From the stack: Arata: The Legend Vol. 1

When I first looked at some pages of Arata: The Legend over at Viz’s Shonen Sunday site, my first thought was that someone was really trying for a Yuu Watase vibe, until I looked at the credits and realized that person was the venerable shôjo manga-ka herself, making her shônen magazine debut. (I’m not very bright.) For whatever reason, I tend to enjoy comics for boys created by women, but the first couple of chapters of Arata didn’t really grab my attention. Having read the first print volume, my attention is newly grabbed. This is some snappy stuff.

I’ve liked a lot of Watase’s manga. Alice 19th and Imadoki! (both from Viz) are particular favorites. (I rather intensely disliked Absolute Boyfriend, also from Viz, but that’s neither here nor there.) I tend to like her better when she keeps things lively, and that seems to be one of the guiding principles behind Arata. Plot twists come quickly and cleanly, and they promise lots of interesting developments in future chapters.

The series opens with a boy named Arata forced into drag to fulfill a family obligation to the local princess. This goes rather badly wrong when the princess’s ostensible protectors try and murder her and pin the blame on Arata. He flees a bit farther than he intended, winding up switching places (temporal and dimensional, apparently) with another boy named Arata.

Modern Arata is a bully-magnet in contemporary Japan whose plans for a happy high-school life are undone when one of his chief junior-high tormentors transfers into his class. Maybe life in a mysterious dimension being chased by murderous godly swords-persons isn’t so bad? Okay, it probably is so bad, as Watase can be rather brutal to her protagonists, but both Aratas seem willing to try and make the best of their respective situations.

It’s a great set-up for an action fantasy, and I particularly like the parallel fish-out-of-water situations. Both Aratas are appealing types, and they’re surrounded by the expected range of endearing-to-menacing supporting characters. (There’s also a bossy granny, and bossy grannies make just about every manga better.)

Since this is Watase we’re talking about, you know it’s going to be drawn well. Her work is always detailed but clean, and her action sequences seem a little crisper than usual, if anything. It’s something of a running joke that all of her male characters look the same, but there’s an appealing variety here. Maybe having two male leads inspired her to stretch a bit more. Her designs for the fantasy world are lush and eye-catching, and it’s fun to watch a guy in a school uniform dash around in them.

In spite of its shônen magazine home, this is really just Watase doing what she does really well – telling the story of a likeable, average person thrust into an alien situation and finding that they have a challenging destiny to fulfill. I think fans of her shôjo work will like it a lot, and I hope readers who wouldn’t touch shôjo with a ten-foot pole will discover a talented creator.

(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)

Saturday speculation

I don’t really want to wade into the whole scanlation argument. It’s been ably covered by people on all sides of the issue, and if I started fixating on interesting or (in my opinion) arguable points, I probably wouldn’t be able to stop until Wednesday.

I would like to restate my position, which is that I choose not to read unlicensed translations. I prefer to consume comics in ways that directly benefit the creators or at least have the creators’ consent. It’s entirely possible that, had I come of age when download culture was first emerging instead of later much, much earlier or had more of an interest in the kinds of media that were a big part of the first wave of illegal content (like music), I might have a different opinion on the subject. There’s no way for me to know. Another factor is that I tend to prefer reading physical comics rather than reading them on a computer screen. And last, and probably not least, I don’t have the time to read all of the actual comics I want to read, so the prospect of adding a great volume of legally questionable content to the stack isn’t really alluring to me.

I would also like to restate that I find those aggregator sites that keep cropping up in online advertisements perfectly revolting, and if I never see one of those ads again, it will be too soon. If people discussing this issue can agree on nothing else, I would hope that we can all concur that those for-profit piracy sites are completely indefensible.

But I’m all in favor of people being able to sample series online, provided all of the elements of creator consent and participation are in place. I like sampling comics of varied provenance over at the Netcomics site, and I like plunking down my micropayments for series I enjoy. I also have high hopes for Viz’s various online initiatives, the simultaneous release of Rumiko Takahashi’s Rin-Ne and the magazine-specific SigIKKI and Shonen Sunday portals.

I would love it if Viz developed a similar infrastructure for its Shojo Beat imprint. Since the demise of the magazine, they’ve lost some exposure, and I think online serialization would be a good idea. Viz does have a large number of preview chapters available for online perusal, so that’s a start. But there is a huge catalog of Shojo Beat titles. Some of them do very well in terms of sales, but some really terrific books could probably benefit from online serialization, especially when full runs get squeezed off of bookstore shelves by longer, more popular titles.

