Sunday, July 19, 2009
Monday, February 16, 2009
Not only am I late with this installment of ‘Manga for People Who Don’t like Manga,’ but I forgot that I was going to do a piece on CLAMP. I choose CLAMP because I wanted to challenge myself. Not that I don’t like CLAMP, I’m actually a huge fan. CLAMP is a four woman super-group who have produced dozens of different manga titles. The make-up of the group (one writer, three different artists) allows them to play with multiple genres and styles. Sometimes the stories will even intersect and influence each other. For American superhero fans, imagine if all of the titles from Marvel or DC were created by four people, and you have CLAMP in miniature.
The challenging part of focusing on them for this series is that CLAMP’s works embody practically every cliché and staple of every genre they use. And for most anime fans, we love it. We’re like goldfish, and CLAMP’s series are the fish food: we forget that we’ve already eaten this stuff before, we’ll just keep gulping it down as long as you feed it to us.
They’ve done giant robots, magical girls, harem sex comedies, a tournament style fighting series, school girl romance, apocalyptic fantasy, and everything else in between. The problem is that while everything is nice and familiar to anime fans, what to recommend to non-manga readers?
I have a few suggestions. These aren’t even my favorite CLAMP titles, but even non-manga readers should be able to get into them.
First up, Clover. Clover ran in ‘Amie’ magazine in Japan and was released in four volumes before the magazine went under. Even though it’s unfinished, I kind of like it in its incompleteness. There may be holes in the story, but at least Clover has atmosphere to spare.
Suu is a young girl with the ability to control machines. In the dystrophic world she lives in, children like her are controlled by the government and labeled ‘Clovers.’ One day, a retired soldier named Kazuhiko is asked to take her to ‘Fairy Park.’ Why does she want to go to an old amusement park? And why does Kazuhiko have to be the one who takes her there?
Like I mentioned before, CLAMP’s art differs widely from series to series, but the art in Clover is special. Not only does it not look like nothing they’ve done before (or since), it doesn’t look like anything else out there. The pages are sparse, often with about one to three panels on a page. Sometimes those panels will show things, other times they’ll just hold a speech bubble, or sometimes nothing at all.
But what you do see is beautiful. Clover has an aesthetic that draws as much from Victorian England as steam-punk. The character designs are graceful, though may take some getting used to (Kazuhiko is burdened with a disproportional hip to shoulder ratio, an affliction that many CLAMP men have).
CLAMP sometimes seem like savvy marketers than artists. Many of their series have spawned anime series and oodles of merchandise, but Clover really doesn’t fit that mold. It’s just this arty, angsty little series that could use more love. It’s kind of hard to track down copies that Tokyopop published, but Dark Horse is supposed to be coming out with an omnibus edition of all four volumes later this year. If you want to see sequential art down in a different way, than keep your eyes open for it.
Since CLAMP has such a huge catalogue, I was going to do more than one series for this article, but now I think I’ll save it for another time. Next week however, I will continue on this theme of suggesting a series from well-loved manga-ka, only instead of CLAMP I’m going to try and sell you on my favorite Rumiko Takahashi title.
Monday, February 9, 2009
Today I’m showcasing a manga that’s very near and dear to my heart. I credit it with not only getting me into manga, but comics in general. It shifted my perceptions of comics away from tights-and-capes and made me see the breadth of story telling available within the medium. So, if it could do that for me, maybe it could get you into manga.
The name of the series is ‘Short Program,’ written and drawn by Mitsuru Adachi. It’s a two volume collection of short stories, usually of the romantic-comedy variety. While volume two is fun and has the occasional flash of greatness, volume one is pretty much perfect. It’s on that volume that’s I’ll be concentrating on.
Adachi’s art is simple to the point where some might find it a little plain, but Mitsuru is a masterful story-teller. Instead of being a sorcerer who wows you with dazzling images and dramatic moments, Adachi is more like a magician, calling your attention to certain elements and then surprising you with some deft sleight of hand. Little details, gestures and throw-away lines, all end up being the key to everything in these stories. Mitsuru rarely makes a big deal out of the big reveals; he gives the reader just enough so that they can figure it out themselves. And instead of feeling manipulated, you end-up feeling like a participant in the story, as close as the situation as the characters.
