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Category Archives: Manga

The Unexpected

one of the more interesting end cards so far, for obvious reasons

A little word of warning before I proceed: this  post is actually NOT about Mawaru Penguindrum, talking about either its latest episode or some other related subject worthy of lengthy discussion. I just chose this image after watching the seventh episode because it was just, well, interesting. Out of all the shojo manga artists whose drawings I’ve seen (that is to say, I haven’t seen all that many), Lily Hoshino’s art, in my view, has a little  unique something in it that separates it from the others, though basically her drawings aren’t that distanced from standard shoujo manga fare. And I’ve also liked seeing the end title illustrations she’d provided for every episode of Penguindrum, where they are rendered spontaneously and are nicely done, at that. As for the series itself, I’m still very much interested in how it is going, especially after seeing where the plot took its story in the latest stint. It’s also nice to see those musical sequences make a return here; they’d given the ep some fresh touches of levity here and there that kept the whole affair lively and rich throughout despite the strange developments. That said, I’ll probably resume blogging the series by episode 9 at the earliest (because of some tasty rumors I’ve heard about it), but much of that still remains to be seen. We’ll see how the next few weeks go.

 

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Takemitsu Zamurai

If you’ve been following a specific manga series for quite some time, you’d have noticed little bits and pieces of changes in it as you went along–most glaring of which is in the art department. Be it as simple as drawing slightly more rounded eyes and much wider faces or as advanced as using sketchier, rougher lines to draw characters, that element of change always creeps up along the way when an artist slowly and surely develops his own fuller approach to his art. A few popular examples would be Takehiko Inoue from Slam Dunk to Vagabond, Makoto Yukimura from Planetes to present-day Vinland Saga, and Kentaro Miura from his early Berserk days in 1989 to his current Berserk. Hiroaki Samura gradually switched up his art style from a lighter, more pencil-focused line art to use of more inks and bold lines in Blade of the Immortal, but still he retained his initial rough flavor. Even Tite Kubo got in on the act. His early Zombie Powder/Bleach days saw him at his most wild and energetic, then as the years went by, he had settled into the much more simplified design work we see today.

Sometimes, there are also artists who change things up in such a bold and striking way that you almost could not relate their present style to their other works. Save for a few signature quirks, like the way a face or a body is drawn, there’s almost no other direct link from the past to the present. In some ways, I think it’s an artist exploring the ways and means of his craft, and for others, there’s also the sense that it’s just another logical step in his career as an artist.

 

...had trouble choosing just one image, but here goes

 

Takemitsu Zamurai (Story: Eifuku Issei, Art: Taiyou Matsumoto)

Such an example would be Taiyou Matsumoto. I’ve covered one of his earlier works (Zero) before in this upstart blog, and one of the things I noted was the stark contrast between that and Takemitsu. There’s now less focus on boldly drawn lines and forms, but here comes a lighter, more sensitive drawing style that feels almost otherworldly. I don’t know many artists who have changed approaches the way Matsumoto has. One thing I also remember noting in the past Matsumoto-centric post I made was the versatility of Matsumoto as an artist. Here is where that comes into play in a fuller, more mature, and more effective manner.

 

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Alternatively Alternative 2

Some time ago, I stumbled across a very interesting magazine response by the mecha maestro himself, Yoshiyuki Tomino. I’m not going to say any more at this point, but it seemed to me his nickname Kill-Em-All Tomino doesn’t only apply to his work in the industry, but apparently he’s also quite harsh in real life. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a point, though. While I kind of feel bad for the girl he responded to, I also think Tomino was right in telling her how demanding the anime/manga industry in Japan could be.

It’s still impressive how young people are inspired enough to even think about working in anime where the pay is low and the work can be tremendously hard, even today. Manga seems more enticing, but even there the demands are the same. After all, not every manga artist can make it big. It’s hard enough just landing a gig in a magazine. It just makes the people who do make names for themselves in the industry even more respectable, much more those who become household names. I just wonder how much young blood manages to enter the industry ever year and survive in it.

