Viz – 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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Pepita: Inoue Meets Gaudi http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/06/21/pepita/ Fri, 21 Jun 2013 13:00:50 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2462 By Takehiko Inoue108 pages, colorPublished by Viz

I’ve been a fan of Takehiko Inoue’s for quite a while, especially with his series Slam Dunk, Vagabond, and Real. When I saw that a new art book by Inoue titled Pepita: Inoue meets Gaudi was coming out, I reserved a copy without even thinking twice. I figured [...]]]> By Takehiko Inoue
108 pages, color
Published by Viz

I’ve been a fan of Takehiko Inoue’s for quite a while, especially with his series Slam Dunk, Vagabond, and Real. When I saw that a new art book by Inoue titled Pepita: Inoue meets Gaudi was coming out, I reserved a copy without even thinking twice. I figured based on the cover art that it would be perhaps a travel journal of sorts involving the Catalan architect. What I found was actually a historical telling of Gaudi’s life with some art and photographs mixed in. And while it’s an interesting book, it was definitely not what I was expecting.

Fans of Inoue’s art will probably like the opening section the most, which is exclusively art by Inoue. It’s a mixture of sketches, handmade mosaics, and charcoals. All of the art in these early pages are inspired by Gaudi, either his life or his architecture, and that’s the connection between the two. Because this section comes first, it’s even a reasonable assumption that the entire book will be like this. And while the art here is at times a little rougher than the normally precise, incredibly fine lines that you get from Inoue, you can still see in these sketches his immense talent and great ability to draw such vibrant looking people.

Then you turn the page, though, and suddenly photographs begin to appear alongside essays about Gaudi’s life. It’s a combination of travel journal and biographical stories; Inoue talks about journeying to different, important places in relation to Gaudi. Some have to do with where he lived, others are places that he designed. Occasionally sketches of Inoue accompany these stories, but as the book progresses it’s hard to keep from noticing that the sketches begin to trickle down in frequency. If you’re looking for Inoue’s art above all else, I’ll be honest: Pepita will be a disappointment. And at first, that’s how I felt about the book.

The saving grace of Pepita is that Inoue is a good storyteller, and over time I found myself a bit more interested in the presentations that he put together about Gaudi. I wouldn’t say that by the time Pepita ended that I was Gaudi fan, but I did have somewhat of an appreciation for the architect. At the end of the day, Peptia‘s a strange book, one that straddles numerous lines but I don’t think ever fully embraces one particular genre or storytelling approach. I’ll admit that I wish we’d gotten a lot more art from Inoue here. But while I was a bit disappointed on that front, there’s enough other material here that it’s still interesting. None the less, if you get a chance to look at Pepita before you buy it, I recommend a quick flip-through. It’s a different enough sort of book that it’s definitely not going to be for everyone.

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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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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X 3-in-1 Vol. 1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/10/12/x-3-in-1-vol-1/ Wed, 12 Oct 2011 13:00:42 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1898 By CLAMP584 pages, black and whitePublished by Viz

X is a strange little duck in the manga world, in terms of its publication history. Created by the four-person creative collective CLAMP, X began in Japan in 1992, but was halted in 2003 as it neared its conclusion due to concerns by the publisher over the [...]]]> By CLAMP
584 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

X is a strange little duck in the manga world, in terms of its publication history. Created by the four-person creative collective CLAMP, X began in Japan in 1992, but was halted in 2003 as it neared its conclusion due to concerns by the publisher over the "increasingly violent stories." Meanwhile, in North America, due to Dark Horse Comics’ series X, its publication by Viz ran under the name X/1999, referencing the pivotal year in which the series was set. It’s now 2011 and CLAMP hasn’t found a new publisher in Japan to run the final chapters of X, but the series is now coming back into print in North America in a series of 3-in-1 omnibuses, and under its original title of X. As the comic focuses around the apocalypse, saying "the end is near" is extremely appropriate no matter how you look at it. And based on what I found in X 3-in-1 Vol. 1? I am a little boggled at the idea how just how violent these later chapters must be.

