Manga

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Graphic Novel Review: Seconds

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With 2014 beginning to fade from recent memory, it’s about time I write about my favorite graphic novel of the preceding year: Bryan Lee O’Malley’s book Seconds. Released over the summer, it is O’Malley’s first published work since the last Scott Pilgrim installment was issued in 2010. The story follows Katie, a young chef trying to open another restaurant so she can leave Seconds (her first culinary establishment and the place where she lives in an apartment upstairs). After a dramatic incident in which a young waitress gets injured, Katie discovers her resident house spirit, who gives her a mushroom and an opportunity to erase a mistake and rewrite events. Soon afterward, Katie finds a patch of these mushrooms and begins abusing their power, despite Lis, the house spirit’s insistence that they should only be used once per person.

Cover with half dust jacket

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

The back of the book, with dust jacket partially pulled back to show the design underneath.

The book itself is beautiful. The half dust jacket and cover boards have different designs, giving it a unique style. I’m also a sucker for any novel that takes the color of the panel lines into account (props to the colorist, Nathan Fairbairn).

Seconds differs quite a bit from the Scott Pilgrim series, and more resembles his first graphic novel Lost at Sea. The book is a single, contained story, rather than a series released manga-style. The story also incorporates a narrator, though there is some witty banter exchanged between it and the main character, implying that the narrator may be an inner voice of Katie’s. These quirks bring the story to life. There are even some nods to Scott Pilgrim for O’Malley’s dedicated fans. (Scott and Ramona are eating in the restaurant on page 259, for example).

Main character Katie looking pretty cartoony next to her hunky new husband. (Ignore my appropriately themed bookmark in the upper right).

One of the Second’s flaws is its main character, which is admittedly sort of the point–she is flawed to a fault. As she digs herself farther into trouble by continuing to eat the mushrooms that erase her numerous mistakes, it seems to take an unbelievable amount of time for her to learn from these errors. She is hard to root for. Katie differs even in style from the others. O’Malley’s style is cartoony, but Katie’s design takes it to another level, as she is the only character with gravity-defying anime hair.

There is nothing groundbreaking in Seconds; no new story elements or decisions that set it far apart from other works, but it has just the right amount of humor, quirk, and design to make it pop. I want more graphic novels like this, with a single developed story that plays with narrative styles, and some nice resolution at the end. Seconds is worth checking out, and not just for Scott Pilgrim fans.

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Comics Review: Two Different Urban-Monster Stories

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I got the chance to review these two comics that, though very different in look and feel, were both about contemporary urban worlds that exist on a border between the real grit of the city and the demonic grit of a world of monsters.

Blood Blockade Battlefront

The premise here is: New York has been interposed with Jerusalem’s Lot, meaning there’s a demon city from hell right underneath the actual city. So there’s some nice über urban borderlands action, and we rely on those with special gifts to protect us in this city.

This is a witty and excitingly action packed manga, with a compellingly motley crew of super powered freaks that keep balance in the city. Really fun personalities in this group, and well-drawn battles. The most gripping scene in this volume was the epic gaming session, taking place against a Cthulhu-like monster in warped time, so we never know how much time has really passed, or what the game really consists of, only that it gets more and more insanely tense and complex as time goes by. There’s a cute moment at the end when the more Chiba-esque characters parallel the gaming monster with the author himself, who wants to get this issue out of the way so he can game more. The cutesy meta factor of that was a lot of fun.

Fun stuff, and big ‘splosions.

Also, guess what: the vampires are actually powerful and scary! And evil and conniving! As well as kinda sexy. Huzzah!

 

Victories #1

You know, I’m fine with comics that are dark, violent, scary, even nasty if it serves the purpose of the story. I also enjoy seeing what makes a masked vigilante tick, and I like it if my superheroes are snarky and flawed. Heck, sometimes it’s even fun to read about “heroes” that are barely better than the “villains” themselves–Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser are some of the best anti-heroes in that vein, and so is the Dark Knight.

However, gratuitous violence, nastiness just for the sake of nasty, blood just for the ooky factor, I’m not a big fan of. I want story, good writing, and characters I actually want to be involved in, POV-wise. From what I can tell so far of Victories, the writing style is crude enough that I lost interest in the supposedly-inwardly-tortured “good guy,” and the bloody and sexual violence of the villain wasn’t enough to snag my interest back. Maybe it gets better in future issues–I can only hope so. But if I want a tough city with costumed super-villains terrorizing the citizens, with a masked anti-hero barely able to cope, I’ll just go read Long Halloween or Dark Victory again, thanks.

