Cross Game Vol. 1-2

By Mitsuru Adachi
576 pages (v1) & 376 pages (v2), black and white
Published by Viz

First, a quick point that I need to bring up: I’m not a fan of baseball. Watching it on the television just does nothing for me, and while I have a good time at the occasional trip to the ballpark with friends, it has to do with the experience (and getting a chili cheese dog and a beer) rather than the game itself. I mention this not because I think it’s any sort of superior viewpoint (I’m actually a little envious of my friends who love it), but because you need to know that before I tell you the next fact. Cross Game, Mitsuru Adachi’s comic about high school students playing baseball, is now probably one of my favorite manga series of all time.

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Bakuman Vol. 3

Written by Tsugumi Ohba
Art by Takeshi Obata
200 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

When I first started reading Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s Bakuman last year, I was almost instantly intrigued by the glimpse into the manga publishing world, and getting a look into the mechanics of pitching to and being published by the big leagues. Through the eyes of two high school students, Ohba and Obata looked to be making a fictionalized version of, "How the publishing industry works." As Bakuman has progressed, though, what we’re starting to get now is something even more interesting—most notably a question of what happens when you try and become more "commercial" in your comic-creating.

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Twin Spica Vol. 5

By Kou Yaginuma
208 pages, black and white
Published by Vertical, Inc.

Since Vertical launched their English editions of Twin Spica last year, it’s been fun to receive a new installment every two months and watch the story unfold—in no small part because Kou Yaginuma has quietly been tweaking the story since those early chapters, adding and discarding elements as he sees fit. By this fifth volume, it’s juggling two related but tonally different storylines, one involving training for Japan’s astronaut program and a second one about memories of young love. The latter is aided by the ghost of "Mr. Lion," whom Yaginuma seems to be trying to keep relevant to the story by showing his past with Asumi’s classmate Marika. If we didn’t already have the storyline involving Marika’s health issues, this might have seemed more out of the blue, but instead it serves a purpose by giving us more information about this secretive character.

Still, the primary draw for me remains the training for space, and after meandering away from it for a while, the second half of the book is taken up primarily by a training exercise that the entire class goes on. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of the series to date, with what seems like a simple simulation suddenly turning into a much more challenging event. Child-sized Asumi is our main focus here, and I appreciate the fact that Yaginuma is able to cast doubt into the reader’s mind on if she’s really cut out to be an astronaut. Considering she’s our main character, the fact he can plant that doubt is a good one. His delicate art style assists in that manner; watching the battered Asumi stumble through the challenge wouldn’t be half as effective if she seemed buff and sturdy. With its twin love affairs of childhood romance and the yearning for space, Twin Spica continues to draw its readers in, and is worthy of staying on your radar. If you ever wanted to be an astronaut, you’ve got to read this series.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

Summit of the Gods Vol. 1

Based on a book by Baku Yumemakura
Art and adaptation by Jiro Taniguchi
328 pages, black and white
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

I love that Jiro Taniguchi’s projects vary wildly from one to the next. One day it’s a story about a businessman who is transported back to his childhood (A Distant Neighborhood), the next it’s about someone who goes on long, almost entirely silent walks through his town (The Walking Man). Summit of the Gods is yet another jump for Taniguchi’s works translated into English; an adaptation of Baku Yumemakura’s novel about the world of mountain climbing. In many ways, I think it’s my favorite of Taniguchi’s works yet, because for the first time I found myself actually holding my breath while reading one of his comics.

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xxxHolic Vol. 16

By CLAMP
192 pages, black and white
Published by Del Rey

What do you do when your comic book series is past its expiration date but you want it to move on anyway? That’s a dilemma that the manga collective CLAMP had to deal with when it came to xxxHolic, a series about a mysterious shop that granted wishes that was also designed to run parallel to their other title Tsubasa. With the end of Tsubasa (the last volume of which hit bookstores this month), that should have been the end of xxxHolic too. Except it hasn’t, perhaps because CLAMP had become too fond of it, or perhaps simply because they had too good an idea to let it go. And the end result? It’s one of the stranger volumes of the series to date.

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Ax: Alternative Manga Vol. 1

Edited by Sean Michael Wilson
400 pages, black and white
Published by Top Shelf Productions

I’ve been looking forward to Top Shelf’s Ax: Alternative Manga anthology ever since they first announced it. Between reading Secret Comics Japan back in the day (which really needs to come back into print) and the more recent "gekiga" (essentially alternative manga) releases from Drawn & Quarterly (with books like The Push Man and Abandon the Old in Tokyo), it’s been fun seeing some of the different genres and styles of manga being produced in Japan. Ax in Japan was the successor to Garo, the gekiga anthology whose founding is detailed in A Drifting Life. So the idea of a cherry-picked collection of comics from Ax over the past decade? Yes, please.

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Genkaku Picasso Vol. 1

By Usamaru Furuya
256 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

Usamaru Furuya’s Short Cuts is one of the strange, off-beat comics that Viz published in its PULP anthology back in the day, and which you still hear its fans talk about in hushed tones. It was silly, irreverent, and unpredictable, and a feature I always looked forward to. I’d never seen a comic longer than a one- or two-page gag strip by Furuya before, though, so Genkaku Picasso being translated into English felt like perfect timing. What I wasn’t expecting, though, was a bizarre mixture of "special powers to help others" mixed with pop psychology.

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Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators

By Guillaume Bouzard, Byun Ki-Hyun, Catel, Chaemin, Choi Kyu-Sok, Igort, Lee Doo-Ho, Lee Hee-Jae, Park Heung-Yong, Mathieu Sapin, Hervé Tanquerelle, and Vanyda
224 pages, black and white
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

Last year, I got a chance to read Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators and ended up finding it what I was hoping for—my own journey from one end of Japan to the other, told through a group of talented French and Japanese comic creators. This year, a companion volume, Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators, was released and I was hoping for much of the same. What I found, though, was a rather different book and not at all what I was expecting this time around.

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Kobato Vol. 3

By CLAMP
160 pages, black and white
Published by Yen Press

Several months ago, I reviewed the first two volumes of the new CLAMP series Kobato. At the time I felt that I was glad I had read them back-to-back, because after a slightly underwhelming first volume, things had picked up a great deal in the second and made me feel much more confident about the series. Now that the third volume is out, though? I feel like I’m left back in limbo on the series in general, and that this new installment isn’t a positive step forward.

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A Drunken Dream and Other Stories

By Moto Hagio
288 pages, black and white, with some color
Published by Fantagraphics

I never did read the issue of The Comics Journal that interviewed Moto Hagio, and printed one of her stories in English. I understand that it was that issue that convinced the rest of Fantagraphics to publish a "best-of" collection of Hagio’s work, though, and that it talked a great deal about her importance in helping define the shôjo ("girl’s comics") genre in Japan. Here’s what I do know, though. Going into A Drunken Dream and Other Stories blindly, it’s ultimately a book that sucked me into its stories and made me want to read a lot more of Hagio’s comics. A mixture of romance, science-fiction, and family drama, these ten story compilation is one of the strongest examples I’ve seen of the depth and breath that the shôjo genre can contain.

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