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Akira (manga) Masterpiece
[6 volumes, complete]
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (manga) Masterpiece
[7 volumes, complete] Miyazaki's sublime addition to the medium is a truly epic narrative - and I use the word "epic" here in its original sense. It's a work that would be perfectly enjoyable on its surface level alone; it's an imaginative, emotive and meticulously crafted retro-futuristic, post-apocalyptic adventure spread across a vast canvas, with a large and finely characterised, nuanced, multi-dimensional cast (headed by an enormously likeable, memorable and inspirational lead) caught up in a compelling tale of conflict, tragedy, tenderness, earth shattering events, wondrous creatures and intriguing technologies. But what's really striking is the intelligence and artfulness with which Miyazaki weaves the pleasingly coherent ideological and philosophical content of the piece throughout the entirety of the narrative tapestry until the two are utterly inseparable from one another. Make no mistake: Nausicaä is a story with heartfelt, urgent messages to impart - anti-militarism, anti-imperialism, anti-nationalism, anti-sectarianism, environmentalism, sustainability, responsibility, feminism, humanism, respect, ecological awareness and, most of all, joie de vivre - messages that are both overtly and subtly incorporated into every aspect of the work, from the painstakingly detailed environmental and historical backdrop of the tale to the slenderest of its plot threads. It's obviously a deeply personal work but, at the same time, it's very much an exhortation to the reader - not one that preaches so much as one that demonstrates by example; a parable for our times that starkly spells out the consequences of our hubris as foreshadowed in Miyazaki's eyes by the events of his own people's recent history, from Nanking to Hiroshima to Minamata. The writing and conceptualisation, then, are exceptional but what of the art? Before Miyazaki was an animator, he was an illustrator of prose stories and that history informs his style - not for him the decompression, deformation, visual shorthand and cinematic sense of panel-to-panel movement for which manga is generally known. Far from being stilted, however, his formal, rather Western, composition, compression and pacing allow him to tell his story economically in just seven impressively detailed, dense and beautifully rendered volumes without losing any depth or momentum in the bargain. Nausicaä doesn't read much like other manga but it's none the worse for that.
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (manga) Masterpiece
[1 volume, complete] Beautiful, simple, expressive artwork and a story told in a measured and authentic tone used to explore a harrowing subject (the after effects of the events of 1945 on the survivors of Hiroshima and their descendents). It’s a thoroughly intelligent and gentle affair that never takes refuge in mawkishness – the subject needs no embellishment and the reader’s emotions need no prompting. There are moments of quiet beauty and moments that break your heart and moments that provoke thought and moments of poignant bitterness. This is easily one of the two or three best manga I’ve ever read (hell, it’s one of the two or three best comics I’ve ever read – and the only one that ever brought tears to my eyes) and it certainly deserves the awards and critical acclaim that have been heaped upon it. It’s just a shame that it’s unlikely to ever be read (outside Japan) by anyone but fans of underground comics because, like Maus and Persepolis (both of which are good but not as good as this), it could have been – and should have been – a medium defying mainstream literary success.
20th Century Boys (manga) Excellent
[22 volumes, complete]
Abandon the Old in Tokyo (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete] The second of D&Q's lavish, essential, starkly visually arresting Tatsumi retrospectives collects works from 1970. As with The Push Man, the stories revolve around the everyday humiliations, defeats and breakdowns of urban, working class everyman figures (though in this collection the protagonists do not all share the exact same everyman character design, which actually lessens their collective effect to some degree). Once again, most of the stories have a strong sexual element: Tatsumi makes an implicit link between loneliness, isolation, guilt, frustration and humiliation on the one hand with sexual dysfunction and sordid, humanity debasing paraphilias on the other. So while Tatsumi's characters are certainly sexual creatures, their sexual acts - everything from compulsively scribbling obscene graffiti to suggestions of bestiality - are outlets for despair rather than debauchery. Artistically and thematically, this is largely indistinguishable from the previous volume and, as with that volume, it is advisable to read it a story or two at a time rather than to attempt to consume it en masse.
All My Darling Daughters (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete]
Bakune Young (manga) Excellent
[3 volumes, complete]
Blue (manga by K. Nananan) Excellent
[1 volume, complete]
Cross Game (manga) Excellent
[8 volumes, complete]
A Distant Neighborhood (manga) Excellent
[2 volumes, complete]
Doing Time (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete]
Domu (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete]
A Drifting Life (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete]
A Drunken Dream (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete]
Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga Excellent
[1 volume, suspended]
GoGo Monster (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete]
Gon (manga) Excellent
[7 volumes, complete]
Good-Bye (manga by Y. Tatsumi) Excellent
[1 volume, complete]
(The) Ice Wanderer (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete] This six story anthology is a great introduction to the work of Jiro Taniguchi and to some of his favoured themes – mountains, wilderness, the relationship of man with his environment, historical nostalgia and a spiritual (in a low key kind of way) outlook on the natural world. Taniguchi’s art is, as always, remarkably detailed, unhurried and realistic and the stories are poignant, measured and methodically paced. The first three stories aren’t going to appeal to everybody (and would probably appeal less to me if I saw similar material at all often) – there’s a somewhat old-fashioned Boy’s Own adventure story feel to them that I can’t see appealing to the Playstation generation – but they’re solid, intelligent and, in this day and age, different enough from the norm, to catch and hold the reader’s interest. The latter three stories are stronger still. They’re more personal, more varied and, I think, more capable of appealing to a broader, literary audience.
Kanojo no Omoide... (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete]
Love Song (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete] A selection of four josei short stories by Keiko Nishi, whose art is loose, light, expressive and pleasingly variable from story to story. She has a talent for expressive facial expressions and her page compositions incorporate a lot of white space without evoking emptiness - it's not the most detailed art you'll ever see, nor the most consistent but it looks good and it gets the job done with style to spare. Nishi's writing is as airy and as varied as her artwork and the four stories cover a wide range without ever losing their author's distinctive stamp. A (memorably characterised and illustrated) psychologically damaged college student emotionally and physically abuses her boyfriend; murderous sibling rivalry emerges amongst a trio of upper class sisters in an evocative English Edwardian seaside setting; a bullied school boy's newly discovered healing powers spell an amiable hustler's meal ticket, a charlatan's downfall and the boy's second chance; a wistful young woman who's a factory worker on a proletarian colony rejects the path to material comfort and social inclusion offered by a loveless marriage and instead pines for a self-made future on the Earth she's never seen...each of these stories has a setting, protagonist, tone and personality quite distinct from the others and yet each reflects the unpretentious intelligence and insight of their author. This is an author with things to say too - at various junctures, Nishi's feminism, class consciousness and understanding of the power dynamics in relationships shines through, something that can be said of all too few manga in a post '80s bubble Japan in which wholly apolitical expression has, sadly, become the norm. Despite the praise I've poured on this work, it's not perfect - some of the narratives feel a little underdeveloped or simply need more space to breathe and some stories certainly look better than others but these niggles do little to sour the mood and Love Song is doubtlessly one of the very best women's manga to be released in English to date.
Mariko Parade (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete]
Me and the Devil Blues (manga) Excellent
[2 volumes, complete]
Message to Adolf (manga) Excellent
[5 volumes, complete]
Monokuro Kinderbook (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete]
Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete] Maruo seamlessly blends horror, psychodrama, shoujo parody and fine illustrative art in this deliberately disturbing, uncomfortable but deeply affecting work. Ero-guro tends to be perceived as merely being a grotesque form of extreme porn but Maruo's work, whilst frequently explicit in terms of both sex and violence and often intended to shock, is generally anything but pornographic in that it is not intended to titillate. The intention is to juxtapose beauty with filth, innocence with depravity, in order, as Adam Stephanides has written, to illustrate the bestial nature of mankind and the inevitable betrayal of children by adults. The art here is exceptional, as is the flawless composition and the book is worth recommending on that level alone, the writing is solid and the hopelessness of the conclusion is exquisitely implemented. Having said all that, this won't be for everybody: although this is one of Maruo's less explicit works it still manages to fit in a fair amount of animal dismemberment and child abuse (amongst other disquieting horrors), which is likely to put off some readers and, on the other hand, it's thankfully too literary, too classically rendered and too non-prurient to satisfy the average otaku in search of cheap and nasty thrills.
Neji-Shiki (manga) Excellent
[Short in The Comics Journal #250]
Neko kappa (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete. French edition.]
NonNonBâ (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete]
Not Simple (manga) Excellent
Ode to Kirihito (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete]
Ohikkoshi (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete]
Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete]
Palepoli (manga) Excellent
[Extract in Secret Comics Japan]
A Patch Of Dreams (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete]
Planetes (manga) Excellent
[5 volumes, complete]
Pluto (manga) Excellent
[8 volumes, complete]
Punctures (manga) Excellent
[Short in Secret Comics Japan]
(The) Push Man and Other Stories (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete] Tatsumi (the man who first gave the world gekiga manga) masterfully portrays the blue collar Tokyo of the 1960s and ‘70s in a period of social and economic transition. Each story features an anonymous working class male protagonist (all of whom look rather similar) in gritty, grimy urban settings and each is a tale of isolation, alienation, sexual dysfunction, misanthropy and simmering resentment. This is genuinely exceptional – if rather bleak - fare and the only (minor) caveat in my recommendation of it is that the stories can get a little samey if consumed in a single sitting. The Push Man is the first in a series of Tatsumi collections from D&Q, each collecting works from a particular year, starting here with stories first published in 1969 and one can only commend them for embarking on such an ambitious project with a previously little known (in the West) artist. Equally commendable is the attention paid to the physical quality of the lavish hardbound book.
Quest for the Missing Girl (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete] A superior slice of pulp-noir replete with a welcome skewering of Japan's predilection for public corruption and private vice, this is an enjoyable coming together of Taniguchi's favourite themes infused with a bitter, stubborn sense of standing against the flow. Taniguchi's art is as distinctive, meticulous and detailed as ever, equally at home in urban squalor or rural splendour and it's a well-crafted, well-told story with a sympathetic protagonist and a genuine sense of tension. If there's a flaw here (and in some of Taniguchi's other works for that matter) it's that our strong-jawed protagonist is, despite his inner conflict, maybe just a little too stoical and manly to be entirely believable - a more everyman character might ultimately have proven all the more compelling.
Sakuran (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete]
Sexy Voice and Robo (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete]
Solanin (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete] Solanin perfectly captures the feelings experienced in that strange post-university debut to the real world in which everything and nothing seemed possible and in which one struggled with the realisation that there is, in fact, no magical age at which childhood is firmly left behind and everything suddenly makes sense. It's an enormously evocative and finely wrought work and one that, for me, is enjoyably nostalgic to boot. It isn't always note perfect (the occasional freewheelin' kids vs. square grown-ups moment can be a bit cheesy given that these "kids" are in their mid-20s and the cast's soul gazing is maybe a little too conscious sometimes) but it does an impressively good job of handling highly emotional material - maturation, love, bereavement, introspection, confusion, friendship and more - in such a way that not only is it enormously affecting but at the same time it largely avoids mawkishness, adolescent angst, cloying sentimentality or clumsy emotional manipulation. Aside from Alex Robinson's Box Office Poison I can't think of many book-length comics dealing with similar issues that are similarly adept at avoiding the same pitfalls. Of course, none of this would amount to much if not for the fact that our tight knit cast are a wonderfully characterised and thoroughly likeable bunch - these are people it's easy to care about. Moreover, the quality of the writing is matched by an exceptional, distinctive and memorable aesthetic. Asano's artwork is wonderfully detailed, realistic and thoroughly evocative and while the occasional incorporation of photographs into the work never quite feels right and the background art can sometimes feel a little too clinical, the warmth of the charming, refreshingly atypical character designs more than compensates.