Having said that, the art is pretty interesting in Victories–broad brush strokes, deep bold color, and beautifully angled outlines. There are two pages in particular, where we are in our anti-hero’s head at home that is a gorgeously dark interposing of scribbled journal pages, image, and inner monologue. It’s actually kind of a dark version of Impressionism in many panels, which is quite appealing.

Bottom Line: I recommend Blood Blockade Battlefront, especially if you are already a fan or you like manga. It’s also a good one for a manga-beginner. I don’t particularly recommend Victories. Yet. Ask me again when there’s a full trade collection out, maybe I will revise my opinion.

~Prof. Jenn

 

Review of Baltimore & Empowered: Two, two, two Reviews in One

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BALTIMORE:
Nuns and vampires and Mignola, oh my!

I am new to the exploits of Lord Baltimore, but I am liking what I see. This is a horror filled frolic filled with nasty demons, nun vampire-sort-of-zombies, and a Shane like hero, who, Fugitive-like, compels us to follow him as he hunts down the vampire villain that killed his family.

Baltimore is another Mignola written gem, and as much as I like Mignola’s art, I have to say I am enjoying his writing nearly as much as his both, and am glad that he is able to be so prolific (give his readers more and more goodies) with the help of other artistic talent.

I am in the middle of a vampire novel (review coming up) at the moment as well, and this was a delightful addition to the hordes of vampires out there in popular culture today.

If you like romantic, sexy, or sparkly vampires, take heed: this is not the series for you. If you like bloodthirsty bloodsuckers that actually scare you, follow Baltimore post haste.

EMPOWERED:
Like, what the f*** is this, and why haven’t you told me about this before?

I will be honest with you. When I began reading this, I rolled my eyes and thought, oh no what have I gotten myself into? This is how my thoughts went as I reacted to my first reading of Empowered:  I mean, this blonde ditz has a costume that shreds off of her in a fight?? Really? Do we need this kind of…misogyny…oh she seems to be having a meta conversation and…Hm, this is actually pretty funny. Oh wow, it’s totally commenting on sexism and female body image and relationships and…okay this is hilarious, they all know they are fictional comic book characters and are worried they’ll be drawn out of the next issue. Gosh, that was actually quite a profound discussion among friends about self esteem. They have an immortal being that lives on the coffee table? Is…is he rapping “I Like Big Butts” in Victorianesque diction?? I am in love.

Oh, and the art? Is all in black and white. I really, really like that.

Drawbacks? It does get a wee bit teeny bopper for my old lady ears. It does make up for it by being extremely witty and meta, but yeah. A bit teeny bopper. And the multiple f-bombs blacked out do get wearing on the inner voice. I say use the invective or don’t but the censored invective just gets annoying. I guess it’s more of the meta, but still.

Also, this comic had something which annoyed me that I forgot to mention in my Abe Sapien review: its fight scenes are so busy on the page, it’s hard to follow what physically is going on. As a stage combat choreographer and instructor, I have to call it sloppy. Just like in a moving visual medium like a movie, we need to be able to follow the action in order to be able to follow the story fully, and certainly in order to appreciate the sweet moves Ninjette no doubt is executing. I do really like the translated kanji as accompaniments, though.

Bottom (double) line: I highly recommend Baltimore. Empowered was fun and cute, and wryly meta enough to enjoy, especially if you like ninjas.

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GANTZ or My Attempt to Grow a Pair of Testacles

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Oh GANTZ, I love you, but I’m not quite sure what to do with you.  Your storyline, graphics and characters are produced with such creativity that I only had to read the first issue before I knew that this could become a regular thing.  But you are not without your faults.  I know full well that you were not made for the likes of me; I can tell by the fact that for NO REASON WHATSOEVER you choose to put half naked women on every single cover!  They don’t even have anything to do with the plot. They’re just there, with enormous jugs!  Though it is truly bothersome to my feminine sensibilities, I will take you as you are, because real love is never having to say you’re sorry and, if anything, you are one unapologetic bastard.

