A Zoo in Winter

As gifted and versatile as Jiro Taniguchi is, I do find myself ambivalent about some of his work. I can sometimes find it too cerebral (The Times of Botchan), too burly and stoic (The Ice Wanderer), or even too sentimental (A Distant Neighborhood). I always appreciate his comics, particularly for their flawless draftsmanship, but there can be those nagging reactions to tone that keep me from admiring it without reservation.

A Zoo in Winter, Taniguchi’s latest translated offering from Fanfare/Ponent Mon, ends up being one of his titles that ends up working for me without qualification. It starts out a bit on the stoic side, but it ends up being thoughtfully sentimental in just the right way, at least by my standards.

Taniguchi reveals his early days in the manga industry, working as an assistant to a popular shônen artist. When we first meet him, or at least his avatar, Hamaguchi, he’s working in an unsatisfying job at a textile concern, making deliveries and wondering if he’ll ever get a promised chance at design work. An awkward series of events involving the owner’s daughter leads him from Kyoto to Tokyo, where a high-school friend sets him up with a job in a manga-ka’s studio.

Hamaguchi learns the assistant’s trade on the job, finding the workplace dynamics somewhat trickier than he expected. He’s jealous when a co-worker seems to be on the verge of his professional debut, and he’s quietly alarmed by the news that his superior had his shot at a solo career and went back to supporting someone else’s work. Hamaguchi also hits that wall any cartoonist faces: what kinds of stories does he want to tell?

He also gradually starts taking advantage of life in Tokyo. The studio is sort of a wheel-spoke for the kind of weird, low-grade arty types that congregate in cities. Between Kikuchi, the ne’er-do-well friend of Hamaguchi’s manga-ka boss, and his high-school buddy, Hamaguchi begins to develop something resembling a social life. Those two threads intersect when Kikuchi asks Hamaguchi to hang out with his girlfriend’s sickly sister.

The waif ends up inspiring Hamaguchi merely by expressing an interest in what happens next in one of Hamaguchi’s half-formed stories. His fondness for the girl (and probably the ego boost her admiration provides) prompts Hamaguchi to take his own work more seriously. After a rather clinical starting point, the narrative goes to some shamelessly romantic places, and I’m surprised at how well it works. There are few things quite as clichéd as the sickly inspiring the hale to make the most of their lives, but Taniguchi pulls it off by acknowledging that this is what’s happening but keeping his protagonist sweetly in the dark about what a stereotype he’s executing. It ends up being lovely rather than gooey, though the gooey mien gives it all an extra something. Taniguchi gets to frost his cake and eat it, too.

As a tale of a young artist, A Zoo in Winter is generally understated, which is a blessing. Taniguchi is in his best kind of thoughtful, restrained mode with this material, which results in some very astute observations about the hothouse quality of artists in collaboration. I think that restraint and understatement also give Taniguchi license to tug at the heartstrings a bit more than otherwise might be palatable. It strikes a very nice balance overall, and it’s certainly among my favorites of Taniguchi’s licensed works.


Previews review July 2011

I know it’s probably inappropriate to rob you of your right to vote during the week if Independence Day, but there just isn’t enough new material to run either dubious manga or BL polls. There are a couple of new titles that look perfectly awful, but I can’t bring myself to run the risk of ever having to read either of them. And there’s only one new BL title due. As if to compensate for this, Previews is packed with tempting debuts and new volumes of beloved series.

The madness begins with Kodansha Comics providing all of the Sailor Scouts you can handle. There’s the first volume of Koji Kumeta Naoko Takeuchi’s Codename: Sailor V (order number JUL11 1144, $10.99), the prequel to Sailor Moon that has never been published in English, and there’s the first volume of Kumeta Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon itself (order number JUL11 1150, $10.99). Kodansha rather cheekily describes this as “the biggest manga launch of 2011 from any publisher.” I can’t really argue with the truth of that. Of course, if it’s so big, you might get the details on your web site.

I’ve never heard of this book, but I trust NBM, so I’m on board for Takashi Murakami’s Stargazing Dog (order number JUL11 1174, $11.99). This two-volume series originally ran in Futubasha’s Manga Action. It’s about a depressed loner whose life is vastly improved by the adoption of a dog.

