manga, Uncategorized

A review of Manga, Manga

A review of Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics
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Frederik L. Schodt’s monograph Manga! Manga! was one of the first and most influential books detailing manga’s impact upon Japan. This book functions as a work for interested fans, a study for academics, and as one of the first titles to promote and translate major Japanese works into English. In many ways this book is still a prime example of manga history and cultural analysis, but like many texts based upon popular culture in other ways it hasn’t aged well. Schodt’s strengths are his presentation of strong arguments, detailed information regarding early manga history before Tezuka, a uses variety of sources and the referencing of direct images from comics as examples, and giving the reader a clear over view of Japanese comics. Despite this relevance the world of manga has changed a great deal since this work was published, especially in the area of English language publication and Schodt fails to give in text citation of his sources outside of the use of imagery. While this text remains a highly important read, due to fast changing environment of the manga industry, especially in terms translation within the United States it is important to investigate more recent history and culture further.
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Schodt presents a clear argument, while making sure that his opinions are not over powering. His writing style is presented in a personal manor, which I feel gives the text a more natural and less traditionally academic feel. He also often presents historical information chronologically in an almost narrative form. While some might take issue with this style of presentation, I found it pleasant while retaining a sense of detail many informal works often lack.
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One thing I noticed about this work’s approach to writing was that it emphasized early history a lot, basing a lot of its presentation of information upon on retrospect. The benefit to such a style is that it doesn’t really date as much as a style more focused upon the current work of the period. This allows the text to remain significant, despite being written around thirty years ago. This does, however furthers the issue of the text not portraying the more recent manga history of the period as strongly. Though this approach of emphasis does have its issues, it has allowed this book to remain a beneficial text.
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Schodt has a very unusual means of in text citation. Rather than using the traditional means of citing paraphrased material, he employs the use of actual manga pages as a means of clarifying and emphasizing his arguments. While this style is excellent at presenting a theme and visual representation, it is less successful in allowing the reader to determine where information was drawn from. While he does present a quite extensive bibliography at the end of the book, this style gives the reader an impression that a lot of the text is based off of personal research. His form of citation is very interesting; especially considering how little pictorial citation is generally used within more academic texts, but I would have appreciated knowing more about where he directly acquired some of his information and how much of the book was produced through individual research.
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The greatest strength of this text is the presentation of manga in a way that can both appeal to a fan or academic, while providing information in a way that someone unfamiliar with manga could appreciate. Manga! Manga! contains an excellent overview of Japanese publication practices and manga history, but isn’t afraid to explore topics related to manga such as questions of literacy and how manga reflects the needs of its readers. I have read a number of texts regarding manga publication that have struggled when trying to clearly explain the basic principle of manga publication. Schodt’s style in contrasts this by making the writing approachable, clear and detailed.
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Where this text struggles, however is in its examination of a more modern perspective, particularly the growth in US publication. Since the release of this book the U.S. translated manga industry has grown substantially. This growth has made the conditions of US manga publication vastly different from when this text was originally published. It is understandable for this reason that Manga! Manga! mainly focuses upon Japanese publication rather than US publishing which was nearly non-existent at that time. Due to this monograph’s age even the practices, styles and popular trends within Japan publication have changed drastically since it was released.
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Despite Schodt’s clear attempt to remain relevant, many aspects of the industry have changed drastically including the development of US publication which cannot be overlooked. Manga! Manga! is a key work of manga fandom and studies, and helped to encourage the development of a US manga translation industry. Its examination of Japanese manga history and culture, especially before World War two is clear, easy to read and highly informative to a variety of reader types. While it has clearly become dated and could use more in text citation, it is a wonderful window into the practices during the 1980’s, and what works and practices are important within Japan. Manga! Manga ! set the stage for the study of manga and English language publication.
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Schodt, Fred L. Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics New York: Kodancha USA. 1983. Print.
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manga, Uncategorized

Black Blizzard: A look into the storm

As many of my long time readers know, I adore the author Yoshiro Tatsumi. Tatsumi was largely responsible for the move towards a more adult style of manga known as gekiga which is chronicled in his wonderful autobiography A Drifting Life. This shift in turn influenced a number of amazing creators including those who worked on Golgo 13 and Lonewolf and Cub, as well as the god of comics himself Osamu Tezuka. Black Blizzard is an excellent example of this shift towards more mature subject matter, and clearly shows the influence that film and noire literature had on Tatsumi and his story telling style during this time. While this isn’t as poignant as some of the other stories include in Drawn and Quarterly’s other collections taken from Tatsumi’s later periods, this manga clearly is distinctive and more clearly encapsulates the influence film has had on Tatsumi’s style making it stand out from his other translated releases for this reason.


