Vertical – 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 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

]]>
Twin Spica Vol. 5 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/01/21/twin-spica-vol-5/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/01/21/twin-spica-vol-5/#comments Fri, 21 Jan 2011 17:00:07 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1632 By Kou Yaginuma208 pages, black and whitePublished 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 [...]]]> 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

]]> http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/01/21/twin-spica-vol-5/feed/ 3
7 Billion Needles Vol. 1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/10/11/7-billion-needles-vol-1/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/10/11/7-billion-needles-vol-1/#comments Mon, 11 Oct 2010 07:00:12 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1521 By Nobuaki Tadano192 pages, black and whitePublished by Vertical

You might think about buying 7 Billion Needles based entirely off the cover. That’s because Vertical has designed it like an old science-fiction paperback, complete with orange band up at the top, and a large font text description on the back. If this is the sort [...]]]> By Nobuaki Tadano
192 pages, black and white
Published by Vertical

You might think about buying 7 Billion Needles based entirely off the cover. That’s because Vertical has designed it like an old science-fiction paperback, complete with orange band up at the top, and a large font text description on the back. If this is the sort of thing to make you think, "I need to read this book" then you are fortunately also in luck, because Nobuaki Tadano’s 7 Billion Needles is inspired by the 1950 science-fiction novel Needle by Hal Clement, and this is a book where the cover tells you exactly what you’re in for.

Like the classic novel Needle, Tadano’s story involves two alien beings that have come to Earth; one a killer (Maelstrom), the other a hunter (Horizon), both merging with a human in order to survive on this planet. Unfortunately for Horizon, it has chosen to merge with Hikaru Takabe, an introverted loner who hides behind her ever-present headphones and drifts through life after the recent death of her parents. From there, the story ‘s basic strokes are familiar; Horizon having to convince Hikaru that both Horizon and Maelstrom are not only real but a genuine danger, and that as a merged being they need to find and stop Maelstrom before it kills all life on the planet.

It’s not so much the basic ideas in 7 Billion Needles where the book stands out, but rather the smaller details. Tadano slowly parcels out information about Hikaru and why she chooses to seal herself off from the rest of the world; at first it looks to be due to the death of her parents (something her aunt and uncle worry about), but as the book progresses we start to get hints that there’s more to Hikaru than initially meets the eye. In general Hikaru is an entertaining character to read about; she resists believing up until the point where it’s impossible to shut out, but even then her reactions to Horizon’s requests are entertaining and telling. Tadano writes Hikaru in such a way that her introvert nature is believable and understandable to the reader, even as Horizon seems baffled by the sequence of events. And when Hikaru does finally end up with "friends" it’s not a sudden shift in Hikaru herself, but rather the people around her. It’s a scene that is written well in no small part due to Hikaru’s general bewilderment over the entire sequence of events.

The art in 7 Billion Needles is nice, with a sharp, crackly look to the characters. Characters have shirts with large, geometric creases along their backs, and sharp angles along ears and noses where other artists might have drawn something smooth and rounded. It makes Tadano’s art stand out from the generic look that a lot of manga has, and it’s part of what drew me into the book in a matter of pages. I also like how Tadano handles movement and body language. When Hikaru suddenly has her new "friends" sit down on either side of her, the way she pulls into her shell emotionally is echoed in her posture, pulling her shoulders up and her hands into her lap, with legs tightly clenched together. You can almost feel her discomfort just by looking at her. The few fight scenes also work out well, building in power as they grow into something increasingly energetic and discomforting. Tadano is also smart in showing just what the reader needs to see and nothing else; when Maelstrom and Horizon first face off in the supply closet, Maelstrom’s attack is nasty in part because of how Tadano pulls back the view to show more and more of Hikaru even as that deadly strike first occurs.

