One of these things is not like the others

The Harvey Awards nominations have been released. The only manga nominations were in the Best American Edition of Foreign Material category, and the three manga titles that got the nod this year are Red-Colored Elegy, Solanin, and … vols. 11 and 12 of Witchblade Takeru Manga. Seriously, is this some sort of practical joke?

At MangaCast, Ed Chavez looks over the July Previews and highlights the manga.

Red Baylon lists this week’s new releases at Japanator.

Dan Nadel hosts a roundtable conversation with Yoichi Yokoyama, creator of Travel, for Comics Comics. (Via Journalista.)

Anime Expo is this weekend, and Deb Aoki rounds up the manga highlights for those of you who will be there.

Erica Friedman rounds up the week in yuri at Okazu.

Yaoi Press has announced the winners of its Caption Contest.

Attention creators: Prism Comics is seeking submissions for its Queer Press Grant, which supports new LGBT comics creators. Read all about it at Okazu.

News from Japan: The announcement is only in Japanese, so far, but it appears that Youka Nitta may be returning to manga to write one more chapter of Embracing Love. ANN has word of several launches: A new Macross manga, a Gundam series, and a new series from Mayu Shinjo, creator of Sensual Phrase. The Toei Animation Studio is promoting its wares with a four-panel manga featuring girls dressed as its robots.

Reviews: David Welsh devotes this week’s Flipped column to Mushishi.

Laura on Ai Yori Aiyoshi (Heart of Manga)
Julie on vol. 2 of Angel Diary (Manga Maniac Cafe)
Lorena on Apollo’s Song (i heart manga)
Erica Friedman on vol. 1 of Assistant Denki Keika (Okazu)
Scott VonSchilling on Ballad of a Shinigami (The Anime Almanac)
Julie on vol. 1 of Brilliant Blue (MangaCast)
Deb Aoki on vol. 1 of Children of the Sea (About.com)
Justin Colussy-Estes on vols. 1-3 of The Four Constables (Comics Village)
Lori Henderson on vol. 2 of Gimmick (Manga Xanadu)
Kate Dacey on The History of the West Wing (The Manga Critic)
Kris on vol. 3 of Hitohira (Manic About Manga)
Oyceter on vols. 4 and 5 of Honey and Clover (Sakura of DOOM)
Sesho on vol. 14 of The Law of Ueki (Sesho’s Anime and Manga Reviews)
David Brothers on vol. 6 of Lone Wolf and Cub (4thletter!)
Sesho on vol. 1 of Maid Sama! (Sesho’s Aniem and Manga Reviews)
AstroNerdBoy on The Manga Guide to Physics (AstroNerdBoy’s Anime and Manga Blog)
Greg McElhatton on Mijeong (Read About Comics)
Edward Zacharias on vol. 38 of Naruto (Animanga Nation)
Lissa Pattillo on On Bended Knee (Kuriousity)
Lori Henderson on vol. 1 of One Piece (Comics Village)
Julie on vol. 1 of Sarasah (Manga Maniac Cafe)
Connie on vol. 3 of Silver Diamond (Slightly Biased Manga)
Connie on vol. 5 of Slam Dunk (Slightly Biased Manga)
Johanna Draper Carlson on Solanin (Comics Worth Reading)
Shojo Flash on vol. 20 of The Wallflower (Shojo Flash)
Lorena on vol. 1 of With the Light (i heart manga)
Dave Ferraro on vol. 1 of Wolverine – Prodigal Son (Comics-and-More)
Lissa Pattillo on vol. 1 of Wolverine – Prodigal Son (Kuriousity)
Lissa Pattillo on vol. 4 of You’re So Cool (Kuriousity)

Quick Monday roundup

Shojo Flash takes a look at the July Previews, featuring books that are due out in September.

News from Japan: Ed Chavez posts the manga rankings from Taiyosha.

