The Manga Revue: I Am a Hero

Can the market support another zombie comic? That’s the question at the heart of this week’s column, as I examine Kengo Hanazawa’s I Am a Hero, a manga about a geeky artist living through a zombie apocalypse. Bone appetit!

I_am_a_HeroI Am a Hero, Vol. 1
By Kengo Hanazawa
Rated Older Teen, for ages 16+
Dark Horse, $19.99

At first glance, I Am a Hero looks like a Walking Dead clone, complete with gun-toting vigilantes and hungry zombie hordes. Peel back its gory surface, however, and it becomes clear that I Am a Hero is really a meditation on being trapped: by a dead-end job, by thwarted expectations, and by fears, real and imagined.

The “hero” of Kengo Hanazawa’s series is thirty-five-year old Hideo Suzuki. Though Hideo tasted success with the publication of his own manga, his triumph was short-lived: Uncut Penis was cancelled just two volumes into its run. He now toils as a mangaka’s assistant, working alongside other middle-aged artists whose professional disappointment has curdled into misogyny and grandiosity.

Compounding Hideo’s problems is his fragile mental state. He hallucinates, talks to himself, and barricades the door to his apartment against an unspecified threat, in thrall to the voices in his head. Despite his tenuous grasp on reality, Hideo is the only one of his co-workers who notices the small but telling signs that something is deeply amiss in Tokyo. Hideo soon realizes that his long-standing fears might actually be justified, and must decide whether to hunker down or flee the city.

Getting to Hideo’s do-or-die moment, however, may be a challenge for some readers. The first act of I Am a Hero is a tough slog: not only does it focus on a cluster of strenuously unpleasant characters, it documents their daily routines in painstaking detail. The tedium of these early chapters is occasionally punctuated by vivid, unexplained imagery that calls into question whether the zombies exist or are a figment of Hideo’s imagination. What the reader gradually realizes is that Hideo’s paranoia makes him alive to the possibility of catastrophe in a way that his bored, self-involved co-workers are not; they’re too mired in everyday concerns to notice the growing body count, a point underscored by the banality of their workplace conversations, and their shared belief that women are the real enemy.

When the zombie apocalypse is in full swing, Hanazawa delivers the gory goods: his zombies are suitably grotesque, retaining just enough of their original human form to make their condition both pitiable and disturbing. Hanazawa stages most of the action in tight spaces–an artist’s studio, a pedestrian footbridge, a hallway–giving the hand-to-hand combat the stomach-churning immediacy of a first-person shooter game. Only when Hanazawa cuts away to reveal a fire-ravaged, chaotic landscape do we fully appreciate the extent to which Tokyo has succumbed to the zombie plague.

It’s in these final moments of the book that Hideo glimpses an alternative to his miserable existence–the loneliness, anonymity, and failure that, in his words, have prevented him “from being the hero of my own life.” How he escapes these emotional traps–and those pesky zombies–remains to be seen, but it seems like a journey worth taking. Count me in for volume two.

A word to parents: I Am a Hero is less gory than either The Walking Dead or Fear the Walking Dead, but contains scenes of disturbing violence and frank sexual content. Dark Horse’s suggested age rating seems appropriate for this particular title.

Reviews: At Brain vs. Book, Jocelyn Allen looks at two untranslated series: Akina Kondoh’s A-ko-san no Koibito, a josei manga about a woman juggling two love interests, and Machiko Kyo’s Nekojou Mu-Mu, a comic about an outrageously cute cat. Matt Brady, host of Warren Peace Sings the Blues, weighs in on the third installment of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood. And at Three if By Space, Robert Prentice explains why My Hero Academia is truly a comic for all ages.

