Three exciting updates:
1. New layout! I wanted to get away from the default theme and make my blog look more like a blog. There are a few things I need to tweak, namely the missing forward and back buttons (for now, check the archive, but I should have that fixed shortly). Check out the sidebar, and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.
2. I’m now an official manga writer/reviewer at Organization Anti-Social Geniuses. I’m pretty new at reviewing, but decided to give it a shot. I’ll be posting weekly; check out my first review of Drifters, volume 1:
Part history, part fantasy, and all fast-paced action, Drifters has all the ingredients to become a great manga, but feels disjointed in this first volume. The “from the creator of Hellsing” bit makes this series an understandable license, but without a basic knowledge of the important figures in Japanese history one has to wonder if some important nuances in the story are going to be missed by the casual English reader.
3. I won free manga! (This may be the first time ever.) Thanks to The Manga Critic, I’ll be receiving the first volume of Vertical’s The Flowers of Evil, and the first volume of Dark Horse’s Gate 7. I’ll definite be reviewing these series when they reach my doorstep!
I’m extremely excited about this month’s Manga Moveable Feast topic – Viz’s Signature imprint. I’ve been so excited in fact, that I haven’t been able to come up with a coherent topic for the Feast all week, despite racking my brain. What makes it even more difficult is that, in preparation for the Feast, I counted all the series from the imprint that I have at least one volume of. I came out in the neighborhood of 20.
I suppose that speaks volumes (ha!) in and of itself. The imprint is really just that awesome. Since an MMF post with just the sentence “THIS IS AWESOME!” written over and over again isn’t especially compelling, I racked my brain a little harder for some reasoning behind my love affair with the line. I came up with three.
This month’s Manga Moveable Feast features the works of Jiro Taniguchi, a creator I only know by name. I was excited to dive into someone completely new to me, and a quick search of my local library system turned up three choices — the first volume of The Times of Botchan, Samurai Legend, and the A Zoo in Winter. I remembered the last of the three getting a little buzz before it came out; I always enjoy a good coming of age story (being at that age, I suppose) so I snagged A Zoo in Winter and read it slowly throughout this past week.
The story focuses on nineteen year old Hamaguchi, who’s recently moved to Kyoto. Not exactly sure where he wants to go in life (or how to get there), Hamaguchi has spent the last six months working at a fabric wholesaler delivering merchandise to retail stories, all the while dreaming of becoming a manga artist. He doesn’t seem particularly passionate about his current job (but doesn’t seem to outright hate it either), and makes no obvious moves to break into the manga biz. With seeming no driving force or passion – typical in that fuzzy time between schooling and being established – things simply “happen” to Hamaguchi. In reading A Zoo in Winter, I thought it was interesting that three particular happenings – Ayako, Kondo, and Mariko – eventually cause Hamaguchi to find his own driving force in life.
The first thing to “happen” to Hamaguchi is the boss’s daughter, Ayako. The talk of the office, Ayako’s husband has given her the dump, presumably after finding out she’d been having an affair. Ayako seems less than apologetic, and her humiliated father (the ex-husband came from a family of textile makers, surely a divorce didn’t help business) demands a chaperone. Not one to protest, Hamaguchi eventually becomes Ayako’s full-fledged chaperone. Annoyed at first, it becomes obvious Hamaguchi enjoys Ayako’s company. Hamaguchi even goes so far as to try and find information on Ayako’s lover, Tsuruta, though I wasn’t sure of the motives behind this — romantic feelings, perhaps? On one final outing to the zoo on a cold winter day, Ayako asks Hamaguchi to follow her to a specific spot — where Ayako’s lover, Tsuruta is waiting.
Naturally Ayako elopes, which makes things prickly at Hamaguchi’s job. He’d let Ayako “get away”; rumors swirled that he’d even helped her do so. Confiding in his friend Tamura about his job woes, this leads to the second thing to “happen” to Hamaguchi — the manga artist, Kondo Shiro.