The early chapters of X start off innocently enough. Fuma and Kotori are brother and sister, raised solely by their father after their mother died a few years ago. At the same time, their cousin Kamui and his mother abruptly left Tokyo without a word. Now it’s 1999, and Kamui has returned, but their fun-loving, sweet cousin is now a dark, brooding figure with massive powers and abilities. With two rival organizations both trying to find Kamui (the Seven Seals and the Seven Angels), mystical battles are already starting to break out left and right, and the visions of the end of the world are coming with ever-increasing intensity.

Based on the above description, X sounds like it’s got some basic similarities between it and other manga series, even other series by CLAMP. The strong bond between brother and sister, the outsider returning to the fold but changed, the two agencies trying to grab our protagonist for their own purposes. And at the end of the (original) first volume, I figured I knew where X was going, that it wasn’t until the very end that X would be kicking the violence into high gear. And then, I began what was originally the second volume, and in a matter of pages realized that CLAMP was done with their prelude and that apocalyptic, anything-can-happen nature was already here. It starts with a flashback to how Fuma and Kotori’s mother died (hint: don’t assume that Kotori’s weak heart means that their mother died of one as well), and the level of gruesomeness intensifies. By the time you get to the two-page spread of a ruined Tokyo with corpses impaled on spires left and right, you know that X is playing for keeps. But remember, these are just the early chapters; it’s apparently not until later that X hits the point that the editors decided to pull the plug on the book.

The sad thing is, if you remove the ever-growing violence, there’s a lot more about X that I suspect gets overshadowed by a casual read. CLAMP is playing a lot in these early chapters with mirrors and counterparts. With the appearance of the Seven Seals and the Seven Angels, we’re already seeing opposite sides aligning, and it’s hard to not see even in these first chapters hints of a similar positioning between Fuma and Kamui. As we get visions of two Kamuis and two Sacred Swords, it’s hard to keep from glancing in the direction of Fuma. CLAMP has already hinted that Fuma has abilities of his own, after all, and with this much foreshadowing I’ll be surprised if we don’t see more. And while apocalypse fiction is fairly run of the mill these days (although it is amusing to see all the 1999 references in X, since these days 2012 is a more popular date), CLAMP is clearly having fun mixing in all of the biblical imagery to help set it apart from the others.

CLAMP also introduces an intriguing idea of the kekkai, a mystical barrier that lets massive battles happen without damaging the area permanently, provided the creator of the kekkai isn’t severely wounded or killed. At the end of the fight, everything inside the barrier reverts to normal; it allows CLAMP to tell huge, massive battles that destroy quite a bit of the surrounding city, but there’s also that continual threat that the damage could turn suddenly and horrifically permanent. It’s a clever conceit, and I’m curious to see just where they’ll end up taking this idea. My only big complaint with the writing is that some of the secondary characters are quickly proving to be annoying; based on the fact that there should be seven Seals and Angels before too long, I’m hoping that these annoying ones are pushed to the background by the additions en route, but right now it’s especially frustrating since the annoying ones are also responsible for delivering some much needed exposition.

As X was drawn almost 20 years ago, now, the art isn’t quite up to the higher standards you’d expect from their more recent books like xxxHolic or Kobato. It’s still attractive enough, with large sweeping appearances of characters, and a surprisingly high number of large splash pages and vistas. It’s some of the most dramatic art I’ve seen from CLAMP, perhaps because of its world-shattering nature instead of being a quieter, more personal story. For now, I was also glad that the violence is somewhat tastefully drawn. We don’t get an overabundance of gore, instead seeing just enough to have our brains fill in the detail. While the faces aren’t quite as sharp or distinctive as CLAMP’s later comics look, you can already see here a team of creators carving out their own niche in the Japanese comics world.

