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Manga Before Flowers — Weighing in on YEN+

Yen+ Is the new manga / manwha / OEL anthology from Yen Press and does something quite different from the two successful manga magazines currently on the U.S. market — Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat — by including comics from OEL creative teams as well as work from Korea. However, it actually differentiates itself from SJ and SB even more by not sticking to one specific “genre” of comic — so that girl-oriented romantic comedies and fan-servicey action titles stand side-by-side.

Does Yen+ make it work?

Well. The question that might actually be more important is, “Did the first issue convince me to pick up the second?” Right now that answer to that question is “yes” although I do have some reservations about the magazine.

The object itself: The magazine gives you over 400 pages of black and white (newsprint-quality pages) manga for the price of $8.99.* So far there were only color pages attached to Maximum Ride (the adaptation of James Patterson’s novel apparently), while some of the opening pages of the manga titles suffer since their original color pages are translating as almost pitch-black when turned into black & white. This isn’t a deal-breaker for me or anything but I hope Yen Press can figure out how cost-effectively utilize color printing to give us more color pages that were intended to be colored when serialized in a magazine.

Holding it my hands, though, I certainly feel like the price is justified — this really feels like the Japanese manga-magazine phone book experience, something Shojo Beat and Shonen Jump don’t quite offer (with SB, however, you actually feel like you are reading a magazine due to all the articles and extra cultural content in the mag).

Content: As mentioned earlier there are three types of comics in the magazine: OEL and Manwha (Korean comics) split the front of the anthology, and once you’ve read those you turn the to the back and read the Japanese titles (oriented right to left, unflipped). In the interest of time I’m not going to break down every plot-line of every manga chapter but instead give general impressions about what kinds of comics are actually in the mag.

OEL (Maximum Ride & Nightschool): Neither hooked me right out of the gate. Maximum ride makes the cardinal sin of introducing five million characters in the first chapter and basically lost me from the get go. Nightschool (Svetlana Chmakova’s new work) seems like it could be interesting and the art is quite excellent, as Cmakova adapts her shojo-style to an mystery and action-oriented narrative but the supernatural elements of the story haven’t congealed yet for me — not is it clear to me who the protagonist is yet as there might be three….I think….but the comic needs a stronger point-of-view character or position from my perspective.

Manwha (Pig Bride, Sarasah, One Fine Day & Jack Frost): One Fine Day is probably the worst comic in the collection as the overly sketchy art made me lose interest in it entirely. Pig Bride and Sarasah were probably two of the comics I liked best in the mag since they were clearly Korea’s version of shojo and I’m a big fan of shojo (which if you read my posts at all you’ve probably figured out). Pig Bride, in particular, is interesting — a fairly spoiled boy gets lost in the woods one day and stumbles into meeting his “destined” bride and her ninja sister (oh shojo. You so wacky). The catch? The “bride” is wearking a pig mask and he never knows what she actually looks like (she is supposed to be hideous according to “destiny” or whatever, but since this is romantic-comedy I’m guessing she’s really not). Although returned to his original place, they girls reappear when he turns 16 to mess up his life, one supposes. The last title, Jack Frost is horror and quite odd. There are dismembered, but living, heads, and also panty-shots. Putting the two together freaks. me. out.

Manga (Soul Eater, Nabari No Ou, Sumomo, Momomo, Bamboo Blade, Higurashi: When they Cry): The majority of the Japanese titles were action-oriented fanservice fests. Which meant I didn’t particularly care for the lot of them, the exceptions being Nabari No Ou and Bamboo Blade.

Nabari No Ou is an fairly atmospheric comic that packs a lot of punch in the first chapter — a young man appears to have the incredible power to control the world within him and if he doesn’t figure out what do about it, lots of scheming ninja are going to rip him apart to get that secret out of him. Everything about this title worked — nice art, engaging story, lack-of-male-oriented-fan-service (amusingly, there are some yaoi-related jokes but they are just that — jokes, not there for fangirl titillation as far as I can tell). This was my favorite title in the anthology and may be the only title I would buy in collected format.

Bamboo Blade has potential — a girl who kicks ass at kendo but gets no joy from it (it appears to be her family’s trade) is just the ticket to enliven a poor teacher’s lackluster kendo club and potentially even his wallet (he’s made a bet with a rival kendo-club instructor about whose team would win a match-up).

