Manga Before Flowers — Manga Picks of the Week
I usually read through a good deal of manga on a weekly basis (or at least I have been lately, once I fearfully assessed the leaning-tower-of-Pisa-ness of my manga stack/s) but very rarely do I find the time to share my reading experiences in this forum. So instead of chasing after the “new,” (i.e. discussing new releases which I often haven’t read yet), I’ve decided to pay tribute the manga volume format, which allows us to catch up with a variety of titles depending upon our moods and needs as readers.
Shonen, Shojo, Josei and Seinen categories will all be covered on a regular basis.
Shonen Pick of the Week: REBORN! vol 2 (published by Viz). I didn’t think much of REBORN when I first heard the premise (reincarnated mafia assassin comes to Japan to train the next head of the “family”…but still in baby form) or when I read volume 1. It seemed like an okay way to waste 30 minutes but beyond that I wasn’t very excited about this series…until Ben Leary over at Animeondvd gave volume 7 an A rating. Then there is the fact that Ed Chavez from manga cast has frequently pointed out that REBORN is very fujoshi-friendly (i.e. yaoi-fangirl friendly). I won’t mention which one was a stronger motivating factor but if you read this column on a regular basis you may be able to guess.
And even if REBORN wasn’t fujoshi friendly after reading volume 2 I discovered it was very, very funny. The humor isn’t simply from the fact that Reborn is in baby-form with a giant arsenal of scary weapons, but the really insane situations he manages to get his charge — Tsuna — in. Reborn’s focus on training poor Tsuna to be a mafia don, when he is really just a fairly average Japanese kid, draws all sorts of crazy guys (& girls!) come around to mess with the both of them. Watching Tsuna struggle with his new (& very violent) legacy isn’t about being amused by torture the poor kid endures, but enjoying how he learns to “crazy-up” on some level, in order to meet his new world of organized-crime in spite of his ordinary-ness.
Highlight of the volume: Watching Tsuna’s tough-talking body-guard squeal and sob like a little girl when he see his crazy-ass assassin sister. Who just happens to have poisoned him (along with everyone else at one time or another) as a child.
Shojo Pick of the Week: Do Whatever You Want vol 2 (Published by Netcomics). This is actually a manwha title, and while it is technically considered “shojo” it doesn’t feel or look much like the majority of the shojo titles currently popular in the U.S. Following four teenagers, the story is less about who is dating who than about what it means to care for someone else — whether that affection is channeled into friendship or romantic attachment — at the age of 17 or so. Caring about someone sounds pretty simple, but when you are still trying to figure out who *you* are it can be the hardest thing in world. The beauty of this title is that it makes you feel this dilemma keenly, without over dramatizing these emotions (yes, dramatic, perhaps unrealistic, events occur in the title but such events are born out of feelings we’ve all experienced, making even the most out-there plot points seem realistic somehow).
The art feels a little dated to my eyes, but the emotional tone of the comic is surprisingly mature, giving events in the title an unusual intensity and the general proceedings a gentle earnestness that also charms. This title is highly recommended to those who long to see what shojo might do if it tackled the real interior life of teenagers instead representing only the most outlandish fantasies of the teenage heart.
Highlight of the volume: Watching the various friendships deepen in honest and earned ways.
Josei Pick of the Week: Suppli vol 3 (published by Tokyopop). While the first two volume of this series were certainly good, the third volume convinced me that this was in fact an excellent comic. Even though so little josei is available in English it seems as though we can all recognize the josei cliches a mile away. Woman in her late twenties lives for work and desperately needs emotional nourishment, usually found in the form of sex & love offered by an emotionally distant, yet charming, professional man, often the woman’s co-worker.
The third volume of Suppli violates this formula slightly when it rejects the traditional love triangle for something infinitely more complicated and, therefore, far more satisfying for the reader. Volume 2 ends with Fuji discovering that she isn’t the only one her current lover, Ogiwara, might be seeing at the moment. Surprisingly, creator Mari Okazaki moves the focus away from Fuji’s relationship with her potential boyfriend in volume 3, and instead we get to see her spend more time with her rival, Tanaka, than with her lover. Of course, Tanaka should be everything Fuji isn’t, i.e. the perfect and perfectly feminine professional, but as the two women learn to work together we see how much more interesting human beings and human relationships can be when we look at each other as people rather than label them as fitting into only one category (i.e. “the other woman”).
Highlight of volume 3: In spite of Fuji’s much-vaunted “lack of femininity,” watching a new character hit on her in a spectacularly crude, yet funny, way.
Seinen Pick of the Week: Mushishi vol 1 (Published by Del Rey). I originally picked up Mushishi back when Del Rey published the first volume in early 2007. For some reason it never “clicked” with me and I ended up giving the volume way. Sometimes this happens with me — I’ve often returned to comics I’ve previously discarded as “not for me” only to discover wonderful reads lurking beneath the covers, if only I was willing to give something new a chance. Thankfully, my library recently bought the first four volumes of this title and I’ve been given a second chance to better understand the charms of this quietly beautiful comic.
Mushishi certainly deserves a second and third look. An atmospheric take on Japanese folk-legends, mushi are strange, prehistoric/other-worldly creatures that can often infiltrate human existence in strange, sometimes potentially life-threatening, ways. The title follows Ginko, a “mushi master” of sorts, who has studied to resolve potential conflicts that occur when mushi and human interact. Every case brings out different aspects of mushi and humanity, and Ginko must try to bring resolutions to difficult situations in which humans misunderstand the role of mushi in their lives or the mushi themselves endanger the humans they often need for survival.
Each tale offers a unique view of traditional horror tropes when they are disrupted by use of even more traditional Japanese folk tales. Each tale is complete and deserves to be savored individually, as Ginko moves along the country-side, encountering new and surprising situations, in which no easy answers are found to the problems created out of mushi-human interaction.
Highlight of the volume: Experiencing the gentleness of the story-telling technique, as the creator manages to incorporate horror tropes in surprising and affecting ways.