Will X ever return? Well, CLAMP did just announce that their series Legal Drug (which came to a halt after the publication it ran in shut down; ironically, the same publication that X had also ran in) is returning after an eight-year hiatus, so anything is possible. With the devastation in Japan due to the earthquake and tsunami earlier this year, though, I can’t help but think that few publishers will be jumping on board for an end-of-the-world manga that has a reputation for high levels of violence and destruction. Still, even though a conclusion might not be around the corner, I’m intrigued enough by X 3-in-1 Vol. 1 to want to see what happens next. X has enough of a reputation that I was already curious, but the ideas that CLAMP’s playing with here has lured me in for round two.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Cross Game Vol. 3 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/06/01/cross-game-vol-3/ Wed, 01 Jun 2011 13:00:23 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1801 By Mitsuru Adachi376 pages, black and whitePublished by Viz

I’m normally not into reviewing a series again right after tackling the previous release. So after reviewing Cross Game Vol. 1-2, I figured it would be safe to wait a few volumes before bringing it back up. But by the time I was done with Cross [...]]]> By Mitsuru Adachi
376 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

I’m normally not into reviewing a series again right after tackling the previous release. So after reviewing Cross Game Vol. 1-2, I figured it would be safe to wait a few volumes before bringing it back up. But by the time I was done with Cross Game Vol. 3, I was so struck by the direction of the series that I found that I couldn’t wait any longer. In short, I feel like Mitsuru Adachi gets just as frustrated at other long-form series as I do, and took steps here to show that he’s not going to fall into that same trap.

For those who have never read Cross Game, it’s a combination baseball and romance series, as Ko strives to become the best baseball player that he can, while engaged in a love/hate relationship with Aoba, the younger sister of Ko’s deceased love Wakaba. Put on the second-string "portable" baseball team in high school, the power-hungry coach and assistant principal are determined to get their own hand-picked team to the national tournament, while treating Ko’s team like dirt. It’s a set-up that in any other series would stretch on for the bulk of its run, as the portable team struggles against the unfair restrictions and time-and-time-again narrowly loses to the primary team.

Fortunately for us, that’s not the kind of series that Adachi is creating for us. The two-team set-up has just the right amount of time provided to it in Cross Game; last volume we had it introduced to us, we saw the portable team get defeated in a scrimmage, and here we see how the portable team will respond and ultimately resolve the issue. In other words, there is a lot of forward momentum in Cross Game. Stories are introduced, we get a little bit of focus on them, and then Adachi brings that particular plot to its conclusion. It’s how a long-form serial should run; if there’s no advancement of any of the plots, it becomes a lot harder to want to keep reading.

The one exception to this rule, at least for now, is Ko and Aoba’s relationship, but I’m actually fine with that, thanks to how Adachi set it up. Aoba’s disdain for Ko has always been firmly rooted in two factors; her sister Wakaba’s love for him (which took time away from Wakaba and Aoba being together), and Ko never truly applying himself to work harder. Those two threads are firmly tied together; it’s not until the latter is resolved that the former can be addressed. So as Cross Game progresses and Ko continues to focus more and get better at baseball without slacking, only then can Ko and Aoba’s relationship grow stronger. And since a great deal of Cross Game is about Ko getting better and improving, it makes sense that this (along with presumably the big tournament) will be the final plot thread to get resolved.

The art in Cross Game is adorable as always. He’s great at the action sequences; the baseball games leap to life even just in the little glimpses we get of the play, from catching to throwing to hitting. In just one or two panels, you can figure out exactly what’s going on without a need to linger and stretch each moment out. It helps that Adachi is great with the reaction shots too; a lot of the big game between the two teams is shown through the faces of the people in the stands, and it tells the story perfectly because every little twitch and frown and moment of terror is reflected back at the reader in those facial expressions. Adachi’s also good with making sure the smaller characters get their fair share of attention; the fact that Aoba and her sisters all look similar but not identical, for instance. It’s a carefully drawn book, but it’s got a ton of energy and enthusiasm on every single page.

The best thing about Cross Game? I feel like I’ve barely touched the surface on all of the great stuff going on here. Aoba’s two other sisters get their own little plot threads and moments, there’s the teammate now staying with Ko and his own reason for desperately trying to get to the tournament, the feeling-forgotten Senda and his moments, and so on, and so on. Adachi’s Cross Game is so good that I will blindly buy anything else of his that gets translated into English. This is, easily, one of the best mangas being translated into English right now. Buy it, buy it, buy it.

