09 Sep, 2007

Weekly Recon, 9/12/07

By: Katherine Dacey

Hmmmm… I’m having difficulty mustering enthusiasm for this week’s crop of manga, light novels, and commemorative editions. The real standouts—and the books most likely to find their way into my shopping basket—are two long-running titles from CMX: Kaoru Mori’s Emma, a mangafied mash-up of Upstairs, Downstairs and The Forsyte Saga, and Yasuko Aoike’s From Eroica With Love, a spy thriller whose leads look like members of a Led Zeppelin tribute band. I might also pick up a copy of Demon Flowers (Tokyopop), a new series from the creator of The Demon Ororon. Though I’m not always sold on Mizuki Hakase’s storytelling, I love her sharply stylized character designs; her bad boys look like Carnaby Street regulars with their skinny black pants, shoestring ties, and artfully disheveled hair. And for a butt-kicking chaser to all that girly goodness, I’ll probably buy the latest issue of Blade of the Immortal (Dark Horse).

REVIEWED THIS WEEK:

SHIPPING THIS WEEK

  • The Bad Book (Vertical, Inc.)
  • Blade of the Immortal, #129 (Dark Horse)
  • Cherry Juice, Vol. 1 (Tokyopop)
  • Chibi Vampire Novel, Vol. 3 (Tokyopop)
  • The Cute Book (Vertical, Inc.)
  • Dark Moon Diary, Vol. 1 (Tokyopop)
  • Demon Flowers, Vol. 1 (Tokyopop)
  • Emma, Vol. 5 (CMX)
  • Eureka Seven, Vol. 6 (Bandai)
  • Fantamir, Vol. 1 (Tokyopop)
  • From Eroica With Love, Vol. 10 (CMX)
  • Full Metal Panic Novel, Vol. 1 (Tokyopop)
  • Hibiki’s Magic, Vol. 2 (Tokyopop)
  • I Luv Halloween, Vol. 3 (Tokyopop)
  • I.N.V.U., Vol. 4 (Tokyopop)
  • Kamen Tantei, Vol. 4 (Tokyopop)
  • Karma Club Novel, Vol. 1 (Tokyopop)
  • Kilala Princess, Vol. 3 (Tokyopop)
  • Ordinary Crush, Vol. 1 (DMP)
  • Path of the Assassin HC, Vol. 1 (Dark Horse)
  • Path of the Assassin, Vol. 7 (Dark Horse)
  • Pearl Pink, Vol. 3 (Tokyopop)
  • Phantom, Vol. 3 (Tokyopop)
  • Poison Candy, Vol. 1 (Tokyopop)
  • Samurai Deeper Kyo, Vol. 24 (Tokyopop)
  • Star Trek, Vol. 2 (Tokyopop)
  • Takumi-Kun, Vol. 1 (Tokyopop)
  • Welcome to NHK, Vol. 4 (Tokyopop)


Brave Story (novel)

By Miyuki Miyabe
Viz Media, 824 pp.

bravestory.JPGBrave Story begins in present-day Tokyo, where eleven-year-old Wataru Mitani lives with his parents. Though they appear to be an ideal family, Wataru’s father is deeply unhappy and abandons his wife and son for a mistress. Wataru is left to cope both with his own feelings and with his unstable mother, who vacillates between rage and suicidal depression. Just as he’s about to succumb to despair himself, Wataru is transported to the magical realm of Vision. There, Wataru learns that he can change his fate by finding the Tower of Destiny and pleading his case before Vision’s creator, a.k.a. the Goddess. Determined to salvage his broken family, Wataru embarks on a punishing journey through Vision, acquiring, in the process, a powerful sword and fiercely devoted posse of fanciful creatures.

Miyabe may shamelessly pilfer scenes from other sources, but she populates her tale with sympathetic characters, putting them in situations that reflect the complexities of adult life. Her heroes and villains alike are motivated by selfish desires; even Wataru, whose rationale for seeking the Goddess is to reunite his parents, comes to see that his dearest wish is really a fearful, self-interested one. The artlessness of the prose, however, undermines the subtlety of Miyabe’s observations. In chapter sixteen, for example, Wataru arrives in the city-state of Lyris to discover that its non-human members are confined to shantytowns and subjected to harassment. Just in case we didn’t see parallels between Lyris and, say, 1980s Johannesburg (or 1960s Birmingham, for that matter), Miyabe includes this helpful exchange:

It sounded like South Africa during apartheid. “Are there other kinds of discrimination in daily life here? Like separate facilities for different races?” Wataru asked.
Toni’s eyes opened wide. “There sure is. How did you know?”
“I know of a similar situation in another place,” Wataru replied. I saw it in a movie once.

