Upcoming 11/16/2011

I feel vaguely like Tom Sawyer, sitting back and watching other people do my work for me, at least in terms of an evaluation of this week’s ComicList. Instead of hacking out my own rundown of the new arrivals, I’ll simply point out this week’s Manga Bookshelf Pick of the Week post. By now, you all know how I feel about Manga Moveable Feast star Natsume Ono’s Tesoro (Viz), and you’re only a click away from seeing why Melinda Beasi and Kate Dacey share my enthusiasm for new volumes of Takehiko Inoue’s Real and Hisae Iwaoka’s Saturn Apartments.

You’re also only a click away from this week’s round of Bookshelf Briefs. This week’s theme, at least for me, is finding that I quite enjoyed two books in spite of their clear intent to pander to specific audiences that don’t generally include me. (Those would be the second volume of A Certain Scientific Railgun from Seven Seas and the first volume of Mr. Tiger and Mr. Wolf from Digital Manga.)

But wait! There’s more! The Manga Bookshelf Battle Robot also assembled for a new installment of Going Digital, in which I beg iPad users to give Oishinbo a chance.


From the stack: A Certain Scientific Railgun vol. 1

The art is crisp and attractive, giving a reasonably clear rendering of events that range from stopping for a snack to frying a gang of thugs. Character designs are on the serviceable end of the spectrum, but they’re appealing enough.

Wait, I’m sorry. I started in the middle, and you don’t really have any idea what I’m talking about, do you? Isn’t that annoying? Let’s hit the reset button.

A Certain Scientific Railgun (Seven Seas), by Motoi Fuyukawa, is based on a side story from a very popular light-novel franchise, A Certain Magical Index, written by Kazuma Kamachi. There’s nothing in the way of publisher’s notes in Railgun to indicate that, but there are plenty of gaps in the story to suggest that you’re missing something. Characters and components of the fictional world have weight more by implication than by content which, let’s face it, is a lot less persuasive than it might be.

Railgun could be interesting on its own merits. It’s about a group of psychic schoolgirls who help keep the peace in their corner of a futuristic Tokyo. Some of them are on the law enforcement track, but the lead, Mikoto, is not, even though she’s one of the most powerful psychics in the city. This is never actually explained, and it never stops Mikoto from intervening, so the plot point hovers on the story’s fringes as a needless distraction. It’s hard not to like Mikoto for her toughness and independence, but it’s hard to care much about her adventures.

This is because Fuyukawa and Kamachi don’t seem to have much of an attention span for their actual story. Promising subplots and mysteries are put on hold for not-particularly-interesting slice-of-life sequences. I’m all in favor of manga where the heroines can both blow things up and take time to buy a new pair of pajamas, but these individual components actually seem to leech energy from one another rather than create an engaging or mutually supportive contrast. There’s an overall aimlessness that individual high points can’t overcome.

There are also bits of fan service that are both completely gratuitous and unimaginatively repetitive. The first time a classmate sneaks up on a scantily clad schoolgirl to feel her up, it’s jarring. The second time, the virtually identical staging makes me both irritated at the pandering and at the laziness. There isn’t a pervasive undercurrent of fan service, which makes these instances seem like somebody got a memo from the editor: “Our reader poll numbers are sagging. Throw in a girl-on-girl groping scene in the next chapter.”

Again, though, the real problem is that Railgun feels like a piece without a puzzle. If you squint (and search online), you can find the box with the picture, but that doesn’t improve the reading experience. I’d liken it to collecting one or two Marvel or DC comics that periodically get dragged into a major franchise event and have neither the time nor the inclination to fold that event into the narrative in an organic fashion. And that isn’t an experience I’m eager to repeat.

(Thanks to everyone who voted in the dubious manga poll that resulted in this review.)

Brains win

It should come as no surprise to anyone following the voting in this month’s Previews poll that the young ladies of A Certain Scientific Railgun (Seven Seas), written by Kazuma Kamachi and illustrated by Motoi Fuyukawa, used their psychic powers to manipulate you all into voting for them, thus crushing the competition. On the whole, I think you were pretty generous to give this one a landslide, as it sounds perfectly tolerable. I’m still not looking forward to reading the word “esper” over and over again, so I hope that’s confined to the expository bits at the beginning.

Branching outwards, Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey offers a bushel of links to items that are worth your reading time. The only one I’d add to that roster is this piece by Shaenon K. Garrity at comiXology, which looks at the sidebars that are often included in various shôjo manga:

Read enough of these notes, however, and you get the impression that shojo manga artists are both incredibly boring and completely insane.

She speaks the truth.


Blood, brains, or brawn

The new Previews catalog is here, so it’s time once again for me to throw myself at the mercy of you, my readers, to help me pick from three questionable manga prospects. Let’s begin!

