The Manga Revue: Prison School and Twin Star Exorcists

This week, I take a look at two new releases: Prison School, a hotly anticipated series about five boys trying to break out of an all-girls’ school, and Twin Star Exorcists, a shonen manga about two teenage onmyoji who hold the fate of the world in their hands. (Let’s hope they do their best–otherwise, we’re toast!)

Hiramoto_PrisonSchoolV1Prison School, Vol. 1
By Akira Hiramoto
Rated M, for mature readers (18+)
Yen Press, $20.00

Paging Russ Meyer! Prison School is a veritable parade of big-bosomed, wasp-waisted women brandishing whips, kicking ass, and eschewing bras. The target of their scorn: Kiyoshi, Kingo, Gackt, Joe, and Andre, the first five men to enroll at the Hachimitsu Private Academy in its fifty-year history. These hapless souls want nothing more than to “catch glances of breasts and panties,” but their efforts to spy on their classmates incur the wrath of the school’s Shadow Student Council, a secret organization whose primary role is to “crack down on illicit sexual relationships.” After a dramatic show trial in the school’s courtyard, Kiyoshi and friends are sentenced to hard time in the school penitentiary.

I’d be the first to admit that the premise has potential: what woman or girl hasn’t fantasized about coolly administering a karate chop to a lecherous jerk on the subway or in the street? What prevents Prison School from fully achieving a giddy, B-movie vibe is Akira Hiramoto’s complete dehumanization of his characters. The Student Council members are portrayed as ball-busting man-haters, intent on humiliating the boys for their sexual proclivities, while the prisoners are depicted as sniveling pervs. The only genuinely sympathetic pair are Kiyoshi and Chiyo, a cute girl who shares Kiyoshi’s passion for sumo wrestling. Kiyoshi’s desire to have a normal relationship with Chiyo provides the story’s few emotionally authentic moments; by contrast, most scenes revel in the lurid, psychosexual relationship between the boys and their jailers.

Though all of the characters are objectified, no one fares as poorly as Meiko Shiraki, the Shadow Council’s Vice President. Hiramoto always draws her from an extreme angle–upskirt is one of his favorites–that emphasizes her monstrously distended breasts and reveals her penchant for wearing thongs. Perhaps a fifteen-year-old boy would find her terrifyingly sexy, but an older reader who’s seen actual breasts would have a hard time viewing Meiko as anything but a fetishist fantasy.

All of which is to say: Prison School could have been a sly riff on Escape from Alcatraz, The Great Escape, or even Caged, but Hiramoto’s strenuously raunchy scenarios overwhelm the other elements of the story, stopping it dead in its tracks.

The verdict: Prison School is an all-or-nothing proposition: you’ll either love it or hate it.

twin_starTwin Star Exorcists, Vol. 1
By Yoshiaki Sukeno
Rated T, for teens
VIZ Media, $9.99

Twin Star Exorcists is a love story dressed up as an action-packed supernatural adventure. At the beginning of volume one, the principal characters have a meet-cute that establishes their personalities in broad strokes: Rokuro is gifted but reluctant to use his exorcism skills, while Benio is gifted but trigger happy, nuking monsters at the slightest provocation. Making their Darcy-and-Elizabeth dynamic more complicated is that Rokuro and Benio are destined to marry and have a child who will save the world from the Kegare, a demonic race that lives in a parallel universe. (Rokuro and Benio are also fourteen, a point underscored by their endless bickering.)

Although the fight scenes are competently executed, the beats are so familiar that the combat feels superfluous. And therein lies Twin Star Exorcists‘ biggest problem: it’s boring. The plot lines, characters, and demon lore are so familiar that the story lacks a distinctive personality; even the setting is cliche. (Rokuro and Benio attend an exclusive academy for onmyoji in training.) Just two days after finishing the volume I couldn’t remember the principal characters’ names–a sure sign that the author treated each element of the story as something to be checked off a list, rather than an integral part of the narrative.

The verdict: Zzzzzz…..

Reviews: GC4K contributor Mike Pawuk praises Svetlana Chmakova’s Awkward, just out from Yen Press. Over at Heart of Manga, Laura posts brief reviews of He’s My Only Vampire, The Ancient Magus’ Bride, and Let’s Dance a Waltz. Joe McCulloch dedicates his latest TCJ column to CoroCoro magazine.

Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 17 of 07-Ghost (WatchPlayRead)
Connie on Alice in the Country of Clover: Nightmare (Slightly Biased Manga)
Alice Vernon on Awkward (Girls Like Comics)
Connie on vol. 29 of Blade of the Immortal (Slightly Biased Manga)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 7 of Deadman Wonderland (Sequential Tart)
Allen Kesinger on vol. 1 of The Devil is a Part-Timer! (No Flying No Tights)
Chris Randle on Fragments of Horror (The Guardian)
Frank Inglese on vol. 6 of Gangsta (Snap30)
Sarah on Kitaro (nagareboshi reviews)
Matthew Alexander on vol. 13 of Knights of Sidonia (The Fandom Post)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 1 of Love Stage!! (Comic Book Bin)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 1 of Love Stage!! (Comics Worth Reading)
Marissa Lieberman on vol. 1 of Midnight Secretary (No Flying No Tights)
Thomas Maluck on vols. 1-3 of My Love Story!! (No Flying No Tights)
ebooksgirl on vol. 3 of My Neighbor Seki! (Geek Lit Etc.)
Helen and confused muse on Natsume’s Book of Friends (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 2 of No Game No Life (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Erica Friedman on Okujou no Yuri Yurei-san Side B – Nakayoshi Quiz (Okazu)
A.J. Adejare on vol. 2 of Oreimo: Kureneko (The Fandom Post)
Connie on vol. 1 of Paradise Kiss (Slightly Biased Manga)
Connie on vol. 3 of Phantom Thief Jeanne (Slight Biased Manga)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 3 of Pokemon X.Y (Sequential Tart)
Lostty on vols. 1-4 of Princess Jellyfish (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 17 of Rin-ne (WatchPlayRead)
Ash Brown on vol. 2 of Sengoku Basara: Samurai Legends (Experiments in Manga)
Frank Inglese on vol. 6 of Terra Formars (Snap30)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 9 of Voice Over! Seiyu Academy (Sequential Tart)
Lesley Tomsu on vols. 1-2 of Witch Buster (No Flying No Tights)
Ken H. on vol. 2 of Your Lie in April (Sequential Ink)

US Manga Market on the Rebound

Deb Aoki rounds up the major manga news from Anime Expo and San Diego Comic-Con, while Heidi MacDonald and Calvin Reid weigh in on the overall state of the comics industry. The good news: the manga market has rebounded from the late 2000s, when a glut of product and the collapse of Borders forced several publishers to shut down.

Over at Comic Book Resources, Brigid Alverson interviews Tokyopop founder Stu Levy about the company’s new business plan, which consists of three key components: “licensed Japanese manga, graphic novels based on brands, and new products based on Tokyopop’s existing global manga properties.”

Going to Otakon? Ed Chavez hinted that Vertical Comics may have three or four licensing announcements. In other Vertical news, all seventeen volumes of Black Jack are now available in ebook form.

Crunchyroll just launched five new manga series, including Scum’s Wish, The Morose Mononokean, and Princess Jellyfish.

DMP’s latest Kickstarter campaign successfully funded print editions of Osamu Tezuka’s Storm Fairy, Crime and Punishment, and Unico.

Tokyo Ghoul tops this week’s New York Times Manga Best Sellers, while Attack on Titan tops ICv2’s list of the Top 10 Manga Franchises of Spring 2015. Also making the ICv2 cut are long-time favorites Death Note and Naruto and relative newcomer Sword Art Online.

Are you a Dorohedoro fan? If so, keep your eyes peeled for the first issue of Marvel’s Ant-Man: The Last Days; Q Hayashida provided the cover art. (Issue ships on 8/15.)

Justin Stroman talks to several Digital Manga Guild localizers about their experiences–good and bad–working for DMP.

The folks at ALC Publishing have translated Rica Takashima’s article “Japan: Fertile Ground for the Cultivation of Yuri,” which originally appeared in the December 14th issue of Eureka.

News from Japan: Creator Masaya Hokazono (Inugami) just launched Osoroshi Ya (Dreadful Shop), a new website for manga horror enthusiasts. Natsuki Takaya is hard at work on a sequel to Fruits Basket. Beginning September 4th, a new chapter will be posted every week at the HanaLaLa website. The end is near–for Orange, Cross H, and Grendizer Giga, that is.

Reviews: At Kaleo, Henry Ma reviews the latest chapters of Bleach, and offers predictions for the next installment. Ash Brown posts short reviews of After I Win, Alice in the Country of Hearts: My Fanatic Rabbit, and Aquarion Evol.

