Manga in Minutes
Created nearly 35 years after Astro Boy, Atomcat tells the tale of a lovable feline turned superhero after a horrible accident and a hilarious mix up! Gifted with the powers and abilities of Astro Boy, the adorable Atomcat protects his friend Tsugio from threats both big and small!
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The first volume of Mizuki Sakakibara’s manga adaption of the hit anime series, Tiger & Bunny, arrives! Set in the city of Sternbild, Tiger & Bunny follows the reality show exploits of the city’s superheroes as they attempt to one up each other for points to become the King of Heroes! What’s usually an every man for himself affair gets a new twist as veteran superhero Kotestsu T. Kaburagi, aka Wild Tiger and newcomer, Barnaby Brooks Jr. find themselves reluctantly paired up due to the wishes of their sponsors.
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Hitoshi Ariga’s manga adaption of the Mega Man games continues with Mega Man Gigamix, Vol. 1. Created nearly ten years after Mega Man Megamix, the volume kicks off with Mega Man forced to team up with his arch nemesis, Doctor Wiley, in order to unlock the secrets behind alien technology discovered in deep space! The story returns to earth as Mega Man and friends find themselves taking part in a transcontinental car race, but when Doctor Wiley gets involved it becomes less like the Indy 500 and more like Death Race!
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Back in 2007 Marvel Comics launched a bi-monthly series entitled Spider-Man Family. It was an anthology featuring original stories, reprints of older comics, and most importantly, the American debut of Spider-Man J! Created by Yamanaka Akira, and originally published in 2004 in Japan, Spider-Man J features the exploits of a young Japanese Spider-Man as he does battle with the animal themed forces of the mysterious Lord Beastius!
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The lastest book from DMP’s Kickstart projects is the adorable, all ages tale, Unico! Created by Osamu Tezuka. Unico tells the tale of an adorable little unicorn who incurs the ire of Venus, the Greek goddess of love. The jealous goddess banishes him, and has the North Wind carry him from time to time, and place to place.
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My look at Comixology’s Shotaro Ishinomori offerings comes to a close with what is perhaps his best known work in the US. Originally created in 1964, Cyborg 009 tells the tale of a group of people, kidnapped, captured and otherwise coerced into becoming test subjects for a terrorist organization’s weapons program. After undergoing cybernetic alterations, the group escapes and wages an ongoing war with the group that changed them, Black Ghost.
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My look at the Shotaro Ishinomori series currently available from Comixology continues with the first volume of Inazuman! Created in 1973, it follows the by now familiar pattern of being a tie-in to a live action superhero show of the same name. Unlike Kamen Rider or Kikaider though, Inazuman lasted merely 25 episodes, never spawned a long running franchise, and has only appeared sporadically since the 70s. The story follows young Sabu, a teenager who’s seemingly gifted at everything he does. He aces tests without studying, is physically fit and has something of a cocky attitude. Unbeknownst to him his talents are the results of his being a mutant, someone born with special abilities, abilities which are about to draw him into the conflict between two forces of likewise gifted individuals and change his life forever.
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Next up in my look at Comixology’s Shotaro Ishinomori series is Kikaider! Like most of the manga we’ve seen in the past few weeks, this too was created and ran alongside a live action TV series in the 70s. Following the loss of his son, Dr. Komyogi throws himself into the field of robotics, creating a wide variety of robots for his sponsor, Herbert Gill. Ultimately, Gill reveals his true plans for the robots prompting Komyogi to create one final robot in the image of his dead son. Unlike his other creations, this one is imbued with an incomplete conscious circuit, giving it a semblance of free will, and constructed with the purpose of doing battle with Gill and his minions. But will the robot known as Kikaider turn out to be the worlds savior, or it’s doom?
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My look at Comixology’s Shotaro Ishinomori offerings continues! This week comes one of his most enduring creations, Kamen Rider. Created in 1971 in conjunction with the live action TV series, the Kamen Rider the life of Takeshi Hongo as it takes a turn for the weird following his kidnapping by the organization known as Shocker. The group has selected him for alteration to become one of their cybernetic foot soldiers, but things go awry and Hongo escapes before Shocker can complete the brain modifications to turn him into their mindless slave. Now gifted with abilities far beyond those of a mortal man, Hongo wages a one man war on the forces of Shocker as the hero of justice, Kamen Rider!