 

what

 

God’s Child (Nishioka Kyoudai)

Having only heard of the Nishioka siblings (brother and sister) in passing just about a year or two ago, I didn’t have any idea as to how they drew manga. As such, I didn’t know what to expect when I first sat down to read their latest work, God’s Child. The concept was intriguing, given the art I saw. As I read it, though, I felt like this just isn’t a manga you just sit down to read casually. It’s bleak, chilling, and unabashedly brutal. I didn’t expect the manga to achieve that kind of morbid effect with the spare, almost abstract art it employed, but I was surprised at how well it worked. The manga was an enjoyable read, even if it didn’t leave me with a good taste in my mouth. And I think it’d be the same for everyone else too.

 

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Alternatively Alternative

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written out something here. The recent anime have mostly been quite pleasant viewing, but I wasn’t in the mood to put out my opinions on them on a blog post, as they didn’t strike me as anything particularly awesome in the first place anyway (that, or I’m just too lazy to do anything). While the current season has been surprisingly enjoyable thus far, my notion that the winter season is mostly a transitional season for the blockbuster that is spring looks like it could be true. There are a slew of new TV anime/OVAs/movies that look mightily promising, plus the sheer amount of anime in general next season is something I haven’t seen in a while. If you’re particularly bored of anime this season, then hibernating for a month should be a plenty good idea.

Or, if you’re not exactly the hibernating type, you could just read more manga. I’ve been really out of the loop when it comes to current manga so I can’t say anything about it, but surfing through past titles should also be a worthwhile activity. There are literally hundreds more manga than there is anime, so there are bound to be some gems to be found here and there. I’m sure most have also stockpiled a considerably extensive backlog, so it’s also a nice idea to chip at it bit by bit. I’ve hoarded a lot of stuff over time myself. The feeling of being impressed by a story that’s been put off for very long is a good, if not a rare feeling.

hang this up on walls

 

Obrigado! (Shinkichi Kato)

The main impressive thing about manga is that it’s just so vast. People could cover every kind of material (and then some) and have it released to the reading public. Just about every aspect of life (or anything under the sun, really) has been drawn about, but there still is a lot of impressively inventive pieces of work being put out. Of course the industry is a business, and everyone involved is out there to make money, but the sheer vastness of the industry itself has given opportunities to a multitude of excellent artists/storytellers to effectively exercise their talents and creativity in their own personalized styles. Not necessarily does commercial purposes mean the lack of individualistic creativity. The fact that anime has continuously approached manga for material over the years for its own stories gives proof to manga’s breadth. Just as there are a boatload of fluff on the surface of the medium, I’m plenty sure there are also a boatload of good stuff hidden beneath it. We just aren’t exposed to it heavily enough.

 

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Eat Your Veggies, Kids

Just got the single for Monochrome, the first insert song/battle theme for Bones’ anime Star Driver, sung by Haruka Tomatsu (who voiced the character Sakana-chan, or “Fish Girl”), and I’ve got to say it’s a good enough listen. It was a neat little battle theme during the first arc, with its symphonic sounds exuding the necessary sense of urgency fit for a fight song. Though it is a bit disappointing that they turned it into a more Jpop-sounding song in the full version, but at least they kept the original song used in the show. The latter version was superior in more ways than one, anyway. After a while I just can’t help but compare it to the main battle theme used in Star Driver’s spiritual cousin, Kunihiko Ikuhara’s Revolutionary Girl Utena, though. Now I do like Monochrome, but I have to say I found Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku as the definitively superior fight song (even if it was only an introduction of sorts). It sounded fresh, and it never really got old no matter how many times it was used. The lyrics were very strange at that, which gives it a feeling of weird depth–like it held much deeper meanings or something (though they probably didn’t). All the battle songs in Utena had really strange lyrics, come to think of it. Maybe that’s part of why I love that show so much.

