About MJ

MJ has written about comics at Manga Bookshelf, PopCultureShock's Manga Recon, and CBR's Comics Should Be Good. They’ve also been spotted as a guest writer at MangaBlog, The Hooded Utilitarian, Comics Worth Reading, The Beat, and other websites, and as a guest on the podcasts Manga Out Loud and Fandomspotting. MJ's columns at Manga Bookshelf have included Fanservice Friday, 3 Things Thursday, Off the Shelf (with Michelle Smith) and many more.

Criticism: You’re doing it wrong

Melinda Beasi here, filling in for Brigid this week, along with Manga Critic Kate Dacey.

Yesterday’s most overtly provocative voice comes from Noah Berlatsky at The Hooded Utilitarian, who wraps up his discussion of Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories by Criticizing the Critics. He describes the piece on The Comics Journal front page as “discussing critical reaction to the work, and what it reveals about the limits of the manga blogosphere.”

In the article, he calls out manga bloggers in general (and by name) to criticize their approach to Hagio’s work, characterizing it as “almost completely useless.” Though much of the comment thread so far comes from the usual HU crowd, it’s worth scrolling down for a reaction from Kate Dacey, who has effectively verbalized what many of us are feeling this morning.

On the topic of new releases, Danielle Leigh expresses excitement over the release of Osamu Tezuka’s Ayako, while David Welsh and Kate Dacey share their thoughts on what’s shipping this week.

Speaking of Tezuka, Scott McCloud waxes nostalgic in his blog about his early love for the father of manga (link via Journalista).

David Welsh reports in on day three of the One Piece Manga Moveable Feast, coupled with a timely announcement from ANN, reporting that the series has taken the top five spots in Japan’s 2010 comics rankings.

The Beat shares more details on Dark Horse Comics’ new digital program, announced earlier this fall at New York Comic Con.

At Manga Life, the Nibley sisters take a moment to give thanks in their latest Words of Truth and Wisdom.

News from Japan: ANN reports on Japan’s top selling manga for the year, both by series and by volume (1 | 2).

Reviews: At The Manga Report, Anna takes a quick look at three Viz Signature series, 20th Century Boys, Children of the Sea, and Detroit Metal City. Deb Aoki offers up ten mini reviews at About.com, including an early look at Fumi Yoshinaga’s Not Love But Delicious Foods.

Lissa Pattillo on vol. 1 of Demon Sacred (ANN)
Snow Wildsmith on vol. 1 of Grand Guignol Orchestra (Good Comics for Kids)
Erica Friedman on vol. 3 of Ichiroh (Okazu)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of Skyblue Shore (A Case Suitable for Treatment)

Weekend Binge

– from Melinda Beasi

There’s a lot to catch up on after a long weekend, so let’s be sure to consume slowly and carefully.

First, a little holiday cheer! At Manga Xanadu, Lori Henderson shares some food-related manga to set the Turkey-Day mood, while Daniella Orihuela-Gruber warns against it. At The Manga Curmudgeon, David Welsh gives thanks for some of his favorite manga this year so far, while at Manga Bookshelf, I thank those who introduced me to some of my favorite manga. Katherine at Yuri no Boke, Erica Friedman at Okazu, and the Reverse Thieves also give thanks.

Moving on to the real focus of the holidays, Lissa Pattillo starts the shopping season off right at Kuriousity. And Manga bloggers do their part to ease your shopping anxiety with some new additions to the Great Manga Gift Guide. This weekend saw offerings from Rob McMonigal, Erica Friedman, Manga Report’s Anna, and Daniella Orihuela-Gruber.

At About.com Deb Aoki weighs in with her list of the Best Continuing Series of 2010. She also reports that TOKYOPOP’s Alice in the Country of Hearts has topped the New York Times Graphic Books list.

Sean Gaffney gets a jump on December, with a roundup of this week’s new manga, while Lori Henderson rounds up the Week in Manga.

I get my rant on at Manga Bookshelf for the latest Failure Friday.