Reviews: Be sure to check out my selections for this week in the Robot 6 What Are You Reading? column. Sheldon A. Weibe takes a look at a couple of recent releases from Viz at Eclipse Magazine. The Manga Recon folks line up some Manga Minis for your reading pleasure. Andrew Wheeler looks at four Yen Press titles at ComicMix. Other reviews of note:

Benjamin Birdie on vol. 3 of 20th Century Boys (Comic Book Resources)
Connie on All You Need Is Kill (novel) (Slightly Biased Manga)
Gia on Blood+ Adagio (Anime Vice)
Melinda Beasi on vol. 1 of Children of the Sea (There it is, Plain as Daylight)
Sam Kusek on vol. 1 of Children of the Sea (Manga Recon)
Matthew J. Brady on vol. 1 of Detroit Metal City (Warren Peace Sings the Blues)
Sam on vol. 1 of Disgaea 2 Cursed Memories (The Otaku’s Study)
Lorena on vol. 1 of Dororo (i heart manga)
Shojo Flash on vol. 2 of Gakuen Prince (Shojo Flash)
Grant Goodman on vol. 1 of Gestalt (Manga Recon)
Jason Yadao on Ninja Baseball Kyuma and Leave it to PET (Honolulu Star-Bulletin)
Danielle Leigh on vol. 2 of Love Control (Comics Should Be Good)
Greg Hackmann on vol. 1 of Step (Mania.com)
Bill Sherman on Ultimo (Blogcritics)
Melinda Beasi on vol. 6 of Yuri Monogatari (There it is, Plain as Daylight)

Reviews: Sinner theater

Hell Girl, vol. 1
By Miyuki Eto
Rated OT, for Older Teens (16+)
Del Rey, $10.99

Nightmares for Sale, vol. 1
by Kaoru Ohashi
Rated OT, for Older Teens (16+)
Aurora, $10.99*

Presents, vol. 1
By Kanako Inuki
Rated M, for Mature readers (18+)
CMX, $12.99

One of the most interesting mini-genres of manga what John Jakala brilliantly named “comeuppance theater,” in which we get to watch someone behave badly and then pay a creative and usually bloody price for their sins.

There is something viscerally satisfying about watching a bad person being punished for their evil deeds. “The mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small,” Longfellow wrote. The “slowly” part is the catch; we often see people get away with reprehensible things in real life, from the driver who dents a car in the parking lot and drives off to the CEO who runs a company into the ground and picks up a huge bonus check on his way out the door. They may get their just desserts, in this world or the next, but we don’t get to see it.

That’s why it’s fun to read books like these. They compress time and strip away all ambiguity, leaving a single story arc: Person does bad thing, person gets punished. In real life there are gray areas, and victims (especially of con games) are often complicit in their suffering. In fiction, such messy considerations would ruin the fun. What it boils down to is an innocent victim, an evil tormentor—and, hopefully, a creative storyteller.

Hell Girl is a particularly pure example of the genre. Each of the five stories in volume 1 features a truly awful villain—a girl who frames a classmate and then bullies her, a baker who steals recipes from his student and spreads rumors about her shop, a vet who neglects the animals in his care (except for those that belong to celebrities). It’s formulaic evil that never gets realistic enough to be disturbing. In each case the victim is driven to despair, unable to solve the problem, and—this is key—no one else believes her, so no one will help.

Then she hears about a mysterious website that can be accessed only at midnight. The website calls up Hell Girl, a huge-eyed, kimono-clad dispenser of justice. She strikes a hard bargain—the price of vengeance is that the victim will be sent to hell when she dies. Oddly, no one seems to be bothered by this. Once Hell Girl is hired, she really delivers the goods, interrupting the evildoer’s enjoyment of their ill-gotten gains to inflict a custom-tailored version of hell.

The book is very formulaic, down to the very words that Hell Girl says and the blurry chrysanthemums that she calls up every time she shows up to deliver justice. On the other hand, the torments are nicely designed and fit the villains quite well. The book isn’t really that scary, but it’s troubling that no one seems to be in the least bit bothered by the prospect of eternal damnation. Most simply enjoy getting the status quo back and resolve to enjoy the here and now.

Nightmares for Sale throws some really different twists into the revenge scenario. Creator Kaoru Ohashi squeezes six stories, one a two-parter, into volume 1, and each story follows a different path. In this series, the intervention is supplied by a supernatural pawnshop staffed by a loli girl (who is apparently much older than she looks) and a lovely boy, but their role is less straightforward than Hell Girl’s. Some of the stories involve a transaction with them, but in others, they simply stand around and the characters come in and tell them things.

