Archive for the ‘Seinen’ Category

Twin Spica

July 12, 2011

 

My rating (so far): 4 out of 5 stars

Another multi-step review here.  I find these quite interesting to write and read back through at a later date, though I hope they’re not too disjointed for people who aren’t me to enjoy.  Anyway, onwards and upwards!

EDIT: this is actually as seinen series, however seeing as it struck me as shojo-y I’ve decided to leave my original notes as they were.

After reading vol. 1:

(Rating: 3 stars)

Shojo sci-fi manga about a schoolgirl who wants to go to Tokyo Space School and learn to fly spacecraft.  I’ve read to the end of volume 1 and so far its engaging enough to make me want to get hold of more.  Its a bit on the sentimental side rather than straight up quirky and fun, but the art style suits the themes involved, and the characters are so far easy to understand and get on with.  I would also recommend this for younger readers.

After reading up to vol. 6:

(Rating: 4 stars)

I’m really enjoying this series now! I would say if you liked volume 1 at all then its well worth giving the next few volumes a chance to pull you in further.  This series is basically about the yearning some people have to travel into space, and astronaught training, mixed with a high school slice-of-life shojo manga, mixed in with some deaths and ghosts.

A big plus of this series is that, alongside the everyday lives and loves of our main characters, its not afraid to tackle some pretty serious questions about whether we should put humans into space. It starts off by detailing a massive shuttle crash and the impact that the subesquent deaths and injuries have on some of the main characters of the story.  Plus, the students at the Space School have to deal with people protesting their training as a waste of money and too much of a risk to life.

Not that the everyday lives and loves of the characters aren’t important though.  Although the overriding theme of space travel is an interesting and compelling one for me, its the drama amongst the characters that keeps me hooked.  Each person in the main group of high school friends is believeably flawed, but you can’t help but root for all of them in their own way.

The fantasical, ghostly, aspects of the series are perhaps the part that I could do most without, however they’re not as overwhelming as volume 1 led me to believe.  Although overall I find that the more fantastical elements don’t mesh as well as everything else in the series, I do quite like the connection that some of the living characters still have to the dead throughout.  The series seems to inextricably link space travel with hardship and death, which only makes the striving of the students for their goal of outer space more compelling: they know full well the hardships involved, and yet they still want to achive their dreams anyway.

This series has 16 volumes in all, so I guess there will be at least one more update to this review once I’ve finished the whole thing – here’s hoping I can bump it all the way up to 5 stars next time :)

A Drifting Life

June 10, 2011

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This is an autobiography of the manga creator Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who was one of the fathers of ‘gekiga’ – a subset of manga that was created back in the ’50s in order to differentiate manga written for adults from children’s comics (as, at that time, almost all manga were still written for children).

As well as the differentiation between adults and children’s books, gekiga artists were instrumental in taking manga from its beginning as 4-panel gag comics towards the form we see it in today – lots of long-form works with pretty much infinite styles of art and panel pacing on the page.

Readers who are already interested in gekiga would probably get more out of this book than I did as someone who has only heard the term in passing and never read any gekiga works before. I bought this book as I wanted to read about the life of this famous manga artist – when were his big breaks? How did he achieve what he did? Did he ever go through hard times? What kind of person was he?

These questions were addressed more in the first half of the book, so I preferred the first half to the second. As the book goes on it becomes more of a chronological list of what gekiga artists lived where and which circles and publishers they were affiliated with, and seeing as I didn’t recognise most of the names involved, it wasn’t very interesting to me.

Overall I found this book to be a good read – its surprisingly easy to get into, and for its size (doorstop) a surprisingly quick read. This has made me want to read some of Tatsumi’s actual gekiga comics, so hopefully I’ll be able to write about Black Blizzard or The Push Man and Other Stories at some point.

Emma

April 27, 2011

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Sadly out of print now with the demise of CMX, ‘Emma’ is a beautiful 10 volume manga series which centres around a love story between William, the son of a wealthy businessman, and a maid called Emma.

The author perfectly captures the bittersweet nature of their romance (seeing as it was practically unheard of in Victorian times to form close relationships like that between class boundaries), and this main plot forms a very strong opener and backbone for the series as a whole.

However, Emma does not purely focus on the two main characters: a lot of thought and detail is put into the side characters who help, hinder, or otherwise cross paths with Emma and William, plus the many places they inhabit. The comic is set in an intriguing and believeable version of Victorian England, which is quite a feat considering the creator, Kaoru Mori, had not even visited England until she had finished at least 2 or 3 volumes of the series.

