10 Mar, 2008

Weekly Recon, 3/12/08

By: Katherine Dacey

suppli2.jpgThat clinking sound you hear? That’s me trying to extract enough pennies from my piggy bank to afford all the great manga arriving in stores this Wednesday! My shopping list is ridiculously long, running the gamut from tights-and-capes parody to Victorian romance. Among the manga most likely to find their way into my shopping basket: A Wise Man Sleeps (Go! Comi), a new shojo title from the creator of Her Majesty’s Dog; Switch (Viz), a mystery-thriller from the strangely named duo Naked Ape; volume two of A.I. Revolution (Go! Comi), a sci-fi romance about a girl and her handsome android companion; volumes five and six of Barefoot Gen (Last Gasp), a depressing but fascinating depiction of postwar Japan; volume three of Empowered (Dark Horse), a goofy series about costume failure and other perils of modern superhero life; and volume ten of Yakitate!! Japan (Viz), a tasty confection that’s equal parts cheese, cornpone, and heart. But if you’re an old soul like me, there are really only two books that you ought to buy this week: the seventh volume of Emma (CMX) and the second volume of Suppli (Tokyopop). Both series prove that manga can offer readers all the things we love about novels–complex characters, compelling drama, penetrating social commentary–with the added bonus of beautiful artwork.

UPDATE: The always reliable David Welsh and Lori Henderson both describe Switch as DOA, all style and no substance. Follow the links for the full scoop.

This week’s column looks at three brand new arrivals: volume three of In the Starlight (NETCOMICS), a sci-fi manhwa with a seventies shojo feel; volume one of J-Pop Idol (Tokyopop), a story of one girl’s struggle to become a singing sensation; and Your and My Secret (Tokyopop), a gender-bending shojo comedy that’s just a little bit naughty.

A.I. Revolution, Vol. 2 (Go! Comi)
+Anima, Vol. 7 (Tokyopop)
Barefoot Gen, Vol. 5 (Last Gasp)
Barefoot Gen, Vol. 6 (Last Gasp)
Chinese Hero: Tales of the Blood Sword, Vol. 5 (DrMaster)
Don’t Blame Me (DMP)
Emma, Vol. 7 (CMX)
Empowered, Vol. 3 (Dark Horse)
Excel Saga, Vol. 17 (Viz)
GetBackers, Vol. 23 (Tokyopop)
Hanami: International Love Story, Vol. 4 (Dark Horse)
Hands Off: Don’t Call Us Angels, Vol. 2 (Tokyopop)
Her Majesty’s Dog, Vol. 8 (Go! Comi)
J-Pop Idol. Vol. 1 (Tokyopop)
Kanna, Vol. 3 (Go! Comi)
Lunar Legend Tsukihime, Vol. 5 (DrMaster)
Mamotte Lollipop, Vol. 5 (Del Rey)
Masume Shirow’s Orion Fourth Edition (Dark Horse)
Me & My Brothers, Vol. 3 (Tokyopop)
My Dearest Devil Princess, Vol. 2 (Broccoli Books)
Orfina, Vol. 2 (CMX)
Princess Ai: Rumors From the Other Side (Tokyopop)
Rave Master, Vol. 27 (Tokyopop)
Re:Play, Vol. 2 (Tokyopop)
Someday’s Dreamers: Spellbound, Vol. 5 (Tokyopop)
Suppli, Vol. 2 (Tokyopop)
Switch, Vol. 1 (Viz)
The Third, Vol. 1 (Tokyopop)
Togari, Vol. 5 (Viz)
Twilight X, Volume 2: Before Peace (Antarctic Press)
Welcome to the NHK, Vol. 6 (Tokyopop)
A Wise Man Sleeps, Vol. 1 (Go! Comi)
Yakitate!! Japan, Vol. 10 (Viz)
Your and My Secret, Vol. 1 (Tokyopop)
Yubisaki Milk Tea, Vol. 7 (Tokyopop)

In the Starlight, Vol. 3

By Kyungok Kang
NETCOMICS, 224 pp.
Rating: Teen

instarlight3.jpgIf you’re a fan of old-school shojo–especially the sci-fi sagas of Keiko Takemiya and Moto Hagio–you might also enjoy In the Starlight, a Korean import with a Magnificent 49er vibe. Artist Kyungok Kang (Narration of Love at 17, Two Will Come) draws characters with the kind of fabulous hair and sparkling eyes characteristic of vintage shojo. Though she isn’t quite the peer of Takemiya or Hagio, Kang’s solid draftsmanship, beautiful character designs, and disciplined layouts serve her story well. That story, like A, A’ and Andromeda Stories, freely combines elements of fantasy, science fiction, romance, and Shakespearean tragedy to form a hybrid genre that emphasizes relationships over deep space dog fights and laser guns. Don’t get me wrong–volume three of In the Starlight has enough violence and political intrigue to suit the Bard himself. But much of the story focuses on the heroine’s state of mind after everyone she loves suffers a terrible fate (inflicted by psychic assassins from another planet, no less). Kang does a fine job of revealing her heroine’s inner turmoil through the artwork, avoiding the trap of telling too much instead of showing. The dialogue is a little stiff (an artifact of the original script, perhaps?), but doesn’t detract from the overall story. Highly recommended for shojo fans who prefer their angst with a side of spaceships and time travel.

Volume three of In the Starlight is available now.