I know there are complications to developing this kind of initiative. In one of the many contentious comment threads that have cropped up over the last week, Erica (Okazu) Friedman noted that many manga-ka aren’t keen on digital distribution of their work. Getting permission to digitally serialize any of the Shojo Beat titles would probably require complicated renegotiation with the creators and original publishers. (Viz was able to do this with the Shonen Sunday books, many of which have been in print for ages, and for a number of series at The Rumic World, some of which were virtually out of print, so it’s not impossible.)

Then there are potential publisher rivalries. Unlike the Shonen Jump magazine (all Shueisha titles) or the Shonen Sunday site (all Shogakukan), the Shojo Beat imprint is composed of a number of different publishers, including Hakusensha. The Sunday-Jump content divide indicates to me that even co-owning a stateside publishing outlet isn’t enough to negate publisher rivalries, but perhaps the shôjo scene is a little more cordial. The Shojo Beat magazine simultaneously serialized titles from Shueisha, Shogakukan and Hakusensha, so maybe they’d be a little more open to sharing web space. I have no idea. They might go at each other with broken bottles when not in the public eye for all I know.

But if they do decide to pursue something like this, I think the Shonen Sunday composition of titles would be ideal – one brand-new title with the allure of simultaneous release, a scattering of series that are new to an English-reading audience rolled out before print publication, and a healthy quotient of long-running or completed series to invite new readers to sample stuff that’s already available. And since Viz seems determined to fold some josei into this imprint, I think an online venue would be a great way to build an audience for that tricky demographic.

It goes without saying that I have no idea if this would be beneficial in terms of building audience or reducing piracy. You need only to look through my license requests to realize just how shaky by commercial sense can be. But a number of reasonable people seem to agree that the best way to minimize the reach of pirated content is to offer a legitimate alternative. This would build on an existing infrastructure and engage another demographic.

And I won’t lie, it would be cool for me personally, which is really the only reason I suggest anything in terms of business models or licensing decisions. There are lots of Shojo Beat series I’d like to be able to sample in this way.

Another IKKI update


Viz has added another series to its SIGIKKI site: Tondabayashi’s What’s the Answer? It’s short, bizarre, and (so far) very funny, so you should go take a look. It reminds me a bit of Usumaru Furuya’s Palepoli cartoons.

Deb Aoki was tweeting some updates on which titles are on Viz’s publishing schedule. Many of them seem to be due for print versions, which is good to hear. I’m also really glad that Viz has added a number of other Natsume Ono titles to its Signature line-up (Gente, not simple, Ristorante Paradiso), because House of Five Leaves has left me with ridiculously high expectations of her work. Seriously, it’s totally unfair that I’m expecting her to be the second coming of Fumi Yoshinaga, but it’s nice to be excited.

And now, a quick poll:

Recent reading

Interesting things I’ve read lately:

A roundtable on digital piracy of comics featuring representatives of Fantagraphics, Dark Horse and Top Shelf: It kind of surprises me that Aaron Colter from Dark Horse never mentions the impact of piracy on the publisher’s licensed products, though it doesn’t surprise me that Fantagraphics experiences more piracy in its Eros line, a lot of which is translated product from Japan. I sometimes suspect that respect for a creator’s rights doesn’t always extend beyond one’s continent of residence, or it at least loses some of its ideological vigor.

Musings on the National Book Award categorization of David Small’s Stitches over at NPR’s Monkey See blog: This is a curious turn of events. I admire the book a lot, but I don’t think the hubbub over its nomination does it any favors, though it obviously doesn’t diminish Small’s achievement. As Tom Spurgeon has said so often, book publishing is gross. (And I also wanted to note that the Monkey See blog is generally a lively, entertaining read. I’ve been enjoying its comics content, though I hope Glen Weldon writes about manga at some point.)

The Robot 6 coverage of the Big Apple-New York Comic-Con situation by Sean Collins: The actual outcome of this is really only interesting to me in the abstract, because I’m unlikely to attend either event, much less both, but Collins approaches the subject with wry thoroughness.

