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.


Re-flipped: Tokyo Zombie

It doesn’t seem right to go through all of the current Manga Moveable Feast without addressing zombies, and it doesn’t seem right to address zombies without considering ironic zombies, so here’s an old Flipped column on a title that checks both off of the list.

I think Yusaku Hanakuma’s Tokyo Zombie (Last Gasp) has helped me crystallize my objections to zombie fiction in general.  Given the limitations of the genre, it very often seems like too much effort has gone into its various renderings.  Tokyo Zombie looks like it was dashed off during study hall, and that works in its favor.

The official tag for the style is heta uma, or “bad, but good.”  I might modify it to “bad, but appropriate,” to be honest.  That Hanakuma’s style of illustration suits the material doesn’t mean it’s aesthetically pleasing in any meaningful way or that a practiced knowledge of the fundaments of drawing seems to be peeking out through a conscious effort at crudeness.  Proportions are odd and shifting, and body language and composition are stiff.  To be honest, the living and the undead aren’t always immediately distinguishable from one another.

But really, the best a zombie story can be is crude, quick, and maybe a little subversive, and Tokyo Zombie is all of those.  The action begins on “Dark Fuji,” a mountain of garbage, studded with illegally dumped toxic waste and human remains.  Whatever the opposite of a primordial soup is reaches boiling point, and the undead begin shambling down from Dark Fuji to do what zombies do – very slowly overtake the living.

A small subculture of survivors build an enclosed area where the rich live on the labor of an oppressed class of slaves, and the balance is maintained by brutal enforcers.  Stripped of most of their comforts and diversions, the rich become extremely bored, and a brutal arena featuring slaves versus zombies springs up.  There isn’t much in the way of subtlety in the way Hanakuma portrays the class conflicts of post-zombie society, but there doesn’t need to be.  It’s just a backdrop for gross-out violence and a source of jokes about brutal things happening to generally terrible people.

Hanakuma’s greatest strength is probably pacing.  He rarely lets a sequence drag on longer than necessary, and he keeps the inventively gross gags coming.  If they’re imperfectly rendered, how much artistry does flesh-eating really require?  There’s plenty of gory event if not detail, and what would lovingly drawn innards really add to what seems intended to be a brisk, coarse outing?

(P.S. Tokyo Zombie was originally serialized in the alternative manga anthology, Ax.  In August of 2009, Top Shelf will publish a 400-page collection of stories from the decade-old magazine.  Kai-Ming Cha has an interview with the translated collection’s co-editor, Sean Michael Wilson, at Publishers Weekly.)

(P.P.S.  Last Gasp is also the publisher of one of the finest comics I’ve ever read, Fumiyo Kouno’s Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms.  Aside from its publisher and creator’s nation of origin, it has absolutely nothing to do with Tokyo Zombie, but I like to mention it whenever I can, no matter how feeble the pretext.)


The Favorites Alphabet: spooky supplement

We interrupt your regularly scheduled, letter-by-letter installment of The Favorites Alphabet in honor of the horror-tinged Manga Moveable Feast! This week, the Manga Bookshelf Battle Robot retreated to the dank catacombs of our secret base to conjure the spirits of our favorite spooky manga! Read on… if you dare!

 “The Enigma of Amigara Fault” | By Junji Ito | VIZ Media – I haven’t read much horror manga. In fact, aside from the delightfully bizarre Tokyo Zombie and one volume (so far) of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, my experience is limited to the works of Junji Ito. While Gyo and Uzumaki certainly deliver weird and disturbing tales, it’s “The Enigma of Amigara Fault,” a short story that appeared in Gyo’s second volume, that I find most memorable.  In it, an earthquake has revealed a rock formation riddled with human-shaped holes that go farther back into the rock than researchers are able to measure. People flock to the site, drawn to holes that seem to be custom-made for them. Those who enter the holes are committed to moving forward with some profoundly jibbly-inducing results. Just thinking about it is kind of giving me a wiggins. Look for images from this one in this weekend’s Let’s Get Visual column! – Michelle Smith