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Shotaro Ishinomori’s manga classic, Skullman, is available for the first time in the US thanks to the fine folks at Comixology! This single volume story tells the tale of a dark, masked avenger carrying out a war against a massive, secret organization that seemingly controls the world. Unlike his spiritual brothers in the Kamen Rider franchise, Skullman presents a rather grim, anti-heroic take on the concept. Continue Reading »
I’m going to be trying something a little different this week. With the recent release of Archaia’s preview for their upcoming Cyborg 009 comic, not to mention the new 009 RE: Cyborg movie, it seemed like a good time to take a look at some of the Ishinomori series that Comixology has been releasing and to kick it off here’s a little look at his career.
Ishinomori’s career would begin in 1955 at the tender age of 15, after having been discovered by the legendary God of Manga, Osamu Tezuka through a talent contest held in the magazine Manga Shonen. Following this he would find himself apprenticed to Tezuka, with some of his earliest published work appearing within Tezuka’s famous Astro Boy series.
His first major solo hit would come in 1964 in the form of Cyborg 009, an action series following a group of cyborgs in their battle with their creators, an evil terrorist organization known as Black Ghost. The theme of heroes being created by villains and then turning against them is something that would appear time and time again in Ishinomori’s superhero works. Cyborg 009 would prove to be a major hit and remains popular to this day, as is evidenced by the aforementioned upcoming 009 RE: Cyborg movie and Archaia’s graphic novel adaption. Despite it’s popularity in Japan, and having an anime adaption running on Cartoon Network’s Toonami, the US release of the Cyborg 009 manga would be cancelled after 10 volumes by it’s then publisher Tokyopop. Despite the aborted run, it remains one of few, if not the only, Ishinomori manga to receive a physical release in the United States.
The 1970s was a banner time Shotaro Ishinomori. The decade started off with the debut of one of his best known creations, Kamen Rider. Much like Cyborg 009 before it, the series features a young man who’s transformed into a “mutant cyborg” against his will by an evil organization, escapes, and spends the rest of the series battling said organization. Initially created for television, Ishinomori would pen a manga adaption which would go on to differ wildly from the show. Arguably one of his biggest hits to date, the Kamen Rider franchise continues to this day in both manga and live action form, with the TV series fast approaching it’s 45th anniversary. As a TV series, Kamen Rider reinvents itself with each season, featuring new characters, enemies, allies and more. Sadly, the attempts at bringing the franchise to the US have met with little success. Saban Entertainment tried to import the series as Masked Rider in the mid 90s, but it was poorly received and only lasted one season before being cancelled. In 2008 Adness Entertainment tried it’s hand at bringing the beloved franchise to the US, this time in the form of Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight, a loose adaption of the original Japanese, Kamen Rider Ryuki series. Despite winning an Emmy, the series did horribly and was pulled from the broadcast schedule before the final episodes had a chance to air. Oddly enough, it was dubbed and broadcast on Japanese television and even received a novelized sequel in Japan as well.
On an interesting side note, Kamen Rider was actually something of a fall back creation for Ishinomori. He originally pitched a different character to the television studio, Skull Man . Skull Man was a much darker take on the superhero concept and was rejected as being too serious and grim for children. Despite the rejection Skull Man still received a one shot manga and would be revisited in the late 90s by Ishinomori in a new manga series he co-created with Kazuhiko Shimamoto. In 2007, the character starred in an anime adaption which took the concept in a different direction, while maintaining the dark, anti-heroic tone of the Skull Man franchise.
As the decade rolled on Ishinomori would create what is arguably his most successful creation outside of Japan. Once again working in conjunction with a television studio, Ishinomori would create a series about a team of color coded, transforming superheroes. Himitsu Sentai Gorenger would debut in 1975, and would serve as the template for the Super Sentai franchise, which began it’s 37th season just weeks ago. As with Kamen Rider, Ishinomori would once more create a manga for Himitsu Sentai Gorenger which would differ from the TV series in a variety of ways. While it had been running for decades in Japan, the franchise didn’t hit the American market until 1993, when Saban Entertainment licensed Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger and released a reworked version for the US in the form of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
In addition to the above mentioned series and characters, Ishinomori would continue to create superhero franchises for the live action television, anime and manga industries, many of whom are still present in Japans pop cultural landscape to this day thanks to later adaptions, spin offs and continuations. Kikaider, his android superhero equal parts Pinocchio and Frankenstein received two live action series during the 70s and enjoyed a small revival in the 2000s thanks to new manga series and new anime adaptions. Much like Cyborg 009 the anime adaption would also get a brief run on Cartoon Network, in this case as part of the networks Adult Swim block. Other superhero creations of his include Inazuman, who enjoyed a small reboot in a recent Kamen Rider movie, Henshin Ninja Arashi, Robot Detective K, his final creation Voicelugger and more. With such a large number of superhero creations under his belt, many of whom still exist to this day, carrying on under the pen of other manga, anime and TV creators, it’s easy to see why he’s often compare him to Stan Lee or Jack Kirby.
