About Katherine Dacey

Kate Dacey has been writing about comics since 2006. From 2007 to 2008, she was the Senior Manga Editor at PopCultureShock, a site covering all aspects of the entertainment industry from comics to video games. In 2009, she launched The Manga Critic, where she reviewed Japanese comics and novels until 2012. Kate’s resume also includes serving as a panelist at ALA, New York Comic-Con, and Wondercon; penning reviews for the School Library Journal’s Good Comics for Kids blog; and writing the introductory chapter of CBDLF Presents Manga: Introduction, Challenges, and Best Practices, which Dark Horse published in 2013. Kate works in Boston, MA as a musicologist, and currently contributes to MangaBlog.

The Manga Revue: Deadman Wonderland and Livingstone

The November release of Jinsei Kataoka and Tomohiro Maekawa’s Livingstone provided me a nifty excuse to try Deadman Wonderland, an earlier series written and illustrated by Katoaka. Fans of Deadman Wonderland may know its complex licensing history here in the US: Tokyopop was its first publisher, releasing five volumes before going bankrupt in 2011. VIZ acquired the series in 2013, and is now just two volumes shy of the series’ grand finale, which arrives in February 2016. Whether you’re new to Kataoka’s work or have been a long-time fan, this column has something for you–so read on!

deadman_wonderland1Deadman Wonderland, Vol. 1
Story & Art by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou
Rated T+, for Older Teens
VIZ Media, $9.99

In the not-so-distant future, a private company operates a prison compound and theme park in Tokyo Bay. Deadman Wonderland’s owners stage elaborate games for visitors, using convicts as contestants.  Though the justification for these contests is noble–the proceeds benefit victims of a devastating earthquake that left more than 70% of Japan underwater–the circus atmosphere is anything but; prisoners compete to the death before screaming crowds hungry for the sight of blood.

Given how many other comics and movies have drawn from the same well of inspiration, Jinsei Kataoka and Kazume Kondou do a fine job of breathing life into this dystopian premise. They create a sympathetic protagonist in Ganta Igarashi, a fourteen-year-old who’s falsely accused and convicted of murdering his classmates. The first volume of Deadman Wonderland unfolds through Ganta’s eyes, as he tries to learn the prison’s elaborate rules and avoid dying in his first competition. Though there are numerous hints of a greater conspiracy afoot at the jail-cum-amusement park, Kataoka and Kondou resist the temptation to dole out too much information in the first volume. A perceptive reader will guess the significance of some details, but enough is left to the imagination that the reader is only clue or two ahead of Ganta.

The manga’s other great strength is the artwork. Kataoka and Kondou depict Deadman Wonderland as a lurid theme park, complete with rides, concessions, and grinning animal mascots–it’s a Bizarro World Disneyland in which giant cartoon ducks preside over a lethal obstacle course of swinging blades and spike-filled pits. The character designs, too, play an important role in establishing the series’ paranoid atmosphere. Though some characters telegraph their bad-guy status with tattoos and goofy haircuts, Kataoka and Kondou have populated Deadman Wonderland with enough ordinary-looking prisoners that it’s impossible to judge who’s trustworthy. This artistic approach pays off handsomely: the tension in every scene is so palpable that we’re compelled to keep turning the page to find out if Ganta has survived his first trip to the cafeteria or his first encounter with a new cellmate, interactions as fraught with peril as an actual contest.

The verdict: Great art, smart pacing, and a sympathetic lead character make Deadman Wonderland a winner. (A note to parents, teachers, and librarians: this manga’s rating is justified.)

livingstoneLivingstone, Vol. 1
Story  by Tomohiro Maekawa, Art by Jinsei Kataoka
Rated 16+
Kodansha Comics, $10.99

Livingstone is a handsomely illustrated bore, the kind of manga in which the writer has dressed up a simple concept with a profusion of fussy details that don’t add depth or interest to the story. The title refers to human souls–or, more accurately, the rock-like form that human souls take after a person dies. Sakurai and Amano, the manga’s protagonists, work together to harvest livingstones, thus ensuring that a soul is properly passed from one person to the next. If a person dies before his appointed time, however, his soul curdles into a gooey blob that oozes bad juju.

