The Manga Revue: Prison School and Twin Star Exorcists

This week, I take a look at two new releases: Prison School, a hotly anticipated series about five boys trying to break out of an all-girls’ school, and Twin Star Exorcists, a shonen manga about two teenage onmyoji who hold the fate of the world in their hands. (Let’s hope they do their best–otherwise, we’re toast!)

Hiramoto_PrisonSchoolV1Prison School, Vol. 1
By Akira Hiramoto
Rated M, for mature readers (18+)
Yen Press, $20.00

Paging Russ Meyer! Prison School is a veritable parade of big-bosomed, wasp-waisted women brandishing whips, kicking ass, and eschewing bras. The target of their scorn: Kiyoshi, Kingo, Gackt, Joe, and Andre, the first five men to enroll at the Hachimitsu Private Academy in its fifty-year history. These hapless souls want nothing more than to “catch glances of breasts and panties,” but their efforts to spy on their classmates incur the wrath of the school’s Shadow Student Council, a secret organization whose primary role is to “crack down on illicit sexual relationships.” After a dramatic show trial in the school’s courtyard, Kiyoshi and friends are sentenced to hard time in the school penitentiary.

I’d be the first to admit that the premise has potential: what woman or girl hasn’t fantasized about coolly administering a karate chop to a lecherous jerk on the subway or in the street? What prevents Prison School from fully achieving a giddy, B-movie vibe is Akira Hiramoto’s complete dehumanization of his characters. The Student Council members are portrayed as ball-busting man-haters, intent on humiliating the boys for their sexual proclivities, while the prisoners are depicted as sniveling pervs. The only genuinely sympathetic pair are Kiyoshi and Chiyo, a cute girl who shares Kiyoshi’s passion for sumo wrestling. Kiyoshi’s desire to have a normal relationship with Chiyo provides the story’s few emotionally authentic moments; by contrast, most scenes revel in the lurid, psychosexual relationship between the boys and their jailers.

Though all of the characters are objectified, no one fares as poorly as Meiko Shiraki, the Shadow Council’s Vice President. Hiramoto always draws her from an extreme angle–upskirt is one of his favorites–that emphasizes her monstrously distended breasts and reveals her penchant for wearing thongs. Perhaps a fifteen-year-old boy would find her terrifyingly sexy, but an older reader who’s seen actual breasts would have a hard time viewing Meiko as anything but a fetishist fantasy.

All of which is to say: Prison School could have been a sly riff on Escape from Alcatraz, The Great Escape, or even Caged, but Hiramoto’s strenuously raunchy scenarios overwhelm the other elements of the story, stopping it dead in its tracks.

The verdict: Prison School is an all-or-nothing proposition: you’ll either love it or hate it.

twin_starTwin Star Exorcists, Vol. 1
By Yoshiaki Sukeno
Rated T, for teens
VIZ Media, $9.99

Twin Star Exorcists is a love story dressed up as an action-packed supernatural adventure. At the beginning of volume one, the principal characters have a meet-cute that establishes their personalities in broad strokes: Rokuro is gifted but reluctant to use his exorcism skills, while Benio is gifted but trigger happy, nuking monsters at the slightest provocation. Making their Darcy-and-Elizabeth dynamic more complicated is that Rokuro and Benio are destined to marry and have a child who will save the world from the Kegare, a demonic race that lives in a parallel universe. (Rokuro and Benio are also fourteen, a point underscored by their endless bickering.)

Although the fight scenes are competently executed, the beats are so familiar that the combat feels superfluous. And therein lies Twin Star Exorcists‘ biggest problem: it’s boring. The plot lines, characters, and demon lore are so familiar that the story lacks a distinctive personality; even the setting is cliche. (Rokuro and Benio attend an exclusive academy for onmyoji in training.) Just two days after finishing the volume I couldn’t remember the principal characters’ names–a sure sign that the author treated each element of the story as something to be checked off a list, rather than an integral part of the narrative.

The verdict: Zzzzzz…..

Reviews: GC4K contributor Mike Pawuk praises Svetlana Chmakova’s Awkward, just out from Yen Press. Over at Heart of Manga, Laura posts brief reviews of He’s My Only Vampire, The Ancient Magus’ Bride, and Let’s Dance a Waltz. Joe McCulloch dedicates his latest TCJ column to CoroCoro magazine.

Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 17 of 07-Ghost (WatchPlayRead)
Connie on Alice in the Country of Clover: Nightmare (Slightly Biased Manga)
Alice Vernon on Awkward (Girls Like Comics)
Connie on vol. 29 of Blade of the Immortal (Slightly Biased Manga)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 7 of Deadman Wonderland (Sequential Tart)
Allen Kesinger on vol. 1 of The Devil is a Part-Timer! (No Flying No Tights)
Chris Randle on Fragments of Horror (The Guardian)
Frank Inglese on vol. 6 of Gangsta (Snap30)
Sarah on Kitaro (nagareboshi reviews)
Matthew Alexander on vol. 13 of Knights of Sidonia (The Fandom Post)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 1 of Love Stage!! (Comic Book Bin)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 1 of Love Stage!! (Comics Worth Reading)
Marissa Lieberman on vol. 1 of Midnight Secretary (No Flying No Tights)
Thomas Maluck on vols. 1-3 of My Love Story!! (No Flying No Tights)
ebooksgirl on vol. 3 of My Neighbor Seki! (Geek Lit Etc.)
Helen and confused muse on Natsume’s Book of Friends (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 2 of No Game No Life (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Erica Friedman on Okujou no Yuri Yurei-san Side B – Nakayoshi Quiz (Okazu)
A.J. Adejare on vol. 2 of Oreimo: Kureneko (The Fandom Post)
Connie on vol. 1 of Paradise Kiss (Slightly Biased Manga)
Connie on vol. 3 of Phantom Thief Jeanne (Slight Biased Manga)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 3 of Pokemon X.Y (Sequential Tart)
Lostty on vols. 1-4 of Princess Jellyfish (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 17 of Rin-ne (WatchPlayRead)
Ash Brown on vol. 2 of Sengoku Basara: Samurai Legends (Experiments in Manga)
Frank Inglese on vol. 6 of Terra Formars (Snap30)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 9 of Voice Over! Seiyu Academy (Sequential Tart)
Lesley Tomsu on vols. 1-2 of Witch Buster (No Flying No Tights)
Ken H. on vol. 2 of Your Lie in April (Sequential Ink)

The Manga Revue: Fragments of Horror

I’m too squeamish for horror movies–the blood alone is enough to send me screaming for the exits. But horror manga? That’s in my wheelhouse, as manga allows me to engage with the material as much–or as little–as I wish. Junji Ito’s work is largely responsible for showing me the possibilities of comic book horror; I don’t think I’ll ever forget the image of an enormous great white shark climbing a flight of stairs in pursuit of his next meal, or an entire village consumed by a voracious plague of… spirals. (It’s scarier than it sounds.) So when VIZ announced that they would be publishing a new collection of Ito stories, I knew I would buy it. But does Fragments of Horror deliver? Read on for the full scoop.

fragments_horror_vizFragments of Horror
By Junji Ito
Rated T+, for older teens
VIZ Media, $17.99

Uncanny–that’s the first word that comes to mind after reading Junji Ito’s Fragments of Horror, an anthology of nine stories that run the gamut from deeply unsettling to just plain gross. Ito is one of the few manga-ka who can transform something as ordinary as a mattress or a house into an instrument of terror, as the opening stories in Fragments of Horror demonstrate. Both “Futon” and “Wood Spirit” abound in vivid imagery: apartments infested with demons, floors covered in eyes, walls turned to flesh, rooves thatched in human hair. Watching these seemingly benign objects pulse with life is both funny and terrifying, a potent reminder of how thin the dividing line between animate and inanimate really is.

Taut–that’s another word I’d use to describe Fragments of Horror. Each story is a model of economy, packing 60 or 70 pages of narrative into just 20 or 30. “Dissection Chan,” for example, explores the forty-year relationship between Tatsuro, a surgeon, and Ruriko, a woman who’s obsessed with vivisection. In a brief flashback to Tatsuro’s childhood, Ito documents the unraveling of their friendship, capturing both Ruriko’s escalating desire to cut things open and Tatsuro’s profound shame for helping her procure the tools (and animals) necessary for her experiments. Three or four years have been packed into this seven-page vignette, but Ito never resorts to voice-overs or thought balloons to explain how Tatsuro feels; stark lighting, lifelike facial expressions, and evocative body language convey Tatsuro’s emotional journey from curious participant to disgusted critic.

