Upcoming 9/14/2011

You already know what I’d pick if I lived within shopping distance of Midtown Comics, but what if I was entirely dependent on the kindness of Diamond for my weekly comic fix? (Which I am!) Let’s take a look at the ComicList.

Leave it to Vertical to fill the relative void, even if it only takes the form of one book. But that one book is the ninth volume of Kou Yaginuma’s Twin Spica, so it does a lot of void filling.

The eighth volume was customarily enjoyable. As Yaginuma follows his group of young, would-be astronauts, he’s starting to fold some romantic elements into the narrative. There’s something very heartening about seeing Asumi confronted with the notion that there are some potentially wonderful things on Earth in addition to the promised wonders of the stars. Things we learn about brash, bossy Kei go a long way to soften that character’s rather stereotypical edges, which is a welcome development. Overall, this volume creates some additional spokes to the core cast’s shared dream, and they give added depth to that core dream by making it more complex and conflicted.

An interesting side effect of this shift in the content is how it reframes the relative success of Yaginuma’s illustrations. I very much enjoy the vulnerability he gives to his character designs, but that very vulnerability plays against their increasing emotional maturity. It’s not exactly a troubling counterpoint, but it does trigger a weirdly parental response to the notion of Asumi in love: “She’s too young for romance! She’ll always be too young!” I’m not sure if the counterpoint is entirely intentional, and I’m not sure if it will ultimately but successful, but it’s definitely an interestingly discordant note in a generally coherent presentation.

In other shopping choices, Viz offers the 58th volume of Eiichiro Oda’s Once Piece, which I covered in this week’s Bookshelf Briefs, along with the fourth volume of Kaori Yuki’s Grand Guignol Orchestra (also Viz) and the 13th volume of Hiroki Endo’s Eden: It’s an Endless World! (Dark Horse).


Upcoming 9/7/2011

As the Manga Bookshelf Pick of the Week can testify, Viz is publishing enough manga this week to choke a horse. It’s even more crowded over at the ComicList than it is at Midtown Comics.

This gives me the opportunity to save another highlight for my own blog: the third three-volume omnibus of Yellow Tanabe’s Kekkaishi (Viz). I’ve been enjoying the heck out of this tale of young exorcists finding their places in the family business, and I fully expect to keep enjoying it, especially since it’s so inexpensive, relatively speaking.

On the shôjo front, there’s the 10th volume of Karuho Shiina’s funky, sweet Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You (also Viz). Spooky-looking but sparkling-on-the-inside heroine Sawako decides to really express her feelings to down-to-earth dreamboat Kazehaya, which could turn out… any number of ways, to be honest.

Ah, but the ComicList offers a seinen option as well! Vertical releases the one-volume Velveteen & Mandala by Jiro Matsumoto. It’s about schoolgirls who cut class to battle zombies in a satirically dystopian future. As I noted in a recent Bookshelf Brief, this didn’t really work for me, but I think that the comic itself isn’t exactly in my taste spectrum. Fans of this kind of thing, and I know you are numerous, should be perfectly content. It originally ran in Ohta Shuppan’s Manga Erotics F, which has given me plenty of manga to enjoy, so I can hardly complain that this fifth-genre magazine doesn’t succeed for me every time.

Speaking of Bookshelf Briefs, this week’s column includes a brief look at a boys’-love title that I read thanks to your crowd-sourced feedback, Puku Okuyama’s Warning! Whispers of Love (DMP).

Elsewhere on the Manga Bookshelf mother ship, where all of our robot limbs wait gleaming in hangars between battles, I contribute a review to the inaugural Going Digital column. A reasonable price and the lack of a physical copy to clutter my shelves entices me to try the first volume of the classic Lone Wolf and Cub (Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima.