The fanservice in Soul Eater (lots of unnecessarily naked lady), Sumomo Momomo (multiple panty shots of teenage girl who looks prepubescent grossing me right the fuck out), and Higurashi (really? Only one boy in town of buxom girls?) really puts me off the mag, so if I don’t continue with Yen+ it is because I heartily dislike male-oriented fanservice that is *also* creepy. It makes regular old fanservice ten times worse than it has to be. The truth is I think these titles would probably work well for me as comics if they didn’t also include nods to a fanbase that I clearly don’t belong to. (Meaning, the plot of each has something to recommend it but I’m so put off but the fanservice I won’t even bother to recount the potential charms of each).

Conclusion: What makes Yen+ stand out is not that its comics come from three different cultures (the U.S., Korea and Japan) but that it mixes the cultures of manga itself. This may be the magazine’s advantage (it offers very different things for very different people) and perhaps a potential problem. For people like me, the male-oriented fanservice can bore or offend me depending on how its implemented. I will definitely be giving the magazine a chance next month, though, so I will see how those fan-service titles develop along with the titles enjoyed without reservation.

Review copy provided by Yen Press. On sale now.

*(you know, Shojo Beat taught me to like the color print it uses (blue & pink) because it feels less like you are thumbing through newsprint, which Americans don’t tend to like in their magazines. We like that glossy stuff, oh yeah. Yen+ feels pretty much *exactly* like thumbing threw a newspaper, at least if you go by my print-stained fingers after I’ve done reading a section of the mag).

13 Comments

Yen+ is not aimed at any particular readership, and i can understand why in a way. I do think Jack frost should have been excluded, it’s a bit to violent for me. there areso many other good manwha they coold have had such as ID or Uble Blatt.

As for why it’s all mixed together, i think Kurt says it bets, so i’ll QFT:

We’re targeting this to the US market, and the US market is not big enough to approach it like you would in the Japanese market. The Japanese market is so huge and well-developed, so it makes total sense to target a magazine to a specific demographic.

But when you’re looking at a nascent market like the US, where so much of the readership crosses over to read books targeting different demographics, then you really have to take a broader perspective on it. So we’re really not looking to limit it like, ‘this is a boys magazine’ or ‘this is a girls magazine’ – this is a magazine for anyone interested in manga.

We’re targeting this to the US market, and the US market is not big enough to approach it like you would in the Japanese market.

The trouble is, it’s not as liberal as the Japanese market, either. in an era when Playboy magazine has to be sold in a sealed plastic baggie at 7-Eleven and the youth market for manga in the U.S. is booming, it only takes one jerk prosecutor to conflate those two things and launch an all-out war based on that ‘creepy fanservice’ Danielle mentions to shut the whole thing down. They’re not really going to be interested in the culture-clash defense.

Shame really, because it sounds like a good idea in theory.

They were actually giving the first issue away at SDCC. I should read it, it’s pretty huge.

[…] Johanna Draper Carlson and Danielle Leigh on the debut issue of the new manga anthology […]

[…] Danielle Leigh gives her take on the first issue of Yen+ at Comic Book Resources. She’ll be reading the second issue, and so will I. David Welsh […]

I actually enjoyed the fact that Yen+ included so many different genres. While I am a subscriber to Shojo Beat, I actually own more Shonen Jump (or SJAdvanced) manga. I don’t say, “Oh, I only read romance,” or “ACTION ONLY!” because if I did, I’d be missing out on a ton of awesome stories. Yen+ allowed me (and other manga readers like me) to pick up one anthology rather than two. I felt that the selection was quite good in that it showcased series I’d normally never even glance at. Let’s admit it, most people ignore series not published by Viz or Tokyopop unless we’ve heard about the series or author. I picked up this anthology because of Soul Eater (I had seen some episodes of the anime on the internet and loved it), but now I like most of the titles. I guess I wasn’t as bothered by the “creepy fanservice”, as I’m used to seeing it in many different series and don’t find it all too creepy or surprising. Just to let you know, while Soul Eater does like to keep it’s women buxom and its boys perverted, I’m pretty sure there aren’t anymore bathtub scenes; I think you might enjoy the tongue-in-cheek parodies of Bleach, Naruto (two words: Black. Star.), D.Gray-Man, Ouran Host Club, and many other insanely popular series.
I guess Yen+ wouldn’t be for every reader, but I feel this anthology is definitely a winner! The only thing I hope for is alternating color pages. It makes it a lot easier to flip to the particular series you want to read.

Funny that “One Fine Day” was my favorite even though I didn’t really understand it, lol! I guess that is just for those of use who like “cute”. I am also interested in seeing more of Nabari No Ou, Pig Bride, Soul Eater and Maximum Drive, although just about everything is worthwhile: I am seriously thinking of getting a subscritption..

