Upcoming 2/17/2010

Now that the Sexy Voice and Robo Manga Moveable Feast has pretty much wound down, things can return to what passes for normal here at The Manga Curmudgeon. (Though if you want to add your thoughts on Kuroda’s book, I’ll happily add them to the roster.) So let’s take a look at this week’s ComicList along with a quick recap on last week’s neglected offerings.

If a week’s shipping list includes a new volume of Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, then that volume will very likely be the book of the week. It’s just that simple. Here are some thoughts on the seventh volume from Johanna Draper Carlson at Manga Worth Reading:

“Urasawa’s use of standard action manga elements demonstrates that it’s not the raw material, it’s what you do with it. He draws so well and he’s so clearly thought through what he’s doing with these elements that cliched scenes, such as a prison escape chase, become interesting all over again.”

This is easily one of the most enjoyable series of any provenance that you’re likely to find in a comic shop or bookstore.

Also out from Viz is the first volume of one of their IKKI series, Bokurano: Ours, written and illustrated by Mohiro Kitoh. It’s about a group of classmates who end up piloting a giant robot. I’m not going to lie. This one runs at about the middle of the pack for me of the titles serialized at the IKKI site, but perhaps reading it in book form will leave me with a more enthusiastic impression. It just feels kind of standard to me next to all of the other series on offer.

CMX offers new volumes of two series from a category that’s a particular strength for the imprint, endearing shôjo. I preferred Natsuna Kawase’s The Lapis Lazuli Crown to A Tale of an Unknown Country, but the latter is charming enough that I’ll certainly snag the second volume. I am seriously behind on Yuki Nakaji’s Venus in Love, so I’ll likely have to do a big catch-up order at some point before I can commit to buying the eighth volume. It’s an endearing college love triangle-quadrangle-pentagram, so I’ll definitely make the effort.

As to last week, here are some of the retrospective highlights:

  • Little Nothings vol. 3: Uneasy Happiness, written and illustrated by Lewis Trondheim, NBM: Funny, smart observational comics available for your perusal at NBM’s blog.
  • Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit vol. 4, written and illustrated by Motoro Mase, Viz: Mase has got your death panels right here, Palin. I like this series. I don’t think it’s one for the ages or anything, but I always pick up new volumes in a timely fashion, which has to mean something.
  • Juné’s Reversible anthology, which I reviewed yesterday.
  • From the stack: Reversible vol. 1

    Reversible (Juné) is a collection of short boys’-love stories by new-ish creators. It sounded ideal for a picky boys’-love reader like me, a chance to speed-date different manga-ka without having to commit to 200 pages of work that didn’t click. Unfortunately, a lot of the work feels like an audition, demonstrating a boys’-love skill set rather than exhibiting a specific voice or point of view.

    That isn’t to say that the work contained here is ever particularly bad. The stories are polished for the most part. They’re also kind of generic.

    Things start well with Saki Takari’s “Tell Me You Like Me,” a cheerfully smutty tale of salarymen at an awkward, early stage in their relationship. Takari’s pages have a lot of energy and a nice sense of composition, plus a sprinkling of character-driven humor.

    Next up is an unremarkable story about an unrequited schoolboy crush, Goroh’s “Perfect Age.” Haruki Fujimoto’s “Boyfriend” covers the same territory later with equally unremarkable results. This trend of bland treatment of identical subjects recurs with Saito’s “Catch” and Kometa Yonekura’s “Caged Bird,” both of which feature curious bottoms and the aggressive tops who go a little faster than they’d like. (Just a little, though, and these stories are about as close as the volume comes to the “no… no… yes” stuff that leaves me cold.)

    There are some fun bits in the mix. One is Neiri Koizumi’s “Sakuragawa University Cheer Squad,” which has the benefit of a quirky, ill-tempered protagonist. His crush on his nephew’s teacher is repeatedly undone by circumstances. Even more odd is the lead of Tomoko Takakura’s “Office Mermaid,” a tropical-fish-loving, germ-fearing salaryman who falls for the ethereal new guy in the server farm. “I’ll bet he doesn’t sweat at all,” swoons the fussbudget. Neither of these stories hews too closely to genre tropes, and both seem to indicate a level of personality and idiosyncrasy on the creators’ part. I’d read more by either of them.

    Of the rest, I liked Shiori Ikezawa’s “It Falls at Night” about a pair of high-school boys trying to salvage some romantic time at the end of a too-busy summer vacation. There’s some awkwardness to the narrative, but the characters have nice chemistry and I liked the twist on the abandoned-school dare.