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service | By Eiji Ōtsuka and Housui Yamazaki | Dark Horse – Despite my ongoing reviews of Higurashi: When They Cry, I’m not really a big reader of horror manga, tending to find it too scary. Which says more about me than about the genre. However, I picked up Volume 1 of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service for its unusual cover, as well as the fact that it was translated and edited by Carl Horn. Imagine my surprise when I got one of the funniest, most satiric, and, yes, scariest manga coming out here. For our heroes, dealing with corpses isn’t like searching for mysteries a la Scooby Doo – it’s a job, and they are usually trying desperately to get paid. It just so happens that their various skills go really well with solving problems involving dead bodies. Nestled in among the sarcastic dialogue and long pointed looks at Japanese politics and society is some really creepy imagery – watch out for the chapter with the birds, or the one with the ears. – Sean Gaffney

Parasyte | By Hitoshi Iwaaki | Del Rey – There are just so many reasons this eight-volume series is awesome, not least of which is Iwaaki’s facility with really gruesome and surprising bits of violence. It’s an invasive-species nightmare scenario featuring bizarre space spores taking over indigenous creatures (mostly human) and turning them into ravenous, shape-shifting, and dangerously intelligent predators. Fortunately, one of the parasites doesn’t quite make it to its host’s brain, turning average teen Shinichi Izumi into humanity’s best protector, and his right hand into a formidable defensive weapon, not to mention an adorable and insightful pet! Iwaaki jumbles a lot of elements together – coming-of-age drama, violent suspense, evolutionary theory, family tragedy, and boy-and-his-dog sentiment. The beauty part is that Iwaaki jumbles it all well, making for one of the most beginning-to-end satisfying tales you’re likely to find on the manga shelves. Originally published by Tokyopop, Del Rey picked up this out-of-print gem and did a bang-up job repackaging it. – David Welsh

School Zone | By Kanako Inuki | Dark Horse – In this odd, hallucinatory, and sometimes very funny series, a group of students summon the ghosts of people who died on school grounds, unleashing the spirits’ wrath on their unsuspecting classmates. School Zone is as much a meditation on childhood fears of being ridiculed or ostracized as it is a traditional ghost story; time and again, the students’ own response to the ghosts is often more horrific than the ghosts’ behavior. Inuki’s artwork isn’t as gory or imaginative as some of her peers’, though she demonstrates a genuine flair for comically gruesome thrills: one girl is dragged into a toilet, for example, while another is attacked by a scaly, long-armed creature that lives in the infirmary. Where Inuki really shines, however, is in her ability to capture the primal terror that a dark, empty building can inspire in the most rational person. Even when the story takes one its many silly detours — and yes, there are many WTF?! moments in School Zone — Inuki makes us feel her characters’ vulnerability as they explore the school grounds after hours. – Katherine Dacey

Tokyo Babylon | By CLAMP | TOKYOPOP – When David suggested that we all pick favorite horror manga for this week, at first I thought I didn’t have any. Though horror movies were a favorite genre once upon a time, that preference never really transferred to print for me, or at least I didn’t think it had. Then I realized that some of my most beloved occult-themed comics fall closer to the horror mark than I thought. My favorite of these (and indeed, one of my favorite comics of all time) is CLAMP’s 20-year-old series, Tokyo Babylon.  Complete in just seven volumes, it’s a decidedly immature work, featuring uneven storytelling, outrageous outfits, and one of the strangest, most over-the-top examples of BL-leaning shôjo I’ve seen to date. On the other hand, not only does it finally rip our hearts out with the precision of a serial killer, but it scares the bejeezus out of us all along the way. This is a dark, cruel little series, that takes real joy in its emotional shock value, and its occult setting provides ample opportunity for that quality. Not that I’m complaining. When I look at the images I chose for my review of the series , I can see that I picked out several of those that had creeped me out the most. For genuine scares and emotional brutality all wrapped up in one delicious “classic” shôjo package, you can’t beat Tokyo Babylon– Melinda Beasi

What are your favorite horror stories?


