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, 5/29/15

Thanks to everyone who responded positively to last week’s inaugural Manga Revue! This week’s column focuses on Love at Fourteen, a romance manga that’s garnered good reviews around the web. I’ve also rounded up the week’s most notable manga criticism below. If you’d like to see your reviews here, leave a note in the comments.

Love-at-Fourteen-Volume-1Love at Fourteen, Vol. 1
By Fuka Mizutani
Rated T, for Teens
Yen Press, $15.00

Love at Fourteen is an earnest, uneventful chronicle of first love. The teenagers in question are Tanaka and Yoshikawa, the tallest, smartest, and most responsible students at their middle school. Although they earn high marks and dutifully erase boards after class, they share a secret: they long to be as goofy and carefree as their peers. Their desire to cast off the yoke of maturity in favor of spontaneity becomes the catalyst for a chaste romance.

So far, so good: the premise has legs, and if Fuka Mizutani had better storytelling chops, Love at Fourteen might have offered young readers a meaningful alternative to the romantic histrionics of Kare First Love or Kare Kanno. Unfortunately, Mizutani relies heavily on interior monologues and pointed conversations to reveal what Tanaka and Yoshikawa are feeling, draining most of their scenes of tension, excitement, or ambiguity–the very qualities that make first love so memorable. Mizutani’s few attempts at generating drama fall painfully flat; moving Tanaka to a different row in the classroom hardly constitutes a meaningful impediment to her relationship with Yoshikawa, yet Mizutani dedicates two chapters to exploring the consequences of this new seating arrangement.

There’s nothing wrong with Mizutani’s commitment to charting the normal ups and downs of a teenage romance, of course; too many shojo manga lean on false suitors, jealous rivals, or monstrous parents to prolong the inevitable union of the principle characters. Without a lively supporting cast, however, Love at Fourteen sinks under the weight of its principle characters’ personalities: surely one of them has a weird hobby or affectation, or wants to break into voice acting. Generic artwork and stock scenes contribute to the impression of blandness, making this a tough sell for readers who demand more than from a story than sincerity.

The verdict: Tweens and young teens feel like the right audience for this book; older readers may find it too pat to hold their interest.

Reviews: Over at The Manga Test Drive, Megan R. takes two older titles for a spin: Cafe Kichijouji De and V.B. Rose. Shaenon Garrity devotes the latest House of 1000 Manga column to Taiyo Matsumoto’s Sunny.

Matthew Warner on vol. 3 of Ajin: Demi-Human (The Fandom Post)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 4 of Assassination Classroom (Comic Book Bin)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 10 of Black Lagoon (ANN)
John Rose on vol. 2 of Bloody Brat (The Fandom Post)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 13 of Blue Exorcist (Comic Book Bin)
Erica Friedman on Chou Chou Nan Nan (Okazu)
Kate O’Neil on vol. 2 of Demon From Afar (The Fandom Post)
Sakura Eries on vol. 16 of Dengeki Daisy (The Fandom Post)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of Emma (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
A Library Girl on vol. 1 of Inu x Boku SS (A Library Girl’s Familiar Diversions)
A Library Girl on vol. 2 of Inu x Boku SS (A Library Girl’s Familiar Diversions)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 17 of Kamisama Kiss (Sequential Tart)
Ian Wolf on vol. 1 of Let’s Dance a Waltz (Anime UK News)
Helen on Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Nick Creamer on vols. 3-4 of Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer (ANN)
Ken H. on vol. 2 of My Neighbor Seki (Sequential Ink)
Matthew Warner on vol. 74 of One Piece (The Fandom Post)
Ian Wolf on vol. 1 of Oreimo: Kuroneko (Anime UK News)
G.B. Smith on vol. 7 of Seven Deadly Sins (The Fandom Post)
G.B. Smith on vol. 8 of Seven Deadly Sins (The Fandom Post)
Matthew Warner on vol. 5 of Terra Formars (The Fandom Post)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 1 of Tokyo Ghoul (Sequential Tart)
manjiorin on Tony Takezaki’s Neon Genesis Evangelion (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Sarah on vol. 1 of The World’s Greatest First Love (Anime UK News)

The Manga Revue, 5/22/15

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.

jojo_phantom_blood1JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Part 1: Phantom Blood, Vol. 1
By Hirohiko Araki
Rated T+, for Older Teens
VIZ Media, $10.99

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.

seraphimSeraphim 266613336 Wings
By Mamoru Oshii and Satoshi Kon
Rated 16 and up
Dark Horse, $19.99

In 1994, Animage‘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, Seraphim 266613336 Wings 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.

