The Manga Revue: Behind the Scenes

It’s a snowy day here in Boston, giving me the perfect excuse to tunnel under a blanket and read a goofy, light-hearted story. My escapism of choice: Bisco Hatori’s latest series, Ouran University Host Club Behind the Scenes.

BehindTheScenes-01Behind the Scenes, Vol. 1
By Bisco Hatori
Rated T, for teens
VIZ Media, $9.99

Behind the Scenes embodies what’s good–and not so good–about Bisco Hatori’s storytelling.

In the plus column, Hatori has a knack for writing ensemble pieces in which the principal characters exhibit a genuine fondness for one another. The ensemble in question is Shichikoku University’s Art Squad, a scrappy student outfit that makes props for the Film Club–or, more accurately, clubs, as there are several groups competing for the Art Squad’s services, each with their own aesthetic objectives. Ranmaru, the series’ protagonist, gets a crash course in filmmaking when he stumbles onto the set of a low-budget horror flick. Soon after, he finds himself painting props and building a fake hot spring alongside more seasoned members of the Art Squad.

These scenes–in which the gang tackles set-design challenges–are among the series’ most enjoyable. Not only do they give us a sneak peek at the movie-making process, they also show us how the club members’ friendly overtures embolden the timid, self-doubting Ranmaru to let go of his painful childhood and become part of a community. In one poignant exchange, for example, Ranmaru tells fellow squad member Izumi about a black-and-white film that made a powerful impression on him. Hatori cuts between images from this imaginary film and Ranmaru’s face, registering how hopeful and free Ranmaru felt when its principal character–a toy robot–took flight for the first time.

In the minus column, Hatori often strains for comic effect, overwhelming the reader with too many shots of characters mugging, shouting, and flapping their arms. The Art Squad’s interactions with various student directors give Hatori license to indulge this tendency; the auteurs’ snits and whims frequently force the Art Squad members to behave more like the Scooby Doo gang–or Hollywood fixers–than actual college students juggling coursework and extracurriculars. (The Art Squad even has a goofy dog mascot.)

At the same time, however, these wannabe Spielbergs bring out the best in Hatori’s draftsmanship. Each one’s personalities are firmly established in just a single panel: one looks like a refuge from Swingin’ London (or perhaps an Austin Powers film); another dresses like a Taisho-era author, swanning around campus in a yukata; and a third sports a shaggy mane, Buddy Holly glasses, and a entourage of comely female admirers. The efficiency with which Hatori introduces these characters, and the range of personalities they embody, demonstrate just how crisp and distinctive her artwork can be. That Hatori’s heroes are visually bland in comparison says less about her skills, I think, than it does her desire to make Ranmaru’s new “family” seem normal–well, as normal as anyone who specializes in making fake zombie guts can be.

The bottom line: Tentatively recommended. If Hatori can tone down her characters’ antic behavior, Behind the Scenes could be a winner.

Reviews: Sean Gaffney and Michelle Smith post a fresh crop of Bookshelf Briefs. Also new at Manga Bookshelf: Sean tackles the first volume of orange (no, that’s not a typo), Anna N. reviews Takeshi Obata’s kiddie-thriller School Judgment, and Ash Brown weighs in on Hiroaki Samura’s stylish (and bloody) manga Die Wergelder. Further afield, translator Jocelyn Allen posts her annual doujinshi round-up.

Sara Dempster on The Angel of Elhamburg (No Flying No Tights)
Matthew Warner on vol. 5 of Ani-Emo (The Fandom Post)
Michael Burns on vols. 7-8 of Barakamon (AniTAY)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 12 of Chi’s Sweet Home (Comics Worth Reading)
Adam Brunell on vol. 12 of Deadman Wonderland (ComicSpectrum)
SKJAM! on Dream Fossil (SKJAM! Reviews)
Josh Begley on vol. 2 of Emma (The Fandom Post)
Patrick Moore on vol. 1 of Honey So Sweet (Bentobyte)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Ken H. on Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu (Sequential Ink)
Kory Cerjak on vol. 13 of Magi (The Fandom Post)
Megan R. on Millennium Prime Minister (The Manga Test Drive)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 12 of My Little Monster (Anime News Network)
Exile on vol. 1 of My Monster Secret (AniTAY)
Jocelyn Allen on Night Worker (Brain vs. Book)
Matthew Warner on vol. 2 of Puella Magi Tart Magica (The Fandom Post)
Matt on vol. 5 of A Silent Voice (AniTAY)
Terry Hong on vol. 2 of Ultraman (Book Dragon)
Nick Creamer on vol. 2 of UQ Holder! (Anime News Network)
Frank Inglese on Uzumaki Naruto: Illustrations (Snap 30)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 3 of Yo-Kai Watch (Sequential Tart)

 

 