Re-flipped: GoGo Monster

Okay, I don’t know if this comic counts as horror in the strictest sense of the term, but it’s one of the first titles that came to mind when I considered this month’s Manga Moveable Feast. It’s one of my favorite spooky-ish comics, and yesterday was Taiyo Matsumoto’s birthday, so…

“Yeah, well…” a grade-schooler opines early in Taiyo Matsumoto’s GoGo Monster (Viz), “There’s a kid like that in every class, right?” He’s talking about Yuki, a classmate who claims to sense things no one else can, an invisible population of mischievous creatures and a new insurgence of more malevolent beings. And the classmate is right; if manga is to be believed, the schools of Japan are well stocked with young people who traffic in the eerie. None of them are quite like Yuki, though, probably because not many creators are quite like Matsumoto.

Matsumoto has an extraordinary talent for rendering kid logic, their concepts of loyalty and justice and the way they engage with the world around them. This knack was on vivid display in Tekkonkinkreet: Black and White (Viz), for which Matsumoto won an Eisner Award in 2008. Like that book, GoGo Monster features two temperamentally different boys cleaving together to face the inevitable.

Many supernaturally sensitive manga characters can be divided into two categories. They either use that sensitivity to protect the unaware, or they struggle to conceal their abilities for fear of ostracism. Some are driven by both motives, but Yuki answers to neither. He’s disconcertingly matter-of-fact about the things he perceives, and he’s genuinely immune to the ridicule of his peers. He’s an excellent student, but he’s a disruptive presence. Yuki doesn’t perceive his own abnormality, and he doesn’t feel any pressure to conform.

While Yuki has few allies in the student body or faculty, he does garner the sympathetic attention of a new kid at school, Makoto. Average in every respect, Makoto is less intrigued by Yuki’s beliefs than by his indifference to ridicule. Maybe he recognizes it as a kind of strength of character, or maybe some emerging empathy makes him realize Yuki is at risk. Makoto is engaged in all of the aspects of Yuki’s character, not just his oddity. Instead of limiting him to the role of sidekick, this engagement actually makes Makoto Yuki’s equal in terms of reader engagement, or at least it did with me.

Other benevolent figures in Yuki’s sphere include the school’s elderly groundskeeper, Ganz, who understandably takes the long view of things. While the teachers yearn to fix Yuki, Ganz is content to listen to the boy. Then there’s IQ, who is even more ostentatiously weird than Yuki. IQ, who’s in an older grade than Yuki and Makoto, wanders the school grounds with a box on his head with a single eyehole cut into it. It’s telling and slyly funny that this is less disconcerting to his peers and teachers than Yuki’s less obvious strangeness and bursts of temper. Like Ganz, IQ has an odd kind of faith in Yuki, though the source of that faith is oblique.

The most interesting thing about GoGo Monster, the thing that grounds it, is that it’s ultimately irrelevant whether or not the things Yuki perceives are real. It’s Yuki’s belief in their reality and the possible consequences of that belief that drive the drama. That belief is never in question; Yuki is absolutely sincere, as is Matsumoto.

Tekkonkinkreet was set in a dying fantastical city slowly being destroyed by crassness and consumerism. Treasure Town was a richly imagined, almost living place. In GoGo Monster, the school setting couldn’t be more prosaic, but it’s no less vivid. Matsumoto captures the rhythms of the place, the mundane snippets of conversation, the casual cruelty, and the bustle. Even without the meticulous visual detail Matsumoto lavishes on the place, you can practically smell the food from the cafeteria.

That fidelity makes it all the more effective when you start to see glimpses of it through Yuki’s enhanced perspective. Matsumoto is positively restrained in introducing the weirdness that Yuki sees infesting Asahi Elementary. You glimpse it from the corner of your eye at first, or blink and it disappears. The clearest sense of them comes from Yuki’s crude drawings, and even he admits that they aren’t literal renderings. “This is just a conceptual sketch,” he tells the closest thing he has to a friend. As the school year that constitutes the book’s timeline progresses, Matsumoto reveals more of what Yuki is sensing.

Beyond his marvelous illustrations and elliptical storytelling, the fascinating thing about Matsumoto’s work is his ability to make me root for undesirable outcomes. In Tekkonkinkreet, I found myself hoping that its protagonists would accept the futility of their fight for Treasure Town, that they would cut their losses. In GoGo Monster, I found myself siding with the forces of conformity. Admirable as Yuki’s sense of self is, and enviable as his immunity to social pressure may be, I still was persuaded by Matsumoto’s argument for a healthy, happy Yuki, even if it resulted in a less interesting, less special Yuki.