The manga follows Sakurai and Amano as they attempt to prevent unscheduled deaths. The series’ intense fixation on suicide is off-putting; none of the would-be victims are particularly sympathetic, and Sakurai and Amano’s ministrations are so tone-deaf that it’s hard to know what message author Tomohiro Maekawa is hoping to impart to readers. Sakurai and Amano’s antagonistic bickering is supposed to inject a note of levity into the proceedings, I think, but the timing of the jokes and the staleness of the characterizations do little to offset the dour tone. By the end of volume one, I found myself feeling bummed out and irritated–never a good sign for a series that’s exploring a subject as serious as death.

The verdict: Nice art, lousy script; I liked this story better when it was called The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service.

Reviews: At Comics Worth Reading, Johanna Draper Carlson dives into the eleventh volume of Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ooku: The Inner Chambers, which she describes as “something like Macbeth in kimonos.” Megan R. of The Manga Test Drive offers an in-depth assessment of Oishinbo, “the longest running food manga in Japan,” while Seth Hahne, proprietor of Good OK Bad, weighs in on Yamada-Kun and the Seven Witches. Feeling crafty? Vertical Comics shares some early reviews of their latest Arnazi Aronzo book Cuter Stuff.

Connie on Alice in the Country of Hearts: Ace of Hearts (Slightly Biased Manga)
Lindsey Tomsu on The Celebration of Haruhi Suzumiya (No Flying No Tights)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 5 of A Certain Magical Index (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vol. 27 of Claymore (Sequential Tart)
Allen Kesinger on vols. 1-2 of D-Frag (No Flying No Tights)
ebooksgirl on vol. 2 of The Devil Is a Part-Timer! High School! (Geek Lit Etc.)
Ken H. on vol. 1 of Devil Survivor (Sequential Ink)
Connie on vol. 32 of Eyeshield 21 (Slightly Biased Manga)
Kory Cerjak on vol. 50 of Fairy Tail (The Fandom Post)
Troy Nikandler on vol. 1 of Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (Otaku Review)
Holly Saiki on Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu (Examiner)
Karen Maeda on vol. 1 of Komomo Confiserie (Sequential Tart)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of Log Horizon: Game’s End (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Connie on vol. 1 of Meteor Prince (Slightly Biased Manga)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vol. 2 of My Hero Academia (Sequential Tart)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vols. 4-6 of My Love Story!! (Comics Worth Reading)
Justin Stroman on Oh! My Goddess (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Kane Bugeja on vol. 6 of Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign (Snap 30)
Matthew Warner on vol. 18 of Tegami Bachi (The Fandom Post)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vol. 8 of Tiger & Bunny (Sequential Tart)
Frank Inglese on vol. 7 of World Trigger (Snap 30)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 1 of Yo-Kai Watch (Sequential Tart)
Dustin Cabeal on vols. 1-2 of Yo-Kai Watch (Comic Bastards)
Paige Sammartino on vols. 1-2 of Yo-Kai Watch (Women Write About Comics)

PS: Our Manga Bookshelf colleague Ash Brown is giving away the first volumes of four awesome shojo titles from Kodansha Comics, including LDK, Let’s Dance a Waltz, My Little Monster, and one of my personal favorites Say I Love You. Don’t dally; the contest closes on December 2nd!

The Manga Revue: Kill la Kill and Platinum End

File this column under I’m Not Dead Yet! November has been hectic, and it shows; my last post was over a month ago. Today’s column is an attempt to get back on track with regular updates. On the agenda are reviews of Kill la Kill, an adaptation of the wildly popular anime, and Platinum End, a new shonen series with an impeccable pedigree.