DMP Kickstarts Controversy

On May 27th, DMP Kickstarted an effort to publish Kodomo no Jikana manga about a third-grade teacher and his precocious student. If that title rings a bell, that’s because Seven Seas initially planned to release Kodomo no Jikan in 2007, sparking angry responses from readers who felt the series crossed the line between comedy and child exploitation. (You can read more about the original controversy here.) [Kickstarter]

The numbers are in, and One Piece is once again Japan’s best-selling manga series, moving almost 6.5 million copies between November 2015 and May 2016. Other strong performers include Assassination Classroom, Attack on Titan, The Seven Deadly Sins, and My Hero Academia. [Anime News Network]

Is One-Punch Man the new Attack on Titan? A quick glance at the New York Times Manga Bestseller List suggests this superhero spoof may be the New Big Thing: volumes one, two, and six all make the cut. [NY Times]

Fox announced that Rosa Salazar (Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials) will play the title role in its forthcoming Battle Angel Alita adaptation. The film, which will be directed by Robert Rodriguez, is tentatively scheduled for a summer 2018 release; James Cameron will produce. [The Hollywood Reporter]

Back in 2009, Barefoot Gen artist Keiji Nakazawa penned a letter to President Barack Obama in which expressed hope that Obama would “come to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, hear the voices of the atomic bomb survivors first-hand, and visit the Peace Memorial Museum here in Hiroshima.” Nakazawa also declared his “unwaivering support” for the president’s anti-nuclear initiatives. Alas, Nakazawa did not live to see his wish fulfilled; he passed away in 2012. [The Mainichi]

Erica Friedman rounds up all the latest yuri news, including word of a new Cardcaptor Sakura anime. [Okazu]

What’s new on shelves this week? The Manga Bookshelf gang sorts the wheat from the chaff. [Manga Bookshelf]

Ash Brown is giving away a copy of Paradise Residence, the latest from Oh! My Goddess creator Kosuke Fujishima. The deadline to enter the drawing is June 1st. [Experiments in Manga]

Why do some OOP manga command hundreds of dollars while others net a measly dollar or two on eBay? Krystallina takes an in-depth look at the second-hand manga market, and offers tips for figuring out which titles are most likely to go out of print. [The OASG]

LM publishes the third installment of her series The Sparkling World of Shojo Manga, in which she traces the development of shojo from the beginning of the twentieth century to today. Her latest post focuses on pioneering mangaka Riyoko Ikeda, best known in the English-speaking world for The Rose of Versailles. [The Lobster Dance]

Reviews: At Soliloquy in Blue, Michelle Smith posts a glowing review of Nichijou: My Ordinary Life, while fellow MB blogger Ash Brown weighs in on josei classic Tramps Like Us.

The Manga Revue: Guardians of the Louvre

Whew–it’s been a while! Life got in the way of blogging for a few months, but the summer forecast looks good for manga reviewing. On the docket this week: Jiro Taniguchi’s Guardians of the Louvre, part of an ongoing graphic novel series published by NBM/Comics Lit that also includes Glacial Period, On the Odd Hours, and Rohan at the Louvre.

COVERLAYOUT.inddGuardians of the Louvre
By Jiro Taniguchi
No rating
NBM Graphic Novels, $24.99

One part Times of Botchan, one part Night at the Museum, Jiro Taniguchi’s Guardians of the Louvre is a stately, handsomely illustrated manga that never quite rises to the level of greatness.

The premise is simple: a Japanese artist lies ill in his Parisian hotel room, feverishly dreaming about the museum’s galleries. In each chapter, the hero is temporarily transported to a particular place and time in the Louvre’s history, rubbing shoulders with famous artists, witnessing famous events, and chatting with one of the museum’s most famous works–the Nike of Samothrace, who takes the form of a stone-faced tour guide. If the set-up sounds like The Times of Botchan, it is, though Guardians of the Louvre is less ambitious; Taniguchi’s primary objective is to celebrate the museum’s collection by highlighting a few of its most beloved works, rather than immersing the reader in a specific milieu.

The artist-as-time-traveler schtick is a little hackneyed, but provides Taniguchi with a nifty excuse to showcase the breadth of his artistry, offering the reader a visual feast of rural landscapes, gracious country manors, war-ravaged cities, and busy galleries. Using watercolor and ink, Taniguchi convincingly recreates iconic paintings by Van Gogh and Corot, effortlessly slipping into each artist’s style without slavishly reproducing every detail of the originals. Taniguchi’s characters are rendered with a similar degree of meticulousness, though their waxen facial expressions sometimes mar scenes calling for a meaningful display of emotion.