Purchase Links (Vol. 1): Amazon.com | Powell’s Books
Purchase Links (Vol. 2): Amazon.com | Powell’s Books
Purchase Links (Vol. 3): Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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March Story Vol. 2 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/04/06/march-story-vol-2/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/04/06/march-story-vol-2/#comments Wed, 06 Apr 2011 12:00:23 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1739 Written by Hyung-min KimArt by Kyung-il Yang192 pages, black and whitePublished by Viz

A lot of people have become a bit obsessed with starting at the beginning of a series, or nowhere else at all. It’s not exclusive to comics, either; the number of people who won’t jump on board to a television series without [...]]]> Written by Hyung-min Kim
Art by Kyung-il Yang
192 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

A lot of people have become a bit obsessed with starting at the beginning of a series, or nowhere else at all. It’s not exclusive to comics, either; the number of people who won’t jump on board to a television series without seeing all the previous episodes is a prime example. But lately, I’ve found myself increasingly curious on seeing how well a series holds up if you don’t begin with the first volume. So when I came upon the second volume of March Story, I decided to give it a whirl even though I’ve never read the first book. Quite frankly, I’m glad that I did.

It was fairly easy to pick up the basic premise of March Story (even without the four sentence introduction right before the table of contents); March is a young woman who has the ability to banish demons known as "ill" that harbor inside both intricate artifacts as well as people. Slightly more subtle is that March is a woman disguised as a man, because of the ill inside of March that will take control should she ever fall in love. (Which seems slightly counter-intuitive but I’m willing to roll with it.) And so, with that in mind, we see March freeing people from ill, with a supporting cast including a young man that collects ill-purged artifacts, a woman who sends March on missions, and a fellow ill-hunter who seems slightly besotted with the disguised March. It’s easy to follow, and I don’t feel like I’m being hampered by not having read volume 1.

I do wonder, though, if reading March Story Vol. 1 might have meant that this new book might have been more surprising. That’s because while the first chapter of March Story Vol. 2 takes a traditional path of tracking down and stopping an ill—something that I can only guess is also what the previous chapters had followed—the rest of the book veers off the obvious route and starts showing the versatility of this concept. Instead we get stories where an ill possession is used for revenge, or where a woman is pregnant with an ill and can use the unborn being’s abilities to help rather than hinder. While I can’t say for certain that the earlier chapters were more standard, the one thing that’s definite is that I liked the more off-beat and inventive later chapters of this volume because it showed that writer Hyung-min Kim wasn’t going to rest on his laurels. I was also a little intrigued by new character Belma, the previously mentioned fellow hunter of ill who appears to have a bit of a crush on the "male" March. It could just be a strong friendship desire that’s gone slightly awry in translation, but lines like, "He’s so beautiful," and, "Long time no see, little cutie" are certainly flirtatious. It’s an unexpected (but welcome) turn, and I like that Kim and artist Kyung-il Yang make Belma the ultimate example of masculinity, bucking stereotypes.

I encountered Yang’s art many years ago on a series called Island, but in the intervening years Yang’s gone from good to excellent. His drawings are rich and flowing, with billowing hair, elaborate settings, and crazy fashions. Everything is slightly cranked up and exaggerated, but it works well for March Story. The ill in many ways amplify what’s around them, and Yang’s art takes that to the extreme. And unlike many artists in this genre, Yang’s not afraid to break the mold for his character designs. Instead of everything looking fragile and delicate, we get characters like the hyper-muscled Belma, or Jake’s massive head that looks like a paper-mache mask from a Mardi Gras parade. It’s a fun looking book overall.