Not all stories land with the same cat-like tread of “Dissection Chan.” “Magami Nanakuse,” a cautionary tale about the literary world, aims for satire but misses the mark. The central punchline–that authors mine other people’s suffering for their art–isn’t executed with enough oomph or ick to make much of an impression. “Tomio • Red Turtleneck”  is another misfire. Though it yields some of the most squirm-inducing images of the collection, it reads like a sixteen-year-old boy’s idea of what happens if your girlfriend discovers that you’ve been stepping out on her: first she’s angry at you, then she’s angry at the Other Woman, and finally she forgives you after you grovel and suffer. (In Tomio’s case, suffering involves grotesque humiliation with a cockroach–the less said about it, the better.)

Taken as a whole, however, Fragments of Horror is testament to the fecundity of Ito’s imagination, and to his skill in translating those visions into sharp, unforgettable illustrations like this one:

ito_horror_interior

PS: I recommend pairing this week’s review with 13 Extremely Disturbing Junji Ito Panels, a listicle compiled by Steve Fox. (The title is a little misleading: the images are unsettling, but are generally SFW.)

Reviews: Sean Gaffney reads Pandora in the Crimson Shell and Magika: Swordsman and Summoner so that you don’t have to. At Women Write About Comics, Amanda Vail compares the light novel and manga versions of The Devil is a Part-Timer!

Connie on vol. 3 of Alice in the Country of Clover: Knight’s Knowledge (Slightly Biased Manga)
Jennifer Wharton on vols. 1-6 of The Betrayal Knows My Name (No Flying No Tights)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 55 of Case Closed (WatchPlayRead)
Kristin on vol. 1 of The Demon Prince of Momochi House (Comic Attack)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of First Love Monster (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Frank Inglese on vols. 3-4 of Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma (Snap 30)
Megan R. on Fushigi Yugi: Genbu Kaiden (The Manga Test Drive)
Connie on vol. 6 of Gravitation (Slightly Biased Manga)
Dave Ferraro on The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Comics and More)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vol. 13 of Library Wars: Love and War (Sequential Tart)
Connie on vol. 6 of Love Pistols (Slightly Biased Manga)
Ash Brown on vol. 4 of Mushishi (Experiments in Manga)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 5 of My Love Story!! (WatchPlayRead)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 10 of Nisekoi: False Love (Comic Book Bin)
Joe McCulloch on Pandora in the Crimson Shell (The Comics Journal)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 28 of Pokemon Adventures: Emerald (Sequential Tart)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vol. 1 of Requiem of the Rose King (Sequential Tart)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 18 of Rin-ne (Comic Book Bin)
Matthew Alexander on vol. 10 of Sankarea: Undying Love (The Fandom Post)
confusedmuse on Skip Beat! (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Kate O’Neil on vol. 4 of Soul Eater Not! (The Fandom Post)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 4 of Spell of Desire (Sequential Tart)
Courtney Sanders on vol. 1 of Twin Star Exorcists (Three If By Space)
Ken H. on vol. 5 of Witchcraft Works (Sequential Ink)
Matthew Alexander on vol. 6 of Wolfsmund (The Fandom Post)
Matthew Alexander on vol. 5 of World Trigger (The Fandom Post)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 3 of Yukarism (WatchPlayRead)

 

The Manga Revue: A Silent Voice and Your Lie in April

It’s been a while since I checked in with Kodansha, so this week I reviewed two recent additions to the KC catalog: A Silent Voice, which explores the complex relationship between a bully and his victim, and Your Lie in April, which focuses on a piano prodigy who flamed out at an early age.

A Silent VoiceA Silent Voice, Vol. 1
By Yoshitoki Oima
Rated T, for Teens
Kodansha Comics, $10.99

Thirteen-year-old Shouya Ishida is at loose ends: he’s a mediocre student, a latch-key kid, and a thrill-seeker who goads his friends into dangerous stunts. When deaf girl Shoko Nishimiya joins Ishida’s class, however, Ishida’s recklessness shades into cruelty. He orchestrates a systematic campaign of harassment against her, mocking her speech, stealing her hearing aides, and blaming her for “ruining” the class.

As manga-ka Yoshitoki Oima capably shows, Ishida’s inability to control his worst impulses stems from a toxic mixture of loneliness, frustration, and immaturity. Oima resists the urge to blame Ishida’s mother for her son’s behavior, portraying her as a hard-working, decent woman who’s struggling to run a business and raise two children on her own. Instead, Oima zeroes in the complex dynamic between Ishida and his classmates, acknowledging the degree to which their own hostility towards Nishimiya validates–and encourages–Ishida’s cruelty.