MMF: Yoshinaga top five

I suppose that, since I asked others to pick their favorite Fumi Yoshinaga title, I should be willing to make the same impossible choice. It’s a thankless process, to be honest, since almost all of her works that have been published in English (which is almost all of them) assert their worth so forcefully. But, since I feel forced to do so, here are my five favorite works by Yoshinaga, in order:

  1. Antique Bakery, Digital Manga Publishing, four volumes, originally published in Shinkoshan’s Wings: As with many who left comments, this was my introduction to Yoshinaga, and it’s hard to get over your first time. A handsome straight guy opens a bakery and hires an irresistible gay guy to be his pastry chef. Additional employees of varying individual adorability hare subsequently hired, and Yoshinaga gives a glimpse into their complicated lives and those of their customers, friends, and families.
  2. Flower of Life, Digital Manga Publishing, four volumes, originally published in Shinkoshan’s Wings and later republished by Hakusensha: Yoshinaga dissects the milestones and tropes of school comedy with such precision and warmth that this series could easily have taken first place, though Antique Bakery gains an additional, slight edge by being about grown-ups. We follow a group of classmates and their teacher as they get to know outgoing (and blunt) Harutaro, a new student who missed a year due to leukemia treatment.
  3. Ichigenme: The First Class Is Civil Law, 801 Media, two volumes, originally published by Biblos: As I wrote in greater detail earlier this week, Ichigenme is at the very top of my list of favorite yaoi, tied with Saika Kunieda’s Future Lovers (Deux Press). What Yoshinaga has here is a fully fleshed-out tale of evolving love between grown-ups, funny, smart, and sexy as you could hope.
  4. All My Darling Daughters, Viz Signature, one volume, originally published in Hakusensha’s Melody: This is quite possibly my favorite fictional examination of a mother-daughter relationship, an all-too-often neglected dynamic. This collection of interconnected short stories isn’t limited to that topic, and Yoshinaga does a marvelous job throughout, but the best moments involve a grown woman whose relationship with her mother changes when the mother begins a new relationship with a much-younger man.
  5. Ôoku: The Inner Chambers, Viz Signature, currently serialized in Hakusensha’s Melody: It’s probably strange, if not blasphemous, to put Yoshinaga’s most critically acclaimed series last on this list, but it’s hard not to favor completed works over one that’s still ongoing, good as that series may be. And, don’t get me wrong, Ôoku is very, very good. This history-with-a-spoke-in-the-wheels saga looks at a feudal Japan where the male population was decimated by disease, leaving the women to assume power, with all of the intrigue, drama, and conflicted emotions that prospect suggests.

There. I’ve committed my list to blog. I actually feel liberated. And it should probably be noted that all of these titles are among my favorite manga published in English, period.

Upcoming 8/3/2011

Given the vagaries of comic distribution timing, I’ve already read two of the titles I’m most eagerly anticipating off of the current ComicList. So I guess I’m not eagerly anticipating them so much as fondly remembering them. Anyway, you might still be undecided, so…

First up was the fourth volume of The Story of Saiunkoku (Viz), Kairi Yura’s lovely adaptation of Sai Yukino’s light novels. It’s entirely possible that I love this series so much that I can no longer see its flaws, but I think it equally likely that there are no meaningful flaws to be seen. This arrival was particularly welcome during the debate over the debt ceiling, as it suggested a world where people go into governance for the right reasons, and the best and brightest are rewarded with responsibility and authority. So, yes, clearly it’s a fantasy, but it’s a lovely and reassuring one, and the creators reinforce its ultimately feminist message by moving their heroine closer to her dream, even if it damages the romantic prospects of the man who loves her. That’s not the kind of conundrum you see every day in entertainment, which makes this series just about priceless.

Less rewarding was the fourth volume of Julietta Suzuki’s Kamisama Kiss (Viz). I generally like this series very much for the evenhanded approach Suzuki takes with her male and female protagonists. She treats them with equal respect, and she gives each specific strengths which make their relationship much more interesting than some victim-rescuer dynamic would be. That balance slips a bit this time around, which is disappointing, though hardly fatal. I still like the characters a lot, but certain complications screw up their dynamic and make it depressingly… conventional. (Misunderstanding! Secrecy! Alienation!) I count on Suzuki’s quirky good sense to reassert itself next time around.

In other Viz news, this week sees the delivery of the third volume of Kazue Kato’s very promising Blue Exorcist, the eighth volume of Yuki Midorikawa’s lovely Natsume’s Book of Friends, and the second volume of Mayu Shinjo’s sure-to-be-repulsive Ai Ore!

Oh, and in the category of things I’m still eagerly anticipating, there’s the second volume of CLAMP’s Cardcaptor Sakura (Dark Horse). I can’t believe I’ve yet to see this series in a Barnes & Noble.