Kill_la_KillKill la Kill, Vol. 1
Comic by Ryo Akizuki; Story by TRIGGER and Kazuki Nakashima
No rating (best for readers 13+)
UDON Entertainment, $12.99

In my small and unscientific sampling of manga based on anime, I haven’t encountered one yet that I’d recommend. Wolf’s Rain and Cowboy Bebop, for example, both fell flat in print, conveying little of the personalities or plot intricacies that made both series compelling. Kill la Kill is a more artful transfer of show to page, but suffers from some of the same tonal problems as other anime-cum-manga.

Like the anime on which it’s based, the Kill la Kill manga see-saws between flamboyant parody and straight-faced action, mixing jokey conversations with bone-crunching fights. Navigating these tonal extremes in print proves challenging, however. The manga is funniest when skewering tropes that don’t need sound effects or color, equipping characters with goofy weapons–the heroine brandishes giant scissors–and populating Honnouji Academy with students who look like extras from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. 

The artists’ desire to spoof other cliches fall flat. On the page, heroine Ryuko Matoi’s barely-there power suit seems like blatant pandering to the male gaze; the artistic team lavishes considerable attention on Ryuko’s body, lovingly depicting her torso and buttocks from myriad angles. On the screen, however, the addition of sound puts a different spin on the material. The cheerful voice acting, peppy music, and snappy sound effects transform an exploitative sequence into an absurd riff on the indignities of fighting in a costume that consists of two well-placed suspenders and a dinner napkin. It isn’t deep, but it is funny, highlighting the stupidity of the “power up!” sequence that’s ubiquitous in anime, manga, and tokusatsu.

The manga suffers from the absence of color and sound in other passages, too. Without a voice actor to modulate the dialogue, almost EVERY PAGE READS LIKE THIS!!! OMG!!! ARE YOU LAUGHING YET??!!!! By the end of volume one, I felt pummeled into submission rather than amused by the affectionate send-up of Japanese pop culture’s most ubiquitous storytelling conventions.

The verdict: The manga looks like a million bucks, but the script strains too hard for effect.

plantinum_endPlatinum End, Chapter 1
Story by Tsugumi Ohba, Art by Takeshi Obata
Rated T+, for teens over 13
VIZ Manga, $.99 (digital only)

Over the last twelve months, VIZ has been experimenting with digital-first releases, a strategy that’s worked well for high-profile shonen titles like One-Punch Man and Tokyo Ghoul. It’s not surprising, then, that VIZ is using the same roll-out for Platinum End, the latest collaboration between Death Note creators Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. This time, however, VIZ is making the first chapter of the series available as a stand-alone option–a decision that may backfire if other readers find it as off-putting as I did.

The main issue is the story. It’s mawkish and violent, shamelessly manipulating the reader into feeling sorry for a sullen protagonist by mining familiar adolescent themes: “I was born into the wrong family!” “No one will miss me when I’m gone!” “They’ll be sorry when I’m powerful/rich/famous!” We’re first introduced to Mirai as he’s leaping to his death. As we learn through flashbacks, he was orphaned at eight, and forced to live with an aunt and uncle who treated him like a slave. Nasse, a guardian angel, foils Mirai’s suicide attempt and grants him superpowers that are supposed to make him happy.

Lest you worry that Ohba and Obata are going soft, Mirai’s first road test of these newfound abilities results in a gruesome, sexually charged scene. Ohba and Obata have stacked the deck firmly against the victims, but the characters are so cartoonishly evil (and visually repulsive) that their punishment registers not as a justifiable act of vigilantism, but as a plot contrivance. The supernatural elements are also poorly presented; Ohba relies on long-winded, exposition-heavy speeches to explain who Mirai’s guardian is, and why she’s motivated to help him.

Perhaps the most disappointing element of Platinum End is Obata’s artwork. Though the human characters are varied and well executed, Mirai’s angelic sidekick is utterly generic: she’s a wide-eyed cutie with wings, ringlets, and halo. When placed side by side with Obata’s greatest supernatural creations–Death Note‘s Ryuk and Rem–the paucity of imagination is startling; Obata’s shinigamis looked like otherworldly rock stars with their glassy eyes, Frankenstein scars, and feathery protrusions, whereas Nasse looks like something traced from How to Draw Manga (or perhaps a volume of Kobato). That’s a pity, because Obata’s artwork has carried me through rough patches in his other series; here, however, it doesn’t really do much other than emphasize how thin the story is.