The art within Black Blizzard is very interesting, because it seems so unlike the later period of Tatsumi’s work. The art reflects greater influence of the art style of Tezuka early work making it contrast Tatsumi’s later style. This isn’t to say that the art doesn’t show traits that are distinct to Tatsumi’s style, that it directly imitates Tezuka’s style or that this early work is undeveloped; clearly it is distinctive in its own interesting way. What is fascinating about the art of Black Blizzard is that it is clearly a reflection of the situation of which it was constructed, and a testament to Tatsumi’s skill. Unlike a work from a writer like Tezuka who eventually was able to have more power over his contract and work pace, Tatsumi was forced in this period to produce constantly and quickly to survive and support his family. Black Blizzard was created within a month, and yet despite this it is clear that his art is leagues better than most work, because of his ability to take cinematic qualities and translate them into his work. These qualities were inspired and influenced other great artists of the period, especially Tezuka.

Many reviews of this manga have criticized the book’s art style as crude or claim that the art is rushed, but I feel that this criticism is unwarranted. I feel that a lot of these comments are based upon Tatsumi’s later self-criticism and the conditions in which this story was written in.  While some of the qualities of the art could be seen as simplistic, and the design is very different from Tatsumi’s later artwork and Tezuka’s translated work from around period, Tatsumi’s art style in Black Blizzard works with the cinematic qualities and nature of the story. The play with light and shadow is extremely exemplary of what would be found in a classic noire film, as is the structure of the visual angles which directly imitate a Hitchcock film. When it comes to the cast at first glance the less realistic style that the characters are presented in might seem crude in comparison to some of Tatsumi’s later works, if you look though at the characters expressions careful however it becomes clear that Tatsumi has an immense ability to grasp expressive qualities. Tatsumi is able to place so much expression and variety into the faces of his cast despite the less realistic design used in this work. This is an extremely impressive accomplishment, especially if you consider that this was created in such a short period of time and how hard it is to make a cartoonish character have a strong sense of emotion. The designs used here clearly stand up to those done by others with great mastery of expression such as Tezuka, Urasawa, and Takahashi. While Tatsumi’s art style clearly improved and changed as he continued to develop, the art within this work is far from as undeveloped as many critics have claimed it to be. The art in this work definitely drew my interest and is better than at least 75% (probably more like around 90%) of the manga that is currently translated.

While the story for Black Blizzard uses a number of noire clichés and has an ending that feels rushed, it hardly matters due to the quick pacing and exciting story presented. Black Blizzard follows Susumu Yamaji a pianist who believes that he has killed a circus ringmaster in a drunken rage, after he refused to allow his daughter Saeko to become a professional singer and leave her life as a circus performer. After being arrested he is brought onto a prison train and handcuffed to a nameless hardened criminal and card shark. The train however is struck by an avalanche during a blizzard and the two end up escaping from it. The problem is though that the pianist wishes to turn himself in, whereas the criminal wishes to see his own estranged daughter and be free, both though are cuffed together.

On the one hand this story is clearly far less deep then any of Tatsumi’s later works and is far more derivative. On the other hand it clearly is influenced and carries some qualities found in great suspense works and the story is so quick that hardly has the time to really worry about depth. This work clearly takes a lot of influence from American films of the time, which is a double edged sword. On the positive side this story has wonderful pacing, especially considering the simplicity of the story. Unfortunately this comes at the expense of a major payoff within the conclusion which feels force, rushed and a bit heavy handed though it is still somewhat shocking. It might have been better if this story was less conclusive and had a more ambiguous ending, even though this wouldn’t fit with the pulp and movie style of the story as much. The dialogue is short and straight forward which is a result of Tatsumi’s style, the noire setting of the story, and the time constraints. This dialogue generally works well, but on occasion this style of conversation was a bit too simple and stilted. While the story of Black Blizzard clearly pales when compared to the stories found in works like Goodbye, Old Tokyo Abandon, and The Pushman and Other Tales and has some major problems in the conclusion and as a result of its source material, many of the stories problems forgivable due to the fast pacing of the story and the stories ability to present and pay homage to pulp works and American films.

Character wise there isn’t much to say about any of the cast. Unlike most Tatsumi works that seem to try to push a lot of characterization into a very small amount of space with a minimal amount of dialogue, this story uses more traditional pulp story telling methods. As a result it is the story and the suspense that really are most important to the work, rather than the characters backstories or personalities. Susumu the pianist is really sympathetic and given a great deal of confliction as he deals with his personal guilt and feelings of failure, and the outlaw character is made properly unpleasant and sinister while still being somewhat sympathetic, but these characters felt more like Hitchcock influenced archetypes rather than fleshed out characters. The rest of the cast really only performs story roles, all be it convincing ones that fit into the story. Oddly enough this work is definitely focused on the story, rather than Tatsumi’s usual focus upon strong characterization.

While Black Blizzard is far from Tatsumi’s best written or drawn story, I feel that often critics including Tatsumi himself have been too hard on this work. The artwork is far from as sloppy as many have stated, and in my opinion is actually fantastically cinematic, especially when comparing it overall to other creator’s works (especially modern artists) and the time frame in which it was drawn. While the story and characters clearly could have been stronger, they definitely fit well into the tradition of Noire works and it is definitely not even close to being amateurish or dull. Black Blizzard was an exciting read, and is definitely well worth owning. I would definitely recommend this as a great companion piece to Tatsumi’s wonderful autobiography A Drifting Life or to anyone looking for a fast and thrilling Noire style read.

