Max Landis' New Comic, "Green Valley," Presents a Fantasy-Free Tale of Knights and Redemption
One of my absolute favorite types of manga story are the ones that use heroes. It’s hard to use that as a category, as there are many different types of hero series. There’s the serious types that are one-man shows like Ultraman – Kikaider Code 02 by Shotaro Ishinomori and MD Geist by Koichi Ohata, for instance (these are called tokusatsu, which is technically an umbrella term, but it’s close enough). Sometimes the series try to be as much like an American superhero as possible, or actually are about one – Batman: Child of Dreams by Kia Asamiya, or Zetman by Masakasu Katsura (pictured above). Sometimes they come in the form of a man and his robot – The Big O by Hitoshi Ariga, or Heroman by our own Stan Lee. But for whatever reason, more often than not they are comedies that poke fun at the inherent ridiculousness of people in special outfits beating up outrageous monsters or other people in costumes. It’s really hard to make bad jokes about that, so these series are usually awesome. Unfortunately, they never do well in English, and not very many have been translated. Here are a few worth checking out, though.
I’ve never been a big fan of the “mecha” series, unfortunately. In general, the complicated politics and focus on technology and combat aren’t of interest to me, though there are several very well done series. But I’ve dabbled in it off and on over the years, both intentionally and accidentally, and there’s a fair bit in the genre for everybody. The three below are more character-focused, and two are series that may fly under the radar, for mecha at least. Two of them are also among the most popular manga/anime series from the 90s.
Sometimes, it’s good to look at a topic that is only a topic by happenstance. These series have nothing in common aside from the fact they share names with locations. Often, they have nothing to do with those places. That doesn’t make them any less fun to read.
Enjoy the cover of Animerica Extra, one of the handful of dead English manga anthologies. Animerica Extra was always my favorite. None of the others ever had Yumi Tamura covers.
I could go into the whole “manga-inspired comics” debate, but I really don’t want to, as I like good manga no matter where it comes from. One of my current favorites, in fact, is a series of self-published doujinshi drawn by Jo Chen. Thankfully, manga-style comics from other countries are much more widely accepted today, as Yen Press has an entire line of domestically-produced manga adaptations of YA novels that I suspect does quite well. There are still many purists and older fans that insist manga can only come from Japan, however. This article covers three series that are, in theory, the best of both worlds. All three are drawn by Japanese artists (in two instances, very well-established Japanese artists), and all three were serialized in Japanese anthology magazines, the origin of all manga released in Japan. But all three were written by non-Japanese authors. Sadly, none of these are terribly stand-out series, but that the collaboration exists at all is quite interesting to me.
While I do enjoy a good post-Apocalypse setting, there’s very little that can compare to a good disaster story, showing us the apocalypse itself rather than the way society copes with it. Surprisingly, this is a less common type of story than I initially thought, but I enjoy it immensely when I can lay hands on it. Any type of disaster can work, and I find that the weirder it is, the better. I’ve covered Lives in a different article, which isn’t a series that most people would want to read, but it does have a strange disaster afoot. The three below were some of the only other series I could come up with, but two of the three come highly recommended.
Another topic that has been surprisingly well-covered in English-translated manga is the medical field. I was somewhat surprised by how many series I could come up with that deal with doctors or forensics in some capacity. They cover various other topics, and are of varying quality, but here’s three that cover three different branches of medicine with a flair for the soapy and dramatic, and for two out of three, accuracy as well.
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.
In my mind, a truly bad comic is boring, middle-of-the-road, and completely unremarkable in every way. It’s the series that gives me no reason whatsoever to read it. But in terms of what most people would consider “bad,” a series that is so full of crazy ideas (possibly in poor taste) that a normal reader would turn away in disgust, I’m all over that. They tend to be very entertaining for at least for a volume or two. There’s a special kind of “bad” series in manga that I haven’t had the pleasure of running across anywhere else yet, and I want to talk about that this week. It’s important to remember that all of these series are very serious, and none of the stories are meant to be at all comedic.
Unfortunately, the US comic market doesn’t support translations of material like this anymore, so all of these are technically out of print. But I’ve seen volumes of almost all of them languishing on the shelves of comic stores within the past year, and none of them are valuable in online marketplaces because nobody wants them. Actually, all but Offered are available new at at least two online retailers I checked. They are easy to get ahold of.
This week, I thought I’d take a look at detective stories in manga. These come in two different flavors: the typical star sleuth that you might expect, and it’s close relative the gentlemen thief, or kaitou (phantom thief) story. I’ll save those (mostly) for another day and focus on more traditional ones here.
This week’s Say It With Manga is focused on comics originally targeted at girls and women. The English-language manga market is saturated with manga set in high school that focuses on romance between students. But there’s plenty of other types of series out there. Of the three in this column, two are sci-fi/horror hybrids, and the third is a romance manga set in a high school, but it’s the best one there is.
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Welcome to Part Two of The Ladies Comics Project: Phase II in which a handful of my colleagues, family, and friends – both new and old – and women both familiar with comics and not – read and reviewed a graphic novel or trade from my personal library and told me what they thought about it. For more details about this project and more ladies reviews and feedback, go here to read Part One. You can also read about the original Ladies Comics Project here, here, and here.
A week later and with emails now totaling 654 plus a handful of gchats, texts, and phone later, here were are: The Ladies Comics Project, Phase II: Part Two…
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