Moon and Blood vol. 1, written and illustrated by Nao Yazawa, Digital Manga Publishing, page 281:

When high schooler Sayaka awoke one morning, to her surprise, she found an unexpected guest at the family kitchen table – Kai. A cool, handsome and aloof character, a so-called family friend of Sayaka’s father, his temporary stay in her household and attendance to Sayaka’s school, is more than she’s bargained for. But what secrets does Kai hold and what are his true intentions for his sudden appearance into Sayaka’s life? Why does he excel so well in school but sleep through every class? Here does he disappear every night? Will Sayaka find her answers? Or will her curiosity get her into trouble? And what is up with that black cat?

This generic-sounding title from the creator of Wedding Peach (Viz) originally ran in some magazine from some publisher that I cannot unearth in any of the usual sources. It almost certainly involves vampires. I almost always hate vampires.

A Certain Scientific Railgun vol. 1, written by Kazuma Kamachi and illustrated by Motoi Fuyukawa, Seven Seas, page 314:

Welcome to a world where mysticism and science collide, and supernatural powers are derived from either science or religion. In Academy City, an advanced metropolis populated by scholars, the majority of students are enrolled in the city’s “Power Curriculum Program,” where they must learn to master their latent psychic powers. Out of several million students, only seven are deemed powerful enough to have Level 5 status. Mikoto Misaka, the third most powerful Level 5 esper in Academy City, delves deep into the dark heart of the scientific sprawl she calls home – and uncovers secrets she wishes she hadn’t!

Aside from an awkward title and (again) generic premise, this series came to be in Media Works’ Dengeki Daioh, which has produced some great manga but has an uncomfortable fixation on little girls. Also, use of the word “esper” bugs me.

Kampfer vol. 1, written and illustrated by Yu Tachibana, Tokyopop, page 318:

Senou Natsuru is an everyday school boy, who wakes up one day to discover that he’s been chosen to be a Kampfer (fighters) whose objective is to fight other Kampfer. There’s just one catch: In order to fight others, he must turn into a girl!

Seeing as Tokyopop couldn’t be bothered to spell the name properly in its catalog listing, I don’t know why I should be expected to feign enthusiasm. Kampfer originally ran in Media Factory’s Comic Alive, which foisted Maria Holic on the world.

Those are your choices for the month. I’ll take a much more optimistic look at catalog on Monday. For now, please vote in the comments!


From the stack: Gunslinger Girl vols. 1-3

Long ago, in his pre-Vertical days, Ed Chavez helped me out with a roundtable on underrated comics. One of his choices was Yu Aida’s Gunslinger Girl, originally published in English by ADV and recently re-launched in three-book anthologies by Seven Seas. I’m just going to have to repeat Ed’s assessment in full (though I’ll add some links where appropriate):

In a similar way to how the word otaku has a negative connotation in Japan, but is almost embraced in America. Moe has been frowned upon by American otaku while it is clearly the foundation of everything otaku in Japan. Gunslinger Girl fulfills three different unique passions/fetishes:

1- A passion for anything Italian. After the Korean wave came a huge Italy boom, partially supported by Bambino (an Italian cooking manga), the handful of wine manga that are all over the international press, and Sarto Finito – the original Italian suit manga.

2- A Sonoda Kenichi-style obsession with guns. Where building and firing guns take on an almost sexual feel.

3- And the need to raise soulless emotionally damaged bishôjo that so many otaku have.

Gunslinger Girl… Well drawn primer to pop-culture perversion.

The beauty of this is that it could serve as an endorsement or the direst of warnings, depending on your taste. And even after all this time, it’s left me curious about the book, at least enough to invest about $16 for three volumes worth of content. I’m largely immune to the fetishes described above, but I enjoyed Gunslinger Girl.

It’s about a black-ops agency that brings cute girls back from the brink of death and turns them into cute assassins, each assigned to adult male handlers who display varying levels of intimacy with their charges. And no, it’s not that kind of intimacy, though it’s not like that kind of awkward possibility is never broached. It’s just part of a larger jumble of awkwardness that comes with murderous little girls being ruthlessly manipulated and used to fight terrorism and stuff.

To Aida’s credit, the Italian/weaponry/pert troika is contextualized. Even the people who participate in the process of creating these little girl killers recognize that it’s horrible on some level, especially the bits where they brainwash the girls to be loyal to their handlers and erase their memories when things get complicated. That’s undeniably awful, and only the most tone-deaf of mangaka would ignore that. Gunslinger Girl is hardly a moral treatise, but it isn’t shameless, either.

It’s very episodic, focusing on individual cyborg-handler relationships through the prism of missions, down time, medical crises, and the like. Aida gets good mileage out of the premise, at least in these three volumes. I can’t quite picture myself reading ten more, though.