Long as it may be, passages like this one give ample evidence that Brave Story won’t be confused with War and Peace any time soon. (For the record, the English edition of Tolstoy’s book clocks in at 1,472 pages, nearly 450 more than Brave Story.) Miyabe’s dark fantasy is best described as a Frankenbook, stitched together from pieces of EverQuest, The Guin Saga, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and The Wizard of Oz to create an entertaining, surprisingly adult adventure story whose seams sometime show.

Brave Story is available now.

The Cute Book

By Aranzi Aronzo
Vertical, Inc., 48 pp.

cute_cover.jpgcute_book1.jpgcute_sp2_large.jpgcute_sp3_large.gif

OK, OK… technically speaking, The Cute Book, Vertical’s first Aranzi Aronzo release, made its bookstore debut in February. But this is the first time it’s shown up on the Midtown shipping list, so I’m including The Cute Book in this week’s column for those of you who missed it the first time around.

Who are Aranzi Aronzo? Contrary to their website’s introductory page, they are not globetrotting, tambourine-playing salarymen of Norwegian and Vietnamese extraction, but two sisters from Osaka who have made careers of peddling cute-but-edgy products. Their empire includes retail stores in Tokyo and Taipei, a booming online business, and a series of craft books that are equal parts manga and DIY manifesto. The Cute Book, one of seven Aranzi titles that Vertical has licensed for the US market, features step-by-step instructions for fashioning critters out of materials easily obtained at your local art supply store. Sounds straightforward enough, but there’s an undercurrent of weirdness running through the text that’s almost impossible to describe. Imagine a Hello, Kitty! craft book penned by Junko Mizuno, and you have some idea of the tone.

The true measure of any how-to book is the ease of the instructions, and The Cute Book scores big points for its user-friendliness. Throughout the book, directions are supplemented with traceable patterns, photographs, and clear illustrations demonstrating a variety of useful knots and stitches. For those of us who find the typical Better Homes and Gardens craft project daunting (“Spruce up a picture frame with some old wrapping paper and a glue gun!”), the authors have included needle-less shortcuts. I’m not 100% certain what I’ll do with the flock of felt sheep I’ve begun making—at my age, festooning gloves and hats with googly-eyed animals is bound to raise a few eyebrows—but perhaps I can give them to my Australian shepherd. She needs a job, after all!

Portions of this review appeared in the July issue of Chopsticks. The Cute Book is available now. A tip: to post pictures of your handiwork or preview other books from the Aranzi Aronzo series, visit Vertical’s Aranzi homepage.

Kanna, Vol. 1

By Takeru Kirishima
Go! Comi, 180 pp.
Rating: OT (16+)

kanna.jpgIt’s a safe bet that Kagura, the slacker-protagonist of Kanna, won’t be adding a “World’s Greatest Dad” mug to his collection anytime soon. At the beginning of the story, Kagura can barely take care of himself as he works a part-time job and attends cram school. His life takes an unexpected detour into fatherhood, however, when he finds a seven-year-old girl asleep in his bed. Much to his frustration, the poor moppet doesn’t speak enough Japanese to explain who she is, how she arrived in Kagura’s apartment, or why she refers to him as “Daddy.” It doesn’t take long for Kagura to realize that Kanna (said moppet) is in imminent danger from powerful, supernatural forces. (The high body count at the diner where he busses tables provides an important clue.) With a demon hot on their trail, the two set out for Kagura’s hometown to seek assistance from his former girlfriend, now a priestess at the local shrine.