The artwork for Emma is some of the best I have come across in manga: the style of pen and inkwork used (especially in the backgrounds) perfectly suits the Victorian setting. The characters are beautiful and, to me, felt like they are drawn by someone who delights in studying the human form (which is later evidenced by Mori mentioning ‘drawing hands and hair to my heart’s content’ in one of the afterwords).

The main love story plot finishes off at the end of volume 7 (though it is brought back right at the end of volume 10 to cap off the series). Volumes 8-10 focus solely on the ‘private lives’ of some of the side characters, and these volumes are some of the most satisfying reading for a comics fan in my opinion. Mori lets her hair down a bit and produces some very interesting, more experimental, chapters. For example, there’s one chapter that is a series of vignettes centred around the distribution of ‘The Times’ newspaper – who reads it, and its other many uses in Victorian society (like wrapping fish and chips, or of course prviding a comfy seat for a cat).  Chapters like this reminded me of Will Eisner’s ‘New York: Life in the Big City’ collection – intriguing observations of people’s daily lives.

So yes, if you can get your hands on it, I would greatly recommend this comic – it is a million miles away from stereotypical exploitative maid-fetish manga, and extremely high quality work.

20th Century Boys (vols 1-12)

April 14, 2011

My rating (so far): 5 out of 5 stars

20th Century Boys is a 22 volume series which is being brought out under the Viz Signature line.  Unfortunately its not all out in English yet so I can’t talk about the series in its entirety, however I’m finding it interesting to write about it in chunks as I read up to certain volumes.  Speaking of which, I wrote the first section of these notes after only having read volumes 1 & 2, and the second section after having read up to volume 12.  I’ll probably update this post with a review up to volume 22 in 2013 or so when the entire series has been translated and published ^_~

Its difficult to give a good idea of the plot of 20th Century Boys without spoiling one thing or another, so suffice it to say there’s more to the series than I can write about here, but here goes:

In the 60s a group of Japanese boys are close friends: they build a secret base in a field of high grass and spend a summer having a great time playing together.  Flash forward to the present day: the boys are now adults and have put most of their childhood memories to the backs of their minds.  However, strange occurrences start to bring the group together again.  A symbol keeps turning up frequently, linked to what seems to be a cult…how is this connected to the group of men, is the world on the edge of disaster, and will they have to somehow save the world?

The author of 20th Century Boys, Naoki Urasawa, is a veteran manga creator and has produced a large body of critically acclaimed work in a variety of genres. Two of the most famous of these are ‘Monster’, a medical thriller, and ‘Pluto’, a sci-fi series inspired by one of Osamu Tezuka’s ‘Astro Boy’ stories. Reading ’20th Century Boys’ you can see why Urasawa’s work is so acclaimed: the series is tightly plotted with many mysteries, twists and turns, and well developed characters.

The artwork is similarly masterful: drawn in pen and ink, each character has a unique look coupled with varied body-language that brings him/her to life. Backgrounds are meticulously drawn to a high level of detail and the pacing of the panels is fantastic, with the build up and execution of the most dramatic moments coming across especially well.

I have now read up to volume 12, so its time for an update!

All in all the storyline and characterisation remain just as strong in volumes 3-12 as they were in the first two volumes. The plotline, which has now expanded to take place over three distinct time periods in the characters’ lives, is handled deftly by Urasawa.  Along with many well-timed melodramatic moments as befitting a mystery/thriller series, he weaves in some subtle foreshadowing of future events, and paralleling of things that have happened in the past.

The art remains just as masterful too: many more characters are introduced and they still each have their own unique look and feel, plus background work and panel pacing are still some of the best I have seen in manga.

20th Century Boys is not the perfect comic though. I seem to recall reading on the net somewhere that the author was working on another series (Pluto?) at the same time as this, and the story here does devolve into having a meandering and distracted feel about it. Some events are drawn out over over many more chapters than they needed to be, and some scenes seem to stretch to a whole chapter when really they might have worked better if they were shorter and more snappy.

What’s so annoying about this is that the basic plot is still very gripping! The characters are also incredibly compelling as their lives are covered from a time when they are children until at least late middle age, so you understand their personalities and motivations over practically their entire lives.

In conclusion (for now), I will certainly still be collecting 20th Century Boys, however I would caution anyone who doesn’t feel they have the patience for reading a long manga series to perhaps think twice, as similarly to many series that go longer than 10 or so books, the pace gets rather muddy in the middle :S