As much violence as there is, and as observant as Aida can be, Gunslinger Girl doesn’t really benefit from being read in bulk. I think I would have liked it better in serialization, where its low-key moodiness would have stood out in contrast to other series. Two volumes of low-key moodiness gets to be a bit lulling, so I was relieved to see the third shift into a longer narrative. It launches a complicated, sometimes messy tale of greed, kidnapping, sabotage, and assassination, and it doesn’t always track very well with Aida’s initial themes. He does try and weave them in from time to time with relative success, but I missed the murderous little girls.

Gunslinger Girl ends up being rather contradictory for me. It was obviously at least partly conceived to pander to certain tastes that I don’t share, but it’s also not content with just successfully pandering. It can be introspective and oblique, and it’s got an impressive level of ambition, even though its ambition isn’t always realized. It’s an odd book. I’m glad I read it, but I don’t know if I really need to read any more.


Upcoming 11/10/2010

It’s one of those neat ComicList weeks where all kinds of interesting comics from throughout the space-time continuum are due to land.

Sean (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Gaffney tweeted about this book, and it has a definite allure for me as a person who read a lot of Archie comics in the back seat of the station wagon on long drives to various vacation destinations during his childhood. It’s Dark Horse’s Archie Firsts collection, which promises “first issues, first appearances, and other milestones, collected for the first time in one hardcover volume!”

I was a huge fan of Scott Chantler’s Northwest Passage (Oni Press), so it would stand to reason that I should pick up a copy of his Two Generals (McClelland and Stewart), which promises “poignant graphic memoir that tells the story of World War II from an Everyman’s perspective.” I’m not a history buff, per se, but Chantler is phenomenally talented.

The first volume of Lars Martinson’s Tōnoharu (Top Shelf) was very intriguing, so I’m looking forward to Martinson’s second look at a fish out of water teaching English in rural Japan.

Erica (Okazu) Friedman is crazy about Hayate X Blade (Seven Seas), written and illustrated by Shizuru Hayashiya, and that’s reason enough to seriously consider the purchase of the first omnibus collection of the series.

And I am crazy about Kou Yaginuma’s Twin Spica (Vertical), and I would never consider delaying in the purchase of the fourth volume. This is easily one of the great series debuts of 2010.

What looks good to you?

Upcoming 11/11/2009

In her look at this week’s comics, Kate Dacey delivers a succinct takedown of the latest example of that just-won’t-die-or-evolve artifact, the list of recommendations to help comics fans convince the ladies in their lives to share their hobby. I don’t really have anything to add, but I will just note that most of the women I know online who read manga are omnivores. They greet new romantic shôjo and new blood-and-guts seinen with equal enthusiasm. To my way of thinking, this makes the frequent exclusion of manga from these chick-bait graphic novel guides even more baffling.

Anyway, here’s what looks good to me on the latest ComicList:

I read a review copy of Tamio Baba’s Deka Kyoshi (CMX), about a detective going undercover as a teacher, joining forces with a mildly psychic student, and helping kids with their often dangerous problems. My reaction to the book tracks pretty much exactly with Brigid Alverson’s: “The stories are nice little self-contained dramas, but they never veer far from the predictable.”

UltimateVenus5It seems to be a week where publishers who’ve had something of a low profile lately deliver some new goods. There are new volumes from DrMaster, Seven Seas, and Go! Comi. I’m most enthusiastic about the Go! Comi offering, the fifth volume of Takako Shigematsu’s Ultimate Venus. It’s about an orphan who learns that she’s the granddaughter of a very wealthy, very formidable woman, and must prove her worth to inherit the family fortune. I can’t say I yet love it in the way that I loved Shigematsu’s Tenshi Ja Nai!!, but I loved that series a lot and heartily recommend it to people who like wacky, mean-spirited romantic comedy. Ultimate Venus is a bit tamer, but it’s still very enjoyable.

Viz finally rolls out a VizBig version of Rumiko Takahashi’s long-running, much-loved InuYasha, which is a welcome development for people who might enjoy the anime but be a bit daunted by the 42 existing volumes of the manga.

ikigami3Of more specific interest to me is the third volume of Motoro Mase’s Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, from Viz’s Signature line. Though I’m ambivalent about the series overall, I’ve liked it enough to review the first and second volumes of this series about a draconian government program that targets random people for death to help the remainder of the citizenry better appreciate life. A government functionary must notify these unlucky learning tools of their fate, and readers get to watch the victims flip out during their last hours. I still feel like it needs to go somewhere beyond episodic individual drama, but I’m intrigued enough to stick around. And the third volume has an awesome tag line: “Sometimes people do shoot the messenger.”

