Manga – Read About Comics http://www.readaboutcomics.com Where to find out what's really good. Mon, 16 Nov 2015 17:36:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.10 Sunny Vol. 1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/07/10/sunny-vol-1/ Wed, 10 Jul 2013 13:00:38 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2490 By Taiyo Matsumoto224 pages, black and white, with some colorPublished by Viz

I’ve always appreciated that you never know quite what you’re going to get with a Taiyo Matsumoto comic. Some are rooted firmly in reality (Blue Spring, Ping Pong), others utter fantasy (No. 5, Tekkon Kinkreet/Black and White), and a few a strange mixture [...]]]> By Taiyo Matsumoto
224 pages, black and white, with some color
Published by Viz

I’ve always appreciated that you never know quite what you’re going to get with a Taiyo Matsumoto comic. Some are rooted firmly in reality (Blue Spring, Ping Pong), others utter fantasy (No. 5, Tekkon Kinkreet/Black and White), and a few a strange mixture and melding of the two (Go-Go Monster). In the case of his latest series, Sunny, it’s a book that might at first look to fall into the latter category. But as you read more about this book’s group of young children and the car that can bring them anywhere they want to go, the more you’ll find yourself glad that it’s one without any magical elements whatsoever.

Matsumoto opens up Sunny Vol. 1 by introducing us to Sei, a young boy who’s the latest addition to an orphanage/halfway house/foster care facility (it’s never 100% clear) which is the central location of the series. As Sei meets all the different residents—each with their own personality and quirks—we also learn about Sunny, a car in the back yard that the children regular use to magically go wherever they want. But of course, it’s not literally taking them there; this is all about them mentally escaping their current situation to imagine themselves somewhere better. And in doing so, of course, Sunny becomes much more interesting.

At first it feels like Sunny might just be a heartbreak-of-the-week story situation. How else can you describe it when the opening chapter involves Sei using Sunny to drive himself back to the home that he just had to leave, and having a family there who can still take care of him. When that’s your fantastical, I-can-go-anywhere dream? It’s a little sad and depressing. From there, though, Sunny delves into fleshing out each of the kids as one-by-one they start to get a spotlight chapter. Some are funny, some are surprising, and all of them are strong. I have to give Matsumoto a lot of credit in that not only do the kids go from a bunch of faces with names to real characters as Sunny Vol. 1 progresses, but he also does a fair share of building it up when you aren’t paying attention. Kenji’s in the background of the first three chapters, for example, but we start learning that he’s a bit of a lothario through comments from some of the other kids. When we then get an entire chapter all about him, the rest of his story clicks into place and it becomes that much more interesting.

The best two chapters, though, have to be the final ones. Chapter 5 introduces us to Makio, the grandson of the housemaster who occasionally visits the kids. Watching the children light up over an adult’s arrival is partially joyous because I don’t think we’ve ever seen them quite so happy and excited as they are in this chapter. At the same time, though, it also says so much about their home lives before they came to this facility that it’s a little sad; these are kids who are starved for adult attention and compassion, and Makio’s occasional visits emphasizes that in a way where it never needs to be explicitly spelled out. That’s then followed by the events of Chapter 6, where little Shosuke goes missing and the children and staff of the home all rally to try and find him. In many ways it’s a very stereotypical moment—the coming together of everyone for a shared goal—but Matsumoto makes it work. Coming right on the heels of Makio’s visit, it helps answer the question of who these children have for their own family (namely, each other) and once again shows rather than tells. It’s a great story with which to close out Sunny Vol. 1, and makes me eager for the next volume this fall, even as it also could have just as easily served as an early conclusion if necessary.

Matsumoto’s art in Sunny looks great. His faces always look great, sometimes twisting up into strange expressions of delight and glee, but just as easily able to turn on a dime and knock out that sad expression. Panels usually have a tight focus on the characters, which is great for giving us their body language, but I must admit that I especially love seeing the slightly run-down, less-gleaming sights of Tokyo that Matsumoto brings to life. The neighborhood is a perfect match for the kids of Sunny, and getting to wander through it in Chapter 6 is a treat. There are also some nice touches with the kids, especially Junsuke. Junsuke’s big afro of hair often looks almost like a smoke cloud, and it’s drawn without any hard borders. It’s a neat effect, one that you don’t often see in a book that’s normally just hard ink lines.

Sunny Vol. 1 was released by Viz in an attractive hardcover edition, and this is a book that’s earned it. I feel like in many ways this is the most accessible Matsumoto manga to date, but without sacrificing good storytelling or dumbing things down. I’m already looking forward to the second volume and beyond. If you’ve never read a Matsumoto comic before, this is a great place to start.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Passion of Gengoroh Tagame http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/07/01/passion-of-gengoroh-tagame/ Mon, 01 Jul 2013 13:00:46 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2471 By Gengoroh Tagame256 pages, black and whitePublished by PictureBox

There’s no mistaking what you’re going to get with The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame. Subtitled "The Master of Gay Erotic Manga" and with "Adult Content for Mature Readers" emblazoned on the side, as soon as you open the book you’re greeted with skillful drawings of naked [...]]]> By Gengoroh Tagame
256 pages, black and white
Published by PictureBox

There’s no mistaking what you’re going to get with The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame. Subtitled "The Master of Gay Erotic Manga" and with "Adult Content for Mature Readers" emblazoned on the side, as soon as you open the book you’re greeted with skillful drawings of naked men. After having encountered so many volumes of the yaoi manga genre in years past—in which the gay male characters more often than not barely do more than kiss—I couldn’t help but wonder what a book like this would look like. What I found was a volume that actually had a lot more to offer than just drawings of men having sex.