My favorite stories in volume one include junior high school reunion. As we see the kids (now in high school) mingle, the story flashes back to their junior high school days. The back and forth makes for a much more powerful story than if it had just been told straight-up. My other favorite takes place in a guy’s living room as he and his buddy watch the Olympics. How do you get a romance story from that? (And no, they're not gay). Adachi manages and it’s great.
Short story is a difficult medium, no matter if it’s print or comic. None of Adachi’s longer form work have been translated into English, which is a shame because it’s wonderful to see the same deft touch he uses in Short Program in a long, serial format. But at the same time, he has the short story format nailed. If you like short stories and want to see how their best utilized in comic book form, you need to check out Short Program.
If there’s one pain about Short Program, it’s how hard it is to find. Published back in 2000, the artwork was flipped so that it read the western way (a bonus for people getting into manga who haven’t gotten the reading from right-to-left thing down yet). Amazon doesn’t have it for sale, though you can buy it secondhand. Still, it’s worth your while to track down a copy.
Next week on MFPWDM: Shannon takes a long, hard look at manga mega-stars CLAMP and sees if there’s anything there for non-otaku.
Monday, January 26, 2009
One of my favorite things about "Uzumaki" is that you can open up to just about any page and you’re guaranteed to see something disturbing.
Uzumaki starts out simple enough. Kirie Goshima and Shuichi Saito are a couple of high school kids in the seaport town of
It doesn’t sound like a conventionally horror hook, because it’s not. There’s no ghost that needs to be appeased or a vampire to stake, just spirals. But how do you fight back against a shape? Especially one that’s part of you, in the twists of your fingerprints, the curl of your hair, ingrained into the double-helix of your
Junji Ito uses the basic set-up to just go all out and put on paper all of the crazy-spiral related stuff in his head. For example, from the basic premise of ‘Spirals take over small town,’ you wouldn’t expect people to turn into snails, would you? But they’re there.
While most of the stories are pretty episodic, the tension and craziness gets ratcheted up every volume. And considering that the snail people happen early in volume two, you can guess just how crazy things get by the end of volume 3.
Volume one is the slow-burn start of the series, focusing mostly on the Saito family. What I like about this volume is how, in the beginning, it’s conceivable that this is all just one man’s twisted obsession. But with each chapter it gets clear that things are much bigger than the main characters originally thought.
Volume two has the previously mentioned snail people, but it also has one of the creepiest arcs in the series: a couple of stories set in the neonatal ward of the town hospital. I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just say that if you ever looked at a smiling baby and thought it was too cute to be true, than this story will prove you right.
Volume three concludes this whacked out horror story. The town is in the grips of the spiral, but even worse the citizens have also just completely lost it. Shuichi and Kirie decide to make a run for it.
Uzumaki isn’t perfect: even though Viz did a great job with it, the dialogue is wooden and the characters are pretty flat (Kirie’s boring and Shuichi’s a jerk). But it shows such inventiveness in the art and story that it really doesn’t matter. Even if you don’t like manga, if you’re a horror fan in any sense you need to check this series out.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Welcome to the second edition of “Manga for People Who Don’t Like Manga.” Do big eyes make you look away in horror? Prefer superheroes to magical girls? Than this is the column for you.
A note about the list: this isn’t a top ten list where placement denotes quality. It’s really more decided by which manga I grab off the shelf that day. Today it happened to be Fumi Yoshinaga’s ‘Antique Bakery.’
I have a little confession to make about ‘Antique Bakery’: I hated it at first. Maybe it’s because I’m naturally weary of critics’ darlings, but while Antique Bakery was winning awards and love from the online world, I just wasn’t feeling it. I mean, it was a nice enough slice-of-life series, but I wasn’t motivated enough to pick-up volume two.
But then I saw it on sale at a local comic book store and I gave it a second chance. And somehow, something had changed (or maybe it was me). It just clicked in a way that hadn’t before.
Tachibana is a guy with too much money and too much time. On a whim he decides to open up a bakery (he knows next to nothing about cakes). He also decides he needs the best baker in
If you’re yaoi-sense are going off, calm down. Ono may be a gay character, but that doesn’t make this a boys-love manga. Their relationship is a professional one, though they do need to sort out personal feelings to make it work.