While his superhero work is probably what Ishinomori is best known for in the U.S., it wasn’t the only the sandbox he played in. Much like his mentor, Osamu Tezuka, Inshinomori’s manga output covers many different genres and subjects. These include adaptions of literary classics such as Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Animal Farm, biographical stories about jazz musicians Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane, to a guide about the Japanese economy, the award winning Jun, a dialogue free tale of a lonely boy’s fantasy life, and many, many more. How much more? While I can’t tell you how many pages, and volumes the above sampling covers, I can at least tell you that the late Ishinomori is currently recognized by the Guinness World Records organization for having the most comics published by one author. His output comes in at a grand total of 770 title, 500 volumes, and 128,000 pages! With so much work out there it’s a shame that so little of it is available in the U.S. at the moment, but over the next few weeks I’ll be taking a look at the first volumes of the small sampling of series that are currently available from Comixology.
The adventures of Yasuhiro Nightow’s most famous creation, Vash the Stampede, continue in the second volume of Trigun. Things kick things off in a major way as Vash comes face to face with mysterious and deadly Legato and it just gets worse from there for the poor fellow. The Gun Ho Guns, muscle for the series main villain, are introduced and harry Vash throughout the volume. If that weren’t enough, by the time the volume is finished we’ve had our first glimpse at the big bad for the series, Knives Millions.
Much like the first volume, much of this one will be familiar territory for fans of the anime series. About half way through is where things begin to deviate and the anime and manga begin to go their own ways. What’s interesting is, that although they begin to diverge here, the manga still has many of the story elements and scenes that would go on to appear in the anime. It’s not entirely new material for anime fans, but the beginnings are there. Because of this it’s still a little difficult to look at manga and the not compare and contrast it to the anime, which was my first introduction to the Trigun franchise to begin with. Things such as the anime’s revelation regarding Wolfwood came after he and Vash had time to build up a relationship, here it’s given away during his second appearance. On one hand it lacks the emotional heft that it had in the anime, on the other hand, getting it out of the way and keeping Vash ignorant of the matter seems like it will allow Nightow to give any future interaction the two have some nice tension. The introduction of Knives is a major difference between the two and, frankly, the way it’s handled here gives it a lot of dramatic weight. His appearance and what happens next feel like major event for Vash and the world the story takes place in, which is definitely a good thing.
Visually Nightow’s work is about the same as it was in the first volume. The arrival of the Gun Ho Guns allows Nightow to throw a bunch of character designs at us at once. Some of which are more interesting then others. Monev the Gale, for example, isn’t terribly interesting or memorable and almost seems like something you’d expect to see in a 90s Image comic. The action scenes vary here, with Vash’s duel with Dominique being the stand out of the volume. It’s nicely paced and the action is fairly easy to follow. On the other hand, his clash with Monev and some of the other Gun Ho Guns feel a bit messy and seems to sacrifice clarity in an attempt to evoke motion and energy.
I’m still enjoying Trigun and any fans of the anime will probably find themselves as intrigued and curious to see where things go from here as I was. I still have some minor issues with Nightow’s artwork and his action scenes, but the combination of enjoyable characters, nostalgia and the desire to see how this differs from the anime will probably keep me reading for a little while more.
Trigun, Vol. 2 is available from Dark Horse Comics.
Emerald and Other Stories
by Hiroaki Samura
Dark Horse, 228 pp
Rating: Teen (16 + )
From Hiroaki Samura, creator of the multiple award winning Blade of the Immortal, comes a new collection of short stories, Emerald! Among the stories included in this collection are “Emerald”, a western involving bounty hunters, corrupt businessmen and some very resourceful women, the unsettling and incestuous “The Kusein Family’s Greatest Show”, the vaguely sci-fi-ish “Shizuru Cinema” about the relationship between a manga creator and his high school girlfriend/roommate, an oddly enjoyable, offbeat collection of strips featuring Samura’s commentary on Japanese society as filtered through the voices of a trio of young girls, “The Uniforms Stay On” and more!