Erica Friedman on vol. 2 of Akuma no Riddle (Okazu)
Chris Beveridge on vol. 1 of The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home (The Fandom Post)
Rebecca Silverman on vols. 1-3 of Demon From Afar (ANN)
Anna N. on vol. 2 of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Part One: Phantom Blood (The Manga Report)
Helen on Kitchen Princess (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Megan R. on Kujibiki Unbalance (The Manga Test Drive)
Matthew Warner on The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (The Fandom Post)
Kristin on vol. 1 of Maid-Sama (Comic Attack)
Jon Parrish and Luke Thompson-Moritz on vol. 3 of Peepo Choo (Comic DNA)
Sean Gaffney on vols. 17-18 of Ranma 1/2 (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Matthew Warner on vol. 11 of Sankarea: Undying Love (The Fandom Post)
Jeff Alford on Trash Market (Run Spot Run)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 1 of Twin Star Exorcists (ANN)
Jocelyn Allen on Wagamama Chie-chan (Brain vs. Book)

The Manga Revue: Fragments of Horror

I’m too squeamish for horror movies–the blood alone is enough to send me screaming for the exits. But horror manga? That’s in my wheelhouse, as manga allows me to engage with the material as much–or as little–as I wish. Junji Ito’s work is largely responsible for showing me the possibilities of comic book horror; I don’t think I’ll ever forget the image of an enormous great white shark climbing a flight of stairs in pursuit of his next meal, or an entire village consumed by a voracious plague of… spirals. (It’s scarier than it sounds.) So when VIZ announced that they would be publishing a new collection of Ito stories, I knew I would buy it. But does Fragments of Horror deliver? Read on for the full scoop.

fragments_horror_vizFragments of Horror
By Junji Ito
Rated T+, for older teens
VIZ Media, $17.99

Uncanny–that’s the first word that comes to mind after reading Junji Ito’s Fragments of Horror, an anthology of nine stories that run the gamut from deeply unsettling to just plain gross. Ito is one of the few manga-ka who can transform something as ordinary as a mattress or a house into an instrument of terror, as the opening stories in Fragments of Horror demonstrate. Both “Futon” and “Wood Spirit” abound in vivid imagery: apartments infested with demons, floors covered in eyes, walls turned to flesh, rooves thatched in human hair. Watching these seemingly benign objects pulse with life is both funny and terrifying, a potent reminder of how thin the dividing line between animate and inanimate really is.

Taut–that’s another word I’d use to describe Fragments of Horror. Each story is a model of economy, packing 60 or 70 pages of narrative into just 20 or 30. “Dissection Chan,” for example, explores the forty-year relationship between Tatsuro, a surgeon, and Ruriko, a woman who’s obsessed with vivisection. In a brief flashback to Tatsuro’s childhood, Ito documents the unraveling of their friendship, capturing both Ruriko’s escalating desire to cut things open and Tatsuro’s profound shame for helping her procure the tools (and animals) necessary for her experiments. Three or four years have been packed into this seven-page vignette, but Ito never resorts to voice-overs or thought balloons to explain how Tatsuro feels; stark lighting, lifelike facial expressions, and evocative body language convey Tatsuro’s emotional journey from curious participant to disgusted critic.

Not all stories land with the same cat-like tread of “Dissection Chan.” “Magami Nanakuse,” a cautionary tale about the literary world, aims for satire but misses the mark. The central punchline–that authors mine other people’s suffering for their art–isn’t executed with enough oomph or ick to make much of an impression. “Tomio • Red Turtleneck”  is another misfire. Though it yields some of the most squirm-inducing images of the collection, it reads like a sixteen-year-old boy’s idea of what happens if your girlfriend discovers that you’ve been stepping out on her: first she’s angry at you, then she’s angry at the Other Woman, and finally she forgives you after you grovel and suffer. (In Tomio’s case, suffering involves grotesque humiliation with a cockroach–the less said about it, the better.)

Taken as a whole, however, Fragments of Horror is testament to the fecundity of Ito’s imagination, and to his skill in translating those visions into sharp, unforgettable illustrations like this one:


PS: I recommend pairing this week’s review with 13 Extremely Disturbing Junji Ito Panels, a listicle compiled by Steve Fox. (The title is a little misleading: the images are unsettling, but are generally SFW.)

Reviews: Sean Gaffney reads Pandora in the Crimson Shell and Magika: Swordsman and Summoner so that you don’t have to. At Women Write About Comics, Amanda Vail compares the light novel and manga versions of The Devil is a Part-Timer!

