About Katherine Dacey

Katherine Dacey has been reviewing manga since 2006, when she joined PopCultureShock. Over the next two years, she worked with webmaster Jon Haehnle and fellow contributor Erin Finnegan to transform Erin’s “Manga Recon” concept from a bi-monthly column into a full-fledged website covering manga, anime, and Japanese pop culture. She stepped down from her post in January 2009. Kate’s resume also includes serving as a panelist at the American Library Association's national conference, New York Comic-Con, and Wondercon; contributing to Chopsticks, a “comprehensive guide to Japanese culture in New York City”; and contributing to the School Library Journal’s Good Comics for Kids blog, where she writes Good Manga for Kids, a column that focuses on manga for pre-teen readers. When she isn’t writing about manga, Kate swings a golf club, plays the oboe, runs long distances, watches old movies, and frolicks with her dog Grendel. Kate lives in Boston, MA.

Quick Friday Manga Links

Once again, the fifth volume of Monster Musume tops the New York Times’ Manga Bestseller list, followed by the latest installments of Fairy Tail, Attack on Titan, and xxxHolic Rei, CLAMP’s sort-of sequel to xxxHolic.

Will the Kickstarter campaign for Ludwig B. reach its goal of $21,000? Johanna Draper Carlson investigates.

The Manga Bookshelf gang discuss next week’s big releases, from Master Keaton to Mobile Suit Gundham.

Look out, Wallace and Grommit–Moyocco Anno has launched an Indie GoGo campaign to adapt her manga Diary of O’Chibi into a stop-motion film.

Kodansha recently posted a brief video “trailer” for Noriko Ootani’s josei series Sukkute Goran, and it’s lovely.

Reviews: Ash Brown discusses Frederick Schodt’s landmark 1983 book Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics. Over at Anime News Network, Shaenon Garrity devotes the latest House of 1000 Manga column to Taiyo Matsumoto’s GoGo Monster.

Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 20 of Arata: The Legend (The Comic Book Bin)
Jordan Richards on vol. 1 of Assassination Classroom (Adventures in Poor Taste)
Rachel Tougas on vol. 1 of Assassination Classroom (Rachel Loves Comics)
Noel Thorne on vol. 1 of Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga (Comic Ally)
Rebecca Silverman on vols. 1-2 of False Memories (Anime News Network)
Marissa Lieberman on vol. 1 of Food Wars! (No Flying No Tights)
Eric Gaudette on Hellsing (Emertainment Monthly)
Megan R. on In Clothes Called Fat (The Manga Test Drive)
Nick Smith on vol.1 of Kiss of the Rose Princess (ICv2)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 9 of Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic (The Comic Book Bin)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 2 of My Love Story!! (Manga Worth Reading)
Johanna Draper Carlos on vol. 2 of Spell of Desire (Manga Worth Reading)
Kate O’Neil on vol. 3 of Sweet Rein (The Fandom Post)
Matthew Warner on vol. 19 of Vampire Knight (The Fandom Post)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 8 of Voice Over! Seiyu Academy (The Comic Book Bin)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 1 of Witchcraft Works (Anime News Network)
Matthew Alexander on vol. 5 of Wolfsmund (The Fandom Post)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 1 of Yukarism (Manga Worth Reading)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of Yukarism (A Case Suitable for Treatment)

VIZ Nabs New Junji Ito Manga

fragments_of-Horror-itoExciting news: VIZ will publish Junji Ito’s latest manga, Fragments of Horror, in 2015. VIZ promises that Fragments has something for everyone, “from the terrifying to the comedic, from the erotic to the loathsome.” Look for a hardcover edition next summer.

The latest volume of Monster Musume edges out Attack on Titan for the top spot on this week’s New York Times Manga Bestseller list.

Toshi Nakamura thinks the new Parasyte movie doesn’t stack up against the manga.

But wait–there’s more! Masashi Kishimoto sits down for another interview about Naruto, this time with Mezamashi TV.

Deb Aoki files a report from the 2014 International Manga Festival in Tokyo, while Khursten Santos posts an in-depth look at the Manga Futures conference, which was held at the University of Wollongong last month.

Organization Anti-Social Geniuses is looking for a Manga Features Writer.

To help shojo fans get into the Christmas spirit, Anna N. is giving away volumes 1-3 of Sweet Rein.

Which new Seven Seas titles are you eagerly anticipating? Lori Henderson offers her two cents on the company’s latest acquisitions.

Librarian Mikhail Koulikhov discusses the pros and cons of using Google Scholar to research anime and manga topics.

News from Japan: Mayumi Azuma (Elemental Gelade) and Tatsuro Nakanishi (Crown) have teamed up for Amadeus Code, a new series for Monthly Comic Garden.