    Misora Hatori’s “Dear Boys” is the most like a try-out first chapter of a longer series and, coincidentally, the one I’d be least likely to read in longer form. It seems to be about one of those weirdly coercive student councils that hopefully only exist in manga, an awkward mash-up of Ouran High School Host Club and Gakuen Prince with a little of Setona Mizushiro’s visual flourish. And it may not say anything about the empirical quality of the material, but there are few subjects less interesting to me than romantic relationships between humans and angels, no matter the gender mix, so Midori Nishiogi’s “Happiness, Fun, Kindness” lost me at the gate.

    Is “I don’t regret buying this book” a positive review? I guess it must be in some sense, and I did like about a third of the work here and didn’t find the remainder offensive. There’s just a lot of competent porridge collected here, and it needed more spice.

    Upcoming 11/4/2009

    It looks to be a manageable lot on this week’s ComicList, at least for me. That’s just as well, as I used a Borders buy-four-get-the-fifth-free deal as an excuse to overspend on manga last weekend.

    fireinvestigatornanase3Fire Investigator Nanasd (CMX), story by Izo Hashimoto and art by Tomoshige Ichikawa, is the kind of book that makes me happy for a handful of reasons. It’s not brilliant, but it’s entertaining, and it combines mystery and adventure in pleasing ways. It’s got an appealing, highly competent female lead and puts her through the arson version of The Silence of the Lambs as she fights fires and looks into their origins with the aid of a serial arsonist. And, unrelated to the book’s quality but still welcome, the first search result for the series actually takes you to the publisher of the book, which almost never happens. I know. Weird things make me happy.

    ludwigii2One of my Borders purchases this weekend was the first volume of You Higuri’s Ludwig II (Juné), which is… well… weird. As Kate Dacey noted in her review, it contains the holy trinity of Higuri historical fantasy: “beautiful people in beautiful clothes, political intrigue, and darkly handsome protagonists who are touched by madness.” The titular protagonist is one of those rulers every citizen of a monarchy should dread: a delusional opera queen. As is usually the case with Higuri yaoi (or near-yaoi), the gorgeous art and weird nuances are carrying me past the sordid but strangely listless seme-uke shenanigans between Ludwig and his devoted manservant. We’ll see if those features continue to offer sufficient compensation to make me want to track down volume two.

    stumptown1Do you miss the days when Greg Rucka did creator-owned work? Well, there’s good news for you, as he returns to Oni (home to his Queen and Country and Whiteout) with a new detective series, Stumptown, illustrated by Matthew Southworth. Once again, he seems to be following the gritty misadventures of a strong female protagonist, a private investigator named Dex in the midst of a high-stakes missing-person case. The art looks terrific, and Rucka certainly has a strong track record with undiluted noir.

    hikarunogo17Viz unleashes a thundering herd of titles, many of which I like very much, but I’ll fixate on one because it’s great and I feel like I’ve been neglecting it: Hikaru no Go, written by Yumi Hotta and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, which reaches its 17th volume. This looks to be a particularly eventful installment. Protagonist Hikaru has lost his ghostly go mentor Sai, and he faces off with his rival, gifted prodigy Akira. It’s a great series, smartly written by Hotta and beautifully drawn by Obata.

    Upcoming 3/25/2009

    Have you ever had a trip planned and held off on bulking up an online book order because you thought, “Hey, there’s a great comic shop in (destination city), so surely I’ll be able to find (titles of books) there”? And then struck out completely? Or is that just me? Ah well. On to this week’s ComicList:

    While the name of the protagonists are a bit odd (“Diamond”? “Rock”? Seriously? I feel like composing an SAT question.), I like the sound of Momoko Tenzen’s Manhattan Love Story (Juné). It’s about grown-up gay men with jobs, and you know I can rarely resist such comics, when I can find them. The cover is really striking too.

    Drawn & Quarterly releases Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s massive biographical work, A Drifting Life, on Wednesday. It’s likely to be one of the books of the year, and certainly of the week.

    For some well-written, slightly old-fashioned shôjo, look no further than the fifth volume of Yuu Asami’s A.I. Revolution (Go! Comi). It’s kind of like Absolute Boyfriend, except it doesn’t make your skin crawl.

    Vertical continues to feed my sick fascination with creeply little Pinoko with the fourth volume of Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack.

    And Viz slakes my thirst with the second volume of Oishinbo, the standard-bearer of culinary manga. This volume focuses on sake. In my experience, alcohol and journalists go together like peanut butter and chocolate, so this volume should be fun, even though I haven’t cared much for the sake I’ve tried.


    I’m just not feeling the ComicList love this week. So, for a change, I’ll recommend some old (or “old”) comics.