Swallowing the Earth (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete] Tezuka's first attempt at long-form seinen manga is illogical, unevenly paced and absurd. It's also enormously entertaining and quite glorious in its silliness. One of the joys of Tezuka's cartooning is his lifelong devotion to experimenting with the medium and that tendency is at its zenith here, both artistically and narratively, as he tries to maintain a long (by the standards of the day), ongoing plot and achieve the right balance of cartoon slapstick, gekiga grit, action, absurdity, gags, naked ladies and, perhaps above all, social critique. One might point out that his portrayals of Third World peoples (borrowed wholesale from his formative Hollywood influences) are inadvertently offensive, that his understanding of the dynamics of American race relations is seriously flawed and that his characterisations of women are far from convincing. But given that the message he was attempting to impart was genuinely positive, that he was working within the historical and cultural context of his time and place and that the work is just such fun, it would be positively churlish to do so. Same goes for the bumpy plot with its curious asides and avalanches of (often irrelevant) ideas, the frequent tonal inconsistencies and the two-dimensional characters. None of that matters - this is a loopy, fascinating, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny and, ultimately, largely successful experiment by a creative master craftsman and, provided one doesn't dwell on the dappy premise too much, it's a thoroughly enjoyable romp from start to finish. There are any number of Tezuka's later works that are more intelligent, deeper and better written but very few of them come close to being as entertaining as Swallowing The Earth.
Swing Shell (manga) Excellent
[Short in Secret Comics Japan] Yuko Tsuno is hardly a household name even in her own country but, in spite of her (self-imposed) obscurity, I have seen her name mentioned with reverence by Western alt-comics fans on more than one occasion and on the strength of this, her only work to be translated into English to date, it's not hard to see why. This is a gentle, surreal, dreamlike work (dreamlike in that it's magical, tranquil and yet ominously threatening in the way that only dreams can be) that, cryptic as it might be, manages to utterly captivate and enchant the reader in the space of just 10 pages. Tsuno's artwork is wonderful - it's striking without ever being exaggerated, detailed and thoroughly charming - and it's a perfect fit for her prose. The only downside here is that the brevity of the piece can't help but leave you hungry for more - this is a tiny portion of something that's so very good that you find yourself wishing that it was a feast rather than an appetiser.
Tanpenshu (manga) Excellent
[2 volumes, complete] Hiroki Endo’s short stories are, for the most part, utterly sublime – striking, detailed, realistic and always attractive artwork; placid, reflective moments juxtaposed with moments of explosive intensity; intriguing stories and even more intriguing characters; occasional glimpses of a strong, black sense of humour. Indeed, most of the stories presented here are a clear step up from Endo’s better known Eden series and only one or two of the author’s earlier stories fail to make the grade (the two-part story Platform, in particular, is a rather leaden and adolescent affair). Some of the stories are somewhat reminiscent of those in Hiroaki Samura’s Ohikkoshi (albeit with a darker, sharper edge) and others call to mind (thematically rather than stylistically) some of the josei shorts of Keiko Nishi whilst still others are quite unique to Endo. Overall, this is a marvellous collection – even at its worst it’s interesting and at its best it’s unforgettable.
Tekkonkinkreet (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete]
Uzumaki (manga) Excellent
[3 volumes, complete] There have been many great manga artists who’ve made their name in the horror genre. Junji Ito is, in my view, the best of them and Uzumaki is easily my favourite of his works. It’s a masterful, eldritch, Lovecraftian work revolving around (if you’ll excuse the pun) the concept of the spiral that’s genuinely creepy, surreally dreamlike, overflowing with brooding suspense and, occasionally, enjoyably over the top. Ito’s art is detailed, meticulous and fits the tone of the story perfectly - his inability to draw more than about four different faces remains his greatest weakness as an artist but it's somewhat less evident here than in earlier works and is, at worst, a minor irritation. Uzumaki is intentionally repetitive and whilst that reinforces the cyclical nature of the nightmarish scenario, it does have its drawbacks as a narrative device. Still, this is sterling stuff – inventive, wonderfully deranged and really quite exceptional as it builds towards the climax.
(The) Walking Man (manga) Excellent
[1 volume, complete] It’s the simplest of concepts – we follow an anonymous middle-aged salaryman as he wanders around the neighbourhood, observing nature in unlikely places, encountering passers by and enjoying found objects, pleasant views and previously undiscovered locations. Simple though it is, it would have been enormously easy to screw it up. Taniguchi gets it just right though – his meticulously detailed artwork is realistic and attractive and it’s almost as though the nameless protagonist takes you the reader along with him on his gentle meanderings. This is gloriously peaceful, understated stuff and whilst some will find it lacking in substance, if it reminds you that there is beauty and peace and gentle adventure in unexpected (and sometimes unpromising) locations, it’s done its job. Personally, I find reading this book to be a thoroughly relaxing experience and one that’s quite likely to prompt me to step outside and take a walk of my own.
What a wonderful world! (manga) Excellent
[2 volumes, complete]
2001 Nights (manga) Very good
[3 volumes, complete]
7 Billion Needles (manga) Very good
[4 volumes, complete]
Antique Bakery (manga) Very good
[4 volumes, complete]
Anywhere But Here (manga) Very good
[1 volume, complete] Fantagraphics' single volume "best of" collection of Tori Miki's surreal, wordless, nine-panel gag manga is a minor gem. Miki's stuff is often compared to Gary Larson's Far Side cartoons but, while there are occasional similarities, these strips (well, squares actually, but you know what I mean) are a bit more cerebral, a bit more surreal and, occasionally, a lot more work. Some of them are fairly simple (though very clever) sight gags but a fair proportion require a bit of time and some re-reading before the joke sinks in and, a year or two after buying the book, there are one or two that I have to confess I still don't get to this day. That's okay though because when this is funny, it's very funny and even when it isn't, it's interesting (which is very nearly as good). Some pages - the more dreamlike ones - become indelibly stained on your subconscious, only to be recalled by your conscious mind months or years later and that's pretty commendable. The semi-coloured art is pretty simple but its simplicity belies its expressiveness. In any case, it makes up in charm what it lacks in detail and Miki shows a confident mastery of his chosen format by regularly usurping the "rules" of his nine-panel grids in order to pile on the pleasing peculiarities. Of course, humour is subjective and I'm guessing this kind of humour is particularly so, which makes it tough to recommend. Those who appreciate Miki's sense of the absurd, however, will doubtless return to this over and over again.
Aqua Knight (manga) Very good
[3 volumes, complete]
Barbara (manga) Very good
[1 volume, complete]
Battle Angel Alita (manga) Very good
[9 volumes, complete]
Black Jack (manga) Very good
[17 volumes, complete]
Cromartie High School (manga) Very good
[12 volumes, suspended]
Detroit Metal City (manga) Very good
[10 volumes, complete]
Disappearance Diary (manga) Very good
[1 volume, complete]
Dororo (manga) Very good
[3 volumes, complete]
Eagle (manga) Very good
[5 volumes, complete]
Flower of Life (manga) Very good
[4 volumes, complete]
Flowers & Bees (manga) Very good
[7 volumes, complete]
Genshiken (manga) Very good
[9 volumes, complete] There would appear to be a perception amongst the weeaboo element that Genshiken is an accurate and honest account of the Japanese otaku experience. It isn’t. Shimoku certainly paints a vivid picture of the lifestyle’s selling points but he doesn’t really explore its inherent social drawbacks and between the unfeasibly numerous / attractive / tolerant female club members (and hangers on) and the unlikely proportion of the central cast who end up with both their dream jobs and their dream relationships, it’s difficult not to see this as a new flavour of otaku wish fulfilment escapism. That’s not to say that this is a bad series though – far from it. The characters are mostly a genuinely likeable bunch and it’s charmingly written, with moments of genuine pathos and much effective humour. It doesn’t always get the balance between whimsical slice of life and more substantive narrative quite right and the pacing is sometimes a little off, especially in the rather mawkish final volume but these are relatively minor quibbles. Moreover, both the background art and character designs are attractive, distinctive, detailed and expressive and the attention to extraneous, world-building detail (particularly with regard to the many extras) is exceptional. So, for all of its observational qualities and pop-cultural scope, Genshiken doesn’t feel altogether real but that’s fine because it’s an altogether pleasant fabrication to dwell in. If I have a problem with the work (other than the gratingly annoying American fangirl characters who pop up occasionally) it’s in the moral of the story. Shimoku correctly suggests that a person who denies what they are will never find true contentment but he fails to recognise the equally pertinent truth that a person whose identity is completely bound up in a self-absorbed combination of obsessive compulsive consumption and an unhealthily deep attachment to escapist security blankets is never going to be truly happy regardless.
GTO (manga) Very good
[25 volumes, complete]
Gyo (manga) Very good
[2 volumes, complete]
Hansel and Gretel (manga) Very good
[1 volume, complete]
Happy Mania (manga) Very good
[11 volumes, complete]
Heartless Bitch (manga) Very good
[Short in Secret Comics Japan]
Hipira: The Little Vampire (manga) Very good
[1 volume, complete] This isn't a manga but, rather, a children's picture book with a decidedly Burtonesque feel to it (though I suspect that, in English, rather more adults will read it than children). As far as these things go, Hipira is pretty good but by no means great - it's certainly not up there with classics like Sendek's Where The Wild Things Are or Ikeda's Dayan series but it deserves a look if you're inclined, as I am, to appreciate such things. Otomo's writing here is not particularly inspired and I'd have preferred a single narrative rather than a series of somewhat unsatisfyingly short vignettes - children's attention spans aren't THAT limited - but he does deliver some entertainingly peculiar moments, he gets the tone right and he's clearly enjoying himself. The real draw here though is Kimura's artwork, which is consistently charming, beautifully coloured and generally manages to be sweet without being saccharine.
Icaro (manga) Very good
[2 volumes, complete]
Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators (manga) Very good
[1 volume, complete]
Jr (manga) Very good
[Short in Secret Comics Japan]
Kurogane (manga) Very good
[5 volumes, complete]
Lady Snowblood (manga) Very good
[4 volumes, complete]
(The) Legend of Mother Sarah (manga) Very good
[3 volumes, suspended] Dark Horse only put out the first of this title's nine volumes and that's a shame as it shows real promise. The sub-story contained within said first volume comes to a satisfying conclusion so its cut-short status shouldn't put anybody off giving this a try but the over-arching narrative (a mother searching for her missing children in the war torn post-apocalyptic future) is merely introduced here without having any room to achieve anything much. The writing, with its anti-militarism, cynicism and compelling pace, is standard Otomo (and that's certainly no bad thing) whilst Nagayasu's artwork is so heavily influenced by Otomo's that it almost might as well be the real thing - the setting is brought powerfully to life, the character designs are strong and every page is packed full of sumptuous detail. This is good, solid, intelligent sci-fi and whilst those missing eight volumes mean it can never be considered more than an enjoyable but passing curiosity, it's still well worth tracking down.
(The) Life of Momongo (manga) Very good
[Short in Secret Comics Japan]
Love Roma (manga) Very good
[5 volumes, complete]
Lullabies from Hell (manga) Very good
[1 volume, complete]
Moyasimon (manga) Very good
[2 volumes, suspended]
Museum of Terror (manga) Very good
[3 volumes, complete]
Mushishi (manga) Very good
[8 volumes, complete]
MW (manga) Very good
[1 volume, complete]
No Longer Human (manga) Very good
[3 volumes, complete]
Octopus Girl (manga) Very good
[3 volumes, suspended] A cheerfully deranged and thoroughly scatological parody of Kazuo Umezu's shojo horror manga, Octopus Girl is likely to have only limited appeal to anybody who isn't also a fan of the material it's affectionately mocking. Personally, I thought it was a lot of fun - the art is spot on, our protagonists (Octopus Girl and Eel Girl) are great comedic characters, the humour is gross (and grossly unsubtle) but genuinely funny and Yamazaki's art doesn't skimp on the grotesque and the horrific either. Of course, there are always limitations with regards to how far you can take parody material before it loses its charm (or else morphs into an inferior copy of the very thing that it's supposed to be parodying) but Octopus Girl is a fairly short series and never feels like it might outstay its welcome. Talking of length, Dark Horse regrettably dropped the series a volume before its conclusion but don't let that put you off picking up the first three - it's an episodic sort of title so the concluding volume isn't necessary to enjoy the ride.