The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame contains seven stories, and while there are some themes that run throughout the book, each stands on its own. Characters are generally muscular and manly—the often androgynous and fey bodies of yaoi manga left far behind—and in many of Tagame’s stories there’s some sort of either bondage or coercion involved. And while there is most definitely sex in each of the pieces in The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame, how it fits into the story varies greatly; for some it’s the centerpiece, for others it’s merely a vehicle for something else.

Two stories in particular stood out for me, "Hairy Oracle" and "Country Doctor," as being especially noteworthy. "Hairy Oracle" introduces us to a police detective and the guy that he’s occasionally sleeping with; the hook being that whenever the police detective is being penetrated, he gets glimpses of the future. In "Hairy Oracle" the sex is almost incidental; instead we’re getting a story where it’s as much about the flip in power and someone shifting from feeling under-appreciated to the center of attention. In "Hairy Oracle" you could swap out anal sex for some other form of power exchange and the basic premise of the story is still there. What’s nice, though, is that there’s a light-hearted playfulness to "Hairy Oracle" (something that isn’t present in a lot of Tagame’s other stories) and as it moves through its 18 pages it doesn’t waste a moment. It moves at a brisk pace and has a very pleasant attitude, ending on a fun note that resolves the earlier quarrel between our two unnamed characters in an effective manner.

With "Country Doctor," on the other hand, there’s no removing the sex. Here we get Doctor Kayama having moved from Tokyo to a small country town as its new resident physician. What starts as an affair with local farmer Masa turns into a situation much greater as his position within the town has him acting as much a sex toy as a doctor. The sex shows up often in "County Doctor," and it’s absolutely an integral part of the story. And while Kayama occasionally is put into situations where he’s a bit uncomfortable (mostly by the surprise of it all), what’s refreshing is how much Kayama ultimately throws himself into the act. This isn’t someone who’s being forced or tricked into having sex; he’s not just a willing participant, he’s enthusiastic. There’s a certain level of joy in this story that makes it attractive, and once you add in the actual plot of the story being fun in its own right, you end up with what I felt was the best story in the book.

Some of the other stories in The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame head into a distinctly darker place, though. Several of the stories involve heavy bondage, imprisonment, and torture. "Arena," is probably the one that will prove to be the most problematic to readers who have a problem with that; a story involving a series of fighting championships where the winner rapes the loser isn’t going to appeal to most, and that’s even before the drugs and transformations begin. Tagame’s delving into these depths are unlike almost anything else I’ve seen translated from Japanese to English, and while those elements weren’t my cup of tea, it was interesting to see just how far Tagame was able to go in a marketplace that normally frowns on anything even close to this.

Consistent from start to finish is Tagame’s art, which is drawn with crisp, clean lines. He clearly loves drawing the male body, and he does so in an extremely masculine manner. There’s probably more body hair in this volume than I’ve seen in all other manga volumes combined, and characters usually have well defined pecs and abs. Perhaps most important are two emotions that you see often in Tagame’s work; cockiness and happiness. A lot of Tagame’s characters have a certain swagger in the way they’re drawn; the alpha characters in the sexual encounters have a confidence that just exudes off the page in their facial expressions and the way they carry themselves. For a book that concerns itself greatly with the exchange of power in sexual encounters, this is critical. Showing up a little less often is the expression of someone enjoying themselves, but just as potent. Between Dr. Kayama in "County Doctor" and the university student Charles at the end of "Class Act," it’s their faces in a mixture of pleasure and relaxation that says more than any narration box could. It’s a great antidote to the more violent portions of the book, and helps provide a little something for everyone.

Needless to say, if you have a problem with the idea of reading gay porn, The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame is most definitely not for you. (I’m also surprised you made it this far.) Even if viewed in just a clinical manner, though, this was surprisingly interesting to read. It’s a side of manga that we don’t normally get in English, and Tagame’s art is excellent. And for those who do enjoy gay porn? Well, I don’t think there are many people who would enjoy every single story here (if only by the wide range of stories, with different levels of violence versus happiness), but there will almost certainly be a few right up your alleyway. This book feels like it was a gamble for publisher PictureBox, but I’m glad they did so. All in all, a fascinating book.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Polterguys Vol. 1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/10/05/polterguys-vol-1/ Fri, 05 Oct 2012 13:00:31 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2416 Written by Laurianne Uy and Nathan GoArt by Laurianne Uy192 pages, black and whitePublished by Mumo Press

Laurianne Uy and Nathan Go’s Polterguys Volume 1 was one of those books that randomly showed up in my mailbox one day. I’m always a sucker for a book that won a Xeric Grant, and with the foundation [...]]]> Written by Laurianne Uy and Nathan Go
Art by Laurianne Uy
192 pages, black and white
Published by Mumo Press

Laurianne Uy and Nathan Go’s Polterguys Volume 1 was one of those books that randomly showed up in my mailbox one day. I’m always a sucker for a book that won a Xeric Grant, and with the foundation having handed out its final publishing grants, getting hold of one of those books was a pleasant surprise. What I found was a book that clearly gets its main inspiration from certain manga tropes, but also adds enough of its own twist to keep it from being too predictable.