The verdict: Platinum End may find its footing in later chapters, but the first 70 pages are such a let-down that I won’t be tuning in for later installments.

Reviews: At Adventures in Poor Taste, Jordan Richards posts a more positive assessment of Platinum End (though he shares some of my reservations about the lead female character). Also weighing in on the first chapter of Platinum End is Justin Stroman, who offers an in-depth, spoiler-heavy review at Organization Anti-Social Geniuses. Foodies may prefer to visit The Manga Test Drive, where Megan R. samples two culinary comics: Mixed Vegetables, a shojo rom-com about rival teen chefs, and Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy!, an older Fumi Yoshinaga title.

Mark Pellegrini on vol. 2 of AKIRA (AiPT!)
Connie on Alice in the Country of Clover: Lizard Aide (Slightly Biased Manga)
Helen on The Ancient Magus’ Bride (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Lori Henderson on Awkward (Manga Xanadu)
ebooksgirl on vol. 12 of Chi’s Sweet Home (Geek Lit Etc.)
Connie on vol. 2 of Citrus (Slightly Biased Manga)
Theron Martin on vol. 27 of Claymore (Anime News Network)
Chris Sims on COWA! (Comics Alliance)
Connie on vol. 13 of Dorohedoro (Slightly Biased Manga)
Terry Hong on Fragments of Horror (Book Dragon)
Jordan Richards on vol. 1 of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 2: Battle Tendency (AiPT!)
Christophe on Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu (Anime UK News)
Ken H. on vol. 1 of Kiss Him, Not Me! (Sequential Ink)
Demeiza on vol. 1 of Livingstone (Anime UK News)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 4 of Love Stage!! (Comics Worth Reading)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vols. 3-4 of Maid-Sama! (Sequential Tart)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 1 of Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun (Anime News Network)
Kane Bugeja on vols. 1-2 of One-Punch Man (Snap 30)
Al Sparrow on vol. 1 of Pandora in the Crimson Shell: Ghost Urn (Comic Spectrum)
Sean Gaffney on vols. 21-22 of Ranma 1/2 (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Kristin on vol. 2 of Requiem of the Rose King (Comic Attack)
Alice Vernon on vol. 1 of Rose Guns Days: Season One (Girls Like Comics)
Sarah on vol. 3 of Servamp (Anime UK News)
Robert Prentice on vol. 8 of Food Wars! Shogugeki no Soma (Three If By Space)
ebooksgirl on vol. 1 of School Live! (Geek Lit Etc.)
Nick Creamer on vol. 3 of A Silent Voice (Anime News Network)
Danica Davidson on vol. 1 of So, I Can’t Play H (Otaku USA)
Jordan Richards on vol. 1 of UQ Holder (AiPT!)
Austin Lanari on issue 51 of Weekly Shonen Jump (Comic Bastards)
Ash Brown on vol. 8 of What Did You Eat Yesterday? (Experiments in Manga)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vol. 4 of Yukarism (Sequential Tart)

VIZ Media Issues Statement Re: Manga Piracy

Last week, Japanese authorities arrested four men for posting chapters of One Piece to Manga Panda, a for-profit scanlation site. Friday’s arrest came on the heels of a similar bust in which two men were taken into custody for scanning another Weekly Shonen Jump title, The Seven Deadly Sins. In response to these arrests, VIZ Media issued a statement today affirming its support for international copyright enforcement:

On Friday, November 13th, four men in Japan were arrested by the Kyoto Prefectural Police on suspicion of illegally taking, digitizing and distributing manga content originally published in the Japanese edition of Weekly Shonen Jump. Weekly Shonen Jump is the world’s most-read weekly manga anthology and is published in Japan by VIZ Media’s parent company, Shueisha, Inc.

It is alleged that this content was illegally distributed internationally through the online scanlation site MangaPanda. The site is also alleged to be the supplier to additional perpetrators possibly involved in the cross-border violation of intellectual property rights and copyright law.

