Category Archives: Manga Reviews

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Inside Mari: A Partial Review

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Inside Mari (Boku wa Mari no Naka)
by Shuzo Oshimi
Chapters 1-26 (available on Crunchyroll Manga)

Summary (from Crunchyroll)
A young man is a shut-in, with nothing to do but kill time. The sole pleasure in his life is following home an angelic high school girl he sees every day in a convenience store. Today, like any other day, he follows her, but… Shuzo Oshimi, the creator of Drifting Net Café and Flowers of Evil, continues to open hidden doors of the heart in this monthly serialized story!

Review (so far)
The Flowers of Evil (Aku no Hana), one of the most uncompromising stories to be committed to both manga and anime in recent memory, enthralled me because it took teenage melodrama so seriously: that is, in all its ridiculousness and self-dramatization to the point of serious cringe. There was nothing noble or romantic about Kasuga’s self-loathing or repressed sexuality, or Nakamura’s sadistic nonconformity: it was what it was, ugly and fascinating at once.

Inside Mari, a more recent title by Flower’s manga artist Shuzo Oshimi, continues the tradition, and not from a completely unrelated angle. Inside Mari tells the story of a hikkikomori named Isao Komori, who has been stalking a local high school student named Mari at a nearby convenience store. One day, he finds himself awake in a strange bed, and in a strange body, of the opposite sex…Mari’s body. Now Isao/Mari has to navigate school life, as a girl, all the while pretending to everyone that Mari is still Mari even though Isao has no idea how to be a woman.

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This is not a new concept, of course, as it’s been treated both comedically and semi-seriously in other anime and manga stories, and often with dollops of melodrama on top. (cough*Kokoro Connect*cough) What is different, and refreshing, about this take is how it is introduced, and how Oshimi dramatically complicates the situation over time. The first volume and half makes it appear that Isao is experiencing a bit of a morality play: you have objectified and lusted after this high school girl, now you get to see what it feels like to be one, and it’s not so fun! For example: one of the very first things Isao/Mari becomes aware of is how men check her out all the time, a glance here and a glance there. This is on top of now possessing those body parts that he had previously so lusted after and not knowing quite what to do with them…and that’s before the period begins. (Quite graphically, too: the reader is not spared the pain and messiness of the experience.) An explicit critique of the “male gaze” is very much in operation here, much like Kasuga’s actions served as a critique of the standard manga/anime “nice guy” who thinks he’s pure and romantic. Instead of an external catalyst like Nakamura to prod him into another mindset, though, he literally must walk in another person’s shoes, to see an experience foreign to his insulated ways.

Women know when you're doing this, guys.
Women know when you’re doing this, guys.

The story would be worthy enough, though simplistic, if it had been left at that. But Oshimi goes further, in an apparent (not, as of this writing, 100% confirmed) twist that turns the tables on what the apparent “moral” of the story is and how we understand the characters of both Isao and Mari. Mari is not completely all together, in the tradition not so much of Oshimi’s Nakamura, but of Saeki, whose twistedness was explored much more in the manga than the anime was able to show. Like Saeki, Mari has a near-perfect exterior that masks much pain and possibly instability. That facade, due to Isao living inside of her, is painfully and ruthlessly torn down, and the poignance of watching her social relations unravel is hard to watch sometimes. At that point, the boundaries begin to blur and the reader wonders just who these people are, and how much of what we call friendship and civility is really held together by pretense and hiding. If my theory about what is going is correct, what we have is a challenge to the whole notion of identity itself, whether it’s based on gender, social standing, or otherwise. Who is Mari? Who is Isao?

Identity crises are classically adolescent, and Oshimi is a rare talent that explores just how dark and confusing they can be. Inside Mari, barring a disappointing finale or revelation, furthers his oeuvre of hurting and desperate youth who can’t seem to stop wondering who they are, who they belong with, and what life means when you can’t seem to feel at home anywhere.

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Inside Mari is available on Crunchyroll Manga. It is recommended for mature readers as it contains some explicit nudity, though it is necessary for the storytelling.

Escape into the realms of Sailor Twain..

