Undiscovered Ono

I keep meaning to write up a license request for two of the comics that Natsume Ono has created for Kodansha’s Morning 2, Danza, which ran for one volume, and Coppers, which is ongoing. They’re dramas about police officers in New York, which is certainly unexpected subject matter for this particular creator, and I’ve enjoyed lots of comics that were originally published in Morning magazines. The thing is that, by most accounts, they aren’t very good, at least by Ono’s standards.

Here’s what Khursten Santos said about them in her marvelous overview of Ono’s work:

Danza is a collection of stories although she eventually focused on two NYPD detectives before eventually dedicating Coppers to an entire squad. Her venture into this copland ain’t no NYPD blues. It’s simpler, if not, less dramatic than that. I would have to admit that these two are the weakest of her works as her brand of storytelling kills the excitement in police stories. It’s still a good read. Just not as great as the others. If you sincerely love her sense of melodrama, then you might find some fun in Danza and Coppers.

Personally, I’ll read anything by Ono, and even lower-tier Ono is still pretty awesome. But if I’m going to devote my energies to begging for more of her work in English, I’d be more inclined to bend my energies towards her Basso work.

She started a new series in Shogakukan’s IKKI called Futugashira, but there’s next to no information available on that one. I’m quite intrigued by what little I’ve seen of her other ongoing, an historical drama called Tsuratsura Waraji that’s another Morning 2 title. But if I were to pick one non-yaoi Ono title that I really, really want to see, it would be Nigeru Otoko.

It ran for a single volume in Ohta Shuppan’s Manga Erotics F, which is a constant source of surprises, mostly in the “I can’t believe this comic ran in the same magazine as that comic” vein that makes me love a magazine. (Hi, Comic Beam!) The description makes it sound like a moody, grown-up fantasy, which is very much in my comfort zone. And it reinforces Ono’s standing as the queen of the Fifth Genre prom, so it’s hard to see how something could go really badly wrong in a single volume.


License request day: Shimane no Bengoshi

I have a weakness for PBS series about professionals living in small communities, from All Creatures Great and Small to Doc Martin. I also love manga about people’s work. I believe I’ve found a perfect fusion of these two pet entertainments.

It’s called Shimane no Bengoshi, written by Masahito Kagawa and illustrated by Tetsuo Aoki, and it’s currently running in Shueisha’s Business Jump. I must warn you that the cover image I’m about to display may shock you.

That’s probably the most modestly proportioned woman I’ve ever seen depicted on the cover of a Business Jump title. And she isn’t holding an automatic weapon or wearing lingerie, or both.

Her name is Mizuho Yamazaki, and she’s a hard-working and principled lawyer serving the underrepresented population of Shimane Prefecture. To do so, she travels around on her bicycle, presumably helping elderly couples write wills, settling contentious divorces, facilitating adoptions, and so on. I can’t quite see her mounting a defense in a highly charged murder case, but there isn’t a ton of information on this title. Still, it’s been described as “slice of life,” so I feel fairly certain that she deals more with the routine details of the legal profession rather than the high drama.

Kagawa is also writing a title with the legendary Shotaro Ishinomori , which is certainly a vote of confidence. Aoki seems to be no stranger to manga with a travelogue quality, and I’m quite intrigued by the idea of his Koufuki no Hito, which is about farms and food.

And, honestly, episodic manga about a bicycling lawyer just hits all my buttons. It’s been adapted into a live-action drama, and if the lawyer could talk to dead people, she’d already have a series on CBS. I doubt I’d watch that series, as it might involve an Arquette, but I’d absolutely read Shimane no Bengoshi.



License request day: Franken Fran

I swear I’ve seen Erica Friedman describe Akita Shoten’s Champion Red as a shônen magazine where dignity and hope for a better world go to die, perhaps even suggesting that its readership should be monitored for their potentially detrimental influence on the gene pool. I trust Erica implicitly, but there is a horror series that’s run in Champion Red that was recently… well… championed in comments, and – as sometimes happens with horrific scenarios – curiosity has overcome good sense. (Don’t go in the Champion Red basement, you fool! It’s filled with the creepiest kind of otaku!)