At Soliloquy in Blue, Michelle Smith and I discuss artwork from Children of the Sea and Suppli in our latest installment of Let’s Get Visual.

November’s Manga Moveable Feast is now underway, this month featuring One Piece! Host David Welsh shares links to the Feast’s first offerings at The Manga Curmudgeon. David also puts in a license request for Rainbow, George Abe and Masasumi Kakizaki’s tale of juvenile delinquints in the 1950s.

Erica Friendman shares the latest Yuri news at Okazu.

News from Japan: As more manga publishers look to digital distribution, ANN reports that Kodansha’s popular seinen magazine Morning will soon be available in English on the web.

Reviews: Kate Dacey offers up a new set of Short Takes at The Manga Critic. At Manga Bookshelf, Michelle Smith and I discuss some manga from Del Rey, Viz, and Vertical in our latest Off the Shelf. And Ed Sizemore talks Chi’s Sweet Home with his nephew Christopher in his newest podcast at Manga Out Loud.

Connie on vol. 2 of Beast Master (Slightly Biased Manga)
Shannon Fay on vol. 1 of Cross Game (Kuriousity)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of Eensy Weensy Monster, Vol. 1
Jason Thompson on From Eroica With Love (ANN)
Chris Zimmerman on vol. 4 of Hero Tales (The Comic Book Bin)
Snow Wildsmith on How to Draw Shojo Manga (Good Comics for Kids)
Rob McMonical on vol. 1 of Jormandgand (Panel Patter)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of K-ON! (A Case Suitable For Treatment)
Bruce on Lesbian II: Mitsu no Heya (Okazu)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 7 of Maid-sama! (A Case Suitable For Treatment)
Connie on vol. 36 of Oh My Goddess (Slightly Biased Manga)
Lissa Pattillo on vol. 8 of Pokemon Adventures (ANN)
Lissa Pattillo on Short-Tempered Melancholic and Other Stories (Kuriousity)
Phoenix on vol. 2 of Spice & Wolf (Experiments in Manga)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 3 of Urusei Yatsura (A Case Suitable For Treatment)
Connie on vol. 8 of Vagabond (Slightly Biased Manga)
Connie on vol. 1 of Wild Adapter (Slightly Biased Manga)
Connie on vol. 16 of xxxHolic (Slightly Biased Manga)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 24 of Yakitate!! Japan (The Comic Book Bin)

Guest Review: Hissing, vols. 1-6

hissing1Hissing, vols. 1-6
By Kang EunYoung
Rated T, for Teens
Yen Press $10.99

Review by Melinda Beasi.

High school freshman Da-Eh is an aspiring manhwa artist who carefully ignores constant cries for attention from her doting younger brother. Fellow freshman Sun-Nam, the youngest of three boys, is bound and determined to become a “bad guy.” Finally, senior Ta-Jun, the school hottie, finds himself drawn to the one girl who can’t stand him, Da-Eh. If this is where the story stopped, there would be nothing at all remarkable about it, and over the course of the first volume or so, that’s seemingly where things stand. Fortunately, both the story and Kang’s method of telling it soon become more complex.

As the three teens’ lives become further entwined, the truth of each of their circumstances begins to be revealed. It is soon apparent that Da-Eh’s coldness toward her little brother is due to her inability to forgive him for being the product of her dead mother’s affair. Similarly, Sun-Nam’s desire to be “bad” is symptomatic of his oppressive guilt over having wished his unfaithful father dead on the very day he died. Meanwhile, Ta-Jun’s infatuation with Da-Eh is little more than an escape from the much more complicated love he’s carried around in his heart for years.

The series is technically a high school romance, and as such contains plenty of the usual clichés. The “mean girl” love rival, for instance, makes a number of tiresome appearances, as do the ever-present love confessions, and even a jealous best friend. But Kang renders all of this insignificant by the middle of the fifth volume by pulling off a fantastic act of authorial self-insertion that alters the tone of the entire series.

