I’ve been a fan of Shonen Jump ever since it came out in 2002 (technically), and still have every single issue. I admit I have mixed feelings about this move to digital. The good: don’t have to store all those magazines anymore. The bad: can’t just pick it up and read it anywhere. But, I’ll stick with this first year of digital and see if I can keep up.
Somewhere in Japan there’s a cabin in which you might watch a program that will change your life…in fact, it will take your life. She will take your life. She calls out from the afterlife, from the dark bottom of a forgotten well. And if she calls you, one week is all you have left to find the answer to her curse.
In the late 90s to early 2000s, Japanese horror, also known as J-horror was really popular in the US, and the title to start it all was The Ring. Based on a novel, the original movie was so popular, it was remade with American actors for wide release. Of course, publishers were ready to cash in on the action with releases of manga adaptations of the novels and/or movies.
The Ring series starts off with a great creepy premise, but seems to lose steam with each volume. The first volume is a nice and thick and stays true to the novel. This first story was more compelling and didn’t make Dr. Ikuma into the villain the movies did. It has a good pace and makes the feeling of time running out seem real. The first volume was a great read, and I would recommend it even if you’ve seen the movie.
The Ring 2 follows the plot of the movie instead of the book, and isn’t nearly as compelling as first story. It recaps the first movie before replacing the lead with Takayama’s assistant Takano as she tries to stop Sadako from taking over Yoichi, Takayama and Asakawa’s son. The story doesn’t have the same creepy feeling and the art just looks bad at times. Birthday is a prequel that continues to follow the movie’s plot line and shows Sadako’s life just before she died. It’s sad but not really creepy. Spiral is an adaptation of the novel sequel of The Ring, and takes Sadako’s story in a more scientific direction. The idea behind the replication is interesting, but the overall story wasn’t.
The big problem all three of these volumes had was the constant re-telling, and re-writing of the original Ring story. The first third of The Ring 2 is a compacted retelling of the movie version of the story. Spiral completely ignores most the original characters of The Ring to tell it’s own version of Sadako’s story, and The Ring 0 goes with another modified version of the movie. All these different versions of the same story got confusing and really monotonous after the second version.
The Ring is a good, suspenseful manga, but keep your reading to the original. The rest really don’t add much to the overall story, and will leave you scratching your head more than worrying about that static-filled TV.
When the Straw Hats encounter a mysterious barrel on the open sea, little do they know that it’s a trap. Losing control of their ship, they’re steered toward Thriller Bark. Any rational sailor would think twice before going ashore on an island full of zombies. But with Luffy at the helm, the Straw Hats are in for a scare as they become the targets of the dreaded Gecko Moria!
After the long and emotionally draining Water Seven arc, Thriller Bark makes for some spooky fun with zombies, ghosts and a talking skeleton. But the story feels drawn out and really seems to drag on, as does the bittersweet background story for Brook. It feels more like a filler arc and an excuse to throw in some Zombies.
The Thriller Bark story arc starts out as a light-hearted story filled with lots of humor. Luffy is excited at the prospect of seeing ghosts and is inviting Brook, a walking talking skeleton to join the crew without knowing anything about him. The gags really run amok when the Straw Hats reach Thriller Bark itself, with Nami, Usopp and Chopper seeing zombies one minute and then gone the next. And the arrival of Luffy, Zolo, Sanji, Robin and Frankie is funny as they first tame a Cerberus-like zombie and then beat up all the zombies that pop out of the graveyard, and leaving them stick out of their graves, feet first. Oda does a really good job in the beginning of creating a spooky atmosphere with zombies popping out of pictures and stuffed animal heads on the wall coming to life.
The fun doesn’t stop there. Usopp gets a great spotlight in this arc, as his super-pessimistic attitude is finally shown to have a use. When faced with the Ghost Princess Perona and her negative energy ghosts, Usopp is invincible, since he already has such a low opinion of himself, he can’t be brought down any further. His battle with her was the best of the volume. The giant zombie Oars running around talking and acting like Luffy was pretty funny too.