The first two chapters are pretty straightforward tales, one of a bullied girl getting revenge, the other of a vain fashion model getting what she wishes for (which is never good in these books). After that, the stories get more interesting and twisted. People still get punished, but things are seldom what they appear to be on the first page, and most of the stories end ambiguously, with a hint that the dark forces are only temporarily banished. The writing is really quite clever, especially considering how short the chapters are. The art is uneven, however; some chapters are drawn in a very spare, linear style with toning substituting for shading and backgrounds, while other chapters are more fully developed. Often the art has a pale look because of the dependence on toning. Ohashi does some interesting things with the panels, often letting the story unfold in a series of thin vertical slices and using strong diagonals to keep the action moving. The production quality is almost too good—the high-quality, very white paper makes the thin lines and light toning look even paler, and the binding is rather stiff. Still, it’s a nice book and a decent read.

Presents is a series of cautionary tales, most beginning with a gift and ending with horrific death. Most of the characters are schoolchildren, and greed is the chief sin in the book: One greedy girl snatches presents away from the other kids, only to find that each box contains a different way to die; another pays little attention to the gifts she is given, until they gang up on her; and a woman who is only dating a guy for the bling he brings her gets a final delivery from beyond the grave. The chief actor in these stories is a little girl who didn’t get any birthday presents, thanks to a mean classmate’s trick, and therefore stays young forever. She pops up in different ways in each story, sometimes to help the victim, sometimes to deliver a gruesome judgment.

The style of Presents seems old-fashioned; the figures are rounded, with bug eyes and simple hair and clothes. This makes for some jarring contrasts—the stories all start out like children’s stories and end in madness, with melting faces or spilled guts. It’s all very imaginative, though, and it’s amazing how many different kinds of evil manga-ka Kanako Inuki can come up with, and how many different retributions she can confect, all based on the same theme.

Presents also has a greater degree of interior-ness than the other books; Hell Girl doesn’t care about the souls of the people she punishes, she’s just out for revenge. The little girl in Presents, on the other hand, is punishing people as much for their flaws—their greed or callousness—as for what they have actually done.

Of the three, Presents is definitely the most interesting read, with the most imaginative stories, although the art will probably not appeal to everyone. Nightmares for Sale has interesting stories but some weak points in the art, while Hell Girl is the most simplistic and formulaic, although the art is slick and professional. But all three deliver the solid satisfaction of watching bad things happen to bad people.

*Aurora has all their older titles, including this one, on sale for $5.00 if you buy through them.

These reviews are based on complimentary copies supplied by the publishers. But obviously, I’m not easily bought!

Pre-orders, top titles, and a manga we’d like to see

ICv2 lists the top 25 manga properties of spring 2009.

The New York Times manga best-seller list is up, and alongside the Viz and Del Rey regulars is vol. 3 of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, so I guess that franchise is holding up pretty well.

At the Icarus blog, Simon Jones discusses the significance of Diamond’s cancellation of some manga titles.

Digital has posted a complete list of titles in their Juné web-a-thon, which will allow fans to push up the publication dates of certain books by ordering them en masse. (Via Kuriousity.) Lori Henderson explains why pre-ordering any manga is a good idea at Manga Xanadu.

This week’s license request from David Welsh: Children of the Earth.

News from Japan: Nana translator Tomo Kimura reports that the most recent chapter of the series has been postponed because creator Ai Yazawa has fallen ill. She is expected to take several months to recover. ANN notes the end of one series and the start of another in Monthly Bessatsu Hana to Yume, plus another series ending in IKKI. Also, Mizuki Kawashita, creator of Strawberry 100%, has a new series in the works.