Reading 7 Billion Needles Vol. 1 reminded me in some ways of Parasyte, only in this case it’s less cartoonish and much creepier. And, with just a four-volume length, 7 Billion Needles already feels much more tight and focused. I came for the beautiful production design of 7 Billion Needles, but I’ll stay for the excellent story and art.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]> http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/10/11/7-billion-needles-vol-1/feed/ 2
Twin Spica Vol. 1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/05/31/twin-spica-vol-1/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/05/31/twin-spica-vol-1/#comments Mon, 31 May 2010 08:00:52 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1392 By Kou Yaginuma192 pages, black and whitePublished by Vertical, Inc.

I almost didn’t buy Twin Spica because of the cover. There was something about it, with its creepy little girl holding two glowing objects, while strange lights fell from the sky, that was an instant turn-off. Was it because it felt like a science-fiction version [...]]]> By Kou Yaginuma
192 pages, black and white
Published by Vertical, Inc.

I almost didn’t buy Twin Spica because of the cover. There was something about it, with its creepy little girl holding two glowing objects, while strange lights fell from the sky, that was an instant turn-off. Was it because it felt like a science-fiction version of Children of the Corn? Or a strange reversed-gender riff on Akira? Fortunately, I have friends who are less afraid of strange cover design, and their repeated ravings over Twin Spica made me finally reverse my stance and pick up the first volume. I’m here to tell you that they were right, and I was wrong. If anything, I’m kicking myself for staying away as long as I did.

Twin Spica is in many ways a love song to the idea of space exploration. Named after the binary Spica star system in the constellation of Virgo, it focuses on young applicants to Japan’s space program, and the yearning each of them have towards traveling towards the stars. Asumi is the main character of the book, and Kou Yaginuma includes in her background a space-related tragedy that killed part of her family. At first, it’s easy to think that it exists solely to dredge up some drama for her character. It’s part of why her father initially objects to her going to the academy, and her memories of her mother’s death crop up at inopportune moments. The more you read of Twin Spica, though, the more it begins to look like Yaginuma is using Asumi’s mother’s death to talk about the need among the characters to make it out into space. After all, it was attempts at space travel that killed Asumi’s mother, but even then Asumi cannot shake her devotion toward her life’s dream. It ends up coming across as a powerful urge, and helps solidify the book.

Twin Spica Volume 1 includes several prequel stories that were created before the Twin Spica series began, but which form the basis for the book. They’re odd entries in their own right, glimpses into a dreamland underworld where children get the chance to see their deceased parents before they cross over into the realm of the dead forever. We also see more of the spectral figure that Asumi calls Mr. Lion, a character that in the main Twin Spica chapters appears to be little more than a mental crutch that Asumi uses to help deal with her mother’s death. In these prequels, though, we start to see more about Mr. Lion’s true nature; it’s a mystical-in-nature story (like the other prequel) that is enchanting, but it doesn’t feel like it quite connects with the rest of Twin Spica in terms of content. It’s hard to ignore some of cultural differences along the way in Twin Spica. Most notably, there are several images of a parent slapping a child in this first book, and while it’s clearly not meant to look as being abusive it will probably startle Western audiences where physical punishment of children has become taboo. It’s a clear reminder that Twin Spica isn’t just a comic that happens to be translated from Japanese, but rather a real Japanese comic with all of its own cultural benchmarks and foibles.

Yaginuma’s art is sweet and delicate, all of the characters (even the swaggering cool guy who alternates between jerk and insightful) coming across with soft features and a minimalist approach. This both does and doesn’t work to Yaginuma’s advantage; I think that it makes some of the characters much more sympathetic and likable, but it’s also hard to look at the tiny and childlike Asumi and remember that she’s supposed to be thirteen years old. While there are a lot of pages without backgrounds in the panels, Yaginuma crystallizes the most important moments for the reader; from a child up a temple’s stairs, to the exhausted recruits finishing their first test in the nick of time.