Not to confuse this title with either Sailor Moon or the author Mark Twain, however, Sailor Twain or The Mermaid in the Hudson is a webcomic turned printed hardcover bound from First Second.

Twain is a Captain abroad a boat traveling on the Hudson. The boat is owned by Jacques and Lafayette Henri, a pair of French brothers. Jacques has passed away, Lafayette, the younger is a womanizing wastrel with six to seven girlfriends. One night Twain happens to save an injured mermaid from the river, and issues would arise that would shape this story. Saving and healing the mermaid does bring out a lot more conflicts than it appear. This is not The Little Mermaid, where there is a happy ending. In many sailor stories, mermaids have a more sinister purpose, similar to being a siren luring willing victims to a watery death. Now due to frontal nudity and obvious sexual context, this is not a book for kids but it is appropriate for older teens onward.

This story takes place around the Gilded Age of the Hudson River, near New York City. Since the timing is approximately from 1860-90′s, readers would read this and get treated with racial and gender issues being mentioned. Mark Siegal uses either charcoal on paper or pencil on paper. This gives the book a feeling of being smoky or dream like at some parts, but relates appropriately with the story that the author has conveyed.

Sailor Twain is compiled into a published book, but apparently this story is possibly not done yet, as the Siegal mentions in a blog update. There is a high probability that there is going to be a further look or follow up with characters mentioned in this book.

Sailor Twain is an adventure story that personally I felt concluded with a depressing ending. It was realistic though, given the choice that Twain has done. I may need to read more American type of stories like this to recommend a similar read alike, but what I see in Sailor Twain is slice of life mystery with a mythical aspect. After School Nightmare or parts of Mushishi might be a good thematic read alikes for Sailor Twain.

Gen Manga’s Wolf

Naoto is a rising boxer determined to defeat his father, who abandons his family years earlier to become a boxer himself. He journeys to Tokyo, and begins the hard road of training for victory and success. This is a dry preview that you would get from me, otherwise I’ll spoil the reading experience.

Wolf has been a part of Gen Manga, since its first issue, so the story has finally concluded and gotten the same experience Kamen and VS Alien has enjoyed, all 10 chapters and a special epilogue bound into one convenient one volume read. This is either going to be in a pdf or a print format, a reader’s preference. Personally I have read both versions, and can say which version is better. The end questions is, whether or not a person wants the extra weight in their bag vs. losing a file if an e-accident happens.

At first glance or a flip through the pages, anyone can surmise that this is a sports manga with a human interest aspect. I am not into reading many team sports manga, but since this is a story on guts and glory.. (not mentioning the sweat).. then it should bring in some readers who would appreciate seeing an underdog rise, and a variety beyond other existing seinen titles in English.

Wham! A victory?

In the world of manga, any subject can be represented. Wolf as a story is not as original, the ending is pretty predictable, with some surprises as to how certain situations played out. It joins other known manga boxing titles that anime and manga fans have already known about. Titles like Hajime no Ippo, One Pound GospelAshita no Joe. Those all cover multiple volumes, but if you want a short read then Wolf at one volume is a good choice.

What stood out for me about Wolf was two things, hope in the fact that things would change with hard work (cues Rocky music) and the mention of a minor character who is a training sumo wrestler that Naoto met at the very beginning. There hasn’t been any sumo manga that has been translated into English, so on the rare occasions I get to see the mention of another type of sport, my interest perks up. I happened to read this book in one subway read, so then how fast would you read this book in order to know what happens?

Revisiting FLCL

FLCL in the early part of last decade aired as an anime on Adult Swim, and pretty much took teens of America at that time by storm. Tokyopop at the time also got to release the graphic novel, in a two volume series, but now roughly about ten years later, FLCL gets re-licensed and released by Dark Horse as a remastered completed omnibus.  The art is done with strong ink black lines, with sparse panels and detail. For all intents and purposes, the chapters are also episodic, and what a trippy trip this is, and in my opinion not for fans who expect a well rounded story line.

Though for those who are adventurous, would you happen to want to have things being pulled out from a hyperspace hole from your forehead? I definitely wouldn’t, but it is what Naota has to face, as he goes from an unwilling teenager into a town hero bent on saving his town from getting involved in an interstellar conspiracy.

