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, visitors flock to Deadman Wonderland, a prison-cum-theme park in Tokyo Bay where inmates fight to the death in front of paying crowds. Our guide to this Roman circus is newly minted prisoner Ganta Igarashi, an ordinary fourteen-year-old who’s been wrongfully convicted of murdering his classmates. Ganta’s fundamental decency is challenged at every turn; try as he might to cling to his humanity and clear his name, the prison’s arbitrary rules and roving gangs make it hard to be principled.

Though Ganta’s travails provide a solid foundation for the story, the artwork is the true star of Deadman Wonderland. Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou create a Bizarro World Disneyland with rides, concessions, grinning animal mascots, and attractions like the Happy Dog Run, a lethal obstacle course featuring swinging blades and spike-filled pits. The characters who inhabit this landscape are a motley crew: though some telegraph their bad-guy status with tattoos and goofy haircuts, there are enough ordinary-looking prisoners that it’s impossible to judge who’s trustworthy. That uncertainty creates a strong undercurrent of tension in every scene, making Ganta’s everyday activities–a conversation in the bathroom, a trip to the cafeteria–as fraught with peril as an actual contest.

The manga’s other great strength is pacing. Kataoka and Kondou resist the temptation to dole out too much information in the first volume; we’re never more than a clue or two ahead of Ganta, though perceptive readers may finish volume one with some notion of the prison’s true purpose. The authors’ expert timing also prevents us from dwelling on the story’s most shopworn elements, instead focusing our attention on how Ganta responds to new characters and new challenges.

The verdict: Great art, smart pacing, and an appealing 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 of bad juju.

The manga has the rhythm of a cop show: in each chapter, Sakurai and Amano solve or prevent one unscheduled death, usually by negotiating with someone who’s planning to kill himself. Livingstone‘s 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 issues 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–like equipping characters with goofy weapons or 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 drawn with consummate attention to detail, 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)

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)

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. 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 the popular kids, 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!

Saeyong Kim on vol. 1 of 21st Century Boys (No Flying No Tights)
Jessikah Chautin on Awkward (No Flying No Tights)
SKJAM on vols. 1-2 of Captain Ken (SKJAM! Reviews)
Kat Stark on vol. 1 of Devil Survivor (AiPT!)
Jessikah Chautin on vol. 1 of Durarara!! Yellow Scarves Arc (No Flying No Tights)
SKJAM on Gimmick! (SKJAM! Reviews)
Kat Stark on vol. 1 of Kiss Him, Not Me! (AiPT!)
Ian Wolf on vol. 1 of the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Omnibus (Anime UK News)
David Brooke on vol. 1 of Ninja Slayer Kills (AiPT!)
Anna N. on vol. 2 of Requiem of the Rose King (The Manga Report)
Ian Wolf on vol. 2 of Requiem of the Rose King (Anime UK News)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 1 of Rose Guns Days, Season One (Anime News Network)
Marissa Lieberman on vol. 1 of Seraph of the End (No Flying No Tights)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 11 of Umineko: When They Cry (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Ash Brown on vol. 2 of Wayward: Ties That Bind (Experiments in Manga)
Ken H. on vol. 3 of Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches (Sequential Ink)

The Manga Revue: Rose Guns Days Season One

In principal, a video game or visual novel ought to be a solid foundation on which to build a manga: the designers have already done the hard work of creating characters, endowing them with powers (or weapons), and setting them loose in a richly detailed environment. In practice, however, many game-franchises-cum-manga are a dreary affair, with thin plots and two-dimensional characters. I’ve largely sworn off the genre, but when my Manga Bookshelf colleague Sean Gaffney sang the praises of Rose Guns Days Season One, I thought I’d take it for a test drive.

Ryukishi07_RoseGunDays_1Rose Guns Days Season One, Vol. 1
Story by Ryukishi07, Art by Soichiro
Rated OT, for older teens
Yen Press, $13.00

Rose Guns Days has an intriguing premise: what if Japan had surrendered to the Allied Forces in 1944 instead of fighting until the bitter end? In Ryukishi07’s scenario, American and Chinese troops occupy Japan, carving out distinct spheres of influence while rebuilding the country in their respective images. Japanese citizens, meanwhile, are struggling to get by: work and food are scarce, creating an environment in which smuggling and prostitution flourishes.

Sounds interesting, no? If only the story was as compelling as the universe in which it unfolds! A close examination of Leo Shisigami, the principal character, offers insight into why Rose Guns Days reads like a pale imitation of better series. Shisigami’s got the skinny suit, tousled hair, and dangling cigarette made famous by Cowboy Bebop‘s Spike Spiegel, but their resemblance is pure surface; Leo is a cheerful blank whose only quirk–if it can be called that–is a fondness for pasta. After a meet-cute that’s shown not once but twice, Leo becomes a bodyguard for Rose Haibana, a pretty madam whose establishment caters to foreigners. The next 100 pages are a riot of kidnappings, fisticuffs, and golden-hearted hookers–no cliche goes unturned.

The artwork is similarly pedestrian. Though the supporting characters are rendered with loving attention to costumes, facial features, and body types, Rose looks like something pilfered from a twelve-year-old’s Deviant Art account: she barely has a nose or mouth, and her face is framed by two immobile locks of hair. The backgrounds, too, run the gamut from meticulously rendered to barely-there. Only a few panels capture the disruption and poverty caused by the occupying forces; most scenes appear to be taking place in a no man’s land of Photoshop fills and traced elements. What’s most disappointing, however, is that the artwork does nothing to bring depth or nuance to the original visual novel concept. Each scene feels like a collection of artful poses, rather than a dynamic presentation of a story with fistfights and car chases. With so little effort to adapt the material for a different medium, it begs the question, Why bother?