What looks good to you?


My Viz 25

Viz is celebrating will celebrate its 25th anniversary this summer, which is quite an accomplishment. Given how many English-language manga publishers have fallen away over time, you have to give Viz credit for sticking around, no matter how well resourced they may be. They’ve always struck me as grown-ups and professionals, which certainly helps. Beyond that, I appreciate the range of material they’ve published over time and that they continue to try and publish.

So, in preparation for the milestone, I thought I’d list 25 of my favorite Viz manga. It’s impressive that it was actually difficult to limit this list to 25, and I ended up having to institute a one-title-per-creator rule to make it possible. Here they are in alphabetical order:

  1. 20th Century Boys, written and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa: my favorite of Urasawa’s paranoid thriller, because it’s as frisky and funny as it is suspenseful.
  2. A, A1, written and illustrated by Moto Hagio: dreamy science fiction about people with too many feelings for the universe to contain.
  3. Benkei in New York, written by Jinpachi Mori, illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi: beautifully drawn (because it’s Taniguchi) and slyly written noir tales of a mysterious Japanese man in the Big Apple.
  4. Children of the Sea, written and illustrated by Daisuke Igarashi: some of the most viscerally absorbing art I’ve ever seen in a comic used to tell a solid environmental fable.
  5. Cross Game, written and illustrated by Mitsuru Adachi: simply the bet, funniest, most heartfelt sport manga I’ve ever read.
  6. The Drifting Classroom, written and illustrated by Kazuo Umezu: an elementary school gets blown into a dangerous wasteland, and everything falls apart in the most gruesome, hilarious ways.
  7. Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga, written and illustrated by Koji Aihara and Kentaro Takekuma: much more than a parody of instruction manuals, it’s a hilarious take-down of the form itself and the sausage-factory elements that can produce it.
  8. Fullmetal Alchemist, written and illustrated by Hiromu Arakawa: a great shônen adventure series with some of the crispest, most focused storytelling you’re likely to find in this category.
  9. GoGo Monster, written and illustrated by Taiyo Matsumoto: gorgeous art used in service of an imaginative, emotionally complex story, beautifully packaged for bonus points.
  10. Hikaru no Go, written by Yumi Hotta, illustrated by Takeshi Obata: the series that will make you ask how a comic about a board game can be so exciting.
  11. Honey and Clover, written and illustrated by Chica Umino: art-school students give a master class in mono no aware.
  12. House of Five Leaves, written and illustrated by Natsume Ono: elegant, character-driven examination of a group of kidnappers in Edo era Japan.
  13. I’ll Give it My All… Tomorrow, written and illustrated by Shunju Aono: one of the few comics about losers trying to make comics that I can truly love, because Aono knows he’s writing about a loser and spares his protagonist virtually nothing.
  14. Maison Ikkoku, written and illustrated by Rumiko Takahashi: further evidence, as if it was needed, that Takahashi is queen of the well-told situation comedy.
  15. Nana, written and illustrated by Ai Yazawa: the lives and love of two very different young women who share the same name and an enduring friendship through life’s ups and downs in rock-and-roll Tokyo.
  16. Oishinbo, written by Tetu Karia, illustrated by Akira Hanasaki: gone too soon, but much appreciated for its food-obsessed tour through Japan’s culinary culture.
  17. One Piece, written and illustrated by Eiichiro Oda: an absolutely magical blend of high adventure, low comedy, heartbreaking drama, and whatever the hell else Oda feels like throwing into the mix.
  18. Ôoku: The Inner Chambers, written and illustrated by Fumi Yoshinaga: an engrossing alternate universe where most of the men have died, leaving the survivor to sly, courtly intrigue and surprising emotional brutality.
  19. Phoenix, written and illustrated by Osamu Tezuka: a sprawling example of Tezuka at his peak.
  20. Real, written and illustrated by Takehiko Inoue: as smart and sensitive as it is gorgeous and visceral, telling the stories of wheelchair basketball players.
  21. Sand Chronicles, written and illustrated by Hinako Ashihara: heartfelt melodrama about a girl’s troubled journey from early adolescence to womanhood.
  22. Saturn Apartments, written and illustrated by Hisae Iwaoka: another example of why I love slice-of-life science fiction with down-to-earth people in out-of-this-world circumstances.
  23. Secret Comics Japan, written and illustrated by various artists: long before Ax came this wooly and marvelous collection of alternative manga shorts.
  24. Sexy Voice and Robo, written and illustrated by Iou Kuroda: a nosy girl drags a hapless guy into her sometimes-perilous odd jobs snooping for a retired mobster, offering great variety of tones but consistently sharp observations about human nature.
  25. Uzumaki, written and illustrated by Junji Ito: because you always love your first Ito manga best, and this one is an excellent representation of his horrifying work. Of course, if Viz had published Tomie first…