March Story is a little fluffy in places, and the reason for March pretending to be a boy feels like a bit of a reach (and I groaned out loud when March is bathing and almost discovered, because it’s such a cliché) but on the whole I enjoyed the book. Did I need to read Volume 1 to understand it? Not at all. That said, I’ll probably pick up the first volume before too long, because this was fun enough want to read some more. And best of all? Kim and Yang understand that not all readers will start with chapter 1, and create their stories appropriately. It’s a refreshing change.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Rin-ne Vol. 5 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/03/02/rin-ne-vol-5/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/03/02/rin-ne-vol-5/#comments Wed, 02 Mar 2011 13:00:37 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1696 By Rumiko Takahashi200 pages, black and whitePublished by Viz

I’ve been having fun reading brand-new chapters of Rumiko Takahashi’s series Rin-ne on the Shonen Sunday website each week; for those who like something a little more permanent, though, the book is also being published in a series of collections. (Doubly so since once the collections [...]]]> By Rumiko Takahashi
200 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

I’ve been having fun reading brand-new chapters of Rumiko Takahashi’s series Rin-ne on the Shonen Sunday website each week; for those who like something a little more permanent, though, the book is also being published in a series of collections. (Doubly so since once the collections are released, the individual chapters come off of the official site.) Picking up the latest volume, it strikes me that while I’m enjoying the series overall, in some ways this feels like a slight step backwards for Takahashi.

The vast bulk of Rin-ne is "spirit of the week" stories, where Rinne and Sakura discover a new ghost haunting the vicinity around their high school, and try to help the spirit resolve its issues and move on to the wheel of reincarnation. Occasionally Takahashi brings back a familiar villain in the form of Rinne’s father, who continually racks up debt in Rinne’s name and tries to lure people off the path of resurrection. And while that’s the closest the series has to an actual ongoing plot, it’s also my least favorite aspect of Rin-ne.

Unfortunately, the first half of Rin-ne Vol. 5 deals with just that, as a young shinigami named Ageha gets pulled into Rinne’s father’s schemes. In what to readers of Ranma 1/2 must be familiar, Ageha romantically falls for Rinne, who of course shows no interest while still pining after Sakura. (Not to be confused, of course, with exorcist Tsubasa who has fallen for Sakura.) Takahashi is fond of her love triangles, and while I understand Takahashi feels the need to put some sort of obstacle in the path of Rinne and Sakura ending up together, this feels a little too tired on Takahashi’s part. It’s the same sort of character set-up that she’s used over and over again, and coupled with a general lack of an ongoing plot (something that her last series Inuyasha actually had) it feels like Takahashi’s back on autopilot.

The good news? Even Takahashi on autopilot isn’t bad, especially when she goes back to the "spirit of the week" stories. Perhaps because it’s a new mystery each time, it feels fresher and more creative than another appearance of Rinne’s father and his evil corporation. Haunted athletic tracks and library shelves are much more entertaining, and it lets the book end on an upbeat note. It helps matters that unlike going up against Rinne’s father, the "spirit of the week" stories actually let Sakura and Rinne accomplish something instead of throwing themselves against a brick wall. Protagonists need to be able to succeed every now and then to keep the readers from giving up, and Takahashi’s mixture of wistfulness, regret, and slapstick comedy in these shorter stories is entertaining. Something as simple as a dog-shaped spirit haunting the library looks cute and fun, and her art feels much more inventive. (Although even in the Rinne’s father stories, it’s the art that ultimately saves the day; the images of Ageha getting swindled every other panel look remarkably funny, if nothing else.)

Rin-ne is a slightly variable series, but having read online into what would be the middle of Volume 8, it’s good to know that Takahashi is playing much more to her strengths the further the series progresses, and there’s even a good story involving Rinne’s father and a noodle shop before too long. It’s a shame that Takahashi’s new series is a little more fluffy than Inuyasha or even Maison Ikkoku, but it’s still fun to read. Rin-ne isn’t a series for the ages, but as a series for now it’s a nice diversion every week. As long as Takahashi keeps writing and drawing the book, I’ll keep reading.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Cross Game Vol. 1-2 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/02/23/cross-game-vol-1-2/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/02/23/cross-game-vol-1-2/#comments Wed, 23 Feb 2011 13:00:42 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1688 By Mitsuru Adachi576 pages (v1) & 376 pages (v2), black and whitePublished 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 [...]]]> 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.

