EXCL. PREVIEW: "Avatar: Smoke & Shadow" TPB Threatens the Fire Nation
Not a whole lot of news caught my eye this week, and most of the manga related news is actually more like anime news. Still, there’s a few things that might be worth sharing.
And now, onto this weeks review of The Flowers of Evil, Vols. 4 + 5!
One month after the emotional climax on a mountainside road, Kasuga, Saeki and Nakamura are back at school and struggling to cope with those events. The uneasy stasis that all three have been in falls apart as Kasuga makes a decision to dedicate himself to one of his would be paramours. A move that takes him deeper into madness and exposes a new side to one of the trio. Shuzo Oshimi’s Flowers of Evil enters into a new phase as the tangled web of emotions deepen with Flowers of Evil, Vols. 4 + 5!
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Welcome to this weeks Manga in Minutes! As mentioned back in January, I’ll be playing around with some ideas and formats for the column over the coming year, and this week is one of those ideas! Every now and then, instead of a single weekly review, I’ll be posting multiple short reviews instead. But first, some news…
On to the first Catchup Corner, featuring Fairy Tail, Vols. 33 + 34, Knights of Sidonia, Vols. 3 + 4 and Trigun Maximum, Vol. 2!
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Both disturbing and fascinating, volumes two and three of Shuzo Oshimi’s Flowers of Evil continue it’s unnerving and darkly comedic coming of age tale! Hapless Kasuga finds himself unable to shake off the strange hold that the twisted Nakamura has over him. Under her watchful eye his relationship with class mate and girl of his dreams, Saeki deepens.
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Tsutomu Nihei’s sci-fi/mecha series continues with Knights of Sidonia, Vol. 2! Things start off badly for the beleaguered Seed Ship, the Sidonia, facing tragedy following tragedy following a failed attempt at staving off a Gauna attack. Will our hero, the clumsy and accident prone Nagate Tanikaze be able to turn the tide?
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In the US, there’s been a recent surge in teen fiction – novels that are written specifically for and about a teenage audience. Fifteen years ago, it didn’t exist, but now it’s one of the hottest-selling categories of literature. While there are several mainstream hits, browsing the section at any bookstore will tell you that most of these titles are aimed at teenage girls. They feature more complex emotional themes, characters that one can easily relate to, and are (debateably) only a step removed from adult literature. And the category covers a variety of genres, as well. A similar thing happened to manga for girls in the 1970s. A group of female artists, who themselves grew up on the popular manga series for young girls, decided that there should be manga for a slightly older female audience as well. The name “Year 24 Group” refers to the fact that many of the artists were born in 1949, or Showa Year 24. A lot of the series written during this time period by these artists remains classic to this day, but criminally little of it has been translated into English. This week, I’m going to feature 3 very different series by 3 Year 24 Group artists that are available in English. And honestly, there’s not a whole lot more than this.
The final volume of Tamon Ohta’s adaption of the Stan Lee/Bones joint, Heroman is here! All the hanging plot threads of the previous four volumes come together as Joey, Heroman and his friends find themselves once more defending the earth from the resurrected and enhanced Skrugg forces. Can the final volume of this series deliver an appropriately epic climax?
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As I’ve written previously, what defines an audience for a manga is what magazine a series originally ran in, and this week, I’m taking a look at three series that ran in magazines for women. I’ve actually covered several very good women’s (or josei) series on here already – Utsubora and Ooku, as recent examples (though Ooku ran in a men’s magazine, it’s drawn by a well-loved josei artist, so it mostly counts). Subject matter can vary widely. There are stories about the ever-popular Office Lady, career-seeking college students, young women who have lost their way in life, sci-fi themed stories about life, some noir-ish thrillers, or straight-up smutty romance (in your choice of sexuality). Not many have been translated into English, but these works always have a mature flavor, and can usually appeal to a very broad audience.
The superheroic adventures of Joey and his robotic companion, Heroman, continue with Tamon Ohta’s Heroman, Vol. 4. The Skrugg have been defeated and a time of peace settles over Center City, but peace is the last thing in store for Joey and his friends. The mad scientist from volume 3 is determined to make Joey and Heroman pay for stealing the spotlight from him and his own robotic creation, and unlike Joey, he’s got the aid of the US government backing him!
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With the Skrugg invasion in full swing, the only things standing between the insectoid aliens and world domination are Joey and Heroman! The climax to the opening arc of Heroman comes full of action and twists, as Tamon Ohta’s adaption of the Stan Lee and Bones anime series continues with Heroman, Vol. 3!
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I’m going to do something a little different this week. Vertical’s release of Utsubora, by Asumiko Nakamura, has just started shipping, and should be available in comic shops next week. Vertical was underwhelmed with preorders, and suggested it would be a limited run, which is a real shame. Nakamura’s an author worth reading, and it would be tragic if the first real foray into her work in English went completely ignored. Utsubora is a wonderful book, and after reading it in one sitting when it arrived on Tuesday, I knew nothing else would do for this week’s column.
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.
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