Too bad there’s no good way to get it these days, so you’ll just have to read this.
Archive for July, 2008
Getting some stuff out there before I clean it off my desk and shelve it in the black hole known as my room.
Mononokemono, GotsuboxRyuji, vol 1 (2007)
When Ibuki returns to his home town for his grandmother’s funeral, he discovers that he has been chosen as her successor as a mononokemono, a human that mediates between the world of humans and mononoke, mythological Japanese creatures that make great story fodder thanks to their wide variety and volume. Grudgingly forced into the position, he balances the challenges of being a junior high student with his newfound duty of keeping the mononoke in check. While it sounds like a fairly potboiler story, I found myself enjoying Mononokemono quite a bit. The art style stands out most immediately, as it blends quite a bit of sketchy manga shorthand (almost reminding me of Japanese flash anime), used to match its overall light-hearted mood, with some more solid talent, all done in a very limited black and white palette. Gotsubo’s treatment of mononoke is also worth paying attention to if you have any familiarity with that, as he does both modern takes on old creatures, like a mascot character-style nue, while also inventing his own beasts, like the kireru 24-sai, roughly translated as “24-year old flipping out”. It all adds up to a humorous, somewhat strangely attractive volume, and I’ll be going back for more.
Ore to Akuma no Blues (Me and the Devil Blues, Eng version out July 29 by Del Rey), Hiramoto Akira, vol 1 (2005).
Anime and manga have never been the best when it comes to portraying racial and ethnic groups that aren’t, well, Japanese. As a result, I was a little skeptical when I picked up Me and the Devil Blues, but had heard nothing but praise for it, and thankfully I am able to echo that praise. Me and the Devil Blues is a fantastic re-telling of the life of the legendary blues musician who, as said legend has it, sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his blues chops. The Japanese volume one gives us the devil story as well as the foundations of a story about Johnson’s (fictional) adventures with Clyde Barrow. Both the detailed story and art is dark and dense yet also sensitive, forgoing what could be easy exploitation for serious exposition, a breath of fresh air after Bob Makihara and Mr. Popo (I had to do it, sorry). I was very excited when I heard that Del Rey picked this series up, as they continue to do great work for manga over here with their Jump Millions, and I plan on doing everything I can to get my hands on the translated first volume ($20 retail, but it’s the size of two Japanese volumes, I believe) once it finally hits our shores, apparently next week.
Amawres Ken-chan, Wakasugi Kiminori, 2006 (one-shot).
I’m sure many people by now are aware of Wakasugi’s most famous manga, Detroit Metal City, which now has an anime adaptation, a work about hilariously pathetic people doing hilarious and pathetic things in order to not appear pathetic. (hilarity ensues.) Ken-chan is really more in the same vein. Nagano Kenpei is an average loser at his high school until he is taken under the wing of Numata Puchokof, a half-Japanese, half-Russian ex-olympic wrestler who teaches at his school, and joins the wrestling club, which is full of horrible losers like him. The manga follows him and his friends in the wrestling club as they try to be less lame and (very unsuccessfully) get girlfriends. I’ll say this flat out: if you don’t like gross-out humor and gay jokes (read: are over the age of 17), you probably won’t enjoy this very much. DMC is saved by its over-the-top obscenity and metal jokes, while any remote strands of interest here, like the whole wrestling thing, are played, more or less, for one-dimensional jokes. (Here is the joke for wrestling: it is kinda gay! A ha ha ha.) I suppose that there is also an appeal in this manga if you love seeing people be absolutely pathetic and walking failures at life, but really, you can get that for free between television and livejournal.
Fred Schodt, Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics (1983), Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga (1996).
