From the stack: Real Vol. 3

real3It must be some kind of testament to the volume of good comics currently in release that I’ve allowed myself to neglect one of the finest. I was trying to make a dent in my “to read” pile and randomly grabbed the third volume of Takehiko Inoue’s Real (Viz). Seriously, what kind of embarrassment of riches are we experiencing that this book can slip my mind, even briefly?

realscan1For those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, it’s about wheelchair basketball. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. It’s about wheelchair basketball in the same way that Fumi Yoshinaga’s Antique Bakery (DMP) is about pastry entrepreneurs. Real is about people, their choices and struggles, and the means they use to get through the day. Some of these people happen to play wheelchair basketball. That’s more like it.

The first two volumes were excellent, but the third goes to an even higher level. It focuses on Takahashi Hisanobu, a high-school athlete and entitled jackass left paralyzed from the waist down after an accident that’s entirely his fault. Needless to say, his expectations are entirely overturned. He’s powerless and frustrated, and he lashes out at everyone around him. But he also begins to take baby steps towards adapting to his new circumstances.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this in other contexts, but I’m not one to be persuaded by the redemptive power of trauma, where a horrible thing happens to a terrible person, leading that terrible person to become a good person. It always strikes me as at least a bit lazy. Inoue doesn’t reinvent this particular narrative wheel, but he executes it so scrupulously that it’s impossible not to be engrossed. And Inoue is gutsy enough to allow the reader to still think Hisanobu is a jackass, no matter the difficulties the character is enduring.

realscan2This kind of material lends itself to melodrama, but it doesn’t feel like Inoue indulges in it. Each moment feels authentic and even understated, even if someone is screaming. It’s riveting to watch Hisanobu’s arrogance mutate into bitterness and to see his mother’s nerves become increasingly frayed. A comic with good intentions can be a mine field of tonal hazards, but Inoue doesn’t step on a one. His execution is almost startlingly poised – not stuffy, or dignified, but utterly economical and expressive.

And honestly, you are unlikely to see a better example of a creator showing instead of telling. Part of me wishes I could see the pages with no dialogue or narration, because I strongly suspect that every essential of the story would still be communicated. The physicality of the characters, their facial expressions and the composition of the pages deliver each beat.

No interest in basketball is required to enjoy Real. You only need to appreciate compelling human drama and splendid comics artistry.

(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)

From the stack: Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit

ikigamiMotoro Mase’s Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit (Viz) has one of the more chilling opening sequences I’ve read recently. A group of first-graders are attending their school’s opening ceremonies. They receive their vaccinations from a team of smiling nurses. Then the principal lets the other shoe drop: some of them won’t live to be adults.

The principal knows this because a very small percentage of the vaccinations include a nanotech device that will kill them sometime in their late teens or early twenties. The government has concocted this scheme “to instill a fear of death into the citizens of our peaceful society… so as to encourage them to value life.” It’s absurd, but it’s creepy at the same time.

A lot of creators would soften the absurdity by fabulizing the setting – storm-trooper cops, hover cars, a memorial hologram where Mount Fuji used to be. Mase keeps things flat and entirely recognizable, aside from a government that tries to teach perspective by randomly murdering .1% of the people it serves. He even devotes an unexpected but welcome number of pages to the bureaucracy that runs the nano-death system. The pedestrian details of the system of blinds between agencies and the management of the soon-to-be deceased actually add to the eeriness.

The story is framed around one of those bureaucrats, Fujimoto. He delivers “death cards” to the unfortunates 24 hours before their microscopic time bomb is set to go off. Fujimoto seems to take his work seriously more for the benefit of the condemned than out of belief in the system. He even demonstrates a small amount of skepticism as to its logic and value, though it isn’t really his story, at least not yet.

Mase’s primary interest lies with the condemned, exploring how different personalities will react to the knowledge that, through no fault of their own, they have one day to live. First is a brutally bullied nebbish who seeks revenge on the classmates who abused and humiliated him. Second is a young musician who abandoned his friend and partner for a career opportunity. The drama is more ostentatious here than the bits about how the system works, and it’s strangely less compelling.

I have no idea if Ikigami will evolve into a series about a moral struggle against the death-card system or if it will continue to extrapolate on the experiences of the recipients. If it’s the former, it could be something really special. If it’s the latter, I’ll probably keep reading for the inter-office memos.

Which will win?


Using my vast knowledge of odds-making, I devote this week’s Flipped to a look at the nominees for this year’s Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of International Material — Japan.



I’m sort of away, but news of this showed up via email, and you should go look:


I was just wondering if Viz would be migrating more of its loss leaders to the web, what with the end of Shojo Beat.

From the stack: Gakuen Prince

gakuenRise Okitsu and I have something in common. We both loathe her classmates at the prestigious Jyôshioka Gakuen Private High School. We both also harbor a burning desire to go full-on rage monkey on the unbalanced, entitled herd. Poor Rise is too meek, but I’m a prudish blowhard with a blog, so I’m a little freer to express myself about the cast Jun Yuzuki’s Gakuen Prince (Del Rey).

