Review: Barakamon, Vol. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naruto creator speaks

Shonen Jump’s latest “Jump Start” manga are Ryohei Yamamoto’s E-ROBOT and Nobuaki Enoki and Takeshi Obata’s Gakkyu Hotei. The magazine will run the first three chapters of each series.

In an interview with the Asahi Shimbun, Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto talks about how he was different as a child than the character he created:

“I was unable to do well in school and felt a strong sense of inferiority,” he said. “When Naruto said, ‘I will be Hokage,’ people surrounding him laughed at his dream. Since childhood, I also told others that I would be a manga artist but had no foundation.

“Unlike Naruto, I did not have the courage to declare that I will become a manga creator at any cost. So I would just say in my mind, ‘It may be possible.’”

Erica Friedman updates us with a new Yuri Network News post at Okazu.

News from Japan: The Osaka Prefectural Police have filed charges against 16 people, including manga-ka Rensuke Oshikiri, in the Hi Score Girl copyright infringement case. A new volume of Doraemon Plus will be released on December 1, the 80th birthday of creator Fujiko F. Fujio. A One Piece spinoff, One Piece Party, will launch in the January issue of Saikyo Jump; it will feature super-deformed versions of the One Piece cast. The next issue of Morning magazine will include a one-shot by Go Nagai, titled Kaiketsu Furo Zukin (The Amazing Bath Hood).

Reviews: Ash Brown takes us through a week of manga reading at Experiments in Manga. Three Steps Over Japan reviews the Osamu Tezuka manga Neo Faust, which has not been published in English.

Connie on vol. 2 of Castle Mango (Slightly Biased Manga)
Matthew Warner on vol. 8 of Happy Marriage?! (The Fandom Post)
A Library Girl on vols. 1-5 of Kobato (A Library Girl’s Familiar Diversions)
Connie on vol. 2 of Moon and Blood (Slightly Biased Manga)
Connie on vol. 2 of Neon Genesis Evangelion (3-in-1 edition) (Slightly Biased Manga)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 1 of Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire (The Comic Book Bin)
Sean Gaffney on vols. 9 and 10 of Ranma 1/2 (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Connie on vol. 10 of Rin-Ne (Slightly Biased Manga)
Connie on vol. 9 of Sailor Moon (Slightly Biased Manga)
A Library Girl on vol. 1 of Soulless (A Library Girl’s Familiar Diversions)
Matthew Warner on vol. 1 of Void’s Enigmatic Mansion (The Fandom Post)

Tatsumi on Film; Anno on Instagram

tatsumiGekiga pioneer Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s work is now accessible to viewers on the big screen, thanks to Singaporean director Eric Khoo. Khoo adapted such classic stories as “Hell,” “Goodbye,” and “Beloved Monkey,” interleaving them with vignettes from Tatsumi’s autobiography A Drifting Life. 

This just in: Moyocco Anno‘s new Instagram account is pretty awesome.

Marvel’s C.B. Cebulski shares a few more details about the Avengers/Attack on Titan crossover series. Over at TCJ, Joe McCulloch looks at an earlier Marvel/manga crossover, Kazuo Koike’s Wolverine one-shot.

Lori Henderson dishes the dirt on two new licenses: Aquarion-Evol and Flowers for Chronous, both of which will be published by One Peace Books.

The Manga Bookshelf gang share their picks for this week’s best new arrivals.

What kind of manga appeals to 9-to-12 year old readers? Melinda Beasi weighs the pros and cons of three series that are frequently recommended for tweens.

News from Japan: The forthcoming Doraemon movie–Doraemon: Nobita no Space Heroes–will be adapted for the pages of Coro Coro; look for the first chapter in January 2015. Also arriving in theaters next year will be a big-screen treatment of Io Sakisaka’s Strobe Edge.

Reviews: Over at Anime News Network, Jason Thompson completes his 56-hour Naruto review marathon, tackling volumes 28-72. Closer to home, Melinda Beasi sings the praises of an oldie but goodie: Setona Mizushiro’s Afterschool Nightmare.