A story at Publishers Weekly that provides some clarification on those Federal Trade Commission guidelines for blogger disclosure: Well, “clarification” is probably as optimistic a term as “guidelines,” but the story makes the guidelines seem less draconian. Or at least it presents the comforting notion that the FTC has no idea how to enforce the guidelines, if and when they figure out what those guidelines actually are.

Upcoming 10/21/2009

Last Wednesday’s lean times are over, so check under your sofa cushions and empty the ash tray in your car, because it’s time for a look at the current ComicList:

real6It’s tough to pick a book of the week, as there’s interesting material in varied formats, but I ultimately have to settle on the sixth volume of Takehiko Inoue’s Real from Viz Signature. This excellent drama looks at the lives of wheelchair basketball players so vividly and with such specificity that you don’t need to have the slightest interest in sports to become engrossed. I certainly don’t have any interest in sports, and I think the book is terrific and deeply underappreciated. So please give it a try.

whatawonderfulworld1Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of the books in Viz’s Signature line and an admirer of the imprint in general. I honestly can’t think of one I don’t at least enjoy. That said I do question the wisdom of unleashing quite this much product on the market at once. In addition to the aforementioned volume of Real, there’s the fifth volume of Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, the fifth omnibus installment of Inoue’s Vagabond, and both volumes of Inio (solanin) Asano’s What a Wonderful World! That’s $71.95 worth of comics, retail before taxes. It’s a lot. But perhaps strong sales of books like the first volume of Rumiko Takahashi’s RIN-NE (which arrives Wednesday) will help carry Viz’s less commercial titles. And RIN-NE is a lot of fun, as you would expect from Takahashi. Kate Dacey has an enthsuiastic review of the first volume at The Manga Critic, and you can sample the title at The RumicWorld.

Noted just for the novelty of it, Del Rey launches its floppy comics line this week with The Talisman: The Road of Trials, based on a Stephen King/Peter Straub property, written by Robin Furth and illustrated by Tony Shasteen. Del Rey Comics doesn’t seem to have a web site yet, but you can see a preview at Entertainment Weekly’s site.

bookaboutmoominThe New York Times ran a Reuters story pondering the potential international appeal of Tove Jansson’s Moomin properties without ever mentioning the fact that Drawn & Quarterly has been releasing beautiful hardcover collections of Jansson’s comic strips for a few years now. Whether Reuters notices or not, Drawn & Quarterly continues to earn excellent karma by releasing Jansson’s The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My. (Scroll down on to the bottom of this page for more details and a preview.)

underground2I enjoyed the first issue of Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber’s Underground (Image), a five-part mini-series about socioeconomic machinations and spelunking peril in a mountain town in Kentucky. I fully expect to enjoy the second issue as well.

I also enjoyed the first volume of Svetlana Chmakova’s Nightschool (Yen Press), collected after serialization in Yen Plus. It’s a complicated supernatural adventure about various factions of night creatures and the humans who oppose them. It’s got terrific art and a promisingly chunky plot. The second volume arrives Wednesday.

Checking in with IKKI

You’re still reading the free manga at Viz’s SIGIKKI site, right? A lot of it’s really good, and it’s free, and that kind of thing doesn’t happen very often, so you should take advantage of it. Here’s a lightly annotated list of the series, from least liked to favorite. (I passed over Daisuke Igarashi’s Children of the Sea, as that’s already on the print schedule and I prefer reading it that way, since it’s an option. It’s unquestionably one of 2009’s best books, though.)

Tokyo Flow Chart by Eiji Miruno: Well, they’ve only posted one chapter since the site’s launch, so I guess my initial opinion stands – a neat idea that I found almost impossible to read on a computer screen, so I have no idea if it’s any good.

Bokurano: Ours by Mohiro Kitoh: There’s nothing really wrong with this series. I can’t honestly say that any of the series are bad. But I feel like I’m already reading a much better version of this kind of thing with Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys.

Dorohedoro by Q. Yahashida: It’s got nicely gory and detailed art, and the plot feels like it could go interesting and lively places, but I feel like I’ve read this before. Not necessarily a better version of it, but something really similar and at least as good, which renders Dorohedoro somewhat superfluous.

I Am a Turtle by Temari Tamura: I’m probably under-ranking this one due to the fact there’s only one chapter available, but I’m already quite taken with this four-panel look at… well… a turtle. Great art.