Digital piracy is a crime that steals what others have worked so hard to create. VIZ Media actively supports manga creators and manga fan culture, and is committed to making the highest possible quality content available to a global audience through licensed channels.

Predictably, some fans have used these breaking news stories to defend their interest in scanlations. At Anime News Network, for example, one user declared,I feel bad for [Manga Panda]. They were doing good for the community. Luckily piracy isn’t killed so easily.” Other posters offered more specific justifications for their scanlation habit:

It’s all well and good if you can read Japanese, but if you can’t then limiting yourself to only licensed manga that is still readily available for purchase places a huge limitation on what you can read in a medium you supposedly enjoy.

Compared to Japan where you can check several series out in cheap magazines, I feel like I’d be the one getting cheated out of my money if I had to buy a full volume (again more expensive than in Japan) of every single series I wanted to check out. And what about licensed, incomplete series dead in the water? Tough luck, I guess.

Not all observers shared these sentiments; sprinkled throughout other ANN discussion threads were comments acknowledging the financial and legal consequences of scanning. “Manga isn’t made for free,” another user opined. “While I’m sure Oda is living his dream making One Piece it’s also his job, meaning he’s supposed to get paid for it and guess what?, it’s probably Shueisha who’s paying him.”

Speaking as someone whose academic research focuses on the American music industry, I admire pirates’ efficiency at delivering a desirable product to consumers quickly and cheaply. I understand why a student with limited financial means might justify reading scanlations instead of paying for legitimate copies. And I sympathize with the desire to “try before you buy”; as someone who’s been reviewing manga since 2007, I’ve read hundreds of mediocre-to-terrible books, many of which I’ve bought myself. (FWIW, I don’t review scanlations. When I’ve received a review copy from a publisher, I’ve disclosed that information at the end of my critique.)

Yet none of these arguments acknowledge the cost of producing manga. Publishers have overhead–staff, computers, paper–that is built into the price of the books they sell. Creators devote hundreds of hours to producing a single chapter of a popular series–a process they repeat faithfully on a weekly or monthly schedule. (Creators also have overhead: assistants’ wages, supplies, software.) Copyright is designed to protect both groups’ interests by allowing them to control how and when a title like One Piece is distributed, both at home and abroad. When a pirate operation such as Manga Panda makes that property available for free, it deprives the copyright holders of royalty payments generated by the sale of authorized copies.

Not sure where you stand on this issue? I recommend reading this thread at Stack Exchange which provides a no-nonsense overview of how international law governs the reproduction of copyright-protected works.

The Manga Revue: The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home and Tokyo ESP

The theme of this week’s column: New(ish) Titles from Vertical Comics. Up for review: The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home, an omnibus treatment of Konami Kanata’s beloved cat comic, and Tokyo ESP, a new series about mutant teens with superpowers who want to save the world.

chi_complete_v_1The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home, Part One
By Konami Kanata
No rating; Suitable for all ages
Vertical Comics, $24.95

When I first reviewed Chi’s Sweet Home in 2010, I described it as “a deceptively simple story about a family that adopts a wayward kitten.” I argued that “Chi is more than just cute kitty antics; it’s a thoughtful reflection on the joys and difficulties of pet ownership, one that invites readers of all ages to see the world through their cat or dog’s eyes and imagine how an animal adapts to life among humans.”

Revisiting Chi’s Sweet Home five years later, I stand by my original assessment. I still found Chi’s behavior adorable — or should that be adowable? — and her family’s amused and exasperated reactions true to my own experiences as a cat owner. At the same time, however, I appreciated the opportunity to read more of Chi’s story in one sitting, as Konami Kanata does a fine job of recreating the day-to-day rhythm of living with a kitten or puppy, from the obvious — accidents, clawed furniture — the to subtle — mastering the art of jumping onto a table or chair, examining strange new objects. As an added bonus, the Complete edition includes a sprinkling of chapters from Kanata’s first big hit, FukuFuku: Kitten Tales, and a larger trim size that gives Kanata’s playful, charming watercolors more room to breathe.