I refer, of course, to Katsuhisa Kigitsu’s Franken Fran. Those covers make me wish for the swift oblivion of death to end my shame, but the host of Sunday Comics Debt sent me on the road to no return with the following remark:

I like to think of Franken Fran as Pinoko all grown up, and being raised with the Doctor’s medical skill would make her a prime candidate for doing outlandish operations that would be banned in any country. Admit it – all the elements are there – she’s a childish tumor with no qualms of ethics or humanity, and enjoys operating madcap experiments that would make Desty Nova proud, just for the fun of it.

Now, you all know of my completely misguided adoration for Pinoko. I’m not going to bore you by repeating it, but she’s so creepy and disturbing and precious and… ahem. Sorry about that.

It’s being published in German by Panini, and you can see some preview pages at the Amazon listing for the volume. The insides look a little more restrained than the “purchase by mail and try not to think of the shipping clerk judging you” covers would suggest.

We’re almost done with Black Jack (Vertical), and while it seems like a series with great snowy-Sunday reread value, I’d feel better if I knew there was something similarly ridiculous and entertaining on the way. Franken Fran’s potential tackiness may overwhelm its giddiness, but I’m willing to take that risk.


License request day: Junji Ito josei

As we approach the horror-tinged Manga Moveable Feast, I’m extremely happy that I can kill two license request birds with one stone: more Junji Ito, and more josei. I don’t know that publishers make a lot of money off of licensing Ito’s work, but they keep trying, bless them, so they must love his twisted, meticulous tales as much as I do.

When compiling The Josei Alphabet, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there’s a josei magazine that specializes in horror, Asahi Sonorama’s Nemuki. The fact that Ito has published a lot of stories in Nemuki made me like the idea even more. They’ve been collected in at least two volumes.

Yami no Koe came out in 2002. The mere fact that it has a story in it called “Blood-sucking Darkness” should be evidence enough of its merit, don’t you think?

Shin Yami no Koe – Kaidan started giving people nightmares in 2006. I suspect the highlights of this collection are probably provided by a horrible little boy with a mouth full of nails. French publisher Tonkam has published these stories as Le journal de Soïchi and Le journal maudit de Soïchi. For bonus points, this collection also seems to include a story about an accursed library.

I’m obviously not made of stone, and I would also love to read Ito’s comics about his cat and his one-volume look at Rasputin, but josei horror is just too enticing a prospect not to provide a starting point, you know?


Coming soon

We’re in a phase when there’s more occasion for license requests than license news, so it seems appropriate to take a break and celebrate some very exciting announcements. Leave it to Vertical to keep giving manga fans reasons for joy.

Now, how did I go through all those license requests without ever hitting upon Moyoco (Hataraki Man) Anno’s Sakuran? Looking back, the one-volume title from Kodansha’s Evening received only a scant mention in The Seinen Alphabet. Let’s pretend that I’ve been begging for it all along, because it certainly feels like a request fulfilled.

Once upon a time, Viz published Osamu Tezuka’s Adolf. Vertical will pull the title from limbo under the title Message to Adolf. It’s a seinen murdery mystery set in pre-World War II Germany featuring a bunch of guys named Adolf, including the obvious. Crazy Tezuka noir and a license rescue all in one joyous package!

For our wild-card entry, Vertical offers the two-volume 5 Centimeters Per Second, Yukiko Seike’s adaptation of Makoto Shinkai’s animated motion picture. Under normal circumstances, an adaptation of this nature isn’t an especially promising prospect. This case is slightly different, as it ran in Kodansha’s Afternoon, which is a reliable source of quality, often ambitious manga (though not as reliable as Kodansha’s Morning). There’s also Vertical’s taste level to consider: 7 Billion Needles was one of the most pleasantly surprising unknown quantities of the last couple of years, so there’s no reason this should be different. Plus, that cover positively oozes mono no aware. (Could it just be Ed Chavez’s plot to have vertical dominate the numerical entry in The Favorites Alphabet? I wouldn’t put it past him.)




License request day: Barbara

Reading a deranged drama by Osamu Tezuka always makes me want to read another deranged drama by Osamu Tezuka. They’re like peanuts. So the recent arrival of Tezuka’s The Book of Human Insects from Vertical (which is awesome) has triggered this craving and sent me on the hunt for the next possible gekiga license from the God of Manga. Fortunately, there’s one that’s already been published outside of Japan that sounds like it would be an excellent follow-up to Insects.

