Upcoming 10/12/2011

It’s a kind of weird ComicList this week, and I’m pressed for time, so I’ll just pick three things that either sound awesome or intrigue me in some way:

Cross Game Vol. 5, by Mitsuru Adachi, Viz Media: Digital delivery offered Melinda Beasi an entry point to this great baseball theory, so I think the Manga Bookshelf is now a full-fledged Cross Game Borg. Which is only appropriate, since the series is great.

Black Metal Vol. 2, by Chuck BB and Rick Spears, Oni Press: Man, it has been ages since the first book in this series came out, but I really liked it. Fans of Detroit Metal City and possibly Thor might have fun with it, too.

Veronica Presents: Kevin Keller Issue 3, by Dan Parent, Archie Comics: The insidious gay infiltration of Riverdale continues. Even more alarming, I realize that Archie apparently publishes variant covers. When did that start? Anyway, this is sure to offer more likable stories about nice kids.

What looks good to you?



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 5/18/2011

The current Pick of the Week was a tough one, as there are three titles I like very much in the Midtown mix. Fortunately, Kate and Michelle had my back. As for the rest of the ComicList, well, let’s see what looms on the horizon, shall we?

Sticking to the Viz Signature neighborhood, the second volume of March Story ships through Diamond. I was unimpressed with the first half of the first volume of this latest display of comeuppance theatre, but the back half was more interesting. Kate’s review of the second volume indicates that my reservations about the series may stay in place:

For all the skill with which March Story is executed, I haven’t yet fallen under its spell. It’s certainly one of the best-looking titles in the VIZ Signature line, but it has a slick, synthetic quality that prevents the reader from feeling the characters’ pain or appreciating their peril — something that no amount of blood-soaked flashbacks or tearful confessions can solve.

Elsewhere, Oni Press offers up more work by Ted Naifeh, which is always welcome. In this case, it’s Courtney Crumrin Tales: The League of Ordinary Gentlemen #2. Now, when is that Polly and the Pirates sequel coming out? I’m not getting any younger.

On an unrelated but very exciting note, the next Manga Moveable Feast is right around the corner. The Panelists will be hosting a sure-to-be-lively-and-enthusiastic discussion of Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game (Viz), a series about which I’m always happy to rave at possibly counter-productive length.


Upcoming 4/13/2011

My Manga Bookshelf Pick of the Week should surprise no one, but it’s hardly the only item of interest on the current ComicList, which is jam-packed.

It’s always worth noting when Drawn & Quarterly publishes a Japanese comic. This time, it’s the English-language debut of Shigeru (GeGeGe no Kitaro) Mizuki in the form of his semi-autobiographical Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, a tale of “the desperate final weeks of a Japanese infantry unit at the end of World War II.” I would note that this doesn’t sound like it’s in my usual wheelhouse, but Drawn & Quarterly manga seldom does, and I almost always end up being glad I read it or even liking it a great deal. I’m really, really looking forward to Mizuki’s Non Non Bâ, so this will be a nice warm-up.

In an almost certainly, possibly immeasurably lighter vein is the fourth book in Matthew Loux’s Salt Water Taffy series, Caldera’s Revenge. If you aren’t familiar with these quirky, funny comics, they feature a pair of brothers who spend a memorable summer in the surprisingly mysterious seaside town of Chowder Bay, where they encounter giant lobsters, restless spirits, and legendary eagles who steal hats. Just the kind of thing you would have wanted to distract you when you were stuck in the sticks with no television.

Tokyopop is kind enough to release new volumes of two of my favorite shôjo series: the sixth (and final) volume of Julietta Suzuki’s Karakuri Odette, and the 12th volume of Banri Hidaka’s V.B. Rose.

In other, non-Cross Game and, for that reason, lesser Viz news, there’s the second volume of Yuuki Iinuma’s Itsuwaribito, which seems like a series that could go somewhere interesting, though this volume didn’t particularly impress me.

What looks good to you?

Upcoming 3/23/2011

My Pick of the Week doesn’t actually ship through Diamond Wednesday, but there’s neat stuff on the ComicList all the same.