I should probably mention that GoGo Monster is a beautifully produced book. It’s magnificently colored hard cover comes sheathed in an equally handsome slipcase. The edges of the crisp, white pages are tinged red with a continuation of the cover image. It’s all very lovely, but the book would still be extraordinary even without those bells and whistles. Matsumoto has craft, intelligence, and heart, and he balances those qualities as well as almost any creator alive. In a fairly extraordinary year for challenging, artistically satisfying manga, it seems like a certainty that Matsumoto will garner a second Eisner nomination, perhaps even a second win.

Upcoming 10/26/2011

Thank goodness Viz is taking the week off on the ComicList, because a couple of other publishers are really bringing it.

The first volume of Drops of God, written by Tadashi Agi and illustrated by Shu Okimoto, arrives courtesy of Vertical. This series has the interesting distinction of having been covered by dozens of newspapers prior to ever being licensed. (And those articles were subsequently picked up via service by hundreds of other newspapers.) This phenomenon occurred because the manga has boosted the wine industry wherever it’s been published. Will that occur here? Will Wine Spectator feature it in the next issue? Hard to say, but I’m really looking forward to reading this tale of a race to find a roster of legendary vintages. (I’ll probably stick with Three-Buck Chuck myself, but at least I’ll know what I’m missing.)

Vertical also unleashes the seventh volume of Kanata Konami’s Chi’s Sweet Home, so you can balance rare wine with adorable pets.

Not to be outdone in the cute and funny department, Yen Press delivers the tenth volume of Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&! I predict low-key, identifiable antics will ensue, and that I will probably giggle.

I also predict that my jaw will drop at the quantity and quality of pretty contained within the second volume of Kaoru Mori’s A Bride’s Story. I discussed this in more detail last week at Manga Bookshelf, though I couldn’t muster a Midtown-dependent pick this week. I did manage to provide a couple of Bookshelf Briefs.

Kodansha isn’t quite as impressive in its generosity, but it does offer the 11th volume of Koji Kumeta’s very funny Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, which is not to be overlooked. (In other Kodansha news, I thought the first volume of Mardock Scramble was fairly promising, and I barely escaped the first volume of the unbearably shrill Animal Land with my sanity intact, but more on that later.)

So, what looks good to you?


Re-flipped: Kazuo Umezu

For this week’s blood-soaked Manga Moveable Feast, I thought I’d revisit some old Flipped columns that have a horrific bent.

With so many aspects of the manga industry apparently in question, there is one thing I can say without too much fear of contradiction:  it’s a good time to be a fan of horror comics from Japan.

CMX is offering the creepy-cute moralizing of Kanako Inuki’s Presents.  Dark Horse is serving fans of Shaun of the Dead-style self-aware chills with The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, written by Eiji Otsuka and drawn by Housui Yamazaki.  Old-school angst and energetically rendered savagery take center stage in Hitoshi Iwaaki’s Parasyte from Del Rey.  In spite of some moments of uncertainty along the way, Tokyopop did a great public service by finishing the apocalyptic ten-volume run of Mochizuki Minetaro’s Dragon Head. Viz Media released new editions of Junji Ito’s Uzumaki and Gyo in its Signature imprint.

What really makes this a mini-golden age for horror devotees, and the Signature line a relative horn of plenty for such readers, is the quantity of Kazuo Umezu manga on offer.   Umezu’s tykes-in-trouble classic, The Drifting Classroom, recently wrapped up an 11-volume run, and Viz just released Cat Eyed Boy in two fat, prestige volumes.

The Drifting Classroom begins with an elementary school blowing sky high.  The community is devastated by the apparent deaths of hundreds of students and their teachers, not realizing that the victims should have been so lucky.  Instead of a quick and relatively merciful end, the school has been cast into a hellish, post-apocalyptic landscape filled with mysterious perils.  The grown-ups are less than useful, giving in to panic and madness.  Umezu dispatches them with ruthless efficiency, placing the focus on the kids and their attempts to survive external and internal threats.

I’ve rarely seen a comic with as much insanity per page.  Umezu’s pace is relentless as he tosses the dwindling student body from frying pan to fire and back again.  It’s like a child’s worst nightmares woven into one and infused with adrenaline.  Grown-ups are useless, and peers are even more pernicious than they suspected.