Reviews: Anime News Network officially retires its Right Turn Only!! column this week with mini-reviews of Afterschool Charisma, From the New World, and Whispered Words. Elsewhere at ANN, Jason Thompson looks at Japan Sinks, a natural disaster story from the 1970s.

Alice Vernon on Are You Alice? (Girls Like Comics)
Sakura Eries on vol. 3 of Aron’s Absurd Armada (The Fandom Post)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of Assassination Classroom (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Matt Wilson on Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga (Comics Alliance)
Sarah on vol. 62 of Bleach (nagareboshi reviews)
Kate O’Neil on vol. 52 of Case Closed (The Fandom Post)
Megan R. on Hatsune Miku: Unofficial Hatsune Mix (The Manga Test Drive)
Allen Kesinger on vols. 1-4 of Judge (No Flying No Tights)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 4 of Millennium Snow (Comic Book Bin)
Lori Henderson on vols. 15-21 of Pokemon Adventures: Ruby & Sapphire (Good Comics for Kids)
Matthew Warner on vol. 3 of Puella Magica Madoka Magi: The Different Story (The Fandom Post)
Scott Cederlund on vol. 13 of Real (Panel Patter)
Mad Manga on chapters 1-26 of Salty Studio (Cartoon Geek Corner)
Ken H. on vols. 3-4 of Say I Love You (Sequential Ink)
Megan R. on The Seven Deadly Sins (The Manga Test Drive)
Mad Manga on chapters 2-3 of Takujo no Ageta (Cartoon Geek Corner)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 8 of Voice Over! Seiyu Academy (Lesley’s Musings on Anime & Manga)

Bookmarked: Satoshi Kon-a-thon

It’s not every day that an American publisher releases a manga by the late, great Satoshi Kon, so Brigid and I decided to mark the occasion with a roundtable discussion. Joining us is David Brothers, one our favorite comics journalists. David has written for Comics Alliance, Pop Culture Shock, Publisher’s Weekly, Wired, and The Atlantic Monthly, and currently works in the comics industry.

On our plate: Tropic of the Sea, which was published by Vertical Comics in 2013, and OPUS, which arrives in comic book stores today courtesy of Dark Horse. Both works date to an early stage of Satoshi Kon’s career, but explore themes present in such films as Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, and Paprika–most notably the boundary between reality and imagination.

KATE: Let’s start the conversation with a basic question: which did you enjoy more, OPUS or Tropic of the Sea, and why?

OpusDAVID: I definitely liked OPUS a lot more than Tropic of the Sea, I think owing to the fact that while both are stories in well-worn genres, OPUS is way more up my alley in general, since it was at least partly about storytelling as a creator. Tropic of the Sea felt fairly pat, with precious few surprises all the way down to the last panel. OPUS follows the blueprint of other stories in its genre, but it’s also funnier and warmer somehow, I suppose because it’s about the nature of free will and humanity, and to tackle those points you kinda have to have characters that are entertaining to watch.

I actually read these books back-to-back the first time I read both, Tropic of the Sea and then OPUS, with a break for cooking and dinner in-between. OPUS did a great job of sparking my imagination. I think it’s cool that the story works as both how we read it, as the story of a creator in his creation, and also a crazy deus ex machina ending for the manga Resonance. Tropic of the Sea sorta is what it is, which is a well-executed story to be sure, but OPUS goes places I really enjoy.

I’m focusing on OPUS, but I didn’t dislike Tropic of the Sea. It’s good, but it’s just not quite my bag. How was it for you two?

BRIGID: Wow, I’m actually feeling the opposite: I really liked Tropic of the Sea because I thought that it was very well done, even if the story had been done before. I’m finding OPUS much harder to follow, though. Maybe I’m just not good with action stories, but it seems like things are constantly exploding and flying apart without any visible cause. And right at the end of chapter 1 there’s this weird non-sequitur where Satoko’s leg is trapped under a stone column and then, without anything changing in the panel that I could see, she just pushed it off and jumped up. On the one hand, this manga has a pretty sophisticated sense of space, but on the other hand, I’m having a lot of trouble following the motion of people and things within that space, and in particular, why things are blowing up. As I write this, I haven’t finished the manga, so maybe there’s a resolution or explanation I’m not seeing yet, but right now it’s pulling me out of the story to have to stop and figure out what just happened. It’s weird, too, because you would expect an animator to be tighter about that kind of thing.

tropic-of-the-sea-cover
KATE: My experience tracks with yours, David: I liked OPUS more than Tropic of the Sea. I found the premise of Tropic of the Sea a little too familiar, in large part because the characters were all such obvious types–the skeptic, the unscrupulous developer, the wise old-timer–that none registered as individuals. The story’s length was also a contributing factor, as Kon didn’t have enough space to flesh out the cast beyond their specific plot functions. It’s a shame that the script wasn’t better, as the illustrations create a palpable sense of place.