The Manga Revue: Giganto Maxia

Kentaro Miura’s Berserk is a rite of passage for manga readers: you may not have soldiered past the second volume, but you tried because a Real Manga Fan told you that it was The Most Amazing Manga Ever. I freely admit that I didn’t finish Berserk–too violent for me, I’m afraid–but I marveled at its intricate plotting, feverish pace, and deadly seriousness. (Also: Miura’s penchant for awful names.) When Dark Horse announced that it had acquired Giganto Maxia, I decided to treat this new series as a second “date” with Miura–a chance to decide if I’d judged his work unfairly the first time around. Here’s how that date went.

giganto_maxiaGiganto Maxia, Vol. 1
By Kentaro Miura
Rated 16+, for older teens
Dark Horse, $13.99

Let’s start with the good: Giganto Maxia is a visual feast that’s every bit as imaginative as Hayao Mizayaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Kentaro Miura’s pages abound in war-ravaged landscapes, fantastic fighting machines, and bizarre creatures that straddle the fence between human and animal. The specificity of his vision, and the care with which he stages battle scenes, obviates the need for dialogue; we can almost hear and feel what the characters are experiencing on every page.

Miura’s script, however, is as tin-eared and self-serious as a high school literary rag. The two leads–Prome, a pale mystic who looks like a young girl, and Delos, a warrior slave–spend an inordinate amount of time describing what’s happening around them, even when the pictures make it abundantly clear. Yet for all their chatter, neither character provides much useful information about the post-apocalyptic world in which Giganto Maxia takes place: who are the Olympians? Why are they so intent on annihilating other tribes? And what, exactly, are the Giganto? The absence of these details leaves a big hole in the story: the characters’ motivation for fighting the Giganto. At the end of volume one, we’re not really sure what Prome and Delos stand for, or what’s at stake if they fail–two fatal flaws in a series that desperately wants the reader to get swept up in their quest.

The bottom line: A talky script and barely-there characters sink this smart-looking fantasy series.

The publisher provided a review copy.

Reviews: Sean Gaffney and Michelle Smith round up the latest volumes of Arpeggio of Blue Steel, Kimi ni Todoke, and Non Non Biyori at Manga Bookshelf; Sean also reads The Testament of New Sister Devil so that you don’t have to. Over at Women Write About Comics, Amanda Vail and Paige Sammartino offer “short & sweet” reviews of Barakamon, Are You Alice?, and My Hero Academia.

Nick Creamer on vol. 3 of The Ancient Magus’ Bride (Anime News Network)
Gary Thompson on vol. 10 of Black Jack (The Fandom Post)
Demelza on Fairy Tail (Anime UK News)
Megan R. on Gate 7 (The Manga Test Drive)
Nick Creamer on vol. 7 of Genshiken: Second Season (Anime News Network)
Sean Rogers on A Girl on the Shore (The Globe and Mail)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 1 of Honey So Sweet (Sequential Tart)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 1 of Honey So Sweet (Anime News Network)
Matt on vol. 2 of Inuyashiki (AniTAY)
Sean Gaffney on Kagerou Daze III: The Children Reason (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Claire Napier on Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen (Comics Alliance)
Michael Burns on vol. 13 of Nisekoi (AniTAY)
Matthew Warner on vol. 76 of One Piece (The Fandom Post)
Matthew Warner on vol. 3 of One-Punch Man (The Fandom Post)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 4 of One-Punch Man (Anime News Network)
Matthew Warner on vol. 3 of Peepo Choo (The Fandom Post)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 5 of Pokemon X.Y. (Sequential Tart)
Helen on vol. 1 of ReLife (The OASG)
Matt on vol. 4 of A Silent Voice (AniTAY)
Saeyong Kim on vol. 3 of Thermae Romae (No Flying No Tights)
Sarah on Tsubasa WoRLD CHRoNiCLE: Niraikani (Anime UK News)
Charlotte Finn on Wandering Son (Comics Alliance)

 

 

January Releases and Why We Like One-Punch Man

Naruto Seventh HokageWhat’s new in January? I did a quick roundup of this month’s new manga releases, which include the one-shot Naruto: The Seventh Hokage and the Scarlet Spring, as well as new volumes of One-Punch Man, Blue Exorcist, The Demon Prince of Momochi House, and My Neighbor Seki. [Barnes and Noble Sci-Fi/Fantasy Blog]

There’s a bumper crop of new manga out this week, and the Manga Bookshelf team is here to sort them out for you. [Manga Bookshelf]

One Piece creator Eiichiro Oda says the manga he is most jealous of is Your Lie in April, Naoshi Arakawa’s shonen romance about young musicians. Oda pointed out that music is difficult to portray on the page and praised Arakawa’s depiction. “Before a deadline [I got it] as a change of pace, but I ended up reading the whole thing and forgot about my manuscripts. I got the whole studio buying it on the way home,” Oda said. [Anime News Network]