Matthew Warner on vol. 13 of 07-Ghost (The Fandom Post)
Ash Brown on vol. 1 of Ajin: Demi-Human (Experiments in Manga)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 14 of Attack on Titan (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Anna Call on vol. 1 of Deadman Wonderland (No Flying No Tights)
Ken H. on vols. 2-3 of Kimagure Orange Road (Sequential Ink)
Megan R. on Le Chevalier D’Eon (Manga Test Drive)
Rebecca Silverman on vols. 1-2 of Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer (Anime News Network)
L.B. Bryant on vol. 5 of No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular (ICv2)
Richie Graham on vol. 1 of Ranma 1/2: 2-in-1 Edition (No Flying No Tights)
Sakura Eries on vol. 9 of Spice and Wolf (The Fandom Post)
Kate O’Neil on vol. 22 of Soul Eater (The Fandom Post)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 10 of Ultimo (Comic Book Bin)
Jenny Ertel on vols. 1-3 of What Did You Eat Yesterday? (No Flying No Tights)
Matthew Warner on vol. 1 of World Trigger (The Fandom Post)

Bookmarked! 11/12/14

Welcome to another edition of Bookmarked! This week, Johanna Draper Carlson of Comics Worth Reading joins Kate and I as we talk about what’s on the top of our reading stacks this week. I’ll start:

Legal DrugBrigid: I have been reading CLAMP’s Legal Drug a few pages at a time, which is really not the way to read it. I know this manga was a big deal back in the 2000s, but I have to confess I don’t always get CLAMP, and I’m finding this story somewhat tiresome because the characters all seem like types. The lead character, Kazahaya Kudo, was dying in the snow (for reasons that aren’t at all clear) when he was rescued by Rikuo, a young man who is as sullen as he is handsome. Now they live together and work for a pharmacy, but they spend a lot of time doing side jobs for the overly winsome owner of the business. The tasks they are assigned seem impossible—catch an invisible firefly—and they are given no direction, although they do have special psychic powers to fall back on. The puzzle part of it is interesting, and the art is lovely, but I just can’t warm up to any of these characters. It is nice, though, that Dark Horse has collected it into a single, thick omnibus, and that makes it easy for me to keep on plowing through it.

AnomalAnomal, by contrast, is a slim volume filled with lots of interesting characters. It’s a collection of short stories about the interactions between humans and yokai, and although they are all by the same creator, they vary quite a bit in tone. The character on the cover is a hyaku-me, or “hundred-eyes,” and he only figures in the first story, which is a shame as he’s a striking character. Some of the tales touch on deep emotions such as love, loss, and indebtedness, but there are a couple of semi-humorous ones, too. Unfortunately, the longest story is also the most annoying, about a schoolgirl who wants to become a yokai master because she loves to hug yokai. Nukuharu has an interesting way of drawing yokai, but like the stories, the art is uneven. I would love to see a more polished work from this creator, but Anomal is an interesting work and very different from the usual run of yokai tales.

Kate: I read Legal Drug about eight years ago. Though I loved it then, I’m not sure I’d be as enthusiastic about Legal Drug now. I still find CLAMP’s artwork elegant, but I agree with your assessment of the characters: they’re paper-thin collections of tics and mannerisms that grow tiresome quickly.

book_witchcraftworks01My nightstand is overflowing with new Vertical Comics. First up for me is volume one of Witchcraft Works, a series that falls squarely under the heading of Manga for Teenage Boys. The story focuses on Honoka Takamiya, a nebbishy high school student who has inexplicably attracted the attention of the class queen, Ayaka Kagari. After Ayaka rescues Honoka from an army of vicious stuffed rabbits — yes, it’s that kind of manga — we learn that Ayaka has been tasked with protecting Honoka from her fellow witches.