As for OPUS, it irresistibly reminded me of the a-ha video for “Take on Me” and the Will Farrell/Emma Thompson flick Stranger Than Fiction, with a pinch of AKIRA for seasoning. I normally find these kind of meta-exercises tedious, but Kon infuses the story with a sense of playful urgency that thwarts the urge to deconstruct every page. (For me, at least; your mileage may vary.)

DAVID: Oh, I’m definitely knee-deep in that urge to deconstruct. Resonance feels like the anime and manga that was around when I was getting into this stuff, something halfway between Ryoichi Ikegami’s ’80s realism and Masamune Shirow’s willingness to blend weird tangents into his hard sci-fi worldbuilding. The haircuts, the fashion, the motivations, the poorly thought-out backstories, and somehow even the fourth wall breaking action are all my bag. Which I think is a big part of why I share the constant feeling of Things Are Happening All Over with you, Brigid, but have a different response to it. The story-in-the-story is something I know well and have read often (the cop mentor, the thug friend, the weird way the heroine keeps getting rescued instead of rescuing!), so I buy into that, and through that the rest of the story, maybe a little harder than others would. This feels a lot like a lost chapter of a comic I never read as a kid, from late enough in the story that doing a daring metafictional “let’s talk about comics stories by way of being in a comics story!” tale was not just feasible, but something you could dedicate 300+ pages to.

KATE: I agree with Brigid that the draftsmanship in Tropic of the Sea is crisper–in fact, I think that’s part of the reason that I’m so focused on the creakier aspects of the story. The illustrations are almost… well, “invisible” isn’t quite the right word, but they don’t call attention to themselves in the same way that the illustrations in OPUS do. I don’t always respond well to flashy artwork, but I found OPUS engaging enough that I didn’t linger on the busier images.

As for the story, I’m with you, David: OPUS is a fun throwback to the kind of manga that Dark Horse and VIZ were publishing in the 1990s, right before the Sailor Moon/InuYasha revolution. OPUS isn’t as gonzo as some of the Koike/Ikegami manga from that era, but it still has that same breathless, hyperbolic quality. I’m kind of surprised that I liked it better than Tropic of the Sea, actually, as Tropic seems like it would be more in my wheelhouse. But I thought the script was too on-the-nose–a little ambiguity would have made the ending more satisfying, and more in keeping with Kon’s mature work. (An aside: I wondered what Rumiko Takahashi could have done with the premise of Tropic of the Sea… sigh.)

Switching gears, how did you react to the ending? Was Dark Horse right to include Kon’s unfinished sketches, or should the manga have been left incomplete?

DAVID: I came into OPUS cold, not even knowing it was unfinished, so I was both surprised, disappointed, and glad to see them. Surprised at the lack of an ending, disappointed at the same, but glad there was some kind of resolution, even if it’s just a metafictional one. For a story about stories to end with “Welp, and I guess I just didn’t finish this one, but I might one day!” is the kind of serendipity you can’t plan for, but is sometimes thematically correct for the work. It worked here, and I especially liked to see the pages Kon did with no faces. I thought that was a cool and creepy touch, and when combined with the rest of the backmatter, it made for a satisfying, though not all the way satisfying, ending.

VIZ, DMP, and Crunchyroll Announce New Titles

Ludwig-B

In the aftermath of its failed Kickstarter campaign to raise $380,000, DMP has announced a more modest project: the publication of Ludwig B., Osamu Tezuka’s two-volume biography of Ludwig van Beethoven. DMP seems to have listened to fans’ complaints about previous fundraising efforts, offering more low-cost options for supporting the project and getting paper copies of the books. Johanna Draper Carlson weighs in on the new campaign.

VIZ announced the acquisition of Yoshiaki Sukeno’s Twin Star Exorcists, which will join the Shonen Jump imprint in summer 2015, while Crunchyroll recently added Hoshino Taguchi’s Maga-Tsuki to its growing manga catalog.

Holy guacamole, Batman–Yuusuke Murata’s One-Punch Man has sold more than 4.5 million volumes since its 2012 debut!

Books-a-Million reports that third-quarter manga sales were strong, buoyed by consumer interest in Attack on Titan.

And speaking of Attack on Titan, the latest volume tops this week’s New York Times Manga Bestseller list, followed by new installments of Nisekoi: False Love, Bleach, and Fairy Tail.