Speaking of music, I’ve found more enjoyment listening to this record, Club Jazz Digs Lupin III, which is a cover album dedicated to the classic anime Lupin III. The record was mostly filled with different covers of Yuji Ohno’s legendary OP theme for the show, but they all had their own personal touches to distinguish one from the other. As an added bonus, the band Soil & Pimp Sessions contributed their own version of the song (the first one in the list). I first came across them in Manglobe’s 2008 offering Michiko e Hatchin, as they did the OP, and I liked what I heard. So it was a nice surprise to see they included the full version of the OP theme, Paraiso, in their latest (?) album, 6. It’s good to know that Lupin remains relevant today, being the original “cool and jazzy” anime and all. Cowboy Bebop itself had some definite Lupin influences. If you give Spike a beard and a cowboy hat, he’d be Jigen.

That got kinda long. Well, anyway, it seems that I’ve neglected manga for a long while now, so I decided to look back into a little something I’ve read some time back.

 

Nasu (Kuroda Iou, Afternoon Comics, Kodansha)

Actually, I chose to read it again after a few months since I’ve forgotten what it was I understood from it. My memory needed refreshing. The manga itself didn’t have any bold catchy hooks, no fancy gimmicks, and no flashy tricks. However, what it had was a defining unifying element which is present through all three volumes: the eggplant. Kuroda manages to weave little episodes here and there which revolve around or at least involve the plant in some way, and that’s part of what makes the manga a good read. From the past to the present down all the way to the future, the eggplant remains a fixture throughout the characters’ many different episodes. Some things just never die.

 

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Of Mice and Men

As you may have guessed judging from my first few posts here in this little blog, the write-ups I’ve made look like clear-cut reviews of certain manga/anime that have tickled my fancy. All they needed were traditional rating systems–either going from the minimum of 5 to the maximum of 100. Add in fancy markers such as stars or whatnot, then the whole site would really look like a genuine review site. I didn’t actually plan on making the site that way, but things just happened to fall in that direction.

I don’t actually feel really confident in my skills as a reviewer, and at times feel like I’ve made wrong judgments somewhere. Looking back, some of the points I’ve tried to make sound stupid to me now, and by extension made me feel stupid as well. My capacities in translating my thoughts into coherent statements aren’t really things I have so much confidence about, and for that I ask for a degree of forgiveness. Hopefully, from now on I’d be able to steer this little thing I’ve got going into the direction I preferred.

Now, after all that nonsense, I’m back with a little something I’ve done and caught up with while again struggling with a near-useless network connection.

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zeroes and heroes

One of these days I should get something to remind me to read more manga. I feel as if I’ve neglected the medium in favor its animated counterpart, and I don’t think it’s that good of an idea. It is also sort of unfair to focus on anime and ignore manga altogether, when there are a lot more manga compared to the output of anime in a given period. So again, on a whim, I picked out another manga that I’ve left sitting for so long and read all two volumes of it. While I wasn’t really crazy about it, I thought it was pretty good, and therefore worth typing out a few words about.

Sports manga have always been a sort of a fascination of mine. This genre is where the abilities of artists get tested–in the way they translate movement into such a static medium, and in the way they represent the numerous ups-and-downs sports inherently entail. A lot of mangaka also made their name with sports manga–Koichi Takahashi with Captain Tsubasa, Yusuke Murata (who is, in my opinion, the best artist in Shonen Jump right now) with Eyeshield 21, and of course Takehiko Inoue himself, a confessed basketball fan, with his almost legendary Slam Dunk. While the series I mentioned above relied on the conventional tropes of the genre, this one is different. It presents boxing from an interesting perspective, and that’s what I liked about it.

Taiyo Matsumoto’s boxing manga Zero offers a small glimpse into the world of boxing through the eyes of a definitely interesting character. It’s in the same genre as say, Ashita no Joe and Hajime no Ippo, but I feel as if it really can’t be compared starkly with these two.