I’ll give creator Ryu Mizunagi credit: he wastes no time on exposition, diving into the action in the very first pages. Later chapters are denser in explanation, but generally read like conversations, rather than convenient exchanges of information for the reader’s benefit. I’m a little “meh” on the art, as it’s been calculated to appeal to the male gaze; most of the female characters are comically well endowed. (Several would topple over in real life, given their otherwise slender proportions.) There’s a fair amount of mammary-oriented fanservice and silly outfits, as well as an element of male wish fulfillment that just doesn’t resonate with an older female reader like me.

book_ajin-demihuman01More promising is Ajin: Demi-Human, a supernatural thriller that starts slowly but builds momentum quickly. The first ten or so pages are a chore to read, as author Tsuina Miura provides a detailed explanation of what demi-humans are–they’re immortal–and how many walk the earth. (Hint: not many.) After this clumsy intro, however, the author delivers a nasty jolt: seemingly ordinary teen Kei Nagai learns the hard way that he’s immortal when he survives a hit-and-run accident with a truck. The intense media interest in this discovery forces Kei to go on the lam to avoid bounty hunters, government agents, and evil scientists.

A story likes Ajin lives or dies by its artwork, and manga-ka Gamon Sakurai proves he’s up to the task of bring Miura’s script to life. Kei’s accident, for example, is suitably icky and unsettling, leaving the reader as dumbfounded as the characters who witnessed it. Sakurai’s action scenes are crisply rendered, too–a big plus, considering how many pages of volume one are devoted to high-speed chases and hand-to-hand combat. My only nit-picky criticism is the character designs: although the adults look good, some of the teenagers have serious Manga Hair. That’s a minor complaint, however, considering how much I enjoyed volume one.

9781939130402Also on my nightstand are volumes three and four of Fumi Yoshinaga’s What Did You Eat Yesterday? I admit that I began this series fully expecting to love it, but have been mildly disappointed thus far. The issue, for me, is the ratio of drama to shop talk. The vignettes exploring the relationship between Shiro, an uptight lawyer, and his partner Kenji, a cheerful hairdresser, are lovely, capturing the normal rhythms of a middle-aged couple’s life. We also get glimpses of each man’s work situation, and how they interact with peers and clients—another winning touch. The food talk, however, is less compelling. Though some of the dishes sound appetizing, I found these passages as tedious as listening to someone give a blow-by-blow account of an expensive meal. Your mileage may vary; if you live to eat, you may find these stove-side rhapsodies more engaging than I have.

Johanna: It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to read any manga—too much life stuff getting in the way—but the bright side of that is lots of volumes to catch up on over the holidays from series I expect to enjoy. I did manage to dive into a few books recently, plus try a new one-shot.

What Did You Eat Yesterday 5

Let’s start with one of my current favorites, What Did You Eat Yesterday? Volume 5 is just out, and every new book for me is a reminder that I’m thrilled that we’re getting this series in English. I adore Fumi Yoshinaga’s art, and her combination of recipe how-tos and small moments of daily life for a gay couple works well. I keep thinking I’m going to try one of the dishes Shiro prepares, but they’re too domestic. They use short-cut bottled sauces and whatever he gets at the local grocery, which is realistic (someone who has to get dinner on the table every day doesn’t spend a lot of time making fancy dishes) and a great insight into his personality, but that makes them difficult to replicate in the U.S. Yet that cultural authenticity adds another level of enjoyment. I need to learn to mimic how he thinks about meals, with easy but balanced side dishes included, instead of getting caught up in the details. I’m not sure I could filet my own whole fish in my kitchen, the way Shiro does, either.

Ha! I originally typoed “meals” as “males” above, which leads into the other piece of the work, the comfortable relationship between the two men. It’s not about what Shiro and Kenji say, specifically, to each other in an evening, it’s that they’re sharing the details of their experiences. Some of them are dramatic, as when Kenji explains how his father abandoned his family. There’s a good deal of humor, too. Early on, a friendly housewife’s husband tries to make Shiro friends with the other gay guy he knows just because they’re both gay. Anyone who’s been matched up on a superficiality can ruefully relate to that. Overall, I never know what a new chapter will bring, which I like a lot.

Genshiken Second Season 5

Reaching further back, I also read Volume 5 of Genshiken: Second Season. I don’t always know exactly what’s going on with the characters, since they’re so fannish and detailed about media I’m unfamiliar with, but I can appreciate their dedication to their hobbies, even if this go-round for the series is a lot about cosplay and yaoi.