A new Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney manga is in the works, to go with the anime. [Manga Xanadu]

Ollie Barder writes about the appeal of One-Punch Man, which is topping the charts in the U.S. as well as Japan. [Forbes]

Erica Friedman rounds up all the yuri updates, including word of a Takarazuka show coming to New York, in the latest episode of Yuri Network News. [Okazu]

Jocelyne Allen writes about Manga Henshusha, a book of interviews with five manga editors. [Brain Vs. Book]

Here’s an interesting interview with Koré Yamazaki, the creator of The Ancient Magus’ Bride, although it’s in French. [Manganews]

Oh My Goddess creator Kousuke Fujishima has brought Paradise Residence (which will be published in English by Kodansha Comics) to an end and is starting a new series. [Anime News Network]

Reviews

Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 14 of Blue Exorcist (WatchPlayRead)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 3 of The Demon Prince of Momochi House (The Comic Book Bin)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vols. 9 and 10 of Food Wars (Comics Worth Reading)
Gabe Peralta on A Girl on the Shore (The Fandom Post)
Andrew Wheeler on vols. 1-4 of Gou-Dere Sora Nagihara (ComicMix)
Erica Friedman on vol. 6 of Himawari-San (Okazu)
Kristin on vol. 1 of Honey So Sweet (Comic Attack)
Kory Cerjak on vol. 1 of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 2: Battle Tendency (The Fandom Post)
Kristin on vols. 11-13 of Kamisama Kiss (Comic Attack)
Kory Cerjak on vol. 2 of Komomo Confiserie (The Fandom Post)
Kory Cerjak on vol. 12 of Magi (The Fandom Post)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 2 of Master Keaton (Comics Worth Reading)
Ash Brown on vol. 7 of Mushishi (Experiments in Manga)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 7 of My Love Story!! (WatchPlayRead)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of My Monster Secret (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Christian Chiok on Naruto: The Seventh Hokage and the Scarlet Spring (Japanator)
Kristin on vols. 3 and 4 of One Punch Man (Comic Attack)
Matthew Warner on vol. 2 of Peepo Choo (The Fandom Post)
Sean Gaffney on vols. 23 and 24 of Ranma 1/2 (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Anna N. on vol. 3 of Requiem of the Rose King (Manga Report)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 9 of Say I Love You (Comics Worth Reading)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 1 of Shuriken and Pleats (Comics Worth Reading)
Ken H on vol. 3 of A Silent Voice (Sequential Ink)
L.B. Bryant on vol. 1 of Steins;Gate (ICv2)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 2 of Strike the Blood (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Marion Olea on vol. 2 of Tokyo Ghoul (No Flying, No Tights)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 3 of Twin Star Exorcists (WatchPlayRead)

The Manga Revue: Idol Dreams and Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun

Happy New Year! (Is it too late to extend that greeting to readers?) For my first column of 2016, I dove into my pile of unread books and chose two that I’d meant to review last year. The first is Arina Tanemura’s Idol Dreams, a body-swap comedy about a thirty-something office lady; the second is Izumi Tsubaki’s Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun, a 4-koma series about a hunky high school manga artist who just happens to be the author of a popular girls’ comic.

idol-dreams-vol-1Idol Dreams, Vol. 1
By Arina Tanemura
Rated T, for readers 13 and up
VIZ Media, $9.99

Chikage Deguchi is at a crossroads: once a pretty, popular high school student, she’s become a sexless, thirty-something office drone who’s mocked by her co-workers. After making a fool of herself at a high school reunion, Chikage’s childhood friend Tokita stages a unique intervention, offering Chikage a drug that transforms her into a 15-year-old girl for a few hours a day. Chikage then does what any self-respecting 31-year-old would do: she pursues a (part-time) career as a teen idol.

Setting aside the question of whether anyone would voluntarily relive their teenage years, Idol Dreams has a bigger problem: tone. Arina Tanemura can’t decide if her story will revel in its absurdity or play things straight, and veers wildly between wacky show-biz hijinks and clumsy office scenes that are meant to establish just how awful Chikage’s adult life is. In the afterword to the story, Tanemura cheerfully vents her frustrations at being asked to do “a magical girl series for adults” without recourse to “too much screentone,” “gags and comedic touches,” or “super-stylish atmosphere.” Oddly enough, I don’t think these restrictions are the true source of the problem; if anything, Tanemura’s artwork is more polished and appealing in Idol Dreams than in Phantom Thief Jeanne or I.O.N. The real issue is the lead character: Tanemura never really explains why temporarily impersonating a 15-year-old would solve any of Chikage’s issues, especially since Chikage’s teenage alter ego is a wet noodle, too. The underlying message seems to be that recapturing youthful beauty is a pathway to empowerment–not a particularly novel or uplifting idea, given the developed world’s obsession with Botox, face lifts, wrinkle cream, and 17-year-old models.