The most disturbing scenes in Kanna don’t involve monsters or flying body parts, as one might imagine, but some loli-flavored interactions between Kanna and one of Kagura’s acquaintances, who has an unhealthy interest in cute little girls. I’m with David Welsh on this one: I find these scenes just plain icky. Equally off-putting is volume one’s choppy execution. Takeru Kirishima makes little effort to connect his scenes with smooth transitions. Instead, the book reads like a series of hyperlinked web pages: Click here to learn who Kanna’s real parents are. Click here for a scene of gratuitous kiddie cosplay. And so forth. Minus the loli slapstick, Kanna might be guilty pleasure—think Yotsuba&! meets Kami-Kaze—but as written, this moppet vs. monster manga is about as much fun to read as a Linux manual.

Volume one of Kanna is available now.

Narration of Love at 17, Vol. 4

By Kyungok Kang
NETCOMICS, 184 pp.
Rating: Teen (13+)

narration.jpgNarration of Love at 17 is a refreshingly honest soong-juhn (shojo) story about one high schooler’s struggle to make friends and make sense of complicated feelings for a childhood playmate. Seyoung, the heroine, is a normal seventeen year old. She’s bright, but not exceptional; pretty, but not a head-turner; and talented, but not outstanding. For several years, Seyoung has been a member of the drama club, relegated to backstage roles while the beautiful Hyemi lands the plum parts. Seyoung views Hyemi as a threat to her friendship with Hyunwoo, Seyoung’s neighbor and confidante. As Hyunwoo and Hyemi grow closer, Seyoung is forced to make a choice: will she continue to rely on Hyunwoo, and hope that he will eventually reciprocate her romantic feelings, or will she forge new friendships and assert her independence?

Good shojo depends on the “truthiness” (to borrow a word from Stephen Colbert) of its characterizations, and on that front author Kyungok Kang succeeds beautifully. Her primary characters seem like flesh-and-blood teenagers with their quicksilver moods, intense passions, deep insecurities, and ever-changing social allegiances. On the strength of Kang’s storytelling, I’d give Narration of Love at 17 an A minus, but the dated artwork may hamper some readers’ enjoyment of the series. The characters’ eyes, hairstyles, and elongated bodies owe a debt to shojo pioneers Moto Hagio and Keiko Takemiya—not necessarily a bad thing, as both Hagio and Takemiya are accomplished draftsmen. But Kang’s character designs lack the elegant refinement of Hagio’s and Takemiya’s; the cast of Narration looks awkward and snouty, especially when viewed in profile, and have such androgynous faces that I found certain characters hard to distinguish from one another when viewed up close. If you’re willing to forgive some clumsy art, however, you may well find Narration of Love at 17 an engaging antidote to the numerous harem comedies and vampire love stories aimed at teenage manga fans.

The fourth and final volume of Narration of Love at 17 is available now. To read the first chapter online for free, click here.

14 Responses to "Weekly Recon, 9/12/07"

1 | Sixxx

September 9th, 2007 at 7:49 pm

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I’m psyched about Star Trek v2! Whil Wheaton wrote the first chapter, and he’s quit the comedian and a well-versed Trekkie. I read his chapter on TP’s on-line manga. Verbose, but funny and action-packed.

Thank you, thank you for the news about Death Note!!! I think that is so wonderful!

BTW, I freaking miss you on TP. That is all.

~.^

2 | Katherine Dacey-Tsuei

September 9th, 2007 at 8:55 pm

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Sounds like I’m going to have to check out the new Star Trek manga–after all that sugary shojo goodness, I could use something a little nerdier, I think. Thanks for the recommendation!

3 | Six

September 11th, 2007 at 12:51 am

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The editor for the Star Trek manga mentioned the likelihood of a weekly comic about Red Shirts. Those poor things!

You said “sugary” and Father Abel popped up in my head. Nice. =D

Shojo is such an interesting word. I wonder what to show Joe every time I read it. It sounds Mardi Gras inspired. ~.^ Then, 2 seconds later I return to being the geeky Trekkie that I am, and entirely forget about it.

4 | Katherine Dacey-Tsuei

September 11th, 2007 at 12:26 pm

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I always thought the guys in the yellow shirts were the expendables–those cast members who reliably got eaten, shocked, or vaporized every time the group beamed down to a planet. But I could be into a weekly red shirt comic.

As for Father Nightroad, have you tried the TB novels? I haven’t, but I’ve been curious about them. Do they fill in some of the gaps in the anime/manga?

