Manga at Otakon!
This week I check out some news stories from Japan, the goings-ons at Vizmanga, the latest Bookscan numbers and finally the manga license announcements from Otakon.
As the much-anticipated Yaza Arts fashion show gears up, an unexpected visitor from George’s past makes an appearance. Yukari’s modeling career heats up just as George makes an announcement that shocks the ParaKiss group to the core. George is hearing the siren call of the City of Lights, but where does that leave Yukari? Will she find the key to Paradise?
In this final volume of Paradise Kiss, fashion takes a back seat to all the relationship drama that is going on. George and Yukari’s relationship remain turbulent and with the introduction of Kaori Aso, an important female friend of George’s, things just go to an 8 on the Richter scale. The reason behind the complex relationship between Miwako, Arashi and Tokumori is finally revealed, as is Isabelle’s past. The series ends with everyone having to make choices about their future, the biggest in question being George and Yukari’s; do they have one together?
While fashion was a backdrop, the focus of this series has always been on George and Yukari, and with the fashion over, that focus just intensifies. Yukari, who wants to be the center of George’s universe gets booted out of the limelight as Kaori Aso, a close friend of George’s, comes back to Japan to see the fashion show, but more importantly, to try to convince George to continue designing. Yukari gets a lot of shocks during this meeting, as she learns George has shared many things with Kaori that he didn’t with her. The realization she comes to from this is harsh but true; she more of a dress-up doll for George than an equal partner in their relationship. I was disappointed when even after realizing this, she was still willing to go along as long as she was with him. I really expected better from Yukari.
The Miwako-Arashi-Tokumori relationship finally gets some attention in this last third as the root of Arashi’s jealously is revealed to both Arashi and the audience. Tokumori is a great character, the only real voice of reason in all the madness. Even though he has been Arashi’s rival for Miwako, he gives Arashi the pep talk he needs to accept Miwako’s feelings. Their talk is one of my favorite scenes of the volume. I also really enjoyed finally seeing more of Isabelle outside of the atelier, and seeing how she became the person she is now.
The big question of the volume, and really the whole series, is, will Yukari and George stay together? Yukari and George are fine together as friends. Yukari was a muse for George, inspiring him to create some great things. George also helped Yukari get out of her rut of being a student and find something she could enjoy and be passionate about. But as a couple, I never liked them together. They didn’t fit well for me. There was a lot of passion, both in their feelings and their interests, but I didn’t feel any love between them. If Yukari were to follow George, I think she would suffocate in that relationship, and George wouldn’t really be happy with Yukari not taking advantage of her full potential. The way Yazawa ended the story was just right. Everyone ends up with just who they should.
Paradise Kiss is a great story filled with rich and colorful characters. It’s fashions are outrageous but fun, and the drama of the relationships are a bit over the top, but just realistic enough to ring true. This is a series that should not be passed up, especially since readers have been given a second chance with it. Do regret not picking it up. This title is a Buy It Now.
Well, what do you know? I’ve managed to record a podcast two weeks in a row, and get them posted! This week I look at some of the manga that is available in digital legally. This will most likely be a weekly segment, or mostly weekly at least. I also review the sci-fi title Knights of Sidonia from Vertical, Inc. Disclaimer-Review copy provided by publisher.
Music courtesy of Kevin MacLeod of Incompetech
I’ve finally done it. I’ve thrown the idea around for several years, but with help and encouragement from my husband, I have recorded my first podcast. In this first episode I talk about several recent news stories as well as a few manga I’ve read recently. In the future I will have more extensive reviews, and maybe even a guest or two! Have a listen. Comments and suggestions are strongly encouraged.
The First Episode!
Manga I’m Reading:
- Until Death Due Us Part Volume 2
- Umineko: When They Cry Volume 1
- Knights of Sidonia volume 1
- Paradise Kiss Volume 3
Music courtesy of Kevin MacLeod of Incompetech
Zooming ahead to a story arc that presents New World wines for a New World audience, this special episode of the international best-seller features scenes set in Napa Valley and labels from outside the traditional European production centers. Delectable on its own too, the Apostle revealed is the lucky Seventh.
