17 Jun, 2007

Weekly Recon, 6/20/07

By: Katherine Dacey

Welcome to the first installment of the imaginatively named Weekly Recon! Every Sunday night, we’ll post a list of the week’s new manga releases as well as 2-4 short reviews of new and noteworthy titles. Where do we get our info? Well, our good friends at Midtown Comics have been generous enough to share their shipping lists with us. If you’re a devoted Borders or amazon.com customer, you may notice that some titles appear on our list before they’re available in your neck of the woods (or vice versa). But this list will give you a good idea of what’s new to the market and which publishers are honoring their announced production schedules, two pieces of information no self-respecting otaku can do without.

This week marks the debut of two new shonen series, Gin Tama and Strawberry 100%, as well as the concluding volume of Bisco Hatori’s charming vampire rom-com Millenium Snow, a new installment of Hatori’s popular Ouran High School Host Club, a new volume of Cromartie High School, and the final chapter in the Death Note saga. (Here’s hoping that Light Yagami meets a better end than Tony Soprano!) Also new on shelves this week: the latest installment of Eisner-nominated After School Nightmare and the sure-to-be-Eisner-nominated Apollo’s Song. The queen of the scene, however, is a green-haired naïf who finds swings, air conditioners, and social niceties bewildering. That’s right�Yotsuba is back in all her oddly-punctuated glory. If you haven’t yet discovered the joys of this gentle comedy about an eccentric little girl who might just be an alien, now is a great time to start reading Yotsuba&! The series is episodic, so you don’t need to backtrack to volume one to follow the plot or familiarize yourself with its appealing cast of characters (though the first three volumes are highly recommended).

Reviewed This Week:

Shipping This Week:

  • After School Nightmare, Vol. 4 (Go!Comi)
  • Apollo’s Song (Vertical, Inc.)
  • Aranzi Machine Gun, Vol. 1 (Vertical, Inc.)
  • Banya the Explosive Delivery Man, Vol. 4 (Dark Horse)
  • Banzai Girl, Vol. 1 (Arcana Studios)
  • Black Cat, Vol. 9 (Viz)
  • Cromartie High School, Vol. 11 (ADV Manga)
  • Death Note, Vol. 12 (Viz)
  • Gin Tama, Vol. 1 (Viz; reviewed below)
  • Great Figures in History: Einstein (YKids)
  • Great Figures in History: Gandhi (YKids)
  • Great Figures in History: Marie Curie (YKids)
  • Gunslinger Girl, Vol. 4 (ADV Manga)
  • Her Majesty’s Dog, Vol. 5 (Go!Comi)
  • Hunter x Hunter, Vol. 15 (Viz)
  • I”s, Vol. 14 (Viz)
  • Kon Kon Kokon, Vol. 1 (Broccoli Books)
  • La Corda d’Oro, Vol. 4 (Viz)
  • Let’s Draw Manga: Yaoi (DMP)
  • Literary Classics Series: Little Women (YKids)
  • Literary Classics Series: Treasure Island (YKids)
  • Little Crybaby (DMP)
  • Love Recipe, Vol. 1 (DMP)
  • Megaman NP Warrior, Vol. 12 (Viz)
  • Millenium Snow, Vol. 2 (Viz)
  • Moon & Sandals, Vol. 2 (DMP)
  • Ninja High School Class Reunion Special (Antarctic Press)
  • Othello (DMP)
  • Ouran High School Host Club, Vol. 9 (Viz)
  • Picnic (DMP)
  • Prince of Tennis, Vol. 20 (Viz)
  • Reborn, Vol. 4 (Viz)
  • Seimaiden, Vol. 9 (CMX)
  • Skip-Beat, Vol. 7 (Viz)
  • Strawberry 100%, Vol. 1 (Viz)
  • Tower of the Future, Vol. 7 (CMX)
  • Train + Train, Vol. 3 (Go!Comi)
  • Ultimate Muscle, Vol. 17 (Viz)
  • Witchblade Takeru Manga, No. 5 (Image/Top Cow)
  • Wizard Anime Insider, #46
  • Yotsuba&!, Vol. 4 (ADV Manga)


Aranzi Machine Gun, Vol. 1

By Aranzi Aronzo
80 pp., Vertical, Inc.

aranzi.jpgThe ladies of Aranzi Aronzo have built a thriving business selling products and craft books that star cute critters with a hint of ‘tude. This slim, 80-page book features their most popular characters in a variety of comic strips and photo essays. It also includes a 20-page appendix with detailed instructions for making felt applique bunnies, chicks, deer, and crabs. (Crabs?!) There’s no overarching story or concept; each segment of Aranzi Machine Gun is best understood as a riff on cuteness. Some are amusing, some are puzzling, and some sound like Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy.

As with all Vertical publications, the production values are first-rate, from the arrestingly cute cover design to the quality paper stock. The translation, too, deserves special mention both for capturing the essential weirdness of the Aranzi universe and for rendering the instructions in clear, idiomatic English. (If only IKEA felt compelled to do the same�) Given Aranzi Machine Gun’s short length and emphasis on characters over crafts, some hobbyists may find The Cute Book more to their liking. But if you’re just discovering Brown Bunny and Liar, or are seeking a midpoint between the kawaii extremes of Hello, Kitty! and Junko Mizuno, this oddly amusing little book might do the trick.