Wondering what books arrive at the comic shop next week? The Manga Bookshelf gang sifts the wheat from the chaff.

Japanese tennis pro Kei Nishikori finished a strong year on the court with an awesome off-the-court surprise: a portrait drawn by Prince of Tennis author Takeshi Konomi.

How have your favorite manga characters’ appearances changed through the years? Brian Ashcraft offers side-by-side comparisons of Sgt. Frog, Shin-chan, and other popular characters from the 1980s and 1990s.

White Fox, a Marvel superhero created specifically for the Korean webtoon market, will make her Stateside debut with the Avengers. The character was inspired by the kumiho, a nine-tailed fox demon from Korean folklore.

News from Japan: Taishi Tsutsui will be penning an official Nisekoi spin-off for Shonen Jump+; the first chapter goes live on Monday. Also launching a new series is Kaiji Kawaguchi, author of Zipang, a time-traveling adventure set at the Battle of Midway. His new project, which will appear in Big Comic, will focus on a state-of-the-art Japanese aircraft carrier.

Reviews: Break out the ice pick and crampons–Shaenon Garrity’s latest House of 1000 Manga column examines Jiro Taniguchi’s mountaineering saga The Summit of the GodsHere at MangaBlog, our colleagues Melinda Beasi, Sean Gaffnery, Anna N., and Michelle Smith joined me and Brigid for a conversation about our favorite food manga.

Sakura Eries on vol. 6 of Are You Alice? (The Fandom Post)
Nic Wilcox on vols. 3-5 of Are You Alice? (No Flying No Tights)
Ken H. on vol. 4 of Brave 10 (Sequential Ink)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 6 of A Bride’s Story (Lesley’s Musings on Anime & Manga)
A Library Girl on vols. 9-10 of Chi’s Sweet Home (A Library Girl’s Familiar Diversions)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 4 of Gangsta (Comic Book Bin)
Kory Cerjak on vol. 1 of Honey Blood (The Fandom Post)
Megan R. on Joan (The Manga Test Drive)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 16 of Kamisama Kiss (Lesley’s Musings on Anime & Manga)
Megan R. on Ludwig II (The Manga Test Drive)
Lori Henderson on Manga Classics: Pride and Prejudice (Good Comics for Kids)
Guy Thomas on Opus (Panel Patter)

More from Masashi Kishimoto

zone00Viz has picked up Zone-00, originally licensed by Tokyopop, as a digital release.

Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto talks about his plans for the next few months, which include a Naruto spinoff that will launch in April, some other Naruto-related business, and spending some quality time with his wife and child. He will start working on a brand-new series in the summer, but he cautions fans that he is turning 40 and may not be up to the rigors of another monthly series.

Wondering what’s in the pipeline for next year? The Fandom Post shares VIZ’s April 2015 release list.

If you’re a Weekly Shonen Jump reader, you may have noticed that VIZ just added a new title to the mix, Takujo no Ageha: The Table Tennis of Ageha. In the coming weeks, VIZ will launch two more series: Ryohei Yamamoto’s E-ROBOT (11/24) and Nobuaki Enoki and Takeshi Obata’s Gakkyu Hotei: School Judgment (12/1).

The Manga Bookshelf gang strongly recommend the latest volume of Takehiko Inoue’s Real, which arrived in stores this week, and preview next week’s coming attractions.

The Q2 gallery in Los Angeles threw a party to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Dragon Ball‘s publication.

In her latest House of 1000 Manga column, Shaenon Garrity explores the GEN Manga catalog.

Good news: translator Jocelyne Allen is posting reviews again, focusing on offbeat, funny, and weird manga that haven’t yet crossed the Pacific. On her nightstand: Mahoshojo Ore, a series featuring magical girl men, and Yume Kara Sameta, a collection of short stories by Natsujikei Miyazaki.

News from Japan: Ken Akamatsu, Tetsuya Chiba, and Hideaki Anno were among the manga and anime insiders who were guests at the first meeting of the Japanese Parliamentary Association for manga, anime, and games, a.k.a. Manga Giren. The Association, which is mostly made up of councilors from the Liberal Democratic Party, will promote tax breaks for the industry and work toward relaunching the mothballed International Media Art General Center.

Rei Toma, author of Dawn of the Arcana, will be launching a new series in the February issue of Shogakukan’s Monthly Cheese! Also in the works: an anime adaptation of Rumiko Takahashi’s Rin-ne, which will debut in spring 2015.