Kingyo Used Books by Seimu Yoshizaki: I love the richly detailed illustrations, but I already find the stories a little heavy on sentimental nostalgia. I’ve enjoyed them, but I’m having a hard time imagining reading a bunch of them in a paperback chunk. Of course, no one’s saying I have to read the collected version beginning to end in a sitting.

I’ll Give it My All… Tomorrow by Shunji Aono: These last four are tough to rank, as I like them all almost equally and for very different reasons. I like this one for its merciless but still kind of sweet mockery of its loser protagonist. American comics about losers are never merciless enough.

Afterschool Charisma by Kumiko Suekane: At some point along the road of life, you have to admit to yourself that you can enjoy something just as much for its outrageous badness as you can for its compelling artistry, and that’s the case here (I think). Suekane is either a brilliant satirist or a lucky hack with moments of lunatic inspiration. Either way, I’m having great fun with this series about dimwitted teen clones of the famous and accomplished.

Saturn Apartments by Hisae Iwaoka: I’ll always favor slice-of-life science fiction over the kind with lots of bombastic plot, and this is terrific so far. I love the vulnerability of the character design, the melancholy tone, and the overall concept.

House of Five Leaves by Natsume Ono: Who’d have thought? I mean, seriously? But I’m crazy about this series, largely for its alluring ambiguity. Ono is a bit of a tease in terms of where the story is actually going, and she doesn’t seem to be in any tremendous rush to reveal that, but that’s the appeal for me. It travels really well-trodden narrative territory in unexpectedly delicate ways. I think it will still be my favorite even if the two main characters never actually make out.

According to Viz’s Signature listings, there are two other Natsume Ono books in the pipeline: not simple (January 2010) and Ristorante Paradiso (March 2010).

Oh, and there’s fun stuff to be found on the site’s blog.

Point and click

This week’s Flipped is up. I take a look at Viz’s SIGIKKI site and the many interesting titles previewed there. Over at Manga Worth Reading, Johanna Draper Carlson has taken a two-part look at various titles and is running a poll on readers’ early favorites.


I’m taking a week off from the license requests. Sometimes you just have to try and catch up with what’s actually available, and Viz isn’t making it easy with all of the freebies on its SIGIKKI and Shonen Sunday sites. It’s the end of the week, and I’m kind of fried, so I’ll take a look at the presumably more lighthearted shônen fare of the latter.

First of all, I have to say that I like the way Viz is assembling these animated trailers. They look nice; Kate Dacey used the one for Daisuke Igarashi’s Children of the Sea in a recent post, and it’s very effective. Second, I don’t really have anything to add to what I’ve already said about Rumiko Takahashi’s Rin-Ne; it’s solid entertainment, but it has yet to change my life. Third, I still don’t like reading comics on a computer, but Viz’s platform is simple enough to use and readable in scale and resolution, at least on my screen.

Now, on to the new series:

ssarataArata: The Legend, by Yuu Watase: Here’s how smart I am. My eyes passeded over the creator credit not once but twice before I started reading this, and one of my reactions to the comic was, “That’s kind of weird to have a Yuu Watase knock-off in a shônen magazine.” Of course, it is Watase, and it does seem kind of weird for her work to be in a shônen magazine, but weird in a nice way. I always like it when women branch into shônen and the less frequent phenomenon of men creating shôjo (though the only one I can think of who’s been licensed and published is Meca Tanaka), and Watase is very popular and has always been able to spin solid fantasy-adventure tales.

In this one, a young man must pretend to be a young woman to fulfill his clan’s obligation to provide princess-protectors to his nation. The ruse goes badly wrong in some unexpected ways, and, judging by the series description, further drastic twists are pending. There’s not much else I can say about it at the moment, other than it’s wonderfully drawn, like all Watase series, and that I already like it loads better than her last licensed outing, Absolute Boyfriend (Viz). That’s good enough for a start.

sshydeandcloserHyde and Closer, by Haro Aso: This one reminded me a lot of Akira Amano’s Reborn! (Viz), though I’m much more favorably inclined to a magical legacy than someone being destined to a life of organized crime. Lead character Shunpei Closer devotes a lot more energy to avoiding conflict and embarrassment than he’d ever expend just sucking it up and facing what life throws at him. His aversion techniques won’t be of much use when sorcerers around the globe learn that they can gain enormous power by killing him. Fortunately, his missing grandfather left Shunpei some protection in the form of a cigar-smoking, bourbon-drinking teddy bear. You read that correctly. Stuffed-animal mayhem ensues, which is both adorable and disturbing. I’m not sure how well the premise will hold up, but it’s hard to resist the stuffing-soaked action.

