19 Dec, 2007

Our Favorite Manga of 2007

By: Katherine Dacey, Ken Haley and Erin Finnegan

I had typed and discarded about a dozen different opening gambits for our year-end feature when Ken Haley sent me his “best of” list, complete with a snappy intro that put mine to shame. So I’m going to turn the floor over to Ken here to get our article off on the right foot:

It’s that time of the year again. The nights are long, the temperatures low, and the snow banks high. So clearly it must be time to roll out the year-end wrap ups, where we look back at 2007 and admire the bountiful new manga series that have grabbed our hearts, minds, throats and, with my penchant for horror series, torn them out in an overly elaborate two-page spread that would put Hiroaki Samura to shame.

Here are our votes for the best (and worst) manga of 2007.

Best Manga of 2007: Erin’s Picks

tekkonkinkreet.jpgTEKKONKINKREET: BLACK AND WHITE (Taiyo Matsumoto, Viz)
Tekkonkinkreet’s artwork looks like an underground comic and its plot is like a Hollywood film. I knew I’d never be the same after watching A Clockwork Orange, and Tekkonkinkreet gave me the same feeling. I watched the Tekkon movie first, then researched director Michael Arias for an article—this is practically the only manga Arias has ever read, but it affected him so much he spent over ten years adapting a movie. I haven’t re-read much manga, but I know I’ll re-read Tekkon again and again. As soon as I put the book down I set out to collect everything else by Matsumoto.

Click here to read Erin’s review; click here to preview pages at the Overlooked Manga Festival.

SWAN, Vols. 9-11 (Kiyoko Ariyoshi, CMX)
Swan is rapidly becoming one of my favorite series of all time. It’s an obvious choice for libraries, since there’s nothing objectionable in it—it’s about ballet, after all! I can picture the unsuspecting teenage Naruto fan picking up Swan and then having her mind totally blown by the hardcore 1970’s shojo within. Swan is so girly it goes all the way around the circle and into the realm of manliness. If Dark Horse had a ballet title, it would Swan. The paneling is an experiment from the 1970s and the SD moments are a throwback to Phil Foglio’s Buck Godot comics. Swan is like some kind of life-preserver of seventies awesomeness thrown into the present by CMX.

Click here to view preview pages at the Overlooked Manga Festival.

GENSHIKEN, Vols. 8-9 (Kio Shimoku, Del Rey)
American fans are blissfully unaware of the strange coincidence that makes Genshiken a huge hit here; in Japan, colleges usually have separate anime, manga, and gaming clubs. Genshiken rolls all three together, which happily makes the college club resemble most American anime clubs, where fans of anime are by de facto fans of manga and video games from Japan. The last half of the Genshiken series turns the club over to girls as the series explores cosplay and yaoi. Ogiue starts off as an insane psychopath but is slowly characterized until she is everyone’s favorite character in the final volume. I wanted to hug her at the end of each chapter.

Click here for Erin’s review of volume nine.

FLOWER OF LIFE, Vols. 1-3 (Fumi Yoshinaga, DMP)
Either this year has been HUGE for Fumi Yoshinaga in the U.S., or I have coincidentally read a bunch of her works in 2007. I had a hard time getting into Antique Bakery and took a break between volumes two and three, but with Flower of Life I read each new volume immediately and with fannish rigor. I keep recommending it to people, including guys, but I have a hard time convincing them there’s no yaoi involved. Two of the characters are otaku, so as with Genshiken, I’m showing favoritism towards otaku-centric titles. I can’t explain what the title means, except as a reference to the protagonist, who struggled with cancer but enters high school healthy and filled with the enthusiasm of youth, This is a title about happiness.

Click here for Erin’s review of volume one; click here for her review of volume two; click here to preview pages at the Overlooked Manga Festival.