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manga, Uncategorized

Soul Eater: Eating my patiences

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I don’t really understand the appeal of Soul Eater. A lot of people seem to enjoy or even love this series, and it has even been popular enough to have earned a spot in the new Toonami shonen heavy line up (something that admittedly that caused me to be suspicious). While I feel it is unusual in some aspects, I definitely wouldn’t consider it particular innovative or different from the average shonen work. In fact this work is a great example of how originality can at times be just as bad as or actually even worse than using conventional elements. None the less Soul Eater in a few aspects presents things that are above average and isn’t worth hating either. While this certainly not the worst shonen work I have ever to read, I still fail to see why so many people love this work.

If I were to name one aspect that sets this work apart in positive way from other manga it is the artwork. While the character design isn’t particularly revolutionary, it is still slightly more unique then in most manga, especially within the designs for the more supernatural characters. The details put into the weapon transforming characters are also extremely impressive and interesting to look at. On the downside the combat chorography and movement within the art is at times reduced to posing, a common flaw associated shonen manga. Where this manga really stands out, however is its sense of surrealist inspired backgrounds. It is always fun observe the environment presented in Soul Eater, which can be really immersing and unusual. There are clearly occasions where the backgrounding does fall away, but these instances are far less common then in the typical shonen work. While the art cannot really compare in originality with many masterpieces (such as Lonewolf and Cub or Lychee Light Club), it far exceeded my expectations for a shonen manga and is worthy of praise.

 

While the art is exceptional the story is another matter. The concept for Soul Eater is relatively simple. In the land of the dead (I think, the setting is never really clarified) teams of student from the Death Academy school including meisters and their partners who transform into weapons are trying to collect the souls of evil being in order to earn transforming characters the rank of “Death Scythe.” This rank makes the human weapons worthy of use by the god of death, and brings high acclaim to the meister. Each team are trying to collect the souls of 99 evil beings and of one powerful witch in order to claim this honor.

What is most unusual about this series is its handling of the story. Soul Eater doesn’t really have a central main character, but instead has 3 teams that pretty much equally share the time in the lime light. These teams include Maka the female meister with her hungry partner Soul Eater Evans, Black Star a Naruto like ninja wielding the chain kama Tsubaki Nakatsukasa, and the symmetry obsessed son of Death Kidd Death who carries with him two spirit gun cowgirl partners Patty and Liz. These characters often switch off in team ups and story arcs, but they try to remain loosely connection to a main plot. If I thought the characterization was unusually strong (which it isn’t) I would have liked this style of focusing on a variety of characters more, but personally it didn’t really effect my enjoyment of the story either way.

What I don’t get is why people are so interested in this work’s story? The action portion of this work really wasn’t anything special or unfamiliar. The action presented was pretty standard in its scripting for a shonen work, and the main villain the witch Medusa (who pretty much resembles a female Orochimaru type character) wasn’t particularly innovative. Once again the power of characters in this work like many shonen works seems to be very elastic and based on the story progression, rather than a real logic or boundaries. Suddenly a character can go from losing to winning in a matter of seconds, usually as a result of shonen theme like friendship. This leads to the fights in the manga seeming generally rather anticlimactic, and typically predictable.

Soul Eater tries to make up for some of its conventional action with comedy, and most of the time sadly fails in my opinion. While occasionally the humour got a chuckle out of me, mostly I found it annoyingly distracting. I felt that a lot of the obsessive traits the characters had which were supposed to be enjoyable quickly grew tiresome. These traits were too overblown and made characters seem too stupid and bothersome when it was inappropriate, lacking the appeal or polish of the obsessive traits found in a Takahashi like works such as Ranma or Urusei Yatsura.

The worst aspect of the humour however was its reliance upon gross amounts of offensive fan service, and echii based jokes. This included many sexist and dull staples such as using sex appeal to interrogate or attempt to bride a male character, female characters helpless and slowly being stripped, peeping on female characters bathing, and jokes about Maka’s small chest size. Not only have these jokes been done to death, but they are extremely offensive to both male (by portraying all male characters generally as perverts and/or idiots) and female (having female character being treated like object to ogle) readers. That being said the really offensive moments are few and far between, and this work definitely doesn’t reach harem levels of bad. I feel that the humour in Soul Eater generally is either hit or miss, and I felt usually the jokes missed more often than not.


Once again we have a shonen manga with characters that are almost entirely devoid of any sort of deep characterization. Most of the characters within the cast are defined as the typical loyal friend’s to the end sort of character and/or by their comedic obsessions. The one interesting aspect of this manga is that at least it has one strong female character that felt like a major lead. While there are a number of female weapons, the only female character really felt that stood out as important as a standalone major character was Maka. Sadly besides having an overprotective womanizing father, looking a bit young in comparison to the other female characters, and being a loyal friend to Soul she really didn’t excerpt too much personality. Nothing about her character other than her gender really stood out as important or as an especially remarkable trait. Despite being rather unremarkable, thankfully she is still given much more personality then a lot of other shonen female character’s get.