“Emerald” is clearly the highlight and of the volume and a pretty entertaining Western with a few interesting twists despite it’s short length. Samura eschews the typical “long gunman” style lead and instead creates a very clever female lead and a scenario that’s left me wishing it had become a longer series. Meanwhile, “The Kusein Family’s Greatest Show”, which has one of the most misleading titles I’ve ever come across, is a bizarre and creepy tale about the disturbing relationship between a daughter and her widowed father. Oddly enough, the story starts off with a strong comedic tone, but as it goes on it gets progressively more perverse and the comedic elements are eventually overwhelmed by unsettling story that develops. The final page seems to indicate that it was intended as a comedy all the time, but instead it just comes off as an ill fitting climax to a disturbing story. “Shizuru Cinema”, one of the shorter stories in the collection, starts off as a comedic little slice of tale which develops into a melancholy tale about the nature of memories. Another reading of it left me feeling that Samura was also attempting to say something about the creation of manga series, editorial involvement and audience pandering, but admittedly that might be a bit of a stretch. Another highlight of the volume is the “The Uniforms Stay On” series which is scattered throughout the collection. It’s a pretty enjoyable series of shorts featuring commentary on various aspects of Japanese culture, news and more. Samura’s lighter and sillier side is evident as he riffs off things ranging from labels on food in the grocery stores, the Korean wave, music and more. While there’s not plot to speak of, it does offer interesting little glimpses into aspects of Japanese culture that don’t necessarily make headlines over here in the west. There are three other short stories included in the collection, but none of them left much of an impression. One is a very short story based upon a game of Majhong Samura was once involved in, while the other two are a romantic comedy and another disturbing little tale which ends before it can ever really get going.
Emerald is full of Samura’s wonderfully detailed artwork, which is something that’s always a pleasure to see. The sketchy, thatch heavy style is reminiscent of his earlier work in Blade of the Immortal, which is something that will be a treat to fans who miss that style. While perhaps best known for the incredible action sequences that pepper Blade of the Immortal, Emerald shows that Samura can handle less bombastic material just as well. It’s really a beautiful looking book with a wonderful attention to detail, eye catching costumes and more. While some of the stories in the volume may be lacking or disappointing, the visual most definitely are not.
While it’s not a replacement for those of us jouncing for our next hit of Blade of the Immortal, Emerald is at the very least an enjoyable pick me up. The quality of the writing and the stories aren’t quite up to snuff when compared to his other short story collection, Ohikkoshi, but it’s still a must read for his already existing fans curious to see his other works. Those unfamiliar with Samura’s work and who were hoping that this might be a good introduction would probably do better to check out Blade of the Immortal or Ohikkoshi instead.
Emerald and Other Stories is available now from Dark Horse Comics.
From Tsutomu Nihei, creator of Blame!, Biomega and Wolverine: SNIKT!, comes his latest sci-fi action series to hit America, Knights of Sidonia. Set in the far future humanity journeys through space, searching for a new home world while being pursued by massive biological terrors known as Gauna. Their only hope, the young men and women who pilot mecha known as Guardians in an attempt to stave off the giants attacks.
The most shocking and surprising thing about the first volume is how much it reads like the standard set up for your average mecha series. Young people piloting robots, serving as the last of mankind against massive biological nightmares. Our young hero, Tanikaze Nagate, who is seemingly clueless and clumsy just may be the secret to humanities salvation. It’s an incredibly recognizable set up, and because of this it does help make the series a bit easier to get into than some of his other works. Nihei also does a pretty good job at using Tanikaze Nagate as our introduction to the world, by making it his first time as well. Instead of being tossed head first into the action with someone who’s already fully aware and equipped to deal with it, we’re led into it a little more gently by the awkward Tanikaze Nagate. As he learns and explores and finds out about the current situation, we do as well. This, combined with the familiar mecha trappings, makes the introductory volume very easy to get into. Meanwhile there are plenty of interesting sci-fi elements, such as the creation of new genders, the ability to birth your own clones, psychics and more that will hopefully be explored and fleshed out as the series progresses. What really caught me off guard was the strain of humor running through the volume. While Biomega certainly had some comedic elements, in Knights of Sidonia Nihei ramps up the slap stick elements a bit as he treats Tanikaze Nagate in a manner reminiscent of how Sam Raimi treated Bruce Campbell in the Evil Dead films. Thwacks to the head, broken limbs, fainting spells and more are dumped onto our poor hero for comedic effect, with some more effective than others.