Reviews

Holly Ellingwood on vol. 1 of Angelic Runes (Active Anime)
Connie on vol. 1 of Black Bird (Slightly Biased Manga)
Michelle Smith on vol. 27 of Bleach (Soliloquy in Blue)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vol. 5 of Captive Hearts (Sequential Tart)
Lori Henderson on vol. 7 of Crimson Hero (Comics Village)
Karen Maeda on vol. 13 of Gin Tama (Sequential Tart)
Lorena on Good-Bye (i heart manga)
Patti Martinson on vol. 10 of High School Debut (Sequential Tart)
Julie on vol. 2 of Honey Hunt (Manga Maniac Cafe)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vol. 2 of Honey Hunt (Sequential Tart)
Marsha Reid on vol. 1 of Ichiroh! (Kuriousity)
Gia on vol. 1 of Maid-Sama (Anime Vice)
Connie on vol. 1 of Maid War Chronicle (Manga Recon)
Holly Ellingwood on vol. 2 of Me and the Devil Blues (Active Anime)
Melinda Beasi on vol. 7 of Mushishi (There it is, Plain as Daylight)
Michelle Smith on vol. 11 of Nana (Soliloquy in Blue)
Patti Martinson on vol. 45 of Naruto (Sequential Tart)
Emily on Odeko no Mahou (Emily’s Random Shoujo Manga Page)
Melinda Beasi on vol. 8 of One Thousand and One Nights (There it is, Plain as Daylight)
Lorena on chapter 9 of Rin-Ne (i heart manga)
Erica Friedman on vol. 2 of Suzunari (Okazu)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vol. 5 of We Were There (Sequential Tart)

Quick news roundup

Shojo Flash takes a look at the latest ICv2 Insider’s Guide and highlights the shoujo manga and anime items.

David Welsh peruses the July Previews at Precocious Curmudgeon.

Erin Finnegan reports that The Shinji Ikari Raising Project, the latest spinoff of the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise, will be more romance than robots.

News from Japan: Online doujin and eroge store Dejipare has rethought things a bit and decided not to place restrictions on cosplay or doujin, Canned Dogs reports. Things can’t be too bad in the magazine market, because Kodansha has just announced a monthly spinoff from Weekly Shonen Magazine, to be titled Bessatsu Shonen Magazine. ANN reports that the manga-ka known as kakifly has created a one-shot 16-page manga about K-On! for Hobunsha’s Manga Time Kirara Forward magazine. And ANN has the past week’s manga rankings.

Reviews: Danielle Leigh rounds up a healthy handful of shoujo volumes at Comics Should Be Good. Kate Dacey serves up some short takes as well: vol. 9 of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and Oishinbo A La Carte. Other reviews of note:

David Ford on vol. 3 of 20th Century Boys (Are You A Serious Comic Book Reader?)
Laura on Ceres Celestial Legend (Heart of Manga)
John Thomas on vol. 1 of Detroit Metal City (Comics Village)
Deb Aoki on Dogs: Prelude (About.com)
Sesho on vol. 1 of Fullmetal Alchemist (Sesho’s Anime and Manga Reviews)
Faith McAdams on vol. 9 of High School Debut (Animanga Nation)
Erica Friedman on vol. 9 of High School Girls (Okazu)
Connie on vol. 22 of Iron Wok Jan (Slightly Biased Manga)
Connie on vol. 1 of Kimi ni Todoke (Slightly Biased Manga)
Noah Berlatsky on vol. 1 of Lady Snowblood (The Hooded Utilitarian)
Lissa Pattillo on Living for Tomorrow (Kuriousity)
David Brothers on Lone Wolf and Cub: Black Wind (4thletter!)
Connie on vol. 8 of MPD-Psycho (Slightly Biased Manga)
Julie on vol. 11 of Muhyo & Roji’s Bureau of Supernatural Investigation (Manga Maniac Cafe)
Lorena on vol. 6 of Skip Beat (i heart manga)
Connie on U Don’t Know Me (Slightly Biased Manga)
Connie on vol. 13 of xxxHolic (Slightly Biased Manga)

Shoppers’ alert, summer reading, Japan travel photos

Those of you who buy your manga in comics shops may have to look elsewhere for most of Yen Press’s July releases, or ask your retailer to order from someone other than Diamond Comics Distributors, because Diamond cancelled a number of the manga and manhwa solicited in the May Previews. Sean Gaffney noted this yesterday on Twitter, so I e-mailed Kurt Hassler, who got back to me right away. Here’s what he said:

So far as the Yen titles on this list are concerned, these are not publisher cancelations. These are Previews cancelations which simply means that Diamond for whatever reason has opted not to make these titles available through their service. The books are all still very much being published, and retailers have the option of ordering them directly through Hachette Book Group or through any number of other wholesalers like Ingram or Baker & Taylor.