Her partner Soul is much more interesting then she is. Besides Soul’s physical appearance that includes a modern sort of sweatshirt and beany, and having sharp teeth, he isn’t given many other majorly distinguishing traits. While he has some more generic features such as acting like hormonal teenager (meaning he is stubborn and prove to nose bleeds in front of attractive women) and being loyal to Maka even when faced with death, he isn’t really given a personality that would stand out from most other young male shonen leads or make him particularly deep as character.

Black Star is a really irritating character. While I do realize that he is supposed to be kind of homage/parody of Naruto, I found his behaviour and personality far more grating and unbearable. His rants were irritating, rather than funny and his habit of peaking in on hot springs (usually upon Tsubaki) was just gross. I’m still unsure as to why Tsubaki who is a level headed character, easy going character choose to admire and paired up with such obnoxious dirty loud mouth of character. While not as annoying as Black Star, Kidd Death likewise could be quite an irritating character. Occasionally his obsession with symmetry could be funny (such as when it is pointed out that his own appearance is not entirely symmetrical), but it quickly got to the point where this joke outlived its welcome. The two sisters that act as his weapons, including the more rational busty Liz and her carefree even bustier sister Patty, once again lack any real depth or development.

The other minor characters are slightly more interesting interest, but still far from developed. Besides the cartoonish God of death who wields Maka’s father, there are only three other important recurring characters as far as I read which are the evil snake witch Medusa, her servant the meister Crona, and Dr. Franken Stein a prominent teacher figure and the Death Academy doctor. Medusa is a fairly typical villain character, even taking having an animal affinity to snakes. She isn’t particularly a great or interesting villain except with her involvement with a society of witches, a problem that doesn’t bode well within a shonen manga like this one. Her androgynous servant Crona is the shy wielder of the powerful demon sword Ragnarok pretty much acts as a story obstacle, rather than an interest foe. While Dr. Franken Stein isn’t that well fleshed out, he is more interesting than the rest of the other minor characters and his traits matches his role as a minor mentor character much better. At best the characters in Soul Eater are passable, and at worst (Black Star) they made me want to bang my head against a desk.

I really don’t get why so many people love this manga. While it is far from the worst shonen has to offer, I fail to see why people feel that it is one of the better recent shonen titles. While the art is definitely far above the shonen average and the story does try to do some new things, many of its attempts such as multiple character prospective and humor didn’t really work for me. The story at its core is still for the most rather generic as are its characters. Unless you are huge fan of shonen works (unlike me) then I wouldn’t advise buying this work and in my opinion does not live up to its hype.

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manga, Uncategorized

Genkaku Picasso: Drawing up magic

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What happens when you get a manga creator known for avant garde work, and have them write a shonen title? The answer to this question can be found in the manga Genkaku Picasso. It is odd that Furuya an artist known for works like Lychee Light Club, Short cuts and the adaption of the classic novel No Longer Human would work in a genre so known for its use of conventions. As a result of the creator however, Genkaku Picasso is anything but typical or conventional in tone. While it is not as revolutionary and envelope pushing as many of his other titles, this work definitely stands out from the typical shonen manga.


As is always the case with Furuya the artwork is spectacular. Unlike most shonen works Furuya doesn’t disappoint in any part of the art department and has a truly unique style. While his character designs are for the most part more tame than is normally the case with his work, certain characters designs, such as the one used for the lead Picasso really stood out. Even if a character was more conventional looking they were well designed, and easy to tell apart from other characters. The strongest element of this work though is definitely the work done on surreal pictures Picasso travels into. The immense detail of these pictures and the way two main leads move through them is fantastic and breathtaking. While this work might not always have the unique feel of Furuya’s other works, it is clear that one of the biggest reasons to read this work is his fantastic artwork.

Genkaku Picasso has a very atypical story for a shonen work. Hikari “Picasso,” Haruma is a anti-social nerdy teen who would rather spend his time drawing like his hero Leonardo Davinci then interacting with people. His only real friend Chiaki Yamamoto likes to help people in need, and they often spend afternoons by the river together (Picasso drawing and her reading psychology books). One day, however while at the river a helicopter crashes into both the high schoolers. While Chiaki is instantly killed Picasso somehow manages to survive crash, but not without some odd side effects. It turns out that right before her death Chiaki pleaded to the spiritual higher ups to save Picasso’s life. As a result Picasso now has the ability to draw pictures that mirror the heart of those with problems. To avoid his body rotting away he most now to dive into these pictures (leaving his body temporarily in a coma) along with Chiaki, who has returned to Picasso as a fairy or small angel figure that only he can see.

The biggest weakness of Genkaku Picasso is within its story. The problem doesn’t lie so much with the concepts or problems presented, but with the episodic nature of the work. This manga always involves Picasso finding someone troubled, drawing their heart, and then entering the picture and resolving their problem. This format is limiting, and it doesn’t allow for more elastic or deep plots. While I didn’t mind so much the repetitious nature of the story (I often have a high tolerance for repetition) others may not like how streamlined the stories seem to be and the plot clearly suffered due to this quality.