The verdict: Chi is an indispensable addition to any animal lover’s bookshelf. Look for Part Two (which collects volumes 4-6) on January 16, 2016.

tokyoesp_v_1Tokyo ESP, Vol. 1
By Hajime Segawa
No rating; Suitable for older teens
Vertical Comics, $15.95

On paper, Tokyo ESP sounds like The X-Men or The Fantastic Four: a group of Tokyo residents begin manifesting cool new powers — teleporting, walking through walks — after exposure to a supernatural phenomenon. Some ESPers embrace the criminal possibilities of these gifts, while others vow to use them for good, pitting the two groups against each other in epic fashion.

Perhaps mindful of the similarities between his creation and Stan Lee’s, Hajime Segawa makes a game effort to individualize his creation with an abundance of quirky details: a flying penguin sidekick, a night sky filled with glowing fishes. As a result, long stretches of Tokyo ESP feel more like a spaghetti-throwing exercise than genuine world-building; the reader is never certain if there’s an underlying logic that would explain what we’re seeing, or if Segawa is making it up as he goes along. By the end of volume one, you may remember the flying penguin more clearly than anything that actually happened in those first nine chapters, as the plot is standard shonen fodder: super-powered teens saving the world.

The verdict: Your mileage may vary; some readers will undoubtedly find the sleek character designs and out-of-left-field plot developments appealing, while others will find the storytelling too frenetic to be engaging.

Reviews: Sean Gaffney takes a fond look at the final volume of Oh! My Goddess, which arrived in stores this week. Over at Comics & Cola, Zainab Akhtar reviews the fifth and final volume of Taiyo Matsumoto’s bittersweet Sunny.

Sarah on vol. 2 of The Ancient Magus’ Bride (Anime UK News)
Lori Henderson on vol. 1 of Assassination Classroom (Good Comics for Kids)
Matt Brady on vols. 2-4 of Assassination Classroom (Warren Peace Sings the Blues)
L.B. Bryant on vol. 6 of Assassination Classroom (The Otaku Review)
L.B. Bryant on vol. 1 of Black Bullet (ICv2)
Justin Stroman on vol. 1 of Bodacious Space Pirates: Abyss of Hyperspace (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Connie on vol. 8 of Cross Game (Slightly Biased Manga)
Connie on vol. 16 of Dengeki Daisy (Slightly Biased Manga)
Connie on vol. 11 of Dorohedoro (Slightly Biased Manga)
Helen on Fuuka (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Ash Brown on vol. 3 of Hide and Seek (Experiments in Manga)
Ian Wolf on vol. 1 of Komomo Confiserie (Anime UK News)
Austin Lanari on vol. 10 of Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus (Comic Bastards)
Megan R. on Neon Genesis Evangelion: Angelic Days (The Manga Test Drive)
Steve Bennett on vol. 1 of One-Punch Man (ICv2)
Dustin Cabeal on vol. 2 of One-Punch Man (Comic Bastards)
Anna N. on vol. 1 of QQ Sweeper (The Manga Report)
L.B. Bryant on vol. 1 of Rose Guns Days: Season One (ICv2)
Jocelyn Allen on vol. 1 of Shashinya Kafka (Brain vs. Book)
Sean Gaffney on Showa 1953-1989: A History of Japan (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Alice Vernon on Sword Art Online: Progressive (Girls Like Comics)
Erica Friedman on vol. 4 of Tsuki to Sekai to Etoile (Okazu)

News Round-Up for NYCC 2015

haikyuuGood news for manga readers: 2013-2014 was the first time since the mid-2000s that the industry enjoyed two consecutive years of sales growth. While the manga market isn’t as red-hot as it was in Tokyopop’s heyday, publishers released almost 800 new volumes in 2014, up 25% from 2013. [ICv2]