What prevents Guardians of the Louvre from taking flight is its relentlessly middlebrow sensibility. In one scene, for example, the Nike of Samothrace leads our unnamed hero through an empty Salle des États, home of the Mona Lisa. The artist examines the painting closely, musing about the tourist hordes that normally throng the gallery. “It’s not about art appreciation anymore. It’s wholly a popular tourist destination” he says wistfully. If his character was anything more than an audience surrogate, his comment might have registered as a thoughtful meditation on the commercialization of fine art, or the outsized fame of Da Vinci’s canvas. Absent any knowledge of who he is or what kind of art he creates, however, his remarks sounds more like a moment of bourgeois snobbery: don’t these peasants realize the Louvre is filled with other remarkable paintings?

A similarly pedestrian spirit animates the chapters documenting the 1939 evacuation of the Louvre. To be sure, the mechanics of packing and transporting the art are fascinating; Taniguchi’s expert draftsmanship conveys the complexity and physical demands of the task in vivid detail, inviting us to ride along with Delacroix’s monumental Raft of the Medusa on its perilous journey from Paris to Versailles. The dialogue that frames these passages, however, is rife with cliches. “They were ready to risk everything to evacuate the paintings,” the Nike solemnly informs our hero before implying that this operation was a little-known episode in French history–a strange claim, given the story’s romantic treatment in popular culture: surely the Nike has read All the Light We Cannot See or watched The Monuments Men?

The manga’s most effective passages, by contrast, are wordless. We see our hero wander through a forest where Corot silently paints the undulating boughs, and a medieval town where Van Gogh sets up his easel in a sun-drenched hay field. In these fleeting moments, Taniguchi’s sensual imagery allows us to step into the artist’s shoes and relive the creative process that yielded Recollection of Mortefontaine and Daubigny’s Garden for ourselves. If only the rest of the manga wasn’t so insistent on telling us how to appreciate these paintings.

Reviews: Sean Gaffney gives Rokudenashiko’s autobiographical manga What Is Obscenity? the thumbs-up. Over at The Fandom Post, Matthew Alexander jumps in the WABAC Machine for a look at Shaman Warrior, one of the first manhwa published by Dark Horse.

VIZ Has Banner Year, Kodansha Offers Humble Bundle

PokemonBrigid is wrapping up a busy stint TCAF, so I’ll be subbing for her this week. Here’s a quick round-up of new and noteworthy developments:

ICv2 buries the lede in this interview with Viz Media’s Beth Kawasaki, who tells them “This last fiscal year was our best ever, in the history of the company, and we do have some hit kids’ titles contributing greatly to that.” Emphasis ours. The most popular of those kids’ properties are Pokemon, Yo-kai Watch, and Legend of Zelda, and there’s a Pokemon cookbook on the way. [ICv2]

The latest volume of Akame ga Kill! tops the New York Times Manga Bestseller List, followed by the first volumes of I Am a Hero, Tokyo Ghoul, and One-Punch Man. [The New York Times]

Yen Press announced a new light novel license: Goblin Slayer! [Anime News Network]

There are just two days left to download Kodansha Comics’ Humble Bundle, which includes the first three volumes of Attack on Titan, the first two volumes of Ajin: Demi-Human and Inuyashiki, and the first volumes of The Seven Deadly Sins, Parasyte, and Space Brothers. Proceeds benefit The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. [Crunchyroll]

Should vendors and guests of Anime Expo be subject to background checks? The Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation (SJPA) is considering such a policy; Christopher MacDonald, however, worries that this initiative may backfire. [Anime News Network]

In case you missed it: Ryan Holmberg posts a new installment of What Was Alternative Manga?, focusing on the work of Nakashima Kiyoshi. [The Comics Journal]

What’s arriving in your local bookstore this week? The Manga Bookshelf gang investigates. [Manga Bookshelf]

Despite the backlash against DreamWorks’ Ghost in the Shell film, Hollywood seems bullish on manga and anime properties. Among the projects currently in the pipeline are Death Note (courtesy of Netflix) and AKIRA (courtesy of Warner Brothers). [The Hollywood Reporter]

News from Japan: Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi will finish its run in Monthly Comic Gene on June 15th… This dedicated cosplayer trekked to Mongolia to recreate scenes from Kaoru Mori’s A Bride’s Story… Which Shonen Jump character is sexiest? Japanese readers recently voted, expressing a strong preference for villains… Yotsuba&! creator Kiyohiko Azuma will share the Tezuka Cultural Prize with Kei Ichinoseki, author of Hanagami Sharaku.