Connie on vol. 3 of Alice in the Country of Clover: Knight’s Knowledge (Slightly Biased Manga)
Jennifer Wharton on vols. 1-6 of The Betrayal Knows My Name (No Flying No Tights)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 55 of Case Closed (WatchPlayRead)
Kristin on vol. 1 of The Demon Prince of Momochi House (Comic Attack)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of First Love Monster (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Frank Inglese on vols. 3-4 of Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma (Snap 30)
Megan R. on Fushigi Yugi: Genbu Kaiden (The Manga Test Drive)
Connie on vol. 6 of Gravitation (Slightly Biased Manga)
Dave Ferraro on The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Comics and More)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vol. 13 of Library Wars: Love and War (Sequential Tart)
Connie on vol. 6 of Love Pistols (Slightly Biased Manga)
Ash Brown on vol. 4 of Mushishi (Experiments in Manga)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 5 of My Love Story!! (WatchPlayRead)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 10 of Nisekoi: False Love (Comic Book Bin)
Joe McCulloch on Pandora in the Crimson Shell (The Comics Journal)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 28 of Pokemon Adventures: Emerald (Sequential Tart)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vol. 1 of Requiem of the Rose King (Sequential Tart)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 18 of Rin-ne (Comic Book Bin)
Matthew Alexander on vol. 10 of Sankarea: Undying Love (The Fandom Post)
confusedmuse on Skip Beat! (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Kate O’Neil on vol. 4 of Soul Eater Not! (The Fandom Post)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 4 of Spell of Desire (Sequential Tart)
Courtney Sanders on vol. 1 of Twin Star Exorcists (Three If By Space)
Ken H. on vol. 5 of Witchcraft Works (Sequential Ink)
Matthew Alexander on vol. 6 of Wolfsmund (The Fandom Post)
Matthew Alexander on vol. 5 of World Trigger (The Fandom Post)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 3 of Yukarism (WatchPlayRead)


Tokyopop + Disney = Manga Mickey?

Anyone hoping for a definitive statement of Tokyopop’s 2015-16 plans was probably disappointed by the company’s SDCC panel. The company reiterated its intention to do “original manga,” announced it was launching a phone game called Sushi Cross, and hinted that it was negotiating an agreement with Disney. Tokyopop also revealed it will publish a new boxed edition of M. Alice LeGrow’s Bizenghast, one of the company’s best-selling OEL manga titles.

UDON announced that it would be reissuing Moyocco Anno’s tween-friendly fantasy Sugar Sugar Rune (originally published by Del Rey Manga in the 2000s). Also on UDON’s calendar: the oddly punctuated Steins'; Gate, which debuts next month.

If you didn’t make it to SDCC 2015, never fear: Deb Aoki has posted a detailed recap of the Best and Worst Manga Panel of 2015. Although the group focused on new releases from 2015, all five panelists also discussed manga they’d liked to see licensed, from Ai Yazawa’s Neighborhood Story (Gokinjo Monogatori) to Gengoroh Tagame’s My Brother’s Husband (Otouto no Otto).


UDON to Publish Rose of Versailles; Showa Wins Eisner

rose-of-versailles-udonUDON may have scored the biggest coup of SDCC 2015: at its Saturday panel, the publisher revealed that it had acquired the rights to Rose of Versailles. UDON will release Riyoko Ikeda’s ground-breaking shojo manga in a 2-in-1 omnibus format next spring.

Shigeru Mizuki’s Showa 1939-1944 and Showa: A History of Japan, 1944-1953 clinched the Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of International Material–Asia, beating out All You Need Is Kill, In Clothes Called Fat, Master Keaton, One-Punch Man, and Wolf Children: Ame & Yuki.

At the Kodansha Comics panel, one new title was announced: Paradise Residence, an ongoing series by Oh! My Goddess creator Kosuke Fujishima. The Kodansha team also gave the audience a sneak peak at volumes 16 and 17 of Attack on Titan–both of which will include special extras–and hinted that they might have some additional licensing news at Otakon.

Dark Horse will publish a new omnibus edition of Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal. No publication date has been set.

Sword Art Online: Progressive and Tokyo Ghoul lead this week’s New York Times Manga Best Seller list.

Erica Friedman posts the latest Yuri Network News update.

The new omnibus edition of Chi’s Sweet Home looks ridiculously cute. ‘Nuff said.

The Manga Bookshelf gang previews next week’s new arrivals. Over the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi blog, Brigid Alverson highlights July’s best manga, from Twin Star Exorcists to Pandora in the Crimson Shell.

News from Japan: The last chapter of So Cute It Hurts! will appear in the August issue of Sho-Comi; eleven volumes have been released to date. Corpse Princess creator Yoshiichi Akahito just launched a new “battle fantasy manga” in Shonen Gangen magazine.