At its Friday panel, VIZ Media unveiled a diverse slate of titles that ran the gamut from shonen (Black Clover) to josei (Everyone’s Getting Married). Among the most interesting licenses were two sports manga: Haikyuu!, which focuses on a volleyball team, and Kuroko’s Basketball. VIZ also confirmed that it will be publishing Seventh Garden, Monster Hunter: Flash Hunter, and fan favorite Yona of the Dawn. [Crunchyroll]

Yen Press announced five new manga at NYCC, including an adaptation of Space Dandy and a new series by Yuji Iwahara (Cat Paradise, King of Thorn) called Dimension W. Also joining the Yen line-up in 2016 are Scumbag Loser, a cautionary tale about lying to your peers; Corpse Party: Blood Covered, another entry in the teens-fight-to-the-death-in-an-alternate-universe genre; and Unhappy Go Lucky!, a comedy about a group of unlucky middle-school students. [Anime News Network]

Yen isn’t the only company on the Space Dandy bandwagon: Kodansha Comics will be publishing I Am a Space Dandy!, another manga spin-off of the popular anime. Kodansha also revealed plans to publish the 4-koma Spoof on Titan. [Anime News Network]

At the Crunchyroll panel, the company introduced fans to its newest offerings, which include Arakawa Under the Bridge, a drama by Saint Young Men creator Hikaru Nakamura; Gugure! Kokkuri-san, a comedy about a little girl who inadvertently summons a fox demon; and Cuticle Detective Inaba, a supernatural comedy-thriller about a detective who’s half wolf, half man. (The “cuticle” in the title refers to the character’s pronounced interest in hair. Oh, manga…) [Anime News Network]

In a further sign of manga’s global reach, two companies announced that they would publish comics inspired by a signature title in their catalogs. Kodansha’s Attack on Titan and Dark Horse’s Lone Wolf and Cub 2100 projects will feature original stories by Faith Erin Hicks, Gail Simone, and other creators active in the American industry. [A Case Suitable for Treatment]

Although Vertical Comics did not announce any new manga acquisitions, it did give con-goers a sneak peek at an intriguing new project: audio light novels with music, sound effects, and voice acting. Look for the product line’s debut in spring 2016. [Crunchyroll]

Tokyo Ghoul, One-Punch Man, and Attack on Titan are fighting for the top spot on this week’s New York Times Manga Best Seller list. [New York Times]

Reviews: Michelle Smith and Sean Gaffney post a new set of Bookshelf Briefs, with short reviews of Assassination Classroom, He’s My Only Vampire, and QQ Sweeper.

Lori Henderson on vols. 1-2 of Beast Master (Manga Xanadu)
Terry Hong on The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home: Part One (Book Dragon)
Richard Gutierrez on vol. 2 of Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (The Fandom Post)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vol. 23 of Kaze Hikaru (Sequential Tart)
Kat Stevens on vol. 1 of L-DK (AiPT!)
Terry Hong on vol. 1 of One-Punch Man (Book Dragon)
Amy McNulty on vol. 72 of Naruto (Anime News Network)
Megan R. on Neon Genesis Evangelion (The Manga Test Drive)
Jordan Richards on vol. 6 of Noragami: Stray God (AiPT!)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 1 of QQ Sweeper (Sequential Tart)
Kate O’Neil on vol. 1 of Rose Guns Days: Season One (The Fandom Post)
SKJAM on Sanctuary (SKJAM! Reviews)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vol. 6 of Seraph of the End (Sequential Tart)
Rebecca Silverman on vols. 1-3 of Servamp (Anime News Network)
Anna N. on vol. 3 of So Cute It Hurts! (The Manga Report)
Plutoburns on Terra Formars (Pluto Burns)
Richard Gutierrez on vol. 1 of Tokyo ESP (The Fandom Post)
Garrett Gottschalk on vol. 1 of Ultraman (No Flying No Tights)
Ken H. on vol. 6 of Vinland Saga (Sequential Ink)
G.B. Smith on vol. 7 of Witchcraft Works (The Fandom Post)
Lori Henderson on Yurei Attack! The Japanese Ghost Attack Survival Guide (Manga Xanadu)