The bottom line: I never thought I’d say this, but Idol Dreams is the rare Tanemura manga that would benefit from more zaniness and sparkly backgrounds.


monthly_girlsMonthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun
, Vol. 1
By Izumi Tsubaki
Rated T, for teen readers
Yen Press, $13.00

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun is a textbook example of what happens when a great idea bumps up against the limitations of a restrictive format. The set-up is comedy gold: tenth-grader Chiyo Sakura confesses her romantic feelings to hunky classmate Umetarou Nozaki, only to have him casually respond, “Do you want to come to my place right now?” Flustered, Chiyo agrees but is surprised when Nozaki doesn’t put the moves on her; instead, he puts her to work on a chapter of his hit shojo manga Let’s Fall. Chiyo’s attempts to extricate herself from Nozaki’s employ or clarify her feelings for him only make things worse, as Nozaki is both romantically inexperienced and genuinely obtuse.

So far, so good: the concept provides plenty of fodder for jokes and pratfalls. The four-panel format, however, locks each character into a holding pattern in which he or she is doomed to repeat the same behavior over and over again. The supporting cast is big enough to prevent Monthly Girls from reading like a month’s worth of Cathy or Garfield strips, but the rhythm of every gag is virtually the same, whether author Izumi Tsubaki is introducing a new character, poking fun at shojo manga cliches, or demonstrating just how socially inept Nozaki really is; long stretches of Monthly Girls read like a Henny Youngman set, albeit with stranger–and funnier–material. Take my manga… please!

The bottom line: Some of the jokes are genuinely funny, but the series already feels like it’s chasing its tail by the end of chapter three.

Odds and Ends: Organization Anti-Social Geniuses has a new look, a new name, and a new URL. You’ll now find Justin Stroman and the gang at http://www.theoasg.com/. Manga vlogger Pluto Burns took a break from reviewing books and conducted a great interview with Carolina Manga Library founder Laura Mehaffey. If you’re not familiar with the good work that Mehaffey and her staff are doing, click here to learn more about this traveling book collection.

Reviews: Sean Gaffney, Anna N. and Michelle Smith post their first Bookshelf Briefs column of 2016. On the agenda: D-Frag!, My Love Story!!, Pandora Hearts, and Saki. Elsewhere on the web, Rebecca Silverman and Kory Cerjak review the first volume of Yowamushi Pedal, my pick for Best New Manga of 2015.

Chris Kirby on vol. 1 of 7 Billion Needles (The Fandom Post)
Karen Maeda on vol. 7 of Assassination Classroom (Sequential Tart)
Matthew Warner on Ayako (The Fandom Post)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 1 of Bloody Mary (Sequential Tart)
Megan R. on CLAMP School Detectives (The Manga Test Drive)
Justin on Confession (The OASG)
Kate O’Neil on vol. 5 of Demon from Afar (The Fandom Post)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 3 of Emma (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of Honey So Sweet (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Ash Brown on vol. 3 of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Part 1: Phantom Blood (Experiments in Manga)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 19 of Kamisama Kiss (Sequential Tart)
Ken H on vol. 1 of LD♥K (Sequential Ink)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 1 of Livingstone (Anime News Network)
Lori Henderson on vol. 1 of Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun (Manga Xanadu)
Dustin Cabeal on vol. 2 of My Hero Academia (Comic Bastards)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Kane Bugeja on vol. 3 of One-Punch Man (Snap 30)
David Brooke on vol. 4 of One-Punch Man (AiPT!)
Dustin Cabeal on vol. 4 of One-Punch Man (Comic Bastards)
SKJAM! on vol. 18 of Rin-ne (SKJAM! Reviews)
Ken H. on vol. 9 of Say I Love You (Sequential Ink)
Helen on vol. 1 of Student Council’s Discretion (The OASG)
Patrick Moore on vol. 8 of Tiger & Bunny (Bento Byte)
Che Gilson on Tokyo Ghoul (Otaku USA)
Marion Olea on vol. 2 of Tokyo Ghoul (No Flying No Tights)
Frank Inglese on vols. 8-9 of Vagabond: VIZBIG Edition (Snap 30)
Ash Brown on vol. 7 of Vinland Saga (Experiments in Manga)
SKJAM! on vol. 7 of Vinland Saga (SKJAM! Reviews)
Megan Rupe on vols. 1-2 of Yo-Kai Watch (No Flying No Tights)

 

The Most Anticipated Manga of 2016

We’re kicking off 2016 with a look at the manga titles and trends we’re most excited about. Joining me and Brigid is manga journalist and critic Deb Aoki, former guide to AboutManga.com, current host of Manga Comics Manga, and Publishers Weekly contributor.

What new manga are we looking forward to this year?