When Polterguys opens, Uy and Go introduce us to Bree, a nerdy college freshman who’s looking forward to starting over now that she’s away from the high school that ignored her. When a roommate that drives her crazy pushes Bree into finding off-campus housing, she ends up in a house haunted by five young men, and before long Bree’s trying to solve the mystery of their deaths that not even they can remember.

At its core, Polterguys is similar to the popular "harem" genre of manga, where usually it’s a single man in a situation where he’s living with a large group of women. (Negima! is an example of one such series that gained a strong following in North America.) In this case, though, it’s a reverse harem where Bree’s the sole woman with a cluster of boys around her. And while that sounds like a small change, adding in the lack (for now) of any sort of amorous relationship between Bree and the five ghosts and I must admit that I found myself intrigued by this inversion of a trope that normally has me running screaming from a series.

The story itself is a little familiar in spots but all in all it’s not bad. Bree seems remarkably sheltered and naive in spots, but she’s thankfully not stupid. When she gets herself into a bad situation or two along the way, it’s much to Uy and Go’s credit that Bree quickly regroups and tries to figure out the smart thing to do next. She gets a little wound up at times, but in the end it’s her drive to figure things out and ultimately adjust to the things thrown at her that makes Polterguys work. The ending feels a little rushed, but it felt in part like of Uy and Go’s desire to have a major plot point wrapped up at the end of the book. That’s a smart thing, since it gives the reader enough of a sense of gratification (without wrapping up all of the ghosts’ stories) that they’ll be interested in reading more rather than everything being dragged out. So while that part of the ending does indeed tumble into place a little too easily, with future volumes Uy and Go should have more room (with all of the set-up now out of the way) to tackle the remaining ghosts’ stories. And while the moment on the final pages is telegraphed fairly early on for readers paying attention, it’s staged in such a manner that I felt that Uy and Go handled the situation well and once again kept it from being dragged out.

Uy’s art is nice; it’s heavily influenced by the sort of style that you see a lot in manga these days. Very expressive faces and actions, and at times an over-reaction to try and drive a point home. It’s staged well enough, and I think that Uy’s biggest strength is a good sense of pacing. I feel that she understand the basic beats and timing of comics well, so that the progression builds well not only for each chapter but also each individual page. It’s not just a collection of panels that happen to be grouped together here, and I like the end result. It’s not often that you see a young artist get that right off the bat, and it bodes well for Polterguys as a whole.

All in all, Polterguys Vol. 1 is a pleasant read. It’s a bit of pop entertainment; you’ll read it, you’ll like it, you’ll probably want to see the next volume whenever that happens. (There’s even a low-priced Kindle edition for those who are intrigued but need to save shelf space.) Uy and Go have taken one of the normally sketchy sub-genres of manga and twisted it around into something that drops all of the slightly unsettling pieces and keeps all of the good ones, and for that alone I’d have been impressed. The fact that it’s a nice read works even more to its favor. Polterguys is light fun, but it’s fun none the less.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Fallen Words http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/06/22/fallen-words/ Fri, 22 Jun 2012 13:00:11 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2296 By Yoshihiro Tatsumi288 pages, black and whitePublished by Drawn & Quarterly

Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s career as a manga creator is long and varied; originally known for helping create the "gekiga" alternative manga genre in the ’40s and ’50s, and then bursting back onto the scene a few years ago with his enthralling autobiography A Drifting Life. [...]]]> By Yoshihiro Tatsumi
288 pages, black and white
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s career as a manga creator is long and varied; originally known for helping create the "gekiga" alternative manga genre in the ’40s and ’50s, and then bursting back onto the scene a few years ago with his enthralling autobiography A Drifting Life. With Fallen Words, his new short story collection, Tatsumi addresses an old Japanese storytelling technique and group of long-standing stories (called rakugo) by shifting them from performance art into a comics page. And once again, Tatsumi shows the reader that he’s still got the skill and craft that’s made him an important craftsman of manga all these years.

Each short is short and mixes humor and drama; once you understand these were stories that were performed by storytellers for crowds, the overall rhythm and conversational mood of these pieces becomes much more clear and understandable. Even if you didn’t know this in advance, though, it would be easy to confuse these for Tatsumi’s older gekiga comics, with their offbeat and entertaining conclusions. Nothing is quite as simple as they’d initially seem, even though there’s a certain internal logic that runs through all of them.