Seven Seas to Publish Franken Fran

A10967-5This just in: Seven Seas announced that it will be publishing Franken Fran in February 2016. Part Black Jack, part Reiko the Zombie Shop, Katsuhisa Kigitsu’s macabre comedy (macamedy?) focuses on Fran, a scientist with a knack for creating grotesque creatures in the lab. Seven Seas will be issuing the story in a four-volume omnibus format.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, a new big-screen adaptation of Death Note is in the works with director Adam Wingard (The Guest, You’re Next) at the helm. That sound you’re hearing? It’s the anguished cries of Light Yagami fans protesting the Americanization of yet another beloved manga franchise.

Vertical Comics has a new Twitter feed: @vertical_comics. Follow them for the latest licensing and reprint news, as well as sneak peeks at new releases.

Jonesing for a ninja fix? VIZ has you covered with Naruto: The Seventh Hokage and the Scarlet Spring which debuted on Monday in the digital edition of Weekly Shonen Jump.

Over at the B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, Brigid Alverson delves into the history of Ultraman.

Backers of DMP’s most recent Kickstarter campaign will be happy to learn that both Clockwork Apple and Brave Dan are now slated for publication. Next up is a reprint edition of Tezuka’s dark fable Barbara.

This year’s Eisner nominations were announced on April 23rd, and manga made a good showing. In the Best US Edition of International Material–Asia category, VIZ nabbed nominations for Master Keaton, One-Punch Man, and All You Need Is Kill, while Fantagraphics’ Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It, got a nod for Best Anthology. The winners will be revealed on July 10th.

News from Japan: Akira Toriyama has teamed up with Kazuhiko Toriyama to produce a new series for Shueisha’s Young Jump. And speaking of manga magazines, Japan’s most popular titles–including Weekly Shonen Jump and Weekly Shonen Magazine–have seen a 10% decline in circulation over the last twelve months.

Reviews: Jason Thompson reviews Kakukaku Shikajika, an autobiographical manga by the creator of Princess Jellyfish, while the Manga Bookshelf gang tackle the latest volumes of Genshinken: Second Season and Magi. Over at Brain vs. Book, Jocelyn Allen flips through the December issue of Bijutsu Techo.

Rebecca Silverman on vol. 1 of 12 Beast (Anime News Network)
Ken H. on vol. 3 of All-Purpose Chemistry Club (Sequential Ink)
Ken H. on vol. 15 of Attack on Titan (Sequential Ink)
Katie Skelley and Mike Dawson on The Book of Human Insects (The Comics Journal)
Allen Kesinger on vols. 1-2 of Girls und Panzer (No Flying No Tights)
Erica Friedman on vol. 5 of Golondrina (Okazu)
L.B. Bryant on Gyo: 2-in-1 Deluxe Edition (ICv2)
Thomas Maluck on Jaco the Galactic Patrolman (No Flying No Tights)
Rebecca Silverman on The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Anime News Network)
Megan R. on Monkey High! (The Manga Test Drive)
Lori Henderson on vol. 1 of Orange Junk (Manga Xanadu)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 10 of Voice Over: Seiyu Academy (Comic Book Bin)
Joseph Luster on vol. 5 of World Trigger (Otaku USA)

Vinland Saga Is Back; Licensing News Galore

cat_diaryIf you’ve been anxiously waiting to learn the fate of Vinland Saga, we have good news for you: Kodansha confirmed that the critically lauded series would be returning from hiatus in September. Kodansha also unveiled an interesting line-up of new titles that includes Devil Survivor and Ninja Slayer Kills. TCJ regular Joe McCulloch explains why Kodansha’s decision to license Cat Diary: Yon & Mu is especially awesome. (Hint: the man on the cover is Junji Ito.)

Last week, Yen Press made news at Sakura-Con with five new manga acquisitions: Sakura no Himegoto, Dragon’s Rioting, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun, Yowamushi Pedal, and Aldnoah Zero Season One. Yen also revealed that it would be offering digital editions of eight Square Enix titles that have never been released in English.

VIZ has been quietly adding more Tokyopop titles to its digital line-up. New this month are Red Hot Chili Samurai and Grenadier, both of which will be available on April 21st. VIZ also announced a new print acquisition, Noriyuki Konishi’s Yokai Watch, a kid-friendly series that’s currently running in Coro Coro.

GyoBrigid rounded up some new April manga releases at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi/Fantasy blog; they include the last volume of Blade of the Immortal, the first volume of Your Lie in April, and a nice new one-volume edition of Junji Ito’s Gyo.

And speaking of new releases, the Manga Bookshelf gang looks at next week’s arrivals, from Kuroneko to My Neighbor Seki.

Another week, another Kickstarter campaign: DMP began fundraising for a print edition of Osamu Tezuka’s Clockwork Apple, a collection of horror, fantasy, and sci-fi stories.