A word of warning, this is the single most explicit manga I have come across, not counting the ones classified as porn but I generally steer clear of those as a rule of thumb.  Shinyswoots, who apart from co-founding this site and being a good friend, reads more comic books than any other human being on the planet Earth (if you don’t believe me check the Guinness World Book) (Editor’s Note: Flonz exaggerates a bit), and even she had to concede that GANTZ takes the cake as far as sexually graphic content goes.  But if you’re not totally opposed to nudity and violence then this manga should be the next one that you read.

It begins on a platform in a Tokyo train station with the two lead characters, Kei Kurono and Masaru Kato.  While trying to save a drunken homeless man who falls onto the tracks, they are hit by the train and killed.  Or are they?  Somehow they are teleported to an empty apartment in Tokyo.  There they discover a giant black orb in the center of the room and a group of strangers all claiming to have had similar near-death experiences.  Green lettering appears on the outside of the sphere informing everyone that they’re lives have ended and now belong to GANTZ.  They are then told that they will be sent on a mission to discover and kill the “onion alien”.  At first the group isn’t sure what is going on.  Are they dead?  Is this some kind of new game show?  Without knowing the answers, they are transported one-by-one to the location of the mission, where they quickly learn that this is not a joke or a show, and though they are not dead yet, they will be if they don’t start fighting.

 

As the mission plays out, the group learns some of GANTZ’s basic rules.  Number one, while on missions neither themselves nor the aliens they are hunting are visible to humans, however, they are visible to each other.  Second, the mission area has a strict boundary around it; cross that boundary and a bomb implanted in their brain goes off.  Third, the suits provided by GANTZ give the wearer superhuman strength and agility, without it you are FUBAR.  Fourth, if they die in the game they die for good.  And lastly, the only way to end the cycle of being sent out on missions is to earn 100 points by killing aliens.

GANTZ is one of those mangas that pulls you into the story so that you can’t put it down, just the way any good novel does.  You start to love the characters and really wish for a happy ending, only to see them brutally killed.  I was somewhat surprised by how unafraid the author is to kill off main characters (don’t get too attached) and in really terrible ways.  I can’t quite figure out which of the two leads is supposed to be the hero: Kurono or Kato?  Kurono is more of an anti-hero, an unlikely soldier if you will.  He doesn’t think of himself as a fighter or even a good person, but that is what makes him such a good character.  Kato wants to be the good guy, he risks his life to save as many people as possible, but ultimately I find him to be a less capable warrior and leader.  Where Kato tries to find a peaceful resolution, Kurono tears motha’ fucka’s up!  It’s a dilemma, but I think I’ll give my heart to Kurono.  He had me at hello.

Like all good manga, GANTZ has just been turned into a movie and I’m really excited to see it!  They cast Kenichi (Cutie Pie)  Matsuyama as Kato which kind of bummed me out because I would’ve enjoyed seeing him as Kurono.  That being said, the guy who was cast as Kurono really looks like the manga character.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed on this one.  It’s such a great manga and it would make an awesome action movie, if done right.

 

 

 

 

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My 2011 Resolution: Death Note

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Last week it was announced that Warner Brothers had chosen Shane Black to film an adaptation of one of my all time favorite manga’s, Death Note.  Japan has already released their own half-way decent, live action film versions of the graphic novel, which gives me great hope for the American version.  The first, simply titled: Death Note is worthy of a peek, but not my favorite in the series.  No, that honor goes to Death Note: The Last Name which is one of those truly rare and elusive breeds of sequel that is actually better than its predecessor.

Unfortunately, after the success of the first and second films, the producers decided to milk the fucking cow dry and made a craptastic trilogy that not only abandoned all logic but also the original story line of the manga.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed and holding my breath that Hollywood doesn’t do the same because the story in the manga is pretty fucking awesome!

