RIGHT TURN ONLY!! - What Big Teeth We Have

by Rebecca Silverman, May 6th 2014

RTO – What Big Teeth We Have

It's a good month for comic books here in Maine. Saturday the third was Free Comic Book Day (as it was in most other places, I imagine), and there were several manga offerings this year, among them an excerpt from Shigeru Mizuki's Showa from Drawn & Quarterly, which is definitely not the usual FCBD fare. It's also the Maine Comic Arts Festival on the 18th, which I always enjoy, whether or not my sister and I are showing our work. (We are this year, so if you're in the Portland area, stop by and say hi!) It's always a fun mix of things – a few years ago I talked myself out of very expensive replica keys from Joe Hill's Locke & Key and then turned around and found myself faced with a bin full of free tampons as part of a marketing plan by a group selling a comic called “Menstruation Station.” Yessir, it's always a good time at MeCAF!


INU X BOKU S.S.
Vol. 3

(by Cocoa Fujiwara, Yen Press, $11.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

The residents of Ayakashi Hall decide to make a time capsule and bury it on the grounds, so everyone writes letters to their "future selves" to be included within. As Ririchiyo composes her letter, she reflects on her time with Soushi, realizing how much she has grown with the fox at her side. But when those heartfelt feelings are accidentally delivered not to her future self but to Soushi, Ririchiyo's budding social skills will be put to the test! Is she ready for a face-to-face confession of her true feelings?!

REVIEW:

There's something simultaneously adorable and slightly creepy about Soushi and Ririchiyo's relationship, like feeling your heart warm and then wondering if that might be due to unnatural causes. This volume really begins to look more closely at their romance, and after the previously book's revelation about Soushi's miserable childhood and how he got himself out, it's really sweet to see these two souls, lost in different ways, start to come together. On the other hand, his slavish devotion to her can be a little uncomfortable, and while Cocoa Fujiwara's art is generally attractive, her images of the two together can look like a man holding some sort of very large doll.

When the story is not focused on the main couple, Inu X Boku SS can be very funny. Interactions between Carta and Watanuki are both sweet and entertaining, and the sight of Watanuki's devoted manservant is a terrific visual. Sorinozuka's post-high school plans are definitely...original (here's hoping he follows through on his teacher's suggestion) and Ririchiyo's erstwhile fiance is the kind of annoying that can be a lot of fun. The volume's cliffhanger ending certainly implies that things will be heating up, which is also a big plus. The major drawback to this volume is that Fujiwara keeps putting four-panel comics in the middle of the action, breaking things up in this book in unfortunate ways. If possible, it would be best to skip them when reading the volume, and then go back, because they are fun – just not when you're involved in the main story.

RECOMMENDATION: Borrow it from a friend or a library. The interrupted flow of book makes it difficult to enjoy it as fully as it deserves, and while there's a lot of sweetness to the main romance, it's also kind of awkward and uncomfortable. It's worth reading, but this isn't its best volume.


Seiichi Hayashi: Gold Pollen and Other Stories
Single Volume

(by Seiichi Hayashi, PictureBox, $27.50)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

Seiichi Hayashi was a leading figure in the hotbed of avant-garde artistic production of 1960s and early 70s Tokyo. He is best known for his lyrical and experimental manga for Garo, the famous alternative comics magazine. This volume collects a selection of Hayashi's most important manga from this period, including Red Dragonfly (1968), Yamauba's Lullaby (1968) and Gold Pollen (1971). Published here in their original full color, these stories mix traditional Japanese aesthetics with Pop art sensibilities, and range in topic from the legacies of Japanese rightwing nationalism and World War II, to the pervasive influence of America over 1960s Japanese youth culture. This first color reprinting of Hayashi's work captures the vivid experimentation of Japanese art at this time. In addition, Hayashi's youth and beginnings as an artist are illuminated by an autobiographical essay from 1972, translated here for the first time into English. Art historian Ryan Holmberg discusses Hayashi's place in postwar Japanese art and manga, as well as his wider contributions to the Tokyo avant-garde as a designer and experimental animator. This lavishly illustrated book is likely to have widespread crossover appeal for design and fashion aficionados, as well as for students of the manga genre.