It’s "The God of Death" that I think sums up the entire Falling Words collection, both tonally and in terms of reader satisfaction. It starts out simply enough; a man and his wife are so down on their luck they can’t afford the three ryo it costs to pay their baby’s godparents in exchange for the baby being given a name. At the end of his wits, he feels that the God of Poverty is responsible, but from there gets sidetracked into thinking about the God of Death. And just then, the God of Death shows up and asks how he can help out. From there, the story sidetracks from a normal, every day story into one that’s a bit more off-beat. The God of Death tells the man how he can use his new ability to see the God of Death to help "heal" people who are sick, and how this ability both gives them lots of money but also moves them eventually into a new, bad situation. And then just when you think you know where things are going, one final glimmer of hope shows up, accompanied by a last second swerve.

And to me, it’s that last second swerve that punctuates each of the pieces in Fallen Words. It’s not always a "ha ha, didn’t see that coming!" moment, but rather a sudden proclamation or final burst of dialogue that is clearly meant to both surprise and amuse the audience. It’s a storytelling punch line, that moment where you can almost see the performer letting that final piece out and into the listeners, followed by a mixture of laughter and applause. As a result we’ve got all different genres of stories in Fallen Words—a brothel employee listens to complaints of angry patrons, a father takes his annoying son with him on a shopping expedition, a poor family finds purse full of a fortune—but the overall pacing is the same. But while with other creators that recognizable format might grow old, in Fallen Words it actually heightens the experience; you find yourself eagerly awaiting that sudden shift and moment where you laugh along with Tatsumi.

You may also find yourself noticing that there’s a certain class level that runs throughout Fallen Words. These rakugo stories are never about the already-wealthy or well to-do. It’s about people down on their luck, eking out an existence, definitely part of the lower class. You’ll start to recognize those tropes as Fallen Words moves from one setting to the next; the innkeeper who can’t afford to stay open, the patron who can’t pay his bills, and so on. It makes sense when you think about it; stories like these would probably be performed to those who didn’t have much money, who couldn’t go to high-society events. It’s a form of storytelling that is often used to entertain the masses, and here the audience can watch people just like them either succeed or fail, depending on how that final beat was to land. The cover describes the shorts as "moral comedies" and it’s easy to see why; perhaps once again because of their "meant for the broad public" nature, there’s a big push for working hard and not taking shortcuts, but interspersed with a good sense of humor.

There’s a certain sameness in Tatsumi’s art for Fallen Words, although it’s hard to tell if that’s deliberate or not. There’s definitely a very distinct and often-used set of faces on these characters; most of them in particular look identical, although there are a few exceptions, especially stories with several main characters. It’s something that at first I found a little frustrating as I would start a new story and see another character that looked like the last story’s lead, but over time I grew to appreciate it. It felt almost like this was a deliberate choice on Tatsumi’s part; these are, after all, an attempt to shift a group of tales performed by storytellers onto the printed page. Having the characters look the same over and over again, in that light, is a decision that actually works rather well. We aren’t getting the literal storyteller performing in front of us, but through Tatsumi’s art we’re seeing those performers take the stage again and again. As with A Drifting Life I’m always enchanted by Tatsumi’s drawings of backgrounds, although here they’re far less frequently appearing, and slightly less detailed. If anything it reinforced my feeling that the sameness of the characters was a choice from Tatsumi, once again making us feel like we’re seeing this performed on the street, perhaps.

Tatsumi might be seventy-five years old, but Fallen Words is a strong reminder that he’s still an important creator in comics. With each new release I’m delighted to see how good he still is; the fact that he’s been able to change gears in recent years to shift to autobiography and now rakugo is all the more impressive. Whatever of Tatsumi’s is released next, there is no doubt in my mind that I’ll be buying it. Fallen Words is a bit different from his earlier works, but it’s just as entertaining.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Rohan at the Louvre http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/05/18/rohan-at-the-louvre/ Fri, 18 May 2012 13:00:11 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2277 By Hirohiko Araki128 pages, colorPublished by NBM

I’ve always loved the fact that the Louvre art museum in Paris has been commissioning a series a graphic novels set within and around the famed museum. Each one’s had a different take on the idea (my favorite is probably Museum Vaults by Marc-Antoine Mathieu) but they’ve all [...]]]> By Hirohiko Araki
128 pages, color
Published by NBM

I’ve always loved the fact that the Louvre art museum in Paris has been commissioning a series a graphic novels set within and around the famed museum. Each one’s had a different take on the idea (my favorite is probably Museum Vaults by Marc-Antoine Mathieu) but they’ve all been good. With Rohan at the Louvre, the Louvre has hired a manga creator to tackle the subject. And what we got was not only able to stand out in its own right, but strong enough that now I want to read more comics by Araki.