Not content with one amazing debut, Vertical doubles up, first with Uumaru Furuya’ No Longer Human, an adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Osamu Dazai (order number JUL11 1258, $10.95). Furuya updated Dazai’s tale of an emotionally troubled man for his three-volume adaptation, which ran in Shinchosha’s Comic Bunch. Side note: Dazai’s novel played a key role in Mizuki Nomura’s excellent light novel, Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime (Yen Press).

If there’s been a manga series that received more attention from mainstream media than Tadashi Agi’s The Drop of God (order number JUL11 1259, $14.95), I can’t think of it. This wine-soaked seinen title follows the rivalry between a wine critic and his brother as they compete for the right to inherit the contents of their father’s legendary cellar.

Viz has a ton of new volume of great series, but the only noteworthy debut is a 3-in-1 release of X by CLAMP (order number JUL2011 1279, $19.99). I can’t find a link for it anywhere, but Viz promises a deluxe collector’s edition restored to its original orientation. As for the story itself, the end of the world is near, and super-powered people are taking sides in Tokyo. The series ran for 18 volumes in Kadokawa Shoten’s Monthly Asuka.

New volumes of ongoing series:

  • xxxHOLic vol. 17, by CLAMP, Del Rey, order number: JUL11 0986, $10.99
  • The Summit of the Gods vol. 3, by Yumemakura Baku and Jiro Taniguchi, Fanfare/Ponent Mon, order number JUL11 1106, $25.00
  • Black Metal vol. 2, by Rick Spears and Chuck BB, Oni Press, order number JUL11 1195, $11.99
  • Twin Spica vol. 9, by Kou Yaginuma, Vertical, Inc., order number JUL11 1260, $10.95
  • One Piece vol. 58, by Eiichiro Oda, Viz Media, order number JUL11 1271, $9.99
  • Cross Game vol. 5, by Mitsuru Adachi, Viz Media, order number JUL11 1286, $14.99
  • Kamisama Kiss vol. 5, by Julietta Suzuki, order number JUL11 1261, $9.99
  • Bunny Drop vol. 4, by Yumi Unita, order number JUL11 1300, $12.99

That’s kind of hefty! Start filling your change jars now!


Upcoming 6/29/2011

Yes, I admit that the Manga Bookshelf crew took a look at the Midtown Comics list and abstained from voting, but the ComicList is always at least somewhat different, and there are two items I wanted to mention.

Isn’t it nice to have a publisher you can blindly trust to publish books that are always worth your scrutiny? I find Fanfare/Ponent Mon to fall into that category, so I ordered Galit and Gilad Seliktar’s Farm 54 without really knowing a single thing about it. It’s an autobiographically informed coming-of-age story set in Israel in the 1970s.

Nobody would ever accuse me of blindly trusting Tokyopop, and the use of the word “maid” in the title of a manga is usually enough to send me running in the other direction, but the readers spoke, so I dutifully ordered the first (and possibly only) volume of Maid Shokun, written by Nanki Satou and illustrated by Akira Kiduki. While I haven’t allowed myself to read his full review, so as not to color anything I may write about the book, I’m relieved to hear that Sean (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Gaffney found the book much better than he had expected it would be. This is one of the two preferred outcomes of crowd-sourced comic ordering: a pleasant surprise, or something much worse than even my fevered imagination could predict.

In other Manga Bookshelf news, we’ve offered our views on a variety of relatively recent releases in the latest installment of Bookshelf Briefs. Is anyone else ready for the Straw Hats to come back, or is it just me?

Previews review June 2011

All right, now that the polling is underway, let’s take a look at the sure bets in the current edition of Diamond’s Previews catalog. Will start with the exciting and/or noteworthy debuts:

Velveteen & Mandala, written and illustrated by Jiro (Freesia) Matsumoto, Vertical, item code JUN11 1294: A Vertical debut is always worth noting, and this one looks intriguingly odd. It portrays a pair of teen-age girls struggling against the zombie apocalypse when they aren’t fending off the totally worse thread of boredom. The single-volume series originally ran in Ohta Shuppan’s Manga Erotics F, an unpredictable but always promising source. I believe this is Matsumoto’s English-language debut.