The Drops of God takes a huge leap in time, as the last US volume covered Japanese volumes 7-8, this one covers volumes 22-23, and reveals the 7th Apostle. The last Apostle revealed was the second in US volume 3. This is a big risk, as so much of the story is skipped. But New World is dedicated solely to finding the identity of the Seventh Apostle, so many of the side stories that I enjoyed so much in volume 3 are not present in this volume. At first, I thought this to be a liability for the volume, but by the time I reached the end, I realized again how good this title really was, and lamented that we will probably not see any more.
This special volume of Drops of God moves Issei and Shizuku out of Europe and into the New World. Of course, New World in wine circles basically means anywhere outside of the traditional European wine-making countries. This mean North and South America and Asia. That’s a lot of area to cover with not much time. Issei had straight to the United States, to Napa Valley, with Shizuku, after some consideration (which didn’t include Napa wines) heads for Australia.
While in their respective countries, both Issei and Shizuku have run-ins with the locals. Issei’s reputation precedes him as he is blackmailed into helping some crooked wine sellers at a blind auction. Thanks to his assistant Loulan’s quick thinking, his reputation escapes unscathed. Shizuku has a run-in with the environmentalist father of Nadia Simon an employee of Taiyo Beers’ Australian brand. Shizuku’s sharp nose helps Jack Simon save his ecovillage Emerald Forest. This meeting turns out to fateful to Shizuku, as Jack met his father when he was in Australia 15 years previously. It’s this meeting that makes Shizuku sure he made the right choice. Issei has a fateful meeting as well, which makes him just as sure. The outcome leaves Shizuku with a lot to think about.
At first, I wasn’t thrilled with this volume, mostly because I don’t like Issei. At the beginning of the series he was very haughty and looked down on Shizuku as a potential rival. His whole attitude made you want to cheer on Shizuku all that much more. At the beginning of this volume it seemed that not much had changed. He was still the stoic professional. But as the volume went on, there did seem to be a subtle change in his character. He has an assistant, a protegé of sorts that goes with him to Napa. Issei seems more thoughtful now, and by the end seemed a little more humble from what he learned of the people who created Napa Valley. It’s a growth in character that he desperately needed. Maki hasn’t learned anything yet, so it was gratifying to see her unrewarded by Issei for her taunts.
For Shizuku, the search for the Seventh Apostle was more than just a search for wine or gaining an inheritance. It was a journey to reconnect with his father by walking in the same places he did, and visiting the vineyard he spent a lot of time watching. He even imagines he sees his father for an instant in the fields when he visits. Shizuku spent so much time resenting his father for his passion, but by the end of this volume realizes he feels the same about wine. His father’s passion is becoming his own.
While Drops of God is fun for the wildly fantastic descriptions given for the wines, this is really a story about sons and their father, gaining insights into not just their father, but also themselves. It really feels that the competition to find the Apostles is just a cover for Issei and Shizuku’s father to continue teaching them, and helping them grow both as wine enthusiasts and as people. No matter who wins in the end, both Shizuku and Issei will have gained much more than any material wealth or recognition could give them. And this is what I am going to really miss being able to read. Drops of God hasn’t been the seller that Vertical hoped it would be, so this will most likely be the last volume we see printed in English, which really is a shame. A story with this much growth and depth of character needs to be read by more people. While I still find the wine terms intimidating, the human drama trumps any discomfort I might feel. Drops of God is a series that deserves more recognition than it’s gotten, and there will only be regret when it is no longer released.
In Sakuran, Moyoco Anno lifts the veil on life in the Edo-period pleasure quarter, Yoshiwara. The story follows Kiyoha, sold into a brothel as a child and forced to work as a maid and her rise to prominence as one of the top-ranking courtesans in Yoshiwara. The allure of the “flower and willow world” as it was called by artists in the day is underscored with the very real tragedy, heartbreak and difficult lives led by those seemingly glamorous courtesans. Will Kiyoha’s fox-like wiles giver her a chance to break free of her gilded cage? Or will her fighting spirit ruin her chances of ever escaping the brothel?