Parasyte (manga) Very good
[8 volumes, complete]
Pure Trance (manga) Very good
[1 volume, complete]
Red Snow (manga) Very good
[1 volume, complete]
Ristorante Paradiso (manga) Very good
[1 volume, complete]
Rumic Theater (manga) Very good
[5 volumes (World + Theatre), suspended]
Sand Chronicles (manga) Very good
[10 volumes, complete]
Sand Land (manga) Very good
[1 volume, complete]
Satsuma Gishiden (manga) Very good
[3 volumes, suspended]
Shirley (manga) Very good
[1 volume, complete]
Short Cuts (manga) Very good
[2 volumes, complete] Usamaru Furuya started out in fine art, moved on to underground manga with Garo magazine and ended up in the corporate anthologies – Short Cuts was the first of his latter, more mainstream endeavours but contains enough of his earlier style that it can be considered something of a bridging work. This is gag manga, ostensibly constructed around the (somewhat dated) core concept of the kogal, that merges Furuya’s Garo-era juxtaposition of deliberately crude art and detailed, skilfully rendered art with a more conventional structure and layout. The gags themselves run the gamut from the crappy, Colorful-style, T&A sex jokes one might expect of seinen kogal-based humour to intriguing satirical pokes at Japanese society, otaku, pop culture and the life of a mangaka to the occasional exceptional exercise in finely crafted surrealism and impressive flights of artistic fancy. In other words, it’s a truly mixed bag – at its best it’s a jaw-dropping work of genius and at its worst it’s an entirely disposable collection of bad jokes. Still, the good outweighs the bad, the laugh out loud moments outnumber the repetitive, eye-roll inducing moments and, given the absence of English editions of Furuya’s other works, it’s pretty much mandatory reading.
Spirit of Wonder (manga) Very good
[1 volume, complete] The Dark Horse edition is about half the length of the Japanese original but, as annoying as that is, Spirit Of Wonder is well worth tracking down. I’m a sucker for a bit of steampunk, and if it’s somewhat whimsical that’s so much the better (whimsy is easy to screw up but Tsuruta nails it here). It’s somewhat lightweight stuff (and quite deliberately so) but it punches well above its weight in terms of easygoing charm and the detailed, cluttered, realistic artwork is absolutely glorious. The plentiful fanservice, courtesy of the curvaceous Miss China, is a bit excessive and a little distracting but it’s all cheerful, harmless, end-of-the-pier stuff and doesn’t detract too much from either the enjoyably dappy Victorian sci-fi devices or the appeal of the central characters (of whom Tsuruta is clearly immensely fond). There are a few somewhat grating instances of American colloquial English that clash badly with the 19th Century Bristol setting but, again, this is a minor quibble.
Sugar Sugar Rune (manga) Very good
[8 volumes, complete]
Sweat & Honey (manga) Very good
[1 volume, complete] This anthology is a glorious showcase for Okazaki’s stunning artwork (better here, I think, than in her later and better known Suppli series) – like most josei manga it’s languid, flowing and heavily stylised but it’s also highly detailed, intricate and utterly enchanting. Any artist who can make me lose myself for some time staring at a double page spread of a patch of grass is an artist who’s fully deserving of my vote of confidence. Indeed, the artwork alone is more than enough reason to get hold of the book. The stories, whilst certainly enjoyable, are a mixed bag – there are a couple of really outstanding pieces and none of the stories is without merit but much of the material is overly cryptic and it’s not always all that easy to follow. Despite these occasional flaws in the storytelling department, the tone (which ranges from whimsy to melodrama to quiet contemplation) always hits the right relaxed and quiet note.
They Were Eleven (manga) Very good
[Graphic novella contained in the Four Shojo Stories collection]
Tramps Like Us (manga) Very good
[14 volumes, complete]
Translucent (manga) Very good
[3 volumes, suspended]
Twin Spica (manga) Very good
[12 volumes, complete]
Ultra-Gash Inferno (manga) Very good
[1 volume, complete]
Vagabond (manga) Very good
[11 volumes, complete (omnibus edition)]
Velveteen & Mandala (manga) Very good
[1 volume, complete]
What's Michael? (manga) Very good
[11 volumes, complete]
Yukiko's Spinach (manga) Very good
[1 volume, complete] Boilet’s largely autobiographical works certainly aren’t for everybody. The distinctive photography-dependent art mostly works very well (and is sometimes quite beautiful) but it’s certainly an acquired taste and even once it hooks you it occasionally falls on its face. It’s a similar story with the distinctive narrative style (essentially avant-garde French cinema reworked as a fusion of bande dessinée and manga) – “La Nouvelle Manga”, of which this is, perhaps, the seminal example, is not necessarily going to appeal to the average manga fan. Those seeking comics from the literary end of the pool, however, are advised to give this a go: Boilet’s obsession with Japan – and with Japanese women in particular – is evident throughout but the obsession is not the cloying and myopic Japanophilia of the travelling otaku and whilst it’s certainly a sexually explicit work, the nudity is in no way analogous to the usual pandering fanservice. If Boilet comes off as an ageing, self-indulgent would-be Romeo – and he does – it’s more than adequately compensated for by his easy and disarming frankness. All in all then, this is interesting, classy and often charming but not without its problems and definitely limited in terms of the scope of the audience to which it will appeal.
A,A' (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete] Moto Hagio's place in the history of manga is generally considered to be second only to that of Osamu Tezuka and her style has been incalculably influential, at least in terms of shojo manga (even more so than Keiko Takemiya's, whose work has a similar aesthetic). Judging by this trilogy of loosely connected sci-fi melodramas, it's not hard to see why she's held in such regard - Hagio writes intelligently and distinctively and her art, dated and flowery though it might be, is highly accomplished, expressive and (in its time) innovative. I have a hard time getting too excited about melodrama and Hagio's art is rather too glam for my tastes but even so I was drawn into these stories. With their identity confusion, gender confusion and sometimes over emotional upsets, they're tailor made for adolescents making the bewildering transition from childhood to adulthood and yet they're smart enough, intriguing enough and entertaining enough to have genuine appeal for an adult audience, even before you factor in Hagio's historical significance and the scarcity of her works in English.
A.D. Police (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete] This one-shot Bubblegum Crisis spin-off requires no knowledge of the rest of the franchise and is a solid, if generally unexceptional, cyberpunk action comic. The selling point is the attractive, detailed art - it's somewhere between Shirow and Otomo in tone, if not in execution - that starts out pretty good and builds from there towards the striking, impressively rendered visual overkill of the final chapters. The character designs are solid and Takezaki is good enough at conveying movement to elevate the shoot-outs above the ordinary. As far as the writing goes, the first three stories are pretty disposable, disjointed and also very short but the two much longer linked stories that make up the bulk of the book are enjoyable enough, if not particularly original or profound. The dialogue is functional and the character development is pretty much non-existent. This isn't, to put it mildly, the most conceptually intelligent or involving cyberpunk fiction ever published but it's fun enough and pretty enough to be worth picking up in any case.
Alien Nine (manga) Good
[3 volumes, complete] A surprisingly (but fittingly) empathetic coming of age tale / adolescence analogy wrapped up in an enjoyable science fiction narrative that, remarkably, never falls into the trap of serving up its trio of schoolgirl protagonists as jailbait fanservice and never panders to its audience. Tomizawa's character designs are a bit on the cutesy side but in this instance that's a good thing - it's an effective counterpart to the unsettling encounters and responsibilities inflicted upon them and emphasises the strange, sometimes horrific, nature of their circumstances. Better yet, the various aliens are an enjoyably imaginative and occasionally grotesque menagerie and are nicely designed and rendered. The dialogue is admirably natural and the nuanced plotting is engagingly quirky rather than irritatingly opaque. It's not all roses though: the characters are never really developed beyond the rather generic outlines we're initially introduced to and the narrative seems to be rather too compressed and, in the latter stages, rushed - both the story and the cast could have done with more fleshing out and more space to breathe.
Alive (manga by T Kawashima) Good
[8 volumes, suspended]
Angel (manga by Sakurazawa) Good
[1 volume, complete]
Angel Nest (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
Apollo's Song (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
Ashen Victor (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete] A distinctive stand-alone Battle Angel Alita spin-off, Ashen Victor is basically Yukito Kishiro's ode to Frank Miller. Thankfully, the stark noir style borrowed from Miller fuses well with Kishiro's dystopian vision and adept handling of velocity. Even more thankfully, Kishiro's admiration for Miller (overrated even in 1997 when this came out) doesn't seem to extend to his laughable Randian philosophy so no need to worry on that count. Beyond the experimentation with artistic influences though, there isn't any particular reason for this title to exist; the sport of motorball had already been covered at greater length and depth in BAA and the tart-with-a-heart guff that infuses the piece is beyond hackneyed. On the other hand, there is enough novelty (the protagonist's memorable psychological trauma, the euphoria of crashing and burning), enough momentum and enough style here to make this well worth a gander.
Ayako (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
Azumanga Daioh (manga) Good
[4 volumes, complete]
Bambi and her Pink Gun (manga) Good
[2 volumes, suspended]
Banya: The Explosive Delivery Man (manhwa) Good
[5 volumes, complete] A fusion of stock faux-European fantasy and indigenous Korean historical and religious elements that's peopled with characters straight from central casting, Banya's strength lies not in its premise, its personality or its narrative - all adequate but unexceptional - but, rather, in its sumptuous artwork. Banya really is a treat for the eyes. There are better drawn comics out there but few are so good a match for this kind of fast-paced, bloody, fantastical havoc - the characters look good, the scenery looks better and the monsters and, even more so, the mass battle scenes look tremendous. The first half of the series is episodic adventuring, before picking up pace and giving way in the second half to a less lackadaisical and much more tightly plotted (if depressingly off-the-shelf) story in the latter half. It's seen it a million times before material of the "heroic band saves the world from power hungry, bloodthirsty villain" variety but it looks so good - detailed, well composed, visceral - that you won't much care.
Baron: The Cat Returns (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete] Originally conceived of as a short promotional film, The Cat Returns developed into this rather under-appreciated manga and from thence to the better known Ghibli feature film and certainly anybody who has seen the latter will instantly recognise the plot and premise of this book, despite its somewhat truncated narrative and shoujo flavoured artwork. And, like the film, this makes up in charm, gentle humour and visual inventiveness what it lacks in depth and ambition - it's an understated minor gem that seems, unfortunately, to have flown under most people's radars. Hiiragi's art isn't exactly showy but it's warm, it's well designed, framed and laid out and it's replete with nice little touches and flourishes. Moreover, her cat characters are wonderfully rendered and full of life and her human characters are pleasingly and amusingly expressive. This is a simple, whimsical, all-ages story and a short one at that - it's not the stuff great masterpieces are made of by any stretch of the imagination - but it's a genuinely enjoyable diversion and one worth returning to.
Benkei in New York (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
Black Blizzard (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
Blue Spring (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
Butterflies, Flowers (manga) Good
[8 volumes, complete]
Cat Eyed Boy (manga) Good
[2 volumes, complete]
Cinderalla (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
Club 9 (manga) Good
[3 volumes, suspended]
Color of Rage (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
Cowa! (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
Dance Till Tomorrow (manga) Good
[7 volumes, complete] A decidedly adult romantic comedy and one that's refreshingly free of pretty well all of the depressingly predictable tropes that generally mar the genre. It has a pleasing combination of cynicism, romanticism, slapstick and surrealism, a delightful and varied cast of lovable losers and is drawn in a wonderfully loose and expressive style. Of course, the thing that Dance Till Tomorrow is best known for is the sex and, well, it's certainly true that there's a lot of that too. However, while the sex couldn't be much more frequent or more explicit without turning the work into a full blown porn title, it too is handled in a refreshing manner - the sex here is fun, life-affirming play between adults. It's titillation for the reader but it's also an inherent and healthy part of the protagonists' relationships; the pandering, condescending, disturbing and frequently misogynistic paraphilias, fetishes and appeals to the base desires of the hormonal and the sexually dysfunctional that blight so many other manga are notable here only because of their absence. Still, while the series is a lot of fun, it isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination. There's a fair amount of repetition, important plot strands are left hanging untidily by the semi-effective but rushed conclusion, the treatment of the immigrant characters satirises Japanese racism but can't resist indulging in racist caricature itself, the art is often pretty lazy (particularly in terms of off-model or partially rendered faces) and the sex, whilst never offensive, is frequently gratuitous. On balance, though, this is more than entertaining enough to make up for its mostly minor flaws.