Habibi, written and illustrated by Craig Thompson, Pantheon, item code JUN11 1212: Have I mentioned lately that I’ve never mustered the energy to finish Thompson’s Blankets? I found what I’ve read of it to be hopelessly mopey and overwritten, though undeniably easy on the eyes. But it’s always worth noting when Thompson releases a new brick, because it happens so rarely. This time, he “explores and celebrates the beauty and cruelty, the complexity and depths of the Islamic world.” Set your phasers on “Gush.”

Animal Land vol. 1, written and illustrated by Makoto (Zatch Bell) Raiku, Kodansha Comics, item code JUN11 1169: I’m succumbing to the adorability of the cover and the premise. An orphaned raccoon dog finds an abandoned human child and decides to raise it in a world occupied only by animals. Zatch Bell had some deeply hideous and unsettling character designs and a cripplingly annoying anime adaptation, so those are points of concern, but I’m game for a volume or two. The series originally ran in Kodansha’s Bessatsu Shônen.

Moving on to the “offered again” category:

  • Korea as Viewed by 17 Creators, by various, Fanfare/Ponent Mon, item code JUN11 1123: Curious about this Eisner-nominated anthology? This is probably one of your better shots at scoring a copy.
  • Gon vol. 1, written and illustrated by Masashi Tanaka, Kodansha Comics, item code JUN11 1172: In case you missed these insanely kinetic, wordless comics about a baby dinosaur the first couple of times they were released.
  • Carnet de Voyage, written and illustrated by Craig Thompson, Top Shelf, item code JUN11 1246: This collection of travel stories is the Thompson comic I’d enthusiastically recommend.

And, lastly, new volumes of ongoing series that particularly catch my eye:

  • Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei vol. 10, written and illustrated by Koji Kumeta, Kodansha Comics, item code JUN11 1176: So glad Kodansha is picking up this hilarious, unsparing satire.
  • Amelia Rules! Vol. 7, The Meaning of Life… and Other Stuff, written and illustrated by Jimmy Gownley, Simon & Schuster, item code JUN11 1239: Wonderfully observant comics about a spunky, imaginative middle-schooler and her friends.
  • Butterflies, Flowers vol. 8, written and illustrated by Yuki Yoshihara, Viz Media, item code JUN11 1275: Probably a guilty pleasure, and one I’m a bit behind on, but I always get some quality cringing chuckles out of this series.
  • Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You vol. 10, written and illustrated by Karuho Shiina, Viz Media, item code JUN11 1278: A joyous deconstruction, subversion and celebration of shôjo tropes.
  • House of Five Leaves vol. 4, written and illustrated by Natsue Ono, Viz Media, item code JUN11 1291: The best of Ono’s works to be published in English so far, which is saying something.

What’s on your wish list?


From the stack: Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators

I don’t know if it was editorially composed to be this way, but Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators (Fanfare/Ponent Mon) puts its least successful pieces first, allowing the stories to build in ambition and interest as the anthology progresses. The order leaves the reader with the strongest possible impression of the collection and only a scant memory of the introductory blandness. It’s a smart choice.

Choi Kyu-Sok opens the collection with “The Fake Dove,” a reminder that pretense is an international language. In it, a manhwa artist tries to live among the homeless for an assignment. It’s exactly what you’d expect – halfhearted, privileged guilt tempered by winking cynicism. “Feel bad about their plight, but you can still complain about the way they smell.”

Catel’s “Dul Lucie” has a promising idea – the creator’s attempts to show South Korea through her trademark character’s eyes. Unfortunately, it ends up being a shapeless blend of travelogue and authorial excuse-making. It’s not without charm, though, and I’d like to read some of Catel’s other work. (This chapter is among those that suffer from sometimes awkward, seemingly rushed translation; happily, none of the really good pieces fall victim to that fate.)

Things start to perk up with “Solego’s Tree,” by Lee Doo-hoo. A gifted artist finds that masterworks can have unintended consequences in a simply structured, beautifully drawn little parable.

Alas, it’s back to the bland with Vanyda’s “Oh Pilsung Korea!” A French brother and sister (whose father is Korean) bemoan the fact that they aren’t seeing “the real Korea” during their visit. Putting aside the fact that they haven’t made any specific efforts in that direction, I always find the notion of finding the “real” anywhere kind of presumptive. If the story had been about the impracticality of expectations or the travelers’ accountability, there might have been something here.