5 | Six

September 12th, 2007 at 2:13 am

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CPT Kirk wore a yellow shirt, when it wasn’t ripped to shreds to show off his chest. …. =P ~.^

The TB novels are the genesis for the TB manga and the anime. They are being released in alternating volumes of the 2 novels. So volume 1 of “Rage Against The Moons” and Volume 1 of “Reborn on the Mars” are out. The creator, Sunao Yoshida, intended for them to be released in this manner. They are also purely his work, which makes me sad that I cannot read Japanese. I would give a few legs (from KFC) to be abel (sic) to read the novels in their original language.

The prose is straightforward, making for a fast read, with splashes of THORES’ (my idol!) amazing works. Some of the storyline will make much more sense once you read the novels.

V1 of RAM is awesome as there is no silly red-headed nun in sight, but rather, we get to hang out with the ever kick-butt Astaroshe Asran. =)

V1 of ROM is our introduction to Miss Priss, and I promise, it is not to be missed. What you learn about her is not in the anime or manga.

I heard a tiny rumor that the script for the 2d season of the anime was written, but I have been unable to independently verify that rumor. If anyone knows, I’d love to know, too!

Sorry for typing so much! ={ That sugar-guzzling priest is such a cool, fascinating archetype for me.

6 | Katherine Dacey-Tsuei

September 12th, 2007 at 7:54 am

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Thanks for the lowdown on the novels! They’re really nicely packaged, and I’ve found myself checking them out every time I visit the bookstore, but I just haven’t gotten around to spending the money on them. Sounds like they’re a lot of fun, though, and might help fill in some of the bigger holes in the anime. (The manga seems to be its own animal.)

7 | Jon Haehnle

September 12th, 2007 at 5:25 pm

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I was talking to a manga reader in the store today who was pleasantly surprised to find INVU volume 4 had come out — 2 years after volume 1 :O

8 | Katherine Dacey-Tsuei

September 12th, 2007 at 7:44 pm

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The creator took an extended break between volumes three and four to work on her other series, The Queen’s Knight, causing major delays. I doubt that reader was the only one who was surprised to see “I.N.V.U.” on the shelves!

9 | phoenixfirev

September 13th, 2007 at 12:52 pm

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I’m only getting two titles out of this list; Kamen Tantei and Phantom. I can use a slow week though, I’m still working through my back log from 3 weeks ago! But, I’m looking forward to reading Kamen Tantei, and it’s the end of the series, so I’m hoping it’ll be good.

10 | Katherine Dacey-Tsuei

September 13th, 2007 at 5:22 pm

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I’ve really enjoyed Pet Shop of Horrors and Genju no Seiza, so I’ve been curious about Kamen Tantei. I’d be really interested to hear what you think about the series!

11 | Mack

September 13th, 2007 at 10:36 pm

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I just bought volume 4 of Genju no Seiza, but haven’t had any time to read the manga. I have been getting in late ever night and then started work on my next ‘Scoop’. Also, I am trudging my way through Trinity Blood Reborn on Mars Volume 1: The Star of Sorrow. The story finally picked up. I am looking forward to reading Genju no Seiza after TB. TP doesn’t have much for that interests me this week.

12 | Katherine Dacey-Tsuei

September 14th, 2007 at 11:11 am

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I think you’ll like Genju, Mack, as there’s a crossover with Pet Shop of Horrors. (Plus the story is beginning to pick up, too. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s a good volume!) Are the TB novels well written? Your comment suggests that there’s a lot of filler.

13 | Mack

September 15th, 2007 at 8:36 pm

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Pet Shop of Horrors. Do I have to read the manga to understand the new Genju??? I always skip things that have horror in the title. I was never a fan of the genre.

14 | Katherine Dacey-Tsuei

September 16th, 2007 at 8:39 am

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Not at all! The crossover is confined to a single, stand-alone story at the end of volume 4.

As for Pet Shop, the title is misleading. It isn’t the manga equivalent of Pet Cemetery; it’s an anthology of supernaturally themed stories in the same vein as xxxHolic. It’s not gory–I wouldn’t have enjoyed it, either, if it had been excessively violent or icky.

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