“Jack Frost” kinda ticked me off with the first chapter, but if the headless girl is really the protaganist it could get interesting, so I will reserve my dislike for the next issue. That being said I didn’t think their was to much fanservice in the other series; Soul Eater is funky and creative so it gets a pass.

Great review, I look forward to seeing what you think of the next issue.

“One Fine Day” was actually my favorite of the mix; sketchy and whimsical, it reminds me of something along the lines of Yotsuba-to or Mutts. And I LOVED the art; well paced and original.

Of the rest, “Maximum Ride” and “Nightschool” were my other favorites, though I agree that “Maximum Ride” just throws you in without any introduction and too many characters, sadly loosing a lot of my interest by the end. But the art was AMAZING and except for a few of the action scenes, the pacing was well done. “Nightschool”, on the other hand, wasn’t my favorite in art (I prefer the softer, smoother, airy lines of “Maximum Ride” and “One Fine Day”) but Svet has a knack with dialog and humor that goes right to the heart. I agree with the perplexity of “who’s the protagonist?”, and I also think that the story itself could have slowed down to introduce the characters more, saving the dream sequence for another chapter (threw me a loop jumping so much between characters), but of them all, “Nightschool” had the smoothest storytelling, something Svet has shown time and time again that she excels at.

I enjoyed most of the rest of the Manwha (though having “Jack Frost” right after “One Fine Day” almost gave me a heart attack from the sudden jump in ah . . . maturity level), but they didn’t hook me as much as the others. “Pig Bride” shows potential in its story, but I found the character design of the lead male character overly feminine and unemotive, making it difficult to connect to him as a reader. Sarasah just freaked me the heck out. OMGSTALKER! Some chick followed me like that, I’d be reporting her to the police for harassment! But the ending left me curious. Dangit . . .

As for the manga . . . I flipped and, unfortunately . . . passed. Maybe I’ve become jaded from having shelves and shelves of manga, but the art style of the manga displayed in Yen Plus felt generic to me, and I find it difficult to get into anything that looks like something I’ve read a hundred times before. I also found a lot of the manga stories to be extremely cluttered in their pacing, which made them difficult to slip into as a reader.

And the prepubescent-looking girl asking a guy to have sex with her so she can carry on her lineage to the next generation? I ripped the page out and threw it away. Just . . . uck.

I liked the black and white printing, and on nice, creamy paper, too! Plus, looking closer, this is some high-quality black and white printing, on the same level of clarity and crispness as the graphic novels.

Though there’s more in “Shoujo Beat” that I read (being a shoujo fan), the color printing with it’s tissue paper pages drives me NUTS.

Jack Frost is being resituated from issue three, i’d say probably inbetween maxim ride and nightschool, so it should be less shocking to the system to go from soft and fluffy, to blood and panties lol

As for Summomo, thats deliberate. She’s actually the same age as him, she’s just done loli styled because of the way she clings to him and stuff. I didn’t like the anime version to much, but i’m hopping the manga has a better grasp on the story. That said if you didn’t like the first chapter cause of Summomo, you’ll hate it latter on when the more ero characters start to turn up.

Svetlana’s art was the best though, the congratulatory art she drew is awesome!!

[…] @ MangaBlog Danielle @ CBR David Welsh @ Comic Reporter Deb @ About.com Erin @ PopCultureShock Esther @ Good Comics for Kids […]

[…] Popcultureshock Good Comics For Kids シャノンのブログ Mangablog Comics Worth Reading Comics Should be Good – Manga Before Flowers Tags: yen […]

Keep reading When They Cry: Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. It starts off as your typical ‘harem’ type slice-of-life, but what it gets into later is much, MUCH deeper than that. I say this as a fan of the original games, and of the anime adaption.

Higurashi is something wonderful and not something to miss, but it does take a while to get going, and then a bit more to get past all the ‘senseless’ murder arcs, but once it gets into the ‘Kai’ answer arcs (When they Cry 2 and 2+), it suddenly reveals the ‘why’ to the ‘whats’ presented in the first arcs, and reveals exactly how character-oriented the plot actually is.

The whole harem beginning was meant to compete with all the hentai/harem visual novels – attract players and customers with a group of cute girls, and then suddenly lure them into a series horrifying murder arcs, hopefully hooking them until the end where things are solved, the time-loops/world-skips explained, and leaving the player with a feeling that something was actually accomplished. It gets very emotional.

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