AX Volume 1: A Collection of Alternative Manga edited by Sean Michael Wilson
I’ll be the first to admit that my tastes in manga are decidedly mainstream. I do enjoy the occasional wacky seinen title, but I generally read manga for my daily dose of escapism and don’t go out of my way to be challenged. I have a soft spot for anthology titles, because back in the dark days before the current manga explosion, all I had to read were my Eclipse/Viz floppy comics and the manga excerpted in Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics. I was interested to check out this anthology when it first came out, but decided to purchase it later. So I was excited when I managed to snag a copy in a ComicsAlliace twitter giveaway.
AX is carefully curated, with stories selected that show the true variety of Japanese alternative comics. I was blown away by the variety of art styles in this volume, from the detailed European forest city overrun by mushrooms in “Mushroom Garden” to the bean-head motorcycle lovers in “Enrique Kobayashi’s Eldordo”. “Into Darkness” featured a lush garden entwining around a corpse, while “The Neighbor” showed an inexplicable feud developing with flat, sparse sketches. The themes of the stories ranged from the surreal as shown in “Six Paths of Wealth” where a mother pushes her daughter to engage in some unconventional behavior with insects, to the everyday life of a salaryman who suddenly decides to take up boxing in “The Song of Mr H.”
As with any anthology there were a few stories that weren’t to my taste. I might be a prude, but I don’t tend to get much out of stories where the main point of the narrative is to be transgressive mainly by showing sex acts or bodily functions. If I wanted to read stuff like that, I figure I could always seek out something like Prison Pit. Fortunately the way the selection of the stories was paced, when I was reading I wasn’t mentally checking off repetitive themes like “Penis, sex with a cursed plant-woman, the runs, giant penis, penis again.” Instead there was more variation in the way the anthology was put together, so my running tally of themes was more like “Naked woman, fable about insanity told with assassins, boy falls in love with a butterfly, massive existential angst and vomiting, penis, symbolic story about a relationship breakup.”
The production quality for the book from Top Shelf Productions was excellent. I am always a sucker for paperback books with french flaps, and I appreciated the inclusion of author notes for all the stories collected in the anthology. I appreciated the variety of artists represented, especially the inclusion of many female artists. With Drunken Dreams and AX being published, 2010 is ending as a good year for providing readers with access to important and influential manga. I hope that this book does well enough that we get a second volume published. With so much commercial, slickly produced manga (that I dearly love!) out there, it is also good to take a step back and gain a wider appreciation for the sheer variety of stories that can be told in the comics medium. AX will be a great addition to the bookshelf of any well-rounded manga fan.