Reviews: Over at The Comics Journal, Robert Kirby reviews the provocatively titled What Is Obscenity? The Story of a Good-for-Nothing Artist and Her Pussy. Closer to home, Michelle Smith and Sean Gaffney offer a fresh batch of Bookshelf Briefs that include the latest installments of Barakamon, Maid-Sama!!, and What Did You Eat Yesterday?

Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 1 of Anne Happy: Unhappy Go Lucky! (Comics Worth Reading)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 4 of Emma (Comics Worth Reading)
Erica Friedman on vols. 1-2 of Futaribeya (Okazu)
Incendiary Lemon on The Gods Lie (Anime UK News)
Terry Hong on Guardians of the Louvre (Book Dragon)
Lori Henderson on The Infernal Devices Trilogy (Manga Xanadu)
Ian Wolf on vols. 1-2 of Maga-Tsuki (Anime UK News)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 1 of Midnight Stranger (Sequential Tart)
Megan R. on Mr. Flower Groom (The Manga Test Drive)
SKJAM! on vol. 1 of Mysterious Girlfriend X (SKJAM! Reviews)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 78 of One Piece (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 1 of The Other Side of Secret (Anime News Network)
Mariko S. on vol. 2 of Otome no Teikoku (Okazu)
Megan R. on Passion (The Manga Test Drive)
Ken H. on vol. 1 of Princess Jellyfish (Sequential Ink)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 1 of Servant x Service (Comics Worth Reading)
Laura on vol. 1 of Shuriken and Pleats (Heart of Manga)
Megan R. on Three Wolves Mountain (The Manga Test Drive)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 10 of What Did You Eat Yesterday? (Comics Worth Reading)
Terry Hong on vol. 10 of What Did You Eat Yesterday? (Book Dragon)
Ash Brown on What Is Obscenity? The Story of a Good-for-Nothing Artist and Her Pussy (Experiments in Manga)
Matt on vol. 2 of Yowamushi Pedal (Ani-TAY)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 2 of Yowamushi Pedal (A Case Suitable for Treatment)

New Kousuke Fujishima Series to Be Simulpubbed Online

Toppu GP

Oh My Goddess creator Kousuke Fujishima’s new series, Toppū GP, which launches next month in Kodansha’s Monthly Afternoon, will get a simultaneous digital release in English. No word yet on which services will carry it. [Anime News Network]

At Publishers Weekly, I took a look at the resurgence of manga and how the new blockbusters—first Attack on Titan, then Tokyo Ghoul and One-Punch Man—have helped sales. It turns out, when I talked to the publishers, that the backlist is doing pretty well too. [Publishers Weekly]

This year’s Eisner nominees in the manga category make a great reading list for manga veterans and newcomers alike. If you’re not reading all of these, you’re missing out! [Barnes and Noble Sci-Fi/Fantasy Blog]

Here are my picks for this month’s best new manga releases. [Barnes and Noble Sci-Fi/Fantasy Blog]

Good news for Junji Ito fans: Viz Media will publish Ito’s first manga, Tomie, in a single omnibus volume this winter. The manga was originally published in English by the now defunct ComicsOne and has been out of print for years. Viz also announced it will publish a print edition of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s Platinum End, which they have been publishing digitally one chapter at a time. Ohba and Obata are the creators of Death Note and Bakuman. [ICv2]

Justin and Manjiorin discuss Goodnight Punpun. [The OASG]

Adrian Tomine talks about what it was like being Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s editor. [du9]