*Indicates YouTube review


The Manga Revue: Say I Love You

This week, I’m catching up with Say I Love You, a shojo romance that’s been garnering strong reviews here and elsewhere since Kodansha began publishing it last August.

sayiloveyou3Say I Love You, Vols. 1-3
By Kanae Hazuki
Rated OT, for older teens
Kodansha Comics, $10.99

Back in the 1980s, filmmaker John Hughes peddled an intoxicating fantasy to thirteen-year-old girls: you might be the class misfit–the kid who wore the “wrong” clothes, listened to the “wrong” music, and had the “wrong” friends–but the hottest guy in school could still fall for you. Better still, he’d like you for being a “real” person, unlike the two-faced girls who inhabited his social circle. You’d have a bumpy road to your happily-after-ever, of course, since his friends felt compelled to say that you weren’t in his league, but in the end, your sincerity and quirkiness would prevail.

Say I Love You reads a lot like a manga version of Pretty in Pink or Some Kind of Wonderful, right down to the meet-cute between Mei, a moody loner, and Yamato, the most popular guy in school. In an only-in-manga scenario, Mei mistakenly believes that Yamato tried to peek up her skirt, and responds with a powerful roundhouse kick. Though Yamato’s friends demand an apology from her, Yamato is intrigued by Mei’s display of bravado and asks her out.

Mei is initially bewildered by Yamato’s courtship: why would someone as outgoing, handsome, and well regarded find her interesting? As Mei soon discovers, however, Yamato’s dating history is more complicated than she assumed; his good looks belie an earnest, thoughtful person who lost his virginity before he met someone he really cared about. Small wonder he puts up with Mei’s tearful, angry outbursts and mixed signals.

And speaking of mixed signals, Say I Love You is refreshingly honest in acknowledging the full spectrum of teenage desire. Some characters embrace their feelings in healthy ways; others use sex to fill a void in their emotional lives; and still others are just beginning to explore their sexuality. Though many of the sexual encounters in the series are ill-advised, the teenage logic that underpins them rings true; an adult may feel an uncomfortable pang of recognition while reading Say I Love You.

The series’ greatest strength, however, is that author Kanae Hazuki is unusually generous with her supporting players. We’re privy to both Mei and Yamato’s thoughts, of course, but Hazuki also pulls the curtain back on other characters’ interior lives. In volume two, for example, mean girl Aiko becomes the temporary focus of the story, narrating her own transformation from a plump, pretty girl to a skinny, angry young woman who is furious that Yamato doesn’t like her. Her blunt self-criticism and body hang-ups remind younger readers that everyone wears a mask in high school; even students who seem outwardly blessed with good looks or talent are wrestling with the familiar demons of self-doubt and self-loathing.

If I had any criticism of Say I Love You, it’s that the plot twists are a little too by-the-book, with beach visits, Valentine’s Day agita, and misunderstandings of the “I saw you kiss her!” variety. In volume three, for example, Hazuki introduces Megumi, a model who’s hell-bent on making Yamato her boyfriend. When a direct approach doesn’t work–Yamato, of course, rebuffs Meg’s initial proposition–Meg transfers schools and ropes Yamato into becoming a model himself. I realize that “model,” “celebrity,” or “singer” epitomize a thirteen-year-old’s dream job, but the artifice and obviousness of diving into the modeling world feels like an unnatural direction for such a finely observed romance.

Perhaps the best compliment I could pay Say I Love You is that it has all the virtues of Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful: it’s got a proud, tough heroine who’s skeptical of popularity, a sincere hot guy who can see past her bluster, and a veritable Greek chorus of peers who chart the ups and downs of their relationship. All it needs is a killer soundtrack.

Reviews: At Brain vs. Book, Joceyln Allen sings the praises of Takehiko Moriizumi’s Mimi wa Wasurenai, an untranslated short story collection. “It’s okay if you don’t read Japanese,” she explains, “you can just stare at the beauty on every page. Moriizumi makes manga like nothing I’ve ever seen before.” Go see for yourself!

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