The Japan Times has a fascinating profile of manga-ka Machiko Satonaka, whose series Tenjo no Niji chronicles the life of the Empress Jiro (645-702 AD).

Reviews: Ash Brown jumps in the WABAC machine for a look at Sanpei Shirato’s The Legend of Kamui, which VIZ originally published in English in the 1990s.

ebooksgirl on vol. 10 of Attack on Titan (Geek Lit Etc.)
Connie on vol. 2 of Black Rose Alice (Slightly Biased Manga)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 64 of Bleach (WatchPlayRead)
Jocelyn Allen on Deathco (Brain vs. Book)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 1 of The Demon Prince of Momochi House (Comic Book Bin)
Svetlana Fedotov on Fragments of Horror (Fangoria)
Matthew Warner on Gyo (The Fandom Post)
Connie on vol. 1 of No. 6 (Slightly Biased Manga)
Connie on vol. 5 of Toradora! (Slightly Biased Manga)
Connie on vol. 1 of Whispered Words (Slightly Biased Manga)
TSOTE on The World of Mud Men (Three Steps Over Japan)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 6 of World Trigger (WatchPlayRead)
Ken H. on vol. 2 of xxxHolic Rei (Sequential Ink)

Dark Horse Reveals 2016 Publishing Plans

I_am_a_HeroDark Horse announced it will publish four new manga in 2016–Danganronpa: The AnimationI Am a Hero, Fate/Zero, and Giganto Maxia-and reissue RG Veda, formerly a Tokyopop property. Dark Horse also revealed plans for spiffy omnibus editions of Astro Boy and Oh! My Goddess.*

At VIZ’s Shonen Jump panel, editors confirmed that Gakkyu Hotel: School Judgment will make the leap to print in February 2016, while Best Blue, a brand-new shonen sports manga, will appear simultaneously in the Japanese and American editions of Weekly Shonen Jump.

Jennifer de Guzman talks to creators Rikki Simmons, Tavisha Wolfgarth-Simons, and Sophie Campbell about their experiences publishing OEL manga with Tokyopop in the mid-2000s.

Do you love writing about shojo? Laura at Heart of Manga wants to hear from you; she’s currently looking for contributors.

News from Japan: After three years of sporadic updates, Kentaro Miura’s Beserk will resume regular serialization in Young Animal magazine on July 24th. The Attack on Titan: Lost Girls light novel is being adapted into a manga for Bessatsu Shonen Magazine; look for the first chapter in August. Fans of My Love Story!! should mark their calendars: the live-action film opens on October 31st.

Reviews: Michelle Smith, Anna N., and Sean Gaffney post short reviews of Assassination Classroom, Love at Fourteen, Say I Love You, and other recent releases. Over at The Comics Journal, Joe McCulloch tackles Junji Ito’s new anthology Fragments of Horror.

Joseph Luster on vol. 5 of Ajin: Demi-Human (Otaku USA)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of Alice in Murderland (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Carrie Hildebrand on vol. 64 of Bleach (Three If By Space)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 1 of Chaika: The Coffin Princess (Anime News Network)
Joseph Luster on Dream Fossil: The Complete Stories of Satoshi Kon (Otaku USA)
Amanda Vail on Dream Fossil: The Complete Stories of Satoshi Kon (Women Write About Comics)
Alice Vernon on vol. 1 of Emma (Girls Like Comics)
Leroy Douresseaux on Fragments of Horror (Comic Book Bin)
Joseph Luster on Fragments of Horror (Otaku USA)
confused muse on Fruits Basket (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Ash Brown on Gyo: The Death Stench Seeps (Experiments in Manga)
Matthew Warner on vol. 4 of High School DxD (The Fandom Post)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 5 of Kiss of the Rose Princess (WatchPlayRead)
Matthew Warner on vol. 5 of Little Battlers Experience (The Fandom Post)
Naru on vol. 1 of Love Stage!! (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Joseph Luster on vol. 1 of My Hero Academia (Otaku USA)
Sakura Eries on vol. 8 of My Little Monster (The Fandom Post)
Sakura Eries on vol. 4 of My Love Story!! (The Fandom Post)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 10 of Nisekoi: False Love (WatchPlayRead)
Matthew Warner on Puella Magi Oriko Magica: Extra Story (The Fandom Post)

* Editorial note: As my colleague Brigid Alverson reported in May, Dark Horse originally announced many of these licenses at an unscheduled Anime Central panel. The title of the post has been updated to reflect the error.