REVIEW:

The first volume in PictureBox's Masters of Alternative Manga series, Gold Pollen and Other Stories is a collection of four stories published in Garo magazine in the late 60s and early 70s, along with two essays. It is also not a book to be read quickly – each story is packed with symbolism in both the imagery and the writing. Superman flies by with an olive branch in his mouth, young boys crawl fully grown from a goddess' (fully drawn) vagina, and a little boy watches his mother cry in the night. These are thinking stories, and if you're interested in the history of manga as a medium, Hayashi's work is fascinating. “Red Dragonfly” is both the easiest story to quickly comprehend and also the most immediately powerful to a Western audience, although the two are not necessarily related. Unlike the others, this story deals in a child's fears and worries, which are universals. The other three tales look at much more culturally Japanese subjects that are as much tied to the postwar period as the country. Yamanba, sometimes also spelled “yamamba;” a specific kind of demon woman somewhat comparable to the Slavic Baba Yaga, show up in two of the stories, with the translator pondering if the third is also a yamanba story. Hayashi's own somewhat tortured relationship with his mother is clearly a major influence on the work, something borne out by the translation of Hayashi's own essay provided. Holmberg's own essay is somewhat ponderous, and readers may find that they prefer to form their own interpretations of the stories before reading his.

The book itself is a large hardcover volume with a lot of color pages. The first story is entirely in color, while others are in blue and white rather than black, and have certain pages done in red, which as you might image is very effective. Hayashi's art borrows more from Ukiyo-e styles than what we think of as manga, and there's a clear influence from French and American pop culture as well. Panels also read more like American comics than Japanese, and Hayashi tends to use a set number of panels for each page. He doesn't use many speech bubbles, giving the stories a more old-fashioned feel. It's an interesting experience, to say the least.

RECOMMENDATION: Borrow it from a friend or a library. While this is a fascinating book, it isn't really a casual read, and it can be very oblique, plus it's expensive. However, if you're a manga scholar, definitely buy it, because it's worth the high price to be able read this multiple times.


VAMPIRE KNIGHT
Vol. 18

(by Matsuri Hino, Viz, $9.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

Cross Academy is attended by two groups of students: the Day Class and the Night Class. At twilight, when the students of the Day Class return to their dorm, they cross paths with the Night Class on their way to school. Yuki Cross and Zero Kiryu are the Guardians of the school, protecting the Day Class from the Academy's dark secret: the Night Class is full of vampires!

Yuki and Zero team up to go after Kaname. Yuki and Kaname fight each other in the headquarters of the Hunter Society while Sara tries to control Zero through her blood. The female progenitor's origin metal intervenes, and Yuki realizes there is only one way to stop Kaname…

REVIEW:

Vampire Knight has gone through a lot of changes in its eighteen volumes, and this one begins the slow task of wrapping things up. There are a few major plot threads in need of resolution, and Hino makes strides more in the “Zero/Yuki” romance than in the “taking down Kaname” storyline. The tension between the two is so thick that it would take more than a knife to cut it, and there's something very bittersweet about the two of them traveling together as they hunt for Yuki's erstwhile fiance. Memories of their past are only enhanced by Yuki's return to short hair, a look that seems to have brought with it the return of her gumption and personality from the first part of the series. Vampire Yuki may be cool, collected, and thoughtful, but Human Yuki knew what she wanted and went for it, and that's the Yuki we're starting to see again. She's tempered with her vampire self's maturity, but in some ways that just makes things kind of sad. Likewise the interactions she and Zero share, not so much a romance as a regretful look back. Zero seems to think there might be hope. Yuki's actions in the final chapter make us not so sure. As always, all of this is tempered with Hino's beautifully dark art, and it's both busy and pretty enough to make you overlook the fact that no one has much in the way of facial expressions...or the fact that there are still too damn many characters running around, all of whom are difficult to tell apart. If only we got some color pages in each volume...