While Genkaku Picasso is technically a shonen manga, it is hard often to really tell that it is one. Besides perhaps the theme of friendship and helping others, it has little in common with the modern trademarks associated with the genre. As a result the stories seem extremely fresh, and aren’t shackled down by many of these restrictive conventions that are usually found in shonen work. This freedom allows the work to present problems that are more complex and reflect more realistic concerns than those found in many other shonen works within its subtype. I really enjoyed the story, however I felt that it really didn’t add as much to the work when compared with the titles other elements.


This is a work where I believe the characters outstrip the story. While many of the characters are one offs that are linked to their stories (meaning that I will not comment about them in this review), they are still given deep and interesting traits that clearly don’t relate directly to the basic plot. The four leads characters are likewise given more detail in the 3 volumes than most shonen characters get in their entire sprawling series. The most memorable and interesting character thankfully the lead character Picasso. You really get the sense from his character traits that he really is an anti-social oddball. His physical traits such as having a short nerdy appear, humorous body language and habit to bite his thumb nail all add to his personally and help to make his personality convincing by themselves. His obsession with Davinci and avoidance of people also fit well into the reluctant hero archetype, without seeming like additions made for the story’s sake or for fulfilling this character type. I loved the jokes centering around his personality including others viewing the odd drawings of others hearts (not realizing that they don’t reflect his tastes), his interactions with the invisible Chiaki, and his habit of falling unconscious. He stands out as an excellent and surprising lead character.

While Chiaki is mainly used as a plot point her character is well developed before her death. Her desire to help others feels genuine, and makes her optimism and social nature is a nice foil to Picasso’s pessimistic anti-social nature. Despite her patience she often gets frustrated with Picasso’s nature, giving her also a reasonable limit to her kindness which I appreciated. I also loved how Picasso noted humorously that she seems to disappear only during certain awkward times (such as when he is using the bathroom) and can interact with him despite being invisible to others. After Chiaki death Picasso quickly becomes friends with a couple of recurring characters, despite Picasso’s initial misgivings. Sugiura becomes Picasso’s new best friend and Akane ends up falling in love with him (despite his total lack of interest). Both act as good supporting characters, and have help to push the story along. The main focus of the story, however is Picasso, Chiaki and whoever is being helped during the specific story. These troubled characters really suffer from interesting and realistic problems which reveal a great deal about their personalities.

While Genkaku Picasso isn’t the most revolutionary or best manga by Furuya it is miles ahead of the typical material found in Shonen Jump. It is clear once again with this manga that Furuya is truly extraordinary mangaka and one of the best artists. While the story is a bit repetitive and limited, the characters and questions it poses definitely make up for this shortcoming. This comic clearly continues to demonstrate that great a creators can sometimes write in genre’s that are unusual for them, without losing their artistic integrity. Genkaku Picasso is definitely well worth purchasing, especially at relatively low the Shonen Jump price and as a more tame introduction to Furuya’s style.

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manga, Uncategorized

Eden it’s a endless world: Serpent or Angel?

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Eden it’s an Endless world is a great example of the style of work coming out during the big science fiction manga boom, during the beginnings of the American manga industry. While it doesn’t reach the level of excellence found in some other works from this period such as Battle Angel Alita and Akira, it is still very much worth reading for any fans of the genre. While it has a few very noteworthy problems, this work truly deserve more attention than it currently gets. It is a shame that it is so hard to find a print copy of this old Darkhorse comics release, and I doubt it has much of a chance of getting a reprint sadly (though it always could happen). I am thankful I had the sense to picked this series up during the closing of my local anime store a few years ago, despite never having read it previously.

While the art for Eden isn’t presented in my favorite style of art, it is nonetheless extremely impressive and one of the main reasons why I bought the series. I’m generally not fan of photorealistic art, because it can be limiting to character expression and the ability to present the fantastic. The artwork in Eden, however really works well and overcomes these flaws. Its realistic style really added to the power of the science fiction elements and brutality presented, while still retaining a variety of strong expressiveness from the cast. The most impressive aspect of this style though is how much the science fiction elements stood out in a more realistic style, and yet felt natural to the world setting. The backgrounds when around had nice detail, though occasionally there are noticeable blanks areas where background clearly should have been. While I generally dislike more realistic artwork in science fiction works, I felt that in this manga the style and tone of the art worked.

The best way to describe the tone of Eden is that it is like a combination of Stand Alone Complex police drama and a post apocalyptic epidemic tale like Y the Last Man. Elijah is a teenage boy living in a world torn apart by a deadly virus that has killed most of the world’s population and has caused the world to fall into disorder. When his surrogate father figure finally sucomes to this virus Elijah decides to explore the world. It isn’t long though till he is captured and dragged into conflicts between of mercenaries, the police and gangsters all fighting for survival. Elijah begins a search along with his new companions for his place in a brutal and unforgiving world, and the truth behind his famous father.