Dokebi Bride (manhwa) Good
[6 volumes, suspended] From an artistic standpoint, Dokebi Bride is a mixed bag. Marley's sense of colour renders the covers striking (such a shame the interiors are purely black and white) and she has a real gift for rendering the spirits and creatures of Korean folklore but her backgrounds are merely adequate and her human faces are pretty bad, ranging from drab and plastically inexpressive to off-model and downright ugly. Net Comics' cheap and nasty production values don't help matters. The narrative is enjoyable enough to compensate for any artistic deficiencies, however, with its arresting spirits and traditions, it's well-developed protagonist and its meandering but satisfying and compelling plot. Unfortunately, Net Comics dropped this title after the sixth volume, leaving the story hanging in mid air with nothing resembling a conclusion. Still, as frustrating as that is - and as stiff and awkward as the work sometimes looks - what was published is well worth investigating.
Dominion (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
Dominion: Conflict 1 [No More Noise] (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
Dragon Head (manga) Good
[10 volumes, complete]
Fallen Words (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
(The) Four Immigrants Manga Good
[1 volume, complete] A unique cultural artefact, The Four Immigrants Manga is the autobiographical work – written in a mixture of Japanese and pidgin English – of a Japanese immigrant to early Twentieth Century America. It’s a fascinating insight into both the migrant experience and the history of San Francisco and it’s quite unlike any other manga on the market. Frederik L. Schodt is also to be commended, both for bringing the work to public attention and for his excellent introduction and notes. If there’s a downside, it’s that TFIM is far more intriguing in all of its unpolished glory than it is entertaining – more of an academic gem than a genuinely funny comic. Ultimately, anybody wanting a hilarious (but sympathetic) account of cultures clashing in the melting pot of the pre-war USA would be better off with Leo Rostein’s The Education Of Hyman Kaplan and anybody wanting a poignant autobiographical account of migration and cultural isolation would be better off with Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. TFIM, however, is an important work from the point of view of comics history and certainly brings a rough charm all of its own to the table.
Fullmetal Alchemist (manga) Good
[27 volumes, complete]
Galaxy Girl, Panda Boy (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
Garden Dreams (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
Genkaku Picasso (manga) Good
[3 volumes, complete]
Hell Baby (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
High School Debut (manga) Good
[13 volumes, complete]
Hotel Harbour View (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete] A pair of highly atmospheric but rather lightweight noir tales, both centred around tales of assassinations in exotic locales (Hong Kong and Paris, respectively). The first tale is the better of the two by a considerable margin - the basic set-up is far from original but it's a unique interpretation of an old plot with its homage to classic yakuza movies and to colonial era Hong Kong. The longer second piece also utilises a fairly well-worn concept but to rather less effect. The narratives, then, are nothing to get overly excited about but the work is raised up thanks in part to Taniguchi's ability to effectively and memorably evoke his settings (particularly in the Parisian portion of the book) with his meticulous, detailed and well researched art and in part thanks to both Sekikawa's and Taniguchi's feel for that particular atmosphere so intrinsic to the genre. If there were a little more meat than that provided by the overly familiar and rather underdeveloped plots and the rudimentary ruminations on love and death, this could have been something really rather special. As it is, this is fairly solid pulp fiction with a strong aesthetic - well worth reading but nothing to get overly excited about.
I'll Give It My All... Tomorrow (manga) Good
[4 volumes, suspended]
IC In A Sunflower (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete] I'm really not a fan of Mihara's art - I find it to be rather flat and lifeless, her composition is uninspired and her trademark gothic flourishes feel contrived and superfluous. This collection of offbeat shorts, however, is well worth picking up in spite of its visual weaknesses because although the quality of the stories is variable, the best of them are intelligent, imaginative and thoroughly well written. Even the weaker stories have something to offer and the better ones (particularly the first two stories - Keep Those Condoms Away From Our Kids and The Iron Maiden) are as memorable as they are intriguing. Subjects run the gamut from psychological trauma in the here and now (a self-harming survivor of familial child abuse; a suppressed horror retrieved from the depths of self-protecting fantasy; a "cold fish" moved to murder by an unexpected turn of events) to portraits of the consequences-to-be of the current generations' failings in dystopian, near-future snippets (a world in which, as a side-effect of a vaccine, the world's youth lose all interest in the physical side of love, leading to a sudden reversal of moral standards; the place of a dispassionate robot maid in the middle of a hostile, loveless marriage; the value of human life in a world of spare parts clones) and I suspect that, all failings aside, there should be at least something here to interest anybody with a modicum of interest in psychodrama and / or speculative fiction.
Junko Mizuno's Princess Mermaid (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
Kekkaishi (manga) Good
[35 volumes, complete]
Kingyo Used Books (manga) Good
[4 volumes, suspended]
Last Continent (manga) Good
[6 issues, complete]
(The) Legend of Kamui (manga) Good
[2 volumes, suspended] Viz’s release is a single two-volume story arc culled from a longer work (a 1980s side story rather than the original samurai-epic-as-leftist-social-commentary Kamui published by Garo in the 1960s). The artwork, which is detailed but not particularly distinctive (it’s very much in the vein of Lone Wolf And Cub), isn’t really my cup of tea and the ninja action is very much of the mystical powers variety – also something that doesn’t really do much for me. On the other hand, the writing is intelligent, the historical background appears to be well researched and the characterisations are relatively deep, taking the whole work beyond the surface veneer of typical seinen tits and violence escapism. Presenting a single story arc from partway through an extensive story has obvious disadvantages with regards to set-up, resolution and background but, in this case, it does have the advantage of resulting in a work that’s rather more accessible to the casual reader than Lone Wolf and its ilk.
Living Corpse (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
Lychee Light Club (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
Made in Heaven - Kazemichi (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
Maison Ikkoku (manga) Good
[15 volumes, complete] Takahashi's foray into the seinen world (a shift indicated only by an older cast - both the art style and writing are essentially unchanged from her other works) is a well-written sitcom and, like most long-running sitcoms, it wears its premise into the ground (repeatedly) long before the fat lady sings. And yet, somehow, it never gets too annoying and, most importantly, it never stops being funny. As with any sitcom, the cast is of crucial importance and Maison Ikkoku mostly delivers on that point: our protagonist is a likeable enough young chap, his fellow boarding house residents, love rivals and friends are a wonderful collection of screwball characters (who carry far more than their fair share of the comedy) and though the love interest is a little bland, she's pleasant enough that the reader can root for the budding romance. The only thing more important than the cast is the writing and Takahashi mostly comes up with the goods as far as slapstick and gags go whilst imbuing the romance with a certain (saccharine) pathos. As suggested above, Maison Ikkoku's chief failing is that it drags out a fairly simple rom-com plot for way too long and hits you with the same gags, misunderstandings, tearful reconciliations and earnest declarations over and over and over again - at 15 volumes, it's about 10 volumes longer than it really needs to be. Its saving grace is that every volume delivers some laughs and, usually, some plot progression (however glacial) and the whole thing is infused with enough cheerful charm that it's easy enough to forgive it for its sins, even while one laments what might have been with a little more self-restraint and some tighter editing.
Mobile Police Patlabor (manga) Good
[2 volumes, suspended]
Nodame Cantabile (manga) Good
[16 volumes, suspended]
Noise (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete] This sci-fi/horror/noir chiller is, essentially, all about the visuals and given how sumptuous Nihei's art often looks here, that's not such a bad thing. His character designs are generally pretty good (though our heroine's eyes are disconcertingly widely spaced) - especially the dehumanised, mutated baddies - but it's the city itself that really impresses, in all its scratchy, detailed, dark and oppressive glory and, in a strange way, it's the city that stands out as the strongest and best developed character too (not that it has much competition as far as that goes). Beyond the impressive visuals and well-realised gloomy atmosphere there's very little to this work - the dialogue (what little there is of it) is faintly risible and the plot is merely a semi-developed narrative excuse on which to hang the aesthetics that are so clearly Nihei's primary concern. Ultimately though, my biggest regret does not concern the shallowness of the tale, the cheesy dialogue or the entirely undeveloped protagonist but, rather, the limitations on the art imposed by Tokyopop's mediocre production standards. This is crying out for the bigger page size and higher quality paper that would properly highlight its creator's undeniable talent.
One-Pound Gospel (manga) Good
[4 volumes, complete]
Orochi: Blood (manga) Good
[1 volume, suspended]
Pineapple Army (manga) Good
[1 volume, suspended]
Portus (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete] It's easy (and, in fact, perfectly justifiable) to draw attention to Portus' hoary, clichéd, Ring-inspired plot - this isn't a title that's going to wow you with its seminal, unique vision. And nor is it going to impress you with its depth and characterisation since it moves too fast and is over too quickly to allow for anything beyond the formalities. Still, Portus is actually worth picking up and, lightweight though it might be, it's actually pretty enjoyable. Abe's art is really very good - somewhat reminiscent of Takehiko Inoue's work though not quite in the same league - and it's a great fit for the supernatural horror of the narrative; detailed, creepy, menacing, sometimes grotesque and adept at emphasising both brooding quiet and sudden bursts of horrific activity. Moreover, this moves fast - fast enough to let you (mostly) forget about how shallow and derivative it is - and the pacing, the art and the gruesome atmosphere they combine to create are enough to make reading Portus an entertaining, if not altogether satisfying, experience.
Presents (manga) Good
[3 volumes, complete]
Princess Knight (manga) Good
[2 volumes, complete]
Professor Munakata (manga) Good
[1 volume, suspended]
Reptilia (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete] A curious (and predictably unsuccessful) choice for IDW to enter the manga market with, Reptilia is a welcome addition to the limited selection of Umezu's joyfully kitsch horror works currently available in English. This is one of his earlier works and his art, whilst instantly recognisable, is a bit rougher and more limited than usual - especially in the case of his sparkly-eyed shojo heroines who suffer from a deficiency of facial expressions and look rather like plastic dolls. The two linked stories, however, are enjoyable enough and feature Umezu's usual trademark mix of creepiness and melodrama.
Saber Tiger (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
Samurai Legend (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete] Taniguchi’s meticulous artwork and attention to detail fits the historical samurai drama genre like a glove – so much so that, to my mind, it lifts Samurai Legend above the level of most of the many older, conceptually similar samurai works. The book works essentially as a flashback with its opening and closing pages taking place in 1899 and this adds a (somewhat nostalgic, somewhat ambiguous) theme of tumultuous change from the old feudal order to Westernised modernity that seems to tie this work to the earlier Times of Botchan (though Taniguchi’s collaborator is not the same in this book). As for the narrative, I didn’t find it to be particularly exciting stuff (though it’s certainly functional) but it probably works rather better if you’re either more highly knowledgeable about 19th Century Japanese history than I am or else have a greater appreciation for intricate swordplay between stoical, implacable opponents than I do. In any case, this is intelligent and aesthetically pleasing stuff and commendable for those reasons alone.
