Archive for March, 2011

A Drunken Dream and Other Stories

March 29, 2011

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I was interested in this book as I’d heard that Moto Hagio was one of the pioneers of sci-fi comics for girls as part of the ‘Magnificent 49ers’ group in the 1970s. This group included Keiko Takemiya, and I’d already read and enjoyed Takemiya’s ‘To Terra’, as well as Hagio’s own short sci-fi series ‘They were Eleven’, so thought I’d give this one a go.

When I first received the book, I have to say I was a bit put off by the print format. This is a big hardback volume with some colour pages, and very much reminds of those old ‘A Treasury of 100 Stories for Children’ doorstop-type hardback books I remember from my childhood. I was expecting more of a Viz Signature style slightly-posh tankoubon, so this threw me a bit. In the end though I enjoyed the feeling of reading Hagio’s work at a larger size, and will be keeping this book in part as a 70s shojo art reference book, as much as a story book.

This book is a collection of several short stories. They do not seem to be grouped around any strong central theme or genre in particular (bar the obvious shojo connection), but they can all be characterised by a degree of sentimentality, a focus on emotion, and leaving the reader with something a little bit philosophical to ponder after finishing each story.

The most thought provoking tales are ‘Hanshin: Half God” and “Iguana Girl”. Hanshin centres around a set of conjoined twins: a beautiful one who gets all of the attention but does not have the mental faculties to look after herself, and the more intelligent twin who constantly looks like she’s at death’s door, because she has to prop up her sister. It is very much about the relationship between love and hate, and the fact that it could be possible to both love and hate someone else, or even parts of yourself.

“Iguana Girl” is a story about the relationship between mothers and daughters. In this story the author is directly addressing issues she has faced in her life with her mother completely dismissing her desire to become a professional comics creator (and perhaps in turn, completely dismissing the parts of her daughter’s personality or life choices that she didn’t agree with) – the author talks about this a bit in the interview at the back of the book. I get the feeling that any girl or woman could find something to relate to in this story (and perhaps anyone who has become a mum and wondered why they weren’t automatically the ‘perfect’ mother).

Stories like ‘Bianca’ and ‘Girl on Porch with Puppy’ are rather more sentimental and dated-feeling. However if you are a lover of 70s shojo manga artwork these are lovely to look at, with some of the most striking illustrations in the book.

I also can’t finish this mini-review without mentioning the title story ‘A Drunken Dream’ as its the only sci-fi one in the book! I found the plot a little dated and formulaic (it reminded me a bit of Tezuka’s ‘Apollo’s Song’), but the story nails that pulp entertainment feeling perfectly: science fiction mixed with mythology and a dash of surrealism.

All in all I would definitely recommend this book to those who like older-style shojo artwork. The format means that it can definitely work as an art reference book as much as a collection of stories, though I am a bit dissappointed by the lack of sci-fi here. The slightly surreal and thought-provoking tales remind me of Haruki Murakami’s short stories (though with much more of a female perspective, and a little more dated). But even so, I would recommend this also to people who have enjoyed Murakami’s short stories, or anything involving real life with a twist of the strange.


Jyu Oh-Sei

March 17, 2011

Jyu Oh-Sei is published by Tokyopop.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

These notes cover the complete series, which wraps up in a tidy 3 volumes.

Delicate white-haired, white-skinned twin brothers Thor and Rei are kidnapped and left to fend for themselves on a dangerous prison planet after their politician father is killed. Can they survive on a planet populated by criminals and giant man-eating plants, and will they ever be able to get back to their home and find out why this happened to them?

This series is presented as 3 chunky volumes, each at least 1.5 times as thick as a normal Tokyopop manga volume.

The story may sound a little harsh but this is no Battle Royale: its more action/drama than horror or thriller.

The two elements I loved most about this series were:

– The plot is well paced and the story wraps up very satisfactorily. It really feels as if the author knew her ending before she started writing the series. Also, no character is safe from injury/death so any peril keeps you on the edge of your seat.