In one scene, for example, the teacher calls on Nishimiya to read a passage out loud. Her words are labored and difficult to understand, prompting uncomfortable stares from the class. When Ishida is asked to do the same, he’s emboldened by his peers’ response. “Uwah! Uwoh! Argle! Bargle!” he declares, feasting on the giggles and snickers his impression elicits. Though the teacher issues Ishida a stern warning, Mr. Takeuchi’s own contempt for Nishimiya seeps into their conversation, granting Ishida further license to harass his classmate.

I’d be the first to admit that A Silent Voice is a difficult read, not least for the scenes in which Ishida torments Nishimiya; Nishimiya’s crestfallen expressions will rip your heart out. It’s a worthwhile series, however, for its truthful exploration of adolescent cruelty, and for its steadfast refusal to paint its troubled protagonist as a monster–or a victim.

your_lie_april_EnglishYour Lie in April, Vol. 1
By Naoshi Arakawa
Rated T, for Teens
Kodansha Comics, $10.99

Your Lie in April follows the budding relationship between Kosei Arima, a piano prodigy, and Kaori Miyazono, a violinist who plays by her own rules. When Arima first meets Miyazono, he’s unable to perform in public–a victim by his own perfectionism. Miyazono, on the other hand, is fearless, giving  messy but emotionally authentic performances that irk judges and wow audiences. Miyazono has an equally messy personality–she’s impetuous, petulant, and bossy–but captivates Arima with the sheer force of her enthusiasm.

I’ll be honest: I’d like Your Lie in April a lot more if it focused on a drama troupe or a sports team. That may seem like an odd admission from a musicologist, but Miyazono’s character embodies what I dislike most about popular depictions of classical music. Her eclectic performances are offered as evidence of her “true” musical ability, while the judges’ disapproval is portrayed as a failure of imagination–it’s like Shine in manga form, and boy howdy, did I hate Shine. Why? Because a score isn’t a loose set of guidelines to be followed at the musician’s whim; it’s an explicit representation of the composer’s intentions. Willfully ignoring tempo markings, dynamics, and phrasing misses the entire point of musical notation. Miyazono may make Beethoven’s Kreutzer sonata “unequivocally her own,” but is she really capturing the spirit of the piece by taking so many liberties with it?

Given my own bias, I don’t know if I can give Your Lie in April a fair shake. I found the artwork clean and expressive, and the dynamic between Arima and his non-musical friend Tsubaki Sawabe true to life. (In contrast to Miyazono, Sawabe is not simply a vehicle for the hero’s self-actualization, but a character in her own right.) I also enjoyed the program notes at the end of every chapter–a nice touch for readers who recognize Saint-Saens’ name, but can’t quite tie him to a specific composition or stylistic period. I’m not sure these small pleasures are enough inducement for me to pick up volume two, but a less fussy music lover might well enjoy this coming-of-age drama.

Reviews: Bust out your handkerchief–the final installment of House of 1000 Manga has been posted! Jason Thompson takes a few minutes to reflect on the column, list his ten favorite manga, and discuss what he’ll be doing next. Like many of ANN’s regular readers, I will miss House of 1000 Manga dearly; Shaenon and Jason did a terrific job of sharing their knowledge of and enthusiasm for manga with readers in a consummately effortless style.

Courtney Sanders on vol. 16 of 07-Ghost (Three If By Space)
Connie on vol. 2 of Alice in the Country of Clover: Knight’s Knowledge (Slightly Biased Manga)
Connie on vol. 3 of Alice in the Country of Clover: Cheshire Cat Waltz (Slightly Biased Manga)
Al Sparrow on vol. 1 of The Ancient Magus’ Bride (ComicSpectrum)
Ken H. on vol. 4 of Attack on Titan: Before the Fall (Sequential Ink)
Erica Friedman on Awajime Hyakkei (Okazu)
Connie on vol. 18 of Black Bird (Slightly Biased Manga)
Kate O’Neil on vol. 10 of Black Lagoon (The Fandom Post)
Connie on vol. 28 of Blade of the Immortal (Slightly Biased Manga)
Helen on Cardcaptor Sakura (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Connie on vol. 1 of Citrus (Slightly Biased Manga)
TSOTE on vol. 29 of C.M.B. (Three Steps Over Japan)
Connie on vol. 2 of Demon Love Spell (Slightly Biased Manga)
Rebecca Silverman on Dream Fossil (ANN)
Holly Saiki on Fragments of Horror (Examiner)
Courtney Sanders on Fragments of Horror (Three If By Space)
Ken H. on In Clothes Called Fat (Sequential Ink)
Luke Halliday on vol. 2 of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood (Snap 30)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 18 on Kamisama Kiss (ANN)
Sakura Eries on vol. 4 of Kiss of the Rose Princess (The Fandom Post)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 14 of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery System (Comics Worth Reading)
Connie on vol. 5 of Love Pistols (Slightly Biased Manga)
Kristin on vol. 3 of Master Keaton (Comic Attack)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 3 of Master Keaton (WatchPlayRead)
Anna N. on vol. 2 of Meteor Prince (The Manga Report)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of Non Non Biyori (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Al Sparrow on Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt (ComicSpectrum)
TSOTE on vol. 1 of Q.E.D. iff (Three Steps Over Japan)
Matthew Alexander on vol. 9 of Sankarea (The Fandom Post)
Megan R. on Seraph of the End (The Manga Test Drive)
Al Sparrow on vol. 1 of A Silent Voice (ComicSpectrum)
Connie on vol. 34 of Skip Beat! (Slightly Biased Manga)
L.B. Bryant on vol. 1 of So Cute It Hurts! (ICv2)
Matthew Alexander on vol. 9 of Triage X (The Fandom Post)
Connie on vol. 16 of We Were There (Slightly Biased Manga)
Ash Brown on vol. 7 of What Did You Eat Yesterday? (Experiments in Manga)