Eager to help Hamaguchi (who’s “really gifted at manga,” apparently) Tamura sets up a meeting (in Shinjuku, I believe) between a manga artist acquaintance of his — Kondo Shiro — and Hamaguchi in hopes that Hamaguchi can land an assistant gig. What Hamaguchi experiences is no less a “trial by fire”; thrown into the mix right before deadline, Hamaguchi is introduced to the other assistants — Moriwaki; Fujita; the female editor, Higashino — as well as the lively Mr. Kikuchi. Hamaguchi is immediately put to work with adding finishing touches to the manga. Overwhelmed, nervous, but awed by the energy of the group, Hamaguchi manages to quickly find a home at the manga studio. He socializes a bit more (even getting drunk at a bar) and finds himself swept up in the energy of the city and his co-workers.
An important interlude comes in the form of an unexpected visit from Hamaguchi’s big brother (giving him the familial validation for his chosen career and acknowledging him as an adult), followed by the final thing to “happening” to Hamaguchi — Mariko. The younger sister of a lady friend of Mr. Kikuchi and very sickly, Mariko isn’t able to get out much. Hamaguchi is again cast in the chaperone role. Prior to meeting Mariko though, Hamaguchi had been struggled to finish a manga of his own about a boy who gets sucked into the world of a picture book and has to save a princess. Pretty standard fare, but it becomes the crux of the Hamaguchi and Mariko’s budding relationship. Hamaguchi opens up about his writer’s block and Mariko is full of ideas. Ideas and inspiration are just what Hamaguchi needs (and the thrill of a new crush certainly helps) and he works to finish the manga just for Mariko. When Mariko and Hamaguchi’s relationship hits a roadblock, Hamaguchi is forced to confront his own feelings – ranging from love, selfishness, and general insecurity — in order to find his own passion and to see things through until the end not only for Mariko, but for himself.
Taken a whole, this is a nice coming of age story. I was a bit bored initially, but things picked up during the “Big Brother” arc as I realized just how Hamaguchi was being forced to buck up and finding a driving force within himself. What’s ironic is how much Hamaguchi’s passivity annoyed me initially. Hamaguchi reminded me of a leaf in the wind, allowing himself to be blown whichever way fate saw fit. Why he could take the reins of his own life almost made me dislike Hamaguchi. At the end I realized the real rub – Hamaguchi reminds me a lot of myself. Hamaguchi lack of direction seems so true to life; most don’t wake up one morning and decide to be a doctor or a lawyer, so it takes a bit of bumping around, tripping, random happenings, and just general growing up to get onto a road you can eventually be pleased with.
I think it would be great to revisit the story a few years from now and see my viewpoint then. For now, I would say I’m satisfied enough to check out more of Taniguchi’s work – A Distant Neighborhood, or The Walking Man, perhaps?
This piece is a part of the March 2012 Manga Moveable Feast, hosted by Manga Worth Reading.
My daily reading log fell off big time, but here’s what I’ve read since:
Old Boy - Volumes 1-8
Paradise Kiss Volumes 1-5
From Far Away - Volumes 1-3
xxxholic - Volumes 1-2
Emma - Volume 8
No Longer Human - Volume 3
Dengeki Daisy - half of volume 9
Evyione - Volume 1
Whew! Will have to try and keep this thing daily so the list isn’t so long!
Dengeki Daisy - Volume 9
As a guilty pleasure series of mine, I always try to get the newest Dengeki volume as close to release date as possible. I thought the backstory in the last volume went on way too long (I loved that the characters joked about that at the beginning of the volume), so I’m glad to see more Teru and Kurosaki this volume.
Here’s something that’s been running through my head for a bit: What is the manga (or anime) community like where you live, if there is one?
For me personally, I specifically starting blogging because I really like manga, but I’ve yet to find a community of sorts to really get into my hobby and discuss it. I live in Kentucky, and while not the manga capital of the world (despite popular belief, I know) I live in a decent sized city that has things like a university anime club, manga at libraries, and anime clubs at the library. Still I’ve yet to feel a sense of community outside of the internet.
I’ve always imagined the mecha of manga fandom to be centered on the West Coast and New York City, with their Bookoffs and Kunokuniya’s and Viz’s and Tokyopop’s. I figured that was the place to be. Any time I go out of town anywhere, I google to see if the place I’m visiting has anything manga (or anime) related. I’d like to visit California one day, where I’m sure streets are lined with pages of manga. :)
What do you all think? Is there an area in the country (the United States, that is) “best-suited” for an manga fan? Is there a sense of community outside of the internet? If not, can it be created?