I confess. I haven’t been exposed to Matsumoto’s works aside from his collection Brothers of Japan, which I didn’t like that much. However, I’ve heard great things about the creator of Tekkon Kinkreet (which was adapted into a movie by Studio 4c), and numerous other acclaimed titles, thus I’ve put him in my checklist. Brothers reminded me of Usamaru Furuyas early work, namely Palepoli–which I’ve read only a day prior to Brothers–in the way it presented its admittedly crazy ideas. However I felt it was inferior to Palepoli, simply because Palepoli was just an explosion of creativity and an infusion of crazy ideas and inspired art. (I sure wish Furuya would create another manga like that–his current works are pretty good, but they lack what Palepoli had.)

Now then, onto the good bits.

Art – What’s really impressed me about Taiyo Matsumoto is his art. He has a knack for drawing realistic characters while using an unconventional art style. I saw it in Brothers, and again in Zero. There’s an edge to his drawings rarely seen in manga today. He stands between the realist mangaka such as say, Inoue and Kentaro Miura, and the ultra-fancy ones, such as Furuya and even Igarashi Daisuke. Matsumoto also boasts flexibility, as is shown by what I’ve seen of his latest output Takemitsu Zamurai. Comparing the two, one could hardly guess that both of them were drawn by the same artist.

In Zero, Matsumoto shows his realist side. Characters are drawn without the conventional tropes of manga character design, and they also give off a feeling of rawness, which I like. His panel composition is also quite unique, but not quite as odd-ball as Brothers. Like I said, the abilities of an artist gets tested in sports manga, and Matsumoto undergoes the same in Zero.

Action is one of the biggest things in sports manga, and I say Zero passes it. However, it doesn’t pass the test with flying colors like Slam Dunk’s latter chapters in terms of pure movement. Sometimes I even feel as if Matsumoto’s style doesn’t really suit the more intense bits of Zero, and that the benefits of realism don’t really get translated into the fights that well. The composition and fight choreography can get confusing at times, and I wasn’t able to follow the action with the exactness that I liked. Zero has a nice sense of paneling, though, and Matsumoto’s use of interesting perspectives gives the fights enough dynamism and sense of movement to last me through all 12 rounds.

Story – Zero isn’t just your ordinary boxing manga, and I like it for that. While other such stories revolve around an underdog attempting to go from Point A to Point B–with point B being a championship belt–with all the conventional tropes of the genre infused into it, such as romance, friendship, effort, and guts, Zero is widely different. Instead, it takes an already established boxer, Goshima, and his mindset and view as to what boxing means for him, and lays it on the table.

The manga takes its name from the main character, Goshima, who was nicknamed “Zero” because of his undefeated streak through his ten-year boxing career. Not coincidentally, his monstrous skills in the ring also take him to the Middleweight World Championship, which he holds throughout the manga. Goshima is feared all throughout the boxing world, and alongside that fear is the desire for his fellow boxers to unseat him and finally take away his nickname “Zero”.

What’s nice about Zero is its not-so familiar main character. Goshima isn’t the standard protagonist who just wants to win through effort and guts, in fact he destroys his opponents left and right, but he’s the silent brooding type who is in a crossroads. He was already 30 years old in the manga, arguably past his prime, undergoing a dilemma common to all famously skilled athletes–to keep on fighting, or to finally lay down his gloves and retire. Goshima’s personality also throws a nice twist to things. He is an eccentric person, who knows nothing else aside from boxing. All he desires is to fight, and the way the manga handles that facet of his problem is quite effective. It shows how his innate competitive nature leads him to a final confrontation, in which his dilemma could be solved.

The manga also gives a nice glimpse into the sport of boxing itself. Sports manga generally don’t delve into the business side of the sport, but Zero does just that. The president of Zero’s gym is given the generic materialistic corporate boss slant, but it’s handled interestingly enough not to make him an annoying bastard, but rather a stoic businessman. In the end, he even gives Zero what he ultimately wanted, although under the pretense of a “last hurrah” kind of thing.

Zero is ultimately an introspective manga with bits of intense action here and there, and it does the first part quite well. Goshima’s motivations and his overall viewpoint is interspersed with good timing into the action parts, and it gives each match of his a personal edge. I felt as if the matches were slowly showing glimpses of Zero’s ultimate desire, and the entire manga does a great job at building up into a very intense climax.