Possibly due to the medium, but FLCL the manga didn’t capture my attention the same as the anime did. It certainly didn’t translate well, for as I read this book, I can’t help but think back and get completely distracted by far reaching comparisons to the what I thought was a fantastic anime. It certainly wouldn’t help, that I kept on listening to the music, and recall my memories of watching The Pillows in concert.

I definitely see this manga as fitting a market niche for existing FLCL fans, but I wonder on how it would do as sales for people who are newcomers. I certainly don’t find this an enjoyable experience for those who won’t enjoy reading short bursts of humor like what they usually do in 4-koma type books. I can see similarities to being like a warped darker version of .hack, and Soul Eater. Do you?

Take a Chance on The Wandering Son

To clear it out of the way, if you are a anime viewer, then The Wandering Son anime is on Crunchy Roll. But if you happen to have the opportunity to read the manga prior, then I really would recommend it. The manga brings a richer background than the snippet of the anime, but as a start to GLBT awarness and acceptance, knowing of a work like this is important.

This is a slice of life story, with the events of Nitori Shuichi, a pre-adolescent male protagonist having a secret desire to cross dress as a girl, and this brings to the forefront ideas of sexual identity and just how open or condemming a society can get toward individuals who want to change their gender no matter how young they are. Nitori befriends Takatsuki Yoshino, a girl who wants to be a boy.  In the events of the second book, they befriend a transgendered individual, who becomes an inspiration

Reading this book shows an acceptance toward GLBT.  Personally I wonder how long can Shimura Takako write with the stories of this character, since reading this series for me feels like another slice of life with Usagi Drops in terms of pacing.

There are great enlightening essays written by Matt Thorne post script of the main story. I definitely would recommend reaading this book to learn of Japan’s awareness of this controversial topic.

Japan as a society is very unique, with their unspoken acceptance on what is a unique scenario for people in their society. There can be condemation for GLBT individuals, but historically men and cross dressing has been openly done, and up to now. Females and males in Japan society can cross dress to fans of many.

Fantagraphic getting the opportunity to publish this in English has been great, since they published The Wandering Son straight into being hard covers. This shows off an awarness that there are some titles to not pass up.

The third volume would be released later this year around May 2012.

MMF: Sailor Moon Artbooks

Just one artbook cover

If you happen to google “Sailor Moon” “Manga” “Artbooks”, you shall definitely see images from the volumes of Sailor Moon. This is a series of seven art books that were published by Kodansha during the years when Sailor Moon was being released. Since that time, these books have been quite out of print. These images are quite ingrained into the minds of fans for being the pinnacle of how Sailor Moon is suppose to be on paper and in color.

Concepts explored..

I can seriously say that these drawings fuel theory and thoughts over the year. The Inners with the Dark Kingdom generals. Takeuchi never really mentioned about the Moon Kingdom except through flashback and foreshadow through Sailor V and Sailor Moon, but this image is one that broke perceptions, that doesn’t even eclipse Haruka and Michiru. Yet for the romanticists, I can only sigh.. as this for me is akin to being something as an Jane Austen romance can provide.

Briefly summing:

  • Volumes 1-2 covers only the Inners and if you count the anime into this, Sailor Moon to Sailor Moon R.
  • Volume 3-4 has the Outers, alongside the continuing seasons of Sailor Moon S to Sailor Moon Super S.
  • Volume 5 includes the Starlights, and Chibi Chibi. This covers Sailor Stars.
  • Materials Collection has the character sketches and drawings of the entire Sailor Moon cast series, along with a short manga.

Each volume also cover manga’s noted villains, and so what would happen to be your favorite set of villains and Sailor Warriors?

My collection of artbooks sadly does not include the Infinity one which I have seen on sale topping $1,000+ at Otakon and on eBay. This is a collectors boom to ever own these seven books, and just so you know if you happen to want to read any of the week long worth of MMF with Sailor Moon, check out here! I am currently rushing on just one more blog entry, hopefully I make it.. but if anything…  Happy New Year!!!!!!!!