It begins simply and innocently enough when Light Yagame (some translations call him Raito), a 17 year old genius, discovers a notebook on the street, with the inscription “Death Note” on the cover.  Inside is a list of rules, 1. Any human’s name written in the notebook will die, 2. When writing the person’s name you must also picture that same person’s face in order for that person to die, 3. If the cause of death is not written within 40 seconds of writing the person’s name, they will die of a heat attack.  It doesn’t take long for Light to figure out that this is not a sick joke.  Not only is the notebook real, but having possession of it comes with the added bonus of being able to see and speak to the Death Note’s original owner, a reaper or “shinigami” named Ryuk whom left the notebook in the human world specifically to watch how it’s power would corrupt a mortal.  And holy shit does his plan work.  Light decides to use the Death Note to rid the world of all evil, but rather than coming up with random ways for each criminal to die thereby hiding the fact that someone is behind the deaths, Light kills each victim with a heart attack.  Ballsy, very ballsy.  He wants the entire world to know that there is a supernatural force behind all of this, and he wants them to fear it just as they would any Spiderman or Batman.  But unlike Batman or Spiderman, Light doesn’t see himself as a superhero, he sees himself as a god.

With the death toll rising, the international community is forced to take action by creating an interpol task force to try and catch the serial murderer nicknamed Kira by the Japanese media.  Heading up the Japanese investigation is Soichiro Yagami, Light’s father.  Oh snap!  Someone has Daddy issues.  However, unsatisfied with the slow progress of the case, Interpol “sends in the wolf” in the form of a mysterious detective known only as “L”.  L is by far my favorite character.  I’m in love with him.  If he were a real person I’d marry him!  When we’re first introduced to his character all we know is that he is a mega-genius who solves “unsolvable” crimes.  It’s not until around chapter 11 or so that we finally see him  and discover that he is pale, shaggy, barefoot and constantly eating candy.  Truly a man after my own heart.  Did I mention how much I am obsessively in love with this character?

From L’s introduction on, the story is basically a psychological cat and mouse game between him and Kira as each man tries to find and destroy the other first.

I think what I like most about this manga is the moral question that it poses.  Kira and L are virtually the same character: both savants, both young and both want to bring criminals to justice.  The only real difference between the two seems to be the lengths they will go to achieve their ends.  I won’t ruin the ending for all of you out there who haven’t read it, because that would be cruel and unusual.  But allow me to say, it doesn’t disappoint.  The entire series manages to be funny, poignant, sad and dark mixed together and served up with some spectacular art.  If you haven’t checked it out you definitely should before the movie comes out, because god only knows whether or not they’ll bastardize it.  Oh, pretty please let them cast L well!

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Manga Blitz Dec. 2010

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I’d like to kick this post off with a shout out to the lesser known, far more conservative, yet equally bat-shit insane sister of Japanese Manga; Korean Manhwa.  I’ve recently allowed myself to become FAR to obsessed with not one but two manhwa’s.  The first is called Forbidden Kiss and you can read the English translations here.  But I must strongly advise you that once you fall down this rabbit hole there will be no return from wonderland.  This guilty pleasure beckons to me every morning and I can’t help but click the link to see if the newly translated issue has been posted yet, only to find that cruel bitch of a message telling me that my next issue will be coming soon.  Not soon enough my friends, not soon enough.

The basic story is pretty stereotypical of manhwa, which is to say that we’re gonna have to utilize our suspension of belief here people.  Okay so, Lee Ha-Eun our heroine lives with her mother, step-father and younger step-brother Lee Shin.  Lee Shin just happens to be a local gang leader (known as a jjang in Korean) and a total badass, I mean the kid drives a goddamn motorcycle and he’s only 16-the legal driving age in Korea is 18-ballsy move dude!  One day on her way to school Lee Haeun runs into a busy street to catch her bus and causes a minor fender bender.  The driver of the damaged car, 17 year-old Han Shihu (I can only assume driving laws are not strictly enforced in this village) gets out and starts screaming at Haeun that this is her fault and she must compensate him for the damage done to his vehicle.  However, the amount of money he asks for is enough to cause anyone a panty stain, but especially for Haeun seeing as she’s only a high school student.  She doesn’t want her parents to find out so she can’t ask them for help, and there is no way that she’ll be able to earn this kind of money without taking her clothes off.  So what’s a girl to do?  Become Shihu’s slave and work off her debt through menial labor.  Logical, no?  So she starts working for him secretly, going to his house after school to clean it, and surprise, surprise, Shihu starts to fall for her.  But wait, just as the rich, asshole-ish Shihu is warming up to her, she starts to realize her step-brother Shin, isn’t such a bad guy after all.  In fact, a casual observer might even says she’s in love with him, though she won’t admit it to herself, and wouldn’t ya know, Shin has been in love with her THIS WHOLE TIME!!!  OMG-A love triangle!  I’m sure Mr. and Mrs. Lee will be just thrilled when they discover this revelation.