Eventually other characters make a place for themselves, such as boxer-turned-apprentice-baker Eiji and Tachibana’s ineffectual bodyguard, Chikage. Not to mention the regular patrons of the bakery.
I think that what did get me hooked on Antique Bakery had a lot to do with the second volume. It introduces Chikage, my favorite character, and also introduces a subplot that adds a tragic shine to Tachibana. (Minor Spoilers Ahead): When Tachibana was a child he was kidnapped. He doesn’t remember anything about the abduction, except that he was feed cake everyday (End of Minor Spoilers). After learning that, it puts Tachibana’s decision to open a bakery in a new light.
Fumi Yoshinaga uses very fine detail for things like cakes and other delicacies, but doesn’t use it so much for drawing backgrounds. Her character designs aren’t anything extravagant, but there’s a confident grace to them that sells each character.
The series is only four volumes long, but packs a lot of character development into each book. It also ends really well. Plotlines are resolved, but in a way that shows that closure comes in many different forms.
So, even if you don’t like manga, Antique Bakery is still a sweet and funny series to check out.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
But while I keep hyping up Monster, I haven’t told you very much about it. So, let’s get started.
Kenzo Tenma is a Japanese doctor working in Germany during the eighties. He has a pretty charmed life: he’s an up-and-coming surgeon and also engaged to the boss’ daughter. The only thing he doesn’t have is a spine. His boss (and potential father-in-law) not only takes credit for Tenma’s research, but also makes him operate on rich or influential patients rather than those who need help the most.
One day a horrible murder takes place at a politician’s house. The man, Michael Liebert had just defected from East Germany along with his wife and young children, a twin boy and girl named Johan and Anna. When police arrive at the house, the husband and wife are lying in the living room, shot dead. The son also has a gunshot wound to the head, but is still alive. The daughter doesn’t have a scratch on her but is in a deep state of shock.
The kids are rushed to Tenma’s hospital, and Tenma starts preparing himself for the boy’s operation. Just as he’s about to go into the operating room, he gets a phone call from the boss. The mayor also needs to be operated on, so Tenma needs to go operate on him instead.
With all the crazy sound effects used in manga, I’m really surprised they don’t have one for the sound of someone suddenly growing a spine. If they did, it would fit here. Tenma chooses to continue to operate on Johan, leaving the mayor to another doctor.
As you can probably guess, the mayor dies and so does Tenma’s career. His boss basically tells him never to expect another promotion, and don’t bother applying to other hospitals. No surprise, but Eva, his gold-digging, social hyena fiancée, leaves him.
But even as his life goes down the toilet, Tenma can at least hold onto the fact that for the first time in his life, he did the right thing.
Or did he?
Skip ahead nine years. The boy Tenma saved is now a young man with a beautiful smile and shadowy agenda. By saving Johan, Tenma saved not only a serial killer, but also a sociopath who seems perfectly capable of bringing about the end of the world.
Well, we all make mistakes. Though Tenma, with his now fully formed spine, isn’t going to take this one lying down. And since Johan’s now framed him for murder, it’s kind of hard to go on living his normal life anyway. So Tenma packs a gun and goes chasing after Johan.
Johan is my new standard for fictional villains. Playing with people’s minds is like mini-golf for him; little more than a fun way to spend the afternoon. One of my favorite chapters in the series is one that has the least impact on the overall plot, but it also just illustrates the utter lack of caring in Johan’s personality. An abandoned kid knows his mom is out there, and that if they just saw each other, they would recognize each other right away. When Johan hears this theory, he tells the kid where to go to find his mom. It ends up being the red light district. The kid doesn’t find her, but he does get to see a dark side of humanity that a child can’t really conceive of. By the end of the night the kid is standing on the ledge of a bridge.
As you can guess from the above summary of just one chapter, it’s not a happy manga. But it’s not all doom and gloom either. Naoki Urasawa pays great homage in his works to Osamu Tezuka, the god of manga (someone I will look at in this series later). Like Tezuka, he takes the time to show us the characters suffering, but he also shows us their joy as well. Like, ‘The Baby’ might be an awful human being who was going to kill lots of innocent people, but when you see him fumble as he tries to impress a date it’s hard not to relate to the right-wing, racist dwarf. Nearly everyone who shows-up becomes a fully rounded character (and hey, some of them even survive in the end).