I’m not sure where Tezuka’s two-volume Barbara originated, other than that Kodansha originally published it, but it’s been released in French by the Akata imprint. Like Insects, it’s about a novelist, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

The novelist, Yosuke Mikura, is really popular, and two power brokers want to marry him off to their daughters to raise their own profiles. Little do they know that Mikura is kind of a super freak when it comes to amour, and he finds his own romantic prospect in the form of our titular gamin.

Of course, Barbara has her own baggage. She’s described as a “young hippie alcoholic,” which is more than enough on its own to sell me on the title. Tezuka’s weird blend of sympathy and contempt for counter-culture characters is always riveting to read, and it usually results in a number of mean-spirited giggles, at least wherever I happen to be reading.

Better still, translations indicate that Barbara is kind of a bitch and gives our sex-crazed auteur a run for his money. Insects also left me eager to see another complex, difficult woman character emerge from Tezuka’s pen, and Barbara seems to fit the bill. (If she’d just been an inspiring waif, I’d have probably picked Gringo or something like that.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’d still love to read lots and lots of Tezuka’s general-audience work (Rainbow Parakeet comes to mind), but his whack-job seinen will always jump to the top of my to-read pile.

This brings us to a mini-contest. I happen to have a clean, extra copy of The Book of Human Insects, so here’s the deal: email me at davidpwelsh at yahoo dot com with your choice for a Tezuka license request by midnight Saturday, Oct. 15, and your name will go into the hopper to receive said copy of Insects. If you don’t need a copy but still want to weigh in on your Tezuka wish list, leave a comment! Or do both!

License request day: Papa Told Me

Much as I’m enjoying The Favorites Alphabet, I do find myself missing the weekly immersion of The Josei Alphabet, so I’ve turned to that category for this week’s bit of begging. Specifically, I’ve turned to Shueisha’s Young You, and I’ve found slice of life.

Nanae Haruno’s Papa Told Me ran for 27 volumes, meaning it was a fixture in Young You for virtually the entire publication history of the magazine. It falls in a sub-category of manga (a single father raising a daughter) that has yielded some books I really enjoy (Bunny Drop and Yotsuba&! from Yen Press come to mind).

Chise, a little girl in elementary school, has lost her mother. She’s being raised by her father, a novelist, who works at home, which allows him to be an attentive parent to his bright and curious daughter. From what I can discern, Haruno focuses on everyday stuff in Chise’s life, events and activities which can be exciting for a kid and sweetly nostalgic for an adult. (The mono  no aware is strong in this one, unless I miss my guess.)

This kind of stuff is basically crack for me, and while the length is daunting, there is precedent for publishers offering a sampler. French house Kana put out three double-sized books that seem to pick highlights from the series, so an English-language house (say, oh, Viz) would just have to acquire the rights to those books. Then, of course, demand would be so high that Viz would have to publish the entire series. And I would get that battle unicorn I’ve always wanted.

The samples on Shueisha’s page look really sweet.

License request Day: Amai Seikatsu

Work has been extremely busy lately, and yet my yearning to read more workplace manga only seems to increase. What’s that about? Whatever the psychology behind it, I find myself turning to Shueisha’s Business Jump for this week’s license request.

Now, among the professions I’ve considered over the course of my lifetime, I cannot say that “lingerie designer” has ever even hovered on the periphery. Would I want to do that for a living? No. Would I want to read a seinen manga about someone who does? Oh, yes, my friends. Hence, we arrive at Hikaru Yuzuki’s Amai Seikatsu.

Now, the likelihood of this being published in English seems extraordinarily slim, certainly slimmer than the models who work in the lingerie industry. If you click on “Enter” on the Shueisha page above, you should probably make sure you don’t do so at work, because here be nipples. So we’re definitely talking about a manga for legally adult males, which isn’t synonymous with it being a manga for a mature audience, but it looks like it might be amusing.

It’s about a young designer, Shinsuke Edo, who works with a lot of women at a lingerie company. Based on the little animations and sample panels, Shinsuke seems to find himself in the kind of wacky circumstances that come with being in a seinen comedy manga set in an at least partially clothing-optional milieu. He also seems to be surrounded by the usual mix of harridans, temptresses, and good girls, so we probably have a harem vibe in play. (I know. Duh.)