First up is another of NBM’s Louvre comics, produced in partnership with the legendary museum. This one’s called The Sky over the Louvre, written by Bernard Yslaire and illustrated by Jean-Claude Carriere. This time around, readers are taken “back to the very origins of the Louvre as a museum: the tumultuous years of the French revolution.” Other books in this series include Glacial Period, On the Odd Hours, and The Museum Vaults: Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert.

Oni Press delivers a hardcover collection of the first story arc of the excellent private detective thriller Stumptown, written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Matthew Southworth. It’s about an out-of-luck PI trying to pay off a gambling debt by tracking down a casino owner’s granddaughter.

And if you missed Jason Shiga’s Bookhunter (Sparkplug) the first time around, it’s been offered again and seems to be due for arrival on Wednesday. I’m the only one who missed it the first time around, aren’t I?

Two on friendship

Weird as it may be to say for someone who reads a fair amount of shônen manga, I think friendship is an under-examined subject in comics. There are some great ones that offer insights into unromantic bonds among unrelated people, but new examples are always welcome. I’ve recently enjoyed two relative newcomers to this genre, both of which address the shifting fortunes of friendship. They’re very different, but each is well worth a read.

Sarah Oleksyk’s Ivy (Oni Press) is about as frank an examination of emotional growing pains as you’re likely to find. Its titular heroine is suffering through the restrictions of high-school life in a small town, trying to make decisions about her future that she knows her mother would oppose, and wondering why her closest friends seem to be distancing themselves from her. Readers won’t wonder, as Ivy doesn’t seem like an easy person to be around. To be perfectly honest, she’s kind of awful, but she’s awful in achingly specific, recognizable ways.

Oleksyk doesn’t seem to be doing that thing where a creator will trick you into loving her unsympathetic protagonist. She seems more hopeful that you won’t judge Ivy too harshly and that you’ll see the bits of her that track with the bits of you that you may not care to remember. That was my experience with the book. I could identify with both the friends who find Ivy increasingly hard to take (“She makes fun of everything I say!”) and the spikes of temper and feelings of ill use and jealousy that seem to bubble out of Ivy before she even realizes it. There are tons of moments that acutely express feelings I’ve had in the past, even if I haven’t shared the identical experience that triggered them.

That kind of pungent, “I’ve felt that before” specificity informs the entire book, even when “I’ve felt that before” is accompanied by the less flattering sensation that I’ve read some of this before. While Oleksyk’s characters never feel less than uniquely alive, some of their experiences cover very well-traveled ground. Oleksyk brings freshness to Ivy’s first serious romantic relationship (which you will probably watch through spread fingers with some bad ex’s face floating unbidden in your memory), but her conflict with her mother and troubles with a teacher felt very predictable. It’s not that these threads aren’t executed well or aren’t true to the character; it’s that these specific arcs have been portrayed so often and so well that it’s hard not to feel that you’ve been there and done that.

But, though it all, Oleksyk remains true to the fact that her heroine isn’t a particularly nice person. Ivy is worthy of interest and sympathy, but she has a lot of growing up to do. That clear-eyed understanding, combined with a note-perfect facility for teen turmoil (along with splendid, expressive art), make Ivy a standout.

(Comments based on a digital review copy provided by the publisher. I haven’t seen the physical book, so I can’t comment on its production values.)

In a much lighter vein is the first volume of Yuuki Fujimoto’s The Stellar Six of Gingacho (Tokyopop), which follows six friends who are all children of various vendors in a small market street. Mike, the green grocer’s daughter, has noticed that the group has been drifting apart as they’ve gotten older and split off into different classes at school. She’s made new friends and developed new interests herself, but she doesn’t want to lose the special bond that she’s formed with this neighborhood pack. So she comes up with things they can do as a group, particularly when they’re tied to their shared identity as vendors’ kids.

The best parts of this book are tied to Market Street. Perhaps it reveals too much in the way of postmodern hippie leanings on my part, but I love stories that feature small businesses and independent entrepreneurs. Fujimoto seems to share my admiration, and the bustle of Market Street, the interactions between various shop owners and their collective efforts, play an important role beyond just giving the ensemble cast a commonality. Market Street has a warm sense of place, and it’s easy to see why Mike wants to nourish the parts of her that are spring from it.