I remember when ‘Perfect Blue’ came out, a critic called it “Hitchcock meets Disney!” Which is a lame quote, but also applicable here: ‘Monster’ is what a manga written by Hitchcock would be like. The suspense is almost tangible. It always feels as if Johan is only a few panels behind you, closing in. I would actually get pissed off when finishing a volume, since it was usually on some kind of game-changing cliff-hanger.
So, if you’re someone who doesn’t like manga, give this one a try. The art style is expressive, but more realistic than cartoony and far from the stereotypical big-eyes anime look. But if you do decide to give it a go, be careful; you might find yourself trying to read all 18 volumes in one sitting.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Now, most of the people who work and shop there lean more towards American comics than manga, where’s it’s the opposite for me. Yet every and now and then a series will come along that unites us; Sandman, Buffy season 8, Monster. It made me think how there’s two kinds of manga out there: ones that speak to the otaku heart and soul, and ones that have cross-over appeal with American comic readers. So I’ve decided to highlight those series that even Marvel zombies might be even able to sink their teeth into.
But first, let me tell you what this series is NOT:
‘Manga for People Who Don’t Like Comics:’ Once upon a time I believed that comics was a neglected medium. I believed that in a perfect world everyone would read comics, and the only reason that wasn’t reality was because of other people’s preconceptions about the medium. I thought that everyone would love comics if they just found that one perfect series that opened the door for them: ‘From Hell’ for historians, Joe Sacco stuff for people who read the newspaper with CNN on in the background, and so on. I tried proletarizing to friends and family, lending out my copy of Watchmen and getting it back unread. It didn’t work. Somehow my friends didn’t turn into Alan Moore worshiping, seeing-panels-their-sleep comic book fans (like me).
And I realized that was okay. In fact, I was being kind of a jerk pushing this whole medium on people. And I was partly right; there is a comic book out there for everybody, but rarely will that love for one comic translate into a love for the genre. For example, my roommate may go gaga over Persepolis and track down other works by Marjane Satrapi, but she’s not going to seek out Maus or anything (actually, I gave her Maus for Christmas and she loved it. I guess I can’t stop evangelizing completely).
I’ve come to develop a theory, based on nothing but my own observations. I think there are people who are inclined to enjoy sequential art and people who aren’t. A minority of people’s brains are wired to enjoy a combination of words and pictures, where’s for most people it’s either words or pictures. Like I said, no scientific bases for this (in fact, there’s most likely evidence proving the opposite, so I’m just covering my ass). It’s just, there are people who will read a comic and enjoy it because of it’s writing and art, and then move on. Then there are people like me, who will read a comic and enjoy it merely because it’s a comic. This is getting harder and harder to describe, but there’s just something intrinsically pleasing about a page laid out with panels, or matching a balloon of dialogue to a drawn expression. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy writing or art, and can recognize differing levels of quality, but I am likely to give a comic a try just because it’s a comic.
So, this column is written for people who are already into comics in general. This series is not meant to sell people on a medium, but a niche aspect of that medium.
This column is also NOT:
‘Manga for People Who Don’t Like Fun:’ You know who you are. There’s going to be some preeeetty weird stuff showcased here. A horror comic about a small town plagued by spirals, a manga where Adolf Hitler is a character, survivalist horror, garbage men in space, and much more. Manga has a reputation for being weird and wacky, and sometimes it’s well deserved, but other times it’s just people projecting their preconceptions about manga on them.
Basically, I’m asking you to take these suggestions with an open mind. Yeah, it might be weird, and you’ll have to learn to read backwards, but that’s part of the fun.
So, next Wednesday I will post my first installment in “Manga for People Who Don’t Like Manga.” It will be about the manga that inspired this series in the first place: Monster by Naoki Urasawa. See you then.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Hello. Somehow you’ve stumbled across my blog, Manga a Go Go. What’s up with the title? Well, for one, I really like manga. I love comics in general, but just like cake is my favorite dessert, manga is the chocolate mousse cake of comics to me, my favorite among favorites. And ‘a Go Go’? Basically I just wanted a light breezy title that tells you this is more about fun than anything else. Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t try my best to bring you interesting articles and insight, and will back up my (many) opinions with facts as best I can. So, if you love manga like me, stick around.