The brutality never becomes wearying, because Umezu has seemingly boundless imagination in finding new ways to render horrible things happening to children.  Some moments have slowly mounting terror, like a panicked stampede of kids charging at a handful of out-of-their-depth faculty.  Others pop out of nowhere with the kind of jarring effect that slasher film-makers only wish they could muster.

It’s incidental, but the series provides additional pleasure when you remind yourself that The Drifting Classroom was originally created for children, originally serialized in Shogakukan’s Shônen Sunday.  One shudders to think what Fredric Wertham would have made of manga.

After the hyperactive terror of The Drifting Classroom, Umezu’s Cat Eyed Boy seems almost serene.  Like a lot of horror manga, it’s episodic in its construction, following a half-demon protagonist as he’s drawn to scenes of horrible things happening to terrible people.

Actually, “protagonist” might be the wrong term.  Cat Eyed Boy has no vested interest in the misfortunes he witnesses.  Sometimes, he’s just an observer.  He can demonstrate a penchant for taunting humans, playing on their superstitions.  If he sometimes finds himself opposed to malevolent forces, it’s generally a matter of self-preservation.  He’s not admirable by any means, but he’s understandable.  If Cat Eyed Boy’s odd existence has taught him anything, it’s that people generally suck.

This is most clearly demonstrated in what might be described as his origin story, “The Tsunami Summoners.”  Rejected by both the human and demon sides of his family, Cat Eyed Boy is taken in by a lonely spinster in a seaside village.  The community doesn’t share his foster mother’s benevolence, and his childhood is characterized by alienation and hostility.  The Cat Eyed Boy becomes the scapegoat for the town’s misfortunes, blinding them to more insidious threats on the horizon.

“The Tsunami Summoners” is a wonderfully twisted morality play, easily my favorite entry in the first volume.  It delivers Umezu’s visual imagination, inventive plotting, and ambiguous morality.  The title character could easily be one of those prolific and slightly sickening types – hideous on the outside, but with a pure and childlike heart.  Umezu’s approach is much more interesting; the Cat Eyed Boy owns both his human and demonic heritage.  He can be hurt by human cruelty and fear, but the impish part of his nature earns at least a portion of it.

His foster mother, Mimi, is equally ambiguous to me.  She’s driven by loneliness as opposed to any specific affection for the Cat Eyed Boy; Mimi wants a child, any child.  Even the villagers aren’t entirely unreasonable in their fears; they come out on the wrong end of the moral equation, obviously, but the sliver of sympathy you feel for their fears adds extra spice to the story’s outcome.

If the Cat Eyed Boy is a bit on the adorable side, like a plush toy, Umezu doesn’t stint on disturbing character design.  “The Band of One Hundred Monsters” is a parade of the grotesque.  And ultimately, it’s the internal deformities, that are most disturbing – anger, jealousy, sadism, greed.  Umezu’s mastery comes from his ability to render both.


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?


The Favorites Alphabet: H

Welcome to the Favorites Alphabet, where the Manga Bookshelf battle robot gaze upon our respective manga collections to pick a favorite title from each letter of the alphabet. We’re trying to stick with books that have been licensed and published in English, but we recognize that the alphabet is long, so we’re keeping a little wiggle room in reserve.

“H” is for…

Here Is Greenwood | Yukie Nasu | Viz Media – Again, I could pick any number of ‘H’ titles – Hayate the Combat Butler, High School Girls, Higurashi – but I have a soft spot in my heart for Greenwood, which was first seen in North America in the mid-1990s as an anime. Viz brought over the 9 volume manga in 2004, and to be honest it did not sell well. This is a shame, as it’s part of that classic genre of shôjo manga – BL tease. There are many people (including myself) who may read Greenwood for Hasukawa, and seeing him struggle with his temper and with the hijinks that surround him at the Greenwood dorms. Seeing him eventually win the heart of the girl he’s trying to win is a highlight of the entire run. But if I were honest, I’d admit that 98% of all Greenwood fans read it to see Mitsuru and Shinobu not be lovers at each other. The two best friends complement each other perfectly, and even the Japanese audience demanded, at the end, that Nasu show the two of them kissing. (She did not comply.) This may not have sold well here, but those female fans who had the anime be one of their gateways into BL fandom should try the manga – it’s better, and gives them even more ammo. – Sean Gaffney