The Yomiuri Shinbun’s Sugoi Awards have been announced—these are readers’ picks for the manga, anime, and novels they think would do best abroad. The readers seem to be pretty good at this: The winners are One-Punch Man and Tokyo Ghoul, the top selling manga in the U.S. right now; Haikyu!!, the first volume of which is due out in North America in July; Twittering Birds Never Fly; and Monster Musume, which also makes the best-seller list whenever a new volume comes out. [RocketNews 24]

Tetsuya Kariya will return to Oishinbo, but only to finish it off: The series was serialized in Big Comic Spirit but went on hiatus right around the time a storyline involving the area around the Fukushima nuclear plant caused some controversy. Kariya said the hiatus was not related to that, and that 30 years is long enough, so he’s going to wind up the story with a special final episode that will include all the characters who have appeared during the manga’s long run. [Anime News Network]

Erica Friedman has a quick rundown of yuri news, including some upcoming manga panels and the announcement that Viz will simulcast the third season of Sailor Moon Crystal, in the latest edition of Yuri Network News. [Okazu]

Danica Davidson talks about her new book, Manga Art for Beginners. [Otaku USA]


Matt Brady on vol. 7 of A Bride’s Story (Warren Peace Sings the Blues)
Helen on vol. 2 of Crown of Thorns (The OASG)
Kate O’Neil on vol. 6 of Demon From Afar (the Fandom Post)
G.B. Smith on vol. 9 of The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan (The Fandom Post)
Gary Thompson on vol. 11 of Eden: It’s an Endless World (The Fandom Post)
G.B. Smith on vols. 10 and 11 of Food Wars (The Fandom Post)
Gabe Peralta on vol. 1 of Goodnight Punpun (The Fandom Post)
Krystallina on vol. 6 of He’s My Only Vampire (The OASG)
A Library Girl on vols. 5 and 6 of His Favorite (A Library Girl’s Familiar Diversions)
Matthew Alexander on vol. 1 of Kashimashi ~Girl Meets Girl~ (The Fandom Post)
Matt Brady on Kitaro (Warren Peace Sings the Blues)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 5 of Love Stage!! (Comics Worth Reading)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of Nichijou (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 36 of Skip Beat! (The Comic Book Bin)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vols. 5 and 6 of So Cute It Hurts! (Comics Worth Reading)
Helen on Soredomo Machi wa Mawatteiru (The OASG)
Sakura Eries on vol. 4 of Sword Art Online Progressive (The Fandom Post)
Matthew Warner on vol. 10 of Terra Formars (The Fandom Post)

Kadokawa Buys Majority Stake in Yen Press, Partners with Crunchyroll

Yen LogoWow, the manga news is rolling in faster than I can keep up with it! The big story this morning is that the Japanese publisher Kadokawa has purchased a 51% stake in Yen Press. Yen Press will become Yen Press, LLC, a joint venture of Hachette and Kadokawa; previously, Yen was an imprint of Hachette in its Orbit Books division.

Kadokawa had another big announcement on the anime side: They are partnering with Crunchyroll, which will get exclusive distribution rights for all Kadokawa anime outside of Asia for the next year. And that’s not all:

To bolster KADOKAWA’s planned formation of a publishing joint venture with the major U.S. publisher Hachette Book Group, specializing in manga and light novels (scheduled for May), Crunchyroll and KADOKAWA will seek to strengthen their relationship through a marketing campaign with the book publishing and anime distribution businesses, as well as joint efforts to expand relevant merchandising businesses, in order to maximize the growth potential of Japanese content in the North American market.

What does this mean to you, the reader? Who knows, but Kadokawa does seem to be very interested in the light novel side of things, and Yen has really been making the light novel thing work, with its Yen On line. The Yen Press press release (according to ANN’s translation) says that the plan is to “establish light novels as a new content genre by using Hachette’s existing production and distribution infrastructure, with Kadokawa providing leadership.” Kadokawa publishes a lot of light novels, and they also own BookWalker, which carries digital manga and light novels; perhaps there will be some synergy there, with Yen and/or Crunchyroll.

The questions that remain unanswered are whether Yen Press will continue to license manga from other Japanese publishers (Square Enix in particular—they are the publisher of Black Butler and Pandora Hearts) and whether Kadokawa will license to other publishers.

Hold on to your hats! This promises to be an interesting ride.