Scary Books (manga) Good
[3 volumes, suspended] Umezu is the kind of artist you're either predisposed to like or you're not - either you instinctively appreciate his brand of kitsch, dated, sometimes rather camp horror histrionics or you'll just never get the appeal. The five stories to be found in the Scary Book trilogy serve as a pretty good introduction to his style and feature some clever writing and some nice ideas: ideas strong enough that I can easily imagine any of these tales being successfully adapted into a movie (indeed, for all I know, some of them may have been). On the downside these works do get a little bit repetitive, partly because of their tonal similarities but mostly because Umezu seems to work with a decidedly limited selection of faces and locations - they all rather merge into one after a while, which saps their narrative punch. On that basis, this is a nice anthology of retro horror and a rare treat for those of us who enjoy this kind of stuff but it's hard to be too disappointed that Dark Horse stopped at the third volume rather than publishing the full series of ten since I suspect that more volumes would have exacerbated the series' problems.
School Zone (manga) Good
[3 volumes, complete]
Shion: Blade of the Minstrel (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
Short Program (manga) Good
Short Program 2 (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
A Single Match (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
Smuggler (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete] Pleasingly rough, scratchy, gloomy artwork and deliberately ugly, dead-eyed character designs bring this one-shot psycho thriller to life and it’s certainly not short of off-beat personalities or interesting hooks (not least of which is the central premise of a team of freelance corpse disposal specialists caught in the middle of a gang war). On the downside, once established the plot is on autopilot, the characters aren’t particularly engaging and the whole thing fails to leave much of an impression on the reader. A parade of the grotesque can be many things but ennui inducing certainly shouldn’t be one of them. Still, the nasty aesthetic and sheer pulpiness of the work makes it well worth a gander.
Socrates in Love (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete] A self-indulgent but highly effective tragic romance, Socrates In Love does a good job of pulling the reader's emotional strings without outstaying its welcome. I assume that reading the novel this is based on is a prolonged exercise in emotional self-flagellation - not something to which I would wish to be subjected - but the one-volume manga adaptation is just about long enough to give the reader an adequate taste of the highs (young love) and lows (bereavement) of the relationship whilst still being short enough that it doesn't turn into too much of a maudlin swamp of soap opera melodrama and navel-gazing introspection. Certainly if this were any longer I'd likely be giving it a substantially lower rating. On the other hand, its brevity means that there isn't really enough space to fully develop the central characters (let alone their friends and families), nor to put all that much flesh on the bones of their relationship. Furthermore, the generally clean, expressive and attractive artwork is occasionally compromised by pages that consist largely, if not entirely, of text - it's hard to condense a full-length prose novel into a short graphic novel without losing anything vital and this is the inevitable consequence of that. Socrates In Love is treading well-worn dramatic ground - that it manages to wring pathos from its threadbare premise is not particularly surprising (if you learn the recipe by rote, you'll get the same bitter-sweet loaf time after time) but the charm of its characters, as lightly sketched as they are, its relative lightness of touch and its careful balancing of emotional light and dark put it a step or two above most of its ilk.
SOS (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete] An attractive (aside from the garish cover), enjoyable and intelligent, feminist-tinged short story anthology, SOS punches sufficiently beyond its weight as to be eminently recommendable, even to those (such as myself) who aren't often drawn to shoujo manga. The art is of a generally high standard (though the chibi stuff is somewhat overused and occasionally incongruous) but it's the writing that really impresses. The title story does a good job of combining low key humour and romantic fluff with much more serious, sombre material, the second story, a 1990s-1920s flashback piece, is probably the weakest of the three but it has some nice moments and an effectively poignant ending and the final story, which initially appears to be the most inconsequential of the three, turns out to have an enjoyably feisty anti-chauvinistic message to impart.
Space Adventure Cobra (manga) Good
[12 issues, suspended]
Stargazing Dog (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
STONe (manga) Good
[2 volumes, complete] An exercise in style over substance that goes nowhere but has fun getting there. STONe features some absolutely sumptuous artwork and is bursting at the seams with imaginative, often cinematic, touches. Hiromoto-Sin-Ichi was clearly having a blast producing this and his enthusiasm is contagious. In terms of narrative and characterisation though, we're on shakier ground - it's a bit sloppy, often rather perfunctory and, at two volumes, feels rushed. This isn't something that's going to shake your world and nor is it something in which you can really lose yourself but it is a cheap, fresh fix of sometimes inspired sci-fi mayhem.
Suppli (manga) Good
[4 volumes, suspended]
(The) Times of Botchan (manga) Good
[4 volumes, suspended]
To Terra (manga) Good
[3 volumes, complete] From one of the greats of shoujo manga (crossing over here to a shounen anthology) this is a seminal, and suitably epic, dystopian space opera and there’s certainly plenty to get your teeth into here – psychics battling an oppressive and inhuman regime, space battles, romance, tragedy, regret, rage and heroism, utopian dreams colliding with human failings…you name it, really. The art is certainly of its time but that’s no bad thing in and of itself and whilst the prettily overblown, wide-eyed character designs aren’t to my taste it’s impossible not to be impressed by Takemiya’s obvious illustrative and compositional skills. Unfortunately, an excessive degree of ripe melodrama, po-faced earnestness and leaden dialogue prevent this from being nearly as enjoyable as it ought to be. It’s still fairly compelling stuff and its undeniable qualities make it rewarding reading but tonally this really isn’t my cup of tea.
Tokyo Zombie (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete] Hanakuma's art is decidedly lo-fi - Tokyo Zombie looks like something any reasonably precocious nine year old could have drawn. Only cruder. So anybody looking purely for aesthetic thrills should probably look elsewhere. What Hanakuma does bring to the table, however, is a pleasingly warped and surreal take on the world and a deliciously dark (not to mention silly) sense of humour...if you can get past the art, there's a lot of fun to be had here. Having said that, whilst I commend Last Gasp on bringing us another nugget of the Japanese underground, there's really nothing to recommend this over its (wonderful) movie adaptation - my take is that the movie is actually funnier than the book, is just as quirky and fresh but doesn't embrace the same wilful good-bad visual amateurism.
(The) Two Faces of Tomorrow (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
(The) Venus Wars (manga) Good
[29 issues, complete]
(The) Voices of a Distant Star (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete] Manga adaptations of anime are usually pretty bad but this one actually manages to surpass the source material. Of course, the anime was an astounding personal achievement on Shinkai’s part and it had some genuinely impressive moments in spite of its production limitations but it’s also deeply flawed in terms of pacing, character development and exposition – all failings that are quietly and competently fixed by this rather charming manga. Mizu Sahara’s josei-style artwork was, perhaps, a surprising choice but it works very well with the subject matter and, all in all, this is an enjoyable and poignant story of separation, loneliness and yearning. It’s a little too angst-ridden and not quite nuanced enough for my tastes but it is, nonetheless, a highly recommendable one-shot, sci-fi infused love story.
Welcome to the N.H.K. (manga) Good
[8 volumes, complete] A moderately divergent retelling of the (excellent) original novel, this is very good in places but it's let down by its rather bland artwork and its inconsistent tone. It's blackly funny on occasion and sometimes suitably intense but it doesn't quite hold together, particularly in later volumes, and it's certainly not nearly as affecting, intelligent or insightful as its source material (despite having been penned by the same author).
Who Fighter with Heart of Darkness (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete] Seiho Takizawa’s detailed, realistic artistry is wonderful and bears comparison to the likes of Hiroki Endo and Jiro Taniguchi. Frankly, that’s reason enough to recommend this book. The stories themselves, whilst worthwhile, are a little less polished. Who Fighter is by far the stronger of the two main works – it’s an interesting (though not entirely original) sci-fi spin on the final days of WWII that does a good job of blending historical detail with a satisfyingly pulpy narrative. Its chief weak point is its brevity – I’d have been happier to see this developed over two or three volumes in order both to escalate the suspense and to put meat on the bones of the characters. Heart Of Darkness keeps the WWII military theme but is a much weaker affair. It’s billed as an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novel of the same name but its chief influence is clearly Apocalypse Now, making it a heavily derivative adaptation of an adaptation – so much so that there are no surprises to be had here provided you’re at all familiar with the source material. Moreover, it suffers even more than Who Fighter from a lack of space to develop – 84 pages simply aren’t enough to properly establish the main players, let alone to build up the requisite levels of stress, suspense and paranoia. Still, it's an enjoyable volume overall, even where the narrative sags (i.e. in the second half) and the art really does make up for a lot.
Wild 7 (manga) Good
[6 volumes, suspended]
Wild Com (manga) Good
[1 volume, complete]
(The) Yagyu Ninja Scrolls (manga) Good
[7 volumes, suspended]
888 (manga) Decent
[1 volume, suspended] This manga looks horrible. Noriko's decidedly amateurish art is basic to the point of crudity, relies too heavily on deformation, lacks any kind of inventiveness in terms of layout and is distractingly littered with (mostly pointless) little text asides outside of the speech bubbles that really mess with the flow of reading and look ghastly. As if that wasn't enough, this book epitomises DrMaster's usual failings - the retouch work is horrible and much of the text is so small it can't be read without squinting. None of which should put anybody off from giving 888 a chance because, regardless of its aesthetic failings, this is actually a pretty entertaining read. It's a warm, witty and genuinely fun sitcom with an appealing dose of whimsy that's peopled by pleasant, enjoyable characters. This is not exactly plot heavy stuff (the private detective theme never goes much beyond looking for lost cats) and nor is it a manga full of movement - talking heads are the order of the day. Instead, what we get are episodic and inconsequential little scenarios centred around the gently amusing interplay between the affably eccentric central trio (along with their various pets, ex-wives, clients and long lost brothers). It would be difficult to give a very high mark to a work this unpolished, this badly adapted and this abbreviated (DrMaster abandoned the title after just one volume) and you really do have to be able to look past a lot of shortcomings but this is one case where it's actually worth your time to do so.
Andromeda Stories (manga) Decent
[3 volumes, complete]
Apocalypse Meow (manga) Decent
[3 volumes, complete]
Aqua (manga) Decent
[2 volumes, complete]
Area 88 (manga) Decent
[1 volume, suspended]
(The) Aromatic Bitters (manga) Decent
[1 volume, complete] Sakurazawa's art is blandly professional here and the story also suffers from uninspired competence - it's like the whole thing was created on autopilot. The narrative follows two women (friends - one in her 30s, one in her 40s), both of them emerging from catatonia-inducing, love-free, long-term relationships before going on to rediscover themselves in the arms of younger lovers (both in their 20s). They're not unlikable characters but, then again, nor is there anything particularly compelling about them, their insights, their stories or their relationships. This is mature chick-lit of a curiously unsubstantial nature but it isn't actually bad by any stretch of the imagination and as long as you don't expect to find too much meat on its bones, you could certainly find worse ways to kill half an hour.
Basilisk (manga) Decent
[5 volumes, complete]
Bastard!! (manga) Decent
[19 volumes, suspended]
Beautiful People (manga) Decent
[1 volume, complete] This is a mixed bag of Mihara's shorts, containing some of the better stuff I have read by her but elsewhere highlighting her weaknesses. Of the five stories, the last two are pretty disposable gothic follies (one is a forgettable spin on Frankenstein the other a decidedly unoriginal Vampire tale) - they're a good fit for her high-contrast, gothic-frilled, stark and simple artwork, I suppose, but given how unmoved I generally am by her aesthetic, that's just two things I don't care for sitting neatly together. The second story is rather more novel but goes nowhere interesting and is hampered by the worst art in the book. Thankfully, the first and third stories are a clear cut above and justify picking up this collection. The first story, in particular, is actually really very good: Mihara's artwork is a its best here and the premise - the last man and woman on Earth are both gay - is well-handled, whilst the other is a solid, atmospheric psychodrama. If you're only going to buy one Mihara anthology, make it IC In A Sunflower over this one but if you enjoy her work, the good stuff here is worth getting hold of and even the weaker material is mediocre rather than actively bad.
