Archives for November 2013

Manga Gift Guide 2013

Since Hanukkah is well underway and Christmas looms on the horizon, I thought I’d put together a list of what I’d likely buy manga loving friends, as well as what I’d like to get for the holidays!

Sweet Rein

I wrote when I reviewed it first that Sweet Rein was a great feel-good manga for the holiday season, and I still think that several weeks later! Sakura Tsukuba is an old favorite from the CMX days, so being able to read another series of hers was a real treat. Sweet Rein might be a little TOO sweet, but this is a shoujo manga about a high school girl Santa Claus falling in love with her mystical reindeer boy, so what would you expect? This is a perfect stocking stuffer for a shoujo manga fan.

Vinland Saga

I loved this manga. Sometimes you just need a narratively complex, exquisitely drawn manga about Vikings being Vikings. The deluxe hardcover makes an ideal gift, and the combination of innovative action scenes mixed with great character development makes this manga appealing to anyone who likes things that are good. I feel like this would be a great crossover manga series as well, as Yukimura’s art isn’t too manga-ish, so it might make a great gift for someone who is mainly into western comics but who wants to give manga a try. Plus, if you are starting to feel frustrated by all the holiday good cheer, there’s nothing like a few viking beheadings to serve as a stress release.

Gundam: The Origin

Find on Amazon

You know what another good Christmas gift is!? Char Aznable! Just picture him at your family gatherings smirking in Machiavellian glee, sowing the seeds of destruction wherever he goes! OK, maybe that wouldn’t be so great for your continued health in 2014. But I feel like Vertical gave a wonderful gift to manga fans everywhere by publishing these deluxe editions of Gundam: The Origin. If you enjoy drama and giant robots fighting in space, you can’t go wrong with this series.

Sailor Moon Box Sets

Sailor Moon! In box set formats! If you don’t have them already, buy them in boxes! Actually, I’m thinking of picking up the second box set to finish up my collection.

The box sets have STICKERS! SAILOR MOON STICKERS! By the Power of the Moon, I will decorate your laptop!!!!

Manga by Kyoko Okazaki

I haven’t read Pink yet, but I’m putting it on this list because it would be a great present for me!!! I want to read it! Helter Skelter was so cynical and bonkers, I’m looking forward to reading any of Okazaki’s work.

I think you could induce whiplash in someone by giving them both Sweet Rein and Helter Skelter, but why not? Reading this jarringly cynical take on the fashion world was entertaining, even if I did sometimes feel like I needed to bleach my brain a tiny bit afterwards.

Josei Disguised as Shoujo from Viz Media

I’m pretty stoked that Viz is releasing Happy Marriage and Midnight Secretary under their Shojo Beat line. And really, what could be more festive than vampire bosses who are harsh and demanding feeding on their secretaries and falling in love with them due to their awesome blood or secretaries forced into a marriage of convenience with their strict and stuck-up but secretly caring bosses? There might be a bit of a repetitive theme here, but I love it!

Pre-Holiday Giveaway: 5 #1s

I’m giving away 5 first volumes of various manga series!

You can win:

Voice Over! Seiyu Academy #1
Tiger & Bunny #1
The Beautiful Skies of Houou High #1
The Empty Empire #1
Alice in the Country of Clover #1

Just leave a comment here mentioning any manga you would most like to get (or give) as a holiday present for entry.

Edited to add:

All 5 volumes will go to one winner, selected at random.

Giveaway will be open for 1 week, will announce the winners on Monday in 8 days.

Vinland Saga Vol 1

Vinland Saga, Vol 1 by Makoto Yukimura

This is a manga that I think of as having mirage-like qualities. I never thought it would actually be released in the US, just because I assumed a 13+ volume series about vikings would be a bit of a hard sell, despite the almost universal acclaim that Planetes Yukimura’s other English-translated series received. Furthermore the fact that the first volume of this series vanished from amazon (it is still available in kindle format) made it seem all the more hard to get. Fortunately I was able to brave the wilderness of an actual brick and mortar bookstore (isn’t it good these are still around) and track down this volume.

Releasing series that might be slightly less commercial in an omnibus deluxe format seems like a smart move. This hardcover volume features color pages, author notes, and a bonus story, so the higher price point still feels like a bargain. Vinland Saga certainly lives up to its title, as the first two volumes set up a sweeping tale of adventure, simmering revenge, daring battles, amusing cynicism, and manly men being almost too awesomely manly. The story opens mid-battle, as the Viking commander Askeladd observes a battle between Frankish tribes and is determined to enter the battle as a third party and make off with all the spoils of war. Askeladd sends out a pathologically surly young boy to be his messenger, but Thorfinn demands a reward before agreeing to undertake his task. Askeladd knows what Thorfinn wants and promises him his reward if he brings back the head of the commander of the opposing forces.