Moyoco Anno is a manga artist I don’t know much about. I’d heard of her first few titles to be released in the US, Flowers and Bees, and Sugar Sugar Rune, but neither title really spoke to me. I actually know more about Hataraki Man, a title of hers that has not been released in the US, but has had an anime and J-drama made about it. I would love to read it, but since it is on hiatus indefinitely in Japan, there seems to be little chance of ever getting it over here. Then Vertical announced Sakuran, a josei title. It’s a historical manga, which I’m always interested in checking out, but I think I’ve been reading too many shojo manga lately. The harsh realities of not just being a courtesan, but growing up in brothel are laid very bare on the pages. It was difficult to read sometimes, but it never stopped being compelling.
Sakuran starts in the present, where Kiyoha is an established courtesan, usually the second or third most popular among the patrons. The most popular, which is the draw for the brothel is the Oiran. She basically supports the brothel with money her attraction brings in. The current Oiran has a lover, that she is determined to die with. He had other ideas and ends up killing her and running away. With no other girl popular enough, the owners turn to Kiyoha. She flat-out refuses as she enjoys her life without real responsibility, but as the others start chanting “Oiran” to her, the story goes back to Kiyoha’s past and her life growing up in the brothel, starting out as maid, becoming an apprentice, then a shizou, through her debut as a full courtesan.
Right from the beginning it’s obvious Kiyoha isn’t going to make things easy. After she is sold to the Tamgiku Tea House, her only thoughts are of escape, and seeing the world outside the Pleasure Quarter’s walls. She is constantly getting tied up and beaten for her poor attitude and attempts to escape, but she only responses with more contempt. She is never broken by violence. The Oiran she works for, Shohi, has no patience for her antics, but sees that Kiyoha is strong, and has the makings of a Oiran herself. It is a harsh world in the brothels, and Kiyoha’s stubbornness and determination to fight back gives her the strength to survive not just the beatings, but the bullying and jealousy of other maids and courtesans. She finds ways to cope, such as crying with another maid in the Quarter that is her age, and continuing the circle of violence, as she beats the maids just as was beaten by Shohi.
At its core, Sakuran is a love story. Love can be expressed in many different ways, but in brothels they can read extremes. From a simple betrayal of trust by supporting a good-for-nothing man who runs off, to cutting off a finger tip to show devotion, to the ultimate sacrifice, a murder-suicide pact, falling in love while working as a courtesan can be a dangerous business. Kiyoha recognizes this, and tries not to fall in love, but even she is not immune. Part of her journey is to feel this strong emotion and feel its consequences when it goes wrong.
But beyond the usual lover/client relationships, Kiyoha has a deeper one with Seiji, a clerk who has worked at Tamagiku since she first arrived as a child. He has watched her grow, and seen her through all of her trials. There was never anything actually said between the two of them, other than Kiyoha’s sniping and Seiji’s retorts, but just through expressions and actions, a strong connection can be seen between Seiji and Kiyoha. He has a real affect on her. She has no retort when he calls her “Oiran” at the beginning. He is always there with worldly advise for her but never stopping her from choosing her own path, even when she escapes to find her lover Soji and face him. It’s the only kind of love you can realistically have in a brothel, one not based on physical or emotional attraction, but on familiarity. Seiji is the one thing that has stayed constant in her life since she came to Tamagiku, and is the only thing she can rely on. Almost like family.
The art of Sakuran takes some time to get used to. Anno’s art can be very stylized at times, and it can something be difficult to tell characters apart. I had a hard time telling Kiyoha from the other courtesans at times after her debut. Their hair and clothes were so similar, and word balloons where hard to tell who they were attributed to. Even after several reads of chapters, I still can’t tell who is who in some of them. But Anno’s attention to detail with the courtesan’s ornate hair styles and pieces is impressive, as are the clothes she draws for them.