One thing that definitely can be said for Eden is that is extremely detailed and precise. It revels in building a realistic and complex world. Eden explains just about every detail about the cause of the virus and how it has affected the world in physical and social terms. Another excellent result of this detail is that it treats most of it’s characters realistically and as a result is very morally ambiguous. Even though the focus is generally upon routing for Elijah and/or his friends from the mercenaries they are far from morally clean or likable figures.

I know I have lately described many works as being brutal, but it is definitely worth noting how much sexual and violent content is in this manga, which results in a harsh ambiguous story. To its credit this work isn’t afraid to kill off important characters and have everyone be fighting for their lives. It is also worth noting that this work has many Christian elements and references, though I’m personally not familiar with Christian mythology to understand them and can easily be ignored without confusion.

All this detail and world building comes at the price of story coherence. Often it was hard for me to follow what was occurring within the story, due to all the details thrown at me and some of the pacing choices made. Characters occasionally seem to disappear after their arc and this works use of long complex flashbacks made it hard at times to figure out what is happening in the main story and what the characters were doing before the flashback. Each arc also seemed at best to be loosely connected, and in some cases each arc’s style seemed to contrast drastically. The style of the story really focuses much more upon the world than a central plot, but the world is so interesting that it often distracts the reader from this problem.

The characters are excellent, providing one can accept their vicious natures. Alot of the cast even from an early age engage in violent, amoral and/or high sexual behavior. If you can believe that the setting and the story justifies this sort of behavior then the characterization is excellent. If you can’t, however then the characters might feel like they are a bit too unphased by the shocking violence, sex, and drug use around them. Due to the wandering nature of this series and shear number of characters, I will only summarize some of the earlier important characters introduced in the first five volumes.

The closest character to a lead is Elijah, who I oddly enough felt was the least interesting character within the major cast. He centralizes the earlier story arc, and while he is the weakest of the cast he is also perhaps the most human early on. For a while I found him sympathetic in his search for his kidnapped mother and sister, and I was interested in the mystery surrounding his father who is key player in a resistance movement. Despite being very human and relatively young, he still is unphased by murder even in the early parts of the series when he is supposed to be a teen. In later volumes his behavior seems to move farther and farther away from realism though, and he does becomes much more vicious. For this reason later on I grew to dislike his character more and more, and even the story at times seemed to tires of him later on and to focus for a time on other characters.

His traveling campaigns include a odd band of mercenaries led by Nazar Bajev Khan. Khan is ex-soldier who helped establish the group and acts as the hard mentor character. He helped to train Kenji, who is depicted as natural killer and acts early on foil to the more innocent Elijah. Kenji is depicted as a killing machine who specializes in killing the super soldiers developed in government experiments with a pair of knives. To balance out his psychotic behavior and make him more human they portray him as extremely socially isolated and to have periods of mental breakdown due to his traumatic life. Sophia is a really unusual character who is tormented by her past. She has given away her old human body in favor for an artificial cybernetic one that resembles a young girl, despite her actually being in her 50’s. What is so interesting about her character is that in this new body she begins to regain some of humanity and to take responsibility for the terrible things she did in her past. Wycliffe is another soldier figure who despite having a hard shell develops feelings for Kachua (more on her in a second).

My favorite characters of the group though are the contrasting prostitutes they pick up after a raid. The first of these characters is Kachua who is forced into prostitution after her village is destroyed in a wave of ethnic cleansing. She never loses her hope and faith, and is the one character that has trouble with killing in the group. In contrast to her is Helena a professional prostitute who is fiercely independent, and is strongly atheistic. Their interactions are interesting, due to the fact that they contrast so much with the rest of the mercenaries who are professional killers and with each other despite sharing a similar plight.

One of my other favorite characters is Lane the homosexual caretaker of Elijah during the beginning chapters of the manga. He is wheelchair bound, and slowly is dieing from the virus. While his role in the story is small, it is extremely important to understanding the world. He is one of the best depictions of a male gay character within a manga, and his relationship with Elijah’s father and mother was extremely complex and humanizing. His back-story really helps to explain the workings of the world and set the plot within motion. Though he is only around for a short period he had a profound impact on the story. While the cast can at times can seem too cold, generally I felt the characterization was very strong.

While Eden isn’t a masterpiece that everyone should run out and buy it is well worth reading for science fiction fans. The art is unusually good for it’s style, the world is filled with impressive details, and the characters and plot are solid. While occasionally the cruel actions of the characters can leave them hard to relate to and sometime the plot can get confusing, generally the story is still very strong. It is a pity that this work has been so overlooked, and if you are into Sci-Fi and can find this it is well worth looking into.