    The Walking Man, by Jiro Taniguchi (Fanfare/Ponent Mon): This is one of the most soothing, serene comics reading experiences you’re ever likely to enjoy. It’s basically about a suburban guy who goes on walks, taking in the scenery as he goes. That’s all, and that’s plenty, because the gentle spirit of the stories marries beautifully with Taniguchi’s richly detailed visuals.

    Paris, by Andi Watson and Simon Gane (SLG): A sweet, slight story of young women in love, masterfully illustrated by Gane. Watson’s observations about class and youth provide a nice enough spine, but the real appeal is Gane and his rich, odd renderings of Paris in the 1950s. I had never seen Gane’s artwork before, and there’s really nothing else like it.

    Polly and the Pirates, by Ted Naifeh (Oni Press): Is it possible to be both a proper schoolgirl and the terror of the high seas? It is if you’re being written and drawn by Naifeh, who can combine tight plotting with fanciful, funny bits that don’t disrupt the flow.

    Livewires: Clockwork Thugs, Yo, by Adam Warren and Rick Mays (Marvel): Even when working for Marvel, Warren (creator of the demented and thoroughly charming Empowered for Dark Horse) can turn out a funky, smart comic. This one’s about a black-ops group of android teens who are tasked with cleaning up a proliferation of similarly covert tech cells. Imaginative violence, smart plays on the “even an android can cry” motif, nifty fad jokes, and eye-popping art by Mays are more than enough to render the tiny, tiny lettering a non-issue.

    Only the Ring Finger Knows, by Satoru Kannagi and Hotaru Odagiri (Juné): This sweet, squeaky clean example of shônen-ai is still one of my favorites. It’s a gentle, character-driven romance between two temperamentally opposite high-school students (try and contain your shock at the novelty of such a concept, I beg). I keep meaning to read the novels based on the property.

    And the nominees are…

    There’s a new Flipped column up at The Comics Reporter, beginning a few-parts look at this year’s Eisner Award nominees.

    And hey, want to know something weird? I actually found a copy of Yuichi Yokoyama’s New Engineering in a Barnes & Noble. I don’t know why, but I assumed that I’d have to go to more trouble to get my hands on a copy.


    At Manga Recon, Kate Dacey and Erin F. take an entertainingly thorough (and thoroughly entertaining) look at the translated works of Fumi Yoshinaga. I’m a big fan of Yoshinaga’s work, and I’m thrilled that so much of it is available in English. And since I never pass up a chance to lazily develop blog content, here’s my list of her works ordered from favorite to least:

    1. Flower of Life (DMP)
    2. Antique Bakery (DMP)
    3. Tie — Ichigenme: The First Class Is Civil Law (801 Media) and The Moon and the Sandals (Juné)
    5. Gerard and Jacques (Blu)
    6. Don’t Say Any More, Darling (Juné)
    7. Garden Dreams (DMP)
    8. Tie — Lovers in the Night (Blu) and Truly, Kindly (Blu)
    10. Solfege (Juné)

    I’ll probably annotate these at some point, but I haven’t had enough coffee yet, and as I said… lazy blog content development.

    Retentive… probe… etc.

    I can’t really call Kei Azumaya’s All Nippon Air Line: Paradise at 30,000 Feet (Juné) a good comic, but there are a lot of things I like about it.

    It’s a yaoi comedy about a company that takes gay friendliness to new heights. (I apologize for that, but there are so many puns in this book that there’s something of an infection vector.) Proudly known by its acronym, A.N.A.L., the all-gay airline is dedicated to customer service and to the pleasure of its all-male, all-gay employees.

    This is no mere flying brothel. The thing that strikes me most about the book is how sex-positive it is. Aside from one unfortunate short where a straight pilot is “persuaded” to sign on with the airline, everyone gets to pursue their own tastes, whether it’s a beautiful boy, burly jock or balding salaryman. The employees are so cheerfully randy and the passengers so appreciative that it’s easy to buy into the spirit of the proceedings.

    There isn’t much in the way of proper characterization. The short stories and jokes are built almost entirely around the playful juxtaposition of types and tastes (and the incessant A.N.A.L. puns). Azumaya pulls off enough of the jokes that the underdeveloped cast isn’t really that much of a detriment.

    The best bits involve ambivalent passengers winding up on an A.N.A.L. flight by necessity or accident. My favorite featured a recent college graduate traveling with his amateur manga-ka sister on an athletically themed flight. There’s nothing unexpected about the story’s outcomes, but the execution is smart and ultimately rather sweet.