What are your favorite Viz series? If you’d rather post a similar list at your own blog, I’d love to read it (and link to it). Otherwise, let loose in the comments.


Upcoming 5/4/2011

It’s ComicList time! First, go take a look at the Manga Bookshelf crew’s Picks of the Week, then peruse the latest installment of Bookshelf Briefs, in which I gush about an arriving shôjo volume that makes me as happy as another makes me sad.

This week also brings the fourth and final volume of Nobuaki Tadano’s Eisner-nominated 7 Billion Needles (Vertical). I’ve enjoyed this series throughout its run, mostly for the evolution of its heroine, Hikaru, a grieving teen who’s forced out of her isolated state by the arrival of warring interstellar entities Horizon and Maelstrom. Their destructive, survival-of-the-fittest squabbling puts the people around Hikaru in danger and forces her to acknowledge the fact that she cares about them. Emotionally speaking, the conclusion is essentially Hikaru’s victory lap, her chance to prove how far out of her shell she’s come. In an odd way, that lowers the finale’s stakes and forces Tadano to inflate the science-fiction mayhem to almost incoherent levels.

It’s easy enough to ignore the twaddle about weaponized evolution, though, as Hikaru is still compelling, even though her personal journey is pretty much over before the story begins. She’s held the series together this long, and it’s nice to see her put the things she’s learned into action, even if that action doesn’t make much sense at all.

The only thing not covered above that I look forward to reading is the eighth volume of Karuho Shiina’s consistently delightful Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You (Viz). The good shôjo arriving this week certainly overpowers the bad.

What looks enticing to you?


Any opening will do

There’s apparently some big professional baseball event going on today. While I don’t care even a little bit, I will take any opportunity to mention Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game (Viz), which is about baseball. It’s an incredible series, so if you’re reading this, enjoy comics, and enjoy baseball, even the kind not played for millions of dollars, you could observe Opening Day by picking up the first omnibus of the series, which collects three volumes, or the second, which collects two. You can read the first chapter for free at Viz’s Shonen Sunday site. The third two-volume collection comes out in a couple of weeks.

I promise you, as someone who would not watch professional or amateur baseball under any circumstances and has harbored a bitter grudge against the sport since conscripted participation during my elementary school days, this is an empirically excellent series. While I can’t get myself into the head space of someone who loves baseball, I believe that this series takes the sport very seriously and is packed with details of interest and consequence to people who care about that sort of thing, but those details aren’t at all essential to or obstructive of the ability to enjoy the series for people who don’t care either way, routinely ask if baseball is “that game with the rackets,” and just want a good story with great characters. Which they get.


MMF: Pretty pictures

I wasn’t able to get my act together to do a proper post for the current Manga Moveable Feast on Kozue Amano’s Aqua and Aria (Tokyopop), but I thought I could at least pull a portion of an old Flipped column from Comic World News:

Few recent releases seem as dedicated to appealing visuals as Kozue Amano’s Aqua (Tokyopop). A young girl named Akari has left Earth for what used to be Mars before overly enthusiastic terraforming left it mostly covered with water. Akari dreams of becoming an undine, or gondolier, in Neo-Venezia, and who can blame her? The prospect of boating around the canals of a gorgeous city and introducing visitors to its wonders is tremendously tempting.

There’s virtually no narrative tension in the book, but that really isn’t its purpose. Amano has gentler intentions. The small spine of plot involves Akari moving through her undine apprenticeship, though there’s nothing like the ups and downs you might find in the average shônen series. Aqua is more about sailing through dreamy cityscapes at a leisurely, welcoming pace. The company is pleasant enough, and Amano has a nice way with gently whimsical comedy. Most important, though, is Amano’s richly detailed rendering of Neo-Venezia. It’s a setting that allows you to lose yourself in an entirely undemanding way, and that’s always a welcome change of pace.