All this humor is overshadowed by Brooks and the padding of the story to stretch it out. Thriller Bark is supposed to take place in the course of a single night, but it goes on for 5 volumes! It’s too long and too much is going on. The entire plotline with Absalom and Nami was clichéd and got boring fast. In arcs such as Alabasta and Waters Seven, the battles that each Straw Hat was in was entertaining. But they really weren’t in this arc. Brook’s background story wasn’t just tragic, it was downright depressing. While Robin’s back story, which was shown before Brook’s, was really tragic, there was still a ray of hope with Robin trying to continue the work of the Ohara clan. But there isn’t any feeling like that with Brook. The more your see of his story, the more down you feel. There doesn’t ever seem to be a light at the end, even when he joins the Straw Hats. It’s more like relief that such a dark period is over, and after all the humor the arc started out with, the darkness of Brook’s back story just doesn’t feel right.
The arc redeems itself at the end with a return to World Government story line. Kuma, another Warlord of the Sea comes to check on Moria, and possibly kill Luffy. But the Straw Hat’s loyalty and Zolo’s belief in Luffy saves him. The scenes with Kuma only increases my curiosity about the World Government and what their true motives are.
The Thriller Bark story arc has a good beginning and good ending, but too much filler going on in-between. This is still a good arc, with lots of great scenes for the characters. It just would have been better if it had been pared down. Three volumes would have been just right.
Masterless samurai Akitsu Masanosuke is a skilled and loyal swordsman, but his naive, diffident nature has more than once caused him to be let go by the lords who employ him. Hungry and desperate, he agrees to become a bodyguard for Yaichi, the charismatic leader of a group calling itself “Five Leaves.” although disturbed by the gang’s sinister activities, Masa begins to suspect that Yaichi’s motivations are not what they seem. And despite his misgivings, the deeper he’s drawn into the world of the Five Leaves, the more he finds himself fascinated by these devious, mysterious outlaws.
I love historical dramas, especially those set in Japan, so it should be little surprise that I like House of Five Leaves. But after reading the first two volumes, I find there is much more here than just seeing the characters in Edo-period costumes. House of Five Leaves is a character drama, with Masanosuke as the focus to introduce us to an interesting group of individuals.
Let’s look first at the focus. Masanosuke is not your typical samurai. He has a strong sense of honor and the skills one would expect from one born in the samurai class. It’s his demeanor that makes him so different. He is very shy and doesn’t have a lot of self-confidence. He walks slouched over, making himself appear smaller than his true height. He doesn’t like confrontations, and when faced with an audience, he gets stage fright and runs away. This last trait may have a lot to do with why he is like he is.
So it’s little wonder that he looks up to Yaichi, a man with a lot of self-confidence, and who can talk himself out of a confrontation. He moves through the world with an ease that Masa envies. He is also a very private and mysterious man. No one in the group knows much about him, and that just intrigues Masa even more. By the same token, Yaichi is amused by Masa’s seemingly contradictory nature. He chooses Masa at first because he knows his nature and honor will keep him from reporting their activity. But the timid samurai quickly intrigues Yaichi, who then tries to get Masa to join their gang.
While Masa fence-sits about joining, he is slowly drawn in, both by Yaichi’s machinations, and by others in the gang. Okate, a beautiful woman who has known Yaichi for a long time, is kind and patient with Masa. Umezo, the owner of the izakaya where the gang hangs out is gruff toward Masa at first, but warms up to him slowly, though his daughter Okinu likes him from the start. Matsukichi is the loner of the group and isn’t too impressed with Masa, though he goes along with Yaichi’s decision. An unofficial member of the gang, Goinkyo, helps out by letting them hide their hostages on his farm. He also helps out Masa, letting him stay with him when he falls ill, and tries to warn Masa away from Yaichi and the gang’s activities.
But even as Masa is drawn in by his new “friends” so it seems members are drawn to Masa. Both Umezo and Goinkyo tell Masa about their connection to each other, and why Umezo continues to work with the gang even though he doesn’t need the money. Both comment on how they talk too much when telling it all to Masa. Neither intended to tell Masa so much, but there just seems to be something about him that makes people want to unburden themselves. Perhaps it is the same thing that Yaichi finds so fascinating about Masa.
I really enjoyed these first two volumes. The characters are interesting, and the mystery around Yaichi is intriguing. Just like Masa, I want to find out more about him and his past, as well as that of the rest of the gang. I really like Masa too. He isn’t arrogant like many of the other ronin seen in Edo. And he likes cats, so he has to be a good person. The old Edo setting
Ono’s art is very distinctive. The facial expressions of her characters are very revealing. It’s easy to tell what they are feeling or in some cases thinking. I really like the way she does the eyes. They can be big, or droopy. They can really define a character. She also has a knack for making older men look rather attractive.