New Fruits BasketBRIGID: Fruits Basket! Natsuki Takaya’s tangled tale of a cursed family was one of the first shoujo manga I ever read, and I’m looking forward to re-reading it with a more experienced eye (and a better translation).

The other upcoming manga that everyone seems to be looking forward to is Princess Jellyfish, which Kodansha is publishing in double-sized omnibus volumes. This josei title about a bunch of nerdy girls living in their own rooming house sounds like it will be a lot of fun.

In terms of continuing series, I loved the first volume of Planetes and I’m looking forward to more. It’s a smart science fiction story with likeable characters and thoughtful storylines, and Dark Horse’s new edition is a beautiful two-volume omnibus that really feels like something special. I can’t wait to read more of Hiroya Oku’s Inuyashiki, about two humans given extreme superpowers in a freak accident—one uses them for good, one… doesn’t—and Yoshitoki Ōima’s A Silent Voice, an amazingly powerful story that’s about bullying but also about alienation and redemption. One more: Your Lie in April, which has kind of slid under the radar, a shonen romance about musicians that, like A Silent Voice, goes beyond the standard shonen romance tropes and has relatable characters experiencing real emotions.

On a general note: When I was compiling my lists of the best new and ongoing manga series of 2015, I was struck by how many really good manga debuted in 2015. From all accounts, 2016 is going to be even better.

haikyuuDEB: I’m most excited about the trend where manga publishers are taking chances on titles and genres that were once considered the third rail/extra risky to license, like sports manga. Super excited about the Summer 2016 arrival of the first volumes of Haikyu!! by Haruichi Furudate and Kuroko’s Basketball by Tadatoshi Fujimaki from Shonen Jump/VIZ Media! I love Haikyu!! a lot — been watching the first and second seasons on Crunchyroll over and over again. the characters are really wonderful — it’s delightful to see the team grow and reach new heights every time. It’s got lots of heart and humor as well as exciting sports action. It’s now one of my all-time faves!

I’ve also been enjoying the recently released Yowamushi Pedal by Wataru Watanabe, a manga about a hapless anime otaku who discovers that he has a talent for bicycle racing. Big ups to Yen Press for publishing this fairly long series in double-sized volumes.

queen-emeraldas-smallAnother example of manga publishing biz in the US dipping their toes into riskier fare is the upcoming publication of three classics: Rose of Versailles by Riyoko Ikeda from Udon Entertainment, Queen Emeraldas by Leiji Matsumoto from Kodansha Comics, and Otherworld Barbara by Moto Hagio from Fantagraphics Books.  For too long, the classics that are the foundation of manga in Japan have been largely unavailable in English. I’m hoping that these titles succeed so we can someday get more.

Also super excited about having more manga by Asano Inio available in English. Solanin and What a Wonderful World! are go-to recommendations for anyone who loves indie comics and is curious about manga. Now VIZ Media is publishing the mind-bending Goodnight Pun Pun, and A Girl on the Shore, coming from Vertical Comics. Both should be on your pre-order lists, as these are beautifully drawn, thought-provoking books that everyone will be talking about in the months to come.

rose-of-versailles-udonKATE: I share Deb’s excitement about classic manga. It’s a risky undertaking for any publisher, especially when so many readers are young (under 20) and not particularly curious about the medium’s roots. It will be interesting to see if UDON can pitch Rose of Versailles to the Shojo Beat crowd; though the artwork is a little dated, the melodrama, costumes, and kick-butt female lead have obvious parallels with titles in VIZ, Kodansha, and Yen’s catalogs. Who knows? It could be a surprise hit.

Speaking of vintage titles, I’m ecstatic about Drawn & Quarterly’s new Kitaro volumes. D&Q will be releasing these previously untranslated stories in slimmer, kid-friendly editions–a departure from their 2013 Kitaro release, which screamed “prestige project!” I think that’s a smart move: adults with an interest in Shigeru Mizuki’s work will buy it in almost any format, but younger manga fans need a length and trim size that reflects their own reading habits.

Another title on my must-read list is Jiro Taniguchi’s Guardians of the Louvre, which NBM Publishing will be releasing in April. The previous installment of the Louvre series–Hirohiko Araki’s Rohan at the Louvre–was the ultimate otaku two-fer: a ghost story and a standalone chapter in the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure saga. Taniguchi’s book will undoubtedly be a more sober affair, but one I’m anticipating with the same eagerness: I can’t wait to see how Taniguchi integrates the museum’s famous collection into his story.

fukufukuIn the just-for-fun department, I Am a Hero, a zombie thriller from Dark Horse, is near the top of my list, as are VIZ’s Haikyu! (mentioned by Deb above), Vertical’s FukuFuku: Kitten Tales, and the final installment of DC Comics’ Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga. I’m also looking forward to Wandering Island, a story about a gutsy young woman who runs an air mail service in a remote corner of Japan. The illustrations are by Kenji Tsurata, the creator of the criminally under-appreciated Spirit of Wonder, which was published by Dark Horse in 1998.