J-Pop Idol, Vol. 1

Story by Millenni+M, Art by Toko Yashiro
Rating: Teen (13+)

jpopidol1.jpgUntil Tokyopop releases a Glitter Cinemanga, otaku eager for overripe musical drama will have to content themselves with J-Pop Idol. But unlike Glitter, which is bad in a jaw-dropping, can’t-take-my-eyes-off-it way (read: awesomely bad), J-Pop Idol is just plain bad. A big part of the problem is the story, which has been hastily cobbled together from dozens of similar, Star Is Born narratives–so hastily, in fact, that many scenes feel like complete non-sequitors. One of the most egregious examples can be found in the very first pages, when the members of an up-and-coming girl group face a test of their friendship: after winning a major talent competition, only one of them is singled out for a recording contract. From the context, however, it’s impossible to see why producers chose Maki over band mates Kay and Naomi, as Maki lacks the charisma, talent, and sex appeal that distinguished Diana Ross from her fellow Supremes (or Beyonce from Destiny’s other children). The rest of volume one charts Maki’s attempt to build a recording career under the tutelage of handsome idol Ken, who motivates his protege with tough talk and hard lessons learned on his way to the top. There’s also a subplot involving tuberculosis that might not seem out of place in a Joan Crawford weepie, but seems downright ludicrous in a manga aimed at a teenage audience. Like the choppy narrative, the artwork is abysmal. The characters resemble Bratz Dolls with enormous heads perched atop slender frames, while the backgrounds are a blotchy mess, defined primarily by large patches of screentone and traced architectural elements.

The bottom line: J-Pop Idol may have been a “#1 hit mobile manga in Japan” (according to the jacket copy), but that endorsement carries about as much weight as Paula Abdul’s enthusiastic cheerleading on American Idol. If you’re looking for an engrossing manga about the Japanese pop scene, why not try another title from the Tokyopop catalog: the criminally under-appreciated Dragon Voice?

Volume one of J-Pop Idol will be available on March 12th.

Your and My Secret, Vol. 1

By Ai Morinaga
Tokyopop, 192 pp.
Rating: Teen (13+)

yoursecret1.jpgThank God for small miracles! Tokyopop has rescued Ai Morinaga’s wickedly funny Your and My Secret from licensed manga limbo. I’m not sure why ADV retired this gem after just one volume back in 2004, but I’m willing to wager that shojo fans of all ages will enjoy this body-switching comedy and its sly mixture of romance, social commentary, and slightly naughty slapstick.

If you ever wondered what Freaky Friday might have been like if Jody Foster had switched bodies with Leif Garrett instead of Barbara Harris, well, Morinaga’s bawdy antics provide a pretty good idea of the gender-bending weirdness that would have ensued. The story focuses on Nanako, a swaggering tomboy who lives with her mad scientist of a grandfather, and Akira, an effeminate boy who has the hots for Nanako. Akira becomes the unwitting test subject for the grandfather’s most recent invention, a gizmo designed to transfer personality from one body to another. With the flick of a switch, he finds himself trapped inside Nanako’s body (and vice versa). Let the hijinks begin!

The joke, of course, is that Nanako and Akira have found the ideal vessels for their gender-atypical personalities. Nanako revels in her newfound freedom as a boy, enjoying sudden popularity among classmates who marvel at Akira/Nanako’s cajones. Akira, on the other hand, quickly discovers that housework, cooking, and menstrual cycles can be a major drag. He struggles to feel comfortable in Nanako’s skin, feeling simultaneously disgusted and aroused by the sight of her body–not to mention insulted by the grandfather’s refusal to do chores and bewildered by his old buddy Senbongi’s growing attraction to him/her.

No, it isn’t Taming of the Shrew, but Your and My Secret manages to make some worthwhile points about gender roles (and gender norms) while serving up plenty of dopey slapstick and risque jokes. Frankly, I’d take a big helping of Morinaga’s un-PC humor over an earnest, socially responsible “girls’ comic” any day of the week.

Volume one of Your and My Secret will be released on March 12th. For a comparison of the original ADV release and the new Tokyopop edition, see David Welsh’s illuminating entry on the subject at Precocious Curmudgeon.

4 Responses to "Weekly Recon, 3/12/08"

1 | Lori Henderson

March 11th, 2008 at 12:43 pm


Another slow week for me. Only one volume, though there are a few I missed (not like I could have squeezed them in). I’m very interested in “A Wise Man Sleeps”. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say about it. And I was also interested in “Cy-Believers”. The description on that sounded interesting. I need to pay more attention to Go Comi.

I wasn’t impressed with “Switch”. It has potential, but the first volume is a mess in a lot of ways.

“In the Starlight” was a series I considered when it first came out as well. Too many manga, too little time…

2 | Ken Haley

March 13th, 2008 at 1:02 am


Huzzah for new Empowered!

3 | Katherine Dacey

March 13th, 2008 at 7:44 am


Lori: You can read the first chapter of “Starlight” for free at the NETCOMICS site–I’d encourage you to give it a try, especially if you’ve enjoyed Vertical’s recent Takemiya releases.

Ken: I’m amazed that I enjoyed “Empowered” as much as I did. It’s proof that fan service per se isn’t offensive; it’s the accompanying attitudes that really make or break a story with as many costumes failures as “Empowered.”

4 | Ken Haley

March 14th, 2008 at 1:11 am


Katherine: Glad you enjoyed it!