Twin Spica has one final element that pulls everything together, and that’s charm. It’s hard to remain cynical about anything while reading Twin Spica; even in the face of tragedy or failure, it keeps drawing the reader in with the promise of something good for its characters (and the reader) just around the corner. And, inevitably, it delivers. Twin Spica helps restore wide-eyed wonder about space travel to even the most jaded audience, without ever failing to take its material seriously. This is a charming book that you’ll want to read and re-read over and over.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]> http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/05/31/twin-spica-vol-1/feed/ 2
Black Jack Vol. 1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2008/11/12/black-jack-vol-1/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2008/11/12/black-jack-vol-1/#comments Wed, 12 Nov 2008 05:00:36 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=694 By Osamu Tezuka288 pages, black and whitePublished by Vertical, Inc.

With more and more of Osamu Tezuka’s comics being translated into English, it was just a matter of time until Black Jack came back into print. With just two volumes of material originally translated and out of print for years, I knew about Tezuka’s stories [...]]]> By Osamu Tezuka
288 pages, black and white
Published by Vertical, Inc.

With more and more of Osamu Tezuka’s comics being translated into English, it was just a matter of time until Black Jack came back into print. With just two volumes of material originally translated and out of print for years, I knew about Tezuka’s stories of a renegade surgeon more by reputation than anything else. Now that Vertical is bringing its 17-volume run into English? I have to admit, I’m ready to go under the knife a few more times.

Need an impossible operation performed? Look no further than the mysterious Black Jack, an unlicensed doctor known for his facial scars and his incredibly high fees. And when only the most powerful or desperate people come to Black Jack for help, that means that Black Jack’s list of cases are some of the strangest and most unique patients you’ll ever find.

I have to admit that I was a little worried at first that Black Jack would easily fall into a rut; Black Jack meets patient, Black Jack discovers the patient’s strange problem, Black Jack cures patient against all odds. It’s very much to Tezuka’s credit, then, that he’s able to keep from going over the same story over and over again, and find variety in the character’s doings. Tezuka mixes things up by showing us stories of Black Jack’s past, bringing in strange patients like self-aware computers, or sometimes making the story about what happens after the operation. What remains constant, though, is that Tezuka always keeps the story moving at a brisk pace and there’s a little something waiting in each story. Some are certainly better than others—I don’t think it’s any small coincidence that my two favorite stories both have to do with Black Jack’s past more than anything else—but I never felt like I was reading a filler story.

Tezuka’s art is, unsurprisingly, good as always. His characters are all well drawn, and I think it’s a disservice to not see how much expression and nuance he puts into each character. What really stands out for me in Black Jack, though, is his panel and page structure. I love how he uses different layouts to aid telling stories; in "Confluence" when Megumi is attacked at night, the panels on the page start angling and dropping down to the right even as her attackers drag her in that direction. It’s a smart trick, making you feel like she’s actually being dragged into the depths, with the bottom panel borders lined up parallel to the arm that they’ve grabbed onto. Likewise, in "The First Storm of Spring" the page is split into lots of diagonal shards; each panel draws your eye down to the next, letting Tezuka give a series of narrow-looking scenes to accentuate the mysterious person forever escaping. It’s a neat trick that breaks up the monotony, and works quite well.

When I first heard there were 17 volumes of Black Jack I was a little unsure that I really wanted to jump in for the long haul. After this first volume, though, I’m excited about the second book being right around the corner. This is a fun series; it might not be as deep as some of Tezuka’s books like Buddha, Adolf, or Phoenix, but it’s still a worthy addition to a Tezuka fan’s library. As an added bonus, comic book stores are getting a direct market exclusive hardcover edition (bookstores are only getting a softcover option), which are also including the dozen stories that weren’t included in the series’ collection in Japan (mostly because the stories were decided to be too bleak). It’s a good time to be a Tezuka fan.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

]]> http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2008/11/12/black-jack-vol-1/feed/ 2
Buddha Vol. 1: Kapilavastu http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2003/11/11/buddha-vol-1-kapilavastu/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2003/11/11/buddha-vol-1-kapilavastu/#comments Tue, 11 Nov 2003 04:00:17 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2003/11/11/buddha-vol-1-kapilavastu/ By Osamu Tezuka 400 pages, black and white Published by Vertical, Inc.