I liked “Cinderella” by Park Heong-yong, a tale of boyhood mischief that morphs into something stranger but still welcoming. I found Mathieu Sapin’s “Beondegi” twee in the way I generally react to “normal person gets dragged into wacky misadventures by a free spirit” fiction. Byun Ki-hyun makes a conscientious effort to illustrate the ways women are underestimated and overlooked in “The Rabbit,” blending elements of fantasy into a realistic urban landscape. The results aren’t especially memorable or persuasive, though.

The anthology really takes off with Igort’s “Letters from Korea.” It displays the sharpest point of view of any of the stories up to this point, and the creator clearly filtered his experiences into a coherent, thematically resonant narrative. He recounts his experiences with artisans of various levels and types, from someone who crafts handmade notebooks to a legendary animator to the people who merely leave notes to loved ones on the border with North Korea. It’s a story with interesting things on its mind, representing a meaty kind of travel experience that’s well worth sharing.

Utterly different and even more glorious is “The Pine Tree,” by Lee Hee-jae. A large family gathers in their rural hometown for the funeral of their patriarch. It speaks clearly and eloquently of the power of tradition and the enduring bonds of home as it articulates, moment by moment, the experience of the wake, the funeral, and the landscape where they’re set. I’d love for someone to publish more of Lee’s comics if they’re even remotely close to the quality of this piece.

We’re back to travelogue with Hervé Tanquerelle’s “A Rat in the Country of Yong,” but what a travelogue it is. Tanquerelle forgoes conventional detail for wordless, anthropomorphous charm. It’s such a treat to see Tanquerelle visually frame the experience of going someplace utterly new in classic, children’s-book fashion. The experiences aren’t exactly novel, but their rendering has such endearing freshness and such a warm point of view that I doubt most readers will care.

Chaemin snaps us back into the real world with “The Rain that Goes Away Comes Back,” a glimpse at what the Korean equivalent of josei must look like. As with “The Rabbit,” Chaemin shows the challenges and choices working women face. Unlike “The Rabbit,” Chaemin doesn’t need to rely on obvious metaphor. Her protagonist, an unmarried woman working at a social service agency, makes eloquent points about the pros and cons of solitude and makes anxiety about the future palpable, while keeping it at a recognizable, human scale.

Things close out on a totally whimsical note with Guillame Bouzard’s “Operation Captain Zidane.” Bouzard, in a hilariously self-parodying frame of mind, paints his trip to Korea as a ridiculous bit of subterfuge tied to the World Cup. Bouzard neatly and winningly satirizes politics, nationalism, and manic sports fandom in this smart and frisky closer to the book.

While Korea isn’t as consistently successful as its predecessor, Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, there’s more than enough excellent material here to make it worth your time. Its high points are extremely high, and they’re varied in tone and approach. It’s about two-thirds of a good-to-great anthology, which is a totally acceptable rate of return.


From the stack: Tokyo Is My Garden

Let me start by saying that Tokyo Is My Garden (Fanfare/Ponent Mon) has clearly been created with talent and professionalism. It’s attractive to look at, thanks to Frédéric Boilet, and it’s got a readable script by Boilet and Benoît Peeters. It paints a vivid picture of urban life in Tokyo. It’s even got “gray tones” by Jiro Taniguchi, whatever that means.

On the down side, it’s got one of those male protagonists I find grating: the lazy schlub who dates way out of his league. This isn’t always an implausible proposition, but you have to work a lot harder than Boilet and Peeters have to sell it. Maybe that’s my problem rather than a serious flaw in the comic, but we can’t help how we engage a work, and as I’ve tried to draft this review in my head, I keep constructing, not an assessment of the work’s value, but a conversation with a theoretical straight woman friend (TSWF).

So here we go:

TSWF: Who’s that?

ME: (Looking. Grimacing.) Oh, that’s David. He’s from France.

TSWF: Really? That’s kind of… interesting.

ME: (After a moment.) Oh, honey, no.

TSWF: What? It’s just an observation.

ME: It’s a fraught observation.

TSWF: Well, what’s wrong with him?

ME: He’s one of those types that assume things will work out without any effort on his part.

TSWF: What, romantically? Professionally?

ME: In every way. And the worst part is that things do work out for him.

TSWF: Is he dating anyone?