あけまして おめてどう ございます!!!!!!!

Thoughts about Gate 7

Chikahito Takamoto is a normal high school student from Tokyo visiting his dream city of Kyoto. While visiting a site, he comes upon a battle that has the warriors just as perplexed to see him there. Within months, he moves back to the old capital and there he begins a life with Hana, Tachibana and Sakura.

Fans familiar to Card Captor Sakura, xxxHolic or many of CLAMP’s other manga shouldn’t feel out of bounds with picking up and reading Gate 7. The first volume reminds me a mixture of CLAMP’s other works Kobato, X and xxxholic. Other similar reads should be series like Natsume’s Book of Friends or Mushishi for paranormal stories beyond. The artwork of CLAMP is superb as always. I wouldn’t be surprised to see if Gate 7 gets picked up for anime series. For now though this series has been picked up to be translated into English by Dark Horse, so it is bound to be available at comic retail stores.

Rarely has it been to my knowledge of manga set in Kyoto. Much of CLAMP’s works are set in Tokyo with the fantastic view of Tokyo Tower as a cultural reference, but perhaps CLAMP is trying to explore settings outside of Tokyo is their way of featuring Japan to the rest of the world. Their usage of Japanese historical figures are also something not out of the ordinary, since they explained Vedic mythology with RG Veda. I had a fun time reading about the culture and historical notes in this story.

Another point to indicate from this story is Hana’s love for all things noodles, and yes I can only imagine just how much there is to love about noodles. It would like onigiri if you give it a couple of more years. ^_^

An evening with Vertical’s Tasting for Drops of God

The Drops of God Beckons

Rarely has there been a story that would inspire the interest of an industry outside of its target audience. However, this has been the success of The Drops of God aka Kami no Shizuku. It had inspired trends that would literally sway the consumption of a certain vine to being nearly all consumed and sought after.

The direction of Drops of God in English that Vertical has chosen is going to be one similar to how Oishinbo had been published by Viz, a sampling and not everything is going to be released. So this series in Japan may be 20+ volumes, but in terms of practicality, only three volumes has been decided to be published in English. The main point of this entry though is not the review of the manga, which I still have yet to read. Rather it is a recap for a publisher event that I was able to attend.

On Wednesday and available for the public to attend, Vertical took an alternative approach to presenting one of their latest releases. They presented The Drops of God at Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit, a wine shop, where attendees were able to taste certain wines that were mentioned in the manga.

drops of god event (1 of 8)

Since there was a large crowd expected, attendees were given slips of paper to get the opportunity to blind taste a drop of God. There were also plenty of mingling, so the evening passed as the wine flowed and prepared snacks were consumed. I sampled three wines and since I have already had a prior preference for white over red wines, I had my heart set on which wine I liked.

For those who were present at this wine tasting event, also had the opportunity to purchase the book. It was a great opportunity to see how successfully a title can be crossed over into another industry. I happen to take some photos of the event, so you can check out the Flickr here.

Love Hina MMF: Thoughts and Purikura!

Love Hina as it joins the series of MMF titles discussed is in my opinion a read alike to Rumiko Takahashi’s Maison Ikkoku, but with the complexity of Ranma ½ thrown in. Keitaro Urashima is second to third year running Ronin who is trying to get into Todai (Tokyo Daigaku) aka Tokyo University. He becomes the manager of the all-female Hinata Inn. An inn where there a majority of the inhabitants ultimately thinks the worse of Keitaro, yet through episodes and time, Keitaro grows into living at Hinata. Just don’t mind all the breasts, panty shots that he founds himself in situations with.

I don’t necessary want to sum up the book’s content, but this entry is more like my personal waxing about my memories with this title. When Love Hina was released in the late 1990’s, I was in junior high to high school. I was around the same age group as Shinobu, though for a time my favorite character for this series was Haruka, since she is the most normal less emotional female in Love Hina. Getting the chance to read this re-released omnibus is a bittersweet memory for me. I am writing this post with a realization that this was my first complete exposure to the harem genre, of course at that time I didn’t realize that was the case, but ultimately it is a genre, whose target audiences are teenage guys.