Last but not least, I’d also make a plug for The Osamu Tezuka Story: A Life in Anime and Manga. This visual biography clocks in at a hefty 900 pages, highlighting important periods in Tezuka’s career as an illustrator and animator. Its author, Toshio Ban, worked closely with Tezuka in the 1970s and 1980s, giving Ban a unique perspective on his subject. As an added bonus for American readers, Stone Bridge Press brought in Frederick L. Schodt to do the translation.

How about conventions—does anything look particularly tempting?

DEB: I’m always curious to see what Toronto Comic Arts Festival will be bringing as their guests this May. Last year was Gurihiru and Aya Kanno, prior years brought Konami Kanata, Moyoco Anno, Akira Himekawa, Usamaru Furuya, Est Em, Natsume Ono and Yoshihiro Tatsumi to name just a few. I don’t know what they have planned, but I know it’ll be worth the trip!

As booth space and tickets get harder and harder to get at San Diego Comic-Con, Anime Expo in Los Angeles has turned into the Japanese content biz must-go show. I’ve noticed that more companies from Japan are buying booths, and see lots of meetings / business being conducted at the show.

It’s great that AX is getting bigger and bigger, but I worry that it creates a situation where the anime/manga world becomes even more segregated/separated from the general pop culture community that converges at Comic-Con and similar American shows. This is especially irksome because it seems like most of the Western comics / pop culture press corps basically ignore / don’t report on / don’t attend Anime Expo or any of the announcements that come out of this show.

This pisses me off because anime/manga matter more than ever — especially as its fandom tend to skew younger, are more active, and more interested in all kinds of entertainment from US and Japan compared to their counterparts on the superhero side of the comic shop. So much for my “be less crabby in 2016” resolution… ;-)

KATE: I had a blast attending shows like New York Comic Con and Wondercon in the late 2000s. The last time I attended NYCC, however, I felt that the show had taken a much sharper turn towards the television, film, and gaming industries, and was losing its identity as a comics convention. The manga publishers were still there, of course, but it was harder to circulate and interact with editors and sales reps because of the enormous crowds. That experience pretty much soured me on going to any more big conventions. TCAF always sounds like a blast, but the timing never works for me; I’m always knee-deep in final exams and student papers when it rolls around!

BRIGID: I echo Deb’s concern about AX, but it does seem like this year, the news was spread across a broader swath of conventions—and many of the new licenses, including Fruits Basket, were announced on Twitter. The presence of so many people from the Japanese publishers—not just creators but editorial staff as well—was very noticeable this year and shows that the publishers are taking the American audience seriously. It also enhanced the experience to see, for instance, the editor of Noragami explaining the process of how it went from sketches to finished page. I’m looking forward to more of that at the larger shows as well as the more intimate experience at the smaller shows, where the creators and their readers are not so far apart.

Any predictions about the industry?

DEB: Almost all signs point to a healthier, more robust manga publishing business in 2016, which is a great thing. I don’t see the same rush to publish anything and everything vaguely manga-ish (even crappy manga) that I saw prior to the crash of the late 2000’s — publishers seem to be making more careful choices, more calculated risks. The fact that they’re taking any risks at all — by expanding genres, offering their stories via more digital channels and doing more simulpub/same day as Japan releases, is a good sign.

I’m also intrigued/encouraged by the efforts being made by Japanese manga publishers to welcome submissions by creators from outside of Japan, like Comics Zenon’s Silent Manga Audition contests and the Japanese edition of Shonen Jump’s latest contest to get published in their online magazine, Jump Plus. It’s no secret that many up-and-coming comics creators from around the world are inspired by manga, so it’ll be very interesting to see what happens when more of these creators get exposure in Japan and guidance from Japan’s top-notch manga editors.

magus1KATE: I’m consistently impressed by Seven Seas’ tenacity and business acumen, but not so impressed with the actual titles they license. Last year, however, Seven Seas published The Ancient Magus’ Bride and acquired Orange, neither of which fit the profile of a typical Seven Seas manga; if anything, both seemed like the kind of titles that CMX used to license. That gamble has paid off with Bride, which recently cracked the NY Times Manga Bestseller list. My prediction: Seven Seas will continue to make bold licensing choices in 2016, even as vampire-monster girls remain their core business.