Not unexpectedly, things tend to sag when events move away from the neighborhood. The slow-building subplot of Mike’s dawning romantic feelings for longtime friend Kuro (the fishmonger’s son) is nice enough, but it feels generic compared to the ensemble elements. When the kids are at school, the book resembles any number of competent middle-school romances. If Fujimoto figures out how to ground Mike and Kuro’s developing relationship in the atmosphere and events of Market Street, my concerns will be nullified. (I’ll also be happy if she devotes more individual attention to the other members of the ensemble.)

Fujimoto does end the volume on a wonderful high note. Its final story introduces Market Street’s curmudgeonly granny of a candy shop owner. I’ve expressed my fondness for this type of character before, and I love this specimen’s playfully combative relationship with the kids and her abiding loyalty to her neighborhood, no matter how often she carps about details. Her loyalty is returned in just the right proportion in a lovely story about neighbors doing right by each other and generations finding unexpected ways to connect.

If I were to complain about anything about the book, it would be the positively miniscule type size of the many conversational asides Fujimoto gives her characters. It’s hard to see how they could be any larger, but they’re an absolute chore to decipher, and the affection the book earns overall makes me not want to miss a word.

(The Stellar Six of Gingacho originally ran in Hakusensha’s Hana to Yume and The Hana to Yume for a total of ten volumes.)

Previews review January 2011

There isn’t a wealth of exciting new product in the current edition of the Previews catalog from Diamond Comics Distributors, so I thought I would try a little experiment. I’ll put forward three (uninspiring sounding) debuting titles and let you vote on which one I should try.

First up, from Digital Manga, we have the potentially odious The Beautiful Skies of Hou Ou High, written and illustrated by Arata Aki. When Kei’s mom finds out her daughter likes girls, she sends Kei to an all-boys’ high school to presumably de-gay her or something. Will it be charmingly subversive, or just gross? It originally ran in Mag Garden’s Comic Avarus, which doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. (Page 281.)

Are you perverse enough to subject me to the sparkly incoherence of Arina Tanemura? Is that even a question? Anyway, her new title from Viz is Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura, and it’s about “the granddaughter of a mysterious moon princess who slew demons with her Blood Cherry Blossom sword.” Please don’t do this to me. It originally ran in Shueisha’s Ribon. (Page 321.)

There’s something about Kazue Kato’s Blue Exorcist (also Viz) that looks like trouble, and not the fun kind of trouble. It’s about an orphaned boy raised by a priest who learns that he’s one of Satan’s bastard children. (The orphan, not the priest, at least as far as I know.) So the orphan decides to become an exorcist so he can fight his dad. Manga plus Catholicism is always… awkward. It originally ran in Shueisha’s Jump Square. (Page 322.)

Please vote for one of the above in the comments before January 15, 2011, and I will dutifully order the title that garners the highest number of votes through my local comic shop.

Mercifully, there are tons of new volumes of great ongoing series, which I will now dutifully list:

  • Itazura na Kiss vol. 5, written and illustrated by Kaoru Tada, Digital Manga, page 280
  • Salt Water Taffy vol. 4: Caldera’s Revenge, written and illustrated by Matthew Loux, Oni Press, page 302
  • V.B. Rose vol. 12, written and illustrated by Banri Hiaka, Tokyopop, page 313
  • Cross Game vol. 3, written and illustrated by Mitsuru Adachi, Viz, page 324
  • Twin Spica vol. 6, written and illustrated by Kou Yaginuma, Vertical, page 327
  • Bunny Drop vol. 3, written and illustrated by Yumi Unita, Yen Press, page 329

By the way, Viz’s new web site is terrible. Terrible, terrible, terrible.

Update: Lissa (Kuriousity) Pattillo has some thoughts on Viz’s terrible new web site.

Previews review December 2010

Hey, what’s this phone-book thing lying here on my coffee table? Why, it’s the Diamond Previews catalog! Let’s look inside!

Okay, the excitement doesn’t really begin until we reach page 275, specifically the Fantagraphics listings, specifically the debut of Shimura Takako’s Wandering Son. What’s it about?