Biomega (manga) Decent
[6 volumes, complete]
Blood: The Last Vampire 2002 (manga) Decent
[1 volume, complete] As far as manga tie-ins with anime properties go, this isn't too bad. Tamaoki's art style is (mostly) a pretty good match for the content, he's nailed the atmosphere and while the plot is hardly anything to write home about, it's in keeping with both the tone and the abridged brevity of its source material. On the other hand, it soon becomes clear that while it's easy enough to take the porn artist out of the porn, taking the porn out of the porn artist is a whole different matter. Tamaoki doesn't appear much bothered with the usual fanservice (though there is a bit of it), instead preferring to bypass cheesecake and descend directly (and with some regularity) to the level of blood-soaked naked teens, sado-masochistic lesbian vampires, demons with barely contained erections and school girls on toilets. Mix in some fairly explicit gore and violence and you end up with something that occasionally borders on ero-guro. Granted, what's offered up here for your delectation isn't really notably worse than what can be found in any number of low budget horror b-movies from around the world but it is undeniably exploitative and sleazy (not to mention a surprisingly dark departure from vanilla smut like Editor Woman, which is the only other Tamaoki piece I've read). Ultimately, then, this is a pretty shallow and sometimes rather unpleasant but, nonetheless, atmospheric and competently rendered slice of schlock horror.
Café Kichijouji de (manga) Decent
[3 volumes, complete] A somewhat eccentric comedy manga with an unlikely cast made up exclusively of bishounen and a café setting...sounds a lot like Antique Bakery, no? Alas, this audio drama tie-in isn't in the same league. It's not bad, per se - the artwork's very nice, despite the minimal backgrounds, it's sometimes quite funny and always cheerfully silly - but it is shallow, inconsequential fluff, it's not nearly as interesting (or funny) as Yoshinaga's aforementioned work and it doesn't often come close to the level it occasionally shows itself to be capable of attaining. The series is at its best when it lets its dappy, surreal humour flow freely and that simply doesn't happen often enough and isn't sustained long enough when it does occur. The cast are an amiable, quirky bunch but they're not sufficiently developed for the title to thrive on that alone and, while Negishi can clearly surpass the title's bland radio sitcom heritage when she really wants to, what we mostly actually get is an insipidly whimsical slice of plotless, fangirl-friendly eye candy. It's intermittently amusing and it looks very slick but it's probably best filed under "missed opportunities" nonetheless.
Chikyu Misaki (manga) Decent
[3 volumes, complete] This certainly isn't promising at first glance: the cluttered panels, the terrible lettering job - with vertical text confusingly and pointlessly intermingled with horizontal text - and, above all, the tooth-rotting, cutesy, moe character designs of the younger characters is all distinctly off-putting. Underneath all of that ghastliness, however, is a pretty solid mystery adventure for kids with enough (rather saccharine) charm, intelligence and referential humour (from the Lupinesque villains to the stoical Wolverine lookalike) to also hook an adult audience. Unfortunately, that crossover appeal is all too conscious and comes at the cost of some awkwardness in the form of mild but ill-deployed fanservice and references that seem uncomfortably out of place in a title that is ostensibly and primarily calculated to attract pre-teen children. Par for the course in modern manga, I suppose. As noted, the art has its problems but the artist is certainly able to produce some appealing panels and character designs when they put their mind to it. The storyline, similarly, is a mixed bag - it's an engaging yarn but it seems a little rushed and constricted in places and could certainly have been better implemented - and the character development is minimal. All in all, flawed as this is there's enough here to warrant investigation, especially for those blessed with less cynicism and a higher tolerance for twee cutesyness than I have.
Doctor (manga) Decent
[6 issues, complete]
Editor Woman (manga) Decent
[Short in Secret Comics Japan]
FLCL (manga) Decent
[2 volumes, complete]
Flower in a Storm (manga) Decent
[2 volumes, complete]
Gedatsu Man (manga) Decent
[Short in Secret Comics Japan]
Ghost in the Shell (manga) Decent
[1 volume, complete]
Grey (manga) Decent
[2 volumes, complete]
Hard-Boiled Angel (manhwa) Decent
[3 volumes, complete]
Hellsing (manga) Decent
[10 volumes, complete]
High School Girls (manga) Decent
[9 volumes, complete] HSG was originally intended to be a shoujo work (which, as a semi-autobiographical reminiscence, would also have adult appeal) but it found itself being published in one of the few manga anthologies designed to appeal equally to the shoujo and shounen demographics. That needn't have been a problem: there’s knowing in-jokes for female readers and a frank and funny glimpse at an otherwise unknown world for male readers. Unfortunately, HSG fell victim to some horrifically crass editorial pressure from an editor who clearly didn't have the sense to let the work stand on its own, not inconsiderable, merits. As the author ruefully indicates, her editor clearly felt that only T&A would appeal to male teens and thus thoroughly incongruous fanservice shots are clumsily inserted into the work on a maddeningly regular basis – so clumsily that they seriously screw up the tone and flow of the work and only serve to put off female and adult male readers. There are more problems beyond the editorial crimes; the art is mediocre at best, the pacing and flow – the things the editor should actually have been addressing - are consistently poor and the ending is weak. Furthermore, the US edition is poorly produced, especially in terms of the adaptation and localisation. Bad as all that sounds though, this does have enough going for it to be worth a look. Oshima delivers plenty of genuinely laugh out loud moments (she's got a fine sense of humour - sometimes bizarre, usually pleasingly earthy), she does a great job of dissecting school cliques, teenage sexual misconceptions and the like and, best of all, she presents us with tailor-made and genuinely likeable characters. All in all then, this is a mangled and sloppy but also sporadically very enjoyable work - the potential was huge and with even moderately competent editing it could have been so much more than it was.
Honey and Clover (manga) Decent
[10 volumes, complete]
I Saw It (manga) Decent
[1 issue, complete]
Ice Blade (manga) Decent
[3 volumes, suspended]
Japan (manga by K. Miura) Decent
[1 volume, complete]
Joan (manga) Decent
[3 volumes, complete]
Justy (manga) Decent
[9 issues, suspended]
Lost World (manga) Decent
[1 volume, complete]
Made in Heaven - Juri (manga) Decent
[1 volume, complete]
Mai the Psychic Girl (manga) Decent
[4 volumes, complete]
Metro Survive (manga) Decent
[2 volumes, complete] An entertaining and strangely compelling but starkly flawed blue collar seinen survival fantasy, Metro Survive starts off as a socially critical disaster movie in comic book form before shifting, all too quickly, into a sort of C-list take on Lord Of The Flies. The earlier phase is by far the more interesting. It lacks the claustrophobic atmosphere of, for example, the first few volumes of Dragon Head and its cultural commentary isn't particularly profound but it's a tried and tested formula, it gets you rooting for the protagonist and it's pretty engrossing stuff. The latter phase is less good - partly because the new characters it introduces are even more two-dimensional than the already fairly flat cast we started out with, partly because it all seems rather too implausible (it takes mere days for barbarity to vanquish civilisation) and partly because the narrative is too rushed and too brief to compensate for those weaknesses. The art, meanwhile, is utterly unexceptional aside from some occasionally dodgy anatomy - it gets the job done but it's hardly memorable and it's not exactly eye candy. More volumes might have allowed it the space to iron out its flaws but, then again, the scant two volumes it actually manages are readily digestible since the flaws don't have time to completely overwhelm the good stuff.
Metropolis (manga) Decent
[1 volume, complete]
Mutant Hanako (manga) Decent
[Extract in Secret Comics Japan]
Nextworld (manga) Decent
[2 volumes, complete]
Orion (manga) Decent
[1 volume, complete]
A Perfect Day for Love Letters (manga) Decent
[2 volumes, complete] Asakura's style seems to be heavily derivative of Moyoco Anno's but while Anno is a laudable muse and Asakura's art is sometimes rather pleasant on the eye, this just doesn't have the consistency of quality, the expressiveness or the quirkiness of Anno's work. Aside from that, Asakura's characters often appear rather older than they're supposed to be and though her composition is pretty good, her backgrounds lack detail or depth. This certainly isn't bad, visually speaking - just not particularly memorable or distinctive. The stories that make up the collection are rather more of a mixed bag. They're all linked - with the sole exception of an older bonus story in volume 2 - insofar as they all share the common theme of the love letter (or fax, email, etcetera) and they're all centred around contemporary Japanese school students in their mid to late teens. Qualitatively, however, they vary considerably - from the eminently forgettable and distinctly humdrum to the poignant, considered and memorable - and there's a fair bit of tonal variation too, which helps to counter the monotony of the thematic repetition. The narratives themselves are nothing very innovative and are at their best when strong characterisation and evocative atmosphere detract from the blasé plotting. There are one or two moments where what Asakura clearly thinks of as the indefatigably relentless smouldering of passion actually comes off as being slightly creepy, obsessive, stalker-like behaviour but, for the most part, this is perfectly acceptable but largely unexceptional teen romance fodder.
Pilgrim Jäger (manga) Decent
[3 volumes, suspended]
Qwan (manga) Decent
[4 volumes, suspended] A fairly typical shonen adventure with better than average art, Qwan was presumably only moderately successful in Japan since it managed only six volumes (uncharacteristically short for a work of this type) and even less successful in the US where it only made it as far as the fourth volume before being dropped. By the standards of its peers, it's pretty good and I dare say with a game or anime tie-in it would have had all the necessary ingredients of a big hit but, then again, the standards of its peers aren't particularly high so that's no great recommendation for post-adolescent readers. The anime-style character designs are mostly rather bland but the background and composition show some promise and some of the creatures and the more fantastical settings are great fun. Everything trots along at a fair pace and the occasional interesting idea or novel twist is dropped in our path but there are no really memorable characters here and the whole thing's fairly easy to forget about. All in all, this isn't bad but it's entirely non-essential.
Sarai (manga) Decent
[8 volumes, suspended]
Shadow Star (manga) Decent
[7 volumes, suspended] Dark Horse dropped Shadow Star at seven volumes - 5 short of the complete Japanese release - and that certainly doesn't help the reader to untangle what was in any case a rather confused and haphazard plot peopled by enigmatic and visually indistinctive characters. What Kitoh seemingly wants to talk about are the travails of coming of age: inclusion and exclusion, puberty, bullying, family, betrayal by adults and their institutions, apathy, sexual apprehension and so on and so on and so forth. When he approaches these subjects head on, he can be surprisingly effective at handling the material evocatively and intelligently - the bullying in the seventh volume is a stand out example. Regrettably though, most of this narrative meat is diminished and largely obscured by the saggy skin of paranormal sci-fi and men in black conspiracy genre elements that contains it and that, combined with inconsistent pacing and a tendency to constantly hop around from one opaque plot line to another, makes the quality at the heart of this work something that is only occasionally evident. The confusion and disconnect isn't aided by Kitoh's distinctive art - the anorexic and strangely gawky character designs are off-putting to me (and are starkly highlighted against the bland backgrounds) but the real problem is that they're often very difficult to distinguish from one another. Still, Shadow Star isn't a complete write-off. The atmosphere is effectively built up as the series progresses (the proportions of optimistic whimsy and oppressive menace in the mix gradually reversed), the art occasionally shines (Kitoh can't do people but he's good at machinery and monsters), there are occasionally arresting plot elements (enough so though that you wish the author had shown more self-control in concentrating on them) and, ultimately, there really is some underlying substance capable of provoking thought and discussion. Whether or not that substance is worth the effort of digging for remains an open question.
Telepathic Wanderers (manga) Decent
[4 volumes, complete] A pulpy tale of a group of psychics pursued by shadowy assailants, this is moderately enjoyable but rather shallow fare. It’s got a slightly exploitative feel to it (especially in the early volumes) – certainly the emphasis on the attractive female protagonist’s ability to read the thoughts of the men around her seems as much geared towards providing excuses to illustrate sexual fantasies as to demonstrating the isolation that would result from knowing exactly what the people around you were thinking – but it also has moments of undeniably intelligent conceptualisation. Unfortunately, the plot is rather hackneyed and predictable, the characterisation is shallow and the whole thing doesn’t really go anywhere (at four volumes, it feels cut short). The art, meanwhile, is decent, bordering on good, but in no way exceptional.