Araki quickly introduces his character of Rohan—whom I hadn’t realized until after the fact is one that’s appeared in other short works by Araki, but you don’t need to have read those to enjoy this book—and his ability to "read" people’s souls, before leaping right into the plot itself. Araki crams a great deal of time into this book’s 128 pages; we start when Rohan is young and living at his grandmother’s boarding house, and end a decade later after he’s become a successful manga creator and decides to investigate a mystery that had begun all those years ago. In some ways Rohan at the Louvre feels like two different graphic novels grafted together; the halves are tonally quite different from one another, the first being more of a gothic romance and the second being an out-and-out horror. But despite there being a strong dividing line between the two, the second half feeds off of what we learned in the first half in a way that makes this pair of stories work as a single unit.

One of the things that I think works best about the jump in time between the two halves of Rohan at the Louvre is how Araki is able to make Rohan grow up a bit between the two. When Rohan interacts with the mysterious Nanase in the first half, he’s all but spying on her as he grows more and more intrigued by her story. He’s a slightly gawky teenager, with youthful ambition and dreams but not a lot of self-control. (After all, that’s partially why he’s staying at the guesthouse.) Once Rohan is older and in Paris, there’s a bit of maturity in him. He’s a big scornful of the teens that he runs into (although his mocking their outfit when in his own slightly bizarre uniform feels a bit off), but he’s someone for whom success has clearly managed to arrive for.

The horror element in the second half of Rohan at the Louvre is strong and slightly unnerving, thanks in no small part due to Araki’s art. The art here reminds me of a mixture of Western artists like Barry Windsor-Smith and Neal Adams; there’s a strong sense of realism to the art, with heavy, strong ink lines. When Rohan and his escorts are being attacked in the bowels of the Louvre, the impossible elements are jarring in part because they’re drawn with that same level of realism that we’d seen up until that point. The tire tread moment is easily the most memorable of the actual death scenes, but what ends up being even creepier is the sideways glimpses of the dreaded Nizaemon Yamamura painting when they first arrive at vault Z-13. Araki carefully avoids letting us see it directly until almost the end of the entire book; by that point it’s built up so much menace that Araki has infused our own emotions into the final piece. We are able to understand its danger by what it can do, not just solely on how it looks at first glance.

Rohan at the Louvre is a fun book, and it’s one that grows on you with time. I enjoyed it when I first read it, but a day later I found myself thinking about it and how effective some of the scenes in the book were; not only the horror scenes, but the guesthouse interactions between Rohan and Nanase as well. I’d love to see more of Araki’s Rohan comics translated in to English, based on Rohan at the Louvre. All in all, another strong addition to the Musee du Louvre Edition line. Don’t let the garish colors on the cover of Rohan at the Louvre scare you off; this is a dark, creepy book.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Art of the Secret World of Arrietty http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/04/06/art-of-arrietty/ Fri, 06 Apr 2012 13:00:57 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2249 By Studio Ghibli and Hiromasa Yonebayashi200 pages, colorPublished by Viz

As much as I love Studio Ghibli’s films, occasionally they’ll sneak past me in the movie theatres. That was the case with The Secret World of Arrietty, an animated movie based on the novels of The Borrowers that was released in North American earlier this [...]]]> By Studio Ghibli and Hiromasa Yonebayashi
200 pages, color
Published by Viz

As much as I love Studio Ghibli’s films, occasionally they’ll sneak past me in the movie theatres. That was the case with The Secret World of Arrietty, an animated movie based on the novels of The Borrowers that was released in North American earlier this year. While I continue to wait for a DVD release, though, I’ve found that yearning at least partially satiated by The Art of the Secret World of Arrietty, a book detailing the artistic creation of the film.

Studio Ghibli fans will no doubt be the most interested in the early concept design sketches, which are split between director Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Studio Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki. They’re rough but beautiful in their own right, with soft, gentle colors and lines as you get to see the looks of the characters of The Secret World of Arrietty slowly form. It’s interesting to see some characters go down different paths at least initially. Yonebayashi’s early sketches of Arrietty have her looking like more of a warrior than an every day girl, for example, until Miyazaki vetoed the idea, and Miyazaki initially envisioned Pod looking very Germanic. It’s actually a little fascinating to see how much Miyazaki’s originally envisioning of settings like the mansion or the home of Arrietty translated into the final product; the sketches might be rough, but everyone involved still seized on the details that are still present and brought them to life.

Beyond those earliest production sketches, though, there’s a lot of other interest packed into The Art of the Secret World of Arrietty. There’s an essay talking about the changes made from the books to turn it into a movie, discussions on shifting everything to the tiny size of the characters, and even explaining how they got around the fact that the home of the little people should have been pitch black since it wouldn’t have a window to the outside world. It’s a surprisingly thoughtful write-up of just about every aspect of creating the film, save for voice acting (which of course the art department would have nothing to do with), and even without having seen The Secret World of Arrietty yet for myself, it’s still interesting.

And of course, there’s a lot of art reproduced from The Secret World of Arrietty, even beyond all of the (increasingly detailed) production sketches. Even something as simple as a still from the movie looks fantastic; then again, this is a Studio Ghibli film. The images of the exterior of the house are breathtaking, and if anything it makes me want to see The Secret World of Arrietty even more. We also get to see a lot of the production art side-by-side with the actual scenes from the film; while the finished product is crisper and more polished, it’s once again a little surprising to see how closely the film followed those early paintings.