Bringing back someone’s head might seem like a bit too much of a burden for a young man, but Thorfinn capably negotiates with the frog-like Frankish leader, climbs the walls of the besieged castle, beheads his target, loses the head, retrieves it, then heads back to his companions to demand his reward – a duel with Askeladd. Thorfinn has been raised by Vikings who killed his father, and as he’s grown older and more capable his desire for revenge has increased as well. The battle scenes in Vinland Saga are dynamic and detailed, and it is hard not to root for Askeladd due to his innovative battle tactics and glee in his victories. If this manga only focused on battles, I could see it becoming less interesting, but Yukimura spends just as much time showing the reader the family life of the men who go out to plunder and raid.

An extended flashback throws Thorfinn’s current life in sharp contrast, as the reader sees the peaceful village where he was raised, and the father who he wishes to avenge. While Thorfinn’s family was removed from violence in the past, his father’s legendary martial prowess results in old enemies seeking him out, and Thorfinn’s innocent desire for adventure ends up leading him to experience loss at a very young age. Yukimura’s realistic and detailed style grounds the story effectively, with all of the background elements such as dwellings, ships, and clothing having the well-researched feeling that just allows a reader to slip into enjoying the story easily. While there’s plenty of adventure and action in Vinland Saga what stands out to me more are the human elements that Yukimura focuses on so well. Seeing the world weary desire for peace shown by Thorfinn’s father does more to ground the character than showing all of his past battles. Leif Erikson shows up as a storyteller who enjoys talking about himself far too much. Thorfinn’s sister is hilariously indifferent to the attentions of the village boys, and Thorfinn’s gentle mother is shown with murder in her eyes when she sees her husband not paying enough attention to her newborn daughter. I’m very much looking forward to the next volume of this series.

Josei from Vertical, Helter Skelter: Fashion Unfriendly and Utsubora: The Story of a Novelist

Helter Skelter: Fashion Unfriendly by Kyoko Okazaki

It has been a very good year for fans of josei. Viz appears to be committed to disguising a few josei titles like Happy Marriage and Midnight Secretary as mature shoujo. I’m enjoying those very much, but I’m also very happy that Vertical is releasing josei as well, with the kind of more raw and uncompromising titles that you’d expect from them.

Helter Skelter: Fashion Unfriendly
is a slap in the face for fans of titles like Paradise Kiss or Walkin Butterfly. While neither of those titles presented a totally romantic view of the fashion industry, Helter Skelter’s story of a dysfunctional model is packed with both rage and almost unrelenting ugliness. Liiko is a supermodel at the top of her game due to massive plastic surgery. She’s incredibly self-obsessed and driven to achieve even more by her surrogate mother/manager. Liiko’s beauty and charisma serves as a snare that draws the people around her into her incredibly warped world, resulting in some incredibly warped plot twists that all make sense. Hada, Liiko’s young manager finds her own personality changing as she becomes more and more subservient to her mercurial boss.

Liiko’s surgeries are starting to break down, and there’s an unsettling theme of body horror that is prevalent throughout the title, as Liiko’s facade literally begins to crack, and she becomes more and more desperate to preserve her beauty. She’s a charismatic monster, but as the story progresses and her condition worsens it is almost possible for the reader to start viewing a broken down supermodel as the embodiment of raging id, albeit an id with a really good shoe collection. Okazaki’s art is deliberately rough and skewed, showing the fashion world as anything but glamorous. Liiko has a few panels of looking polished and perfect when she’s modeling, but mostly all the characters are portrayed in a sketchbook type style, with exaggerated features and the occasional rictus-like expression that serves to underscore just how false fashion industry concerns are.

Utsubora: The Story of a Novelist by Asumiko Nakamura

This manga is an interesting mix of genres. There are elements of noir, thriller, psychodrama, and a meditation on the meaning of identity in this story about a novelist who gets caught up in plagiarism and a young woman who turns herself into a character from one of his stories. The manga opens with the body of a young girl falling from the top of a building. Shun Mizorogi, a famous author who affects traditional Japanese clothing is called to the hospital to identify the body of the girl Aki. Sitting in the hallway of the hospital is a girl who is apparently Aki’s twin. Nakamura weaves together an intriguing mystery with Mizorogi and the supporting cast, which includes his painfully naive niece, the detectives investigating Aki’s death, and Tsuji the editor who is suspicious about Mizorogi’s sudden late in life outpouring of productivity. Mizorogi tries to unravel the mystery behind the sudden appearance of Sakura Miki, and all of the mysteries surrounding the death of Aki are about to converge in a very interesting way.

Nakamura’s style is both delicate and detailed, with some panels reminding me a little bit of art nouveau. This sophisticated illustration style makes the psychosexual developments in the book even more unsettling. Utsubora has some amazingly unsympathetic characters, but it reminded me very much of classic noir works where the dark side of human nature is fully explored.

Both Helter Skelter and Utsubora are omnibus editions, and as always the production from Vertical is a treat. Both manga have the type of memorable stories and characters that will linger in the minds of readers long after they’ve finished reading. For challenging josei manga with plenty of psychological twists, you can’t go wrong with picking up both of these titles.