One of the series’ most notable aspects early on is its resistance to establishing a single main character. By using a wandering POV that shifts not only between the three teens, but also to each of their family members and quite a number of their schoolmates, Kang prevents any one character from becoming the focus of the series. Then in volume four, as Da-Eh struggles to come up with something “different” for an upcoming manhwa contest, she hits upon the idea of creating a story in which every character is treated as the main character. She’s pretty excited about the idea, until Ta-Jun pipes in to complain, “But if you do that, there’s no center.”

After this, the story quickly becomes much more chaotic, finally exploding in the middle of the fifth volume, where Da-Eh discovers the true center of her world (and the world of the series as a whole) as it is thrust upon her in the wake of a single event. The result is quite moving, and not something that would have been expected based on the series’ first couple of volumes.

This is not the series’ only strength. It’s primary romance between two loners, Da-Eh and Sun-Nam, is just stilted and awkward enough to help its flowery moments read as charming rather than clichéd. And speaking of flowers, Kang’s running gag featuring a magically-appearing background of Japanese shojo-style flowers that randomly surrounds Ta-Jun serves as a clever wink to a romance-weary audience. Da-Eh, too, is refreshing as a romantic heroine whose personal interest in romance is mainly as something to be studied as a subject for her work.

Kang’s artwork is nothing special, and her male characters frequently look confusingly alike. Fortunately, she has a greater gift for drawing distinctive females. She shows her greatest strengths in the series’ later volumes, where her use of paneling genuinely shines during the story’s most dramatic moments.

Though likely unintentional, Kang’s real message for readers here is, “Good things come to those who wait.” While the series undeniably gets off to a slow start, the payoff for those willing to commit to all six volumes is significant. Patient fans of romantic manhwa would do well to check out Hissing.

Read more from Melinda Beasi at her blog, Manga Bookshelf.

Guest Review: You’re So Cool, vols. 1-6

ysc1You’re So Cool, vols. 1-6
By YoungHee Lee
Rated T, for Teens
Yen Press $10.99

Review by Melinda Beasi

Tomboyish Nan-Woo is the class klutz. Impulsive, accident-prone, and chronically late, she provides a daily dose of schadenfreude for her eager classmates. Seung-Ha is the class prince. Gorgeous, mature, and kind to everyone, he is admired by students and faculty alike. After Nan-Woo pays accidental witness to Seung-Ha’s rejection of a pretty upperclassman, Seung-Ha explains to her that he’s looking for someone who will accept all of him, “even the dark and selfish parts,” at which point Nan-Woo naïvely proclaims, “If I had the chance, I wouldn’t care. I would love you completely and without regret.”

These prove to be fateful words indeed, for though Nan-Woo is granted her dream boyfriend faster than even most fairy godmothers could reasonably manage, she quickly discovers that the boy she so admires is nothing more than an elaborately constructed fantasy. Though his model-student act is impressively well-practiced, out of uniform Seung-Ha is a bona fide thug who belittles Nan-Woo, bullies her into buying his meals, and gleefully sends her off to be tortured by his ruthless fan club.

Now that she’s met the real Seung-Ha, can Nan-Woo possibly live up to her own rash promise?

Yes, yes, your groans are audible from here, and with a premise like that it’s difficult to protest. Even by the end of the second volume, there’s not much grounds for defense. Though Nan-Woo displays more genuine spunk and idiosyncratic charm than her typical Japanese counterpart, it’s hard to invest in even the spunkiest heroine when she’s willing to be pushed around by her sneering, bad-boy love interest for more than a panel or two. Even as Seung-Ha’s growing attachment to Nan-Woo begins to erode his class president persona, it’s unsatisfying as long as Nan-Woo remains in his control.

Fortunately, midway through the series’ third volume, Lee forgets that she’s writing a hopelessly clichéd, emotionally-backwards romance and gets caught up in the real heart of the story: how people (especially families) shape each other, for better or worse.