BRIGID: I see publishers taking manga more seriously as the audience expands. While the “pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap” attitude that made Tokyopop and Viz’s Shonen Jump lines such a success ten years ago works well with teen readers, who gobble up manga in quantity, publishers are starting to cater to older readers who want a somewhat better experience. The oversized omnibus isn’t that much more expensive than single volumes, but it allows for a more satisfying reading experience, and publishers often include extras like better quality covers and color pages. Viz’s new edition of Monster, Dark Horse’s Planetes, and Yen Press’s Emma are all examples of this, and Kodansha gets a shoutout for not only its superb editions of Vinland Saga but its deluxe Attack on Titan Colossal Edition. This seriousness goes beyond production values to the licensing of quality manga that might not have found a market in earlier years, including Inuyashiki and Naoki Urasawa’s Master Keaton.

gekiga01If any publishers are reading this, I have a very specific licensing request. There’s a small French publisher called Lezard Noir that is publishing some amazing manga in French; I spoke to the publisher when I was in Angouleme two years ago and was really impressed with his line, which includes Minetaro Mochizuki’s Chiisakobé, Bonten Taro’s Sex & Fury, and Masahiko Matsumoto’s Gekiga Fanatics. I’m not the only one—every year at least one of his books is picked as an official selection by the Angouleme festival. I’d love to see some U.S. publishers pick up these titles in a similar format—I think they would have a lot of appeal to those older, more sophisticated manga readers.

The Best and Worst Manga of 2015

After a two-year hiatus from blogging, I donned my critic’s cap again in 2015. I’ve enjoyed writing my quasi-weekly column, but composing a year-end list reminded me why I stepped off the reviewing treadmill in 2012: mediocre books! This year yielded a veritable bumper crop of so-so manga, titles that were competently executed but otherwise unmemorable thanks to an abundance of generic characters, cliché settings, and predictable plot twists; you’d be forgiven for feeling that you’d read many of 2015’s debuts before, even if the artists were new to the US market.

Lurking among the paint-by-number romances and boy-saves-world titles, however, were a few gems. I’ve done my best to highlight the titles that made me feel something, whether that feeling was love, hate, or a mixture of both. To that end, I’ve included my nominees for the worst manga of 2015 alongside the books that made me laugh and cry.

Yowamushi-Pedal-Volume-1Best New Series: Yowamushi Pedal
By Wataru Watanabe • Yen Press
You know the rap on sports manga: American readers won’t buy it, and don’t like it. Yowamushi Pedal might just change that, however, thanks to a story that plays well across the nerd-jock divide. Onoda, the hero, is a self-professed otaku whose weekly bike rides into Akihabara have transformed him into a secret Lance Armstrong clone. Though Onoda wants to revive his school’s anime club, his amazing hill-climbing skills and stamina get noticed by more seasoned riders, all of whom convince Onoda to join the cycling team. The series’ races are nail-biting, page-turning affairs, but it’s the in-between stuff that makes Yowamushi Pedal work. Onoda doesn’t just discover a new skill; he discovers a community of people who share his passion for riding and respect his talent. In short, Yowamushi Pedal is a coming-of-age story in which a bike becomes the nerdy hero’s vehicle—pun intended—for self-actualization.

One-Punch ManBest New Shonen Series: One-Punch Man
By ONE and Yusuke Murata • VIZ Media
One-Punch Man is the ultimate have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too manga. On the surface, it’s an affectionate spoof of shonen clichés that pokes fun at goofy costumes, over-the-top training sessions, and speech-prone villains. On a deeper level, however, One-Punch Man is a great adventure series about an ordinary but strong-willed individual who sets out to rid his city of monsters, only to discover that there’s a much greater threat to mankind than the lobster-men and were-lions that roam the streets. The result is a sincere, gut-bustingly funny manga that reads like a Silver Age superhero comic, splats and all. (Reviewed at Manga Blog on 6/12/15.)

Horimiya_cover1Best New Romance Manga: Horimiya
By Hero and Daisuke Hagiwara • Yen Press
Horimiya is one of 2015’s most pleasant surprises, a teen rom-com that avoids cliché situations by focusing on the characters’ lives outside school. At first glance, its lead characters look like opposites: Kyouko is the class queen, while Izumi is a quiet loner. When they bump into each other off campus, however, they quickly realize they have more in common than their carefully constructed identities would suggest–a realization that leads to friendship and flirtation. In less imaginative hands, Kyouko and Izumi’s budding romance would be subjected to endless tests–school plays, beach trips, hot transfer students–but the authors resist the urge to trot out these over-used scenarios, relying instead on more ordinary settings for comedic (and dramatic) grist. It’s the perfect antidote to the wacky misunderstandings that drive the plots of Cactus’ Secret, Special A, and a dozen similar titles.

