Sunny, Vol. 1 by Taiyo Matsumoto

It makes me feel good that there are still new series coming out from Viz in the Viz Signature imprint. Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto is also an addition to the trend of nicely packaged manga hardcovers. With a slightly larger trim size (the same as the other IKKI titles) and color pages before most chapters, this is a volume that will delight manga collectors looking for something nicer than the average paperback. I’ve only read Blue Spring by Matsumoto before, I really need to get around to reading Tekkon Kinkreet.

Sunny is written in one of my favorite fiction formats – a collection of interrelated short stores with shifting main characters that are all tied together. The Sunny of the title of the book refers to a broken down old Nissan Sunny car that sits in the back of a group home for abandoned children. The Sunny is a secret hideout, place to stash porn and other illicit materials, and a means of escape for a group of kids that doesn’t have much security or fun in their daily lives. The volume opens with a brief glimpse of foster home chaos, quickly inter cut with a scene showing the imagination of Haruo, who sits in the car imagining that he’s bleeding out in the desert like a tragic movie tough guy. Haruo’s reverie is abruptly interrupted by Junsuke, an overly hyper snotty-nosed kid who eagerly announces that there’s a new arrival in the house. The readers of Sunny and the new kid Sei both get an abrupt introduction to the children’s home as Sei goes through the house and sits in the Sunny with Haruo and Junsuke. When Sei says that his mom is going to pick him up before summer Haruo says, “No way you’re goin home. You got dumped.”

Sunny captures Haruo’s frustration and anger about his own situation, combined with his helplessness about being able to change anything. Junsuke struggles with his instinct to grab anything shiny, even stealing from his classmates at times. While Haruo is a central viewpoint character, Sunny fluidly moves among different points of view, showing Megumu’s concern for a dead cat and the real-world concerns of older kid Kenji. While there’s a lot of hopelessness in the lives of the kids who live at the home, they also stick up for each other and come together when one of them goes missing.

Matsumoto has a scratchy pen and ink style in his drawings, which incorporate cartoonish elements like circles for rosy cheeks. Washes of ink in varying intensity and hand-drawn textures instead of screentones give Sunny a hand-crafted feel that stands out among more corporate glossy manga. Matsumoto’s detailed backgrounds firmly establish the neighborhood the kids live in, as well as the run-down environment of their house. Overall, Sunny is exactly what I’d expect from the Viz Signature line – a nuanced work that is set apart from more commercial manga due to its artistic and literary value .

Tesoro by Natsume Ono

For the Manga Moveable Feast, the one title I had sitting on my to-read stack from the Signature line was Natsume Ono’s Tesoro. I enjoyed this volume of short stories and doujinshi, but it might be mainly for Natsume Ono completists. I enjoyed this volume very much, but I tend to be an Ono fan. I think that the only work of hers translated in English that I haven’t read is Not Simple, and the art style in these stories seems to echo the cover of that volume. The facial expressions and thin linework are recognizably Ono’s work, but instead of the more elongated character designs seen in House of Five Leaves and Gente, the proportions of the people in this manga are much more short and childlike. This cartoony style suits the slice of life nature of the stories, as Ono quickly dashes off observations about family relationships and food. This volume will appeal more to fans of Gente and Ristorante Paradiso than House of Five Leaves.

I tended to enjoy the stories in the first half of the volume more than the ones in the back. Standouts to me were the story “Moyashi Couple,” about an aging husband and wife that worry how they are perceived by their neighbors and “Three Short Stories About Bento” in which the traditional Japanese lunch is a main character in the lives of different people. Ono is at her best when capturing quick illuminating moments that portray the relationships between people and their surroundings. Fans of Gente will enjoy the middle part of this volume, with many stories set in Italy. The story I couldn’t really get into was Senza Titolo #4, about a man getting out of prison who needs to deal with the expectations of all the people who are waiting for him. For some reason that story seemed like it was cobbled together from sources instead of having the more authentic feel of the other works in this manga, which feel very observational and true to life. Tesoro is essentially a collection of Natsume Ono B-sides, and if you’re already a fan of her work you will most likely enjoy it in order to get a glimpse of her earlier art and storytelling style.