The Art of the Secret World of Arrietty closes with a printing of the entire script of the film, which is a surprising bonus. (As tempting as it was to read it, I’m going to hold off on that until I finally get to see the film for myself.) The Art of the Secret World of Arrietty is the first Studio Ghibli Library art book on my shelves, but I’m already planning on getting a lot more; especially the ones for my favorite films like My Neighbor Totoro. The Art of the Secret World of Arrietty does the near-impossible; it managed to plunge me deep into the world of a film I’ve yet to actually see. That’s no small feat.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Cross Game Vol. 6 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/02/29/cross-game-vol-6/ Wed, 29 Feb 2012 14:00:49 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2160 By Mitsuru Adachi376 pages, black and whitePublished by Viz

With the wealth of manga being published in North America right now, it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite. Were I forced to narrow it down to a top ten or even top five current series, though, there’s no doubt in my mind that Cross Game [...]]]> By Mitsuru Adachi
376 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

With the wealth of manga being published in North America right now, it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite. Were I forced to narrow it down to a top ten or even top five current series, though, there’s no doubt in my mind that Cross Game would be on the list. Mitsuru Adachi’s series has done the seemingly impossible right from the beginning—create a series about baseball interesting—and with this new volume, he’s taken it a step further. He’s taken one of the most time-honored manga romantic clichés, the new rival introduced around the two-thirds mark, and made the situation engrossing.

In the previous volume, Adachi introduced Akane, a newcomer to town who looks to be the spitting image of deceased Wakaba (Aoba’s older sister and Ko’s first love). It wasn’t hard to see where this was going; Akane would serve as a spoiler between Ko and Aoba, whom over the course of thousands of pages had finally come to a begrudging understanding, even if they weren’t at the point of admitting attraction between each other. So seeing another character coming in to keep any further progress from happening was initially disappointing, to say the least.

But over the course of Cross Game Vol. 6, a funny thing happened. I found myself really liking Akane… and perhaps more importantly, Akane and Ko together. Adachi makes her a character who’s more than just the spitting image of a dearly departed, but rather someone with a sharp and sweet personality of her own. She’s not too saccharine, and at the same time she’s most certainly not caustic like Aoba. She’s a genuinely nice person who appears to care for Ko, and to be a good (if not 100% perfect) match for him. This is, quite frankly, rather unheard of. I’ve always figured that Ko and Aoba would get together at the conclusion of Cross Game, but for the first time there’s a (very small) kernel of doubt in my heart in regards to that. And while Yuhei is the least interesting of the four in the relationship drama (in many ways getting his opening only with the presence of Akane), we end up with an acceptable match between him and Aoba. It’s a strangely pleasant realization; it probably won’t come true, but if Adachi pulled out the rug from under us, I’d probably still find it a good ending.

Special kudos also have to go towards Adachi’s handling of a secondary character, Akaishi. A character who also had a crush on Wakaba back in the first volume, his heart is on his sleeve when Akane enters the picture. At the same time, though, Adachi has Akaishi valiantly step aside to give his friend Ko a first shot at a relationship with Wakaba, due to Ko and Wakaba’s relationship from back in the day. It’s an almost heartbreaking moment, and watching Akaishi and Akane’s interactions in Cross Game Vol. 6 manages to stir up emotions towards Akaishi that you didn’t know existed until just then. He may still be a secondary character, but he suddenly feels much more important now.

There’s still baseball in Cross Game, of course. It’s mostly training (with our heroes’ school knocked out of the Koshien tournament), but Adachi focuses less on the technical aspects and more with a general "striving to get better" message. It’s a great approach; Adachi’s not afraid to get into the nitty-gritty during games, but for now it’s shifted into a backdrop for everything else to happen. As entertaining as the tournament games are, I must admit that I enjoy it being less front-and-center here.

Adachi’s art is remarkably consistent. Nice open faces and expressions, realistic bodies, and a distinct lack of over-exaggeration. The largely silent hulk of Akaishi is portrayed well here, and the romantic attractions that blossom in this volume are carried in part because of Adachi’s way of drawing them in a way that shows their growing fondness. There’s a lot to be said for body language, and Adachi’s one of those artists who can pull it off.

With two more volumes of Cross Game left in North America, it’s getting harder to wait for another installment. (The fact that both it and another favorite series, Twin Spica, are ending in 2012 does not escape me.) Cross Game is just marvelous, and barring disaster in the final chapters, I’m already hoping that more of Adachi’s comics are translated and brought into North America. Don’t think that if you don’t like baseball, you won’t like Cross Game. This is one of those series that I think would appeal to just about everyone, no matter what their like and dislikes are. Check it out.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Wandering Son Vol. 2 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/01/04/wandering-son-vol-2/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/01/04/wandering-son-vol-2/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2012 14:00:16 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1987 By Shimura Takako200 pages, black and whitePublished by Fantagraphics

The first volume of Wandering Son, published in the middle of last year, was an intriguing look at two teenagers who both are trying to figure out their own gender identity and their place in the world around them. Fantagraphics released the second volume at the [...]]]> By Shimura Takako
200 pages, black and white
Published by Fantagraphics

The first volume of Wandering Son, published in the middle of last year, was an intriguing look at two teenagers who both are trying to figure out their own gender identity and their place in the world around them. Fantagraphics released the second volume at the end of the year, and with a lot of the set-up completed, Shimura Takako’s story takes a stronger step forward here. Everything I liked about the first volume is still present, but any issues I’d had with it feel like they’ve been erased as her story progresses.

