Welcome to the first installment of The Manga Revue! I’ll be posting this column on a weekly basis, offering a mixture of reviews and links to manga criticism around the web. This week, I focus on two manly manga, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood, the first installment of Hirohiko Araki’s long-running saga, and Seraphim 266613336 Wings, an unfinished collaboration between Mamoru Oshii and Satoshi Kon.
Phantom Blood is a prime example of ALL CAPS theater, the sort of manga in which characters boldly declare their intentions on every page, sidekicks materialize whenever a plot twist demands explanation, and villains reveal their true colors by torturing fathers, girlfriends, and faithful pets. If only Phantom Blood was fun! Alas, this origin story is a dud, thanks to its flat characterizations and paint-by-numbers plotting.
The biggest problem is the hero: Jonathan Joestar is a paragon of virtue who suffers so many preposterous setbacks that it tests the reader’s patience. Many shonen heroes share Jonathan’s capacity for punishment, for course, but Jonathan is such a limp rag that it’s hard to sympathize with his anguish over losing favored son status to his adopted brother Dio Brando. Dio is similarly two-dimensional, devoting 97.8% of his waking hours to plotting the Joestar clan’s demise. Although his plan is suitably baroque, Dio’s malevolence is so all-consuming that he, too, lacks any recognizably human traits.
These paper-thin characterizations would matter less if the plot or artwork were more engaging. The main storyline, however, is about as fresh as week-old fish; even if the phrase “bloodthirsty Aztec mask” piques your interest, the mask is so clumsily integrated into Dio’s revenge as to invite comparisons with an episode of Scooby Doo. The artwork is also a disappointment, a collection of lantern-jawed men with cartoonish muscles inhabiting a pseudo-Victorian landscape–it’s Fist of the North Star in 19th century England! At least we know Araki’s draftsmanship and storytelling got better, as fans of the third JoJo arc, Stardust Crusaders, will attest.
The verdict: Unless you’re a die-hard collector, skip it. Folks looking for a good introduction to Araki’s unique talent are better served by Rohan at the Louvre.
Seraphim 266613336 Wings
By Mamoru Oshii and Satoshi Kon
Rated 16 and up
Dark Horse, $19.99
First serialized in the pages of Animage magazine, Seraphim 266613336 Wings is a fascinating relic from the mid-1990s. The magazine’s editors invited Mamoru Oshii and Satoshi Kon to create a series that would fill the space left by the conclusion of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Although the results were not as ambitious or satisfying as Nausicaa, Oshii and Kon’s work is surprisingly good, a harmonious blend of science fiction, geopolitics, and mysticism. (OK, mystical claptrap. More on that in a minute.)
The story unfolds in the near future. Asia is in shambles, devastated by a mysterious plague that reduces its victims to stony, bird-like corpses. Despite the best efforts of the World Health Organization (WHO), no one has successfully determined the disease’s cause or found a cure. In a desperate bid to save humanity, four pilgrims cross the cordon sanitaire that encircles Central Asia. Their mission: to investigate a mysterious relic that’s jealously guarded by a Hakka warlord.
If certain aspects of the plot feel a little heavy-handed–the WHO, for example, is portrayed as a quasi-religious organization not unlike the Vatican–the execution is brisk and skillful. Oshii and Kon resist the temptation to freight the dialogue with too much exposition, instead relying on Kon’s crumbling landscapes and vivid character designs to convey the pandemic’s toll on society. We see abandoned cities punctuating the desert, refugee camps teeming with feverish, disoriented victims, and isolated military outposts where survivors husband weapons and medicine–all potent (if familiar) symbols of a world plunged into chaos.
Winged imagery, too, plays an important role in Seraphim: planes glide silently through migrating flocks, skies turn black with mobbing birds. In some passages, Kon and Oshii revel in the ambiguity of these images: did the pandemic originate with birds, or are they simply beneficiaries of its effects? In other passages, however, the authors baldly state the story’s themes; characters pontificate about the plague victims’ “angelic” appearance and wonder if these victims are harbingers of mankind’s extinction–or redemption.
We’ll never know the answer. After producing seventeen chapters, Oshii and Kon shelved the project over creative differences. The surviving fragment is a testament to their ability to transcend those differences–if only for a short period–to produce a story that reads like the product of a single, fertile imagination.
The verdict: With its gorgeous artwork and intricate plot, Seraphim 266613336 Wings rewards multiple readings–even if the story lacks a proper ending.
Review Links: Jason Thompson offers a sneak peak at cyber-thriller Inuyashiki, which will debut in print this August, while Serdar Yegulalp revisits old favorite Black Lagoon. At Brain vs. Book, translator Jocelyn Allen discusses Aya Kanno’s Otomen. (Fun fact: Allen is currently translating Kanno’s Requiem of the Rose King for VIZ.) Closer to home, Sean Gaffney posts an early review of The Ancient Magus’ Bride, while Ash Brown weighs in on the latest volumes of Attack on Titan, Fairy Tail, and Love at 14.
Marissa Lieberman on vols. 1-2 of Accel World (No Flying No Tights)
Joseph Luster on vol. 4 of Ajin: Demi-Human (Otaku USA)
Matthew Warner on vol. 1 of Ani-Imo (The Fandom Post)
Megan R. on Apothecarius Argentum (The Manga Test Drive)
A Library Girl on vol. 1 of Aquarian Age: Juvenile Orion (A Library Girl’s Familiar Diversions)
Kate O’Neil on vol. 4 of Attack on Titan: Before the Fall (The Fandom Post)
Tony Yao on Black Butler (Manga Therapy)
Connie on vol. 27 of Blade of the Immortal (Slightly Biased Manga)
Justin Stroman on vol. 1 of Captain Ken (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Ken H. on vol. 5 of Cardfight!! Vanguard (Sequential Ink)
Connie on vol. 3 of Crimson Spell (Slightly Biased Manga)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 15 of Dorohedoro (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vol. 14 of Itsawaribito (Sequential Tart)
Connie on vol. 1 of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Part One: Phantom Blood (Slightly Biased Manga)
Kory Cerjak on vol. 2 of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Part One: Phantom Blood (The Fandom Post)
Allen Kesinger on vols. 1-3 of High School DxD (No Flying No Tights)
Allen Kesinger on High School DxD: Asia and Koneko’s Secret Contact?! (No Flying No Tights)
Connie on vol. 23 of Hoshin Engi (Slightly Biased Manga)
Anna N. on vol. 4 of Kiss of the Rose Princess (The Manga Report)
Emma Vail on vols. 1-3 of Manga Dogs (Women Write About Comics)
Sakura Eries on vol. 2 of Master Keaton (The Fandom Post)
Erica Friedman on vol. 9 of Morita-san ha Mukuchi (Okazu)
Kristin on vols. 1-2 of My Neighbor Seki (Comic Attack!)
Connie on vol. 2 of Phantom Thief Jeanne (Slightly Biased Manga)
Kory Cerjak on vol. 3 of Prophecy (The Fandom Post)
Erica Friedman on vol. 17 of Rakuen Le Paradis (Okazu)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 11 of Sankarea: Undying Love (ANN)
Helen on Shirahime-Syo (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Connie on vol. 33 of Skip Beat! (Slightly Biased Manga)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 3 of Spell of Desire (Sequential Tart)
Erica Friedman on vol. 2 of Stretch (Okazu)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 6 of Terra Formars (Comic Book Bin)
Greg Hunter on Trash Market (The Comics Journal)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 3 of Whispered Words (ANN)
If you’re a manga reviewer and would like to see your reviews included in our regular round-ups, please let us know in the comment section.