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.
Whenever I open a book by Usamaru Furuya, it’s tough to tell what I’m going to see. Furuya studied fine art in college, and went on to draw 4-panel strips (a work called Palepoli) for underground magazine Garo without knowing much at all about comics. The results have to be seen to be believed. He’s an artistic chameleon, mimicking every style from Botticelli to Osamu Tezuka, with creepy photorealistic portraits of Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta thrown in for good measure. Palepoli’s strips are full of violent, sexual, and absurdist humor, with commentary on both Japanese and American pop culture mixed through the whole book. We’ve only seen a handful of strips from Palepoli in English (in Secret Comics Japan), but his other work can be just as artistically interesting. His habit of changing styles and mimicking the work of others is something you don’t often see in manga. He can also change story styles abruptly, from a tween coming-of-age story to a dark adaptation of Dazai’s No Longer Human. The three works I mention below were all released in 2011 (a good year for Furuya fans!), but you might also look into Short Cuts, a 2-volume series of 4-panel gag strips, mostly about teenage girls.
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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.
World War II is the topic up for discussion this week, and there are many fine manga on this culturally touchy subject. We have very few available in English, one of which I’ve already talked about (Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, by Shigeru Mizuki). The three here take three completely different narrative approaches. One is set during the bombing of Hiroshima and deals with the direct aftermath, another is a slice-of-life story about the consequences of the bombing in everyday life set sometime after, and the third is an Inglorious Basterds-style action story, and one of my all-time favorites.
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.
The second volume of Tamon Ohta’s Heroman manga picks up where the first volume left off. Joey and Heroman continue to grow in power and fend off attacks from the Skrugg’s advanced guard, but will they have what it takes to protect Central City when the main invasion force arrives?
This volume brings the themes to the forefront, and asks the question, what makes a hero? The entire volume, including the two stories which are seemingly unrelated to the Skrugg plot, all deal with this idea and the concept of a hero and what it means to be one. It’s a question that young Joey and his rival, Will, wrestle with numerous times. Is it the power that Heroman has that makes Joey a hero? Is it the fiery passion to protect his friends? Is it physical strength? It’s really the central concept for the second volume of the series, and the answer that’s given seems to indicate that there’s a hero within all of us, just itching to get out. Then again maybe it’s that we’re all heroes in our own little ways, even if it’s not particularly flashy. It’s a pretty positive theme and it’s presented in a pretty positive way without every becoming sickly sweet, or feeling too forced. The translation, something that was an issue with the previous volume, sadly continues to be sub par with some incredibly stiff and awkward dialogue scattered throughout. Word is that this will be changing in later volumes, so there’s some light at the end of the tunnel in that regard.
Ohta’s art continues to be pretty solid though not quite amazing. The action scenes, something which felt a little bland in the first volume, seem a little more intense and interesting this time around. This is no doubt partly due to the inclusion of Joey and his allies taking part in them, instead of sitting on the sidelines and watching or barking orders like they had done in the first volume. The team dynamic, particularly between Joey and Heroman make for some interesting twists and visuals to the fights that weren’t there in the first volume. On the downside, the action scenes are still awfully cluttered with speed lines, sound effects, and other visual effects which sometimes obscure the visual action itself.
Heroman continues to carry on with that old school, saturday morning, superhero vibe without coming off as too cheesy or hokey. It’s straight forward and doesn’t attempt to feel edgy, or gritty. It is what it is, does what it does, and as result it continues to be a rather fun tale.
Heroman, Vol. 2 is available from Vertical Inc..
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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Takao Kasuga is something of an oddity in his class. The young teen is socially awkward and feels cut off and isolated from his classmates. To help console himself he seeks refuge in the writings of Baudelaire, something he thinks most of his classmates are too immature and dumb to appreciate properly. Yet as bad as things may be for Takao, they’re about to get worse as he crosses paths with another class outcast, Nakamura. From Shizo Oshimi, comes The Flowers of Evil
I usually don’t go out for manga set in schools. It’s just too generic and is often accompanied by wistful memories of how fun it was or full of awkward romances. While The Flowers of Evil certainly has an awkward romance, it comes with a decidedly darker twist than your average school series. Young Kasuga is smitten by one of the girls in his class, and after making a rather ill thought out decision, he finds himself being black mailed by the enigmatic and intimidating Nakamura. Under her control Kasuga finds himself unwillingly exploring his sexuality. It’s a journey that’s both disturbing and blackly humorous, and more importantly, it all feels frighteningly real. While Kasuga’s reactions are sometimes over the top for humorous reasons it never detracts from the creepy situations Nakamura puts Kasuga in, nor does it take away from the unease and uncertainty that Kasuga grapples with as he attempts to come to terms with some of his own feelings towards the actions Nakamura places him in. The story has that uncomfortable, awkward, and nature of sexual exploration down pat, and Kasuga’s own internal conflict feels genuine.
Visually, Flowers of Evil is pretty solid. Shuzo Oshimi does a fantastic job at expressing emotions through the various characters’ facial expressions and eyes. Nearly all of the characters in this first volume look and feel unique, in both body and facial features. That might not sound like much, but in the world of American comics and manga it’s not uncommon to find artists using the same body shape, facial shape and more over and over and over again. Not so here. You have chubby characters, ugly characters, lovely characters, old, young and everything in between. The same holds true for their bodies as well. In addition to this he includes just enough detail in the backgrounds to help ground the story, but knows when to remove them for dramatic and emotional effect.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from The Flowers of Evil and it turned out to be a lovely surprise. It’s black humor and the nature of the story, a young boy being forced into sexual exploration, might not to be everyone’s liking, but so far it’s too mine. It handles the topic well, never turning into pornography and without feeling like it’s pandering to puerile interests. It’s a wonderful first volume that sucked me in and has me wanting to gobble up the rest in short order.
The Flowers of Evil, Vol. 1 is available from Vertical Inc.
Heroman, Vol. 1
Created by Tamon Ohta, Original Concept by Stan Lee and Bones
Vertical, 195 pp
Rating: Not Rated
From American comics legend Stan Lee, and Bones, the anime studio behind series such as Eureka Seven and Full Metal Alchemist, comes Heroman. Tamon Ohta handles the manga adaption of the gleefully retro feeling anime series about a boy, his toy robot and an alien invasion.
I have to admit that when Heroman was originally announced I was a bit skeptical of the whole thing. While Stan Lee is often credited as one of the co-creators of many of America’s beloved superheroes, he really hasn’t done anything memorable in the last decade or so. In addition to this, his first project with a Japanese creator, Karakuridoji Ultimo, was met with a resounding yawn by American audiences. While my own toe dipping into the series yielded a pleasant surprise, I have found myself putting off buying subsequent volumes in favor of other series. Still, when the Heroman anime began streaming on Crunchyroll I decided to give it a chance, and I was very glad I did. The anime was a lovely, pure superhero story that was reminiscent of the Saturday morning cartoons of my youth; a young hero, Joey Jones, pure in his desire to help and protect people, ruthless insectoid aliens known as the Skrugg with insane plans of world domination and more. While the series lagged a bit in the middle, the beginning and closing arcs were a lot of fun. So, naturally, when Vertical announced that they’d be bringing over the manga I was determined to give it a look.
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