Moyasimon Vol. 1: Tales of Agriculture

By Masayuki Ishikawa
240 pages, black and white
Published by Del Rey

I love when publishers take a chance on slightly strange and out-there books, and I think that’s a category that Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture certainly falls into. After all, books and comics about brand-new university students are a dime a dozen, no need to do more than bat an eye over them. On the other hand, take that idea and then add in the extra twist of the protagonist being able to see microscopic germs as cute little animated beings that talk to one another? Well, now we’re going somewhere sufficiently odd.

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Akira Vol. 1

By Katsuhiro Otomo
368 pages, black and white
Published by Kodansha Comics

Reading Akira makes me feel a little old. It probably has to do with first encountering Akira 20 years ago, early on in Marvel’s colored reprints of Katsuhiro Otomo’s epic. From there, Dark Horse eventually reprinted the series as six "phone book" sized paperbacks around the turn of the century. Now, Japanese mega-publisher Kodansha is kicking off its own official North American publishing imprint, Kodansha Comics, and they’re using Akira as one of their first two books. While the content is still sound, in terms of actual production it’s a little surprising in places.

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Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators

By Moyoko Anno, Aurélia Aurita, Frédéric Boilet, Étienne Davodeau, Nicolas de Crécy, Emmanuel Guibert, Kazuichi Hanawa, Daisuke Igarashi, Little Fish, Taiyo Matsumoto, Fabrice Neaud, Benoît Peeters, David Prudhomme, François Schuiten, Joann Sfar, Kan Takahama, Jiro Taniguchi
256 pages, black and white
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

I was delighted to recently pick up a copy of Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators; published several years ago, I’d heard nothing but praise for this collection of short stories by both Japanese and European comic creators, each set in a different location within Japan. It’s an ambitious, far-reaching project, with half of the creators flying over to Japan in order to learn about their assigned spot and then trying to convey its charms to the reader. What I found, though, was that some creators who I’d expected great things from didn’t quite hit the mark, while others surprised me with their strong contributions.

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X-Men: Misfits Vol. 1

Written by Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman
Drawn by Anzu
192 pages, black and white
Published by Del Rey

X-Men: Misfits is the second of two manga-influenced comics from Del Rey that feature characters licensed from Marvel. The first, Wolverine: Prodigal Son felt squarely aimed at boys and influenced by shonen comics, with Wolverine going through tests of skill and becoming a master of martial arts even while he’s unable to fight the battles of friendship. X-Men: Misfits, then, is more of a shojo comic and aiming towards female readers. With Kitty Pryde being the only female student at Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, she’s the belle of the ball even while she is torn between two different camps of boys. Sounds an awful lot like all sorts of shojo comics out there to me.

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What a Wonderful World! Vol. 1

By Inio Asano
208 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

When I read Inio Asano’s Solanin at the start of the year, I remember hoping that more of Asano’s works would be translated into English; Solanin had just the right mixture of angst, aimlessness, and growing up all wrapped up in its emotional core. Clearly I wasn’t the only person wanting to see more comics by Asano; Viz is now publishing one of his earlier works, the two-volume What a Wonderful World! collection of short stories. Both volumes hit stores this week, but I was lucky enough to dip into the first half early, and it’s a joy getting to read more Asano and his stories about people whose lives are on the brink of crisis.

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20th Century Boys Vol. 4

By Naoki Urasawa
216 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

It’s hard to believe that it was just earlier this spring when I first encountered the opening volume of 20th Century Boys. That first book, about the mystery of a former school mate who started a cult, drew me right into the series and made me want to read more. Now that I’m on the fourth volume, though, I find myself amazed at all of the surprises that Naoki Urasawa has unleashed upon his characters since that first book. To say that this is a series that keeps getting better and better is an understatement—and we’re only 1/6th of the way through the entire saga.

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Barefoot Gen Vol. 1

By Keiji Nakazawa
288 pages, black and white
Published by Last Gasp

There are sacred cows in all genres and groupings of comics, those works that if you haven’t read you’ll get a funny look (at best) by way of response. Over the years, one of the works I’ve meant to try out is Barefoot Gen, Keiji Nakazawa’s autobiographical account of living through the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Earlier this year I finally broke down and picked up the first of its ten volumes. What I found inside was, well, not quite what I was expecting.

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Ooku: The Inner Chambers

By Fumi Yoshinaga
216 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

If you’re like me, a book called Ōoku: The Inner Chambers might make you think that perhaps an Ōoku is some huge slavering monster that lives in the depths of a cave. And like me, you would be utterly wrong. In Japan’s Edo Castle, the Ōoku was where the women who were attached to the current Shogun lived; aside from the Shogun, no other man would enter those chambers. Once I realized my error, though, I found myself drawn into Ōoku almost instantly with its alternate history concept that resulted in most of Japan’s men dying of a plague. For there, it seems, the Ōoku is something entirely different.

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Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee Vol. 1

By Hiroyuki Asada
200 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

There’s no official creed of the United States Postal Service, but you often hear the following attributed as such: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." (Turns out it’s actually based off of Herodotus’ Histories.) I like to think that Hiroyuki Asada was inspired by something along those lines, though, when creating Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee. Of course, Tegami Bachi‘s postal carriers have bigger foes to worry about than snow or rain or heat, thanks to gigantic killer insects and worse.

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Saturn Apartments Chapter 1

By Hisae Iwaoka
32 pages, black and white (with color pages)
Published by Viz

It’s fun watching Viz fully embrace the power of online comics. After all, it’s letting them release Rumiko Takahashi’s Rin-Ne simultaneously with Japan. With the launch of their version of IKKI magazine, we’re getting a wide collection of off-beat and different comics and (presumably) letting them build up an audience and good word-of-mouth as people check out the stories for free. Now that IKKI is full of all sorts of different comics, I have to say that I’m glad all these new series are available. If nothing else, it means that I now know that I’ll buy any Saturn Apartments books that are eventually released.

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