When I asked if that was because of Diamond’s new order minimums, Kurt replied that he really didn’t know but that that was “as likely a reason as any.” Affected titles include Croquis Pop, Mr. Flower Groom, and the Kieli novel. Other books cancelled by Previews this month include upcoming volumes of Breath from Yaoi Generation, Ultimate Venus and 07-Ghost from Go!Comi, and Gorgeous Carat Lesperanza from Tokyopop. Looking back at previous cancellation lists, this doesn’t seem to be unusual except for the number of Yen titles falling under the ax this month.

At MangaCast, Ed Chavez is pretty pleased that Viz is publishing Children of the Sea.

Deb Aoki presents her summer reading list—12 manga that grownups can enjoy—at About.com.

This is pretty cool: Colleen Doran digs out some old photos of a 1996 trip to Japan with a host of comics luminaries, including Jeff Smith, Frederick Schodt, and Jules Feiffer. Enjoy!

At the Studio QT blog, Susie muses a bit on whether scanlations have affected manga sales. Her conclusion: Hard to say, but it’s not killing print.

Patrick Macias has an advance look at the upcoming Otaku USA magazine.

Lori Henderson thinks through her shopping list at Manga Xanadu.

Christopher Butcher is in Japan, buying cat manga, drinking jellied coffee, and taking pictures of everything he sees. Enjoy!

News from Japan: The online doujin and eroge shop delipare is announcing restrictions on works with certain keywords, such as loli, Canned Dogs reports.

Reviews: Kate Dacey has some short reviews of Black Jack, Firefighter Nanase, and Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit up at The Manga Critic. At Manga Life, Park Cooper and Ysabet Reinhardt MacFarlane post brief writeups of various series they are following.

Connie on vol. 6 of B.O.D.Y. (Slightly Biased Manga)
Kate Dacey on The Cat in the Coffin (The Manga Critic)
Deb Aoki on Clover (About.com)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 1 of Detroit Metal City (Comics Worth Reading)
Greg McElhatton on vol. 1 of Detroit Metal City (Read About Comics)
David Welsh on vol. 1 of Detroit Metal City (The Comics Reporter)
Connie on vol. 14 of D.Gray-Man (Slightly Biased Manga)
Julie on vols. 13 and 14 of D.Gray-Man (Manga Maniac Cafe)
Connie on A Drifting Life (Slightly Biased Manga)
Connie on vol. 2 of Future Lovers (Slightly Biased Manga)
Ysabet Reinhardt MacFarlane on vol. 10 of High School Debut (Manga Life)
Ken Haley on The History of the West Wing (Manga Recon)
Lissa Pattillo on vol. 1 of Imadoki! (Kuriousity)
Connie on vol. 21 of Iron Wok Jan (Slightly Biased Manga)
Billy Aguiar on vol. 1 of KimiKiss (Prospero’s Manga)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 1 of KimiKiss (Comics Worth Reading)
Lorena on vol. 1 of Kitchen Princess (i heart manga)
Ysabet Reinhardt MacFarlane on vol. 1 of The Lapis Lazuli Crown (Manga Life)
Dave Ferraro on Leave it to PET (Comics-and-More)
Lissa Pattillo on vol. 2 of Ludwig II (Kuriousity)
Lorena on vol. 1 of Mars (i heart manga)
Sandy Bilus on Mijeong (I Love Rob Liefeld)
Michelle Smith on vol. 10 of Nana (Soliloquy in Blue)
Lorena on vol. 1 of Parasyte (i heart manga)
David Welsh on vol. 3 of Real (Precocious Curmudgeon)
James Fleenor on vol. 1 of Samurai Harem: Asu no Yoichi (Anime Sentinel)
Emily on Sonnan Janeeyo (Emily’s Random Shoujo Manga Page)
Katherine Farmar on vol. 2 of Sunflower (Comics Village)
Connie on vol. 14 of Swan (Slightly Biased Manga)
AstroNerdBoy on vol. 1 of Tsubasa: Those With Wings (AstroNerdBoy’s Anime and Manga Blog)
Tangognat on Two Flowers for the Dragon (Tangognat)