Reviews: Remember Top Shelf’s AX anthology? One of the stand-out contributions, “Rainy Day Blouse and The Umbrella,” was by Akino Kondoh. Indie publisher Retrofit Comics has just published a new collection of her stories in English, with translations by manga scholar Ryan Holmberg. Alex Hoffman has a review at Sequential Slate.

Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of Ani-Emo (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 12 of Blue Exorcist (Comic Book Bin)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 23 of Full Metal Alchemist (Lesley’s Musings on Anime & Manga)
Sakura Eries on vol. 16 of Goong (The Fandom Post)
Megan R. on Lovers in the Night (Manga Test Drive)
Sean Gaffney on vols. 1-2 of Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 24 of Naruto (Lesley’s Musings on Anime & Manga)
Nicholas Smith on Naruto (Ka Leo)
Ken H. on vols. 6-7 of No. 6 (Sequential Ink)
Mad Manga on Takujo no Ageha (Cartoon Geek Corner)
Melinda Beasi on They Were Eleven (Manga Bookshelf)
Matthew Warner on vol. 00 of Ubel Blatt (The Fandom Post)

Review: Barakamon, Vol. 1

Yoshino_Barakamon_V1_TPBarakamon, Vol. 1
By Satsuki Yoshino
Rated T, for Teens
Yen Press, $15.00

Barakamon is a textbook fish-out-of-water story: an impatient city slicker finds himself in the country where life is slower, folks are simpler, and meaningful lessons abound. Its hero, Seishuu Handa, is a calligrapher whose fiery temper and skillful but unimaginative work have made him a pariah in Tokyo. His foils are the farmers and fishermen of Gotou, a small island on the southwestern tip of Japan that’s inhabited by an assortment of eccentrics, codgers, and naifs.

If this all sounds a little too familiar, it is; you’ve seen variations on this story at the multiplex, on television, and yes, in manga. (I think I liked it better when it was called Cold Comfort Farm, and starred Kate Beckinsale and Rufus Sewell.) Satsuki Yoshino does her best to infuse the story with enough humor and warmth to camouflage its shopworn elements, throwing in jokes about internet pornography, dead frogs, and bad report cards whenever the story teeters on the brink of sentimentality. The mandates of the genre, however, demand that Handa endure humiliations and have epiphanies with astonishing regularity–1.5 times per chapter, by my calculations.

From time to time, however, Yoshino finds fresh ways to show us Handa’s slow and fitful progress towards redemption. The first chapter provides an instructive example: Handa angrily dismisses his six-year-old neighbor Naru when she declares his calligraphy “just like teachers write.” After seeing Naru’s wounded expression, Handa chastises himself for lashing out at a kid. Handa never quite musters an apology to Naru, but makes restitution by joining her for a series of small adventures. The experience of swimming in the ocean, scrambling over a wall, and watching a sunset prove liberating, leading Handa to an explosive outburst of creativity punctuated by a few high-flying kicks. (Now that’s what I call action painting.) The results are messy, but the message is clear: Handa has the potential to be a genuine artist if he can connect with his playful side.

Like the story, the artwork is serviceable if not particularly distinctive. Yoshino creates enough variety in her character designs that the reader can easily distinguish one islander from another–an important asset in a story with many supporting players. Yoshino’s grasp of anatomy, however, is less assured. When viewed from the side, for example, Handa’s Tokyo nemesis has a cranium like a gorilla’s and a chest to match; when viewed from above, however, the Director appears small and wizened. Other characters suffer from similar bodily distortions that exaggerate their necks, arms, and torsos, especially when Yoshino attempts to draw them from an unusual vantage point.

Yoshino is more successful at creating a sense of place. Through a few simple but evocative images of the harbor and coastline, she firmly establishes the seaside location. She also uses architectural details to suggest how old the houses are; though locals enjoy such modern conveniences as television, their homes look otherwise untouched by modernity. Yoshino is less successful in creating a sense of space, however. It’s unclear, for example, if Naru lives a stone’s throw from Handa’s house–hence her frequent intrusions–or if she lives a mile down the road.

The dialogue, too, plays an important role in establishing the setting. Faced with the difficult task of rendering the Gotou dialect, translators Krista and Karie Shipley chose a broad Southern accent for the local population. That decision neatly illustrates the cultural divide between Handa and his neighbors, but at the cost of nuance; a few jokes that hinge on vocabulary simply can’t be conveyed by this particular adaptation strategy. (The Shipleys’ translation notes are helpful in demystifying these exchanges.) Most of the punchlines, however, need no such editorial interventions to enjoy; certain elements of city slicker/country bumpkin humor transcend culture.

My verdict: Barakamon has enough charm and energy to engage the reader, even if the story isn’t executed with enough precision or subtlety to transcend the basic requirements of the fish-out-of-water genre.