Cat_DiaryBest New Gag Manga: Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu
By Junji Ito • Kodansha Comics
Draw a Venn diagram that shows the overlap between Junji Ito fans and cat lovers, and you’ve found the small but perfect audience for Junji Ito’s Cat Diary, a collection of anecdotes about Ito’s beloved pets Yon and Mu. Though the manga’s jokes explore familiar terrain, Ito’s exaggerated reaction shots are priceless, capturing the mixture of love and disgust that cats inspire in their owners. (Imagine Edvard Munch drawing a gag manga about cats, and you get the general idea.) Ito is refreshingly honest about the way animals change the dynamic between people, too; in some of the manga’s most memorable scenes, Ito and his fiancée compete fiercely for their cats’ affection, plying Yon and Mu with toys, treats, and cuddles. Though the prevailing tone is campy, Ito’s obvious affection for his cats helps prevents the Diary from becoming too arch. (Reviewed at Manga Blog on 12/12/15.)

ludwig_kansiBest Historic Title: Ludwig B.
By Osamu Tezuka • DMP, Inc.
Left unfinished at the time of Osamu Tezuka’s death, Ludwig B. is a fictionalized biography of Beethoven. Tezuka only completed two volumes, but oh, those two volumes! Tezuka draws evocative scenes of Beethoven at the keyboard, using striking visual metaphors to convey the sound of Beethoven’s music. Tezuka also does a good job of capturing the dynamic between Beethoven and his father, revealing the extent to which Johann’s drinking, gambling, and stage-parenting cast a long shadow over Beethoven’s adult life. Purists should note that Tezuka takes frequent liberties with the historical record, creating a mustache-twirling villain named Franz Kreuzstein to serve as a foil for the young, determined Beethoven. If you’re not offended by such creative license, however, Ludwig B. offers an interesting glimpse into Beethoven’s development as a composer, and Tezuka’s lifelong fascination with Beethoven.

planetesBest Reprint Edition: Planetes
By Makoto Yukimura • Dark Horse
Listen up, manga publishers: if you’re going to do a new edition of a fan favorite, Dark Horse’s two-volume omnibus of Planetes is a swell example of how to do it right. The story has a crisp new translation, full-color pages, and a bigger trim size that gives Makoto Yukimura’s artwork room to stretch out. Better still, the new edition collects more chapters in each volume, allowing newcomers to read far enough into Planetes for Yukimura’s episodic character studies to gel into a more coherent story about space travel and social inequality; by the time newbies reach the end of volume one, they’ll be hooked, too.

sakamotoBest Manga I Thought I’d Hate: Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto
By Nami Sano • Seven Seas
In theory, Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto is a one-note samba: the titular character is handsome, good at everything, and unfailingly logical in all situations. In practice, however, Haven’t You Heard? is the Goldberg Variations of gag manga, taking stock scenes and putting a bizarre twist on them. The secret? Sakamoto is just a little too perfect, behaving more like a well-programmed android than a flesh-and-blood person. His peculiar brand of sangfroid confounds enemies and admirers alike; no one can decide if he’s cool or crazy, or where his loyalties might lie, making it impossible to predict how he’ll respond to each new challenge. (Reviewed at The Manga Critic on 8/7/15.)

jojo_phantom_blood1Worst Manga I Thought I’d Love: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Part 1: Phantom Blood
By Hirohito Araki • VIZ Media
At the risk of becoming the Armond White of manga critics, I’m nominating Hirohito Araki’s bone-crunching, chest-thumping saga for Most Exhausting New Series of 2015. That’s because Phantom Blood is a prime example of all-caps theater, the sort of manga in which every word balloon is filled with emphatic punctuation, and every plot twist seems like the brainchild of six teenage boys hopped up on Mountain Dew. In small doses, this more-is-more approach to storytelling can be amusing, but in longer installments, the cumulative effect of so much narrative excess is numb resignation; I didn’t feel entertained so much as punched in the face. (Reviewed at Manga Blog on 5/22/15.)

mizuki_hitlerMost Disappointing Manga: Shigeru Mizuki’s Hitler
By Shigeru Mizuki • Drawn & Quarterly
Shigeru Mizuki’s Hitler is one of the artist’s lesser works, uncomfortably see-sawing between character study and history lesson in its efforts to show us the man behind the Third Reich. Mizuki’s signature blend of cartoonish figures and photo-realistic backgrounds have been deployed to powerful effect in Non Non Ba and Onwards Towards Our Noble Deaths. Here, however, Shigeru’s hybrid style is a poor match with the subject; seeing Hitler reduced to a crude caricature makes it all too easy to view the book as a curiosity, rather than a serious meditation on evil. The virtual absence of the Holocaust is an even greater shortcoming; Shigeru Mizuki’s Hitler never grapples with the Fuhrer’s most disturbing legacy save for one blurry image of stacked corpses. Perhaps Mizuki felt the subject was too complex to explore in this biography, but it’s hard to imagine any dramatization of the Fuhrer’s life that fails to examine his virulent anti-Semitism.

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So what are other folks saying about 2015’s best titles? My Manga Bookshelf colleagues just posted their Pick of the Year, with Ash Brown posting a separate, more detailed run-down of his favorite titles at Experiments in Manga. At the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Brigid Alverson has posted separate lists for her favorite new and continuing series.