I can’t remember how I became familiar with Vertical, Inc. I think the first series of theirs I bought was 7 Billion Needles, so pretty recent. After that it was Twin Spica (which I’m so, so painfully behind on). I got the sense just from those two series that Vertical was a little different; they didn’t have a ton of manga out like Viz, but the manga they did publish seemed interesting and varied. I was sort of reminded of Viz’s Signature imprint, in that Vertical’s manga seemed a bit more adultish. After a while, you want something a little more than your standard shounen fighting fare and shoujo love triangles. (Though I love those things, too.)
Still, I didn’t fall in love with Vertical. Yeah, I liked their stuff and all, but since I was a Tezuka newbie I didn’t feel the rush to run out and buy everything Vertical.
No, what made me fall in love about Vertical is their social networking, their Twitter and Facebook (d’aww Twin Spica cover photo!).
To be fair, other companies have these things and ultilize them to interact with their customers/fans. But for some reason, I feel like Vertical really listens, that those Facebook comments and tweets directly affect what’s on the shelves.
And maybe I’m biased, but the first time I commented on Vertical’s Facebook (excitement over a picture of a new volume, I think) they commented back with the in-store datein under a minute. Now hey, maybe someone just happened to be sitting on Facebook and could answer comments quickly, but I remember thinking, “Wow, a publisher is talking to me, a random fan.” Except I notice this with a lot of comments — Vertical responds. Now maybe other companies don’t have time (or don’t feel the need to answer questions like, When is volume 5000 of random shounen series coming out?” or “Why can’t you license [insert random series dropped by different publisher]?”) or it could be because Vertical fans/consumers tend to be older and more patient/understanding/not prone to capspeak demands, but the fast response has enamored me.
I also like how Vertical updates about the licensing process. This is really cool. Occasionally they’ll tweet asking for license requests, and obviously sometimes the answer is “no.” Still, they explain why: sometimes politics with Japanese publishers, other English manga publishers have stronger ties, etc. Watching Vertical’s tweets has literally sent me searching online to learn about the major Japanese publishers and their respective magazines. Heck, Vertical’s licensing chatter has even taught me what English publishers best to request certain titles I’m interested from, based on their specific ties with certain Japanese publishers.
As for upcoming series I’m looking forward to from them, definitely Flowers of Evil and Sakuran. Oh, and Dororo! And I desperately want to read MW…
Right now Vertical is fielding for the licensing season, so go cast your vote if there’s a series you’ve been eyeing!
Old Boy - Volumes 1-8
No Longer Human - Volume 3
Paradise Kiss - Volumes 1-5
My most recent manga purchases consisted of two bargain manga bundles: $50 for all of Old Boy and $30(!!!) for the out of print Paradise Kiss. Paradise Kiss technically hasn’t arrived in the mail, though.
Super excited to see the ending of No Longer Human. I read the final volume at work, and I remember shaking my head and thinking, “Oh no, no, no,” a lot. Three volumes was the perfect length for this series; they felt like “acts” in a play. Because I wrote about the first two volumes of the series, I’d like to write about the last some time this week. It really is one of the best manga I’ve read; I wonder if the book holds the same feeling of impending dread throughout.
I pretty much plowed through Old Boy in two days minus the last two volumes, and that’s only because I accidentally left them at work over the weekend. Ilovethis manga. I started reading it and thought, “Oh, I have to blog about this volume by volume,” but I wound up plowing through four volumes in one day. I will admit it doesn’t seem like the re-readability of this series is very high; everything leads up to finding out why Goto was imprisoned, so once that comes to light I’m not sure one would be able to get any new insights by re-reading it. But the ride is great, really. I can see why the Korean movie was so popular (and is on my to watch list).
So much great manga~
My second Manga Moveable Feast posed an intimidating topic for me: The “God of Manga,” Osamu Tezuka. Considered the father of manga, I can’t help but know who Tezuka is but I admittedly hadn’t been exposed to any of his work up until a few months ago.
Organization Anti-Social Geniuses posed the question earlier this week that got my mind going: How were you introduced to Tezuka?
My answer: Black Jack.
I just happened to stumble across three random volumes of the series at my local Half-Price Books a few months ago, and finished half of the first volume before I even left the store. If anything, Tezuka knows how to entertain. So for the MMF, I decided to (mostly) re-read the first volume of the series and post some general thoughts.