Sakuran is a story of the harsh realities of life in the brothels of old Edo. It can be brutal and heart-breaking, and earns its mature rating with some explicit sexual scenes. In the end though, it is about the triumph of the spirit, and finding one’s place. For all her criticism, Kiyoha found her home, in the place she least expected. Sakuran is historical drama at its best.
Review copy provided by publisher.
Like most teens at Central City Middle School, Joey Jones is in desperate need of a hero. But the hero of his desire isn’t someone in tights, instead it’s the latest technological fad, a remote-controlled bot called The Heybo. Without much in terms of savings, Joey’s little hero seems out of reach, but in a twist of fate not only does he come to possess one of these machines, his new Heroman comes to life to help him save the Earth from alien invasion!
I wasn’t impressed with Stan Lee’s first collaboration with a Japanese artist, Ultim0, so I didn’t hold out a lot of hope for Heroman. For most of this volume, my low expectations were met. But once the story started to incorporate more Japanese hero elements, it started to pique my interest.
The protagonist of Heroman is typical of most Stan Lee protagonists. Joey is poor, and living with his grandmother, since both of his parents are gone. He has to work a part-time job as well as go to school to help supplement the household income. He has no self-confidence and only a few friends; Cy, who needs crutches to walk, and Lina, a girl from a well-to-do family who likes Joey, but whose brother hates Joey because he’s poor, and picks on him because of it.
This is the main part of the title that I disliked so much. Joey and most his friends are so two-dimensional. I didn’t feel any life or motivation from from any of them. Lina is so much the damsel-in-distress that it was annoying, and her brother Will’s obsession with her borders on disturbing. Only Cy doesn’t seem to fit the “sidekick” bill. He is more self-confident than Joey, and while he does encourage him, it’s never from the position of an inferior. Cy almost comes off as he should be the hero, and Joey his sidekick. But if that were true, it wouldn’t be interesting, as it’s the struggle to become a hero that makes books like this appealing. And as is typical of all Stan Lee related projects, there’s a character that looks just like him. He is a customer in the coffee shop that Joey works at. I think he must have stipulation in any contract he signs that his likeness has to be included.
I actually started to like Heroman more when Joey started acting more like the protagonist from a super sentai than an American super hero. When Joey realizes that he’s made himself a target because of H.M.’s strength, he doesn’t embrace that strength. He tried to distance himself, and pretend that it’s not his problem. It will all go away if he just isn’t near H.M. Of course, things don’t work out that way. The aliens are determined to defeat H.M. and come after him and Joey. It’s only when Joey accepts his role to fight with H.M. that he not only gains confidence, but also a new power for H.M. This is a very Japanese superhero trope. The structure of the alien invaders, the Skrugg, is very reminiscent of sentai villains, with underlings based on everyday objects (insects) swearing allegiance to the boss, and trying to defeat the heroes. Hero Man himself, reminds me of the giant robots of the sixties, specifically, Jonny Sokko and Giant Robot. The robot never spoke, like Hero Man, but you could still feel the connection between them. Jonny would also risk his life for Giant Robot, and Joey starts to do the same for H.M.
While I felt a lot of this volume of Heroman left a lot to be desired, there is still some potential that could turn this title around. Serious fans of super heroes and/or super sentai probably won’t like the fusion of the two genres, but casual fans of either would probably find something of interest. I’d like to read the next volume to see if this fusion of east and west can live up to the potential I see, or if it’s like Ultimo, potential wasted.
Review copy provided by publisher.
New York Comic Con, or NYCC, was this weekend, with all the manga publishers making appearances and announcements. Vertical, Viz, Yen Press, even Kodansha and Jmanga had panels to announce their new titles and new alliances.
Now that Chi lives in a pet-friendly apartment, she is free to go out and explore the world past the sliding glass door. In addition to continuing to find trouble at home, Chi goes out and explores the area around her new home. She meets old friends and makes new ones, but will she meet her Mama?