House of Five Leaves isn’t a story filled with action or intrigue. It’s a slow-moving story with a lot of talking. But don’t think for a moment that’s a bad thing. The characters are engaging and the historical setting just adds to their charm. Add an immersing story and you’ve got a gratifying reading.
When one thinks of the holiday season, it tends to be of being merry, giving gifts, and celebrating the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. But the holiday season also has a history of ghostly stories and ghoulish things. Here are two Del Rey Manga titles that try to fit into the Comeuppance Theater genre, but just don’t quite make the grade.
Continue reading Season’s Screaming: Only One Wish and xxxHolic
Zombies, once creatures of voodoo, have evolved into something more sinister and scary ever since George Romero got a hold of them and created Night of the Living Dead. Ever since the introduction of the slow-moving, decaying, brain-eating monsters, they have grown in popularity, until the turn of the 21st century when they started popping up in hordes everywhere; movies, books, comics, and manga!
It’s the night before Halloween, with parents heads filled with all the little monsters that will be coming to their doors and children dreaming of the haul of candy that also fills the dreams of dentists. But here at the Manga Movable Feast, Horror is still at the forefront.
Yokai are traditional monsters of Japanese folklore. The can range from mischievous to down-right terrifying! They are such an integral part of Japanese culture, that it’s no wonder that they populate a lot of manga! In many of the manga that have been translated here, the yokai can either be the leads or they can be helping a human interact with the yokai world.
The feasting continues on day 6 like vampires at a blood drive, which some fresh, new faces joining our regulars.
Ever since the days of the Cold War, people have been worrying about surviving through a nuclear war and all the horrors, real and imagined, that could come in the aftermath. Movies have imagined the world becoming a wasteland, populated by mutated monsters, and a few survivors that struggle to survive. Of course, the most fun to have with this is drop the unsuspecting into the middle of this wasteland and see what they’ll do. Known as Survival Horror, this is a relatively new sub-genre of horror, popularized most recently by video games. But manga seems to really enjoy using it too. So here are a few titles that do just that.
Drifting Classroom is a horror manga by its master Kazuo Umezu, and first started serialization in 1972. It’s about an elementary school that is mysteriously transported to a wasteland during an earthquake. The students must struggle to survive in the face of teachers and students going insane, wandering monsters from the wasteland, disease, lack of food and water, and dissent from within. These kids, the oldest of which are only in 6th grade (11-12-years-old), must not only learn how to survive, but keep some semblance of order amongst the chaos and fear all the kids are feeling. The story went for 11 volumes and won the 20th Shogakukan Manga Award in 1975. It was also adapted into a live-action movie in 1987. Viz Media releases all 11 volumes under their Signature line.
Dragon Head also uses school-aged children to convey its horror. The return from a school trip goes horribly wrong as the train is trapped in a tunnel by an earthquake. The survivors must find a way out, and then try to survive in a world turned wasteland by a volcanic eruption/comet strike/nuclear attack. This series is more of a psychological horror, with the monsters being people who have given up and given in to their fear. What happened is never made clear, but the need to survive and not give in to fear is very much so. This series went 10 volumes and was published by Tokyopop. It won the Kodansha award in 1997, and was adapted into a live action movie in 2003.
King of Thorn is survival horror with a sci-fi twist. A group of people are put into suspended animation to escape a plague that turns people to stone. When they wake up, they find the research facility has been taken over by a jungle that seems to have a mind of its own and monsters roam the landscape. They must fight to survive as well as try to discover what has happened while they were asleep. This series is 6 volumes long, and was released in full by Tokyopop. It well received in the US, as well as getting an anime movie adaptation in Japan. which was released in 2010 and nominated for the 4th Asia Pacific Screen Award for Best Animated Feature Film.
Psyren is the newest addition to the survival horror genre. The story takes place in both the world as we know it today, and in another that is a wasteland where monsters roam the landscape. The wasteland world is known as “Psyren”, and people “chosen” by the entity known as Nemesis Q are transported to Psyren to play a “game”. They must find their way through the wasteland to return home. On each “mission,” the “players” are confronted by both insect and humanoid monsters that kill without compassion or restraint. The truth of Psyren is more than a mere game, which is why I include it with this list. Psyren has only had one volume released far in the US, and is being published by Viz. It started serialization in Shonen Jump magazine in January 2011, but will not move over to the digital verison of the magazine in January 2012.
We’re past the half way mark of this month’s Manga Movable Feast, and are now moving into the home stretch. Today’s links are filled with familiar faces, and in this case, that’s a good thing!