-of-life tale about an orphaned kitten settling in with her new family. The third volume is due, and I’m working on a review of the series for later this week.

    March Story (Viz), written by Hyung Min Kim and illustrated by Kyung-il Yang, is more interesting to me conceptually than it is for its individual merits. It originally ran in Shogakukan’s Sunday GX, and it’s by Korean creators, so that’s kind of unusual. Other than that, it’s very well-drawn but kind of average comeuppance theatre. It’s a big week for Viz’s Signature imprint with new volumes of 20th Century Boys, Kingyo Used Books, and Vagabond.

    Yen Press is releasing a lot of product this week, but my clear favorite is the fourth volume of Svetlana Chmakova’s Nightschool, a complex, polished supernatural adventure about a school for mystical types.

    What looks good to you?

    Upcoming 9/15/2010

    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?

    From the stack: Satsuma Gishiden vol. 1

    I don’t know if thoughtful ultra-violence happens as often as its creators think it does. In fact, I generally think that imposing deep-think-y stuff on splatter usually has the effect of making the think-y stuff look dumb while taking the air out of the splatter. When I do run across brainy splatter, it tends to have come from Japan.

    The latest example in this (for me) narrow field is Satsuma Gishiden (Dark Horse), written and illustrated by Hiroshi Hirata. It opens with a group of samurai playing some feudal version of rugby that involves trying to extract the liver from a criminal. It’s a morale-building exercise, you see. And while it’s muscularly drawn – snorting horses, thrusting spears, blood splatter that would keep the casts of five hour-long crime procedurals busy for a week – it’s also got a purposeful grimness that suggests to me that Hirata isn’t going to be blindly celebrating the samurai’s path.

    The orgy of violence is part of a social studies lesson, you see, illustrating a strangling caste system and its consequences on individuals and their culture. The full-time samurai look down on the citizen soldiers, who can barely eke out a living. The citizen soldiers resent their apparent betters, and the highest tiers are oblivious to the strife. The system of education is designed to prop up the caste system and promote a dehumanizing form of patriotism.

    Hirata shifts between displays of physical prowess and the ways it can be brutally applied and less moist passages that provide the context – the whys and wherefores of how liver soccer became a sport. The history and sociology lack the sleekness and force of the bloodshed even more than you might normally expect, but they serve the useful purpose of making that bloodshed seem less like an end in and of itself. I say “less like” because there’s too much relish in those sequences and they’re too protracted for anyone to believe that they’re entirely essential to the plot.

    Still, evident as the relish for a well-drawn impaling can be, choppy as the political maneuverings can read, there’s genuine feeling here. These things matter intensely to the characters, as they should. And sometimes the pondering and the splatter work in perfect conjunction. In one sequence, the lower-class samurai take ruthless revenge on their oppressors. To call these pages beautiful is probably deeply wrong, but they work like you would not believe. They have gruesome visual fascination and substantial narrative force.

    Unfortunately, Dark Horse has published only three of the six volumes of Satsuma Gishiden. They’re keeping it in print, as I picked this up via an “offered again” listing in Previews. Maybe a second bite at the apple will generate enough interest to get the rest into our hands. I know I’m going to read as much of it as I can.