Unbalance Unbalance (manhwa) Decent
[2 volumes, suspended] A Korean shonen romance that manages to avoid most of the pitfalls gleefully entered into by its Japanese peers – there’s plenty of hormonal fanservice, of course, but it’s rather less cheesy and pervasive than the norm (though you wouldn’t guess it from the covers) and while there are a few of the usual daft coincidences and misunderstandings, they serve the narrative rather than degenerating into stale gag routines. Best of all, the characters here have real depth to them – especially the protagonist who, unlike most of his genre counterparts, not only has genuine personality but is actually someone you can root for. Icing on the cake takes the form of decent artwork, good pacing and excellent production values (dust jacket, colour pages, high quality paper). Unbalance Unbalance isn’t exactly high art but it is a superior example of its type (not that that's saying much of course) and not a bad read, so it's a shame that Infinity Studios decided to abandon the print medium in favour of e-publishing when it was only two volumes into the series.
Urusei Yatsura (manga) Decent
[9 volumes, suspended]
Wounded Man - The White Haired Demon (manga) Decent
[9 volumes, complete]
Between the Sheets (manga) So-so
[1 volume, complete]
Chronowar (manga) So-so
[9 issues, complete]
Chunchu (manhwa) So-so
[3 volumes / suspended]
Clover (manga by CLAMP) So-so
[1 volume, complete] Dark Horse's production of the omnibus edition is certainly lavish (if not particularly sturdy) and that nicely compliments CLAMP's art, which is arresting, painstakingly detailed, appealingly contrasted and laid out with great aplomb and to great effect. Visually, the only fly in the ointment are the character designs, which are stylised to such a degree (with tiny, pointy heads set atop impossibly broad shoulders) that they come off more awkward than elegant and, on occasion, leave you wondering whether they're purely an aesthetic choice or whether a lack of basic anatomical knowledge might not have contributed. Still, all in all, Clover looks great. The writing, on the other hand, is fairly dire. The dialogue is clumsy, stiff and entirely unconvincing; the narrative flow is needlessly muddled; the plot is anaemic; the characterisation is hackneyed and shallow; the deliberate use of repetition as a literary device is more irritating than it is intriguing - something compounded by the fact that whatever beauty the lyrics being repeated might possibly have had in Japanese has been entirely lost in the English adaptation; the story doesn't grab you - it just lurks in the background whilst you try and appreciate the pretty pictures. Treated as an artbook, then, this is pretty good but, treated as a sequential narrative, it's ennui inducing in the extreme.
(The) Dirty Pair: Biohazards (U.S. manga) So-so
[1 volume, complete]
(The) Dirty Pair: Dangerous Acquaintances (U.S. manga) So-so
[1 volume, complete]
Dolis (manga) So-so
[1 volume, complete]
Family Complex (manga) So-so
[1 volume, complete] It's not a premise with a whole lot of meat on it: an exceptionally good-looking family, the one plain son who feels inferior and his siblings who have to deal with being placed on pedestals by their schoolmates. Still, I can't help thinking that Tsuda could have wrung a little more humour and/or pathos from it because what we actually get is a single very shallow gag / plot point stretched way too far leaving a family of woefully under-developed characters flailing in its wake. Even those hoping for nothing more than fanservice hijinks are likely to go away underwhelmed since the yuri subtext, the yaoi subtext and the slight, unfortunate whiff of inter-familial flirtation are all equally unexplored; they're just random crowd-pleasing concepts thrown at a wall and failing to find purchase. The artwork doesn't help much either. The only reason we know that one boy is plain and the rest of his family is exceptionally beautiful is that we're told so over and over again - none of them actually look particularly noteworthy, just overly, but unremarkably, stylised and the ugly duckling is differentiated from them only by a shorter height and a slightly less pointy face. Worse, the composition is uninspired, the backgrounds are mostly blank space and every picture has to struggle to stand out from the face of a veritable wall of text...this work is no eye candy. On the plus side, there is some effective humour and Tsuda's writing style isn't at all bad (if only she could learn to show, not tell) and it's all blandly, inoffensively readable in a sitcom kind of way. Still, it can hardly be a good sign when the work's stand-out element is nothing to do with the title narrative but, rather, an autobiographical bonus chapter describing the author's operation to fix a detached retina.
(The) First President of Japan (manga) So-so
[4 volumes, complete]
Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface (manga) So-so
[1 volume, complete]
Goku - Midnight Eye (manga) So-so
[3 volumes, complete]
Kieli (manga) So-so
[2 volumes, complete] What? A manga about a high school student who can talk to ghosts? Again? Couple the weather worn premise with the depressingly generic character designs and things aren't looking good. Notice the Yen Press logo on the spine and things look positively bleak. Fortunately though, Kieli isn't nearly as bad as it ought to be. Unfortunately, it doesn't necessarily follow that if it's not terrible, it must be particularly good. The premise isn't quite so dull as it initially appears: the technologically backward, theocratic, war-ravaged, sci-fi setting is distinctive enough to distance the work from the hundreds of mystically inclined manga with contemporary Japanese settings and there's a degree of pathos, purpose and personality that's unexpected but entirely welcome, the narrative drops the school setting in short order and mutates instead into a potentially more interesting road movie type journey and there are a few interesting characters and entertaining sub-plots scattered throughout. Better still, this is a manga that has weighty stuff concerning war and religion that it wants to impart. On the downside, these pleasantly surprising pluses are easily balanced by a host of minuses. The inherently interesting setting is utterly squandered - there's no attempt at world building or developing any kind of social depth - and the travellers bond but, like the world around them, they're flat and underdeveloped, only hinting at interesting dimensions beneath the surface. And the weighty themes? Utterly unexplored beyond the odd self-evident nod implying that "war is bad" and "religious authorities are delusional, hypocritical douchebags". I wouldn't disagree with either point but, believe me, they're not well made here. This manga is an adaptation of (i.e. advertisement for) a series of teen lit novels and I suppose it's just about possible that the source material puts more flesh on the story's bones but that's of no help to the manga. Worse still, pretty much every chapter of this brief series starts with page after page of story-so-far recaps; they're clumsily implemented and repetitive beyond belief and, while they may have made sense in the original serialisation, not removing them from the collected work is unforgivably lazy. And then there's the usual Yen Press bullshit. The translation, retouch and lettering are all pretty amateurish and the decision to attach to each of the original sound effects a romanisation of the Japanese word followed by the English translation in brackets ("do" / "thud", "za" / "murmur", "goto" / "thunk", "jiwa" / "ooze" and so on and so forth, ad infinitum) is irritating, messy, pointless, distracting and pathetically, nauseatingly, mind-bogglingly weeaboo to an inconceivable degree. It's painful to behold and decidedly peculiar - the sort of self-conscious, intentional amateurism one would expect to see from a niche, otaku baiting company like Seven Seas but simply shouldn't have to put up with when dealing with an imprint of the world's biggest publishing house.
Line (manga) So-so
[1 volume, complete] Like a teen-friendly version of Suicide Club in comic book form, Line takes a peculiarly detached, intellectually and psychologically shallow, dispassionate and sometimes downright vacant look at Japan's longest lived youth craze: self-termination. Kotegawa's art here - from the character designs to the backgrounds to the layouts - is, as in Anne Freaks, most notable for its dull, bland, empty functionality. She does manage to pull the odd cinematic angle or arrestingly composed panel out of the bag but, for the most part, this is about as visually arresting as a test pattern screen. The tone, characterisation and plot aren't any more exciting than the aesthetics. Our protagonists are undeveloped, two-dimensional archetypes (the yuri subtext is strictly confined to the pandering fanservice category) and the disembodied villain of the piece is a motiveless cypher - friends and victims encountered along the way are even less substantial. Most disappointingly, for a title dealing with such contemporary Japanese hot button issues as teen suicide and school bullying, there's damned little psychological, intellectual or emotional meat on its bones and no attempt at insight - this book really has absolutely nothing to say whatsoever. The one thing Line has going for it - and the one conceivable reason anybody might want to pick it up - is its unrelenting, cinematic pacing. Like a slick, by-the-numbers Hollywood action movie, Line isn't going anywhere interesting but it knows how to drag you along with it nonetheless - from about 20 pages in, it never slows down and by the half way point you find you're sufficiently caught up in its wake to forget, briefly, that it isn't actually very good.
Lycanthrope Leo (manga) So-so
[7 issues, suspended]
Mail (manga) So-so
[3 volumes, complete] Yamazaki draws good ghosts and adequate backgrounds but his portrayals of the living are weak and misproportioned (especially in terms of faces and hands). Art aside, this is moderately diverting - occasionally quite entertaining - collection of episodic ghost stories. The stories aren't long enough to offer any real depth and aren't twisted or imaginative enough to offer thrills on the level of Ito's or Hino's horror shorts but they are all perfectly readable and could have been rather more than the sum of their parts if not for the spirit detective protagonist who never does any detecting. Said detective is a walking, talking deus ex machina. We never see him discovering anything, researching anything or deducing anything - he just shows up at a convenient moment, usually without any adequate explanation, and shoots the offending spirit with his daft prop gun whilst reciting a corny line. His back story and characterisation are minimal and there's no character development over the series save for the introduction in the final volume of an entirely pointless reanimated gothic lolita sidekick.
Revenge of Mouflon (manga) So-so
[2 volumes, suspended] There's a long tradition (typified by works like Salaryman Kintaro) of wish fulfilment seinen series that star larger than life characters saying and doing the things that the average salaryman knows he never could (at least without finding himself jobless and ostracised) and, at heart, Revenge Of Mouflon belongs to that heritage. Our protagonist is a charismatic entertainer - he makes women go weak at the knees, men simultaneously like and envy him, he says what he likes and likes what he says, he's the sort of guy who'll think nothing of punching a corrupt weasel of a politician and who'll stand up for the little man, the sort of man who despises hypocrisy and can get away with saying so...in short he's everything the average Japanese office drone doesn't consider himself to be. If that were all Mouflon was, it would be pretty much par for the course, right down to the professional but personality-free stock artwork (it's only memorable artistic moment: botched speedlines making an airliner appear to be flying backwards) and the dialogue that sounds like something straight out of a second tier 1980s action movie. Some of these titles though - the ones like First President Of Japan, or pretty much anything by Kaiji Kawaguchi - add both domestic and international politics to the mix and, in doing so, offer fascinating glimpses into the fucked up psyche, uninformed xenophobia and stunted political misapprehensions of contemporary Japanese mainstream society. Mouflon, with its plot inspired by the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US and its rudimentary ruminations on political corruption and the place of the individual is one such title. Having been dropped after two volumes it hardly has time to get going as a thriller but observing its naive but heartfelt assault on Japan's endemically corrupt establishment is enjoyable enough and witnessing, once again, Japan's conflicting, semi-obscured relationship both with the USA (genuine affection and a childlike desire for acknowledgement going up against fear, envy, smouldering resentment and a knee jerk hostility to the most prominent representative of the oh-so-scary outside world) and with its own instincts (anti-militarism and pacifism versus aggressive nationalism and a dyed in the bone illusion of racial superiority) is, as ever, as thoroughly fascinating as it is chillingly disturbing. Revenge Of Mouflon is not good art and it's not good politics either but it is absorbingly messed up.
(The) Rules of Love (manga) So-so
[1 volume, complete] Erica Sakurazawa’s artwork is always loose and simple but it’s generally quite expressive and manages to attain a certain degree of elegance. Here though, her art is sketchy, clumsy and unattractive. Worse, the two central characters – a shallow, self-centred gigolo and a naïve, gullible young woman who falls for him – aren’t exactly engaging and it’s quite difficult to muster enough enthusiasm to care what happens to them. The narrative is a functional transit from point A to point B but it doesn’t exactly take the scenic route and there’s a distinct lack of interesting twists and turns en route. On the plus side, even at her worst, Sakurazawa is capable of capturing moments of exquisite frankness and emotional honesty and her writing is pleasingly naturalistic. In spite of its flaws, this is passable stuff but it’s entirely non-essential and not a great addition to the limited offerings of the English language josei market.