RECOMMENDATION: Buy it. There was a time when I felt Vampire Knight was really dragging, but with Yuki's return to form and the melancholy sort-of romance between she and Zero, this is hard to put down once again.


GANGSTA.
Vol. 2

(by Kohske, Viz, $12.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

The Handymen, Nic and Worick, ply their trade in Ergastulum, a city run by the Mafia and ruled by violence. Recruited into a battle with a gang, they find themselves up against one of the “Twilights,” mercenaries with superhuman abilities generated by dangerous drugs. Nic, who is also a Twilight, fights back with the same savagery and skill—until Worick has to step in to save him from himself. Partners and equals now, in the past they were anything but, yet both men are bound together by the chains of a tragic past as they face an uncertain future.

REVIEW:

Manga certainly does excel at presenting us with vicious-yet-sympathetic killers, and the second volume of Gangsta. keeps that tradition going. Nic and Worrick are called in to basically clean up a mafia family's mess, and the two of them dive in with varying degrees of enthusiasm – and Kohske slowly reveals to us just why Nic is more into the mission than Worrick. It has nothing to do with Twilights being psycho killing machines either (well, maybe a little), which is a nice touch and continues the process of really making the characters fleshed out people. Worrick benefits the most from this, with his interactions with both Nic and Alex showcasing the compassion he hides under a very gruff exterior. We also get plenty of tantalizing hints about their shared past, which look like they're going to be more fleshed out in the next volume. Alex doesn't get as much page time in this book, which is a little too bad, as she remains the most interesting female character. We do get several more this time, but they lack the little details that make Ally so human and different. Yes, they may be developed more in later books, but for now, they don't quite make up for less Alex in this volume.

Kohske has gotten better and changing small details in very similar pictures, making the panels look less repetitive than in the first book. She's also working very hard to seed small bits of world building information, giving the book a much more concrete setting. (Here's hoping she explains that “abandoned district” on the map.) The craggy and tired look most characters sport doesn't quite work for everyone, and the overwhelmingly white backgrounds can be a strain on the eyes, but overall, Gangsta.'s second volume is just as good as its first.

RECOMMENDATION: Buy it. This is an unusual, interesting series, and the second volume just pulls you deeper into the creepy world of Ergastulum City. (Still think that name sounds like an intestinal disease, though.)


WOLFSMUND
Vol. 4

(by Mitsuhisa Kuji, Vertical, $12.95)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

With the flanks of the Wolf's Maw falling one-by-one, now the ominous fortress itself is in the crosshairs of a dual-threat of Canton allies. Lead by new forms of weapon's technology, canton rebels are willing to risk countless lives for one last chance at freedom. And with Walter Tell literally climbing the walls of the Wolfsmund, it seems inevitable that the barrier station will fall.

But before that happens, Wolfsram will unleash more than a few more devious tricks from his already deep arsenal.

REVIEW:

Have you ever felt such burning hatred for a fictional character that you try to attack him through the pages of a book? Yelled at the character? Shrieked in frustration when he thwarts the heroes? If you've been reading Wolfsmund, there's a good chance that the villain, Wolfram, is such a one. He's been consistently awful in the earlier volumes – like when he executed a certain someone in volume two – and his villainy keeps the story going in the most frustrating way possible in this book. Just when you think the rebels have a chance, Wolfram smiles in that horrible way of his and everything goes to hell. It's irritating and it is one of the most well done parts of this grim story. Kuji makes you feel.

Most of the volume's plot is about Walter Tell's attack on the fortress and the numerous lives it consumes. We see the Habsburgs fighting a different battle briefly, and the volume also contains a short story about the Swiss Guard and an even more interesting flash to the past, before the crossing point was built. This story is supernatural, and sheds an interesting light on Wolfram – maybe he looks like Rezo from Slayers for a reason. Kuji's art continues to be stylish and gory at once, with fidelity to period details, artistic gouts of blood, and faces and hands that are reminiscent of shoujo from the 1970s. The translation is by and large good, although in one bubble someone refers to the rebels as “rebs,” which instantly transported me out of 14th century Switzerland and into the American Civil War.