The Manga Revue: Alice in Murderland and Demon From Afar

Reading Kaori Yuki is a little bit like eating a bag of Pop Rocks and washing it down with a can of Tab: the rush is undeniable, but the aftertaste is pretty gnarly. I swore off her manga years ago–too much stimulation for my taste–but her two latest series looked so snazzy I couldn’t resist giving her work a second chance.

AliceinMurderlandv1Alice in Murderland, Vol. 1
By Kaori Yuki
Rated OT, for Older Teens
Yen Press, $17.00

Nine Is Enough might be a better title for Alice in Murderland, as it neatly summarizes the main plot: per their mother’s orders, the nine Kuonji children must fight to the death to determine who will inherit the family fortune. Of course, if you’ve read Godchild or Angel Sanctuary, you know that even Kaori Yuki’s most basic story ideas are complicated by a profusion of subplots and supporting characters. Alice in Murderland is no exception: Yuki introduces over thirty people in volume one, each of whom has a stake in the outcome of the Kuonji Battle Royale.

The characters are so hastily conceived, however, that their behavior makes no sense; when they turn on each other, those reversals register not as betrayals but as speed bumps on the road to the next gruesome showdown. Even the revelation that the Kuonji matriarch is a bandersnatch–no, really–barely makes an impression, as her breathless monologue about demonic powers is no more shocking or ridiculous than the violent melodrama that precedes it. (On the plus side, it does explain her rotten parenting skills.) The artwork, though attractive, barely hangs together; small wonder that Yuki relies so heavily on dialogue to plug the holes in her storytelling.

The verdict: No amount of Lewis Carroll references can disguise the fact the Alice in Murderland is a flaming hot mess.

Yuki_DemonFromAfarV1_HCDemon From Afar, Vol. 1
By Kaori Yuki
Rated T, for Teens
Yen Press, $18.00

In contrast to Alice in Murderland, Demon From Afar has a discernible storyline and real characters. Three teens–Sorath, Garan, and Kiyora–live on the estate of the wealthy, ruthless Baron Kamichika. As children, they found solace in each others’ company; as young adults, however, they unwittingly become pawns in their guardian’s elaborate scheme to achieve immortality.

Though Kaori Yuki can’t help but populate the fringes of the story with beautiful, inscrutable figures, the main narrative never loses it focus on Sorath, Garan, and Kiyora’s increasingly tenuous allegiance. The supernatural elements–another potential distraction–prove organic to the story as well; from the very first pages, it’s clear that Sorath possesses unusual powers, though we don’t see them fully manifested in volume one. Only Yuki’s decision to invoke Walpurgisnacht raises a few eyebrows: surely there was a Japanese festival or tradition that would have made more sense in the context of the Taisho-era setting. (The story takes place shortly after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.) Faust tributes aside, Demon From Afar manages the difficult feat of juggling many stylistic sensibilities–horror, romance, teen angst–without sacrificing coherence or pacing.

The verdict: Demon From Afar won’t win the Tezuka Prize, but it scores points for readability and visual flair.

Reviews: Sad news for fans of ANN’s House of 1000 Manga: Jason Thompson and Shaenon Garrity have announced that their final column will run next week. To mark the occasion, Shaenon counts down her ten favorite manga from the House archives.