Love Hina mentions purikura. Now unless you aren’t around a huge population of Asians, or you ever get to visit Japan, then ultimately you would should get exposed to sticker pictures machines. If you look at an American counter part, those photo booths are a similarity. Growing up in New York City, I do recall having some limited experiences at the not so great purikura machines. Though my memories of purikura was more cemented when I took pictures with friends in Japan. While purikura has not maintained its popularity in the United States, it is still present in Japanese arcades. They are fun activities to cement brief moments of time. 7-10 minutes to customize the images afterward though. ^_^

Kodansha USA has been releasing graphic novels, and other than Sailor Moon, to re-release Love Hina is a market move to see if the popularity of its titles success is still present. I always appreciate omnibus styles, though there are ups and downs to such an edition. For one it is pricey for another it is a shelf saver. For one sale you get three books bound into one edition. The American market reads manga years after its popularity in its native land. So to reintroduce a manga that was initially translated by the defunct Tokyopop, and a limited Kodansha bilingual release reflects the timeless of this title for a teenager. With its anime already released on DVD. Would this manga enjoyed a revival success?

If you want to read an archive of other entries in this MMF series, check out this link here.

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is not a light read.

It has been a while since I have done a graphic novel review, and this is a book I would recommend older teens to college age students to read. Shigeru Mizuki is considered to be a living mangaka legend, well respected and influential to generations of Japanese manga readers. His work GeGeGe no Kitaro, popularized the concept of youkai usage in manga, so if you mention either the title or author to any Japanese they definitely would know it.

However that work is still not avaliable in English, so rather last month at Mocca, I saw Drawn & Quarterly release one of Mizuki’s wartime memoirs, Onward Towards Our Noble Death. The story is a semi-autobiographical account from the mangaka’s own experiences fighting in World War II, where in real life he did survive and only lost an arm.

War is not a pretty thing, and as history pointed out, Japan took the role of a aggressor. American’s may know of the famous Bataan Death March, but Onward Towards Our Noble Death, is from the perspective of Japanese soldiers surviving and taking a last ditch desperate stand on the island to what is to be known as Papua New Guinea.

At the beginning of the book, there is a roll call of who is going to be in the unit/cast, but the simplistic style of Mizuki proves a challenge to keep a track of who’s who in the events of the story. There are detailed black and white depictions of background art, since that is what Mizuki is known for, comedic depictions of humans but great detail for background. The cultural notes from the text is quite interesting, and reading this book made me think that in war there really is not victor. There is always victims and hardships for both sides involved.

If you want to definitely want to see a comparison in film, Letters from Iwo Jima covers a similar scenario that Onward Towards Our Noble Death did.

 

A New York City evening with mangaka Natsume Ono

New York City manga fans recently had an opportunity to meet Natsume Ono, the author of not Simple, Ristorante Paradiso, Gente, and House of Falling Leaves. The titles just listed are works that are available in English, and from those works, Ristorante Paradiso and House of Falling Leaves have been adapted into anime. This event took place at midtown’s Kinokuniya. There was an author talk, and then book signing. Since there were so many fans, everyone was allowed only one item to be signed.

Due to the author’s camera shyness, there was a no photo policy, but the table where the talk was conducted was filled with her manga in English and Japanese, so I snapped a photo of that. The author talk was conducted by Megumi Sato of Samurai Beat Radio, and the event began slightly early since the space was packed with appreciative fans.

I didn’t have my recorder, but with my iPad I spent the event tapping away at notes, so this entry is going to be summing of my notes. Natsume Ono was physically petite, and looking at her, you definitely wouldn’t believe that she is over 30. She was a soft spoken women with long wavy hair and glasses. She was dressed in an outfit that was of typical Japanese fashion, that a friend commented probably won’t be as popular in the U.S. (Simple orange toned shirt dress with a olive green leggings).

This was Natsume Ono’s first appearance at Kinokuniya, but not her first time in New York City. Her prior trip to New York City was to conduct research for a not translated manga titled Coppers, that depicts the New York Police Department.