Originally collected as 17 books in Japan, Viz has wisely decided to publish it as a series of omnibuses; Volume 1 collects the original books 1-3, and starting with Volume 2 each collects two original books. This is a great thing for those of us reading Cross Game in North America; not only because we’re getting huge bursts of story that much faster, but because of the very nature of the comic. But before I explain why, you need to understand the basic premise of Cross Game. Ko is a teenaged boy who delivers sporting goods for his father’s business, and his number one customer is the Tsukishima family’s batting center. It’s the second of four daughters in the Tsukishima family, Wakaba, that Ko is closest to. They were born on the same age, they do everything together, and it’s clear that Wakaba plans on Ko eventually being her boyfriend and then marrying him. Conversely, the third daughter Aoba views Ko as the enemy, completely unable to understand what Wakaba sees in Ko.

At first, Cross Game looks to be a romantic comedy where the book switches between Ko fending off bullies interested in Wakaba, getting drawn into baseball games, and dealing with Aoba’s general disdain for him. And everything is going merrily down that path until the end of the original first volume, at which point tragedy strikes and lives are turned upside down. When you get to that point in Cross Game, it’s a sudden, disconcerting moment. You think you’ve pegged how this entire series will run, but suddenly everything is up in the air. And with that in mind, it’s one of the things that makes the Viz edition of Cross Game Vol. 1 work especially well, because the original books 2 and 3 are also included there. You get to see the series jump ahead four years, and it enters "Part II" of the series.

What’s impressive is at that point, it would have been easy for Adachi to lose his readers with this sudden shift in age, and the basic setup of the series as defined up until that point. But if anything, Cross Game gets better. Watching Ko on the high school baseball team is fun, and two of the characters that up until now were just faceless bullies end up as interesting supporting cast characters in their own right. And as for the relationship between Aoba and Ko, it becomes much more three-dimensional as we learn more about Aoba’s intense dislike for Ko. As Cross Game progresses, the intensity also rises. Cross Game Vol. 2 (containing books 4-5) is dominated by a single baseball team between the varsity members, and the trainee (or "portable") team that Ko and his friends are relegated to. If you’d told me that reading 284 pages of a baseball game would be exciting, my response would have been laughter. Instead it’s enthralling, as you get to see Ko and his teammates us strategy against a group of mostly superior players, and at what point their ideas succeed and fail. Aoba, relegated to the stands, continues to excite as well; her commentary alone makes the baseball game interesting, and that’s before you get into the action of the game itself.

It helps that Adachi brings a certain playfulness to his comics. It’s hard not to laugh when a flashback to a scene in an earlier volume is promptly followed up by Ko holding up a sign urging readers to run out and buy the collected edition, or that every character reading manga is always holding a volume of Adachi’s earlier series. Even without the meta-humor, there’s a lot of gentle comedy in Cross Game. A lot of the humor in the high school chapters is focused on Senda, a braggart on the varsity team who constantly hits on Aoba and talks about how great his game is. He’s a character that seems designed for pratfalls as Ko and Aoba take him down, but then a curious thing happens during the big baseball game: you start feeling sorry for him when he’s brutally taken down a notch. That’s part of Adachi’s skill as a creator, to make your feelings for a "villain" suddenly turn on a dime and make them someone to cheer on rather than to hope for defeat.

The art in Cross Game reminds me so much of manga superstar Rumiko Takahashi’s art from her Maison Ikkoku and Ranma 1/2 days that I had to do some research to make sure that Adachi wasn’t a pen name of Takahashi’s. It’s a warm and attractive style, with soft features on the characters and a certain sweetness to the drawings. You can instantly see why everyone loves Wakaba, with her cheerful and beautiful features, and Adachi draws a great glower on Aoba’s face whenever she’s dealing with Ko. The only downside to this art style is the closest we have to villains never seem too menacing; I’m not entirely convinced that Adachi could draw someone that looks truly mean.

I’m absolutely in love with Cross Game and already counting the days until Viz releases the next volume. Trust me when I say: buy this series, buy this series, buy this series. It’s sweet, it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s engrossing, and it’s exhilarating. This is the sort of project that the comic medium was made for.

Purchase Links (Vol. 1): Amazon.com | Powell’s Books
Purchase Links (Vol. 2): Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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