Deionte Coates on vol. 5 of Cardfight!! Vanguard (BentoByte)
Megan R. on City Hunter (The Manga Test Drive)
Lori Henderson on vol. 1 of Demon From Afar (Manga Xanadu)
Adam Caps on Dream Fossil (BentoByte)
Holly Saiki on Dream Fossil (Examiner)
Leroy Douresseaux on Fragments of Horror (Comic Book Bin)
Sean Gaffney on Fragments of Horror (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Orrin Gray on Fragments of Horror (Innsmouth Free Press)
Vernieda Vergara on vols. 1-3 of The Heroic Legend of Arslan (Women Write About Comics)
Ash Brown on vol. 2 of Hide and Seek (Experiments in Manga)
Alice Vernon on Judge (Girls Like Comics)
Nic Wilcox on Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink: The Complete Collection (No Flying No Tights)
Sarah on vol. 1 of Love Stage! (Anime UK News)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vol. 5 of Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign (Sequential Tart)
Ken H. on vols. 5-8 of The Seven Deadly Sins (Sequential Ink)
Paige Sammartino on vol. 1 of A Silent Voice (Women Write About Comics)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 1 of So Cute It Hurts! (Comics Worth Reading)
Richard Eisenbeis on vols. 1-2 of Sword Art Online: Girls’ Ops (Kotaku)
Thomas Maluck on vol. 1 of Sword Art Online: Progressive (No Flying No Tights)
Karen Maeda on vol. 6 of Terraformars (Sequential Tart)
Ian Wolf on Tony Takezaki’s Neon Genesis Evangelion (Anime UK News)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 7 of Toradora! (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 28 of Toriko (Sequential Tart)
Rob Clough on Trash Market (High-Low)
James Hadfield on Trash Market (The Japan Times)
L.B. Bryant on vol. 1 of Trinity Seven: The Seven Magicians (ICv2)

The Manga Revue: Dream Fossil

The last two years have been kind to Satoshi Kon fans: Dark Horse and Vertical Comics have each released two volumes of Kon’s manga, from Tropic of the Sea, a supernatural mystery, to Seraphim 266613336 Wings, an unfinished collaboration with Ghost in the Shell director Mamoru Oshii. This week, I investigate Dream Fossil, which collects all of Kon’s published short stories into a single volume.

dream_fossilDream Fossil: The Complete Stories of Satoshi Kon
By Satoshi Kon
No rating
Vertical Comics, $24.95

Dream Fossil is a window into a crucial stage in Satoshi Kon’s development: the six-year period between the publication of his first short story (1984) and his first long-form manga (1990). Readers may be astonished by Kon’s undisguised homage to Katsuhiro Otomo, and the flaws in his storytelling technique. Yet Dream Fossil is not simply a collection of juvenilia; these stories represent Kon’s first meaningful attempt to grapple with the themes that define his mature work, from Perfect Blue and Tokyo Godfathers to Paranoia Agent and Paprika.

Consider “Carve” and “Toriko,” two of Kon’s earliest works. Both take place in dystopian societies that stress conformity and obedience over individualism and free will–an ideal set-up for exploring the boundaries between reality and illusion. Though Kon delineates these boundaries more baldly in “Carve” and “Toriko” than in his later films, all of Kon’s characters exist in a false state of consciousness; only shattering acts of violence force them to question what they think is real. These early stories also suggest Otomo’s strong influence on Kon; “Carve,” in particular, feels like a compressed retelling of Akira, as both feature a young male protagonist whose extrasensory powers turn him into God-like being.

“Beyond the Sun” and “Joyful Bell” are another instructive pairing. Both stories evoke the humanist spirit of Tokyo Godfathers in their fond, funny depictions of two city-dwellers who temporarily escape the confines of their daily routines. As in Tokyo Godfathers, the urban landscape proves an essential component of both stories; Kon treats the city as a playground where adults can shed the burdens of age, failure, and loneliness to recover their optimism and youthful wonder.

Other stories work well on their own terms. “Guests,” a cautionary tale about real estate, skillfully blends humor and horror, while “Picnic,” one of Dream Fossil‘s briefest selections, depicts the sepulchral beauty of an underwater city. At the other end of the spectrum are Kon’s coming-of-age stories “Horseplay,” “Summer of Anxiety,” and “Day Has Dawned,” all of which suffer from tonal schizophrenia, see-sawing between wacky hijinks and meaningful lessons about adulthood. This combination might have worked in a longer format, but Kon’s characters are so underdeveloped that they never register as distinct individuals who are motivated by their own beliefs, fears, and desires.