“The fifth grade. The threshold to puberty, and the beginning of the end of childhood innocence. Shuichi Nitori and his new friend Yoshino Takatsuki have happy homes, loving families, and are well-liked by their classmates. But they share a secret that further complicates a time of life that is awkward for anyone: Shuichi is a boy who wants to be a girl, and Yoshino is a girl who wants to be a boy. Written and drawn by one of today’s most critically acclaimed creators of manga, Shimura portrays Shuishi and Yoshino’s very private journey with affection, sensitivity, gentle humor, and unmistakable flair and grace. Volume one introduces our two protagonists and the friends and family whose lives intersect with their own.”

Any value-added aspects worth mentioning?

Wandering Son is a sophisticated work of literary manga translated with rare skill and sensitivity by veteran translator and comics scholar Matt Thorn.”

Sold! Wandering Son is up to 12 volumes in serialization in Enterbrain’s Comic Beam, which is clearly one of the most fabulous magazines in human history.

Flipping onward to page 284, we discover that NBM is publishing another of the Louvre comics, produced in partnership with the legendary museum. This one’s called The Sky over the Louvre, written by Bernard Yslaire and illustrated by Jean-Claude Carriere. This one sounds a bit less fanciful than the previous three, Glacial Period, On the Odd Hours, and The Museum Vaults: Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert. This time around, readers are taken “back to the very origins of the Louvre as a museum: the tumultuous years of the French revolution.” I don’t think we have enough comics featuring Robespierre.

Ever onward to page 288! We’ve got sensitive drama and art history, but how to round that out? Why, with gritty, contemporary detective fiction! In this case, I’m talking about the hardcover collection of the first volume of Stumptown (Oni Press), written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Matthew Southworth. It’s about a down-on-her-luck private eye in the Pacific Northwest named Dex who gets the chance to cover a gambling debt by finding the casino owner’s missing granddaughter. Dex is a fun, tough character, and the mystery is twisty and amusingly grimy.

Toward the back of the only part of the catalog I bother to read, we learn that two manga publishers will be launching new series that originated in Hakusensha’s Hana to Yume magazine. This is generally a good sign for a shôjo series.

On page 300, we encounter the first volume of Touya Tobina’s Clean-Freak: Fully Equipped (Tokyopop), which tells the undoubtedly heartrending tale of a mysophobe going on his first school trip. On page 312, we learn of the first volume of Izumi Tsubaki’s Oresama Teacher (Viz), which sees the leader of a girl gang exiled from the city to an isolated school in the countryside. Wackiness presumably ensues.

MMF: The Great Shônen Manga Gift Guide for 2010

Daniella (All About Manga) Orihuela-Gruber is picking up the baton of the Great Manga Gift Guide, and I thought I’d take the opportunity of the One Piece Manga Moveable Feast to offer a shônen-flavored version that takes One Piece’s tone and content and creator Eiichiro Oda’s career arc into account. Now, many shônen series are great, but they’re just plain long, so it’s with some reluctance that I would suggest them as a gift when, if the gift is received well, it would require the recipient to spend a ton of money completing a series. That’s very “first hit’s free,” don’t you think? But sometimes that kind of recommendation is unavoidable, and since this list is conceived at least partly with the One Piece admirer in mind, I’m not going to be too rigid about it.

I will be rigid about one thing: use what you know about the recipient to guide your choice of gifts. If you know they like comics, great. If you know you want them to like comics, tread carefully, and pair the comic gift with something you know they actually like. Holidays are always creepy when they’re tinged with evangelism, I think.

It’s widely known that Oda took great inspiration from Akira Toriyama, so it seems reasonable to recommend Toriyama’s Dragon Ball, which is available in bulky, gift-worthy VizBig editions. It offers “a wry update on the Chinese ‘Monkey King’ myth, introduces us to Son Goku, a young monkey-tailed boy whose quiet life is turned upside-down when he meets Bulma, a girl determined to collect the seven ‘Dragon Balls.’ If she gathers them all, an incredibly powerful dragon will appear and grant her one wish. But the precious orbs are scattered all over the world, and to get them she needs the help of a certain super-strong boy…” Less adventure and more jokes can be found in Toriyama’s Dr. Slump (Viz). Toriyama and Oda have collaborated on a Dragon Ball/One Piece crossover called Cross Epoch.