The one character I remember best from the previous series, the terminally nerdy Madarame, is still hanging around the college club, although he’s graduated. The younger club members have decided to do him a favor by orchestrating him being in the club room with the girl he’s had a crush on for four years. The encounter plays out in a way I found totally unexpected, but quietly charming and good-hearted. That’s why I’m still “hanging around” with these wackos—it’s like being part of your own group of fans, virtually. The details may vary, but the underlying love and dedication, even when taken to extremes, is similar. I also like the way each chapter is followed up by four 4-koma strips that comment on the events we’ve just seen.

In my own burst of fannish trivia, it’s part of the cosplay girl’s (I don’t know any character names beyond “Sue”) character that she’s very large-breasted, in contrast to her sweet, unassuming personality (when she’s not dressing up). In some of the outfits she wears here (and the chapter where she’s topless), I was reminded of what they used to say about Wally Wood drawing Power Girl, that he told his assistants that he was going to keep drawing her bigger and bigger until they made him stop … and they never did.

Judge5

From sex to violence. I also read Judge, volume 5, although I am embarrassed to admit it. I only keep up with it because I’m lucky enough to get review copies. (If not, I’d be getting it out of the library, because I only want to buy series I expect to reread, and once the final villain is revealed, I suspect my interest will disappear entirely.) Next volume is supposedly the last, and I’m glad, the same way I’m glad when they cancel a TV show I should have stopped watching several episodes before but couldn’t quite break the habit on.

It’s one of those “a bunch of random people are told to kill each other one by one” stories—and why did Japan develop that genre?—that’s gone on too long. There are a couple of revelations in this book that I think are supposed to be interesting and provide twists, but I just want it to be over. Especially since it’s turned into a mini-harem, with our nice-ish guy protagonist mostly dealing with three girls. I expected more from it, with the original theme of the seven deadly sins, but I can’t keep up with who had which animal head which was what sin. Really bad pacing, this series has.

Garden of Words

My one new read was The Garden of Words, which I failed. Remember when I said things had been really busy lately? As a result, I’ve been in a super-charged mood of “let’s get more stuff done,” and I want what I’m reading to keep up. This book is the exact opposite. It’s about an older woman and school-age boy who meet at a gazebo when it rains. It requires leisurely reflection and an awareness of connections in life and pondering how someone can affect our lives temporarily but then we move on.

I was in totally the wrong mood for it. I’m going to try reading it again when I can better calm myself and approach it on its terms before I decide whether it’s too much like other things I’ve read or has its own special qualities.

Miyazaki Talks Manga; Ninja Overload

MiyazakiSamuraiTop

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, legendary director Hayao Miyazaki discusses his current project: a manga about samurai warriors. Don’t hold your breath, however; Miyazaki told Variety that he doubts he’ll finish it. “I wanted to put a lot of  effort into it, ignoring costs, like a hobby,” he tells the magazine. “I thought I’d have free time, but I keep getting project offers.”

As Naruto draws to a close, Jason Thompson attempts the impossible: he’s reading the entire series in 48 hours, recording his impressions as he goes. The first installment is now live, and covers volumes 1-27.

Speaking of everyone’s favorite spiky-haired ninja, worldwide sales figures for Naruto have topped 200 million volumes. Though the lion’s share of books were sold in Japan, fans in 35 countries around the world have purchased a whopping 75 million volumes during the series’ fifteen-year run.

Masashi Kishimoto chats with The Asahi Shimbun about the phenomenal success of Naruto.

The latest installments of Attack on Titan and Black Butler top this week’s New York Times Manga Bestseller list.

Good news for anyone who missed Ode to Kirihito the first time around: Vertical Comics will be re-issuing ten classic Tezuka titles in ebook form.

In other licensing news, Seven Seas announced two more Alice in the Country of… manga, while VIZ added two new titles to its Shojo Beat line-up: Hiro Fujiwara’s Maid-Sama! (formerly published by Tokyopop) and Maki Minami’s Komomo Confiserie.

News from Japan: Io Sakisaka’s Blue Spring Ride is winding down, as is Yukinori Kitajima and Yuki Kodama’s detective series Hamatora.