The first of the heaven-sent bottles is revealed in these pages. No less gripping: the dramas of memory that unfold as Shizuku helps out an amnesiac painter, Chosuke hears from the French lady of his unrequited longings, and Miyabi meets a former classmate turned newly-rich snob for whom wires are but brands.
April is the ASPCA’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month. Human cruelty to animals is nothing new. Our faithful companions can become the focus of our anger and hate. So it’s not surprise that the problem has come up in manga. Matsuri Akino’s title Petshop of Horrors often has stories and themes of animals exacting their revenge on cruel and thoughtless humans. In the pages of Milkyway Hitchhiking, an online-only title in Yen Press’ Yen Plus, cats are often see enduring some torture at the hands of kids who view it as a fun past time. Other titles get right to the heart of the matter and help to give the animals a voice.
Genju no Seiza – This is another title by Matsuri Akino that sadly was never finished in the US. It is about a boy, Fuuto, who lives in Tokyo, and also seems to be the reincarnation of the Holy King of Dhalashar. In volume 4, the first chapter is “A Wordless Voice.” There have been a rash of mutilations and killings of stray animals in Fuuto’s neighborhood. With the help of his guardian animal friends, he decides to find the culprit, and is surprised by the identity. This chapter doesn’t pull any punches about Akino’s opinion of people who abuse animals. Kurgahara at one point says “Only a coward would harm a defenseless animal that can’t even ask for help.” Amen to that sister.
Free Collar Kingdom – This title is a three-volume series from Del Rey Manga’s early days. I picked it up because it had otaku cats. Can you really get a better combination than that? While the story has plenty of humor as it pokes fun at otaku and has the requisite fan service to keep most males interested, it also has a more serious underlying theme. Cyan, the hero of the story, was owned by a boy named Kokoro, who gets sick and has to go to the hospital. His parents, not knowing what to do with the cat since Kokoro can’t keep it at the hospital, and aren’t even sure if he will pull through, just leave Cyan in the basement of their apartment complex. There he meets the Free Collars, a gang of former pets who were abandoned by their owners and have banded together to survive. The point of their name is made most poignantly, when Cyan, after staying with the Free Collars for a while, starts to feel his collar tighten. He has continued to grow, but his collar has not. He could be choked by it. The ring left by the too-tight collar becomes a symbol of their release from their former human’s abandonment.
Apollo’s Song – While this title by Osamu Tezuka isn’t about animals, it does show some graphically violent moments of animals being mutilated and killed. Shogo Chikaishi can’t stand to see any showing of affection. Whenever he sees animals doing it, he goes into a rage and kills them. Worried that his rage will be turned on humans, he is admitted into a mental hospital. While the other titles in this post only imply the abuse, or show before and after scenes, Tezuka shows the violence for what it is; cold and brutal. It was harsh enough that I couldn’t read these scenes for a second time. I had page past them. Leave it to the God of Manga to not pussy-foot around the issue.
Hell Girl – This manga, based on the anime, is about tweens and teens going to a website to get revenge for some betrayal done to them or someone close to them. Enma Ai, Hell Girl, gets the request and decides if the person is worthy of her help. There is a catch for getting her help though. The person asking for the revenge will be cursed to hell as well as the person they curse, they just get a longer life. In volume one, the fourth chapter called “The Inaudible Scream,” is about a veterinarian who only helps the pets of rich people. When the beloved dog of an orphaned girl dies because he doesn’t operate, she calls on Hell Girl for help. Enma Ai obliges, and gives the greedy, heartless vet a taste of his own medicine. It’s scary to think that there are people that we put our trust in to care for our pets that might betray us. This is an example of one or worse kinds of abuse an animal can endure.
I know this isn’t a fun or happy theme, but it is an important one to get out. Pets can become just as important as loved ones, often filling a void when one is lost, keeping us company, and bringing a little light to some of our darkest hours. It is really important that we return that favor and keep them from being abused and abandoned. We must give them a voice.