In his latest House of 1000 Manga column, Jason Thompson sings the praises of Kazuhiko Shimamoto, author of the untranslated Blazing Transfer Student.

Justin Stroman interviews Dark Horse editor Brendan Wright about the forthcoming edition of Planetes, and Yen Press editor Abigail Blackman about the challenges of lettering, translating, and editing manga.

Are US publishers licensing less shojo manga? Johanna Draper Carlson investigates.

YaoiCon will be hosting prolific manga-ka Makoto Takeno, author of Yellow, Happy Boys, Blue Sheep Reverie, and A Murmur of the Heart.

The Nepali Times reports that young adults in Kathmandu are discovering manga, thanks to entrepreneurs such as Wataru Ram Shrestha, proprietor of Nepal’s first manga bookstore, and Shalini Rana, Kavin Shah, and Krishant Rana, founders of Nepal’s first manga magazine.

News from Japan: The latest volume of One Piece, volume 77, has a print run of fewer than 4 million copies for the first time in four years. Publisher Shueisha attributes the drop to the increased popularity of digital manga. Kodansha has announced the nominees for the 39th Annual Kodansha Awards; they include Knights of Sidonia, The 7 Deadly Sins, and Kiss Him, Not Me. Japanese newspaper The Christ Weekly is using manga to educate readers about Christian fundamentals.

If you ever thought Death Note would be improved with a few song-and-dance numbers, you’ll be happy to learn that a musical version of Tsugumi Oba and Takeshi Obata’s perennially popular manga debuted in Tokyo on April 6th.

Reviews: Ash Brown posts a thoughtful review of Your Lie in April, a new drama from Kodansha Comics, while Sean Gaffney gives us the low-down on another eagerly anticipated title, Yamada-Kun and the Seven Witches. The Manga Bookshelf gang offers a concise round-up of the latest volumes of Assassination Classroom, Dengeki Daisy, and UQ Holder!

Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 5 of Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma (Comic Book Bin)
Kristin on vols. 4 and 5 of Gangsta (Comic Attack)
Lori Henderson on The Garden of Words (Manga Xanadu)
Jocelyn Allen on Henshin (Brain vs. Book)
Erica Friedman on vol. 5 of Himawari-san (Okazu)
Erica Friedman on vol. 2 of Kampfer (Okazu)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of Let’s Dance a Waltz (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 13 of Library Wars: Love & War (Comic Book Bin)
Alice Vernon on vol. 1 of Love at Fourteen (Girls Like Comics)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 3 of Manga Dogs (Comics Worth Reading)
Ash Brown on vol. 1 of Maria the Virgin Witch (Experiments in Manga)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 18 of Oresama Teacher (Sequential Tart)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 1 of Requiem of the Rose King (ANN)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vol. 17 of Rin-ne (Sequential Tart)
Megan R. on School Rumble (The Manga Test Drive)
Nick Smith on Seraphim: 266613336 Wings (ICv2)
Sarah on vol. 24 of Soul Eater (Nagareboshi Reviews)
Karen Maeda on vol. 5 of Terra Formars (Sequential Tart)
Tony Yao on Time Killers (Manga Therapy)
Khursten Santos on Yatamono (Otaku Champloo)
Anna N. on vol. 2 of Yukarism (Manga Report)

Dark Horse Rescues Planetes

planetesGood news for sci-fi fans: Dark Horse announced that it will be reissuing Makoto Yukimura’s award-winning series Planetes, which was originally published by Tokyopop ten years ago. Look for an omnibus in stores on December 23rd.

Over at Robot 6, Brigid Alverson interviews Blade of the Immortal editor Philip Simon about the final volume of this long-running series, which Dark Horse licensed in 1996.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, VIZ announced that it would be releasing a new edition of Junji Ito’s Gyo on April 21st. VIZ also revealed that it will be adding Yuki Tabata’s Black Clover to the digital edition of Weekly Shonen Jump.

Erica Friedman shares all the yuri news that’s fit to print.

The Manga Bookshelf gang discuss this week’s best new manga.

Brigid’s latest contribution to the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi blog examines Western pop culture through the lens of manga.

News from Japan: Already in Naruto withdrawal? Fear not: Shonen Jump just announced a new Naruto Gaiden story, “The Seventh Hokage and the Scarlet Spring Month,” which will debut in the April 27th issue. After a nine-month hiatus, Kanata Konami will resume work on Chi’s Sweet Home. Yoiko Hoshi’s Aisawa Riku was awarded the Grand Prize by the 19th Annual Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize committee.

Reviews: Sean Gaffney and Michelle Smith post brief reviews of Love at Fourteen, Sankarea, and other recent releases.