IRON WOK JAN, Vols. 13-27 (Shinji Saijyo, DrMaster)
Frequently overlooked, Iron Wok Jan is as crazy as manga can get. We need to import more food manga like Oishinbo the Gourmet (it’s only over a hundred volumes long!). I started watching the Iron Chef because of the crazy foods and ingredients I’d never heard of, and I love comics as a medium because they pull off insane logic leaps that wouldn’t work in film or prose. I love the foreignness of manga—manga doesn’t have the boundaries of domestic comics. Iron Wok Jan combines all three loves—the love of crazy Asian food, crazy-as-hell comic logic, and the anything-goes factor of manga weirdness.

Click here for Erin’s review of volume 26; click here to preview pages at the Overlooked Manga Festival.

Best Manga of 2007: Ken’s Picks

mpdpsycho3.jpgMPD PSYCHO, Vols. 1-3 (Eiji Otsuka and Sho-U Tajima, Dark Horse)
For me, this was easily the most anticipated release of 2007. Eiji Otsuka and Sho-U Tajima have created a wonderfully dark world full of serial killers, bizarre conspiracies, eyeball tattoos and more. Each volume adds a new layers and twists to the over all story, causing it to become increasingly complex as the series progresses. You’ll need a score card to keep track of all of Detective Amamiya’s personalities alone! Tajima’s art work is slick, stylish, and he doesn’t flinch when it comes to depicting the nastier aspects of the subject matter.

Click here for Ken’s review of volume three.

TANPENSHU, Vols. 1-2 (Hiroki Endo, Dark Horse)
This two volume series from Hiroki Endo helped reignite my interest in Eden: It’s An Endless World. Short tales of broken people trying to make sense of their worlds, trapped by birth or circumstance is situations they despise. While no one is going to mistake this anthology as the feel-good read of the year, I don’t think anyone could possibly deny the quality of both Endo’s writing and artwork.

PARASYTE, Vols. 1-2 (Hitosi Iwaaki, Del Rey)
It’s John Carpenters The Thing crossed with a buddy flick! What’s not to love about that? The plain jane artwork belies the hand of a master at work. What the series may lack in flash, it more than makes up for in substance. The characters are fleshed out wonderfully and Hitoshi Iwaaki blends humor, action, and philosophical pondering’s in a wonderfully entertaining way. It might not exactly be a new series, but I for one am extremely grateful for the new editions from Del Rey.

Click here for Ken’s review of volumes one and two.

GON, Vols. 1-2 (Masashi Tanaka, CMX)
A golden oldie being re-released for the first time in its original format. The series follows the adventures of a little orange dinosaur wandering the wilds of prehistoric earth. The short, silent tales are often cute and humorous, and the character of Gon comes across loud and clear despite absence of dialogue or sound effect. Masashi Tanaka’s art work is detailed and lush to a degree rarely seen in the world of manga. Sometimes the bully, sometimes the good guy, Gon and his adventures never fail to entertain. Whether he’s riding a lion while chasing after his prey, or hunting in the mouth of a shark, Gon is a series that’s bound to please.

Click here for Ken’s review of volume one.

Best Manga of 2007: Kate’s Picks

towncherry.jpgIf Barefoot Gen shows readers what it was like to live through the Hiroshima bombing and its horrific aftermath, Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms shows readers what it was like to live with the memories of that day ten, twenty, and forty years later. Fumiyo Kouno’s book is divided into two stories. The first, “Town of Evening Calm,” is set in 1955, and focuses on one young woman’s attempt to preserve the remnants of her family, while the second, “Country of Cherry Blossoms,” is set in the 1990s, and focuses on the strained relationship between a survivor and his adult daughter. Both stories are simply but beautifully illustrated, avoiding the kind of visual tropes (big eyes, tiny noses, super-cute deformations) that many Western readers find jarring when reading Serious Manga. A haunting, uplifting book that will remind you how powerful sequential art can be.

Click here to read Kate’s review.