Upcoming 3/9/2011

Pick of the Week: done! ComicList rundown: go!

Viz sent out a dedicated press release on the debut of Izumi Tsubaki’s Oresama Teacher, and I’m never quite sure how they pick which titles get this treatment. There isn’t a readily evident pattern, as near as I can tell. I’m not sure how Tsubaki’s other Viz title, The Magic Touch, sold, because I couldn’t be bothered to read any of it beyond the first volume.

I’m happy to report that I liked Oresama Teacher more than The Magic Touch. That wouldn’t have in difficult, but Tsubaki seems to have improved measurably over the course of her earlier title. Oresama is about a fight-prone girl who gets sent to a private school with a lenient admissions policy regarding problem kids. Mafuyu wants to change her ways, but circumstances keep intervening, and she doesn’t really know how to behave like her image of an average schoolgirl. When she sees someone being bullied or ganged up on, she has to intervene.

Unfortunately, her first blow for justice is struck on behalf of her creepy, conniving homeroom teacher, Saeki. Saeki seems to take an unseemly delight in messing with Mafuyu’s head, which isn’t any more difficult than me liking Oresama Teacher more than The Magic Touch. When she isn’t trying to evade her teacher’s random acts of weirdness, Mafuyu is trying to win the friendship of a classmate, Hayasaka. No stranger to combat, Hayasaka reads Mafuyu’s intensity as aggression, which results in some genuinely funny bits.

It’s not immediately evident where all this is going, but it doesn’t seem like Tsubaki is making it up as she goes along. Oresama Teacher is a much more assured bit of shôjo than I expected. It’s not exceptional by any means, but it seems like it could turn into something very good.

(Comments based on a review copy provided by the publisher.)

Of course, if your budget only allows you the purchase of one volume of Viz shôjo this week, I’d have to recommend you pick the second volume of Julietta Suzuki’s Kamisama Kiss. The relationship between inadvertent shrine priestess Nanami and grumpy demon boy Tomoe inches along in the face of adversity, and it’s clear that Suzuki likes to develop these things carefully. While she throws some fairly conventional obstacles in the pair’s path, the pacing is always interesting, and the protagonists’ responses are always interesting and specific. Basically, all the strengths of the first volume are in place, and some new supporting characters add spice and humor to the proceedings. It’s a charmer.

On the “I haven’t read these yet, but I certainly will” front is the sixth volume of Kou Yaginuma’s excellent coming-of-age tale of student astronauts, Twin Spica (Vertical), and the sixth volume of Yuki Yoshihara’s gleefully tasteless, shouldn’t-really-work-but-does Butterflies Flowers (Viz).

What looks good to you?


Upcoming 3/2/2011

This week’s ComicList isn’t as loaded as the Midtown Comics version, the source of my current Pick of the Week. Thankfully, Vertical finds a way to make the trip to the comic shop worthwhile.

Redemption comes in the form of the fifth volume of Konami Kanata’s excellent Chi’s Sweet Home (Vertical). In this volume, Chi discovers that she doesn’t need to leave the house to have an adventure. Along the way, she also grasps the importance of being able to feign innocence. Anyone who’s ever lived with a cat will nod in rueful recognition at this development.

Of course, Chi also manages to spend some time in the great, suburban outdoors, making a new friend and relying on some old ones when she wanders well beyond her familiar boundaries. Fun as Chi’s adventures are, and lovely as it is to think about a protective community keeping her safe, I’m very much a partisan of the indoor-only feline experience. It makes me reflexively uncomfortable to see a kitten given that much liberty, no matter how charming the fictional results. Of course, this is why I would be a terrible parent to a human child; they’d never know a moment’s unsupervised peace.

As is usual, Kanata sneaks in some extremely moving moments where hints of Chi’s past life intrude on the way she lives now. These interludes really balance out the sweet charm of the more antic, observational sequences, and they make the book work better than it might have without them. In slice-of-life storytelling like this, a variety of experiences and emotions are always welcome, even for a kitten.

(Remarks are based on a review copy provided by the publisher.)

What looks good to you?