I’ve had these two books lying around for quite some time now, and it seems like now would be a good time to break my trend of posting reviews of things that the majority of this blog’s audience can neither read nor purchase easily. First up is Manga! Manga!. The book is broken into a number of sections, each with a fairly concrete subject, such as the origins of manga, themes in boys’ and girls’ manga, the industry, the future of manga, and a few more things in between, all in a little under 160 pages. You might think that this would result in a fairly scattershot approach to the monolithic subject of everything manga, but we end up with a fairly concise but focused set of essays that would be a good introduction to the subject. The book’s second half is devoted to English translations of four comics, Osamu Tezuka’s Phoenix, Reiji Matsumoto’s Ghost Warrior, Riyoko Ikeda’s Rose of Versailles, and Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen.
Well, a good introduction other than the fact that the book is 25 years old. This isn’t exactly a fair criticism, but while the book may have been very poignant at the time, a lot of the ideas floating around in Manga! Manga! didn’t age terribly well, since the American landscape for the stuff was totally different, as the second-to-last paragraph makes it clear – “Most Japanese comics are unlikely to cross the cultural barrier between East and West in their original format. Those that do will probably be select classics with universal themes or works specifically created with Western audiences in mind. They are unlikely to become as common or as dominant as American comics once were.” Also, the whole bubble bursting thing took the idea of “JAPAN TAKING OVER THE WORLD” out of everyone’s heads right quick. Can’t win ‘em all, I guess. Despite the disconnect between then and now, there’s still a fair bit of useful information in here, especially when Schodt takes a look at the industry or recent history of the format. Of course, a bit of this is presented as totally alien stuff (as it ought to have been), but between Schodt’s access to Tezuka and the Japanese industry at the time makes for at least a few chunks of very good reading.
Of course, that isn’t to say that I can unequivocally accept everything he presents here. Within a handful of pages, I saw the first claim that made the Japanese studies undergrad in me squirm – that one reason for the dominance of comics in Japan is Japanese kanji, making an ideogram -> pictures -> comics!! connection, an idea that would earn me a mountain of red ink and a referral to this book by a college professor or two. I had similar reservations about his ideas that manga can be traced back as far as 12th century scrolls and (probably unfairly) his sections on samurai and honor influencing more modern-themed works like Golgo 13. (gotta get back to the duke. always gotta get back to the duke.) Actually, Henry Smith does a much better job of pointing this out in his review of the book in Vol 10 #2 of the Journal of Japanese Studies, which you should just read instead of this part of this blog post if you have jstor access. Too bad I told you that now, since I’m just about to wrap up! (It’s not too late to see Smith bust out his otaku cred by talking about gekiga and his Garo collection in the article, though!)
Overall, I’m not all too sure who to recommend this to. I mean, these days we have things like the internet to tell us about manga history, while a good portion of the rest of the book is either outdated or clashes too strongly with my ingrained ideologies for me to appreciate. Not to mention that the only people who I would have the opportunity to recommend the book to would have probably learned a lot of the stuff in here through it being dispersed into general nerd knowledge over the past 25 years. At the same time, it’s a fairly engrossing read, and actually has a fair bit of authority behind bits of it. (Which is to say I enjoyed it a lot more than Samurai from Outer Space which I will not rag on but will simply say that the most I learned from it was that someone out there with a Stanford education actually took Crystal Triangle seriously.) I’d certainly buy it at the $5 Amazon price if you had the bookshelf space, especially if you want a hard copy of something to cite, and I wouldn’t tell someone not to borrow and read it if their local library had it, but I’d suggest reading it with a grain of salt.
On the other hand, there’s Dreamland Japan, which will get a much shorter review from me because I love it so much that I will not write a single bad word about it. Also, I need to sleep soon. Where Manga! Manga! had things like opinion and theory (which I inexplicably hate all of the time especially when it comes from jerks like me), this sucker has big chunks of information to jam-pack your tiny otaku brains with. The first two chapters start off with a overview of the medium as well as its discontents (otaku, comiket, aum cultists). Schodt then moves on to an overview of a fair number of popular manga anthologies of the time, including demograpic and circulation information in handy little boxes. While some of the information is, unsurprisingly, a bit dated, a lot of the information holds up while also giving a pretty clear, in-depth snapshot of the state of the Japanese industry at the time.