If pressed to say whether I “liked” Dream Fossil, I’d be reluctant to give a simple yes-or-no answer. It’s difficult to overlook the rubbery faces and clumsy internal transitions in the volume’s weakest stories, or Kon’s flagrant efforts to cop Otomo’s style. Yet many of the stories feature the kind of arresting sequences, amusing plot twists, and flashes of genuine imagination that are hallmarks of Kon’s best films, making it difficult to dismiss this uneven body of work as “good,” “bad,” or “okay.”

Reviews: Jason Thompson makes a strong case that Kekkaishi is the best shonen manga you haven’t read. At Anime UK News, Sarah reviews Servamp, a supernatural adventure about–what else?–vampires. Closer to home, TCJ columnist Joe McCulloch sings the praises of Professor Layton, an untranslated manga in which “a top-hatted archeologist and his adolescent weed carrier solve extremely unlikely and sentimental mysteries” by means of word games, puzzles, and riddles.

Ash Brown on vol. 4 of After School Nightmare (Experiments in Manga)
Matthew Warner on vol. 2 of Akame ga KILL! (The Fandom Post)
Connie on vol. 1 of Alice in the Country of Clover: Knight’s Knowledge (Slightly Biased Manga)
Alice Vernon on The Angel of Elhamburg (Girls Like Comics)
Connie on vol. 17 of Black Bird (Slightly Biased Manga)
Connie on vol. 5 of Crimson Spell (Slightly Biased Manga)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 10 of Dogs: Bullets and Carnage (Comic Book Bin)
Helen and Justin on Donyatsu (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Connie on vol. 1 of Earthian (Slighty Biased Manga)
Kory Cerjak on vol. 44 of Fairy Tale (The Fandom Post)
Frank Inglese on vols. 1-2 of Food Wars! Shokugeki No Soma (Snap 30)
Rich Johnston on Fragments of Horror (Bleeding Cool)
Kate O’Neil on vol. 6 of Gangsta (The Fandom Post)
Connie on vol. 11 of Inuyasha: VIZBIG Edition (Slightly Biased Manga)
L.B. Bryant on vol. 1 of Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (ICv2)
Luke Halliday on vol. 1 of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood (Snap 30)
Tony Yao on Kiss Him, Not Me (Manga Therapy)
Seth Hahne on Last Man, Vol. 2: The Royal Cup (Good Ok Bad)
Kane Bugeja on The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Snap 30)
Kathryn Hemmann on The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Contemporary Japanese Literature)
Connie on vol. 9 of Maoh: Juvenile Remix (Slightly Biased Manga)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 3 of Master Keaton (Comic Book Bin)
Robert Frazer on vol. 2 of My Neighbor Seki (UK Anime Network)
Dan Barnett on vols. 1-4 of Neon Genesis Evangelion (UK Anime Network)
Connie on Nonnonba (Slightly Biased Manga)
Erica Friedman on Seijun Shoujo Paradigm (Okazu)
Connie on vol. 18 of Sensual Phrase (Slightly Biased Manga)
Megan R. on Strawberry 100% (The Manga Test Drive)
Andy Hanley on vol. 1 of Sword Art Online Girls’ Ops (UK Anime Network)
Sakura Eries on vol. 2 of Sword Art Online Progressive (The Fandom Post)
Joceyln Allen on vol. 2 of USCA (Brain vs. Book)
Lori Henderson on vols. 1-5 of W Juliet (Manga Xanadu)
Erica Freidman on vol. 6 of Wandering Son (Okazu)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 8 of Wandering Son (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Connie on vol. 15 of We Were There (Slightly Biased Manga)
Robert Frazer on vols. 5-6 of Wolfsmund (UK Anime Network)
Ken H. on vols. 1-2 of Yamada-Kun and the Seven Witches (Sequential Ink)
Connie on vol. 1 of Yukarism (Slightly Biased Manga)

 

The Manga Revue: One-Punch Man

Here in the US, VIZ has been in the vanguard of digital manga initiatives. VIZ was among the first publishers to make its catalog available across a variety of platforms, allowing readers to enjoy Dragon Ball and Vampire Knight on their device of choice. VIZ has also been using its app and website to re-release older titles, both from its own catalog–hello again, Basara!–and from Tokyopop’s. More recently, VIZ has experimented with digital-first titles such as Tokyo Ghoul, releasing two or three volumes online before introducing a print edition. Today’s column focuses on another digital-first title, ONE and Yusuke Murata’s tokusatsu spoof One-Punch Man.