Oda began his career as an assistant to Nobuhiro Watsuki, who was working on Rurouni Kenshin (Viz) at the time. Viz declares, “Packed with action, romance and historical intrigue, Rurouni Kenshin is one of the most beloved and popular manga series worldwide. Set against the backdrop of the Meiji Restoration, it tells the saga of Himura Kenshin, once an assassin of ferocious power, now a humble rurouni, a wandering swordsman fighting to protect the honor of those in need.” It’s also available in VizBig format.

Another of Watsuki’s assistants at the time was Hiroyuki (Shaman King) Takei, who’s currently at work on Ultimo (Viz) with Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee. I found the first volume of Ultimo unsatisfyingly creepy, but Erica (Okazu) Friedman liked it when she reviewed it for About.Com, finding that the series “provides a solid reading experience with characters you want to know more about, in a situation you want to see resolved well.”

If you liked the whole “travel by water” notion and were particularly taken with the aesthetic of Water Seven, I would strongly suggest you take a look at Kozue Amano’s Aria (Tokyopop), which follows gondoliers on Mars. It’s the absolute tonal opposite of One Piece, but manga fans cannot live on crazy hyperactivity alone, and Aria and its prequel, Aqua, are really beautiful.

If the goofy humor and occasional satirical bent of One Piece are to your liking and you’d like a slightly more mature (sometimes just coarser) take on them, I’d recommend Hideaki Sorachi’s Gin Tama (Viz). It’s about a swordsman-for-hire living in a world that’s been handed over to greedy, corrupt aliens. Like One Piece, it veers from flat-out goofy to surprisingly serious, and Sorachi does some entertaining world building.

If you like Oda’s distinct, detail-packed artwork, give Yuji Iwahara’s Cat Paradise (Yen Press) a look. It’s your basic Hellmouth story – plucky young people must fend off demon invasion while keeping up with Algebra – with the bonus of helpful, heroic felines. It’s not Iwahara’s best work, but his pages are always easy on the eye.

And now we start with shônen I’d recommend under any circumstances, first being Osamu Tezuka’s three-volume Dororo (Vertical). It’s disappointingly short, as Tezuka abandoned it much earlier than he had intended, but it’s creepy, funny, sad and wonderful. The lead character’s father sold his son to demons, part by part, and the kid has to kill all of the demons to get his body back. He hooks up with a young thief along the way.

Far and away the best new shônen I read this year and one of the best sports manga I’ve ever read is Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game (Viz), which I reviewed here. Beyond being really good in every way, it’s a big, fat package that makes it very gift-worthy.

What if you just like stories about pirates? Well, you can’t go wrong with Ted Naifeh’s Polly and the Pirates (Oni). A proper schoolgirl is shocked to discover that she’s got a pirate-queen legacy to live up to in this completely charming, hilarious comic.

Chris Schweizer’s Crogan’s Vengeance (Oni) takes a more scholarly approach to how pirates actually plied their trade, but it doesn’t downplay the adventure in the process. It’s a smart romp, which I reviewed here.

Upcoming 10/6/2010

Time for a quick look at this week’s ComicList:

Oni Press gives me a good opportunity to check out a series I always meant to try but could never find an easy point of entry. It’s Hopeless Savages Greatest Hits, and it features stories by Jen Van Meter illustrated by the likes of Chynna Clugston, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Ross Campbell and more. It’s about a pair of punk rockers raising a family in the not-so-quiet suburbs.

Hey, it’s time for a new volume of the greatest shônen series currently being published in English! That would be Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece from Viz, which is in the midst of a big, crazy prison break story, but you can always head to the front with relatively cheap, three-volume omnibus versions, which I strongly recommend you do if you like really brilliantly crafted adventure stories.

I’ve got to tell you that a really dismal adaptation of Kaori Yuki’s Godchild left me with a lingering aversion to her work, but many smart people find her work positively addictive, so perhaps I’ll use the arrival of Yuki’s Grand Guingol Orchestra (Viz) to try and reconsider my position.

If that doesn’t work, I can always console myself with the fourth volume of Yuki Midorikawa’s excellent Natsume’s Book of Friends (Viz).