RECOMMENDATION: Unless you have a low tolerance for gore, buy it. This is a fascinating bit of historical fiction (who knew what boiling lead could do to a face?) with one of the best (worst?) bad guys out there. If you're in the mood to get emotionally involved in a series, this is worth reading.


DIGITAL SPOTLIGHT

NO WAY! HE'S MY HUSBAND? MY LIFE, TEN YEARS LATER
Chapters 1 – 3

(by Wasou Miyakoshi, Renta!, $1 per chapter)

FROM RENTA!:

This isn't me! I fell down a stairway and accidentally slipped ten years ahead in time... where I found out that at some point I get married to a childhood friend who I do nothing but fight with! Then, he suddenly kisses me deeply, and I lose all control... and despite my virgin heart, my mature body accepts all of him... why is my body enjoying this so much?! What's going on?!

REVIEW:

Some years ago, now-defunct publisher Aurora had a line of smutty josei titles known as “Luv Luv.” If you've missed it, you may want to pop over to digital distributer Renta, because they have amply picked up where Aurora left off. One of their offerings is this little story. It follows Haruka, who at seventeen is convinced by her childhood friend Kenya to go confess her feelings to her crush, Hiyozaki. On her way to do it, she falls through a collapsing staircase...and the next thing she knows, her teen consciousness wakes up in her twenty-seven-year-old body. Not only is she totally confused by suddenly having a body ten years older than the one she had seconds ago, but now it appears that she's married to Kenya? What happened to that Hiyozaki guy, and more importantly, what does he mean they've had sex?! Does he expect her to do that now? Because this is a romance novel of the smutty variety, yes, he does, but Kenya's a nice guy and he realizes that there is something seriously wrong with his beloved wife. This is in marked contrast to the kind of relationship she appears to have had with an old boyfriend in the past, something that comes up in chapter three. The author does a decent job of showing how disgusted and violated this makes Haruka feel, as well as her struggles to come to terms with what's happening to her now. While the story has its non-consensual issues, it's generally less creepy than other, younger series. This is definitely an over-18 kind of story, however, with a graphic (but not full-on hentai) sex scene in each chapter thus far.

RECOMMENDATION: If you're a fan of raunchy romance, this is worth reading. Haruka's plight is fairly well done, and she and Kenya are both sympathetic characters. If smut isn't your thing, however, I'd say you could safely skip this one.


THE UNFINISHED

CHRONICLES OF THE GRIM PEDDLER
1 of 6 volumes released

(by Lee Jeong-A, Udon)

FROM UDON:

The Grim Peddler waltzes through fairy tales, giving the stories' inhabitants their hearts' desires. But benefactors beware, for his gifts don't always turn out quite as expected! Classic fables like Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, The Frog Prince and more are turned on their side through the unexpected reversals and terrifying twists of this all-new series.

THOUGHTS:

Chronicles of the Grim Peddler is a fairy tale fan's dream manhwa in a lot of ways. Following in the footsteps of authors like Angela Carter, Lee's story follows a man who looks like Lewis Carroll's Mad Hatter and interacts with various characters out of both literary and folkloric fairy tales. Some, like Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid, find happiness. Others, like the Grimms' Hansel and Gretel, come to other conclusions. Perhaps the most interesting story in the single released volume is the first, which combines two of Perrault's tales, “The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood” and the much creepier “Donkeyskin” in a really creative way. Obviously you'll get more out of this book if you're familiar with multiple non-Disney variants of the original tales, but it's really interesting nonetheless.

Lee's art is lanky and highly decorative, which works well for the old-fashioned nature of some of the stories, and the book's large trim size gives it the feel of one of the old collections of tales published in the 1920s and 1930s. A second volume (also quite interesting) was released in French by Saphira, but if we want to read the other four books, it looks like we'll have to learn Korean.


That's all for this time! I hope it's actually spring where you are - the weather here's still debating. Stop by in the forums to ask me what the hell the difference between a folkloric and a literary fairy tale is or to share your own thoughts!


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