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manga, Uncategorized

Lyche Light Club: join the club

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Of all the strange manga I have read in 2012, Lychee Light Club perhaps takes cake for the strangest. This dystopian nightmare of a comic is extremely dark in mood and bares a remarkable similarity to A Clockwork Orange. While its prequel remain unpublished within the U.S., this work on its own still is still clearly the crowning achievement of Usamaru Furuya. It is well worth a read if the reader can stand the violence and subject matter it presents. This work isn’t for the faint of heart, due to its shocking imagery and themes. So while I personally consider it Furuya best work, others may find it overly harsh and disturbing. I personally hope that Vertical eventually does release the prequel, which includes more back details about the cast.

Usamaru Furuya started his career as a professional artist before beginning his to work on manga series, and this background is very clearly reflected within his artwork. The art for Lychee Light Club is some of the best art manga has to offer. Furuya shows off in this title his distinct ability to create a variety of character types and a strong sense of expressiveness through the imagery and motion. His style stands out strongly in this work and his ability to bring life (and death) to characters is fascinating. The background in this manga is almost unbelievably detailed. It is the perfect example of the impact a background can have on a work, and is a clear example of why I am so interested in evaluating backgrounds. The eerie expressionistic use of light and shadow, and the abandon factory where most of the story takes place really sets a powerful mood. As is usually the case with Furuya the artwork for Lychee Light Club is fantastic.

Lychee Light Club has a really shocking, bizarre and morbid plot. It focuses on a group of middle schooler’s who have a secret club run in abandon factory run by the genius Hiroyuki Tsunekawa. Tsunekawa has declared himself the clubs supreme dictator Zera, and moves the groups agenda quickly toward a harsh mixture of ideology based upon fascism, chess, eternal youth and roman imperialism. He dedicates the clubs work toward creating a robot fueled by the lychee nuts (which are growing nearby) in order to capture a girl for the club. While most of the club is willing to devote themselves to Zera’s fanatical and radical ideas, the past leader of the group Hiroshi Tamiya and some of his friends slowly begin to show signs of dissent. In fighting and jealousy between Zera gay psychotic lover Jaibo and his bodyguard Niko also threatens to undermine the unity of the club.

Lychee Light Club really works so well, because it is so unapologetically dystopian in style. It is remorselessly in its depiction of violent and sexual acts, and depicts most of the cast even protagonists characters as unlikable and yet sympathetic figures. What is so shocking about this is that these characters are in effect children, and this is a really bold and unusual statement to make about children. Most works and people generally portray children as innocent, and that often they acquire prejudice through adult example. This work largely rejects these positive notions, instead portraying the club members as selfishly unaware of the consequences of their actions, petty, jealous and against taking up adult responsibility. Many of these themes are very similar to those found in A Clockwork Orange, and clearly this manga and the stage play it was adapted from was influenced by this novel and the Kubrick film.

Despite being truly a master work I can’t really recommend this work to the general manga reader, due to the level of disturbing content. As I mentioned before this work holds nothing back, which means it includes many graphic and detailed scenes of preteen characters involved in gruesome acts of murder and graphic gay sex. While these scenes are definitely not exploitive and a key part of the plot, the fact that these elements are taken so serious really makes them at time hard to witness. This is definitely not a work for the weak of stomach, but for those who can appreciate such a serious depiction will find this work highly rewarding.

Well a lot of details about the characters that are introduced in the prequel are absent, there is plenty of interest elements presented in this release to understand the characters. Almost no one with the exception perhaps of the kidnapped girl victim are likable. This lack of a really likable character is very befitting the grim tone of Lychee Light Club, and is really to the stories advantage. While this work does contain many sympathetic characters that eventually see the error of their ways or who act as brainwashed and manipulated followers, Zera clearly doesn’t fall into either of these category. Normally a character like Zera that chooses to be evil for the sake of being evil isn’t really all that convincing, but in his case there are a number of well thought out reasons and behaviors that makes him convincing. He is clearly inspired by power hungry figures, and he carefully researches these figures and imitates their traits. Secondly his personality traits really follow someone who could become a dictator. He is manipulative, intelligent, self absorbed, remorseless, and paranoid. These two traits are ignited with the inspiration he receives while in elementary school, and helps to drives his ambition to take over the light club.

One of the most terrifying and unusual characters is Jaibo. Jaibo is clearly psychotic and has no regard for human life other than that of Zera, enjoying to dissect his victims. Much like the Joker Jaibo wears a really disturbing smile on his face even when killing, and is usually unnervingly up beat. He dedicates himself to serving Zera, and acts as a spy and executioner for the group. He also is Zera gay sex partner, which providing they are both middle schoolers is also rather unnerving. This relationship begins to stir up anger in Niko who is jealous and distrustful of Jaibo. Throughout the series Nico grows more and more obsessed with proving his loyalty, and his worth as Zera’s personal protector. It is mentioned briefly that in the prequel he removes his left eye to provide for the robot the club is building to prove his loyalty, and eventually he is even willing to sell out his past friend Hiroshi. Other loyal club members Takuzou a genius in robotics, the effeminate and vain Raizou, and a dumb clownish character named Kobuhei.