High School Debut | Kazune Kawahara | VIZ Media – On the surface, this is just another shôjo high school romance. There’s the earnest heroine, Haruna, who’s got a tremendous heart and athletic ability, and the more stoic boy, Yoh, whom she taps to be her dating coach. What’s different is that they fall in love within the first few volumes and spend the rest of the time working out what it means to be a couple. I love that Yoh admires Haruna for all of her terrific qualities, and I love that Haruna trusts Yoh and truly wants what’s best for him. Although the story itself may not be new, I adore the characters so much that when the final volume came around, I was tempted to write a review consisting entirely of hearts and sniffles. I’ve loaned this series out a couple of times already and know that I will be rereading it often. – Michelle Smith

Hikaru no Go | By Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata | Viz Media – Oh, what to say about Hikaru no Go that I haven’t already said? Hikaru no Go was my first exposure to manga, and managed in one two-day whirlwind read to win me over to a medium (comics) I had previously sworn I could never, ever love. In a very real way, Manga Bookshelf exists because of Hikaru no Go. It is an epic, deeply compelling, emotionally resonant sort-of-sports manga, with some of my favorite artwork in in the medium overall. And though I later realized that the sense of non-ironic optimism that (in part) drew me to the series originally is a trait common to the genre, there is something unique about this quality as it inhabits Hikaru no Go.  It is elegant in its innocence, and in its sadness too. And though I’ve read many more moving and complex manga since, nothing can ever replace Hikago in my heart. It is that special. – Melinda Beasi

Hotel Harbour View | By Jiro Taniguchi | Viz Media – This slim volume explores terrain familiar to anyone who’s watched Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, or Stray Dog: it’s a world of gangsters, molls, and taciturn killers. Though the stories unfold in present-day Shanghai and Paris (or what was the present day when Taniguchi wrote it), the mood is decidedly retro: the characters speak in a highly self-conscious, stylized language borrowed from the silver screen; they wear hats, waist-cinching dresses, and formidable shoulder pads; and they die dramatic deaths. If the prevailing sensibility is mid-century noir, the artwork owes a debt to John Woo and the Hong Kong action films of the late 1980s and early 1990s, with balletic gun fights and artfully composed kill shots. Much as I love titles like Zoo in Winter and A Distant Neighborhood, Hotel Harbour View may be my favorite Taniguchi title. – Katherine Dacey

House of Five Leaves | By Natsume Ono | Viz Media – It frankly seems wrong that we’ve gone this far in The Favorites Alphabet without me having a chance to mention Ono’s work, but it’s nice that I can start with what I think is her very best licensed series. This tale of an out-of-work samurai who falls in with a motley gang of generally benevolent kidnappers falls right in my tonal sweet spot – casual, character driven, but packed with surprising and potent emotional highlights that seem to creep up on the reader. The look of the series is essential to its success, and it’s easily Ono’s most stylish, gorgeous work. There’s a wonderfully concise quality to her illustrations here. She manages to convey a great deal with the tiniest modulations in facial expression, framed as they are by her languid, graceful staging. House of Five Leaves represents everything I like about Ono’s work, and it features those qualities at their very best. – David Welsh

What starts with “H” in your favorites alphabet?

Upcoming 10/19/2011

Looking at the Manga Bookshelf Pick of the Week, you’d expect a bounty of new arrivals in your average comic shop. Looking at the Diamond-driven ComicList, it’s somewhat less exciting.

Never fear, though! Vertical leaps into the breach with the 16th volume of Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack. It’s hard to believe that there will be only one more book in this series, isn’t it? As much as I enjoy Tezuka’s crazy, grown-up opuses, it’s always a treat to see him in mainstream entertainer mode, because even those comics are refreshingly weird. Here’s hoping that Vertical will find another example of Tezuka aiming for the mainstream and still packing his stories with insane, often disturbing grace notes. (Hi, Pinoko! I’ll miss you!)

What looks good to you?


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.)