S.S. ASTRO: Asashio Sogo Teachers' ROom (manga) So-so
[1 volume, complete]
Space Pinchy (manga) So-so
[1 volume, complete]
Voyeur (manga) So-so
[1 volume, complete] This book is pretty ugly in every sense of the word. Visually speaking, the background art's okay (if hardly stellar) but the people are crudely drawn and the whole thing looks decidedly amateurish and rudimentary. The premise, meanwhile, is every bit as sleazy, pulpy and exploitative as the title would indicate. Granted, the whole spying on naked women thing is at least partially cloaked both by Yamamoto's (largely failed) attempt to evoke a feverish, paranoid Hitchcockian atmosphere and by his (somewhat limited, slightly pretentious) exploration of the protagonist's psyche. He is only somewhat successful in the latter endeavour but the combination of self-loathing, repressed sexuality and barely restrained anger with a creepy, self-justifying, self-serving, self-important and self-selected "mission" acted out by both the main characters is interesting enough (in an uncomfortable kind of way) to raise this work marginally above the rock bottom impression it initially gives you.
Weather Woman (manga) So-so
[8 issues, suspended]
Alien Nine Emulators (manga) Not really good
[1 volume, complete]
Dogs: Prelude (manga) Not really good
[1 volume, complete] The tits and violence quotient may mark this volume as seinen but, be under no illusions: that "mature" rating on the cover is not indicative of an adult sensibility. From the character names adapted from crappy industrial bands to the vacuous gun fetishism to the isn't-it-cool-when-pretty-people-blow-shit-up vibe, this thing is purely adolescent in tone. The setting's a washout too - it's the kind of odd composite European city, with clashing, widely disparate elements grabbed from across the continent, that could only have been created by somebody who'd never set foot outside Japan and couldn't be bothered to do the most rudimentary research. And it's not just geographically that things don't gel; this is supposed to be set at some indeterminate point in the near future but it's populated by an indiscriminate selection of props - clothes, guns, vehicles - drawn from across the 20th Century and seemingly selected purely on the basis of what the artist thinks looks "cool". Only the introduction of genetically modified people in the later chapters and the well-worn concept of an underground city existing in tandem with the overground city (from which it is apparently architecturally indistinguishable) actually hint at any kind of sci-fi setting. The one thing that Dogs does have to offer is people killing each other whilst making quips and striking dramatic poses. That's it. There is absolutely no substance beneath the style. And what of the style? Well, Miwa's art is certainly pretty polished and if you're a fan of this sort of über-generic pretty-boy-gothic design, you won't be disappointed. His layouts aren't bad and while the backgrounds are as lifelessly minimalist as the plot, they do allow both the action and the character designs to stand out starkly from the page. There's nothing especially bad about this manga and it's far from unreadable - it's just an utterly unremarkable, uninspired, by-the-numbers action comic produced by a competent but unexceptional artist with very little to say.
Gunsmith Cats (manga) Not really good
[4 volumes, complete]
Kabuto (manga) Not really good
[2 volumes, complete] Preposterous pseudo-historical fantasy guff with incongruous sci-fi touches, Kabuto features the barest semblance of a plot in volume 1 ("there are some good guys, see, and they're fated to battle some other guys who are, like, really bad and stuff" pretty much sums it up) and then pretty much repeats the exact same shadowy hint of a plot in volume 2, only with the first protagonist replaced by his (identical) son. However, despite the simplicity of its premise, the two-dimensionality of its cast (all of whom can be summed up in two words: brave hero; evil demon; hot chick; naked victim and so on and so forth) and the crudity of its expositionary dialogue, Kabuto still manages to be be somewhat confusing. This is partly because Terasawa sometimes can't be bothered to show us how A resulted in C (because, man, B is such a drag) but mostly because the whole thing is batshit crazy and, as such, isn't required to make sense. Things aren't helped by the fact that the dialogue is universally awful. And not just because of ComicOne's horrendous, typo-strewn, adaptation; Kabuto reads like a cross between a Hong Kong kung fu comic and the sort of shounen manga in which everybody has to call out the name of their attack and / or weapon and / or self before doing anything. On the plus side, Terasawa is a pretty good artist - his stuff is standard '90s seinen pulp but it's a good example of the type with plenty of detail and enough interesting ghosts, gods, demons, monsters and machines to just about make up for its poor flow and repetitive situations. Essentially, then, Kabuto isn't a very good manga. Quite the contrary in fact. But it's not entirely unrewarding - kind of like a really quite bad and fundamentally cheesy but endearingly peculiar 1970s Italian b-movie. If you see what I mean.
King of Wolves (manga) Not really good
[1 volume, complete]
Lament of the Lamb (manga) Not really good
[7 volumes, complete]
Nothing But Loving You (manga) Not really good
[1 volume, complete] A horribly shallow (and incredibly stereotypical) model has to choose between a horribly shallow actor and a marginally less shallow bisexual male model against a shallow backdrop of shallow friends and shallow circumstances. It's mildly interesting to see Sakurazawa's art at its most minimal and it's all just about proficient enough on a technical level but if this exercise in superficiality were any less substantial, it would float away. No depth, no character, no soul, no point - this one's strictly for (very) undemanding fashion victims.
Walkin' Butterfly (manga) Not really good
[3 volumes, suspended] Walkin' Butterfly is a curious (and unsuccessful) attempt to shoehorn a generic shonen tournament plot into a josei manga. The tournament in this case revolves around a tall, ungainly tomboy embarking on a career as a fashion model and it really doesn't work. Essentially this is a veneer of josei style thinly applied over a thick core of shonen substance but what good is josei without a bit of emotional maturity (or, at the very least, effective melodrama)? The protagonist is, after a somewhat promising start, rather unlikeable and so are most of the rest of the cast - none of them have any depth whatsoever - and the plot is both nonsensical and dreary. The art's rarely better than adequate (and sometimes not even that) though it does have its moments - some of the covers are quite striking at any rate - and the writing's immature and unpolished. Having said all that, I did find myself reading through the series avidly: partly because of the sluggish but insistent momentum of the narrative but mostly because the whole thing was a creative traffic accident that I couldn't tear myself away from, even though I knew I really, really ought to. This would probably appeal to late-developing teenage girls who share the author's proclivities (she's a grown woman whose hobby is playing dress-up with dolls) and, maybe, transsexual Naruto fans.
X-Day (manga by S Mizushiro) Not really good
[2 volumes, complete] A woefully shallow adolescent revenge fantasy, pandering to overwrought teen angst. Three high school pupils and a teacher, ground down by their terrible circumstances, plot to blow up their school...except that, in all but one case, their circumstances really aren’t all that terrible. Our popular, sporty, attractive protagonist, for example, has been left by her boyfriend (but he still likes her) and had to stop competing in athletics following an injury (but only temporarily). My heart bleeds. The detail of the narrative and the leaden dialogue are as unconvincing as the motivation and psychology of the main characters and the art, whilst passable, is rather bland - especially the backgrounds - and amateurishly toned. On the plus side, there are some isolated moments of nice (occasionally very nice) art and composition and an occasional instance of effective drama. All in all, this is never really bad but it is mostly pretty weak and moping teenagers of the “nobody understands my pain” variety would be far better off watching Heathers, which has the charm, wit and intelligence X-Day lacks. Oh, and volume 2 also includes a disposable short story – The Last Supper – about a boy/cow hybrid and the human family that ate his father that’s as weak as the main story but a tad more imaginative.
Hot Gimmick (manga) Weak
[4 volumes, complete] Hot Gimmick features some of the least pleasant characters ever committed to paper along with sexual politics that are so fundamentally repugnant that they're notable even by Japanese standards. Unfortunately, it's also disturbingly compelling - you want to look away and you feel unclean for not doing so but its very horribleness pretty much forces you to keep turning the pages, just to see what new lows it can descend to. What we have is one girl and three suitors. One of those suitors is an arrogant, egotistical douchebag of colossal proportions; a pampered "genius" with the mentality of a spoilt child of five who's not above blackmail, sexual assault and plain old regular assault and who treats our protagonist like a cross between a slave and a dog. According to our author though, that's okay because he's pretty, he's rich, he gets sad and lonely (this equals great depth in the world of Hot Gimmick), he's intense and his creepy stalker like behaviour, constant abuse and domineering streak are all somehow proof of love. Suitor number two isn't actually all that interested in our protagonist at all - he just wants to crush her in order to get back at her dad...and he does so by first seducing her and then setting about trying to have her gang raped. According to our author though, that's okay because he's pretty (a model even! swoon...), he's got issues, he's got a tragic past and he kind of turns out to be not such a bad guy eventually if you can just get past the whole trying to have your childhood friend gang raped thing. Suitor number three is much nicer than the other two. Okay, so he's creepy and obsessional but he never physically or sexually assaults her and sometimes even listens to what she says. Remarkable. Unfortunately, he's her (step)brother. And he really, really wants to fuck his sister. According to our author though, that's okay because he's pretty, he's troubled, he's intense and, ooh, he's all brooding and stuff. So we can at least root for our poor, put upon heroine, yes? Well, no, not really - or at least not after the twentieth or thirtieth time she's been pushed around and taken advantage of. You see she is far, far too stupid to live, she has no backbone, she allows herself to be bullied and manipulated constantly, she never manages to quite stammer out what's on her mind, she has zero self-respect and she shares - right up to the very last page - her creator's belief that being berated, controlled, dominated and abused by selfish, insecure, jealous, petty men is the stuff of which true love is made. Never once does she make the right choice about anything whatsoever - she is absolutely insufferable and her teary-eyed puppy dog face rapidly becomes an aggravating reminder of her weakness and stupidity rather than an emotional cue to sympathise and empathise with her. The rest of the cast are also uniformly awful - an awfulness mitigated only by their relative absence from the page. The art is clean, professional and fairly appealing - certainly the best thing about the work - and the VizBig omnibus editions are up to the usual high standard in terms of construction, paper, colour pages and extras but that's scant compensation for, well, everything else. And yet, God help me, Hot Gimmick is more addictive than crack. It's about as socially desirable as crack too and I kind of hate myself for reading every last page of it.
Macross II (manga) Weak
[1 volume, complete] Space opera histrionics adapted from the anime of the same name (which I haven't seen) - it hasn't aged very gracefully, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, the dialogue is beyond cheesy and the artwork, whilst sporadically impressive on a technical level, suffers from cluttered layouts and overfilled panels. This is bound to have collectible nostalgia appeal for fans of the Macross franchise but it has little to commend it beyond that.
Peepo Choo (manga) Weak
[3 volumes, complete]
Abenobashi: Magical Shopping Arcade (manga) Bad
[2 volumes, complete] I don't know anything much about the original Abenobashi manga by Kenji "Spirit Of Wonder" Tsuruta but I think it's safe to assume it was better than this crappy cash-in based on Gainax's anime adaptation. The anime was a curiously disjointed beast - attractive, thoughtful, poignant segments bookended a whole lot of garish, hyperactive twaddle that cheerfully aimed for the lowest common denominator with its "wacky" humour (read: boob jokes, fanservice and uninspired pop culture parodies) - but this adaptation is much more singular in its approach: it ignores all the good stuff and concentrates solely on replicating the dross. To its credit, this does, at least, present some new material rather than merely offering a redundant blow-by-blow retelling of the anime (though at least some chapters are just that) but it crams so much frenetic nonsense into two volumes that it's forced to jettison most of the back story and exposition and must be completely baffling to anybody who isn't familiar with the anime. That aside, this is a mess - the artwork is dreadfully uninspired; the layouts are horribly messy, cramped and overloaded; the characters are lamentably undeveloped and any wit, charm, intelligence or semblance of a plot the franchise might once have offered are buried under a deluge of shitty otaku in-jokes and about a million bare breasts. Hmm...now that I come to think of it, that could serve as an apt description for pretty much everything Gainax has produced in the best part of a decade.
Devilman (manga) Awful
[3 issues, suspended]