Wandering Son Vol. 2 picks up right where the last volume left off. Shuichi, Yoshino, and Saori are entering the 6th grade. But as the three find themselves not all in the same class, it’s the first hint that things aren’t always going to be quite so easy for Shuichi and Yoshino. What follows is a whirlwind of encounters and moments, with Shuichi and Yoshino learning more about their older transgendered friend Yuki, a class trip where Shuichi starts encountering some bullying, a potentially misplaced crush when a classmate of Shuichi’s sister sees Shuichi dressed as a girl, and even hurt feelings among the group of friends. In short, it’s life in the sixth grade, only filtered through the additional issue of being transgendered.

I love that Takako has given Shuichi and Yoshino their older friends Yuki and her boyfriend Shii; it gives the book a slightly different perspective as Yuki shows them one path that their life may eventually lead, as well as someone that they can theoretically talk to and be slightly more comfortable around. At the same time, I appreciate that Takako doesn’t take the obvious tactic of them all becoming instant best-friends simply because of the transgendered connection. There’s still a certain level of uneasiness mixed in with the admiration for Shuichi and Yoshino, and I like that Takako isn’t going for the easy out. Being part of a minority offers people an obvious introduction, but she doesn’t confuse that for a universal pass.

Then again, friendships in general aren’t taken for granted in Wandering Son Vol. 2. Saori being in a different class than Shuichi and Yoshino is already creating a rift, and Saori’s unstated jealousy of Shuichi’s relationship with Yoshino is a development that is making Saori that much more interesting. (Although, after meeting Saori’s mother, I want Saori to stick around if only because I’m dying to see her mother again, who steals an entire scene in just two pages.) At their age, friendships can start, stop, and start again at the drop of a hat, and watching something as simple as a shared journal between Shuichi and Yoshino create problems has a bite of realism that I think all readers can relate to.

It’s the school trip, though, where Wandering Son stops becoming sweet and innocent, and we start seeing the real world seep into Takako’s storytelling. Up until now, it’s been a pretty warm and innocent story for our characters; there was the occasional clash, but never anything too serious. What starts as simple childish taunting by Shuichi’s seat mate gets uglier with each interaction, with Takako completely understanding how a bully will find a weakness and continue to exploit it with larger and more powerful attacks once that vulnerability is discovered. When the phrase, "Little faggot," is spoken, in some ways the softer world of Wandering Son comes crashing down around the characters. It’s hard at that point to forget that the world is tilted against Shuichi and Yoshino, and that for every Saori, Kanako, or Yuki, there’s someone else far more unaccepting around the corner. It’s a powerful and dramatic moment, and Takako writes it pitch-perfect.

The art in Wandering Son is adorable as the first volume. Takako draws her characters with a certain air of innocence about them, with expressions of surprise and happiness bursting onto their faces in a way that makes me hope none of them ever try to become poker players. My favorite moments here, though, alongside those of unbridled joy, are when Shuichi’s sister Maho starts to figure out what’s up with her little brother. Those looks of suspicion and realization are classic, telling us everything we need to know about what’s inside of her head in one fell swoop.

Wandering Son Vol. 2 is a great sophomore collection from Takako; I feel like the slightly choppy nature from the early chapters in Vol. 1 is gone, and Takako’s starting to expand the cast and the plot in a way that provides more of a dramatic bite. Based on the class trip sequence in this volume, Takako’s just getting ready to make Wandering Son a lot more heavy and less idealized for the characters. If it goes anything like we see here, we’ve got a hell of a ride ahead of us. With beautifully designed hardcovers (and a pleasing weight and feel to the books too, with a good paper stock to boot), Wandering Son is the sort of series you’ll be proud to have on your bookshelf. I’m ready for the next volume now.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Tesoro http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/12/14/tesoro/ Wed, 14 Dec 2011 17:00:06 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1946 By Natsume Ono248 pages, black and whitePublished by Viz

Natsume Ono is a comic creator who, much to her credit, has no problem leaping from one subject to the next; one minute it’s samurai stories like House of Five Leaves, the next it’s romantic drama at a restaurant, or a young man trying to figure [...]]]> By Natsume Ono
248 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

Natsume Ono is a comic creator who, much to her credit, has no problem leaping from one subject to the next; one minute it’s samurai stories like House of Five Leaves, the next it’s romantic drama at a restaurant, or a young man trying to figure out questions of family and identity. I was delighted as a result to find out about Tesoro, a collection of Ono’s short stories. In doing so I found confirmation that while the plots are often different, there are definitely some threads that run through her works.