It’s hard to believe that just a couple of years ago, it was almost impossible to find works by Osamu Tezuka in English. Considered by many to be the father of comics in Japan, his English canon consisted primarily of Adolf and Black [...]]]> By Osamu Tezuka
400 pages, black and white
Published by Vertical, Inc.

It’s hard to believe that just a couple of years ago, it was almost impossible to find works by Osamu Tezuka in English. Considered by many to be the father of comics in Japan, his English canon consisted primarily of Adolf and Black Jack. Now, it seems, America is finally catching up with the rest of the world. In the past five years, we’ve seen Tezuka inducted into the Eisner Awards’s Hall of Fame, and translations of Phoenix, Astro Boy, Nextworld, and Metropolis just the tip of the iceberg. Now book publisher Vertical, Inc., already publishing translations of Japanese prose novels, is publishing Tezuka’s eight-volume opus Buddha.

A Brahmin monk is search of the Great One, a boy born with great intelligence and wisdom that is promised to have insights to make the rest of the Brahmin pale in comparison. When he arrives at the village of his search, he discovers that the boy that might be the Great One is a wily scamp… and born to the lowest social caste of all. Could this really be the Great One? Or is he just the harbinger to something greater?

Like Adolf, Tezuka’s Buddha takes real world events and mixes fictional characters in with our history to create his story. It’s an interesting technique, one that concentrates more on his own creations (Tatta the pariah, Chapra the slave, and so forth). By doing so, he’s able to tell a story that will both interest those who know about the Buddha’s life already (there’s not much suspense in a story that you already have heard before) and those who know nothing (since you’ll learn a lot about Buddha through these other characters’s eyes). Tezuka’s story of warlords and slavery will certainly bring to mind his book Phoenix: Dawn, where Tezuka’s dislike of conquerors is also on display. To Tezuka’s credit, he’s able to make General Budai much more rounded than one might have suspected; while Budai’s profession may make readers hate him, he’s certainly capable of love and affection and proves to be a good if stern father. Buddha is the sort of book that will live or die based on its characters, and Tezuka makes it live life to its fullest.

Those who have read some of Tezuka’s other works will know what to expect with his art in Buddha. It’s a very cartoonish depiction of characters, but still capable of great emotion. A cross look, a tentative smile, a gasp of horror… just because they’re stripped down in how many lines that Tezuka uses doesn’t mean it’s any less powerful an emotion. It’s also nice because for anyone who’s never read comics before, Buddha won’t distract them from the story at hand. His characters are iconic because of the stripped-down art style, allowing readers to project faces and people onto the characters at hand. The storytelling is also great for newer readers because it’s extremely easy to follow. There’s a very clear and natural flow of panels, but Tezuka’s still able to play small visual tricks on the reader. A scene with Chapra facing down an archer, for instance, uses narrow slanted panels that pull the reader’s eye back and forth, emphasizing both the distance between the two of them as well as the rock and arrow that are both about to fly at their targets.

The first volume of eight, it’s hard to believe that after 400 pages we’re only at the edge of the greater waiting to be told; Tezuka does a lot of setting up for his characters in the books to come, while still keeping enough in Buddha Vol. 1: Kapilavastu to keep your interest through what could almost be considered a prologue. All I know is that I finished this first book immensely satisfied and ready to run out and buy the second volume. Just make sure you do; with an attractive cover design by Chip Kidd, these books are going to fly off the shelves. These are books you’ll definitely want to have gracing your shelves.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

]]> http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2003/11/11/buddha-vol-1-kapilavastu/feed/ 1