Honestly, this is more of a dare than a license request. I’ve often thought that there’s a fine line between American comics readers who like to read about women who appear to be wearing underwear and posing suggestively and American comics readers who like to read about women who actually are wearing underwear and pose suggestively. There’s generally a heroic narrative providing a veil of “I read it for the ass-kicking” respectability that Amai Seikatsu simply doesn’t seem to possess.

It’s also really, really long. In fact, it’s the longest-running series currently in Business Jump, having recently hit the 40-volume mark. So that limits the chances even more. But it never hurts to throw out a little reminder that seinen can be cheesy and smutty and ridiculous and possibly sweet and funny at the same time.


License request day: Fashion Fade

We’re in the midst of another season of Project Runway, one of my favorite reality competitions, even though I hate Josh C. M. to an absolutely unreasonable degree. So I thought I might take a look into the annals of fashion shôjo for today’s license request. (Note: We’re also into a new season of Top Chef: Just Desserts, but I’ve already requested a bunch of pastry manga, so I thought I’d branch out.) As is my way, I looked around for the oldest example I could find.

This led me to Tomoko Naka’s Fashion Fade, which debuted in Shogakukan’s Sho-Comi in 1977. Now, going by my history with the aforementioned rag-off, I’m not naturally inclined to like designers with stupid names (Suede, for example), but I also intensely dislike some designers with perfectly everyday monikers (like Gretchen). So perhaps I shouldn’t judge the heroine of this series too quickly, even though her name is, in fact, “Fade.”

Fade, it seems, grew up in Africa but ended up moving to France to live with her uncle. (Given that this is shôjo of a certain vintage, just about anything could have led to this development. My money is on a car accident that took place while rushing an important serum to a remote village, but my secret heart hopes a pride of lions were involved.) Fade and her uncle don’t hit it off. (Perhaps he prejudges her based on her name.) But she manages by becoming involved in the fashion industry, making friends, and building a career.

It ran for eight volumes originally and was subsequently republished in four thicker volumes. I honestly don’t know if it’s any good, as Naka seems to still be relatively off the radar of English-language readers. She doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, even though she’s worked steadily since the 1970s. She hasn’t even been published in French. But the covers are pretty in a “Who would ever wear that?” way, aren’t they? The covers have sort of an Erté vibe to them.

A Yumiko Ôshima sampler

This week’s radio programming has me curious about the work of a relatively unknown-to-me member of the Year 24 Group, Yumiko Ôshima, so let’s take a look at some of her works!

It seems like her best-known is The Star of Cottonland, which ran for seven volumes in Hakusensha’s LaLa. It’s about a kitten who falls in love with the human who cares for her and assumes that she’ll grow up into a human at some point so they can be together. When this dream is derailed, she hears of Cottonland, a place where dreams come true, and she sets off to find it. It’s credited with popularizing the cat-girl aesthetic (the kitten is rendered as a human with cat-ears), and it won the Kodansha Award. It was also adapted into an animated motion picture. My limited experience with manga pets falling in love with their owners has left me a bit unenthusiastic about that particular trope, but it’s a classic, and it’s from a Year 24 Group member, so I must support its eventual publication in English and hope for the best.

The title alone is enough to make me want someone to publish Banana Bread no Pudding, which ran for one volume in Shueisha’s Monthly Seventeen. Who doesn’t like banana bread? And pudding? This one’s about a young woman who feels adrift as her beloved older sister plans to marry. The younger sister becomes involved with an older, closeted gay man. I don’t need to tell you that this isn’t the solution for anything, except possibly a deportation threat, but I’d still read about it.

Ôshima seems to pack a lot into one volume with Tanjou!, which ran in Shueisha’s Margaret. A high-school girl gets pregnant to escape her strict home life, which (and I cannot stress this enough) isn’t the solution for anything, but props to Ôshima for addressing it way back in 1970. The pregnancy ends up being the least of the girl’s woes, or it at least seems to trigger a whole bunch of new woes, which is certainly more realistic than Teen Mom seems to be.

We’re back to cats, though in a vastly different context, with Guuguu Datte Neko de Aru, an autobiographical series that’s running in Kadokawa Shoten’s Hon no Tabibito. It’s about the loss of Ôshima’s beloved cat, subsequent writers block and illness, and the healing power of the new kitten she welcomes into her life. I think I must have something in my eye. Excuse me.