What if you could bring your cat to school? What if you and your cat were given amazing powers, and all you had to do in exchange was keep horrible demons at bay? These are the central questions addressed by Yuji Iwahara’s Cat Paradise (Yen Press). The second volume is due out on Wednesday and promises more mystery and adventure at a purportedly feline-friendly institute of learning.


Upcoming 6/3/2009

A quick look at this week’s ComicList:

moomin4The pick of the week is the fourth volume of Drawn & Quarterly’s collection of Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip. Click here and scroll down a bit to see a preview, and if you’re able to resist the gentle satire and high adventure of these strips, then I don’t know what to tell you. Personally, I think Drawn & Quarterly deserves some kind of international peace prize for publishing these.

In my ongoing effort to expose myself to as many “tour guides of the recently deceased” manga as I possibly can, I believe I pre-ordered Ballad of a Shinigami (CMX), illustrated by Asuka Izumi and based on an original story by K-Ske Hasegawa. I believe the shinigami in question also has a talking bat; stories with talking bats constitute another “manga I must at least try” subset, though I have no idea exactly why.

Oh, Mijeong (NBM), why do you make me stalk you? I know I pre-ordered you, and the ComicList says you arrive Wednesday, but I can’t seem to access Diamond’s site to confirm. And you aren’t listed in the e-mail from my local comic shop, so I shouldn’t get my hopes up. I’m sure you’ll be worth the wait.

I’ve quite liked what I’ve read of Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl (Seven Seas), written by Satoru Akahori and illustrated by Yukimaru Katsura. It’s about a boy who’s transformed into a girl and ends up in a love triangle with two other girls, and I remember its sensitive moments outnumbering any cheesy fan-service by a fairly wide margin. So I’m glad that Seven Seas is releasing an omnibus version of the series.

The fifth volume of Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack arrives courtesy of Vertical. That pretty much all that needs to be said, right?

Viz has an overwhelming volume of product on the way, much of it desirable, but in the interest of brevity, I’ll focus on just two: Chica Umino’s art-college romantic comedy Honey and Clover reaches its sixth volume, and Chika Shiomi’s Raretsu debuts. It’s a follow-up to Shiomi’s Yurara, which Kate Dacey re-reviews as part of her Chika Shiomi Appreciation Week.

Upcoming 12/12/2007

The theme of this week’s comic shop arrivals seems to be “new volumes of appealing series,” and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Dark Horse delivers the fifth volume of Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki’s The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. I didn’t think the fourth volume was quite up to standard, to be honest. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as solid a combination of gruesome mystery and strangely heartwarming comedy. I did appreciate the guest appearance by Reiji Akiba from Yamazaki’s other series, Mail, and I hope he returns.

I find Kaoru Mori’s Emma (CMX) extremely soothing. It’s so gentle and precise, and it’s really easy on the eyes. The sixth volume arrives tomorrow. (By the way, does the knowledge that this series was originally published in a seinen magazine influence your reading experience in any way? Or that Yotsuba&! Or Azumanga Daioh had similar origins? I was flipping through the latest Comics Journal at the shop last week, and most of the review of Translucent seemed largely devoted to that conundrum.)

Until the arrival of Ai Morinaga’s My Heavenly Hockey Club (Del Rey), Kiyoko Arai’s Beauty Pop (Viz) was the clear leader in the ridiculous shôjo category. It’s still awfully good, even if it’s moved into second place. The sixth volume arrives Wednesday. I also really enjoyed the preview chapter of Kiyo Fujiwara’s mafia princess comedy Wild Ones that ran in a recent issue of Shojo Beat, so I’ll have to move that up in my “to read” pile.

Among the other new series making their debut, Seven Seas offers a new take on Speed Racer, written by Dwayne Alexander Smith and drawn by Elmer Damaso, whose work seems to bear some resemblance to that of Mike Allred. That’s kind of a cool way to go with the material.

Upcoming 7/5

I’m planning to spend Independence Day in the traditional fashion – drinking vodka lemonade and reading comics. (In spite of the holiday delay, I still somehow have plenty to read.) It’s just as well, as it’s a bit of a slow week.

Okay, so no week with a new volume of Dragon Head (Tokyopop) can actually be called “slow.” Even if I like them, there are some series that sit around for a while before I get around to reading them. This is one of the books I read as soon as I bring it into the house.

There’s a whole heap of stuff coming from Seven Seas. Since I have a demonstrated weakness for people-who-see-dead-people manga, I think I’ll have no choice but to give Venus Versus Virus a look.

For other perspectives on the week in comics, here are some links:

  • Matt Blind at comicsnob.com
  • Christopher Butcher at Comics.212.net
  • Katherine Dacey-Tsuei at Manga Recon
  • Chris Mautner and Kevin Melrose at Blog@Newsarama