The other manhwa that has me powerless in its clutches is Mary Stayed Out All Night.  Now, if you are lucky enough to be able to understand and read Korean, you can find the scans here.  If, you’re one of the rare few that don’t know Korean you’re up shit creek for the time being, unless you happen to know a very kind and extraordinarily patient Korean who is willing to translate it for you, such as I, myself do (Lee Hye Kyung you rock my world!).  But fear not, from what I understand Manga Fox is in the process of translating it, so hopefully the English version will be out soon!  It’s written by the same author that did Full House, which any manhwa nerd worth their salt has read and loved, if you haven’t, fore shame!  Here, consider it an early Christmas gift from your pal Flonz.   As much as I love Full House, I’m loving Mary even more.  Firstly, the art in Mary is pretty damn awesome, the attention to detail is incredible and really does a lot to further the story.  Plus, the characters are quite frankly more likeable. Wi Mae Ri, the heroine is adorable and hardworking but a bit of a, for lack of a better word, square.  When her friends drag her to a rock concert, she puts her headphones on and complains about the noise until she happens to look up on stage and see Kang Moo Kyul.  Boom goes the dynamite and they decide to get married.  This goes down like a fart in a space suit with Mae Ri’s father, who is about as keen to have a long-haired, eu de beer smelling, unemployed, musician son-in-law as he is to have a colonoscopy.  So he sets up a contract marriage between Mae Ri and his rich friend’s son, Byun Jung In.  Mae Ri is forced to split her time equally for the next 100 days between her hastily married rocker hubby and her rich contract husband, in the hopes that she might change her mind and choose money and stability over what is best described as dead sexiness.  If you simply cannot wait for the English translations to come out, you could check out the live action drama that just came out based on the manhwa.  Yes, I have watched every episode, and you may be asking yourself, do I love it?  My reply: Does a bear shit in the woods?

5 Reasons Why Manga F*#@$ing Rocks!

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My older brother first introduced me to comics as a kid, and from there my nerdiness grew at an exponential rate. Until one day, like a crack addict trolling back alleys looking for a high, I found myself desperately searching my local comic store for manga. Eventually I caught wise and just got my fix delivered right to my door, which had the added bonus of sparing me the frustration of dealing with the moron working at my comic store. If there is one universal truth in this world it is this: Manga is addictive. It is mind-blowingly awesome, and if you haven’t tried it yet, you need to, you know not what you are missing. In the hopes of persuading others to hop on my nerdy bandwagon, I give you the top 5 reasons why manga f*#@$ing rocks.

#5 They’re Insane.

Japan is where reason and logic go to die, so of course, why would their graphic novels be any different? On a bat-shit insane scale of 1 to 10, most manga plots are about a 20. Yet somehow, because they come from such a crazy culture to begin with, I TOTALLY BUY IT! A boarding school where a secret class of vampires attends school with an unknowing bunch of humans, protected only by the two fifteen-year old school prefects? I’m sure it happens all the time in Tokyo!

#4 Engrish

Oddly enough, western culture crops up all the time in manga, often with hysterical results.

Behold WcDonalds!

#3 Easy Access

Thanks to the inter-webs, those of us too cheap to actually purchase volumes of manga can go online and find fan-scan sites. I would highly recommend these two:

http://manga.animea.net/

http://www.mangafox.com/

#2 You want it, they got it

I know I sound like a used car salesman, but seriously, there are manga’s for everyone. Romance, Fantasy, Drama, Martial Arts, History, Sci-fi, Psychological and the list goes on forever. One word of warning for those who haven’t ever read manga and don’t speak Japanese: DO NOT CLICK ON ANYTHING LABELED YAOI (unless your into gay porn). I’m not joking.

#1 The Art

For my money, the art found in manga is unparalleled. Hino Matsuri is probably my favorite. He has a style that is both exaggerated yet still realistic. He writes fantasy/romance-ish stories that have a way of staying with you after you finish a chapter. A friend of mine, and fellow manga freak, calls his work “sexy”. It’s not dirty or anything, but I think that’s probably the most apt description, it is sexy if not a touch melancholy.

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