Ono writes a lot about loss and family. Missing parents are often elements in these shorts, and it’s to Ono’s credit that each character feels different in their own way, no matter what they’re going through similar to ones in different stories. Even when there’s no particular loss, like in "Froom Family," Ono still understands the hold that family members have on one another; there’s no way that young Nils could get the same amount of anguish from people that weren’t his sisters, able to get under his skin just so. Italy also crops up several times here, a favorite setting of Ono’s, but she often uses it as little more than a backdrop. Ono’s enchantment and fascination with the country none the less rubs off on the reader; I’d have expected to start groaning, "Oh no, not another story set in Italy" but instead I found myself hoping for one more glimpse. My favorite piece in the book, though, is probably "Three Short Stories About Bento." The three stories have little connection other than being about the Japanese lunch boxes, but each of them managed to both give a glimpse into Japanese culture and also bring their characters to life better than some full-length books I’ve read. Add in Ono’s trademark scratchy, loose-lined style, and you end up with a charming sampler from Ono. With 14 stories, even if you (like myself) find a small number to not quite be up to par, there’s more than enough here to keep you entertained for quite some time.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Twin Spica Vol. 9 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/10/31/twin-spica-vol-9/ Mon, 31 Oct 2011 13:00:04 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1923 By Kou Yaginuma272 pages, black and whitePublished by Vertical, Inc.

With so many manga series being translated into English these days, it’s easy for ones to get lost in the shuffle; doubly so when it comes to ones that aren’t on their first or second volume. In the case of books in Twin Spica, it [...]]]> By Kou Yaginuma
272 pages, black and white
Published by Vertical, Inc.

With so many manga series being translated into English these days, it’s easy for ones to get lost in the shuffle; doubly so when it comes to ones that aren’t on their first or second volume. In the case of books in Twin Spica, it would be a genuine shame if it became forgotten. Not only is this 12-volume series about a Japanese space academy charming, but its ninth volume is almost certainly its strongest installment to date.

Kou Yaginuma has always juggled multiple elements in Twin Spica; it’s not just about Asumi trying to become an astronaut (despite, or perhaps because of the personal tragedy her own family suffered due to space flight attempts), but about the relationships between her, her fellow students, and others associated with those at the academy. In the case of Twin Spica Vol. 9, though, I think Yaginuma has found the perfect mixture of stories to provide just the right balance of moods and ideas. We’ve got a journalist intrigued by the presence of Marika and trying to figure out her connection to his memories of many years earlier. A friend from Asumi’s past comes to visit, but is hiding the real reason for her arrival. There’s a thread about pride in making the new space craft entirely in Japan, rather than contracting parts out (like on the ill-fated Lion). There’s even a subplot about Marika working her first job. And of course, the training is getting progressively more difficult, to weed out those not suitable to become astronauts.

It might sound like much, but none of these stories felt cramped or getting short shrift. Perhaps it’s because these later volumes have a higher page count, but Yaginuma is moving effortlessly from one story to the next, and each feels emotionally fulfilling. The centerpiece of the book for me was Asumi’s visit from her friend Kasane. There’s something particularly sweet about that portion of the book, perhaps because it felt so especially honest and emotionally revealing. As readers get older they’ll find themselves in similar situations when it comes to long-time friends that might be slipping away, and Yaginuma writes as if he’s dealing from personal experience, here.

I also appreciated that more now than ever, Yaginuma is making it clear why Asumi would be a good astronaut. In earlier volumes it felt that while she had a lot of the drive, but perhaps not the physicality to be successful. By this point, though, we’ve had a careful progression of her attempt to be an astronaut, and having the newer student start to understand how her long-term dedication is now paying off is a nice moment. It feels like this has been planned from the very first chapters of the story, and we’re getting the fruits of that labor. Even the element of the ghostly Mr. Lion, who has started to feel past his expiration date, feels a little smoother here. Perhaps because it feels like Yaginuma is preparing his departure from Asumi’s life, but the slightly more reflective and subdued presence here is appreciated.

As always, Yaginuma’s art looks lovely. His ink lines are delicate and small, providing a rich texture to his art. As strange as it sounds, it’s starting to remind me of artists like Ladronn, able to draw something big and bulky like a space suit and give it heft while still feeling somehow impossibly light and perfect. And more importantly, when it comes to looks of wonder on the part of the main characters, look no further than Yaginuma. When Asumi, Kasane, or someone else’s face lights up in wonderment or happiness, it will melt your heart. Likewise, when someone is crushed, their looks of sorrow will threaten to drag you down too. It’s a beautiful overall look.

Twin Spica has just three more volumes to go, and I’ll be sad to see it end, even as I’m dying to see what happens next. I don’t know anything about Yaginuma’s new series Gunryoku no Jiu save that it’s about samurai, but Twin Spica is good enough that I’ll buy a translation sight-unseen. (Are you listening, manga publishers?) If you haven’t given Twin Spica a try, you owe it to yourself to take a look. It’s been a real joy falling in love with this series.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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