Manga Moveable Feast: Viz Signature Edition personal archive

The Manga Moveable Feast this month focuses on the Viz Signature Imprint and is hosted at Manga Critic.
I hope to be able to participate with some new reviews, but I thought I’d do a mini-round up of reviews for Viz Signature titles I’ve done in the past and list some of my favorites.

Most of the recent Viz Signature titles were featured on the Sigikki website, which doesn’t seem to be as current as it once was. Still, it was a nice experiment in online comics distribution, even though as more of these volumes are available in print format the free chapters still seem to be disappearing from the site.

Natsume Ono – I’m grateful for the Signature imprint for translating so much of Ono’s work. I enjoy her quirky art style and slice of life stories.

House of Five Leaves is one of my favorite Signature titles, and my favorite Natsume Ono Series. There’s something about this story of a hapless ronin slowly being drawn into a life of crime that I find absolutely gripping. Seeing the way the characters change each other as they go about their daily tasks while dealing with being in a kidnapping and ransom gang gives a bit of a contemporary feel to the historical setting of this series.

House of Five Leaves Volume 1

House of Five Leaves Volumes 4-6

I always enjoy it when manga creators let their personal interests inform their manga, and Ono’s affection for food, Italy, and men wearing glasses is clearly shown in her manga with contemporary settings that revolve around an Italian cafe.

Gente Volume 1
Gente Volume 3
Ristorante Paradiso Volume 1

One of the reasons why I like Ono so much is because she reminds me a bit of Fumi Yoshinaga. Both authors have worked in yaoi, both have an extremely individualistic drawing style, there’s a focus on slice of life stories in their work, and both seem to be serious foodies. I’ve enjoyed the Yoshinaga books put out by Viz Signature.

All My Darling Daughters – A great introduction to Yoshinaga since it is complete in one volume

Ooku focuses on an alternate history Japan with interesting gender dynamics.

Ooku Volume 1

Ooku Volume 2
Ooku Volume 5
Ooku Volume 6

One of the fun things about the Signature imprint is that it does sometimes bring manga to the US that is absolutely crazy. I am referring to Biomega, a title that almost doesn’t need a review, because you just need to ask yourself if you are the type of person who would enjoy a manga that has as a character a talking bear with a machine gun. If you don’t find bears with machine guns enjoyable, I’m not sure if I can be your friend. This reminds me, I need to pick up some of the middle volumes of this series!

Biomega Volume 1
Biomega Volumes 2 and 3

Some of the most personal and deeply affecting titles to come from the Signature line are by Inio Asano. His works focus on that time of life in early adulthood when people aren’t quite sure what they want to become. He blends everyday but surreal images into his manga, giving his stories a dream-like quality that still manages to feel gritty and realistic.

What a Wonderful World Volume 1 – I think I only read the first volume of this title. (Unfortunately, this post is making me develop an extensive shopping list.)

Afterschool Charisma I am including in this list of favorites because I love Clone Freud so much. This series from Viz sometimes feels a bit like a high concept B-movie, due to the setting of a high school populated entirely by teenage clones of famous historical figures. Horrifically this series is now up to volume 5, which means that there is even more manga I need to order.

Afterschool Charisma Volume 1
Afterschool Charisma Volume 3

My personal shopping list after compiling this post: What a Wonderful World Volume 2, Biomega Volume 6, Afterschool Charisma Volumes 4 and 5, Ooku Volumes 3 and 4.

Afterschool Charisma Volume 3

I’m always happy to read a new volume of Afterschool Charisma. This series about teenage clones of historic figures, their vaguely menacing high school, and the seemingly normal boy trapped with them just has a certain kind of pulpy appeal that I find enjoyable. The cover model for this volume is the uncharacteristically tall teenage Napoleon Bonaparte. At the end of the previous volume non-clone Shiro got a nasty shock when an older version of himself showed up with a pint-sized resurrected Marie Curie, nicknamed Pandora. Mozart yells “Welcome to the clone world, Shiro!” Freud points out that other than the fact that there’s someone that looks a lot like Shiro, they don’t have any confirmation that Shiro actually is a clone. Shiro wants to find his dad so he can ask him about what’s going on. Mozart goes around acting unhinged, and Joan of Arc is preparing to reenact her predecessor’s fiery death.