One-Punch ManOne-Punch Man, Vols. 1-2
Story by ONE, Art by Yusuke Murata
Rated T, for teens
VIZ Media, $6.99 (digital)

In a scene that would surely please Jack Kirby, One-Punch Man opens with a pow! splat! and boom!, as Saitama, the eponymous hero, goes mano-a-mano with the powerful Vaccine Man, a three-story menace with razor-sharp claws. Though Vaccine Man is formidable, he has a pronounced Achilles’ heel: chattiness. “I exist because of humankind’s constant pollution of the environment!” he tells Saitama. “The Earth is a single living organism! And you humans are the disease-causing germs killing it! The will of the earth gave birth to me so that I may destroy humanity and their insidious civilization!” Vaccine Man is so stunned that Saitama lacks an equally dramatic origin story that he lets down his guard, allowing Saitama to land a deadly right hook.

And so it goes with the other villains in One-Punch Man: Saitama’s unassuming appearance and matter-of-fact demeanor give him a strategic advantage over the preening scientists, cyborg gorillas, were-lions, and giant crabmen who terrorize City Z. Saitama’s sangfroid comes at a cost, however: the media never credit his alter ego with saving the day, instead attributing these victories to more improbable heroes such as Mumen Rider, a timid, helmet-wearing cyclist. Even the acquisition of a sidekick, Genos, does little to boost Saitama’s visibility in a city crawling with would-be heroes and monsters.

If it sounds as if One-Punch Man is shooting fish in a barrel, it is; supermen and shonen heroes, by definition, are a self-parodying lot. (See: capes, spandex, “Wind Scar.”) What inoculates One-Punch Man against snarky superiority is its ability to toe the line between straightforward action and affectionate spoof. It’s jokey and sincere, a combination that proves infectious.

Saitama is key to ONE’s strategy for bridging the action/satire divide: the character dutifully acknowledges tokusatsu cliches while refusing to capitulate to the ones he deems most ridiculous. (In one scene, Saitama counters an opponent’s “Lion Slash: Meteor Power Shower” attack with a burst of “Consecutive Normal Punches.”) ONE’s script is complemented by bold, polished artwork; even if the outcome of a battle is never in question, artist Yusuke Murata dreams up imaginative obstacles to prevent Saitama from defeating his opponents too quickly, or rehashing an earlier confrontation.

Is One-Punch Man worthy of its Eisner nomination? Based on what I’ve read so far, I’d say yes: it’s brisk, breezy, and executed with consummate skill. It may not be the “best” title in the bunch–I’d give the honor to Moyocco Anno’s In Clothes Called Fat–but it’s a lot more fun than either volume of Showa: A History of Japan… Scout’s honor.

The verdict:  Highly recommended. Binge-readers take note: seven digital volumes are now available. The first two print volumes arrive in stores in September.

Reviews: Are you crafty? If so, then Jocelyn Allen’s glowing appraisal of sewing manga Tsukuroitatsu Hito will be right in your wheelhouse. Here at Manga Bookshelf, Michelle Smith, Anna N. and Sean Gaffney post short reviews of new releases, from D. Frag! to Seraph of the End.

Nick Creamer on vol. 1 of The Ancient Magus’ Bride (ANN)
Allen Kesinger on vol. 1 of Big Hero 6 (No Flying No Tights)
Megan R. on Death Note (The Manga Test Drive)
Joe McCulloch on Dream Fossil (The Comics Journal)
Helen and Justin S. on Father and Son (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 12 of Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic (Comic Book Bin)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vol. 12 of Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic (Sequential Tart)
Lori Henderson on vol. 3 of Manga Dogs (Manga Xanadu)
ebooksgirl on vol. 2 of My Neighbor Seki (Geek Lit Etc.)
Ash Brown on The Ring of Saturn (Experiments in Manga)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 5 of Seraph of the End (Comic Book Bin)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of So Cute It Hurts! (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 1 of So Cute It Hurts! (Sequential Tart)
Ian Wolf on vol. 1 of So Cute It Hurts! (Anime UK News)
Hillary Brown on Trash Market (Paste Magazine)
Shea Hennum on Trash Market (This Is Infamous)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 8 of Voice Over! Seiyu Academy (Sequential Tart)
Ash Brown on vol. 8 of Wandering Son (Experiments in Manga)
Ken H. on vol. 3 of Witchcraft Works (Sequential Ink)

The internet is a big place, and it’s easy to miss a good manga review! If you’d like to see your work featured in our weekly link round-up, leave a comment below.