However, I had a problem with that. The manga does a very good job of building up into a memorable finish, but ultimately it falls flat. The result of Zero’s final match didn’t have a lasting effect, nor did it rouse any kind of emotion at all. I thought it wasn’t handled that well, and I felt that the end result of everything did not match the overall narrative content and the finish it was reaching. The whole thing reminded me of Naoki Urasawa‘s works–both Monster and 20th Century Boys had tremendously awesome beginning and middle parts, only to fall short in the ending. (And it could be argued that Pluto also shared the same fate.) Maybe the 2-volume constraint limited the story in whatever way, but deep down I knew it could have been executed in a much better manner.

*My desired scenario would have been a bit melodramatic, but Zero deserved a more energetic ending than what happened.

Characters – All that aside, I found the characters of Zero another of its strong points. Aside from Goshima, the characters around him were given development and personality. Their interactions with Zero in terms of boxing and outside it were believable, and matched the eccentricity of the manga quite well.

One of the characters I took special note of was Takada, one of Goshima’s co-boxers. He was a young spunky kid, with overflowing confidence, and considerable skills to match. He exuded the air of a young challenger, poised to finally dethrone the powerhouse who has dominated his field for a decade. Even if he is portrayed as an arrogant and cocky kid, he doesn’t come off as an insufferably annoying brat. In fact, I sensed that his personality and his actions were rooted in his deep respect for Goshima, and not just baseless overconfidence as it seemed at first. In the end, Matsumoto’s impressive handling of that contrast really told me of his skill at characterization, and I liked it.

Zero’s own coach/trainer, Araki, was memorable himself. Being known as the “father” of the monstrous Goshima, he displays hesitation and a bit of restraint in his dealings with the current champion. He knows what Zero wants, but he is torn by the business side of his sport and the wild personality of his talent. It isn’t exactly easy leading someone with an oddball nature into the peak of success, and sustaining it for ten years, and the manga shows how it has taken a toll on Araki with its introspective bits. Araki is deeply committed to Goshima, and I felt that Matsumoto gave him a believable reason to be like that.

Goshima’s eventual rival, Toravis, didn’t strike me the same as the previous two however. He seemed like an arbitrary rival put in there to finally give Zero the conflict it needed to drive it to the finish line. Skill-wise, he’s arguably even better than Zero, given his age–he was 19, Goshima was 30–and he was hyped as being a monster as well–he was rumored to have killed a man during a sparring session. Toravis’s transformation from a bright and fun-loving kid into a fearsome monster is done believably enough, however, but the overall disappointing ending shortchanged him. He was the boxer Takada could not become, and he really did deserve a better ending.

Verdict – Two volumes of boxing goodness were put on display by Zero. Taiyo Matsumoto’s skill came through in all the important facets, and excuses whatever flaws the manga had. It felt limited at some parts, but overall it is a good boxing manga worth reading. The art is drawn by a clearly skilled artist and does justice to the important things in sports manga like this one, even if it the skill itself somewhat hampers it. Story-wise, it was a decent, if not great ride through the twilight of an aging champion’s career. Even if the ending was a bit lackluster to my tastes, the manga had a slew of interesting and human characters that gave it a refreshing edge and a breath of fresh air into the world of sports manga. I say Taiyo Matsumoto’s Zero deserves a read–it’s only two volumes anyway–and should serve as a good gateway into his other works (as a gateway, this was better than Brothers).

While not exactly a knock0ut, Zero keeps your interest for 11 out of 12 rounds, and I know I’m going to dive into Taiyo Matsumoto’s catalogue sooner rather than later.

Page-turner

So, here we are with my very first blog post in my very own site. While I still don’t know what the hell this blog is for in the first place, I figured I might as well post something worthwhile to justify creating one. Here goes.

After a few hours of brainstorming and trying to find out what to post, I stumbled upon this quite underrated gem I’ve read a year or so ago. I loved this one so much, that I figured more people should be able to read this–hence why I’ve put this one for the special first-ever blog post.