TO TERRA, Vols. 1-3 (Keiko Takemiya, Vertical, Inc.)
If Richard Wagner wrote operas set in deep space instead of Valhalla, he might have composed something akin to Keiko Takemiya’s To Terra. Set in the distant future, the story focuses on a race of telepathic mutants who have been exiled from their homeworld. Under the leadership of the powerful and charismatic Jomy Marcus Shin, the Mu embark on a grueling voyage back to Terra to be reunited with their human creators. Their principle foe: an evil supercomputer named Mother, who makes HAL look like a pansy. Takemiya’s richly detailed artwork and deft manipulation of panels make To Terra an almost cinematic experience; many pages will remind you of iconic scenes from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars. But don’t be fooled by those blinking computers and blazing starships: To Terra is an unabashedly Romantic saga about two übermensch locked in a struggle of cosmic proportions. No doubt Richard would approve.

Click here to read Kate’s review of volume three.

LOVE*COM, Vols. 1-3 (Aya Nakahara, Viz)
Ladies, please complete the following brief questionnaire: (a) Have you ever worn flats to avoid towering over your gentleman friend? (b) Do you slouch to avoid appearing “too tall”? (c) Do you wish that you were two or three inches shorter? If you’ve answered “yes” to two or more of these questions, have I got the manga for you: Love*Com, a delightful comedy about a very tall girl and very short boy who’d make a terrific couple… if they didn’t feel so self-conscious about the size difference. With great artwork, memorable characters, and plotlines grounded in reality, Love*Com may just be the best new shojo title of 2007.

Click here to read Kate’s review of volume one; click here to read her review of volume two.

TRANSLUCENT, Vols. 1-2 (Kazuhiro Okamoto, Dark Horse)
Shizuka, the heroine of Translucent, has a medical condition that many of us can identify with (even if we’ve never actually suffered from it): whenever she feels anxious, sad, lonely, or premenstrual, she becomes invisible to others. Her condition is the perfect metaphor for how most of us felt in high school, as we vacillated between wanting to be noticed by a cute guy, the varsity coach, or a campus V.I.P. and wishing we could simply disappear, escaping unwanted scrutiny from bullies, teachers, and parents. The slightly awkward character designs suit the characters’ ages and personalities, giving this series a refreshingly naturalistic look. Sometimes humorous, sometimes bittersweet, this lovely coming-of-age story is a shoo-in for YALSA’s 2007 List of Great Graphic Novels for Teens—even if, as some commentators have pointed out, the story was originally written for grown men who like to read about high school girls.

Click here to read Kate’s review of volume two.

FLOWER OF LIFE, Vols. 1-3 (Fumi Yoshinga, DMP)
Fumi Yoshinaga’s geek-centric comedy focuses on a group of teens who invite their new classmate to join the manga club. Not much actually happens in Flower of Life; most chapters consist of passionate conversations between club members about—what else?—manga. Yoshinaga has a wonderful time poking fun at otakudom (including her usual bailiwick, boy’s love) while respecting the intensity and sincerity of her characters’ feelings. The result is both moving and laugh-out-loud funny. You’ve never seen a cultural festival storyline quite like the one in volume two… trust me on this one.

Worst Manga of 2007: Erin’s Pick

PRINCESS PRINCESS, Vols. 2-5 (Mikiyo Tsuda, DMP)
I gave Princess Princess a chance. I read three volumes of the manga and watched an episode of the anime, and even an episode of the live action series. Princess Princess is just as bad in any medium. The anime was a low-budget, corner-cutting affair (more so than regular anime), and so was the live action show (mostly shot in a single white room). The manga made Jason Thompson’s bottom ten (at #6), and deservedly so. Although the cross-dressing premise promises hijinks will ensue, hijinks are totally absent, replaced by long blocks of uninteresting text as the characters discuss their angsty feelings.

Click here for Erin’s review of volumes one and two; click here for Jason Thompson’s review at the Overlooked Manga Festival.

Worst Manga of 2007: Kate’s Pick

A better title for this ill-conceived project might have been Gaijin Do the Stupidest Things. Although the artwork is crisply executed, the characters are a veritable catalog of ugly American stereotypes. My guess is that the manga-ka had no idea that his creation might rub Americans the wrong way. DMP’s editorial staff, however, really fell down on the job: they should have worked harder to ensure that the story and characters steered clear of racist caricature, especially if their goal was to promote DMP’s Pop Japan Tours.

Click here for Kate’s review.

1 Response to "Our Favorite Manga of 2007"

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