– Characters grow and evolve over the course of the series. The main character, Thor, especially is almost entirely unrecogniseable by the final volume as he has grown from a child to man. Seeing as so much time goes by, other characters also age and change their appearence over the course of the story.

The artwork is proficient: environments are very imaginative as the settlements characters live in are built to withstand some pretty scary weather conditions, and species of man-eating plants.


I was delighted to find a section at the back of volume two with design sheets for some of the vehicles, objects and settings that turn up in the comic. In volume 3 I was surprised to find the main story finished a couple of chapters before the end of the book. In this extra space there is a side story featuring some of what happened to a couple of important secondary characters in the middle of the main story timeline. Initially I was a bit dissapointed to have finished the main story early, but the side story did fill in some info and its a big plus that it was within the Jyu-Oh-Sei world and timeline, not completely unrelated (like most of the random ‘bonus’ stories you get at the back of manga volumes).

Manga Out Loud

March 17, 2011

I’m a big podcast listener and recently I’ve been enjoying some of the Manga Out Loud episodes:

I like the differing opinions of the 2 main hosts: Ed Sizemore and Johanna Draper Carlson.

I also like the fact that Ed is very into manga classics such as the works of Tezuka, but Johanna seems to read some classics more with more of a ‘well I should do this to expand my manga experience, but its not necessarily going to be that fun’ kind of attitude.  This is great as I think I’m a mixture of the two.  Say with Tezuka, I’ve read some (like MW) and found them very entertaining and a genuinely good read, but with others (like vol. 1 of Phoenix) a bit of a slog.

I would love to hear more good quality manga podcasts!  I used to listen to the MangaCast a little bit, but I don’t think the podcast is updated any more.  I also enjoy Sesho’s Anime and Manga Reviews, but they’re short reviews by one guy, rather than a group of presenters producing something longer in a more professional studio environment (say, like Giant Bomb or 1UP for games news).  They’re good reviews that he does though!

But I guess manga is still too much of a niche thing to have loads in the way of podcast-type news and discussion around it.  If anyone has any manga podcast recommendations, I’d be happy to try them out!

Oishinbo A la Carte

March 13, 2011

Oishinbo is part of the Viz Signature line and should hopefully still be widely available at the time of writing this post.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

What’s great about this series is that it covers a subject matter which you don’t find very often in translated manga – its a book aimed at adults centering around food appreciation (Oshinbo basically means ‘gourmet’, I think).

However, rather than a recipe book or cooking guide, this series doesn’t attempt to teach you all that much about how to cook Japanese food, it’s actually more of a drama where food, cooking styles or equipment are at the centre of events.

What brings this down slightly, but was probably unavoidable by the publisher, is the lack of cohesion between the chapters and lack of character introduction at the beginning. The western release of this series has been culled from over 100 volumes of the comic in Japan (its very long running over there), so instead of just publishing the entire series from the beginning (which probably would have been impossible considering the relatively small market there is for a manga like this in English), they have cherry picked chapters based on certain foody themes.

In this volume its the basics of Japanese cuisine, such as dashi stock, knife skills, chopsticks and crockery. Next volume is all about Sake and other drinks, and so on.

In general this setup works pretty well, as most of the chapters the editors have chosen are standalone stories that finish up neatly. However, this setup does mean that the reader only has a some brief character outlines to read at the beginning, then they have to dive right into a chapter without story-based character introductions like you would get in other series. It feels as if you’ve picked up a series at volume 3 and are trying to get into it.

Even so, by half way through the book I had really started to enjoy the foody drama – there are some techniques that are so overly complicated that the mind boggles, and characters are amusingly overdone, with lines like “You don’t deserve to be a chef!!”

Additional: although these notes were written back when I had only read volume 1, I later read and enjoyed all of the rest of the volumes Viz brought out (7 in all).  In fact I enjoyed it more and more with each subsequent volume.


March 12, 2011

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