Her inspiration for Ristorante Paradiso came as she was studying abroad at Italy. In Ristorante there is the mention of food a lot, so Ono mentions that she wanted to draw about everyday life. Eating provides a ready setting of conversation and what she wanted to depict. Family is also a very important part of her writing.

Personally, she loves her father, so there was a dango experience in her life.  One time when her father was not traveling with her and her mother, he personally arranged for dangos to be delivered to the ryokkan where they were staying at. So on the phone, he mentions that he wanted to share the same dessert at the same time they were having it.

She has a sweet tooth, but also likes alcohol, and potatoes… (french fries, and the U.S. has so many different type of fries). She is also a fan of Hill Street Blues, and REM. In a typical work day, she starts early, but as the day goes longer…she would end up drinking alcohol, then working some more, with finally falling asleep. (Typical salary man behavior as Megumi comments). There are typically no established days that she gets to take off with nothing to do, but if there are things to do with friends and family, off she goes.

She has drawn a version of something similar to herself in La Quinta Camera, and this is a work that would be translated/released around July. Ono is set to have a new series at this time in the Japanese version of ikki, the work is untitled. But is set in Edo featuring two men around Kawasaki Temple. She wants to eventually experience writing fantasy or a manga work with lots and lots of characters.

By this time the audience question segment came on, and there were questions about what inspires her. She stated that she was very impressed by the anime adaptations, since it went beyond her expectations. When inquired about Ristorante Paradiso and the many gentleman’s appearances. She confirms to female sequels in the audience that she has a thing for reading glasses.

After the audience questions, a line began for her book signing, and I am very impressed. She drew for every fan a depiction of their favorite character. When it was my turn, I request for a picture of Gigi, and I got this cute image of him eating. I also got a postcard depicting images of the Ono Kuma, (Natsume Ono’s mascot). I was pretty happy, and ended up also with another autograph image of Claudio, a friend of mine was great to wait on line for me. (Can I just say that I really liked Ristorante Paradiso a lot, when I first watched the series.)

Now several days later, I am still feeling happy from my experience at meeting Natsume Ono. I am crossing my fingers here, Natsume Ono as a writer has also written several bl manga, under the name of Basso. So I spent some time trying to think about any publishers that would snap up her older works. Kodansha USA maybe for her Coppers work, or what other publisher in the United States would want to publish her bl-works? DMP?

May 29, 2011 EDIT: Samurai Beat Radio has actual audio podcast of event, so here check out Part 1 and Part 2.

April MMF: Ranma 1/2 Artbook – A Feast For a Fanboy’s Eyes

Everyone should have at least once in their lifetime encounter Ranma 1/2. It is after all the standard of many current harem type anime comedies. Rob of Panel Patter has been spending a year covering the series of Ranma, and now he is running a weekly Takahashi Rumiko feast on his blog. Even on my own blog, I have written about five other entries for the feast. But seeing that I have covered art books on this site. Here I go!

This version of the art book has out of print for a while, you can still find used copies of it online. Actually around six years ago, I saw a copy of this in London, but didn’t think to pick it up until now. If you collect anime/manga art books you may have realized that many of them is quite costly since it is usually an imported product, but many American publishers of manga, has translated some artbook, so this is definitely a wallet saver. The Art of Ranma 1/2 has many quintessential images of the manga represented in this book.

Lets see the table content are pretty clear in what is the subject of this book.

  • Boys and Girls
  • Everybody Together
  • Everything in Martial Arts
  • Girls in Love
  • Relationship Chart
  • Rivalry Chart
  • Rumiko Takahashi Interview

So there you have it, a treat for any fan of this classic tale of Ranam 1/2. Definitely a favorite depiction of Ranma and cast is in China style clothing.

Shampoo is also a fan favorite, so there are many pleasing images of her. Although she was never my favorite, since of the entire female fiancees, with the exception of female Ranma, I have always been an Ukyou fan. Who is your favorite?

There’s a great deal of manga depiction of many supporting characters, especially in those fantastic group pictures. So for fans who are only familiar with the anime, there is the manga look of characters as well. This is a pure feast for the eyes of any Ranma 1/2 fans, and the comments that are written is in English, so definitely.