This begins with an affectionate look at Nan-Woo’s unconventional (but loving) parental figures. Nan-Woo’s mother, Jae-Young, a badass guitarist with a decidely masculine frame, is objectively terrifying and fiercely protective of her daughter. Though Nan-Woo’s father is absent (and apparently unknown), their household is rounded out by Nan-Woo’s uncle, Jay, an unselfconsciously feminine homemaker who acts as the nurturer of the family. Though this familial grouping is clearly presented as a happy one, as individuals they each have their own issues. Jae-Young is habitually inconsiderate and prone to violence, and Jay will do almost anything to avoid being alone. Interestingly, though their weaknesses factor heavily into the person Nan-Woo will one day be, they are perhaps more responsible for her strengths than anything else.

In contrast, the weaknesses and failures of Seung-Ha’s family have contributed mainly to warping his personality. As the illegitimate child of a wealthy businessman, Seung-Ha was abandoned by his self-involved mother as a middle-schooler and taken into his father’s household. There, an environment of cold antipathy taught him to mask his true existence just to survive. Though this could easily be played as a “poor little rich boy” scenario in order to gain sympathy for the misunderstood bad-boy, it is actually in studying Nan-Woo’s family that Seung-Ha is humanized rather than through his own sad circumstances.

Though she herself fights with Nan-Woo on a daily basis, it is the attitude of Nan-Woo’s mom that is key in influencing reader concern. Her ability to see through Seung-Ha’s façade and her outrage over his unprecedented control of her free-spirited daughter implies a harsh authorial judgement unusual for this type of story. Instead of preaching the coolness of her bad-boy love interest, through the eyes of Jae-Young, Lee calls Seung-Ha out on every move from his pathetically manipulative playbook, assuring readers that there is no way this guy is going to make time with Nan-Woo unless he figures out how to shape up. This assurance makes it easier to let go of our deeply ingrained feminist reflexes and view Seung-Ha (and by extension, everyone else) as an individual rather than an archetype. Suddenly, all of Lee’s characters are relatable, even in their worst moments, and it’s hard to write off anyone as just another (insert your cliché here).

It is this move, more than anything, that frees You’re So Cool from its origins in bad-boy romanticism. By viewing her characters through sharp, honest eyes, Lee gives them the context they need to shed their relationship’s worst clichés, or at least diminish their meaning. Though the story continues to follow the basic structure of teen romance, at its core it’s a examination of friendship between two fumbling teenagers who, despite a foundation of false pretense, become important influences in each other’s lives, mainly for the better. That the story’s secondary romance (between Jay and a quiet loner he meets at the grocery store) ends up stealing most of the series’ romantic thunder is likely no mistake, leaving room for Nan-Woo and Seung-Ha’s relationship to take a more ambiguous path.

The series’ transformation does have its share of stumbles. Lee’s ambition occasionally exceeds her skill, especially when she’s trying too hard to dig deep. A sequence in the final volume, for instance, featuring Seung-Ha in a drawn-out mental showdown with his pre-teen self, reads as contrived and convoluted rather than insightful. Through most of the series’ later volumes, however, Lee maintains a solid thread of lighthearted humor that keeps her from sinking too far into depths she’s not quite ready to tackle.

The series’ character designs are typical of Yen Press’ girls’ manhwa line, with its characters’ thickly-lined eyes, full lips, and delicate, pointed chins. And though even Lee’s most beautiful characters can’t quite achieve the delectable pout mastered by Goong‘s Park SoHee, Lee more than makes up for it with her heroine’s pug-nosed, tomboy glower, which is just as expressive and miles more fun. Her visual storytelling is energetic and easy to follow, and her use of dramatic imagery for humorous effect is key in establishing the series’ breezy, lighthearted tone.

Though it would be difficult to recommend the series’ early volumes on their own, for those willing to commit to the not-so-long haul, You’re So Cool offers a lot to enjoy.

This review is based on review copies supplied by the publisher.

Read more from Melinda Beasi at her blog, Manga Bookshelf