Reviews: Alexander Hoffman reviews Monokuro Kinderbook, an oldie but goodie from the Fanfare/Ponet Mon catalog. Over at the Infinite Rainy Day, Jonathan Kaharl shares a list of his favorite horror manga, from xxxHolic to Franken Fran.

Nic Wilcox on vols. 1-4 of Alice in the Country of Jokers (No Flying No Tights)
Leroy Douresseaux on All You Need Is Kill (Comic Book Bin)
Alice Vernon on vol. 1 of Barakamon (Girls Read Comics)
Matthew Warner on vol. 4 of Bloody Cross (The Fandom Post)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 12 of Blue Exorcist (Lesley’s Musings on Anime & Manga)
Ken H. on vols. 40-41 of Fairy Tail (Sequential Ink)
Megan R. on Hetalia: Axis Powers (Manga Test Drive)
Kristin on vol. 1 of Kiss of the Rose Princess (Comic Attack)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 1 of Kiss of the Rose Princess (Lesley’s Musings on Anime & Manga)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 23 of Naruto (Lesley’s Musings on Anime & Manga)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 16 of Rin-ne (Comic Book Bin)
Khursten Santos on Sono Otoko Amatou nitsuki (Otaku Champloo)
Kate O’Neil on vol. 7 of Until Death Do Us Part (The Fandom Post)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 1 of Voice Over! Seiyu Academy (Lesley’s Musings on Anime & Manga)

 

Attack on Titan Conquers All

I wrote a roundup of the current manga scene for SLJTeen newsletter, with notes on publishing trends (omnibuses, license rescues) and some recommended series.

CBR has more details on the Attack on Titan/Marvel crossover, including where it’s going to run: In the Japanese culture magazine Brutus.

Lori Henderson looks at this week’s new manga at Manga Xanadu.

The Manga Bookshelf team discusses next week’s new manga, and Melinda Beasi has some pix of the new Pandora Hearts art book.

Attack on Titan creator Hajime Isayama was named “Tourism Friendship Ambassador to the ‘Beautiful Riverside Location of Hita,'” his home town in Oita Prefecture. Isayama came back to his hometown for a two-day cultural event, “Shingeki no Satogaeri” (Attack on Returning Home), and during a talk show that was part of the event, he said that the landscape of the area was his inspiration for the setting of Attack on Titan.

Three volumes of Attack on Titan make the BookScan best-seller list, which tracks graphic novel sales in bookstores; just like in the old days, the latest volume of Naruto tops the list, and vol. 19 of Vampire Knight is there as well.

Naruto comes to an end next week, but it’s not really going away: Next week’s issue of Shonen Jump includes an announcement that a new mini-series will launch in the spring, and a couple of novels are already in the works. What’s more, something called the “Naruto Shin Jidai Kaimaku Project” (Naruto’s New Era Opening Project) has a countdown for a big announcement on Monday. So stay tuned!

Kadokawa launched its Book Walker app this week with an array of titles, some old, some new.

Laura looks at the series currently running in BetsuHana magazine.

Reviews: Sean Gaffney and Anna N. look at some new releases from Viz, Seven Seas, and Vertical in the latest edition of Bookshelf Briefs. Ash Brown looks back at the week in manga at Experiments in Manga.

Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of Barakamon (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Ein Gamagori on vol. 2 of Food Wars (The Fandom Post)
Anna N. on vol. 1 of Kiss of the Rose Princess (Manga Report)
Sarah on vol. 12 of Library Wars (nagareboshi reviews)
Kory Cerjak on vol. 8 of Magi (The Fandom Post)
Erica Friedman on vol. 1 of Mebae (Okazu)
Matthew Warner on vol. 5 of Nisekoi (The Fandom Post)
Ash Brown on vol. 9 of No. 6 (Experiments in Manga)
Sakura Eries on vol. 17 of Oresama Teacher (The Fandom Post)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 1 of Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire (ANN)
Sarah on Sword Art Online: Aincrad (nagareboshi reviews)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 0 of Übel Blatt (A Case Suitable for Treatment)