The artwork was another surprise. Far from the hyper detailed, thatch heavy artwork that adorned things like Blame!, NOiSE and most of Biomega, instead Knights of Sidonia sports the cleaner and simpler look that was present in Biomega towards the end of its run. I think this will take me a little while to get used to as I was really expecting his older style. The mecha designs also leave a little something to be desired. They’re full of sharp angles, oddly shaped heads and surprisingly thin and fragile looking limbs. They’re not horrible, but at the same time they don’t strike me as terribly memorable either. He does manage to pack in a bunch of interesting and nasty weapons though, several of which get a workout in the volumes main action scene. It’ll be interesting to see whether he introduces different designs or sticks with this basic one as the series continues. Despite my nitpicking over the mecha designs, the visuals remain one of Nihei’s strongest points, as this volume is full of interesting settings and some truly disturbing biological terrors in the form of the Gauna.
Knights of Sidonia is off to a solid start with its first volume. While it’s not quite as gloriously, or violently over the top as some of Nihei’s other works, it still maintains his trademark sense of scale, both in terms of physical dimensions and in terms of the vastness and scope of the story. The familiar premise and heightened comedy will hopefully make it easier for people to get into as well. All in all it’s a promising and entertaining offering and one that’s left me chomping at the bit for the next volume.
Knights of Sidonia, Vol. 1 is available now from Vertical, Inc.
Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan continues to bring it’s own unique blend of action and horror to the page in these two volumes. Human civilization teeters on the brink of extinction as the attack of the Titans which began in the first volume continues. Following the first volume’s shocking ending, Mikasa and Armin find themselves coping with with the loss of a friend as they attempt to slow the Titans rampage within the city, but when a mysterious new Titan appears and begins to attack the other Titans will this be the weapon they need to turn the tide, or is it simply an abnormal Titan who will turn on them as quickly as it did on the other Titans?
While I’m still enjoying the series I must admit that my enthusiasm was slightly dampened by these two volumes. There’s plenty of twists and turns story wise, more intriguing world building, and a nice flashback to a hugely influential moment in the lives of Mikasa and Eren, but the Titan’s attack on the city feels like it’s happening at a snails pace. In addition, despite spending quite a bit of time on exploring the relationship and friendship between Mikasa, Eren and Armin, none of the trio feel terribly compelling or interesting at this point. Right now they’re all one note characters, the sullen determined one, the smart cowardly one, the driven and brash one, etc. This lack of personality is simply compounded by the fact that everyone seems to speak in the same voice. At times I had the feeling that you could rearrange the dialogue so just about anyone said anything and it wouldn’t seem terribly shocking or out of character.
Visually the book continues to suffer when there aren’t fight scenes filling up the page. By the third volume it’s pretty clear that Hajime Isayama’s strong point is in conveying motion, intensity and impact when it comes to these action sequences. They’re easily the highlight of the series and there’s a fantastic sense of speed, momentum and even desperation as the various human defenders zip around on their grapple lines. Sadly, it’s also fairly clear that his weak point is in depicting the quieter moments, as those are often full of awkward poses, limbs at slightly odd angles and more. The character designs continue to suffer from the fact that nearly everyone is in their late teens, early twenties, wearing the exact same clothes and with similar hair cuts. It’s undoubtedly because most of the cast we’ve seen so far are in the military, but it from a readers perspective this uniformity of appearance works against attempts to differentiate the characters from one another. Bizarrely enough, some of Hajime Isayama’s weaknesses turn out to be virtues when it comes to the depiction of the Titans. Their disturbingly human faces are often off set by strangely proportioned limbs, oversized jaws, far more teeth than a human would have and more. It gives them a deeply unsettling feel, as do the looks of seemingly child like bliss that they often wear as they’re devouring their prey alive. In addition, the action scenes and facial expressions that the characters wear do a fantastic job at expressing the horror and trauma that these young kids are facing on the battlefield.
Despite the noticeable flaws, Attack on Titan is still a fairly enjoyable read that comes with some of the most intense and dynamic action sequences I’ve seen in a long time. The world building and the mysteries Isayama’s setting up are intriguing and interesting, but the characters lack of personality makes it difficult to care about them when the drama all unfolds. Hopefully with time this will change, but right now it occupies the same place as fun but forgettable movies. It entertains, but it probably won’t stick with you for the long run.
Attack on Titan, Vols. 2 + 3 are available from Kodansha Comics.