Volume two of Aranzi Machine Gun arrives in stores in July. To view sample pages, learn more about Aranzi Aronzo, or share pictures of your Aranzi-inspired creations, click here.

Gin Tama, Vol. 1

By Sorachi Hideaki
206 pp., Viz
Rating: 16+

gintama.jpgI’ve read my share of “alternative history,” but I’ve never seen anything quite like Gin Tama. Manga-ka Sorachi Hideaki starts from a humdinger of a premise: what if a race of cat-faced aliens had arrived in Uraga Harbor on July 8, 1853 instead of Commodore Matthew Perry? In Hideaki’s version of the Meiji Era, the alien invaders have infiltrated the Bakufutu, disarmed the samurai, and transformed Edo into an intergalactic spaceport more disreputable than Mos Eisley. Toiling away at one of Edo’s many cantinas is Shinpachi, a young samurai who’s been forced to hang up his sword and shutter his late father’s dojo. A dust-up between a human customer and an alien ambassador introduces Shinpachi to a brash ronin named Sakata “Gin” Gintoki. Through a series of mishaps and miscommunications, Shinpachi loses his job, forcing him to team up with Gin to make money. Mayhem ensues as the two accept a variety of thankless gigs, from tracking down an alien prince’s monstrous pet to delivering a suspicious package to an intergalactic embassy.

Although Gin Tama has a boffo premise and smart, stylish visuals, the story often feels labored and frantic. None of the series’ running gags are particularly funny, nor are the meta-referential jokes that point out weak plot twists and out-of-character moments. (“No way!! This set-up is straight out of a manga!” Shinpachi declares as a train barrels down on him.) What keeps Gin Tama afloat are the characters. Hideaki creates a rogue’s gallery of unemployed samurai, preening aliens, and ineffectual policemen with memorable mugs and outsized personalities to match. (My hands-down favorite: Mrs. Otose, Gin’s chain-smoking, tough-talking landlady. It’s a role that Qiu Yuen was born to play.) These characters add visual interest and life to every panel, keeping the reader invested when the stories stall.

Volume one also contains Hideaki’s first published work, “Dandelion,” a short story about “yakuza angel thugs” who help spirits cross over to the other side. The concept isn’t exactly novel, but Hideaki does a splendid job of lampooning gangster movies (not to mention manga of the I-help-dead-people variety) while throwing in a few tender (yet unsentimental) exchanges between a dead man and his wife of fifty years. It’s worth a look, even if you don’t cotton to Gin and Shinpachi’s over-the-top adventures.

Volume two arrives in stores in September.

Inubaka: Crazy for Dogs, Vol. 3

By Yukika Sakuragi
216 pp., Viz
Rating: 16+

inubaka.jpgIf Barbara Woodhouse or Cesar Milan read manga, Inubaka: Crazy for Dogs would be their favorite series. Why? Well, Yukika Sakuragi’s comedy preaches the gospel of responsible pet ownership, reminding readers that dogs require love, guidance, and good veterinary care at every stage of their lives. While that might not sound like a compelling basis for a manga, Sakuragi is a surprisingly good storyteller who makes her lessons integral to the plot. She never shies away from the less appealing aspects of dog ownership�illness, accidents, death�but treats them as an essential part of the dog-human compact. She’s also a terrific artist, rendering the denizens of the Woofles pet shop in AKC-approved detail, right down to their pleading eyes and wet noses.

Sakuragi is less effective, however, when her stories move beyond the canine-centric world of Woofles. In the first volume, for example, she concocts a meet-cute situation for her lead characters�Suguri, a teenager with an uncanny ability to sense what dogs want, and Teppei, the owner of the Woofles pet shop�that strains credulity with its excessive reliance on coincidence and Suguri’s naivete. Volume three has a few groan-inducing subplots as well, as Suguri takes a job at a host club to supplement her income from Woofles. The episode eventually tackles the unsavory question of where pet stores get their puppies, but not before subjecting readers to another credulity-straining bout of coincidence and a totally gratuitous catfight between two host club employees. (All in the name of apricot poodles, no less!) Still, it’s hard not to enjoy Inubaka for the thing it does best: celebrating the unique bond between dogs and humans. Clearly it’s a message that resonates with Inubaka’s fans, as readers all over Japan sent Sakuragi pictures of and stories about their dogs. Viz has collected and reprinted some of these pooch pics at the end of volumes two and three for other dog otakus �and I count myself among them�to enjoy. Now that’s omake worth begging for!

Volume four arrives in stores in August. To read a short excerpt from volume one, click here.

2 Responses to "Weekly Recon, 6/20/07"

1 | Adan Jimenez

June 22nd, 2007 at 6:27 pm

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True story: I picked Aranzi Machine Gun off the shelf and looked at the cover, which says “Argh!!! It’s so cute!!!” I said, “What a ridiculous cover blurb.”

I then opened the book and said, unironically, “Oh man, this is really cute!” My co-workers laughed and laughed.

2 | Katherine Dacey-Tsuei

June 23rd, 2007 at 8:32 am

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It is possible to suffer from a cute-induced headache from reading too much Aranzi Aronzo. Hence the warning on the cover.

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