    Most of the collected works are doujinshi, self-published comics, and those origins show. It feels more like Azumaya is riffing for a friendly audience than creating anything for the ages, but that’s part of the book’s charm. She’s playing with yaoi conventions in ways that assert that sex can be fun and travel can be glamorous. It’s a nice change of pace.

    Upcoming 2/27/2008

    Man, the storm is following the calm this week. Tons of stuff is arriving in comic shops this week (that’s probably already in bookstores) that’s worth a look.

    (Dear Borders: Please open a concept store in my area. The area is virtually free of pesky zoning regulations, and big box chains are welcomed with unnerving fervor and gratitude that’s almost pathetic. Just look at the parking lot of the Olive Garden if you don’t believe me. Failing that, please offer a “buy blank for the price of blank minus one,” as I will be in the vicinity of one of your non-concept outlets later in the week and would appreciate a bargain.)

    It almost never happens that I come to a manga via the anime, but I’ve seen some episodes of Crayon Shinchan on Cartoon Network and found them hilarious. CMX has picked up the manga, once published by ComicsOne, and will be releasing it in all of its vulgar, adorable glory.

    I’ve already gone on about the fifth volume of Kitchen Princess (Del Rey). It shows up in comic shops Wednesday.

    Aside from the cheerful bad taste of the acronym you can form from part of its title, I’ve actually heard good things about Kei Azumaya’s All Nippon Airline: Paradise 3000 Feet (Juné).

    The tenor has obviously been different, but I’ve also heard really good things about Ulf K.’s Hieronymus B. (Top Shelf). It looks like it should make for a nice change of pace.

    And Viz has decided against pacing themselves this week, churning out manga I really like in a great flood. The situation is so serious that I have to resort to the bulleted list.

  • Beauty Pop vol. 6, by Kiyoko Arai: ACK! Get that horrible child off of the cover!
  • Gin Tama vol. 5, by Hiroaki Sorachi: Really, really smart comedy about really, really dumb characters. Many try to pull this kind of thing off, but few succeed.
  • High School Debut vol. 2, by Kazune Kawahara: I thought the first volume had tons of potential, and I’m assured that Kawahara realizes that potential in really interesting ways.
  • Honey and Clover vol. 1, by Chica Umino: Sweet and hilarious stuff about a group of art students.
  • Nana vol. 9, by Ai Yazawa: I’m a selfish ass, so I’m just glad that this book is coming out more often. It looks as though things get even more uncomfortable in this volume, which is just as it should be in soap opera.
  • Naruto vol. 28, by Masashi Kishimoto: I’m pretty much a Naruto newbie, so when Viz sent this volume my way, I was curious to see how it functioned as a starting point for someone who was basically ignorant of everything that went before. It works well, and it’s a very entertaining comic in its own right. Also, Sakura splits the earth open with her fist and does a variety of other impressive things, and I am instantly smitten.
  • But seriously, was that level of quantity and quality strictly necessary?

    Upcoming 1/16/2008

    Before I get started with this week’s comic releases, I just wanted to note that it’s Jakala Family for the Win Week over at Sporadic Sequential. (“But they don’t think that Spider-Man making a deal with the devil looks bad?”)

    Gerard Way and Gabrial Bá’s The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite (Dark Horse) nears its conclusion with the fifth issue. I’ve really been enjoying this series in single issues, which is kind of rare given my general opinions on what constitutes a satisfying chunk of comics. I still think the collection is going to sell like crazy, and I can’t imagine Dark Horse will wait too long to release it, because they seem to have missed few opportunities to wring every dollar possible out of the new franchise.

    Of all the titles coming out from Juné today, the one that interests me most is Tatsumi Kaiya’s Party, as it seems to start where many boys’-love titles end: with the relationship established and the protagonists dealing with life as a couple.

    I can’t believe I forgot to put Yu Yagami’s Hikkatsu! Strike a Blow to Vivify (Go! Comi) on my “Year in Fun” list. It’s the moving story of a young man who practices appliance repair via the martial arts and the raised-by-pigeons girl who has decided she loves him.

    It’s already the best-selling book of all time, but perhaps a manga version will help The Bible hold the top spot. Random House releases The Manga Bible: From Genesis to Revelation, adapted by Siku. I made a point of reading as little of The Bible as a Catholic upbringing would allow, so I’ll point you towards Katherine Dacey’s thoughtful review at Manga Recon.

    Do weaponized dead fish count as some kind of Biblical plague? If so, you can supplement your Manga Bible reading with the second volume of Junji Ito’s Gyo. Tremble before their smelly, skittering onslaught! (Silly as almost all of this book is, I think things are always creepier when they skitter.)