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Manga Mondays with Kethylia 11/5

The nifty manga blogger, Kethylia, allows me to post her weely reviews every Monday here on the blog, to share with you good folks. Here is a link to her site, which she describes as “an informal brain-dumping ground for off-the-cuff book and manga reviews, news commentary, leftist political rants, half-baked pretensions of intellectualism, and lots, lots more!”

Enjoy!

Here is a description of her rating scale.

Tezuka, Osamu. MW. Trans. Camellia Nieh. New York: Vertical, 2007.

mw.jpg

Summary: A night of coerced and forbidden passion becomes a night of horror for Garai and the youthful Yuki when they witness the gruesome deaths of every inhabitant of a small island off the coast of Okinawa. The culprit is a deadly gas called MW (pronounced “Muu”), and the government quickly covers up the incident to protect the secret of its weapon of mass destruction. Fifteen years later, Yuki has become a seductive but heartless killer intent upon procuring MW for himself so that he can destroy all humanity, and Garai has become a Catholic priest tormented by his desperate love for Yuki-and by the terrible cost he knows he will pay for doing the right thing. In the end, though Yuki’s plot is foiled (for now), he–and only he–emerges unscathed to terrorize the world another day.

Comments: Vertical does not bid competitively for its manga licenses, so you know that there must be something very much amiss when the mighty VIZ Media chooses not to publish a Shougakukan title by the late God of Manga Tezuka Osamu. To say the least. But I never imagined that it might possibly be worse than Vertical’s release of the misogynistic medical epic Ode to Kirihito, which was haunted by the same disreputable cloud of VIZ Media’s apparent first refusal. Clearly, I’m sorely lacking in the imagination department. This time around, not only are the women portrayed as pathetic objects to be used, abused, and/or gruesomely murdered–we have a genocidally-inclined gay man who also gets a jolt out of crossdressing, raping women, and having sex with his bloodthirsty pet dog…not to mention a Catholic priest with a pedophile past who, though he protesteth much, is essentially an accomplice to his lover’s many crimes. Only the token lesbian manages both a positive portrayal and a happy (or at least unharmed) end in the arms of her (female) lover. Luckily for her, heterosexual men like lesbians. (Detect any sarcasm?) Obviously, Tezuka is slavishly catering to his Big Comic base here, and all that cutesy, retro, cartoonish artwork is just incongruous icing on the cake. I’m sorry, but no base that necessitates the deployment of such an array of phobias and pernicious stereotypes about women and gay men deserves to be catered to under any circumstances whatsoever!

Of course, the centerpiece of MW is the near-hysterical criticism of Japan’s unequal diplomatic relationship with the United States “Nation X” and the domestic political corruption that relationship engenders. Tezuka may have been an avowed pacifist, but the way in which he decries American “interventionist” military forays in one breath and glosses over Japan’s own militarism (past and present) in the next rings rather hollow to me (despite how legitimately unsexy US foreign policy was then and is now). After all, Japan has the most expensively equipped “non-military” in the world; the US ain’t the only one flying choppers with Big Guns! As such, I suppose Yuki might be taken as a dark metaphor for post-war Japan itself–submissive on the surface but fundamentally two-faced, perverted…and secretly nurturing unplumbed depths of rancor. Why am I suddenly reminded of Tokyo Babylon’s Seishiro? Yes, indeedy, we appear to have an early example of the ruthless, bisexual, and, most importantly, Japanese villain archetype, now ubiquitous in manga for all audiences, on our hands.

Purely from a production standpoint, the American hardcover edition is lovely, among the best I’ve seen manga-wise from from this publisher thus far. (It damn well better be at $24.95!!) The paper quality is respectable, the translation flows naturally, and the pages, all 582 of them, are crisp and seamlessly flipped (according to the late mangaka’s expressed preference). But as usual, graphic designer Chip Kidd gives the book, like all of Vertical’s titles, a distinctive look, and as usual, I’m not liking it at all. Kidd goes way overboard, putting transgressive sex scenes on the spine and both endpapers. In any case, I would much prefer to see some variation of the original Japanese cover art and design on Vertical’s releases. Mainstream manga series almost invariably boast a piece of color art or two, and these, depressingly, never seem to get included in Vertical manga. If I’m paying top dollar, I’d like to have those, too, dammit! Less bling and higher quality licenses might be nice, as well.

Notes: hardcover, 1st American edition; first published in Japan by Shougakukan from 1976 to 1978

Rating: 2.5/10Shock value? In spades. Quality? Not a crumb to be found. Don’t waste your time–or your money.

Ueda, Miwa. Peach Girl: Sae’s Story. Vol. 1. Trans. Ray Yoshimoto and Jodi Bryson. Los Angeles: TOKYOPOP, 2006.

saesstory01.jpg

Summary: Originally titled Ura Peach Girl. Sae has been held back a year in high school, but that’s not stopping her from hanging out at the university with Momo and Kiley. Now a boy from her past who remembers her when she was shy and weak named Kanji is determined to win her over again. Will lying in order to become a model again solve her problems and get rid of Kanji?