This alone would make it worth a purchase, especially at the dirt-cheap prices that you can find it online, but then we get a hundred-page chapter that focuses on various manga artists of note. Schodt’s writing keeps things fresh as he profiles (and includes samples!) of one artist after the next, leaving a host of dogeared pages in any underinformed reader’s (my) copy of the book with mental notes to check the artists out once you’re done with the book. The next chapter is about Tezuka, and to be honest, I just thumbed through the chapter since nearly all of it was included in Schodt’s later Astro Boy Essays, which AWO’s Daryl Surat did a nice little review of in Otaku USA. (spoilers: you should buy it.) The final two chapters are on the future of manga, first in Japan, then in America. Again, being ten years old on a subject that’s constantly experiencing an incredible amount of change hurts these chapters’ relevancy a little, but they still provide a great picture of what was going on at a time that we can’t easily hop online and pull up websites about. Also, you get to see an absolutely ancient picture of the absolutely ancient Anipike, which should bring a smile to any old codger’s heart. So yeah, I would strongly suggest anyone interested in the history of manga or just manga in general pick up Dreamland Japan. It is both an engrossing read and will probably make you more informed about Japanese cartoons, an important trait of every educated citizen of the world!
Kuishinbou, Tsuchiyama Shigeru, vol 1 (2005)
Every once in a while, I hear someone throw out the idea that a certain manga is made specifically for Japanese salarymen as vicarious entertainment. Sometimes the claim made by mistaken individuals in regards to works that simply have universal appeal (Golgo 13, Fist of the North Star) while other times they’re actually talking about works about average 20-30something dudes who, by luck or by pluck, end up doing something TOTALLY AWESOME with their lives, like become a professional pachinko player, a professional mahjong player,
or the athlete-playboy ancestor of Gilgamesh who gets hypnotized by the granddaughter of Hitler so that they can mate and create a new breed of supermen. Kuishinbo belongs to the latter group, as it is at once about a regular guy in fairly believable situation, doing something we all can do, while also being as ridiculous and over-the-top as anything you’d find in Jump.
So what’s this guy’s special ability? Sharingan? Nanto Ningen Houdan? PILDER ON? Actually, it’s already spoiled for you if you know any Japanese, because it’s eating. Kuishinbo is about a guy who likes to eat. A lot. Ouhara Mantarou (大原 満太郎, a ha ha ha) is a regular salaryman who finds himself suddenly thrust into the wild world of food fighting when he takes up his local donburi shop’s timed eating contest of 10 katsudon in 30 minutes. While he fails, he finds a powerful, possibly American (!!) professional food fighter who recognizes his talent and is willing to take him under his wing! His next challenge is to act as his boss’s entry in a nikuman eating contest against a fearsome opponent: Yokogawa, the famous (possibly Chinese !!!) Osakan man who once ate 100 Takoyaki in 5 minutes!!!! While I won’t spoil the exciting ending of the volume for you, I will tell you that I learned that the true path of a righteous food fighter is that of respect towards the food.
So yeah, like I was saying, a lot like a shonen manga for grown men, while trying to retain some sort of grip on reality. I mean, everyone loves to brag about that time that you were 16 and ate two large pizzas, and if you were put up to it, you could totally eat like, five and a half pounds of curry. To be honest, the first time I read through this volume, I rolled my eyes at it and decided not to get the second volume, but reading it again, it’s kind of grown on me. (Actually to be completely honest, I bought this out of frustration when I couldn’t find where Oishinbo was at the Shibuya Mandarake) It’s ridiculous and the plot so far is a bit formulaic, yes, but that stopped me from reading a manga, then my bookshelf would be out dozens of volumes of Golgo 13, and that is an alternate reality in which I could not bear to live. The art isn’t bad, though sometimes people are drawn in Grappler Baki-style poses while slurping down a bowl of food. Either way, I’m probably going to pick up at least one more volume of this when I get a chance, and I’d suggest it to anyone looking for a fun, light read who can put up with plot contrivances for the sake of fun.