School director Rockwell reveals a maniacal side underneath his seemingly breezy personality. The shadowy group of people orchestrating the Dolly the Sheep religion finally make themselves known as the school festival draws a variety of visitors who wish to observe the clone’s special talents. One disappointing thing about this volume for me was that we didn’t see much of Clone Freud being awesome. He’s mostly just taking in everything about Shiro, wondering who he actually is, and observing the reactions of those around him. I’m expecting something dramatic from Clone Freud in the future. The pacing for this manga is very good if sometimes a little frustrating. There’s always a dramatic cliffhanger at the end of each volume which leaves me wondering what will happen next.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Viz Signature Quick Takes – Used Books, Charisma, and Leaves

Kingyo Used Books Volume 3

Reading this series can sometimes be a little bit painful. All the loving descriptions of classic manga that will never be released in English make me pine for what I’m unable to read. This volume might be a little more fun for American manga fans because much of the manga profiled in this volume will be familiar. The third volume starts off when a scardey cat meets a beautiful woman who is obsessed with Umezu horror manga. He tries to read the manga as a superficial way of connecting with his pick-up target, and ends up appreciating the horror genre much more than he thought he would because “Every one of his characters goes full-throttle at everything.” In “Makeup” a woman struggling with her career finds the strength to continue when she revisits her childhood love of Sailor Moon. Sailor Moon serves as a cultural touchstone for all the women she randomly encounters during her day. They share memories, with one of them asking “Don’t you think dressing up feels like going into battle mode?”

The other stories in Kingyo Used Books feature stories about cooking manga, romance between employees, and the lengths someone will go to in order to track down an unreturned book. The notes in the back provide some interesting historical context about the status of manga lending libraries in Japan. It occurs to me that between Kingyo Used Books, with its overview of classic series and focus on the connections that readers make with manga and Bakuman’s feverish statistic-laced overview of the act of manga creation, it is possible to build up a good if idiosyncratic portrait of the manga industry in Japan.

Afterschool Charisma Volume 2

I’m not always great about remembering to go over to check the Sigikki site for online chapters (although I am very thankful the site exists), so I’m making a mental note to go over there this week and get caught up on Afterschool Charisma. I was familiar with most of the chapters in this volume due to one of my infrequent Sigikki binges, but it was nice to sit down with the print edition and revisit this series about a normal high school boy trapped in a school filled with the clones of famous historic figures. The clones are getting ready for their annual talent day. Glimmerings of a new religion begin to manifest when small groups of clones start carrying around tiny sheep and referring to the “Almighty Dolly”. Shiro has to deal with a couple stressful situations – he’s tasked with babysitting a suicidal Mozart, and the school’s feckless director swoops in along with an ominously familiar looking little girl named Pandora. The school director latches on to Shiro and forces him to play tennis and other sports while all the clones are studying. Shiro starts getting caught up in the clones new religion, along with his new companion Hitler. I continue to be an unabashed Freud fangirl, because it is just hilarious seeing teenage Freud skulk around with his pageboy haircut uncovering evil secret organizations, and then acting incredibly neurotic the minute anyone asks him what he’s doing. This volume ends with a big surprise, so I’ve got to get over to the online chapters and find out what is going to happen!

House of Five Leaves Volume 3

Every time I pick up a volume of this manga, I’m struck by the unique atmosphere that Ono creates. The blend of Edo period slice of life pacing and the underworld setting creates an undercurrent of tension. I’m always on edge thinking that the moment is going to come when hapless ronin Masa is going to get caught up in violence but he always manages to drift along on the edges of life, surviving despite himself. In this volume the spy/thief of the House of Five Leaves gets caught stealing, and Masa takes advantage of his new charismatic acquaintance Yagi to gain a side job at the house where his companion is being held captive. Yaichi is suspicious of Masa’s new friendship with Yagi, but is he anxious not to see someone else take on his pet ronin or is something else going on? Masa’s sister abruptly visits Masa in order to get some help extracting herself from a marriage offer, and it is funny seeing how the gang of hardened criminals acts around her. Everybody remarks that she eats just like Masa, and seeing Masa take on the role of scolding older brother shows a different aspect of his personality. For all of Masa’s supposed ineffectiveness, he does manage to aid his comrades but in doing so he gives the outsider Yagi more information than what might be prudent. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next between the odd triangle of Masa, Yaichi, and Yagi.

Review copies of Kingyo Used books and House of Five leaves provided by the publisher.