Black Jack seems like a mostly episodic series, and the first volume contains twelve of the doctor’s adventures. The first story, “Is There A Doctor?” quickly lets the reader know that while Black Jack is enigmatic, unlicensed (and later, always demanding ridiculous fees), he’s not without a sense of justice. When the son of well-known tycoon is injured in accident, the father goes as far as to have a random bystander implicated and sentenced to death, all so Black Jack can have the spare body parts to save his son’s life. Black Jack completes the operation, but warns the tycoon that “I won’t bear responsibility for what happens afterwards.” While I don’t want to spoil things for people that have yet to dive into the series, Black Jack’s sense of “justice” (and ominous warnings) add little twists to stories that always keep them fresh.
Other stories in the volume give a little of Black Jack’s background. “In Something Like Pearls,” Black Jack is receives a strange object in the mail from someone with the initials J.H. — Jotaro Honma. Not only is Honma Black Jack’s mentor and a fellow doctor, he also saved Black Jack from near death as a child, later inspiring our hero to follow in his follow in his occupational footsteps. Now dying, Dr. Honma has a few secrets of his own to admit to Black Jack before he goes…
Did I mention that Black Jack’s side kick Pinoko (or “the wife” as she prefers to be called) is fashioned from…a tumor? And somehow, it works within the story and doesn’t seem completely outlandish. If that not a series selling point, I don’t know what is.
By far my favorite story of the volume — and one that reminds me of the time period this was written in and that I take issue with — is “Confluence.” (Spoilers follow for this one.) Black Jack receives a call from a Dr. Kisaragi, an old friend. Black Jack quickly grabs his things — including an old photo album with pictures of woman — and rushes off to meet Kisaragi in Yokohama. When a (jealous) Pinoko pries Black Jack about the woman in the photos, he admits she’s an old lover, and the sister of the Dr. Kisaragi Black Jack is to meet. Jealous, Pinoko runs off and later bumps into Kisaragi and he tells the tale: Black Jack and the woman in the photos, Megumi, worked together in the same medical department. Black Jack is outwardly cold to her, but Megumi notices his kindness: an umbella left behind whenever it rains. Eventually, Black Jack saves her from a group of thugs she walks home. They fall in love, but it’s not meant to be: Megumi has uterine cancer. All of reproductive organs need to be removed if there’s any hope of saving her, and Black Jack demands to do it himself. As romantic as it all seems to be, Black Jack (or Tezuka, I can’t tell who’s narrating here) remind us that, “The uterus and ovaries secrete crucial hormones that define a woman’s sex. To have them removed is to quit being a woman.” Ouch, Tezuka. Not only that, but even Black Jack love confession before the operation is marred: “I’ll say this while you’re still a woman, Megumi, I love you with all my heart!” Sigh. A sign of the time, perhaps? Regardless, with one final kiss, Black Jack operates, and we’re unsure of the outcome. And while that definitely pulled me out of the story (and still bugs me) the ending is a good twist: Black Jack finally gets the photo album to Kisaragi, saying, “I forgot to give you this album, with old pictures of you.” The editor’s note at the bottom all but seals it, noting “Kisaragi’s first name, “Kei,” and “Megumi” are alternate readings of the same Chinese character.”
Aha, tricky. Despite it’s dated-ness, I look forward to more of the doctor’s entertaining adventures, and more of Tezuka.
My manga reading/buying has slowed down, but a trip to Half-Price turned up some bargains:
xxxholic - Volumes 6-9, 11, 14
Sugar Sugar Rune - Volume 1
Sailor Moon Novel 2: The Power of Love
xxxholic was a surprise find with each volume for five bucks. I’m really enjoying reading this series.
I read a review, a blurb, or something recently about Sugar Sugar Rune that made me want to pick it up. I like Moyoco Anno and have a seen a little of the Hataraki Man anime and enjoyed it. I think her art style takes a little getting used to, but from what I can tell it works well for Sugar Sugar Rune.
And lastly, while the Sailor Moon novel is obviously not a manga, I couldn’t resist it for 50 cents. I suppose it was a nostalgia thing for me; I still have the first novel that I got as a kid. I’ll have to sit down and read through those.