I know I promised to keep writing manga reviews, but I’ve been too busy taking stock and making a website where you can buy fabulous doujinshi, doujin music, manga, and more at low low prices! Touhou, Bemani, Rozen Maiden, Haruhi/Lucky Star crossovers, Naruto manga, anime girls with boy parts where their girl parts normally are, there’s something for everyone!! Please buy things and keep me from starving on the streets of Kyoto! Check it out at:
Remember that time I did this in February and I thought that maybe I’d do this once a month? Man, I’m a funny guy. Anyway, as part of my plan to clean up/out my nerdy crap from my house before I leave to Glorious Nippon for a year of education and debauchery I figured I’d give some of the manga that’s been lying around my place a review before I leave all my earthly belongings behind / try to pawn it off on you suckers (keep an eye on this webspace in the coming weeks for more on that!). Oh, and rather than doing a bunch of reviews at once, I’m going to actually split these up in a futile attempt to get more page views. anyway this introduction is already longer than it should be so
Neko Ramen, Sonishi Kenji, vols 1 (2006) and 2 (2007)
This manga apparently has gotten not one but two seasons of flash-created Original Net Anime (what an unfortunate acronym) made out of it, so I figured that this would be worth reviewing. Anyway, obligatory plot summary:
A cat… that makes RAMEN??! This must be high-concept gag manga at its finest! Well, it got me to buy it at least.
Yeah, that’s about it. I know I shouldn’t have really expected too much from this, especially given my horrible track record with 4-koma (the genre needs more Ki-Sho-Ten-Ketsu-YAMI), but somehow I couldn’t help myself. I blame the Nekojiru kick I was on. Anyway, it’s about two volumes of roughly 4 jokes: the cat is bad at making ramen, the cat is bad at making business decisions, one of his three customers displays their character traits, the cat is a cat!! I do have to say in its defense, blasting through a volume of 4-koma gags is not really the optimal way to enjoy the form and genre, but still, this only got the occasional smile out of me. Incidentally, the parts of Neko Ramen that I found most interesting were the 16-page regular manga-style stories. They’re mostly little vignettes about Taisho, the eponymous neko, and his past, riffing off of generic manga backstories to somewhat comedic effect. These free up the story a bit, letting Sonishi play around outside of THERE IS A CAT. HE MAKES RAMEN. JOKETIME ENSUES., but they tend to not have any joke until the last page, and not in the shaggy dog Cromartie kind of way, either.
I checked out the net anime for this, too, hoping that somehow they could turn it around into something great, like the top-notch adaptation of Sketchbook‘s snooze-inducing manga (which incidentally runs in the same magazine as this, remind me to stay away from it), but no dice. At least it’s free! (Like most, um, onanisms.) Overall, if you want a casual, light read (it’s got furigana!) and/or love cats doing goofy things, or happened to love the anime and think I’m completely misguided, I’d say to pick this up, but otherwise I’d recommend saving your yens.
This is a worthless post I stole from a bunch of other people. Sorry!
- ADV Films is in financial trouble! I bet you didn’t know that. I actually like them, even though their magazine was boring and all of their DVDs are encoded horribly at random. Hopefully they can stay away from actual Japanese businessmen in the future, since apparently they don’t know how to sell anything.
- Of course, some companies nobody likes; GONZO’s holding company is in a stock death spiral and will probably be delisted.
- You can watch Yu-gi-oh Abridged with Japanese subtitles on Nicovideo. I was going to do a panel about Nico at Otakon, and this would be great for it, but their panels department has been messed up since last year and rejected it. Guess I’d better prereg…