ME: Of course he is. He’s dating this hot fashion publicist named Kimie, who he started dating about five minutes after he got dumped by a hot model.

TSWF: What’s next? Techno enka cabaret singer?

ME: Probably.

TSWF: What does he do for a living?

ME: He claims he’s really a novelist.

TSWF: Has he written anything?

ME: Probably title pages and future reviews of his works.

TSWF: (Snorts.) Ow. Gin burns when it comes out through your nose. What does he really do?

ME: A cognac company is paying him to open up the Japanese market for their brand.

TSWF: That sounds fabulous.

ME: Doesn’t it? But he doesn’t do anything related to that. He dates, and he works at a fish market.

TSWF: Seriously? Like a shop, or one of those warehouse things?

ME: Warehouse things. I’m sure it’s all part of some literary scheme to inform his future prose with the working person’s perspective.

TSWF: So he could be hanging out in clubs and giving people free booze for a living, but he’d rather haul dead fish?

ME: Isn’t that deep?

TSWF: Until you think about it for eight seconds. Can I have his real job?

ME: Me first. Apparently, his boss is coming to Tokyo, and he’s all worried that his Bérnaise train is about to go off the rails.

TSWF: All because he’s never done a lick of the work he’s supposed to be doing. That’s so unfair.

ME: I know! And then he’ll have to go back to France. Can you imagine?

TSWF: God. This economy is cruel.

ME: Don’t worry too much. He got dumped by a beautiful woman only to wind up with a beautiful, smart woman. I’m sure he’ll end up accidentally getting a promotion before his boss goes back to France.

TSWF: Okay, so the down side is he’s a big pile of slack, but at least he’s an extremely lucky pile of slack. A woman could do worse.

ME: Or better. Much, much better.

The end.


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!

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 Summit of the Gods vol. 2

The second volume of The Summit of the Gods (Fanfare/Ponent Mon), written by Yumemakura Baku and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi, delves deeply into both the psychology and behavior of its characters, though one particular aspect of their psychology and the behavior it inspires remains utterly baffling to me. I can think of few things I’d rather do less than dangle from an icy mountain by a rope. Since that’s almost all these characters think about, one might anticipate some remoteness on my part as a reader.

This reaction is averted by the sheer density of the work – the madly detailed illustrations, the tense technicalities of climbing, and the oblique revelation of small aspects of the characters. I say small aspects because Baku and Taniguchi make virtually no attempt to answer the big question of how people can dedicate their lives to an activity that’s almost entirely perilous, no matter how prepared you may be.

There’s a lot of dialogue, but there’s very little in the way of speech-making. Nobody really gazes off into the middle distance and talks about the nobility of the climb or anything of that sort. That, to my way of thinking, would have been insufferable, not to mention unpersuasive. The point-of-view character, Fukamachi, has specific interests instead of theses to prove. His attempts to understand things that have happened are different than grasping at reasons or creating context.

Most of the time in this volume is spent with Fukamachi talking to people who know legendary, troubled climber Habu. He learns of an ill-fated climb in Europe and another in Tibet. He digs into the life story of one of Habu’s rivals, finding new ways that their respective careers intersected and ran parallel. Fukamachi has an ultimate goal and mysteries to solve, but he has no specific urgency in his efforts. He’s hearing too many interesting stories to want to bring the process to a speedy conclusion.

The same can be said of the book itself. It doesn’t really have an overwhelming momentum to it, though individual sequences are often very exciting. There’s a level of remove, an analytical quality even to the nail-biting moments that suggests the perspective of a detached (but not entirely unmoved) observer. It’s a very intellectual, meticulous approach to very visceral material, and a big part of the appeal of the series is that counterpoint.

Another part is Taniguchi’s undeniably beautiful illustrations. He exhibits great restraint and fidelity in the way he renders people, keeping them on the unglamorous side. They look average, if robust, instead of heroic, which raises the stakes when they risk their lives. And his breathtaking vistas are a marvelous substitute for seeing these peaks in person.

I’m not really sure where The Summit of the Gods fits in the seinen universe, with its cerebral muscularity. With the possible exception of Hiroshi Hirata’s Satsuma Gishiden (Dark Horse), it’s unlike just about anything else I’ve read, even from Taniguchi. It’s just a tremendously confident work, and it’s rare to feel that quality come through so clearly, yet so modestly at the same time.