The verdict: Unless you’re a devotee of the visual novel series on which Rose Guns Days is based, skip it.

Reviews: Seth Hahne posts an in-depth assessment of Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, while Erica Friedman reviews the Japanese edition of Rose of Versailles. Over at Snap30, Frank Inglese test drives the new Weekly Shonen Jump series Samon the Summoner, which debuted on September 21st.

Mark Pelligrini on vol. 1 of AKIRA (AiPT!)
Tyler Sewell on Bat-Manga! The Secret History of Batman in Japan (AiPT!)
Michael Burns on vol. 1 of Black Bullet (AniTAY)
Connie on vol. 31 of Blade of the Immortal (Slightly Biased Manga)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 1 of Chiro: The Star Project (Anime News Network)
Lori Henderson on vol. 1 of The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home (Good Comics for Kids)
ebooksgirl on Cromartie High School (Geek Lit Etc.)
Vernieda Vergara on Gangsta (Women Write About Comics)
Patrick Moore on Fragments of Horror (Bento Byte)
Erica Friedman on vol. 2 of Iono The Fanatics, Special Edition (Okazu)
Helen on King’s Game: Origin (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Jennifer Wharton on vol. 1 of Kiss of the Rose Princess (No Flying No Tights)
Kristin on vol. 1 of Komomo Confiserie (Comic Attack)
Megan R. on La Esperanca (The Manga Test Drive)
Thomas Maluck on The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (No Flying No Tights)
Nic Wilcox on vol. 1 of Log Horizon (No Flying No Tights)
Amy McNulty on vol. 71 of Naruto (Anime News Network)
Sean Gaffney on vols. 1-2 of One-Punch Man (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Connie on vol. 5 of Phantom Thief Jeanne (Slightly Biased Manga)
Ian Wolf on vol. 2 of Requiem for the Rose King (Anime UK News)
Jordan Richards on vol. 1 of Rose Guns Days Season One (AiPT!)
Karen Maeda on vol. 1 of Ultraman (Sequential Tart)
Austin Lanari on issue #43 of Weekly Shonen Jump (Comic Bastards)
Adam Capps on vol. 6 of Witchcraft Works (Bento Byte)
Connie on vol. 4 of X: 3-in-1 Edition (Slightly Biased Manga)
Lori Henderson on vol. 1 of Yu-Gi-Oh: 3-in-1 Edition (Good Comics for Kids)

The Manga Revue: Komomo Confiserie

Apologies for missing last week’s deadline – the first week of the semester is always chaotic, and manga reviewing took a back seat to lesson prep. Now that school is underway again, however, the Manga Revue will run weekly on Fridays, as it did this summer.

komomo_confiserieKomomo Confiserie, Vol. 1
By Maki Minami
Rated T, for teens
VIZ Manga, $6.99 (digital)

Flip through The Big Book of Shojo Plotlines, and there – between “I’m Having an Affair with My Homeroom Teacher” and “I’m a Spazz Who’s Inexplicably Irresistible” – you’ll find another time-honored trope: “I Was Mean to My Childhood Friend, and Now He’s Hot!” Komomo Confiserie embodies this plot to a tee: its wealthy heroine, Komomo, was spoiled rotten as a child, with an army of servants at her disposal. It was her special delight to order fellow six-year-old Natsu to make her sweets–he was the pastry’s chef son, after all–and terrorize him when he didn’t comply. When Komomo turns fifteen, however, her family loses everything, forcing her to get a job and attend public school. Natsu–now a successful baker in his own right–makes a seemingly chivalrous offer of employment to Komomo, who’s too guileless to realize that she’s walking into a trap.

You can guess the rest: Natsu revels in his new-found position of power, directing Komomo to perform menial tasks and scolding her for lacking the common sense to sweep floors or boil water. The fact that he’s cute only adds salt to the wound; Komomo vacillates between plotting her escape and speculating that Natsu bullies her out of love.

Whatever pleasure might come from witnessing Komomo’s comeuppance is undermined by the author’s frequent capitulations to shojo formula. Though Natsu frequently declares that bullying Komomo is his privilege – and his alone – he routinely helps her out of jams, bakes her sweets, and behaves a lot like someone who’s harboring a crush on her. Komomo, for her part, behaves like such a twit that it’s hard to root for her; even when she has an epiphany about friendship or hard work, her insights are as shallow as the proverbial cake pan.

The series’ redeeming strength is the artwork. Though Maki Minami frequently resorts to pre-fab backgrounds and Photoshopped elements, she does a fine job of representing the emotional rush that a sugary treat can elicit in even the most jaded adult. Komomo’s food reveries are a swirl of flowers, tears, and lacy doilies that neatly suggest the mixture of joy and sadness she experiences whenever a macaroon or a petit-four stirs up childhood memories. Too bad the rest of the story isn’t as sharply observed.

The verdict: Saccharine plotting and unsympathetic leads spoil this confection.

Reviews: Sean Gaffney and Michelle Smith post a fresh crop of Bookshelf Briefs, while Claire Napier kicks the tires on Ichigo Takano’s ReCollection and Kate O’Neil reminds us why a new installment of Kaze Hikaru is worth the wait. At Contemporary Japanese Literature, Kathryn Hermann posts a glowing review of Yurei: The Japanese Ghost, a collection of essays by manga scholar and translator Zack Davisson.

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