Joseph Luster on vol. 3 of Ajin: Demi-Human (Otaku USA)
Sakura Eries on vol. 2 of Barakamon (The Fandom Post)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 4 of Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma (Manga Worth Reading)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 5 of Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma (Anime News Network)
Matthew Warner on vol. 9 of Happy Marriage?! (The Fandom Post)
Sakura Eries on vol. 2 of Kiss of the Rose Princess (The Fandom Post)
Megan R. on Kyo Kara Maoh! (The Manga Test Drive)
Ash Brown on Lêttera (Experiments in Manga)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 1 of Log Horizon (Anime News Network)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 2 of Meteor Prince (Manga Worth Reading)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 1 of My Neighbor Seki (Manga Worth Reading)
Thomas Maluck on vol. 1 of My Neighbor Seki (No Flying No Tights)
AJ Adejare on vol. 47 of Oh! My Goddess (The Fandom Post)
Andrew Shuping on Princess Mononoke: The First Story and The Art of Princess Mononoke (No Flying No Tights)
Ken H. on vol. 3 of Prophecy (Sequential Ink)
Erica Friedman on vol. 1 of Puella Magi Tart Magica: The Legend of Jeanne d’Arc (Okazu)
Ash Brown on vol. 1 of Requiem of the Rose King (Experiments in Manga)
Kate O’Neil on vol. 1 of Requiem of the Rose King (The Fandom Post)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 25 of Soul Eater (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Katherine Dacey on vol. 1 of Tokyo Ghoul (MangaBlog)
Matthew Warner on vol. 26 of Toriko (The Fandom Post)
Helen on Yamada-Kun and the Seven Witches (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)

Review: Tokyo Ghoul, Vol. 1

tokyo_ghoul_viz_coverTokyo Ghoul, Vol. 1
By Sui Ishida
Rated T+, for Older Teens
VIZ Media, $8.99 (digital edition)

Tokyo Ghoul opens with Ken Kaneki, a mild-mannered college student, impulsively deciding to go on a date with a beautiful stranger. As Kaneki soon discovers, however, Rize isn’t even a person–she’s a ghoul, a violent predator who feeds on human corpses. A freak accident spares Kaneki from becoming Rize’s next meal, but he has a new problem: the ER doc who saved his life used a few of Rize’s organs to do so. Within days, Kaneki begins craving flesh, too, forcing him to decide whether he’ll succumb to his ghoulish impulses or cling to his humanity.

Tokyo Ghoul‘s first chapter is the strongest, thanks in part to manga-ka Sui Ishida’s crack pacing. In less capable hands, the introduction might have been a tedious information dump; Ishida, however, is sparing with details, allowing us to learn about ghouls through the unfolding of the story. Ishida also demonstrates considerable skill in creating suspense, artfully manipulating light and shadow to amplify the contrast between well-lit, “safe” spaces such as the cafe where Kaneki likes to study, with the dark, remote areas where Rize likes to hunt–you’d be forgiven for screaming “Run away!” every time Rize steers Kaneki toward a quiet, empty street.

What should have been chapter one’s most dramatic moment, however, is executed clumsily. Ishida piles on the speed lines and close-ups, but it’s almost impossible to determine what Rize looks like in her true form: an angel with charred wings? a spider? a four-legged octopus? Compounding the confusion is the lack of background detail, a shortcoming that becomes painfully obvious near the end of the scene, when a pile of I-beams falls on Rize and Kaneki. The artwork never hints at this potential outcome, cheating the reader of the opportunity to guess what happens next–Ishida seems to be making it up as he goes along, rather than deliberately preparing an important plot twist.

Kaneki’s transformation is handled in a similarly pedestrian fashion. We see Kaneki sweat, cry, scream, and vomit like Linda Blair, but his moral crisis is painted in such broad strokes that it’s hard to feel genuine sympathy for him. When Kaneki faces a terrible choice–eat his friend or starve–Ishida resorts to a deus ex-machina to save his hero from the indignity of snacking on someone he knows. Although this plot twist makes Kaneki seem more human, it blunts the true horror of his dilemma by making him too likable; our allegiance to the hero is never really tested.

Any pretense that Tokyo Ghoul might be a character study is shed in the the final pages of volume one, when Ishida introduces a secret ghoul organization. This plot development feels like the first step towards a more conventional battle manga pitting demons against humans. More disappointing still is that Ishida seems to think that splattering the reader with entrails is scarier than asking, What really makes us human? Kaneki’s liminal status between the human and demon worlds makes him a natural vehicle for exploring this question, but Ishida shies away from the tough ethical or moral issues posed by Kaneki’s new dietary needs. The resulting story reads like a low-cal version of Parasyte, stripped of the complexities and conflict that made Hitoshi Iwaaki’s body-snatching manga so compelling.

Volume one of Tokyo Ghoul is available in ebook form now; the first print volume will be released in June.