It’s entitled Memories of Emanon, based on a novel by Shinji Kajio, and with art by Tsuruta Kenji. From here you should be able to use your google-fu to get this one, but I’d like you to stick around while I rant about it.

Now, first things first.

 

Art – One of the strong points of Emanon is the art. Every panel has generous amounts of detail, which gives the impression that a lot of effort has been put into it. The two-page spreads exemplify that aspect, with a smooth clean look with plenty enough details to complement it. Details, in my opinion, should serve to accentuate the overall art design of a manga and Emanon demonstrates that quite well. Some other series put too much detail and color to a page, which then serves to take away the attention of the reader from the big picture. Kenji Tsuruta’s simple yet superb character designs mix well with the backgrounds, and that’s a big plus in my book. The panel composition itself is quaint, but it has a smooth flow which makes for easy reading. Plus you get to admire Tsuruta’s talent in every panel.

It’s definitely one of, if not the best-looking manga I’ve read in the past year.

Story – Now to the nitty-gritty. The reason I regard this book highly isn’t just the art. True, the art is very good and Tsuruta is clearly very skilled, but the main draw for me concerning Emanon is the story, or should I say the premise. Emanon tackles a very common theme in manga/anime–at least from those which I’ve seen/read–which is, the subject of memories. It’s a bit comparable to Masaaki Yuasa’s Kaiba (also one of the best anime series in 2008, in my opinion), but this manga takes a more down-to-earth approach to everything. Few might say that the story is too simple for such a complex theme, but I say it works perfectly.

The story is set in Japan 1967, inside a ferry carrying our nameless protagonist–a man won a journey to heal his heart from a series of painful rejections. Accompanying him in his return trip is a mysterious woman who appears to be wandering aimlessly. The two eventually come into contact, and we learn the woman’s name: Emanon. As their conversations grow, the man gradually learns what Emanon’s true nature is. It turns out that she has a 3 billion year old memory–she can remember everything that has happened since the dawn of life itself. Confused but intrigued, our SF fan of a protagonist then experiences a night he can never forget.

What happens in the story is the smart exploration of the meaning of memory in people’s lives. Emanon’s presence is engraved in the man’s head, as seen at the conclusion of the story (he also learns of another facet of Emanon’s ability then). It asks how it must feel like to remember everything, from the first animals, the first humans, down to each tragedy that wiped a lot of them out. MoE also tries to cover the pros and cons of having such an ability. The manga isn’t bogged down from extremely long-winded monologues and lengthy dialog as well, but rather takes a snapshot of two persons’ lives and creates something rather unforgettable through them, if only for one night. Simplicity gives the story more impact, in my view, and gives everything an even more memorable effect.

Characters – While our nameless SF fan-protagonist is himself a good character, it is ultimately the titular one, Emanon who shines brightest. Through her the story progresses, and our hapless SF fan is left to understand her. Emanon is a mysterious and fun character, who can capture readers’ hearts in the first few pages of her entrance alone, as she did with the MC. Possessing an extraordinary ability, her adaptation to it from billions of years ago until the present is presented in a smart and natural way. Eventually, the true nature of Emanon’s ability is brought to light, but even then she still retains her playfulness and charm even as a lot of time has passed. This is also why the character of Emanon is quite unforgettable. Her nature and personality still retain their basic features, no matter what time period she is in. She is one of my favorite female characters in manga/anime, and I don’t think it will change anytime soon.

Overall, Memories of Emanon has become one of my most loved manga because of its stellar art, its simple narrative, and memorable character/s. More people should read this one and appreciate what the medium of comics can really do given skilled creators. It is rare to find such good reads, and even rarer to find one such as this–which I can confidently say is quite similar to a Jiro Taniguchi manga.

So, before I sign off, here are some very useful links for those of you who want to read this too.

http://www.bakabt.com/150093-memories-of-emanon-omoide-emanon.html

http://www.mangaupdates.com/

http://www.mangatraders.com/

http://gotlurk.net/ (This one requires an IRC client)

…and of course, your own local bookstore if and when it does get licensed outside Japan.