Jyôshioka Gakuen used to be an all-girls’ school, but it’s slowly incorporating males into the student body. This sounds like a set-up for a reverse-harem comedy that might feature some stuttering nerd plunged into a baffling sea of cuteness. And Gakuen Prince does feature a new student, Azusa Mizutani, navigating these strange waters. Yuzuki distinguishes her series from the reverse-harem herd by opening it with a gang of girls sexually assaulting a male student.

You see, this is what the girls of Jyôshioka Gakuen do. Deprived of male companionship for so long, they’ve devolved into vicious, infighting bands of sexual predators. Smart boys either get a girlfriend or, like Azusa, pretend to get one (poor Rise, in this case), as taken boys are off limits. Of course, this targets the girlfriends (even pretend ones, like poor Rise) for vicious bullying – razor blades in their notebooks and other high-spirited antics. For bonus points, Rise’s vicious classmates set her up to be assaulted by the school’s troglodytic lesbian to teach Rise a lesson, because that’s always funny.

I’ve seen Gakuen Prince described as satire, but I don’t think it makes the cut. In my definition, satire needs to have something meaningful or observant to say about its object, and Yuzuki merely takes familiar tropes to nasty excesses. For me, going over the top doesn’t really count as commentary.

I’ve also seen the goings-on in the book described as joyless, and I totally agree. They’re raucous, yes, but it feels more like the set-up for a particularly sordid episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit than a comedy. But maybe I’m weird in finding stories about minority populations living in a climate of terror where they could be assaulted at any moment to be really, really bleak.

(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)

Update your blogrolls

The marvelous Kate Dacey has finally set up her very own blog, The Manga Critic. While I’ll certainly miss her contributions here, I’ve been thinking for ages that she should have her own space on the web, and it’s already off to a great start.

So if you aren’t familiar with her already, go meet Kate, then check out her “What to Read Now” roundtable. Oh, and she tweets, too!

Style and/or substance

These just in from the New York Times:

“Based on a close look at trailers, still photos and some films already released, at least a dozen male stars in some of the year’s most prominent movies have been adding on the pounds of late.”

That article was posted right above this one:

“But she has become a heroine not only to people dreaming of being catapulted from obscurity to fame but also to those who cheer her triumph over looks-ism and ageism in a world that so values youth and beauty.”

So which is it, Times?

Upcoming 4/8/2009

Lots of interesting items on this week’s ComicList. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

Gantz Vol. 4 (Dark Horse): This book is about a weird computer that plucks people from their lives to kill aliens or die trying. I think it’s trashy and not very good, but I’m sort of obsessed with it.

Venus in Love Vol. 6 (CMX): This book is about a co-ed love triangle. I’ve fallen a bit behind, but I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read.

Shortcomings TPB (Drawn & Quarterly): I read this in hardcover and really enjoyed it. It’s about a kind-of jerky guy facing disappointment in love. In many instances, this would be presented as a great tragedy, but Adrian Tomine seems to realize that it’s okay to laugh at unfortunate things happening to a person who kind of deserves it.

Color of Earth (First Second): A coming-of-age manhwa from an imprint that demonstrates pretty good taste in general and really good taste when it picks comics from other countries than the United States. I like what I’ve read so far.

Beauty Pop Vol. 10 (Viz): This one’s about a girl who’s really good at cutting hair but doesn’t want to make a big deal about it, and a boy who’s really good at cutting hair and wants the whole damned world to kiss his feet for it. It’s very funny.

With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child Vol. 4 (Yen Press): The title kind of gives away what this one’s about, but that’s no reason not to give it a look. Again, I’ve fallen behind, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read.

Find. Buy. Love.

If good taste was all you needed to make millions in publishing, Fanfare/Ponent Mon would be drowning in its own extravagant wealth. They’ve never published a book that wasn’t at least very good, and many of them are exquisite. My Mommy Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill, written by Jean Regnaud and illustrated by Émile Bravo, is the latest exquisite book to be published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon, and you should find a copy and buy it, because I’m frankly a sick of people not going broke underestimating the taste of the reading public.

Anyway, it’s a lovely graphic novel about death and childhood. I worry that saying a single other thing about what happens in the book will taint the reading experience for anyone who reads this. It’s the whole “dissecting the frog” concern, you know, when you might learn something about the frog, but the frog comes out worse for the experience.

Regnaud and Bravo are so honest and gentle and pure in their approach. Every moment feels fresh and familiar at the same time, fully realized in ways I’d imagine any comic creator dreams of achieving in their own work, no matter what the work is about.

Seriously, just go find a copy and buy it. It’s so, so good.

For a few rubles more…

If, like me, you enjoyed Alex Sheikman’s four-issue series Robotika (Archaia Studios Press, 2007), you’ll be happy to learn that this beautifully illustrated cyberpunk Western will be returning to spinner racks everywhere in April. The new series, Robotika: For a Few Rubles More, initially debuted in 2008—right before ASP suspended operations for housekeeping and restructuring purposes. ASP is back in business, and will be releasing a special 64-page double issue of For a Few Rubles More that includes the first story plus new material and artwork. Sheikman’s made it very easy for you to order Robotika by creating a coupon that you can print and bring to you LCS.

Haven’t sampled the ASP catalog? Here are a few suggestions to get you started.