While Hiroshi and his friends members eventually begin to reject Zera, it is interesting to note that they for a while do follow him and go along with some of his cruel plans. Hiroshi is the closest club member to a hero, but is still very capable of acts of cruelty, survival at the cost of others and jealousy. While he is very intelligent for a middle schooler and a good leader figure, he is nowhere near as intelligent and charismatic as Zera and loses control over his club. He seeks to reclaim it, but is very aware that Zera and his followers are dangerous and clever. His friends include the nervous outcast Riku, and the eye patch wearing and intensely loyal Katsuya.

The two other major characters of the show include Litchi the robot, and the girl he eventually captures Kanon. Kanon is perhaps the only really innocent character of the series, and is a victim of Zera’s kidnapping plot. She sleeps while the club is around, and only wakes up to talk to the Robot Litchi and to practice singing and organ playing with him. She develops a relationship with Litchi that borders on obsessive, and she tries to teach Litchi what it means to be human. This causes Litchi to eventually develop more human emotions that start to clash with the cruel orders he is given from Zera. While many of the characters in this work (even the sinister Jaibo) are easy to sympathize with, besides Kanon most of them are given very unpleasant personalities that make them rounded and morbidly fascinating.

Lyche Light Club is definitely the sort of work that isn’t for everyone. Many will find this title too disturbing and gruesome to handle. For those who can deal with the level of childhood sexual content and violence in a mature manner, however this manga will prove a highly rewarding experience. This is perhaps the best work Usamaru Furuya has put out, and certainly is his most ambitious work (which is saying a lot providing his resume of works). For those who enjoy dark stories this is definitely well worth purchasing.

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manga, other, Uncategorized

Raven’s Week of Reviews 3: Day three Uzimaki

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If you are looking to read something that will terrify you then Uzamaki is the manga for you. This work takes the simple concept of the spiral, and turns into into the one of the most horrific shapes imaginable. While it kind of goes without saying that this work isn’t for everyone due to how hard it is to stomach, for horror lovers this is a masterpiece and most read work. While I have to admit I haven’t really read too many manga works that would be considered as part of the horror genre, this work still is clearly head and shoulders above any other horror manga I have ever seen. It definitely is not for the weak of stomach though, and can be hard to read due to its disturbing contents (so read with caution).

Perhaps the most effective element of Uzamaki is the artwork. It is the nightmarish imagery of Uzamaki really allows the over the top story to be so powerful and frightening. The backgrounds are well drawn, but don’t really stand out for the most part till the final volume. They work well when supporting the works setting, and there are a few occasions before the third volume where they really can be outstanding. The most powerful feature of the artwork, however is the monster and character designs. The almost realistic doll like nature of the character really clashes shockingly with the disturbing transformations of body, and makes the horrific images madness stomach churning. The almost plastic nature of the characters contrasts with the stiff style in which everyday life is portrayed in this work, contributing greatly to the shocking nature of these transformations. The style used within the artwork is so scary that it can be almost physically painful to read this manga sometimes.

Nothing can prepare you disturbing bodily transformation and gruesome imagery of Uzamaki. The story takes places in a small seaside town, which is under a terrible cursed. Kirie wishes to leave the town with his girlfriend Shuichi, feeling evil presence emanating from the town. At first she ignores her boyfriends warning, and feels he is overreacting. Things quickly begin to go wrong, however as Kirie’s father suddenly becomes mentally ill and a develops an unhealthy obsession with spiral shapes. This insanity and transformations caused by this obsessions soon begin to plague the entire town. Soon the whole town is slowly engulfed in the spiral curse, causing all sorts of horrible supernatural effects to the town and its inhabitants.

Uzamaki has a plot that is based upon creating a constant presence of terror emanating from the very town itself. It keeps the reader guessing what new horrible thing will happen, and as to how the leads will survive. Uzamaki is such a great work partly because it has such simple goals. It aims to frighten the reader, and does an excellent job doing just that. Until the final volume most of the stories are rather episodic, and even at the ending it is the journey that is the main point of the work. It relies much more on imagery than character development. As a result it Uzamaki is a quick, but difficult read due to its subject matter. It is the sort of manga that knows what it wants to convey, and places all of its energy into horrifying the reader.

There isn’t really all that much to say about the characters. The author Junji Ito clearly intended to kill off or transform most of the cast, and as a result didn’t bother developing them much. While the characters seem somewhat believable, none of the cast really are developed much or given a backstory. The lead character for most of the story is Shuichi who observes and witnesses as things descend farther into madness. Her boyfriend Kirie ends up becoming a terrified shut in and is the first to guess the town’s horrible truth. Most of the story, however is dedicated to shocking the reader rather than making them particularly connected to the cast.

Uzumaki is the sort of work that makes other many horror titles like Higurashi seem like a joke. The direct plot and terrifying imaginary of twisted bodies, death and madness makes this a masterpiece of the horror genre. While its characters are never really developed a whole lot, it is clear that this three volume work never really had time or incentive to have the reader connect with the cast. This is the sort of title that certain readers will love, while others will be too sickened by to read very far into. If you can stand the disturbing nature of this manga then this is definitely worth reading and owning.

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