Comments: Peach Girl is one of those super-fun series that I never in a million years would have ever picked up in Japanese on my own. As such, the publisher formerly known as Mixx Entertainment takes full credit (or blame!) for my sporadic exposure to the series since it was first released in the US in Smile. So many years (Nearly a decade… *self-conscious gasp* I feel old…) have passed since then, however, that I don’t remember many of the manga’s finer plot points; I don’t even remember, in fact, if I ever actually read it to completion! (Premature senility. I just know it.)

It was with a certain amount of trepidation, therefore, that I picked up this sequel starring Sae, the narcissistic antagonist of the first series (and, all things considered, the best thing it had going for it). I am delighted to report that I was not disappointed. Ueda has not, at least at the starting line, lost her edge, and she mixes comedy and (melo)drama with a veteran mangaka’s effortless finesse. Her artwork has gotten better over the years–for example, the action scenes, such as they are, are remarkably good for a romantic shoujo title. I was half irritated, half grateful that she recapped the original Peach Girl plot at the end of the book; even though I couldn’t remember it, it wasn’t really necessary to know any of it in order to enjoy this new story. Worth continuing for now. We’ll see how quickly I tire.

Notes: paperback, 1st American edition; first published in Japan by Kodansha in 2005

Rating: 6/10A fun, well-rounded story that plays off of that eternally popular manga trope: Teenaged Insecurity.

11 Comments

I’ve got MW coming to me in my DCBS order and I saw Tezuka’s exhibition at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco so while I have read the book yet, I have to say I’m shocked at the extremely negative review. kethylia’s credibility with me at the moment is pretty much as low as her score for the book. I hope to prove her wrong but will be happy to admit if she’s right…

I also have to say, seeing such a work given such a low score based on purely superficial concerns like the gender ratio, the packaging, and the tone of the story is irritating. It would be like calling Preacher a terrible book because Arseface is ugly, the protagonist does bad things, and it’s full of gratuitously gross violence. There’s no arguing taste, but a review that is subjective to that degree is fairly useless to most people, especially readers of American comics.

“wah wah wah I don’t like comics that challenge me! how dare this manga from 70’s JAPAN be anything other than a love letter to modern feminism. I refuse to look under the surface of anything I read”

Christ. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m the LAST person to ever cry “PC” at anyone. I don’t think you’re being overly sensitive, I think you’re just being an extremely lazy reader. Its obvious you do lack imagination, because every metaphor and symbol in the book apparently went WAY over your head. Yuki isn’t even gay, how could you have missed that? MW isn’t my favorite of Tezuka’s work by any means, but it deserves better than your knee jerk reactions. Do you have any context at all for what Japan was like at the time? Heck, do you even know anything about Japan period? And what was wrong with Ode to Kirohito?

Nevermind, I just looked at your review. Apparently Viz can do no wrong while Vertical will just publish anything. Are you for real? It seems your “thing” is missing the point and looking to get offended by how another culture viewed sexuality several decades ago.

Half-baked and off-the-cuff, you say?

Funny to see Tezuka’s art described as “retro”. He started working on the 1940s, for dog’s sake! MW’s is about as “modern” as his artwork can get!

And very few manga artists criticized Japan’s militarism (past and present) as much as Tezuka. That man survived aerial bombings! He KNEW the dangers of militarism by first-hand experience, thank you very much.

Best,
Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

It seems odd to me that $25 for a 582-page hardcover is presented as “top dollar.” The price seems right in line to me; the average manga paperback is around 200 pages for $10, so you’re getting 2 1/2 average manga for the price of…2 1/2 average manga, plus it’s hardcover, not paperback. (It’s also in line with what you’d pay for a regular hardcover novel, even those with fewer pages.)

Regular manga releases don’t “almost invariably” contain color pages, either; it depends on the series and the publisher (and some of the publishers who do use them charge more, like Del Rey). If the series was originally printed with color pages, they may not even be available in color any more; Japanese collections generally don’t include them, and the original anthologies don’t get saved in any great quantity.

Here is some well-written negative criticism of MW:
http://blog.newsarama.com/2007/12/10/fringe-benefits-mw/

Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

I appreciate the review and that it personally didn’t appeal to you but I don’t think Viz passed on MW because they didn’t think it was quality and it was some sort of cast off for Vertical to pick up. I think it plays into verticals’ desire to translate classic manga that other studios simply wouldn’t touch–for various reasons (personally I’m hoping for more Takemiya–though I can just see the responses if they attempt a shonen ai classic liek Kaze to Kino–and ultimately PLEASE give us some classic or modern Moto Hagio…)

Anyway, as a gay, 27 year old male, MW didn’t offend me. I suppose because I looked at it in the context it was written. While I do think Yuki is mor eor less meant to be shown as gay, unlike what someone said here, and ya the bisexual evil stereotype is a common one… I dunno. I can look past it and even, I hate to say, kinda enjoy that aspect for what it was. The power of the work as a whole (even if ti’s not one of Tezuka’s life changing mangas the way I felt Ode to K was) wins out… for me. But, I respect your opinion–

I do have to say what worries me in this and Ode to H much more–and is something you still see in manga nowadays is the “Raped woman falls in love with her rapist” plot–but I can get past them by chalking it up to the era–but it would make me hesitant to give either book as a gift to a teenager….

(I mean even General Hospital has stopped using such arcane plots…)

[…] as Apollo’s song, about the same size (both in paper dimensions and length) and unflipped. Kethylia didn’t like it much. I thought it WORKED, at least, both as a unified story and an […]

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