sskekkaishiKekkaishi, by Yellow Tanabe: This series has been around for a while, and it’s much admired by various people with excellent taste (most notably John Jakala). So what we have here is an under-appreciated title that’s already got a lot of volumes in circulation; it’s a smart move of Viz to give potential readers a low-risk entry point to the series. The whole concept of free chapters on line is smart, but especially for books with an imbalance of critical regard and sales. I very much liked the first chapter about dueling families of demon hunters. Young Yoshimori Sumimura is destined to be his family’s leader, but he’s got no love for their traditional profession. He’ll have to come around and live up to his potential. Tanabe has assembled a clear, concise mythology and a solid emotional foundation for the characters. The art is terrific, particularly the action sequences, and there are lots of fun, funny touches. I particularly liked the cranky grandparents of the warring clans, and I immediately started ‘shipping them, which is always a good sign. This is definitely the hit of the site for me.

ssmaohjuvenileremixMaoh: Juvenile Remix, original story by Kotaro Isaka, story and art by Megumi Osuga. I got a bit of a Death Note (Viz) vibe from this one, in that it seems intent on providing thrills with an added layer of moral complexity. It stars Ando, a high-school student who’s gone to some pains to conceal his psychic ability. He can make people around him say things he’s thinking. That’s an odd and narrow enough super-power to make me suspect that the creators have something interesting in mind. Ando meets Inukai, the oddly charismatic leader of a local vigilante group that’s trying to restore order to the rather raucous streets of the city. Ando is intrigued by Inukai’s desire to change the world for the better, but vigilantism has a dark side. As Death Note proved, you’re unlikely to go broke telling morally ambiguous tales starring hot guys. Count me as intrigued.

Left behind, but not neglected

Are you feeling envious of all the folks assembled at Nerd Ground Zero? One way you can pass the time not spent obsessively watching blogs and Twitter for updates is to check out the now-live Viz portals for Shonen Sunday and SIGIKKI, reading free manga and pitying the poor souls at the convention center with their limited wireless and hand-held devices. (And yes, SIGIKKI had already posted a hefty quantity of Children of the Sea, but they’ve added chapters of four more series.)

Peeking at IKKI

IKKIViz sent out more information on its SIGIKKI imprint yesterday, and I thought I’d try and track down some additional information on the titles. I think that Viz’s approach – gauging and building demand before committing to print and physical distribution costs – is interesting, and I hope it works out for them. I also think a lot of the imprint’s possible titles sound really intriguing, so part of that hope is selfish. I just want to read the books.

Here’s the link to Shogakukan’s IKKI site, and here’s the Wikipedia entry on the magazine. Below are covers of the titles listed in Viz’s release. You can click on any of them to see their pages at Shogakukan’s web site; once there, you can click on the button with the magnifying glass and you can browse some sample pages, or click on the hyperlink in the lower table to the right of the cover image to see additional volumes of the series.

Afterschool Charisma By Kumiko Suekane

Afterschool Charisma By Kumiko Suekane

Bokurano: OURS By Mohiro Kitoh

Bokurano: OURS By Mohiro Kitoh

Dorohedoro By Q Hayashida

Dorohedoro By Q Hayashida

House of Five Leaves By Natsume Ono

House of Five Leaves By Natsume Ono

I’ll Give it My All…Tomorrow By Shunju Aono

I’ll Give it My All…Tomorrow By Shunju Aono

Kingyo Used Books By Seimu Yoshizaki

Kingyo Used Books By Seimu Yoshizaki

Saturn Apartments By Hisae Iwaoka

Saturn Apartments By Hisae Iwaoka

Tokyo Flow Chart By Eiji Miruno

Tokyo Flow Chart By Eiji Miruno

Because I’m always curious to see just how envious I should be of the French, here’s the rundown on which titles are already available there, and from whom:

  • Bokurano from Asuka
  • Dorohedoro from Soleil
  • House of Five Leaves published as Goyô by Kana
  • Only three… we’re not as far behind as usual! Last but not least, I’ll post a quick poll:

    Feel free to pick as many as interest you. And this is one of those HTML hell posts for me, so if anything looks funky or goes the wrong place, please mention it in the comments so I can clean it up.