Here’s my review of the first volume.

Revisiting Kinderbook

Alexander (Manga Widget) Hoffman mentioned in a comment that one of the obstacles to the release of Kan Takahama’s Awabi (Fanfare/Ponent Mon) is the relatively weak sales of Takahama’s Kinderbook. This is unfortunate, partly for the resulting delay of Awabi, but mostly because Kinderbook is a really, really good collection of short stories from a very intriguing creator.

I thought it would be a good reason to revisit my very old Flipped column on the title, which ran at Comic World News in December of 2005.

Take Kan Takahama’s Kinderbook, a sublime collection of short stories about love, sex, aging, connection, and loss. More specifically, look at the story that opens the volume, “Women Who Survive.”

In it, an elderly woman has decided to retire to the country. She’s handing over management of her art gallery to her son-in-law and is cheerfully contemplating a future of drawing, decline, and death. Blunt and crusty, the woman also possesses an understated generosity of spirit. She moves through her day meeting with one of the artists who exhibits at her gallery, a young student, and her daughter’s family. Each exchange is filled with casually revealing moments, drawing the reader further into the woman’s world and giving a sense of the magnitude of her decision.

Visually, the story has elegance, precision, and warmth. Takahama’s rendering of her central figure is both unflinching in its portrayal of the marks and lines of age and radiant in the happiness and humor that enliven the woman’s countenance. Snippets of overheard conversation provide backdrop and counterpoint, and the visual focus wanders, as if you’re seeing the world out of the corner of the old woman’s eye.

Then, just when the reader expects a gentle closure, Takahama overturns things with a blissful surprise. In spite of her careful plans for its remainder, life is not quite done with the protagonist. It’s tart, ironic, and heartwarming at the same time, and you can’t help but marvel at Takahama’s mastery of tone and bask in the pleasure of a manga-ka at the peak of her powers.

Then, if you’re like me, you read the biography in the back flap and learn that the exquisite “Women Who Survive” was Takahama’s debut story. Starting from that position of strength, you can’t help but wonder if Takahama can pull off that kind of gemlike storytelling again. She does, over and over, until you reach the end of Kinderbook and are left hungry for more.

Honestly, if a collection had only one story as good as “Women Who Survive,” it would be well worth the cost. But Kinderbook is filled with distinctly wonderful stories, from the ironic bite of the title story to the lyrical sensuality of “Red Candles, Futile Love,” to the gentle humor of “Minanogawa Blues.”

Rereading the book is always a pleasure, as it reminds you of the range of characters living inside of Takahama’s head. She has a particular facility with worldly but not yet mature young women, demonstrated in stories “Kinderbook: A Picture Story for Melancholic Girls” and “Highway, Motel, Skyline.” The latter features graduation day at a girls’ school, and the milestone generates some wonderfully frank, cynical conversation. These young women aren’t cheerfully imagining careers or romance; they’re focused on an earthier kind of freedom – the parties, the opportunity to ditch boyfriend baggage, a new environment full of the possibilities of the moment.

In a bleaker vein, there’s “Over There, Beautiful Binary Suns,” exploring a problematic, emotionally unbalanced sexual affair. Takahama is unsparing in just about every way in this piece, from the clumsy, almost embarrassingly intense seaside tryst to the melodramatic exchange that narrates it to the undeniable vein of ridicule and role play that inform the whole piece. She’s both distanced herself from the material and chosen to present it with uncommon frankness, and the results are awkward and amazing. I love stories that balance seemingly oppositional tonal elements, and this is a fine example.

All of these stories came from Seirindo’s legendary Garo magazine, which did a nice job of overturning my expectations of the material from that anthology. Those were really more biases and assumptions, to be honest, and having seen the range of material in Top Shelf’s AX collection reminded me that “experimental” or “independent” need not always mean “gritty” or “edgy.” Those terms can also refer to graceful works that still manage to be sharp.

I don’t really have any illusions about how much of a difference I can make in sales of a book that’s been out for over a decade, and I recognize the distribution difficulties that can make Fanfare’s books hard to find, but I hope you’ll reconsider Kinderbook if you haven’t already read it. And if you have written about it, please send me a link so I can add it to this post.